I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this complaint from well-meaning Catholics: “We have a 40 Days for Life and a March for Life and a Novena for Life, but why don’t the bishops get behind a 40 Days for Poverty or a March to End Poverty campaign? Why can’t the bishops give equal time to all the other life issues?” Here’s what I usually say:
1) I think it is important to agree that poverty is a life issue. Likewise, it is important to agree that addressing poverty and its many causes is part of our responsibility as Catholics. So saying things like, “Helping the poor is the business of local churches and charities and is not the work of the government” is nonsense and actually counters Catholic Social Teaching. The government does and must have a role if for no other reason than to reinforce the notion that alleviating the affects of poverty is a communal responsibility. The level of governmental involvement is debatable, but that it should be involved really isn’t.
2) But then it needs to be pointed out to the well-meaning Catholic that there is no single legislative embodiment of the perpetuation of poverty. There is no one law that exists in our land which states, “poverty is a good thing,” or “we want poor people,” or “being poor is a Constitutional necessity.” There is, however, a singular decision that has enshrined abortion on demand, a singular legal decision which has created a structure around abortion that is one of the most permissive in the entire world, a singular argument that is so legally unsound that even supporters of abortion think it is bad law. That law is Roe v. Wade, and it needs to be overturned.
Saying that poverty needs to be overturned might be a nice sound bite, but it is meaningless. There is no single legal strategy that will ever eradicate poverty, indeed, Our Lord tells us that poverty will always exist. I know many who cringe at the mention of this fact, but it is a fact, and it means only what it means. We will always have the poor with us.
3) To this many respond, “Well, we’ll always have abortion too.” Yes, that’s right, which is why the strategic goal of the U.S. Bishops is not to thwart abortions for all time. Thanks to sin, abortion will always be with us. Therefore, our goal is not to undue sin but rather to overturn legalized abortion. The goal is always to finally put an end to the legal structure that allows one class of persons to snuff out the life of another class of persons. Put otherwise, our goal is to make abortion illegal not impossible. There is no way to make it impossible, and making poverty illegal is nonsensical.
4) There is another crucial difference. We have all this public pro-life work because there are still so many Americans and even many Catholics who are convinced that abortion is okay. Though there are some who callously dismiss the plight of the poor as a punishment for their own laziness, it is nevertheless the case that expressing this opinion is roundly condemned by our culture. Everyone knows, even if they dare to think it, that blaming the poor for their poverty is asinine. It’s considered “edgy” to say so when it is said. And no one runs on a platform that says, “let the poor stay poor.” Democrats accuse Republicans of just that, but they have to infer that’s the case because no one would dare say it publicly. That’s the difference.
We do have Catholics, on the other hand, who think that abortion is alright. There are even Catholic University professors who teach that abortion can be a moral act. Heck, we have an entire political party dedicated not just to keeping abortion legal but to making sure it’s free for whoever wants one (thank you Barack Obama’s Democratic Party), along with Catholics who vote for candidates who publicly say “abortion is a Constitutional right” and “I don’t want my daughters punished with a child.”
5) Also, by defending the rights of the unborn, the bishops actually are advocating for the poor. The effort to help the poor will always fail so long as Americans continue to think that the life of the unborn child is expendable. The popes have said repeatedly, in all sorts of different ways, that a legal structure and a culture that rejects the life of the unborn innocent cannot hope to achieve a social justice that will honestly address the needs of the poor. The rights to labor, a just wage, education, health care, family and the rest are all “false and illusory,” to quote John Paul the Great, if the right to life is not defended to the maximum.
6) The truth is that the bishops’ do advocate for the poor, here and abroad. On state levels and at the national, they do advocate for those policy decisions that help the poor. Now, I don’t always agree with them on what helps the poor and what doesn’t, but they are far from silent about it. We could probably be reminded more often about our own responsibilities. No doubt there are a few prelates here or there who could take a cue from Pope Francis and give up the “trappings” of the ecclesial machine. Certainly, Catholics with means (even myself – as meager as my means are) could be more generous with our donations to fund poverty relief, especially those which address the root causes of poverty and build up family life.
But while all that may be true, abortion is singularly odious because of the laws that protect it and because of a culture that defends it. God bless all those who work for life . We need more of them, and we need more Catholics who love the poor to get behind the pro-life movement and to stop supporting candidates like Obama who perpetuate this genocide.
