Vatican Rebuke: Are U.S. Nuns Promoting ‘Radical Feminist Themes?’

bjbjLULU JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a new report
from the Vatican criticizes the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States. The
assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious comes from the Vatican’s Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. It says the group of sisters promoted — quote — “radical
feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” It concluded that the sisters had
contradicted church teaching on homosexuality and on male-only priesthood in public statements
that — quote — “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic
teachers of faith and morals.” To discuss this assessment, we’re joined by Donna Bethell.
She is now the chairman of the board of directors for Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.
And Jeannine Hill Fletcher, she teaches theology at Fordham University in New York. And we
thank you both for being with us. DONNA BETHELL, Christendom College: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF:
Let me start with you, Donna Bethell. You agree with what the Vatican has done here.
Why is what the Women Religious did offensive to the leadership of the church? DONNA BETHELL:
Well, I think to understand this correctly, you have to know that the church expects a
great deal of people who are publicly consecrated in the church for its service, which is what
Women Religious are. And at the very beginning of the document, they quote Pope John Paul
II to the effect that it’s important that consecrated persons in the church be faithful
to the teaching of the church and witness to it in their life and works. The second
point is that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an entity established by
the Vatican, approved by the Vatican, its statutes approved by the Vatican for the purpose
of supporting the Women Religious in their life and work. And so it’s the responsibility
of the Vatican to see that the conference is actually doing its job. And that’s what
it’s done in this assessment. JUDY WOODRUFF: And the finding is that they strayed from
Vatican teaching? DONNA BETHELL: Yes, as you summarized, and in other areas, they found
that they either put out materials that are troublesome, not presenting the full doctrine
of the church. They supported speakers at their conferences who — some of whom challenged
the church or simply ignored its teaching in various aspects, and that they have not
been a positive. It’s not — it’s one thing to actually contradict the church, but it
wasn’t just their job to avoid contradicting their church. It’s their job to present the
fullness of the Catholic faith and to help their members to understand it and to live
it. And that’s where they had been found short. JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeannine Fletcher, how does
the Women Religious group see this? Do they acknowledge, in your understanding, that they
ve strayed from the doctrine? JEANNINE HILL FLETCHER, Fordham University: Well, my work
as a feminist theologian — I am not religious. I’m not ordained. I’m a laywoman. So I don’t
have an insider’s picture on this. What I do have is a sense of the life and work of
Women Religious in this country and around the globe as being people who very much carry
on faithfully the Catholic tradition, especially in the work of social justice. So these are
Women Religious who are at the U.N. defending — defending human rights. They are in our
colleges and our universities. They are running our hospitals. And so from the perspective
of being faithful to the church, they are — in my understanding as a feminist theologian,
as a Catholic feminist theologian, they are continuing the work of the church. Now, at
issue is the teaching, the doctrine of the church, the authoritative stance on issues.
Now, the one element of the report seems to suggest that they’d like for the Women Religious
to go back to the catechism more, present the catechism more, or take up the issues
that the bishops have found important, the issues against women’s reproductive rights
or denouncing homosexuality. And what I see the Women Religious doing really are looking
at the world that we live in, the issues that we face, the signs of the times, and thinking
through church teaching and church tradition in light of those new questions. And they’re
doing so in. . . JEANNINE HILL FLETCHER: Yep. JUDY WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, let
me just stop you there and ask Donna Bethell, is that what is — what the Vatican sees as
going against what it sees the role of these Women Religious? DONNA BETHELL: Well, the
Vatican in its document actually commended the kinds of activities, apostolic, social
justice activities, that the sisters are carrying out. It recognizes those. It says you must
— but that’s not enough. That’s not the fullness of the Catholic faith. We are also engaged
in primary justice in the defense of life, for example, from conception to natural death
in the issues of abortion and euthanasia. And the church expects its consecrated publicly
— public witnesses to be fully on board and to be advancing the Catholic view of the right
to life. So that’s just one point, where it’s not that they’re being criticized for all
the great work that they do. That’s recognized. They’re being asked to be fully in the church.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jeannine Fletcher, are the two things incompatible? JEANNINE HILL
FLETCHER: I’m sorry. I’m not sure the two things that you’re. . . JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m
sorry. I’m sorry. On the one hand, teaching — we heard Ms. Bethell talk about the issue
of life, contraception. . . DONNA BETHELL: Abortion and euthanasia were the points that
she brought up. JUDY WOODRUFF: But is that teaching that the Vatican is asking compatible
with the other teachings that you were describing that have to do with social justice? JEANNINE
HILL FLETCHER: Well, I think what I see the Women Religious doing is really — is really
looking for the various ways that they can engage in the well-being of humanity, the
fullness of life for humanity. And what they’re being criticized in this document is about
what they’re not doing. Right? They’re not taking up these issues sufficiently. They’re
not making them the head of their agenda. At least that’s what the document proposes.
The other thing that the document does is, it criticizes the Women Religious for the
things that they seem to be thinking or discussing or exploring. It criticizes their theological
investigations within their own private conference, within their discussions among themselves.
And I think that that’s a real — one of the real problems for me as a scholar of women
and religion is the document seems to be trying to tell Women Religious to stop exploring
the dynamics of the faith and simply take the tradition as it’s been handed to them.
And I think that that’s one fundamental difference. As a theologian, I think that the life of
the Catholic community is to continue to engage the life of the faith with the questions that
are at hand. JUDY WOODRUFF: And in just little bit of time that we have left, Donna Bethell,
is there room for debate in the church on these questions? DONNA BETHELL: Well, there’s
room for debate on some questions, but not on all questions. There are doctrines in the
church which are not open for debate. Everybody knows that. If that weren’t the case, there
wouldn’t be a Catholic Church. And there are things that are open for debate, for discussion
about how you apply this principle. There’s lots of room for prudential judgment, especially
in the area of social justice, but there are things that are not open for debate. JUDY
WOODRUFF: Finally, let me just ask. . . JEANNINE HILL FLETCHER: As. . . JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead,
quickly. Go ahead. JEANNINE HILL FLETCHER: Let me just say, as a scholar — as a scholar
of religion and a theologian, church teaching does change. And I think that’s one of the
fundamental issues here, especially around the issue of LGBTQ persons and homosexuality.
I think that the issue — one of the issues is the church teaching we have seen in — from
the second to the 16th century, church teaching was no salvation outside the church. At Vatican
II, in the 20th century, there’s a very different understanding of the relationship of the Catholic
truth and the Catholic faith to the truths and faiths of people of the world. And so
to suggest that there are some things that simply will not change, I’m not sure that
that’s been the tradition of the Catholic Church. JUDY WOODRUFF: Big subject with certainly
room for more debate. And we are going to have to leave it there today. I want to thank
both of you, Jeannine Fletcher and Donna Bethell. JEANNINE HILL FLETCHER: Thank you. DONNA BETHELL:
Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you. hm`u hm`u h>=0 hm`u gdm`u hm`u h>=0 hm`u hm`u hm`u
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country-region urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags place JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a new report from
the Vatican criticizes the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States Normal
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