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Sister Simone Campbell: Catholic Sex Abuse Stems from “Monarchy” & Exclusion of Women from Power

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For the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope has addressed a letter to the entire population of 1.2 billion Catholics on the topic of sex abuse by clergy. In the scathing 2,000-word letter, Pope Francis wrote, “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” Last week in Pennsylvania, a grand jury report revealed how more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused 1,000 children, and possibly thousands more, over seven decades and that the church leadership covered up the abuse. More than 1,000 Catholic theologians, educators and parishioners have called on all Catholic bishops to resign. We speak with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, an advocacy group for Catholic social justice which organizes the Nuns on the Bus campaign. She’s the author of “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope has addressed a letter to the entire population of 1.2 billion Catholics on the topic of sex abuse by the clergy. In the scathing 2,000-word letter, Pope Francis wrote, quote, “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” he said. Pope Francis went on to write, “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” unquote.

Pressure has been growing on the pope to make a statement, after sex abuse scandals continue to mount across the globe. Last week, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania had abused at least a thousand children over the past seven decades, and perhaps thousands more, even as officials engaged in a systematic cover-up. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro described the grand jury report’s findings.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JOSH SHAPIRO: All of the victims were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all, for decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected. Many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Father Schlert, identified in the report, is now Bishop Schlert. Bishop Wuerl is now Cardinal Wuerl. Father Zubik is now Bishop Zubik. Predator priests were allowed to remain in ministry for 10, 20, even 40 years after church leaders learned of their crimes. In those years, their lists of victims got longer and longer.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, more than a thousand Catholic theologians, educators and lay leaders have signed a letter calling for all U.S. bishops to submit their resignations to the pope.

Earlier this month, former Australian Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of house arrest. He’s the most senior Catholic official in the world to be found guilty of concealing the sexual abuse of children. In late July, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, became the highest-ranking Catholic leader in the United States to resign, after he was accused of abusing a number of boys as young as 11 years old, as well as seminarians. Meanwhile, authorities in Chile raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference last week as part of a widespread investigation into sex abuse. Later this week, Pope Francis will travel to Ireland, another country rocked by the sexual abuse scandal inside the church.

Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, an advocacy group for Catholic social justice, which organizes the Nuns on the Bus campaign. She’s the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.

Sister Simone, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to what the pope has just said?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I think it’s a significant step forward, Amy, that he has publicly acknowledged to the entire world that this is not an isolated, one-off event, but is really anchored in a culture of clericalism that protects the institution without looking at the suffering of our people. His challenge now, however, is to go beyond the words and to actually take action to break open this culture of clericalism and domination from the top and to really find effective ways to change the path forward. That’s the biggest challenge.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have this letter that essentially has gone viral. When we last looked, it was 140 people signed on. Now it’s over a thousand theologians, Catholic laypeople, academics, calling for all U.S. bishops to resign. Do you agree with this, Sister Simone?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I think it is that groundswell of “We cannot just continue business as usual.” And in Chile, that is exactly what the bishops in Chile were forced, actually, by the pope to do, was to submit their resignations. He only chose to accept three, but yet I think it is an effective way to begin to change the leadership.

But I want to make abundantly clear that the leadership is key for this change, but so is the education of our clergy, as well as the inclusion of laity, and especially women, in key decision-making roles. I practiced family law for 17 years, and I know that in allegations of abuse, it’s critical—critical—to have a comprehensive view. By eliminating women, by eliminating laymen in the decision-making process, they focused on the wrong piece. They focused on the institution, not on the children who were suffering. So we need a huge change in the church.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a letter, published Friday on the website Daily Theology, calling on all U.S. Catholic bishops to resign over the scandal following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed more than 300 Catholic priests had sexually abused a thousand children, possibly thousands more. As I was saying, the letter signed by more than a thousand theologians, educators, lay leaders, asking the bishops resign collectively as a public act of repentance and lamentation. The letter states, quote, “The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of 'a few bad apples' but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church. Systemic sin cannot be ended through individual goodwill. Its wounds are not healed through statements, internal investigations, or public relations campaigns but rather through collective accountability, transparency, and truth-telling. We are responsible for the house we live in, even if we did not build it ourselves,” they wrote. So, following on this, when you look at, for example, what nuns were faced with, Nuns on the Bus, people you represent, Sister Simone, when you were investigated—


