Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza on Poverty, Structural Sin, Nuns, and a Broader Pro-Life Agenda

Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring recently interviewed Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Gehring asked a superb set of questions, and the Archbishop responded with equally excellent answers. Here are some of the highlights of the Archbishop’s responses:

  • The Pope seems to want a Church that is inclusive and out in the world, a Church going to the peripheries, a Church that is involved in the truly human problems that are affecting so many, especially the problems of poverty.
  • Bishops have a lot to learn from him, especially his lifestyle. He has made a deliberate effort to distance himself from the imperial court of Rome. Bishops have to take a close look at ourselves to see how we can live more simply.
  • The Pope’s very clear teaching condemning the “economy of exclusion” and the structures of sin that are involved strikes at the heart of some conservative Catholics who are so wedded to the unfettered free market that they think the Pope’s talk is naïve. Well, the Pope sees it as realistic. The poor of the world who suffer from that type of economic philosophy see it as realistic. The Pope is on a steady course. He is not naïve. He knows what he is doing.
  • The Pope is saying we have to oppose abortion but there must be a broader agenda. Some pro-life advocates don’t like to hear that and think if you take the focus off abortion you weaken your position. The Pope is saying you weaken your pro-life position when you don’t take a broader view of issues that attack human life.
  • Some people think there are only sins that are intrinsic evil, but the Pope is saying the economy has built in a structure that strongly impacts against the humanity of people and that is an evil too.
  • Hopefully, we will begin to see in Faithful Citizenship more emphasis on what Francis is saying about the poor. That will be a sign of how well Francis’ influence is taking root among the bishops of the United States.
  • I also think when young people see we are in the streets working with the poor I think that will make a difference.
  • The Church has grown and been strengthened in this country because of women religious. They have been doing what Pope Francis has been talking about in the streets of the world, in the prisons.  They have done that far more effectively than anyone else in the church.

Check out the full interview here.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Pope Francis’ Holy Land Triumph by Michael Sean Winters: “When he was introduced to six victims of the Shoah, he bent down and kissed their hands. We are accustomed to the negative of that image, of people great and small bending over to kiss the pope’s ring. Here, he reversed the image and the significance: It was they, the victims of the worst atrocity in history, who merited the veneration of a kiss.”

An Older Definition of the American Dream by Anna Sutherland: “Reviving civic involvement and widening access to good education may be more difficult tasks than improving the material situation of the poor, but they are just as crucial to the formation of an egalitarian, democratic society.”

Myanmar’s Appalling Apartheid by Nicholas Kristof: “Myanmar seeks American investment and approval. We must make clear that it will get neither unless it treats Rohingya as human beings.”

A Tidal Wave of Trauma by Lauren Wolfe: “Right now, there are about 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes, 2.7 million of whom have taken refuge in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. And, of course, there are millions of Syrians still suffering inside their country. Do the math, and it’s easy to see the enormity of the mental health crisis this war has created. But amid a litany of humanitarian needs that aren’t even remotely being met, can this crisis possibly be addressed? Can its long-term effects — illnesses that could tear apart families and reduce quality of life — be mitigated in a meaningful way?”

On the science of abortion, liberals are in serious denial by Michael Brendan Dougherty: “When anti-abortion activists say that human life begins at conception, they are not trying to confuse people about whether legal personhood and a viable conceptus are actually the same thing. They are trying to reinforce and build on the common intuition that society’s notions about human life should have some correspondence to observable reality, and that legal personhood should have a relationship to when we know a new individual of the species comes into existence.”

Too High a Cost to be Pro-Life? by Teaghan Grayson: “Helping Americans understand that unborn children are actually children and that we ought to secure their right to life is not sufficient to combat support for legal abortion. Instead, we must go further, to convince our country that the cost that comes with this population increase is a cost worth bearing.”

‘Allowed to Hope’? by Kevin Clarke: “It is hard to overestimate the need and the complexity of the problems challenging the Central African Republic.”

Paul Ryan’s letter to the poor by Kevin Clarke: “Like Rep. Ryan, the church has also worried about the soul-crushing potential of a suffocating social welfare bureaucracy. But in Catholic social teaching, our encyclicals’ authors probably had more the Soviet model of social suppression in mind than cheerful Swedish day care centers for working parents or programs that deliver daily bread to struggling families.”




Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Bring on the Dogma by Michael Sean Winters: “The mercy of God, the love of God, the human dignity of all, these are the core doctrines that we must embrace and defend, but our defense must be characterized by utter humility in part because we all so easily and so often offend against them!”

