Budget, Campbell, Catholic, Catholic Church, Catholic social teaching, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Nuns on the Bus, Paul Ryan, Sisters on the Bus, United States, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
From up the street, it looked like a rock band had stopped in town — except rock stars probably wouldn’t be up that early. On the sidewalk outside the Fort Des Moines Hotel Monday morning, a swarm of people, including reporters with boom mikes, surrounded a large, colorfully decorated bus brandishing the name, “Nuns on the Bus.” Even the moniker had an edgy feel to it — sort of like “Popes in the pizza,” from the days of Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live.
But these were real Catholic nuns, a rotating 14 or so of them, on a bus tour of nine states, calling attention to the harshness of the U.S. House of Representatives’ budget bill. You might think of the particular space they occupy as Catholic Church meets mass popular culture, borrowing from the Occupy movement. The audience was almost as amped as if the nuns were rock stars, and their spokeswoman, Sister Simone Campbell, quoted as freely from Stephen Colbert and “The Daily Show” as from the Scriptures.
“Isn’t it wonderful!” a Catholic woman who was part of the sidewalk gathering exclaimed.
On the bus, I caught a couple of minutes with Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, which describes itself as a progressive national Catholic social justice lobby.
It’s sponsoring the trip, which takes the nuns to the offices of lawmakers who voted for the bill introduced by Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. Their first stop was the Ames office of Steve King.
The budget bill “all wrapped up in sound bites” said Campbell, would punish struggling people “while benefiting the top 1 percent,” with tax cuts that add to the national debt. “The House budget would decimate our country,” Campbell said. “It is not in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution.”
At a kickoff event Sunday night at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Beaverdale, Campbell criticized Ryan for saying his Catholic teachings had led him to what she described has an individualistic, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” philosophy. “The role of Catholic social teaching is to counter that individualism with a keen knowledge of solidarity,” Campbell said.
She talked about how federal programs in Iowa would be affected if the Ryan plan becomes law, including massive cuts to food stamps, Head Start and special education services.
This tour comes on the heels of the Vatican’s attacks on American nuns for allegedly embracing “radical feminism” and being out of touch with church teachings.
It imposed sanctions on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 (about 80 percent of) American Catholic nuns, saying they were spreading the wrong ideas about the all-male priesthood, marriage and homosexuality.
The role of women in the church isn’t a Nuns on the Bus issue, though Campbell said they are concerned about it. But that didn’t stop a local abortion foe from posting an online diatribe against the traveling nuns that said: “Sorry, Sisters … affirming people in their sodomite sin, promoting the slaughter of the innocent preborn, and being in arrogant disobedience to the church (and by extension, to God himself) is scandalous and utterly anti-Catholic.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, by the way, has also called on Congress and the administration to reject proposed cuts in domestic and international hunger and nutrition programs.
Nuns have long been associated with charity, said Campbell, of Los Angeles who quoted from the 2009 encyclical of Pope Benedict: “Charity and justice are both based in love, but you can’t have charity until everyone has justice.”
Says the Rev. Michael Amodeo, the priest at Holy Trinity, “This is what women religious have been doing for decades — highlighting the poor and marginalized, but also asking some tough questions,” about the root causes of hunger and homelessness.
Among those cheering the Nuns on the Bus is Amy Colony, formerly of Carlisle, and now living in Denver, where she’s an attorney with the Colorado attorney general’s office.
Watching the tour launch from afar, she wrote me, “They are precisely what I used to love and revere about the Catholic Church before I decided I could no longer tolerate the anti-woman stuff and exclusion of my gay brothers and sisters — and I had to walk away.” These nuns, she said, “are my heroes. True servants of Christ and true feminists.”
After hearing what the sisters were saying, I had to agree. Religion at its best isn’t just about personal morality or spiritual beliefs.
The most credible religious leaders stand up for the downtrodden and marginalized, both in words and in deeds, challenging power structures when necessary and evolving their teachings to stay relevant.
These nuns, who live in the trenches alongside the poor and suffering, can claim a credibility few others among us could. They should be listened to.