NETWORK national Catholic social justice lobby celebrates 40 years of working for social change

April 18, 2012

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, just celebrated the 40th anniversary of our founding.

We have worked in Washington for four decades, lobbying to shape federal policy in keeping with the social justice teachings of our church that we hold so dear. We were founded by 47 Catholic Sisters and supported initially by congregations of Sisters. Our members now include thousands of Sisters and lay people around the country. Throughout our history, NETWORK has faithfully educated, organized and lobbied for economic and social transformation.

Our name is somewhat confusing in this Internet age. But it was chosen at the very first gathering to exemplify the interdependence that we share with our members around the country. Many live and work in communities that often go underrepresented in the halls of Congress or in the administration. We bring their voices into the places of power so that policies can be shaped based not on sound bites, but on real experience.

Over the years, we have really become a NETWORK of people and staff in Washington lobbying our elected officials to consider the needs of people living in poverty, the left-out, the marginalized in our society. We have worked on many issues of economic justice, immigration, peace building, health care reform and the environment. We have studied the adverse impact of welfare reform especially in a down economy. We have partnered with Iraqis in helping them to build lives and an economy in post-sanction, post-invasion Iraq. We have partnered with thousands of people around the country in articulating what is the common good that we seek in order to realize the promise of our Constitution.

Each decade has had its challenges for us, but what we find so challenging in this current political climate is that political rhetoric really does not require any anchoring in truth. The art of “spin” and “sound bite” has triumphed over truth and real values. A recent example is Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) claim that his budget that cuts taxes for the wealthy and cuts the safety net for victims of our down economy is in keeping with his Church’s social teaching. This is blatantly wrong, but there has not been the institutional call for a correction. Yet, we at NETWORK stand for the balanced approach of Catholic social teaching that demands more than individualism. True Catholic social teaching calls for a sense of the individual in the context of society and a society aware of the needs of the individual. We call this the partnership of subsidiarity and solidarity. Mr. Ryan only wants the individualism. But we read the entire teaching of our faith, not just the convenient sound bite for a desired policy.

For 40 years we have found a way to live faithfully the Gospel in the midst of the political arena on Capitol Hill.

In today’s Washington, we have taken a lead in the interfaith community to draft and issue the Faithful Budget, which sets forth a budget based in many faiths’ values – and which demonstrates a true religious response to our fiscal concerns as a nation. This Faithful Budget calls for responsibly raising revenue to meet our very real national and international needs. It calls for curtailing unnecessary defense spending and focusing on effective safety net programs for those suffering in this economy. This Faithful Budget demonstrates NETWORK’s leadership, but also the critical role that faith plays in policy work. For us, this faith nourishes our capacity to be “We the People” and work together to form a more perfect union.

This month we celebrate the vision of our founding mothers and delight in the mission that we carry out each day. We strive to be a positive, faith-filled contribution to the policy debates of our time. We have had some success (e.g. in health care reform) and some defeats (e.g. in immigration reform) but we stay faithful to the challenging agenda to live our faith in the midst of our politically polarized reality.

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

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