BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company… nuns hit the highway on a road trip of faith and politics.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: The Ryan budget cuts social services, devastates social services. They want you to think they’re giving it to the deficit, but they’re not. What they’re doing is they’re cutting taxes for the wealthy.
BILL MOYERS: Come along for the ride. Then Sister Simone Campbell and Robert Royal join me in the studio.
ROBERT ROYAL: Let's not forget, there is no free lunch at the end of the day. That when something is paid for through a government program, it comes out of other people's pockets.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to our take on one of the hottest controversies of this overheated summer. My two guests have some insights you’ll want to hear on faith and politics.
Sister Simone Campbell heads the Catholic activist group NETWORK, based in Washington, D.C. A lawyer and poet, she has long been a fearless advocate for the poor and marginalized in America. So fearless she recently took on two other combative Catholics, Bill O’Reilly and his alter ego, Stephen Colbert.
Robert Royal is founder and president of the Faith and Reason Institute, also in Washington, dedicated, in his words, to “the twin strands out of which America and any good and free social fabric are woven."
He is also editor in chief of this online publication, “The Catholic Thing,” and the author of many books, including “The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.”
But first, buckle your seat belts. We’re going to take a road trip across America's heartland with “Nuns on the Bus.” And as you watch, remember, this cross-country journey took place two months before Paul Ryan became Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Faith is like walking through a mist with your eyes wide open. Reminds me of when I was a kid in Long Beach and we’d stand out at the bus stop in the fog, and we’d try to tell by the headlights, was it a bus or was it a truck? You know, what was it? For me, looking down the road, I don’t know. I don’t have a clue. I just know this step is the right step.
BILL MOYERS: So it was that on a steamy morning earlier this summer, Sister Simone Campbell and a handful of other nuns gathered in Des Moines, Iowa to set out on a journey of faith and politics. Simone belongs to the order of the Sisters of Social Service. She is also an attorney who heads the Catholic Social Justice Lobby, NETWORK based in Washington DC.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Will we move beyond individualism back to the principles of our founding fathers, and mothers I’ve add, to be ‘we the people of the United States.’
BILL MOYERS: She found herself in a bit of hot holy water when the Vatican singled out Network for not promoting all of the church’s doctrines with equal verve. Suddenly the nuns were in the news.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: The Vatican chastised the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, America’s largest group of Catholic nuns for caring too much about the very poor, and not spending enough time crusading against abortion and same-sex marriage.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: This small group of nuns in the Catholic church is going feminist, and the Vatican is obviously, figure of speech, slapping them down.
NEWSCASTER: on CBS Evening News: Is this a group of radical feminists teaching outside the doctrines of the church?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL on CBS Evening News: Oh heavens no, that’s just ridiculous.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL on the Colbert Report: We work every day to live as Jesus did in relationship to people at the margins of our society. That’s all we do.
STEPHEN COLBERT: That’s a cheap applause line: Jesus. You can throw Jesus into anything and people are going to applaud.
BILL MOYERS: Sister Simone seized on her unexpected celebrity and with the support of thousands of individual donors, and a sympathetic labor union, she and four of her sisters-in-alms took to the road. From Des Moines to DC they would ride in solidarity with the poorest among us.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: NETWORK’s mission from its beginning is about economic justice issues. We were founded 40 years ago by 47 Catholic sisters to be the voice for and with those at the margins of society all over the country. And the thing that is utmost in our mind at NETWORK is the devastation that is being economically through the budget fight, and what will happen to programs that are so effective, that really help people and so, it seemed like a great convergence to have this notoriety used for the sake of our mission.
We know that the House-passed Ryan budget will devastate our nation. And most people don’t know what’s going on. And that’s why we decided to take to the road in our rather glorious bus.
BILL MOYERS: The primary message of their mission was to sound an alarm about the federal budget recently passed by the Republican Majority in the house. A budget titled “The Path to Prosperity,” by its author, Republican Congressman, and now Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: What we’re doing is trying to let people know that the Ryan budget cuts social services, devastates social services, cuts food stamps. And while they’re cutting all the social services, well what are they going to do with the money? They want you to think they’re giving it to the deficit, but they’re not. What they’re doing is they’re cutting taxes for the wealthy.
BILL MOYERS: Especially galling to the sisters was that Paul Ryan, a fellow Catholic, was invoking the church’s doctrine of Social Teaching as justification for his priorities.
PAUL RYAN: I feel it’s important to discuss how, as a Catholic in public life, my own personal thinking on these issues have been guided by my understanding of the church’s social teaching. Simply put, I don’t believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.
BILL MOYERS: Preferential option for the poor is an essential component of Catholic social teaching. It holds that the needs of the poor should always be of primary consideration, and is the foundation of the Church’s ideal that the moral test of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
A test that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says the Ryan budget fails. Declaring that it “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment.” These cuts,” say the Bishops, “are unjustified and wrong.”
