Pope Francis makes addressing poverty essential

‘How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!” With these words the new pope explained to international diplomats assembled at the Vatican on March 22 why he chose the name Francis at the moment of his election. And since then Pope Francis has unswervingly pointed to the scandal of poverty in a world of plenty as a piercing moral challenge for the church and the whole human community.

In part, the pope’s message has called us to personal conversion, speaking powerfully to each of us about how we let patterns of materialism captivate our lives and distort our humanity. In a disarming way, Francis seeks to make us all deeply uncomfortable, so that in our discomfort we may recognize and confront the alienation from our own humanity that occurs when we seek happiness in objects rather than in relationship with God and others.

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Francis’ message also has been an invitation to cultural conversion, laying bare the three false cultures that materialism has created in our world: the culture of comfort that makes us think only of ourselves; the culture of waste that seizes the gifts of the created order only to savor them for a moment and then discard them; and the culture of indifference that desensitizes us to the suffering of others, no matter how intense, no matter how sustained. Pope Francis’ words about the “globalization of indifference” echo the poignant observation of Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Charity in Truth” (2009): “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.”

And finally, the pope’s message has been one of structural reform in the world. In June Francis explained: “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.” Francis has made clear that the present economic slowdown cannot be an excuse for inaction. Rather, there must immediately commence “a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or, worse, promises which all too often have not been kept.”

Both the substance and methodology of Pope Francis’ teachings on the rights of the poor have enormous implications for the culture and politics of the United States and for the church in this country. These teachings demand a transformation of the existing Catholic political conversation in our nation, a transformation reflecting three themes: prioritizing the issue of poverty, focusing not only on intrinsic evils but also on structural sin, and acting with prudence when applying Catholic moral principles to specific legal enactments.

Prioritize Poverty

The depth of the moral responsibility of the United States to fight global poverty arises from the tremendous power that our country exerts in the world economy. More than any other nation, the United States has the capacity to influence trading relationships, the availability of capital and market conditions. If Francis’ vision of a world with truly just trading and financial structures is to be realized, then the United States and Europe must take a leading role in reforming the existing rules that so often victimize incipient markets in staggeringly poor countries.

In addition, the United States and the richest nations of the world community have a moral responsibility to share from their plenty with the poorest peoples in the human family. In 2002 the wealthy nations of the world pledged to direct 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product toward the alleviation of dire poverty by the year 2015. This level of investment would largely eliminate severe poverty on the planet. However, the United States and most of the other leading economic powers have reneged on their commitment; today the United States only gives 0.2 percent of its gross domestic product in development assistance. As a result, millions of children die each year from disease and malnutrition that could be prevented. This is social sin, arising from individual decisions. This is the visible presence of a “global culture of indifference” that lets us avert our eyes while our governments consciously make choices to reinforce our culture of comfort while ignoring the countless human lives lost as a consequence.

Within the United States, we also turn our eyes away from the growing domestic inequality that ruins lives and breaks spirits. Pope Francis speaks directly to this: “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” The United States, which for so much of its great history has stood for economic mobility and a broad, comfortable middle class, now reflects gross disparities in income and wealth and barriers to mobility. The poor suffer a “benign neglect” in our political conversations, and absorb brutal cuts in governmental aid, especially at the state level.

If the Catholic Church is truly to be a “church for the poor” in the United States, it must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our nation’s history. Both abortion and poverty countenance the deaths of millions of children in a world where government action could end the slaughter. Both abortion and poverty, each in its own way and to its own degree, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person, instrumentalizing life as part of a throwaway culture. The cry of the unborn and the cry of the poor must be at the core of Catholic political conversation in the coming years because these realities dwarf other threats to human life and dignity that confront us today.

Structural Sin

Another part of the needed transformation in Catholic political conversation is a renewed focus on structural sin. In pursuing many vital elements of the common good, structural sin is actually more relevant than sins of intrinsic evil.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment fully and more easily.” There are three elements in the common good: respect for the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person, the social well being and development of society, and the stability and security of a just order. The common good is primarily accomplished by the variety of social institutions—family, religious communities, economic enterprises, labor unions and service organizations—that lie outside of government. But a crucial element of the common good falls to government for its realization. John Courtney Murray, S.J., called this element “the public order.”

The mission of the Catholic community within the public order in the United States is to move in a comprehensive way to focus government on the enhancement of human rights, the development of society and social peace. Part of that movement must address issues of intrinsic evil—acts that can never be justified regardless of intentions and circumstances—like murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, racism, torture, suicide and slavery.

Intrinsically evil acts are always and everywhere wrong, but not all intrinsically evil acts fall within the scope of the public order and the role of government. Intrinsically evil acts like adultery and blasphemy are always wrong, but they do not lie within the jurisdiction of government. Some intrinsically evil acts, like racism, lie partly within the scope of government and partly outside. Racial discrimination in housing or unemployment must be legally proscribed, but contemptible racism expressed in private conversation generally should not. Finally, there are acts of intrinsic evil so grave and so contrary to the role of law in society that opposition to them is absolutely central to the Catholic mission of seeking the common good. Abortion and euthanasia are such issues because they involve the most fundamental duty of government to prevent the taking of innocent human life.

It is crucial to fully recognize the nature of intrinsic evil and its relationship to the common good. In recent years, however, some arguments have been broadly advanced in Catholic political conversation proposing that issues pertaining to intrinsically evil acts automatically have priority in the public order over all other issues of grave evil, like poverty, war, unjust immigration laws and the lack of restorative justice in the criminal justice system. This has the effect of labeling these other crucial issues of Catholic social teaching “optional” in the minds of many Catholics.

The statements of Pope Francis on poverty demonstrate why issues of intrinsic evil do not automatically have priority in advancing the common good. The category of intrinsic evil is vital in identifying the exceptionless evil inherent in certain types of actions. Poverty, however, is not a one-time action. It is the result of countless specific human actions with varying degrees of responsibility that give rise to social structures and practices imbued with selfishness and evil. The category of intrinsic evil cannot capture the type of entrenched evil inherent in poverty. Yet Francis clearly teaches that alleviating the grave evil of poverty must be at the very heart of the church’s mission. It is neither optional nor secondary.

Like war, the exploitation of undocumented immigrants and our distorted system of criminal justice, poverty is a structural sin rooted in the very life of society and government. Structural sin constitutes the effect of personal sins that collectively create social situations and institutions fundamentally opposed to divine goodness.

Pope Francis attested poignantly to the reality and the impersonality of structural sin when he visited Lampedusa, where hundreds of undocumented immigrants died in a shipwreck while seeking a new life in Italy. “Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours?” Francis asked. “Nobody! That is our answer. It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: ‘Where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?’”

Some essential elements for advancing the common good pertain to opposing intrinsically evil acts. Some pertain to issues of structural sin. And others, as “The Splendor of Truth” (1993) reminds us, fall under the category of accomplishing great goods, like the profoundly beautiful vision of social solidarity advanced by Pope John Paul II or the pioneering reflections on stewardship and creation that Pope Benedict XVI brought to the world. There is no single category of sin or evil, social good or virtue, that is the filter for discerning the priorities of the church in the public order. The concept of the common good is multidimensional in its very nature, and any reductionist effort to minimize this quality is a distortion of our heritage and teaching.

Role of Prudence

The role of prudence has been one of the most misused elements in the Catholic political conversation in the United States in recent years. It is frequently asserted, particularly in election years, that issues pertaining to intrinsic evils do not necessitate prudential judgment, while other grave evils like war, poverty or the unjust treatment of immigrants are merely prudentially laden issues on which people of good will can disagree.

The truth is that prudence is a necessary element of any effort to advance the common good through governmental action. Moving from even the clearest moral principle to specific legislation or administrative action involves questions of strategy, prioritization and practicality. Even then, no law or program can ever encapsulate the clarity and fullness of the original moral principle.

Consider the issue of abortion, which represents probably the least complex application of clear and compelling Catholic moral principle to law. It is clear that Catholic teaching demands robust and effective legal sanctions against abortion. But should the law criminalize abortion for the mother or for those performing the abortion? Alternatively, should there be noncriminal sanctions? What is the best pathway to outlawing abortion: a series of graduated proposals beginning with parental notification and prohibitions on late-term abortion, or an immediate full court press for comprehensive prohibitions? These are questions on which people of good will can disagree in full accord with Catholic teaching, since all of these approaches seek to achieve the core principle that the law should protect the life of the unborn. Thus this is wholly different from the candidate who refuses to vote for any legal restrictions on abortion and argues that he is in fact doing more to reduce abortions by his support for aid to the poor and health care programs. Such a candidate has rejected the core substance contained in the Catholic teaching on abortion and civil law.

So it is with the issue of poverty. The core teaching of the church on the role of government in combating poverty declares that in addition to promoting conditions that provide meaningful jobs for their citizens, nations must provide a humane threshold of income, health benefits and housing. Just as important, as Pope Francis has repeatedly taught, wealthy nations must work ardently to reduce gross inequalities of wealth within their borders and beyond. Accomplishing these goals requires a series of complex prudential decisions about financial structures, incentives for wealth creation and income support programs that enhance rather than undermine family life. Many different types of choices are compatible within a full commitment to Catholic teachings on economic justice.

But choices by citizens or public officials that systematically, and therefore unjustly, decrease governmental financial support for the poor clearly reject core Catholic teachings on poverty and economic justice. Policy decisions that reduce development assistance to the poorest countries reject core Catholic teachings. Tax policies that increase rather than decrease inequalities reject core Catholic teachings. The nature and tone of Pope Francis’ declarations on poverty and evil in the world powerfully convey that while prudence is necessary in the formulation of economically just policies, the categorical nature of Catholic teaching on economic justice is clear and binding.

The teachings of Pope Francis on “a church for the poor” not only speak to the centrality of addressing poverty as an imperative for Catholics in the public order, but also call us to look anew at the nature of the common good in society and how we seek to achieve it. We are called to see the issues of abortion and poverty, marriage and immigrant rights, euthanasia and war, religious liberty and restorative justice, not as competing alternatives often set within a partisan framework, but as a complementary continuum of life and dignity. We are called to create a Catholic political conversation that proclaims the greatest problems of our day can only be solved with a vision rooted in the transcendent dignity of the human person. For in the end, the very purpose of Catholic political conversations is to help our nation see human suffering and human striving not through the lens of politics but as God sees them.

