Papal Visit: Politics at the Service of the Common Good

In his own words:
Excerpts from Pope Francis’ Address to Congress and the People of America

But first, a few comments:  I was delighted that the Holy Father began his remarks to the joint session of Congress and the American people by talking about responsibility, because with “rights” come responsibilities, and in our culture today, many would like to separate the two. He expressed his desire to engage in dialogue with us. He examined our nation’s past, our present challenges, and how we might move forward. To do so, Pope Francis drew on the lives of four great Americans:  Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

In sharing social doctrine, the pope uses sometimes drops into “Catholic-speak,” which unfortunately will be lost on some. It is my hope, though, that many will become curious about Catholic social teaching.

Right now we are all hearing presidential candidates discussing how they will address today’s problems, both domestic and in global relations. What Pope Francis’ address offers, in contrast, is an overarching view of humanity, which ought to inform how nations govern a people and how nations interact globally.

It was only for a brief hour, but on this historic occasion of a pope addressing Congress, an event for which John Boehner has been working twenty years to bring about, our Congress was united. His words transcended party. [Of course, everyone was back to business as usual as soon as the pope left. When the Senate resumed, Democrats defeated a bill in the Senate which would have continued funding for the federal government through December 11 without funding Planned Parenthood.]

While not as explicit as some would like it to have been, the themes of religious liberty and the dignity of the human person, at all stages of life, permeated the Holy Father’s address. As I listened, I wondered how many had ears to hear.

I encourage all to read the Holy Father’s words in full before turning to any analysis or news reports, from outside or within the Church. It is my hope that in sharing some excerpts, you will be incited to read the full text and even watch him deliver his address (his admits his English is weak, and therefore, delivering this speech was quite a labor for him).

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need. 

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

 

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society.  It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.  Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

… All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

 

I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?  We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!  I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “…I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?  Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country!  And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!  Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

 

God bless America!

18th Century Prayer for Government

A Prayer for Our Government
by Archbishop Carroll (1791)

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.

Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

S.1743 Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015

The answer to yesterday’s Question of the Day 1 is sort of.

On July 9, Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) introduced S.1743, To provide greater transparency, accountability, and safety authority to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and for other purposes (or Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015), in Congress. The bill was read twice and then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Many of the concepts in today’s bill are not new. Indeed, many of the provisions in the bill have passed the Senate before with bipartisan support. …Like the earlier bills, this legislation is predicated on improving four things: transparency, wrongdoer accountability, vehicle safety, and recall effectiveness. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

That the scope of S.1743 is much narrower than that of S.2615 leads me to ask

Question of the Day 1:  Does each industry need its own custom Do the Right Thing or Else bill? Is one bill for all industries too broad, and was that one of the problems senators had with S.2615?

What stayed the same from S.2615 to S.1743:  the removal of the $35 million penalty cap NHTSA is allowed to impose on automakers and imprisonment up to 5 years.

The bill would remove the cap on NHTSA’s civil penalty authority, which is currently at $35 million NHTSA’s civil penalty authority must be bolstered to deter highly profitable corporations from violating safety laws. Otherwise, we get what we have now: companies treating NHTSA’s civil penalties as a mere cost of doing business. Just look at the GM case, where the maximum $35 million civil penalty represented less than 1/1000 of GM’s quarterly revenues, which is over $35 billion. In addition, the bill would impose criminal penalties on corporate executives who knowingly conceal the fact that their product poses a danger of death or serious injury. Corporate executives who hide serious dangers from the public shouldn’t get off the hook. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

One of the goals of S.1743 is to improve the effectiveness of recall campaigns, and that’s good. But given that I was sold a new car with a defect that caused water damage, quality control is an underlying issue, and perhaps the very root that allowed for safety problems (e.g., GM ignition switches, Toyota unintended acceleration) to reach unprecedented levels today.

Question of the Day 2:  Why are there so many recalls in the first place? At what point are manufacturers burdening consumers by manufacturing cars with defects as a baseline?

The fact that Chrysler was able to produce a defective car, a car that incurred water damage, and was then sold to a customer (me) as new, and then to stick the consumer with subsequent problems isn’t right. No one is holding Chrysler or Dulles Motorcars accountable, so it’s no wonder that this behavior/corporate culture mindset expands to safety issues. So Senator Nelson is right in saying there will be more recalls in the future. Indeed, Fiat Chrysler is recalling 99k 2015 Jeep Cherokees in the U.S. for water leaks that could lead to fire. I’ve read the news reports, but have not heard anything from Chrysler about my Jeep.

The American public demands that we do something meaningful to keep them safe on the road. There will be more recalls in the future–it is inevitable. And the consequences can be deadly. But they don’t have to be. Improving the recall process can and will save lives. I realize our bill may not get us to l00 percent completion of recalls or perfect motor vehicle safety, but I am confident that it would go a long way towards improving recall effectiveness, adding practical safety technologies to vehicles, and making Americans safer on our nation’s roads and highways. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

Of course the recall process will degrade when manufacturers can’t keep up with their own defects and design flaws. What consumers really need

  • Quality products:  safe, reliable cars that will last
  • Fewer recalls in the first place
  • Better warranties
  • Penalties for automakers that have too many defects

What is sad is that these laws need to be enacted at all, because people don’t know what it means to do the right thing, and refuse to put people before profits.

