Today, I joined partners in calling on the White House to support an emergency COVID-19 waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules, so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible.
We have learned over the past year that pandemics are communal struggles. We are all vulnerable, and we all can help control the virus. In our nation, over 500,000 people have died and millions have been infected. The U.S. government has invested over $13 billion in taxpayer funds to create vaccines, and other developed nations have invested as well. Now, we in these rich nations have an obligation to share with the global community. That is the only way to protect the vulnerable here and abroad. Both faith and pragmatics demand it. When we faithfully care for our neighbors, we pragmatically care for ourselves.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has cost too many lives and devastated communities not only in the United States but around the world. At the World Trade Organization’s upcoming General Council meeting March 1-2, I hope the Biden Administration reverses course from the Trump administration and supports a waiver to help speed up the end of this pandemic.
Watch the Press Conference and read other participants’ comments below.
U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT.), House Appropriations Committee chair “The COVID-19 pandemic knows no borders and the need for vaccine development and dissemination across the globe is critically important. The TRIPS waiver raised by India and South Africa at the WTO would help the global community move forward in defeating the scourge of COVID-19 by making diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines available in developing countries. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to defeat this virus anywhere. The U.S. has a moral imperative to act and support this waiver at the WTO, and I am hopeful that the Biden Administration will support this waiver to help our allies around the globe bring an end to this pandemic.”
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade chair “As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic,” Blumenauer said. “Unfortunately, we have seen intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Working to ensure that trade rules do not stunt the developing world’s access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests is a clear step. It’s the right thing to do not only for our country, but for the entire world.”
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL),House Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee chair “I support the proposed TRIPS waiver because I support equitable vaccine distribution worldwide, because if vaccines aren’t available everywhere, we won’t be able to crush the virus anywhere. The new COVID-19 variants, which show more resistance to vaccines, prove that further delay in immunity around the world will lead to faster and stronger mutations. Equitable access is essential. Our globalized economy cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere.”
Paul Farmer, Co-Founder, Partners In Health “If we want to stop COVID-19 here, we have to stop it everywhere. The world does not have time to wait for the usual, slow, and unequal distribution of treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines. We can take a lesson from the global AIDS movements and make sure patent laws don’t block access to lifesaving therapies for the poor. It’s a similar story for vaccines, which in the case of covid19 we’re so lucky to have and in such short order. Moderna has waived these rights and others should follow suit as we deploy one of the mainstays required to end this pandemic.”
On January 25, 2021, amid the flurry of activity in his first week in office, President Joe Biden’s administration also moved forward with the stalled plans to put Harriet Tubman’s image on the $20 bill. Within the hour, friends and colleagues alike vied to be the first to tell me this news, because for weeks I had been adamant that, along with a COVID-19 rescue package and immigration and criminal justice reform, we needed Harriet Tubman.
Tubman would be the first African-American on U.S. currency and the first woman on a bill in wide use. The public chose her for this honor from among a number of candidates — suffragettes, abolitionists, politicians, and activists — as part of a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill to commemorate the centennial of the 19th amendment in 2020. It was to be the beginning of a larger movement in currency redesign that would include women and people of color on other denominations. In 2019, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced years-long delays for these plans.
I had voted for Harriet Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, because I admired her, and because although she appears larger than life, she embodies all the pain and promise of our country. Born into slavery, she escaped to freedom — and then risked it repeatedly in order to save scores of others. During the Civil War, she became a Union nurse, scout, and spy, and after the war became a champion of equality for both African-Americans and women. She made the world she was born into a better one, and we built on that legacy. Her heirs in the struggle ended segregation, secured the vote, and opened up economic opportunities she may never have thought possible.
But her accomplishments, like ours, were not the end of the story. She spent most of her life living in poverty, working a number of jobs to support herself and her family, including her elderly parents. The government repeatedly refused to acknowledge her contributions to the war effort and compensate her accordingly. And for all she did for the cause for freedom, she was never eligible to vote. We have also faced setbacks, for despite the progress we’ve made since her death in 1913, the income gap is staggering, and Black women in particular have been left behind, earning only $.62 to the dollar that white men earn. Legal means of voter suppression, such as poll closures, voter identification requirements, and gerrymandering have proliferated. Black and Brown communities are at an increased risk of infection and death from COVID-19 due to chronic discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, inadequate housing, and underemployment.
Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is not going to change any of this — that is up to us. It is a symbol, but symbols are powerful. What matters is that, along with all of the other social, environmental, and economic priorities of our nation, her appearance on the $20 was among them. This sends a powerful message about where we’ve been and how we’re going forward. It means that we will be reminded every day as we go about our business at toll booths and grocery stores and ATMs, that this is our country, that we come from more than just the patriarchs. That for every Thomas Jefferson there is a Sojourner Truth; for every Alexander Hamilton, a Rosa Parks; for every George Washington, a Fanny Lou Hamer. And to know, every day, that we as a nation acknowledge and rejoice in this as we struggle to live up to it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” ccdc.gov 24 July 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
Two weeks ago, our nation’s 46th President Joe Biden woke up and, with our first woman Vice President Kamala Harris, brought our nation’s Congressional leadership – men and women of both parties, of various religious backgrounds – to a morning Catholic mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. From that private, socially distanced mass, President Biden went on to take the oath of office on the balcony of the Capitol in a ceremony imbued with themes of Catholic Social Justice.
With so many challenges facing our nation, I cannot think of a more important time for Catholic Social Justice to take center stage, inviting people of all faiths or secular backgrounds to come together in this critical work of rebuilding our nation and guiding our way forward together. For too many years, racism, sexism, and growing economic inequality have been promoted by White House policy. In Congress, we’ve maintained the status quo with harmful repercussions for Black people, Native Americans, Latinx and AAPI communities, women, families and individuals on the economic margins, and all those with intersecting identities.
On Inauguration Day, the whole country witnessed speech after speech testifying to the value of caring for one another, especially those members of our community facing the most difficult circumstances. We also heard about the critical importance of caring for our planet, being active participants in our communities – what Pope Francis calls “meddling in politics,” and more. These values, inspired by principles of Catholic Social Justice, call us to put the common good above the benefit of any individual or small group. This is what is needed in our nation right now.
Putting the Focus on Listening
In his inaugural address, President Biden said, “Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another.” In his own words, President Biden called us to what Pope Francis has been promoting for years – a culture of encounter. This is the culture fostered by Nuns on the Bus, traveling to different cities and states, meeting people and families and just listening to their stories. I invite you to listen to these stories, which we’ve shared over the years.
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes, “The ability to sit down and listen to others, typical of interpersonal encounters, is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives. Yet today’s world is largely a deaf world…” As we move forward we must do whatever we can to change from being a world closed off from listening and meeting one another. We are called by our faith and patriotism to create something new. We are challenged to create a culture of encounter out of a culture of indifference. As President Biden said, “We must end this uncivil war… We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
However, it was quickly evident that for us Catholics the “uncivil war” does not just refer to the insurrection in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. It was also evident in the attack by Archbishop Gomez, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, on President Biden before he was inaugurated and then on Inauguration day itself. Archbishop Gomez’s actions were not endorsed by the Bishops’ conference and, in fact, have been criticized by many of its members. Pope Francis recently affirmed the Archbishop’s work on immigration reform. With the specific reference, it seems to me that there is an implicit critique of his attack on our new president.
In order to end this “uncivil war,” I believe that we at NETWORK need to continue our effort at encounter and listening. I know from listening to women across the country that the focus of some of our leadership on the criminalization of abortion does nothing to respond to many of their real needs. Let’s begin working to end the uncivil war by lifting up women’s stories and their real needs.
Building Anew Together
In her powerful inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman, our nation’s youngest inaugural poet and a young Black Catholic woman, declared, “We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.”
Now, we must come together to face our history and build anew. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and acting out of white supremacists, the time to boldly respond to the needs of the common good is now. We must ensure that all have access to health care. All people need to be able to feed, clothe, and house their families. We must dismantle structural racism and end white supremacy. This is the building anew that is called for.
We need a new imagination to create a way forward in these unprecedented times. What is old is not working and something new needs to emerge. But I have hope that we can meet this challenge. As Ms. Gorman concluded, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump,
A few weeks before this historic election, Pope Francis published a new encyclical where he wondered “what do certain words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity really mean?” Have they, as the Pope writes, been “bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action?”
