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. Emelia

    Sister Simone Campbell please do not drag the Catholic church into a political arena. If you cannot act like a nun, then leave the church. Please do not endorse the evil Dems. I guess you like socialism. God forgive you.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Why does she need to act like YOUR idea of what nun's act like ? Jesus was a radical. She's just doing what her founder told her.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Huebert

      Jesus was a socialist. Remember, he told his followers to sell all that they had and give it to the poor. If that is not radical redistribution of wealth I don't know what is.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Why would a nun, living socially with other nuns, vowing poverty, helping the poor.... Why would she disagree with socialism?

      Use a brain cell, please.

      Socialism is not some big bogey man. Any economic structure taken to an extreme is bad. The US structure is part capitalism, part socialism, and has been for your whole lifetime. get over it. Learn something, instead of bleating a knee jerk reaction to what seems to be (for you and others) a 'catch phrase' you have no clear knowledge of.

      September 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • TC

      Dedicating your entire life to service the poor is serving evil? I would hate to see how you define "good".

      September 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  2. Barb Bray Wall*

    Sister Simone should be ashamed of herself. As a Roman Catholic I will not support a pres who supports abortion and me paying for others to have them!! In the Catholic Church in Texas our priests do not support this!!! Media hungry nun perhaps. Not like the nuns of old–sad what this country is coming to. Destroying Christian values. Go see the movie about Obama!!!!!

    September 6, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Christyfree

      Oddly enough Barb, you belong to one of the most barbaric, backward churches in the world. This nun makes you people look good. How sad that you're so filled with hatred...but I guess that is your way and the way your parents taught you isn't it?

      September 6, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Sister Simone should e VERY proud of herself.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      So, you will take one issue... abortion. and that will be the only issue you will consider in your voting behavior. You'd rather vote for a party that bleats a platform that is anti abportion. (that it's candidate already says he doesn't hold completely with... so he's hedging his bets, even over that.)

      Here's your choice as a catholic.

      A party that allows abortion (doesn't want to ban it) that also has some progressive ideas about helping the poor, moving towards universal health care, and the like.

      And a party that wants to ban abortions... but wants to do away with the move towards universal health care, wants to cut back on medicaid and medicare, HOLDS A BUDGET by it's VP that was CONDEMNED by the catholic bishops.

      What's more important to you? the possibility of legal banning abortion at the expense of allowing a budget that your very church leaders condemned, electing a man you know little about, KNOWING that he once ran for office (Governor of MA) on a strong pro choice platform, a decade ago, and is now running on a prolife...? Or allowing legalized abortion to stand, and the likelyhood of health care for all in your lifetime?

      What is more important to you. You really should be thinking to yourself. Can you trust a man who, less than a decade ago, stated – as he said 'unequivocable' pro choice stance... (Youtube has the videos) and now..... is suddenly pro life?

      September 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  3. tuvia



    September 6, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  4. tuvia

    The Land of Israel is the Promised Land given to our forefathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob and is given to us, their seed, as an everlasting Inheritance.

    September 6, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • pastmorm

      CNN moderators!!! Please take note of TUVIA...he is coming across as a threat to national security with this threats on the chat boards!!!

      September 6, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      The conflict over what city should be the capital of Judah, has been going on for centuries, ever since the return from the Exile in Babylon. The Yahwist land owners, and the Priestly class were in conflict, and Josiah wanted the nation unified, and to stop waring. So he wrote Deuteronomy, and established the capital at Jerusalem. There is nothing inherently "special" about Jerusalem.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  5. TDJ

    What we heard from Sr. Simone Campbell last night at the Democrat convention was an example of Doublethink – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublethink). She is not taken seriously by observant Catholic men AND women. Just ask 'em.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • TC

      How many millions have YOU asked?

      September 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  6. Reality

    Once again bringing the Power of Truth to any convention:

    Bringing the Power of Truth to any convention:

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    September 6, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I guess it's late in the game to make her Vice President. What a foil for Romney/Ryan that would be!

    September 6, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  8. Alecto

    I am Catholic. That "sister" is not. There it is. Where's the habit, the outward expression of her belief in God? Castigating other Catholics for wanting the true meaning of charity to be restored within Catholic culture? She demonstrates absolutely no humility, no piety, none of gifts of the Holy Spirit. She is no nun, and she ain't Catholic! OPM and forced mandates are not part of Catholic belief, but she is obviously more interested in feeding her ego than in feeding the poor. Isn't there some test they can do for NPD before accepting these shrews into "convents"?

    September 6, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I like your no True Catholic sentiment, Alecto. It lets the world know that you are one of few. Every time you speak out your little group grows smaller.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Pius

      "Forced mandates are not part of the Catholic belief...."

      sure, so long as you completely ignore the entirety of the churches history prior to "vatican II"- I'm just saying....

