When the U.S. Catholic Bishops sent letters to the House of Representatives rebuking Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal, Ryan responded by inaccurately arguing that the bishops who wrote the letters did not speak for the bishops as a whole.
Catholic conservative Marc Thiessen went even further, accusing Bishop Stephen Blaire of waging a partisan attack based on insufficient policy knowledge.
Last week, in an interview with Bishop Blaire himself, Joan Frawley Desmond at the conservative National Catholic Register continued the pushback. Though less accusatory than Thiessen, Desmond hit Bishop Blaire with a litany of false GOP talking points designed as leading questions. The whole exchange reads as a clear attempt to elicit a sympathetic response that dilutes the bishops’ clear critique of Congressman Ryan’s priorities and proposals.
To his credit, Bishop Blaire refused to play along. Here Bishop Blaire responds to one of Ryan’s favorite “defenses” by blasting the underlying assumptions behind it:
DESMOND: Getting back to your point that cutting revenues — taxes — results in preventing the government from carrying out its responsibilities: It would seem that there is a difference of opinion on whether Ryan’s budget proposal is actually “cutting” programs that aid the poor or just slowing spending. Is there a moral difference?
BLAIRE: You have to determine what your priorities are. If your only priority is to cut the budget, that approach is inadequate.
You might call it a balanced approach. The first question is not limiting the budget, but to ask, “What are our responsibilities?” We have to ask: “Does the budget adjust to our philosophy or does our philosophy adjust to budgetary needs?”
The budget is not just a financial document; it is a moral document: Are you cutting services to the poor and leaving the military alone?
Since the interview, Bishop Blaire has penned yet another letter condemning the GOP budget’s harmful, immoral cuts to protections for struggling families. I’m not sure how many different ways the bishops need to say it before it sinks in for Catholic conservatives.
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Earlier this month, the USCCB blasted the House GOP budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan in a series of letters to various House committees. The letters highlighted numerous ways in which the plan violated church teaching about protecting the poor and vulnerable.
Today, as the House debates a specific budget bill that disregards these objections, the Catholic Bishops are speaking out again. Bishop Stephen Blaire, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development who authored the previous letters, has written a new message to the House of Representatives taking issue with the specifics of their proposal.
Specifically naming the bill’s cuts to SNAP, the Social Services Block Grant and the exclusion of children of immigrants from the Child Tax Credit, Bishop Blaire makes clear:
The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs. However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test.
Hopefully this time GOP leaders will take the Bishops’ concerns into account instead of dismissing and denigrating them.
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$50,000 a year for the next 10 years. That’s how much each church in the United States would have to spend in order to replace the Ryan budget’s $133 billion in cuts to nutrition programs for struggling families. (That’s not counting the additional $33 billion proposed by the House Agriculture Committee).
This finding comes from a new campaign by anti-hunger group Bread for the World to protect funding for food assistance programs that save lives and keep families afloat in these perilous economic times. The statistic stands in sharp contrast to the all-too-common conservative argument that churches and private charity will “pick up the slack” created by draconian budget cuts to safety net programs.
The reality, of course, is that charities are already stretched to their limits. The scope of need in America is just too large for them to handle on their own. In fact, pastors across the country have spoken out about how they can’t do it alone and are eager to partner with federal programs that provide.
Clergy echoed this message again on a Bread for the World conference call last week:
“You can’t get blood from a turnip,” said the Rev. Barb Hobe, pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Lebanon, Ohio. “My congregation numbers less than 50 people, and most are in the last third of their lives. We’re already reaching out to the poorest of the poor.”
Politicians who cut necessary safety net programs to pay for tax cuts for the rich and wasteful, unwanted military spending are doing religious communities no favors, regardless of how innocuous their rhetoric sounds.
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New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan—a consistent supporter of living wage policies in the Empire State—has again urged the state legislature to raise the minimum wage.
In a letter released Thursday, Cardinal Dolan and New York State’s bishops express concern that “it is becoming increasingly difficult for the working poor of our state to make ends meet.”
Our sustained recession and painfully slow recovery have left many [full time, minimum wage] workers — often people of color and frequently the newest immigrants to our shores who therefore have the fewest support systems — on the brink of homelessness, with not enough in their paychecks to pay for the most basic of necessities, like food, medicine or clothing for their children.
The debate over minimum wage has intensified over the past few weeks, with the Republican-controlled Senate refusing to even consider the bill. The bishops, however, have made their position clear:
It is our hope and our prayer that the two sides could come together for some sort of action to address the grave problems facing the lowest-wage earners in our state. We believe an increase in the minimum wage is a matter of fairness and justice, and we hope it can be addressed soon.
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One of the less visible dangers of rapidly increasing levels of student debt is the way that it limitsthe career options of young people entering the work force. Saddled with debt, graduates who feel called to pursue lower-paying non-profit and service jobs find themselves barred from doing so.
A story at MSNBC points out that this problem is affecting religious vocations too:
Nicole Ferko’s $60,000 in student loans made her put off her dream of becoming a nun for a decade.
Ferko, who lives in Grand Prairie, Texas, graduated from a private Ohio Catholic university in 2002 and walked away with a huge loan burden.
“I knew I wanted to give my life to God, but I expected after college I’d go right in and work toward becoming a sister,” she said. But she discovered that individuals looking to become priests or nuns need to be debt free.
It took her until late last year to pay off her loans because she was unable to find many good-paying jobs and ended up racking up $20,000 in credit card debt. With the loans and credit cards paid off, Ferko, 32, is now on track to become a sister with The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, but she won’t reach her ultimate goal of donning a nun’s habit until she’s 39 because the process takes that long.
Given the glaring shortage of clergy of all kinds in America right now, we don’t need more structural disincentives to lives of service.
Photo by Frank Ferko
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