The Rachel Maddow Show | March 14, 2013
MADDOW: Other than Bill and Hillary Clinton , this might be the most successful and politically ambitious husband and wife team in western politics in the 21st century. This is the late Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner . The gentleman there, Nestor Kirchner , he passed away a couple of years ago. But between 2003 and 2007 , he was the democratically elected president of Argentina . His wife, Cristina , was his democratically elected successor. She was elected in 2007 . While she was president, before he died, he went and served as a member of Congress in his country . Then in 2007 , the year before she was up for reelection as president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner picked a political fight . She picked a political fight over gay marriage . Her government sponsored a same sex marriage rights bill that gave gay people in Argentina an equal right with straight people to marry, to adopt children, to inherit money just like first class citizenship. It was a proposed expansion of human rights in a country that a generation prior had famously, famously violated human rights on a grand scale. Under a military dictatorship, an estimated 30,000 people were killed or sometimes just disappeared. There are still people in Argentina who do not know what happened to friends and family in the 1970s . There are still people who are technically considered to be missing. And so, against the backdrop of that relatively recent massive human rights violation history, the very first woman to be re-elected president of Argentina , Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner , she staked her personal reputation and her professional future on human rights issue, specifically on legalizing gay marriage in Latin America , in a very heavily Catholic country . Of course, one of the major influential powerful institutions in Argentina is therefore the Catholic Church . In response to this move of the government, church leaders organized big anti- gay marriage protests around the country in the months and weeks and days before the country 's Senate was due to vote on the bill. They spoke out forcefully against gay rights , against gay marriage and against Christina Kirchner in particular. But far and away, the most out front vocal opponent of gay marriage within the church 's effort on this issue, the one who took on as his cause celebre, the person who entered into the political fray with the most gusto, determined to keep gay people from getting married in Argentina was the archbishop of Buenos Aires , Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio . We all know him now as Pope Francis . At the time of this political fight , he said of the gay marriage bill in his country , quote, " Let us not be naive, we are not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive." Cardinal Bergoglio called on God to get Argentina 's senators to vote against gay marriage . Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner 's response was rather furious. She said his argument and the argument of other church leaders was like something from, quote, "the times of the Crusades ." She said they are portraying this as a religious moral issue and as a threat to the natural order, when what we are really doing is looking at a reality that is already there. It would be a terrible distortion of democracy if they denied minorities their rights." And the cardinal ended up losing that fight . President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won that fight . And Argentinians got same-sex marriage rights. And the following year, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner got reelected. Since that fight over gay marriage , the relationship between the president of Argentina and the cardinal have been described not just as a bad relationship, but an awful relationship and you can see why. And now, he's pope. When an opportunity for a political fight on this issue presented itself, Cardinal Bergoglio inserted himself into that fight trying to make the biggest impact possible. He got brushed back by the president who both won the fight and won it so decisively that it led to criticism in his country of the church being both divisively, overtly political and incapable of influencing public opinion and policy -- worst of all worlds. The cardinal stuck his neck out on this one. He gave quotes to the press. He advocated publicly against this expansion of human rights . He was vituperative in his condemnation of gay people and he ended up losing. And now, he's the pope. Do we know what that means for how he and the billions strong church he leads will be involved in social issues and political fights going forward? Joining us now is Sister Simone Campbell . She's the executive director of the national Catholic social justice lobby called Network . If she seems familiar, you may remember her from the Nuns on the Bus tour last year organized to oppose Congressman Paul Ryan 's budget proposal. Sister Simone , it's really nice to have you here tonight. Thank you so much for being here.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, SISTERS OF SOCIAL SERVICE MEMBER: It's an honor to be with you .
MADDOW: Thank you. As somebody who has been an activist on behalf of the church 's teachings, what do you foresee from the church and its political involvement and its leadership on these kinds of issues with this new pope?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think he's been very strong in a very positive way about economic justice , about caring for those in the margins of society about engaging economic justice issues, the disproportionate wealth in rich countries and by the wealthy and the abandonment of people at the margins. I think he would speak out against Paul Ryan 's new budget as our bishops spoke out against the old budget. I do think on the issues more sexually-oriented, that he probably won't change the church 's traditional teaching on this. But what I do have some hope for is that he appears to get touched by experiences of real people with real needs and real issues. So I'm hoping as he becomes pope for the global church that he will be touched by other people and see their struggles, see their efforts. And let his heart be broken by that.
MADDOW: As somebody who has been so involved in this personally as you are means of serving your church and your way of expressing your faith, do you feel like you have learned that there are better ways and worse ways for the church to be involved as a political actor, to be part of policy conversations and political debates?
CAMPBELL: Oh, absolutely. I think when we get too identified with an ideal that is politically held that we can hold on to the ideal with losing sight of the gospel. But when you have to stay rooted in the gospel and Jesus' call to welcome in everyone, welcome in those at the margins, even when it doesn't fit my own political story. And that's the challenge. We have to break out of our rigid political loyalty to be able to be loyal to the Gospel . It's very hard. It's challenging.
MADDOW: And the hierarchal nature of the church , it lends itself to political analysis like other hierarchal institutions. But, of course, the hierarchy of men and women within the church is all subservient to the hierarchy -- the spiritual hierarchy . And in that context, I mean, you and so many other women of the church who have spoken out on social justice issues, particularly on issues of inequality and poverty, and that's been the organizing principle around your work about the Ryan budget and everything.
MADDOW: You've ended up having quite a bit of conflict with the male church hierarchy over some of your stands in the way you have articulated them. Do you now foresee that getting better? Or do you know yet? Could it get worse?
CAMPBELL: I guess it could get worse. But the thing that I've seen, Rachel , is that the fact that we got criticized by the Vatican gave us the notoriety that gave birth to Nuns on the Bus . So I say that the Holy Spirit from my perspective, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and making mischief. So even though painful things happen to us when the criticism from the Vatican , the spirit took it and generated a hope and an engagement for people. And so that yesterday, I was in Richmond and some of the people in the crowd pointed out, we were talking about women 's leadership in the church . And one of the members of the group said, oh, but you -- but you, Sister Simone , have become a leader in the church and I was really surprised. I mean, I think of myself as engaged in politics. But there is a way in which this movement has generated a -- I don't know -- a really electricity about hope and about another way forward . The spirit's alive and well while it could be painful in the criticism, other things are happening because of it.
MADDOW: Sister Simone Campbell , executive director of the national Catholic social justice lobby Network -- I have such respect for the way that you conduct yourself in these very heated political fights that you've been involved in sort of taking criticism on all sides, the way that you have always responded with such dignity and eloquence is a real inspiration. I think even people disagree with you on these issues. So, thank you for being such a model in that. Thanks for joining us tonight.
CAMPBELL: Thank you for this opportunity.
MADDOW: Thanks. I love -- the Holy Spirit is alive and well and making mischief. That's my kind of Holy Spirit . All right. Among other things, today saw the most politically significant traffic jam we have had in this country in a long time. That's coming up.