By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Campaign for Human Development Feb. 20 honored Msgr. Neil A. Connolly for his decades of community organizing to empower people in New York City's impoverished neighborhoods.
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the bishops' CCHD committee, presented Msgr. Connolly with the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award, given annually to someone who exemplifies the campaign's goal of helping people raise themselves out of poverty.
Msgr. Connolly, ordained in 1958, began his community organizing work shortly after he started his first assignment as an associate pastor at St. Athanasius Parish in the south Bronx.
He said he found himself fighting bureaucracies as an advocate for people in need of city and state services but quickly realized something more was needed.
"It was frustrating being an advocate," he said. "As an advocate, I could help people with specific problems, but they would eventually have to make their own case on a different issue, so it made sense to organize people to make changes in the system."
Organizing, he said, involves "getting people to identify the levers of power and then being able to work them."
He and other members of the Bronx Clergy Coalition began organizing tenants in poorly maintained buildings.
In the 1970s -- a time when the south Bronx became a national symbol of all the problems of urban blight -- then-Father Connolly and others founded the South Bronx People for Change to address problems of drug abuse, subway-station safety, abandoned buildings, rampant arson and price gouging in local food markets. CCHD gave the group a $100,000 grant to advance its work.
As New York archdiocesan vicar for the south Bronx in the late 1970s and early '80s, Father Connolly was deeply involved in promoting community organizing and economic development in Bronx neighborhoods.
"The south Bronx had to be rebuilt, and since people were part of the problem they needed to be part of the solution," Msgr. Connolly said. "They had to know that they were capable of working together to change things for the common good."
Made a monsignor in 1995, Msgr. Connolly is currently pastor of St. Mary's Parish on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he has founded Lower Manhattan Together to involve local residents in neighborhood issues such as housing, education, traffic and parks.
George Horton, New York archdiocesan director of social and community development, said Msgr. Connolly "is able to touch the lives of many different people in a faith-filled way that makes the world a better place and brings Catholic social teaching alive."
Father Robert J. Vitillo, who recently left his position as CCHD executive director to take up a post in Switzerland for the Vatican's Caritas Internationalis, an umbrella agency for Catholic Charities and aid organizations around the world, returned to Washington for the award ceremony and related meetings of national Catholic social action organizations. He said Msgr. Connolly "exemplifies how the development of people and their subsequent growth in power, self-esteem and the confidence to change oppressive conditions is central to the work of the church."
The award is named after the late Presentation Sister Margaret Cafferty, former executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who was nationally known for her community organizing abilities and passion for social justice.
CCHD is supported by an annual collection in the nation's Catholic parishes. Since its inception in 1970 it has distributed more than $270 million in grants to support self-help efforts among lower-income people across the country.
By Jerry Filteau Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the last presidential election, "the very pillars on which the Democratic Party was built came undone," political commentator Mark Shields said at a national gathering of Catholic social ministry leaders.
The gathering's closing luncheon Feb. 23 featured talks by Shields, a syndicated columnist, PBS commentator on "News Hour" and host of CNN's "Capitol Gang," and by David Brooks, his fellow "News Hour" commentator and a New York Times columnist.
Both criticized political leadership in both parties.
Brooks said the Democratic Party today is "dominated by an educated-class, upper-middle-class sensibility" and "has lost touch with the values of some of the people who are now voting Republican."
Among white working-class voters, President George W. Bush beat Democratic candidate John F. Kerry by 23 percentage points, he said. "The white working class was the core of the Democratic Party. Getting them back will be a challenge."
He said two dominant issues facing the country in the next four years will be poverty and "the decadence of government."
On the poverty issue he cited the falloff in upward social mobility in recent years and warned that educational inequality will make things worse.
In the affluent Maryland suburb where he lives, the average score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is 1,300, which is in the 90th percentile, he said. "If you go north 50 miles and get to rural Maryland, the average SAT score is 800, and if you go south seven miles to D.C., the average SAT score is 800. I'm sorry, but that's an inequality and we haven't even addressed that educational inequality."
He added, however, "To me the biggest problem facing the country right now is the decadence of the government. This is a government that has programmed spending almost out of control."
He said spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security now take up 65 percent of the budget, "up 20 points from 10 years ago," leaving less and less for anything else.
Shields blamed poor political leadership for a declining sense of civic and political responsibility in the country.
"Over the last generation, political conservatives have successfully privatized the American economy while political liberals have successfully privatized the American culture," he said.
The result, he said, is that "America's political language today has been impoverished," focusing only on individual rights and "ignoring any mention of civic duty or what, if anything, we owe to each other."
Shields offered two quotes, asking the group to think "how alien they seem to our ears" in the political climate of 2005:
-- "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and cannot exist if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much higher consideration."
-- "The test of our progress is not whether we have added more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we have provided enough to those who have too little."
He said the first was from President Abraham Lincoln and the second from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"The very fact that the words of Lincoln and Roosevelt seem out of the mainstream, seem almost radical, excessively liberal in 2005, is a sad indictment of the political condition of our country," he said.
He added that Lincoln and Roosevelt were wartime presidents who asked for and received generous sacrifices from the American people.
