Monday, April 02, 2012

Bishops do speak on poverty. Bill Press's viewpoint incomplete.

Bill Press (see below or click here) makes some points, but in many ways, when the Bishops do speak out on behalf of the poor, few listen, and little media pay attention.

Read Youngstown Bishop George Murray's recent letter on poverty (click here). Learn what Bishop Bransfield is doing in West Virginia (click here).

On March 6 2012, Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to congress (click here).

"March 6, 2012

United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we wish to address the moral and human dimensions of the federal budget. In the past year, Congress and the Administration have taken significant action to reduce the federal deficit, while attempting to protect programs that serve poor and vulnerable people. Congress will continue to face difficult choices about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs. We fear the pressure to cut vital programs that protect the lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable will increase.

As Catholic bishops, we have tried to remind Congress that these choices are economic, political, and moral. We offer the following moral criteria to guide difficult budgetary choices:

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and

2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

As you craft and debate a budget resolution and spending bills for Fiscal Year 2013, we hope these criteria will shape your choices. They will guide our assessment of the various proposals. We join with other Christian leaders in calling for a “circle of protection” around our brothers and sisters at home and abroad who are poor and vulnerable.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches: “Just, efficient and effective public financing will … encourage employment growth, … sustain business and non-profit activities” and help guarantee “systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.” We do not offer a detailed critique of entire budget proposals, but we ask you to consider the human and moral dimensions of these choices.

Our nation has an obligation to address the impact of future deficits on the health of the economy, to ensure stability and security for future generations, and to use limited resources efficiently and effectively. A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing thelong-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.

We support proposals in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget to strengthen programs that serve poor and vulnerable people, such as Pell Grants and improved workforce training and development. We also support proposals to restore cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as efforts to make permanent recent expansions of low-income tax credits.

Our Conference believes safe and affordable housing is essential for human dignity. We do not support the Administration’s proposal to increase the minimum amount of rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance. Minimum rent provisions affect the poorest and most vulnerable families--they already struggle to live in dignity. We strongly oppose the Administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vital assistance to poor families in the nation’s capital in seeking out high-quality education for their children.

The “circle of protection” must extend to our country's poverty-focused international assistance
programs. They promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poorer nations, and enhance global security. These programs save lives, treating and preventing disease, making farmers more productive, helping orphans, feeding victims of natural or man-made disasters, and protecting refugees.

The Conference does not support the entire foreign operations budget, but we strongly support poverty- focused international assistance. The Administration proposes to increase State and Foreign Operations funding by 2.4 percent, but cut lifesaving, poverty-focused programs by over one percent. Cuts may be necessary within the broader foreign operations budget, but they should not reduce poverty-focused international assistance. We ask Congress to increase support for poverty-focused assistance and to continue to reform international aid so it is even more effective for the poorest people in the poorest places on the planet.

We are also very concerned with proposals to eliminate the “firewall” that currently exists between defense and nondefense spending. Elimination of this firewall would mean that poverty-related domestic and international programs would compete with other more powerful interests and less essential priorities. Likewise, reverting to a “security/non-security” distinction for Fiscal Year 2013 would threaten international development assistance.

Access to affordable, life-affirming health care that respects religious freedom remains an urgent national priority. Rising health care costs contribute in major ways to increased government spending. We warn against shifting rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities, and those who are poor, without controlling these costs.

As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. We help poor families rise above crushing poverty, resettle refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and reach out to communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines.

The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated. Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources. The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire Most Reverend Richard E. Pates
Bishop of Stockton Bishop of Des Moines
Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice Chairman, Committee on International Justice
and Human Development and Peace


March 29, 2012
|Bill Press | Tribune Media Services

Catholic bishops silent on issues affecting poor

March 29, 2012|Bill Press | Tribune Media Services

When it comes to certain political issues, there's no group more vocal today than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are quick to speak out. And they make sure you know where they stand.

No doubt about it. On abortion, Catholic bishops are against it. On homosexuality, Catholic bishops are against it. On same-sex marriage, Catholic bishops are against it. On contraception, Catholic bishops are against it. And they actively lobby Congress to pass laws supporting their position. Recently, the Conference of Bishops even identified their top priority for 2012 as persuading Congress to overturn President Obama's mandatory coverage of birth control in all health plans. Two years ago, they opposed passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Now, we all understand. These political positions reflect the teachings of the official Roman Catholic Church. In many ways, U.S. bishops are only doing what the Vatican demands. But still, as a Catholic, what I want to know is: Why are the bishops so quick and eager to speak out about issues involving sex -- yet remain totally silent on so many other established teachings of the Church?

The Catholic Church, for example, officially opposes the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. But when is the last time you heard the bishops decry application of the death penalty? According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of October 2011 there were 3,199 persons on death row in the United States. Shouldn't that also be one of the bishops' top priorities? Yet, to my knowledge, the bishops have never denied communion to any politician who voted in support of the death penalty, though they did deny the sacraments to Geraldine Ferraro, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and other pro-choice Catholics.

Same with the war in Iraq. Pope John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the Gulf War in 1991 and the war in Iraq in 2003. "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," declared the pope in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq. But, again: American bishops never pressured Congress to vote against the war and never criticized Catholic members of Congress who eagerly voted for it.

And what about working families? No institution has spoken out more strongly on behalf of economic justice than the Catholic Church. In his great encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII recognized the rights of workers to form unions, to engage in collective bargaining, and to earn a fair salary: enough to support the worker, his wife and family, with a little savings left over. But when's the last time you heard a Catholic bishop talk about the "living wage"?

In Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII also affirmed what theologians call the Church's "preferential option for the poor." Noting that the wealthy can generally take care of themselves, the pope decreed: "It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government." And that policy of protection of and preference for the poor has been reinforced by several popes since, all the way up to Benedict XVI.

How shameful, then, that bishops maintain total silence about the House Republican budget authored by Paul Ryan. This year's Ryan budget, like last year's, is just the opposite of what the Church teaches. It would drastically cut social programs that aid the poor, including medical care provided to the poor through Medicaid. It would also threaten health care for seniors by ending Medicare as we know it -- while preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.

The Ryan plan, in other words, is not preferential treatment for the poor. It's preferential treatment for the rich. But what have Catholic bishops said about it? Absolutely nothing. Not a word. Zip. Nada. Not last year, and not this year. Last November, in fact, Archbishop Charles Chaput told Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats, that bishops just didn't have enough time at their annual meeting to discuss poverty. Besides, volunteered Chaput, he didn't think bishops should be commenting on complex economic matters. That's not what Leo XIII thought.

When I was growing up a Catholic, the nuns had a phrase for those who obeyed some tenets of the Church but not others: "Cafeteria Catholics." Today, the biggest "Cafeteria Catholics" are Catholic bishops.

(Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, the host of "Full Court Press" on Current TV and the author of a new book, "The Obama Hate Machine," which is available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his website: His email address is:

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