Annual Social Ministry Gathering
February 26, 2001
(Preliminary text not for publication or quotation without permission)
I first met Rich Fowler when he was an organizer. This week he is demonstrating one of the rules of organizing never rent a hall you can't fill. Actually, I am impressed with this simulation game where those who arrive late don't get a seat or a meal. It's concrete preparation for our dialogue on globalization on Wednesday.
Last year, some of you may recall this part of the meeting was a Power Point presentation, but the projector is too expensive, and you have to decide what you are going to say ahead of time. So no Power Point for me, but I am improving my computer knowledge in other ways. Now that I have a bathroom with a TV and phone I am beginning to understand what they mean by multi-tasking. You know when you try this "option for the poor" it's not half bad. But Rich, I still can't find the remote for the TV in the bathroom.
Last night was a powerful evening. I was especially touched by Sr. Pat Davis' tribute to Sr. Margaret Cafferty as she accepted the award in her name. Margaret became close to our family when she came to Washington to lead LCWR spending Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter with us. She always made chocolate mousse for desert.
I remember one Christmas when I suggested Margaret not just come for dinner, but get the whole family Christmas experience. She came over on Christmas Eve before Mass just in time to see one of our sons throw a shoe and hit the aquarium, which cracked and then shattered, spilling fish and dirty water all over the floor. Margaret took command of the ugly cleanup and threw the towels and rags into the washer.
As we left for Mass I turned on the washing machine. Mass was not a great liturgical experience, but the kids re-enacted the Nativity and we sang all the carols.
We returned home to find out that the turkey defrosting for Christmas Dinner was left in the sink blocking the drain where the washing machine emptied. We found another couple of inches of water washing over the floor. "At least it's clean," Margaret declared looking for something positive as we dealt with the second flood of the evening.
After our traditional hors d'oeuvres contest on Christmas Eve and opening a few presents, we sent most of the kids to bed and prepared Margaret for the ultimate family Christmas experience being Santa Claus. We carted gifts for four kids, removed prices, assembled toys, inserted batteries and filled stockings. Then we settled in for the real challenge of the evening putting together a doll house with "working lights."
By now it's very late and we're still recovering from the floods, and we were putting tab A into tab B erecting walls, roof, chimney, and placing these special lights.
As we finished up, my oldest son arrived home, took a look and said,"Shouldn't the chandelier really come down from the ceiling, not up from the floor?" At that point Margaret stood up and said, "I wanted to be a sister since high school, and after tonight I've never been more convinced that I made the right choice to be a religious. I'm going home. Your are on your own, Santa Claus."
She came back the next day for Christmas dinner and oohed and ahhed over to the dollhouse. She brought her chocolate mousse and we loved it and loved her.
At her funeral, I said to her sister Ellen, "Margaret so loved chocolate mousse, do you have her recipe?" Oh, she said she hated chocolate, she just knew your family loved it. We still make the recipe almost every holiday, and we remember Margaret so fondly.
Last night was very special in lots of ways. My wife Linda and my daughter Kelly came to hear Sr. Helen. Kelly has become something of an anti-death penalty advocate and her Bishop McNamara High School ethics class is visiting a prison in Baltimore today. As I recalled this story last night, I remembered it was Kelly's doll house we were assembling. As I said, last night brought back lots of memories.
I had another thought last evening as I was listening to Sr. Helen's remarkable witness on her journey, the book, the movie and the opera which spread her message of life. I was moved and changed. Then I had an immodest thought maybe I should write a book and wait for the movie and other offers just like "Dead Man Walking".
I already have a working title "Fat Man Talking." We'll see what develops. It may need some work, but it has potential. When I shared this idea with Linda and Kelly, I asked who would play me in the movie. I was thinking of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. They suggested Rob Reiner or Tim Conway.
Who Would Have Thought
We have a new administration and new Congress, but Washington is still a funny place. Who would have thought you could be nominated as Secretary of labor:
- if you opposed the minimum wage and family leave legislation
- if you are Hispanic and oppose bilingual education
- if you are a beneficiary of affirmative action, but oppose it for others.
Who would have thought that an FBI counter-intelligence agent would turn out to be spying for the Russians instead of catching Russian spies.
