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September 5th, 2012
12:58 PM ET

Catholic nun brings her star power to DNC

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – Sister Simone Campbell got what may have been the biggest media platform of her life on Wednesday night, when she addressed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the Catholic nun had plenty of star power before that.

Walking around Charlotte this week, Campbell was repeatedly stopped by fans who wanted to pose for pictures.

They had seen her on "The Colbert Report," pushing back on the Vatican's crackdown on American nuns, or read about the "nuns on the bus" tour that Simone organized to decry Rep. Paul Ryan's federal budget proposal.

"One woman came up to me and said 'my husband loves you; I'd be jealous if you weren't a nun,' " Campbell, 66, said Tuesday night.

By asking her to speak at their convention, the Democrats appear keen to capitalize on Campbell's budding celebrity at a moment when the official Roman Catholic Church has been critical of the Obama administration, claiming that it is infringing on religious liberty.

And at a convention that is revolving largely around an alleged GOP-led "war on women," Campbell is a poignant feminist symbol. She has stood up to the Vatican's criticisms of American nuns for what the church says is their fixation on progressive advocacy at the expense of promoting socially conservative positions.

"We're certainly oriented toward the needs of women and responding to their needs," she told Colbert in June, defending the nuns against the Vatican. "If that's radical, I guess we are."
But Campbell isn't taking marching orders from the Democratic Party, either.

When party officials asked her to speak in Charlotte, she made it plain she'd do it only if she could give voice to her anti-abortion views.

And when Democratic handlers revised a draft of her speech in a way that sounded too political to her, she told them she was happy to give her speaking slot to someone else.

The handlers were more than happy to work with her to revise the revisions.

On Wednesday night, Campbell said that Obama's health care law and expanding Medicaid coverage "is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do." It was the biggest applause lines in her speech, which was filled with big applause lines.

"Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith," Campbell said later in her speech. "But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.

"We agree with our bishops," Campbell said. "I am my sister's keeper. I am my brother's keeper.
Campbell, who has a law degree from the University of California, Davis, has always been political.

Her parents took her the Democratic convention in Los Angeles to see John F. Kennedy.

But she says her work has always been fueled by a passion for helping the poor. When she's not giving interviews and staging bus tours, she works as executive director of Network, a Washington-based group that describes itself as a "Catholic social justice lobby."

In 2010, the organization played an important role in promoting President Obama's health care act at a time when the Roman Catholic Church opposed the legislation. The church alleged that the Affordable Care Act used federal funds to cover abortion (Democrats deny that claim).

Campbell organized a letter of support for the Affordable Care Act that was signed by dozens of leaders from women's religious orders, giving the White House and Democrats political cover in the face of attacks from conservative religious groups.

At a celebration after the signing ceremony for the law, Obama thanked Campbell for her help: "He gave me a big kiss and said I was a tipping point."

Campbell, who joined a religious order after her freshman year at college, says her support for Obamacare grew out of a lifelong concern for the poor.

"I remember as a kid, driving back from visiting relatives in Colorado and going through Indian reservations," she said. "I would cry because it was so hard to see such poor people. Something touched me."

She got her J.D. with an eye toward advocating for pro-poor public policy but wound up hanging a shingle in Oakland, California, helping the working poor on family law cases.

"For me, it was about being the gospel and living like Jesus did," she said. "Following folks who were suffering and at the margins, struggling hard to make ends meet. I was like a parish for the unchurched."

Campbell later traveled the world as the general director of her religious order, the Sisters of Social Service, founded in the 1920s by Hungary's first female member of parliament.

At Network, Campbell's proudest accomplishment is helping pass Obamacare. But she also boasts of becoming an early thorn in the side of Paul Ryan, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate, by organizing the "nuns on the bus tour" in May.

The nine-state trip from Iowa to Washington was aimed at attacking the federal budget Ryan drew up as the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The Ryan plan, in Campbell's view, "set up this total undermining of government services as a way for there to be additional tax cuts for the wealthy."

America's Catholic bishops also criticized Ryan's budget. But weeks before the nuns on the bus tour, the Vatican issued a bruising assessment of many American nuns, saying they offered a platform for "radical feminism" and played down church teachings on abortion and gay marriage.

To some church watchers, the nuns on the bus tour represented a thumb in the eye of the assessment from Rome.

But Campbell, who is not formally a part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group singled out by the Vatican assessment, has not been shy about saying that the church hierarchy is out of touch with the church's religious life.

"The shock made me numb at first, and then I was profoundly sad that my life as a woman religious and my commitment to serving the poor would be so denigrated by the leadership of our church,"

Campbell said this year, responding to Vatican criticism of American nuns.

