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Social Justice

Feminist Nuns Inspire “Radical” Change for Catholicism in US

Campbell and Hudson discuss “Radical Grace” after the showing at the Arcus Center (Meredith Ashton / The Index)

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK group, a national Catholic social justice lobby, is both a feminist and a nun. As a Catholic woman, Campbell has been dealing with the ecclesiastical patriarchy her entire life.

“It’s the bishop’s idea of control that’s the problem… But you can’t take the church out of the essence of who we are,” Campbell said.

Campbell hosted a discussion with Kalamazoo College student, Audra Hudson, K’16, after the Arcus Center’s showing of the documentary “Radical Grace” last Wednesday, February 3. This film followed Catholic sisters considered “radical feminists” by Catholic leadership on their path for social justice and political advocacy for the less fortunate. Campbell was one of the sisters who formed the “Nuns on the Bus” project to draw attention to their work with the poor and to protest planned federal budget cuts.

According to the film, tensions have been high between the Vatican and the Catholic nuns in the United States over the sisters’ modern lifestyle and “radical feminism.” In 2009, the Vatican began to investigate the feminist activities of American nuns.

One clash between the nuns and the bishops occurred over the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010. The Catholic sisters lobbied publicly to pass the act against the Vatican’s more conservative agenda. In 2012 the Vatican placed a censure on all American nuns and charged a bishop with reigning in the sisters through patriarchal oversight.

Simone Campbell sees this controversy as an act of God.

“The Holy Spirit used that attack to stir up people to make this moment where people stood up and said ‘no’ to the bishops,” Campbell said.

The film follows three nuns as they confront the Vatican’s accusations by doing what they have always felt called to do: social justice.

One nun works in direct service with her community through counseling to prisoners and teaching adult education classes. Another continues her work empowering women in the church and encouraging female ordination to the priesthood. Campbell, the third sister, uses her “Nuns on the Bus” project to highlight the work of Catholic nuns as well as advocate politically for social justice causes.

In December 2014 the Vatican announced their investigation had illustrated the incredible works that the American Catholic sisters carried out in their ministries and in 2015 the censure of American nuns was lifted.

Sister Campbell attributes the success to her faith, her community of sisters, and also political engagement.

“If we’re going to do the hard work of democracy-then let’s do it. You’ve got the power, be sure to use it,” Campbell said.

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Feminist Nuns Inspire “Radical” Change for Catholicism in US