Who would have thought that the President's faith-based initiative would bring together in opposition Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition and Barry Lynn of America's United for the Separation of Church and State; Marvin Olasky, a fundamentalist advocate for Christian compassion, opponent of welfare and harsh critic of Catholic Charities and the ACLU; and Terry Scanlon of Capital Research who has made a career out of attacking CCHD. And who would have thought that President Bush would appoint to head the effort an Italian-American Catholic academic. As today's Post reports, he is on record opposing the welfare reform bill, mandatory minimum sentencing and capital punishment and promptly got in big trouble by pointing out that repeal of the estate tax would undermine the Bush Administration's efforts to increase charitable giving to the poor. (You'll get a chance to hear him for yourself on Wednesday.)
Who would have thought that the people most likely to spend time with our new President would be the Catholic Bishops and the Kennedy family. At one meeting with a select group of Catholic bishops and other leaders, the White House mistakenly piped the hour of private discussion into the White House press room. This is where the President shared his threat to name his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, ambassador to Chad. It's worth noting that this interest in the views of the bishops seems relatively recent. Nonetheless, we welcome and are grateful for these opportunities to share our concerns and hopes. This impressive outreach to the Catholic community gives us new opportunities and responsibilities.
You come to Washington at a time of enormous transition. New executive leadership, new committee chairs, shifts in key structures and new leaders in key posts and that's just the Bishops' Conference and the Archdiocese of Washington. We have new leaders Msgr. Fay is our new General Secretary, Sr. Lourdes Sheehan, RSM is a now in charge of public policy. We will shortly have a new name the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Law is now chair of our International Policy Committee, joining Cardinal Mahony who chairs our Domestic Policy Committee. I hope you'll meet Kathleen Curran (Policy Advisor on Health and Welfare), and Fran Horner (Policy Advisor on International Economic issues). We have a new Archbishop and Cardinal here in Washington, but he's an old friend and great leader in the Church's social ministry. Cardinal McCarrick will celebrate our Ash Wednesday liturgy.
There are lots of other changes in this town. Every branch of government is now led by Republicans in the White House by a vote of the Supreme Court, in the Senate by the vote of the Vice President and in the House by a few votes. As one person put it our nation seemed evenly, but not deeply divided, but that was before a month of re-counts and court cases in Florida, before the Ashcroft hearings and vote, before the dismal dimensions of the Clinton farewell became clear.
Sadly, much of Washington is already focused on the next election for control of the Congress in 2002 and for the White House in 2004. This is not our focus. We come to a new Congress and new Administration with an old mission to speak for the voiceless, to defend the needy, to build community, to protect the earth and to build peace. We bring to these new leaders an old message the moral measure of our society is how " the least among us" are fairing. We come to this Capital City to help build the new politics our bishops called for in Faithful Citizenship. This new politics is focused:
- more on moral principles, than the latest polls
- more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the rich and powerful
- more on the search for the common good than the demands of the special interests.
- Almost a fifth of our children growing up poor in the richest nation on earth is a scandal.
- 30,000 children around the world dying every day from hunger and its consequences is a scandal.
- 40 million Americans without health coverage is a scandal.
- The fact that the U.S. ranks first in weapons sales and at the bottom among industrialized countries in development assistance is a scandal.
- The reality that we ignore religious and other repression in China and sanction the people of Cuba is a scandal.
- The discovery of innocent people on death row and the imminent return to the federal death penalty is a scandal.
- And the fact that our nation continues to destroy a million unborn children every year is a fundamental scandal.
Washington is full of people who believe they know what's going to happen and they are usually wrong. When we met a year ago, Al Gore (you remember him) had convincingly defeated Bill Bradley and George W. Bush and John McCain were slugging it out in the primaries. The conventional wisdom was that Gore riding a good economy would defeat an inexperienced Texas Governor trying to unite a divided Republican party. It was assumed Gore would destroy Bush in the debates and cruise to victory. The conventional wisdom was that George W. wasn't even the smartest governor in his own family. So much for conventional wisdom.
In the aftermath of a divided election, a polarizing series of recounts and court cases about Florida, a gracious concession by Gore and a disappearing act by Bush, the conventional wisdom was that we would watch:
- A rough transition for the Bush team hampered by too little time and too much division in the nation.
