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The EditorsJanuary 02, 2012

More Human Rights

In mid-December Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a passionate speech in Geneva on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, encouraging nations to support human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Much of what she says can, and should, be supported by Catholics. Same-sex marriage has been strongly opposed by the church. But Mrs. Clinton’s speech is referring to the more fundamental right of gay and lesbian people to live without fear and without threat of death. Americans may have become so focused on the question of same-sex marriage that they overlook the dire conditions under which many gay and lesbian people live throughout the world.

In Uganda, for example, there are moves to make homosexual activity punishable by death. This is extreme, but Uganda is far from an isolated case. In Kenya conviction brings up to 14 years in prison; in Tanzania up to life in prison; and in Saudi Arabia the penalties include fines, whipping, prison and death. As Mrs. Clinton said, “It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation….” The Catechism teaches that gays and lesbians should be accepted with respect, sensitivity and compassion: “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” The church should continue to raise its voice in defense of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who suffer unjust discrimination.

Blood From a Stone

The austerities imposed on Europe’s debtor nations in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street collapse are encountering growing skepticism. From the beginning, there should have been fairer sharing of the burdens imposed by bailing out failed financial institutions and speculators. Instead, Ireland and other less-favored European nations, like Portugal, have suffered job cuts, reduced pensions, higher taxes and depleted public services; and every passing year promises further austerity. Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has commented, “Why Ireland would want to spend its time being a model student in the context of the broader European mishandling of the situation, I don’t know.” Professor Sean Kay of Ohio Wesleyan University told The New York Times, “The Irish people are being praised for doing what they were asked to do...but it’s not paying off.”

Forty thousand young professionals have emigrated from Ireland to Australia and other more prosperous countries. Unemployment is at 14 percent and expected to rise. The government deficit has fallen from an exorbitant 30 percent to 10 percent of the budget, but the prospects of bringing it quickly into line with the proposed 3 percent limit required under the new euro zone compact are slim. Asking the people alone to bear the pain for the excesses of the ’00s by cutting costs without stimulating economic growth repeats the mistakes of orthodox economics during the Great Depression. For a healthy European economy and public well-being, there has to be greater give in the system, and the financial sector should pay a greater share of the price of recovery.

Don’t Waste the Tax Talk

The discussion of taxing financial transactions—trades of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments—and using the money to help the poor has real import. For the public conversation acknowledges that “shareholders,” those individuals and entities wealthy enough to trade on the world market, also have a duty to the world’s poor. Help for the poor is being described not as a voluntary choice or as philanthropy but as a duty required of all in the name of “fairness” (the Bible calls it justice). Not surprisingly, the idea has been endorsed by the Occupy movement, the Greens and billionaire philanthropists, as well as Pope Benedict and the archbishop of Canterbury. But the “tiny tax” is also being debated among heads of major governments with the power to alter global finance. Leaders of Germany, France and Italy support the tax. The United States prefers to tax only the biggest banks. Still, support for the tax is growing.

This “tax talk” among elites ought to be taken up in business schools, college classrooms and corporate boardrooms. For the subtext—that we are all in this economy together, sharing the gains in good times and the losses in bad times—comes close to a Christian understanding of human dignity in community. The current discussion recognizes that the poor bear the brunt of global economic crises, even though they own no shares and so have no opportunity to share directly in any benefits. This inclusive, Catholic view of the economic life is one that preachers, teachers and other leaders of faith should promote.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
C Walter Mattingly
12 years 5 months ago
"Why Ireland would want to spend its time being a model student in the of the broader European mishandling of the situation, I don't know." Perhaps it is because the Irish have an integrity concerning their obligations that other nations lack. The Irish saved western civilization one time already many years ago, perhaps they will save that culture again by their sacrificial example. Yet as they have already cut their deficit by 2/3, the union would seem well advised to heed the recommendations of our editors and be a bit more forebearing with such heroic efforts, even should they come up a bit short of an ideal.
Francis DeBernardo
12 years 5 months ago
Thank you, America editors, for standing up for Mrs. Clinton's human rights day speech on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) issues, and thank you for speaking out about the oppressive anti-gay bill in Uganda.  Catholic leaders have been shamefully silent on international human rights violations of LGBT people.  As the situation in Uganda illustrates most dramatically, this is indeed a pro-life issue.  Their silence bespeaks a homophobia that is destructive not only to LGBT people, but to themselves, as they violate their own integrity by shying away from what is obvious to all is a major human rights violation that will lead to death. Let's hope and pray that other Catholic leaders will start to follow your courageous lead.  Uganda's population is 42% Catholic, the largest denomination in the country.  Catholic leaders speaking out forcefully on this issue-from the Vatican down to the parish ministers-could make a major difference as to whether or not Uganda accepts or rejects this terrible legislation.

