VATICAN CITY, March 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Sister Simone Campbell, a dissident nun most famous for her “Nuns on a Bus” work, spoke at the Vatican on Wednesday at a conference for International Women's Day.
Titled “Voices of Faith,” the conference has taken place for four consecutive years. This year's program thanked Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, “for opening the doors to the Casina Pio IV.”
The conference has taken place in the Vatican building Casina Pio IV in years past as well.
This year, the conference's theme was “Stirring the Waters – Making the Impossible Possible.”
“Voices of Faith” is “an initiative of the Fidel Götz Foundation in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service and Caritas Internationalis,” its program explains. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of Catholic charities and relief agencies. One of the members of the conference's advisory board is Deborah Rose-Milavec, the executive director of FutureChurch. FutureChurch advocates for women's ordination as priests and claims Jesus “did not ordain anyone.”
The event was also “supported by the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Loyola Foundation, and Mary J. Donnelly Foundation,” according to its program.
“It is amazing to be here, I have to say that,” said Campbell. She praised the pope's encyclical Laudato Si and joked about “taking the Gospel to Capitol Hill, at this point, where it might be missing in action sometimes.”
Campbell's progressive “Nuns on a Bus” tour focuses on prudential, not moral, issues within Catholic teaching. Campbell publicly supports legal abortion and has praised the president of NARAL's abortion story as “touching and compelling.” She runs the social justice lobby group NETWORK.
Campbell spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She supports ordaining women as priests, which the Catholic Church teaches is impossible. She publicly advocated for Obamacare even though it expanded abortion.
The pro-abortion nun spoke on a panel with Scilla Elworthy, Ph.D, the founder of the Oxford Research Group, Peace Direct, and Rising Women Rising World. Presenting with them was Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer from India and the co-founder of the Majlis Legal Centre.
The conference emphasized peace and at times environmentalism. Elworthy talked about her anti-nuclear weapons activism.
“We have to go way beyond sustainability,” said Elworthy. This will “help nature … regenerate.”
Campbell shared stories “from the bus.” She recalled how women she met in Missouri organized against gentrification in their neighborhoods and then eventually started vegetable gardens.
“The biggest joy of the bus is that all are welcome to the bus and if you commit to participating in a community to do whatever … bridge the divides, to work to end income and wealth disparity, if you commit to that, then you get to sign the bus,” said Campbell. Everyone who signs the bus is part of a “community that weaves together to make the change.”
Agnes described her work fighting cultural bias against women in India, where rape victims often aren't believed and are mistreated by the courts. She advocates for victims of sexual violence and abuse. One of the ways in which India has moved toward providing better justice for women is by employing female police officers, prosecutors, and judges, Agnes said.
Nevertheless, “patriarchy seeps so deep in each us,” she said, and it's important to ensure men understand the plight of oppressed women and “change the attitude of the judiciary.”
Campbell responded, “I have to say, though, I do – sitting here – I do feel some echoes of that same struggle in a beloved institution that we all value.”
Later during the panel discussion, Agnes said, “The Church must change. The Church must accept our voices. And the Church must include them as [our] own policy.”
Toward the end of the event, the women criticized rising conservative political movements and urged that action be taken against them.
“There’s something happening worldwide now in response to the advent of [the] president of the United States and the neo-right and the xenophobic rise in Europe,” said Elworthy. “And that is that literally thousands of young people are coming to people like us and saying, ‘what can I do?’”
“We're going through a very difficult phase because the whole country is becoming very right wing” and majoritarian, Agnes said of India. Because of this, she said she feels it's important to work with Muslim and Christian minorities and to “bring in a dignity to the community and bring in women’s rights within that community.”
Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, the Superior General of the Jesuits, also spoke at the conference. He criticized “xenophobia,” “narrow-mindedness,” and that “in the West, women earn on average 70 cents for each dollar or Euro a man earns.”
In praising Pope Francis, the top Jesuit also mentioned that the pontiff has created a commission to study women deacons. He also plugged the official theme of the 2017 International Women's Day, “Be Bold for Change,” and said that “God … is Mother and Father of us all.”
The conference was live-streamed on the “Voices of Faith” website. The video can be viewed here.