If you plan to hear Sister Simone Campbell in uptown Saturday morning, you should know this:
She may not be looking for a fight. But she can sure take a punch.
Last April, her agency was among the groups of U.S. nuns singled out by the Vatican for a withering public rebuke.
The church leaders accused the sisters of “radically feminist themes,” of spending too much time on poverty and economic inequality – and not enough championing Catholic positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.
“It’s like a sock in the stomach,” Campbell, the executive director of Network, a Washington-based social-justice lobby, said at the time.
If so, she and her group kept their gloves up. Now they’ve returning to the center of the ring.
Friday, Network announced a new group initiative focusing on poverty and economic unfairness, the very issues that drew Rome’s ire.
Covering two weeks and nine states, the “Nuns on the Bus” tour will target the budget passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, specifically the pain Campbell says it inflicts on the poor.
So much for a nun’s vow of obedience. Campbell stops me there.
“People think of our vow in a military sense, but religious obedience is very different,” she says.
“It involves very deep listening, prayer, the needs of the times, what I call the ‘nudges’ of the spirit, and the way those nudges get tested in dialogue and community.”
Would the Catholic leadership interpret obedience in the same way?
Probably not, she allows.
But in this case, at least, the U.S. bishops align with the nuns. They don’t like the Republican budget either.
Campbell also joined with church leaders in criticizing President Barack Obama’s first contraception mandate. She says it didn’t leave enough wiggle room for religious objectors. Unlike the bishops, she calls the president’s proposed compromise “elegant.”
Meanwhile, Campbell doesn’t understand the importance placed by her church on homosexuality, given that Jesus, she says, never mentioned them. “The whole thing feels like a perversion of faith… You don’t see the gospel and you don’t see Jesus in any of it,” she says.
“So we’ll be out there, trying to apply faith to the political, doing the best we can for the people at the margins.”
She acknowledges that her views trend Democratic, but describes herself as “an equal-opportunity criticizer. But Republicans screw up more than Democrats, in my humble estimation.”
During her 9 a.m.-noon appearance Saturday at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Tryon Street, Campbell will speak on ‘faithful citizenship,” the call to believers to get involved in the political process. Another theme: conversing with people who think differently than you.
“The thing that terrifies me about us is that we are no longer are able to talk with each other,” she says. “Our democracy is being treated like a spectator sport – who’s up, who’s down…”
“We have to wake up as a nation or this democracy will crumble. We need to be the people that our founders envisioned us to be.”