AMY GOODMAN: —it looks like you were investigated more than any of these priests, who preyed on children and adults, seminarians as well.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Right. I think that’s accurate. And I think one of the dynamics, the psychological dynamics, in the investigation of Catholic sisters was just that: the attempt to deflect. And we know a psychological trait on the part of all human beings, including clergy and bishops, is, when attacked, let’s deflect it. I mean, we certainly see that in politics right now in our nation. But the result of leadership focusing on Catholic sisters, who at times had been victims of abuse by priests themselves, that we’ve got—we got it all wrong. We got it turned around.

And finally, what I think Pope Francis at least talks about is changing that dynamic. And what this letter from the lay members of our nation is saying, it’s time to do more. But I’ll tell you, it’s going to take time to change the culture, change the orientation. I mean, our church is old. It’s like 2,000 years old. And it’s spent a long time building this, as the letter said. So we’ve got to begin the dismantling now.

And it’s inclusion. It’s all of us together. We’re one community. We’re not the leaders separated from the followers, as many have thought. We’ve got to come together and say, “Together we can move forward.” And Pope Francis actually calls us to that. But I think the leadership has some serious change and—needs serious change in direction, if we’re going to be effective in changing how we face the future and stop this abuse.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to the Vatican last year. You blasted male power. Talk about that trip, and talk about the male power, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and what you think needs to change now.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I have to confess, I sort of thought the Swiss Guard might stop me at the gate and they wouldn’t let me in. But they did. And I was able, in that setting, to speak of the limitation in our church by ignoring women’s leadership. I mean, we have all this pious talk about how men and women are created in complementarity and all that, but then we leave women out entirely. The fact is, to be a worshiping community, we need the whole community involved in prayer and leadership. And that was the point I was trying to make. And that the culture of monarchy, which is what has dominated the Vatican story, the culture of monarchy is what built this entire abuse scandal and the cover-up. I mean, if we had dealt with it in the beginning, we would have changed how we behave. Now it is the horrible, painful monument to a bad system that needs to be changed. And men need to wake—the men of our church need to wake up to that, and not only tolerate us, but invite us in for further conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the Catholic Church, the hierarchy, going after you, bishops investigating you and the Nuns on the Bus around issues of not speaking out—well, you can tell us—about gay marriage, about abortion. Explain what happened.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Right. Well, they named us, our little organization of NETWORK, as being a bad influence on Catholic sisters in the United States, because we worked too much on the issues of poverty. Well, since it’s our—and not on gay marriage and abortion. Since our mission is to work on the issues of economic justice, I really thought it was a badge of honor that they noticed. But the second part that they missed is they set up this litmus test for sexual orientation as being the test of how faithful you are, which actually is a sign of the nugget of the problem here, is that when you push away or don’t want to look at the abuse issue, then sex begins to obsess their perspective, and they become the righteous judgers. And this is wrong. This is wrong.

And so, our effort at NETWORK is to stay faithful to our mission, to work on income and wealth disparity. We have a new trip coming up about the income and wealth gap, where we’re going to go after the tax policy that was passed by the Republicans in December, and say this is wrong for our nation, because we, the people, need to be one people. It’s the same message as the pope is saying. We need to come together and work for the common good of each other. This is what our bishops have to do, and this is what our government has to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think women should be priests?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, quite frankly, I think women serve many priestly functions, and that should be acknowledged. When I was the head of my religious community, I led my sisters in prayer, I forgave sin, I blessed the dying. So, I know I served many priestly functions that need to be seen. And a formal acceptance, well, it’d be about time. But women step into those priestly roles. Many of the parishes in our nation are served by—are led by women. And it’s about time our leadership woke up to that fact.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think priests should be able to marry?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Yes. I mean, the fact is, it wasn’t until the 1200s that the order of celibacy became required. And do you know why that happened? It was because inheritance was too complicated. If bishops had a wife and they had a cathedral, would the wife—and the bishop died, would the wife inherit the cathedral? So, their answer was to mandate celibacy. It doesn’t seem a good reason to me. It’s about time we woke up to the 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: And gay marriage and abortion?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, glory. I am so tired of being obsessed with other people’s sexual expressions or moral choices. It’s way more complicated than a simple yes/no. And it’s about time that we, the people, the community that Pope Francis calls us to be, have that conversation about complexity, about how each person is made, and the complexities in deciding tough questions. I’m not going to be the one to judge differently, when I say our church shouldn’t be out there judging differently in that same fashion. Let’s have the conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, clearly, the church is in a global crisis. I want to turn to Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually abused by a priest in Chile when he was a minor. He met with Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this year. He spoke to CNN on Monday about the pope’s letter.

