U.S. Bishops Urge Priority For Poor Families In National Response To Economic Stress
WASHINGTON---U.S. Catholic bishops urged Congress and the Bush Administration to work together quickly to shape and pass effective economic "measures to help our nation and our people respond to growing economic stress." The bishops also expressed "our strong conviction that poor families and their children as well as low wage workers receive priority consideration in developing these plans and carrying them out."
In a letter dated January 23, Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on government leaders to "find effective ways to protect the poorest families and low wage workers from financial hardship during this economic downturn."
The letter also expressed support "for strengthening existing programs such as unemployment compensation, food stamp benefits, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as effective means to assist families and help the economy."
In a time in which a growing number of Americans are facing increasing financial hardship due to a slowing economy, rising unemployment and an inability to meet mortgage obligations and consumer bills, the bishops reminded leaders of the moral obligations we all share to care for the neediest among us.
"A good society," Bishop Murphy wrote, "is measured by the extent to which those with responsibility attend to the needs of the weaker members, especially those most in need. Economic polices that help lower-income working families live in decency and with dignity should be a clear and common priority."
He concluded by reminding the nation's leaders that "the poor working people and their families will be disproportionately hurt by this declining economy."
January 23, 2008
Read the letter at: http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2008/08-009.shtml
Carol Schaffer, Parish Human Concerns Committee, January 2008
The 2007 Farm Bill
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services have been working together to seek a new kind of Farm Bill that reflects a commitment to feed the hungry at home and abroad, to offer effective support for those who till the land, while promoting fairness and equity for farmers and ranchers. We especially support efforts to target agriculture resources to those who need help the most rather than those who need it least.
The 2007 Farm Bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 2419) this summer. The Senate expects to begin voting on its version of the Farm Bill the week of November 5. The bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee makes important investments in conservation and includes key provisions for beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers. However, more needs to be done to address the inequities in farm supports, especially programs that are trade distorting and that harm farmers in developing countries. While ensuring a genuine farm safety net, savings from greater fairness improvements need to be used for nutrition assistance to low-income people, conservation and rural development.
The 2007 Farm Bill is currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress. In a letter to the Chairmen of the Agricultue, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and the Finance Committee, dated October 6, 2007, they said: "We urge you to include carefully developed and effective reforms to U.S. food and farm policy to create a more just and equitable Farm Bill for U.S. farmers and ranchers." To read the letter, Click Here
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, November 2007
Congress to Vote on US-Peru Trade Promotion Authority
This week the U.S. House of Representatives will take up consideration of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Authority (U.S.-Peru TPA). Following longstanding USCCB policy on complex pieces of trade legislation, USCCB will not be advising an up or down vote on the entire bill. The U.S.-Peru TPA is the first to be modeled on the bipartisan trade policy that was announced jointly by Congressional Leadership and the Administration. At the time this new policy was announced, Bishop Wenski, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Policy wrote to Congress and the Administration welcoming the significant steps forward that this new policy consensus represented. Bishop Wenski's letter can be found at the following web address: http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/May182007Trade.pdf
This bipartisan policy responds to several concerns expressed by USCCB, particularly during Congressional discussion of the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement. You can see our concerns and the moral framework developed by USCCB in the Backgrounder on Trade from February 2007 that can be found at : http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/20070201tradebck.pdf
USCCB has been very active in developing educational materials and advocacy opportunities to shape the debate concerning U.S. trade policy. Key changes to trade policy are reflected in the latest U.S.-Peru TPA. The direction of these changes are a source of satisfaction that our efforts have borne some fruit. Those changes are outlined below. The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement makes important improvements in both labor and environmental standards. Incorporated into the trade agreement itself are core labor principles outlined in the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights of Work from the International Labor Organization. Similarly, U.S.-Peru FTA obliges both countries to abide by international environmental standards contained in the Multilateral Environmental Agreements.
