Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently wrote a letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asking him to speak out against the House Republican budget and how it affects the poor. In an interview with The Christian Post, DeLauro describes how her Catholic faith informs her views about the federal budget.
House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) led the budget effort passed by the House last month. In an interview on CBN last week, Ryan, a Catholic, said he believes that the House budget upholds the principle of subsidiarity, (large complex institutions should not address social problems that can better be addressed by small simple institutions closer to the problem), and "preferential option for the poor" (the needs of the poor should be given preference in policy decisions). DeLauro, also Catholic, said Monday that the House budget violates Catholic principles.
Here is an edited transcript of the interview:
CP: In your letter to Timothy Dolan, you discuss how your Catholic faith guides your policy priorities. How did you learn about Catholic teachings?
DeLauro: I was born into an Italian Catholic household. Both of my parents are Catholic. I went to Catholic elementary, high school and college. The first time I didn't go to a Catholic school was when I went to graduate school and when I went to the London School of Economics.
I'm often asked by press what it is that motivates me. The way I reply to that is not the 22 years I've spent in the House of Representatives, but in fact it is about being born and raised in an Italian Catholic household, a very Catholic household.
From a personal perspective, my Catholic faith is really a part of what I am and what I value. It has been the set of principles and moral guidelines by which I live day to day and it has offered me a sense of where I belong and community, from a very, very early age.
I learned from my folks, because they were engaged in politics, public policy and public service, that there is a connection between one's faith and public service. The values that I learned in church affect the change that we deal with at the local, state and federal level, and those are the values that I hold dear. These are profound values that are undeniable.
CP: What Catholic teachings come to mind, in particular, when deciding what should be prioritized in the federal budget?
DeLauro: When we're dealing with public policy, these are issues that are central to my faith – better jobs, education, affordable health care, protecting the most vulnerable, caring for the environment. It's all about what the Congress does and what its mission is in terms of protecting the common good. Our faith, there are a lot of us Catholics here, informs and strengthens that belief in social justice and a sense of moral obligation.
The Catholic Church has a rich social justice history. First and foremost, I'm very interested in the issue of a social safety net and the issue of hunger and food stamps, which is attacked in the Ryan budget very specifically. It's in Matthew – "I was hungry and you gave me food." It's in the deeds of Jesus Christ, who brought plenty in the midst of want – loaves and fishes. These moments are important in terms of Catholic teaching. Rerum Novarum (an 1891 encyclical addressing social justice) – you read Pope Leo XIII, these are important doctrines. He didn't call it Social Security, but essentially that is what he was talking about. Monsignor John Ryan, in 1919 he worked with Catholic bishops on a plan that calls for minimum wage, insurance for the elderly, unemployed, labor rights, housing for workers. That is at the heart of what Catholic social justice is all about.
CP: In a recent interview, Ron Sider, a politically liberal evangelical Christian, said he believes, based upon his reading of Scripture, that passing debt from one generation to the next is immoral. Would you agree?
DeLauro: I would say, what does that translate into, in your perspective? Does that mean, in a Ryan budget, that what we do is to provide the richest one percent in this nation with, on average, $187,000 in a tax break? Or, do we take food out of the mouths of children, when we cut SNAP, the food stamp program by $140 billion?
When you start to address the debt, because debt is a big issue and one has to be concerned about it, the issue is where do you start? And, the tax cuts for those people making $250,000 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop paying the richest corporations in the nation to take their jobs overseas, eliminate the subsidies to the oil and gas industry. The issue is, on whose back do you put the debt?
The Ryan budget does not address debt nor fiscal responsibility. What it does is take care of the very wealthy at the risk of the middle class and people who are poor. That is contrary to Catholic teaching.
CP: One of the Catholic teachings that Paul Ryan talked about was subsidiarity. He said that it is essentially federalism – giving more authority to state and local governments. Do you disagree?
DeLauro: Yes, and so do the 60 theologians, academics, etc. who disagreed with that. Actually, it was in a response last year that Archbishop Dolan referred the congressman to the words of Pope John Paul, who emphasized that a community of a higher order should, nonetheless, support those below in case of need.
It is my hope that other religious leaders will come out, and particularly Cardinal Dolan because he has been so vocal on a variety of issues, that he would make the strength of his voice heard on this immoral budget. What it will do to middle class families in this country and the poor of this nation would not be in keeping with our Catholic positions.
CP: Last month, Pew Research conducted a poll finding that 54 percent of registered voters and 62 percent of registered Democrats believe that churches should stay out of politics. You've written a letter to Cardinal Dolan asking him to get involved in politics ...
DeLauro: Cardinal Dolan is involved in politics. And, quite frankly, the Catholic Church has been very much involved. I think the public would prefer not to see that, but the Church has made its voice heard over the years and engaged in public policy.
Most recently, there's an article in The New York Times which talks about, "Catholic bishops urge campaign for religious freedom." My hope would be that the Catholic bishops and the cardinal would urge a campaign against hunger in the United States and social injustice, and to speak about the circle of protection that is so critical in lives today. You can't just pick and choose where you want to make your voice heard.
CP: What would you say to those Americans, and Democrats in particular, who want less mixing of religion and politics?
DeLauro: My faith informs my life. Anybody else's faith, whether you come to Congress as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim. We don't learn our values from the institution. We learn it through the culture of our homes and in the religion of our family. That informs the kind of public policy that we initiate and craft.
To say that it informs is not to dictate what public policy should be, and I think that is where the American people are. The American people are a religious people. Those moral values are what inform what we do, not imposing dictum, penalties and so forth. It is about creating good public policy that reflects morals and values that are not just singularly mine, but those of our nation.
CP: Anything else you would like to add?
DeLauro: In 1986, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that government has a positive moral responsibility in safeguarding human rights and ensuring that the minimum conditions of human dignity are met for all. That is what Medicaid is about. That is what the food stamp program is about. That is what they are designed to do. So if you destroy them to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this nation, it is a subversion of that subsidiarity that my colleague, Mr. Ryan, talks about. It is not an expression of it. That subsidiarity principle recognizes that those social institutions closest to the person can effectively respond to their needs. And, above all, our Church has recognized that government has a responsibility to serve the common good.