By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — With his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI “placed charity at the very center of church life, and defines charity in the most challenging, demanding way,” said John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
Speaking Feb. 8 at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, Carr said Pope Benedict made justice “inseparable from charity and intrinsic to it.”
The pope’s encyclical underscores the importance of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Carr said in his talk, “Speaking ‘Charity in Truth’ to Power.” “CCHD is about the institutional path of charity — empowering people so they can speak for themselves.”
He later added, “We need to recommit to CCHD because its work is more important than ever,” which elicited applause from Carr’s audience. CCHD is the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty agency.
Carr pointed to a year full of unexpected political developments since the last Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, one of them being the phenomenon of pro-life Democrats, whom he said are viewed as suspect by both other Democrats and other pro-lifers. Yet “they made the difference … in passing the health care bill” in the House, Carr said.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a Catholic congressman, sponsored the amendment to the House version of the health care bill that would extend the original Hyde amendment that forbids federal funding of abortions. “No Stupak, no health care bill,” Carr noted.
Health care absorbs a lot of the public’s interest and the bishops’ as well, he added, taking note of four criteria the bishops have on health care legislation:
• Providing “universal care that is truly universal” — from conception to natural death, Carr said. “We think affordable means affordable.” Even so, he added, “health care reform cannot be the place where we lose the protections we’ve had for 30 years” with the Hyde amendment.
• Ensuring access for all with a special concern for the poor and the inclusion of legal immigrants. Carr said mention of the poor is absent from practically all of the congressional policy debates, adding that some in Congress interpret the famous passage in Matthew 25 as “whatsoever you do for the middle class, you do for me.”
• Pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism, including freedom of conscience in health care.
• Restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.
It is not enough to mobilize those who are the “true believers” of the church’s position, Carr said, but it’s necessary to engage in conversation and dialogue with others to gain their support.
The House and Senate both passed health reform bills, but since the Jan. 19 election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts to the upper house broke up the Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, the future of health reform legislation is up in the air.
Carr noted other items on the bishops’ legislative agenda, including putting the needs of the poor first; fixing the U.S. immigration system; addressing long-term recovery in Haiti and “the poorest places in the world”; working toward a responsible transition in Afghanistan; and reforming and strengthening foreign development assistance to promote a better and safer world.
He said that in his role heading the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, he is sometimes in daily contact with bishops and “always weekly” in conversation with them on the issues under his jurisdiction.
Carr, who was met with standing ovations before and after his remarks, had been the target of attacks the previous week by some groups critical of the bishops’ work. “You find out who your friends are at a time like this,” he said, adding he had received messages of support from bishops and from Father Frank Pavone, the founder of Priests for Life.
He attributed the attacks in part to “the political polarization in our society (that) is now creeping into the church.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.