Reader John Herreid writes:

Reader John Herreid writes: December 6, 2013
I figured out why I’m not getting this idea that Church teaching says families on welfare lack dignity and moral character. I had the wrong edition of the documents! For example, the standard edition of the Charter of the Rights of the Family states:
“The family has a right to assistance by society in the bearing and rearing of children. Those married couples who have a large family have a right to adequate aid and should not be subjected to discrimination.”…
The modern conservative edition says:
“Well-off families have a right to the bear and rear children. Impoverished married couples who have a large family may receive grudging assistance if they comply with mandatory drug testing and acknowledge their inferior moral state.”
The standard edition of Caritas in Veritate says:
“In view of [falling birth rates], States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character.”
The modern conservative edition says:
“In view of [falling birth rates], States asked to keep out of it and let the free market dictate how families are formed. While we recognize that the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman is the primary vital cell of society, to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs would be treating our respected wealthier citizens like cash cows.”
Anyway, you should all look into what edition you have on hand. Chances are you may be relying on the inferior standard editions.
When we finally get rid Heretic Pope Francis and purge all the Komminisses, we will bring all this unfortunate Prudential Judgment stuff up to par.
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  • Steve

    I really don’t understand the moral outrage over drug testing.

    I say, “Sure, I’ve got no problem with people being assisted by the State, I just want to make sure those fungible dollars aren’t being used to feed a drug habit.”

    To which my moral betters reply, “You’re a monster!”

    • capaxdei

      Do you want to make sure those who are deducting mortgage interest from their taxes aren’t using those saved dollars to feed a drug habit?

      • Steve

        Your question reflects a classic confusion that people have regarding the nature of tax deductions. You have equated a tax deduction and welfare, which means you see a tax deduction as a gift the State gives you. Well, it isn’t. The taxes you pay are your money. A tax deduction means the State is taking less of your money. It isn’t a gift. So I’m afraid your question is unanswerable because it is predicated on a false equivalency.

        • Dan C

          How about, it’s a waste of time and money? It is a false narrative , part of conservativism’s false narrative in their war on the poor.

          It has been done and found to be a waste , as was rightly predicted by its critiques.

          I have seen and watched the arguments over this and nothing but vile comments are found in the mouths of the leaders of these pushes.

          It wastes money, time, and continues to re- in force the biases of a certain group of conservatives against the poor.

          • HornOrSilk

            Also, it basically says, if you engage certain behavior (which we deem unsuitable, like drug use), you forfeit your right to life (which is what this amounts to for many). This is what, to me, is the moral problem. It’s always interesting how people often know nutrition has to be supplied for coma patients, but they fail to see how and why food needs to be supplied to everyone.

            • Marion (Mael Muire)

              “certain behavior (which we deem unsuitable, like drug use)”


              Drug use causes people to check out of life and their responsibilities. On drugs, people commit crimes, injure themselves, injure other people, crash cars, damage property, neglect and harm their children, destroy their family lives, drag down their neighborhoods and communities, lose their jobs and their livelihoods for themselves and their families.

              I also feel that the certain behavior of . . . oh, say for example, high-jacking a commercial airliner full of passengers (which we would tend to deem unsuitable), and, you know, crashing it into the mid-stories of a skyscraper is an action that we cannot, without some reservations, view with full moral approbation. For now.

              • Marion (Mael Muire)

                P.S. Sign me the close family member of two count em two recovering drug addicts. . . both of whom I love dearly

              • HornOrSilk

                You do not get the point. The point is simple: the right to life is not based upon whether or not they do drugs. Simple as that.

                • Marion (Mael Muire)

                  I’m not saying I disagree on that point. I object to the characterization of drug use as “unsuitable,” as if it were the equivalent of wearing a white pair of pants in December.

                  Let’s call things as they are: Narcotic and other forms of substance abuse are not “unsuitable”; they are a ladder straight into Hell.

            • Steve

              You say the argument is: “If you do drugs, you forfeit your right to life.” That would be the case if people were proposing the death penatly for drug use. But that’s not what is occuring.

              I would ask you the question I asked above: I have enough to get by on. I’m not rich, but I can provide for myself. Does justice compell you to buy my groceries?

