The guys over at the Vatican have been messing with the nuns and the nuns don’t like it. They’ve got 57,000 angry women on their case, two of whom are headed to Rome next week for meetings.
The Vatican has now gone after Sister Margaret Farley for condoning masturbation in her 2006 book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.” The recently retired Yale theologian and past president of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society wrote that “It usually does not raise any moral questions at all … It is surely the case that many women … have found great good in self pleasuring - perhaps in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure -- something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers. In this way it could be said that masturbation actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.”
She also had the audacity to condone same-sex relationships.
Of course nobody had ever heard of the book when it came out but trust the Vatican to send the book on a “Fifty Shades of Grey” trajectory and land the book onto the bestseller list. Six years after it was published, they issued a statement condemning it. According to its “notification,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which enforces Catholic doctrine, the book does not conform to Catholic teaching, and they want to “warn the faithful” that it “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching.”
Masturbation, says the Vatican “is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and approving gay marriage would show approval of “deviant behavior.”
Is masturbation where they really want to throw down the gauntlet? How many priests, bishops or cardinals could stand with a hand on the Bible and swear they have never masturbated?
Is the human body not to be admired? Why shouldn’t our own bodies give us pleasure? The contorted thinking of these celibate men is causing the church to lose followers, including many women.
There are those faithful who would criticize Sister Margaret for writing what she did, suggesting that if she couldn’t follow the doctrine of the church she and all other rebellious nuns should just quit and start a church of their own --an idea that has some merit. But the idea of sticking it out and fighting from within also has appeal. And remember: If women had more power in the church, none of these frivolous attacks would be happening.
Some of these nuns did push back most recently when the 22 member board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious condemned an edict from Vatican attacking their liberal positions on such issues as abortion, gay marriage and female ordination. The nuns who will go to Rome next week will be meeting with Cardinal William Levada who is head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Presumably they will be defending their role of providing education, health care and social services as opposed to what the church demands: more attention to morality and strict adherence to the teachings of the faith.
This week also marked the Transit of Venus. In history, mythology and astrology the transit has deep significance regarding the roles of women in society.
Astrologer Nancy R. Fenn in her article “Transits and Powerful Women,” writes: “I found some of the most powerful women in history making history at the times when Venus crossed the sun … the concerns of Venus are the way that we express our feminine sides and the things that we desire … as our understanding of feminine nature and the psychology of desire changes throughout the centuries.” Fenn also says that Venus, “has a sensual quality … which can pleasure itself.”
One of the unconscious uses of Venus, she says, is “wanting everyone to have the same religion as you.” The word venial, as in venial sins, she says, comes from Venus. “In Catholicism, one is warned to beware of venial sins because they lead so quickly to mortal sins.”
Fenn might well be giving a warning to the Vatican and support for the nuns.
Fenn feels that during this Transit of Venus, perhaps we are being asked to examine our desires in a context of higher principles and then to enfold these principles into our daily lives.” She says that because “women have been the objects of desire for the last 2000 years, the battleground centers around the female of the species.” As well, she points out, “Considering these transits, is it any wonder that the object of our desires for the past 2000 years has centered on religion? … Perhaps with transits to come, we can grow to realize that the object of our desire might better be peace and harmony and that we would be willing to give up a little religion to get it.”
It sounds to me as if that is what Sister Margaret has done. In her reaction statement to the Vatican’s notification, she says: “This book offers contemporary interpretations of traditional meanings for the human body, gender and sexuality.” She goes onto say, “It suggests the importance of moving from what frequently functions as a taboo morality to a morality and sexual ethics based on the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful and recognizably just loves. “ She says that because Christians and others have received “new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment … that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics” And she concludes, ”Hence I fear the Notification - while clear in its conclusions - misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people.
It will be fascinating to see how the meetings in Rome go when the nuns confront their accusers amid the backdrop of the latest Vatican scandal, this one over leaked information about Vatican financial corruption centering on the pontiff’s butler. The hypocrisy of the male heads of the Vatican condemning nuns while in the past protecting priests accused of sexual assault on altar boys doesn’t give them a whole lot to stand on.
If I had to bet, my money’s on the gals.
Sally Quinn | Jun 7, 2012 1:54 PM