Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
At the beginning of this liturgical year, on the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard these words from Isaiah during the First Reading:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.
In the modern era, since the papacy of Leo XIII and the promulgation of his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum, the Church has taught with increasing urgency and emphasis the duties of solidarity and the preferential option for the poor. These teachings do not mean that God does not love those who are not poor, but that, among many things that could be mentioned, Catholics are bound by our duty as Christians to protect the poor from the depredations of the rich.
An examination of the present situation, however, shows that in the United States, as elsewhere, wealthy elites are manipulating the structures of government in order to benefit their interests. This comes at the cost of the prosperity of everyone else, and constitutes a grave injury to the common good. We invite you to consider these economic facts.
The unemployment rate remains at its highest level since the Great Depression, with 14 million adults reported as unemployed. Yet, this figure does not tell the full story. Over the years, the government has manipulated its methodology in order to define “unemployment” so that millions of unemployed people are not counted. The government is deliberately distorting the unemployment figures, to make the situation seem better than it actually is. If calculated by historical methods, the actual unemployment rate is more than double the present reported rate – 22%! That is more than 30 million people! Nearly half of the unemployed have been out of a job for more than six months. The median duration of unemployment (about 25 weeks), is near an all-time high.
Corporate profits are at all-time highs both in absolute numbers and as a percent of the economy. CEO pay now runs 350 times the average worker pay, that’s up from what prevailed between 1960 and 1985, when CEO pay was typically 50 times that of the workers. CEO pay has increased 300% since 1990 alone. Corporate profits doubled during that period, while worker pay increased only 4% and adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage declined. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, worker pay has not increased for the past 50 years. Wages, as a percent of the economy, are at an all-time low.
The top 1% of households now holds 23.5% of all pre-tax income. The top 1% own 42% of the financial assets in the US. The top 5% own 70% of the nation’s financial assets. The bottom 80% of households owns 7% of the national wealth. Social mobility in the United States is at an all-time low.
During the financial crisis of 2008, very large banks received a major bailout from the government. Yet, bank lending declined sharply and has yet to recover. Banks made $211 billion in the first six months of 2011 by borrowing money from the government at a zero interest rate and then buying treasury notes and loaning it back to the government, which pays the banks
interest on the money that it previously loaned them for free!
+ The bottom 60% of taxpayers pay between 9 and 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1% pay less than 5%.
+ In 2010, 17% of Oklahomans lived in poverty, the 14th highest rate in the nation. 7.2% of the population lives in extreme poverty (they live on incomes that are less than 50% of the poverty level.) The poverty rate for children is 24.5%, an increase (in 2010) of 9% over 2009. Of working age Oklahomans living in poverty, 44% work full or part-time.
+ The state income tax is scheduled to be cut in January 2012. The top 5% of taxpayers will receive 43% of the benefit from the cut. The next 15% will receive 30%. The remaining 80% of the population will receive only 27% of the value of the tax cut.
+ In October of this year, the number of Oklahomans receiving food stamps reached an all-time high – for the seventh month in a row. 625,000 Oklahomans now receive food stamps – 30% of all children in the state are in the program. In 2010, 7.5% of state households reported “very low food security”, this was an increase of 60% from 2005-2007, The number of households reporting “low food security” was 16.4%, an increase of 13% from 2005-2007 (the national average for low food security is 14.6%).
+ The amount appropriated to provide government assistance for winter utility bills this year (the Liheap program) was less than half the amount funded last year.
As these statistics indicate, in the tug of war between labor and capital, capital has won and those who can afford it the least are paying the greatest costs.
In consideration of the increasingly dire economic situation, and the toxic political response to these times from our state and federal governments, it is time for Catholics to put more emphasis on the social teachings of our faith. Indeed, we call upon Catholics to set aside the year 2012 as a time of special emphasis on the social teachings of the Church. The Church has an important contribution to make to the discussion of the current events of the day, but all too often the Church’s voice is absent because the laity, whose particular competence it is to implement the social teachings, have not been catechized and formed in accordance with those teachings. It is unfortunate that at this critical time in history, the voice of our bishops is muddled, confused, and tainted with political partisanship. As a group, the United States Catholic bishops are guilty of material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war.
One of the great gifts of the Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Church was a renewed emphasis on the universal call to holiness, a vocation which pertains not only to individuals, but also to the Church as an institution. He sought to purify the Church of historical sins such as the persecution of non-Catholics, by identifying the problems, showing how those situations were departures from Christian norms, publicly repenting of those institutional sins, and resolving that the Church would never be involved with such things again.
In that John Paul II spirit, we call upon Catholics of this region, clergy and laity together, to engage in an examination of conscience concerning how the Church, and its associated institutions, incorporate our social teachings in the temporal activities of the Church. In this era, authenticity is an important concept, and given the widespread ignorance of the social teachings among both laity and the clergy, the Church should examine itself to see if it is truly practicing what it preaches.
We further call upon Catholics to demonstrate solidarity with the people of this region and to support the common good, by moving our funds and accounts out of any large multi-state corporate banks where we may be doing business, and to establish our financial accounts with locally owned credit unions.
+ Unlike banks, credit unions are financial institutions dedicated to the common good. They invest their money in the local community.
+ They are governed by boards that are elected by their depositors.
+ They have maintained their commitments to local community throughout the financial crises of the past few years. Their motive is not profit, but service to their communities.
We need to strengthen financial institutions like credit unions that support the common good and we need to stop supporting big multi-state national banks who were major players in the financial crises of these past few years and who are the source of much corruption in our political process.
During the time that it has taken to read this letter, 87 people have died of hunger and diseases related to impure water. The issues of justice and peace that we write you about are critical life issues and the Catholic Church has a moral obligation to do more to stop this on-going slaughter. One of the most important things the Church can do in response to the signs of these times, an action far more necessary than any amount of money donated for charitable relief, is to make a serious commitment to the catechesis of clergy and laity in our social teachings and to practice what we preach about them in the daily temporal life of the Church.
We promise you our prayers and acts of reparation for the many sins against justice, solidarity, and Creation of this era. We offer to discuss these issues with you further and can present additional information if needed.
We place this cause under the spiritual protection of the Venerable Stanley Rother, who gave his life in defense of the poor in Guatemala and we pray that his example of fidelity unto death to the Gospel of Life and Justice will be an example for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Dioceses of Tulsa and Little Rock, to guide our actions and direct our paths.
+ O God, Who by the preaching and teaching of the Venerable Stanley Rother
has given us an example of fortitude in the face of injustice and political corruption,
grant that we who reverence his life and ministry may also imitate
his example of fidelity to wisdom, truth, life, justice, and beauty,
so that we may order our lives and actions in accordance with those truths
and thereby fulfill our responsibility as Christians to protect the common good.
We ask these blessings through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City
Occupy Archdiocese of Oklahoma City