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Will Bishops Fight for a Pro-Life Budget?

April 27, 2011, 11:28 am | Posted by John Gehring

America magazine, an influential Catholic publication edited by Jesuit priests, has an important editorial up online and in the next print edition challenging Catholic bishops to show greater urgency in addressing budget debates in Washington.

Bishops have shown no reluctance to speak authoritatively on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Bishops and the whole Catholic community must speak with the same clarity and vigor about the budget and the direction it sets for the nation. The budget is an urgent moral matter that demands a consistent, unified message. Its line items are more than just quotidian allotments of monies; they are moral choices…The upcoming struggle will be a matter of life and death.

The editorial goes on to describe Paul Ryan’s budget proposals as “wrongheaded.” As I noted in my response to Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington, it’s not partisan to challenge Catholic lawmakers like Ryan who want to eviscerate New Deal social reforms that Catholic bishops helped lay the moral groundwork for as far back as 1919. Bishops have raised concerns about the direction of the budget debate in a letter to the House of Representatives. This is a good start. But Catholics also need to hear from bishops and pastors in parishes across the country about the moral dimensions of budget battles on Capitol Hill.

Church leaders have not been shy about entering the political fray on other issues. Catholic bishops have publicly criticized pro-choice Catholic lawmakers by name, and some have denied them Communion. The Catholic Church is directly involved in high-profile political fights over same-sex marriage. Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was featured in a DVD video message last fall, developed by the state’s Catholic bishops, criticizing same- sex marriage and urging Minnesota voters to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Over 400,000 Catholics in the state received the DVDs, mailed just a few weeks before Minnesotans voted for a new governor. Shortly after the 2008 election, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a national postcard campaign to stop the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation that had not even been introduced and had languished in Congress for two decades.

All of this drives media attention and shapes a narrative about faith and politics that influences voters heading into elections. I haven’t seen the same muscular advocacy on economic justice issues from the Catholic hierarchy. But the bishops now have a prime opportunity to speak authentically from Catholic social teaching and challenge resurgent “trickle down” economic theories, anti-government libertarianism and anti-Christian Randian ideas in similar ways that their 1986 pastoral, Economic Justice for All, rebuked Reagan-era adulation of unfettered capitalism.

As the America editorial sharply defines it, this budget debate is about life and death. The House Republican budget proposal fundamentally undermines a culture of life by tossing the poor, elderly and most vulnerable into the free-market tempest and wishing them good luck. Along with privatizing Medicare and Medicaid, Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic also details how Republican leaders hope to slash nutrition assistance programs at a time when a staggering number of Americans need help putting food on the table. It’s time for more pro-life Christian leaders, including Catholic bishops, to directly challenge Republicans who claim the “pro-life”, “pro-family mantle” only to undermine those principles in practice.

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