Fordham Theologian Knocks Vatican Findings of Doctrinal Problems With Nuns

While criticizing the Vatican’s move to reform the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in light of doctrinal problems, a Fordham University theology professor proclaimed on PBS Newshour: “Let me just say, as a scholar — as a scholar of religion and a theologian, Church teaching does change.”

The news broke on Wednesday, April 18, that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead the review of the LCWR when the findings of a Church assessment of the women’s religious group were made public.  One of the main points made by the Church was that serious theological and doctrinal errors occurred during the LCWR’s recent conferences.

Yesterday, April 19, Fordham theologian Jeannie Hill Fletcher noted, during PBS Newshour, that the nuns under scrutiny are in colleges and universities, among other places.  Fletcher said that a problem she has with the document issued by the Vatican is that it “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.”

Fletcher said during the interview: “Let me just say, as a scholar — as a scholar of religion and a theologian, Church teaching does change.”

Fortunately, there was a representative of a faithful Catholic college also present on air to stand up for Church teachings.  The chairman of the board of Christendom College, Donna Bethell, went head to head with Fletcher during the segment and defended the Vatican’s decision regarding the LCWR.

Bethell was quick to point out that there are some doctrines of the church which are definitely not open to debate.

She explained the reason behind the Vatican’s assessment of the nuns.  She pointed out that the document issued by the Church underscores the importance for consecrated persons to be faithful to the teachings of the Church.

Bethell observed:

…[I]t’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.

The same might be said for some theology professors from Catholic universities.

You can go over to PBS and read the full transcript of the interview, or watch the video here.

Christendom College is promoted by The Cardinal Newman Society in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.

Adam Wilson


Adam Wilson is a regular contributor to Campus Notes, the blog for The Cardinal Newman Society.

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  • Rr

    The only constant thing in this world is change. Everything changes, and the history of the Church and its teaching is a history of change, even if slow change. And it will remain such, if it can survive. Not changing is unnatural in this world. Things that do not change and adapt die.

  • Mal

    The Lord’s teachings do not change. They are the same yesterday, today and will be forever more. Why should sound instruction be replaced by tsociety’s whims and fancies?

  • Ahawkins77

    I beg to disagree Rr…The only contant thing in this world is God, who is changeless!  He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Only Him can you  count on in this ever changing world! You speak erronously when you say the teachings of the Church have changed, they have not. They too have been constant for over 2000 years. Our understanding may grow and deepen about the faith, but the faith has not changed. And your statement, ” Not changing is unnatural in this world. Things that do not change and adapt die.” is again erronous, the opposite is true. Two strong examples are marriage and family, both authored by God Himself. We can see for ourselves as society is forcing these fundamental institutions to change and adapt to the whims and fancies of man they are sufferring and dying, so to speak. Read your bible Rr. A perfect example of men trying to “do what is right in their own eyes” is the book of Judges, specifically the story of Samson. Everyone knows the story of Samson, or they think they do. Basically it goes like this, Follow God, who is immutable, and His ways and you will be blessed…or… Do what is right in your own eyes, (like what is happening in society today)….well just go and read what happens to Samson…

  • One has to understand that people like Jeannie Hill Fletcher remain connected to the Catholic Church for one express reason and that is to orchestrate its downfall.  They want to drastically alter the teaching of the Church into one of abject liberalism and radical feminism.  Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals instructs its followers to work from within the instituttion in order to insure its demise.   

  • Mrciardiello

    The Church does not need to conform to this world and to this society! When the point comes to the Church “not surviving”, we will be at the end of time pure and simple. We will either be with Jesus when he comes again or not.

  • Dan

    The fact that Ms. Fletcher identifies herself as a “feminist theologian” is problematic. This is a self-made concoction that has no place in any church. One is a theologian of the Catholic Church or not. Her self identification indicates exactly the spin she uses in her misguided study, understanding and propagation of her “brand” of pseudo-Catholicism. She is a person who continues in the tired, defeated and discredited ideation of the “spirit of Vatican 2” rather than in its actual teaching. Hence her disdain for the Catechism and her lack of balance in understanding the difference between doctrinal surety and open ended relativism she is promoting. She is, in short, the poster child for relativistic heterodox teaching in the United States and many of the wayward religious orders the Vatican document addressed. 

  • Faithful

     Your statement is almost not worthy of comment in light of this discussion. But perhaps you might apply your  recommendation to the wayward nuns and this theologian who should “change” their relativistic teaching to that of the Church. Or is that “change” too much to hope for?

  • drea916

    Church teachings change? Um, really? Even so, they practicing Gaia worship. These orders are dying out. Let’s not waste time investigating/correcting them. Very, very few Catholic women want to join these orders. They are a joke.

  • drea916

    And another thing! 🙂 If you don’t believe in the Catholic Church, why in the blazes do you bother being Catholic? If the Church (and her bishops) aren’t what they claim to be, why bother dealing with them at all? They are as crediable as the Heaven’s Gate cult.

  • Mrciardiello


  • noelfitz

    There is no conflict between the statements
    “there are some doctrines of the church which are definitely not open to
    debate” and “Church teaching does change”


    Examples such as slavery, usury/interest and Limbo come to
    mind.  Teaching on these are not of fundamental

  • “…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.”

    This statement reflects a mindset which has become pervasive in society, in general, and the Church (in this context), in particular; the “job” mindset.  It promotes, mostly subconsciously, the belief that everything is a  job … 9 to 5 … get  it done, then go home and shower, and do what YOU will until the next day.  What happened to vocation?  To a way and purpose of life?  Thus, we had/have many priests that, not only, took Monday off, but who no longer celebrated daily Mass (even privately – oh! such a burden!).  This is not intended to castigate priests, other religious have been just as unobservant in far too many cases and we, the laity, fail, by-and-large, to seek correction.

  • Msgiberti

    Thank God  that he is NOT natural… change by the power of the Holy Spirit, NOT the power of the natural. Hello????

  • I can’t wait for the moment when all people, both Catholic and non-Catholic understand what the Church teaches on issues like birth control, marriage, abortion, etc.  The Church teaches many essential doctrines and so if you don’t agree then you are distancing yourself from the Church established by Jesus Christ.  That goes for nuns, University professors, and the laity. 

  • chaco

    Hi Rr,  I’ve got a hunch;  Perhaps you’re just a “Sheep in wolf’s clothing” (not to be confused with the vice versa).  Maybe you just play the Antithesis to make us exercise our “Faith Muscles”.   If I’m right, thanks for your concern, and  as a matter of fact, I could use some exercise; “…the Truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8: 32)Truth is Truth – Is Truth . If my hunch is wrong, you should check to see if Pilot is part of your lineage; “Truth ! – What is Truth ? ” (Jn. 18: 38).  At least Protestantism has the Bible to prevent it’s followers from being thrown too far from the center/ Truth / Church Jesus left. Personal interpretation is like the centrifigal force caused by a spinning center. Relativism (there is no Truth) is the latest “Spin-off” from discarding “The Rock of Peter”. We’re all “Dizzy”, to some extent, from the effects of Original Sin. Thus, God’s gift of infinate treasures found in the Immaculate Heart that was never tainted by sin; “Oh Mary, concieved without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” ( Miraculous Medal from La Sallette).