In a little-noticed September speech at the Cherish Life Ministries Christian Life Summit, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), the state Republican Party’s apparent choice for governor in 2013, took aim at the Catholic Church for its advocacy on behalf of the poor, immigrants, and the uninsured. Because the Church’s leadership has advocated for the government to provide a social safety net, a role he believes is the responsibility of the Catholic Church itself, Cuccinelli said, “they have made themselves out to be nothing but the largest special interest group in America.”
I’m probably not the guy most Catholic bishops care to see anymore because I zero-in on them every time I spot them in the room and they get sort of the three-minute version of the church piece of this. They’ve helped create a culture of dependency on government, not God. And rarely do you see the two – once churches get out of the business of serving the poor, or not get out of the business but hand over and argue that they shouldn’t be the primary institution in a society that is responsible for service to the poor.
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The comments convey his extreme view that the government should not provide services to those with the least. But when he claims that churches are asking the government “to step up and take on their role,” Cuccinelli unfairly suggests the Catholic Church has abdicated its own role in helping the poor. Through Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Church supports a wide array of programs aimed at reducing poverty in America. These include programs providing housing for the homeless, helping formerly homeless people rebuild their lives, and distributing food to the hungry. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney praised their vital work in serving the nation’s poor. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development also gives millions of dollars in grants annually to programs that work to address the root causes of poverty in America.
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told ThinkProgress that in 2010, Catholic Charities USA provided food services to more than 7 million people, housing services to almost 500,000, and emergency services including assistance with clothing and prescription drug purchases to nearly 2 million.
Rev. Gerry Creedon, pastor at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Dale City, Virginia, told ThinkProgress that the Church can’t do it all alone. “Not everything can be done with charity,” he explained, “The tithes of our church can’t deal with the housing crisis [or hunger]. Those are issues that go beyond private donations.” He noted that the 1986 pastoral letter from the nation’s Catholic bishops “Economic Justice for All,” lays out the reasoning for the Church’s longstanding commitment to supporting public policies that reduce unemployment, poverty and other forms of economic inequality.
The September remarks were not the first time Cuccinelli has been openly critical of the Catholic Church’s focus on economic justice. In a June 2011 speech to the Virginia Christian Association, he mocked the Arlington Catholic Herald for including in its voter guides both issues like poverty assistance and health care access for the uninsured, in addition to the issues he deems more important, such as abortion. From a moral standpoint, abortion, he told them, was a much more important political issue than poverty and hunger. “For people who take seriously those considerations when they vote, it’s acceptable to distinguish between them,” he told them, “In fact, I would suggest to you that in your role, part of your role is to distinguish between them.”