I have just received a copy of a letter (text below) sent by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, to all of the bishops in the U.S. that calls their attention to the newly released census data on poverty. Archbishop Dolan writes that the numbers are so shocking that the Administrative Committee wanted to do more than simply issue a statement, and decided that a direct, and specific call from Dolan to his brother bishops might better galvanize bishops, priests and laity to demand that our political and economic leaders address these issues of poverty.
It is heartening to see the USCCB recognize that the Church's stance on poverty is every bit as critical as its stance on other issues. And, it is very encouraging to see Archbishop Dolan writing with such passion about this issue.
Here is the full text of the letter:
September 15, 2011
Dear Brother Bishops,
The Administrative Committee urged me to write you on an important matter for our Church and nation. During our recent meeting, it was reported that 46 million people (15%) now live in poverty in the United States. This report follows dismal unemployment figures in recent months. For us as bishops, these numbers are not statistics, but people suffering and wounded in their human dignity. They are parents who cannot feed their children, families that have lost their homes and jobless workers who have lost not only income, but also a sense of their place in society. For us, each of these persons is a child of God with innate human dignity and rights that deserve respect. These numbers bring home to us the human costs and moral consequences of a broken economy that cannot fully utilize the talents, energy and work of all our people. We know the terrible toll the current economic turmoil is taking on families and communities. In our own Catholic dioceses we are struggling to match scarce resources with growing needs and have had to make very difficult financial, personnel and organizational choices.
We discussed how best to respond to this urgent pastoral challenge. The Administrative Committee wanted something more than a public statement. Instead, they asked me to write to all the bishops and ask you to continue do all you can to lift up the human, moral and spiritual dimensions of the ongoing economic crisis. Widespread unemployment, underemployment and pervasive poverty are diminishing human lives, undermining human dignity, and hurting children and families. I hope we can use our opportunities as pastors, teachers, and leaders to focus public attention and priority on the scandal of so much poverty and so many without work in our society. In order to assist you in these ongoing efforts, the Administrative Committee has asked the bishops' conference to provide you, diocesan staffs and other leaders with resources and materials for preaching, educating the faithful and advocating on behalf of the poor and jobless. You can already find some materials that can be helpful in these tasks on the "Unemployment and Poverty" page of the USCCB website. This page will be updated periodically and additional resources will be available shortly. Please share with the bishops' conference your own statements, resources or actions that you have taken to address these issues (please email or fax to 202-541-3339).
The best way out of poverty is to work at a living wage. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, 'Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering' (Caritas in Veritate, no. 25). The common good will not advance; economic security will not be achieved; and individual initiative will be weakened when so many live without the dignity of work and bear the crushing burden of poverty. These economic failures have fundamental institutional and systemic elements that have either been ignored or made worse by political and economic behaviors, which have undermined trust and confidence. However, this is not time to make excuses or place blame. It is a time for everyone to accept their own personal and institutional responsibility to help create jobs and to overcome poverty, each in accord with their own abilities and opportunities. Individuals and families, faith-based and community groups, businesses and labor, government at every level, all must work together and find effective ways to promote the common good in national and economic life.
Sixteen million of our children (almost one out of four) are growing up poor. It is especially disheartening that African-Americans and Hispanics live with unemployment and poverty at far higher rates than others. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and unfair treatment. These realities contradict our national pledge of "liberty and justice for all." They also contradict the consistent teaching of our Church. Our Catholic tradition begins with respect for the life and dignity of all, requires a priority concern for poor and vulnerable people, reflects the ties and bonds of solidarity, respects the mutual relationships of subsidiarity, and promotes the dignity of work and protection for workers.
As bishops, we lead communities that include many of those who lack sufficient work or resources to live a decent life. Every day, we serve 'the least of these' in our midst. In our Catholic parishes, schools, charities, hospitals and other ministries, the poor, the underemployed and the unemployed are not issues, but people with names and faces. It is an essential part of our work as Catholics to build a more just society and economy. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate the young, welcome refugees and care for the sick and vulnerable. Our Church serves and stands in solidarity with those who are poor and jobless, helping them break the cycle of poverty and act on behalf of their own families and communities. Our Conference will continue to urge our leaders to assist and protect the poor and jobless as they seek to promote economic growth and fiscal responsibility. The Catholic community will strengthen our work with others to address the economic, family, social and other factors which contribute to widespread poverty.
In these tough economic times, we turn to the God who loves us. We pray for those who need work. We lift up the poor and suffering. We ask God's guidance for our nation. This is not a time to give into discouragement. It is a time for faith, hope and love. Faith offers us moral principles to guide us in the days ahead. Christian hope gives us strength. Christ's love calls us to care for those left behind in this broken economy.
Thank you my brothers for your pastoral leadership in preaching the Gospel and standing strong for the Church's moral and social teaching in these difficult days.
Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops