US Catholic Bishops on Government Shutdown: The Poor, Needy Should Come First

Top bishops from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have spoken out on the recent government shutdown by suggesting that moral criteria should guide budgetary decisions, and insisted that the poor and needy should come first.

"We write as pastors and teachers, not experts or partisans, to bring both moral principles and everyday experience to this discussion. The Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, welcomes refugees, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. In many instances, the government is a partner with the Church and its ministries in accomplishing this work," read the letter to the House and Senate signed by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles; Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California; and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.

There has been much talk on the government shutdown that hit Tuesday morning after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on budgetary concerns, with both sides pointing fingers at each other. The bishops suggested that certain moral criteria should be used when making important decisions on the matter, and offered:

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1.Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects "the least of these" (Mt 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

The Catholic bishops referred to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and many of the comments Pope Francis has made during his time as leader of the Vatican which affirm that the role of the government is to provide people with essentials, such as food, health, work, education.

"In our country today, millions of Americans struggle to meet these basic needs, through no fault of their own, as a result of an economy that continues to fail to create sufficient economic opportunities," the letter continued, and pointed out that the poverty rate has hit a 20 year high, and that over 1 in 5 children are forced to live in poverty.

The letter also shared a recent quote by Pope Francis, who said: "You can't govern without loving the people and without humility! And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: 'Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?' If you don't ask those questions, your governance will not be good."

The bishops concluded their statement by promising they are ready to work with leaders from both political parties and move toward a budget that "reduces future unsustainable deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity."

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