Cardinal Seán: End the Government Shutdown

In a statement on the government shutdown, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston writes:

Governing the democracy of the United States is always a challenging task. It requires not only intelligence, expertise and experience but also a capacity to collaborate, cooperate and the willingness to consider appropriate compromise at decisive moments.

The present moment in our country is clearly decisive: the government is, at best, only partially functioning. This has caused multiple consequences: the safety of the citizenry is compromised and essential services are endangered or not being provided. While not proposing a plan for a viable effective compromise I am taken by the humanitarian impacts of the shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of government employees have had their lives upended. The vast majority of Americans depend on a regular paycheck, failure to receive that as due and expected translates into painful choices: balancing food and fuel; paying for mortgages and rent; restricting necessary transportation; rationing family health care. Imposing these burdens on individuals and families who serve the nation daily violates the social contract in a well-ordered society. It is an injustice and should be named as such.

Determination of the specific elements of a viable compromise rightfully rest with the executive and legislative officials of our government. But two moral imperatives should be preserved in any agreement: first, to end the suffering of our citizenry and second, to not use vulnerable and threatened immigrant families as a pawn in the necessary negotiations citizens rightfully expect of their government.

Crush the Idols of Our Time

“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. “(1 Sam 15:23)

On October 1st, the American people saw the effects of stubbornness come to fruition. Many people will not be going to work for an indefinite period. Under these circumstances, it is time to ask ourselves if we have turned our political parties into idols.

As Catholics, we hold strong beliefs on different issues, and it is right to hold fast to our beliefs. Within a two-party system, it is easy to take one or two key issues and find the party that speaks to those points in a way that is in line with Church teaching. But there is a fine line between supporting a party and idolizing it. There is nothing wrong with donating money, putting up bumper stickers, placing signs in our yards, and campaigning for a party we support. That falls easily into the realm of “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” However, we cross over into idolatry when we decide that the party of our choosing is the only party with anything to offer, thereby assuming that the other party is evil and can do no right. That is, when we only look at the points of agreement with our party on a few narrow issues and disregard the rest, we’ve lost sight of the importance of choosing a party for faith-related reasons, and created an idol.  The mere presence of liberal and conservative media is a testament to Americans’ idolization of their chosen party. Some of the news media personalities even have their own followings. People align their views to those of the writer, radio host, or television reporter before they stop and align them with the teachings of the Church. These views are strongly tied to one party or the other. Political parties are, it seems, the new idols of our day.

It’s easy to do this on specific issues as well. The present government shutdown is the result of holding up a vote over a few key issues, most notably, in order to eliminate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” When issues are so important that the government is shut down, those issues have then become idols. Evidently, it’s now acceptable to take people out of work and hurt the reputation of our country out of stubbornness and an unwillingness to accept a legally passed piece of legislation. This stubbornness is not confined to one party or one issue. On both sides of the aisle, the devotion of lawmakers to these idols is remarkable.

Now is the time to crush the idols of our time. Now is the time to turn back to the heart of our beliefs. Now is the time to isolate issues and reflect upon them in light of Church teachings. Now is the time to communicate our beliefs to our lawmakers and party leaders focusing on the issues one at a time in accordance with our faith. Now is the time to break free from the chains of excessive partisanship and minister directly to God’s people. Now is the time to use the words of Ronald Reagan when we address the barrier between our two parties: “Tear down this wall.” Yes, now is the time to destroy our idols and work for the good of God’s people, each and every one.

Where do we start? We can revisit issues in accordance with Catholic teaching, most specifically through the use of the USCCB’s “Forming Catholic Consciences” document.  We need to contemplate our reasons for choosing our alignments. Most importantly, we need to answer this question: to whom is my allegiance? Is it God, a political party, a media voice? We need to turn ourselves to the light and let the idols crumble.

Democrats for Life Make Pro-Life Case against the Shutdown—Will Others Join?

