Sr. Simone Campbell continues speaking truth to power

Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell thanks supporters of the Nun on the Bus tour at a rally July 29 in Philadelphia near where the Democratic National Convention was held. (CNS/Sarah Webb,

Wow! There's nothing like telling it like it is … at the seat of male ecclesial power. Sr. Simone Campbell's speech at the Vatican on International Women's Day (March 8) decried male power — in the Vatican. Talk about naming the problem — bluntly, fearlessly — in the belly of the beast. Sr. Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, a highly respected Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C.

"The institution … is frightened of change," Campbell said to Religion News Service. "These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people." She went on to cite the resignation of Marie Collins, who had served on a panel appointed by Pope Francis to look into allegations that the Vatican had obstructed child sex abuse investigations. Campbell was blunt: "Blocked by men. Isn't this the real problem within the church?"

Related: Global Jesuit leader says women's inclusion in church structures 'has not yet arrived' (March 9, 2017)

Quite "conveniently," senior members of the Curia apparently decided that they needed a "spiritual retreat" more than they needed to hear the voices of women, and so most did not attend the women's conference. They need to catch up on what they missed!

And now, as Campbell heads home, she has her work cut out for her here, speaking truth to power in a setting familiar to her: the U.S. Congress. She was the leader of NETWORK when the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") was passed by Congress in 2010. In last-minute negotiations before the passage of that act, she gave Congress a letter signed by sixty heads of religious orders and umbrella groups supporting the Affordable Care Act. Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not support the Affordable Care Act, this letter from nuns was considered key in quelling the concerns of some Catholic House members who were Catholics, and so rounding up the last votes needed to pass the ACA.

Now, Campbell has responded to the recent Republican attempt to ditch Obamacare in favor of their own legislation: "Our test for any ACA replacement bill is simple: Does the bill protect access to quality, affordable, equitable healthcare for vulnerable communities? After reviewing the House GOP replacement bill, the answer is a resounding no." The new bill, she says, "increases costs for older and sicker patients and drastically cuts the Medicaid program, all while providing huge tax cuts to wealthy corporations and individuals. This is not the faithful way forward and must be rejected."

Just a footnote to history: Campbell, as noted above, was a key figure in the passage of Obamacare. She could prove just as significant in opposing Republican attempts to replace it.  I have no doubt she will continue to speak truth to power.

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