Campbell didn't mention the nuns' tiff with Rome in her Wednesday night speech, but her mere presence raised the profile of women religious leaders at a time when the Democrats say women are under attack.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (603 Responses)
  1. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Christianity is another form of hindu Mithra ism, savior ism, handy work of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters to make humanity their gentile, slaves, plagiarizer and corrupter s of truth absolute and promoters of hinduism, racism, praying to sign of hinduism, pagan ism cross and laying it on son of blessed Mary to hind fool humanity, Visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ to learn foundation of hinduism, criminality of hindu's, racist.

    September 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Huebert

      I challenge you to type one grammatically correct sentence.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Better Grammar Tips For Hinduphobes!

      Tip #1 – You will get much better results by typing with your fingers instead of pounding your head into the keyboard.

      Tip #2 – Reduce the amount of meth you use prior to ranting.

      Tip #3 – Ask someone in your psych ward to proof read, preferably someone in a white coat and not another patient like you

      September 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • HINDU

      HEY

      HEY

      YOUR MOM SAYS HI WE'RE DOIN IT DOGGY STYLE WHILE WATCHING THE DNC COVERAGE

      September 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  2. John

    What part of SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE do the Democrats NOT understand?

    September 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Truth4God

      The Paret where the GOP trys to elect a preacher every single election

      September 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I am sure that the Democrats totally get the separation clause, it's the Republicans who can't seem to keep religion our of politics.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      That separation of church and state comment is just TOO FUNNY coming from the GOP
      The GOP is america's version of the TALIBAN
      Thanks for the laugh
      Here comes (Bill Clinton) your "19th nervous breakdown"

      September 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • norm

      ALL of it!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      I'm an atheist so think any reference to any god is stupid, but a political party is not the government so does not have to heed separation of church and state. And even I can see how removing the reference to god was poor politics – it might be correct, but as has been seen, it unnecessarily alienated people they need to vote Democrat and gave the 'Pubs something to beat the Dems up with.

      September 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      The Democrats are the party of social justice. If the nuns like that, they're welcome to show their support.

      That's very different than the Republican approach of trying to turn religious beliefs in to laws.

      September 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Matty

      I think that concept has been long lost. I have heard preacher and church leaders tell us how to vote for the last 8 years. Thank God, when I go into the voting booth, my vote is private. No one, not my priest, preachr or rabbi will be able to truly control my vote. God's name is used to sell almost any political idea. If and when we get to heaven,on many issues, I picture God looking at us and saying:"you thought I said WHAT????"

      September 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  3. American Boy

    The Episcopal Church Welcomes You ! (and yes, we have Nuns ! )

    September 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  4. RS, CA

    @harry haller - I don't know many nuns who live their "vows of poverty." Those I know own extensive health care / hospital systems, supposedly "not for profit." They don't drive run-down cars, they are schmoozed and wined and dined by community leaders, they wield their power by making lay people do their "dirty work." They're not all that much different from those "priests and pope."

    September 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • dtm

      @RS,CA – get a clue. Name one order where this happens? "They wield their power by making lay people do their "dirty work." "....um, ok. And you have evidence to support this ridiculous claim? Right, I didn't think so....

      September 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  5. O town

    You people need to have more respect for other peoples beliefs.

    The sister seems like a wonderful woman. Where in the world does it say she takes from neighbors and takes the credit for herself. Do not bash other people for doing what you don't have enough courage to do yourself.

    People who devote their lives to helping those in need whether they be religious or just regular people in your community work very hard. It disgusts me how closed minded and hateful some Americans are. Proud to live in Canada.

    It makes me wonder if the people who posts such hateful and ingnorant comments have lived or traveled the world and have seen or been exposed to different cultures.

    September 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Lincoln Osiris

      What do you mean, 'you people'...

      September 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  6. Michael

    She cares for the poor and that makes her an apostate in the eyes of many of the wealthy "faithful." When they read the stuff Jesus says about how the wealthy should sell all of their possessions and give the money to the poor in order to follow God, they ignore it. When they read "and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well," they are offended. If they had lived back in those times, they surely would have been in the forefront of those conspiring to kill him.

    September 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • John

      I agree with you. So, who gives more Obama, Biden, Romney, or Ryan? The Republicans have many wealthy, greedy people in their ranks . . . just like the Democrats do. What's your point?

      September 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Loggan

      Nuns are married. They are married to Jesus, who apparently is a polygamist which is outlawed in the USA. So, Federal Marshalls have him on their wanted list. LOL. Seriously, Nuns are married to Jesus.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  7. RidgewayVol

    Um, she should probably check with her husband regarding her views on abortion...