- An uncertain beginning for an inexperienced team and a President with more reliance on his father's friends than his own ideas and capacity. The joke in Washington was that given Vice President Cheney's prominent role and health history, Bush would be the first President to only be a heartbeat away from real power.
- And a new longing for the skills and intelligence of our outgoing President, whose misconduct was overcome by his economic achievements and political skills.
It was said Clinton was blessed by his enemies Saddam Hussein, Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr, Dan Burton. George W. has been blessed by his predecessor's final days. The Clintons have turned a bit of campaign rhetoric Bush's promise "to restore dignity and honor to the White House" to a fervent national hope.
The Clintons after searching so long found their legacy not impeachment or peace in the Middle East, not ending welfare as we know it or NAFTA plea bargains, but conspicuous consumption and what looks like old fashioned pay for pardons. The Clintons may have ended the entitlement for poor families, but he has given new meaning to the word "entitlement" as they left office with stories about silverware, furniture, book deals, luxurious new homes, $150,000 speeches and golf at exclusive country clubs. The only constituency they did not disappoint was the abortion lobby.
In fairness, it's worth noting that this kind of hypocrisy is not just a Clinton phenomenon. Recall the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich. You remember him. As speaker of the House, he condemned Clinton's infidelity as he imitated it with a Congressional staffer, and had his own sweetheart book deal. Hypocrisy knows no party or ideology. But it doesn't build faith in our leaders or confidence in our institutions.
The new conventional wisdom is beginning to focus on Bush's capacity and competence as they point to the verbal misstatements of the new President and his brief response to policy questions. For example, in his meeting with Catholic leaders on his faith-based initiative it was reported that, Bush spoke of his high regard for "the men and women of the Catholic hierarchy" which caused some of the Archbishops to raise their eyebrows and women in the room to smile.
Here again, I think the smugness of the conventional wisdom is likely to be proven wrong. The last President the elite thought this was dumb was Ronald Reagan and we are still living with the consequences and legacy of his leadership which changed both politics and policy in fundamental ways.
I hope the reflections I offer this morning are not just more of that discredited conventional wisdom. I hope to talk about the political context for our work, outline our mission and message to Capitol Hill and suggest some challenges we face in ways that get us thinking and talking a little differently over the next few days.
In some ways, these thoughts may not be politically or ecclesially correct. It won't include funny stories about my kids with our oldest graduating from college and the youngest graduating from eight grade this spring, they're no longer cute and the stories aren't as funny as they used to be. This morning I come without a lot of stories or jokes (many of you have heard mine before some of you have stolen them). Rather, I hope to start a conversation on how we can look at our continuing responsibility and opportunities with new eyes in a new century.
This is not the talk I would give to the Knights of Columbus or even a parish or education group where the partisan and ideological temptations might be a little different. In dealing with this new environment we need to be clear about who we are, the context we face and who we are trying to persuade.
The Political Context
When you go to Capitol Hill, you may find Democrats in disarray. Crowded out by the controversies about Clinton pardons, furniture and office space, they seem to have lost their way. They opposed, but did not filibuster the Ashcroft nomination because of his views which they called "out of the mainstream." They focused on his opposition to abortion on demand and support for school vouchers. His positions on federal judges and desegregation were also at issue, but it seemed that support for abortion on demand is now a litmus test for too many Democrats. Remember when Democrats used to tell us not to be single issue.
In lots of ways, Democrats seem to have also lost their soul. When was the last time a Democratic leader talked about the minimum wage on the Sunday morning talk show. They have agreed to a major tax cut, but have yet to embrace our goal of a refundable children's tax cut which would lift millions out of poverty.
The new chair of the Democratic party is not a mayor or civil rights leader Maynard Jackson lost the race to a campaign fundraiser, Clinton buddy, and the Clinton's mortgage financier. He may be a wonderful person, but his selection is the clearest evidence that the Democratic party is now mostly about raising money.
The Democrats haven't found much to agree on recently, but when the story came out on the tense meeting where Al Gore blamed Bill Clinton's misconduct for his defeat and Clinton blamed Gore's lackluster campaign and ever-changing persona and policies, Democrats agreed with both. How could they lose both Tennessee and Arkansas? But Democrats are tempted to refight Florida or who lost 2000 rather than focusing on the future.
