Category Archives: Sister Spirit

Sr. Simone responds to Bannon’s Comments about Immigrants and the Church

Sr. Simone responds to Steve Bannon’s Comments about Immigrants and the Church

September 7, 2017



Choosing Solidarity over Indifference

Choosing Solidarity over Indifference

Simone Campbell, SSS
July 24, 2017

When I say to groups that our primary issue to mend the income and wealth gap in our nation is tax policy, I often see eyes glaze over or people get ready to argue. But for us here at NETWORK, our faith leads us to engage this as a top priority and here is why!

What we have to remember is that from 1949 to 1979 every level of our society shared our post-war prosperity. The top marginal tax rate hovered around 80 percent. With that high of a tax rate at the top, executives were not as focused on increasing their salaries. In 1965, the average salary for a CEO was 20 times the amount for the average salaries of their workers.

This all changed in the 1980’s with the advent of Ronald Reagan and his “trickle-down economics.” Reagan and other supporters of this theory slashed tax rates for the top income bracket to less than 30 percent, and top executive salaries began to skyrocket while workers’ wages stagnated. In 2015, the average CEO salary was 303 times their workers’ average salaries. This is fueling our income and wealth disparity and hurting our people.

As Pope Francis says in Joy of the Gospel, paragraph 54:

…Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.

This is the problem we have in our nation. The majority of people seem to be indifferent as the wealthiest people become more and more out of touch with those who are in the bottom 60 percent economically in our nation. We are becoming too far away from each other to be aware of our neighbors’ real needs.

Trickle-down economics has driven a wedge between those at the top and the rest of us, and our whole nation suffers as a result. But Speaker Paul Ryan and his colleagues continue to push trickle-down policies that give even more money to those who already have too much. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that passed in the House of Representatives gave $680 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy over the next 10 years while taking away healthcare from 24 million people. This is wrong in any nation, but especially in a nation that can afford to provide care for its people.

NETWORK’s position on tax policy is at the heart of our solution to this challenging reality. We believe that everyone should pay a fair share. We also know that tax policy can promote or discourage certain behaviors. Our reflection and prayer lead us to say, let’s create tax policies that preference the common good and work to end the racial wealth gap.

We dream of incentives for corporations and business owners whose executives are paid no more than 40 or 50 times what their lowest-paid employee makes. Or – what if businesses that pay a living wage received a tax credit because their workers are not relying on the social safety net? Could the home mortgage interest deduction be designed to offset the serious and systemic housing discrimination people of color have experienced over generations?  These are just a few ideas, but the bottom line is that we need to end failed trickle-down policies and open our minds to a new way forward.

So, we urge you to join us in ending the indifference to unjust tax policies that is rife in our country. New tax policy will be created when our hearts are broken open to the needs of those around us. We all suffer in a system of cold, harsh individualism. Such a system is not aligned with our faith teachings or with the best of our nation. Let’s establish a tax policy that pays for the services our nation really needs and actively reduces the income and wealth gap. It is possible to achieve this goal through prayer and action. The time is now!

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Time for Moral Leadership on Medicaid from So-Called ‘Pro-Life’ Senate Republicans

Time for Moral Leadership on Medicaid from So-Called ‘Pro-Life’ Senate Republicans

Simone Campbell, SSS
June 26, 2017

Originally published at

When people hear that I, a Catholic Sister, work on healthcare in Washington, D.C., I’m met with mixed reactions. There is no doubt — many Americans have lots of feelings about the myriad issues under the healthcare umbrella. For me, it boils down to making sure that as many people as possible have access to life-saving healthcare coverage.

In 2010, I made sure that Congress knew that passing the Affordable Care Act was part of a pro-life stance, and now, over 20 million more Americans are covered because of this life-saving bill! But now, as Senate Republicans seek to rush through a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the most secretive manner, I want to call their bluff on their proclaimed pro-life stance.

