A Statement by
His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
February 12, 2001
The United States Catholic Conference welcomes President Bush's
priority on overcoming poverty as he begins to lead our nation. In his
Inaugural Address, he insisted that "America, at its best, is
compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep,
persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise. And whatever
our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at
fault. Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God, they are failures of
love." Our bishops' conference also welcomes his initiative to
recognize and assist the role of "faith-based and community groups" in
the struggle against poverty in our land. We look forward to a fuller
dialogue on the specifics of this initiative. We will seek
opportunities to share our experience, concerns and hopes in an effort
to help the Administration create a workable program.
We welcome the Bush Administration's attention to the battle against
poverty which is carried forward everyday in so many places and so many
ways in our nation and in our Catholic community. The Catholic
community is deeply involved in this effort:
- Catholic Charities USA serves close to 10 million people in
need through 1400 local agencies providing food, counseling, shelter and
- The Catholic Campaign for Human Development collects and
distributes over $10 million to local and national community based
organizations working to overcome poverty and powerlessness.
- The Catholic Health Association represents 2,000 member
hospitals, long-term care facilities and other organizations serving the
sick and restoring health.
- Over 8,000 Catholic schools educate 2,500,000 plus students of every income level, race and nationality.
- Countless parishes and other Catholic groups provide caring
service and principled advocacy in local communities around the country.
This is not easy work, but it is at the heart of our nation's pledge of
"liberty and justice for all" and the Scriptural call to "to serve the
least of these" (Matt 25).
This new and welcome initiative has its own challenges and questions:
- How to recognize and empower faith-based groups without making
them merely extensions of government or bound by excessive regulations;
- How to ensure that in the providing of social services the dignity of those in need is respected;
- How to respect and preserve the ethical and religious integrity
of the faith-based groups as they carry out efforts which advance the
common good and serve a public purpose;
- How to insure that the prophetic role of religious institutions
is not compromised or diminished by ties to the federal government;
- How to build on current and past partnerships between religious
and public institutions that respect the responsibilities and
limitations of both.
We are encouraged by the tone set by President Bush in his Inaugural
Address, his public statements and his meetings with Catholic and other
leaders. The Bush Administration has been clear that this initiative is
about building up community, not tearing down government. They seek to
recognize the pluralism of American religious life and the
contributions and services of nonreligious community institutions and
groups. They appear to take seriously the concerns and fears of those
who have doubts about stronger ties between religious groups and the
We are also encouraged by the individuals President Bush has chosen to
lead this initiative. The knowledge and experience of Mayor Stephen
Goldsmith and Dr. John DiIulio strengthen our hope that the
opportunities and challenges of this initiative can be realized and
Our bishops' conference particularly welcomes the clear recognition by
the President that faith-based and community efforts cannot substitute
for just public policy and the responsibilities of the larger society,
including the federal government. The efforts of the Catholic community
and those of other religious and community groups can touch hearts and
change lives, but our efforts cannot replace needed government action to
address the more than 40 million Americans without health care, the
many children who go to bed hungry, and the millions of families who
work every day, but cannot provide a decent future for their children.
Our nation still needs significant public investments in health care,
nutrition, child care and housing. Faith-based and community
initiatives are essential, but government still has an indispensable
role in assuring that the basic needs of the American people are met.
Confronting the brutal realities of violence and crime, substance abuse
and child abuse, family disintegration and teen pregnancy often
requires more than simply secular analysis and answers. These
challenges call for more than bureaucratic business as usual. Our
nation should be open to efforts which encourage people to change their
hearts in order to change their behavior. This initiative offers
additional help for those on the front lines of local communities who
serve the poor. It is often local religious congregations and schools
that still serve the poorest communities and address the deepest
problems when others have fled.
The Catholic community has often found effective ways to serve those in
need under current policies. But we also acknowledge, occasionally,
some obstacles and hostility to our religious identity, commitment and
values. On the other hand, our charitable efforts serve people because
of their need, not their creed. We employ many people because they
share our values, not just our faith. We carry out our mission
consistent with the nation's civil rights laws. We will work with the
President and the leaders he has selected to carry forward this
No government program can take the place of people who care for those
in need, reaching out and encouraging the hard choices to overcome
violence and addiction, prejudice and indifference. Many people put
their faith to work in courageous and creative service of those in need.
Our government should find appropriate ways to support these
remarkable efforts. On the other hand, no faith-based initiative, no
matter how well conceived or led, can substitute for just public
policies which help our nation respect the life and dignity of all,
especially "the least among us."
The most encouraging aspect of this debate is that it addresses the
most fundamental challenges facing our society, including the scandal of
almost a fifth of our children growing up poor in the richest nation on
earth. In the end, believers must never forget that it is not
government that calls us to serve those in need, but the Gospel.