These steps represent significant improvements in U.S. trade policy that address some of the concerns expressed by the USCCB in their moral framework for a more just trade policy.
Some questions still remain. For example, there is the situation of farming communities in Peru and the concern that the Peruvian Bishops Conference has expressed regarding the likely impact of trade liberalization on Peru's agricultural sector. Despite the presence of a "transition period" that would phase out the current system that protects Peru's commodities, Peru's farming sector will likely experience a negative impact from subsidized U.S. imports into Peru that could cause serious disruption and dislocation of some of Peru's most vulnerable farmers and their families. USCCB will continue to advocate for fair trade and agriculture policies both in the context of trade agreements as well as in domestic U.S. farm policy.
Trade in Agriculture and the U.S. Farm Bill
The U.S. Government has repeatedly said, as has Congressional Leadership, that questions of U.S. farm subsidies need to be dealt with at the level of the World Trade Organization. USCCB has expressed serious concerns about current U.S. agriculture policy, particularly the ways in which U.S. farm supports fail to target agriculture resources to those U.S. farmers who need help the most and at the same time distort trade for some of the most vulnerable farmers around the world, for example poor farmers and their families in Peru. The U.S.-Peru TPA will likely exacerbate this potential trade distortion and for this reason, serious concerns remain.
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, November 2007
U.S. Bishops' Remarks on Climate Change and Its Effect on the Poor
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed a Senate committee about climate change. He noted that the people who do the least to cause it usually suffer most from its consequences. Those in poor countries often lack the influence, ability and resources to minimize the consequences.
While the U.S. bishops take no position on the debates about the severity and speed of climate change, they realize it exists. "It is neither wise nor useful to minimize - or exaggerate - the growing consensus . . .", said John Carr, secretary of the bishops' panel on social development and world peace.
He said climate change is about the future of God's creation and the human family, not about politics or economics. "This priority for the poor cannot be a marginal concern in climate policy, but rather must be a central focus and clear measure of future legislation and policy choices. If we do not address climate change and global policy together, we will fail both morally and practically."
On a somewhat related subject, hazardous waste sites, there are 413 such sites in the U.S. - 17 in Los Angeles, 12 in Detroit, 10 in Houston. [There is one in East Palo Alto.] In the 17 L.A. neighborhoods. 90.9% of the residents are people of color. In the U.S. , 47.7% people of color and 21.7% people in poverty live within .6 mile of a site; 12.7% poor people live within three miles. ["Sojourners", August 2007]
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, August 2007
A Statement of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bishop William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane.
November 13, 2007
Our nation and its leaders face important decisions about the difficult challenges and terrible dilemmas in Iraq. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers in Baltimore, our thoughts and prayers are with our military personnel in Iraq, their families, and all the suffering people of Iraq. In this statement we seek to draw on our moral teaching to continue raising some ethical questions regarding the road ahead for our nation in Iraq.
Our Church both ministers among our troops and shares deep spiritual ties to the Church and people in Iraq. Pope Benedict XVI in his Urbi et Orbi Easter message of 2007 focused the world's attention on Iraq, a nation "torn apart by continual slaughter." As pastors and teachers, we are convinced that the current situation in Iraq remains unacceptable and unsustainable. Our Conference offers once again the goal of a "responsible transition" as an overall ethical framework for national decisions.
The dangerous political stalemate in Iraq that blocks national reconciliation finds a parallel in our own nation. We are alarmed by the political and partisan stalemate in Washington. Some policy makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions. Others seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the potential human consequences of very rapid withdrawal. These two forms of denial have helped contribute to partisan paralysis.
As pastors, we have called for bipartisan action for almost two years. Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war's deadly toll and to bring our people together to deal with the conflict's moral and human dimensions. Our nation needs a new bipartisan approach to Iraq policy based on honest and civil dialogue.
Our Conference encourages our national leaders to focus on the morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal of fostering a "responsible transition" and withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal. The moral demands of this path begin with addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and minimizing further loss of human life.
