Pope: The Preferential Option for the Poor Must Shape Our Response to the Pandemic

via the Vatican:

The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. And the virus, while it does not distinguish between people, has found, in its devastating path, great inequalities and discrimination. And it has exacerbated them!

The response to the pandemic is therefore dual. On the one hand, it is essential to find a cure for this small but terrible virus, which has brought the whole world to its knees. On the other, we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation, and the lack of protection for the weakest. In this dual response for healing there is a choice that, according to the Gospel, cannot be lacking: the preferential option for the poor (see Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium [EG], 195). And this is not a political option; nor is it an ideological option, a party option… no. The preferential option for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel….

At the beginning of His preaching, He announced that in the Kingdom of God the poor are blessed (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20; EG, 197). He stood among the sick, the poor, the excluded, showing them God’s merciful love (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2444). And many times He was judged an impure man because He went to the sick, to lepers… and this made people impure, according to the law of the age. And He took risks to be near to the poor.

Therefore, Jesus’ followers recognise themselves by their closeness to the poor, the little ones, the sick and the imprisoned, the excluded and the forgotten, those without food and clothing (cf. Mt 25:31-36; CCC, 2443). We can read that famous protocol by which we will all be judged, we will all be judged. It is Matthew, chapter 25. This is a key criterion of Christian authenticity (cf. Gal 2:10; EG, 195). Some mistakenly think that this preferential love for the poor is a task for the few, but in reality it is the mission of the Church as a whole, as Saint John Paul II said. (cf. St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42). “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor society” (EG, 187).

Faith, hope and love necessarily push us towards this preference for those most in need, which goes beyond necessary assistance (cf. EG, 198). Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelised by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be “infected” by their experience of salvation, by their wisdom and by their creativity (see ibid). Sharing with the poor means mutual enrichment. And, if there are unhealthy social structures that prevent them from dreaming of the future, we must work together to heal them, to change them (see ibid, 195). And we are led to this by the love of Christ, Who loved us to the extreme (see Jn 13:1), and reaches the boundaries, the margins, the existential frontiers. Bringing the peripheries to the centre means focusing our life on Christ, Who “made Himself poor” for us, to enrich us “by His poverty” (2 Cor 8:9),[2] as we have heard….

Many people want to return to normality and resume economic activities. Certainly, but this “normality” should not include social injustices and the degradation of the environment. The pandemic is a crisis, and we do not emerge from a crisis the same as before: either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse. We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice and environmental damage. Today we have an opportunity to build something different….

The preferential option for the poor, this ethical-social need that comes from God’s love (cf.  LS, 158), inspires us to conceive of and design an economy where people, and especially the poorest, are at the centre. And it also encourages us to plan the treatment of viruses by prioritising those who are most in need. It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. And what a scandal it would be if all the economic assistance we are observing – most of it with public money – were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation (ibid.). There are criteria for choosing which industries should be helped: those which contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, to the promotion of the last, to the common good and the care of creation.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Air pollution is much worse than we thought by David Roberts: “The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition.”

This Is Inequity at the Boiling Point by Somini Sengupta: “Extreme heat is not a future risk. It’s now. It endangers human health, food production and the fate of entire economies. And it’s worst for those at the bottom of the economic ladder in their societies.”

It’s not just about abortion: What ‘pro-life’ means for Catholics in the 2020 election by John Gehring: “Trump’s Catholic allies working to reduce Catholic identity to a single issue are out of step with the church’s long-standing approach to politics and the common good. Though claiming to defend the faith — and even questioning Biden’s — they have traded centuries of church wisdom that challenges both parties’ ideological preferences for raw election-cycle tactics.”

Real Life Horror Stories From the World of Pandemic Motherhood by Joan Williams: “This crisis should help us finally recognize that mothers are raising the next generation of citizens; motherhood is not a private frolic like hang gliding. In June, Senator Cory Booker introduced legislation that would, in a simple and straightforward way, protect all mothers — and fathers, and other family caregivers — from employment discrimination. That’s long overdue but we need much more.”