PAUL RYAN: Of course, there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this. The work I do, as a Catholic holding office, conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it. What I have to say about the social doctrine of the church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day […] The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt. The Holy Father, himself, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are, quote, "living at the expense of future generations" and "living in untruth," unquote.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I wish he would talk to us I’d like to say, “Well, how are thinking about this? What part of your Catholic Social Teaching did you miss?" Catholic social teaching is all about building community together.
BILL MOYERS: Three hours northeast of Des Moines, after stops in Ames and Cedar Rapids, the nuns stopped in the river town of Dubuque, where they visited a food pantry run by the Sisters of the Presentation. A charity already burdened by need, which would surly feel the weight of Ryan’s intended cuts to the food stamp program.
LYNN WAGNER: And we usually get anywhere from 15 to maybe 20,000 pounds of food at that time…
BILL MOYERS: Sister Lynn Wagner is the pantry’s director.
SR. LYNN WAGNER: We have the elderly who can’t make it on their social security payments or pension payments that they have. We have single-parent families; we have two-parent families. We have kids out of college that can’t get a job that pays enough to pay rent and all that. A lot of jobs are minimum wage, basic pay, and that just doesn’t cut it anymore. When groceries go up, and when milk is two bucks for a half gallon or something like that, it’s just, people can’t make it.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Most of these people that are using food stamps make a little bit above minimum wage and they still are in poverty. But the choice has been made to allow businesses to pay low wages. The idea is to keep costs down, increase productivity. But people have increased their productivity and their wages have not gone up. So from my point of view, this isn’t charity. This isn’t a handout. Whether you like it or not, these are business subsidies. We have a choice as a nation. We can either provide a real safety net so that workers can eat, or we can mandate living wage. It’s a choice. Our choice recently of late has been to do the safety net, but now they want to do away with the safety net and say it’s the people receiving the benefits fault.
TEYA SEELEY: They’re punishing you, but your children are the ones that get punished. By myself, I would be fine, but I have two little ones. It ain’t about me, it’s them. Kids can’t fend for themselves; that’s what they depend on you to do. So…
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Can you imagine the struggle of that? To be able to care for your family and you can’t put food on the table? In the richest country? It breaks my heart, breaks my heart.
BILL MOYERS: Traveling east from Dubuque the nuns crossed the Mississippi, heading for the Lion’s Den – Paul Ryan’s home district in Wisconsin. They arrived at the Congressman’s office in Janesville to a heroes’ welcome.
KATE MILLER: When I was in Catholic school, nuns weren’t my heroes and I never thought I’d see the day where I forgave them and they were my total heroes, and that’s what’s happened.
WOMAN: This is really a courageous move on their parts, and the fact that they’re standing up for social justice. That’s what they’re talking about here, social justice for everybody. That is a major, courageous thing that they are doing.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: This is sister Marge Clark…
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan was still in Washington, where Congress remained in session, so the nuns were left to meet with his staff.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I want to talk to Paul Ryan, I want to understand what he sees, learn from that and see if there’s a way that we can be more effective, that we can claim our culture back, that we can claim our government back, that we can govern, not for stalemate or political points, but we can solve the problems, the serious problems of this 21st century, and talking to people who think differently when I can keep my patience is a really good way to do that.
BILL MOYERS: The meeting was cordial, and the confrontation the press would have loved to see never came to pass.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: What we are here to do is to lift up a different point of view and to say, “Let’s talk…"
The media is used to messages of fighting, and uses sports metaphors all the time. It’s who scored points, who’s down for the count, who committed a foul, who dropped the ball, who hit a homerun. And it has reduced politics, the sacred art of governance, which is about democracy, is at the heart of democracy. It’s reduced it to making the citizens couch potatoes. Because they think, “Oh, it’s a game, I’ll watch, I’ll wear my button, I’ll wear my team’s colors, I’ll root.” And then the next day life goes on, and a big Super Bowl every four years, like the Olympics, and, “Oh, well, that’s done.” But democracy is all about the need for us as responsible people to govern ourselves.
It’s we the people; it’s not we the politicians, or we the rich people or we Citizens United. It’s we the people. And we’re losing our democracy.
REPORTER: Here in Janesville, the nuns on the bus have made one of many stops they plan to take as they travel across the country to spread their religious beliefs in politics.
BILL MOYERS: From Janesville, the nuns carried their message across Wisconsin, then south into the Land of Lincoln.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: The issue isn’t that the people at the top are bad. The issue is not that this is class warfare. The issue is that we are all better when we all share.
BILL MOYERS: They called out and called on congressmen who voted for the Ryan plan while promoting their own “faithful budget.”
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: …that was created by the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities coming together…
BILL MOYERS: A fiscal plan that they say is more in line with the values of a just nation. Everywhere they went, a crowd was there to greet them. Catholics and non-Catholics alike gathered to bless the nun’s journey.
SR. DIANE DONOGHUE: When we get off the bus and people see us, and they’ve got signs of support, that is just absolutely an incredible connection.
BILL MOYERS: Sister Diane Donoghue calls herself a “persistent activist.” And she’s proved it by walking alongside the poor for the better part of sixty years, from India to East L.A.
