As Congress debates various tax and spending plans, the United States Catholic Bishops are weighing in with a poweful message about the moral terms of the debate.
In a pair of letters to Senators and Representatives, the Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton, California and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development makes clear that the Bishops stand firmly against any plan that takes aim at the poor to protect the rich:
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 the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
In particular, Bishop Blaire identifies the importance of Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable Child Tax Credit, which Republican lawmakers have singled out for elimination in order to pay for preserving tax cuts for the rich. He calls the tax credits “pro-work, pro-family, and some of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation,” and specifically urges lawmakers to protect “improvements and extensions” to those credits, referring to the expansions made in the 2009 stimulus bill that helped more families weather the recession.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register about last week’s Supreme Court decision, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia appeared to break with the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ official stance of not supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
NCR: What does the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform legislation now mean in the struggle to defend religious freedom?
CHAPUT: I think it’s a disappointment on the part of many of us in the Church because we had hoped the decision would make our lawsuits unnecessary.
The USCCB, of course, released a statement yesterday explaining that while they take issue with certain parts of the law, they have “not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and [they] do not do so today.”
Expounding on his views, Chaput further demonstrated how far he is from the position of his conference:
NCR: The U.S. bishops have spoken in favor of a universal right to health care.
CHAPUT: The bishops really do believe it. Health is a basic human right; we have a right to be healthy. There’s no declaration on the part of the Church that that has to be accomplished through government intervention.
There are many ways of approaching health care, and I think it’s very important for Catholics to understand the fact that the Church, seeing health care as a basic human right, does not mean [to say] there’s a particular method of obtaining that [right that’s] better than another.
Chaput’s assertion here isn’t a remotely convincing argument against the law. Just because Church teaching doesn’t require a governmental role in healthcare doesn’t mean it rejects it. The Bishops concerns about the Affordable Care Act were about particular policies, they had no objections to the general framework of the bill.
Even for those who are opposed to the law on principle, advocating for repeal is incredibly irresponsible. A sudden reversal would put millions of people at risk of health crises and financial ruin.
Chaput’s argument sounds more like that of a Tea Party politician than a Catholic prelate. As his fellow bishops attempt to tamp down appearances of partisanship, Chaput’s comments don’t help the situation.
For a second time, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin has expressed praise of Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP Congressman beleagured by persistent Catholic criticism of his radical budget proposal and his poor theological justifications for it.
As before, Morlino made the comments in an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo. While claiming that he doesn’t have to “approve” of the particulars Ryan’s budget, Bishop Morlino praised the Congressman’s “approach” as responsible and “in accordance with Catholic principles.” He also threw in some harsh words for the Nuns on a Bus tour while he’s at it:
MORLINO: Congressman Ryan has made his prudential judgment about how best to serve the long-term needs of the poor. He has done that in accord with Catholic principles. I don’t have to approve his decision or his budget or anything else. What I do approve of is that he is a responsible Catholic layman who understands his mission and carries it out very responsibly. I feel very strongly about that. The details of his solution are not mine to approve or disapprove, that’s not my field.
I would think that the religious sisters though should concentrate on giving that witness of holiness of all the wonderful works that they do, rather than busing around for political issues…There are many Catholics who feel that way about the sisters, they really don’t like this. Their expectation from the sisters is really not this kind of leadership.
While Bishop Morlino might not think judging the actual budget proposal is his field, his fellow bishops on the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development (whose job is to do just that) already have, and they found it severely misguided.
Committee Chairmen Blaire and Pates have pointed out that Ryan’s basic approach is to make deep cuts in programs that protect the most vulnerable while protecting all military programs and spending even more money on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
It’s this fundamental imbalance that has led them to describe Ryan’s budget as failing “a basic moral test.” Since that characterization applies to the budget on a broad principled level, not even the guise of “prudential judgment” can excuse Ryan’s approach as responsible.
Morlino’s comments, then, put him at direct odds with the USCCB’s own leaders on this issue, spokesmen whom the conference have specifically reiterated “do represent all the U.S. bishops.”
As the US Catholic bishops launch their “Fortnight for Freedom” to protest the HHS contraception regulation, dioceses around the country are holding various events to join the campaign. One of the most enthusiastic dioceses is Oklahoma City, which held a rally at the city’s downtown convention center today organized by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and a group of lay Catholics called St. Peter’s Fellowship.
This same picture was the center of a similar controversy earlier this month when The Daily Advertiser, a Gannett-owned Lousiana paper, ran it in an advertisement from a far-right group comparing the Obama administration’s activities to the execution.
St. Peter’s Fellowship says they’re operating with the blessing of Oklahoma City Archbishop Coakley. If the Archbishop doesn’t want to be seen as co-opted by right-wing extremists, he would be wise to exercise some more oversight with whom he partners.