A suburban Catholic school teacher was fired after refusing to return to class due to COVID-19. Others teachers are demanding Catholic schools go remote. by Javonte Anderson and Sophie Sherry: “Standing outside of the archdiocese office, a new group calling itself Arch Teachers for a Safe Return decried the school system’s decision to proceed with in-person learning despite growing COVID-19 cases. “We believe that the archdiocese is putting people in danger,” said the Rev. C.J. Hawking, of Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers rights group.”

5 Ways You Can Participate in Social Change by Eric Clayton: “A simple truth guides the way people of faith approach injustice: We are called to protect — and prioritize — the most vulnerable. Why? Because, as God’s children, we know that we all belong to one another. That’s why we can boldly proclaim that Black lives matter — Black folks are most vulnerable to police brutality and systemic racism. That’s why we refuse to discard the elderly in a false choice between reopening the economy and protecting our grandparents.”

Pandemic creates lifesaving ripple effects amid devastating loss by Carmen Paun: “It’s hard to find a silver lining amid a coronavirus pandemic that has brought unprecedented death and economic devastation across the globe. But some researchers say they are seeing one positive development come out of the health crisis, thanks to policy experiments that would have been impossible in normal times. New policies aimed at combating health threats ranging from excessive alcohol consumption to urban air pollution have potentially long-term implications, researchers say, long after the world has gotten the pandemic under control.”

Fascism is back. Blame the Internet. by Timothy Snyder: “Despite all the happy talk about connecting people, the Internet has not spread liberty around the world. On the contrary, the world is less free, in part because of the Web.”

Heat, Smoke and Covid Are Battering the Workers Who Feed America by Somini Sengupta: “Summer days are hotter than they were a century ago in the already scorching San Joaquin Valley; the nights, when the body would normally cool down, are warming faster. Heat waves are more frequent. And across the state, fires have burned over a million acres in less than two weeks. One recent scientific paper concluded that climate change had doubled the frequency of extreme fire weather days since the 1980s.”

Pope: Healing the World Starts with a Proper Understanding of the Human Person

via the Vatican:

“The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected everyone is. If we do not take care of one another, starting with the least, with those who are most impacted, including creation, we cannot heal the world….

However, the coronavirus is not the only disease to be fought, but rather, the pandemic has shed light on broader social ills. One of these is a distorted view of the person, a perspective that ignores the dignity and relational nature of the person. At times we look at others as objects, to be used and discarded. In reality this type of perspective blinds and fosters an individualistic and aggressive throw-away culture, which transforms the human being into a consumer good (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 53; Encyclical Laudato Si’, [LS], 22).

In the light of faith we know, instead, that God looks at a man and a woman in another manner. He created us not as objects but as people loved and capable of loving; He has created us in His image and likeness (see Gen 1:27). In this way He has given us a unique dignity, calling us to live in communion with Him, in communion with our sisters and our brothers, with respect for all creation….

Seeking to climb in life, to be superior to others, destroys harmony. It is the logic of dominion, of dominating others. Harmony is something else: it is service.

Therefore, let us ask the Lord to give us eyes attentive to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are suffering. As Jesus’s disciples we do not want to be indifferent or individualistic. These are the two unpleasant attitudes that run counter to harmony….

We want to recognise the human dignity in every person, whatever his or her race, language or condition might be. Harmony leads you to recognise human dignity, that harmony created by God, with humanity at the centre….

In modern culture, the closest reference to the principle of the inalienable dignity of the person is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Saint John Paul II defined as a “milestone on the long and difficult path of the human race”, and as “one of the highest expressions of the human conscience”. Rights are not only individual, but also social; they are of peoples, nations. The human being, indeed, in his or her personal dignity, is a social being, created in the image of God, One and Triune. We are social beings; we need to live in this social harmony, but when there is selfishness, our outlook does not reach others, the community, but focuses on ourselves, and this makes us ugly, nasty and selfish, destroying harmony.”

Bishops and Priests: Please Stop with the Petty, Selective Attacks on Joe Biden

There has been a growing chorus of Catholic priests and bishops who have become outspoken in their disdain for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, despite their shared Catholic faith. Some are blatantly partisan, while others are clearly incensed by his position on abortion and willing to set aside the basic civility applied to politicians who dissent from Church teaching on a whole range of other matters.

