Roman Catholic Archbishop James A. Hickey told a gathering of Maryland legislators last week that there is "no way" churches and other voluntary institutions can meet the needs of poor people dropped from government-financed welfare programs.
"The religious community has been and will continue to serve those in need, but our efforts cannot and should not substitute for a national commitment to build a just society which respects the human dignity and rights of each of us," Hickey said.
"There is no way the churches or voluntary sector can be expected to fill the growing gap created by economic policies which slash human services, contribute to recession and shift resources from domestic programs to military weapons," he said.
The Washington archbishop did not mention President Reagan by name, but it was clear that he was rebutting frequent suggestions by the president that churches and other charitable organizations meet the needs of persons affected by slashes in federal aid programs. He also challenged repeatedly the Reagan administration's priorities of increased military spending at the expense of human service programs.
The churches, he said, "do not need to be reminded of our responsibilities to the poor. For decades we have been hard at work, providing food, shelter, medical care, social services, emergency financial assistance, help for children and the elderly, care for the retarded and disabled."
Requests for aid have "doubled and tripled" at Catholic Charities offices, he said. He spoke of one parish where "more than 150 people each day wait in line for a meager 60 cents which helps get them through one more day."
In today's economic and political climate, the churchman continued, "individual acts of charity are not enough." He said that religious leaders of all faiths today "are called to examine the systems and institutional arrangements which leave people hungry, jobless, homeless and unable to obtain health care or a decent life for their families.... This is why religious leaders are posing hard questions about the arms race and the meaning of defense in a nuclear age."
Hickey said that in the view of religious leaders "a fundamental measure of political proposals is how they affect the poor and the weak."
In terms of specific legislation, the archbishop, whose jurisdiction includes five Maryland counties, had a number of concrete proposals:
* "A major increase in assistance to families with dependent children."
* Antiabortion legislation: "We want to work with you to end abortions and find legal ways to assist" women carrying difficult pregnancies.
* Legislation "to limit the abuse and availability" of handguns.
* Support for "stronger measures against drunk driving."
* Opposition to easier divorce: "We recognize the reality of marital breakdown, but we do not believe the interests of society or the individuals involved are served by making divorce a relatively care-free process."