"Lady Katrina" and the Specter of "Eugenics"
[New Orleans] Archbishop Alfred Hughes has denounced a lawmaker's proposal to pay poor people to undergo sterilization as "an egregious affront to those targeted and blatantly anti-life."...meanwhile, as Catholic Charities held its annual gathering in the Crescent City, the continuing fallout of The Storm was tackled by the bench's longtime social justice guru:
"Our lawmakers would do better to focus on policies that promote education and achievement to counteract poverty and the bigotry of low expectations, " Hughes said in a statement Thursday.
Hughes spoke out in response to a proposal by state Rep. John Labruzzo, a Republican from suburban Metairie, to combat poverty by offering poor women and men $1,000 to undergo reproductive sterilization and vasectomies. In addition, the lawmaker said he is considering whether to propose tax incentives for college-educated people to have more children.
Hughes appears to be the first major local clergyman to take a public stand on the issue, which Labruzzo broached Tuesday. Archdiocesan spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey said the Catholic Church would oppose Labruzzo's plan in Baton Rouge if he turns it into legislation.
Hughes based his opposition on two elements of Labruzzo's proposal: the technique of direct sterilization and the underlying purpose of manipulating the birth rate to reduce certain populations as a matter of public policy....
More broadly, the plan "would also constitute a form of eugenics that the church and this country have always condemned," Hughes said.
Citing the Rev. James Forbes, the retired rector of Riverside Church in New York City, [retired Brooklyn auxiliary] Bishop [Joseph] Sullivan said "Lady Katrina" was "a prophetess who revealed to us the two Americas, the haves and the have-nots, the white America and the America of color."
"Both were affected by the storm," Bishop Sullivan said, "but the America of color much more severely. ... Lady Katrina revealed, as no other event in recent history, the tragic confluence of racism and poverty that exists in our nation's cities."
Katrina was not just a revelation of poverty in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast but "a symbol of what the deeper reality is in the country," Bishop Sullivan said after his talk.
Bishop Sullivan, 78, said while 8 percent of white Americans live below the poverty line, 24 percent of African-Americans, 22 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of Native Americans are poor. He said the Catholic Charities USA report, "Poverty in America," refers to poverty as an "unnatural disaster" created by individuals and society.
"Lady Katrina challenges us to wake up to acknowledge the reality and injustices of poverty in our country and together with the poor to take action to shape the social and economic policies that will reduce poverty by half by 2020," he said.
"This is not a pipe dream. We have the resources, experience and knowledge to virtually eliminate poverty," he continued. "What we need is the political will."
Bishop Sullivan said it often takes "a storm, a tragedy, a series of shocking events to shake us out of our lethargy."
Although President Johnson's war on poverty in the 1960s has been criticized as ineffective and even wasteful, Bishop Sullivan said it cut poverty in half in the U.S.
Bishop Sullivan praised the regional Catholic Charities staffers in Louisiana and Mississippi for "outstanding" leadership after Katrina and Rita. Catholic Charities agencies across the U.S. raised more than $155 million in humanitarian aid for Katrina victims.
"Some raise the question 'Where was God in this natural disaster?'" he said. "God was in all the good will and practical responses of those who reached out to express their conviction that 'we are our brother's and sister's keepers.'"
Among others, the head of Louisiana's Houma-Thibodaux diocese -- where at least 20,000 homes have been damaged, as have close to 90% of its parishes and schools -- has put out a pitch for $10 million to maintain its level of providing needed services, including meals, cleaning kits and gas cards. As schools reopened Thursday in its neighboring diocese of Beaumont -- where a $25 million capital campaign has been suspended for at least a year to focus on rebuilding -- the situation's said to be "in flux" in the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston amid estimates that half of its 151 parish plants sustained "widespread" damage and heavily-hit school communities were temporarily relocated until their buildings could reopen.
Having visited hard-hit Galveston in the days after the storm, while Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said that his "major preoccupation" in Ike's wake was the number of locals enduring "difficulties with gasoline and lack of power," an archdiocesan spokeswoman indicated earlier in the week that there had been "no change" to the cardinal's scheduled commitment to attend the Synod of Bishops on the Word, which begins next week in Rome.
Earlier this year, the first Southern cardinal was elected as one of four delegates to represent the US bishops at the three-week gathering.
PHOTO: Liz Condo/Baton Rouge Advocate(1); Diocese of Beaumont(2)