Question of the Day 3:  If manufacturers and dealers think that selling brand new cars with defects and low quality parts with a short shelf life is okay as a baseline, then should we increase the amount of time a consumer has to file a lemon law? (In Virginia, a consumer has 18 months.)

When I took Jeep #4 back the second week, because I believed that lesser amounts of water were still getting in, the service manager took a few minutes to speak with me. Don’t let the title “service manager” fool you, she is a slick salesman like the rest. She tried to play what she perceived as my unhappiness with my new car and urged me to trade it in on something else. (It’s not the car. It’s how customers are treated that bothers me. Defects happen, and they should be the exception not the rule. The right thing for Dulles Motorcars to do was to allow me to return the Jeep and give me a full refund.) Through the grace of God I said none of the things begging to roll off my tongue, but rather told her and the customer service rep “God Bless You” and got into #4 and drove away saying “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Vehicle Safety News and Information

S.2615 Hide No Harm Act of 2014

Question of the Day 1:  Will NHTSA’s investigation of Fiat Chrysler revive S.2615?

Yesterday I contacted my U.S. senators (Kaine and Warner, democrats from Virginia) and asked them about the Hide No Harm Act of 2014. I shared the short version of the Jeep #4 story and explained that it led me to become more interested in consumer protection. My experience is benign compared to what has happened with the Jeep fire, GM ignition, and Takata airbag fatalities. The corporate culture and lack of accountability that creates flawed designs and defective products from date of sale, which lead to fires and water leaks and financial and time losses to customers, perhaps loss of life or injury, however, is the same.

S.2615 establishes criminal penalties, including jail time (5 years) for corporate executives who fail to notify appropriate government agencies, employees, and consumers of defects and dangers. At the same time, it would protect executives who take steps and do the right thing.

The bill would eliminate the $35 million penalty that the National Highway Transportation Association can fine Fiat Chrysler. That’s $35 million per recall; NHTSA is investigating nearly two dozen Fiat Chrysler recalls. It sounds like a lot to us regular folk, but as is pointed out in the press conference introducing S.2615, corporations view these fines as “the cost of doing business,” and they don’t effect changes in business practices.

This bill says that in America we put people before profits. — Katherine McFate, president and CEO of Center for Effective Government

Question of the Day 2:  Why wasn’t S.2615 passed? Why was it “referred to committee”?

Some say “referred to committee” means the bill “died.” A similar thing happened with H.R. 4451, S.2615’s sister bill in the House of Representatives.

The press conference introducing S.2615, which occurred on July 16 last year, is worth watching. Following is a quote that reflects the spirit of the bill.

In our day-to-day lives we don’t behave the way we find a corporate executive would behave. A neighbor would not sell a car to another neighbor that he knew had an ignition failure that was going to leave the car stuck on the highway and imperil the driver. A doctor would not prescribe a drug to a patient that she knew was going to lead a heart attack in that patient. A mother or father would not serve peanut butter to a child that they knew was going to give the kid salmonella. The people who run corporations are neighbors, and mothers and fathers and friends, but they behave differently when they are inside the corporation. A different culture exists and different social norms have been allowed to prevail. There is no other way to explain what is going on. They are not held accountable, and they don’t believe that they are supposed to behave the way they would in their day-to-day lives, according to the he same moral code they would exercise in their homes or with their family or with their friends. — Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen

When people feel they can’t trust the management of American companies to behave responsibly, with candor, with honesty, they don’t trust the products that those people produce. — Katherine McFate, Center for Effective Government

America and its politics will change when everyday citizens like you and me stand up and speak up. (I admit I’ve not done enough of this.) I encourage you to write to your political representatives about the issues you care about (even if you did not vote for him or her and you don’t agree with how they want to better the country). Yes, it can be frustrating when you get the boilerplate responses, but keep going.

Americans deserve an effective government, by the people and for the people (not run by corporate and industry lobbying). Effective government includes a Supreme Court that does not have activist judges, but rather judges who uphold the law and understand the limits of their role and the purpose of the checks and balances of the three branches of government we all learned about in school.

Cast your vote. Engage in respectful dialogue and debate (not name calling and silencing people who disagree with you). Find common ground as a base from which to begin. Most people share the same goals of reducing poverty, creating jobs, ensuring everyone has access to decent health care, keeping our country (and the personal information government agencies have collected on us) secure, and so on. The disagreement is often in how to achieve the goals.

Always treat others with respect, especially when you they don’t give you the same courtesy. Be willing to listen and learn and think about the issues in a new way and from someone else’s perspective and experience.

Government reform starts today. It starts with you.