Michael Marsili said:
Well said. There are many factors that fuel poverty. One other aspect of poverty at least in this country is that it’s not always the same people. Some people who are in poverty now may not be in poverty in another year or two. Some people who are wealthy or at least middle class may be in a state of poverty tomorrow. The aborted baby stays dead. The sin of it may be forgivable but the action is permanent. Poverty is something we should try to alleviate as best we can, but abortion always remains an intrinsic evil.
Omar Gutierrez said:
Excellent point Michael. Thanks for the comment.
Agreed. I really have a problem with Pro-Life Democrats blogging about the evils of our anti-life society. I agree there is the odd Pro-Life Congressman or Senator but you sure wouldn’t know it from anything they do or from their voting records. How can these bloggers claim innocence when they support their own politicians. Not that the Republicans are lilly white either. However, it has been over a decade at least, since the Democrates have crafted and passed any Pro-Life legislation.
I guess that it is a good thing that these Democrat bloggers publically support Life, but one has to seriously question the veracity for their excuse in being registered and voting Democrats. I think they must suffer from some serious mental confusion. Consciouly or unconsciously I think they perceive the Democrats as being far superior on Social Justice issues. Consequently, they exhibit the point you are making. Anti-Life issues are a positive moral evil which is evil at all times, there is no small matter there. While Social Justice issues are largely a matter of what is the best means of achieving ends to eliminate evils which are not of themselves the result of gravely immoral acts and which should be governed by the principle of Subsidiarity.
Omar Gutierrez said:
Thanks Linus. I get the intention and perhaps good intention of pro-life Democrats, but as a practical matter, I cannot fathom how they can remain a part of a party that so routinely uses its power to do so much damage to human life.
Omar, would it also be germane to point out that unlike abortion, poverty is not an intrinsic evil? If it were, it would be an evil act for religious to take a vow of poverty, no? I know it wouldn’t be helpful to seem as though we don’t care about alleviating poverty, but it irritates me that so many Catholics want to put poverty (and capital punishment) on the same level of importance as abortion.
Omar Gutierrez said:
JD. Good point, and your right. But I avoid saying so because a) some people don’t know what that means, so then I have to explain it to them and b) just because something is not an intrinsic evil doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shed light on it in a special way. For instance, violating religious liberty rights is not intrinsically evil, but the bishops rightly have made a big deal of those violations in our own time.
Deacon Henry said:
Thank you, Mr. Gutierrez. Very well written, very well said. Que Dios te bendiga.
Omar Gutierrez said:
Thank you Deacon Henry, igualmente tambien.
Brian Kerzetski said:
“Catholics for Poverty.” That gave me a chuckle. However, the parallel makes their position look that much more ridiculous.
Michael DePietro said:
I agree with everything you wrote but there is another additional point. That we should alleviate poverty is of course not a point at issue. The real point is that Catholic social teaching tells us nothing ( beyond personal charity to the poor) about what political policies to support that might alleviate poverty since this is not a theologic or philosophical issue at all but one that is subject to empirical analysis and evaluation of the effect of a given policy using data. It is not enough to claim to want to help the poor ( I think there is ample evidence that many programs intended to help the poor either have no effect or may even make things worse. In fact an analysis by the World Bank ( hardly a “right wing” wing group, made the point that beyond policies that favor economic growth there is no clear government policy that makes a clear impact on poverty. We can debate that of course, but the point is that Catholicism, the Pope and the Bishops can no more tell us how to alleviate poverty than the can tell us how to do heart surgery. What they can tell us is we should try to alleviate poverty ( a moral principle) or that we should refrain from killing unborn children ( also a moral principle). See a more complete discussion see http://catholicxray.com/do-left-wing-catholics-care-more-about-poor-people-than-right-wing-catholics
Omar Gutierrez said:
I wouldn’t say that CST tells us “nothing (beyond personal charity to the poor) about what political policies to support that might alleviate poverty.” The Church has taught many times over that socialism is wrong and that “unbridled” capitalism is wrong. She teaches us that the State has a role in the alleviation of poverty, though – as I wrote – what that role might be is up for debate. Indeed, the Church has a lot to tell us about heart surgery too since persons are not merely a collection of pieces. She has a lot to tell us about economics too since economics is not only a collection of empirical data points but rather a study of human action, and the Church is an expert on human persons.
Still, I think we agree more than we disagree.
David Paggi said:
Thank you for your outstanding post above. With respect to “fighting poverty,” even the phrase alerts the hearer that the speaker equates activist government programs with realization of the goal. In other words, if you are not in favor of additional government spending, you fail to hear the cry of the poor.
