Thursday, April 19, 2012

NPR Reporter Understands the Church Better Than the Nun They Are Interviewing

Just heard from Hannah, our roving reporter in the DFW Metroplex, who is making the arborist rounds of the Dallas areas. She listens to NPR a lot while driving and called to tell me that she was livid after listening to a particularly unhelpful interview with Sister Simone Campbell.

The reporter was attempting to get her to talk realistically about the Vatican finding that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had serious doctrinal problems. Here's NPR's blurb and the link if you want to listen (or read) for yourself.
The Vatican has reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, saying the group has "serious doctrinal problems." The Vatican assigned an archbishop to reform the conference. The group has taken controversial stances on issues including health care and gender matters. Melissa Block speaks with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobbying group which works closely with the LCWR.
Unfortunately, Sister Simone unhelpfully kept saying that the report simply meant the women in the Church needed to educate the men in the Church on how things work in the real world. Hearing Hannah tell me all this made me happy that I have a discerning daughter who loves her faith and quite sorry for Sister Simone. She is either being disingenuous or really believes what she is saying. And it is to weep. Obedience and charity are integral to us all as Catholics and especially for a religious sister.

We all find ourselves at odd with the Catholic Church sometime or another, sometimes over very big issues. But we are all called to practice obedience, charity, forgiveness, and following Christ's example while we do so. I pray for Sister Simone and those like her who may be smarting, frustrated, and upset by the report.

Hannah gave full props to the reporter who, she said, kept trying to bring Sister Simone back to the real questions and seemed fairly well educated about the issues.

Hannah also wanted me to let any NPR listeners know that Sister Simone was not someone they wanted to trust for their Catholic opinion making.

Job done!

As is so often the case, I turned to GetReligion for their take on the story and the media coverage which looks as if it were quite good actually. I definitely recommend you go there and read it and the linked stories if you want the full picture. Mollie read the 8-page Vatican document and points out that it praises as well as reprimands.
In fact, on the first page alone is this line, “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”
As I mentioned, she looks at reporting across all media, including bloggers like Whispers in the Loggia (Rocco's always on top of these sorts of stories). I hadn't had a chance to even look at my RSS reader today so was glad Hannah prompted me to look into the story more.

Be sure to read the GetReligion story if you are at all interested in this story.


  1. Hi, Julie:

    I've never read your blog before today, but stumbled upon it because I've been following this latest story about the nuns quite closely. I had such a radically different take on this, and I'm truly interested in your interpretation. What stood out for me was when Sister Campbell said

    "When you don't work everyday with people who live at the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong."

    which I agree and empathize with. It is so easy to make judgements when we only know our own view of the world around us, and so much harder to look those decisions in the eyes as real people. I find that the people who tend to be the most racist don't have a lot of friends from other cultures; the people who tend to be the most homophobic don't actually know too many gay people. Which makes it easy to form an opinion -- until you put a human face on it, and it gets complicated and messy.

    What bothers me about this controversy is the idea that these women, while their many contributions have been "acknowledged with gratitude," are being told in the same breath by the church that their opinions are not valid, and that they have no place in a dialogue about their role in an institution to which they have pledged their lives and service. I walked away from that interview with respect for Sister Campbell, who seemed as though she had done some deep questioning and soul-searching about how her personal beliefs reconciled with the church's teachings. And I personally cannot conceive of a God who would enable us with the power of reason and the power of empathy and a desire to help the poor and oppressed, and who would rather that we not use those gifts for fear of retribution or of upsetting the status quo.
    Philadelphia, PA

  2. Hi Katherine, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. :-)

    I have been thinking this through a great deal and am writing a post for today about those thoughts. It may or may not address your concerns, but hopefully will show more of the heart of both sides.

  3. Julie D, I hope you won't mind me providing a response to Katherine.


    I won't speak for Julie D., but I'll attempt to give the Catholic perspective.

    You have to understand that these are women that have taken vows of celibacy, poverty, obedience, etc... These aren't simply women, out in the public square, doing this wonderful work for society. That's all well and good. But to be a religious person of the Church, one must obey, accept, and adhere to the teaching authority of the Holy Mother Church. Otherwise, why be Catholic at all?

