Q & A with Sr. Simone Cambell

by Michael O'Loughlin

NCR Contributor

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Global Sisters Report spoke with Sr. Simone Campbell on March 19, 2014, at the headquarters of NETWORK in Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

In your book, you write about the need for justice in addition to charity. Can you expand on this?

Some on Capitol Hill want us to end the safety net programs and then everybody just give what they can in charitable contributions – that churches should take care of it.

Well, justice is the responsibility of government. So, if there are to be just wages, just society, a just sharing of the resources that we have in the richest nation on earth, then that’s government responsibility. Charity is about surplus, addition, giving.

Is there ever a line Catholics in public life shouldn’t cross when compromising on legislation?

I’m with the pope. He says processes are more important. Getting to know other perspectives, engaging in dialogue is more important. It doesn’t mean that I give up my views, but we try to find views that move us forward.

On the abortion issues, I’m pro-life, I value the dignity of all life. But I have a different political response about how you deal with that. I would much rather have laws that support women so that they don’t make that choice.

Let’s do what we can to support life, as opposed to throwing stones at each other. I don’t think Jesus would go for the stones.

In the book, you write that you see yourself as the “stomach acid” in the metaphorical body of Christ. Do you see your role, or your sisters’ role, as prophetic?

I don’t think we can claim the mantle of prophet ourselves. I think that can only be attributed in hindsight. But I do think that Catholic sisters’ deep spirituality, led by the Gospel, brings them to surprising places. And it just seems like putting one foot in front of the other, but it can be seen as either cutting edge, or off the reservation, depending on how you look at it.

How can the church move beyond its current divisions?

Immigration reform! Even the nuns and bishops are on the same side – you’d think we could get it done!

Frontline asked the question, what is Pope Francis’s biggest challenge? And I think it’s leading an intense spiritual struggle. If we are intensely Gospel people, we’ll disagree; but we can be united. We don’t call each other names. There’s so much fear, but we won’t be afraid.

What do you say to a woman who feels her gifts aren’t being used in the church?

Keep knocking. I know people women who feel called to ordination to the ministry. But I don’t see a lot of women wanting to be clerical, and that’s the important piece.

I practiced law when there weren’t too many women in law, and some of the early women in law acted more like obstreperous men than men did. It’s about changing the culture. We’ve got to change the culture as well.

Just to get women around the table doing the same things guys are doing? That’s not progress. I think it’s more directly about a conversion for all of us.

What do you love about being a sister?

Oh my gosh, it’s my life. It’s the best.

I encourage everybody, become a nun, it’s fabulous. Really, to be able to live in such a creative way, and such a profoundly sacred way, is struggle and joy. I mean, it’s struggle, but it’s an always opening to the new. God is creating at every moment, so live in that creative edge. That’s cool, that’s the best part of my life. And look what I get to do. You never know when lightning will strike.

What else should I have asked?

Nuns on the Bus by a miracle of the Spirit has changed the cultural view of sisters. Hallelujah. The other piece is that in being sisters, community gives us the freedom to let the new emerge. And I think in an individualistic society we can lose the freeing quality of community.

I know my sisters have my back. How could we not continue to follow the Gospel? Because we’re in this together.

[Michael O’Laughlin is a writer based in Washington, D.C.]

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