THE BISHOPS’ CONTRIBUTION TO THE WELFARE
Given the history of American social policy and recent developments in the ongoing debate over welfare, what does the tradition of Catholic social teaching say about contemporary welfare policy? Is there a distinctive Catholic position amidst this contested terrain? What ethical concerns about recent rounds of welfare reform arise from the social thought of the Catholic Church?
Two methods of addressing these questions present themselves. The first would be to conduct an independent scholarly investigation of how the themes of universal Catholic social teaching apply in the specific context of American social policy. Such a study would build on the contents of chapter 1 above and would attempt to link foundational Catholic concerns about proper social order and concern for the poor to detailed conclusions about welfare program rules and policy choices in the specific national context of the United States. A major pitfall of this methodology is the likelihood that any such application of principles to concrete realities will reveal too much about the ideological commitments and political biases of the observer, and far too little about the actual policy implications of Catholic social principles.
A second method is simpler and probably more reliable. Instead of launching a deductive inquiry that would attempt to determine appropriate applications of Catholic social teaching, this approach relies primarily upon observation. What positions and proposals regarding welfare reform were in fact staked out by leaders of the Catholic community in the United States during these recent rounds of welfare reform? Did authentic spokespersons of the Catholic social tradition advocate any noteworthy principles and priorities regarding the well-being of the welfare poor at pivotal junctures of the welfare debates? This second approach is the method that will guide this chapter.