              • HornOrSilk

                No, the suggestion is they shouldn’t be given the means for food. It’s the same thing as deprivation of nutrition in the hospital. It is the death penalty, in an indirect means, for many who are poor. No go.

                • Steve

                  So by not buying groceries for a person, you’re condemning that person to die.

                  But…you’re not buying groceries for me. Why have you condemned me to die?

        • Dan C

          Taxes are rightly owed to the State , or so says centuries old basic Catholic theology of the relationship of the State to the citizen. That policy permits “cuts” is a matter of policy that is a redetermination of what someone owes. In most analysis, except in libertarian theology, a tax cut is the same as a government give away. It is politicked the same, even for Grover Norquist, those government give aways to acceptabke Red State matters, like agricultural support and grants are considered and propagandize as the same as a tax cut (as in “the loss of ag subsidies is the same as a tax increase”).

          Therefore, even Americans for Tax Reform recognize forms of government give- aways as basically equal to tax cuts..

          • Steve

            What you have done is successfully shown that I am obligated to pay my taxes. That doesn’t eliminate the distinction between the State taking less of my money and giving me money.

            When a person takes advantage of a tax deduction, that money isn’t really owed. In order to eliminate that distinction, you’d have to show that the State is the rightful owner of all I have.

            • Dan C

              How taxes are assigned, despite the rhetoric that has poisoned this water (“taxation is confiscatory”) is a policy matter. That one has a tax deduction or a government “handout” or grant is handled politically by Republicans and progressives similarly, for those grants each is attached to. Progressives note that the deduction of mortgage interest for home owners was the biggest boon for mortgage banking, and remained as the only permitted personal loan deduction of Reagan’s Tax reform of 1986 in which only the rich got lower taxes. That ag subsidies and their elimination is a tax increase to farmers is a conservative discussion.
              In general, the tax structure, which in Europe and Australia is so so different-higher and more centralized-is a policy matter. How it is handled in politics determines how the varied levies and grants can be weighed and considered.
              Our mortgage deductions are not guaranteed and inviolate. They too are a way in which the federal government encouraged home ownership for a particular class of people. Suggesting that other classes of people are permitted such security promoted by the government is the same politically. I have discussed how Reagan’s tax simplification in 1986 eliminated other personal deductions.

        • capaxdei

          I have not equated a tax deduction and welfare.

          I do not see a tax deduction as a gift the State gives me.

          My question is not unanswerable.

          My question is not predicated on a false equivalency.

          But I think I have my answer.

    • Sally Wilkins

      First, the concept carries with it and is designed to appeal to the notion that those who are receiving benefits are morally suspect. It regards the whole notion of food support is a matter not of justice but of charity, that it is therefore appropriate for those who receive benefits to give up some of their privacy in exchange for assistance (as compared with either the Catholic position or the Progressive idea that it is better for society that individuals not live in desperate poverty). Third, denying benefits to a household because one member tests positive would inevitably mean that innocents would suffer for behaviors over which they had no control, if they had knowledge. Keep in mind that 76% of SNAP recipients are children, elderly or disabled. Should they not eat, because someone else in the home is an addict? Quite apart from any philosophical issue, however, there is the wholly practical issue of cost. Even at the cheap end, drug testing costs $20-30/person. I have employees who drive trucks, the random tests we are required to do on them cost $70. Suggestions that every person in a household be tested monthly, or even quarterly? Who’s going to pay for that? Beneficiaries? Out of the funds they’re receiving that already only provide less than $5 a day for food? Or taxpayers? And what of the cost of the bureaucracy that will collect and analyze the data and implement the purging of the recipients? And the states that have implemented mandatory testing have found miniscule numbers of drug users. Which means the whole idea is not actually about prudence or fiscal responsibility, it’s about punishing people for being poor. Does that help you understand the moral outrage?

      • Steve

        The economic case you make is a sound one, though it doesn’t really address the moral component. The charity vs justice distinction you make is an interesting one. Now, I don’t have a lot of money, but I get by. I’ve clearly got enough money for a computer with internet access. Does justice compel you to provide for my nutritional needs? If not, why?