Biden’s faith has been a big part of his campaign, as he consistently reflects upon his Catholic faith and his Catholic upbringing on the campaign trail. It’s also not uncommon to see him holding a rosary.  However, Joe Biden’s position on abortion has shifted over time; he was once opposed to the federal funding of abortion and perhaps favored more restrictions on abortion, but he shifted in the primary toward more liberal policies.  Both his pro-choice stance and shift on these issues have clearly rubbed a growing number of Catholic clergy and prelates the wrong way, and they are becoming more and more vocal about Joe Biden’s faith. Others who consistently favor Republicans have used his position as an opportunity to chime in, as well.

Cardinal Raymond Burke went on Fox News to attack Joe Biden’s stance on abortion and claimed that Biden should not receive communion.  Influential conservative priest Father Dwight Longenecker called Joe Biden a “fake Catholic.”  And on the evening of August 21st, Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, TN proclaimed that he didn’t “understand how Mr. Biden can claim to be a good and faithful Catholic” and praised President Trump for being anti-abortion. These are just a few of the most recent examples of prominent Catholics who have attacked Joe Biden—and, frankly, enough is enough.

I am sad and embarrassed to watch priests and bishops selectively attack certain politicians, like Joe Biden, and attack Catholics who are supporting Joe Biden by calling them “fake” or claiming that they should be denied communion.  I am not in a position to proclaim the depth and sincerity of Joe Biden’s faith or the faith of those who support him politically (or those denouncing him and his supporters); however, I am deeply offended by the snide, petty, and demeaning comments that are being made by prominent Catholics who have the privilege of reaching tens of thousands (if not millions) of Catholics via social media and other avenues.  It is beneath the dignity of the office these men hold.  Are they not supposed to show love and compassion?  Are they not supposed to be charitable?  Are they not supposed to show grace?  Are they not supposed to evangelize and bring people into the Church, and bring back those who have left the Church? Do they imagine that this is what Christian witness should look like?

How will these malicious and nasty remarks help to evangelize?  They won’t.  There are those who left the Church who see these mean statements that pass harsh judgment on the faith of Catholics like Joe Biden and think to themselves: “Yes, that’s why I left.”  Perhaps the petty, bullying nature of these comments will attract some right-wing ideologues into the Catholic Church (though probably not many), but I fail to see how this callous and highly judgmental image that is being presented by priests and bishops will help the Church draw and retain people in the way that is desperately needed during this era of rising non-affiliation.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, at a time when millions of Catholics are sitting at home because of COVID-19 and are unable to attend Sunday services, it is more important than ever that the Church remind Catholics of why they need the Church and what good the Church does.  As bishops and priests attack, lecture, and demean Catholic Democrats, or Catholics who might vote for a Democrat, they risk pushing those Catholics away from the Church. They can challenge Biden on the issue of abortion, just as they can and should challenge Catholic and non-Catholic politicians on the whole range of issues that help to create the throwaway culture that Pope Francis has spent years highlighting and denouncing. But their behavior and rhetoric should reflect Christian virtue and respect for the dignity of other human beings.

Twitter, Facebook, and traditional media sources can be useful for evangelization.  They are tools that when used properly can spread the Gospel messages of love, mercy, charity, and justice.  However, when those who use them choose to spread malice, spite, and vindictiveness, all they do is sow seeds of resentment and anger.  So, before this election grows more brutal and our country becomes more divided and bitter, please stop. Just stop.

In an Election Year with Unprecedented Challenges, Catholics are Called to Protect Voting Access

This year, Catholics have important and difficult decisions to make up and down the ballot that will impact the trajectory of our country in the years and decades ahead. No matter what decisions each of us makes when casting our ballots, we all have a stake—and responsibility as Christians—in ensuring that every American who is eligible to vote is able to fulfill this most fundamental democratic right.

The coronavirus pandemic adds an additional layer of uncertainty as we vote this year. As COVID-19 case levels rise across the country and the death toll climbs above 175,000, it is likely that Americans will go to the polls amidst social distancing and even stay-at-home orders. Some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – including older Americans, people with various illnesses, and people with disabilities – will have the hardest time making it to the polls. Others will face both new and long-standing voter suppression efforts.

One of the central themes of Catholic Social Teaching is participation: “We believe people have a right and duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.” In our representative democracy, voting is a foundational component of participation. With so many challenges facing our country, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines in 2020, and we can’t let systemic failures leave any of our brothers and sisters out of the process. We need voting systems that protect each individual’s right to vote while also protecting their health and safety.

