Bernardin Advocates 'New Spirit' toward Poor

Article excerpt

CHICAGO - Speaking at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Campaign for Human Development, Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called for "a new spirit" in the church and nation "that rejects vicious rhetoric and the push for punitive measures" in discussions o welfare reform.

In his first public address since undergoing extensive cancer surgery in mid-June, Bernardin was given two standing ovations from the 2,100 attending the affair, Aug. 25-28, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. He looked thin but delivered the address with energy and conviction.

"Unfortunately, the debate about such reform seems to spring not so much from an authentic concern for the poor as from pragmatic concerns about the federal budget deficit and taxpayers' pocketbooks. Saving money in the immediate future should not be the only criterion" for reform, he said, "because short-term savings lay the groundwork for greater difficulties and costs.

"Reforms that effectively punish the innocent children of unwed teenage mothers, wittingly or unwittingly promote abortion, or that burden states to do more with less resources are not the answer." Bernardin said.

The cardinal praised CHD as "an unusual combination of religious commitment, street-smart politics, commitment to structural change and commitment to the development of the poor."

During its 25 years, the campaign has funneled almost $2.50 million to some 230 community-controlled, self-help organizations. Despite these successes, Bernardin noted, "poverty is more entrenched today than ever before in our nation's history" with "an increased concentration of wealth and political power alongside a growing feeling of powerlessness among citizens."

The CHD gathering was a veritable rainbow of black, white, brown and yellow faces from all over the country, representing organization that have received grants, organizers, coordinators and supporters. CHD in many cases supplied the seed money to fledgling groups that have since had a profound impact on the nation. Some have been instrumental in passing legislation on such issues as redlining of neighborhoods, fair housing enforcement, tax reform, child support, migrant worker needs and treatment of brown lung disease. …