Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is helping the poor falling out of fashion?

David Gibson and Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service report today on a new survey that “American Catholics have by and large remained loyal to the core teachings and sacraments of their faith, but increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality.”

Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and a co-author of the report, was quoted as saying, “It’s the core creedal sacramental issues that really matter to American Catholics, more than the external trappings of church authority.”

We recommend that you read the entire article here. However, as people who care about matters of peace and justice, we were concerned to read this:
In the 2011 survey, 60 percent of Catholics said you could be a good Catholic without donating time or money to help the poor, up from 44 percent in 2005. Similarly, three-quarters (74 percent) said you could be a good Catholic without donating time or money to a parish, up from 58 percent six years earlier.

Even among the “highly committed” Catholics, the importance of helping the poor fell from 39 percent to 30 percent in the past six years, which co-author William D’Antonio of Catholic University attributed to a “recession that they weren’t confronting in 2005.”
We believe that the importance of helping the poor should be increasing in a recession, even if the actual ability of many people to help as much as in the past might be decreasing.

Meanwhile, over at America magazine, the editors write, “‘Let the church do it’ has proved an appealing notion on the 2012 campaign trail.” However, looking at some facts (not including the bad news reported above) shows that expecting churches to make up a loss in government spending might just be wishful thinking.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate decided to take a look at the potential for church-based welfare. C.A.R.A. concentrated its analysis on one federal program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called “food stamps.” Last year this $68 billion program supported the diets of 18.6 million households. Assuming that every Catholic parish household would increase its weekly giving five-fold, from an average of $9.40 a week to just over $50 each week, C.A.R.A. reports that the Catholic Church in the United States could, after paying its own not insignificant expenses, conceivably pay for half the current federal food stamp budget.

Coming up with the revenue for the rest of what government does thus appears a daunting task. Last year Professor Wayne Flynt, of Auburn University, speculated that the 10,000 or so houses of worship in his home state of Alabama might be able to take care of its poor residents. “All you have to do is for your congregation to adopt 50 to 100 poor people,” he said, “and mentor them, and love them, and educate them and nurture them…. And I’ll guarantee you that if you do that, it will be closer to what Christ intended than Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare.” And the chances of that? “They will never do it,” Flynt said. “[T]he churches will not do it.”
The editors go on to address the long-standing Catholic concept of subsidiarity:
The concept does indeed discourage an overbearing government response to social concerns that could be ably addressed at lower levels of social agency. But subsidiarity does not exclude all government response to social need. Indeed, Catholic social teaching argues that it is the obligation of government—from local to state and on up to the federal level, as circumstances require—to protect human dignity that might be diminished by deprivation. The Catholic tradition, in fact, maintains an affirmative view of the positive role of government in addressing needs that have not been satisfied by the market system. And from this perspective the church accepts a collaborative, supplemental function with government, not replacing it or standing as a counterforce to it.

We all share responsibility for the common good. It is an obligation we can partly meet through our government—a higher association of our neighbors and friends and family, acting on behalf of all.
The entire article is here.

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