CNN Asks If Catholic Church Is Being 'Dictatorial' With American Nuns

A day after asking if the Catholic church is waging a "war on women," CNN teed up liberal Sister Simone Campbell by asking if Rome is being "dictatorial" in its recent dealings with American nuns. After a group of U.S. nuns has been targeted by the Vatican for reform, CNN has shamelessly been promoting the nuns' side of the story with no guest to represent the church's side.

Starting Point anchor Soledad O'Brien mentioned her colleague's absurd  "war on women" question from the previous day and asked Sister Campbell if she agreed that "Rome is essentially remaining dictatorial, non-collaborative, but the American Catholic Church is not."

Is Rome really being "dictatorial" or simply saying that the Leadership Conference for Women Religious is rife with doctrinal chaos and needs reform? The official Vatican document expresses the latter sentiment, but don't tell that to CNN who is busy touting its favorite liberal Catholics.

Sister Campbell is the executive director of the lobby Network, which aided in the effort to pass ObamaCare in 2010 despite the very opposition of the U.S. Catholic bishops to the bill. Other liberal priests and nuns who have gotten a podium at CNN include Sister Maureen Fiedler, who has cheered the Occupy protests and ripped the Ryan budget, and Father Thomas Reese who condemned the Ryan budget.

At the end of the interview O'Brien snuck in a brief promotion of the nuns' bus tour which will be protesting the Ryan budget. "I know you're going to start this bus tour. It's called 'Nuns on a Bus.' 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?" O'Brien teed up Sister Campbell.

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on June 13 on Starting Point at 8:36 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, let's say, if they wanted to end the LCWR, 80 percent, I believe that's a correct figure, of sisters in the United States are members of that. What would that literally specifically mean?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, executive director, Network: 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 very – 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 got these relationships. Is that kind of in a nutshell what you're saying?

CAMPBELL: (Laughing) Well, you certainly boiled it down to the nugget. I think the key piece here is that we do this life because of the 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 Maureen.

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.

(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 II, our renewal program in the '60s, we looked at the inculturation of faith in different cultures. And I think what we have here is the inculturation of the Catholic faith into a democratic culture. And Rome continues as an absolute monarchy. And in there they inculturate faith.

And so when you inculturate 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 absolute 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 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." 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: Okay. It actually starts Sunday. In – we're leaving tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: Got it.

CAMPBELL: We start Sunday, Sunday in Des Moines, and we head east. We're lifting up the fact that we're 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.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014