WASHINGTON — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops called for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economy today, saying the amount of poverty in America "is a social and moral scandal that we cannot ignore."
"The obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent claim on the conscience of the nation," the bishops said in approving a 115-page pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All."
The letter was approved by a 225-9 vote as the bishops wound up the final day of the annual four-day meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Three years in preparation, the document calls for a change in economic practices on a par with the American Revolution.
"We believe the time has come for a similar experiment in securing economic rights: the creation of an order that guarantees the minimum conditions of human dignity in the economic sphere for every person." it said.
Capitalist System Faulted
While not specifically condemning the capitalist, mixed economy of the United States and praising some elements of the system, the bishops nevertheless found the system wanting in providing for the poor and the unemployed, and said biblical principles demanded that the nation do better.
In particular, the pastoral letter called for an increased role for government in economic planning and activity--a call that has been sharply criticized by a small but influential group of Catholics led by former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.
The document takes no one to task by name, but basic remedies it proposes go directly against Reagan Administration policies in such major areas as job creation, welfare spending and diversion of military money to the poor.
No Specific Remedies
The bishops stopped short of any specific recommendation for redistribution of the nation's great wealth.
However, they said, "the concentration of privilege that exists today results far more from institutional relationships that distribute power and wealth inequitably than from differences in talent or lack of desire to work."
The document declares that both the government and private business--as well as well-meaning individuals--must do more to provide jobs for the unemployed and help the poor by giving them more power as well as handouts.
"That so many people are poor in a nation as rich as ours is a social and moral scandal that must not be ignored," the letter says.
The pastoral letter, the centerpiece of the bishops' meeting, was overshadowed by a wrenching conflict between the Vatican and Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. On Wednesday the bishops issued a 3 1/2-page statement backing the Vatican's process used to discipline Hunthausen and vest much of his power in his auxiliary bishop.