I am outraged to see allegedly pro-life Republicans put forward a healthcare bill that will strip millions of people of their healthcare. Not only that, but this bill preys on the most vulnerable! This is antithetical to any faith. The House and Senate healthcare proposals are the antithesis of a pro-life stance and needs to be named as such. People will lose their lives if this bill becomes law.

It used to be very difficult for women to find insurance coverage for pre-natal and maternity care. Under current law, maternal health (pregnancy and postpartum services) is an essential benefit, which insurers must offer without charging extra. This is a pro-life benefit — but the GOP is set to eliminate the essential health benefits, including maternity care, for millions of expecting mothers.

This bill that the Senate is days away from voting on would bring us back to a time when “maternity riders” forced women to pay more than many could afford just to bring a child into the world.” This is not pro-life.

Even worse, the Republicans plan to cut and cap Medicaid funding for people with disabilities and those living below the poverty level in our nation. But what many don’t know is that 45 percent of births in the United States are paid for by Medicaid!

The Senate bill ends Medicaid as we know it, and as a result these “pro-life” members of Congress are actually disregarding the needs of moms and their newborn children. Supporting Medicaid funding is a pro-life stance.

Further, Medicaid dollars benefit seniors residing in nursing homes, including many Catholic Sisters who have served their entire lives tending to the most vulnerable. It also affects people with disabilities, whose care can be too expensive for a family to manage. But, Republican efforts to cut Medicaid funding arbitrarily will jeopardize their lives and wellbeing. Taking money away from seniors, people in poverty and people with disabilities is wrong. Everyone has a right to live in dignity.

I fight for healthcare because I fight for the lives of our people. But, I am angry that by moving ahead with their American Health Care Act spin-off, Republican Senators are only concerned with lining the pockets of the wealthiest and are doing so at the expense of Medicaid and our most vulnerable people. If Republicans are truly pro-life, then they will place people, not corporate interests, at the center of their decision-making. And, when people are healthier, we all do better.

So my pro-life colleagues: Listen up. To be pro-life requires us to care about ALL of life, not just birth or death. Mothers and their infants need medical coverage. The disabled and the elderly need the promise that they can live in dignity for their entire natural life. This means that we must not cap individual or state expenditures for Medicaid or remove services from the defined benefits. It also means that we must not block grant Medicaid to the states or institute a per capita cap.

As the richest nation on earth, we can care for all of life if we choose. All other developed nations have accomplished it. Do we have the will to put our people over yet more tax cuts for the 1 percent? As a person of faith, I say that we must. It is a mandate of my faith and a call to the common good. So Senators, please, reject the so-called “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” and let’s have a real conversation that doesn’t include 23 million Americans losing their healthcare.

We Come Alive Together

We Come Alive Together

Simone Campbell, SSS
April 27, 2017

As I write this, a few weeks ago Speaker Paul Ryan stated with righteous indignation that “well people shouldn’t have to pay for sick people.” This is one of his “principles” as he works to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I found this shocking because the whole principle of insurance is that you pay into it so that when you need to use it you can. Some have lower costs and some have higher costs, but all get the care they need when they need it. Costs average out over time. That is the whole theory of insurance and I thought Speaker Ryan would understand this “business model”. But apparently he does not.

The longer I pondered this misunderstanding of how insurance works, I came to see that there is even a deeper blindness. In the Republican commitment to individualism, they have lost sight of community and the common good. The biggest problem with the Republican effort at healthcare legislation is that it lacks the awareness that it is community which makes healthcare effective. It is not just about the individual. Healthcare is a communal good. This is why Pope Francis and his predecessors have clearly stated that healthcare is a human right.

Our nation’s hyper individualism is sucking the life out of our nation. Just focusing on myself is contrary to my Catholic faith and contrary to our Constitution. As I was pondering the Lenten readings, I was struck that all of the scriptures involve some aspect of community. No one is acting alone. This led me to an insight about Speaker Ryan’s flawed faith analysis.