That question has never been clearer than today, when some elected officials make the immoral choice to hold onto power at any cost, including disenfranchising thousands, denying their most sacred gift: their voice.
Each vote left uncounted represents a soul with a story. Over the last several weeks, Sisters virtually visited over 60 communities across the country where people came together to share their struggles with one another. It was clear from coast to coast that there are urgent needs to keep one another safe from disease, end structural racism, fix our broken immigration system, support social programs that pull families out of poverty, and expand health care access for all people. This election season reminded many of the equally sacred priorities of our shared faith in these challenging times.
People are afraid of losing their healthcare, looking at the ashes of a home destroyed by a wildfire, searching for solutions to end systemic racism, wondering where their next paycheck will come from, or mourning the loss of a relative to COVID-19. Across the country, these Americans took their country up on its promise: that they could vote to elect leaders and chart a new course. Now we see their votes discounted in our election process.
Americans know that thoughts and prayers alone will not end their pain and suffering and that they must act. That’s why it should be no wonder that we saw a historic number of people cast a ballot. Each of these individuals must have a say in who represents them in government. We must ensure that every vote is counted, in accordance with applicable laws, no matter how long the process takes.
Catholic Social Teaching urges us to act on behalf of those who are marginalized in our society. We have a responsibility to one another, not to help one political party win, but to live up to our values. In the words of Pope Francis we must act “In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized and those most in need, whom God has commanded us to help as a duty required of all persons, especially the wealthy and those of means.”
We took vows as Catholic Sisters, and you took a vow to uphold the Constitution.
Stay true to your vow. Count the votes. Ensure the United States lives up to its promise. Every voice — and every vote — is sacred, especially the most marginalized among us.
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
And more than 1,900 Catholic Sisters from across the United States.
NETWORK’s Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell, SSS has signed onto the letter below calling for integrity in our election processes. The letter has been sent to all U.S. congressional offices.
Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity! – Job 31:6
O you who believe! Fear God, and be with those
who are true (in word and deeds). – Quran 9:119
As people of faith and heads of Washington-based offices of religious denominations and national organizations, we call for integrity in the processes that shape our systems of governance and form the basis of our shared wellbeing. We believe that free, fair, safe and respected elections are a bedrock of democracy, and that active and informed citizen participation in the political and electoral process is essential not only to the proper functioning of government but also to the full exercise of our faith. Therefore, we are deeply troubled by any actions or statements that intimidate voters or deny safe and equal access to voting, or that sow doubt in electoral outcomes and raise a threat of violence. Such efforts to corrupt and undermine core electoral freedoms must be condemned in the strongest of terms across the political spectrum.
This nation can only live up to its democratic ideals when all are confident that they can vote freely and without undue hardship for the candidates of their choosing. This is particularly critical in light of the long history of racial disenfranchisement in the United States. Polling places must be equally accessible, safe, orderly, and free from intimidation. All votes must be counted in a fair and transparent manner. The decision of the majority must be upheld with a peaceful transition. These core democratic ideals should be fiercely protected by all of us, regardless of political persuasion or religious affiliation. An election “won” by undermining democratic processes is a loss for us all…
Judge Barrett is being touted as a “pro-life” nomination due to her commitment to overturning Roe vs. Wade. Yet Catholic Social Teaching has upheld the sacredness of all life, from conception to death, and Pope Francis has made clear that abortion is not the only issue that matters. Equally sacred are those already born, including the sick, disabled, and elderly; people and families on the economic margins; migrants and refugees; and those oppressed by racial and other forms of discrimination. Judge Barrett’s rulings and public statements have shown that she does not hold all life sacred.
