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Activist Nun Responds To Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal


Pope Francis is in Ireland this weekend as part of the Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored gathering of Catholics. Today in Dublin, the pope addressed the crisis of sexual abuse among clergy around the world. In prepared remarks of his speech, the pope said the failure of ecclesiastical authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments.

Nuns are also speaking out. We're joined in our studio now by Sister Simone Campbell, who was part of the ministry of the Sisters of Social Service and executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group. Sister Simone, thanks so much for being with us.

SIMONE CAMPBELL: Great to be with you.

SIMON: I have to ask - how do you feel this week about the church to which you've devoted your life?

CAMPBELL: Well, I have to say over the last few weeks, it's been really shocking and horrifying, and I have felt myself close to weeping at times. This week, I took a little solace in the letter from Pope Francis to the world saying - acknowledging the extent of the horror that has existed and a commitment to change. And I take heart in these remarks in Ireland as his very first statements that it is included because there was a worry he would not include this in his very first statements. So what this says to me is that the Vatican is beginning to get it in all its departments that this is not just those concerned with clergy, but the whole church needs to be changed. And I think that's what we're beginning to see.

SIMON: I note you said close to weeping but not leaving. What keeps you in the church and what kind of changes do you think are mandated?

CAMPBELL: Well, the thing is for me church is not about the institution. It's about the Gospel and Jesus, and that's much more powerful - 2,000 years of history of the contemplative life. And we've had all kinds of scandals and all kinds of horror in the structure, but it's the faith that's deeper than that. But it's the community that makes the difference. And this was the hard part in Pope Francis' letter is he acknowledged clericalism and clericalism as being the righteousness on the part of the ordained clergy, that they were always right, that protected them as opposed to caring for kids or for the others who were abused by the clerics. And so Pope Francis attacked clericalism and said that had to change. I totally agree. It's part of the problem with - as men have approached women in the church. It's the lack of access to everybody to power. That's true. But then in the end of it, he said, well, we all need to do prayer and fasting. Well, that part kind of made me mad, quite frankly, and - because I thought that was tone deaf for the fact that I think our leadership has some special responsibility. But in the end, for me, it's about Jesus and the Gospel. It's the way I find the fullness of life in community together, that we're not individualistic, we're not isolates. I can't do this without you, without everyone else. And so it's the place where I find people who nourish me.

SIMON: Should there be a greater role for women, religious sisters, in the church? Should nuns be made bishops and cardinals, for example?

CAMPBELL: (Laughter) Well, I actually am kind of worried about that. I mean, unless we change the system - if you just made us cardinals or bishops in the same system, we'd probably get as arrogant as they are. This is what we have to change - the culture of arrogance.

SIMON: And I'm sorry we only have half a minute left, but when you say talking about changing the culture of arrogance, you mean letting - not making clergy the moral arbiters that they seem to be right now.

CAMPBELL: Well, I don't know that they seem to be that right now. But yes, it's changing who are the deciders? Where do we share that insight into the depth and the meaning of the Gospel now? How do we make community together? It's up to us together.

SIMON: Sister Simone Campbell, thanks so much.

CAMPBELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.