JUAN CARLOS CRUZ: There is new language now from the Vatican, which is important to consider. They talk about crimes. They talk about a culture of death. They talk about a culture of abuse and cover-up. Those things were not talked about before. Before, they were omissions, sins, which is terrible to consider those things. In Pope Francis’s letter earlier in the month, he talks about going to local justice, you know, how bishops don’t turn the perpetrators to local justice because they’re not obligated to do so. And that is a horrible crime. And as you see, those numbers are absolutely staggering.

AMY GOODMAN: According to Reuters, Chilean law enforcement is investigating 38 accusations of sexual abuse against 73 bishops, clerics and lay workers, involving 104 victims in Chile. Last week, authorities in Chile raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference. At least five Chilean bishops have resigned so far this year. Meanwhile, Pope Francis is headed to Ireland at the end of the week for the first visit to the country by a pope in nearly 40 years, the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland badly damaged by years of revelations that priests raped and molested children and that senior members of the church covered up the crimes. Many believe whatever message the pope delivers will be too little, too late. This is clerical abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman.

COLM O’GORMAN: The fact that the Vatican hasn’t even indicated that it has any intention to address the issue when it’s here, the fact that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, you know, a week and a half ago, said he was trying to impress upon them the need to do so, makes it clear that the Vatican has no real interest in acknowledging the truth of what’s happened here. My own view would be this papal visit is very late indeed. If the Vatican was approaching this issue with integrity, a pope would have come here and not just kissed the ground when he landed, but gotten on his knees and acknowledged the truth of what’s happened in this country and the Vatican’s role in it, 15 years ago, when people needed that to happen. This is late. And for any acknowledgment of the abuse issue to be a mere afterthought, I think, is reprehensible.

AMY GOODMAN: The recent vote legalizing abortion in Ireland, of course, the major effort of women has to be first credited. But the demise of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which has so opposed it, but now wracked by this scandal, really helped to pave the way for that kind of vote, would you say, Sister Simone Campbell?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Yes, I would, Amy. And I think here what’s really at the heart of this is: Is the complex Roman bureaucracy really committed to this letter, or is it only one office who’s engaging this? Because the Vatican is a very complex system, and what the last speaker just pointed out is that this should be at the heart of all of our work. And that, I think, is the challenge here.

And the other piece is that it’s not just the perpetrator and the abused that are suffering in this system. The whole church, all of the people are suffering, and the priests who have been faithful and have not abused. I have so many friends, priest friends, who are afraid to touch anyone nowadays, because they’ve been told by lawyers, “You could get in trouble.” And that whole element of fear, sorrow, division? This is what needs to be addressed systemically by the whole Vatican, not just one office.

So I hope, when the pope goes to Ireland, that that gets integrated into the reality that he’s witnessing. Now, it’s going to be an international meeting that he’s going to, but having just issued this letter, an international letter, it’s a perfect opportunity to continue that conversation and to really engage in change, finally.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Sister Simone, Nuns on the Bus are headed to Mar-a-Lago?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Yes, this is our new—we’re going out on tax policy, as I said, but the Nuns on the Bus is on the road to Mar-a-Lago, because what we want to do is collect the stories of ordinary people who are so victimized by this tax policy, and take it to the icon of the—of who benefits from this tax policy and say, “Hey, this is not who we are as a nation. Let’s come together and work for the common good.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, an advocacy group for Catholic social justice, author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.

When we come back, today is the first day of a nationwide prison strike in the United States. We’ll speak with some of the organizers. Stay with us.

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