The so-called "Nuns on the Bus" have been busy in Ohio, one of the most important swing states in the current presidential election where Catholics have long been a strong voice in favor of social justice and labor issues. They have been lionized by political progressives and received wide news coverage for their left-of-center views and a message of social justice and change. Simone Campbell, one of the nuns on the bus currently on tour, was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention this summer and has been a lightning rod of criticism from political conservative. Campbell leads NETWORK, a leftist Catholic group that is based in Washington DC. She has been a leader of the peregrinating nuns as well as a vocal critic of Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Catholic and current Republican vice-presidential candidate.
Writing about the Romney/Ryan economic plan, Campbell wrote "[Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's] 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." One Catholic bishop, Stephen Blair of California, vocally and mildly disapproved of Ryan’s budget, even while Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to the moral legitimacy of the plan even while not wholeheartedly approving it. Bishop Blair did not mention Representative Ryan by name in his criticism.
In Marietta, Ohio, the Nuns on the Bus were met by a group of Tea Party protesters who gave a less than friendly welcome to the elderly nuns who had come to the state. Tea Party protesters held placards blazoned with slogans such as "Bums on the Bus" and "Romney-Ryan Yes, Fake Nuns No." They focus their criticism against the nuns’ presumed position on abortion. Campbell, for example, has been criticized for being less concerned about abortion than issues such as Obamacare, unemployment, and social inequalities. One of the nuns on the bus rejected the protester’s claims that they are soft on abortion. Monica McGloin said to the Tea Party protesters on October 15 that "we are 100 percent pro-life."
A YouTube video posted by someone who claims to be a member of the "We the People" chapter of the Tea Party posted a video of the counter-demonstrators taken before the nuns and 100 supporters arrived. The video contended that more than 175 Tea Party marchers came to meet the Nuns on the Bus. The actual number of nuns was reportedly six. "What could be more innocuous, unless of course the nuns happen to be a group of radical, feminist ideologues whose previous political actions have been so out of step with the teaching of the Catholic Church that they have been condemned by the Vatican," said a text accompanying the YouTube.
"As many of your signs are showing, we believe life begins at conception and ends with natural death," McGloin said. Transcribed by Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group that is also providing media support for the nuns, McGloin said "And that we do not see focusing on one issue, one point of life, as a way that we should proceed. And that pro-life for us means that we do concern ourselves with living wage, just wage, access to healthcare, education, food, housing, care for our seniors, Medicare and other kinds of healthcare programs that are supportive. Providing daycare for children so their parents can work…" Apparently seeking to bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives, McGloin added, "So we know from talking with people that what the people want is to continue to support the services that are helping us remain healthy, wholesome communities. So that’s what pro-life is."
In interviews with Spero News, Catholic League President Bill Donohue has identified Simone Campbell as a dissident from essential Catholic teachings who has been disciplined by church authorities. Donohue described the Nuns on the Bus as a media “scam”. He said that NETWORK has been denounced numerous times for its “pro-abortion position” As a matter of fact, Donohue said, when Campbell was asked whether she would endorse laws against abortion, she mimicked President Obama and said that such a position is “above her pay grade.”
Noting that when the Nuns on the Bus were on the run in early months of the year, normally there were two nuns on the bus but no more than six. “This is one of the biggest media scams I have seen in my life time,” said Donohue. “There are 57,000 nuns in this country,” said Donohue, “If you can only get six on your bus…then those figures are not very impressive.”
Donohue said, by contrast, that in the media attention to Ryan’s alleged differences with the Catholic hierarchy and teachings, little mention has been made of Vice President Joseph Biden’s “misrepresentations” of Catholic teachings. Indeed, said Donohue, the Catholic bishop over Biden’s home parish has asked him to refrain from taking Holy Communion.
Donohue, a demographer who is a former college professor, noted the importance of Ohio to the presidential campaign. While there is a tradition that the victor in Ohio tracks with the overall victor in presidential races, Donohue claimed that this is over-rated.