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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. justus

    The republicans are tering away at everyone who speaka favorably of the president, critiquing everyone. The red-headed repiblican strategist should know the booing when " the name" God waa added was not anti-God, but sick and tired of the democrats always being taken off focus with the republican manipulation. God is more than a word displayed, it is an action the republicans don't have. They have manipulation and wanabe control.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  2. HJS

    I am so tired of hearing about the unborn. Why doesn't anybody care about the born?

    September 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      The worse off the born are, the more susceptible they are to religious indoctrination.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  3. Michele Madigan Somerville

    Read "Praying Nice with the Democrats: Dolan Gets it Right" on Huffpo. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-somerville/praying-nice-with-the-democrats-timothy-dolan-gets-it-right_b_1850617.html …

    September 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  4. David, Chicago

    God bless Sister Simone Campell, SSS!

    September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  5. Russ

    Can anyone cite a reference to where Jesus took a "Pro Life" stand. Also, while you are at it, include a link to information about how they performed abortions 2000 years ago, and the contraceptives that were in common use at that time.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      John 11:26

      and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

      September 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Athy

      No.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  6. Russ

    This woman is very courageous. She's going against the Vatican, and supporting the born, over the unborn. This is why the Pope recently issued a reprimand to American Nuns. I believe she is right. She has my full support.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You believe she is right but she is not teaching the Catholic doctrine.

      September 7, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  7. JL

    Wait, who is this person? A nun against the Vatican?? Obamacare supports her pro-life stance?? She seems terribly confused. Christians and most other religious and non-religious people agree that we should sacrifice to help the poor and needy. That's what churches and charitable organizations are for. It is not the responsibility, nor is it even possible for the government to feed, cloth and provide medical care for every citizen. Protect the country from invasion, protect the citizens as consumers, regulate pollution and protect the free market. That's the government's job. They suck at it, but that's what they should be doing.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  8. In Cred

    Who would Jesus defund?

    September 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  9. m123

    Yeah, a nun in politics, ever hear of seperation of church and state?
    So that organized religion doesn't influence national policy?
    This is what the left screams about when it happens on the right.
    Both parties must be totally addicted to crack

    September 6, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • m123

      This "nun" is nothing more than an Obozo drone.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Keep religion out of politics. Why is it that the mo rons in Washington have such a hard understanding that?

      September 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Athy

      Shit, keep religion out of everything.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  10. SPA Knight

    Stephanie, Christ taught to help the poor and needy but not at the expense of the unborn which is exactly what supporting Obamacare is. The sister is flat wrong about that and perhaps she should revisit her pro-life stance carefully or read the Obamacare law. Also, Jesus never preached to be in bed with the government by taking more taxes from hardworking people in order to provide benefits to other members of society. He challenged his followers to care for the widows and children, not government. On a second matter, the nun eagerly claims that she stood up in defense of the Vatican on behalf of the sisters. That is also quite deceiving since the criticism by the Vatican was not of the sisters that do the work but their leadership of which she is part of. The reason for that is precisely because these so called leaers are the ones using their positions in vain, working in opposition on the teachings of the church especially contraception and abortion. Her label as a feminist nun says it all and her support of Obama makes it unquestonable that she is unwilling to support her church leadership but is in support of a president that promotes destruction of human life using government resources...or should I say our resources. She's a disgrace to the habit...oh yeah, she doesn't wear one of those.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • usrnm

      SPA Knight – very well put and agree completely.
      At the same time, we have to continually pray for one another, especially those who make choices similar to Sister's (e.g., VP Biden, most of the Kennedys, Secy. Sebelius, Gov. O'Malley, HML Pelosi, Sen. Kerry, Sen. Collins). These folks put politics before conscience. They're Republicans and/or Democrats first – loyal to the Party(ies) – rather than loyal to the Gospel. Thou Shalt not Kill – it's pretty clear. Protection of all human life (from conception to natural death) is as important as the call to love one another/care for the poor. Take the whole package – it's consistent.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • InclusiveProLife

      I am personally astounded by the claim that this courageous woman who has worked for the marginalized for most of her life is now being cast as some sort of "anti-life" figure. If you read the article, she is personally anti-abortion, but unlike those who seem to have an skewed perspective that once the baby is born, well, good luck – no social safety nets for you, kid – her stance is that the budget of a country that claims to be Christian should not favor continuing giving tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of further marginalizing the poor. She is pro-life in the truest sense of the word – of being your sibling's keeper from birth to natural death, as you say. I was educated at a Catholic school and was always amazed at the passion of the nuns about social justice and following the Gospel by serving the poor. They may have shed their habits after Vatican II but certainly not their conscience – that has not been diminished as you assert but has been strengthened by what they feel is following Christ's example of advocating for the poor. As for the bishops (who seem to have an inordinate amount of fondness for their lavish robes – high drag, if anything else) bullying the nuns – and it is bullying and trying to diminish the ministry of women – it is all about asserting power and patriarchy. Jesus himself called out the Pharisees for hypocrisy – these bishops are the modern day Pharisees, not the nuns.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  11. Everyman

    I find it absolutely amazing how so many people who say they are catholic sit on here and condemn this amazing woman who is actually doing the work Christ asked his followers to do. Maybe those of you who are condemning her are doing the work of Pilot. Congratulations.