        • Marion (Mael Muire)

          “Does justice compel you to provide for my nutritional needs? If not, why?”

          Different commenter here: I don’t think, Steve, that anyone here has objected to the state requiring means testing to those applying for welfare or food stamps. Your family makes a certain annual income; you have X number of children under a certain age at home; you yourself have N disabilities: thus, and you and your family qualify for A amount of nutritional assistance.

          As for you having a computer with internet access, I wouldn’t have a problem seeing especially your young, dependent children who are receiving nutritional assistance from the state, living in a home with a computer with internet access. Heck, I’d support the idea of all school-aged youngsters living in a home with internet access. This is a tremendous help to the childrens’ literacy, their computer skills, their ability to complete their schoolwork on time, and ultimately to their ability to make their way into the upwardly mobile classes.

          Internet access would be a must-have, almost as much as a decent pair of shoes to wear and a book-bag are.

          And if you live alone, and don’t have children, and meet the state means test, I’d still support you receiving nutritional assistance. You can keep your computer and internet access. Maybe with them, you can more efficiently look for work. But even if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

          • Steve

            OK, so if a person has means to provide adequately for their own food, then justice does not compell a society to provide for their needs.

            But what if I didn’t have enough funds for food because I spent all my money on video games? Does justice now compell you to come to my aid?

            • Marion (Mael Muire)

              I have a different notion of justice than do some of the other commenters here. I do believe that the good God holds us accountable for one another, and that if someone is in trouble, that we owe it to them – and to Him – to help them out, even if they have gotten into trouble through their own fault. Yes, still help them out. Time and time again

              I also believe, however, in a system of state assistance, somewhat different to the one we have now, whereby at a certain point, state social workers or other trained personnel, while continuing to provide aid, would step in and sit down with you and say, “look; we need to figure out a way for you to become a little more self-sufficient. We know you’ve got some cash coming in, and we need you to be a little more accountable for that. The supplemental assistance will continue, but we’re going to see if we can’t phase it back somewhat over the coming months, and let your own income meet some of those needs. Let’s make a plan together. We’ll start by you telling us what you think you can do next month.”

              That’s if you have money to spend on video games.

              If you’re working full-time at a fast-food restaurant, or as a cleaner, or as a nurse’s aid in a nursing home, you may be making little more than minimum wage, and may need to WORK TWO FULL TIME JOBS just to keep a roof over your head and food on your and your childrens’ table. Think of it: 8 AM – 5 PM shift, and then report to job #2 at 6:30 to do the 6:30 PM – 3:00 AM shift. That allows for you to get about four or five hours of sleep at night, if you’re lucky. No time for video games.

              I know people who live like that, day in and day out. To me, they are beyond heroic. Not everybody is capable of that kind of work output, endurance, and guts. I understand that. But, I do think that people who get significant assistance while having some cash coming in, should sooner or later be asked to account for what they’re doing with that money, and that the taxpayers have a right to know that that money is being put to the most appropriate possible use.

              • Steve

                OK, you don’t need to make the case to me for assisting people who are in need.

                Is there some point where you’d say to a person, “Look, we’ve tried working with you, but you just keep spending your money on video games. You’ve got the money for food, you just have to stop buying games.”

                • Marion (Mael Muire)

                  Probably so, yes. But if there are young children in the picture, that makes it especially tricky. Are the children going to be allowed to go hungry because of the idiot parent? To permit that would be brutal, I think, no matter what the parent does.

                  • Marion (Mael Muire)

                    P.S. I will also add, as the relative of two (2) recovering drug addicts, that a case can be made that an adult with custody of a minor child who habitually abuses drugs (or alcohol for that matter), is placing that minor child at significant risk for neglect and or mental, emotional, and physical endangerment. That child is not safe, even if there is another non-drug using parent present in the home. And as the state owes it to our residents to provide at least a minimum for the means to sustain life, the state owes it, I believe, to rescue, yes rescue minor children from the custody of an adult whose drug habit is endangering their health and safety.

                    The children should be placed in the care of relatives, or in worst case, foster care, and the addict parent needs to be told, “a free treatment program will be made available to you. Six months from now, you’ve remained clean and sober the entire, you’ll get your children back. Take it or leave it.”

