Faithful Citizenship 2006
Pursuing social justice to protect the dignity of all humans as Jesus did
Fourth in a Series
By Wisconsin Catholic Conference
"It is not merely a matter of 'giving from one's surplus,' but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen ... it requires above all a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies." --John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 58, 1991
The Catholic tradition teaches that God has a special love for the poor and vulnerable and that all policies must be judged according to whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the human person.
This "option for the poor and vulnerable" is as old as the Hebrew prophets. Among the earliest biblical ordinances are laws designed to protect widows, orphans and strangers. The radical commandment to love one's neighbor as one's self is another expression of this preferential option. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies intimately with the poor (Mt 25:31-46) and promises that the poor will inherit the kingdom (Lk 6:20).
In his landmark encyclical, On the Condition of Workers (Rerum novarum), Pope Leo XIII affirms that, "the poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration" and notes that severe disparity in the possession and exercise of power is a factor contributing to poverty. One hundred years later, in Centesimus annus, Pope John Paul II reminds us that, "It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor-as individuals and as people-are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced. The poor ask for the right to share in enjoying material goods and to make use of their capacity to work, thus creating a world that is more just and prosperous for all."
The Hundredth Year (Centesimus annus), Pope John Paul II, 1991
On Human Work (Laborem exercens), Pope John Paul II, 1981
On the Condition of Workers (Rerum novarum), Pope Leo XIII, 1891
Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope; A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, 2003
A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God's Children, 2002
Responsibility, Rehabilitation, Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, USCCB, 2000
A Commitment to All Generations: Social Security and the Common Good, Administrative Board of the USCCB, 1999
Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action, USCC, 1995
Making Wisconsin Work Well: A Labor Day Challenge, WCC, 2001
Public Safety, the Common Good, and the Church: A Statement on Crime and Punishment in Wisconsin, WCC, 1999
The Changing Role of Rural Life in Wisconsin, WCC, 1997
Reforming Welfare by Valuing Families, WCC, 1995
The "option for the poor and vulnerable" does not mean we should pit one class of people against another. Rather, it teaches that the community as a whole is wounded by the deprivation and powerlessness of those who are poor. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of people.
In the context of public policies, Catholic social teaching holds that the state has an appropriate responsibility to maintain the stability of the economic order and to intervene with direct economic assistance when local resources are insufficient. The government's role with regard to the poor, however, must be properly ordered so that the intervention of state services does not supplant the efforts of individuals and local communities. Whenever possible, economic freedom, initiative and creativity should be protected and directed toward the common good.
Because the elimination of poverty and discrimination serves the common good, we call on politicians to:
Support policies that create jobs for all who can work in decent working
conditions and with adequate pay that reflects a living wage (that is, sufficient to meet the basic needs of a worker and his/her dependents).
Overcome barriers to equal pay and employment and combat discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, disabling condition or age.
Relieve hunger by supporting Food Stamps, the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other hunger programs.
Affirm the right of workers to choose to organize, join a union, bargain collectively and exercise these rights without reprisal.
Advocate for safe and affordable housing for all.
Measure success of welfare reform in terms of reducing poverty and dependency, rather than in terms of cutting resources and programs.
Reform the nation's health care system so that affordable care is available to all as a fundamental human right. Strengthen programs that extend health care coverage to children, pregnant women, workers, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations including those suffering from HIV/AIDS and those coping with addictions.
Support measures to help ensure that financial institutions meet the credit needs of local communities, so that poor families are not subjected to predatory lenders.
Change the Social Security system only if it provides a decent and reliable income for retired or disabled workers.
Protect family farms and encourage sustainable agriculture, which provides fair prices for agricultural products so farm families can make a decent living, raise animals humanely, and maintain environmentally sound management practices.
Reform the criminal justice system through rehabilitative and restorative justice.
Support the work of faith-based groups not as a substitute for, but as a partner with, government efforts.
(The Wisconsin Catholic Conference is the civil arm of the state's five diocesan