    September 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Michael

      If you'd bothered to read the article, you'd know that she doesn't approve of abortion.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Khanhye East

      Or if you weren't ignorant, you would know that Catholic nuns are not allowed to marry.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  8. RS, CA

    Modern-day nuns are interesting. They are normally completely taken care of financially for the rest of their lives by their order or the Church. Easy for them to mouth off about "social justice" - the costs don't come out of their pockets. Personally, I no longer have respect for them, because very few of them have the kind of piety and spirituality that made them special.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • harry haller

      Well, does that mean you feel the same way about priests, bishops, cardinals, and the pope? One big difference between nuns and the priests & co. is that the former live their vows of poverty, while the latter enjoy the high life–palaces, ruby slippers, servants, etc. Remember the pope's handmade Italian ruby slippers?
      Funny how the nuns always drive around in low-end Chryslers with no hub caps while the priests have shiny new black Cadillacs. Yeah, those nuns really abuse the system!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Steppenwolf

      The Catholic Church is indeed a near-exact model of Communism – Total state control over ever aspect of the lives of its workers, command economy, people told what just they will do, and so forth.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Kunam

      Nuns live a bare existence. While they may have their basic needs (food and shelter), they still take a vow of poverty. They are true advocates for social justice, and I have seen them do the hard labor of teaching and feeding the poor. As an alum of catholic schools in the Bronx, I have benefitted from their good work and teaching.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • TMorrison

      Pious and spiritual are not the same as quite and passive. God bless you Sister Campbell and all the Catholic sisters that demonstrate their piety and spirituality with their voices and actions.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Yuppy Puppy

      The nuns I knew lived in the equivalent of low-income housing and got communal use of some beat-up old wreckmobile, while the priests have nice quarters and a new car of their own, and the local bishop lived in a mansion in the nicest neighborhood in the city.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      So you polled the nuns ? How many do you know, exactly ? Name 2.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Sister Mary Elephant

      Shows your knuckles at once so I may smack them with my ruler.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • I can name that nun in three notes!

      Sister Incontinentia Buttocks
      Sister Anna Rexic
      Sister Bernadette Bra

      September 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • FKell

      harry haller makes a point. In fact, the order of nuns which use to be at my local church only had 1 car (a Crystler station waggon to be exact), and that was shared between all of them (around 10). It took 2 trips for them to all go somewhere together unless parishioners helped. For the most part, they really did not go anywhere other then to the school which was right next to their convent, or church which was about 2.5 miles away and shopping at the local food store. Our priests and pastors also lived very humble lives, one in particular refused for years to get a newer car with the existing one literally falling apart on the inside (floor rotting/rusting out from the underbelly, ceiling liner peeling down/removed, seat seems breaking apart), but because it still mechanically ran he refused to get a replacement.

      There are a lot of differences I believe really even between parishes. I believe firmly that growing up, they were the priests that I loved the most, and their replacements have not been the same, even to the extent of driving me away. The good news is that one of those priests is now back in my area, and I try to go to that church now, even though it is much farther away and is technically not my parish, but then again, my parish is no longer my parish as they closed it, as well as the next closest one.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  9. Evergreen

    IMHO...organized religion has separated us from the spiritual world that connects us with living beings.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Nanook of the North Northwest West North Westnorth Kinda Up Thataway

      You are not connected with living beings? Are you isolated in Antarctica or something? Do you need us to send you a rescue team or something? Maybe an English teacher who can help you make sense?

      September 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • JR

      Evergreen - Your post is the best post here. I believe Jesus would totally agree with your statement. Unfortunately, people who are not spiritual have no way of knowing how profound your statement is. It isn't their fault - they just don't understand because they've been fed garbage all their lives by organized religion.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Seyedibar

    What in the world does devoting your life to a make-believe friend have to do with politics?

    September 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  11. Swing State

    I'm Catholic and don't believe in abortion. So guess who isn't going to have one? Me! Now, is everyone Catholic? Does everyone have the same beliefs as myself? Of course not. This is the USA where there's a separation of church and state. If you are against something then don't do it. It just makes you a hypocrite and we all know they're out there.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • John

      Alleluia!!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Nancy

      Yes!!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • sam

      Uh oh, you just made awesome sense! Sense is not allowed in here.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Bob

      You are soooo right! And of course, i don't have to pay for other's abortions. I assume that's what you meant.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • John

      If there's separation of church and state, why is the President having her speak at his convention to get him re-elected? Kinda hypocritical don't you think?