SR. DIANE DONOGHUE: Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick. So it isn’t like we’ve invented something in the last 150 years. We go back to the teachings of Jesus. We are the church, the people of God. And so when you talk church you’re talking about people coming together in a faithful response, and looking at and responding to the signs of the times. And our signs of the times right now is that the people at the top, who have the loudest voice and the most money, have an incredible amount of influence in terms of priorities for people at the top to have a tax break is just totally unjust. People at the bottom need the revenue for services that really count.
BILL MOYERS: In the concrete desert of Chicago’s South Side, they come to an oasis called Mercy Housing. Built by private donations and public funds, as a home for nearly a hundred people who had been otherwise left to wander through this economic wasteland. That’s where the nuns met Shiesha Smith.
SHIESHA SMITH: I grew up on the west side of Chicago. Around my teenage years, I was placed into foster care due to my mother’s drug addiction. I witnessed a lot of bad things at an early age, but I maintained in school, I kept good grades, I was ranked 38th in my class and I went on to college. But I was pretty much just having a hard time with staying stable and I think that had a lot to do with growing up. It was kind of hard, you know, being stable so I took it on into my adulthood.
BILL MOYERS: Shiesha wound up living on the streets, seeking refuge in homeless shelters. At age 24, she was convicted of drug possession, and sentenced to two years probation. Seven years later, she has found stability at Mercy Housing.
SHIESHA SMITH: The first step in getting yourself stable is having somewhere to come to call home. A roof over your head that’s safe. An environment that’s safe. If I didn’t have Mercy, I wouldn’t be safe right now. I know a lot of us may say we need help, and we don’t. I know that. I know some of us may play the system for our own advantage. I know that too. However, I also know that there’s people out there that do need it. And we should stick together to allow them opportunity to live, and know what life is. Life is not about struggling day to day. It’s about living. Help people live. That’s what I would tell those people: help people live. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: The bus rolled on -- from Illinois to Indiana, then into Michigan and Ohio. The nuns on the bus were welcomed as messengers of good news, like the evangels of old. Everywhere they went, they visited the places where other women of faith are the few among the desperate many.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: We are called to be a bush that allows God to flame up and be a burning bush.
BILL MOYERS: Over and again, Sister Simone invoked the imagery of the Bible – stories of how faith can resurrect withered lives, despairing souls, and broken bodies.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: What it does is it says is that God has heard the cry of the people…
My image is Ezekiel’s dry bones, and that these bones have been so weary and hungry for a little flesh. But flesh isn’t enough. They need breath.
SR. CORITA AMBRO: We are 150 years old, and my first reason for coming to St. Augustine's was to work with the deaf
BILL MOYERS: In Cleveland, Ohio, Sister Corita Ambro breathes what life she can into the community around St Augustine's parish where she runs the church’s hunger center.
SR. CORITA AMBRO:
These people that come into this hunger center, I love each and every single one of them and they know that. And they’ll often come to me and say, “Can I have a hug today? I need a hug.” Because, they need somebody to let them know they loved.
And I found out the hard way that a touch is really important for so many of these people. I had a gentleman that came down into the hunger center and I gave him a huge hug and just, you know, thanked him for coming. One of the homeless men came up to me and he tapped me on the shoulder he says, “you know what,?” He said, “Sister, I’m angry with you.” I said, “Well, why? Why are you angry with me?” He says, “You know, I’ve been coming to eat here for three years and never once did you receive me the way you received him.” And I couldn’t. This gentleman had lice in his hair, his nose was on his beard, he was just a mess. He had at least five to seven coats on, and he stunk to high heaven. I just said to him, “Jimmy, one of these days,” because I didn’t know how to handle it. One of these days. And I remember going home and crying because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hug him. And it was the hardest thing in the world. And every day, he’d come in and say, “Is today the day? Is today the day?” And I couldn’t for a while. But through prayer and pushing myself I got to the day when I could give Jimmy a hug. And that day something happened inside my heart, which opened it up to something I can never explained, and ever since that day I’ve been able to hug any one of them that walks into this hall. No matter what they smell like, no matter what they look like, no matter who they are.
REGINALD ANDERSON: Oh, Heavenly Father…
BILL MOYERS: Reginald Anderson is one of the hundreds of people a day who have come to rely on the safe harbor of Saint Augustines, while they navigate the shallow waters of Cleveland’s economy.
REGINALD ANDERSON: ...in Jesus holy name we pray, Amen.
I wish that trickle-down effect would trickle on down to us. Because everyone says that the economy is getting better, but it is I guess for those that have the money to sit back and weather the storm. For those that don’t have the economic well withall to sit back and weather out that storm, it’s kind of hard. We live in the day to day realities of life, you know trying to pay bills, trying to eat, trying to feed our families, trying to clothe our families. You know, I don’t really pay much attention to what the experts say as far as the forecasting of the economy is. I look at the people around me and I see, are they eating? Are they paying bills? Are they getting evicted? And that’s my barometer of just how well the economy is doing.