      September 6, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • fatal42

      This women is a NUTJOB !!!

      September 6, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • 1+1=2

      Aleto. You are not a true anything, but you are a true bigot and biased as all h3ll. Just shows what your fellings are about women in religion.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • TC

      "I am Catholic. That "sister" is not. There it is. Where's the habit, the outward expression of her belief in God?"

      LOL. So where is YOUR habit? Without it you obviously can't dedicate your life to God or serve the poor, by your OWN words.

      Please outline the approved vatican dress code for nuns. Thanks.

      September 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm |

    i am a democrate i am pro-life . but their is something i just do not get about mitt. he care for a life that is not born yet.but when the child is born it on his are her own. he will have the same child out in the cold because he are she was not born with a million dollar mom or dad. i like to know what bible he uses because it is not the king james about love thy neighbor .we made him rich'

    September 6, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  10. R

    What a refreshing and reassuring effort by the good Sisters. How much clearer can the message be made that we care for 100% of our people – just as a good soldier cares for his fellow soldier because he is an American in pursuit of freedom, justice and happiness. This perspective is the American dream! The bus may run into an obstacle now and then along the way but it will never be stopped – keep the bus rolling Sisters. You are on the right track, and with His blessings too.

    September 6, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  11. B Schmitt

    I admire Sister Campbell, but she if she is PRO-Life; why is she speaking for the Democrats, who have clearly made their support of the women's right to have an Abortion. I'm a Democrat by heart, but the party is now so liberal (gays, abortion supporters, and atheist), that i'm voting Republican.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:40 am |
    • Matt-Mark-John-Jesus

      so basically, you are going from one extreme to another. You comment is so contradicting.

      September 6, 2012 at 6:00 am |
    • KMW

      B Schmitt,

      Welcome to the REAL world.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • VAinVA

      There are plenty of Democrat's who consider themselves pro-life. And far more are pro-choice, not pro-abortion. It is about a woman's right to control her body. This election is about far more than abortion. I suggest that you look beyond this one polarizing issue and decide if you think that the agenda outlined by Romney/Ryan is where you want to see this country going. More tax breaks for the rich, while the middle class bears the burden. Cuts to programs that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. A president who knows nothing about foreigh affairs at a time when the world is in changing rapidly and our role is pivotal.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Vain, while you make valid points regarding the economy, most people recognize that the president has, at best, minimal impact on the economy. The reason the right to life issue is so important is the same reason it is listed first on the Declaration of Independence; The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of.....A nation's stance and approach to the rights of individuals is the fundamental indicator of the quality of it's governance. Without the right to life there can be no family values, without the right to life there can be no social justice, without the right to life there can be no equality, without the right to life there is no freedom. These are fundamental values to the Catholic faith and the good sister is contravening them by focusing attention on her pet issues and aggrandizing her own cult of personality

      September 6, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  12. Yosemite Sam

    "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."

    If the Catholic church has any chance of being saved and remaining relevant, it will be due to the nuns.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:59 am |
  13. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes nothing, but it is a good way to make a childish @ss of yourself talking to imaginary friends.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 6, 2012 at 4:41 am |
    • endarkenment

      ...I AM an Atheist, and I really loved this Nun's message – because she spoke of simple empathy, and the concept that we ARE all linked in our realities – every dollar in our pocket, came out of someone else's... And so when the wealthy make 300 million $ a year, it is with ABSOLUTE certainty that somewhere in the country, that 3 million people got ripped off for $100 each using some pseudo-legal-bcuz-it-cant-be-proven-otherwise methodologies – and we ALL know what honesty and theft are, dont we?

      But your Atheist comment sounds like the typical small-minded hate speech from an ignorant and probably slightly evil person, that i'm accustomed to finding in the ranks of the 'devoutly religious' – wielding your faith as a justification to exercise your garbage-low-character.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  15. Lee Oates

    Sister Simone is one of America's true heros. She makes me proud of being American.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  16. Troy

    We are tired of the spin doctors within any political party – why parade a nun who is fighting against Vatican to give a speech at the DNC, for a party that is so extremely against the Catholic church. If she is speaking against the Vatican, then she falls outside the church and cannont/does not represent Catholics.

