FPL provided media support for the Ohio “Nuns on the Bus” tour.
After meeting Sister Simone Campbell, the phrase “radical feminist” isn’t the first to come to mind to describe her.
The 66-year-old wears her gray hair short, smiles with her eyes and possesses an easy, quick wit. But “radical feminist” is how some described her after the Vatican told her and other nuns raising their voices about social issues to pipe down.
That just got them fired up.
“We took the notoriety we had, and said ‘How can we use this for mission?” Sr. Simone says. The answer was Nuns on the Bus, a nationwide sister-palooza this summer that included rallies, meetings with Congressional staffers, and visits with college students.
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While political conventions and the daily twists and turns of the Presidential campaigns grab the headlines, faith leaders are working hard in communities nationwide to change the debate and advance the common good in substantive ways. The Nuns on the Bus Tour’s success calling media attention to the Ryan budget was a great example of this, and there are many others.
Last week members of Bend the Arc, an innovative new Jewish social justice group, kicked off their eight-state “If I Were a Rich Man” tour to confront Members of Congress from both parties who are personally wealthy and support tax breaks for the richest Americans that hamstring our ability to preserve an adequate safety net as we pay off the debt. This campaign not only highlights the faith community’s commitment to tax fairness as a moral issue, but also raises important questions about individual lawmakers’ biases in favor of the wealthy.
When President Obama made the long overdue decision this summer to defer prosecution of young undocumented immigrants who qualify for the DREAM Act, faith leaders rejoiced. But the pronouncement alone didn’t bring relief to those trapped by our broken system. In order to qualify for the chance to stay, they must complete a complex application process. Religious groups are stepping up to help young people navigate these difficult waters. Churches are hosting legal clinics for thousands who want to contribute to our nation’s future and are in violation of immigration law through no fault of their own, and faith-based immigration reform advocates are providing hands-on assistance. (On a side note, take a look at these inspiring images of thousands of people lining up to apply to stay in America.)
Grassroots faith leaders are also mobilizing to affect crucial state-level debates. In Missouri, a religious coalition is fighting for economic fairness and justice by working to pass ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage and capping the interest rates predatory payday lenders can charge. Next month Catholic sisters will conduct a statewide Nuns on the Bus tour to call attention to the Ryan budget’s devastating effects on communities across Missouri.
I’m proud of the impact the faith community is making this year. From shaping national media narratives on the economy and taxes to helping immigrants take advantage of important new opportunities to come out of the shadows, we’re demonstrating for all to see that religion is a powerful force for justice.
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Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential choice is an insult to many Catholic leaders who have consistently challenged Ryan’s claims that coddling the rich while expecting the working poor and middle class to bear the burden of deficit reduction reflects the values of Catholic teaching. A presidential candidate aggressively courting Catholic voters – including with this scorching ad that accuses President Obama of waging a “war on religion” – has now picked a running mate who is the most vociferous champion of an economic agenda that makes a mockery of Christian values. There is nothing Christian, “pro-life” or courageous about policies that gut effective programs that help pregnant women, the hungry, the jobless and low-income children.
Catholics are steeped in a religious tradition that puts community and the common good before extreme individualism. Ryan’s libertarian love affair with Ayn Rand and his Tea-Party flavored anti-government zeal is alien to this Catholic worldview. His proposals find no endorsement from centuries of Catholic social teaching or the Gospel. I expect a sizable swath of moderate Catholic voters in key states to roll their eyes at Ryan’s lofty appeals to the wonders of the free market and privatization. Some of these working-class voters might not be staunch Democrats, but they know that Medicare helps their grandmother and food stamps are often the difference between paying the bills and sending the kids to bed hungry. They might ask why Ryan, who benefited from his deceased father’s Social Security survivor benefits to pay for college, now wants to pull the rug out from other families who can be given a hand up by effective government programs that for decades helped grow the middle class.
