A Nun and a Policy Analyst Discuss the House Proposed Budget and Catholic Social teaching
At Bread for the World, we employ a diverse group of individuals from various backgrounds. Often, this creates cause for robust dialogue on current events. We thought we’d let you peek into one of these very exchanges – this time between Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst in our government relations department, and Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, OSF who manages Bread’s relations with Catholic churches in our church relations department. The two discussed the recent comments made by Rep. Paul Ryan about the House proposed budget, Catholic social teaching, and its implications on U.S. budget policy.
Check out their exchange below, and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section!
Amelia: Last month, the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution, and its author, Congressman Ryan, recently spoke about how that budget fits with Catholic social teaching. At Bread, we’ve been pretty critical of that budget because it has some fairly extreme cuts to programs to poor and vulnerable populations and fails to create a circle of protection around those programs. Sister Margaret, how does Catholic social teaching inform your view of this budget? How and why is it different from Chairman Ryan’s view?
Sister Margaret Mary: Catholic social teaching is integral to how we act on our values and on our mission. One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching is the principle of human dignity. Every person, regardless of race, sex, age, religion, health, or other differences is worthy of respect. It’s not what you do or what you have that establishes this respect. It’s simply by being human that establishes this dignity. It’s the Catholic view that human dignity is not a means. It’s always an end. So we don’t separate any group from what they need to live.
Amelia: So, how does the House proposed budget violate some of the basic concepts of Catholic social teaching?
Sister Margaret Mary: There are two significant pieces of Catholic social teaching: charity and justice. Everyone is deserving of both. In the House passed budget, it explains the concept of charity without the concept of justice. Neither one — charity or justice — is the total responsibility of the church. This budget seems to put everything of the charity on the churches.
Congressman Ryan talks about subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is certainly a part of Catholic social teaching that teaches us how we need to act. But solidarity is being at one with all of humanity, and needs to go hand-in-hand with Catholic social teaching. That’s the principle of human equality, and is part of what we teach our children—to be fair.
Amelia: Should our governmental leaders take cues from Catholic Social teaching when they are not even Catholics?
Sister Margaret Mary: Catholic social teaching is for everyone. It comes from scripture and tradition, but it’s broader than that. Fairness and human dignity are values that everyone has; they’re not exclusively Catholic. Catholic social teaching shows us that each one of us is sacred. We carry the spirit of Jesus within us. The principle of the common good requires establishing social structures that preserve the good of the community. Absence of any concern for or sensitivity of the common good is a sure sign of a society in need of help.
Some in Congress talk about how programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), unemployment insurance, the EITC, and WIC other similar programs create government dependence, but a community is interdependent. We’re not looking at independence or dependence. We’re related to each other and interdependent in the human community. In this budget, the House of Representatives seems to be legislating for some small percentage of abuse. We shouldn’t be legislating for abuse; it’s morally wrong. We should be legislating for dignity.
Amelia: At Bread, we recognize that our long-term deficit situation is of serious concern. Congress must put the country on a fiscally sustainable path. Those in Congress who support the House passed budget argue that these cuts are necessary to address our deficits, while we at Bread have argued for a more balanced approach. What does the Catholic faith have to teach us about these types of decisions?
Sister Margaret Mary: Catholic Social teaching includes the principle of preferential treatment for the poor and vulnerable, and we must adhere to that principle if the good of all is to prevail. We are called to political responsibility as faithful citizens.
What do you think about these decisions, Amelia?
Amelia: Most economists and most in Congress agree about the need to address our long-term deficits and debt and that doing so will require some very tough decisions. However, whether to cut programs for the poor should not be a tough decision. I’m mystified that we’re even having these conversations about whether we should cut SNAP by $133 billion and potentially throw 8 to 10 million people off the program. I’m amazed that when the House Agriculture Committee is asked to find an additional $33 billion in savings, they take every penny of it from SNAP. I’m astounded that the Ways and Means Committee just passed recommendations that would mean one million families could no longer claim the Child Tax Credit, affecting millions of children primarily in low-income immigrant families. And we’re hearing all of these attacks upon poor and vulnerable families struggling to put food on the table at a time when we have 2.8 million children living on less than $2 a day. I often ask myself, how can this be? How can we amplify the level of outrage about the fact that these cuts are even on the table?
Sister Margaret Mary: I agree with you. I would like Congress to take 30 minutes or an hour of quiet and imagine having little or no access to food or health care or transportation, education, housing. If you don’t have access to what you need to live in dignity and if you don’t have access to the funds that enable you to live, it’s frightening. What we’re lacking is imagination to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. How many people have said to members of Congress, this is not right? We have a poverty of imagination. We have to act together in this. We have to act together in faith.
Amelia: Thanks for this conversation, Sister Margaret.
Sister Margaret Mary: My pleasure!
Amelia Kegan is senior policy advisor at Bread for the World, and Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, OSF is Catholic Church relations person at Bread for the World.
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