Testimony to Democratic and Republican Platform Committees
Testimony Presented by the Director of the USCC Government Liaison Office
on Behalf of the Bishops of the United States
May 10, 1988
1. The Catholic community is deeply involved in the life of
this country. We are working to meet the spiritual, pastoral, and
educational needs of millions of people. We also feed the hungry, shelter
the homeless, care for the elderly and the immigrant. Through our recent
pastoral letters on nuclear arms and economic justice and advocacy on behalf
of the unborn and the poor, we seek to contribute to a broad national debate
on the values and visions that ought to guide our nation in the years ahead.
2. We join in the public debate not to impose some sectarian
doctrine, but to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to share
our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and to voice our hope
that our nation might be an effective force for true justice and genuine
peace in our own country and around the world.
3. We believe our nation is enriched, our traditions of
pluralism enhanced, when religious and other groups share their convictions
about how our nation can best achieve our national goals of life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness.
4. Last November the Administrative Board of the U.S. Catholic
Conference said in its statement Political Responsibility: Choices for
We bishops specifically do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc;
nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or
opposing candidates. We do, however, have a right and a responsibility as
teachers to analyze the moral dimensions of the issues of our day.
We hope that voters will examine the positions of candidates on the full
range of issues as well as their personal integrity, philosophy, and
performance. We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the
moral framework from which we address all issues in the political arena.
5. Although we come before you today to share our views on a
wide variety of issues, we come with a single message. We urge you to
measure every policy and proposal before you for how it touches the human
person and whether it enhances or diminishes human life, human dignity, and
Abortion and the Right to Life
6. A legal system that permits the destruction of unborn human
beings by abortion contradicts the principle that human rights are inherent
and inalienable. Thus, the 1973 Supreme Court decisions on abortion and
subsequent decisions which rely on them must be reversed, and society's
resources should be redirected to solving the problems for which abortion is
mistakenly proposed as a solution. Especially for our nation's young people,
those resources should be placed at the service of efforts to reduce the
premature sexual activity that leads to high unintended pregnancy rates as
well as other adverse consequences.
7. Unless there is action by the Supreme Court, restoration of
legal protection of the lives of the unborn will require an amendment to the
Constitution. We specifically urge the platform committee to support such an
8. Meanwhile, legislators should seek ways to affirm the
dignity of unborn human life. Laws protecting individuals and organizations
which conscientiously object to abortion should be maintained and
strengthened, and public-funding policies should continue to encourage
childbirth over abortion. Specifically, we oppose all public funding of
abortion in programs for medical care and other services.
9. Although we strongly support legal equity for women, we
vehemently reject efforts to link abortion "rights" to this objective. Women
have been at the forefront of the drive to secure legal protection for the
unborn and are generally more opposed to abortion than men are. The
legitimate and important goal of equity for women should not be exploited as
a vehicle for abortion and abortion funding.
10. We are deeply concerned at the evidence that, after more
than a decade of denying the right to life before birth, the law's
protection of the right after birth has also begun to erode. This has become
clear in efforts to discriminate against infants born with physical or
mental disabilities by denying them sustenance and basic lifesaving medical
care. In recent years the dignity of life has been further threatened by
public campaigns to authorize active euthanasia or assisted suicide for
terminally ill patients, seriously disabled adults, and other vulnerable
Arms Control and Disarmament
11. In the last several years, we have addressed a broad range of
national security policies that depend on the possession and planned use of
12. Our pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God's
Promise and Our Response condemns the countercity and counterpopulation
use of nuclear weapons; rejects the notion of waging limited nuclear war
because of the risk of escalation to all-out nuclear war; and questions the
moral acceptability of policies that contemplate the initiation of nuclear
war to repel a conventional attack, as is the case in NATO strategy. The
pastoral letter also concluded that nuclear deterrence was morally
acceptable, but only under strict conditions. This conditional acceptance
requires that the components of the deterrent be limited to those sufficient
to deter and that the arms race be reversed through mutual, verifiable arms
13. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is a modest
but important first step toward meeting these conditions. It must be a point
of departure to mutual, verifiable arms control measures that make deep cuts
in strategic weapons, along the lines of the proposed Strategic Arms
Reduction Talks agreement, that ban all testing of nuclear weapons, that
outlaw chemical weapons, and that reduce conventional forces to a new
balance at the lowest levels possible. While progress is being made on these
arms control initiatives, we strongly recommend that the integrity of
existing arms control agreements, especially the Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty and Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II, not be undermined or eroded.