    September 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Exactly what is amazing about her. She is no different than a union boss claiming to help the members when in fact the simply take their money and advance their political causes.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Everyman

      She is helping the poor and people in need...Union bosses help themselves and often protect inadequite workers

      September 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • m123

      Please show me where Christ taught people to get involved in politics?
      Really?
      Wow

      September 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • avgjoe

      Mother Teresa helped the poor. This woman preaches about helping the poor.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • usrnm

      No one is condemning this "amazing" woman. Sister's given her life to the service of the poor – so did Mother Teresa, who cared for all the poor, including those in the womb. That is what folks are responding to, not to Sister's service, but lack of consistency.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • InclusiveProLife

      What lack of consistency? She has been dedicated to her call to advocate for the marginalized. By condemning a budget that perpetuates tax breaks for the wealthy while pulling out the safety net from those at the margins, she is being consistent and true to her beliefs. And what is wrong with her speaking? Jesus himself preached and advocated for the poor.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  12. tuvia

    **

    B"H

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    LET MY PEOPLE GO SENETOR HILLIARY CLINTON AND hussein OBAMA. LET JONATHAN POLLARD GO NOW
    LET MY PEOPLE GO
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU

    WORLD VS ISRAEL. HILLARY CLINTON-THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR YOU – LET MY PEOPLE GO. FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW. LET MY PEOPLE GO BARRAK HUSSEIN OBAMA – NOW!
    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.
    PLEASE PLAY ON YOUR NETWORK NOW
    THANK YOU IN ADVANCE

    PLEASE ASK THE CANDIDATE THE FOLLOWING QUESTION.
    JONATHAN POLLARD HAS SPENT ENOUGH TIME IN PRISON.
    IT IS TIME THAT HE IS PARDONED

    LET MY PEOPLE GO SENETOR HILLIARY CLINTON AND hussein OBAMA. LET JONATHAN POLLARD GO NOW
    LET MY PEOLE GO

    Rabbi Chaim Richman answers President Obama's Cairo speech

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU

    WORLD VS ISRAEL. HILLARY CLINTON-THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR YOU – LET MY PEOPLE GO. FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW. LET MY PEOPLE GO BARRAK HUSSEIN OBAMA – NOW!
    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.

    WORLD VS ISRAEL. HILLARY CLINTON-THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR YOU – LET MY PEOPLE GO. FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW. LET MY PEOPLE GO BARRAK HUSSEIN OBAMA – NOW!
    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.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    September 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • old ben

      This is bull sh it. Also this Jonathan Pollard is a highly unstable traitor. Keep him where he is.

      September 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Mike

      TROLL!

      September 7, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  13. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    You can't be Pro Life and support the Romney Ryan plan.

    September 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Julie89

      STOP the Obama terrorism against Medical Marijuana Cancer Patients... STOP the attacks, God will save us.

      September 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • usrnm

      ?

      September 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  14. mike

    You can't be a true Catholic and favor the most pro abortion president we have ever had. This woman is not a nun. She is a community activist.

    September 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • The Emperor

      Yes, Yes. Let the hate flow through you.

      September 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Everyman

      Wasn't Christ a "community activist?" I think she is truely following the teaching of Christ...unlike the other hypocrites in the Catholic Church.

      September 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Mike

      I feel Love and the Grace of God, complete with reasoning, coming through this woman. Can't say that for any of the Republican leaders.

      September 7, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  15. Mary Ann Rosenberg

    Charismatic!

    September 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Izabela

    Why would a catholic nun support a platform that does not believe in god? THIS IS INSANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      Please point to the Democratic platform plank that disavows all belief in God for Democratic voters.

      Thanks.

      September 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • InclusiveProLife

      Rather than advocating for the other party that claims to believe in God but seems to have a very limited view of social justice? Social justice is not just being "pro-birth" (which is really what the "pro-life" movement seems to be about at this point, since they're apparently not opposed to war, which is a bigger destroyer of life). She speaks as someone who has connected with the marginalized and is trying to ensure that the poor do not become even poorer, and that no one needs to die unnecessarily for lack of access to healthcare. See life as beyond protecting the unborn – extend all that compassion to those "already born" who need a helping hand.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Actually more abortions are performed than those killed in wars. This also doesn't factor in for justifiable wars. I won't argue which wars are justifiable, simply that some are. There may be morally justifiable reasons for abortion but I suspect they are an insignificant portion.