Sick, Disabled, and Elderly: We hold equally sacred the lives of those who are vulnerable due to impaired health, many of whom do not have adequate access to health care. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Barrett is expected to be the deciding vote to strike down the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, depriving millions of people of their access to health care during a global pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans. The ACA provides critical health care protections for people with pre-existing conditions and disabilities, ensures that young people under 26 can remain on their parents’ health insurance, removes caps on expensive medical treatments, and covers millions of Americans through Medicaid expansion. Yet Judge Barrett’s writings have indicated that she opposes the ACA. In 2017, she implied that the law was unconstitutional.[i] She also signed a 2012 petition objecting to employer health plans including contraception coverage.[ii]
Economic Justice: Equally sacred are the lives of those living on the margins struggling to survive against economic injustice. This global pandemic has left millions of people without jobs, food security, housing, and childcare. Our most essential workers – many of whom are low-wage earners – have had to choose between their jobs and their health and safety. We need a Justice who will uphold worker protections, consumer safety, and protect the social safety net. Judge Barrett has instead stood with corporate interests, ruling that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not protect job applicants from policies that discriminate based on age and against a plaintiff who sought written verification of a debt she was said to have owed.[iii]
Migrants and Refugees: Catholic Social Teaching affirms the rights of all peoples to seek the best lives for themselves, and equally sacred are the lives of migrants and refugees who have endured immoral and cruel assaults on their humanity through the prohibition of asylum claims, separation of families, and forced hysterectomies. Judge Barrett has made her hostility toward immigrants evident in a number of cases that have come before her. In two separate instances, she sided with the Board of Immigration Appeals to deny asylum to Salvadorans under the Convention Against Torture[iv] and cast the deciding vote deporting a Mexican immigrant who had been a lawful permanent resident without having the opportunity to argue against his deportation in court.[v] She dissented in Cook County v. Wolf, which temporarily barred the implementation of the public charge rule, supporting the administration’s interpretation of the law.
Racial and LGBTQ Discrimination: Equally sacred are the rights of all people to live their lives free from oppression in all forms. Following months of high-profile shootings of African Americans and subsequent national demonstrations concerning racial injustices, the United States can ill afford a Supreme Court Justice with a record of upholding discriminatory practices. In EEOC v. AutoZone, Barrett ruled against an African-American worker whose company assigned employees to certain stores based on their race, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. She has also stated her opposition to federal law protecting LGBTQ marriage and including Transgender people as protected under Title IX.[vi]
For these reasons, we do not support the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court Justice. Justices are appointed for life and their decisions reverberate for generations.
On the eve of the final day of Nuns on the Bus 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden sent a letter in support of our efforts. Over the course of the last month the Nuns of the Bus have held over 60 Site Visits, Town Halls, Dialogues across Geographic Divides, and Rallies, and this letter comes from a place of gratitude for our being together and our commitment to making a difference in these challenging digital times. For me this letter expresses how former Vice President Joe Biden’s own faith is rooted in a commitment to the common good.
Read the letter below:
It is a pleasure, as always, to extend my well-wishes and sincere congratulations to you on another successful tour. While it has looked and felt different than previous tours and rallies, this milestone is no less momentous; your mission to bolster humanity and decency in our nation’s politics so that it may elevate those who face the greatest challenges, no less righteous. Your leadership reminds us that we a part of something bigger than any one individual. It matters a lot, and I wish we could be together in person to celebrate.
We’re living through a time unlike any in our nation’s history. As we continue to deal with a public health crisis which has laid bare historic inequities in our healthcare system and our economy, we are all called upon to dig deep and summon the courage do more than simply speak out––but to engage our communities, to practice gratitude and self-reflection, and to address injustices with real action. Your core values, carried out through your ministries, are intertwined in all you do, whether through the intention of prayer or your presence in the community. And at a time when our nation is reeling from multiple crises profoundly impacting the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, your movement, rooted in faith, is a guiding light and a moral example of how we must conduct ourselves and engage one another with compassion. I am grateful for your leadership because scripture is clear: It’s not enough just to wish the world were better. It’s our duty to make it so.
I’d like to take this opportunity to send a special thanks to Sister Simone Campbell. You’ve been a champion of hope and an inspiration to me since the day we met. Despite the deep division that defines so much of our politics these days, there is no force more powerful than the love and compassion you bring to your mission to achieve peace and justice.
Each of you understands that this ongoing fight comes down to a basic universal truth that my father taught me––that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a simple proposition that you lift up with your voices and strive to see carried out in our laws, our institutions, and our hearts. I am grateful for your tireless efforts and the hope you’ve given to so many along the way. The world is a better place because of it.
