Over at NCR, Michael Sean Winters has posted an open letter to Speaker Boehner from a number of prominent Catholic scholars (from a wide range of academic disciplines).
A brief excerpt from the letter reads:
Mr. Speaker, we urge you to use the occasion of this year’s commencement at The Catholic University of America to give fullest consideration to the teachings of your Church. We call upon you to join with your bishops and sign on to the “Circle of Protection.” It is your moral duty as a legislator to put the needs of the poor and most vulnerable foremost in your considerations. To assist you in this regard, we enclose a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Published by the Vatican, this is the “catechism” for the Church’s ancient and growing teaching on a just society and Catholic obligations in public life.
Catholic social doctrine is not merely a set of goals to be achieved by whatever means one chooses. It is also a way of proceeding, a set of principles that are derived from the truth of the human person. In Pope Benedict’s words: “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way… the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.”
We commend to you the Compendium’s discussion of the principles of the common good, the preferential option for the poor, and the interrelationship of subsidiarity and solidarity. Paragraph 355 on tax revenues, solidarity, and support for the vulnerable is particularly relevant to the moment.
Be assured of our prayers for you on this occasion and for your faithful living out of your vocation in public life.
The letter is already being picked up by the NY Times reporting
More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives will hurt the poor, elderly and vulnerable, and therefore he has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teaching.
. . .
One of the professors who crafted this letter says he wanted to stake out a different approach. Stephen F. Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, at the Catholic University of America, noted that this letter did not call for the university to revoke the invitation to Mr. Boehner.
“We are going out of our way to say, welcome to the Catholic University,” Mr. Schneck said, “but we don’t agree with you.”
As if to say that they are not speaking out of turn, the professors point out that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also recently issued a similar letter expressing the hierarchy’s concerns about budget cuts in programs that aid the poor.
I highly recommend reading the text of the letter on NCR and a look at the long list of Catholic scholars speaking out in a unified voice with the Bishop’s Conference on behalf of the poor and vulnerable.
This letter seems to carry a condescending tone (I mean, is this necessary?): “Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching.” Really, I didn’t realize that there was only one Catholic-approved means for economic organization. Aside from the fact that the above particular line appears unacceptable, where in Church teaching is it mandated that the federal government must deal with these problems? I loathe the suggestion that someone who could support this national budget is not taking his/her Catholic duties seriously. Also, conspicuous in their absence were the signatures of professors of economics, finance, etc.; I only noticed two. There is a possibility for a meaningful talk on the subject, but the suggestion of this letter doesn’t seem to allow room for that. Do the signatories of this letter not believe in subsidiarity at the state or local level?
With respect, the letter and its more than 75 signatures do not suggest or claim there is only one Catholic-approved economic organization – in line with Catholic social doctrine and more than 120 years of reflection on such problems in the modern world. That said, there are clear Catholic principles – to be used to judge ANY economic organization and/or budget decision – above all how does it affect the poor and vulnerable. To take one’s Catholic duties seriously with regard to national budget requires looking from the perspective of the poor/vulnerable. This point has been made quite clear by Bishops Blaire and Hubbard through the “Circle of Protection” http://www.circleofprotection.us/index.html
There are professors of Economics (Dan Finn, for example is a well respected economist AND theologian) and I personally know of others who wished to be able to sign this letter.
As to subsidiarity – I think you are misreading both the letter and the principle of subsidiarity itself. Allocating federal funds for food stamp and other programs in the national budget to be administered by the states and delivered through local organizations is precisely what the principle of subsidiarity calls for. Subsidiarity does not mean “smaller government” and “smaller budgets”
At no point did I suggest that subsidiarity meant or implied “smaller government” or “smaller budgets.” I am not sure what in my comment led you to believe that I said or implied such a thing. I misspoke by making the “one way” comment, but it seems hard for you to deny that you think there is a problem with the federal government not handling this problem. I thought it was clear that what I meant with subsidiarity was not only with respect to Catholic teaching but the political organization prescribed for our nation. If states want to raise their state income tax or sales tax and provide the programs in question, I think they should do so. The federal government can’t just continue to provide credit for these programs, and raising the federal income tax would not even come close to covering the tab. Most institutional investors already have or are dropping government bonds. The federal government needs to step back, and states themselves need to step up.
Also, why is it the case that “Allocating federal funds for food stamp and other programs in the national budget to be administered by the states and delivered through local organizations is precisely what the principle of subsidiarity calls for.” Are you suggesting that there is not even room for prudential argument here?
I interpreted your point on subsidiarity that way from your blanket questioning the signers of the letters commitment to the principle of subsidiarity for state and local governments based upon the text – I apologize if that was not what you meant. It was not clear, to me at least, that you meant what you wrote in your 2nd comment.
However, I do not quite grasp and I suspect do not agree with your take on the federal government vs states. The federal government cannot continue to fund these programs and the states need to step up?
