Along with their Jan. 18 recommendations on fixing “serious moral problems” in last year's health care legislation, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a more comprehensive set of recommendations to members of the 112th Congress.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, wrote on its behalf to members of Congress on Jan. 14. He presented a series of proposals applying the Church's social teaching –which deals mainly with society's universally shared interests, among people of all faiths or none– to issues expected to face the new Congress.
Among his top priorities were “responsible transitions” to end the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a greater emphasis on religious freedom in foreign policy decisions, and a “clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers” in all economic recovery measures.
Writing only a week before the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the archbishop declared that the bishops' most fundamental aim was “to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family,” particularly the unborn, disabled, and terminally ill.
“We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life, from conception to natural death,” he wrote, while promising to “encourage one and all to seek common ground” to reduce the number of abortions through increased medical care for pregnant women.
“In close connection with our defense of all human life,” Archbishop Dolan continued, “we stand firm in our support for marriage, which is –and can only be– a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman.” He pledged the bishops' support for the Defense of Marriage Act against challenges to its constitutionality, and renewed their opposition to same-sex civil unions and partner benefits.
On the economic front, the archbishop reminded members of Congress that any legislative attempts to revive the national economy must give priority to the immediate needs of those hit hardest by the downturn in recent years. He urged the Obama administration and Congress to “seek the common good of our nation” over “partisan politics and the demands of powerful or narrow interests.”
Archbishop Dolan gave a qualified endorsement to partnerships between the federal government and faith-based charities, many of which have stepped in to help victims of economic turmoil. Such partnerships can be of vital service to the nation, the archbishop said, provided they do not require religious groups to make unacceptable compromises of their beliefs.
Immigration reform also continues to be a priority for the U.S. bishops, who supported last year's unsuccessful attempt to pass the DREAM Act. Many members of the U.S. episcopate have experienced firsthand, in the course of their ministry, the systematic problems of what Archbishop Dolan called a “broken immigration system” that “harms both immigrants and our entire nation.”
“Comprehensive reform is needed,” Archbishop Dolan argued, “to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst.” Such reform, he said, “will include a path to earned citizenship,” without neglecting the ways in which U.S. trade and development policies can improve conditions in immigrants' countries of origin.
“I assure you of our prayers,” he wrote, promising to pray that the new Congress would “advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially vulnerable and poor persons whose needs are critical in this time of difficult economic and policy choices.”