Boston, Mass. - Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) passed a proposal (174 to 26) to draft “a message entitled ‘Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy.’” Bishop Stephen Blaire (Stockton, CA) sponsored the proposal and called the US bishops’ attention to this as being “timely, if not overdue.”
Calling this proposal “too little, to late,” Catholic Democrats is urging the US bishops to reaffirm the pastoral letter on poverty that they issued in 1986 called Economic Justice for All as one of the bases for their future “message.” The bishops have cited the encyclicals issued by Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate as reference points for their new “message.” Economic Justice for All was reaffirmed by the US bishops in both 1995 and 1996 during the debate on welfare reform. At that time, the US bishops were on record as opposing welfare reform. The original pastoral letter was developed over several years in consultation with more than 100 experts on Catholic Social Teaching, the economy, poverty, children, the elderly and working class families and was widely viewed as a repudiation of “Reaganomics.” That letter stated that “the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation.”
In November 2011, Catholic Democrats sent a letter to then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan asking him to clarify his comments regarding the budget proposed last year by US Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is chairman of the House’s Budget Committee. Rep. Ryan has posted a letter from Cardinal Dolan to the House Budget Committee Web site to demonstrate that his budget, which has been widely criticized by Catholic thought leaders and Catholic Democrats as being antithetical to Catholic Social Teaching, has received tacit approval from Cardinal Dolan. The Ryan Budget, now supported by Republican presidential nominee Governor Mitt Romney, would severely slash support to anti-poverty programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Additionally, Catholic Democrats urged Archbishop Dolan and his brother bishops, “to urge priests in every Catholic parish in the country during this Advent to give a homily on the role of the Church in being an unambiguous advocate for the poor, including funding for programs that serve those most in need.”
The following is a statement from Catholic Democrats national director Steve Krueger on yesterday’s development:
Collectively, not only are the US bishops doing too little, too late - but yesterday they put form before substance in addressing the ‘scandal of growing inequalities,’ as Pope Benedict XVI framed the global state of affairs in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Finally, five years after the recession hit us, and only now after the recovery has begun, they addressed poverty at one of their meetings but they only began to talk about talking about poverty and had nothing substantive to say. Referring to their future draft as a ‘message’ and as a ‘Reflection’ sets a low bar of expectations for what they will issue, particularly when compared to the thoroughness and passion with which the US bishops advocated for economic justice in standing with working class families and the poor in 1986.
As a Catholic, I’m dumfounded to see that it took this long and will take months more to find the words to achieve the ‘goal’ of ‘[communicating] the bishops’ concern for people hurt by the economy.’ It’s informative that the USCCB’s strategic priority of religious liberty was passed last fall by a unanimous vote and that this too-little-too-late ‘message’ was opposed by 26 bishops. It’s disturbing that the bishops have become so embroiled in the contrived issue of religious liberty that, collectively, they have lost their voice on a fundamental aspect of Catholic identity - helping the poor, and especially children whose lives are hurt the most by poverty. In the process, they are effectively re-branding the Catholic Church, wittingly or not. “Now is the time,” as St. Paul might say, to speak out clearly and unambiguously as a collective body on why and how we, as a society, can make manifest the Catholic Social Teaching of a preferential option for the poor and to stand with them. A step toward that goal would be to simply reaffirm Economic Justice for All, as they did in 1995 and 1996, as a basis for what they will have to say.”
The causes and consequences of societal poverty have become a part of our political dialogue. The fact that the US bishops, as a whole, have not addressed poverty in a meaningful way will have a far reaching impact on the common good. Individually, some bishops have taken important leadership roles. However, it has been left to the laity and organizations like NETWORK Lobby and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, along with other Catholic organizations, to fill the void left by the leadership of the USCCB in the past eight years. For both our Church and society, let us pray that the bishops begin to invest as much energy and money in advocating for the poor as they have in advancing their partisan laden religious liberty campaign.