In America today, while enlisted men and women are sacrificing their lives in Iraq, "asking the most fortunate and advantaged Americans to sacrifice basically nothing at all is the order of the day -- other than patriotically accepting one more tax cut," he said.
"The conservative political agenda becomes one (thing): to cut taxes and then cut again," he said. "The liberal political agenda becomes an absolute pro-choice position, with unprecedented support for abortion rights."
Shields said it is important for liberals to pay attention to the important role of religion and religious leadership in American life, as evidenced, for example, by the key role religious leadership played in the country's great social movements to abolish slavery and establish civil rights for all.
"At the same time, I say to my good friends on the conservative side of the aisle that public policy dictates that life begins at conception, but it does not end at birth. I think too often those on the right, when forced to choose between funding women's and infants' care, Head Start, a living wage, or choosing annual tax cuts for those of us who do not need them for our own survival, choose tax cuts every time," he said.
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- NBC News Washington bureau chief and "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert said America's principal task is to make a better world for its young people.
"If there's an issue that Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals can agree on, it's our kids," Russert said Feb. 22 in an address at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, co-sponsored by five agencies of the U.S. bishops' conference and nine national Catholic organizations.
With "15 million kids largely living off the streets" and 12 youths shot dead daily in the United States, addressing the issue is imperative, Russert said.
"Who are our children? How do we get into their hearts and minds," Russert asked, "to get them to see the value of our values?"
In dealing with his own son, Luke, Russert added that he tells him, "You are always, always loved, but you are never entitled."
Russert, a Catholic, listed "schools that are worth attending" at the top of a long list of priorities aimed at improving the lives of America's young. He ended the list with "a little bit of tough love."
In his remarks, Russert spoke often of the tough love sent his way by his father and teachers at his parish grade school and Jesuit high school in his home town of Buffalo, N.Y.
He said Sister Mary Lucille, Russert's seventh-grade teacher at St. Bonaventure Grade School, summoned him one day to the front of the classroom and told him, "Timothy, we need an alternative vehicle to channel your excessive energy." That led her to start a school newspaper for which he wrote. "That's when I learned to love writing," Russert said.
The newspaper's second issue was published November 1963, after President John Kennedy was assassinated. Copies were sent to Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline, and to his successor as president, Lyndon B. Johnson. "We got letters back" from both of them, Russert said, sounding still amazed by it. "We were amazed at the power of a little newspaper."
Russert's father, known to Americans as "Big Russ" from the best-selling book "Big Russ and Me," worked two full-time jobs to provide for his family. One of them was driving a truck; Big Russ often made deliveries to Canisius High School "on the other side of town," Russert recalled. "His dream was to someday go through the front door, and finally he did -- on the day I graduated."
But Russert recalled the day when, as a new freshman at Canisius, he was bemoaning to his parents a dressing-down he had just received from Jesuit Father John Sturm. Instead of eliciting sympathy, Russert said his father told him, "You're grounded for two weeks."
Through his education at St. Bonaventure and Canisius, Russert said, he was "taught to read and write, but also to know the difference between right and wrong."
Even in the high-profile world of television, Russert said, "you do not have to leave your value system, your faith, at the front door. You bring who you are to whatever table you sit at."
In introducing Russert, Mercy Sister Lourdes Sheehan, an associate general secretary of the U.S. bishops' conference, said, "Amazingly, he got John McCain and Hillary Clinton to admit that the other would make a good president," referring to the Republican senator from Arizona and the Democratic senator from New York, respectively.
She also lauded Russert as "an example of what our faith calls us to be: the salt of the earth, a light to the world, a leaven for our society."
Although Russert took no questions from the audience after his remarks, he did accept a blessing from them, led by Msgr. Ray East, director of the Office of Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington.
By Agostino Bono Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Haiti's problems are more social than political, said Deacon Patrick Moynihan, who runs a school for poor children in Haiti.
It does not matter to a child that his or her lack of education is the result of a right-wing or left-wing government, said Deacon Moynihan.
"The politicians change but the problems are still the same," he said Feb. 21 at a workshop on Caribbean issues during the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
Deacon Moynihan is president of the Haitian Project, a Catholic aid program based in Providence, R.I., that supports education projects in Haiti. He is also director of Louverture Cleary School in Haiti, which is supported by the project.
Another Haitian expert said the battles among Haiti's political elites are for power and not about improving the lives of people.
"When elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled," said Bob Maguire, director of the Haiti Program at Trinity University in Washington.
Even politicians pledged to carry out reforms are transformed into political elephants, he said. Maguire cited Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the president who was forced to flee Haiti in early 2004 because of an armed revolt.
Aristide, an ex-priest, came from outside the traditional political structures and had a popular base, said Maguire.
"He had a good message but was a bad messenger," said Maguire.
"He became one of the elephants" as he struggled to maintain power, he said.
Both speakers noted that unemployment and illiteracy are major problems in the Caribbean nation.
The Haitian Project's Web site on the Internet says that 80 percent of the population lacks basic reading and writing skills and more than 1 million children have no access to primary school education.
Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries. Its 7.6 million inhabitants have an annual per capita income of $1,600. Life expectancy is 50 years for men and 53 for women. About 30,000 people a year die from AIDS.
Haiti is ruled by an internationally supported interim government that came to power after Aristide left. Elections for a new government are scheduled for November.