If I could, if I could just simply wave a magic wand and put all the politicians in the shoes of the average American. Let them wonder how they’re going to pay next month’s rent or mortgage. I think once they saw just how hard it was for the average person, I think they'd have a whole different outtake on governing.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Every single place that we go, the hunger for an alternative is overwhelming.
And I was feeling that sense of the apostles saying, “What is this among so many?” I mean we’re five nuns on a bus, for heaven sakes. What is this among so many? And then I realized, if we just know we’re blessed, and if we let our hearts be broken, that’s the blessed and broken, something amazing will happen.
BILL MOYERS: From Ohio, their journey took them east through Pennsylvania with stops in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Hershey and Philadelphia. Then south into Maryland and Virginia. They stopped to visit with farmers who grow produce destined for local food pantries. And celebrate mass with a congregation of immigrants in Richmond. Finally, 14 days and some three thousand miles after they left Des Moines, the nuns on the bus pulled into the nation’s capitol.
DR. SAYYID SYEED: Nuns in the bus, speak not just for Catholics, not for Christians only, not for Jews, they speak for all of us.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: As great and educational as this trip was, as inspirational as this trip was, it was also a journey of heartbreak and anguish. And it was a journey of hope.
For me, this trip has been totally about touching the pain of the world as real for all these people we’ve seen, and being hopeful. We have hope that the pain of the world isn’t the end of the story. And that frees our imagination to think of our world in a new place. To think of this place between the partisan politics to a center, to think of a church where everyone could be cared for. To think of a lobby like ours, where we could really be voices for the folks who are at the margins. It frees up our imagination. The bus trip was a prophetic imagination, it turns out, and who knew it? It’s fabulous.
BILL MOYERS: Sister Simone, this trip thoroughly entwines you in faith and politics. And now you're engaged in a partisan battle over the Ryan budget. What does this activism do for your contemplative life, which I know is very much a part of who you are?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, it’s the, from my perspective, it's the fruit of my contemplative life. For me, the contemplative life is all about listening deeply to the movement of the spirit among us and to touch the heart of what might frighten me or touch the heart of where Jesus would go in the gospel. And so listening deeply to the needs of the world around us, we've got to be engaged politically in our nation.
BILL MOYERS: But does it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel vulnerable?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, I feel scared, a number of times, yes. But the thing is when it comes from that deep inside space where you're listening to the gospel and listening to the spirit alive in our world, it just seems right. It just seems right.
BILL MOYERS: At the same time, you've been criticized by the conservative bishop of Paul Ryan's own diocese in Wisconsin, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison. Here's a video.
RAYMOND ARROYO: Paul Ryan is a member of your dioceses. Your thoughts on this, is this an appropriate thing for a group of sisters to be engaged in?
MADISON BISHOP ROBERT MORLINO: Congressman Ryan has made his prudential judgment about how best to serve the long term needs of the poor. He has done that in accord with Catholic principles. I don’t have to approve his decision or his budget or anything else. What I do approve of is that he is a responsible Catholic layman, who understands his mission and carries it out very responsibly. I feel very strongly about that. The details of his solution are not mine to approve or disapprove, that’s not my field. So, I would think that the religious sisters though should concentrate on giving that witness of holiness of all the wonderful works that they do, rather than bussing around for political issues.
BILL MOYERS: Is it hard to be criticized by one of your bishops?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I don't know what Bishop Morlino was thinking. I know Paul Ryan is being-- I mean, he keeps saying that it's according to his lights and how he understands faith. So I can affirm that. The problem is that our bishops firmly say that this budget's immoral. It fails the moral test. So there are some inconsistencies there. So I don't take the criticism as being, as, I don't know, as painful as it would be otherwise.
BILL MOYERS: And on the other hand, a parish priest in Bishop Morlino's diocese, who used to be the Ryan family's pastor says Ryan's austerity budget is inconsistent with Catholic teaching. So Robert, help us non-Catholics sort this out. What's this debate all about?
ROBERT ROYAL: How much time have I got? Well, look, one of the things we have to be clear about to begin with is how Catholics think about moral principles. There are certain moral principles that are absolutes. You can't commit murder. You can't commit adultery. You can't steal. These are things that apply to everybody in every circumstance, without exception.
When we step into the political realm, as we're doing in this particular case, things become very complicated. And I myself don't have a perfect answer for every bit of the problem that we face right now. There's some very big questions being put to us as a society.
We see on the one hand that a sister and her fellow sisters rightly show, we need to support the poor. These are people who are absolutely at the margins. And I agree entirely with that. Now the big question is always how best to do that.
BILL MOYERS: You mean financially. The fiscal cliff everybody's—
ROBERT ROYAL: Lead us off a fiscal cliff. So there are differences when we get into-- Bishop Morlino used the term "prudential judgments." Now it's one prudential judgment to say that we need a larger support system-- Medicaid or other support systems for the absolutely poor. But the prior question that has to be answered, when we think about social justice, is, "Is there going to be excess wealth to be distributed? Is there going to be a functioning system?" That's-- it seems to me, to be missing in much of what's talked about in certain Catholic circles, when you talk about social justice or the preferential option for the poor.
