WASHINGTON (June 13, 2001) -- The U.S. Catholic bishops endorsed legislation to implement President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal and urged "greater investment of public and private resources in overcoming poverty."
In a letter to Representatives J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Tony P. Hall (D-OH), co-sponsors of the Community Solutions Act of 2001, H.R. 7, Cardinal Roger Mahony expressed support for the proposal because of its "focus on overcoming poverty, and its affirmation of the complementary roles and responsibilities of religious groups, community organizations and government."
In the letter, Cardinal Mahony called the President's proposal and the Watts-Hall legislation "new assets in addressing the most difficult problems in our neighborhoods and communities: persistent poverty, violence, substance abuse, inadequate housing, and obstacles faced by those who are entering the job market."
Cardinal Mahony said that much of the debate over the faith-based and community initiatives proposal "thus far has been polarized and ideological, focused more on old battles over church-state issues and attempts to gain partisan advantage than on new opportunities to reach out to help those pushed to the sidelines of our national economic life."
He added, "more competition over the same or fewer resources is not an answer. Indeed, a commitment to increase federal resources to address the needs of the poor would strengthen the proposal and assist its supporters."
As a "first step towards making more resources available and encouraging expanded public-private partnerships," the Compassion Capital Fund, part of the President's initial proposal, should be included in the legislation, said Cardinal Mahony.
The letter supported in particular two provisions of H.R. 7: first, allowing non-itemizers to claim charitable deductions on their taxes, and second, expanding "charitable choice" to allow religious organizations to participate in government funded programs on the same terms as other groups, without altering their religious character. While the letter acknowledged "the concerns and fears of those who have doubts about stronger ties between religious groups and the federal government," it called the faith-based and community initiatives proposal "a positive and needed recognition of the pluralism of American religious life and the contributions of religious and non-profit community institutions and groups."
Cardinal Mahony pointed out that "we need to remind ourselves why the President's proposal and this legislation are necessary. The simple fact is that our nation leaves too many people without the resources they need to build a life of dignity, without hope for a future of opportunity. Bureaucratic 'business as usual' and the re-fighting of old ideological and partisan battles are not adequate responses to this moral scandal, this national challenge. Clearly, the faith-based and community initiatives proposal and the passage of H.R. 7 will not end the struggle to overcome poverty, but they can play a significant part in advancing it."