Sharing a Common Border and Responsibility

Coll headshotGranado headshotThe Church in Mexico, with deep faith in Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe, searches valiantly with the Church in the United States for ways to collaborate and to respond to the crisis affecting Mexican society. The Church does so despite the threats of violence targeted against her priests, religious and lay workers.

Travelling to Mexico from June 15 through June 19, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Bishop Oscar Cantú heard of the crucial pastoral work of the Church in Mexico, and offered their support. The visit included significant discussions with key bishops and staff members of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference (CEM). Pertinent U.S. and other governmental officials and members of Mexican civil society were consulted as well.

The bishops visited a migrant assistance facility in Huehuetoca, where refugees are provided food, clothing and medical care. They also journeyed to the historic cathedral in Cuernavaca, learning first-hand of the assistance provided to the poor and marginalized by the Diocese. Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the beautiful tilma, or shawl, worn by Saint Juan Diego, bearing the miraculous imprint of the Blessed Mother, is preserved and venerated. An earlier visit to the home of this saint in Cuatitlán provided perspective on the profound religious and cultural prominence of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Mexico and all the Americas.

The bishops heard of the impressive work undertaken on behalf of the Archdiocese of Acapulco in providing support to victims of violence and their relatives. One mother movingly described the tragic loss of her teen-aged daughter, murdered by neighborhood friends corrupted by the culture of cruelty and impunity that pervades much of Mexican society. She and other grieving parents eloquently testified to the crucial role of the Church in providing counseling, community and compassion in these sorrowful circumstances.

Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú participated in a press conference held jointly with key bishops from the CEM, where hopes for continued dialogue and collaboration were discussed. As a result, a new relationship has dawned between the committees and offices of the USCCB and of the CEM that address topics of justice and peace. Many issues need to be considered in a collaborative manner between the two respective Conferences. A visit to the United States by a delegation of bishops and staff from the CEM is expected to continue this process of collaboration. Permanent communication between the two bodies will also be realized, using Skype, telephone, e-mail and the electronic sharing of documents. In this way, analyses and reflections on issues, problems or matters of common interest will be exchanged.

Pastoral challenges remain great in Mexico, but the courageous actions of the Church in that country merit the unhesitating support and diligent efforts of the Church in our country. A clear lesson derived from this journey was the importance of the Church’s accompaniment of her people in Mexico, through her many charitable activities, educational outreach and pastoral services. Greater collaboration on policy recommendations and effective governmental communication will be a component of this dialogue. Our peoples share a common border and history, bearing mutual responsibility to enhance the life, dignity and humanity of our citizens. United in this endeavor, and guided by Our Savior and His Blessed Mother, we can strive, through our prayers and our actions, to bring these efforts to a blessed and successful conclusion.

Anthony Granado is a policy advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development and Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Solidarity with the Church in Mexico

Granado headshot

Anthony Granado

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Richard Coll

Stories emerge daily illustrating how complex, and at times desperate, the situation in Mexico is becoming. A culture of violence with attacks on human life and a prevalence of corruption have come to dominate the lives of many Mexicans. Innocent civilians are often caught in a web of narco-criminal activity, economic injustice, and corruption at all levels of Mexican society. Yet the Church in Mexico, with deep faith in Cristo Rey (Christ the King) and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and despite seeing the increasing disappearance and murder of priests, is looking for ways to respond. The Church is reaching out to the faithful here in the United States to find areas of mutual collaboration.

Between June 15 and June 19, 2015, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, will make a solidarity visit to reflect with the Church in Mexico. The principal goals for this visit flow from concerns analyzed at the 2014 Fall Meeting of the U.S. Bishops, as well as at meetings of the Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and on International Justice and Peace. These concerns include: violence and criminality, narcotics and human trafficking, as well as poverty—all “root causes” of migration that also contribute to the increasing suffering in Mexico.