Finally, we oppose the addition of new weapons, such as the MX missile, that
are destabilizing and excessively costly.
14. Discrimination continues to haunt our nation. Whether based on
race, ethnicity, sex, age, or disability, discrimination is a grave
injustice and an affront to human dignity. Millions of our people continue
to be deprived of their civil rights. Government must continue and
strengthen its efforts to erase unjust discrimination in all its forms so
that all Americans can exercise their basic human rights.
15. Racism is a particularly serious and ugly form of
discrimination. A radical evil dividing the human family, racism must be
resisted by every individual and eradicated from every social institution
16. The enactment of the revised 1988 Civil Rights Restoration
Act was a significant step forward in strengthening federal civil rights
protection while safeguarding vital concerns about human life and religious
liberty. Now, new and effective remedies must be developed to combat housing
discrimination, including discrimination against families with children.
Crime and Criminal Justice
17. Crime and violence are major and legitimate concerns for many.
We support strong and effective action to control handguns, leading to their
eventual elimination from our society. We advocate greater utilization of
community-based correctional facilities, effective programs of education,
rehabilitation, and job training for offenders, and the compensation of
victims and crime.
18. We oppose the use of the death penalty. The return to the
use of the death penalty can only lead to further erosion of respect for
life. Our nation should reject the death penalty and seek means of dealing
with violent crime which are more consistent with human dignity.
Economic Policy and
19. In the 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All,
the U.S. bishops applied the principles of Catholic social teaching to the
four major areas of international economic relations: aid, trade, finance,
and investment. In each area, we found and continue to find significant gaps
between principles of social and economic justice and prevailing U.S.
20. We continue to support foreign assistance by the U.S.
government, but we do not support the heavy emphasis on military assistance.
We continue to support multilateral aid via the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund, but with growing concern about the development
model ("structural adjustment," meaning export-led economic growth) these
institutions prefer. We continue to support food aid in emergencies, but are
increasingly concerned about the tendency to lengthen the emergency period
and thus risk creating both dependency on foreign food imports and
disincentives to local food production. We believe the United States should
adopt a different stance from the current one regarding international trade,
but we are concerned about those aspects of trade legislation that attempt
to punish our competitors and ignore social injustices inflicted on workers
by some economic decisions of business. We are particularly concerned about
the burgeoning sales of arms to Third World countries by many countries
including the United States.
21. We also have had a particular concern that countries
receiving foreign assistance not be forced to adopt population methods which
violate basic human rights or deeply held cultural values.
22. The beginning of a new administration of either major party
seems to us an appropriate time to pause and take stock of the realities of
economic life in the broadest possible measure. As we underline in our
pastoral letter, "We call for a U.S. international economic policy designed
to empower people everywhere and enable them to continue to develop a sense
of their own worth, improve the quality of their lives, and ensure that the
benefits of economic growth are shared equitably."
23. We support public policy that guarantees the rights of all
persons to an adequate education regardless of race, sex, national origin,
economic status, or personal disability. In particular, we advocate policies
to improve the educational opportunities available to economically
disadvantaged persons and minorities, including bilingual education, as well
as compliance in schools with the legal requirements of all civil rights
statutes regarding race, sex, age, and handicap conditions.
24. There should be special recognition given to the
contribution made to this nation by private elementary and secondary
schools. Catholic school parents alone account for a savings of $14 billion
to the country's taxpayers, while at the same time contributing their share
of taxes for public education.
