A crowd of about 100 cheered Wednesday as four Catholic sisters disembarked from their "Nuns on the Bus" coach in front of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's office in Mt. Lebanon. They sang a revised Raffi tune: "The nuns on the bus say save our kids ..." as the sisters went inside.
Nuns on the Bus was organized by the social justice lobby Network, which is run by Catholic sisters, to protest the federal budget plan put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
They say it would cut taxes for the wealthy while hurting the poor and middle class, and would raise unemployment as people who work in health and social services lost jobs. They support an alternative, The Faithful Budget, at www.faithfulbudget.org.
The sisters met with Lou Lazzaro, deputy chief of staff to Mr. Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
"We had a very good conversation," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network. "Congressman Murphy shares many of our convictions but hasn't voted in keeping with what his convictions are."
A statement from Mr. Murphy's Washington office was less conciliatory, accusing Network of "a far left political agenda" and "using partisan politics to create a wedge between Catholics."
"The congressman is dedicated to making sure Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are strengthened. Knowing these programs in their present forms are going bankrupt, the congressman will not accept the status quo because it will lead to their failure which would be a grave injustice to the most vulnerable Americans," said Amy Larkin, his press secretary.
Mr. Ryan has told the sisters that his budget will help the poor. "Economic stagnation and a growing dependency on government assistance continues to push this country toward a debt crisis, in which those who get hurt the first and the worst are the poor, the sick and the elderly," he said.
Sister Simone's response is that tax breaks for wealthy employers are a decade old, "and we have yet to see the jobs."
The crowd included many union representatives along with lay activists and at least four priests.
Nuns on the Bus was launched after the Vatican demanded a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for sisters. The Vatican criticized that group's relationship with Network, which lobbies on economic, immigration and peace issues but not on abortion or the death penalty. Their only formal tie is that LCWR appoints one member to the Network board. A spokeswoman for LCWR said it had no part in organizing Nuns on the Bus.
But when Network experienced an outpouring of support in the wake of the criticism, "Suddenly we were famous, thanks to the Vatican," said Stephanie Niedringhaus, communications director for Network. "We looked at how we could use that fame in a positive way to get out our mission, which is about the federal budget."
The tag "Nuns on the Bus" was accidental. The sisters had jokingly referred to the tour that way, but intended to call it "Nuns drive for faith, family and fairness." Their graphic designer misunderstood.
"This is all the Holy Spirit," Sister Simone said. "If it had been us doing this, we would have had cut-out felt letters on a Prius."
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416. First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 AM