Maguire predicted that the country will remain unstable as it moves toward national elections. U.S. policy on Haiti has been primarily motivated by opposition to Aristide and efforts to keep him from returning to power, he said.
The United States supports the upcoming elections, he said.
But U.S. policy-makers are more concerned about Haitian migration to the United States and Haiti being a drug-trafficking stepping stone to the United States than they are about helping the country develop, Maguire said.
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Donna M. Hanson of Spokane, Wash., a leader for 40 years in Catholic social work, called for an end to sexism in the church as she received the Harry A. Fagan Roundtable Award Feb. 19 for her contributions to Catholic Charities and social justice locally, nationally and internationally.
The award was presented in Washington during the annual meeting of the Roundtable, the national association of diocesan social action directors.
In her talk Hanson asked her fellow social action leaders "for your help in assuring that sexism join racism as the insidious evils that must be eradicated from our church and our world."
Born and raised in Paducah, Ky., Hanson earned after college a master's degree in social work from Jesuit-run St. Louis University in 1964 and has worked with Catholic Charities since then. She has worked for the Spokane Diocese since 1974, as associate director of Catholic Charities, 1974-78, and as secretary for Catholic Charities and diocesan social ministries since 1978.
As chairwoman of the U.S. bishops' National Advisory Council in 1987, she addressed Pope John Paul II on behalf of the laity during his visit to San Francisco that fall. She described U.S. Catholic laity as "among the best educated and most highly theologically trained in the world" and asked the pope to help make the church more inclusive and collaborative.
Hanson attended the 1995 U.N. World Conference on the Concerns of Women as a representative of Caritas Internationalis and afterward was a founder and first chairwoman of a coalition of U.S. Catholic organizations formed to follow up on the pope's preconference pledge that the church's 300,000 social, health and educational institutions around the world would take up "a concerted and priority strategy directed to girls and young women, especially the poorest."
She is North American regional coordinator of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican's umbrella agency for more than 100 national charity and aid agencies around the world. She has served in a number of other national and international posts including the board of directors of the International Catholic Child Bureau in North America and the national advisory council of Catholic Relief Services.
In her talk Hanson said women are discriminated against because "the constant that remains in ours and in the majority of cultures in the world is the assumption that women are going to be cared for by the men around them."
As an example of the lack of full participation of women in the church, Hanson drew from her experiences with Caritas Internationalis. Studies have shown that 85 percent of Catholic charities' staff around the world are women, she said, but when she attends general assemblies of Caritas Internationalis in Rome, practically all the participants are men.
When she was making living arrangements for the U.S. delegation in 2003, she said, the men in the delegation were allowed to stay at the North American College next door to the meeting site, but the women "did not meet the policy requirement" and had to suffer the added expense and inconvenience of securing hotel accommodations far from the meeting, even though the seminarians at the college were away on summer break.
Speaking of the "network of women and men dedicated to Gospel values" in the Caritas Internationalis family, Hanson said she believes that through that network "we can achieve our dream -- the dream that one day half of us will be judged, not by our sex, but by our ability to contribute to building the kingdom of God."
In a letter to the Roundtable, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane said that in Hanson's 26 years as director "a remarkable growth and expansion of Catholic Charities and social ministries has taken place."
He said she oversaw the development of senior housing, housing for vulnerable families and a variety of other ministries including the recently dedicated St. Margaret's Shelter for homeless women and their children and the new House of Charity providing emergency shelter to transients.
The Fagan award is named after the late Harry A. Fagan, a Catholic community activist from Cleveland who co-founded the National Pastoral Life Center in New York. He helped found The Roundtable in 1984 and staffed it until shortly before his death in 1992.
By Agostino Bono Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- African-American and Hispanic Catholics need a more institutionalized voice in the church's social ministry, said several officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"We have to find ways to get all voices around the table. We can't afford to have some persons outside and some persons in," said Beverly Carroll, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for African-American Catholics.
The legislative agenda is filled with major issues of importance to African-Americans and Hispanics such as Social Security, public education and health care, she said.
Carroll and officials of the USCCB's Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs spoke Feb. 21 at a breakfast attended by about 150 diocesan officials involved in African-American and Hispanic ministry. The breakfast was part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering held in Washington.
In developing local strategies for greater involvement, "we need to reinvent ourselves" and find different ways to collaborate because the economic downturn in many dioceses means there is less money for ministry, said Ronaldo Cruz, executive director of the Hispanic affairs secretariat.
Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, associate director of the Hispanic affairs secretariat, said structures need to be created at all levels of the church "to strengthen and facilitate" the voice of African-Americans and Hispanics in social ministry decision-making.
"Now, a lot depends on our personal relationship with social justice ministers. But these are not permanent. The person leaves and the relationship is gone," said Aguilera-Titus.
He told the diocesan officials to make efforts to get African-Americans and Hispanics on diocesan advisory boards.
Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the church. Statistics distributed by the Hispanic affairs secretariat at the breakfast said that there are 26 million Hispanic Catholics in the United States, about 40 percent of the entire Catholic population.
Other data show that almost 21 percent of U.S. parishes have a majority Hispanic population; 4,000 U.S. parishes have a Hispanic ministry program; there are 2,900 Hispanic priests in the United States, 500 of them born in the United States; and there are about two dozen active Hispanic bishops.