The costs of Clinton have been severe for the Democratic party. He may have survived impeachment and left with high job performance ratings, but in his eight years the Democrats lost the House and Senate, lost a majority of governorships and state legislatures. Democrats have raised a lot more money, but lost a lot of support. Triangulation may have been good for Bill Clinton and Dick Morris, but it's been a political disaster for the Democratic party. Now their leaders don't go on TV, because they don't want to answer questions about Clinton pardons, relatives, furniture or office space .
Given the divisions in the nation and the Congress, if anything is to happen it will require bi-partisan cooperation and significant consensus. Bush may have to compromise but with who and on what. Democratic disarray is important because it may leave Bush without a need to compromise if he doesn't want to, and without a partner for compromise if he does. When will the Democrats start talking about poor families and a refundable child credit? Will they and the Republicans make sure the poor aren't left out as the surplus is allocated?
On the other hand, Congressional Republicans seem both confident and confused. They are in charge, but many don't know what their "compassionate conservative" agenda may be. At one level, it's traditional a tax cut which substantially benefits the wealthy. At another level, it's confusing more money for an Education Department Republicans promised to kill. More money for health research. New support of Americorps which Republicans sought to eliminate. Gone are the anti-immigrant positions of Pete Wilson.
Right now, the most unhappy people in Washington are business lobbyists who have failed to include a capital gains tax cut in the Administration tax plan, defense lobbyists who sought a major infusion of funds before a serious defense review and the "Religious Right" who sought a faith-based initiative on their own terms. There is a terrible temptation for Congressional Republicans to just keep kicking Clinton around a task for which the American people have demonstrated very limited interest.
I sense many Catholics have turned away from Democratic party which has been their home and heritage for several reasons. There are serious challenges for the Bush Administration and the Republicans.
- They expect real progress on protection for the unborn. Lip service and symbolic actions are not enough. We lived through Reagan and the first Bush Administration where other priorities took precedence and Roe vs Wade was further entrenched. We expect the President's bully pulpit and the solicitor general's office to be used to reverse the regime of abortion on demand in a nation where most people oppose most abortions for most purposes. For example, there are certainly those in this new Administration who are more determined to hurt organized labor than help the unborn, just as there were those in the Clinton Administration who were more committed to abortion rights than universal health care. Sorting out priorities will be interesting.
- They expect real action to free children from failing schools. There may be a legitimate debate about school choice across the nation. But the debate in our inner cities should be over. Not a single member of Congress would put up with what passes for public education in many poor communities. Imagine the three parents in DC who were called to report their children were blowing up used condoms as balloons on the school playground. The principal said don't blame us, it could happen in any public school in DC. Consider the gap between achievement and costs, between Catholic schools and public schools in our cities. In DC, I can tell you if these kids were white, there would be a revolution. Will the Bush Administration fight for them as much as for the tax cut?
- Many Catholic Bush voters believed the campaign pledges of compassionate conservatism, abandoning the demonizing of immigrants, pulling back from dramatic cuts in domestic programs and a real priority to overcome poverty. A faith based initiative is welcome, but not a substitute for investments in health care and child care, housing and job training.
And if this Administration wants to be really pro-life, it could search for a way to deny Tim McVeigh what he apparently wants execution by a government he hates in a circus atmosphere. We asked President Clinton to impose a moratorium, he simply approved a delay turning these decisions over to a Governor who has presided over more executions than any other.
A key question is how will "compassionate conservatism" play out? Will "compassion" be mostly rhetoric and symbols, while "conservatism" dominates policy priorities or the other way around?
The budget speech tomorrow will tell us a lot and outline the work ahead. Some may not like to hear this, but I am more impressed by what George Bush seems to be doing to his party than what Bill Clinton did to his. We'll see how all this plays out.
When you go to Capitol Hill a lot of the questions and conversation will be about the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative. That is not our primary or pre-eminent focus. We believe how poor people fare in the tax debate, the reshaping of foreign aid and the follow-through on debt relief are as important as this initiative. It is a proposal, not legislation; a series of structures not yet a set of policies. Nonetheless, this initiative represents an extension of the dialogue on religion and politics, faith and poverty which had a significant role in the campaign and public discourse. Some of it has been shrill and shallow, some enlightening and encouraging, but this discussion is important for our nation, for our religious communities and for poor families. And we have a lot to contribute to such a dialogue because of what we believe and what we do everyday.
