US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Bishops meeting draws fire

Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The bishops have begun meeting in Baltimore for their regular fall assembly, but before the first committee report was heard the bishops were already getting an earful because of what's not on the agenda: the creaky American economy and the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in the United States.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun, one-time U.S.C.C.B associate general secretary Francis Doyle was especially hard on the bishops today, in particular in comparisons to an older cohort of who took a bolder position 25 years ago, authoring the pastorial letter "Economic Justice for All."

Doyle complains:

At a time of staggering poverty, rampant unemployment and growing income inequality, Catholic bishops will gather for a national meeting in Baltimore today and remain largely silent about these profound moral issues. A recent Catholic News Service headline about the meeting — 'Bishops' agenda more devoted to internal matters than societal ills' — is a disappointing snapshot for a church that has long been a powerful voice for economic justice....Twenty-five years ago this month, Catholic bishops were anything but quiet. They helped drive attention to poor and working families with a landmark pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," that offered a subtle but sober critique of the Reagan administration's embrace of tax cuts for the rich and draconian cuts to government protections for the poor. The bishops spoke not as policymakers but as moral leaders in touch with the needs of the unemployed and concerned about conservative political leaders' efforts to strip workers of basic union rights.

Doyle suggests the issues that appear most important to the bishops this year--defending traditional marriage and pushing back on infringements of religious freedom--are not what are most relevant to Catholic Americans struggling with unemployment, rising costs for health care and education, and diminishing expectations for the future. Reminding them of their historic, foundational role in many of the social movements that have altered the cultural landscape in America, including the creation of the New Deal and civic structures and social protections that Americans have come to take for granted, Doyle writes, "At a time of economic crisis and growing anti-government ideology embodied by the tea party, Catholic bishops would do well to once again offer a compelling moral response to radical individualism and unbridled capitalism."