There are 3 million African-American Catholics, according to figures prepared by the African-American secretariat. According to other statistics, there are: 798 African-American parishes; 14 African-American bishops; 250 African-American priests; and 66 diocesan offices for African-American ministry.
By Agostino Bono Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Mexican government is unlikely to stem illegal migration to the United States because emigrants are a major source of foreign income, said an official of the Mexican bishops' conference.
Remittances from Mexicans in the United States totaled $16.6 billion in 2004 and was the second largest source of foreign revenue, said Father Antonio Sandoval, executive secretary of the Mexican bishops' secretariat for social ministry.
Only oil sales abroad topped remittances as an income producer, said Father Sandoval Feb. 21 at a migration workshop during the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering held in Washington.
Mexico and the United States are far from reaching an agreement on Mexican emigration, he said, citing U.S. security concerns since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a main cause of the stalemate.
A good way to prevent illegal immigration to the United States would be "to overcome the discrepancies in the U.S. and Mexican economies," he said.
"If the economy changes, immigration patterns change," said the priest.
Mexican emigration is economically motivated as Mexico has made only modest progress in improving the economy in recent years, he said.
Many Mexican rural communities rely on remittances from the United States and without them many families could not keep up their tradition of working the land because small- and medium-size farms have become unprofitable, he said.
Most Mexican emigrants are 18-30 years old, he said. Three out of four live in rural areas and many have a family member already in the United States, said Father Sandoval.
In rural Mexico "migration is now part of the culture," he said. "Growing up means getting ready to migrate."
Many families encourage their youths to migrate, he added.
Young people are also motivated by the affluent lifestyle they see and read about in the media -- a lifestyle not available to them in rural Mexico, he said.
Mexico's economy is no deterrent to emigration, he said.
"The economic situation has not improved except for a few (people). It has degenerated for most," Father Sandoval said.
The top 10 percent of the Mexican population receives 36 percent of the national income annually while the bottom 60 percent receives 27 percent, he said.
Mexico created 400,000 new jobs in 2004 but this was not enough to make up for the jobs lost over the past three years, the priest said.
Mexico needs an economic policy that creates low-skilled jobs, he said.
At the same workshop, Mary DeLorey, strategic issues adviser for Catholic Relief Services, said that a rising number of Latin Americans are being excluded from their national economies, increasing migration flows across borders throughout the region.
Latin Americans are not just migrating to the United States, but also to Europe and Asia, she said.
Border areas throughout Latin America are facing the same problems seen along the U.S.-Mexican border, said DeLorey. These include militarization of border regions and abuses against immigrants, she said.
Along the U.S.-Mexican border there has been an increase in organized smuggling of people and a rise in human trafficking for forced labor and to feed the sex trade, DeLorey said.
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Addressing a national gathering of about 100 diocesan social action leaders, a religion researcher said Feb. 19 that the divisive polarization long felt in the U.S. Catholic community reached a new peak in the 2004 election season.
A "more ominous" element of the election-year divisions, said William A. Dinges, a professor of religious studies at The Catholic University of America and a member of the university's Life Cycle Institute, was the "vitriolic and escalating" rhetoric and "uncivil behavior, characterized by confrontation, harassment and attempts at intimidation."
He said much of this was fueled by a relatively small number of groups and individual Catholics who sought to get the entire Catholic community to make the election hinge on the issues of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, but the polarization itself runs deep across the Catholic community.
"This is hardly a faith community in dialogue with itself. This is a church at war with itself. This is a church in the posture of a circular firing squad," he said.
Dinges delivered the main address at the annual meeting of the Roundtable, a national association of diocesan directors of social action and justice and peace offices. He based his comments on in-depth phone interviews with 20 diocesan directors after the elections, coupled with research on American Catholicism he and colleagues at the Life Cycle Institute have been conducting over the years.
He said the degree of Catholic polarization in the months before the election varied from one region to another and one diocese to another, but "everyone reported some polarization" and several people he interviewed said they had never before seen it that intense.
When social action directors tried to teach or speak about the U.S. bishops' most recent statement on political responsibility, "Faithful Citizenship," he said, they reported that they were repeatedly challenged by "a few who were very vocal and relentless ... ideologically motivated and situated more often than not on the right wing of Catholicism."
The bishops' document, issued more than a year before the election, discussed political responsibility on a wide range of issues, from abortion to the death penalty, from war and international economic policy to domestic policies affecting workers, families, children, immigrants, the poor, the elderly and other members of society.
Dinges said the church has experienced polarization "across a broad spectrum of interests" since the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago, as different factions in the church have sought to control or influence its agenda and future directions.
"Now, 40 years from the great drama of Vatican II, our church manifests a healthy pluralism, a greater lay responsibility in its life and mission and a heightened social justice agenda," he said. "However, our church also has a weakened and more diffused institutional identity, we are in the midst of a very serious leadership crisis and a serious problem with regard to polarization.
"We have a 'blue faith,' if you will, and a 'red faith' as much as a community of faith," he added, drawing on the customary use of blue and red to distinguish between Democrats and Republicans, respectively. "In significant ways our church remains a house divided against itself as interest groups, ideological factions and in some cases individual Catholics compete to control the narrative of the Second Vatican Council, to act as a de facto magisterium (teaching authority), to fill or exploit leadership voids and to define Catholicism on their own terms or in terms of single-issue politics."
