In a letter to members of Congress, U.S. bishops urged leaders for "wise bipartisan leadership and moral clarity" to ensure the government continues to meet its responsibilities to the people.
Reacting to the federal government shutdown, the U.S. bishops cited Pope Francis’ advice to leaders that they cannot govern well “without loving the people and without humility.”
“Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?” the Pope asked government leaders in his homily at a Sept. 16 daily Mass. “If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good.”
The bishops included these words in their Sept. 30 letter to members of Congress about the federal budget impasse. The bishops called on Congress for “wise bipartisan leadership and moral clarity” to create a plan to ensure the government continues to operate and meet its responsibilities.
The letter was signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.
By the end of the day on Sept. 30, President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had failed to agree on a spending plan for the new fiscal year. This prompted a shutdown of many government agencies that were not deemed “essential.”
In addition, the U.S. government will have exhausted its federal borrowing authority by Oct. 17, which could lead to a default on U.S. debt.
Faced with this situation, the U.S. bishops emphasized the need for wise decisions.
“Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times,” the bishops said.
“Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity,” they added, saying that budget proposals should be evaluated by how they affect those who are hungry, homeless, unemployed or impoverished.
“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” they continued. “It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”
The bishops stressed government’s responsibility to advance the common good and to care for the poor and vulnerable at home and internationally.
They cited the 20-year high in poverty rates, the lack of food security for 49 million Americans, and the high unemployment and underemployment rates.
They also noted the United States’ international work in providing food and medical aid, including disease vaccinations and HIV/AIDS medication.
The bishops also said that a completed budget deal would allow Congress to continue “the essential task of immigration reform.”
They pledged their support for a bipartisan budget that reduces “future unsustainable deficits” while protecting the poor and vulnerable.