Thanks again for all that you do. Jill and I pray that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy, and I look forward to seeing you all soon.
In Cincinnati, a Discussion on How ‘Everything is Connected’
Sr. Caroljean Willi
October 16, 2020
While offering a warm welcome to the Queen of the West at Network’s Oct. 16 town hall meeting in Cincinnati, participants also learned of the high poverty rate that exists in the city.
The opening prayer began with a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai that reminded us that we are called to be people of hope — even, and perhaps more so, in the midst of the turmoil that surrounds us.
Participants reflected on how the coronavirus has given us an opportunity to look at ourselves and remember that we all belong to each other. Pope Francis’ injunction that we have to move to the margins came up repeatedly during the discussions.
Racism and the need to confront it was a recurring theme. There was unanimity in agreeing that racism and inequality have to be dealt with at the systemic level, that it is a structural problem affecting our society negatively in our treatment of people considered “minorities.” Even the term “minorities” itself was called into question if we truly believe we are equally loved as children of God. This belief in the dignity of all people forces us to look at how all people in society are treated and be willing to speak up and act with clarity and integrity, to call out the injustices in our own backyards, but also to offer our time and efforts to find solutions.
One of the greatest challenges expressed was that of getting people to listen to what we are saying about the sacredness of all of life, referring not only to people, but to all of creation and the responsibility we have to care for it. Suggestions offered included the need to try to find at least one kernel of common ground with the person with whom you disagree, and also being sensitive to your audience and willing to enter into dialogue.
Whether discussing racism, immigration, climate change or the pandemic, Pope Francis’ words that “everything is connected” were a constant reminder that who we elect matters.
[Caroljean Willie is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati who has a Ph.D. in multicultural education. She has extensive experience working cross-culturally throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.]
On Oct. 15, the Sisters of St. Joseph foundation day, I “visited” the Health Wagon in Wise, Virginia. I found our congregation’s values of meeting the needs of “the dear neighbor” incarnated in the mission of the Health Wagon, which provides medical care for the working poor in Appalachia.
Dr. Teresa Tyson and Dr. Paula Hill-Collins shared the energy and insights that fuel their mission. As they repeated the phrase, “This is the United States of America,” they named staggering statistics: a life expectancy shortened by 20 years on average, high percentages for illnesses, addiction, lack of medical insurance of working people who are earning their way out of eligibility for Medicaid and into debt and preventable illness.
A Catholic sister working in Africa to provide medical care to people on the margins. A young woman growing up in the United States, dreaming of being a missionary doctor. Thousands of men, women and children, many standing in line for days to have access to free medical, vision and dental care. These three came together in extraordinary ways in a mission field, but not in an African country, as one might conclude.
Sr. Bernadette Kenny, a Medical Missionary of Mary, met Teresa in Virginia, Teresa’s home state. Sister Bernie was missioned from Africa to southwest Virginia in 1978 to provide health care to people who are medically underserved. Teresa found her missionary calling in staying home, earning her nurse practitioner credentials and inheriting the directorship of the Health Wagon in from Sister Bernie.
Teresa and Paula, the clinical director and Teresa’s partner in mission, call this being “covered by Sister Bernie’s cloak” (1 Kings 19:19). As they described their efforts to Sr. Simone Campbell, they repeated the refrain, “This is the United States of America,” and it echoed in my soul. This is not a country in the developing world. My city is in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet.
As Sister Simone spoke with Teresa and Paula, I heard another refrain: “innovation, innovation, innovation.” This includes the Health Wagon, bringing clinical care to those with no way to travel to two health care sites. Drones deliver prescriptions. Telehealth provides counseling. It demands networking — building collaborations across faith traditions, health and educational institutions, for example — and creatively meeting needs as they arise.
As I reflected on these refrains and the way they are enmeshed in the work of the Health Wagon, I thought of all the people I know in Philadelphia working for justice and dignity for every dear neighbor. Teresa and Paula are sustained by that which energizes them and moves them to relentless action. “God provides.” “God does not call without providing the means.” “This is the United States of America.” We can do this.
[Sr. Cecelia Cavanaugh of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia is the former dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies at Chestnut Hill College.]