    We need to have a frank discussion and real answers to why we are NOT better off after 4 years of Obama (and really over the past 6 years). Just look at the headlines:
    1) Less jobs – CNN (9/5/12) "But overall, there are still fewer people working now than when Obama took office at the height of the recession."
    2) Way more debt – FoxNews (9/5/12)But Obama has been unable to slow the rapidly mounting debt. The nation owed $10.6 trillion on Jan. 20, 2009, when he was sworn in, and has added another $5.4 trillion since – more than Bush piled up in two terms.
    3) Way more on welfare – FoxNews (9/4/12) – The numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed a slight increase from enrollment in May, which was about 46.5 million. And they reflect a marked increase from the time when President Obama took office, when enrollment was at roughly 32 million.
    This is a failed administration given this record bar none, and we the American public deserve anything besides this. When you consider the democrats controlled the House and Senate starting in January 2007 (with the House losing control to republicans in 2010), but still essentially balance of power with democrat for past 6 years – change is needed from this dismal record.
    Let's get rid of the spin – for example, why have a former president who was nearly impeached for unspeakable actions within the oval office give a speech (in place of a vice president that we are all scared of that could one day be president) is just another spin. Why are we better off??? Why Obama/Biden? We heard about "change" 4 years ago – and the only change has been for the worse as the numbers show. Please tell us how the next 4 years will be any better???

    September 6, 2012 at 2:40 am |
    • Gaunt

      Almost everything you just said is a flat out lie. Your pathalogical dishonesty is amusing in a post calling for 'less spin'.

      Obama's first act in Office was to But Bush jr's off the book wars back in the books, at an instant cost of 1.3 trillion. Debt that the GOP now tried to blame on him. This act was supervised by the Republican controlled senate budget committee and the non-partisan GAO.

      The Democrats did NOT have control of both houses from 2008 to 2010. They in fact had a supermajority for only 34 days. Evidence of the lack of a democratic supermajority is the all-time record number of fillibusteres launced by the GOP in Obama's first term to block every action he took.

      You know what another word for 'almost convicted' is? Not convicted. saying someone was 'nearly impeached' is an oxymoron. he was NOT impeached because the GOP couldnt gather the votes to do so.

      When Bush jr left his post, the US was losing 750,000 jobs a month. Under Obama it is gaining 200,000 jobs a month. You can not ignore that no matter how much you try.

      You are right we should eliminate the spin. And the lies.

      lets start with you.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • louiske

      whats with your fake numbers and conclusions.. coming from Fox. L O L .
      10.9T$ after bush, 5.4T$ during Obama. How much was there of debt before bush ? 2-3T$ after clinton ? bush started two wars and ruined your usa.and added about 8T$. Obama is being gifted the spinoff of those wars, and a yearly budget with a deficit. What do you expect with a congress that is working against him for 2 years ? Use your brains and stop watching unfair and retarded fox news. Look up the numbers for yourself and you will learn something.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • 1+1=2

      @Troy, your 'church', the catholic church, like the others, is a cult. It is founded on made up fantasies. It is a joke, a bad one, on humanity.

      September 6, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  17. BeverlyNC

    Sister Simone was wonderful as usual. She renews my faith in what Christianity is truly about – not the fraudulent "me first" extremist made-up "faith" Republicans try to shove down our throat while totally ignoring the life and lessons Jesus taught us. Republicans hate the poor and anyone who is not white and does not accept their non-God rhetoric. Republicans are haters and care nothing about "the least of us" Jesus commanded us to care for to enter the kingdom of God. As the Catholic Church keeps saying – the Ryan budget is "immoral" and "against the teachings of Jesus". I choose the true Christian who lives his faith rather than going around talking about it with no action to back it. President Obama is the true man of God who care and works for ALL Americans.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • Bushman

      Our Country is BROKE, we need to stop spending money. Paul Ryan has a plan, Obama doesn't have a plan he just wants to spend more money. Either we fix the budget now, we have got to make cuts or we all are going to need well-fare soon, but there will be no money for it. Life is full of hard choices it appears Romney and Ryan will make them Obama wants to stay the course of spending money until there is no way out.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • rocinante

      "we need to stop spending money"

      Obviously you know nothing about economics. Its people like you that got us into this mess.

      If we stop spending money, the economy takes a nosedive. We need to keep spending money, keep generating demand, and hope that consumers do the same.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  18. Lindacheyenne

    I have been following Sister Simone since the start of the bus tour. She and her fellow "nuns on the bus" are a gutsy bunch of women. If you are a Christian, you know that Sister Simone speaks the truth. The Ryan budget is the exact opposite of what we as Christians are supposed to do. As she said, we are "our sisters keeper and our brothers keeper". Her position is the moral position, regardless of any religious beliefs. Thank you Sister Simone, and all the nuns on the bus. You are my heroes!

    September 6, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  19. Paul Revere is a bigot

    "CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion ..." Wow, bigotry, ignorance and profanity is less than 50 words - quite a trifecta. ... Please, just go back to bed.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  20. Paul Revere

    Didn't hear the speech...don't need to. All I know is she's a Catholic...and that says a lot. Idol Worshippers, abortion-banners...etc. No–I am not a Romney fan, btw. So don't start with that cr*p. R. is a d**k too.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:08 am |
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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.