For those interested in reading more about these issues, I invite them to view New Ways Ministry's blog posts on Clinton's speech (http://wp.me/p21uEP-34) and the situation in Uganda (http://wp.me/p21uEP-8I).
Amy Ho-Ohn
12 years 5 months ago
Having spent some time in Saudi Arabia, I think this editorial implies an unjust accusation. In Saudi Arabia, nobody is "beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation," at least not by the legal system. The crime for which the death penalty is occasionally exacted is homosexual acts. Homosexual inclinations are not illegal.

No doubt, this is draconian by our standards. But one should remember that all sorts of sexual activities which are not criminalized in the developed world are capital offenses in Saudi Arabia, including adultery, pedophilia and bestiality.

Certainly it could not have been the Secretary of State's intention to imply that it is a violation of human rights to criminalize sexual activities that a society considers deviant. In fact, the United States does so too (e.g., rape) although we do not execute people for them.
Bill Freeman
12 years 5 months ago

@Amy Ho-Ohn  You have compared same-sex behavior to "adultery, pedophilia and bestiality" and later state that you support the right of a state of criminalize sexual activities that the state considers deviant.  I find your construct and underlying opinion homophobic and offensive.  You clearly speak from the sexual majority opinion.  Thankfully, Secretary Clinton was able to make the connections that you obviously cannot. 

William Lindsey
12 years 5 months ago
Bill Freeman, I agree with your analysis of Amy's comments.  Writing with a different username in the past, this same commenter has made a string of observations about the issue of homosexuality that have long struck me as maliciously homophobic and deliberatly offensive to those who are gay.

"Amy" says that Saudi Arabia does not criminalize homosexual inclinations, but only homosexual acts.  But in April 2005, the Human Rights Watch reported that Saudi Arabia flogged, tortured, and imprisoned a group of men whose crime was that they had "behaved like women" at a private party and had danced together.

Similar legal actions have taken place in Egypt against gay men-for the very same "behavior."

The use of the term "deviant" to characterize (and conflate) both rape and homosexuality activity is telling-and elicits prejudice.  Though men who rape women are almost never characterized as deviant for engaging in the act of rape, for centuries those who are gay have been characterized as deviant due to their desires, inclinations, and acts.  And the very "deviance" of their inclinations has been criminalized in many societies for many centuries. 
William Lindsey
12 years 5 months ago
I beg your pardon, Bill Freeman (and the other readers of the thread).  I've accidentally entered William Freeman's name as my own name.

My name is William Lindsey 
Dennis Thiel
12 years 5 months ago
Concerning taxing financial transactions such as "stocks, bonds, and other financial transactions". I'm sure you ment to say that we should NOT suppport this (wolf-in-sheeps-wool tax everyone proposal). Who ever worte this overlooked the fact that stock & bond transactiions will negatively impact all the 401k and retirement funds of most people not just the rich. Also " taxing other financial transactions " that are glibbly included in artical as something to support, by definition include all checking, savings, and ATM transactions. Wow, Why would we or America magazine support a proposal  that would negatively impact so large a spectrum of our population.
Christopher Mulcahy
12 years 5 months ago
Helping out in a crisis might be one thing.  But proposing transfer payments from one culture to another, on a wholesale basis, is fundamentally unChristian.  Each culture on this planet makes decisions of lifestyle and mutual support, including how much time is spent on productive work and what that work is and how it is structured.  To conduct a program to parachute financial assistance, or agricultural products, or manufactured goods, or anything at all into a neighbor's economy is to express the view that the recipient culture is deficient.  And it serves to destroy indigenous agriculture and industry and the motivation of its citizens.  It is a racist behavior.
Virginia Edman
12 years 5 months ago
You have very kindly made your first comment on Hillary Clinton's speech in Genova on International Human Rights Day.  I was able to watch a video of the speech, and was so impressed that I sent it to many people.  It is so important for the Catholic Church to support the gay community.  The homophobic attitude of many Catholics, including two priests at my own parish, seems out of place in this day and age. 