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Joseph Funaro
4 years 1 month ago
I really like this article but Iam confused that the author states that the church teaches that abortion is intrinsically evil but gives no specific direction in how to combat it and yet on poverty it gives specific guidance e.g. Health insurance,living wage etc. this appears to be inconsistent.
Stephen Kusterer
4 years 1 month ago
Regarding abortion, the author seems to list a variety of approaches on how to combat it.... "But should the law criminalize abortion for the mother or for those performing the abortion? Alternatively, should there be noncriminal sanctions? What is the best pathway to outlawing abortion: a series of graduated proposals beginning with parental notification and prohibitions on late-term abortion, or an immediate full court press for comprehensive prohibitions?" He doesn't give the one right answer because people can have valid differences on which approach would be most effective.
Joseph Funaro
4 years 1 month ago
What you said is true but the specific answers he gives for poverty seem to presented as the right answers as if there are no valid reasons to disagree.
William Atkinson
4 years 1 month ago
Would you criminalize those who moved clergy predators around from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, even those who were in authority and knew of these act and still protected their own, the golden code of silence by hierarchy similar to blue code in police killings and brutal beatings.. The church has courts, not one predator clergy or hierarchy has been tried to date.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
A couple of ways would be for the government to stop funding abortions and stop making it a law that insurance must include coverage of them. If they aren't yet, they will soon be asking church funded hospitals to provide them.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
So, given that abortions can now be done non-surgically, but that they are more risky without some medical oversight, you believe that no insurance coverage would prevent people from acquiring abortion drugs and using them? Perhaps, you are not concerned with abortions early in pregnancy, when most abortions are done, so this is not your focus. Also, please explain how the government funds abortions.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
I'm not sure how your question relates to my comment. Insurance companies can make the decision whether or not to include coverage of abortions, but the government making it mandatory is something that an anti-abortion organization should not be supporting. If I'm against kids drinking alcohol, the fact that they will get it anyways and will be safer drinking with adults in a bar is not a reason for me to support allowing kids in bars. As to your second question, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain (performing roughly 1 out of every 4 abortions in America), receives over $500 million a year from taxpayers. To say that the funding is not spent on abortions is sticking your head in the sand. In 2011 alone, they received over $542 million in federal funding and performed 333,964 abortions. While they can’t seem to agree on budgets in DC, Obama’s proposed 2014 budget included $327 million for Title X family planning programs, which is an increase of about $30 million. Title X is just one of a number of sources of government funding to PP. During Obama’s first week in office, he reversed a decision in order to allow taxpayer funding of foreign abortions. In the same proposed budget, he requested $37 million for the United Nations Family Population Fund (UNFPA). Despite continued claims that UNFPA has been involved in China’s coercive one-child policy, we keep sending tens of millions to an organization complicit in forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations. For more information on how much we have spent, here is a pretty good article http://pop.org/content/your-unwilling-contribution-unfpa Finally, many of the provisions of Obamacare are designed to further have publicly funded abortions—most especially the HHS Mandate. There are also many forces working to try to overturn the Hyde Amendment.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Ideologically, I feel that no government should be allowed to dictate whether or not a woman has an abortion or is sterlized. It is a violation of human rights. Because of this, I oppose China's family planning just as strongly as I oppose the effort to get the United States government into the business of monitoring the bodies of its female citizens. I believe there are better ways than paying for abortions to assist in family planning, and I do not have my head in the sand when I say that Planned Parenthood, by far, does the most to provide people with the opportunity to avoid pregnancy through education and contraception. Some people, perhaps you, believe that because it might fund the rent, utilities, and staffing of its offices, Planned Parenthood is using the funds from the Federal government to underwrite abortions. However, 56% of its funds come from sources other than the government plus it charges between $300 and $800 per abortion, and this is surely enough to cover the cost of abortions that it provides both in the form of surgery and medication. Furthermore, on its website under the topic of abortion it has clear links to information about parenting and adoption. To my knowledge, the HHS does not mandate abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps you equate Plan B, also known as "ella", (which is acceptable to the Catholic Church if a pregnancy test shows no sign of another pregnancy already in place even though medical experts claim that it cannot terminate an established pregnancy) and mifepristone, also known as RU-486 or the abortion pill. Perhaps, you equate all contraception with abortion. If not, could you show me where abortion coverage is mandated?
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
As for Planned Parenthood, regardless what they use the funding for, they should not be receiving money from taxpayers. Why do taxpayers have to supplement people’s sex lives? If PP is such a wonderful thing, they should be able to survive on donations and charges for their services. There are many affordable options for birth control other than PP. I believe that Walmart provides the pill for about $9 a month for example. Many schools hand out free condoms, etc. Plan B is an abortificant. I know someone who used it in her first trimester when she knew she was pregnant and began bleeding profusely. She thought she was bleeding to death and eventually ended up in an emergency room. I fear that some 13 year old will buy these and go through the same by herself and not make her way to an emergency room. It is just a matter of time before the ACA fights to include all abortions and insists that everyone regardless of religious beliefs goes along with it. You want it both ways. You want to have a huge welfare state and I’m sure that you would use that as a reason to encourage funding of ways to reduce the population so that there aren’t as many people to pay entitlements to. On the other hand, I want people to be responsible for themselves – whether it is their decision to have sex or whether it is feeding themselves. People who have to live with consequences learn and become better people. I know many women who made the choice to have a child when they were very young and they either gave them up for adoption or raised the baby. I don’t know any of them who regret that decision. On the other hand, I know many who still feel guilt over having an abortion. Again, I believe in all people. If we encouraged policies that followed God’s principles and Natural Law (like our Constitution), this would strengthen our culture and our economy. Treating people like victims and creating an immoral, entitlement society with a bloated corrupt authoritarian government will not accomplish this.