Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
Strong families rebalance society
Moral theologian calls for education, specialized training to eradicate poverty
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
The poor have been among us since before the beginning of Christianity. How the Church and state have cared for them is what has varied, says Father Jack Gallagher.
"When Jesus said 'The poor you have always with you,' who was he referring to? The poor are those who fall outside of the normal way that people earn livings," said Gallagher, former president of Newman Theological College.
"For the most part, they are the ones who fall outside the family structure. They were the widows and the orphans. Today, they are the single parents."
Gallagher spoke about the causes of domestic poverty to more than 100 members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and guests Sept. 26 who gathered at Assumption Church to mark the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.
Vincentians from the capital region, including Leduc, St. Albert and Sherwood Park, participated in the Eucharist and enjoyed a potluck dinner to honour the patron saint of charity.
Gallagher said there is no one reason for domestic poverty even in today's society, but the breakdown of the family structure is as great a destructive force as it has ever been.
"Very often the poor have lost their security and a more natural fit into society," he said.
Gallagher provided a historical perspective on the development of poverty over the centuries, from the early Christian community, which paid particular attention to the poor, to state powers that took away what the Church had established for them.
His talk resonated with a sombre reality that little has changed in more than 2,000 years for the disadvantaged - that groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society will always be vital for serving others' needs.
"When the monasteries were confiscated in England during the Reformation, there was a tremendous crisis of starvation because so many people had become dependent on these ecclesiastical properties. When they were gone, there was nothing to take care of them," he said.
During the revival of Catholicism in 16th century France, most reformers like St. Vincent de Paul had a special care of the poor. Gallagher mentioned various women's religious orders as doing similar work in Canada.
But because the orders were praying and caring for the poor, lay people began to suppose it was no longer their burden. The sisters were running the hospitals and schools.
With the rise of capitalism and industrialization, many security structures were taken away.
A major shift occurred from providing support to the poor and the sick, to finding someone else to do the work when a person became sick.
"No longer was there in the population a structure that took care of the poor. There were societies like the Vincentians and the orders of sisters, but it became enormous when the whole working class became poor because they lost their security. It was not just those who fell through the cracks."
Gallagher told the gathering the Church began to realize that merely reaching out to the poor was not working.
Doing so had to become something fundamentally intrinsic to Catholicism.
In the nature of capitalism, the working class works for the lowest wage that will keep them alive, he said. "But there are also the marginally employable."
What does our culture do for them? Gallagher asked.
People take what he called "throw-away" jobs to survive.
Social efforts like unionizing workers have been tried and tested, but what is needed is a political and economic vision to help rebalance society. And that falls at the feet of the family unit.
"Anything that can be done to strengthen the family structure is going to be a very important step because within the family is where you learn the habits and skills to make a person employable," he said.
"People also need education and specialized training. There has to be a vision that consists of more than giving $400 to every person when you have some extra money."
A respected moral theologian and former president of Newman Theological College, Gallagher will be moving to Houston at Christmas.