He said his talk focused on Catholic groups of the right because it was from there, not the center or the left, that the social action leaders experienced opposition and contentious challenge during the election campaign.
"The issue is not a matter of Catholics simply holding different positions or trying to control the political or ecclesial conversation, or even advocating a particular single-issue agenda," he said, "but doing so in self-righteous, authoritarian, exclusionary and really in fundamentalistlike ways that create the impression that if one does not think and act as some individuals or groups do then you are not a 'real' Catholic. As one of the Web sites of one of these groups has it, 'You're a Judas, just undermining doctrine and spirituality.'"
Dinges said the polarization among Catholics "mirrors polarization in our country at large, along with the general climate of rancor and incivility, coarseness, recrimination and name-calling" found in much political and social debate.
For American Christians in general, including Catholics, because of interfaith marriage and a variety of other factors, "Christian identity has grown more generic," leading to a "restructuring of American religion," he said.
The result, he said, is that "for many people today in American society, the significant marker of faith is not primarily or essentially denominational identity. ... It is much more significant to know where an individual falls on the left-right continuum. That is far more predictive of where people are going to be in terms of belief and behavior."
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Predatory mortgage loans should be looked at as a moral issue, according to David Wiley of the Center for Responsible Lending.
He said the predatory nature of some home loans lies less in their interest rate -- which, at 8 percent to 15 percent, is generally higher than that of the typical mortgage -- and more in the loans' related fees, which themselves tend to range from 10 percent to 15 percent.
The fees, Wiley said, are so onerous that borrowers are "locked into paying bad loans" and too often lose their house -- and their credit rating.
Wiley, of the center's Washington staff, spoke during a Feb. 21 program on funding and discrimination in low-income housing. The session was part of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, co-sponsored by five departments and offices of the U.S. bishops' conference and nine national Catholic organizations.
Many predatory loans are made to "subprime" borrowers, according to Aracely Panameno, an outreach associate with the Center for Responsible Lending. These borrowers tend to have some blemishes on their credit record.
While subprime loans have higher interest rates than prime loans, predatory loans, which tend to be house refinancing loans, steer the borrower to a more expensive loan with high fees and interest, Panameno said. They also strip home equity from the borrower, and lenders do not take into account the borrower's ability to repay.
About 75 percent of subprime loans in 2001-02 were for refinancing, Panameno added, and the amount of subprime lending last year was pegged at $530 billion, 63 percent above the $332 billion figure for 2003.
Panameno said the elimination of predatory lending is "our moral calling," pointing to Psalm 15, which outlines the kind of person who will be in God's favor. "(He) who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent," it says in part. "He who does these things shall never be disturbed."
A 2002 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study showed that blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to get loans for refinancing their homes from subprime lenders. For black borrowers, 45.8 percent of all loans were subprime. For Hispanic borrowers, 23.9 percent of loans were subprime, compared to 16.5 percent of loans to white borrowers.
Another study in 2002 done by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that non-Hispanic white households had a median net worth of $88,651, more than 10 times that of Hispanic and non-Hispanic black households. "Much of that is built into home equity," Panameno said.
North Carolina, where the Center for Responsible Lending has its headquarters, passed a law banning predatory lending practices. In the first five quarters after the law took full effect, the increase in the number of loans for home purchases in North Carolina was "in line" with neighboring states, Wiley said, and was twice the national average.
The Prohibit Predatory Lending Act, a federal version of the North Carolina measure, was introduced in Congress by Reps. Brad Miller, D-N.C., and Mel Watt, D-N.C. A second bill, the Responsible Lending Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, is less favored by the Center for Responsible Lending, as the center sees it rolling back existing federal and state protections if enacted. Currently, 30 states have some form of anti-predatory lending law.
Predatory lending does not exist solely with mortgage loans, Wiley said. It can also be found in auto loans, check cashing and payday-advance loans, and tax refund anticipation loans. "There are plenty of ways the lending industry has taken advantage of low-income borrowers," he said.
By Agostino Bono Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Polarization within the church and U.S. political life is hindering Catholic efforts to influence public policy on social justice and pro-life issues, said a top U.S. bishops' social justice official.
Contemporary political and ideological choices seem to be forcing Catholics to pick between social justice concerns and the pro-life issue, said John Carr, secretary of the U.S. bishops' Department of Social Development and World Peace.
"Catholics really wrestled with what it meant to be Catholic and American, a believer and a voter" in the 2004 national elections, said Carr Feb. 21 to 500 diocesan officials involved in social ministry.
"Times are tough for us," he said. "I'm for justice and I'm for life."
"We're white-water rafting," Carr continued. "We're being pushed along by some powerful political, social, cultural and moral currents. To get where we want to go, we have to know what the currents are and where the rocks are."
Carr, speaking during the Feb. 18-23 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, criticized the way both major political parties courted Catholics in 2004.
"Catholic voters were in the middle of this campaign. We were up for grabs," he said.
Yet the campaign was marked more by personal attacks than by debates on issues and the morality used was selective, he said.