25. We also support–and urge the platform committee to
support-public means to enhance the education of children in private
schools; the choice that parents make to educate their children in private
schools should not be penalized by denying them equal educational
opportunities for their children. We therefore urge support for the
inclusion of provisions to guarantee equitable participation by private
school students in all present and future federal education and
26. We call your special attention to the need to rectify the
devastating repercussions from the Aguilar vs. Felton
decision. As a result of the court's decision, federal compensatory
educational programs for eligible disadvantaged students attending private
schools have been significantly reduced as to numbers of children served and
the quality of instructional services. In many cases, services have been
eliminated outright. New alternative programs have proven to be more costly,
less effective educationally, and more disruptive to the regular academic
programs of these children.
27. We likewise encourage support for sufficient federal
financial assistance to help both public and private schools address the
increasing mandates of environmental regulations imposed upon them.
28. We encourage the promotion of policies that will provide
financial assistance to students in need to enable them to attend the higher
educational institutions of their choice as well as initiate federal tax
advantages for middle-income parents to promote savings for the college
costs of their children. We ask you to address the nation's need for quality
and affordable childcare services for the working poor. Public and private
agencies should be encouraged and provided with federal financial assistance
to establish centers offering early childhood services, family services, and
extended daycare for school-age children.
29. Our recommendations in the area of language and literacy
include the development of a national literacy program to provide services
to every needy adult and aggressive enforcement of laws which ensure every
limited-English child's right to an equal education.
Employment and Income
30. As a nation, we must make it possible for everyone who wants a
job to find employment in a reasonable amount of time. For those who are
unable to work or cannot find a job, we should provide a decent income.
Current policies fall short of creating new jobs with adequate pay and
decent working conditions, which are necessary to meet a goal of full
31. Joblessness and underemployment are still too widespread.
The human and economic costs of this joblessness are morally unacceptable
and cannot be tolerated. Policy efforts must be made to expand employment
opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Effective action
against joblessness and unemployment will require a careful mix of general
economic policies and targeted employment programs.
32. The federal minimum wage should be a livable wage that
allows a full-time worker to maintain a family. We also reaffirm the
Church's teaching regarding the responsibility of government to protect the
right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
33. The lack of affordable quality childcare for the children
of employed parents is a growing urgent problem, especially for low-income
families. Federal policy should enhance and support the efforts of
employers, local government, nonprofit agencies, and churches to meet this
34. We urge a guarantee of a decent income for those who cannot
work and adequate assistance for those in need. To achieve these goals, we
support a comprehensive reform of the welfare system, which will provide an
adequate income base for all Americans and replace the present system of
fragmented programs. Current federal policy, which permits states to
discriminate against married couples with children, is anti-family and
should be abandoned. While welfare-assistance policies should encourage and
support people's efforts to become self-supporting, mandatory workfare
programs are an unacceptable alternative to training and real jobs with fair
35. Federal welfare policy should ensure that adequate health
coverage and childcare are available to poor families who leave welfare when
the parents secure employment.
Food and Agricultural Policy
36. Hunger is a growing national scandal that this nation should
not tolerate. Everyone has a right to a sufficient amount of food to live
his or her life in dignity. This right follows directly from the right to
life. Therefore, we call for a national policy aimed at securing this right
and making the elimination of hunger a national priority. We support the
necessary increases and changes in the food stamp program; child nutrition;
Women, Infants and Children Program; and the Temporary Food Assistance
Program to meet more effectively the nutritional needs of hungry,
37. The goal of our agricultural policy should be adequate
supplies of nutritious and healthy food, both domestically and overseas, and
just remuneration for producers. We support an agricultural system based on
small and moderate-sized family-owned and -operated farms, at home and
abroad, as the best guarantee of a just food system. The United States
should support such a system through its income and price-support programs,
its credit and research programs, its tax policies, its supply-management
programs, its strategies for rural development, and its foreign trade and
38. We support legislation to protect the rights of farm
workers, and we call for measures to improve the working conditions and
general welfare of farm-worker families, including expanding minimum wages
and unemployment compensation, improved housing and health care, and special
protection from the harmful effects of pesticides.