In a flurry of letters to House leaders, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has unambiguously denounced Ryan’s budget proposal – the ideological blueprint for the GOP’s economic agenda – as failing a basic moral test. Catholic nuns recently highlighted the immorality of the Ryan budget (now the Romney-Ryan budget) during a nine-state bus tour. These Catholic nuns recently joined the Franciscan Action Network – an organization made up of priests, nuns and lay Franciscans – to invite Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan to spend time at agencies that would be decimated by their policies.
Here’s my question for Catholic bishops. Will you expend even half as much institutional energy educating Catholic voters about Rep. Ryan’s deeply un-Christian economic plans as you have on flogging the Obama administration over contraception coverage? Letters to Capitol Hill are important, but most voters don’t read them. When will we see a parish bulletin insert about the devastating consequences of Ryan’s economic plans from the U.S. bishops’ conference? Unlike the recent two-week “Fortnight for Freedom” religious liberty campaign, launched with special Masses and great fanfare in dioceses across the country, I haven’t seen any bishop strongly challenge the GOP’s war on the poor and middle class. Bishops could draw some inspiration from their own history, and the example of another Ryan.
Back in 1919, Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John Ryan, a Catholic priest whose thinking on labor and social inequality were widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction. This was a bold plan for what at the time were visionary social reforms: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The bishops’ proposal and Ryan’s rising star in Washington laid the groundwork for New Deal legislation proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the following decades.
It’s tragic that nearly a century later influential Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan, flush with cash from billionaires funding the Tea Party movement, are now promoting Darwinian policies that betray this proud legacy.
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Analyzing the Catholic dimensions of the 2012 Presidential race now that Paul Ryan has joined the Republican ticket, Catholic conservative Deal Hudson attempts to minimize the critique of Ryan’s budget plan levied by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hudson decries that media who covered the critical letters from the USCCB failed to note that they came from only two bishops, suggesting that their concerns only represent some bishops, not all.
That’s the same defense Ryan employed when questioned about the bishops’ rebuke earlier this year. Unfortunately for both Ryan and Hudson, the conference definitively shot down their excuse.
Responding to reporters who inquired about Ryan’s apparent discrepancy in understanding, the USCCB said:
“Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level. The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”
While there might be individual bishops who disagree with these committees’ criticisms of the Ryan budget, they (and Hudson and Ryan) do so as dissenters from the official position of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Photo from the National Catholic Reporter
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Missouri citizens won an important victory last week as the state Supreme Court ruled to allow a ballot initiative to cap payday lending rates to go forward this year. Currently, Missouri allows some of the worst predatory lending abuses in the country, with interest rates as high as 400% being perfectly legal. The proposed initiative would cap rates at 36% to break the cycle of inescapable debt and financial difficulty the current rates cause.
The ruling comes as positive news to the Missourians for Responsible Lending campaign, the state coalition that collected over 350,000 signatures to put this petition on the ballot. The coalition includes faith groups like Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City affiliate of the PICO National Network. Their impressive effort came despite a concerted effort by corporate interests to keep voters from weighing in on this issue. As a new report from Public Campaign reveals, special interests have funneled over $2.1 million into a shadowy astro-turf group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity to block the initiative.
As campaign organizers have attested, corporate interests will stoop to truly thuggish tactics to protect their profits. Signature gatherers were followed, physically obstructed, and harassed by “blockers” who tried to thwart their efforts. Molly Fleming-Pierre, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities, described the intimidation tactics in May:
“Our people were taunted, mocked, bullied, and verbally assaulted down there. Sometimes it was nine big burly guys to one young female canvasser — trying to kick her off a site. She stayed. One of our pastors had the opposition blockers screaming in her face for nearly 30 minutes that she was a liar. Tails would follow our people, texting their blockers when our people would set up to canvass so that the intimidation was always mobile.”
Someone even broke into an organizer’s car and stole 5,500 signatures shortly before a crucial deadline.
With the ruling, the initiative now only awaits the Secretary of State’s final certification of the signatures collected by Tuesday.
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