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Sister Simone Campbell, who led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour for social justice this summer, called the GOP budget plan “immoral” in a spirited speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday (Sept. 5).
“Paul Ryan claims this budget reflects the principles of our shared faith,” Campbell said, as she took direct aim at Mitt Romney’s running mate, who has often cited his Catholic faith as the underpinning of his fiscal policies. “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,” she said.
The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for a response on Thursday.
Ryan has argued that his budget plan is informed by Catholic social teaching, and that reducing the federal deficit through budget cuts would help the poor and all Americans by allowing the economy to grow.
The bishops, with some notable exceptions, have countered that Ryan’s budget in fact violates Catholic social teaching by emphasizing cuts in programs for the needy while reducing taxes for the wealthy. Ryan’s plan has also been criticized as likely to expand rather than reduce the national debt.
By framing her critique in the context of her Christian faith, Campbell was using the kind of religious language that has been a hallmark of the GOP’s campaign to rally believers behind Romney and Ryan.
But she also sought to identify the sisters and the Democratic agenda with Catholic tradition at a time when Catholic voters — who comprise close to one-quarter of the electorate — are considered key to the November election.
Just as important, Campbell neatly folded her remarks in with statements from the Catholic hierarchy, which has had more than its share of disagreements with President Obama and the Democratic Party over issues like gay marriage and abortion.
“We agree with our bishops, and that’s why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them,” said Campbell, who heads a Washington-based Catholic social justice lobby called Network. “Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget.”
In her seven-minute speech Campbell did not address hot-button issues like abortion directly, but she earned the loudest ovation when she defended Obama’s health care reform law as a cause she considers “part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.”
Like many other speakers at the convention in Charlotte, N.C., Campbell framed the election as a choice between a philosophy of individualism championed by Republicans and a more communitarian approach to society building emphasized by Democrats.
She also underscored the plight of poor and working class Americans in the recession, and pointed to Democratic policies as both the most effective answer, and the most moral one.
“During our journey, I rediscovered a few truths,” Campbell said. “First, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are correct when they say that each individual should be responsible. But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families. Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.”
“I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper,” she said to applause.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza listed Campbell as the second biggest “winner” of Wednesday night’s events, after former President Bill Clinton’s tour de force address, noting that she “got a raucously positive reception from the crowd and turned into one of the more unlikely stars of the night.”
Campbell has become well-known both for her advocacy of liberal issues but also as one of the targets of a Vatican crackdown on American nuns who Rome believes are too eager to disagree with church teachings on sexuality and gender while overemphasizing church teachings on social justice.
In June, Campbell did a star turn on “The Colbert Report” to rebut those charges, and the Democrats clearly wanted to take advantage of her appeal.
But the nun also told convention organizers that she would only speak if she could cite her opposition to abortion as well as her other views, according to CNN. She also rejected efforts to include language that sounded too “political” and told party operatives that she would rather give her prime time speaking slot to someone else. Her concerns were heeded.
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