39. Health care is a basic human right that flows from the
sanctity of human life. It falls to government to assure all people of
adequate access to health care regardless of their economic, social, or
40. We face a health care crisis in this country which is
fueled by the erosion of Medicaid and Medicare benefits, spiraling health
care costs, and the burgeoning ranks of the uninsured. These factors
conspire to deprive millions of Americans of adequate preventive and acute
41. While our goal remains a comprehensive national health
insurance program, immediate attention must be given to the needs of the
rural and urban poor. Priority should be given to the guarantee of quality
prenatal and pediatric care to low-income mothers and children. Federal
policies must encourage public- and private-sector cooperation in developing
a coordinated health care system which serves the poor and provides
protection of conscience in health care delivery.
42. Housing is not just a commodity. Decent housing is a basic
human right. This nation has all but abandoned its responsibility to ensure
every citizen an adequate place to stay. We must recognize the terrible
injustice people suffer as a result of this housing crisis. Public policy
must give direction and set basic criteria that will establish a commitment
to decent housing.
43. This policy should:
preserve, maintain, and improve the existing private and public low-cost,
develop programs that are cost-effective and flexible to increase the
supply of quality housing for low-income people;
encourage wide participation of tenants, community groups, and consumers in
the housing decisions that affect their communities;
support effective and creative partnerships among nonprofit organizations,
private developers, financial institutions, and all levels of government to
build and maintain affordable housing; and
combat discrimination in housing based on race, ethnicity, sex, disability,
or families with children.
44. The dignity of the human person requires the defense and
promotion of human rights in global and domestic affairs. With respect to
human rights internationally, there is a pressing need for the United States
to pursue a double task: to strengthen and expand international mechanisms
by which human rights can be protected and promoted; and to take seriously
the human rights dimensions of our foreign policy.
45. Therefore, we support ratification of the international
covenants on civil and political rights; on economic, social, and cultural
rights; and on the elimination of torture. We also support a policy that
gives greater weight to the protection of human rights in the conduct on
U.S. affairs. The pervasive presence of U.S. power in many parts of the
world creates a responsibility to use that power in the service of human
46. For over seventy years, we have been conducting major national
and local programs helping migrants and refugees find their way in American
society. We have also actively participated in the legislative and advocacy
processes that help shape this nation's immigration policy. Our concerns
regarding the future of immigration legislation in this country are
47. First, we are deeply troubled by the plight of undocumented
aliens untouched by the legalization program that was part of the
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. We fear that these people will
become a new underclass facing greater privation, exploitation, and fear
than they have in the past. At the same time, we are deeply concerned that
the law's employer-sanction provisions prohibiting the employment of
undocumented aliens have the potential for adversely affecting U.S. citizens
and legal aliens of Hispanic origin. It is our sincere hope that the
anti-discrimination provisions of the bill will adequately bar such negative
48. Second, while we appreciate recent attempts to reform U.S.
legal immigration policy, such efforts are entirely too premature. Further,
it is our belief that when the time comes to modify this aspect of
immigration law, the following principles, recently enunciated by the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, should
shape future legislative efforts.
Family reunification must be affirmed as the fundamental precept driving a
just immigration system. Our fundamental tradition is fair treatment of all
nations and their emigrants.
Temporary labor programs should be gradually excised wherever necessary;
permanent workers should receive full rights and those temporary-worker
categories that are necessary ought to offer full labor market rights.
Every effort should be made to discourage illegal immigration by promoting
just immigration law.
The endangerment of any nation's valuable human resources must be avoided,
especially in the case of Third World countries.
49. Finally, the United States must reaffirm its role as the
world's principal "safe haven." We urge that U.S. immigration law and policy
retain the process whereby the number and funding for refugees to be
admitted annually are determined by refugee needs. We also support
expeditious handling and due consideration for the requests of aliens who
seek asylum here. We further support a compassionate policy designed to
provide temporary status for those whose journeys here are brought about by
violent political upheaval or by natural calamities in their countries of
50. Communications media should be both responsive and responsible
to the public interest. Laws regarding electronic media should seek to make
the benefits arising from new technologies available to all. We reject the
application of "marketplace" economic thinking to the telecommunications
industry, for this has the effect of widening the gap between the
information-rich and the information-poor in society. For this reason, we
support legislative initiatives to restore the accountability of
broadcasters and the owners of cable systems to the communities they are
licensed or franchised to serve. The public interest must be the guiding
principle behind regulatory activities at the Federal Communications
51. We call for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine
through legislative or administrative action. We support legislative or
administrative action that would restore the accountability of cable
operators and broadcast licensees to the needs and interests of all elements
of society, especially children, minorities, the elderly, and the poor. We
support the concept of universal telephone service at a cost that all
Americans can afford. While we oppose government control of the content of
mass media, we support common-carrier regulations to restrict the use of the
telephone to make available indecent or pornographic materials–many of them
an affront not only to religiously based moral values, but to any standard
of decency in a civilized society.