"Washington has got religion" but politicians are more interested in winning than in promoting values or understanding the role of faith in a democracy, Carr said.
He criticized "the intolerance of the Democratic Party for pro-life voices."
President George W. Bush campaigned about "compassionate conservatism" but "lost his voice" once elected, he said.
"In the State of the Union message, the poor were the missing in action," Carr said.
Both parties "are in denial" about the Iraqi war and the budget deficit, he added.
The faith-based initiative promoted by Bush, although a good idea because it shows a connection between faith and politics, is doomed to failure, he said.
"It's being done in by the hostility of the Democrats to faith and the indifference of Republicans because it would spend money on the poor," he said.
Republicans want to redo Social Security and make tax cuts permanent and all the Democrats offer is a combative stance of "just say 'no,'" he said.
Carr warned that this political polarization is seeping into the church.
"It's less about theology than ideology. It's less about faith than politics," he said.
Some people are trying to divide the hierarchy into "good bishops and bad bishops," he said.
"Resist polarization," Carr urged his listeners. "We can divide up the work, but we can't divide the church."
Whether Catholics consider themselves "conservatives" or "progressives," the "consistent life ethic doesn't give anyone a free pass" when it comes to promoting human life and dignity, he said.
"The culture of life is much more than signing the partial-birth abortion ban. It is about health care for pregnant mothers. It is about hunger at home and abroad, about war and peace," he said.
"These involve prudential judgments, but they are not marginal or optional matters for Catholics," said Carr.
"Catholic progressives should be measured by how they stand up for human life," he said, adding that "Catholic conservatives should be measured by how they stand up for human dignity."
"We can't have the pro-lifers over there, us over here and the African-Americans and Hispanics feeling left out," he said.
The clergy sex abuse scandal has made the church's public policy tasks more difficult because it has eroded credibility and siphoned off huge amounts of money, he said.
Carr mentioned public awareness campaigns being developed by offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities is working on a campaign regarding judicial nominees because there is a lot at stake on issues such as abortion, human rights and the death penalty, he said.
The campaign is not about taking a position on nominees but about discussing principles, he said.
Those who support keeping abortion legal consider anyone who questions an unlimited right to abortion an "extremist," Carr said.
Other USCCB campaigns include immigration reform, world trade issues, debt relief and greater funding for HIV/AIDS programs, he said.
By Nancy Frazier O'Brien Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A leading figure in Catholic health care called on Catholic social activists Feb. 21 to insist that the upcoming debate over President George W. Bush's budget for fiscal 2006 be framed not as a discussion about financial matters but as a debate about values.
"We must call this what it is -- a values debate, about the choices we are making as a country," said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who chairs the boards of Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Fla., and the Catholic Health Association.
She was addressing a general session of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, sponsored by 14 Catholic organizations.
As proposed, the president's $2.58 trillion budget would cause "severe cuts" in domestic discretionary spending programs for 2006, while preserving tax cuts for the very rich, Sister Keehan said.
"What sacrifices are the rich being made to give in this budget?" she asked.
She said the $50 billion targeted for tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans nearly equals the annual budget of the Department of Education and exceeds the yearly spending of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Although domestic spending on programs such as welfare and Medicaid is often blamed for the nation's budget deficit, Sister Keehan said, tax cuts represent 40 percent of the growth in the deficit, while increased defense spending brought about 37 percent of the rise.
Zeroing in on the issue of health care, the Daughter of Charity cited statistics showing that the health care spending of those with private health insurance has been outpacing increases in Medicaid costs per person.
"We are not spending on Medicaid patients what we spend on ourselves," she said.
She drew sustained applause when she criticized cuts in health care coverage for poor pregnant women.
"How can we say we are pro-life and leave people without maternity coverage?" Sister Keehan asked. "We can't talk about being pro-life if we don't offer health care for these women."
She cited as a "sign of hope" the formation of a group of key players in the health care reform debate who have been meeting monthly since October, with their dialogue facilitated by Search for Common Ground and the Meridian Institute.
Sister Keehan asked for prayers for these "groups that have killed each other's proposals" for health care reform in the past, including health care providers, associations, think tanks, states, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, businesses and unions.
At a workshop later that day, Cindy Mann of the Georgetown Health Policy Institute in Washington said that, although much remains to be determined about the effects of the president's budget proposal on Medicaid spending, the possibility exists that not only will there be no progress toward greater health coverage of the poor "but we may go backward."
She called for efforts to "put the issue of the uninsured back on the moral radar screen" in the United States.
Kathy Curran, a policy adviser on health matters in the U.S. bishops' Office of Domestic Social Development, said the bishops are preparing to launch a campaign based on the message that "in the wealthiest of nations it is unacceptable that so many people do not have access to affordable health care."
The goal, she said, is to "mobilize the Catholic community as a first step toward mobilizing the American population."
"We want to help our fellow Catholics to find their voice on this issue," Curran added.
About 45 million Americans -- including more than 8 million children -- were without health insurance in 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Pam Smith, senior director of government relations for the Catholic Health Association, said that although everyone agrees that is "too high a number" there is no "sense of urgency" on Capitol Hill to resolve the issue.