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Why do think that funding Planned Parenthood "supplements" people's sex lives? Do you really think it is a good thing for people to have babies nobody wants? Do you know how many children never get adopted because of how they look or because they have special needs? If schools are handing out condoms, where do you think they get the money? How do you know that the woman you know who had a miscarriage wouldn't have had that miscarriage anyway? Miscarriages are common, and bleeding goes along with it. Sometimes it is profuse and often the woman heads to the emergency room. Did you friend need a transfusion? It is unlikely that the Affordable Care Act will ever include abortions. I want the government to help people so they aren't starving and so they have a place to live. You must want children to be born and die of starvation. We all want people to be responsible for themselves. Making help available is not the same thing as forcing them to be dependent upon it, UNLESS you also discriminate against them in employment. OUR CONSTITUTION IS NOT NATURAL LAW! It's a framework for an orderly government.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
“Making help available is not the same thing as forcing them to be dependent upon it, UNLESS you also discriminate against them in employment.” Huh? It is illegal to discriminate against people in employment and I don’t really see how that relates to the subject of welfare dependency. All people, regardless of race or whatever can fall prey to becoming accustomed to being given money for nothing. Making drugs available to someone is not the same as forcing them to be dependent on it either. If someone is giving you money that you don’t have to work for, many will like that and find it easier to fight to keep it that way than to attempt to better their lives and make it on their own. “OUR CONSTITUTION IS NOT NATURAL LAW! It's a framework for an orderly government.” Well if you use all caps and say it, then it must be true.  You actually misstated what I said. I said that the Constitution “followed God’s principles and Natural Law”. There was very strong influence of natural-law principles on making of the Constitution. Here are just a few articles about it: http://www.nlnrac.org/american/founding-era-constitution-making http://www.edmondsun.com/opinion/x1703931518/Natural-Law-pivotal-to-founding-fathers http://www.nccs.net/natural-law-the-ultimate-source-of-constitutional-law.php http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=2497 While this has been fun chatting, it has taken up way too much of my time. You obviously don’t mind women killing their own babies or the government taking over the job of helping our fellow man, apparently even if it means we leave an unsustainable debt for future generations and have a federal government that grows more bloated and corrupt by the day. I’ll continue to do everything in my power to help others and to be responsible for myself and to teach my children to do the same. I will also continue to support the principles that founded this great nation and pray that kind and smart people like you will eventually realize why and how America changed the world. Have a blessed day!
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
“Why do think that funding Planned Parenthood "supplements" people's sex lives?” Seriously? If you don’t have sex, you don’t need birth control or abortions. Funding reproduction prevention is funding people’s ability to have sex without consequence. If I choose to have sex and don’t want to risk pregnancy, it is my responsibility to fund preventative measures. “Do you know how many children never get adopted because of how they look or because they have special needs?” I’m sure there are some, but does that mean their lives should have been allowed to be lived? Google “famous orphans” and you will find many people who contributed to society after growing up in an orphanage. There are no perfect answers. One thing I do know is that there are more people seeking adoption than there are babies to adopt and tens of thousands of children being adopted from other countries. Perhaps if not so many babies were aborted, those parents could adopt within their own country.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
“You must want children to be born and die of starvation.” Again, seriously? Because I think charity programs are better than a big bureaucratic government and I don’t think the federal government should be a huge welfare state or funding abortions, that means that I want children to die? You know, some people just have different opinions from you and they might have even gotten those opinions through experiencing life. I want us to help others when they need it and to really help people out of their situation instead of just throwing money at it. I want them to thrive and be able to have the pride of accomplishment. I want people to be responsible for their own lives. One way I do this is to contribute to places that really help mothers who find themselves with an unplannted pregnancy. Places that communicate all options and provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support regardless of the choice that they make. If they have the baby and keep it, they help them through pregnancy beyond the birth. They help these women with getting a job if they need it, with getting a place to stay, with baby supplies, with what options there are as far as the father’s involvement, etc. If they choose to have the baby and give it up for adoption or to have an abortion, they assist with those as well and they are also around for support after those events if these women need it.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
“How do you know that the woman you know who had a miscarriage wouldn't have had that miscarriage anyway?” My friend just so happened to have a miscarriage due to natural causes right after she took the pill? Doctors confirmed what was going on. The baby wasn’t all the way out and she had to have an emergency D&C. “It is unlikely that the Affordable Care Act will ever include abortions.” For some reason I can't post this, so I'm trying things with the links: www (dot) aul (dot) org/2012/04/why-huffington-post-is-wrong-on-abortion-in-the-affordable-care-act/ Look on Lifenews.com for Obamacare-day-one-many-americans-will-fund-abortions-without-their-consent and Obamacare-state-exchanges-will-fund-tens-of-thousands-of-abortions-with-your-money
Edward Burton
4 years 1 month ago