The gospel reading on the second Sunday of Lent was the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus before the apostles. I love this story! Simon Peter both gets it wrong and gets it right. First, the truth of Jesus and the presence of Moses and Elijah are revealed to this small community. Peter and presumably the others are awed and surprised. Peter in his enthusiasm blurts out how good it is to be there and offers to “build a tent” as an altar for the three. But a bright cloud surrounds them and a voice says “This is my beloved…listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) After a bit, Jesus helps the apostles stand up and tells them not to be afraid.

Reflecting on this scripture led me to know that we are called to see Jesus and the elders transfigured in our midst. In community we see the dazzling truth of the Divine’s presence and are urged to act. It made me think of our bus stop this past summer at Integrity House in Newark, New Jersey. It is a therapeutic community for people with substance use disorders. With guided interventions, staff and residents work together toward sobriety. We met with about 25 of their community members and heard about their struggles and hopes. Many residents previously had brushes with the law and had done jail time. They discovered that they could not do this work alone. Only in community could they be transformed. One woman said “It takes so much to fight addiction and depression! I can’t get rid of my demons by myself. I have to do my part, but alone I’m not enough.” She said by working in this community, however, she and others are being transformed.

While this was one woman’s story, I think it is also the story of our society that Speaker Ryan missed. It is not effective for us to be alone in our caring for our families, ourselves, or our communities. We are not made to be isolated. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that when I feel alone is when fear and division rise. We can only be “transfigured” in a group. Together we can be made new. This is the basis for sound, inclusive healthcare policy.

Let us remind our elected officials that we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. If we embrace this truth and act in community, then we will have a healthcare system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Then we will be the people that we aspire to be—transformed and alive.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Understanding That We Are All Connected

Understanding That We Are All Connected

By Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM
From NETWORK’s Catholic Social Justice Reflection Guide

One of the principles of Catholic Social Justice Teaching is needed more than ever today. It is that of the Common Good. We, as a nation, have lost our sense of responsibility as citizens to address the needs of the whole community and seem to only advocate for those policies which affect me and my group. As we move further and further away from each other and self-identify with specific groups, it becomes harder to address what we need as a people, as a nation, to realize our full potential as children of God.

When I was at NETWORK, I heard Congresspersons talk about the common good. Today, it is rare if anyone raises it up. Yet, for me it is growing in importance as we navigate an increasingly complex political terrain that has become mean spirited and divisively partisan. We have forgotten that governments play an important role in our lives. Catholic Social Justice Teaching reminds us of this when in the encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John the XXIII wrote that “the attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities.”  Every society needs a body who will promote the good of each of us and has the authority and capacity to step back and address the good of the whole.

In Catholic Social Justice Teaching, to promote the common good is to create the conditions for every person to realize their full potential as children of God. To do that is to safeguard and foster the various rights first stated in Pacem in Terris. These rights include: life, the right to bodily integrity and the means necessary for its proper development – food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and social services; freedom to worship; to work; to form associations; to immigrate and emigrate; and to take an active role in public life.

This understanding of the common good, safeguarding what we need to flourish as full human beings, reflects the scriptural image that we are all parts of one body and each is needed for the whole to function and be healthy. We are the Body of Christ and we find our fulfillment in relationship with each other.

Our society is far from embracing such a teaching, yet I believe it is critical for our future. It is understanding that we are all connected and all share the same Earth-home that will enable us to relinquish group agendas for the common good so that we can move forward together as a nation.

My work for justice and systemic change has evolved over these past years to address the transformation of consciousness. I believe that contemplation—individually and communally—is transformative. Becoming more attuned to God working within you frees you to see your biases, your assumptions, your world view. You awaken to the fears you have of those who are not like yourself; you begin to stop reacting to people and ideas and begin to respond.

It is with this self-awareness rooted in our deep center where the Divine dwells that will free us to create a space to meet those with whom we differ. We need to talk to each other and to those whom we elect about the values and vision we have as a people, a nation, a planetary community. We need to come to understand that we are all sisters and brothers; we are all connected, sentient and non-sentient beings. If we grasp that and respect each other, then the possibility exists that over time we can imagine a new way forward where the common good is addressed in mutually enhancing ways.

