Scholars and academics, debating how to reform the welfare system, agreed during a Family Research Council-sponsored conference that the federal government should make greater use of church resources to help the poor.

Nearly 100 participants at the December showcase for conservative thought examined the role of nonprofits in a time of upheaval in government welfare policy.

During the consultation, Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out that President Johnson's War on Poverty in the 1960s did benefit the elderly and disabled, but other efforts to help the poor have not fared as well.

Aid to Females with Dependent Children, a Depression-era program originally established to help widows, has grown exponentially in assisting young, single mothers, often divorced or never married. Novak asserted that the War on Poverty made casualties of its beneficiaries by divorcing help from a traditional family structure.

"Those who want to continue welfare as we know it are carrying a very heavy burden," Novak, a 1994 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, observed. "If you want to help the poor, the surest way is to help the family."

Others were critical of the philosophical underpinnings of big-government social spending. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest who has written widely about free-market principles, emphasized that it is not society's role to redistribute wealth among its nonworking citizens. "The paradigm of a market society is to create wealth, not distribute it," he said.

Sirico asserted that "there can be a great breadth of agreement between cultural conservatives and social conservatives" on the subject of welfare reform, and he contended that such reform must include the Christian church ...

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