There is one aspect of these matters our author does not address. He discusses poverty and abortion as issues to be addressed. He does not link them as I think one probably should. If poverty were nearly eliminated, I believe the vast majority of abortions would not occur.
As for some comments, I believe we still delude each other by thinking it even can be made a crime. If I'm correct about poverty being the major motive, we don't necessarily have to make it a crime.

Joseph Funaro
4 years 1 month ago
Using your reasoning robbery and theft are probably the result of poverty. If we eliminate poverty robbery and theft will disappear. Unless you think all poor people have abortions and are robbers and thieves and affluent people don't maybe there are other reasons. Our Lord said the poor will always be with us so I guess we will always have theft robbery and abortions. It is interesting that the great increase in abortions occurred after the fetus was declared part of a woman's body like her appendix rather than a separate developing individual.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
You know, a lot of robbery and theft probably is due to poverty. It's not just that hungry people steal in order to be able to get food. A good portion of anti-social behavior of this type can be attributed to mental conditions that may be the result of poverty. In any case, laws against stealing do not prevent stealing; they only call stealing a crime and set out what type of punishment is to be assigned to it. If we ADDRESS poverty, robbery and theft do decline. If we somehow were able to ELIMINATE poverty, we would, indeed, still be stuck with some anti-social behavior for various reasons. A great increase in legal abortions did occur after the Supreme Court determined that the government was out of bounds in monitoring what goes on inside the bodies of its citizens. However, this does not mean that it would be wise or effective to make a law that gives the government oversight in this area.
pablo comanche
4 years 1 month ago
Is the robbery that occurs daily on Wall Street and in other financial entities also symptomatic of poverty.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
A different kind of poverty -- greed and indifference to others.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
“The poor will always be with you” (Mt 26:11). Poverty will never be eliminated, not to mention that it is subjective what "poverty" looks like. Poverty in America looks like wealth in many other countries. There will always be people who think because they have less than someone else that they are poor. All attempts throughout history to redistribute the money of the wealthy to try get to your utopian vision just end up with shared misery by everyone (or worse) for a variety of reasons that involve human nature and the laws of economics.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 1 month ago
I plan to visit Denmark and Sweden next year. I'll see for myself how miserable they are. I'll let you know.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
Denmark and Sweden are not communist. They are very free countries. The government does not have control of all the businesses. They work under free market principles. They also have very little immigration and are very homogenous nations which is very different than the US. Again, the key to their prosperity is free markets. Also, they also are not a culture of people who seek government as a source of wealth, which is why the government is able to run a generous welfare state. (Cannot say that about the US.) Time will tell if that welfare state will corrupt their culture.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 1 month ago
They pay very high taxes which is a measure that shows they are a lot more socialist than we are. The government is a huge player. Free enterprise exists and thrives in this hybrid environment. Which shows that the republican hysterics about socialism in the US are way off base. The main cause of disruption in a society is the vast difference between rich and poor. As for the inhomogeneity, it's a problem only because people make it a problem, and these problems are exacerbated in a stressed out dog-eat-dog economy, as we now have.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
Taxation is one tiny sliver of the picture. You conveniently ignored my points about little immigration and the culture of people. Here is a study on what makes Sweden currently functional: http://www.iea.org.uk/publications/research/the-surprising-ingredients-of-swedish-success-%E2%80%93-free-markets-and-social-cohesi The answer is “ free markets and social cohesion”. Capitalism is what allows them to have the funds to redistribute. Whenever they have approached problems, they have moved toward more freedom, which is what smart countries do. In 1993, Sweden's government was spending 68% of GDP. By 2011, they cut that to 49% of GDP and are currently at 32%. Sweden is planning on cutting their corporate tax rate down to 22% to attract more business http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-09-13/sweden-to-cut-corporate-taxes-to-attract-business-create-jobs Sweden abolished the estate tax, provides vouchers to allow school choice, partially privatized its social security accounts, and rejected a Saab auto bailout http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSTWpA8Dyk4 Denmark has what is probably the freest labor market in the world. You can fire people extremely easily. Private property rights are very strong in both Denmark and Sweden. The second element in the study was “social cohesion” (as I said, “the culture of the people”.) The success of any system depends on the character of the people and the US has a very different culture than those countries. Denmark and Sweden have highly educated, small, independent populations. We have a much more varied population. I will wholeheartedly agree with your statement about homogeneity that “it's a problem only because people make it a problem”. There are way too many people making a living keeping victim classes alive and that doesn’t look like it is going to change any time soon. We also have way too many Americans who are dependent upon our government and too many who don't have a good education. Countries choose their balance between the open immigration and a welfare state, because they won’t survive with both. The US generally has chosen more immigration over a larger welfare state, whereas Sweden and especially Denmark have chosen a welfare state. If those two countries were to be located above Mexico and had millions crossing over their borders illegally and then utilizing their welfare programs, they wouldn’t last long. I would also add that size is also a big difference between those countries and the US. It is funny that out of hundreds of countries, these two small countries always get pointed to as the pinnacle of success by those who support socialist or communist policies. We live in a country full of about 360 million people (not including the 30 million illegal aliens that take advantage of welfare programs and help drive down the true free market cost of labor in America). It's a whole lot easier to redistribute to 7 million than 360 million. The