The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has officially addressed their concern on programs for the poor and vulnerable with the Federal Budget. I am grateful and excited for this statement which, in my opinion, not only offers a consistent moral approach to the Church’s concern for the poor but also offers a prophetic stance for the financial responsibilities of the state. Here is a link to their powerful statement:
I had recently blogged my concern for the Bishops silence on this issue but I am glad the notice that this official statement came out shortly after Representative Paul Ryan, the architect for the recently passed House budget, suggested that his Catholic values helped shape his propose budget. With 62% of Ryan’s spending cuts coming from vital programs to the poor and low-income communities it was good to hear that the Catholic Bishops were specifically critical of these cuts and repudiated Ryan’s interpretation of Catholic social principles.
Charity, the concept of socially sharing what one has with others who have less, is a fundamental social principle of Christianity. Social charity is cited by Christ as a core requirement of discipleship (Luke, 18: 22). It was very much part of the identity of the early Church as described by the early church manual also known as the teachings of the Twelve Apostles:
Do not be one who holds his hand out to take, but shuts it when it comes to giving. If your labor has brought you earnings, pay a ransom for your sins. Do not hesitate to give and do not give with a bad grace… Do not turn your back on the needy, but share everything with your brother and call nothing your own. For if you have what is eternal in common, how much more should you have what is transient! – (Didache, 4: 4-8)
Ryan’s budget cites the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and preferential option for poor as guiding values for him but in both cases he defines them within an ideological framework of the neo-liberal free market system. Subsidiarity calls us to have the freedom and participation of the local social community with the economic and political decision making policies. In the realm of economic theory subsidiarity is not a principle for neo-liberal capitalism but for economic democracy.
I do not wish to reiterate the Catholic moral stance again as I did last year when I addressed a similar budget proposal that Representative Ryan introduced then. But a point needs to be made that is going to be controversial to many of our free market Catholic brethren. The Christian principle of charity calls to adopt an economic ethic that incorporates the redistribution of wealth. It is a social principle meant to impact policies concerning taxation, the budget, free trade and any other economic policies. This was very much part of the social doctrine that Pope Benedict XVI highlighted with the well named encyclical “Charity in Truth:”
It is important to distinguish between short- and long-term economic or sociological considerations. Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development. Moreover, the human consequences of current tendencies towards a short-term economy — sometimes very short-term — need to be carefully evaluated. This requires further and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals, as well as a profound and far-sighted revision of the current model of development, so as to correct its dysfunctions and deviations. This is demanded, in any case, by the earth’s state of ecological health; above all it is required by the cultural and moral crisis of man, the symptoms of which have been evident for some time all over the world. – #32
The Catholic Church calls us to adopt long term economic policies with the view of addressing long term sustainability rather than immediate profitability. As Americans we recognize that government has a public responsibility to “promote the general welfare” and in so doing this it is responsible for maintaining the common good of all in an economic playing field that is uneven. “Mechanisms of wealth redistribution” are seen as responsible governmental strategies for safeguarding the general welfare and promoting long term sustainability. Budget proposals that divest from safety net programs is in no way consistent with either this Constitutional responsibility or the Catholic value of charity.
As I am writing this Conservative members of Congress are pushing back on these recent budget statements made by the U.S. Bishops. House Speaker John Boehner who is also a Catholic, critiqued the Bishops by suggesting that they need to “take a bigger look.” Ironically that is exactly what the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops are instructing them to do.