In the spirit of this teaching, Catholic public officials, clergy, lay leaders, and media personalities must forcefully avoid spreading conspiracy theories for partisan political purposes, oppose voter suppression, and actively promote voting access.

Avoid Spreading Conspiracy Theories

During a recent appearance on a Catholic media outlet, President Trump put forth a flurry of inapplicable analogies, distortions, and outright falsehoods about voting access in the 2020 election. While pointing out that people continued to vote in person during World War I and World War II, the President labeled mail-in voting as “the greatest fraud ever”—and went on to accuse foreign governments of printing US ballots and claim that California election officials might send mail-in ballots to undocumented immigrants but not to Republicans.

Since the president’s claims were not challenged on air, it’s important to debunk them here:

Every state has voters who vote by mail. Five states already utilize universal mail-in voting, tens of millions of Americans have their ballot handed to them by their postal carrier (not a poll worker), and the number of fraudulent ballots is miniscule. The president himself voted absentee in the 2018 election. His statements about California are fabrications. And during World War II, service members did mail in absentee ballots, and regular polling places remained open because the country faced a different challenge during that war than it does right now. World War II was an overseas armed conflict; it was not a contagious virus at home. And the very Americans who fought in World War II are among the most at-risk to die from the coronavirus.

Catholic leaders have a responsibility to tell the truth, and they must demand the same from our public officials. Fear mongering with the purpose of decreasing voting access is unacceptable.

Ensuring voting access during the pandemic

To preserve voting access in the 2020 election, we need safe in-person voting, expanded early voting and absentee voting, and increased education campaigns so that every eligible voter knows how and when to exercise their right to vote.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides unique challenges to election administrators. Our leaders should focus on rising to these challenges, not making them harder. As my colleague Tammy Patrick has pointed out, we have laws on the books to prevent fraud and to discover and prosecute it when it happens. She told NPR, “If and when a bank gets robbed or a car gets stolen, we don’t stop using banks or cars. We enforce the laws we have in place.”

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that expanding voting access by mail benefits one political party or the other. With the coronavirus most affecting older voters – who voted decisively for President Trump in 2016 – it may even benefit his own election prospects to promote this option.  Catholics of all political persuasions should call on their federal representatives to fully fund election security measures in all 50 states and demand that their state and local leaders administer an election in which every eligible voter can safely cast their ballot.

Opposing voter suppression

As Catholics, we must oppose voter suppression that is aimed at preventing our Black and Brown brothers and sisters from voting. The USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship mentions voter suppression by name and it repeatedly calls on Catholics to oppose racism. It states that the wound of racism “continues to fester” and that racism of any form is an assault on human dignity.

As I recently told Charlie Camosy in Crux, racism is not just a problem of personal sin; it is a systemic problem. We must certainly “open wide our hearts,” and we must also open up our political processes to include every eligible American.

This includes a collective Catholic effort to protect against the elimination of polling places in majority Black neighborhoods, oppose efforts to reduce polling hours, speak out against “purged” voter rolls, and combat disinformation campaigns that would disenfranchise Black Americans.

We’re all called to protect the right to vote

Living out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching means promoting the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters—including their full right to participate in our civic processes. In the face of a pandemic, social unrest, and voter suppression, protecting every eligible Americans’ right to vote is a challenge every American Catholic is called to meet. No matter what disagreements we have when we fill out our ballots, we should ensure each one of our eligible brothers and sisters has equal access to the ballot itself. Anything short of that standard is a violation of our faith-based principles and the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Chris Crawford is a Catholic activist in Silver Spring, Maryland. He manages the Faith in Democracy portfolio at Democracy Fund, a private foundation in Washington, D.C. that champions the leaders and solutions making American democracy more open and just. He previously worked in the pro-life movement for The Susan B. Anthony List and their affiliated Super PAC.


The Plight of the Modern Person

We live in a culture that is permeated by a critical mindset – one that reduces reality to what can be seen and measured and human flourishing to career success and material acquisition. In such a culture, religion is often dismissed and looked down upon. In this video, I discuss the experience of the many people who yearn for something more but feel they can’t believe in the religion of their youth and don’t know where else to find meaning for their life: