by Tony Magliano
The Occupy Wall Street movement has a powerful ally in Catholic social teaching! Recently I became more convinced of this truth after spending a couple of hours with the Occupy Baltimore segment of this now global movement. In front of Baltimore’s pricey Inner-Harbor, I encountered a small tent city ranging from homeless persons to college graduates. Four of them talked with me about why they are there. In the shadow of a skyscraper with huge bold words Bank of America on it, one of the occupiers pointed to it and said “they, and the many other greedy corporations like them, control most of the wealth, while so many of the rest of us have so little.”
Since the federal government’s bailout of the mega banks and various other large companies, corporate profits have risen to an all time high. And yet, many pay little or no taxes. Hedge fund managers and CEO’s are raking in millions, while huge numbers of families continue to lose their homes, 14 million people remain unemployed, 50 million have no health insurance and a record 46 million Americans live in poverty – including 16 million children!
Another occupier cited Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s eye-opening calculation that the richest one percent of Americans now own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. And that the gap between the rich and the rest of us – especially the poor – is wider now than at any time since the Great Depression! The occupiers unanimously agreed that with this tremendous concentration of wealth comes a tremendous concentration of power. Wealthy corporations, with their large campaign contributions, wield considerable influence with Congress and executive branch, whereas the shrinking middle-class and poor have very little influence with America’s policy makers.
Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed very strong words to these “structures of sin.” He said, “The all-consuming desire for profit, and … the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others” is opposed to the will of God! The Catholic social teaching principle known as “the universal destination of the earth’s resources” insists that all people deserve a fair share of creation and the goods of humankind – certainly to the point of having each person’s basic needs entirely met. Pope Paul VI taught that God intends for everyone to adequately share in the goods of the earth, and that all other rights must be subordinated to this truth!
American society’s failure to fulfill this ethical principle is a moral indictment against most of Washington’s politicians, corporate America and liberal capitalism – which highly favors those with wealth and power at the painful expense of those with little or none. Blessed John Paul said the human inadequacies of capitalism are far from disappearing.
So much of America’s political and economic system is unjust. And yet for the most part, Catholics are silent. Silence supports the rich and powerful, never the poor and weak! But Catholic social teaching calls us to speak up for the poor and weak. So let us raise our voices together with our courageous brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. Demand that our do-little Congress significantly raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, drastically cut military spending, stop the wars, create millions of public service jobs, give small businesses – especially green energy companies – job-producing financial assistance, extend the efficiency of Medicare to everyone, pass strong anti-sweatshop legislation and greatly increase poverty-focused assistance to the nation’s and world’s poor!
Tony Magliano is a Catholic News Service columnist whose work appears in diocesan papers throughout the United States. If your diocesan paper does not carry his column, we encourage you to call them and request that they do.