Rendering to God & to Caesar

CAMPAIGN FUNDS

The editorial “Boycotting the Poor Box” (December 3), regarding the U.S. dioceses that have dropped out of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, hit home for me. I’ve been a priest in one of those dioceses for forty-three years. My ordaining bishop was a sustaining contributor to Commonweal and was our bishop when the CCHD began. Deceased, he can hardly be resting in peace right now.

The current bishop announced his decision to withdraw from the Campaign at an annual banquet sponsored by the diocesan Catholic Charities. In the November 11, 2010, issue of the diocesan newspaper, one reads: “The Diocesan Poverty Relief Fund collection replaces the former Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection. Bishop X established the collection in April to enable the diocese to help local people in need.”

My fellow diocesan priests gripe about our current bishop’s focus on money and see this as his way to control yet more resources. But to my knowledge, no one has questioned the decision, and for the usual reason: fear. As a lay employee put it: “Our priests are so vulnerable!” I replied, “Vulnerable in what sense? We’ll always have a roof and food on the table and full health-care benefits. So…vulnerable to ambition?”

Let me speculate: the problem is that our bishop has no one to answer to, at least not within the diocese. The laity have recently over-subscribed to a capital campaign and apparently accept the bishop’s decision to withdraw from CCHD. I would hope that the 94 percent of his fellow bishops who continue taking up the CCHD collection will call him out. But one priest of my diocese warns, “They are too respectful of a fellow bishop to take him to task.”

What we’re left with, then, is Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter, and America saying their piece for the record. I respect honest journalism. But what we need is church reform.

(Rev.) Bernard Survil
Greensburg, Pa.


NOT SO PROGRESSIVE

Charles Morris’s excellent debunking of commonly held ideas about taxes (“Tax Myths,” October 22) has one serious flaw. In Myth 4, Morris argues that our tax system is “pretty progressive.” He is correct if one considers only the federal tax system, but his conclusion is problematic when one considers taxes levied by state and local governments. These governments rely heavily on the sales tax or some variation thereof. This is basically a regressive tax because the lower your income, the higher the percentage of it that goes to pay the sales tax.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in its 2009 study Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, concludes that “the best-off families should pay at a tax rate at least equal to what low- and middle-income families pay. Virtually every state fails this basic test of tax fairness: as this study documents, only two states require their best-off citizens to pay as much of their incomes in taxes as their very poorest taxpayers must pay, and only one state taxes its wealthiest individuals at a higher effective rate than middle-income families have to pay.”

Until Morris takes into account state and local taxes as well as federal, he cannot reach accurate conclusions about whether America has a progressive tax system.

Tom Dinell
Honolulu, Hawaii

Published in the 2010-12-17 issue: 
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