way that Denmark and Sweden’s governments are run is also quite different from the USA. They are actually great examples of the virtues of small, localized governments. They have less bureaucracy, more transparency, more efficiency and for now at least, less corruption. Most of the tax money they collect actually goes toward funding their social programs. In America, we spend less than half on welfare programs - the rest gets spent on many other things like defense, interest and a whole lot of “discretionary” spending. Even when we supposedly have a trust fund dedicated to a program, it gets raided. There is tons of waste, fraud and abuse. Not to mention that we have a whole political class living very high standards in DC. It is the richest region in the country and they aren’t making that money through capitalism. Different people have different standards of what is success. Those countries are not in danger of being called, “The land of opportunity”. It is almost impossible to go above the average wealth. If you desire to make more of your life than that, then those would not be good places to be. If you're satisfied living basically the same as everyone else, without setting high expectations and doing what you're expected to do and not much else, then those would be great places for you to live, but since they have very little immigration, it might be difficult to move there.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
What kind of thing do you have in mind when you imagine someone making more of their lives than average wealth? Is this a worthy aspiration in your religious worldview, given that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, etc? My observation of history is that the wealthy industrialists of the nineteenth century, who are really the types I imagine you imagine, made their wealth incidentally to pursuing a specific goal, such as steel production or railroad construction. You will argue that they would not have pursued those particular things if they had not foreseen the economic potential, and I would agree. However, what they achieved was possible because they did not concern themselves with the impact of their pursuits on the environment or workers. I think a lot of those who influence your thinking are not taking God's perspective, but are nostalgic for a time of which they hold a sanitized vision. If you are thinking that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates could not come from Denmark or Sweden, then I think you might be mistaken. You also need to realize that these guys had opportunities both despite and because the Federal government collects and spends your tax dollars. Furthermore, I am 100% sure that neither of these men did what they did because of the money they imagined they could make from their work.
geoffrey o'connell
4 years 1 month ago
Pope Francis and Bishop McElroy are correct however his teachings will fall on deaf ears as goverment serves PACS and the Pope's priorities and not the same as the corporate interests that control the country via congress etc. Perhaps a revolution will do it.
katherine schlaerth
4 years 1 month ago
Years ago, I worked in Guatemala. Poverty there was not a personal choice. People who worked hard every day could not escape it, no matter what their work ethic or motivation. NOw I work with the "poor" in this country. There is no comparsion. The poor I care for on a daily basis want free motorized wheelchairs even when they can walk, shout at me and report me when I will not perscribe narcotics without appropriate documentation of their need, report me for care that was ordered but that they were too lazy to follow up on, and when I tell them to eat better, for their health, refuse, saying they are "too poor" whereupon I tell them how to eat well on a small budget as I did when I worked my way through medical school and they never comply. Sure beans and tofu and day old fruits are ot as savory as going to a fast foods place, but they are a heck of a lot healthier if you weigh 300 lbs! So don't bewail the fate of the "poor" in this country who are citizens....they are their own worst enemies, as well as the worst enemies of the decent hardworking taxpayer. (Note: I am not alluding to persons who care for a cerepral palsied child, or have other burdens that are valid: but 90% of the diseases I care for in my population, and that cost taxpayers so much money and wil do so even more in the future, are self inflicted or made worse by noncompliance)
ed gleason
4 years 1 month ago
Dr Schlaerth I think you are seeing just a small slice of the poor. what? about 10% Just those that have illness due to poor self care. Some slices of the well off are also chronically ill and die of drug/alcohol /eating disorder abuse too..
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
It's easy to make the mistake of concluding that the portion of a population to which one is exposed constitutes the nature of the entire population. What you are seeing is that all human beings are sinners.
Joseph Funaro
4 years 1 month ago
The issues cited might be a complementary continuum of life and dignity but none of the rest of the continuum exist if the fundamental right to exist is denied.not all of the issues on the continuum are of equal value shouldn't resources (time and treasure) be allocated proportionately?
Dan Moriarty
4 years 1 month ago
What a great piece! One thing I would add is that Pope Francis has not only called for us to be a church FOR the poor, but also a church OF the poor. This really changes things. As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, I can remember so many times sitting in my parish in La Paz, Bolivia, surrounded by neighbors who were struggling with poverty, and listening to European priests talk about "the poor" as if they were always "other." "We have to help the poor," "we must not forget the poor," etc. How might they have spoken if they had identified more closely with the parish community as "we, the poor?" After all, that's how Jesus spoke with his disciples. I understand that Bishop McElroy is addressing a U.S., and largely middle-class audience. It's a challenge for those of us who are not economically impoverished to imagine ourselves as part of a church of the poor, but it's a healthy challenge to seek new and more radical forms of solidarity. And as for the kinds of ministry the church engages in in poor communities, I think Ivan Illich addressed the issue in these very pages 46 years ago: http://americamagazine.org/issue/100/seamy-side-charity . Pope Francis has lived with the poor, identifies with the poor, and sees himself as representative of a church of the poor. I hope the U.S. Church can begin to explore more fully the implications of this call to conversion .
Mike Van Vranken
4 years 1 month ago
Amen. The conversion has to begin with us.
John Walton
4 years 1 month ago
Bishop McElroy, define the term "speculation".
Joseph Manta
4 years 1 month ago
I think it is a mistake to tie poverty and politics together. It tends to make it a political issue and used by politicians to get votes, it diminishes the more important role of personal charity and, most importantly, is ineffective. In 1964, we declared a war on poverty, spent billions of dollars and the poverty numbers have barely budged. people should take care of people and not sit back and count on the government to try, unsuccessfully, to do it.
