In a press call yesterday, clergy leaders from the PICO National Network announced their campaign to mobilize 1 million voters (including registering 75,000 new voters) from under-represented communities around issues of economic fairness this election season.
“There is a growing sense of moral outrage among people of faith who see working families losing their homes, their jobs, their health care and their retirement savings,” said Gordon Whitman, director of policy, PICO National Network.
The “Land of Opportunity” campaign is a joint effort among PICO affiliates across the country and is particularly oriented in each state around pressing local issues like capping payday loans in Missouri, fighting a dangerous budget cap that puts schools and essential community services at risk in Florida, and protecting voting rights in Minnesota.
Launch events for the campaign are taking place in Orlando, FL; Aurora, CO; St. Paul, MN; Las Cruces, NM; Sacramento, CA; Kansas City, MO; Cincinnati, OH; Reno, NV; Flint, MI and New Orleans, LA.
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Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, a former George W. Bush speechwriter who has defended torture as justifiable in Catholic teaching, is now taking a few swipes at Catholic bishops challenging Rep. Paul Ryan’s GOP budget proposal as deeply immoral.
Thiessen’s argument is such partisan boilerplate that it’s almost hard to respond without laughing out loud. It seems that Thiessen thinks the bishop who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic justice committee is in the bag politically for Barack Obama and should just stop picking on poor Paul Ryan, whose budget bullies the poor by slashing food stamps and other vital protections so the wealthiest few can have more tax cuts. He writes:
Using Obama’s campaign rhetoric, Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, recently wrote to Congress declaring that Ryan’s budget “fails to meet [the Church’s] moral criteria” because it does not require “shared sacrifice,” which Blaire [like Obama] defines as tax increases and cuts to “unnecessary” defense spending. Some of the proposed spending cuts in Ryan’s budget, Blaire said, are “unjust and wrong.” Blaire has it backward. What is “unjust and wrong” is this bishop’s attack on a good Catholic layman. Put aside for a moment the fact that “shared sacrifice” appears nowhere in the catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a reelection slogan for the Democratic Party.
By directly challenging Bishop Blaire, Thiessen adopts Ryan’s latest desperate strategy of seeking to divide Catholic bishops and fuels the perception that only a few lone voices in the hierarchy have problems with the GOP budget. This is absurd. Bishop Blaire was elected by his brother bishops (over 200 of them) at a national meeting. As The Hill newspaper confirmed in a call to the U.S. bishops’ conference, he speaks for the bishops on these matters.
Thiessen’s lazy armchair theology is just as bad. He notes that “shared sacrifice” appears nowhere in the Catechism. It’s interesting that Theiessen of all people now fancies himself an expert on the Catechism given the swift blowback he received from both Catholic across the political spectrum several years ago when he argued that torture was just nifty according to Catholic teaching. Is he now arguing that he can interpret Catholic social teaching better than bishops can? “Shared sacrifice” is simply shorthand for centuries of Catholic teaching that puts the common good before ideology and narrow partisan agendas.
Catholic apologists for trickle-down economics and anti-government zealotry are poor students of history. At least since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Catholic social tradition has advocated for just tax policies, union rights, a positive role for government and a healthy suspicion of free markets – all fundamental principles of Church teaching that give conservatives heartburn but can’t simply be wished away.
In fact, if Thiessen really wants to get into it, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published under that leftist papacy of John Paul II, talks about a far more radical concept that would make the most liberal Democrats in Congress blush. Catholic teaching on the “universal destination of goods” reminds us that public policies should contribute to the welfare of all even if that challenges notions of private wealth and ownership. You’re not about to hear this at the next Religious Right pep rally for Republicans:
Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.
It’s refreshing to watch Catholic conservatives in Congress and the punditocracy trip all over themselves to rationalize Darwinian economic policies that are an affront to Christian moral teaching. After years of getting away with reducing faith in politics to abortion and same-sex marriage, a real values debate is finally upon us.
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Rep. Paul Ryan’s Catholic problem isn’t going away.