BILL MOYERS: Given that, would you have been theologically comfortable on that bus?
ROBERT ROYAL: Probably not. Probably not. Because my own work is, of course, different than what the nuns do. My own work is to think about larger questions about how religion and politics intersect. And I find that this is a country whose tradition and we have to respect the country that we're in.
If you lived in France or some other countries, they're quite used to centralized systems. We're not in the United States. Alexis De Tocqueville, the Frenchman who wrote the famous book “Democracy in America” came to the United States—
BILL MOYERS: 1830's.
ROBERT ROYAL: Right. And he was flabbergasted. And he said famously that in France where you see the state, in America you see a private association.
I myself, I mean, this is kind of a joke, but I don't hear Jesus go to Matthew the tax collector and say, "Matthew, you need to collect more taxes." He’s speaking to people individually. And it has to begin at that level, with obviously some governmental role in some of these issues.
BILL MOYERS: In the Bible, as you say, when Jesus speaks of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking in the sick, he says, "You do it." He doesn't say, "Go and ask Caesar or go and get the senate to pass taxes." And when Jesus looked at the rich man, whom the Bible tells us he loved, he said, "Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven." It was to be a personal act of sacrifice. Do you see that point in what Robert is saying?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I think absolutely. And what we saw on the bus trip were personal acts of sacrifice. The problem is that we've got now, is that the problem is so huge, it is so far beyond individual charity. Additionally, we have the teaching within our church that Pope Benedict the XVI makes very clear that until we have justice, we can't have charity. And the idea that largesse alone, on the part of the extremely wealthy, will fix this problem is really wrong.
It has not happened over the last ten years, when the wealth gap in our nation has grown so dramatically. We also know from Catholic social teaching that the role of government is to positively balance out the excesses of any culture. Our current excess is this huge individualistic, "I've got mine, nobody else can have it" approach. And so we, in Catholic social teaching, Pope Benedict teaches in “Charity and Truth” that the role of government—
BILL MOYERS: “Charity and Truth” was the—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: --is the encyclical, an encyclical. Is that the role of government then becomes to balance out excess. I would agree if people would generously give, if we didn't have the huge wealth gap. If we hadn't had years of millions of people in our country being without health care. If we hadn't have had all of this experience of the poor becoming poorer, that the minimum wage doesn't even get people out of poverty now. I would think, "Okay, just let the free market do it." It's failed. It's time we say it.
ROBERT ROYAL: Sister—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: It's failed.
ROBERT ROYAL: Let me interrupt, though. You tend to put this in very black and white terms. That it's only this, or we need this. Let's just look at the history of the Catholic Church, to take that. And there are other Christian denominations, Jewish groups. The churches and other religious bodies in this country built the university system. They built schools. They built hospitals. They built elaborate cathedrals. All without any government subventions. Now we live in a different age than in those older days. But it's not impossible. I take it that the nuns on the bus also want to inspire people in the private sector to come together and to do things.
And let's not forget, there is no free lunch at the end of the day. That when something is paid for through a government program, it comes out of other people's pockets. And the question is not should it be-- there are certain things we're going to decide should be done and others we don't want to have be done. The question is whether that's the best way to do these things that must be done. I myself have gone out with my children, they hated this when they were younger, and stood outside of supermarkets and asked people to get food. And we were going to put it in a shopping cart and take it to a local soup kitchen. My kids hated it. But they remember it to this day. It would have been much easier for us just to take the dollars and, the equivalent dollar amount. But there's something about that personal commitment to other people that is very different than paying taxes or—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I totally agree.
ROBERT ROYAL: --going through a government program.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: That's really an important piece that we need to do, totally, in our society. I agree. And most of those programs that we saw on the road, that's what they did. But what is difficult now is that the need is so huge.
There is such a huge need. Do you know, Bread for the World figured out that with the cuts in the Ryan budget that we've been talking about, just of food stamps alone, because Congressman Ryan says that churches can take care of it.
ROBERT ROYAL: I didn't say that. I'm saying that that's one of the elements.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, it's one of-- okay, but this is what Congressman Ryan-- I'm not putting those-- I didn't mean to put those words in your mouth. But Congressman Ryan says, "Churches will take care of it." But Bread for the World, who specializes in—
BILL MOYERS: It's an organization that deals with hunger around the world.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Hunger. Domestic, as well as global. And they figured out that every synagogue, church, mosque, every single one of them, would have to raise $50,000 additional money every year, for ten years, in order to meet the amount of money that’s being cut from the food stamp program. And what we saw on the bus trip was that sisters take some federal money. We leverage it with private money. We leverage it with volunteers. We leverage it with corporate contributions. And we make effective programs. But it's the federal money is the cornerstone of making these programs work.
ROBERT ROYAL: I agree with Sister that this is a huge problem. We know from the current debates about the economy that something like half of the people in the United States currently receive federal checks of some sort. They get federal support of some kind. There's something wrong with this. It seems to me that the Catholic vision is not simply to counterbalance—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I agree.
