At a time of staggering poverty, rampant unemployment and growing income inequality, Catholic bishops will gather for a national meeting in Baltimore today and remain largely silent about these profound moral issues. A recent Catholic News Service headline about the meeting — "Bishops' agenda more devoted to internal matters than societal ills" — is a disappointing snapshot for a church that has long been a powerful voice for economic justice.
The U.S. bishops' relative silence contrasts with a recent
Twenty-five years ago this month, Catholic bishops were anything but quiet. They helped drive attention to poor and working families with a landmark pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," that offered a subtle but sober critique of the Reagan administration's embrace of tax cuts for the rich and draconian cuts to government protections for the poor. The bishops spoke not as policymakers but as moral leaders in touch with the needs of the unemployed and concerned about conservative political leaders' efforts to strip workers of basic union rights. As a longtime staff member at the U.S. bishops' conference, I was so proud of the late
Where are the bishops' priorities today? In recent years, church leaders have opposed historic
In recent weeks, the bishops have augmented their campaign against same-sex marriage, appointing a "defense of marriage specialist" to a top position at the U.S. bishops' conference, and challenged the Obama administration to create a stronger exemption for Catholic organizations that oppose insurance coverage of contraception.
These are important issues, properly addressed by the bishops. However, at a time of economic crisis and growing anti-government ideology embodied by the
Most Americans probably don't know that Catholic bishops helped lay the groundwork for the New Deal as far back as 1919, when they advocated for a minimum wage and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. Much of this proud legacy is under threat today from lawmakers, including prominent Catholics like House Speaker
The U.S. bishops deserve credit for their participation in an interfaith coalition defending government safety-net programs that save lives and provide a measure of dignity to the most vulnerable.
A new generation of bishops must find their voice.