Fiscal crisis response must not forget human cost, Bishop Murphy says

Bishop William Murphy
Bishop William Murphy


William Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has written to U.S. political leaders and the Secretary of the Treasury asking that the Bush administration and Congress make a moral response to the financial crisis.

“The economic crisis facing our nation is both terribly disturbing and enormously complicated,” Bishop Murphy wrote in his September 26 letter. “I write to offer the prayers of the U.S. Catholic Bishops and express the concerns of our Conference as you face difficult choices on how to limit the damage and move forward with prudence and justice.”

While saying that the bishops do not bring “technical expertise,” the bishop explained, “we believe our faith and moral principles can help guide the search for just and effective responses to the economic turmoil threatening our people.”

Bishop Murphy urged that the “enormous human impact” of the crisis be at the center of the debate over the response plan. People are losing their jobs, their benefits, and even their homes while some people risk losing their life savings.

“The scandalous search for excessive economic rewards even to the point of dangerous speculation that exacerbates the pain and losses of the more vulnerable are egregious examples of an economic ethic that places economic gain above all other values,” he wrote.

Attributing the crisis to “greed, speculation, exploitation of vulnerable people and dishonest practices,” Bishop Murphy said those responsible for the crisis should be held accountable.

Citing John Paul II’s words about the human needs not met by the free market, the bishop wrote that the crisis showed the market has limitations as well as advantages. He then endorsed “effective public regulation and protection” when necessary.

The principle of solidarity “reminds us that we are in this together and warns us that concern for narrow interests alone can make things worse.” Calling for a commitment to the common good, Bishop Murphy said protection of the vulnerable workers, business owners, homeowners, renters, and stockholders should be included in efforts to protect financial institutions.

The bishop added that the principle of subsidiarity means that private actors and institutions should accept their own obligations. If they do not, larger entities such as the government will have to step in.

“This is a challenging time for our nation,” Bishop Murphy wrote. “Everyone who carries responsibility should exercise it according to their respective roles and with a great sensitivity to reforming practices and setting forth new guidelines that will serve all people, all institutions of the economy and the common good of the people as a nation.”

Bishop Murphy closed his letter by repeating the Catholic tradition’s call for a “society of work, enterprise and participation” which is not directed against the market but demands its appropriate control to ensure that the “basic needs of the whole society are satisfied.”

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