The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a letter to Congress on Monday concerning unemployment benefits. Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Toledo, Ohio, the letter's signatory, makes the argument that unemployment benefits are a “right to life” or pro-life issue.
This is a time of “prolonged and pervasive economic pain.” The letter cites the median length of joblessness as 10 months and that there are 4 job seekers for every 1 job opening. Blaire then quotes from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens:
The obligation to provide unemployment benefits, that is to say, the duty to make suitable grants indispensable for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, is a duty springing from the fundamental principle of . . . the right to life and subsistence.
If Glenn Beck still had that black board, Pope John Paul II might end up receiving the posthumous honor of having a smiling photo added to it.
And there are quite a few other theologians running around the Vatican who, after reflecting on scripture and a few thousand years of tradition, might find themselves added to Beck's list as well. It wasn’t too long ago that the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released a document with such a strong critique of the current iteration of our market system that it made Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne (a Catholic), ask:
Will we soon see a distinguished-looking older man in long, white robes walking among the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York’s Zuccotti Park? Is Pope Benedict XVI joining the protest movement?
The USCCB has had some big issues over the past year with Republican budget decisions. They had some strong words about the budget this spring, saying they had “serious concerns about how (Congressman Paul Ryan's budget) meets the criterion of adequately protecting poor and vulnerable people.”
When Ryan wrote a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, trying to defend himself on the basis of Catholic Social Teaching, he got a very polite, firm Archbishop-like theological smack-down. Well, maybe not a smack-down but Time’s Amy Sullivan put it like this:
The reply (Archbishop Dolan’s) was polite, respectful, but firm. The message: Nice try. I’m glad you understand Catholic social teaching. Now apply those principles to your budget.
Congress has some big economic decisions to make whether it is finishing up the budget, extending the pay roll tax cut or unemployment benefits. The message from the USCCB has been clear.
Don’t call yourself pro-life if you abandon vulnerable people as soon as they are born.
Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.