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

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 19.04.2012

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
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.
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place JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a new report from the Vatican criticizes the largest group of
Catholic nuns in the United States Normal Microsoft Office Word JUDY WOODRUFF: Now,
a new report from the Vatican criticizes the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United
States Title Microsoft Office Word Document MSWordDoc Word.Document.8