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March 22, 2012
For Immediate Release
Steve Krueger

Catholic Democrats Calls on Cardinal Dolan and Fellow Bishops to Repudiate 'Ryan Budget' and Reaffirm Catholic Concern for the Poor

Republican Budget Does Not Conform to Catholic Social Justice Tradition, Enriching the Few at the Expense of the Poor and Middle Class  
Boston, Mass. - Catholic Democrats is calling on Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and his fellow bishops, to publicly repudiate the Republican budget proposal unveiled on Tuesday by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as being incompatible with the Catholic Social Justice Tradition.  The Republican proposal would drastically cut social programs that aid the poor and low-income communities, particularly the medical care provided to the poor by Medicaid, but also threatening medical care for the elderly by ending Medicare as we know it.  Cardinal Dolan has a special responsibility to forcefully address this issue now, because he appeared to support Rep. Ryan's 2012 budget, one that threatened even deeper cuts in the social safety net.

"The Catholic Social Justice Tradition calls for a preferential option for the poor, and the Ryan Budget 2.0 does exactly the opposite - it preserves a preferential option for the rich," said Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats. "It shifts costs to seniors by fundamentally altering Medicare as we know it, converts Medicaid into a block grant program, reduces aid to veterans, and cuts important anti-poverty programs like Food Stamps.  Rep. Ryan's budget will not only have a disproportionate adverse effect on children but also on programs that help underprivileged women bring their pregnancies to term.  At the same time, it enhances tax policies that favor the wealthiest Americans.  The silence from the bishops' pulpits on this issue in the past year is their consent to a moral document that is antithetical to the Catholic Social Justice Tradition."

In May of last year, Rep. Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee and a Catholic who espouses the ideology of Ayn Rand, wrote then-Archbishop Dolan seeking his support for their 2012 budget proposal.  Rep. Ryan said then that his proposal, which offered even more drastic cuts to important social programs, was in conformance with the Catholic Social Justice Tradition - and he publicized a response from Cardinal Dolan that tacitly approved the Congressman's false assertions. At that time, Catholic Democrats called on Cardinal Dolan to clarify his response to Rep. Ryan's letter.    

Last November, Catholic Democrats wrote a public letter to Cardinal Dolan asking him why the USCCB had not addressed the issue of poverty since the beginning of the "Great Recession."  Instead, the U.S. bishops unanimously voted to make religious liberty their strategic priority in 2012, resulting in an unprecedented political campaign that has been prosecuted not only in the public square but also in Catholic parishes at Mass. Cardinal Dolan warmly responded to the Catholic Democrats letter, saying that the bishops remained concerned about the needs of the poor, stipulating the bishops' defense of religious liberty was necessary to advocate for those most in need, and lamenting that "any attempt to dialogue with Republicans could be interpreted as turning one's back on the poor."

Their public actions and words left a different impression.  "Archbishop Charles Chaput told me in early November, along with an audience at Assumption College in Worcester, that the bishops didn't have time to discuss poverty at their annual meeting later that month," said Dr Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats.  "When I asked him if he could be persuaded to raise the issue of the millions of people who were out of work, he responded that he didn't think the bishops should be commenting publicly on complex economic matters - which he said were outside their expertise.  This comes on the heels of a Vatican statement on the world economy that made specific proposals to address the 'scandal of glaring inequalities' between nations in our global community," said Dr Whelan.  "The USCCB's focus on a massive campaign to paint the Obama Administration as being against organized religion seemed tone-deaf at best and largely indifferent to the fact that nothing animates the Catholic imagination like helping the poor."

A clear indication of the political shift by the bishops' conference was seen recently in the Brooklyn Diocesan newspaper, The Tablet , under the control of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.  In a February 2012 editorial entitled "Salvation of Economics," it was asserted that "personal income is eroded through taxation, therefore freedom to practice one's religion is also limited."  In the same vein as Cardinal Dolan's approval of Rep. Ryan's letter last year, the editorial went on to stipulate that "the role of the state reaches so deeply into the everyday lives of citizens that it is affecting our ability even to support our religious institutions."  It goes on to urge the reader, as a "matter of moral responsibility," to review the analyses of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, "to become as informed as possible about the economic proposals and ideas of presidential and congressional candidates."

"The apparent approval of Cardinal Dolan of the Ryan Budget, the reluctance of Archbishop Chaput for the US bishops to address economic issues that affect the poor in this country, and the anti-tax ideology advanced by Bishop DiMarzio in The Tablet editorial, run contrary to the long held social justice traditions of our Church, as set forth in papal encyclicals, council documents and the prior statements of our own national bishops conference," said Nicholas Cafardi J.D., J.C.D., and a Board member of Catholic Democrats. "Apart from Bishop Howard Hubbard in Albany,  Bishop Stephen Blaire in Stockton CA, and a courageous few like them, our bishops are not raising a clear enough voice to promote the Church's unmistakable and undeniable social justice teachings, and to use those teachings to advocate for those most in need in these times of great economic disparity.  This reality puts the entire Catholic social justice tradition in jeopardy in the United States today." 

Last November, noted Catholic historian David O'Brien, of the University of Dayton, wrote in an opinion piece - as the bishops were meeting in Baltimore - that Catholics, "hope to hear from the bishops this week on poverty."  He went on to remind us, and the bishops, of their own words in the 1986 pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All" that repudiated the privations of Reaganomics:

"The poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation... All citizens have a duty to assist the poor through acts of charity and personal commitment. But private charity and voluntary action are not sufficient. We also carry out our moral responsibility to assist and empower the poor by working collectively through government to establish just and effective public policies."

Professor O'Brien went on to say that, "the bishops have great resources of experience and ideas to draw upon to remind the nation of the human realities behind the depressing numbers we hear about unemployment and poverty.  And they have the capacity to call forth the compassion and sense of solidarity that is deeply rooted in the lives of most Americans.  With their help, perhaps we can move the national debate to better advance the unambiguous economic principles of Catholic social justice, affirm life and fulfill our shared responsibility for the common good."

Will the US bishops respond unambiguously in defense of the poor by repudiating the Ryan Budget, and rising to the leadership role that they have historically played in advancing the Catholic Social Justice tradition? 

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