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Is there a Catholic approach to the debt ceiling debate?


The official stance of the USCCB opposes the cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as proposed by House Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan. The need for Catholicism’s opposition is especially important because of how such cuts have been twined with the requirement upon Congress to raise the debt limit. Regardless of how the debt ceiling is confronted, beneath today’s partisanship in Washington is a much larger issue about social inequality and the role of government in addressing social injustice.

The division between rich and poor in the United States is reaching Third World proportions. Since 1979, the income for U.S. workers in real dollars has stagnated. Meanwhile, wealth has been concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Today, 400 multi-billionaires have more money than the bottom 60 percent of the country’s population. That’s 400 persons with more wealth than 180,000,000 Americans combined. People may debate why there is such inequality of income: but none can deny the fact.

I think it is important for Catholic America to quickly recognize that the unseemly partisan fighting about whether the deficit will be reduced when the rich will loose tax loopholes (most Democrats) or when only spending will be cut (most Republicans) is a surrogate argument about the social fabric of the United States. Is Capitalism in America to be unbridled? Or should the people rely on elected government to limit the power and wealth of the few in the papal call for Social Democracy? I believe the answer to that question transcends partisan politics. Nonetheless, in the real world people have to make strategic choices among imperfect options – call it compromise – in order to move towards a more just society. To escape the laissez-faire Capitalism that brought about the Great Depression in 1929, Americans voted for a New Deal that placed elected government as arbiter between the excesses of the few and the needs of the many. Something like that radical choice is now called for by our society at the end of the Great Recession. [more]


Washington Post



  1. Governments have two legitimate objectives.

    GOVERNMENTS PROVIDE SERVICES WHICH INDIVIDUALS OR SMALLER ORGANIZATIONS CANNOT MANAGE EFFECTIVELY. I can build a driveway or simple road across a larger piece of my land. Building roads from farm to market and about town requires governments and building Interstate Highways requires the national government.

    Popes have lead the way in teaching about this function of government as subsidiarity. When smaller organizations are unable to fulfill the needs of the community, from road building to military defense to medical care or insurance, then it is the social responsibility of the next higher level of government to fulfill those community needs. The fact that some would prefer that the government not do certain things leaves the responsibility with them to demonstrate ways those things can be done by subsidiary levels of government without denying the benefits to large numbers of citizens and without greater social expenses in the long run.

    GOVERNMENTS PROTECT THE WEAK FROM THE POWERFUL. The more obvious goal of government is to protect the weak from the strong. Policing and military defense are the usual examples of the protection of the physically less imposing from the physically violent. However, it is equally the government’s job to protect naive and ignorant and timid individuals from ruthless persons and organizations. It is immoral for the ruthless to take advantage of others. There is no moral right to make as much money as possible regardless of the effects money making has on others. It is immoral for the ruthless to prey upon the reasonable. There may be a sucker born every minute, but neither P. T. Barnum nor any business has the moral right to suck money into their own pockets.

    It is the job of government to protect the reasonable from the ruthless as much as to protect the meek from the violent. It is the duty of all to pay a reasonable share of government expenses to defend us and to carry out the largest tasks of our society. Reasonable share relates to one’s economic status. It is no more right today to tax minimum incomes than it was for the Sheriff to demand pennies from the poor of Nottingham rather than pounds from the lords of the manors.

    Distrust of government is best treated by greater participation in government. Rhetorical condemnation and withdrawal only leave more room for the unscrupulous to abuse the rest of society. This is exactly the purpose of those behind the rightward parts of American politics.

    They seek to return to laissez-faire capitalism, unregulated financial power, unprotected natural resources, unorganized labor, and all the other conditions which allow them to make money which they will disproportionally keep instead of allowing to trickle down to those most in need. They are now as ruthless in their attacks on the common good as they are ruthless in making money. They are as deceptive in their politics as they are in business negotiations and advertising. They consistently sell the sizzle and avoid discussing the quality or size of the steak. They change the weight in the box and charge the same as before in order to avoid the appearance of raising prices. They do politics the same way.