Nancy Sylvester, IHM, is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (ICCD) since 2002. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, MI. as well as in the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of NETWORK, the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. A new free resource that is related to this topic can be found at  click on “Finding Our Balance Post Election.”

View the full Catholic Social Justice Reflection guide here.

View the Lent Calendar to take action on healthcare here.

Is There Reality in Funding the Federal Government?

Blog: Is There Reality in Funding the Federal Government?

Sister Marge Clark
March 13, 2017

Funding for the current fiscal year ends on April 28. Congress needs to complete plans for funding the federal government for this current fiscal year and at the same time begin to create a budget for 2018.   Since Congress is on recess for four weeks before the April 28 deadline, there are only five weeks to get the job done. Decisions on appropriations will impact a number of NETWORK “Mend the Gap” priorities, but three programs are particularly vulnerable:  housing support for those in poverty, healthcare funding and funds to conduct the 2020 Census.

We know that funding for these programs mean so much to the lives of those in poverty.  Pope Francis reminds us that, behind every statistic, there is the face of a person who is suffering, … “Poverty has a face! It has the face of a child; it has the face of a family; it has the face of people, young and old. It has the face of widespread unemployment and lack of opportunity. It has the face of forced migrations, and of empty or destroyed homes.”

Housing vouchers are particularly at risk for this year. The current budget allotted $500 million less than the amount needed to fund currently held vouchers for the rest of the year. CBPP estimates that more than 100,000 vouchers could be lost in the next few months. 100,000 households could become homeless unless we can secure new funding.

The Affordable Care Act continues to be under attack.  One of the key ways opponents may move to cut the program is to defund its operating system.  House appropriators, for several years have denied the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the IRS new funding to cover the administrative costs of ACA implementation.   These funds and more are at serious risk.

Past decennial censuses have tended to undercount communities of color, people experiencing poverty, immigrants, young children, Native Americans and rural residents. The systematic undercounting of these communities decreases their access to federal funding and proportional representation. If the Census Bureau does not receive increased funding to conduct necessary tests and prepare for 2020, we fear that these gaps in the census will persist.

This year, the funding decisions are particularly daunting, as the administration and many House Republicans are determined to increase military spending while adhering to the top level spending caps established in the Budget Control Act, 2011.  Doing this necessitates cuts in non-defense spending – mostly human needs programs – in order to not exceed the caps.

Further, at the Trump Administration request, Congress is considering a 2017 Supplemental Budget.   They propose that it would cover the added cost of the President’s “deportation force,” which we have seen escalate its activities in the last week.  It would include some war costs, but mostly would cover the cost of President Trump’s Border Wall which ranges from estimates $8 billion to $21 billion.  Removing this from the FY 2017 appropriations does not relieve all of us from paying for it. We would still need to fund the Supplemental through our tax dollars.  NETWORK will actively work to stop this bill.

In addition to completing work on the FY 2017 Appropriations, Congress faces passage of a Budget for FY 2018 – which goes into effect October 1, 2017.  They have yet to receive direction from the President, other than broad statements of cutting non-defense spending by a stunning $3.7 trillion over ten years. This equates to a 43 percent drop in meeting the basic support of people with limited income.

Increases in military spending and unwillingness of Congress to increase revenue put the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of people in need by reducing spending on human needs such as housing, healthcare and the census. This is in direct opposition to what NETWORK Lobby and Advocates for Catholic Social Justice continue to work to achieve. It is imperative that all of us engage with our members of Congress frequently to influence their spending decisions. We need to work hard to protect the dignity of all people in our communities.