    According to these accusations, some members/leaders of these orders are espousing errors in regards to fundamental Church teachings: abortion, homosexual acts, ordination of women, etc. Catholics can't simply have 'opinions' on these subjects and remain faithful to Christ and His Church. What's worse, these women are likely leading others into these errors, endangering not only their souls, but the souls of others.

    Church teachings inform personal beliefs, not the other way around. I pray for a change in the hearts and minds of those dissenting sisters, and that they will remain in the faith. But, if ultimately Sister Campbell and others don't want to play ball, they can always go to a different ball park, because the rules in this one will not and cannot change.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Strong and faithful comments, Julie, and much appreciated. Thank you.

  5. Dear LJP,

    Your comment, "Catholics can't simply have 'opinions' on these subjects [abortion, homosexual acts, ordination of women, etc.] and remain faithful to Christ and His Church," is all that is wrong with our Catholic Church.

    If we aren't meant to develop our own opinions, my fellow Catholic, then why did our God give us minds, free will and the gift and power of reason? Was not the entire life of Christ an example of how we should live our faith? The Catholic Bible is chock full of examples of Christ's teaching that we should not simply engage in mindless religious ritual as an act of love for God, but that we must love God with our heart and our soul, and in that same way we must love one another. Christ preached over and over how we should welcome the tax collector or the sinner into our home and into our hearts. How we should accept kindness from someone shunned from our community - such as the Samaritan woman. How we should do our good deeds as privately as possible - remember the Gospel about not washing your face when fasting? Further, Christ constantly rejected the Pharisees' preoccupation with ritual and blind adherence - Christ healed on the Sabbath, in violation of kosher laws. Christ allowed a prostitute to wash and kiss his feet - another violation of kosher laws.

    There is nothing in Christ's many teachings about rejecting gays. Nor is there anything in the Gospel about requiring cellibacy for spreading the Good News. Nor is there anything in the Christ's many teachings requiring rabbis, or priests, or disciples, to be male. These are man-made rules made long ago to address cultural issues at the time. (For example, cellibacy was the way to stem the tide of priests' illegitimate children whose profligate lifestyles were tapping too deeply into the church's coffers.)

    It is outrageous for you to suggest that we faithful Catholics should remain silent while the Vatican, with one hand admonishes our courageous and hard-working sisters for not preaching its own anti-gay bias and medieval views about women, none of which was espoused by Christ yet continues to be obsessed upon by the current Pope, and with the other hand fails to address the real issues plaguing American Catholics today - the sex scandal engulfing close to 5% of our priests and implicating many high-ranking priests. No, the Vatican chooses to use the nuns as its scapegoat but then promotes Cardinal Law as Archbishop of the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Would Christ have protected its own in such a way? That appointment smacks of cronyism and corruption among the ruling elitist men of the church, and you don't want us to question this?

    God gave you and me each a mind, and thank you, I prefer to use mine. And my mind says that other caring, thinking Catholics like me are becoming pretty sick of the Vatican's failure to address the real problems in Catholicism - the lack of quality priests, the dying vocations of nuns, the future of the Church. When you look at the works of shining Catholics, like Sister Simone Campbell and other nuns like her, I see a shining beacon of light. But, it's going to take a courageous and thinking person in Rome to recognize that there, with people like Sister Simone Campbell, lies the future of the Catholic Church, if it is to continue with any modicum of credibility and hope.

    -Patti Killian, Maplewood NJ, member of St Joseph Parish, CCD Instructor, Pray & Play Coordinator

  6. Patti, I am not sure if you read my follow-up post to this one. You may find it here. In response to your comment I would say that if one is "working for a company" (so to speak) then it is not unreasonable for that company to ask that one follow their rules. Of course the Vatican is not a company, however your passionate outburst above made me think of that. We may all use our minds, but the saints who have changed the church most (Catherine of Siena, for one, who counseled popes) have also been obedient and didn't go around shouting their grievances in the public square. All of us would do well to emulate saintly behavior, on both sides of this discussion ... or so it seems to me. At any rate, you may like what I wrote (surprise, I know), so do go read it. :-)