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Five years ago, "the country was actually awash in budget surpluses," recalled Martha Coven, a senior legislative associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Back then, the federal focus was on what to do with the surplus, she said, and ideas included paying down the national debt and shoring up the country's Medicaid and Social Security obligations. In 2005, with "not only deficits, but deficits as far as the eye can see," Coven said, "now we're talking about dismantling Social Security."
Coven was one of the featured speakers at a policy briefing on budget and housing issues held Feb. 21 during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which ran through Feb. 23.
What happened between then and now? "Fully half of the things that Congress did that had price tags attached to them were the tax cuts," Coven said. Much of the rest came in "a pretty substantial increase in defense and homeland security upgrades," she added, while the third most expensive item on the list was last year's Medicaid drug bill.
President George W. Bush has set a goal of cutting the deficit in half over the next five years. In trying to tackle the deficit, lawmakers and the White House proclaim that Iraq, defense and homeland security are "off the table" and not a topic for discussion.
None of the domestic programs targeted for cuts or elimination in the proposed fiscal year 2006 budget "contributed to the deficits we have today," Coven said. She added that the savings projected by cutting domestic programs is roughly the same as the cost for a new round of tax cuts intended as investment incentives.
White House budget forecasts predict that the federal budget deficit will go down more in the next five years than with the fiscal 2006 proposals, and the White House wants to make permanent the temporary tax cuts that are scheduled to end in 2010, according to Douglas Rice, director of housing and community development policy for Catholic Charities USA.
Rice said the proposed budget would eliminate community development block grant money, which had a $5 billion budget last year, as well as 17 other programs with $700 million in funding, and fold them into a new Commerce Department initiative that would get only $3.7 billion.
"The Commerce Department has no experience in community development. Their expertise is in economic development," Rice said.
Also at risk is federal money for the Section 8 housing voucher program, which allows 2 million poor households to combine their own money with federal funds to find affordable housing. Bush "would issue Section 8 (money) as a block grant," Rice said. "It's not hard to imagine that it would lead to the loss of assistance for hundreds of thousands of families across the country."
To illustrate the impact of the Section 8 changes, Rice talked about the Archdiocese of Chicago's efforts to develop housing for homeless military veterans who have extremely low incomes.
"Even with the nine or 10 different sources of funding that they've rustled up, it would be impossible to operate these facilities without the Section 8 vouchers," he said. "They could still go to veterans, but they would have to be much better off financially."
Another example Rice gave was transitional housing for low-income families 25 miles east of Washington; the chief breadwinner in those households earns $7-$8 an hour, he said. Right now, he said, people have to live in the transitional housing for about 20 months because the waiting list is so long for receiving a Section 8 voucher to get permanent housing.
Targeting domestic programs for spending cuts is like "shifting deck chairs on the Titanic," Coven said. "If we don't cut Medicaid, we'll have to cut something else even more substantially."
She added, "By focusing only on preserving housing money in the coming budget, somebody else is going to be here next year, and telling you about their program they love that's going to be cut."
By Patricia Zapor Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the world's bishops at the Second Vatican Council issued their document on social responsibility, "Gaudium et Spes," 40 years ago, they charted a course that changed not only the way the church relates to the world's needy but empowers people to change their own lives, recalled the outgoing director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Father Robert Vitillo, recently named special adviser on HIV and AIDS for Caritas Internationalis, traced the changes in Catholic social ministry in the decades since "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, at the Feb. 20 opening session of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
The session also included brief reflections on how church-based social programs in the Tennessee mountains, in war-torn El Salvador and in New York City have helped change those places.
Before "Gaudium et Spes," Father Vitillo said, "social consciousness was present in the pre-Vatican II church, but for the most part our vision of this ministry was limited to handouts for those families 'unfortunate' enough to require public or church-based 'welfare.'"
Sensitivity to the plight of the needy in other parts of the world was manifested in ways such as the Friday morning collection in Catholic schools for the "pagan" babies and "starving" children in China, Father Vitillo reminded the audience of nearly 600 people involved in various types of church-based social programs.
The world beyond the local church "was plagued by disintegration, hostility and little sensitivity to the poor and vulnerable," he said. "Military and political blocs of power continued on what seemed to be an unstoppable race to nuclear destruction. ... Our own land was still fractured by racism and segregation. ... Sinful economic and social structures seemed impossible to overcome and spilled over into violence on the streets of several cities during the latter part of the 1960s."
In this environment, Father Vitillo said, newly elected Pope John XXIII outlined three objectives for his pontificate and the universal church -- "truth, unity and peace" -- and "indicated that these should be advanced in a spirit of charity."
When "Gaudium et Spes" was issued on Dec. 7, 1965, he explained, the bishops were unusually concrete, a departure from their more typical "list of carefully detailed, but rather abstract theological principles."
After a fairly specific social analysis, the bishops urged respect for "the fundamental rights of the person," condemned every type of discrimination and called for mutual enlightenment "through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good," he said, quoting the document.
"They bemoaned the fact that 'at the very time when the development of economic life could mitigate social inequalities ... it is often made to embitter them; or, in some places, it even results in a decline of the social status of the underprivileged and in contempt for the poor."
Enthused and empowered by "Gaudium et Spes," Father Vitillo said, bishops, clergy, religious and laity of the United States "carried the banner of Vatican II not just into our church pews but also in the streets and barrios of daily life."
