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Sister Simone Campbell: Vatican Reprimand 'Like A Sock In The Stomach'

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"Quite frankly, it's very visceral. It's like a sock in the stomach."

That's what Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, said when NPR's Melissa Block asked her what her reaction was to a Vatican reprimand issued yesterday.

As we reported, the Vatican is cracking down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents most nuns in the United States, for straying from church doctrine. In an eight-page report, the Vatican called out Campbell's group by name hinting that its support of the Obama administration's healthcare overhaul ran afoul the church's preference.

"The idea that Women Religious in the United States is not being faithful to the Gospel is just shocking," Campbell told Melissa. "The fact is that our lives are committed through these vows to living the gospel and while we have amazing richness in the spiritual life, we give up a lot to do this.

"And it's not about the giving up but it's about the fidelity to the call to be faithful to the Gospel and have that so unseen and to have this edict never mention the Gospel, never mention the responsibility to be God's arms and hands with people who are poor and suffering, the people at the fringes, people who suffer injustice, to have that not at all seen is extremely painful."

Campbell added that she wished she knew "what was in [the Vatican's] mind." But she surmised that what was happening is that the "leadership doesn't know how to deal with strong women and so their way is to try and shape us into whatever they think we should be."

Campbell said it was a "struggle of culture." And that it could also be that the Vatican is used to a monarchy and nuns in the United States are living in a democracy.

"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," Campbell said. "Life is way more complicated in our society and it's probably way easier to be 8,000 miles away in Rome."

Still, Campbell said, she was hopeful that the Vatican and the American nuns could come to an agreement.

"This won't tear us apart," she said. "It makes us mad; it makes us upset. It may makes us wonder about where on God's green earth all this is going and why in God's green earth might this be necessary but we're faithful."

We'll add audio of the as-aired interview with Campbell a bit later on tonight.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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