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May 1, 2015

Archbishop of Chicago gives talk on weakened families, weakened economy

Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, spoke yesterday at International House about interaction between the economy and families: how weakened families might hurt the economy, how a weakened economy might hurt families, and what should be done to support both. Cupich’s remarks, along with a keynote by another prelate and presentations by four academics on the same theme, opened the Seventh Annual Conference in Economics and Catholic Social Thought.

Cupich was one of Pope Francis’s earliest American appointments; the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times have suggested that Cupich’s appointment reflects a shift in tone in Francis’s church, which includes an emphasis on injustice in the economy. In his remarks yesterday, Cupich referenced contemporary economic conflicts like the fight for the minimum wage, right to work laws, and inequality. Like several of the other speakers, Cupich expressed anxiety about the intersection between the economy and families.

“Government and business policies can further strain family time and put pressure on resources. Human needs and personal dignity are too often irrelevant in an economy driven by cost-cutting, stockholder expectations, or a bottom line that trumps the rights and well-being of workers,” Cupich said.

Oscar Cantú, the bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, delivered the event’s keynote. In introducing the conference, which regularly brings bishops, economists, and other scholars together to discuss the intersection of Catholic social thought and economics, Cantú posited a future convergence between the two disciplines as economists increasingly recognize the importance of the family as an economic unit.

Christine Firer Hinze, a professor of theology at Fordham University and a Catholic ethicist, was one of four academics that spoke after the bishop. The Catholic emphasis on the family, she said, had only recently been divorced from a tight association with strictly defined gender roles. What remained, she said, was a belief that work outside the home should be able support life inside the home—a basis on which people with different views on gender roles can proceed.

William Evans, a professor of economics at University of Notre Dame, concluded the session by focusing on whether bad prospects for young men with little education drive up the rate at which women have children out of wedlock. Actual sudden shifts in the fortune of young men without college degrees—a boom in coal mining in the 1970s and 1980s, or the introduction of crack cocaine into inner cities—had mixed results, he said, indicating that other factors were involved.

This was the first time the conference was held without Cupich’s predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, who founded the conference and died a little over a week ago. 

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