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Toby Terrar, "The U.S. Bishops' `Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,' (1986): Some Passages which Touch on the Housing Problem." This article originally appeared in Religious Socialism, volume 14, no. 1 (Philadelphia, Spring 1990), pp. 7-8. (P181-10.doc).
The bishop's Pastoral Letter is about the U.S. economy in general; it is not specifically about the housing problem. But housing is part of the economy. The pastoral contains a moral principle and sufficient empirical data that it is possible to get an idea of what the bishops think is the Catholic evaluation of and solution to the housing problem.
The poor and their demands are the norm, according to the bishops, for Catholics in evaluating the housing problem. The demands of the of the poor are the demands of God (vox populi, vox dei). Some relevant passages from the pastoral are:
Paragraph 319: The impact of housing policy on the poor is the primary criteria for judging the moral value of American housing policy.
Paragraph 38: Biblical justice is measured by the treatment of the powerless in society.
Paragraph 36: It is our right and our duty to protect the most vulnerable.
Paragraph 52: Catholic social justice, following scripture, gives a "preferential option for the poor."
The empirical data mentioned in the pastoral letter confirm the obvious, housing for the poor is not adequate. Some relevant passages from the pastoral are:
Paragraph 15: Thirty-three million Americans (15 percent of the population) live in poverty according to the U.S. government. Thirty million more are in poverty "by any reasonable standard." The government defines poverty as inadequate housing such as families living in a single room, in dilapidated and unsanitary housing and in housing which gives insufficient protection against the elements.
Paragraph 176 (footnote 31): The 33 million in poverty are mainly children (13 million), women heads-of-households who work and seniors.
Paragraph 176: Racism is characteristic of U.S. housing policy: one in every two black children under six are inadequately housed (two-thirds of the total population in poverty are white).
Paragraph 172: The bishops are reminded of the demands of the poor because "the poor sleep in our doorways."
Paragraph 355: The bishops are also aware of the housing problem because they are a deliverer of private human services such as housing. They know first hand the private solution (church basements, community shelters) is not solving the problem.
Paragraph 177: Those living in inadequate housing have a higher rate of miscarriage, of premature birth, of low birth weight, of physical and mental impairment and of death before their first birthday. Miscarriage from inadequate housing is just as bad as abortion from medical intervention.
As set forth by the bishops, U.S. housing policy does not meet Catholic moral standards. The poor demand adequate housing and it is not provided. The pastoral gives what the bishops believe are some indications as to a Catholic solution to the housing problem.
Paragraph 183: 29 percent of American wealth is in housing and real estate.
71 percent of American wealth is in capital.
10 percent of American families own 57 percent of capital.
10 percent of American families own 86 percent of the total financial assets (excluding equity in housing).
Paragraph 184: The distribution of wealth in the U.S. has gotten increasingly unequal in the twentieth century.
Paragraph 113 (footnote 63): Quotes Pope John Paul II, On Human Work, 12: "This gigantic and powerful instrument--the whole collection of the means of production that in a sense are considered synonymous with 'capital'--is the result of work and bears the signs of human labor."
Paragraph 17 (introduction): John XXIII stated: "All people have a right to shelter."
Paragraph 156: It is necessary to have a planned economy in order to end the housing problem (which is not to say the economy is not planned currently, but it is planned for the benefit of the capitalist).
Paragraph 259: Catholic teaching requires political activity (individualism alone is not Catholic teaching).
Paragraph 63: Human life is life in community; the bible holds humans are basically cooperative.
Paragraph 91: Meeting necessities in housing comes before profit; the profit motivation is not conductive to the common good.
Paragraph 4: There are 800 million people worldwide that live in "absolute poverty."
The guidelines which the bishops give as to a Catholic solution to the housing problem are the guidelines which socialist nations follow. The socialist nations, none of which have America's wealth, have a solution to the housing problem. The bishops and their pastoral were criticized in the press by those who have contempt for socialism and contempt (as seen in U.S. housing policy) for the voice of 33 million women, children and seniors demanding justice. The critics of the pastoral want the Catholic moral norm to be that of the Democratic and Republican parties. They hold up as a virtue a program of narrow self interest and the worship of money, plus hate and apathy toward the rights of the poor--a hate shown in deeds, if not in words. This is not to say that socialists, such as Jesse Jackson, do not operate in the Democratic party, but they are not dominant.
Unlike America's 50 million Catholics, a majority of whom are white, a majority of the world's 800 million Catholics are people of color, living in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where inadequate housing is even worse than in America. The world's Catholics have no particular loyalty to the morality of the Democratic and Republican parties. The bishops, in reflecting the demands of the poor, are merely reflecting the demands of most Catholics.
During the McCarthy period those who hated socialism tried to make socialism a crime and tried and sometimes did put socialists in jail, tried to deport them, tried to have them lose their jobs in the government, the media, the universities, the churches and industry. The voice of the poor is the voice of God. The McCarthites hate those (including God) who reflect the demands of the poor. The bishops do not mention the word "socialism," but that words seems to reflect their deeds and actions. They are telling us the voice of socialism is the voice of God.