Social justice advocate calls for 'meaningful conversation'
CHARLOTTE — Catholics must "find new ways of talking to each other" and "build bridges of understanding" if we are to engage in effective, united political participation that promotes the common good.
That was one of the messages that Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, emphasized during a three-hour speech she gave at St. Peter Church's Biss Hall on June 9 – even as she mocked the U.S. bishops and the Vatican hierarchy as being out of touch on "pastoral" issues and derided the bishops' continued opposition to the federal health insurance law.
Sister Campbell's talk was the latest in a series of events organized by St. Peter Church's social justice ministry this year to help educate Catholics on how to apply Church teaching when deciding how to vote. The framework for the series, including Sister Campbell's talk, was the U.S. bishops' electoral guide "Faithful Citizenship."
This was Sister Campbell's third visit to St. Peter Church in Charlotte. She came previously in 2006 and 2008 also to speak about "Faithful Citizenship."
This year, it was standing room only in Biss Hall as people anticipated that she might address the recent controversy over Network and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
LCWR UNDER REVIEW
The LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the U.S., was reprimanded by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on April 18 in part for not placing enough emphasis on Church teaching regarding the fundamental right to life.
Citing "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life," the doctrinal congregation announced a major reform of LCWR to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching about abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.
In its assessment, the Vatican said that "while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church's social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.
"Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the Church and society, such as the Church's biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching."
A reform of LCWR is now under way.
LCWR's president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, and its executive director, Sister Janet Mock, a Sister of St. Joseph, met with U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, appointed to lead the reform process, June 12 in Rome "to raise and discuss the board's concerns" about the Vatican action.
After meeting with top officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said she was thankful for the chance to have an open dialogue about a recent Vatican-ordered reform of the organization. Read more here.
Archbishop Sartain will be assisted by Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and draw on the advice of fellow bishops, women religious and other experts. This week Archbishop Sartain expressed his disappointment in how the media and others have mischaracterized the situation: read more here.
Also, Bishop Blair wrote a column June 8 explaining the purpose of and reasons for the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR. Read it here. Both Bishop Blair and Bishop Paprocki also spoke out this week about the inaccurate media coverage of the LCWR assessment and reform effort: click here for details.
The doctrinal assessment is separate from the Vatican's "Apostolic Visitation of Religious Communities of Women in the United States," a study of the "quality of life" in some 400 congregations, which began in December 2008. The visitation's final report was submitted in December 2011 but has not yet been published.
NETWORK AND THE HEALTH INSURANCE LAW
Network was founded in 1971 by 47 women religious and calls itself "a progressive voice within the Catholic community" that advocates on issues of social welfare, economic justice and peace, while also combating poverty, income disparity and racism. Based in Washington, D.C., Network lobbies Congress and promotes policies that aid the poor and the marginalized. Its website states that it partners with other similarly aligned Catholic organizations – including Justice for Immigrants, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, as well as the LCWR and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Network has come under scrutiny because of its vocal support, in conjunction with the LCWR, of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – despite the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' strong opposition to the legislation and the accompanying mandate that nearly all employers must offer free contraception coverage despite conscientious or religious objections.
SISTER CAMPBELL TALKS ABOUT THE CONTROVERSIES
In offhand remarks repeatedly during and after her prepared talk about "Faithful Citizenship," Sister Campbell dismissed the LCWR doctrinal assessment as "a Vatican kerfuffle." She also scorned the U.S. bishops for their continued opposition to the health insurance law.
In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported universal health care since the late 1940s. The U.S. bishops and numerous Catholic organizations oppose the current legislation because it does not sufficiently protect the unborn and it does not contain adequate conscience protections for religious employers who oppose providing free artificial contraception and sterilization coverage.
Sister Campbell also disparaged the U.S. bishops and the Vatican hierarchy as being inexperienced on "pastoral" work, which she said has created a "painfully huge divide" between Church leadership and the LCWR.
Bishops need to meet real people with real problems, she said. "Real people change people's hearts. Theories don't."
She acknowledged that the conscience protections originally in the health insurance legislation were inadequate – joking that at the time she was "nervous" to find herself on the same side as the U.S. bishops – but she insisted that the "accommodation" President Barack Obama made in March to appease religious employers opposed to contraception coverage should be enough to settle the issue.
In her main talk, Sister Campbell stressed the connection between Catholic social teaching – primarily as explained in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") – and the U.S. bishops' statement on "Faithful Citizenship."
Sister Campbell said civil discourse is the only way for Catholics to move forward and effect real social change.
Catholics must come out of their opposite corners on the right and the left and find common ground in our shared Catholic values, she said.
The dignity of the individual and personal freedom must go hand-in-hand with the importance of community and solidarity with the poor, she said. We are all in relationship with each other, and that brings with it rights and obligations – all of which should come together to foster the common good, she said, frequently quoting from "Faithful Citizenship" and "Caritas in Veritate."
Justice and charity are at the core of our Catholic beliefs, she noted – and not just during election season. But the polarizing of politics in America, she said, is jeopardizing our democracy.
"The challenge is trying to talk to people who think differently," she said. But we must all reach out and talk about common values – and Catholic social teaching is the way we can do it. That can lead to moments of conversion on both sides, she said.
Sister Campbell admitted that she has felt uncomfortable calling herself "pro-life," even though she stands with Church teaching on the value of all human life from conception to natural death.
She said it is time for "progressive" Catholics – including herself – to speak as if social justice concerns (racism, right to a living wage, environmental protection, sex trafficking, etc.) are as much "life" issues as opposition to abortion.
In fact, since the release of the 2007 edition of "Faithful Citizenship," the U.S. bishops have taught that while other social issues are important, the protection of all human life through the opposition to abortion must be the top priority for American Catholics: The fundamental right to life necessarily trumps all other social issues.
But Sister Campbell questioned many Catholics' focus on that one issue, criticizing the pro-life movement as not considering the entire spectrum of Catholic social teaching, but then she acknowledged that "progressive" Catholics like herself have contributed to the discord between pro-life and pro-social justice Catholics.
"I have allowed a very narrow perspective on what is life, because I actually feel like I'm going to develop a rash or something if I use 'life' in that broader sense," she said.
She has avoided framing social justice concerns as "pro-life" issues, she said, "because I don't want to be thought of as in (the pro-life) camp. Because of my pride, as opposed to my faith."
We need "to reclaim the fullness of our faith," she said. We need to go beyond left vs. right, socialist vs. capitalist, she said: We are Catholic.
"The wonder of our Church is that we are engaged across culture," she said.
"Faithful Citizenship" takes our core Catholic beliefs and asks us to apply them in specific ways, balancing our fundamental values against imperfect candidates and policies. Political and policy differences are "painful" to navigate, she noted, but, she added, "Just because we have arguments doesn't end the fact that we are family."
"I think this election, we've got to model some new ways and we've got to find a way forward. I think our faith is the perfect vehicle for being able to talk in some new ways. But I tell you, to talk in new ways takes work. It takes effort. It takes thinking. It takes praying. It takes being open and keeping a soft heart."
Then she joked, "Have you ever had that sense of, you just want to slap somebody upside the head?" The crowd laughed in response. "Well, I do! All the time! But I keep praying that I can keep a heart modeled on Christ's heart. ...
"The challenge we have is to ponder the Gospel and have meaningful conversation, the way Jesus did. It ain't easy."
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor. "LCWR under review" section reporting courtesy of Catholic News Service.
In related news, Network is sponsoring a nine-state bus tour to highlight the needs of the poor and proposed cuts to the federal budget. Read more