The U.S. bishops issued pastoral letters on the economy and on war and peace that shaped church and national policy, he recalled.
In his own pastoral work as a priest in the early 1970s, Father Vitillo said, he saw Catholic Charities programs remade.
"No longer was the work of charity to be summed up in emergency assistance and family counseling," he said. The agency took up advocacy for just social policies and legislation, and convened people at parish, diocesan and national levels with the goal of humanizing and transforming the social order, he added.
Catholic Relief Services and its international partners moved beyond an exclusive mission of emergency relief to development-oriented interaction with people, Father Vitillo said, treating those who benefit from their work as "partners," rather than "recipients."
Maria Julia Hernandez, director of Tutela Legal, described how the human rights office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador helped investigate human rights abuses during El Salvador's civil war. The office founded in 1982 grew out of Archbishop Oscar Romero's concern that the church should be helping bring justice to his country's poor. Archbishop Romero was murdered in 1980 after calling upon the country's military to put an end to repression.
Corrupt police and judges meant that sometimes the work of Tutela Legal was itself dangerous, she said.
Hernandez said the people of the United States, and the Catholic Church in particular, have helped Salvadorans through their religious, moral, economic and political support.
Another speaker, Maureen O'Connell, director of Save Our Cumberland Mountains, credited CCHD's financial and moral support with enabling the Tennessee grass-roots organization to succeed on a wide variety of initiatives.
CCHD funding in 1975 helped the organization win battles to protect communities from the problems of strip mining; it was the group's first major effort. Since then, she said, the organization has helped enact state laws to protect small landowners' rights, to keep toxic waste dumps and landfills out of sensitive areas and to hold anti-racism training.
Another witness to the effects of "Gaudium et Spes," Msgr. Neil A. Connolly, pastor of St. Mary Parish in New York, was honored with CCHD's Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award.
In accepting the honor, he said it was the "people on the street" in New York who taught him and others trying to do social service about what their true needs were and how to address them.
The annual meeting is co-sponsored by 14 national organizations, including: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Social Development and World Peace, its Migration and Refugee Services, its secretariats for African-American Catholics and Hispanic Affairs, and CCHD; Roundtable, an association of diocesan social action directors; the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; the National Council of Catholic Women; National Catholic Rural Life Conference; Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Relief Services; National Catholic Partnership on Disability; Catholic Health Association; and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If warmer climates prevail within the United States in the 21st century, ordinarily that would mean good news for farmers.
Warmer temperatures generally translate into greater yields per acre, according to Michael McCracken, president of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences. However, "if you're on the margins right now, you're going to be even more marginated" if trends toward consolidation via corporate farming also continue, McCracken added.
Another example McCracken gave of the mixed benefit warmer weather brings was forest growth. Warmer temperatures mean that trees will grow more quickly, he said, but those higher temperatures also mean moisture will evaporate to be dispersed elsewhere, resulting in more numerous and intense forest fires.
McCracken was one of several speakers who addressed climate change issues during a Feb. 19 meeting of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Washington. The rural life organization was one of 14 co-sponsors of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Capitol Hill, which was to end Feb. 23.
The climate of the Earth has been getting warmer since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, McCracken said, but the warming has increased at a faster pace since the late 20th century. He said scientists compare today's air to air trapped in ice samples for clues to its composition that signal warmer temperatures.
Before lawmakers and society will address global warming, "do we want absence of uncertainty," McCracken asked, as to its effects on development and economic growth. Lesser levels of certainty, such as "beyond a reasonable doubt," "clear and convincing evidence" and "preponderance of evidence," he said, ought to spur action on the issue.
"The lawyers tell me 'preponderance' means 51 percent," McCracken said, adding that much public policy is adopted with even less certainty it will result in the desired outcome.
"This is ultimately a moral issue" more than an economic or a political issue, Walter Grazer, director of the environmental justice program for the U.S. bishops' Department of Social Development and World Peace, said about climate change. But "the debate has not been of the highest caliber," he added.
The Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which the United States signed but never ratified, took effect Feb. 16, after Russia ratified the treaty, Grazer said, adding it will prompt the United States to take action regardless of its displeasure with the document. "No pun intended, but the heat is on the United States. You're going to see much more international effort. ... The G-8 meeting (of the leading industrialized nations) in July could be a potential turning point," he said.
The Group of Eight, or G-8, includes leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia.
Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, a foreign policy adviser to the U.S. bishops and associate editor of the national Catholic magazine America, noted that in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, "Centesimus Annus," the pontiff called for "sacrifice by the developed nations for the sake of the Third World nations."
Developed countries, he said, "will have to pay (to solve global warming) given their current and historic contributions to the problem, as well as their ability to pay." He suggested that a new look at taxes on higher income and corporations would be merited.
Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs for the National Council of Churches, said strategy must be carefully considered when advocating for policy initiatives to slow or halt the spread of greenhouse-gas emissions.
"We don't lobby," Carmichael said, "we do public witness" ranging from congressional visits to congregational education, which could include putting information on climate change in church bulletins. "Some of our members (of Congress) won't meet with environmentalists, but they will meet with church members," she added. "So we've been a fly in the ointment a bit. They know that we're there."