Thursday, October 09, 2008

Faithful Citizenship, Faithful Stewardship

And speaking of the Premier See... as the Dow plummeted to its lowest point in five years, dropping almost 700 in today's trading, Archbishop Ed O'Brien filled the folks in on his administration's belt-tightening:
These are uncertain times. Banks are failing, Wall Street is reeling, and the cost of just about everything seems to be through the roof. Talk of bailouts and mergers, record declines and a looming recession – not to mention the fast-approaching presidential election – has much of the nation in a frenzy of uncertainty and worry. Understandably, many people, when not peeking through their hands at their investment account statements, find themselves taking inventory these days. This local Church is, too.

The Gospel and our own Church teaching reminds us that we must be good stewards of those gifts that have been so generously bestowed on us. It is a priority of this local Church – at every level – to ensure that our limited resources are used to the best possible effect....

Just as families take steps following their accounting of household budgets, we too are undertaking measures to ensure the most efficient stewardship possible by the administrative offices of the Archdiocese, as well as our parishes and other institutions. Thus, I have directed a review of the budgets of each division of our central services. I am also considering the possibility of bringing on board a Chief Operating Officer – someone with experience in administration, finance, personnel and management – who will work closely with Bishops Rozanski and Madden and me to provide strong leadership and fiscal oversight over our day-to-day operations.

Though the uncertainty of the economy has prompted all of us to review our financial state, we also have a responsibility – one rooted in sacred Scripture and in our own Church teaching – to our sisters and brothers in Christ. In these especially difficult economic times – when people have lost jobs and homes, are under tremendous debt and are struggling just to meet their basic needs – we must be reminded of our responsibility as Catholics to be aware of our own situations, our own family’s situations, but also that of others. As someone once said of our duty as Catholics to help others regardless of denomination, “we do so not because they are Catholic but because we are.”

A recent edition of a national philanthropic journal quoted a senior vice president of Catholic Charities USA as saying, “Donations are not keeping up with costs at this moment. Some of our agencies are reporting the largest demands they have seen in decades for the most basic of needs, including food, shelter and help with utility bills.” Here in our Archdiocese, those serving in our own Catholic Charities have seen a similar increase in the demand for social services, especially at Our Daily Bread. This increase in service demands is unfortunately happening at the same time Our Daily Bread is experiencing a decline in the unsolicited donations that over the years have been a staple of support for this important work. In our fervor to shore up our fiscal health, we cannot forget those among us who have already been forced to the margins of society.
Having marked his first anniversary in Carroll's chair last week, it's worth recalling a pledge O'Brien made in his memorable installation homily:
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is offended when the first principles of justice are violated, and the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow human beings are imperiled. “Seek justice,” the Lord tells his beloved people of Israel through his prophet Isaiah [Is.1.17]. “Do justice,” God instructs Judah through the prophet Jeremiah, “...and do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” [Jer.22.3].

It was that passion for justice that led priests of this Archdiocese to take leadership roles in the defense of the civil rights of African Americans in the early 1960s. It was that passion for justice that led Lawrence Cardinal Shehan to face down jeers and catcalls when he testified before the Baltimore City Council in 1966 on behalf of open housing legislation. And it is precisely that same passion for justice that is at the root of the Catholic Church’s combined defense of the right-to-life from conception until natural death.

The right to life is the greatest civil rights issue of our time. This is the issue that will determine whether America remains a hospitable society – committed to caring for women in crisis and their unborn children, committed to caring for those with special needs, committed to caring for the elderly and the dying – or whether America betrays our heritage and the truths on which its Founders staked their claim to independence.

In addressing these issues of life over the past four decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have not – repeat, not – made “sectarian arguments.” The bishops have made moral arguments that can be known by anyone willing to think through the first principles of justice. It is worse than a tragedy, it is a scandal, that too many of our fellow-citizens, including our Catholic fellow-citizens, seem not to have grasped these first principles of justice or have turned their backs on them.

I pledge that I shall make every possible effort to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors.

And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all of those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic Church. Let us walk with you through your time of trouble. Let us help you affirm life. Let us help you find a new life with your child, or let us help you place that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you: let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an “answer” in this Archdiocese.
Hopefully that's not just the case in the First See... but every See. And not just in flusher times, either, but always.

If it is, that pledge can never be said, repeated nor hammered home enough... and never more than, well, right now.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Archdiocese of Baltimore(2)