From ............ National Catholic Reporter
December 1, 1995
BISHOPS TO CONGRESS: REJECT WELFARE CUTS
Meeting awash in economic in economic issues
By ARTHUR JONES NCR staff
WASHINGTON - The U.S. bishops, meeting here Nov. 13-15, inserted themselves into the U.S. political maelstrom of welfare reform, tax and budget debates with a self-described "unusually blunt letter" to Congress and a tough public statement from their outgoing president, Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler, solidly allying the Catholic church with the poor.
Do such statemenls make any difference?
At the lunchtime break and after a quick conference with fellow Alaskan bishops, Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley nipped up the marble stairs at the Omni Shoreham Hotel and sent two faxes.
One was the Keeler statement; the other was a covering statement from Alaska's bishops.
Within a couple of hours, all Alaska's media would have them.
"So will it make any difference?" asked Hurley, a former conference general secretary, rhetorically. "In terms of the national scene, some, not much." he answered.
"I see it perhaps having some influence when the politicians start trading off, using our statements as a little bit of sensitivity - as another basis to look at these issues rather than just numbers.
"It's not going to be the swing vote for anything, but a lot of people will be glad we said something," concluded Hurley.
"We're not a congress. We're not experts in economics. In this area," said Orange, Calif., Bishop Norman F. McFarland "we're more like the headlights on a car. We're not driving the automobile. We're telling [the country] the road you're on heads for disaster if you keep going."
This was a bishops' meeting awash in economic issues - generated by their statements, by the pope's recent visit and a call to conscience on behalf of the needy.
Two anniversaries also stirred discussions:
- The 10th anniversary of the bishops' economic pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," and
- The 25th anniversary of the Campaign for Human Development, the social action arm of the bishops' involvement with the poor.
In this light, the bishops sent a letter to Congress urging members to reject welfare reform provisions and the earned income tax credit cuts in the reconciliation bill.
"We cannot support measures that leave children worse off,"
wrote the bishops, accusing Congress of adopting "simplistic but dangerous" policies where the poor are concerned.
Economic issues appear close to home everywhere.
Fall River, Mass., Bishop Sean O'Malley told NCR that with the fishing and textile industries suffering, and with the governor, William Weld, "cutting back on welfare and fingerprinting welfare recipients, we've made statements not always welcome. Particularly my statements on the new immigration proposals and welfare reform - I got some hate mail."
Biloxi, Miss., Bishop Joseph Howze said he had just devoted his newspaper column to the Gulf Coast's dilemma: gambling. "It's our new industry," he said, "growing very fast. It's brought employment to the area, improved appearance with beautiful new hotels.
"But when I consider the danger, the downside - people gambling who shouldn't be, some crime coming in, prostitution - balancing out the economic gain is the problem."
With Congress determined to "block grant" programs to state governments, it seems local Catholic bishops and state Catholic conferences will be drawn ever deeper into the economic debate.
"Through the Kentucky Catholic Conference, our Catholic positions are already well-known," Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Tom Kelly told NCR. "We're well-organized and we all sustain each other," he said. "But the rural poor in eastern Kentucky and some in my diocese are being squeezed, squeezed, squeezed all the time. What we'll do with these statements now is use them locally," said Kelly, a former conference official.
Austin, Texas, Bishop John McCarthy said that economically central Texas is doing well - "but we're just as concerned long-term with the leadership of the [U.S. House and Senate] trying to balance the budget - itself a commendable goal - off the poor. They're not talking about cutting the cotton subsidy, the tobacco subsidy or subsidies to the high-tech industries through research transferred from the military to private industry."
The Texas panhandle is feeling the pinch.
"People are deeply worried about mergers, buyouts and the unsettling effect of big business taking over an entire way of life - the farms," said Amarillo Bishop Leroy Matthiesen. Three of his brothers are farmers, he said. "They've never had more labor-saving devices and they've never been more frustrated than now," he said.
In the "Economic Justice for All" anniversary statement, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John Ricard wrote that
the poor are "the missing dimension of the national economic debate, and have the weakest voices. Today we can become their voices."
Last week, in a politically heightened climate, that's precisely what the U.S. Catholic bishops did.
[picture caption]- Bishops pray before a session of the fall meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.