New draft of pastoral letter on economy emphasizes `building bridges' to poor

US Roman Catholic bishops have taken a second critical look at the operation of the American economy. Sunday, a five-member panel of bishops released a new version of a controversial pastoral letter issued in 1984 entitled ``Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy.''

The second draft keeps the ``strong conviction that more can and must be done to fight poverty and unemployment,'' says drafting-committee chairman Archbishop Robert Weakland of Milwaukee.

But some changes were in response to the more than 10,000 pages of comments the bishops received after release of the first draft.

The new draft tones down what the first version called a ``preferential option for the poor,'' which critics felt pitted the middle class against the poor.

The new letter tries to ``build bridges of responsibility between the poor, the middle, and affluent classes,'' Archbishop Weakland said.

The new letter also gives greater emphasis to the impact of military spending. It says such spending makes the nation's economic problems ``even more difficult to solve.''

The letter retains much of the critical tone of the first draft based on the standard that ``our primary criterion in judging any economy is not its adherence to a particular ideology but the impact it has on human beings.''

In particular, the bishops call poverty in the US ``a social and moral scandal that must not be ignored,'' and assert that the poor have not adequately shared in the nation's resources.

Calling the current level of unemployment in the United States morally unacceptable,'' the bishops advocate a ``major new commitment'' to achieving full employment.

At 40,000 words, the new letter is 20 percent shorter than the first. It will be discussed at the bishops' national meeting, scheduled to be held in Washington next month. Then it will undergo futher revision in 1986 before coming to a final vote later that year.

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