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Catholic Social Teaching lives

As Paul Ryan jockeys for position in the already-crowded 2016 GOP presidential starting gate, he may want to read this Catholic News Service story to help him avoid the CST pitfalls and pratfalls of the last campaign:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Good health is a benefit that needs to be defended and guaranteed for all people, not just for those who can afford it, Pope Benedict XVI told hundreds of health care workers.The new evangelization is needed in the health field, especially during the current economic crisis "that is cutting resources for safeguarding health," he said Nov. 17, addressing participants at a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.Hospitals and other facilities "must rethink their particular role in order to avoid having health become a simple 'commodity,' subordinate to the laws of the market, and, therefore, a good reserved to a few, rather than a universal good to be guaranteed and defended," he said.

Meanwhile, the USCCB as a whole couldn't say anything coherent about CST and the economy last week, but Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairs of the bishops' committees on domestic and international issues, were able to state the obvious in a letter to every congressional representative:In developing frameworks for future budgets, Congress should not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons, they wrote.From my RNS story:

In budget deficit efforts, there has always been a bipartisan consensus to exempt programs for the most vulnerable and instead to call for shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly, Blaire and Pates wrote.To achieve savings, policy makers should consider cutting nuclear weapons programs, direct agricultural subsidies, and other unnecessary spending.The bishops say the "important goal" of addressing long-term deficits is necessary, but must not be achieved "at the expense of the dignity of poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.They cite Pope Benedict XVIs warning against the downsizing of social security systems, and they frame their appeal in terms of traditional principles and values.

Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? 

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Not hard at all, but the first snip sounds more like the Pope is urging health care providers and hospitals to help take care of those without health care, and I think conservatives would argue that this need not involve government regulation and intervention. Moreover, care is available through emergency rooms. They have to treat you (and they do, and when you can't pay, they turn you over to a collection agency). Bishops Pates and Blaire say that re-examining our national spending priorities is a good idea, and I doubt conservatives would argue with that, but many will tell you that defense spending IS health care spending because it keeps Americans safe from injury and death that might be inflicted from our enemies. (Never mind that the worst attacks on domestic soil since 9/11 have been inflicted by perps who seem to have had mental problems, the coverage for which is utterly lousy even if you have insurance.)Also, the Pope and bishops are providing suggestions on prudential matters here, and that the plight of the poor and elderly must not distract us from real evils like abortion and homosexual activity.What say, conservative friends. Do I have that about right?

I applaud the Church and the bishops for speaking boldly on behalf of the poor. I also support their right to speak out against abortion, assisted-suicide, capital punishment and the movement to change the definition of marriage. Sadly, the Commonweal regulars incessantly criticize the hierarchy when it vigorously defends the rights of the unborn or when it speaks of marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman.

"The Commonweal regulars"? Sounds like a sports team. Or a uselessly vague insinuation.

Merciful Heavens, those guys have real guts -- they would even cut agricultural subsidies!Yay, Bishops Pates! Yay Bishop Blaire!

Frank Gibbons --You are putting all "the Commonweal regulars" into the same box, as if we all agree about everything. Too simple. Much, much too simple. Look around you.

"Sadly, the Commonweal regulars incessantly criticize the hierarchy when it vigorously defends the rights of the unborn or when it speaks of marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman."No one has criticized the hierarchy here; in fact I applaud their stand for the poor (many months after Sister Simone Campbell and the other nuns on the bus did), but it's something that a rhetorically nimble conservative could dispatch pretty easily with the arguments I outlined above. And it's interesting to note that it took just four minutes for the bloody shirt to come out to start waving attention away from the poor and elderly and back toward the more inflammatory issues of abortion and gay marriage. If someone can point me to a conservative pundit who believes the government should step in to "cure" poverty and increase access to health care for the poor with the same enthusiasm as he/she believes in a legislature "cure" for the evils of abortion, I'll get off this thread.

"Sadly, the Commonweal regulars incessantly criticize the hierarchy when it vigorously defends the rights of the unborn or when it speaks of marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman."That is not what I am reading here. The main criticism of the hierarchy is the manner in which the defense is expressed and the overt and/or devious politicization of the issues.

Well, I see a couple of flaws.1) Without fixing the deficit, we are supporting the poor today at the expense of the poor tomorrow. So I think the bishops contention that fixing the deficit is subordinate to the needs of today is fundamentally mistaken. We also have an obligation to future generations which can only be properly met through appropriate consumption today.2) We need to distinguish between entitlements and actually serving the needs of the poor. Not all elderly are poor; in fact, many have more wealth than those working people supporting them through Social Security. They may however, lack a job to provide current income, either by choice or affliction.3) Some portion of our defense budget is actually more akin to foreign aid, because, like it or not, we are the world's policeman. Our forces in South Korea are a prime example. And CST is not bounded by national borders4) I don't think Benedict's reference to 'Social Security Systems' is synonymous with any particular Social program.5) It seems to me that abortion and 'gay marriage' have been made overtly political by their proponents, with the opponents forced to respond or accept a fait accompli.Now are those observations so inimical to CST and the needs of others, that I should go to confession forthwith?

So, Bruce, what did I fail to anticipate about the conservative response in my initial post?

I'm glad that the US bishops were "prudential" in supporting candidates who disagreed with the pope. Just shows you that underneath it all they are not lackies of a foreign power but, rather, lackies of domestic money and Karl Rove (in 2 years of so, people will be saying "Karl Who?")

Interesting points, Bruce @2:43 pm1. This is a farsighted observation, going beyond even the usual concern for the not yet born to include the not yet conceived. But balancing the needs of today against those of tomorrow is part of the task of prudential judgment, is it not? The bishops may be mistaken in their contention, but not "fundamentally," unless it is clearer to everyone else than it is to me that cutting a worrisome but not yet disabling deficit is more urgent than feeding today's hungry children. And as the naughty young man in "A League of Their Own" asked, can't we do both?2. Means-testing entitlements might be more palatable if folks everywhere would cross their hearts and swear never to attack them as dependency-fostering welfare programs that must be eliminated for the good of their beneficiaries. Even then, especially then, I wouldn't buy it.3. A sizable portion of the defense budget is akin to domestic aid, awarding large contracts to large corporations to produce equipment that will never be wanted or used, and may fail if it is. With the largest defense budget in the history of the universe, we haven't won an unambiguous military victory since the invasion of Grenada (pop. 91,000) in 1983.4. I agree.5. Yes, if those darned proponents of change would just put a sock in it, we wouldn't have to defend the status quo with anything more thought-provoking than "that's what our ancestors did." We would probably also still be hunting game with rocks and digging out tubers, until we died at thirty.

Thanks to John Prior for engaging point-by-point.#3 responses from John and Bruce illustrate that certain aspects of military spending troubles people regardless of political affiliation, but where to make those cuts is vexed: Do we cut foreign military aid which we use to maintain detente (and possibly hostilities) in hot spots around the world? Or do we cut domestic corporate contracts that help local economies (but result in unwanted or unworkable military equipment)? Is it possible that Congress could agree to make some judicious cuts in both areas? And then where does it go? To hungry kids or to pay down the debt?R.I.P. Warren Rudman, a man of sense and integrity, who tried to juggle these difficult questions.

Speaking of good health ..... (although I'm sure the pope isn't quite on board with this ... yet):http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2012/11/irish-consititution-c...

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.