Friday, June 10, 2011

California Bishops give us a good lens to view state budget crisis

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life, Dignity and Justice

On June 9 the California Catholic Conference of Bishops released the statement “In Search of the Common Good:  A Moral Framework for Addressing California’s Budget Crisis.”  Not only is it an excellent summary of Catholic Social Teaching, laying out the basic principles of the Dignity of the Human Person, Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity, it also accurately describes the dysfunctional atmosphere in Sacramento, and it sets forth a part toward a solution.

It is time to face the fact that California is in the midst of a crisis with moral dimensions.  The goal of a budget is not simply to balance California’s check book.  A budget is a moral document that articulates the priorities of a society.  Rather than arguing over which cuts to make or where to get new revenues, we should decide what kind of a society we want to have.  And if we are going to look at that through the lens of our faith, we have the principles mentioned above to guide us. 

Our first principle is the Respect for Human Dignity, that gratuitous gift of God, and that leads us to respect and support each human life, whether it is the life of an unborn child, a person in a persistent vegetative state, someone sentenced to die for murder, a welfare mom or an undocumented immigrant. 

The Common Good calls us to “look beyond our won self-interest to the interest of the larger society.”  Are we to give up something in order that others will have what they need? 

Subsidiarity might not be a word in most people’s usage, but it has a long history in Catholic Social Teaching.  It helps us understand that we cannot respect the dignity of an individual without looking at the complex web of relationships with family, community and society.  In regard to the budget debate it sheds light on the issue of taxation.

In Solidarity, we realize that when one suffers, we all suffer. We all depend on the fabric of society to live out our lives.  None of us “are self made.”  We benefit from the contributions of others and societal structures like schools, parks, streets, universities, law enforcement and regularity agencies.  As Blessed John Paul II said:  “We really are all responsible for all.”

These principles are often in tension and they must be taken as a whole.  I think of Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity as the three legs of the stool that supports Human Dignity.  Together they work to create a society that allows each of us and all of us to grow into the persons God intended.

It is my prayer that as faithful citizens, the members of the Catholic Community will communicate to their legislators the need to abandon partisanship and narrow self interest and tell them that we are willing to accept shared sacrifice because our faith tells us it is the right thing to do.

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