When politicians start talking like preachers, and when preachers start acting like politicians, we all get a little nervous. So there is a natural skepticism about these kind of proposals. There is also a temptation to cynicism for a couple of reasons:
- The Catholic community is not new to religious work to overcome poverty or public-private or publicfaith-based partnerships. There's a temptation to respond "welcome to the struggle we've been at it awhile" or "who died and put you in charge?" Our friend Fr. Joe Hacala had a similar role at HUD in the last Administration.
- The second reason for skepticism is history. We lived through the Reagan years when they tried to insist religious groups would take up the slack for massive cuts in human needs programs and that would be better for the poor and for the Church. We were stretched to the breaking point. We also experienced the "1000 points of light initiative" under the first President Bush which offered more slogan than substance, more poetry than policy or program. We've also lived through Clinton's use and abuse of religious language and symbols for political purposes and to deflect accountability for his own misconduct. So there is reason for caution.
- The initiative has the right purpose to help people leave poverty. The President's Inaugural Address and several statements since then have suggested addressing poverty will be a priority of this Administration. It is refreshing to hear a leader talk about the urgency of eliminating poverty, instead of bragging about how many people have been bumped off the welfare roles. We're now debating how we can work together to overcome so many poor people in such a rich nation. That in itself is a step forward. A Republican friend of mine said it took Clinton seven years to talk about poverty, it took Bush seven days. That ignores the Clinton investments in EITC, and talk can be cheap, but the new dialogue on poverty is a big improvement over the posturing on welfare reform.
- The leaders of the initiative specifically repudiate the Reagan strategy of replacing government with religious charity. They say this is about building up the role of community and faith-based groups, not tearing down government or minimizing its role. There is no suggestion that faith-based groups can substitute for government investment in health care, housing, child care, etc. This reflects the experience of my Republican mother who started a pro-life pregnancy center in our hometown. She knew her efforts were significant, but they couldn't provide health care, housing and food on an ongoing basis. AFDC, Medicaid, and Food Stamps were not the source of all evil, but lifelines to women and children in need.
- The leaders of this effort are serious and knowledgeable people, not simply ideologues. They have come to their commitment to faith-based and community initiatives based on experience and research. John DiIulio's journey from smash mouth criminologist to rejecting harsh sentencing, capital punishment and the welfare bill is reported in today's Post. We know John DiIulio as an advisor for the Criminal Justice document, which Sr. Helen praised last night. He rejects the platitudes about religious groups replacing government responsibility, but has been a part of faith-based and community initiatives that have made a difference in the poorest communities.
- How to recognize and empower faith-based groups without making them merely extensions of government or bound by excessive regulations?
- How to insure that in providing social services the dignity of those in need is respected? As Cardinal Hickey often said, we serve the hungry and homeless not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.
- How to respect and preserve the ethical and religious integrity of the faith-based groups as they carry out efforts which advance the common good and serve a public purpose?
- How to insure that the prophetic role of religious institutions is not compromised or diminished by ties to the federal government? It's worth acknowledging, however, that private donors sometimes can also have an inhibiting effect on prophetic action.
- How to build on current and past partnerships between religious and public institutions that respect the responsibilities and limitations of both?
But Cardinal Mahony also suggested that business as usual in some cases rich and poor is not working. As our pastors and colleagues in the toughest communities would tell us that often simply secular social work is not enough. On the toughest problems and in the toughest communities, we know that changing hearts is the key to changing behavior.
Some insist the only measure of progress is new dollars. We need new investments in child care, low income housing and transportation, and we are fighting for them, but we also need new ideas and new partners and allies in the struggle to overcome poverty.
There is a reason why urban community organizing is now almost exclusively congregation-based. Parishes, churches and parochial schools are often the only viable institutions left in our toughest neighborhoods. With all due respect, there are not a lot of ACLU chapters or People for the American Way groups in poor neighborhoods. Bureaucratic business as usual is not working in a lot of tough places and with families facing the toughest problems in raising kids.