In a pointed letter today, nearly 90 Georgetown University faculty have called him to task for his continued misuse of Catholic social teaching in defending a GOP budget that is increasingly under fire from Catholic bishops, theologians and social justice leaders.
The letter comes just two days before Ryan visits the Catholic campus in Washington to deliver the Whittington Lecture. The signers – including over a dozen Georgetown Jesuit priests and professors of theology, history and government – do not object to Ryan speaking on campus, but offer a stinging critique of his distortion of Catholic values.
We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University who spearheaded the letter along with other Georgetown faculty, said: “Survival of the fittest may be okay for Social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love.”
The Georgetown scholars will also be mailing Ryan some early summer reading – a copy of the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II, so he can brush up on his Church teaching.
Ryan has frequently defended his budget in explicitly Catholic terms and cites the principle of subsidiarity as justification. The letter challenges that political spin as inconsistent with the Catholic social tradition.
While you often appeal to Catholic teaching on “subsidiarity” as a rationale for gutting government programs, you are profoundly misreading Church teaching. Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help — “subsidium”– when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger. According to Pope Benedict XVI: “Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa.” Along with this letter, we have included a copy of the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.
The Georgetown pushback comes on the heels of a recent letter to Ryan from prominent theologians, priests, nuns and social justice groups. That group of Catholic leaders — including a former high-ranking U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops official, a priest in Rep. Ryan’s district and the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas — called on Ryan to “reconsider his radical budget proposal and refrain from distorting Church teaching.”
Catholic bishops have also sent a flurry of letters to House committee chairman protesting cuts to food stamps and other programs that protect the most vulnerable. Bishops have consistently urged Congress to pass a budget that protects the poor and said the GOP budget proposal “fails to meet these moral criteria.”
You have to wonder how long it will take Ryan and other conservative Catholics like House Speaker John Boehner to get the memo. A budget that takes food away from hungry children and asks the most vulnerable to sacrifice even more so that the wealthiest few can have tax breaks they don’t need isn’t courageous. It’s immoral and irresponsible.
The full letter to Rep. Paul Ryan with signatories can be found here.
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Amid the intense debate about the Paul Ryan budget and competing visions for the future, the future has finally gotten the chance to speak.
In a millennial values survey conducted by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and the Public Religion Research Institute, the data is clear: young people are frustrated with economic policies that promote injustice.
Nearly three-quarters of Millennials (73%) think the economic system in the United States favors the wealthy. This belief is consistent across all divides of race, gender, educational attainment or religious affiliation. Even 6-in-10 Milllennial Republicans (58%) agree with this sentiment.
Equal opportunity is also of great concern to Milllennials. More than 6-in-10 think that one of the major issues in the United States is that we don’t give all the same opportunity in life.
As all eyes turn to the race for the White House this election year, pundits will be obsessed with the latest poll numbers, NASCAR dads and soccer moms. But perhaps they will pay a bit more attention to the concerns affecting young people, namely fair economic opportunity for all.
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Clergy members of the PICO National Network are putting their money where their mouth is. As part of an ongoing campaign to hold big banks accountable for immoral predatory lending practices and foreclosure fraud, individual congregations and clergy members have been doing their part by divesting from the banks:
[Rev. Jane Quandt] and other Inland religious leaders say they have heard too many stories of banks’ ill treatment of homeowners who have struggled — and often failed — to hang onto their houses as the economy spiraled down. They are part of a growing group of clergy and congregants who are abandoning giant banks in favor of smaller community institutions to avoid taking part in what Quandt calls “institutional sin.”
Christian churches tend to think of sin in personal terms, but it’s not just personal, Quandt said. There are times when it’s embedded in institutions and it’s embedded in systems.
The campaign has already gained significant momentum; according to the article, “25 congregations, along with clergy and community groups, have moved at least $30 million from big banks to community banks and credit unions.” In this inspiring way, the faith community continues to hold bad actors accountable for the institutional sin of unjust economic practices and policies.
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