America Magazine, the house organ of Jesuits in the United States, was delighted with the announcement that Sister Simone Campbell would receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on July 7, 2022.
The awarding of this great honor has become brazenly political. It now serves the agenda of the party in power.
Politics Disguised as Religion
The White House designed its description of Sister Simone to sound non-political unless one reads between the lines.
“Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.”
Of course, “economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy” are all terms loaded with meaning for the left. Still, they offer a veneer that covers the political motives—at least for the uninformed.
Dropping the Façade
However, America dropped the non-partisan pretense in its description of her activism.
“A familiar face in national politics, Sister Campbell spoke at two Democratic National Conventions in 2012 and 2020. She organized the “Nuns on the Bus” … to call attention to the need for an expanded social safety net. Sister Campbell was an ardent supporter of the Affordable Care Act when it was enacted in 2010. More recently, she was active in the 2020 election, urging Catholics not to vote for President Trump.”
The troubling point is not that a religious figure is honored but that she is remembered primarily because she was a political figure supporting a liberal agenda.
The touring and speechmaking aside, Sister Simone is probably best known for her role in the passage of ObamaCare. That role was important and thereby hangs a tale that needs to be recalled.
A Woeful Tale
During the 2008 election, then-Senator Barack Obama emphasized the importance of passing some form of socialized medicine—although he never used that phrase. When Mr. Obama became president, he made it his highest political priority. He laid out the goal and then left the details to Congress.
It took over a year for the House of Representatives to hammer out a bill, which passed on a party-line vote (220-215) in November 2009.
The Democrats also held a majority in the U.S. Senate. However, the filibuster rule meant that sixty votes were necessary for passage, and the Democrats only had fifty-nine. Then, Sen. Arlen Spector switched parties to vote with the Democrats. The Senate bill passed on December 24, 2009.
However, there were the usual differences between the House and Senate bills. A Conference Committee of Representatives and Senators normally hammers out the differences, and the compromise bill returns to both houses for approval. For the ObamaCare bill, that process was interrupted because of a special election in Massachusetts.
Death of Senator Kennedy
Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s death in August 2009 changed the situation. The Massachusetts Governor appointed Paul Kirk to serve until a special election. Mr. Kirk was an abortion supporter, and the Kennedy family approved the nomination.
The special election took place on January 19, 2010. The primary issue was the passage of ObamaCare. Republican candidate Scott Brown ran with the promise that he would be “the 41st vote” against ObamaCare. The usually-liberal Massachusetts elected Mr. Brown with 51.8 percent of the vote.
Since the Senate Democrats again had only fifty-nine votes, the Republicans could potentially derail ObamaCare at the last moment. However, the House of Representatives could prevent this from happening by approving the exact bill that the Senate had passed in December.
Against these tight margins, both sides threw everything into the battle.
From the Obama faction’s perspective, one impediment was the opposition of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Bishops objected to the abortion provision in ObamaCare. There was a real fear that this announcement might erode support for the bill because several Democrats in the House had significant Catholic constituencies.
Sister Simone Swings into Action
Unlike the nation’s bishops, Sister Simone supported the measure despite its abortion provisions. She organized like-minded liberal nuns around the country. They signed a letter that Sister Simone’s organization, NETWORK, sent to every member of Congress. As printed in the National Catholic Reporter, the letter began:
“We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming “yes” vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week.”
The letter then undercut the Bishops by claiming authority to speak for Catholics on the health care issue.
“As the heads of major Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries, we are responsible for running many of our Nation’s hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country.”
The letter concluded with words that sounded very traditional.
“In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days.”
On March 21, 2010, the House accepted the Senate bill.
Acts of Gratitude
“And we didn’t make a hard sell. We didn’t have billions of dollars of commercials like some critics did. But what we said was, look for yourself, see if it’s good for your family. And a whole lot of people decided it was. So I want to thank everybody who worked so hard to make sure that we arrived at this point today.”
Sister Simone was undoubtedly one of those people. She was in the room, and President Obama hugged her and gave her one of the pens he used to sign the bill into law.
To that act of gratitude, President Biden added the nation’s highest civilian honor—The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She joins others in the pantheon of leftist Catholic figures like labor activist Cesar Chavez and other figures who are dear to President Biden and the Catholic left. She represents the contradiction of supporting this legislation that contains provisions that favor abortion.
Over the weeks since the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, the left has criticized the justices for failing to respect the “separation of Church and State.” However, none of them minded in the least that President Biden was awarding a Catholic religious sister for her political work. The revolutionaries recognized one of their compatriots and welcomed her, uniting religious nuns behind their cause.
Some say you can tell a lot about the nation by looking at the people they honor. For a Catholic nun to receive an award—any award—from the most pro-abortion President in American History is a scandal.