I was very glad to see you defend Hillary Clinton and also in turn President Obama, who had a memorandum on the same issue, saying that foreign aid would depend on the country having protected the rights of gay people. The human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people is a twenty-first century issue.  It should be noted that Islam does not accept them and they live in great danger in those countries that have an Islamic government.  However, even in Canada and the United States there can be danger to their lives.
ed gleason
12 years 5 months ago

Sure, think that a transaction tax of a half penny on Wall Street gaming/gambling is 'unfair' But let the govenment keep taxing , horse racing, casinos, lottos, card games everything including church bingo winnings.... but we must never ,never ever tax the Wall Street gambling. You have to understand that these traders/banks that hold stock, bond, currency positions that are held for as long as a few micro-seconds.. these  are our sacred,  investing,  job creators. O and they only pay 15% tax rate and want it to go to zero.. and Main Street says 'what in the hell is a transaction tax.... we hate taxes..taxes is evil.'.  

Sean Collins
12 years 5 months ago
I congratulate the editors for adding their voice in support of Secretary Clinton's call for recognizing the human rights of LGBT people. Indeed, the horrors abroad deserve the condemnation of our nation and our Church.

I regret, however, that the editors side-step the issue of the human rights of LGBT people within our Church, and the great and real violence done to us in word and deed.

It seems, often, that when otherwise well-intentioned folk weigh-in on the issues our affective lives pose, LGBT people are described as "other:" the stranger, the foreigner, the outsider.

We are your brothers and sisters, your children, your neighbors. The "joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties" Paul VI wrote of in Gaudiem et Spes are the fabric of our lives and the lives of our heterosexual brothers and sisters in our nation and in our Church. Too often, hierarchs act as if we are not here, that our lives and our loves do not matter, and that the majority's behavior in regard to our civil and human rights are of no concern, either abroad or right here at home.

The abuse abroad deserves your condemnation. So does the abuse here.
Leonard Villa
12 years 5 months ago
Your comments on the Clinton speech on human rights for LGBT people makes one wonder whether you are operating from the teachings of the Church even though there is a quote from the Catechism. Human rights are predicated on the dignity of the human person and NOT on gay ideology or the claim to be gay as if that were a special category. It's only a special category if you accept the ideology and it's precisely the demand of LGBT people that the ideology be accepted as a special category of human rights that engenders conflict. There are people experiencing homosexual inclinations who do not share the ideology and they would include people for example in the group Courage who seek to live according to the teachings of the Church and not ideological relativism. This came up with other "kindred ideologies" like secular feminism which claimed to speak for all women. It doesn't and never did. Neither does LGBT ideology speak for all those with homosexual inclinations. Strong evidence for the ideological/relativistic nature of LGBT agenda is the howl of indignation and the attempt at censorship of the notion of reparative therapy for homosexual inclinations. This ideology has the same intellectual malaise as all ideologies: it operates on the premise that reality is defined by the ideas in the mind of the subject rather than conforming to an objective norm not the product of knowing subject. That "reality" then defines human nature as fluid and marriage as malleable to include any arrangement: why stop at gay couples for heaven's sake? Menage a trois? Four? Five? You don't even attempt to explain why the Church is opposed to so-called gay marriage. Also you ignore a caution from the Holy See issued years ago about an overly benign view of the homosexual condition which is a more or less a strong inclination towards sin. I suspect that your sympathies lie with the ideology rather than the Church's teaching which would greatly displease St. Ignatius as antipathetic to the Society. It's time to get with the program and think with the Church and not the ideology.
Tom Maher
12 years 5 months ago

Re: Don't Waste the Tax Talk


Taxing financial transactions worldwide is another utopian scheme that is not politically and practically viable.  The world already has economic development agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund both of which are not being given  increases in funding due to the current need funding to support the world banking and financial system which are under stress.


