Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Washing State Catholic Conference examines ballot measures through the eyes of faith
the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 26, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Although the Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) did not take a position on initiatives that will confront voters in November, long-standing teaching of the Church on such issues can help Catholics make informed decisions at the polls, said Dominican Sister Sharon Park, the WSCC’s Executive Director.
“Regardless of the political debate, moral issues underly the questions presented by the initiatives on the ballot this year,” Sister Sharon said.
This initiative would repeal a graduated estate tax on property valued at more than $2 million. The revenues from the tax currently are deposited in the education legacy trust fund.
Proponents say the estate tax punishes Washington residents who have worked hard, paid taxes, saved and invested to pass their property on to their families. Opponents say the estate tax is the fairest way to raise revenue for the state’s public schools from those most able to pay.
A pastoral letter released by the U.S. bishops in 1986 addressed the issue of Catholic social teaching and economic life. That letter, Economic Justice For All, can be helpful for voters considering a vote on I-920, said Sister Sharon.
“Two questions help shape our perspective on economic life,” she said. “How would passage of this initiative affect the common good and not merely our own personal good? And, is passage of this initiative consistent with the obligation that society maintain a preferential option for the poor?”
Supporters call I-933 a property rights initiative because it requires compensation when government regulations adopted since 1996 restrict the use of private property. Opponents say that paying property owners for the cost of environmental safeguards would be so expensive that government would be forced to waive many regulations.
Sister Sharon quoted the words of the late Pope John Paul II. In his encyclical On Social Concern, the pontiff wrote, “…the goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a ‘social mortgage,’ which means that it has an intrinsically social function…”
Sister Sharon also quoted from The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good, from the Catholic Bishops of Washington State: “We neither worship creation nor are worshipped by creation; we relate to creation as its stewards, the unique responsibility that God has entrusted to us.” (Editor’s note: The complete document is available on the Spokane Diocese’s web site, and at http://www.columbiariver.org/.)
Initiative 937 would require the state’s largest utilities to meet certain conservation targets and provide 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources over the next 15 years. Although they did not take a position on the initiative, the bishops of Washington State did support the concept of I-937, and even opponents agree that the goal of increasing renewable energy resources is good for the state.
Opponents argue, however, that the goal is unrealistic and that the initiative is poorly written.
“While generating energy from wind, solar, and biomass sources is still in developmental stages, Catholics can carefully evaluate I-937 to determine if it is a way to require policy makers and energy companies to research alternative energy technologies,” Sister Sharon said.
Ecological responsibility and Catholic teaching are closely linked in many Church documents, she said. In addition to the Columbia River pastoral letter, there is the U.S. bishops’ 2001 document Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, which is available on the WSCC website, http://www.thewscc.org.