We do not have specific competence in political, economic and military strategies and do not assess particular tactics, but we can, as teachers, share a moral tradition to help inform policy choices. Our Catholic teaching on war and peace offers hard questions, not easy answers. Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention. The grave moral concerns we and others raised prior to the war now give way to new moral questions. In the current situation the traditional principles of "noncombatant immunity" and "probability of success" suggest these questions: How can we minimize the further loss of human lives? What actions will do the most good and least harm? What elements of a responsible transition are attainable? How can they be achieved? What actions should be avoided? How can decision- makers take into account both the realities and setbacks in Iraq and the likely human consequences of rapid withdrawal? What are the financial costs and global consequences of continued war and occupation? And, how can our nation effectively counter the perversion of religion and ideologies that support terrorism, which in all cases merits condemnation?
Catholic teaching has long held that peace is more than the absence of war; it is built on the foundation of justice. This moral insight means that building a just peace in Iraq requires far more than military action; it demands a comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic effort. This effort begins in Iraq, but it does not end there. For this reason, we believe sustained U.S. efforts to collaborate with the other nations, including Syria and Iran, are critically important for bringing some measure of stability to Iraq.
The responsibility for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq rests primarily with Iraqis, but the United States as well as other nations have a practical and moral obligation to act. Given the extensive devastation in Iraq, the U.S. has a unique and inescapable obligation to continue to offer major and continuing support for economic development and reconstruction. Respect for Iraqi self-determination suggests that our nation should reiterate our pledge not to seek permanent military bases in Iraq, nor control over Iraqi oil resources.
A neglected policy priority is the dire situation of refugees outside the country, internally displaced persons within Iraq, Christians and other vulnerable minorities. The suffering of the Christian community has a particular claim on our hearts and consciences. We remain in solidarity with the suffering Catholic Church in Iraq and welcome with joy the naming of Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad to the College of Cardinals by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
We recognize that Christians are not alone in their plight and we reiterate our concern for the whole of the Iraqi people. A staggering two million refugees have fled Iraq; another two million Iraqis are internally displaced. The U.S. should immediately make more substantial commitments to Iraqi refugees by expanding admissions, eliminating roadblocks to resettlement, and supporting countries in the region burdened with war-related refugee populations. Extensive aid should be provided to internally displaced persons. The protection and promotion of human rights, especially religious freedom, in Iraq remain critically important.
Iraq's future stability is related to the stability of the region. This is why U.S. leadership to advance a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians is critical. The continuing failure to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace and justice contributes to regional instability. Real progress toward a fair and just Israeli-Palestinian agreement would help the region and deprive extremists of a cause they exploit to promote hate and violence. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Rice our Conference has also expressed deep concern regarding the difficult situation involving our nation, the international community and Iran, and has urged caution, determination, and restraint in the use of force. The volatile situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan also raise significant moral questions and require urgent attention if regional stability is to be enhanced.
In all military actions, ethical norms require protecting civilians, using proportionate and discriminate force, rejecting torture, and fighting terrorism with nonmilitary means and the legitimate use of force when necessary. This is morally essential and also necessary for winning hearts and minds, especially in the struggle against terrorism.
Our concern for human life and dignity extends to the members of our own military. We support those who risk their lives in the service of our nation and recognize their generous commitment. U.S. policy must take into account the growing costs and consequences of a continued occupation on military personnel, their families and our nation. There is a moral obligation to deal with the human, medical, mental health and social costs of military action. Our nation must also make provisions for those who in conscience exercise their right to conscientious objection or selective conscientious objection.
Each course of action in Iraq should be weighed in light of the traditional moral principle of "probability of success." In other words, will the action contribute to a "responsible transition" and withdrawal as soon as appropriate and possible? This principle requires our nation's leaders to be more realistic about the difficult situation in Iraq and more concerned about the likely consequences of a withdrawal that is too rapid or not rapid enough.
The morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal of responsible transition should aim to reduce further loss of life and to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the refugee crisis in the region, the need to help rebuild the country, and human rights, especially religious freedom.
We call on Catholics and others to persist in praying for peace and those most effected by the war and to engage these moral questions. To help our people reflect on the war, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, the Chairman of our Committee on International Policy, has prepared a summary of our Conference's perspectives on the war in question-and-answer format.
All of us must struggle with these moral questions, but in a particular way, our Conference and individual bishops will continue to engage policy makers on the moral and human dimensions of this conflict. We pray and hope that policy makers begin to work together on a bipartisan basis to bring an end to this war and occupation at the earliest opportunity consistent with the limited goal of a responsible transition and the protection of human lives-Iraqi and American.
Domestic Violence Against Women
[A review of the article "Responses to Domestic Violence Against Women" in the 3/15/07 issue of Origins by Candy Hill, senior VP for social policy for Catholic Charities USA and adjunct professor of law at The Catholic University of America.]
Speaking to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on the impact of domestic violence, Ms. Candy Hill stated that almost 50 percent of women murdered in the US are murdered by their partner or former partner. Every 15 seconds a woman is abused, and every six hours a woman is murdered by a partner or former partner. No nation, other than that in the midst of war, has as much violence.
The US Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter in 1992 and again at the 10th anniversary in 2002 titled "When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women." The bishops made clear that domestic violence is a breach of the covenant of marriage, is sinful and is never justified. No one is ever expected to stay in an abusive marriage. The bishops enumerated three goals in this order of priority for church ministers: safety for victim and children, accountability for the abuser and restoration to the relationship, if possible, or mourning of the loss. Parishes were encouraged to have an action plan in place to follow if an abused woman calls for help.
The US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and reauthorized it in 2005. Yet, domestic violence is still an epidemic affecting millions of women regardless of their age, economic status, religion, ethnicity or education, and services for these women continue to be inadequately funded.
Ms. Hill stressed that agencies of Catholic Charities USA are leaders in addressing this problem and listed four dioceses where model programs for dealing with domestic violence have been developed: Buffalo, Trenton, Omaha and Jackson. The commitment is to service, education and advocacy--a commitment based on the belief in the dignity of the person in whom is seen the face of Christ, who calls all of us to this ministry.
Carol Schaffer, Parish Human Concerns Committee, June 2007
Women in Prison
During Lent 2006 the Catholic bishops of the South (10 states) commented on the situation of incarcerated women. They concluded their statement with recommendations.
Since 1980 the number of imprisoned women increased 600%. [Tougher drug laws are a major reason.] Seventy percent of women prisoners committed non-violent crimes. The same percentage of women have left children "outside" to be cared for, often in foster homes. The U.S. has 10 times more women prisoners than the combined Western European nations. (Their populations are about equal.)
Most women are poor; many were accomplices to crimes of boyfriends or husbands. The majority are single parents; many are pregnant; most are undereducated [two-thirds lack a H.S. diploma or G.E.D.] and are under- or unemployed. Fifty-seven percent report physical or sexual abuse during confinement. (Both inmates and guards inflict the abuse.) Ninety percent are drug abusers, as were their parents or boyfriends or husbands. Many are clinically depressed or bipolar. (Prison treatment for these conditions offers medication but little counseling.)
1. Provide treatment, and education (G.E.D. or vocational).
2. More probation; less incarceration. (This would keep more families intact and reduce welfare payout - very cost-effective.)
3. Conditions of probation should be as appropriate: programs for substance abuse, anger management, parenting skills.
The bishops conclude their report: "We do not tolerate sin or crime. But we bishops of the southern United States call our people to recognize the dignity of those women who suffer from incarceration in our prison system and to help them toward responsibility, reconciliation and restoration."
[There is nothing in the report about the rate of recidivism.]
Source: "Origins", April 20, 2006, Vol.35, #44}