This forthcoming visit will allow a continuation of discussions begun at a meeting last month in Mexico City, with key bishops and staff of the Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano, or Conference of Mexican Bishops (CEM), as well as with pertinent U.S. and other governmental officials and members of Mexican civil society. Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú will listen, learn and express solidarity with, and support for, the crucial pastoral role undertaken by the Church in Mexico in response to the ever present challenges facing our two nations. The Universal Church, most recently in the statements of Pope Francis, has consistently singled out economic inequality between nations as a global disorder that must be addressed. These topics must remain the subject of an on-going collaboration and dialogue between the Church in Mexico and in the United States. Another major goal of the visit will be to understand better the situation in Mexico, so that the Committees, and the USCCB, can better collaborate with, and advocate on behalf of the Church and people of Mexico, here in the United States.

The U.S. government, through the “Mérida Initiative,” provides significant amounts of foreign aid to this region. But U.S. aid and assistance should prioritize development rather than focusing mostly on militarized security investments in Mexico. U.S. policy should ensure that projects and resources emphasize, for example, the agricultural sector and small businesses development in Latin America. In addition, more emphasis on the institutions of sound governance needs to be encouraged by international and local national policies including: combatting corruption, fostering a stable and fair judiciary, and promoting the rule of law and human rights.

U.S. policies should reflect the importance of controlling demand for illegal drugs and curbing the illicit drug trade, and curtailing the arms trade, weapons and human trafficking, as well as the resultant violence that accompanies these illicit activities. All these areas are subjects for continuing fruitful discussion with the bishops and staff of the CEM, as well as with governmental representatives and leaders in civil society in Mexico.

The forthcoming solidarity visit to Mexico offers an opportunity for our two nations, but one Church, to stand in solidarity and promote a culture of life, mercy and peace.

Anthony Granado is a policy advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development and Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Promoting the Social Conditions Necessary for the Fulfillment of All

Catholic on the Hill

Catholics from around the country advocate on Capitol Hill as part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

“To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #7

Starting tomorrow, over 500 Catholic leaders from around the country will begin their work to “take effective steps to secure” the good and well-being of those who continue to struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness and other needs in our country. Participants in the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering will hear about, reflect on and meet with their elected officials and discuss how domestic federal policy must work to protect and assist “the least of these.”

While there are indications there have been some modest improvements in the economy, it is very clear that not all are sharing in this development. Too many Americans still struggle, have fallen out of, or simply do not count as, the middle class anymore. The need remains to protect and strengthen the social safety-net to ensure the basic needs of millions of poor and vulnerable people across the country.

Recent data illustrates the seriousness of the continuing problem:

  • Over 14 percent of Americans (45 million) live in poverty;
  • In 2013, 49 million people in the U.S. including 16 million children, lived in food-insecure households;
  • Housing is a human right yet, only 1 in 4 that need housing assistance receives it.

Protect poor people in the Federal Budget
Since our economy is simply not creating enough decent jobs with just-family wages, it is imperative that Congress craft a budget that prioritizes poor and vulnerable people and that follows a just set of moral criteria:

  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 lives and dignity of the “least of these” (Matthew 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.

This year, participants in the conference will highlight the following domestic policy priorities to address the unmet needs of vulnerable people:

  • Protect programs that alleviate hunger and improve nutrition. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); School and Summer Lunches; and other food assistance programs must be protected to eliminate the scandal of hunger;
  • Meet the unmet housing need. Adequately fund homelessness, affordable housing, and community development programs;
  • Ensure access to life-affirming health care; and,
  • Support sufficient decent job creation. Support work by protecting workforce development programs.

Pope Francis speaks often about a “throw away culture” and an “economy that kills.” He rightfully calls into question a socio-economic system that “is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes” (Evangelii Gaudium #59).

It is naïve to think that state-sponsored programs alone are a panacea to poverty, hunger and economic injustice. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have suggested as such. Nonetheless, government, the public authority, has an indispensable role to promote the common good. Its very legitimacy depends on this.

For the participants in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, it is the call of the Gospel and the virtue of perseverance that brings them back to the offices of their elected officials, to ensure that as a nation we take effective steps to secure the good of our brothers and sisters.
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Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder on federal domestic anti-poverty programs.

