By Margaret Mary Kimmins - 04/24/12 10:05 PM EDT
Recently, the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution for fiscal 2013, and its author, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), spoke about how that budget fits with Catholic social teaching.
One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching is the principle of human dignity. Every person, regardless of race, sex, age, religion, health or other differences is worthy of respect. It’s not what you do or what you have that establishes this respect — it’s simply by being human. It’s the Catholic view that human dignity is not a means. It’s always an end.
Catholic social teaching also includes the principle of preferential treatment for poor and vulnerable people, and we must adhere to that principle if the good of all is to prevail.
Fairness and common good are values that everyone has — they’re not exclusively Catholic.
As faithful citizens, we are also called to be politically responsible. Congressman Ryan talks about “subsidiarity,” which is part of Catholic social teaching that defines how we act.
But Catholic social teaching also talks about solidarity and being at one with all of humanity, particularly with those whom Jesus calls “the least of these.”
Most Americans agree that we need to address our long-term deficits and that doing so will require some very tough decisions. However, cutting programs for poor people should not be one of those tough decisions. I’m mystified that we’re even having these conversations about whether we should cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by $133 billion and potentially throw more than 8 million people off the program.
I’m amazed that when the House Agriculture Committee is asked to find an additional $33 billion in savings, it takes every penny of it from SNAP — and some have the audacity to tell the churches to make up for those cuts. I’m astounded that the Ways and Means Committee just passed recommendations that would prevent 1 million families from receiving the Child Tax Credit, affecting millions of children in low-income families. Do they know that the Child Tax Credit is a proven tool for helping families lift themselves out of poverty?
As Christians, we believe the moral measure of any budget debate in Congress is how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). Poor and vulnerable people do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources.
Oftentimes, poor people are invisible to us. It’s not only the people sitting on the street asking for money. Some are working two or three jobs. Many poor people do their best to maintain their dignity. They don’t always call on others to come to their defense. It is outrageous, then, that Congress is passing legislation that could plunge poor and vulnerable people even deeper into poverty.
I would like Congress to take a few minutes of quiet and imagine what it would be like to have little or no access to food, healthcare, education or housing for themselves or their families. If you don’t have access to what you need to live in dignity and if you don’t have access to the funds that enable you to live, it can be frightening.
What we’re lacking is the imagination to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. How many people have said to their members of Congress that this is not right? We have a poverty of imagination. We have to act together in this. We have to act together in faith.
We have to tell Congress — and tell them again and again — that they must create a circle of protection around programs that are vital to hungry and poor people. And then we must pray hard that they will listen to their conscience as upright, moral persons of faith.
Kimmins, a nun working at Bread for the World, is president of the Franciscan Action Network.