The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its head, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, have stood fast in their support of government programs that benefit the poor as lawmakers in Washington move to cut funding for many of those programs in the name of debt and deficit reduction. In a blog post honoring the feast day of St. Vincent DePaul, “considered by many to be the ‘star’ saint of Christian charity and concern for the poor,” Cardinal Dolan issued a joint statement with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn that reaffirmed the importance of government programs in fighting poverty and helping low-income Americans.
While “[g]overnment programs provide enormous support to poor Americans,” Dolan and DiMarzio wrote, “it is not enough,” and the constant portrayal of the poor “in a negative way” is hurting efforts to aid the worse off:
However, two things must be said.
1) It is not enough. Even with the generosity of the American people, and the work of groups like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and so many others, much more needs to be done, and not just by private charity. The government must continue to play its part as well.
2) There are very dark clouds. Too much rhetoric in the country portrays poor people in a very negative way. At the same time, this persistent sluggish economic and slow pace of recovery does two things that hurt the poor: it does not provide sufficient jobs for poor people to earn decent living to support themselves, and it provides less resources for government to do its part for Americans in need.
The comments come at a time when cuts to poverty programs are becoming more prominent in America’s budgetary debates, and when rhetoric is, indeed, portraying the poor “in a very negative way.” A video surfaced recently showing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney decrying America’s welfare programs and their beneficiaries. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said.
Dolan also seems to echo the group of Catholic nuns who are crisscrossing the country on the Nuns On A Bus tour, which has highlighted the role government plays in protecting the poorest Americans. The nuns visited nine states this summer and have continued their push in recent weeks, announcing their opposition to Republican-led budget cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, and other assistance programs.
While Dolan and the USCCB have been consistent in their opposition to such budget cuts — the Conference called the cuts “unjustified and wrong” in a letter to Congress earlier this year — Dolan hasn’t always given that appearance. In August, he was introduced at the Republican National Convention by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as someone who “the preferential option for the poor doesn’t easily translate into a preferential option for big government.” Now, though, Dolan seems to be calling on the government to do even more than it currently does to help the poor.