Letters | Scandinavian social programs, defending indigenous land & Barr’s micro-morality

 

TRILLION, WITH A ‘T’

Max Foley-Keene (“Equality Isn’t Cheap,” November) makes fundamental sense of a key to the success of government-funded social-insurance institutions in the Scandinavian countries: that the quality must be so good that the middle class doesn’t turn to expensive market providers of better services, thereby maintaining middle-class support for the programs. He estimates that to match Swedish levels of quality, the United States would have to spend some $15 trillion over ten years.

That sounds like a lot, and it is. But a brief look at international tax comparisons researched by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (an economic think tank whose members are the thirty-six richest nations) puts this in perspective. Considering all taxes—federal, state, and local—the U.S. ranks far below average. If our taxes were raised not to the level of Sweden but simply to the average for the OECD nations, we’d have another $1.6 trillion (that’s a “t”) to spend each year.

Daniel K. Finn
Clemens Professor of Economics and
Professor of Theology
St. John’s University &
The College of St. Benedict
St. Joseph, Minn.

 

STANDING UP FOR JUSTICE

As Austen Ivereigh described in his article (“Exposing the Spirits,” December) the Amazon synod’s closing document establishes the direction of the church “to become Samaritan, merciful, missionary, ‘inserted and inculturated’…standing with the people in defense of their rights and their land.” A commitment to upholding rights becomes especially relevant as we witness peoples in Ecuador and Chile, among others, stand up for justice and suffer violent backlash from government authorities.

In Ecuador, where I lived from January through July, indigenous communities began protests on October 3 in reaction to an IMF austerity package proposed by President Moreno. Popular manifestations followed for eleven days led largely by the CONAIE, the popular coalition of the twelve indigenous nations in Ecuador. Under direction of current President Jaime Vargas, the CONAIE shows unique expression through integrating pluralistic identities. CONAIE draws from Amazonian, Andean, Catholic, and Evangelical wisdom to promote the rights of the Ecuadorian indigenous people and their lands. Formed in 1986, the popular organization has a particular understanding of both human rights and nationalism that promotes communal indigenous agency, rejects neoliberal actors such as the IMF, and cares deeply for the rights of nature, Pachamama. While in other global contexts an exclusive ethno-nationalism has taken hold, CONAIE—an organization based in grassroots resistance—puts forth a framework that remarkably resembles Catholic Social Thought and liberation theologies. Their official objectives not only reject colonial and neocolonial actions but promote participatory democracy, solidarity, and equity for indígena, afro-, and mestizo alike. The organization supports the decentralization of power and communitarianism while fighting to protect lands and natural resources.

When staying with an Andean indigenous community on the outskirts of La Esperanza, Imbabura, I witnessed a community that lives by such values. Politically active in the Pachakutik indigenous party and local culture, families tend to their land, work to send their children to university, and share with visitors a messy historical memory of oppression under colonization and politico-spiritual liberation via popular organizing and communal life. When I spoke with a community leader about their involvement with the church, especially with regards to the prominent Ecuadorian liberation pastor Bishop Leonidas Proaño, she expressed her doubts despite some of her community being Catholic: “[Proaño] spoke of us as ‘the poor’—we have never been poor.” Her words call into question the limits of a preferential option for the poor and the moral kitsch that can so often drive such work, yet I still believe our brothers and sisters deserve our voices of solidarity and friendship.

While the most recent protests ended on October 14, la lucha turns a new page. The CONAIE and allies demand the resignation of President Moreno, a number of economic reforms, and justice for those killed, severely injured, and held in prison as “terrorists” by the government. On November 1, insistent advocacy led to the release of six adolescents—the youngest fourteen years old—who had been detained and charged with terrorism during the protests. Friends, family, and CONAIE members received the adolescents upon their release from the detention center in Rumiñahui with a ceremonial cleansing and communal event, rejecting the definition of terrorism concocted by the government. And October 31 marked the delivery of the official proposal with several demands, developed by CONAIE and their committee of social organizations. Representatives from the United Nations and the Catholic Church stood as mediators. 

I continue to stay in communication with many of my coworkers, hosts, and friends in Ecuador, who range from the city-dwelling upper class to rural indigenous folks. I write in solidarity with those who have graciously welcomed me en su hermosa país, Ecuador.

John DiBello
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

 

GOOD NEWS FOR THE POOR

I would like to thank Paul Baumann for his article “William Barr, Catholic Moralist” (December). I seldom find a critique like that in the mainstream media anymore, which used to acknowledge the schools, churches, and religion of the prominent and not-so-prominent. Now, religion doesn’t seem to count. Economics, politics, and celebrity define us all. Religion and its consequences go largely unexplored.

I suppose we’d take no notice at all of Barr’s religious beliefs if he didn’t offer them in his Notre Dame speech, and they do influence him, as Baumann points out. Barr believes in a “micro-morality” that motivates individuals to do good. He suspects the social programs governments produce. He’s not alone.

It would be interesting to spend some time at Barr’s parish to see what gospel is preached there. Fifty years after Vatican II, it’s a good time to see how the council has been received in parishes, dioceses, and countries. Has that great church blueprint—which Pope Francis follows—made it to the pews and preachers? Looks like it hasn’t reached Barr.

Baumann mentions his experience at Mass the day he read the Barr speech. The Book of Sirach, the Gospel of Luke, the responsorial psalm all called Barr’s beliefs into question. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

I wonder if some aren’t disturbed by today’s liturgy because of this message from Scripture. Do some conservative groups favor a Latin Mass because it blunts the plain meaning of Scripture proclaimed so generously in our vernacular lectionary today? Hard to deny their advocacy for the poor and their call to governments and ordinary people alike to do something.

Fr. Victor Hoagland, CP
Jamaica, N. Y.

Published in the January 2020 issue: 
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