WASHINGTON (April 24, 1997) -- Foreign assistance is more than a budgetary matter, it is a moral obligation, a representative for the United States Catholic Conference told members of a congressional subcommittee today, urging a reversal of the pattern of declining U.S. aid.
Father J. Bryan Hehir, former director of the USCC's Office of International Justice and Peace, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on behalf of the USCC and Catholic Relief Services, the Bishops' international relief agency. He told the panel that the principles of human dignity, the common good, and solidarity among people -- the bedrock of Catholic social teaching -- can and should extend "beyond religious communities and organizations" and inform U.S. foreign policy.
"Foreign assistance must be seen as a part of a broader policy of measures to reduce poverty and assist growth and development," Father Hehir said, recommending seven elements of development policy for the United States:
- Human rights. "The protection and promotion of human rights (political-civil and socio-economic) is one of the fundamental elements of a moral conception of development policy," Father Hehir said. U.S. military aid should be conditioned on human rights criteria as well as a nation's democratization. "Human rights policy should respect the most basic human rights, especially the right to live, throughout the spectrum of human life. The USCC and CRS therefore favor reinstatement of the "Mexico City" policy barring population assistance to organizations which perform abortion as a method of family planning."
- Peace and democracy. Support for democratization is tied to support for a multidimensional effort to move from war to peace in several key countries, including countries in the Middle East, Central America, and Southern Africa. "To succeed, these efforts demand U.S. financial support and diplomatic assistance they were promised," Father Hehir said.
- Trade. While some argue "trade versus aid," the two are related, according to Father Hehir. "Development policy without a substantial component of fostering trade is defective; development policy without aid as an essential element fails to address the needs of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world today."
- Debt relief. "Foreign assistance without attention to debt relief simply gives with one hand and takes with the other," Father Hehir testified. "We urge the international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to expand eligibility for debt relief to the full range of heavily indebted poor countries, to provide more substantial debt relief than currently projected, and to short the time frame for debt relief."
- Multilateral assistance. Father Hehir urged the subcommittee to recommend full funding for U.S. commitments, including the payment of arrears, to the International Development Association, the loan fund of the World Bank designated for the world's poorest countries.
- Bilateral assistance. "From orphanages in West Africa to Mother Teresa's work in India and Ethiopia, CRS has had to discontinue programs and other activities in support of mothers and children" due to recent cuts in U.S. bilateral assistance, according to Father Hehir. He urged full funding of President Clinton's request for bilateral assistance. In the area of migration and refugee assistance, he urged an increase in the number of refugees admitted to the United States to pre-1995 levels of 100,000-110,000 from the current level of about 75,000. "We urge that you allocate at least $700 million for Migration and Refugee Assistance and $100 million for Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance."
- U.S. Support for the United Nations. Father Hehir called for support of the President's request for funding to fulfill U.S. obligations to the U.N., including old debts.
"It is both possible and necessary to affirm the indispensable role the United Nations plays as well as call for reform of how it plays that role. The Holy See has differed with UN policy in specific instances, but never eroded its fundamental support for this institution,"
Father Hehir said, calling for payment of U.S. arrears to the UN; support for UN peacekeeping activities; support for funding of international organizations and programs, and in particular, increasing the contribution to the UN Development Program to $100 million and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to $20 million; and cessation of funding for the UN Fund for Population Activities so long as it supports China's coercive family planning and abortion programs.
Father Hehir noted that the foreign aid program had two stated goals during the Cold War -- a response to poverty and as an instrument in the battle against communism. In the absence of the second goal, which guaranteed funding for foreign aid, he said the United States should not lose sight of the humanitarian component.
"There now exists the possibility of establishing a truly moral rationale for U.S. foreign assistance," he said, "one directed by clear purpose and sufficient means to meet basic human needs among the world's poorest people."
Coinciding with Fr. Hehir's testimony, a letter outlining the Catholic Church's foreign assistance concerns was sent this week to members of the House and Senate Subcommittees on Foreign Operations and the chairmen of the two chambers' Appropriations Committees. The letter, signed by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark (NJ), chairman of the USCC's International Policy Committee, and Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola (FL), chairman of Catholic Relief Services, urges the highest possible levels of funding for development and humanitarian assistance.