09 June 2012

"Masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action"

Such is the considered opinion of the Vatican on this harmless and pleasant pastime. The indignant definition was part of the Vatican's critique of a book by Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order, in which she audaciously suggested that masturbation doesn't raise any moral problems and can actually help relationships rather than hinder them. She also courageously condoned same-sex relationships, another “intrinsically disordered” behaviour in the eyes of the Church. Her frank opinions apparently got the Pope's knickers in a twist.

The good sister is actually an esteemed teacher, a recently retired emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School. She is also past president of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society. Her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, sounds to me rather more enlightened than disordered. She agrees that she departs from doctrine in some respects but explains, "The fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics." She said she never intended the book to reflect official Catholic teaching, but rather to explore sexuality via various religious traditions, theological resources and human experience. Sounds like something a good scholar would do.

But the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith disagrees, condemning the book for posing grave harm to the faithful. The faithful, it seems, should not explore new and different approaches to sexuality, but content themselves, like good Catholics, to what the old boys in the Church tell them.

Sister Farley is not, however, without friends in the Catholic faith. Prize-winning reporter Jamie L. Manson, in an article in the National Catholic Reporter, writes, "Just Love was not only a lifesaver to me as a professor, but a life-giver to our students who are part of a generation born into a society where sexual norms are in flux and the old sexual taboos are rapidly fading away." She goes on to say, "It is tragic that the bishops cannot accept the spirit in which Margaret Farley wrote Just Love. The book addresses moral questions that affect not only all members of the faithful, but the ethical dilemmas that affect members of the hierarchy themselves." Amen to that latter part, Sister.

As we might expect, the Vatican's condemnation has boosted the sales of Sister Farley's book impressively. Hardly recognized before the "notification," it recently rose to number 14 on Amazon’s best seller list and sold out. As for masturbation, we can only say that calling it "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" is, in itself, an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.

No comments:

Post a Comment