Billions of dollars later, the “war on poverty” which began in the 60’s has lost more ground that it has claimed. The late Sen Moynihan’s warning has never been heeded, while his prediction has sadly come true. Even though adverse consequences would follow, was President Johnson cynical enough to buy votes for his party?
Who should fight poverty by which means are prudential judgments open to criticism and correction, while the deliberate destruction of innocent human beings in the womb or anywhere else is always and everywhere everyone’s duty to denounce.
The way I was taught many years ago is that poverty means having the necessities for life, but none of the luxuries, whereas destitution is lacking some of the necessities as well as luxuries. I guess it is a case of semantics.
Omar Gutierrez said:
I’ve never heard it put that way, but it is a helpful distinction. Thanks George.
bill bannon said:
Our work against abortion is laudable….I just finished a five year stint in that area. But our new death penalty position will get people murdered if the US Supreme Court was correct when it believed deterrence studies it saw …and resumed death penalties in 1976 for the states. Their decision was in line with Acts 5:11 ” Great fear came on the Church and all who heard of it”. This was said after God through Peter took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. All took fear. Fear deters not passion murders but non passion murders of opportunity according to the US court.
Check Catholic News Agency today. Two Salesians clergy in their 80’s were murdered for material things in Venezuela by teens. There is no death penalty there nor in five other Catholic dominant countries who are in the top 20 worst murder rate countries on earth. Between 1796 and 1850, five Popes executed 500 criminals via the papal executioner, Bugatti. Google Bugatti papal executioner wiki. Now we claim the Church always saw execution as a last resort. I guess the large papal lands had no locked rooms for 500 men. Please. We will get future murder victims murdered in the name of politically correct dp abolition and we’ll never admit it til a Pope centuries from now apologizes for it just as John Paul apologized for killing heretics etc. which was wrong by the way because Christ in Luke 9 rebukes the disciples for wanting to call down lightning on a whole Samaritan town. But murderers have a better chance of repenting under an execution…the good thief and McVeigh are just two examples. Matthew’s gospel has both thieves deriding Christ but later another gospel version shows the change in one of them as actual death approaches. Japan with a death penalty is 50 times safer from murder than Mexico and Brazil, the two largest Catholic populations who have no dp and porous prisons. Want poverty in the mix? China has an astounding number of poor people in the hundreds of millions and is 20 times safer than Brazil and Mexico. China aborts but not much differently than New York City.
Every study on child development that I have have come across has shown that a healthy family leads to more opportunities for the children and that the children of healthy families are much more likely to prosper. So if you look at the historical evidence it is completely clear that if you really want to fight poverty, contraception needs to be outlawed. Gee, why didn’t society think of that before???? Oh yea, we did.
There is a Jewish saying, “The helping hand is a controlling hand.”
And the State is fast becoming a controlling hand indeed.
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. “ -Thomas Jefferson
I tend to view heavy government involvement in helping the poor as a violation of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. When laws are passed increasing taxes, those laws ultimately are imposed on the people by force, hardly charity of brother to brother.
The Party of Death, which is how I view the present day Democrat Party (of which I was a member of until about 8 years ago), does it’s best to present itself as the only party wanting to help lift the poor out of their circumstances. But their compassion is just a ruse (not unlike the street corner piety of the Scribes and Pharisees) saying all the right things but not embracing it in their hearts. This is the same party that voted to take God out of their platform at their convention only to have it put back in when they realized how that would cost them support from those same religious constituents that think they can “personally oppose abortion but do not want to subject people to their own religious beliefs”. I can never be a member of a party whose most sacrosanct platform plank is killing a child in the womb no matter how much good they might say they will do for the poor.
A strong central government can never be a good solution to helping individuals. So much of the money is siphoned off through bureaucratic inefficiencies and dishonesty as well as the never ending need to find the next scheme in vote-buying promises of taking from “fat cats” and giving it to “the folks”. Helping the poor is best left to local entities (and yes, to a degree, the LOCAL government), as well as organizations that do not use the money nefariously. I volunteer my time and donate my money to those organizations that work directly with people.
“When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” – Ben Franklin
Modern Homemaker said:
Very well said. I have always been prolife, but when my daughter died at 19-20 weeks gestation, I saw the true face of a child that could have been aborted under our laws. I wish I could show her pictures to every catholic who is on the fence about abortion.
Please consider sharing my article,
Omar Gutierrez said:
I am so sorry for your loss. God bless you.