At this week’s meeting of the USCCB, the Conference voted 171 to 26 in favor of drafting a Catholic Pastoral Reflection tentatively titled: “Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty, and a Broken Economy.” The title and a draft outline presented to the Conference by Bishop Stephen Blaire, Chairman of the USCCB Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee. The impetus for a pastoral reflection of 12-15 pages (not an pastoral letter like Economic Justice for All, which was considerably longer) is grounded in the contemporary situation of suffering and hopelessness. The USCCB press release on the vote states:
“It has been a long time since the body of bishops has addressed the moral and human dimensions of economic life in light of Catholic teaching,” said Bishop Blaire. “This is especially urgent when so many of our people are suffering and wonder whether their Church cares and has anything to say about their situation and the economy that has left them behind.”
The goal of Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and Broken Economy is to communicate the bishops’ concern for people hurt by the economy, especially the jobless and those living in poverty. It will apply the human, family, moral and social costs of the economic crisis to Catholic teaching on economic life, especially the encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate.
Now, I am glad that the June meeting has been televised and transparent. The discussion of the economy and a pastoral reflection caused a vibrant and at times heated floor debate -which has prompted quite the reaction. (for examples see: Bishop Criticizes USCCB Committe’s Reaction to Ryan Budget and Bishops Doubt their competency to to address economy not contraception). On both sides, those upset the Bishops are taking a strong stand on economic justice and those who wish the Conference would take stronger, more decisive action have been focusing on those heated negative comments made in the floor debate – specifically those by 2 Bishops who questioned both opposition to the Ryan budget and the competency of USCCB to speak on economic matters. And I will admit, as someone fiercely committed to Catholic social teaching on economic justice some of the debate is difficult to read.
As a result, however, it is tempting to focus on a limited number of episcopal comments instead of the conclusive action. The Conference overwhelmingly voted in support of drafting the pastoral reflection. Moreover, in the spirit of this blog – some important points in favor of the Church’s commitment to economic justice, the poor and CST should be highlighted. (Quotes taken from the ourdailythread link above, but the video can be watched on the USCCB wesite)
Bishop Ramirez of New Mexico: “I speak in favor of this resolution. The principles enunciated in our pastoral, Economic Justice for All, still hold. That document was such a milestone, one of the proudest moments of this conference and we need to say something about the economy since then. It’s been a long time. Some things have changed. Things that have impacted our economy and every one of us, and our poor people especially. Things like globalization, communications technology. The pastoral letter then didn’t address the issue of the Internet which now figures prominently in the economic life of the globe. Then of course we have the great recession of 2008, the difficulties we are having presently in economic recovery, the political polarization of our nation, the challenges of immigration and issues of climate change and the environment. It is to be hoped that this document will have wide public attention and that it will have a real impact especially on the consciences of those whose decisions that affect the poor, the most vulnerable in our society.”
Archbishop Lori of Baltimore: “Express my support for the document. If CRS is a well-kept secret, our Social Teaching is even a better kept secret. I think bringing it to bear on this burning question, problem in our culture is hugely important. I would especially like to stress using the new media, unfiltered means of communication to get the principles of our social teaching out there to encourage discussion.”
It is easy to focus on the dissenting opinions and it is quite clear the way the politicization of this floor debate is beginning on both sides. But in the spirit of this blog, I think it is helpful to point out that while there are divisions and divides within the American Church — 171 – 26 represents significant agreement on the commitment to Catholic social teaching on economic justice and the poor. As Dennis Sadowski at Catholic News Service reports,
“It would be a document asking for engagement, asking our people and all who are out there as part of the larger community to engage, to reflect, to pray, to discuss and to see what the Gospel can bring into the economy,” Bishop Blaire said.
As Catholics, we must do just that and despite the temptations of the instant media/soundbite climate - take a step back, seeking the consolation of the Spirit and the inspiration of the Gospel and not rest in the desolation of division and frustration.