Members from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents roughly 80% of nuns in the United States, met with Vatican leaders to address claims that they have strayed from Catholic doctrine and they practice "radical feminism."
The Vatican gave a stern statement after that meeting, saying the nuns remain "under the supreme direction of the Holy See." The group's president, Sister Pat Farrell, says the group's members will decide how to proceed from here.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby, talks with Soledad this morning on the rift with the Vatican and explains the group's position.
See the transcript after the jump.
OBRIEN: So your group singled out as being essentially, I guess in a nutshell, it's fair to say, part of the problem, if you will. What kind of sanctions could you face from the Vatican?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NETWORK: Actually, it's very interesting that our organization is not directly related to the Vatican. And probably the - I mean, I'm not sure that they could do anything directly to us. The bigger concern is what they could do to Catholic sisters in the United States as a group. And to –
O'BRIEN: What could they do?
CAMPBELL: Well, with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, what they could do is end it. It's like the Leadership Conference was incorporated or organized by the Vatican. And so the Vatican does indeed have control over its organizational function. And so how it proceeds - how LCWR proceeds is really an important question and needs to be in relationship with Rome.
But the piece that's missing here is while you could have different structures, the fact is Catholic sisters in the United States have very strong relationships. And that while they can do a lot to change structures, they won't change our friendships. O'BRIEN: Well, let's say, if they wanted to end the LCWR, 80 percent, I believe that's the correct figure, of sisters in the United States are members of that. What would that literally specifically mean?
CAMPBELL: Well, what it would mean is that there would no longer be the organization of that - of the leaders of the women religious in the United States that's sanctioned by Rome. There is another group, a much smaller group, that represents some of the other 20 percent. And then some sisters don't belong to either leadership group.
It's thought that maybe the Vatican would want to focus on the other group that has more the traditional communities in it. And then each religious congregation there's no mandate that we be a member of either group. So each religious congregation would then have to decide where do they put their time, their energy. But the piece that I want to stress is that the spiritual life and friendship go far beyond the - these structures.
O'BRIEN: So then, to me, that's - and I say this as someone who has an uncle who is a priest and two aunts who are nuns, sounds like you're saying, listen, it's about relationships. So at the end of the day, no matter what the Vatican says, we for these relationships. Is that kind of in a nutshell what you're saying?
CAMPBELL: Well, you certainly boiled it down to the nugget. I think the key piece here is that we do this life because of a spiritual journey. We know that when there's resistance on any side, the Vatican or ours, it's an opportunity for spiritual growth. And it's that effort that we're trying to use this moment to break open and lift up the fact that the needs of the people in our society, that are at the margins, that are most hurt by this economy, we will continue to be faithful to our mission to lift up those folks and make it clear that we work for the needs of the poor.
O'BRIEN: So yesterday, I was out, but Christine Romans was doing an interview with Sister Maureen Fiedler. She's the host of the public radio program, "Interfaith Voices."
CAMPBELL: Oh, yes.
O'BRIEN: Oh yes. And Christine asked her –
CAMPBELL: We know her.
O'BRIEN: I'm sure you do. Christina asked her, you know, is there a war on women from the Catholic Church, and here's what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER, HOST OF THE PUBLIC RADIO PROGRAM, "INTERFAITH VOICES": Well, it's a fundamental question that a lot of people ask. It's certainly true that at the institutional level, women are not treated as equals in the church. And they need to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: She went on to ask her if American nuns, and even American Catholics, are moving faster and evolving, I guess, faster than what's happening in Rome. And she said yes to that, too. She said, you know, Rome is essentially remaining dictatorial, non- collaborative, but the American Catholic Church is not. Do you agree with that? And what are the implications if that's true?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think really this is a very key time for the church. And in Vatican Two, our renewal program in the '60s, we looked at the enculturation of faith in different cultures. And I think what we have here is the enculturation of the Catholic faith into a democratic culture. And Rome continues as an absolute monarchy. And in there they enculturate faith.
And so when you enculturate faith in a democratic culture we know the value of each individual, that every person should have a vote, that questions are the way to truth, that exploration together in a group is the way we do - we discover good policy.
So that's what we know. But in the absolutely monarchy, they have a top down approach where the monarch is always right. And it's that cultural clash that we're in the heart of. And how it turns out, I don't know. But I do know that faith and living the gospel will go find a way through.
O'BRIEN: Quick final question for you. I know you're going to start this bus tour. It's called "Nuns on a Bus."
O'BRIEN: Which almost sounds like a Broadway show in a way I think. It starts tomorrow. You're protesting Congressman Paul Ryan's budget. What's the - what's the plan with the bus tour?
CAMPBELL: OK. It actually starts Sunday. In - we're leaving tomorrow.
O'BRIEN: Got it.
CAMPBELL: That we start Sunday, Sunday in Des Moines, and we head east. We're lifting up the fact that we are standing with our bishops. The bishops have said that the Republican budget is an immoral document, and we agree 100 percent. People need to know that the Republican budget will devastate our country. And we need to push back and lift up our country as a whole.
It's we the people, not just we the rich people, we the corporations, or we the military. It's all of us together to make a better nation.
O'BRIEN: Sister Simone Campbell, maybe we'll have a chance to talk to you while the nuns are on the bus doing their tour across the country. Thank you for being with us this morning. Appreciate it. CAMPBELL: A delight. Thank you.