This year the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual meeting took place for the first time in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The setting provoked serious discussion among the assembled theologians about the suffering prompted by the current Puerto Rican debt crisis. A day after the meeting ended, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico did not have the authority to allow public utilities in the commonwealth to restructure $20 billion in debt. The only way forward now is a bill, recently passed by the House of Representatives and supported by President Obama, that would allow all U.S. territories to pursue a form of bankruptcy. The bipartisan bill is now before the Senate, where supporters hope it will be passed before a debt payment deadline on July 1.
The House bill includes an amendment, passed by a voice vote, to address poverty among children on the island, which stands at over 50 percent. Child poverty has long been a problem in Puerto Rico, an early symptom of the island’s economic struggles. It is hard to imagine the U.S. government would ignore such persistent poverty levels on the mainland. It is tragic that it required an economic crisis of devastating magnitude to draw attention to the suffering of our fellow citizens.