Friday, February 18, 2011

Bishops, Congress, and the Poor

Socially and politically, it's possible to label me as a hidebound reactionary conservative. I could also be called a bleeding heart liberal.

It depends on which issue is in play at the moment.

I've discussed philosophical pigeonholes in today's America before. (August 24, 2010, November 3, 2008)

The Catholic Church gets called "conservative" quite a bit. Partly because of what the Church teaches about marriage; and the Catholic insistence that killing babies and old people isn't nice. Even if they're sick or inconvenient.

Then there's the matter of wealth and poverty. From Thomas Nast's bloated capitalists to college coffee shops of my younger days, the stereotype "conservative" among America's more angstily earnest serious thinkers was stinking rich and oppressed the poor something fierce. Or was poor and a deluded pawn of the plutocrats.

So, if "conservatives" are greedy plutocrats, ripping crusts of bread from the bleeding lips of the poor - why are a bunch of American bishops telling Congress to not hurt the poor?
"Budget cuts must protect poor and vulnerable, say US bishops"
Benjamin Mann, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (February 15, 2011)

"A group of more than 300 Catholic leaders met with members of Congress on Feb. 15, to share a message from the U.S. bishops – urging legislators to remember the needs of the poor and vulnerable, as they make cuts to the federal budget.

"Participants in the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (Feb. 13-16) took the bishops' message to Capitol Hill, delivering letters from two committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during a day of visits with U.S. representatives and senators. The letters express concern over what Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, chairman for International Justice and Peace, described as 'disproportionate cuts in programs that serve the most vulnerable' to the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution.

"Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman for Domestic Justice and Human Development, warned lawmakers against the temptation to 'secure the nation while at the same time furthering the insecurity of the poor and vulnerable in our midst.'

" 'Decisions should be made that not only reflect a commitment to national and long term fiscal security but demonstrate justice, compassion and fairness,' wrote Bishop Blaire...."

We're Catholic

The short answer is that the Catholic Church is - Catholic. Universal. I've written about that before. (August 26, 2010, April 19, 2010, for starters)

That means that the rules I live by - and the principles behind them - are essentially the same as they were when Caesars ruled Rome. We didn't fit in all that well then, and we still don't.

One of those principles is that it's important to look out for the poor: (Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 25:34-40, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 853, 2208, 2449) I've written about wealth, poverty, and being Catholic before:
As for what the Bishops said: I'd like to see an America where folks who can do so help those who need it - through their churches, community organizations, and one-on-one personal involvement. That'd be nice.

As it is, we have quite a few folks who aren't in a position to support themselves - and the institutions that help them are part of the government. I'd like to see a transition to a more grassroots, voluntary, non-governmental system: but right now I'm with the bishops, about "justice, compassion and fairness."

'Politics is so Worldly'

As for what business bishops have, telling Congress that folks who don't have money shouldn't be hurt: the Catechism has a bit to say about that.
"Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain preeminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man's origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man:
"Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.51
"The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. 'The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.'52
"It is a part of the Church's mission 'to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. The means, the only means, she may use are those which are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances.'53"
(Catechism, 2244-2246)
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