    The nightmare for laissez-faire capitalism is indeed socialism. That is why they mention it so often. They discuss the dangers of socialized-this and socialized-that when what is being discussed are social responsibilities which will reduce their wealth from what they cannot spend in fifty lifetimes to what they cannot spend in forty lifetimes. A weak, underfunded government cannot enforce the regulations which limit the powerful and benefit the rest of us. That objective is behind the debt crisis posturing.

    The word “socialism” has not been applicable to any policies proposed by Democrats or Republicans in the USA. Injecting it into a conversation is to use a boogeyman instead of reality. No one in the US Congress is proposing government ownership of the means of production. Please leave that sort of ignorance in your nightmares.

  2. John says:

    When the USCCB stands up for ALL the teachings of the church and ALL Bishops, priests, deacons, and church officials defend and promote those ideals, then you can focus on the Government. Due to the weak leadership for the past 40 years, going hand in hand with the liberal agenda has lead us to this situation! Once you force people to donate, not out of fear of their own soul and damnation, you take any opertunity for salvation away from them and seperate all levels of society from the body of Christ. Before “Big Government,” it was local members of the Body of Christ that helped the poor, sick, and needy, not Government.

    Thank you USCCB for not showing any true leadership to the truth but instead keep towing the liberal lies!

  3. Peggy says:

    Realistically, imperfect human beings place their own welfare over others outside their family and friends. Human nature tries to gather as much material goods and pleasure to survive. The Gospel message challenges us to move outside our needs to solidarity with the needs of our community and world. The role of government is to fill in for individual responsibility when it fails to meet the common good. This is simply inevitable! Otherwise we have rampant capitalism and social injustice as is so evident now. The role of the Church is to raise the consciences of Both the individual and government to Christ’s call to care for each person as a member of God’s family. I would like to hear the Bishop’s speak up as a body for just distribution of wealth both to the governnment and to the people in the pews.

  4. Eileen Kovatch says:

    Let’s not confuse social justice with socialism! It is our individual and catholic responsibility to care for those less fortunate be it through our individual actions or financial contributions to the church. The wealthy of this country support charity and causes that the government will never do. I. for one, don’t want out government to be making these decisions for me or any other citizen. If the Bishops want this to be the government’s job, I will just stop contributing to Catholic charities as taxation will take over. Oops, I forgot, Bishops don’t get taxed!

  5. Charles Bolser says:

    certainly there is a Catholic perspective; we are called to heal the sick, feed the poor, give water to the thirst; to take care of those most in need and least able to take care of themselves. The common good requires that we see, hear and pay attention to those seen by many as of little account or “sinners”, and then respond to recognize that all of humanity is a child of the one God that gives life to all and deserves food, shelter, education, opportunity, freedom, etc. Our world has enough resources for all – and when the very few control the wealth of the world-we have starvation of body and spirit.

  6. Tony says:

    Thank God for this stand of the USCCB. It’s about time we start to try to live the Beatitudes Jesus teaches in the Gospel. We need to be just as caring for those who have been born as we are for the unborn.

    • Charles says:

      Tony, do you really want the same government that just approved tax-payer funding of embryonic stem cell research and which can’t even ban partial-birth abortion to be the entity taking care of the less fortunate? That is the job, as always and everywhere, of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. Let’s not confuse to call to care for the poor and widows with the mandate that the government do it for us. That is shirking our Catholic responsibility.

      • Charles Bolser says:

        You are correct – it is our Catholic responsibility to take care of those most in need – but then why don’t we accept that responsibility – if when we refuse to do it, the common good is met in a pluralisitic society through the government, as imperfect as it may be – and it is just as imperfect as the rest of us; it is a reflection of our culture and our world. We all share in the call to trasform a broken and wounded world and to bring the healing presence of Christ to the fore. But this is the responsibility, as you say, of each person called to holiness, recognizing our common sinfulness, but transformed and redeemed through the Incarnate Word made flesh sending us on his mission to the world today.


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