Text of Bishop Swanstrom’s Speech Urging New Office to Fight Poverty

Following is a translation of a speech in Latin by Auxiliary Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom of New York, executive director of Catholic Relief Services-National Catholic Welfare Conference, on Oct. 4, urging that the Holy See create a secretariat to deal with world poverty.


The schema on the Church in the modern world treats in admirable manner the searing issue of hunger, disease, ignorance and overall misery within our human family. This is particularly true of the manner in which this subject is treated in chapter 3, paragraphs 81, 84 and 85, and in chapter 5, paragraphs 93, 94 and 95.

In these places the schema first states that there exists an obvious and ever increasing discrepancy of wealth between the richer and the poorer nations. Then it describes these precepts of justice which should be applied to this question. Finally it says that the wealthier nations should come to the aid of the poorer ones. I am in full agreement with all these things.

However, I am deeply concerned about the implementation of this beautiful doctrine of the universal common good and international social justice.

Although it springs directly from Christ’s concern for the poor, the Church’s teaching on social and economic justice among all the peoples of the human family sometimes appears to be new and strange to many Christians, especially if they have a sufficiency themselves. There is not only a great gulf between the rich and the poor, but there is a great gulf between our accepting these principles and putting them into practice, a great gulf between our words and deeds.

From the dawn of the industrial revolution, and beginning particularly with Leo XIII, the Church began to champion the cause of the proletariat and to insist that her children put in practice the principles of social justice and love within our respective nations. International social justice requires still a much deeper grasp of the Christian imperative, to reach the much-wider dimensions of the whole family of nations, crossing the barriers of race and culture which enclose our national consciences.

For these reasons, I propose concretely that the Church launch a deep and long-term campaign of education, inspiration and moral influence to promote among Christians and all men of good will a live understanding and concern for world poverty, and to promote world justice and development in all their facets.

Since human poverty will be foremost among world issues for the next decade and generation, the remedies already well outlined in the schema will require long-term stamina and persistence, rooted in deep convictions. As the People of God, we must acquire these convictions ourselves and share them with all men of good will, particularly within the richer nations.

In this way their citizens will be more willing to control their own cupidity, to pay taxes in support of aid and loan programs, and to make other changes necessary for world justice and the development of the poorer peoples.

I propose that a secretariat be established within the Church to carry on this long-term process of education and inspiration, motivation and moral influence.

In a few months, this Council will be closed. But our concern for the world’s poor, so often voiced in this hall by the college of bishops led by our chief shepherd, the Holy Father, should continue to ring out, to teach and to exhort.

This would be the role of the secretariat functioning perhaps under a permanent commission of bishops, appointed by the Holy Father.

This effort would not hinder in any way, but would rather strengthen the works of social assistance and development now carried on by several national conferences of bishops and by other Church organizations. These raise and distribute funds and are engaged in concrete operations. The new secretariat, I repeat, would be educational and inspirational.

With these purposes in view, I respectfully offer to the Fathers the following addition to the schema. In chapter 5, at the end of number 95, entitled “The Role of Christians,” add the following new paragraph.

“In order to call with persistence the attention of the People of God and in fact all men of the human family to the sad plight of a majority of God’s children, and to teach the message of Christ’s love for the poor and His justice in and out of season, this sacred synod proposes that a secretariat of the Holy See for promoting world justice and development be established. It also urges that national conferences of bishops (coetus), Religious orders and other appropriate bodies including those composed of laymen, set up suitable means for opening the minds and hearts of all to the cries of the poor over the whole world wherever possible. These educational and inspirational efforts should be carried on in close concert with our separated brothers, with groups inspired by other religions, and with all men of goodwill.”

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