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. Laura

    Why isn't anyone talking about the nun? The news people are talking about everyone else. Did the church call CNN and threaten the station or something? I mean seriously, most of us have never ever seen a nun go on national television and back the Dems. I think this is a big big story.

    September 5, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      I love the nuns. They are actually doing something good.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  2. Rosie

    I am so proud of the nuns on the bus they remind me of the nuns who taught me in the70's at Nazareth

    September 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  3. geraldh@usfamily.net

    This nun should have been under the bus. Nuns don't partner with government. They go out and work hard like Mother theresa did and build hospitals and schools on real charity. Not the godless, lifeless "charity" of the government and social programs. Hasn't she heard of supernatural vs. natural works? Government works by their nature are natural works. And you have to compromise your morality and values to partake in them. Sister you don't rep my faith.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • nelsonleonard

      Been a Catholic (weekly church goer, support financially 100 %) for 70 years and all I can say is "You go, Sister! You are the kind of representative that makes me proud. Nuns should live to serve others and help the needy and poor."

      September 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Teresa Blanchard

      And you have not read the word of Jesus on the New Testament......The NUN IS RIGHT!!!!

      September 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Mark in Atlanta

      Sister Simone makes me want to return to the Catholic church. People like you.... not so much.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Mother Theresa used government to help the poor every way she could.
      As for the Ryan budget, the slogan "What would Jesus cut" says it all: Jesus would not cut services for the poor. If you are so concerned about the church, then work to keep churches and schools open in poor neighborhoods.
      Being in favor of helping the poor doesn't mean a person doesn't believe in miracles; it is a miracle that more people haven't starved to death with the kinds of policies and businesses we have.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Debbie Dartnell

      Catholics believe that we should engage in "corporal works of mercy" as well as "spiritual works of mercy". Her social justice work represents corporal works of mercy. Clearly she is not partnering with government or she would not have made any comments about her pro-life stance. I agee with those who believe that pro-life has a lot more to do with life than the single issue of abortion. I am also certain that I would want to be part of a faith that says "This nun should have been under the bus"

      September 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  4. Larry

    Agreed Awesome speech from Sister Simone. There was a goodness in her speech. I felt the sincerity.

    We need to start ignoring the negative hateful people in this country and on these comment boards. They want us to join in their unhappiness and their volcanoes of hatred and ill will. Their posts reek of evil intent and hatred. We will beat them in November and we will beat them with compassion for our fellow man and woman.

    They claim to be pro-life but their agendas are corrupt and their hearts are not pure.
    Don't buy into their hate people. Let your vote be your voice and your rejection of their selfish, controlling strategies. Let your love for what is right guide your decision in this election.

    Obama/Biden 2012!!

    September 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  5. Penny4my2c

    Romney can easily fix this by doing a clip sitting on a porch in the country playing a banjo and starting with "I was born a poor black child. . ."

    September 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Mark in Atlanta

      What the h*ll are you talking about? This comment makes no sense.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  6. Penny4my2c

    Romney can easily fix this and do a clip sitting on a porch in the country playing a banjo starting with "I was a born a poor black child. . . "

    September 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  7. alexibenjamin

    I'm happy to hear that she vocalized her opposition against abortion at the DNC. The Democratic party are hypocrites. They will push for anti-smoking visuals on cigarette packs but they sure don't want anyone to see how a fetus is aborted. The Liberals don't want you to wear a fur coat or smoke while you visit an abortion clinic. Civil rights? Right. The Dems voted to take away the ultimate in human rights....the right for individuals to take their first breath because they were deemed undesirable. That is eugenics.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Teresa Blanchard

      And I guess you are ok with Killing the Babies after they are Born ..Without healthcare or food or education .....you care about your pockets ..not about the Babies

      September 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  8. joe

    The issue is freedom. Don't tell me what I can do with my money. If I decide I don't want to help someone, so be it. When the government steps up to help people (with my money), I step back with my money. The government is inefficient and wasteful. Proven time and again. Local charities and religious organizations previously helped through volunteerism. Now we have the homeless and poverty industry of non-profits with paid leadership and staff.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Ray

      This is not about freedom, it is about being cheap. Do not try to blame others for your actions. You don't give because you don't care enough.

      If your mother or grandmother receive social security from the government, do you refuse to give them anything also?

      September 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Joe

      correct. My free choice to be cheap. Now you're telling me how much I have to care.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  9. Don C

    I don't entirely agree with Sister's views, but I will defend to the end her right to say them. I am a lifelong Catholic. I do feel the Church is very uncharitable in some of its comments coming from the Vatican, especially the Pope. I don't like him and never have liked him. When Christ comes again I believe he will restore the Church to its early days. The Vatican will be dust, the College of Cardinals, a faded memory.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  10. rhett

    It's fun to have nuns get out and act like the person on the street. We get it. What I don't like are Catholics telling us how we have to spend our taxes for illegals and abortions. What this nun omits, is the same as lying and stealing behind our backs. If nuns want women to have abortions, this nuns silent (covert) issue, the Catholic Church can pay for them themselves. If nuns want millions of illegals burdening our own country, let Catholics and their nuns get up their own charity to pay for abortions and illegals expenses. Crying to honest people to pay for people who broke the law just because they can or pay for their abortions is not respectful to Americans. All the latinos here and the Catholic can support these illegals and follow our laws as written. Instead they want us to pay their way, I want people to pay my way too. Mexicans pay my way.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Lola

      Lemme guess: you support war. What marvelous hypocrisy.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  11. Midtown Mark

    Your article says "she [wanted to] voice to her anti-abortion views." I'm almost certain she practically shouted from the podium a "pro-choice" message that brought the audience to its feet. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm watching the Democrat National Convention or The Twilight Zone.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Wisconsin Proud