      September 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • KMW

      Swing State,

      How can you be a Catholic and approve of abortion? You are a hypocrite and should become a Protestant. They welcome you and your ilk.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  12. d julien

    As a big fan of Sister Simone and also as a pro choice guy, I don't really see a conflict between my views(and the Dems) and the Sister's. I am not pro-abortion, I just feel that the state does not have the right to criminalize it and it should be up to the woman and her doctor and her conscience. I have no problem if Sister Simone or anyone else individually opposes abortion but I do have a problem when the GOP wants to call anyone who chooses an abortion, a criminal......

    September 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • John

      And again, ALLELUIA!!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  13. the_dude

    Democrat nun = Repulican gay

    No one really wants you there. Youa re just a pawn in the political game if they didn't need you for something your ass would be out on the street.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      I am pro-choice and I want here there. She seem sincere.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • needNewGov

      She seems a refreshing voice. Someone who actually cares about helping their fellow humans. Can't wait to hear her speak.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Yea, except that (depending on which poll you look at) around 48-54% of Catholics are Democrats.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Bob

    Jesus: "Give to the poor".

    Sister Campbell: "Give what your neighbor has to the poor (and then take moral credit for it yourself)".

    Enough said. Sounds like a typical heretic to me.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      No she is a community organizer like the President and Jesus.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Voxovreeson

      It's embarrassing to read someone's thoughts, when those thoughts reveal a selfish and heartless soul.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      I take it you're not a Christian.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  15. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    As she would probably agree with me on my statement: "G_d is no Social Darwinist."

    September 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  16. Chair Weight

    it will be interesting to see if she mentions the words "Jesus Christ".

    September 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • JohnnyC

      Good point. I'd like to hear the Name come from her lips. We will probably hear the words "social justice" a lot.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • harry haller

      Yeah, I was hoping to hear Romney mention his magic underpants and his plan to become a God and take his wife and family to his own celestial heaven where he would rule supreme, as God. I'm still waiting....

      September 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  17. JohnnyC

    We'll see if she says anything even remotely "Catholic". May God have mercy on her soul.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Dave

      Her soul is just fine. Yours however... Hmmm, toasty.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • JJWW

      He has. It's yours he's worried about.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Voxovreeson

      And it's a good thing G_d will take care of your soul, because the rest of us have no reason to be interested in it.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • harry haller

      Did you hear The Catholic Ryan make mention of his hero and mentor Ayn Rand and her position of religion and abortion and adultery? No? That's funny. I guess he was too busy breaking that commandant about not lying!

      September 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • JohnnyC

      Laugh it up while you can.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  18. cdeh

    tdiamond, I'm sure she more than aware of the DNC's stance on abortion, but what's refreshing is her ability not to be scripted by the DNC "handlers" and in the DNC allowing for disenting opinions to be openly expressed on the convention floor. I'm sure the Ron Paul delegation would have appreciated the same respect last week at the RNC!

    September 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Timothy

      It is fine for a story to say she will not be scripted but doesn't that play into the whole religious thing and the story? If they said she 'was scripted' who would care what she says. Perhaps she is, and she will be to some point because if the speach is more negative than positive they would not want her anyway. Beside that, however, is the separation of church and state issue that many of the left support. Is this simply religion intefering with politics and why is there not people of other religious denominations put up front as well. To me, this is sanctioning a particular religion and that is not what our government is about.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  19. rizzo

    Good for her! I've been following her story for a while now and I love the way she stands up to the corrupt, outmoded Catholic bureaucracy. Her and the other US nuns should be applauded for trying to actually do good works, rather than blindly following doctrine.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Bob

      If they do not want to follow the teaching on their church they should leave and start their own church.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  20. tdiamond

    I hope the sister understands that when she stands on that podium it was built with the planks of the DNC's stance on abortion.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • sam

      Preeeetty sure she gets it since she mentions her stance in the article. But, it's gotta tell you something when a nun's got to go to the demon democrat side because her own church is such a mess.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • rizzo

      Of course she does, but she's a pragmatist. She realizes that sometimes you need to side with people who approve of abortions in the first trimester rather than those who are all for post 3rd trimester abortions and abuse.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Chair Weight

      and any type of birth control, and government control and outright pursecution of anyone who believes in anything.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • putty

      That group of nuns is pro-choice.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • TMorrison

      Pious and spiritual doesn't mean quiet and passive. God bless you Sister Campbell and all the Catholic sisters that demonstrate their piety and spirituality with their voices and actions.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      tdiamond: You mean an issue that simply is not your business nor the business of anyone but the woman involved and her healthcare professional?? Educate yourself a little...religious views mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the laws and the laws are very clear on the abortion issue.

      September 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.