The United States bishops, represented by Bishops Howard Hubbard (Albany) and Stephen Blair (Stockton), have sent a letter to the United States House of Representatives offering a stern, yet compassionate, pastoral letter addressing the current debt-crisis stalemate taking place in Washington DC. The central theme that the bishops wish to convey to the American legislators is that any just and responsible response to the matter at hand requires a prioritization reflecting the care for the “least among us” (Matthew 25), or, as the Catholic moral tradition says, “a preferential option for the poor.”
The letter begins, “On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we write to address the moral and human dimensions of the ongoing budget debate and, in particular, the debt ceiling measure now before congress.” Understanding their position in society as teachers and moral guides, the bishops feel that they have a responsibility to speak out on matters of justice, just as they might in matters of sexual morality (something about which they often and expectantly speak). The letter continues by offering three “moral criteria” to guide budgetary decisions:
- Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
- A central moral measure of any budget proposed 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.
- 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.
They go on to highlight and summarize what I think is the central theme of the letter, something that the bishops themselves write in bold print (the only section of the letter so formatted):
A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts to essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
Those who have argued that the Republican Party of United States politics is the more “Catholic” or “Christian” political association, a product largely stemming from the so-called Christian Right agenda of recent decades to emphasis such a symbiotic (but false) correlation, will especially need to take note here. Many of the issues and themes for which the most conservative (a moniker that is self-appropriated by a selection of the Representatives) members of the House are advocating stand in direct contrast to the teaching of the bishops and of the Church.
Those who might ordinarily find themselves crying out for society to vote in response to the bishops’ moral teaching on this or that particular issue (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, etc.), will necessarily have to speak out against the GOP’s push to remedy the budget crisis through substantive cuts to the services necessary for the most vulnerable of our society, a move that lays the onus of the collective financial burden on the backs of the poor and middle class, while the wealthy and corporations suffer no proportionate effect.
Take note, those who have marched on Washington in January, who have insisted that voters act according to the bishops’ teaching at the polls and so on, and pick up the cause of the Church right now to stand with the poor! I have been gravely disappointed in recent days to hear that sector of the Church and society silent, distracting themselves in their self-righteousness with non sequiturial arguments for why the Norway terrorist is not a Christian and the like.
Want to argue about who is and who is not a real Christian? Who follows the Church’s teaching on budget matters like this and who does not? Time to show the world that real Christianity is not all about socially conservative popular matters like abortion and same-sex unions, but about the Gospel in which Jesus Christ does have quite a few things to say about how we are to treat the poor and outcast of our society, yet is noticeably silent on other matters that today’s most loud Christian claim to be non-negotiable issues.
You can read the full text here: budget-debate-letter-to-house-2011-07-26.
You can also read the full text of a letter written by Catholic leaders and theologians in Ohio to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner on this same matter here.