On Monday, I highlighted a statement that many prominent Christian leaders had released, calling for an end to the shutdown. Meghan and Nichole have highlighted the brutal costs the shutdown will have on poor women and children. Every Christian, everyone who is pro-life, and every person with even a partial commitment to the common good should be able to see how dangerous and foolish this attempted extortion by right-wing extremists is. America has called this group of House Republicans the “suicide caucus.”

This isn’t just some partisan issue. Well-respected political scientists like Thomas Mann, who has long been critical of both parties, have condemned the shutdown in the strongest possible terms, and numerous Republicans and conservatives have come out strongly against these tactics. They recognize the obvious—both sides are not equally responsible for the shutdown. This is a manufactured crisis created by those who claim to be pro-life, but whose actions are a grave threat to human life and dignity.

And where are pro-life groups in this fight? Are they willing to challenge anti-abortion Republicans who refuse to end the hostage-taking? Will they protect poor and vulnerable women and children from this pathological approach to politics? You simply cannot be pro-life if you ignore poor women and children.

Democrats for Life of America, a pro-life Democratic organization (where my husband Robert is a fellow), has taken a firm stand in calling for Congress to end to the shutdown. Here is their statement, “The Pro-Life Case for Ending the Shutdown”:

As individuals who support and endorse a whole life philosophy, we strongly urge the Republicans in the House – particularly those who share our commitment to the unborn – to end the budget showdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and work toward a budget that protects the sanctity of life at all levels.

Democrats for Life of America applauds the implementation of the (ACA).  Under the ACA, people with debilitating diseases-once considered uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions-can now receive life-saving health coverage.  Pregnant women are receiving essential care. And those who could not afford insurance are now eligible for preventive care that once was out of reach.

At the same time, we must point out that the ongoing shutdown of the federal government deprives many pregnant women of the WIC vouchers that ensure they get enough milk, protein, vegetables, and fruit to ensure the health of their unborn children.  And cancer patients-many of whom are children-have been blocked from receiving time-sensitive and potentially life-saving care at National Institutes of Health facilities.

We deplore the ongoing shutdown of the federal government, which is the result of one chamber’s unilateral attempt to accomplish through the budget process a feat for which the Constitution prescribes only legislation passed by both houses and approved by the President: the repeal of a duly passed law.

It is irresponsible for members of Congress to put the health of mothers and children at risk in this way. It is unconscionable for pro-life members of Congress to do so.

We can only hope that other pro-life leaders are paying attention and will join Democrats for Life in pressuring Congress before it is too late and irreplaceable lives are lost.


Millennial Writers: Government shutdown is a big deal for needy women and children

Millennial writers Meghan Clark and Nichole Flores have a new Washington Post article that explains why the government shutdown will have a serious, negative impact on poor women and children. They explain:

Some Americans will experience the shutdown more acutely than others, especially government employees who will go without pay, veterans and disabled persons who will go without benefits, and cancer patients who will be denied access to critical services from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Still, there are some for whom the shutdown will have an almost immediate and deleterious effect: poor families and children.

According to USDA estimates, Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) benefits in most states will disappear after one week of government closure. According to Forbes, 8.9 million women, infants, and children risk having their necessary benefits slashed or frozen. While human interest stories about families and school children who cannot visit the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty have taken center stage in public discourse about the shutdown, it is poor families who are positioned to bear the full weight of this latest round of Washington wrangling.

According to the Healthy NY Web site—the USDA website remains offline—WIC provides low-income pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children up to age five with supplemental nutrition, breastfeeding support, nutrition education, health checkups, and referrals for childcare.  Struggling families require these vital services, which provide necessary nutrition during critical years in human development. Dr. Perri Klaas at the New York Times Healthblog exhorts, “Think for a moment of poverty as a disease, thwarting growth and development, robbing children of the healthy, happy futures they might otherwise expect.”

Poverty prevention in early childhood is crucial for healthy development. So why wasn’t WIC one of the programs so important to maintain continuity that the House leadership designated it for a separate vote?  Why aren’t WIC beneficiaries—children whose livelihood and future depends on access to government-sponsored nutrition—the face of the government shutdown of 2013?

The full article can be read here.