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Canada bishops tackle free market fallout.

TENAFLY, N.J. --Canada's 100 Catholic bishops have produced a pastoral on their nation's unemployment crisis. Titled "Widespread Unemployment -- A Call to Mobilize the Social Forces of the Nation," the 14-page letter contains much that is valuable concerning the current state of the U.S. economy.

Canada's official jobless rate of 11 percent (1.5 million people) is only part of the picture. Canadian statisticians say more than 3 million are underemployed or have abandoned the job search, putting the real figure at closer to 3.9 million -- or one-quarter of the labor force. The United States, with 10 times Canada's population of 26 million, counts nearly 9 million unemployed, officially 7 percent of workers.

"Totally unacceptable" is how the bishops describe the situation generated by, among other things, the crisis in cod fishing in Newfoundland, depressed manufacturing and textile industries in Quebec and closed steel, pulp and paper mills in Ontario and elsewhere. The bishops also discuss the consequential social crises that include everything from abuse of women and children to despair among youth and suicide.

The prelates' objectives is not to blame Brian Mulroney's outgoing Conservatives for the worldwide recession, but they emphasize that the free market alone cannot be allowed to determine people's destinies.

Ten years ago in a similar statement titled "Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis," the bishops provoked a national debate by calling unemployment a "moral disorder" and urging Ottawa not to fight inflation at the cost of jobs.

A decade later, the problem is not growing inflation but soaring debt -- 600 billion Canadian dollars to be exact, 30 percent of it owed to foreigners.

The government's response -- cutting jobs, decentralizing social services, making some public enterprises private, and changing the unemployment insurance system in mid recession -- has in the bishops' view forced the unemployed to carry a disproportionate burden.

"Those who believed that the "invisible hand' of the free market would bring general improvement forgot the human and social consequences involved," they said.

To counter the cynicism and disillusionment that ordinary Canadians feel toward their government's free market ideology, the bishops call upon political leaders to show courage and audacity by proposing to people a new vision of cooperation and a new ethic of partnership to meet the crisis.

Among their proposals are many salient to U.S. economic recovery, some already part of the Clinton White House strategy: educate and retain workers; study job-creation strategies proposed by nongovernmental agencies; consider taxing corporations and individuals who prospered during the recession; and set up mechanisms to ensure that transnational corporations are accountable to basic economic, social and environmental priorities.

The bishops are not prepared to wait until government acts. Instead they urge their faithful to help rebuild and humanize the economy. How best to do this? Have homilists and catechists integrate social teaching and action for justice in their gospel messages, they say. Encourage Catholics to implement this teaching in the workplace.

The Canadian pastoral extends the invitation to all citizens to cooperate with those in other sectors of society who are designing economic, social and ecological guidelines for their communities. Two weeks after the pastoral was issued, some 250 people gathered in Chicoutimi, Quebec, on May 1 to mark May Day.

The pastoral was much on their minds, as were ideas for job-sharing and a guaranteed-income plan that would provide an economic base for all Canadians. Bishop Martin Veillette of the depressed diocese of Trois-Rivieres was there to hear the cry of this new poor class in the industrialized North.

Following much criticism for their stand on women and in the wake of the resignation of a bishop in connection with a sex abuse scandal, the credibility of Canada's prelates has improved greatly with the publication of this letter and its clear defense of the victims of unemployment.

Similarly, Ireland's bishops, after a sex scandal in their ranks last year, won new cachet with their 1992 pastoral "Work Is the Key," a copy of which they sent to the bishops' conference in Ottawa, along with their support for the Canadian pastoral.

Such statements are far from unusual as a new database at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, discloses. In it are contained some 1,500 statements on the economy by Catholic bishops in 69 nations since Vatican Council II. The Canadian prelates have produced 8 percent of those statements.
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Title Annotation:Catholic economic policy
Author:Lefevere, Patricia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:May 28, 1993
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