Regional Conflicts in the World
52. Central America. The Central American Peace Plan
(Esquipulas II) is the most helpful development in years and requires every
possible support. We urge U.S. policy to take into full consideration the
legitimate concerns of the countries of the region, seeking regional
solutions to regional problems whenever possible. We believe this applies as
much to the current crisis in Panama as to the rest of Central America.
53. The Guatemala Accords signed in August are but the first
essential step in a process leading to genuine peace, reconciliation, and
development in each of the wartorn countries. We favor a continual and
significant reduction in U.S. military aid to Central America and an
concomitant diplomatic effort to persuade other nations also to refrain from
adding to the disastrous military buildup in the region.
54. Economic assistance, especially development aid, should be
extended to all the Central American countries, including Nicaragua, willing
to comply with established human rights criteria. Until conditions in El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are significantly improved, including the
end of state or insurgent terrorism, we continue to support the right of
refugees from those countries to seek and find temporary safe haven in the
55. Middle East. Among the regional conflicts in the
world, none is more complex or more significant for global peace than the
Middle East. The continuing carnage of the Iran-Iraq war, the persistent
violence and economic devastation in Lebanon, and the Palestinian protest in
the West Bank and Gaza all illustrate the need for fundamental political
measures needed to address the questions of justice and peace in the Middle
56. The basic policy of the U.S. Catholic Conference has
focused upon the Arab-Israeli issues and the war in Lebanon. We continue to
believe that UN Resolution 242 sets the framework for a Middle East peace,
which should provide for secure recognized borders for Israel and should
also provide for a homeland for Palestinians, along with their participation
in negotiations affecting their destiny. The special significance of
Jerusalem should be protected by an internationally recognized judicial
safeguard which takes account of the historic and religious status of the
city in the eyes of the three monotheistic faiths.
57. The issues of protecting human and civil rights,
particularly the rights of religious liberty, are a primary concern
throughout the Middle East, where religion is closely tied to the political
life of the region.
58. In Lebanon, the violence and devastation continue in a
fashion that requires the concentrated attention and action of the
international community. The fundamental goals must be to protect the
sovereign integrity and territory of Lebanon. The Lebanese should have the
possibility of determining their own destiny, free from the intervention of
outside powers. While this political objective should be a primary concern
of the U.S. policy, it clearly will take time to achieve it. In the interim,
the United States, through public and private agencies, should provide the
humanitarian and economic assistance that the Lebanese people so sorely
59. Southern Africa. South Africa has long been of grave
moral concern to the world because of its internal racial policies and its
occupation of Namibia-South West Africa. In recent years, it has become a
threat to the entire area of southern Africa because of its military
incursions into the territories of several of its neighbors; indeed, it has
virtually occupied a large portion of Angola.
60. The United States is South Africa's largest trading partner
and second-largest foreign investor. U.S. foreign policy and its influence
on corporate activity in South Africa should be directed toward needed
change in South Africa and in its relations with neighboring states. To this
end, we support more intensive economic sanctions against South Africa as
one of the few remaining nonviolent pressures for the dismantling of the
immoral system of apartheid.
61. American Catholics have a dual heritage. As believers, we are
heirs of a tradition that calls us to measure our society by how it touches
the least, the lost, and the left-out among us. As citizens, we are part of
a remarkable democratic tradition that sets before us the pledge of "liberty
and justice for all." Today, as both believers and citizens, we urge this
great political party to shape its platform first and foremost by how it
touches each human person. We especially ask you to fashion a platform which
respects the life, enhances the dignity, and protects the rights of all our
sisters and brothers, especially the poor and most vulnerable.