When the news pertains to issues in the Catholic church, CNN loves to promote liberal theologians and religious, especially ones that are defying Catholic teaching. In contrast, orthodox priests and bishops might receive vastly different treatment – if they even get on CNN, that is.
So when an American nun's book on sexual ethics was found by the Vatican to be "not in conformity" with the Catholic Church's teaching, CNN contributor Stephen Prothero smacked the Vatican for its "unjust" condemnation of the book and accused the Catholic Church of continuing to "attack the sort of apple pie, mom kind of institutions in America."
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had simply issued a mild notification stating that Sr. Margaret Farley's book "Just Love" did not conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality. And ironically, the nun herself agreed that some of the positions in her book didn't line up with Church teaching.
Yet Prothero weaved all this into a fantastical narrative of the church attacking American "apple pie" institutions while it had more important things to worry about, like poverty and hunger. What he ignored, however, is that Farley herself chose to extend the struggle with the Vatican.
According to the document published yesterday, the Congregation had twice reached out to Farley noting the doctrinal problems in her book and had invited her to correct the errors posing "grave harm to the faithful." Farley did not "adequately clarify" the errors and so the Congregation went ahead and issued the notification that her book "cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching."
Anchor Kate Bolduan encouraged viewers to read Prothero's piece on CNN's "Belief Blog" saying the Vatican's notification about the nun's book was "unjust." She did press him on the fact that Sr. Farley was Catholic and thus, it could be argued, represented the church. But Prothero saved his best cheap shot at the church for last.
"I should say that the church is really only helping publicize what she [Farley] is doing. Yesterday, I looked on Amazon. She was about 100,000 on the Amazon book ratings. And now she's in the top 10 or top 20. So I wish the pope would condemn my writing also," he quipped, before Bolduan laughed in response.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on June 5 on Newsroom at 2:26 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
KATE BOLDUAN: Strong words from the Vatican, condemning a book on same-sex relationships, remarriage after divorce, and sex. Its author: a Catholic nun. Sister Margaret Farley's book is called "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics." In it she offers a theological rationale, really, for what the Church views as taboo topics including same-sex relationships and other things that we listed right there. Sister Farley insists that the text of her book was not intended to be an expression of the Church, but the Vatican says that the opinion is quote, "not acceptable."
Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University. He's joining me from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I think via Skype. Hey there, Stephen. So Stephen, the book was published in 2006 but the Vatican didn't put out its criticism in this statement until just yesterday. So what's your take on all this?
STEPHEN PROTHERO: Well, they had been investigating it for a while. And, you know, I think there's a few things to say about it. One is that the church continues to attack the sort of apple pie, mom kind of institutions in America. The Girl Scouts they went after a few weeks ago, going they're going after American nuns, and now they're going after this particular nun who's written a book that, at least in some readings, including mine, is pretty conservative in terms of what it says about sexual relationships.
BOLDUAN: And you wrote a piece for the CNN Belief Blog – which I encourage our viewers to go check out – in it you talk about the Vatican kind of being preoccupied with sex rather than other very important issues facing the Church right now and Christians, really. Poverty or even hunger. Why do you think that is?
PROTHERO: I think it's hard to say. I think there's been a sort of centuries-long collapse of religion into morality and then morality into sexual ethics. Sister Farley actually talks about this at the beginning of her book. She almost apologizes for writing a book about sexual ethics. She says there's more important things for the Church to be talking about, like poverty, like hunger, but this is something that requires a tension. And then she tries to take the lens of social justice. Instead of sort of roles like if you're married and you're trying to have a baby, then sex is okay. She says well, maybe sometimes sex inside marriage is wrong, and maybe sex sometimes outside of marriage is wrong. If it doesn't meet these criteria, like treating your sexual partner as an equal, treating your sexual partner as an end rather than as a means to an end.
BOLDUAN: I should tell your viewers that we did reach out to Sister Farley and she is not doing interviews at this time. But let me push you on this one point. Sister Farley is a Catholic nun and she is going pretty much directly against Church teaching, really, where the Church stands on these issues right now. Does the Vatican have a point here? Isn't she supposed to represent the church?
PROTHERO: Well, she's doing theology, she's not speaking as the Pope. But she obviously can't be the pope as a woman. So she's doing theology. And the church has recognized that theologians do things that are different from the official teachings of the church. And I should say that in her response and in the response of her superior, the sister who runs the Sisters of Mercy, of which she is a part, they've both spoken about a kind of regret that this has created trouble, but also Sister Farley has said that her teachings, her theology here is rooted in the history of the church. She talks about Augustine, she talks about Aquinas, she talks about the Bible. She's not totally trying to contravene this. I should say that the church is really only helping publicize what she's doing. Yesterday, I looked on Amazon. She was about 100,000 on the Amazon book ratings. And now she's in the top 10 or top 20. So I wish the pope would condemn my writing also.
BOLDUAN: (Laughing) That's a very good point.