Mike Van Vranken
4 years 1 month ago
The responsibility to feed the hungry belongs to the Church (me and you). When we start teaching that it is OUR duty to feed those around us who are hungry, to clothe them, to shelter them, to heal them, then God will bless what we do and allow us (the Church) to feed the rest of the world. If we continue to shirk that responsibility and turn it over to a civil government, hungry children will continue to die. Why would we ask a civil government to do something that we are not willing to do? When our pastors begin preaching homilies about tithing, giving alms, giving generously because that's what we are called to do, then the hungry will eat. Oh yes, we should definitely elevate the issue - elevate it to the faithful and teach us it is OUR responsibility. It begins with us because we love the poor.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Suppose you were a poor citizen of this country. Would you want to be looking around for someone to take pity on you so that you do not die from the effects of poverty? Suppose you are an individual faced with addressing the needs of a poor community in which you may be relatively well off, do you not think that this would be an overwhelming and impossible task? The government is best positioned to provide a floor under the poor and the Church and it's members should feel free to do more. I think you are mistaken that the Church (we) are not willing to help. I think you should realize that help on the scale needed is beyond the scope of the individual and the parish and must involve the government.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
Do you see all poor people as totally helpless? People need to have some responsibility for themselves. Government handling the problem appears to be making it worse. The poverty rate was steadily falling in the 1950s and early 1960s when government didn’t have poverty programs, but once the War on Poverty began in 1964, it stagnated. Taxpayers have poured trillions of dollars and nothing has been accomplished except to create an entitlement class that continues to increase. The best defense against poverty is a healthy, growing economy so that people can easily find work and provide for themselves. When we take money out of the hands of those who make that economy happen, launder them through government and put them into programs that are ripe with fraud and abuse and do not attempt to get people off of the programs and out on their own two feet, we further the problem. The sad reality is that sometimes people have to be faced with desperation in order to dig deep in themselves and find work. There are studies that show that people get jobs at the same time that unemployment runs out. When people get paid not to work, many are happy to live that way rather than attempt to improve their lives.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
I do not see all poor people as totally helpless. In fact, I see a lot of people who work hard and are still poor, but whose children benefit from government programs and grow up to do a lot better than their parents. It is wrong to say that the government did not have any anti-poverty programs in the 1950's and 1960's. Aid to Families and Dependent Children began in 1935 (called ADC - Aid to Dependent Children), and it provided a subsidy to families with fathers who were deceased, absent, or unable to work. It supplemented aid that had already been provided at the state level for decades, and state's determined eligibility for all of this aid. The big change in the 1960's was that the Federal government no longer permitted the states to exclude black mothers and their children from this program. Skipping a lot of what happened between in the 1960's and 1970's when the numbers receiving aid increased and efforts where made to address this, I worked on a program in the 1980's that nationally tracks down fathers who fail to support their children and garnishes their wages and tax refunds. This is now done all the time. Therefore, I find it surprising that anyone who believes that God wants all children to be born would want to take the position that mothers should be forced to go to work instead of doing the important work of raising these children.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
I'm not necessarily saying all government assistance should be eliminated, but it should be a temporary hand up, not a lifelong handout, which is what it has become. Total federal and state welfare spending has increased more than 16 times since 1964. Not sure where you got your last sentence from what I said, but you are now entering into another large discussion of the societal moral decay leading to increases in single mothers raising families. But, yes, mothers can do an exemplary job working and raising their children. I look at Ben Carson's childhood as a perfect example.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Well, I am not sure how you see Ben Carson's childhood as something anyone should have to deal with. He was lucky, smart, in a mostly white school, not thrown in jail for his violent outbursts, and had a mother who was not home a lot of the time. She gets credit for being strict in the right ways when she saw trouble, but it really shouldn't have to come to this. Regarding people spending their lives on public assistance, the following is from testimony given to the House Ways and Means Committee, Subcommittee on Human Resources by LaDonna Pavetti in 1996: The welfare system is an extremely dynamic system. In an "average" year, about one-half of the AFDC caseload leaves the welfare rolls.Some recipients use welfare for a short period of time, leave and never return; others use welfare intermittently, returning for short-term assistance when a job ends or when a family crisis occurs. Still others spend long periods of time continuously receiving welfare. Because of these different patterns of welfare use, it is difficult to talk about an "average" welfare recipient....the extremely small number of recipients who spend very long periods of time (as much as 25 years) receiving welfare...do, in fact, exist, but they are the exception, not the rule....the strongest predictors of whether a recipient will leave welfare for work in a given month are recent work experience and educational attainment, including mastery of basic skills....Half of those who spend longer than five years on the welfare rolls enter AFDC with no labor market experience and 63 percent of these women have less than a high school education. Also, 42 percent first received welfare when they were under age 25, the time when the vast majority of workers make investments in education and gain experience in the labor market that prepares them for stable future employment. So, you are saying that between 1996 and 2013, the program has changed to make assistance into a lifelong handout? More importantly, you believe that denying assistance to the people with no marketable skills will somehow give them incentive to market something about themselves. Think about that.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