Going Home Again by David Brooks: “Sting’s talk was a reminder to go forward with a backward glance, to go one layer down into self and then after self-confrontation, to leap forward out of self. History is filled with revivals, led by people who were reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”

How Bashar al-Assad created the feared shabiha militia: an insider speaks by The Telegraph: “A former Assad regime insider has given the first direct account of how Syria’s ruling family created the feared shabiha militia that is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of the civil war, and gave it orders to kill or torture anti-regime protesters.”

Emerging Adulthood: A Luxury Good by Anna Sutherland: “As Kendig, Mattingly, and Bianchi conclude, their findings imply that young adults from lower-income families need more support as they pursue a college education or job training, and they could benefit from earlier training in financial literacy as they contribute to their families’ income at younger ages.”

The Central African Republic has become a nightmare for Muslims by Peter Bouckaert: “The Catholics’ humanity, courage and leadership stand out amid the slaughter. They are virtually alone in trying to protect the vulnerable. France and the African Union have deployed thousands of peacekeepers; the United States and other governments have provided support to the peacekeeping mission. But their efforts to protect civilians pale next to the bravery exhibited by these clergy.”

Europe’s bishops: Politics needs to focus its attention on the common good by Vatican Insider: “The bishops ended their statement with a direct appeal: ‘We, Catholic Bishops, would plead that the European project not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress.’”

Abby Huntsman wants to lead her own generation into poverty by Michael Hiltzik: “Huntsman has stitched her spiel together out of scraps and tatters of misinformation, of a sort we’ve heard from the older generation for years. They’re no more accurate coming out the mouths of a “millennial.” But it’s tragic to see that what she’s learned from her elders is how to mislead her public.”

Christians, Muslims join anti-slavery campaign by AP: “Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers. The Global Freedom Network launched Monday at the Vatican aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.”

Best practices for charity and justice by Jack Jezreel, US Catholic: “Those in our parishes who work on issues related to human trafficking, for example, should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those dedicated to issues related to mental illness. Those focused on environmental care should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those focused on reducing abortions. Those who work on domestic issues in partnership with Catholic Charities should celebrate—not diminish—those who work on international issues in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.”

Love vs. Pornography by Bishop Paul Loverde: “Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing.”

A Genius for Friendship by John Padberg, SJ: “Peter began to help Ignatius in his studies; Ignatius slowly became a dear friend and counselor to whom Faber unburdened his troubled inner life. Ignatius could understand it well; he had experienced the same trials of scruples, temptations, uncertainties that had long bedeviled Peter. These burdens never completely left Faber, but he learned from Ignatius both how to deal with them and how to help others in the same circumstances.”

Pope Francis: Style, substance and a man for others by Stephen Kent: “His remarks — critical of the “throwaway culture” and his skepticism about “trickle-down economics” ever reaching the poor — have captured headlines, as has his demand for a direct encounter with the poor.”


How You Can Address Income Inequality and Poverty

Recently the USCCB posted this presentation on income inequality. I thought it was a great place to start on raising awareness about how wage inequality impacts people who are living in poverty in this country. It’s a major problem but it doesn’t have any simple solutions, and the presentation doesn’t really offer any. The complexity of the situation has been weighing heavily on my heart because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that came out recently indicated that:

● The higher minimum wage would reduce jobs by about 500,000, or 0.3 percent of projected 2016 employment. The CBO admits that its estimates involve much uncertainty. Job loss, it says, might be as high as 1 million or as low as almost nothing. The half-million figure is its best judgment.

● Up to 25 million workers would receive wage increases, about 16.5 million below the proposed minimum and possibly 8 million more just above it. Wage increases would raise the incomes of families in poverty by about 3 percent, or $300 annually. The effect is muted because most people in poverty don’t have jobs and many low-income workers are part-time (47 percent).

●Higher incomes would lift about 900,000 people above the government’s poverty line in 2016 ($24,100 for a family of four). That’s about 2 percent of the projected 45 million poor.

A higher minimum wage would help a lot of people, but it could also hurt a number of people too, and it certainly isn’t a final solution to the problem of poverty in the USA. The situation can’t be reduced to one simple step. Hunger and poverty are complex issues, and if we are going to end them (which I hope we all would love to see) it’s going to take a lot of work on a lot of different fronts. What the USCCB presentation does is highlight the historical, theological, and statistical reasons why we should CARE about income inequality. Great job! I care about it, but now what should I do?

How can income inequality best be addressed and what changes might be put into place within a wider series of reforms?

I have recently been reading the new “Hunger Report” on “Ending Hunger in America.” It’s 250 pages long, but a faithful and fruitful discussion on the issues of hunger in America is presented in it. It addresses income inequality, jobs, local leadership, and national policy. It also takes the time to look at those on the margins who are often left out, excluded, and denied access to the programs, jobs, and services that can keep them secure. I highly recommend taking a look at it.  Each component in addressing poverty is complex and essential, and requires people who are willing to address the issues in their complexity.

As Catholics I believe we are all called to take action with our time, voice, and resources to make an impact in our communities. We should take time to talk and learn about poverty. We should take time to speak up about poverty to our friends and, more importantly, to our policy makers. We should take time to pray about poverty. We should take time to serve those in poverty. We should use our resources to support those in poverty.

I believe that income inequality is a crisis that will only grow if we don’t address it. It’s part of a larger problem of poverty in our nation. To fix it will take some difficult decisions, and actions like raising the minimum wage are certainly an essential part of it. More importantly, though, it also requires people who are willing to make difficult decision in their own lives to address it. As we approach Lent I encourage you to think about some ways that you can impact poverty as part of your spiritual practice this season.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Connect your fast to Justice! I recently posted 5 creative fasting ideas that can help connect what you give up for Lent to the trials of those in poverty.
  2. Make letter-writing a spiritual practice. This is something I recently encouraged over at Bread for the World. Letters can comfort the grieving, embrace the lonely, uplift the discouraged, and carry love across the globe. A letter can also affect the lives of people you may not even know. Writing to your policy makers in Washington, D.C., can influence the decisions they make—decisions that affect millions of people both here at home and around the world.
  3. Give a little extra. Budgets are moral documents. They indicate what we value. Take a look at yours and evaluate if you can make a sacrifice anywhere so that you can help others who are struggling.
  4. Take time to pray about these issues. As we connect with God’s heart for justice, our own lives find strength and inspiration. Consider making issues of poverty a topic for prayer and contemplation. You might also consider taking a group though a time of prayer and study together. I am hoping to use this guide with my family this year. 

I pray God will bless you this Lent, and that you will be led into the heart of our just God and his love for all people.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

A Year Later, the Pope Benedict Most People Forget by John Gehring: “The Benedict legacy often forgotten today amid the understandable euphoria over Pope Francis is a significant contribution to the Church’s social justice tradition.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict by Michael Sean Winters: “Benedict’s pontificate was seminal in critical ways. His theological writings on the environment were more profound, and more urgent, than those of any other world leader, and surely the environmental crisis we continue to invite will be one of the most challenging crises humanity has ever faced.”

An economic school has led to gridlock in Washington by EJ Dionne: “When it comes to government policy, the Austrian economists paved the road to paralysis.”

Raising the minimum wage is the right idea for the right by EJ Dionne: “Conservative politicians really need to ask themselves: If they refuse to raise the minimum wage and at the same time insist on cutting health care and wage-support programs, are they not consigning millions more of their fellow citizens to lives of poverty? Most Americans reject this view, and that includes most conservatives who believe in work, family and personal responsibility.”

A Srebrenica moment in Syria? by Nicholas Burns: “Putin will never reach a ‘Srebrenica moment’ on Syria. That leaves the rest of us to consider once more — how many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killings?”

Front Left Corner of Heaven by Terrance Klein, America: “Because heaven is all about love, nothing but love can lead us there.”

Praise these Special Olympians by Michael Gerson: “People with intellectual disabilities are largely invisible in the global development agenda, but they should be its cutting edge.”

Beware of Pope Francis by Timothy Shriver: “When he embraced the young man with severe disabilities, he was calling on the world to change its approach to how we value human life by putting the most vulnerable at the center. To do so, each of us needs to become more vulnerable ourselves. That’s not easy or  comfortable.”

The Tea Party and the Hammock Theory of Poverty by Greg Sargent: “Some Republican lawmakers do seem sincere about charting a new course on poverty. But the party agenda remains in thrall to a set of ideas that remain largely the province of a small tea party minority, and are not nearly as widely held among Republicans overall.”

Yes, progressives can embrace Downton Abbey!  by Morning’s Minion: “The old order—unequal and unjust as it might have been—was nevertheless based on the notion that we are not simply autonomous individuals following our own destinies and our own desires. Rather, it was based on the firm principle that we are bound to society and to each other by reciprocal rights, duties, and responsibilities.”

What liberals can learn from the author of The Culture of Narcissism by Damon Linker: “Perhaps the most controversial element of Lasch’s argument, then no less than now, was his assertion that the Left’s advocacy of the sexual revolution was in fact a betrayal of both women and the working class. Whereas the family was once a ‘haven in a heartless world’ (to cite the title of the book in which Lasch first advanced the claim), the sexual revolution encouraged its near-total assimilation into the capitalist order of consumption and exchange.”