      WORLDWIDE

      Number of abortions per year: Approximately 42 Million
      Number of abortions per day: Approximately 115,000

      September 7, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  17. Lady Breve

    Sister, ignore these narrow minded people who require you to wear an outmoded dress to signify "obedience". You are magnificent in your desire to serve and love those He would have lifted up. Love is the bedrock of His teaching. Rome is wealthy beyond belief, yet leaves children to starve. That is the legacy Rome wishes you to foist upon those suffering in this world. Carry on, Sister.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  18. Donna DeMeyer

    This humble, honest and courageous woman is my nomination choice for 2016!

    September 6, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • HIgh Priest

      Democrats have no GOD and no Religion – why would Nuns want to worship at the altar of Satan?

      September 6, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Lady Breve

      You use the name "High Priest" while criticizing a woman who is helping to eradicate ignorance???
      Makes it all too clear who you really wish women to serve. You are actually very amusing.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  19. ddrm

    Amen to that!

    September 6, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  20. Richard McBride

    First of all sister, get back into your habit. Too bad you are ashamed of it since it represents so much.
    Then retake your vow of obedience.
    R

    September 6, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Says the poor threatened male.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      The vow of obedience is to her superiors, not the church. As usual you idiots don't know your own cult. Obedience to the church is presumed. However, the church is not the hierarchy. And as she said the US Conference of Ca Bishops condemned the Ryan budget, LONG before she spoke out. As for the habit, that is, historically the garb of all Medieval women, and not special to religion. If YOU value Medieval dresses so much, feel free to wear one. God could care less about externals.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Richard.. many orders left the habit in the 1970s in favor of modest dress. That you aren't aware of this, brings question about just what else you haven't been aware of within catholicism. Like, for example, this sister's order – the Sisters of Social Service – are dedicated to the Benedictine rule (if you don't know what a rule is, look it up) and to helping the poor, disenfranchised and alienated. THAT is the purpose of the order, and her purpose. Health care.. is helping the poor.

      September 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Stephanie

      This Sister is right where she needs to be. Based on the teachings of Christ, we are to help the poor and sufferring, not worry about what we wear when we do it. Remember, Christ blasted the religious of his time for being so wrapped up in how they looked, how they followed laws which hurt people instead of helping, or by doing whatever the church law demanded instead of following common sense.

      Maybe you should try the lifestyle of a religious for awhile to see how difficult it is to obey blindly and then you will have a better idea of how easily such a way of life can lead to abuse by those in charge. Especially if you are treated like a lower class citizen of that group.

      ROCK ON SISTER!

      September 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • TC

      There is a required dress code to serve the poor? Who knew!

      September 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Rick Garcia

      Richard, The Sisters of Social Service never had a traditional habit. Sister Simone is following in the long tradition of the Sisters of Social Service. Judge Sister and her community on their works not on their clothing.

      September 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Rick Garcia, I guess the good sister doesn't wear a cross necklace either. A pearl necklace is a much better symbol for a nun that promotes secularism.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Stephanie, Christ taught to help the poor and needy but not at the expense of the unborn which is exactly what supporting Obamacare is. The sister is flat wrong about that and perhaps she should revisit her pro-life stance carefully or read the Obamacare law. Also, Jesus never preached to be in bed with the government by taking more taxes from hardworking people in order to provide benefits to other members of society. He challenged his followers to care for the widows and children, not government. On a second matter, the nun eagerly claims that she stood up in defense of the Vatican on behalf of the sisters. That is also quite deceiving since the criticism by the Vatican was not of the sisters that do the work but their leadership of which she is part of. The reason for that is precisely because these so called leaers are the ones using their positions in vain, working in opposition on the teachings of the church especially contraception and abortion. Her label as a feminist nun says it all and her support of Obama makes it unquestonable that she is unwilling to support her church leadership but is in support of a president that promotes destruction of human life using government resources...or should I say our resources. She's a disgrace to the habit...oh yeah, she doesn't wear one of those nor a cross.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @SPA Knight

      Does it feel good to be a parrot of misinformation? Where in the obamacare law does it state that abortions must be covered, or that tax dollars will be used to perform them?
      Also, did you miss the part where she wouldn't speak in Charlotte unless she got to espouse her anti-abortion views?
      Then again, these things would just ruin your rhetoric right? So it would be better just to ignore it I'm sure.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • JIm

      SPA Knight is full of crap. Check out http://www.factcheck.org/2010/04/the-abortion-issue/ for the truth about abortions and the new healthcare law.

      If you have to lie to make a point, you should probably stay quiet.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Everyman

      I'm sure SPA Knight, like many of the others following the republican ticket don't want to waste time with fact checking....

      September 6, 2012 at 4:26 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.