On Thursday’s All Things Considered, National Public Radio offered leftist Sister Simone Campbell a megaphone to disagree with (and lecture) the Pope and the Catholic bishops for being clueless. “It was like a sock in the stomach,” she said about the Vatican’s attempt to hold women’s Catholic religious orders to Catholic orthodoxy. Just on human terms, this is odd – not just to suggest the bishops are bullying, but that a process that’s been going on for four years is suddenly shocking.
Campbell told anchor Melissa Block that the religious sisters had the superiority of “experience” of faith all over the Vatican and the bishops, and then was starkly sexist: “Women get it first and then try to explain it to the guys who -- I mean, as the women did to the Apostles.”
Campbell was introduced as heading Network, a “ Catholic social-justice lobby.” They can never call a liberal a liberal? Campbell quickly took up the clueless-male attack: “Quite frankly, it's very visceral. It's like a sock in the stomach. I wish I knew what was in their brains. I don't know. But it looks like from the outside that they are not used to strong women who took the urging of Pope Pius XII very seriously. Pope Pius XII urged women religious -- way before I was in the community -- to be educated in theology, to get educated in advanced degrees. So we took him seriously, and we did it. The leadership doesn't know how to deal with strong women. And so their way is try to shape us into whatever they think it should be, not realizing that we've been faithful to the call this whole time.”
Block offered the Vatican viewpoint in a fairly detached way:
MELISSA BLOCK: Sister Campbell, the Vatican seems to be saying in this document that these strong women that you're talking about are at odds with the church on some very basic issues. It says that the women's group is silent on the right to life, from conception to natural death. It also mentions LCWR's positions on ministering to homosexuals, and the ordination of women -- big issues for the church.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: They are. They're big issues, but they aren't at the heart of faith. That's the problem. And what we do as women religious is, we minister to people everywhere who are suffering, who are being discriminated against, and we don't ask to see a baptismal certificate. We serve everyone we find, in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus. That's what we're doing.
The bishops have a different mandate and a different message. And they are trying to protect the institution and to worry mostly -- apparently -- about an orthodoxy that I can't quite understand. But our different missions still -- serves one faith.
Block should know the key part of that answer is the odd suggesting that issues like abortion and homosexuality aren’t at the “heart of faith.” (I’d suggest Campbell being disingenuous about women’s ordination not being at the “heart of faith.” They wouldn’t tiptoe around in favor it if they didn’t believe that was central.) Campbell’s implied disinterest in the church as an “institution” of “orthodoxy” suggests that she’d rather operate her own version of the Catholic church on her own terms and doesn’t want some clueless men in Rome telling her what to do.
Then came the crucial question of a “gap” between the church and the sisters, and the arrogance comes creeping in:
BLOCK: Do you think there is a fundamental gap between the Vatican and the nuns' group on those issues?
CAMPBELL: Oh, I don't know that there's a doctrinal difference. There's certainly an experience difference. We as Catholics believe our experience informs our faith and our faith informs our experience. It's - how can I say this? When you don't work every day with people who live on the margins of our society, it's much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong.
How does Campbell know that the bishops and church officials investigating them have no real experience with people on society’s margins? If I were the anchor, I would find that an obvious target for a followup question. But Block is more interested in underlining how the sisters will chafe at having Rome insist that they stay in line with what the church teaches:
MELISSA BLOCK: Sister Campbell, how do you respond to what the Vatican has done here - which is to appoint an archbishop who will basically be overseeing the women's group; will be deciding whether their conferences are OK, whether the speakers they've called in are OK - how will that be received?
SIMONE CAMPBELL: My hunch is that it won't be received with a lot of joy, that's for sure. And it certainly doesn't appear necessary. But the other thing that we know as women is, the women were the first ones at the tomb on Sunday morning. Women get it first and then try to explain it to the guys who -- I mean, as the women did to the Apostles. So, we will try to explain it to the guys. We'll keep up our roles from the Scriptures.
It's a challenge. It makes us mad. It makes us upset; may make us wonder about where in God's green earth all this is going and why, in God's green earth, might this be necessary. But we're faithful.
This is not only a sexist answer, but then so say “But we’re faithful” after showing so much contempt for the church deserves a laugh track.
Perhaps NPR should look at its own arrogant dismissal of Juan Williams for unorthodoxy and wonder if it really should be shocked that an institution would try to make everyone toe a doctrinal line.