                    Yes. Take it or leave it.

                    And that should go even for families with household incomes in the six figures.

                    • Steve

                      I’m with you on the part about child endangerment.

                      You may find this interesting, regarding addiction:

                    • Marion (Mael Muire)

                      Is this study intended as your rebuttal of the entire scientific and clinical body of work surrounding the addiction process?


                      No one who is capable of making a serious study of any physiologic process, and who has actually made a study of the subject, would present a single piece of research in which subjects in lab settings are able to resist ingesting the drug to which they have become habituated over a period of mere days, as conclusive evidence that medical treatment of addiction to any substance is unnecessary.

                      I take it, then, that your presentation of this study is your way of withdrawing from the conversation. I take my leave, then, as well; good day to you, sir, and have a nice life.

                    • Steve

                      The phrase “have a nice life” exudes a kind of dismissive vindictiveness that is unbecoming of a compassionate Christian.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      I don’t think it is wrong to express one’s annoyance once in a while, and it does not necessarily mean a lack of compassion.

                    • Ronald King

                      Marion, I do not know if Steve realizes that the implication of this article/study would require a much more intensive social and economic investment into treating the psychological, physiological and sociological influences and symptoms associated with drug addiction. It would mean paying more taxes to develop scientifically proven treatment and support programs. I would support such funding.

                    • Marion (Mael Muire)

                      Interesting point, Ronald. Perhaps you and Steve and others will continue the conversation, which I will follow with interest as time allows.

                      But it’s the weekend, and I have a date . . . with the washing machine, the grocery store, the mops, and the vacuum cleaner. No fun – would rather stay and converse with all y’all.

                      God bless us every one!

                    • Ronald King

                      I know the routine as much as I attempt to avoid it, it always seems to find me. I second your God Bless

                  • Steve

                    Right. Now replace the words “video games” with “drugs”.

                    And I agree with your statement that children change the situation, but the principle still exists. If a person can provide for himself, but chooses not to, justice doesn’t compel you to provide.

                    Again, the children cannot provide for themselves. They complicate matters quite a bit.

                    • Marion (Mael Muire)

                      Steve, a video games habit is not comparable to the chemical dependency that I have seen with my own eyes, chemical dependency on alcohol and narcotic or opioid drug. Steve, people who are truly hooked on drugs or alcohol are people in deep, deep trouble. They are no longer capable to “just say no.” Their very wills are held hostage to the drugs or booze. They can no longer choose to use or to drink. This is nothing less than being in the thrall of Satan himself.

                      Yes! The devil literally has them by the throat, his vicious claws sunk deep, deep into their flesh, and his hideous pointed tail wrapped around them like a python snake around its prey. And, Steve, nothing but the power of the Almighty can make him let go.

                      Yes, these are people in trouble, and they do deserve our help. Our love and concern can communicate to the addict or the alcoholic that he or she is still a child of God and that there is hope; that if they will try, they still have a fighting chance.

                      Steve, to give to a man or a woman who is in this kind of trouble, that kind of hope, is the Lord’s own work.

                      A good hospital-based treatment program is a substantial example of something that will give the addict or the alcoholic a fighting chance to break the addiction, and to start on the road to recovery under his own steam. Unfortunately, these treatment programs are very costly – for poor people, they are nearly out of reach.

                      To the extent that we would require drug testing for supplemental benefits – if we ever did – I could support it only if there were excellent treatment programs for those whom we insist upon testing. And with access to treatment programs in place, then I would support making further living assistance to addicts and alcoholics contingent upon their entering treatment.

                      But to require that people get clean “cold turkey” or else starve would be truly brutal, barbaric. A civilized nation cannot require this.

            • Marthe Lépine

              There are different ways to come to someone’s aid. If you spent all your money on video games, it may not be wise to just give you more money, but a neighbour might bring you a meal once in a while, and/or invite you to eat in his/her home. Or maybe several of your neighbours… After a while, and after getting to know your neighbours better, you might eventually learn better ways to spend your time, or even begin to feel ashamed of wasting all your money and your time on video games and change your behaviour. This might take time, but this may be a good way – among many others, of course – to be loved by, and in turn love, your neighbours.