ROBERT ROYAL: --what is right or wrong in a given society. The Catholic vision says, initially, through the concept called "subsidiarity."
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan uses that word, by the way. What's the definition? A working definition?
ROBERT ROYAL: Well, look, subsidiarity is really a vision of the whole of society. But what it says is, in essence, the lowest level of a society that is capable, that can take care of a problem, should deal with it. So in the normal course of affairs, parents go out and earn a living, take care of their children, provide for their needs, education, et cetera.
Then you may have kind of-- neighborhood associations, churches, specific towns and cities. And you only kick the can, so to speak, up to the federal or even an international level, when there's no other body that can deal with the problem as it exists. Now unfortunately it seems to me that we look very quickly to the federal government, because we assume it's only the federal government that can take care of these things.
But there is something wrong when something like 70 percent of the taxes that get paid, get paid by the top 10 percent. So that's a pretty significant chunk from people who are so-called wealthy and not paying their fair share. And where we have half of the country that's paying no taxes at all. And yet, as sister rightly says, there's this massive problem that exists in the society.
I one of the things that a person of my general perspective would argue is that the ideal, the ideal that we begin by saying that there are responsibilities that our ideal is to try to make sure that those families are able to do things for themselves and then other communities, and only turn to the higher levels of government and turning to government is, of course, very dangerous. I mean, that this is a last resort. It's like going to war.
BILL MOYERS: Let me play for you Paul Ryan's response to a question about the policy implications of his own interpretation of Catholic social teaching. Here it is.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Talk to me a little bit about the morality, and the debt. Where does your Catholic faith play into the way this budget proposal was crafted?
PAUL RYAN: Well, a person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves, in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person? To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best. Having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities. Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty onto a life of independence.
BILL MOYERS: Is that very close to what you think?
ROBERT ROYAL: Well, I have qualifications about that. First of all, subsidiarity is not just about government. It's not federalism. He then went on to talk about civil society institutions. And that's, that's great. That is very much—and we should also talk about individuals, individual initiative, individual responsibility as you were pointing out is Jesus talking to you and saying, "You must do this thing." We have to take a dynamic view of economies. Because economics is a matter of dynamism. When we talk about the minimum wage, for example, I've debated this. I've tried to talk it through with economists. Economists, of course, disagree about everything. Either you need more stimulus or you need, you know, less. And—
BILL MOYERS: That's why you're here and not the economists.
ROBERT ROYAL: I have to tell you one thing. One of the things that I typically find that economists from different backgrounds agree on is that a minimum wage is a very touchy thing. Because yes, you've got a couple. And you look at them on TV. And you say, "Wow, man, they're just holding on by their fingernails." But suppose the minimum wage made that job go away? Which tends to happen in certain circumstances. Not always.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: No.
ROBERT ROYAL: And this is also another thing that has to be factored into the dynamic nature of what an economy is. So the circumstances that you're in may make it okay to raise the minimum wage. If the economy is booming, maybe it helps. But in other circumstances, you may actually find yourself with an unintended consequence that not only is that, that family just holding on with a minimum wage, it has no job any longer. And that might be the most tragic thing of all.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: That's the scare tactic that's often used. I lobbied on minimum wage in California. And we ended up raising minimum wage. And what happened was the economy grew. Because the problem is if we believe in free market, then you shift money to get the economy going. You shift money to where there's pent-up demand. Where is there pent-up demand right now? It's at the bottom, not at the top.
BILL MOYERS: Doesn't Paul Ryan's budget try to fix the economic woes that we're in on the backs of the poor? The Bishops seem to be saying that--
ROBERT ROYAL: Bill, I think that that's really putting it rather strongly. I mean, if you look at Paul Ryan, does he look to you like the kind of guy who just says, "The heck with the poor. We need to get American going. We, you know, we're going to throw these people underneath the bus," excuse me sister, "and, damn the torpedoes. You know, we're going to go straight ahead and we're going to make--" I think that he knows and some of the positions they're-- anybody who's lived in Washington or dealt with these issues knows you may have to start out a little bit further along than you really want to be at, so that when you inevitably begin to walk some things back, you at least get on the table that there are some hard choices that have to be made. And what we're facing right now is unprecedented. I mean, I think we agree—
BILL MOYERS: In terms of?
ROBERT ROYAL: In terms of the size of the economic difficulty that we face. Maybe in the 1920’s and the 30’s during The Great Depression, something on a similar scale got going. But we're talking about the possibility-- and if Europe and the Euro start to go south on us-- the possibility of a global economic downturn, yet again. There are already countries in Europe that are in negative growth right now, several of them. Not only Greece, but Italy, Spain, and a couple of others. If that comes to the United States and we have no plan for what are we going to do if there are not revenues that are available for many of the things that we want to do, then we're even in worse trouble. And in-- we're in worse trouble from trying to support the poor as much as for the rest of the society.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I find myself very troubled by that. I share your concern about the financial circumstances. But I think that the analysis is sorely lacking. Because what has happened over the last 12 years has been-- we did have a surplus in our budget. And it could have been remedied. We had two tax cuts. Significant tax cuts that shifted money to the top. We then decided to go to war twice. We chose not to pay for them. We then did the TARP. That's true. It added to the rescue-- that added to some of the--
BILL MOYERS: The bailout.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: The bailout. And we have an aging population. All of those facets are putting pressure on our current situation. None of those facets, though, that are putting pressure were because of social programs.
