When state officials unveiled a $2.7 million ad campaign aimed at improving the quality of life for New Mexico kids this week, Catholic leaders responded with criticism, releasing a statement saying it takes more than advertising to fight a problem as big and as severe as child abuse.
The Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester has been in New Mexico for only about a year. He says the Pull Together campaign is just a start.
WESTER: Pulling together is great, but we have to pull the funds together. That’s the critical point, and that’s what I’m not hearing.
In fairness, I would say that I’m grateful for the campaign in that I think it marks an important first step. It’s only a first step. We need a lot more steps, and we need a lot of funding. And we hope and feel strongly that those next steps have to be real funding to undergird real programs that are going to help people who are in real need.
So far, all we’re seeing is marketing. So, obviously we’re cautiously optimistic, but history has shown even in my short time here, that there’s a strong possibility that there may not be much coming after, and I hope there is.
KUNM: One of the other themes that I picked up from your statement is the idea that it’s not a matter of just alerting people about services. It’s about making sure those services exist.
WESTER: That’s right. If you get people to sign up, and then all they’re going to do is stand in line, and there’s nothing there on the other side of the door, what good is it? You’ve got to have the programs. We don’t need marketing. We need substantial programs with real social workers, and we need people that can be there with our young parents.
You know, having a campaign that talks about websites to register and all, we know anecdotally—and I’m sure there’s some evidence beyond that—that people need face-to-face help. They need a social worker, a nurse, somebody there with them, showing them how to maneuver the system, how to fill out forms. You need somebody right with you. And that’s how the money should be spent, getting to the people like that.
KUNM: You also mention that a portion of the $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund should be used for early childhood development efforts.
WESTER: It seems to me we have a solution readily at hand, but there seems to be a reticence for us to go down that path. I’m new here in New Mexico, but it seems like it’s like a hot potato that nobody wants to touch, that they don’t want to bring it to a vote, the Legislature doesn’t seem to want to look at it.
From what I can tell, it seems like there’s a lot of big business behind this that people don’t want to look at that. And how much, you know, money’s going into the fund? And how much should be going into it? And how it’s used. So these are very important issues. I know they’re complicated. I know that they’re not easily solved, but I think we have to roll up our sleeves and look at it. Because that’s a lot of money, 14-point-something billion dollars. That’s a lot of money.
KUNM: Is the church in kind of a tricky position advocating against child maltreatment when the church here is also still dealing with cases of child abuse by priests?
WESTER: Yeah, there’s always going to be those kinds of anomalies. I mean, obviously, when you say “the church,” that’s a big statement.
We’re seeking forgiveness for the mistakes of some—a very few—very egregious mistakes, terrible terrible mistakes, and we’re doing everything we can. This is a problem that’s throughout our society. It’s not just in the Catholic church, and so my prayer and my hope is that our sad experiences in this will help others in going forward to prevent child abuse.
So, I think it would be a mistake to think that because this has been an issue, that doesn’t mean we can’t speak out in areas of legitimate concern. But I think if you pull back and look at the long view, you’ll see that we’ve really done our best, and we still want to do our best and engage people and do what we can to move forward in that area.