        • Sally Wilkins

          “Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.”
          That’s pretty straight-forward. If your income cannot provide for basic human needs, society has an obligation to meet those needs and to work to change society in order to enable you – and everyone – to be able to support themselves with dignity. If you cannot provide for yourself, because of age, health or capacity, society (both corporately and as individuals) has an obligation to care for you. Regardless of whether you “deserve” it – because, by virtue of being a living human being, you are entitled to the fair distribution of the goods of the earth.

          • Steve

            Good. So the fact that I am able to provide for my own needs means justice does not compel you to buy my groceries, right?

            But what if I didn’t have enough funds for food because I spent all my money on video games? Does justice now compel you to come to my aid?

    • Dan C

      The moral case against you is this: plenty of existing data suggests you are wrongly vilifying (by huge numbers) a class of vulnerable people, asking for welfare, for help.

      That has moral ramifications.

      • If drug tests are vilification then we vilify a lot of people, not just the poor. Bus drivers, members of the military, truck drivers, doctors, nuclear plant operators, professional sports participants, the list goes on and on. I’m not saying that you’re wrong that it is vilification. I’m saying that it’s wrong to ignore the huge swathes of middle and upper class society that are subject to the same regime. Either it is vilification for everyone or nobody.

        • capaxdei

          I think the difference between drug tests for voluntary positions and drug tests for needed services is a morally significant distinction.

          I also think vilification has both objective and subjective dimensions. Bus drivers are tested for reasons of public safety, not to ensure that their salaries aren’t used to feed a drug habit. Nor do many people (I assert without evidence) think that, well, you know, bus drivers are often drug addicts.

          • I needed that retail job because I needed to earn money. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, I’m not seeing a lot of distinction.

    • wj

      Here is an explanation from one of the state Catholic conferences:

      • capaxdei

        The linked statement puts it very well: “Asking why a person is poor has its value, but not for the purpose of determining whether the person deserves help.”

    • I think the Francis answer is that you ought to know if they have a destructive drug habit because you’re personally involved in their lives and building up their skills and habits so they are no longer in need of assistance. Peeing in a cup is not a substitute for love and solidarity. Showing up at 6:30 in the morning at their door so you can share your morning exercise and a healthy breakfast will pretty quickly let you know if they’re in the habit of going on a bender. Actually the state’s habit of impersonal treatment and rule based, one size fits all aid is usually part of US conservatives’ critique of government aid. Francis is, to some extent, repackaging this conservative critique in a way that is making liberals much happier with it than they’ve been for decades when conservative political figures were saying the same substance. I’m ok with that.

      How we’re supposed to build out the sort of system Francis suggests is currently beyond me but it’s a worthy goal that certainly would improve things if we could figure out how to scale it to societal level.

      • IRVCath

        Right. If you want to seean example of the kind of bureaucracy that a conservative would be outraged at, go to a welfare office.

        • There are regular votes that a band of anti-bureaucracy legislators stage in Congress. It’s a cross-party coalition but conservatives are over-represented based on their numbers in Congress. This is all stuff that you can check but most people don’t. It would disturb their prejudices too much and cause them to have to think. I hope you are different.

          • IRVCath

            Interesting. I’ll have to look into that. All I know is that the bureaucracy at the LA welfare offices are so bad, the federal courts have had to intervene. Procedures that should take 2 hours at most take all day.

      • Steve

        If that is your vision, and it is certainly a noble one, it falls outside what the State can manage.

        • Whether it is my vision or not, I think it is Francis’ vision and what a kick in the seat of both major parties’ pants it is.

          I also am dubious that the state can manage this. The state can, however, do more to get out of the way.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Big picture point: If we’d begin instituting sane and just economic policies, there would be A LOT fewer poor people needing assistance. “Trickle down” economics is just a modern euphemism. It doesn’t even mean “Let them eat cake” so much as “Let them fight for my crumbs.”

  • Anna

    And here I thought this would be about actual translation issues, like with Abbott vs. Flannery versions of the Vatican II documents…