We cannot accept the false choices that deny the links between personal and broader social responsibility, between economic and moral pressures, between changes in the human heart and social behavior. We believe in the power of faith and the importance of competence. We insist we can treat people with greater dignity, respect, and effectiveness because of who we are and what we believe about the human person. A Congress which prays every day can sort through these challenges. Rev. Gene Rivers, who we've heard at past meetings, says the biggest problem is not who says prayers when, but who can make a difference on the most difficult problems in the most difficult communities.
There are dangers and opportunities for us in this debate. If we simply embrace the status-quo, we can come across as beneficiaries of an existing system that recognizes and rewards our own efforts, but is not open to the roles of others it should cause us to pause when determined adversaries of parental choice in education hold us up as the poster-children of how to do social service in opposition to this effort.
We have a lot of wisdom and experience to offer to this vital dialogue. We should not refuse to offer it because of cynicism or partisanship. The test of this initiative will be not whether Bush gains, but whether poverty declines and poor families find more hope and opportunity.
We all know from own lives and families that faith can make a difference in difficult situations. It makes us less selfish, more caring; it helps us avoid evil and overcome our weaknesses. Finding legitimate appropriate and legal ways to harness the power of faith to help people overcome the most difficult challenges is a worthy task for a pluralistic nation.
Message to Take to the Hill
We go to Capitol Hill tomorrow not to talk about faith-based initiatives, but to make the case for several priorities:
You go as citizens.
You bring your ideas about right and wrong, moral principles on life, justice and peacemaking.
You go as experts bringing names and faces, not just numbers and theories.
You go as voices for those who cannot speak, for people in poverty, on death row, in the poorest nations on earth.
Our message is simple. We come to a new Congress and new Administration with an old question how are we to treat "the least among us" in our nation and world? At a time of budget surplus and significant prosperity, the moral measure of our society must be how we care for the weak and neglected. The test for this Congress is how its choices touch the life and dignity of all, especially voiceless and vulnerable.
These priorities are not our entire agenda. We are working for affordable and accessible health care, greater help for farmers and farmworkers, greater welcome for immigrants, but there are areas where we think we can make a difference now:
Assist low income families: Congress is about to decide on the dimensions and beneficiaries of a major tax cut. The Administration has proposed doubling the Child Tax Credit from $500 to $1000, which we support. However, unless the credit is "refundable" it will offer no help to the families of over 16 million children (11.5 million of whom are in working families). With a growing surplus, it would be inexcusable to leave out the poorest families and children in America. Therefore we support a Refundable Child Tax Credit which would help lift millions of children out of poverty.
In addition, we support efforts to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) so that it provides additional help to 2.1 million low and moderate income working families with three or more children.
We also believe a long overdue increase in the Minimum Wage is another vital step in offering low income workers a share in our country's economic growth. These measures would help our nation "leave no child behind."
Oppose the Death Penalty: There is a growing concern among Americans about our increasing reliance on the death penalty and how it is applied. We strongly support The Innocence Protection Act as an effort to address some of the most serious problems in capital cases. While the Catholic position is clear ending the death penalty we believe that measures such as these will dramatically reduce the number of people sentenced to death and are a step toward greater justice in our land.
The more people learn about the death penalty, the less likely they are going to believe it answers our problems and more likely they are to come to see how it diminishes all of us. Who are we going to listen to Tim McVeigh who wants to die as a victim of the government he hated in a circus atmosphere or Bud Welch, the Oklahoma Texaco dealer who lost his daughter and says killing Tim McVeigh won't bring his daughter back.
On Foreign Aid we need to make the case that now there is:
too little aid overall
too little aid focused on development
too little aid going to the people most in need
We need to keep the focus on poverty alleviation and the follow-up to our remarkable and surprising victory on third world debt
We need to carry the message of the Cuban bishops that the sanctions help Castro and hurt the Cuban people.
As we go to Capitol Hill we go as leaders of a community of faith not another interest group. We bring our moral principles and everyday experience, our presence in every community in America and our ties to communities faith around the world.
But we need to continue to build our capacity and constituency. Our social teaching has never been stronger. Pope John Paul II has been a prophetic voice on solidarity and capital punishment, on the obligation of rich countries and the problems of sanctions for poor people.
