The Vatican on Monday sharply criticized a book on sexuality written by a prominent American nun, saying that it contradicted church teaching on issues such as masturbation, homosexuality and marriage and that its author had a "defective understanding" of Catholic theology.
The Vatican's orthodoxy office said the book, "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics" by Sister Margaret A. Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, posed "grave harm" to the faithful.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that in the 2006 book, Farley either ignored church teaching on core issues of human sexuality or treated it as merely one opinion among many.
Farley said Monday she never intended the book to reflect current official Catholic teaching. Rather, she said, she wrote it to explore sexuality via various religious traditions, theological resources and human experience.
The Vatican examination of the book began in 2010 and involved seeking Farley's responses to its concerns. After her replies failed to satisfy the Congregation, it moved to a full-fledged "examination in cases of urgency" that concluded Dec. 14.
Pope Benedict XVI approved the decision last March and ordered the decision published.
In its statement, the Vatican singled out specific problems in Farley's book.
Farley, for example, writes that masturbation doesn't raise any moral problems and can actually help relationships rather than hinder them. The Vatican asserted that, according to church teaching, "masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."
Farley wrote that homosexual people, as well as their activities, should be respected. Church teaching holds that gays should be respected but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."
On same-sex marriage, Farley said legal recognition of gay marriage can help transform the stigmatization of gays. The church wrote back that approving gay marriage would not only signal approval of "deviant behavior," but would obscure the value of traditional marriage between man and woman in society.
The Vatican criticism, while seemingly harsh, is rather tame. It's not a formal censure of Farley herself, but just the book.