Currently the Euro and the European banking system are under threat of collapse due to the European sovereign debt crisis. Six European nations are having great trouble financing their massive sovereign debt  which they may be forced to default on. Any default on sovereign debt would have massive impact on the world banking and financial system.  If any additional taxes are to be raised they are needed to help keep the world financial system from being further weakened by massive government debt.


Utopian schemes that assume across the board economic wealth worldwide that can be diverted by a tax on all financial transactions and re-distributed in some better way ignores the negative impact of such a tax on society and the crudeness of diverting scarce resources from private use to use by some all-wise world government agency.  If the government is such a wise allocator  of financial resources why did the communist  state in the 20th century economies collapse?  Has something new happened to make central  planning by government effective that had so massively failed before?  Why then did the Soviet Union and China massively abandon government centralized planning and allocation of resources in favor of private free markets?.


The crude primitive assumptions of a 9th grader are at work here.  Somehow a remote and  all-wise panel of experts can make better economic decisions on how individuals' s money should be spent on for someone else's benefit  in some other part of the world.  Government experts can better decide how resources should be allocated and how  resources should be distributed worldwide than a private individuals can. .  Very few people will support collecting taxes for worldwide re-distribution by a government agency.  Taxes and  political support are not available for worldwide utopian schemes .

ed gleason
12 years 5 months ago
Maher. A transaction tax is estimated to gather in #300 billion a year. That's 3 trillion a decade. What if  it were all to be put to the deficit.??? still against it? Even a ninth grader would see that 3 trillion is more than the GOP could ever scrounge up... i.e. closing NPR... As for your other confusing points... It is politically viable because WS has only the votes it can buy. It is practical because the software to collect the tax is on every brokerage computer. Europe will get it done first because people like you will try to confuse the issue here.  
Howard Dutra
12 years 5 months ago
Okay, so, I hope when, in your editorial regarding the taxing of financial transactions that by 'Catholic' you meant it in the sense of universal.  Compelling the doing of some perceived good by a government becomes an over-reach that no theologian should support.  You have removed the sense of personal choice, that is, free will, from the activity of promoting what you call justice.  After all, justice is not a concept developed and enforced by temporal powers.  Justice is the sense within ones self that something is innately right, and to do the right thing because it is what our perosnal code, developed during our faith formation, says is, then, the right thing to do. 

If I have power over you, and compel you to do something, if it is a just act then the credit is mine, and not that of yours, the act's doer.  So when a governemnt imposes its will by is police power and the force of law to do an act for a particular end, say, pay a transaction tax to raise money for the promotion of something it believes to be just, then that doer deserves no credit for the justice of the act.  Conversely, should the act be abhorent to the conscience of the actor, even when compelled by the powers that be, then he does have the obligation to question the act, through means available under the current law to challenge the doing of that act, or the compelling of it.  Thnk of the 'Just War' arguments.

Your editorialist is caught in a utopian dreamscape where it is the act that determines the goodness of the doer.  Indeeed, the act is a good act only if the doer, in an exercise of free will, chooses to perform that act.  Yes, there will be a variety of opinions about what is right, just and honorable.  So long s the actor is guided by the principles of his faith, then he is the best judge of the correctness of the act.

In this light, then, compelling the paying of a transaction tax actually becomes an evil act, in that the doer has lost control of the act or any of its outcomes.  Additionally, an economist will tell you that, first, this is a diseconomic act as it will cloud the judgement of the actor based on his perception of the consequence of this (reduced) amount to invest, and second, the actor will not control how his tax will be spent, and third, it removes capital that can be put to good use from the system.  This is not good and is another example of the govermnent picking economic winners and losers.  This is not something government can do with anything other than distortion and skewing of the economic reality.

Please, look before you leap.  There is a diffence between reality (how things truly are) and Perception (how one hopes things are.)

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