Yes. The Church Is Opposed to the Death Penalty

“All Christians and men of good will are thus called to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom”
Pope Francis, October 23, 2014

Anthony Granado, USCCB

Anthony Granado, USCCB

Last week, the chairmen of the USCCB Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Pro-Life Activities, joining Pope Francis, reasserted their opposition to the death penalty. In their statement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 23, decision to review the drug protocols for lethal injections in Oklahoma. This comes after the April, 2014 botched execution of Clatyon D. Lockett, where witnesses recounted that he was seen in pain for some time before finally dying.

The case of Glossip v. Gross is being brought by three men on Oklahoma’s death row, Benjamin Cole, John Grant and Richard Glossip. They are asking the court to reject the three-drug protocol used in lethal injection in Oklahoma claiming this violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in April.

Pope Francis, building on the legacy of his predecessors, has called for the abolition of the death penalty. It was Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, who was instrumental in urging society to reconsider the death penalty. He reminded us that the Lord is not a god of death but the God of the living. He spoke of the very limited means when recourse to capital punishment may be unobjectionable, such as when there is no other way to protect the common good of civil society (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2267). But such theoretical instances in modern society, he said, “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

With scandalous frequency, people on death row have been exonerated through DNA testing of crimes for which they were convicted. It is abhorrent to hear of innocent people being put to death by the State or that botched executions have taken place resulting at times, in the slow, painful death of a human being; a person created in the image and likeness of God.

Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Wenski’s statement is consistent with over 40 years of opposition to the death penalty by the American bishops. According to Archbishop Wenski, “the bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley echoes St. John Paul II in reiterating that there are better ways to protect society without taking human life. He hopes the Supreme Court’s review of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols will lead to the realization that that state’s actions erode a reverence for human life. The only logical and life affirming conclusion he sees, is that “capital punishment must end.”

We believe and put our trust in a merciful and loving God. We are conscious of our own brokenness and need for mercy. Our Lord calls us to imitate him more perfectly by witnessing to the inherent dignity of all persons, including those who have committed evil acts. Today, instead of repaying death with death, the Church is calling us to also witness to something greater and more perfect: a Gospel of life, hope and mercy.

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Listen to Anthony’s interview last week on the Catholic Church and the death penalty on the Drew Mariani Show.
Check out the work of our collaborator, Catholic Mobilizing Network, to end the use of the death penalty.

Rethinking the Social Question

“The exclusive binary model of market-plus-state is corrosive of society…”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 39

Pope Paul VI pictured in undated portraitThe recent beatification of Blessed Pope Paul VI has reminded us of his deep commitment to justice and the role of the Church’s social doctrine in lifting up human dignity and promoting the common good in the political, economic and social order.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (CIV), recalled that Paul VI urged the formation of an economy in which “all will be able to give and receive without one group making progress at the expense of the other” (Populorum Progessio 44).

As we approach another election, we are afforded the opportunity to exercise our right to participate in the political life of the country and our local communities. Yet it is arguable that our choices are often relegated to a narrow space between support for either bureaucratic state control or the pervasive laws of the market, to govern the totality of civil society. This false binary logic plays itself out in an increasingly hyper-partisan political culture pitting liberals against conservatives, free marketers against proponents of the welfare state, or other labels one decides to use. This overriding logic, according to Benedict XVI, has “accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other” (CIV 41). Perhaps it is time we reconsider the social question and how the political economy serves, or undermines, human life and dignity.

Church teaching calls for us all to be active participants in civic life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good” (CCC 1913). This is also echoed in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (Faithful Citizenship 4). But the bishops also remark how Catholics often feel “politically disenfranchised”, given limited political options and how these compare to the breadth of the Catholic social teaching tradition.

This disenfranchisement, I believe, is traceable to the false binary logic that Benedict XVI describes. In CIV, building on the thought of both St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI, Benedict suggests we should think differently. He suggests that the social teaching of the Church has something more genuine to contribute to the social question than the current global order affords.