Lent Welcome from Sister Simone

Lent Welcome from Sister Simone

March 1, 2017

Welcome to NETWORK’s 40 days of Lent, “A Time to Pray, A Time to Act.” As I was reflecting on this time, I thought of two scriptural references. The first was Jesus’ withdrawal to the desert for 40 days before he began his public ministry. In this very challenging political time I believe that we need to engage in a intense spiritual practice of listening to the Spirit in our midst so that the new might emerge. I know that we cannot do “business as usual.” But it is less clear to me what the new approaches to this political chaos should be. Let us pray and listen together to the Spirit in these 40 days ahead.

The second scripture that I thought of was the story of the Exodus. In the Exodus the Jewish people wandered for 40 years sometimes with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now we only have 40 days and not 40 years, but I realized the other day that each day feels a bit like a year. We wander without a strong sense of how we as a nation are a community. We complain about “Why can’t it be like it was?” In short we are lost and reliant on God’s generosity to see us through.

So welcome to a Lent of prayer and action: listening to the Spirit and calling Congress. This is what will create the common good. May we be faithful in the journey.

An Ethic of Resistance

Guest Blog: An Ethic of Resistance

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP
February 3, 2017

We have been hearing a lot about resistance in these early days of the Trump administration. In fact, on the first full day of his presidency millions of women, men, and children organized and joined together to stand for justice in the streets.

We have also been hearing a lot of questions about what comes next. How does this organic expression of outrage and concern for equality and the common good become an effective movement?  How do we take advantage of this moment in history to effect change, stop the carnage of unjust social policies—to repurpose a phrase from President Trump’s inaugural address—and promote justice for all, especially people who are poor and marginalized?

Whatever comes next, it is crucial that we develop an ethic of resistance that is grounded in human dignity and right relationship. Otherwise, we face the danger of recreating and repeating negative cycles of violent and dehumanizing language and actions.

Relationship is key to resistance—we are first and foremost human beings after all, created to be in relationship with one another.  It is our compassion for other human beings and our earth community that compels us to resist.  An ethic of resistance requires a firm commitment to hold fast to the truth of human dignity of all people and the integrity of creation, to lament the unjust social structures and social norms which foster and perpetuate dehumanizing and earth-destroying policies, and to seek to heal the relationships distorted by social sin.

In fact, we would all do well to read up on the history of resistance to social sin. Resistance is not futile, but neither is it easy. The Christian tradition of resistance begins with Jesus, and think of where his path of resistance led.  Jesus resisted dehumanizing social norms, created a wide web of relationship, and engaged in liberating action for the oppressed.  In the centuries since, Christians have followed in his footsteps and resisted social sin and injustice.  Human communities have even managed to resist extreme expressions of social sin, such as slavery and the Nazi holocaust. Please God, do not let our current situation reach such levels, but we must do all we can to resist even the most remote possibility of such extreme social sin emerging from the fog of fear, distrust, and isolationism.

In the words of Pope Francis, we must resist the globalization of indifference. “The globalization of indifference, which today burdens the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, requires all of us to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time and the new horizons which they disclose and which God places in our hands.”[1]

The end goal of resistance should be right relationship.  To reach that goal we must carefully peel away the layers of disconnection which have been created through social sin.  The first layer of resistance is what has been happening in the collective awakening all around us.  We need to remove our own blinders not only to the existence of dehumanizing and earth-destroying policies and practices around us, but also to the ways that we ourselves are enmeshed within these unjust structures.  Only then can we work with integrity to socialize this awareness by raising the consciousness of others.

The next layer of resistance is an emotional one—lament.  Our critical consciousness must lead us to lament the reality of the benefits we receive at the cost of the heavy burdens born by others.  Because our actions of resistance take place within the dominant culture, within what Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls a “paradox of privilege,”[2] we must lament before we can seek truth and justice in solidarity. Fr. Bryan Massingale believes that such lamentation “has the power to challenge the entrenched cultural beliefs that legitimate privilege.”[3] It is a crucial step toward expanding the web of relationship to include all persons, especially marginalized people.  The encouraging movement towards intersectionality within the emerging resistance movement is a positive step in this direction.