BILL MOYERS: Given the realities you both have described, why not support a living wage as opposed to these harsh austerity measures, which your bishops and others say will fall hardest on the people you visited this summer?
ROBERT ROYAL: But what is a living wage, Bill?
BILL MOYERS: Enough for a family to—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Even if we got the buying power that minimum wage had in the 1970’s, that would be significant. Because it would put people above the poverty level. I understand it would be something, like, maybe $12 an hour. Isn't that fair? But the pieces that gets argued is that it's a global economy. It's very integrated. So we can't have high wages.
But the piece that I find most problematic in that is when CEOs have had this tremendous escalation in their salaries. And the shareholders get these tremendous dividends. And yet none is shared with the workers at the bottom. That to me is wrong. That's immoral. It's a problem.
ROBERT ROYAL: You've overstated this. I mean, yes, it's a problem there's been this increase in income inequality, I agree entirely. And I think some of it is, frankly, obscene. But that it's not been shared with workers? Workers in the United States live better than the average worker ever before.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Average.
BILL MOYERS: But the wages of working people have been stagnant now for almost—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Thirty years.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, it's up a little bit, but largely stagnant. That does seem to me to be a critical issue.
ROBERT ROYAL: But Bill, there are so many moving parts in an economy that, as I said, if you try-- what would a living wage be for a family of four? If you're talking about, you know, $20 an hour. I mean, is it $20, $25, is it $15? If we think that, that it's possible sort of from the top to specify what different parts of the economy can be, we're not-- we're not allowing the market to do what it does so brilliantly. And that is it allows people to, it allows people to make judgments that adjust certain things.
After all, not every person who's working is working for some large corporation that has a CEO who's making $300 million a year. Most jobs, and most new jobs that are created are in small businesses, as everybody knows. And this means businesses that are on the margins that maybe in their startup years are going to have to be austere, and they're inviting people to invest themselves, not only their time, in making these companies grow. And it can make all the difference between whether somebody has a better looking job five years down the line or not. I'm very skeptical. And I think one of the week spots of Catholic social thought is it looks as if it's easy to command what a living wage would be. And it's not all that easy to determine at all.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I think it's very easy to say it's way more than $7.25 an hour. Additionally, I think it's easy to say that in our society right now, with mobility the way it is, and people moving across state boundaries, the idea that we have this little community that everybody knows each other, it may happen in Janesville, but it certainly doesn't happen in the rest of the nation. There's big issues to be dealt with.
BILL MOYERS: Your visits on the bus tour were to community-run programs that are making a real difference to the people we saw in the film. While he's short on specifics, Paul Ryan claims that his budget will empower those very kinds of community-centered solutions to the problem of poverty that the federal bureaucracy has not been able to solve. Are you willing to give him a chance on that?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Absolutely not. Because the fact is that the federal government has been supporting, in part, these very programs that we're at. What people don't know is that the federal government money helps as the cornerstone. And that the fact is these problems are so large that we all need to collaborate. I totally agree. They're so big, so complex, we all need to be a part of the solution. Individuals, corporations, businesses, and government. We all need to work together on it. And Congressman Ryan would prefer just to pull the government out. It's not reasonable. It's not possible. It's not doable.
ROBERT ROYAL: Sister—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: My people would suffer.
ROBERT ROYAL: Sister, are you saying that there are positions in Paul Ryan's budget that just pull out the federal government from welfare?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: That significantly curtail it and that-- with Medicaid, especially with Medicaid and some of the other-- the health care provisions of that, that would decimate, decimate service.
BILL MOYERS: Well, for example, my understanding is that it would lead to about 10 million people, an estimated 10 million people losing food stamps.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: And another 20 million people losing health care coverage.
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan speaks about dependence developing on welfare programs. Is that your concern, one of your concerns, that dependence is the unintended consequence of good, benevolent intentions on the part of government?
ROBERT ROYAL: Well, Sister had all those nice people who, you know, we all want to support. And I, you know, I agree, I mean, it's a heart-wrenching thing to see people put in those circumstances. But what's the alternative? I mean, we've seen this in the past.
BILL MOYERS: Good question. What is the alternative?
ROBERT ROYAL: What is the alternative? Do we just--
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Change the wealth gap. I mean, that's a big part of the problem is that the rich have gotten dramatically —
BILL MOYERS: How do you do that?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I agree, that's complex. But part of it is, I mean, part of it is the tax structure. Hedge fund folks that make these gabillion dollars, but pay way less percentage than you or I pay.
BILL MOYERS: 15 percent compared to what--the third we pay on ours.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Exactly, exactly. There are a lot of fixes where there's more revenue out there that's fair.