Benedict refers to an “economy of gratuitousness” (CIV 38) where both the political and economic life is oriented in the service of the person, promoting solidarity and human dignity. Ultimately, this is a political and economic order rooted in the values of love and gift, or reciprocity. A social order of this quality is better suited to the integral development of the human person in his or her material, social, political and spiritual being. Greater and more meaningful global participation in social life, especially by people on the margins of society, is possible than is reflected in our current economic and political arrangements.

Pope Francis has spoken many times of an economy that kills and excludes, where for many, “it is a struggle to live, and often, to live with precious little dignity (Evangelii Gaudium, #52). Such an economic and political order denies the “primacy of the human person” (EG #55), he argues, and lacks a truly humane purpose.

Paul VI and Benedict XVI challenged us to think imaginatively and consider the values that drive our global order.

How different would our world look if it were grounded on an ethic that placed the human person and the strength of families and communities first? Poverty, hunger, violence, the good of families and persons, political participation and other concerns, I suspect, would look radically different if the virtues of caritas, gift of self and love were the basis of our human interactions.

Perhaps it is time we rethink the social question anew.

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Do We Desire Mercy or Sacrifice?

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Mt. 9:13)

In the Gospels, the Pharisees challenge the disciples by asking them why Jesus keeps company with sinners. Jesus reminds them that it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. He tells the Pharisees, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13).The Pharisees are quick to judge and condemn. But Jesus teaches them another way, the way of mercy.

In reflecting on our nation’s prisons and jails, the continuing pervasiveness of the death penalty, the many people, especially minorities, sentenced to years in prison for non-violent crimes, as well as recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, we are compelled to ask: Do we, as a nation, desire mercy or sacrifice?

The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other nation in the world. In the recent study, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, researchers concluded that in the last 40 years, the rise of incarceration in the United States has been “historically unprecedented and internationally unique.”

A review of the data paints a startlingly dark picture, one that stresses punishment rather than mercy and healing. In 1973, federal and state prisons held close to 200,000 adults. As of today there are approximately 2.2 million people in America’s prisons and jails. Although the U.S. makes up just 5 percent of the world’s population, we have nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Incarceration costs for federal, state and local governments have been astounding. At approximately $80 billion annually, only state level Medicaid spending has increased faster in the last two decades. More importantly, there has been tremendous cost in human life, and in broken communities and families.

Minorities have been disproportionately impacted by our nation’s sentencing policies. Today, minorities make up 60 percent of the U.S. prison population. Hispanics are twice as likely to be incarcerated as whites and, shockingly, one in three black males can expect to go to prison at some point in his lifetime.

Our Catholic moral tradition calls us to build a culture of healing, restoration and mercy rather than retribution. Centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that punishment for its own sake can never be justified. In the Summa Theologica he wrote, “Penalties are not sought for their own sake, because this is not the era of retribution; rather, they are meant to be corrective by being conducive either to the reform of the sinner or the good of society…”

The U.S. bishops in their 2000 pastoral statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, wrote, “We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and a return or re-integration of all into the community.”

One way the Church is responding is by supporting restorative and criminal justice reform efforts in national policy. For example, the USCCB supports the Second Chance Act (S. 1690/H.R. 3465), which authorizes funding for important reentry programs that assist people leaving incarceration. Programs focusing on housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, job training, etc., help people transition back into the community. Another piece of legislation the USCCB supports, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410/H.R. 3382), will help begin reform of our nation’s harsh mandatory minimum sentencing policies. This legislation will give judges options to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenses which excessively impact minorities.

While punishment and correction of those who have harmed others and society can be just, punishments must fit the crime. Our focus should not be on retribution or punishment for punishment’s sake, but to lift up human dignity, healing and restoration for both victims of crime and those who commit crime.

Pope Francis reminds us that the “Lord never tires of forgiving us, never.” Today, we must ask ourselves, do we desire mercy or sacrifice?Granado headshot BW

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn about the USCCB’s advocacy for criminal and restorative justice and follow @AnthonyJGranado on twitter.

Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working on civil rights.