America ReFramed

Radical Grace

Season 05  Episode 3

In 2012, The Vatican censured American nuns, putting them under the supervision of conservative bishops. RADICAL GRACE follows three U.S. nuns, sisters Simone Campbell, Chris Schenk, and Jean Hughes, who refused to back down and continued to challenge the patriarchal system. The nuns’ advocacy puts their lives at stake, at a tense time in the Church as a new Pope is being selected. However, they’re willing to lose it all and risk their place within the Catholic Church for their devotion to social justice and to meet their higher calling - to apply their faith to action.

Fearlessly, the three sisters challenge what they regard as the Catholic Church’s long-held patriarchal and conservative norms with their dedication to social justice. The conflict comes to a head when the Vatican admonishes against “radical feminism” within the ranks of American nuns, and threatens some, including Sister Simone, with excommunication.

Sister Jean, a longstanding presence on Chicago’s West Side, counsels former prisoners who are trying to reenter the community. As the director of the progressive lobby NETWORK, Sister Simone, an attorney, devises a “Nuns on the Bus Tour” to highlight economic inequality and defend the Affordable Care Act. Sister Chris focuses on in-house reform, advocating for gender equality within the Catholic Church.

The film captures the nuns’ unwavering resilience as they ponder, under duress, what it means for them to be both devoted to, and in conflict, with a historically male-driven and hierarchical institution. The drama unfolds against the backdrop of evolving Church rhetoric. Their engagement with, and connection to, the plight of everyday people garners the attention of Pope Francis, and their collective achievements demonstrate how the Catholic Church is changing from within, while propelling reform well beyond the convent walls.