I was in more than 50 dioceses in 2000. There is not just an openness, there is a hunger for clear sense of mission, especially social mission, among pastors and parishioners, educators and catechists. We need to continue to integrate our social mission more deeply in parish life, in our schools and religious education programs, our seminaries and formation efforts.
We have the great advantage of being a church with local communities and universal ties. These are the essentials of real solidarity. Rooted in local communities, our faith calls us to serve and stand with those in our midst and those half a world away.
We need to take seriously the challenge of diversity and the lessons of Encuentro. We cannot be the "offices of white liberal Catholics." We have to reflect and serve a diverse Church. How we do our work and who does this work must change. Look around the room and you see the challenge. Who's missing?
We face other challenges. There are signs of a passion deficit. We know the teaching, but we may be losing our sense of outrage. There is temptation to turn inward, but that's not who we are or why we exist. The Jubilee has given us a new focus on "mission." And a church more focused on mission is ready for what we offer ways to share and act on the social dimensions of the gospel and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
Relationships matter. E-mails and faxes are no substitute for real relationships with pastors and parishioners, with public officials and legislative staff. That's what our visits are about building relationships. And this is why we come together to build a stronger, broader constituency for life, justice and peace.
In our public responsibilities, our task remains the same. Whatever the Administration, whoever controls Congress, whatever the political winds of the moment, we are called in the words of our bishops to be political without being partisan. The question for us is not which party gains, but how the weak are touched. We must work across party lines. We cannot be chaplain to any administration or cheerleader for any party, but a community of faith sharing our convictions and experience.
We must be principled, but not ideological. We don't make it up as we go along. The Catholic Church has been called a lot of things, but we have never been called trendy:
- We won't abandon the unborn because they are politically incorrect.
- We won't forget about women and children in poverty because Congress passed a welfare reform bill.
- We won't turn our backs on immigrants and refugees because they don't vote.
- We won't abandon children in lousy schools because powerful forces oppose parental choice.
- We do not believe that killing those who kill others will teach us that killing is wrong. We oppose the death penalty because of how it diminishes all of us.
We need to be civil without being soft. We need to make our case clearly, but not impugn motives. We must persuade, not condemn. Our experience in serving those in need can change hearts and minds, where our arguments have a hard time getting a hearing. Name calling is an act of frustration, not a strategy. Relationships are our goal. Now is the time for building bridges.
We need to be engaged, without being used. We need the relationships we are building today. A handshake and a conversation are better than a phone number or e-mail address, but photo ops are not a substitute for policies which protect human life and dignity.
We are in this together. All of us.
- National Conference of Catholic Bishops
- Catholic Charities USA
- Catholic Relief Services
- Catholic Health Association
- Catholic Campaign for Human Development
- National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities
- National Catholic Rural Life Conference
- National Council of for Catholic Women
In the end, we should work together with political leaders where possible, offer constructive criticism where necessary to shape better policies, and become principled opposition when required by fundamental values.
We know we can make a difference because we have made a difference in the past. We are a better Church and a better nation because of days like today and people like you. We can be better still because of the visits you make today.
Let me give you an example of how we have made a difference. We faced the horrible reality that the poorest people in poorest nations were literally dying of debt. Their countries were spending more on repaying debt from past dictators than on education, health care and housing.
In the spirit of Jubilee, Pope John Paul II and many others called for relief of debt. This seemed impossible. We had visible support, but no powerful allies. It was an issue not easy to understand. We convened high level conferences. We worked with Jubilee 2000, Bread for the World and many others. You wrote letters and made visits. We worked with Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. We made debt relief a moral issue and the US forgave it's debts to the poorest nations and invested unprecedented resources in global debt relief.
When we bring together our ideas and experience, our convictions and presence, our voices and votes, we can make a difference for the least of these.
And in the end we return to the way we began this morning in our prayer. Hear again the words of Isaiah 58:6-12
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: Releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry; sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. Your vindication shall go before you.
We don't base our work on Bush or Gore, Republican or Democrat. No matter who wins what election, we must be both faithful and effective in carrying forward our mission and message. For it is not any government that calls us to stand with the weak, speak for the voiceless, pursue peace, and secure justice, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.