Poverty rates reflect ‘serious moral failure’

Spencer Platt GETTY IMAGES Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets Joan McAlister as she waits for free Thanksgiving … Continued

Spencer Platt


Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets Joan McAlister as she waits for free Thanksgiving groceries at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Community Center in Harlem on November 20, 2012 in New York City. As part of the 2013 Feeding our Neighbors: An Interfaith Response Campaign, Cardinal Dolan and other members of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and the UJA-Federation helped to distribute Thanksgiving meals to over 400 residents.

Imagine the recent debate over the “fiscal cliff,” which found Democrats and Republicans alike obsessing over whose tax rates—people earning more than $250,000? $400,000?—might go up, and how different the debate might have been if the same attention had gone to the other end of the income spectrum. What if our leaders had focused on the lives of the millions who live in poverty and stand on the brink of despair? What if they had talked about the working poor and the tax credits that are vital to lifting millions out of poverty? What if keeping families together and saving mothers and children from the abortion cliff had been on the top of their agenda?

January is Poverty Awareness Month, an effort started by the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. It’s a month dedicated to learning about poverty is especially helpful at moments when almost no one talks about the poor and many others are uninformed about the realities of poverty today.

For instance, over 46 million Americans live in poverty. That represents over 10 percent of all families and more than one in five children. Close to 23 million are unemployed or underemployed; our economy still cannot produce enough decent jobs. This is a serious moral failure, and it must be a concern for Catholics striving to live our faith.

Christ calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25: 31-45). He lays this out as the standard against which every person will be judged. Pope Benedict XVI echoed this standard in 2005 when he wrote that the church couldn’t stop serving the poor any more than it could stop reading the Bible or administering the Sacraments (
Deus Caritas Est
). Caring for the poor is not just something nice the church does; it’s a part of who we are and essential to the church’s saving work.

The Catholic Church lives out this call every day, assisting millions of people every year through social services including food banks, counseling, shelter, and other efforts of Catholic Charities. The current socio-economic situation also calls for more dynamic responses, working at every level of society to create decent jobs, ensure safe and affordable housing, protect immigrant rights, and much more. Last year, CCHD provided over $7.5 million to 230 organizations across the country to do this.

But money is not enough. Catholics believe that people should be at the center of all economic concerns. This means promoting healthy communities at the local level, fostering relationships between businesses, individuals, institutions and the government, and promoting policies that make it easier for families to stay together, welcome new life into the world and live in a way that reflects their dignity.

Nor can we balance the budget on the backs of the poor, saying they’ll benefit from long term economic prosperity allegedly generated by such a policy. Christ said, “The poor will always be with you.” That is why the U.S. bishops and partners in the Circle of Protection remain steadfast in the call to protect poor and vulnerable people in the debates around the deficit reduction.

Directly and indirectly, in the short and long term, Catholics must remind themselves and the world of the importance of fighting poverty. It is part of living our faith, “for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (I Jn. 4.20) During this Poverty Awareness Month, we are called to see and serve the poor as we hope to see and serve our God.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, chairs the Subcommittee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishop’s anti-poverty program.

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  • JDale_123

    I stopped reading at “abortion cliff”. As good a signal as I can imagine that the author is going to be spouting juvenile superstitious dogma rather than any serious examination of poverty and its causes.


    If those groups with large assets and incomes that always speak on political matters as well as telling people how to vote driectly or indirectly would stop claiming TAX EXEMPT, it could help the problem as well as are $16.4 TRILLION debt.

  • WmarkW

    Yeah, it represents a serious moral failure to graduate high school, have a spouse before reproducing, and not sneak over national borders without permission.

    Tell us how to stop people from making the opposite choices, and poverty drops 75%.

  • jade_alpha

    We should also work to provide skills to those who made those mistakes so they do not require indefinite government support.

  • allinthistogether

    The way to stop failures to graduate, pregancies of unwed mothers and income-driven migration is to effectively increase, improve and promote food, health, education and job opportunities. With food, education and conspicuous employment opportunity, people will make the better choices. Yes it is a “chicken and the egg” cycle, but the answer isn’t to abandon the poor to protect the rich.

  • allinthistogether

    Well, in this case, you are mistaken. Not everything that comes out of the mouth (or pen) of a Catholic or other believer in god is juvenile or superstitious. And, certainly, not everything that comes out of the mouth of an agnostic (among whom I count myself) or atheist is worth hearing. Mindfulness (such as the author’s) on these issues of poverty will bring benefits.

  • allinthistogether

    Bishop Soto,

    Thank you for emphasizing these teachings from Jesus Christ that are true no matter what the speaker’s or listener’s religious perspective is. Will the wealth of this country be directed to improving opportunities for everyone or to protecting opportunity for only those who already have wealth, opportunity, exceptional support, or exceptional self-motivation? Those to whom plenty (including opportunity) has been given need to fight for an economy and culture that will allow everyone reasonable opportunity, rather than profiting excessively by the work of those who have to struggle and fight from poverty to gain opportunity.

  • Alecto

    Is that Soto or Socialist? Christ never preached entitlements and your radical theology is poppycock. The call to charity by Christ has an individual response, and supports the rule of law as well as national boundaries you bounder!

    Thanks for reminding me why I no longer give to the radical front group aka “Campaign for Human Development”.

  • ErikKengaard

    If the Church were sincere about “fighting poverty,” it wouldn’t be encouraging poor people to have children. The conclusion is that the Church is not sincere.

  • dan1138

    The government’s definition of “poverty” is ludicrous. It’s a completely arbitrary, made-up standard. In fact obesity is a much greater threat than hunger, and the majority of “poor” people have cars and many own their own homes; the vast majority have indoor plumbing, refrigerators, microwaves and TVs. Many have cable TV and cell phones. “Poor” people in the US have about as much living space as the average middle-class person in Switzerland and more than in many Asian countries.

    This isn’t what Jesus meant when he discussed poverty.

  • jsmith4

    This column represents the best of the Catholic Church teachings and traditions. Bravo (from an atheist non-catholic).

  • jsmith4

    One must be unable to read to deny that Jesus’s first concern was for the poor and needy, and that the Bible outlines again and again how difficult it is for a rich man to deserve heaven.
    And you stoop to the Socialist name-calling. Shameful.

  • ckw

    The church can relax and not worry about the poor anymore, because under Obama the government will take care of all the poor people. Catholic Charities and other charitable organizations won’t be needed anymore with this new government, which is sad because Catholic Charities did a good job helping people.

  • cricket44

    “What if keeping families together and saving mothers and children from the abortion cliff had been on the top of their agenda?”

    This sentence is *exactly* why you’ve participated in the “moral failure” of poverty. Get the leaders to focus on actual existing children in need and stop trying to turn women into chattel.

  • Marijo O’Connell

    You don’t know what you are talking about. You clearly have next to zero associations with people who are poor.

  • louisp3

    The Catholic Church prohibits contraceptives and abortions and encourages poor mothers to push out as many children as possible. The Church is one of the biggest drivers of poverty.

  • egburton

    But the deal did focus on those folks, by preserving and making permanent the child tax credit, and the earned income tax credit.


    Marijo, most in poverty could learned how to manage money as well as to live within their means when they went out into the real world. Where is your evidence on your remarks to dan1138?


    The groups with large incomes and assets could help our society by not claiming tax exempt. Why should they be tax exempt today with large assets and income and always speaking on political matters as the nation trying to help the poor and other countries as our nation has a $16.4 TRILLON debt?


    100 million Americans in dire poverty don’t bother the catholic church as much as birth control does.

    Perhaps the two might even have something to do with each other.