Nuns, Budgets, and Buses…Oh My

The Nuns on the Bus tour ended in front of the United Methodist Church & Society Building here in DC on July 2nd. Sister Simone Campbell gave an impassioned speech invoking Catholic Social Teaching in defense of their ideas about the federal budget and criticized certain Catholic politicians for violating the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching like solidarity and preferential option for the poor. She was thrilled to be there: “I have never felt more enriched being a Catholic sister than I do standing here with my sisters today.”

This statement might not help her defend her lobbying organization, NETWORK, against the Vatican accusation that American women religious have focused more on politically liberal causes than the Church’s teaching on family or life issues. Sister Campbell has the life issue taken care of: “I really think what sisters do is hug the life into people, not out of people.”

Catholic Social Teaching itself has been an issue of contention in the budget battle for several months. Representative Paul Ryan invoked the principle of subsidiarity on behalf of his budget back in April, equating it with the conservative preference for federalism. When he came to speak at Georgetown University a few weeks later, 90 faculty signed a letter accusing Ryan of using Catholic Social Teaching for political gain when they claimed his budget had no sign of a preferential option for the poor. (Only one of these faculty members later signed a letter condemning HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ invitation to speak at Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s graduation a few months later.)

Campbell has taken this contentious tone on the road, making a “Spirit-driven” journey across the country and “turning up the heat on Congress” in the name of “faith, family, and fairness.” NETWORK has found an ally in the United Methodist Church, which has used its Church & Society building to host prayer vigils and a “liturgy” for a “faithful budget” for the few weeks leading up to the bus’ return to Washington. “The vigils are an interreligious effort to raise the voice of peoples of faith on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society. The sponsors of the vigils said they were meant to “call on God to move in the hearts of policy makers to preserve robust assistance for people in poverty.”

Rod Dreher recently posted a comment from a reader of his blog at The American Conservative about the political aspirations of mainline Protestantism that hit the nail on the head: “it’s an attempt to outsource our moral indignation so we don’t have to consider that actual moral and religious problems afflicting our own communities.”

This week, I read James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, in which he discusses how Christians have sought to “make the world a better place” and “build the kingdom” in the late modern era. Among other critiques he makes of both the Christian Right and Christian Left’s attempts to change culture, the primary issue he confronts is the mythology of political activism’s ability to re-Christianize the broader American milieu. Instead, he puts forth a theology of “faithful presence” whereby Christians are called to be the image of God and representatives of Christ in their sphere of influence and wherever they are. While this may not suddenly change late modern culture more broadly, “faithful presence” is simply being salt and light, Jesus’ command for Christians living in the world.

Catholic Social Teaching is precisely for “faithful presence” in one’s own community.  Subsidiarity certainly is not embodied in a giant federal budget and neither can be true solidarity with the poor. Sr. Campbell’s shoehorning the “gospel” into a budget debate is only a reflection of the politicization of culture at large that only, like a commenter at Dreher’s blog said, “outsources our moral indignation” and moves our attention away from our own moral shortcomings in order to blame or look for respite from the state for our social ills.

Catholic Social Teaching is well built for the nuns’ local community and not as much for budget formation in a late modern liberal democracy. To “hug life into people,” you have to be close to them.


Julia Polese is an intern with the Institute on Religion & Democracy. She graduated from Georgetown University in May and will be a Fellow at the John Jay Institute in the Fall.

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  • Guest

    These nuns promote a ‘socialist’, feel-good gospel  not the Gospel of Christ. They promote politics of class envy, government enforced social welfare and spiritualism not Spirituality,

    Religiosity and personal charity.

    These nuns promote themselves and their socially liberal feminist ‘liberation’ as they misrepresent themselves as faithful Catholics. They actively or passively support ‘Catholic’ politicians pimping their ‘faith’ such as Pelosi, Sebelious, Shaheen, Biden, the Kennedy’s, etc. as they promote government solutions and personal irresponsibility, abortion and immorality.

  • Paul

    Sister Simone Campbell,  
    On Catholic Social Teaching on preferential option for the poor, what did Blessed ‘Mother’ Theresa of Calcutta do? Don’t remember her jumping on a bus and being thrilled to say: “I have never felt more enriched being a Catholic sister than I do standing here with my sisters today.” Mother Theresa, pray for their conversion.

  • poetcomic1

         I have been interested in the ‘recollected’ state and old writings on achieving this.  I have noticed traditional nuns with that dignity and calm that is so immediately apparent – even to a child. Look at the faces in the picture above of these ‘nuns’.  Not one ‘recollected’ face.  They look like drugged cows, they have a peculiar restless ugliness and sullenness that is is quintessentially ‘modern’.

  • Guest

    Why are these sisters/orders not being shut down en masse by the Church?  Nothing personal–I’m sure they’re wonderful women who really do think that what they’re doing is right and good–but if you’re not going to stand for what the organization you claim to stand for does, then why is the Church allowing them to be formally associated?  It’s really just an issue of facts–the Church teaches X and they promote Y, which is in direct contradiction to X.  Seems simple to me.  Either teach what your Church teaches or don’t be associated with that Church. 

    • Tout

      Such situations develop slowly. Eventually those women will have to decide to obey or not. It may take some time before we see the end-result. They will have to choose between obeying, or leave the Church.

  • Mark

    Looks like there was a group discount offer at Activia Coiffeurs.

  • Isn’t it odd to notice that these “social teaching” people never actually quote Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII, or John Paul II?  Naw, it’s not odd — because THERE IS ABSOLUTE CONGRUENCE between what the Church teaches about social justice and what she teaches about marriage, sexuality, the family, the common good, human freedom, the goodness of obedience and (horrors!) hierarchy …

  • And I can think of no more queasy-making statement, for any self-respecting man, than Sr. Campbell’s, that life needs to be hugged into him.  Most of us men need the sin and the sloth slugged out of us.  A couple of good priests left their (figurative) knuckle-marks on my soul, thank God!

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

     I refuse to even seriously consider any response to these jokers.  My guess is that by 2025, the last light will be turned off in those “motherhouses.”

    • SNewark

      Oh my, much sooner than 2025!

  • Augusta Mia

    Restore your joy!  Google-search for images of the Nashville Dominicans or Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist or Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles .  See the  joy…  See the love …  Note the vibrancy of youth …  And in the words of Blessed John Paul II, be not afraid!

  • Lmln56

    If you really want to see how despised Catholocism is in this country, you should check out NPR’s coverage of these events, and especially the comments that follow.  Lord, have mercy!

  • DavePSU11

    Are these nuns or a Sunday bridge club?  It’s hard to tell from the way they dress.

  • Wolf29cat

    I would like to suggest a short book for the “Sisters”  spiritual reading, reflection, and perhaps conversion. – The Boy Who Met Jesus by Immaculee Ilibagiza

  • DavePSU11

    What are these nuns’ particular order and charism?   Are they members of Our Lady of the Perpetual Bus?  From the picture, there appear to be enough nuns to staff a soup kitchen, or a hospice, or teach at a woefully under-staffed Catholic school.  I’d be curious as to what order allows nuns to go off on a highly-politicized bus tour to promote public policies in direct conflict with Catholic teaching rather than following their duty to serve the poor, sick and uneducated.  Small wonder the Vatican feels the need to intervene in the LCWR!

  • “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” Leviticus 19:15

    The chruch has no right to demand that the governmetn do their job. The government also has no right to play favorites between its citizens by stealing from one group to give to another.

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  • gregoryvii

    I wonder how St. Pius V would have handled the “nuns on the bus”?