Budget cuts must protect poor and vulnerable, say US bishops
By Benjamin Mann
Bishop Howard Hubbard and CRS president Ken Hackett
Bishop Howard Hubbard and CRS president Ken Hackett

.- A group of more than 300 Catholic leaders met with members of Congress on Feb. 15, to share a message from the U.S. bishops –  urging legislators to remember the needs of the poor and vulnerable, as they make cuts to the federal budget.

Participants in the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (Feb. 13-16) took the bishops' message to Capitol Hill, delivering letters from two committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during a day of visits with U.S. representatives and senators. The letters express concern over what Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, chairman for International Justice and Peace, described as “disproportionate cuts in programs that serve the most vulnerable” to the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman for Domestic Justice and Human Development, warned lawmakers against the temptation to “secure the nation while at the same time furthering the insecurity of the poor and vulnerable in our midst.”

“Decisions should be made that not only reflect a commitment to national and long term fiscal security but demonstrate justice, compassion and fairness,” wrote Bishop Blaire.

“Our plea, then, is simple: Put the poor and vulnerable first as you consider how to spend limited federal resources.”

Bishop Blaire's call reflected the Church's authoritative social teaching, which states that both individuals and societies must prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable in their public and private decisions. Accordingly, he criticized proposals to cut funding for community health centers, affordable housing programs, job training and refugee relief.

But the Bishop of Stockton praised the proposed budget for regarding the rights of other vulnerable human persons, by retaining language against abortion funding, and seeking to restore a ban on funding of abortion in the District of Columbia.

The letter from Bishop Hubbard, co-written with Catholic Relief Services' president Ken Hackett, called attention to the importance of foreign aid, a small portion of the U.S. budget which could nevertheless come in for significant reduction. An analysis by Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed foreign aid being cut at 10 times the rate of the budget as a whole under the proposed resolution.

Hackett and Bishop Hubbard said they strongly approved of the bill's proposal to restore the Mexico City Policy – which denies funding to international groups that perform or promote abortion – and to cut funding to the U.N. Population Fund, which supports forced abortion and sterilization in China.

“Unfortunately,” they noted, “the Continuing Resolution also makes dramatic cuts that are life-threatening.”

“Cuts at the level being considered will result in the loss of innocent lives: persons with HIV no longer able to access life-saving anti-retroviral medications; refugees and victims of natural disaster succumbing to starvation and hunger-related illnesses; and poor families unable to grow what they need to survive.”

They urged Congress to “find resources elsewhere, in programs that do not serve the poorest persons and communities.”

“In times of fiscal restraint,” they pointed out, “shared sacrifice demands that the entire budget be examined, including defense.”

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