Last February when the U.S. Catholic bishops wanted to underscore the morality involved in budget priorities, they asked Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire to write members of Congress.
“On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he wrote as chairman of their Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, “we call on Congress to place the needs of the poor, the unemployed, the hungry, and other vulnerable people first in setting priorities in the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution.”
His comments drew strident criticism from numerous Catholics admonishing him and other bishops to steer clear of political involvement and to see their job as saving souls, promoting subsidiarity and avoiding socialism. Eventually, the budget axe did chop fingers and toes, sometimes arms and legs, off the programs championed by the bishops.
Church-going people easily get wrapped in discussions about deficits and debt framed around individualism and entitlements. Many ask: hasn’t individual freedom created the wealth in America? Don’t billionaires and mega-millionaires need tax cuts to create new jobs? Won’t entitlements bankrupt the U.S. in the future? Admitting no simple answers, these types of questions distract from the deeper questions and fuel the wrangle that is polarizing the country.
For people of faith the bishops are right to flag the morality of budget priorities. A budget actually reflects society’s values. It quantifies the importance of what to cut and what to cultivate. But, the bishops’ perspective rests on the common good and the enhancement of community, not simply the enrichment of the individual. In essence, the budget process asks what kind of community we want to promote.
For three decades the U.S. has experienced a redistribution of wealth–upward. Between 1979 and