As debates continue over California's budget, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles urged lawmakers to give priority to the poor but also warned about the state's large fiscal deficits.
“In our current fiscal crisis, the poor are threatened by proposed cutbacks,” Archbishop Gomez said. “But Catholic principles of solidarity also urge us to see unsustainable public deficits as having profound moral implications for justice and human dignity.”
The archbishop's remarks come as Gov. Jerry Brown's June 16 veto of a proposed budget left the state in continued fiscal uncertainty. Gov. Brown is grappling with the state's projected deficit of over $10 billion dollars in the upcoming year.
However, Archbishop Gomez observed that much broader issues are at stake for California beyond fiscal concerns.
“A budget is more than a spending plan,” he said in his June 17 column for the Tidings archdiocesan newspaper. Rather, it raises “profound moral questions about who are we as a society, how we view our future and whether … we can look beyond our own self-interest to the interest of the larger society.”
Archbishop Gomez urged lawmakers and citizens to reflect on a new statement issued by the California bishops, who lamented that the state has been “on the verge of a budgetary abyss” for years.
“Much of the inability of our political leaders to forge workable solutions to the real budget dilemmas arises from the lack of a common moral frame of reference for evaluating the tradeoffs that lie before us,” the bishops wrote.
Archbishop Gomez said in his article this week that in response, the Church has an urgent role in promoting moral principles in the face of California's difficulties.
“As pastors, our work is to stir hearts and minds and to form consciences,” he said. “We want to inspire people to love and serve the poor and to always be close to those in need. We want to motivate them to build a society worthy of the God-given dignity of every person.”
As states across the U.S. spar over government spending, social programs, taxes, public unions and public debt, Archbishop Gomez said that at the “heart of these debates” are broader questions “about the size, scope and purpose of government.”
“Catholic social teaching has much to contribute to this conversation,” he noted.
Although there are non-negotiables in Catholic social teaching, such as its stance against abortion, euthanasia and same-sex “marriage,” Archbishop Gomez said that Catholics can have legitimate differences on how to apply the Church’s moral principles.
He said that ultimately, the “Catholic vision of society” challenges everyone to stretch beyond political preconceptions and party affiliations.
If the Church recognizes that the market economy “is a powerful engine for generating wealth, freeing people from poverty and meeting social needs,” he said, it also knows that “without ethical guidance from political authorities, the market can be exploited for selfish motives, resulting in imbalances and injustices.”
He added that even though the government is charged with protecting the rights of workers and enacting public policy toward the common good, “the Church reminds us that government programs are not the only ways to serve the poor.”
“Sometimes, in fact, government may not be the best means,” he said in his column.
The archbishop explained that the Church teaches that works of charity are a personal duty for every believer. He also said that the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” encourages the faithful to “seek solutions at the local and even the personal level.”
Archbishop Gomez then quoted Pope Benedict's 2009 encyclical, “God is Love,” which warned against a model of government that regulates and controls all aspects of society.
The Pope said that what's needed instead, is a system of governance that “in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.”
Archbishop Gomez closed his article by noting that these “are some of the big questions that we are called to pray about this week and in the months ahead.”
“Let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of America, for the grace we need to set aside our self-interests and seek the justice required by Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”