A new statement on the economy, intended as a pastoral message of hope, came in for some sharp criticism as the document was formally introduced for consideration Nov. 12 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.
During discussion, "The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times" was criticized by some bishops for lacking connections to the bishops' 1986 pastoral letter for giving what they felt was short shrift to the church's teachings on the rights of workers and inadequately addressing "the growing gap between the haves and have-nots" among other issues.
Retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston raised substantive quarrels with the document, written by a drafting committee headed by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, under some guidelines laid out by the bishops at their June meeting in Atlanta.
During that meeting, the bishops voted 171-26 to move ahead with a draft of a message on work and the economy to be ready in time for a final vote at the Baltimore meeting. The aim was to raise the profile of growing poverty and the struggles that unemployed people are experiencing.
The draft was scheduled to be up for a final vote of approval Nov. 13, following a committee-supervised amendment process.
It notes: "We do not intend to offer a comprehensive analysis of economic systems at work in our nation or in the world. Rather we want to offer a word of pastoral wisdom and encouragement based on the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
However, Archbishop Fiorenza said during discussion from the floor, "I have very serious questions about this," adding he'd only received the draft for review three days earlier. "I'm very disappointed. If it is not changed in a major way it will not be well-received."
He observed that the subtitle is about work: "A pastoral message on work, poverty and the economy," yet he said the document includes just one short reference to labor rights.
He asked why "Hope of the Gospel" includes no reference, "not even a footnote," about the U.S. bishops' 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, "Economic Justice for All," which he noted was the product of several years of work.
Archbishop Vigneron suggested that some of Archbishop Fiorenza's points and those raised by a few other bishops might be addressed through the amendment process.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., asked whether the drafting committee had consulted with an economist, which he said was one of the recommendations of the bishops in June. No, they had not, Archbishop Vigneron answered.
Retired Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the document "doesn't address in any way the major shift in the American economy." He also said it ought to reference the 1986 document "to show the continuity of what we said then."