ROBERT ROYAL: But Sister, you can confiscate the wealth of the top one percent and I forget what the figure is, but it lasts, maybe it covers one budget deficit—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, that's a step.
ROBERT ROYAL: Four trillion dollars. Yeah, I mean, that's a lot of money. That's a lot of money. But what does that do to the overall question? The overall question is, in the normal course of affairs, subsidiarity, one of the great discoveries of the 20th century, because subsidiarity started to come to the fore—
BILL MOYERS: Which means?
ROBERT ROYAL: We talked about this with Paul Ryan. It's not simply different levels of government operating. It's a vision of society as a whole, which includes a role for government-- for federal and maybe even international governments. It goes all the way down to the responsibilities of individuals. And at each level, there are responsibilities that in the ideal circumstance, we want to see those different levels operating on their own with their own—
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, but the piece that's been missing in this whole conversation is the impact of solidarity. Because what we'd like to think is that they're dichotomies, but they're not. They're unity. And what Catholic social teaching says is that yes, subsidiarity works, but as long as everybody has a strong sense of solidarity. So I hold your concerns and your worries, your engagement as important as my own. And that I make my decisions as much for the group in sense of solidarity for the group and for everyone else up the chain that you very well spoke of. That's solidarity. So I'm aware of the folks of Kenya. I'm aware of the folks in Cleveland. I'm aware of the folks in Los Angeles. I'm aware of all those folks when I make my personal decisions. That's the piece that our society's missing. And to me, that's what Catholic social teaching really brings to the fore for us is solidarity.
ROBERT ROYAL: I don't think that's missing at all. I think all people, everybody I know, I mean, you'd have to be a monster not to have any interest in people who are poor in the United States, in the plight of people around the world. Look, the difficulty with what you're talking about, it seems to me. I try not to quote libertarians, but I'm going to quote Friedrich von Hayek, just—
BILL MOYERS: The Austrian economist. The icon of--
ROBERT ROYAL: The Austrian economist, who called this "the fatal conceit." That we can know, you know, "I'm going to be in my desire for solidarity, I know what to do about that and I know what to do about that and I know to what to do about that." We don't.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I agree.
ROBERT ROYAL: One of the reasons why the market properly fenced around with institutions works so beautifully is it allows the intelligence and the practical application of various people in all sorts of areas that we can't possibly know the details of. It allows those people with their own dynamism and creativity and intelligence to do things that a central planner cannot do. Now--
BILL MOYERS: You said something quite important, that markets work as long as there are fences around them. But you seem to think that democracy no longer serves as a brake on raw and unregulated capitalism.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Absolutely. For me, I really think this is about the soul of our nation and will democracy work. Or will we just continue this polarized, yelling at each other, the talking heads?
And I'm grateful for this conversation that we-- but can we talk together about how do we solve it? Because I agree it's complex. I agree the answer is not government. I agree that the way forward has to include the market. But I also know it is not working now and we need to find some new mechanisms.
BILL MOYERS: Is there any common ground?
ROBERT ROYAL: Yeah, because I mean, I would absolutely say that a prudential approach to this-- this set of circumstances is to say, "Those people who are just holding on, we can't simply abandon them." We have to find some other ways. But we have to make-- we have to attempt to move from where we are now to someplace else.
I myself would lean more towards less government, because there's the perennial danger. This is, you know, this goes back forever in political philosophy that it's dangerous to give powers over to the government. It’s dangerous to have the government controlling health care for example.
BILL MOYERS: I want to change the subject slightly. Sister Simone, given the Vatican's dismay over the actions of The Leadership Conference of Women's Religious, that's an umbrella group, I think, for 80% of the nuns in this country? Given the fact that women are not part of the hierarchy and that some of you think you're treated as second-class believers, why do you remain a nun?
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Because it's the most treasured part of my life that I have the tradition of spirituality, of nourishment and sacrament of a deep abiding joy. How could I not? It's the wealth of my life. But the role of women religious historically is not to be at the center with the hierarchy. Our role historically is to be at the margins with the very folks we've been talking about. And because we're at the margins, we can be an annoyance to both the government folks, as well as to the bishops. It's part of our mission.
BILL MOYERS: Robert, why do you remain a Catholic given that so many of the bishops are far more liberal than you are?
ROBERT ROYAL: Because I believe it's the church that Jesus found. I was taught by nuns. So I, you know, I am beholden to them. I learned a lot more under the nuns than I did at Ivy League institutions and other places. And I don't remember them being wilting wallflowers even back before Vatican II, I can tell you.
BILL MOYERS: Robert Royal, Sister Simone Campbell, thank you very much for this conversation.
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: Thank you.
ROBERT ROYAL: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. At BillMoyers.com, we have more to say about poverty and American politics in a web-only, video essay. And a closer look at Paul Ryan’s budget plan. You can see how it stacks up against alternative proposals from Democrats and other interest groups. Let us know which you think has America’s priorities straight.
That’s all at BillMoyers.com. See you there and see you here, next time.