      And she did it with a beaming, ear-to-ear grin! I actually was almost NAUSEATED at the level of GLEE she delivered that disgusting speech with! There was an offensive level of arrogance in her delivery.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  12. omeany

    AWESOME Speech! A wonderful reminder to the supposed "God Fearing" GOP that their budget is inhumane and that we should stop screaming at each other and start working together for a better America.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • geraldh@usfamily.net

      What is inhumane is destroying our economy with massive debt. in the end this will put more poor on the street than Paul Ryan's buget ever would.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  13. Jay

    "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"

    So the fact that Cardinal Timothy Dolan will be offering the closing prayer at the convention means nothing? You know, he's one of the guys in the Catholic Hierarchy that is leading the call against the Obama Administration's plan to include contraception within healthcare plans. I think the New York Times was much more accurate in saying that the Democratic Convention was trying to "balance" things by inviting both Campbell and Dolan. This piece just has a very inaccurate interpretation of the Democratic Party's actions in inviting Campbell if you ask me.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Please Dont Contact ME

      If you want to debate on whether a nun can speak at the DNC and bring religion in to it, then you might want to talk about Romney at the RNC talking about being a Mormon. Everyone knows that mormonism isnt being a Christian.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  14. abbydelabbey

    Nuns on the Bus rock! Doing the Lord's work, they remind us we are called to care for one another -

    September 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  15. publisher5

    She was superb! She pointed out that Romney is selfish and his" on your own thought" is against the teachings of Jesus Christ and others. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers and we do not build things alone, we build them together.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Please Dont Contact ME

      I love your statement! I hope everyone reads it because it is so true!

      September 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • omeany

      I also loved that she said she was being pro life by helping those in need. There seems to be a real romance among Christians when it comes to saving the unborn but once the child is born they could care less about giving that child a good education, access for healthy food or medical care and the like. I'm very perplexed by this.

      I think another thing that also stumps me is I once saw a group of young Christian missionaries going to the airport to assist hurricane victims abroad. On their way to the plane they all walked right past a homeless man, never stopping to see if they could help him. I was just wondering if they thought it was more virtuous to assist those in foreign countries? I also wonder if it's more virtuous to protect the unborn child walking past the poor children that are already here?

      September 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  16. Common Sense

    WHY CANT HELPING THE POOR AND BEING PRO-LIFE GO TOGETHER!?!?! These nuns are too politicized! They only reflect one aspect of Catholicism in order to follow a certain political party. Just because some some pro-life people are hypocrites doesnt mean that we can still kill babies!

    September 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • retiredhealthcare

      This nun is a lobist first(for Network) and a?catholic. She said nothing about our pro choice President. She had the chance to speak out about abortion which kills thousands while lamenting about the lack of food stamps.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • omeany

      After the inquisition I should have thought the fact that you cannot legislate morality would be obvious. I wish those who believe abortion is murder would simply not have abortions and work to assist the unwanted babies that are currently residing in our orphanages to find loving homes.

      If you outlaw contraception and abortion there will only be more unwanted babies to raise or worse the return of back alley abortions. Sad but very true.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Didn't you know? They want more unwanted children because they're prime targets for indoctrination.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  17. BR Rite

    AWESOME SPEECH from Sister Simone!!!:-) God bless you for bringing the truth.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  18. Amy

    Unbelievable. Supporting a pro-late term-abortion president. Have 2 aunts that are nuns. Went to Catholic schools K thru college as did my 4 brothers and sisters, as well as both parents. Catholic my whole life and proud of it, until now. I'd put the average conservative's charitable giving to those less fortunate against the average liberal's charitable donations any day. Look at Obama/Biden's record vs Romney/Ryan's. Say what you will, but Biden has never really privately helped those less fortunate and Obama only started after he decided to run for president. Romney has given millions for years.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Common Sense

      True. Private citizens can still donate money and help the poor. Private citizens cant stop abortion.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • geggyg

      Yes Biden could have given more to charity , but remember that though he is comfortably off compared to most americans , he isnt rich , hasnt gone out of his way to enrich himself from insider info as many politicians have . Also you you say donate more than liberals, you may be right in dollar terms , but if you have more disposable income you can donate more to charity than someone that needs most of their income to pay for food and housing . Take into account how much time is given to help charities/community work , think you will find liberals ahead there.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Ashton67

      Romney has gave millions to his Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, which is NOT a Christian church, but a cult religion. Mormons DO NOT believe that Jesus Christ is the ONLY begotton Son of God. Mormons are offended by the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ and the Mormons refuse to have a Cross on or in any of their houses of worship which they refer to as "temples." Mormons also find fault and error in the Holy Bible and believe that Joseph Smith was a Phropet of God and that The Book of Mormon is the ONLY true and corret Word of God. So, if your truly a good Catholic Christian, then you know that Mitt Romney's faith in the Mormon religion is NOT the same as your faith in the true Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the ONLY begotton Son of God.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Carolyn

      Although the President is a supporter of a women's right to choose – it is a giant illogical leap to make him an advocate of late term abortion. In my opinion, what Sister Simone Campbell is advocating is the long standing Catholic teachings on social justice. These were the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, St. Francis of Assisi to name a few.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Just saying

      And Romneys "millions" have gone to who? They have gone to what? And why would you no longer be proud of being Catholic? The Roman Catholic Church has turned its back on children who were abused by priests for years and it is the story of this nun has broken your pride in Catholicism? Please....

      September 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  19. asifyoucould

    Yes..She made a great point. Pro life should extend to caring for the 100 percent... not just the unborn!

    September 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  20. john m

    the sister made some good points. the pro life movement seems to end when the baby is out of the womb. in fact, those same people are likely to be pro death penalty. good at bringing you in and taking you out but they suck at everything in between.

    September 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
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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.