The heads of the national conferences of bishops from the nations participating in the upcoming G8 summit have sent a joint letter to the leaders of G8 nations commenting on the issues they would like to see emphasized at the summit. Citing recent comments from good Pope Francis on making a special committment to those in poverty worldwide, the bishops ask G8 leaders, including President Obama, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Putin of Russia, "to protect poor persons and assist developing countries at the upcoming G8 Summit in the United Kingdom." The bishops urge "steps to improve nutrition, reduce hunger and poverty, and strengthen just tax, trade and transparency policies for the common good of all."
The Bishops, who include the USCCB's Cardinal Timothy Dolan; British Archbishop Vincent Nichols; André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris; Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg; Leo Jun Ikenaga, S.J., Archbishop of Osaka; and Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich, write: "Your focus on agriculture and nutrition ahead of the G8 Meeting is timely. In a world that has made great strides in improving food production and distribution, far too many of God’s children still go to bed hungry or suffer from a lack of nutrition, a tragedy that has lifelong consequences for health and educational achievement. In particular, there is a need to strengthen assistance to African countries in order to improve local agriculture." This year's G8 will be held June 17 - 18 in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. G8 leaders will not have to look too hard to find the world's poor in Enniskillen. Reuters reports that derelict businesses around the 5-star hotel which hosts the summit will be the recipients of real-world photoshopping as mock-ups of actual storefronts will be set into the dusty windows of the city's closed shops; thousands of pounds have been committed to the "beautification project" meant to disguise Enniskillen's economic distress.
But G8 bishops were not the only Catholic prelates with the poor in mind this week. Good Pope Francis also shared some wisdom G8 leader may wish to contemplate as they regard the verdant hills of Fermanagh. "Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules," Pope Francis said during his General Audience (and weekly catechetical instruction session) yesterday. "God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the 'culture of waste.'
"If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs, the dramas of so many people end up becoming the norm. If on a winter’s night, here nearby in Via Ottaviano, for example, a person dies, that is not news. If in so many parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! Yet these things become the norm: that some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news.... A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash."
Pope Francis said, "This 'culture of waste' tends to become the common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if poor or disabled, if not yet useful, such as the unborn child—or no longer needed—such as the elderly. This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
"Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food," the pope said. "Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value... We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy."
In their less passionate, but no less pointed letter to world leaders, the bishop's endorsed the G8’s attention to tax evasion, trade and transparency. They quote the catechism, which teaches: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes...” (No. 2240). The bishops describe tax paying, a painful subject on the European continent where evasion is widespread—and no less controversial in the United States after revelations of epic corporate tax evasion (he reports writing on his Apple MacBook)—as a moral obligation in support of the common good, "including the good of poor and vulnerable communities, just as states also have an obligation to provide 'a reasonable and fair application of taxes' with 'precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources.'" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 355). The words "IRS scandal" do not appear in the brief letter.
Trade and trade rules, the bishops said, should serve "the universal common good of the whole human family and the special needs of the most vulnerable nations." They add, "It is counterproductive to provide agricultural development assistance on the one hand and then to use unfair agricultural trade policies that harm the agricultural economics of poorer nations on the other."
They describe the summit's attention to transparency as critical. "Human dignity demands truth, and democracy requires transparency," they write. "With more and better information, civil societies, including faith-based organizations, can hold their governments accountable and help insure that resources reduce poverty and improve the health of the whole society." In this way, they suggest, the paradox of the "resource course," according to which resource (usually oil) rich nations in the developing world end up the poorer for the exploitation of their national wealth by multinationals and local elites. "Genuine transparency and participation can change the 'resource curse' into a blessing," the bishops say.
They closed with a suggestion toward an international preferential option for the poor as part of the summit conversation: "By asking first how a given policy will affect the poor and the vulnerable, you can help assure that the common good of all is served. As a human family we are only as healthy as our weakest members."