The final layer of resistance is to shift from inaction to action from within your sphere of influence to heal the relationships distorted by social sin.  Resistance actions are not and cannot be limited to grand scale marches and demonstrations.  Our daily lives as ordinary citizens, neighbors, and consumers are filled with individual choices that hold potential for collective power. Indeed, the history of social movements illustrates the collective power of resistance to social evil and its ability to effect lasting social change.

[1] Pope Francis, 2015 World Peace Day Message, no. 6

[2] Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecologocial-Economic Vocation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013),  61

[3] Massingale, “The Systemic Erasure of the Black/Dark Skinned Body in Catholic Ethics,” in Catholic Theological Ethics, Past, Present, and Future: the Trento Conference, ed. James F. Keenan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 121.

Blog: Acting Out of Love and Listening

Acting out of Love and Listening

A Radical Response for our Troubling Times

Simone Campbell, SSS
February 2, 2017

I have been challenged by the new Trump Administration to find the right place for NETWORK in our effort to create an economy of inclusion. Part of me wants to resist every move, every nomination, every tweet, every lie, and every outrageous utterance. But I know that such absolute resistance, such “fighting against,” will reinforce the very behavior that I am resisting. It will lead to hate countering hate, and it won’t work. What is called for is something new.

Both before and after the election, I talked with some ardent Trump supporters to try to understand them. What I have come to see is that for many, if not most, their support for Mr. Trump comes from the fact that they feel betrayed by politicians and frightened for their children. They feel they have “worked hard and played by the rules” but not gotten ahead. They are struggling just as their parents did, or maybe things are even a little harder for them. Beneath their disappointment, I have come to see that there is shame for them in not living up to their  expectations.

This shame leads to anger directed at “business as usual.” They don’t care that Mr. Trump lacks any political experience. In fact, they like that because they feel betrayed by politicians. What they are not seeing is that it is conservative economic policies of “trickle-down” economics that are the heart of our ever growing income and wealth disparity.

Some of these shamed and angry voters have supported these policies for years, but do not understand that they privilege the top economic brackets and actually hurt everyone else. I am tempted at times to just “shake them” to try to get them to wake up to the consequences of their choices.

We are challenged by the Gospel, however, to do this work differently. We are challenged to fight for a vision of who we are called to be in our nation and our world. To create this vision we need to enter into a contemplative space where we let our guard down and listen to the Spirit (or what I call the wee small voice within) and then act out of that centered space.

This deep listening is risky business because it often calls on each of us to change in some way. It isn’t just about how “they” need to change. We need to say to ourselves that it is okay to be nervous about silence and listening, but we can’t let our reticence stop us. It is this very deep contemplation that is desperately needed in our nation right now.

I’ve discovered that this deep listening leaves me open to hear the stories of others grasp the reality around me in new ways, for example, my story of listening to Trump voters. It also allowed me to understand what Thomasina in Indianapolis meant when she told me she wasn’t going to vote because she didn’t want to hurt our country. She didn’t know how to choose when all she knew was negativity about both candidates, and she thought the only ethical choice was not voting at all! Deep listening lets me take in another’s experience and understand it in a new way. It is the first building block of community that we are in dire need of in our nation.

So in my worry and terror about the policies that we are going be advocating against over the next four years, I believe that we are being to a new level of engagement and action. Only love can cast out hate. We need to listen deeply and then act in love. Hard as it will be, we are called to take a radical step into the deep listening that can reveal the new. It feels like groping in the dark in very challenging times, but my experience over and over is that we are not left orphans. The words are given when they are needed. Community is nourished in this very struggle. We learned from the Vatican censure that despite pain and fear, staying faithful to our mission allows the Spirit to make something new…like a Bus.

Let us begin to advocate strongly together, but also begin a time of “deep listening.” Let us share with each other what we hear. Then we are prepared to lift up a vision of the 100% where all can work together to heal our nation. For such a challenging time we have been called. Let us respond as the prophet did:

Speak O Holy One, your servants are listening.