Whatever happens in the days leading up to Aug. 2, the day when the United States will reach its approved debt limit, the tenor of the budget negotiations has been extremely dispiriting. What has been until now a routine matter of governance has developed into a no-holds-barred ideological battle. News that the Gang of Six senators is working on a bipartisan resolution is welcome, but it is still unclear whether they can convince Republicans in the House of Representatives to compromise.
The deficit is a matter of great concern, but Republican lawmakers have chosen the wrong moment to take a stand. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would only exacerbate the nation’s budget woes. Republican leaders in the House are pushing for a balanced budget amendment and drastic cuts in spending in exchange for a deal. More troubling, they refuse to consider any measure to raise revenue, even in the form of closing tax loopholes for high earners. So the poor, the marginalized and the sick—the primary victims of cuts in government spending—would be made to sacrifice while the affluent would escape additional tax burdens.
Simple fairness and a commitment to the common good demand a more equitable solution. A long-term budget-reduction plan must include an increase in revenue, not just a series of cuts. If necessary, this will require an increase in taxes, a measure in keeping with Catholic social teaching. The president has been unusually active in the budget negotiations, a welcome development, but he needs to exercise still greater moral leadership. A compelling case for shared sacrifice and the moral value of government has yet to be made.
Reporters are privileged to be able to ask questions others cannot and to give a voice to those who have none. But there is a line between investigation and invasion of privacy, which the staff of the British tabloid The News of the World allegedly have crossed. They have been accused of hacking the phones of individuals ranging from a murdered teen to the families of fallen soldiers, as well as of bribing police officers and harassing politicians. The stories of corruption at the British publications owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation seem to multiply daily.
The scandal has prompted outcry from readers, politicians and journalists. Even the Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, has weighed in, calling for the establishment of “info-ethics” and for justice and “respect for the dignity of every human person.” Investigations are underway, and we hope they will lead to reform.
At its best, journalism produces stories that allow for a more free and informed society. Journalists should be uncovering scandals, not perpetrating them. In order to operate freely, the press must refrain from collusion with law enforcement or politicians. Bribes and back-room deals among these groups can result in the downfall of all three. Already there have been at least 10 arrests related to the hacking and several high-profile resignations, including those of two Scotland Yard officers; the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks; and Les Hinton, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Brooks claims that The News of the World is not the only newspaper to use unscrupulous methods of reporting. The depth of this scandal is not only indicative of corruption but of a willing and enthusiastic market for stories like these. Certainly the publications should take responsibility for their actions, but readers must take a closer look at their own participation as well.
A New Tone in Rome
In 2009 Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M., the former prefect of the Vatican congregation for religious, announced a “visitation” of women’s religious orders in the United States convened in response to “concerns…about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general.” The reaction of American women religious ranged from confusion and wariness to alarm and resentment.
Since then, things have changed. Cardinal Rodé has retired, and his successor, Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz of Brazil, is quickly setting a new tone for the dicastery. In a recent interview, he acknowledged that the visitation had been met with “mistrust” and triggered “confrontation” between the congregation and some women’s orders. The archbishop expressed hope of proceeding in a different manner and remarked, “We have started to listen again.” Admit-ting that some problems await resolution, he is optimistic that this can be done “in another way” than in the past.
Archbishop Bráz also brings a compelling personal story. He grew up in a poor family, and his seminary education coincided with the rise of liberation theology. On his way to say Mass as a young priest, he was shot several times in crossfire from an armed robbery.
The effort to “rebuild a relationship of trust” with women religious is of the utmost importance. It will go a long way toward allaying the tension that has arisen between the Vatican and American women’s orders during the visitation. It may also draw appropriate attention to the invaluable work that religious women continue to do for the church in the United States.