My earlier posts my clarify where my own position concerning the budget stands:
Nothing in what I stated removes prudential judgment from the equation – however, the purpose of subsidiarity is to protect the integrity, decision making roles, and importance of intermediary as well as local levels. One important way to do that is through allocating resources from the larger organization that are then administered and structured by local organizations who determine how best to address local needs. Within Catholic social doctrine government has a positive role – it is not the ‘necessary evil’ and so subsidiarity is not, as it is often misused to mean that federal government is automatically too big, must be made smaller and then this gets transferred over as well into any budget/tax discussions. The misuse of subsidiarity is a particular “hot button” of mine – and I do apologize if I misinterpreted your own thinking on the matter.
Again, and with respect, I do not see government as any sort of necessary evil. However, I still don’t see any room for prudential disagreement when you state what “precisely” subsidiarity calls for. How much room does a precise prescription admit for disagreement?
“However, I do not quite grasp and I suspect do not agree with your take on the federal government vs states. The federal government cannot continue to fund these programs and the states need to step up?”
Yup. there is too much informational complexity for the federal government to allocate, as you say, funds to these programs, let alone responsibly afford it. I mean simply that the states ought to determine and fund their own level of aid.
I will happily amend “precisely” as it apparently does not convey adequately what I meant…..the example in question is a faithful and clear application of the principle of subsidiarity – I did not mean to imply it was the only application of subsidiarity – hence, it does not remove prudential judgement.
Still, I respectfully disagree that poverty should simply be dealt with by states determining and funding their own aid – as a matter of rule or principle. The states and state funding/etc has an important role; however, I do not agree that the national government cannot or should not fund or responsibly afford these programs.
From your previous post: “We must all be watchful and determined to see a budget that protects the poor and vulnerable and not a structure that has already concentrated so much wealth and power in the hands of the few – pushing the poor, unemployed and underemployed even further into the margins.”
Is this not in itself a good reason to avoid stringent top-down management of these particular social issues? Breaking down a poorly distributed concentration of power would seem to be advanced by deferring to the state level. I don’t think characterizing this idea as “simply be[ing] dealt with by the states” is entirely fair, and the implication seems to be almost derogatory, that it would be incompatible with Catholic teaching.
I can think of good reasons one might argue that the federal level should take on the role you envisage. What do you consider the strongest reasons for the federal government specifically to take on these problems? Your other posts are clear that they are worthy and necessary programs (they are) but not so clear on why they should be handled at the level you advocate.
(Thank you for humoring me in this exchange.)
In order to make the jump between what I say in the budget post in that way – you have to make certain assumptions concerning government. I do not think the federal government’s management or support of social programs is the structural problem in question – the structural problem in question is, in my opinion, economic. The “PROBLEM” in terms of government is the prioritization of programs/support that benefit the wealthy and a dominant culture designed to continue to concentrate wealth and power in the few individuals and corporations at the top. It is NOT that the federal government is the ONLY player here – I have not said that – but it is a NECESSARY player. And, the budget is not only a moral document but a statement of societal priorities — for the Christian, that must always be examined from the perspective of the poor and vulnerable.
Again, it is not that the federal level is the ONLY level – but it is a necessary level. On the matter of simply feeding hungry people, all of the wonderful and extensive charity programs (religious and otherwise) only make up 6% compared with the 94% from the government (food stamps, WIC, school lunch programs).
I am not arguing that states have no role and readily agree that government at all levels should constantly be examined, revised and watched for efficiency, management, and transparency. However, large amounts of state budgets come from the federal government in all areas, not just social services – so I genuine do not understand the “let the states deal with it and remove the federal government” as an argument.
We are one country. And, I am not only neighbors with other people in New Hampshire – but those in New York, Mississippi, West Virginia, California. Poverty in West Virginia is not simply the “problem of West Virginia.” We have high unemployment and a poverty rate that has been increasing since 2008 – this is a national concern. State and local organizations have an important role; however, they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of poverty to begin with. As it is, states bear considerable responsibility as well for social programs like Medicaid – however, I strongly oppose any attempts to reduce the federal role through replacing existing medicaid funding with block grants to the states (as in the Ryan budget). The evidence is clear – this will further stress the states AND it WILL harm the poor. This is not to say that we do not, as a nation, need to deal with skyrocketing healthcare costs – WE DO! – but not at the expense of the poor.
No doubt there will be those who will use the principle of subsidiarity as a sort of trump/get out of jail free card to advocate for a more libertarian approach to the social order. It is important, however to reflect on CST and its approach to civil society, regime and how this relates to the social and political nature of the human person. This must be the context. With regard to subsidiarity, the question of its relationship to the Church’s teaching on the common good and preferential option for the poor must also be considered. I also advocate that theologians, philosophers and others who think about these concepts remember the words of Rerum Novarum, “that there is nothing more useful than to look at the world as it really is.” The principles of CST must be viewed in light of real world considerations.