I would venture to say that if you asked Ben Carson, he wouldn’t change a thing about his childhood because it made him who he is. I have seen him in person and feel confident in being able to say that. As for luck, the only luck he had was in having a mother who wanted the best for her kids. He had the worst grades in school early on and thought he wasn’t smart. When his mom forced him to start reading, he found that learning was just a process of building each piece of information on top of each other and what it took was applying yourself. The reason he went to a white school is because his mom fought for it. He is just one of many stories of people who have overcome adversity and reaped the rewards for it. That is what God does for us. You said, “More importantly, you believe that denying assistance to the people with no marketable skills will somehow give them incentive to market something about themselves.” You obviously don’t believe in people as much as I do. Everyone has special talents and gifts. Sometimes we have to dig deep to discover them, but we are all unique and special. Life is not meant to be easy. We are here to learn lessons and make this world a better place, not just to exist. Of course the programs have gone through changes. One of the best and most successful changes was welfare reform in 1996. Unfortunately, our current administration has gutted that. Here is an article by one of those who wrote the original legislation http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-09-06/opinions/35497580_1_welfare-reform-work-requirements-tanf. We have spent trillions on these programs and are not much better off because of them. They need to be implemented in a way that works to get people off of them, not to get more people dependent on them so that they will vote for the people who give them the most. When you pay people not to work (whether years of unemployment or other assistance programs), you get more of it. When you advertise for people to get free money, you will get people working to scam the system and many, many people do. As I said in another comment, just look at what happened at Walmart in Louisiana recently for a perfect example. These people took advantage of the system. They knew it was wrong and felt entitled to it. They had no shame over stealing what others are providing for them. Programs work best closest to the source (churches, cities and then states). They can vet and help people on an individual basis. Big federal programs have no idea who they are helping and don’t seem much to care.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
These programs are not to make us better off, but to help individuals. They do help individuals even if they do not eliminate poverty or social problems. We are morally obligated to help individuals, and government programs are the way I help people that are not at my doorstep but who need my help. Even though the money is collected at the Federal level, it is given to States, and they determine eligibility. However, they are no longer permitted to exclude people because they judge them to be unworthy due to race.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
The federal government also isn't required to make them work, which is why they increase the problem. There are lots of nonprofit organizations and churches who work hard to help the poor, which is who I trust to donate to when I can't be there myself. Obviously you are a big government fan and don't see the truth in the statement, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take it all away." I put my trust in God, not government. Have a nice day.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
Very true. God gave us free will to choose to do the right thing. That is not free will to vote for somebody who will take $ from someone else to decide who to give it to. That situation always ends up with political friends getting paid because of the nature of government. A church has the priorities of helping people, not buying votes. Their programs would attempt to help people get out of poverty. The government makes no such attempts. They are happy to have a dependency class that will keep voting for them in order to keep getting their government checks.
Bernard Meuwissen
4 years 1 month ago
Why do we always go back to the argument of how the poor always take advantage of the help from the government? If one has worked with the poor they will see that the help given them is only abused by the minority of them, but we seem to want to use this as an excuse not to give them help in their needs.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Not only are those abusing the program small in number, but the standard of living afforded by taking part in the program still leaves lots of room for aspirations beyond that level. It's hardly enough to content most people, but it helps prevent suffering, particularly the suffering of innocent children.
Cath Sarah
4 years 1 month ago
One in seven Americans is on food stamps. We do not have 14% of our people who are incapable of feeding themselves. The GAO said that “the amount of SNAP benefits paid in error is substantial, totaling about $2.2 billion in 2009.” and the amount of people signing up for that program has substantially increased since 2009. Just look at the video of what happened to Walmart in Louisiana when the EBT cards had no limit to see if people take advantage of these programs or not.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
SNAP benefits are not enough to cover all the food someone needs to purchase. It amounts to $4.30 per person per day. Average annual income for a household that receives this assistance is $8,800 per year. So, one person, disabled perhaps, living alone somehow, would have to survive on $4.30 per day. However, it might be easier for, say, a family of four to work with $17.20 per day. Since the states determine eligibility and they don't require people to sell off their assets before being determined eligible, you may be correct in saying that a number of those who receive this benefit could be capable of feeding themselves if this program were not available to them. However, the idea is that this is temporary assistance, so it would be counterproductive to force people to become destitute before helping them.
charles harrison
4 years 1 month ago
Mr. Manta, in 1981 we called off the war on poverty so your argument makes no sense. Government is how we deal with our common problems. The easily preventable suffering and destruction of our fellow human beings is numero uno. It seems obvious to me that as Catholics in a democracy it is our duty to advocate for the use of our common resources to effectively deal with this on all levels. Period.
Joseph Manta
4 years 1 month ago
You just made my point. What is your problem with 1981 - a Republican president. Poverty is a moral issue but people like you turn it into a political issue. I have never heard of "government charity". People must perform charity and not count on the government to take over their moral obligation. Besides, by 1981 the "war of poverty" programs were so entrenched very little could be done to significantly impact them.

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