May 7, 2010— -- When Sister Carol Keehan arrives to speak at a "Washington Briefing" packed with progressive Catholics today, will the audience do back flips?
In the final days of the contentious health care reform debates, Keehan, head of Catholic Health Association, and nearly 60 other nuns and leaders of religious orders found the legislation's numerous anti-abortion funding provisions -- provisions which did not satisfy the Catholic bishops -- were indeed sufficient. They came out in favor of the bill, saying it was "life affirming" legislation. This gave pro-life legislators enough cover to allow them to vote for the bill.
Now, Keehan is set to speak at the final day of public policy-and-faith talks co-sponsored by the Catholic weekly National Catholic Reporter and Trinity University.
Attendees already gave Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a standing ovation on Thursday afternoon for her role in drop-kicking health reform through the House. When she mentioned Keehan and the nuns, also rock stars among social-justice-focus Catholics, cheers of "Thank you!!" rang out.
As columnist E.J. Dionne later told the group, "Everyone in this room has been told at least once in their lives, 'Listen to the nuns!'"
Of course, part of the response to Pelosi was a home-girl welcome: Both she and Sect. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius are alumna of the Washington D.C. school back when it was the sister school to then-all-male Catholic University.
Pelosi spoke of how her Catholic faith informs her life, saying how she prays morning and night for the poor hungry children of the world, and how she believes is it the job of legislators to "live the Gospels" with policies that care for them.
Not content to bask in waves of pro-health legislation gratitude from about 100 sisters, priest, academics and activists, she went straight on to the next challenge: immigration.
"The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me ... say, 'We want you to pass immigration reform,'" said Pelosi. "And I said, I want you to speak about it from the pulpit. Some (who) oppose immigration reform are sitting in those pews, and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels."
Fox News picked up Pelosi's quotes on immigration and found them so inflammatory, they sought clarification -- in case perhaps she wanted to deny them. Nope.
On immigration, the bishops, the sisters, and the social justice Catholic crowd seem to be in alignment. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already issued a statement in support of the reform "framework" announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Will the bishops efforts (offered with some caveats about a provision that would give same-sex couples the same family-reunification opportunities as traditionally married couples) make a difference to Congress.