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Joe Biden loves the nuns, too! (And he brings ice cream)

Political campaigns are all about generating publicity and public support, but Vice-President Biden seems to have upended conventional wisdom — not a first for him, of course — by making an under-the-radar visit to the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque during a two-day campaign trip to Iowa last week.

Why the secrecy, Joe? These days everybody loves the nuns. Yet while the media covered Biden's various events as he appealed to the usual constituencies in the battleground state, there was nary a word about his stopover last Tuesday (June 26) to bring dessert to the sisters. 

“The Vice-President got to know the sisters through an old friend in Dubuque, during a previous trip to the city,” said a campaign official, speaking on background. “This was nothing more than a private, casual reunion of friends of faith over ice cream and cookies.” There were about 150 people at the gathering.

The news just surfaced along with this campaign photo of Biden greeting some of the sisters. And this would be controversial?

Well, maybe. Consider that American nuns who by and large run the nation's Catholic hospitals have been major supporters of President Obama's health care reform, and that they have locked horns with the Catholic bishops over that law and the contraception mandate and a number of other issues.

Not to mention the Vatican crackdown on the American leadership of the nuns, who Rome says are spending too much time on social justice and not enough preaching about sexual ethics, of the orthodox variety.

And of course the “Nuns on the Bus” are just wrapping up their tour to highlight what they see as a gap — or chasm, actually — between Republican budget-cutting policies and Catholic teaching, not to mention fiscal probity. A number of bishops view speaking out on economic issues as “partisan” — that is, against the Republican Party.

Bonus factoid for those who enjoy their inside baseball, be it politics or Catholicism: Sr. Pat Farrell, the nun who as head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is tasked with talking to the Vatican about the attempted takeover of the LCWR, is based in the Dubuque motherhouse.

It is not known if Farrell was there to meet the vice-president. Leaders of the Franciscan community declined requests for comment or details about Biden's visit, but I'm sure plenty of others will be happy to fill in the blanks.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.