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March 1, 2011

How church teaching enters into current U.S. collective bargaining debate - What the future holds for consultation in dioceses -
Fears, worries and the Gospel

In this edition:
1. Unions, U.S. state budgets and church teaching.
2. Debate on unions viewed as moral matter.
3. What 2009 social encyclical says about unions.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Lenten pilgrimage;
b) what the pope sought when naming one new archbishop. 5. Notes on worry and fear.
6. Facing gnawing fears and worries together, not alone.
7. What the future holds for consultation in dioceses.

1. Unions, State Budgets and Church Teaching

Church social teaching has more than a little to say about labor unions, so it was perhaps inevitable that the U.S. Catholic bishops would weigh in as a state budget battle involving public-worker unions in Wisconsin dragged on in late February.

What the church teaches about labor unions may prove uniquely pertinent in the months ahead, since a number of governors in other states appeared ready to sponsor bills similar to the one Gov. Scott Walker pushed in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin action aimed not only to raise the level of employee contributions to health and pension benefits plans, for example, but to put an end to nearly all collective bargaining for most government workers at the state, county and local levels, including teachers.

Walker insisted the bill was essential for dealing with a budget shortfall and that the bill's collective-bargaining provisions were essential to that effort, but protesters and numerous commentators interpreted his action as a union-busting effort, since workers had agreed to increase their benefits contributions.

The chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., noted Feb. 23 that "the situation in Wisconsin is not unique," and that "other states and the federal government also face daunting challenges of growing budget deficits and how to allocate burdens and share sacrifice in ways that reflect principles of social justice, economic fairness and wise stewardship."

Bishop Blaire said that Catholic teaching serves as a reminder that "these are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions."

Bishop Blaire's comments appeared in a letter to Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wis., who issued a statement Feb. 16 as president of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference on the rights of workers and unions. Archbishop Listecki took note of the fact that Wisconsin's controversy was occurring in the midst of "difficult economic times," which he said "call for hard choices and financial responsibility" if the common good is to be furthered.

However, "hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers," said the archbishop. He cited Pope Benedict XVI's comment in the 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" that workers' associations need to be "honored today even more than in the past."

It does not follow from this "that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid," Archbishop Listecki stated. For, "every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required and to adjust to new economic realities."

Yet, the archbishop added, "it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth." He said that "in times of crisis," new forms of cooperation "and open communication become essential."

Archbishop Listecki appealed in the name of the state's bishops "to everyone - lawmakers, citizens, workers and labor unions - to move beyond divisive words and actions and work together so that Wisconsin can recover in a humane way from the current fiscal crisis."

… 2. Debate on Unions Viewed as Moral Matter

"You and our brother bishops in Wisconsin are offering a timely reminder of what the church teaches on the rights and duties of workers, including the right to form and belong to unions and other associations, and the obligation to address difficult problems with respect for the rights and needs of all," Bishop Stephen Blaire wrote in his Feb. 23 letter to Milwaukee's Archbishop Jerome Listecki. Bishop Blaire, commenting on the controversy over labor unions and Wisconsin's public employees, said:

"As chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to express support for and solidarity with your clear statement … articulating traditional Catholic teaching on workers, their rights and the common good."

Bishop Blaire said he wrote his letter to assure the archbishop that his "brother bishops stand with" him as he shares "Catholic teaching on workers and unions" and calls "for dialogue, mutual respect and the search for the common good as a way forward in these difficult days."

What is at stake in current debates over collective bargaining is a moral matter, Bishop Blaire said. He insisted the current debates do not involve matters simply "of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy."

Bishop Blaire prayed, he said, "that the leaders and people of Wisconsin -- and across our nation -- will respond" to Archbishop Listecki's urging that everyone move beyond divisiveness in order to work together to foster fiscal recovery in ways that are humane.

… 3. What Recent Social Encyclical Says on Unions

The value the church continues to place on labor unions was accented in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"). The encyclical, which appeared in the very midst of what increasingly is referred to as The Great Recession, accented the important role ethics should play in businesses and economic life today.

In the parts of the encyclical discussing labor unions, the pope pointed not only to their need for recognition and protection, but to the positive contribution unions in developed regions of the world may be able to make to the lives of workers everywhere.

"Caritas in Veritate" might be termed the most recent "social encyclical." But in his new book, "Think and Act Anew: How Poverty in America Affects Us All and What We Can Do About It" (Orbis), Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, expresses concern that while other encyclicals by Pope Benedict XVI have gained considerable recognition, this encyclical may be at risk of quickly becoming forgotten. He called the encyclical "the inspiration for this book."

Father Snyder said that this encyclical, Pope Benedict's third, received notable attention when it first was released. He added, however, that "since that time one would be hard pressed to see it being actively promoted or discussed. That is one reason that this book is being written: We must not lose sight of the wisdom and teaching held within this encyclical."

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee cited a paragraph in Section 25 of "Caritas in Veritate" in his Feb. 16 statement on labor unions, issued on behalf of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference. Section 25 discusses new pressures placed on workers today in light of globalization and changes in the way businesses now operate. The pope began that section by writing:

"From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare … are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today's profoundly changed environment. The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market."

A bit later, the pope said that "through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers." Then he said - in these sentences, which are the ones cited by Archbishop Listecki - that:

"Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the church's social doctrine, beginning with 'Rerum Novarum' (60), for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past as a prompt and farsighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level as well as the local level."

Later in this section, Pope Benedict presented what became one of the mostly widely quoted statements in the encyclical. He said, in the context of discussing the particular pain of unemployment in these times, that he wanted "to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity." The pope added, quoting Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, that "man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life."

In the encyclical, Pope Benedict encouraged unions to be forward looking and to expand their vision. "While reflecting on the theme of work, it is appropriate to recall how important it is that labor unions -- which have always been encouraged and supported by the church -- should be open to the new perspectives that are emerging in the world of work," he wrote in Section 64.

The pope said that "looking to wider concerns than the specific category of labor for which they were formed, union organizations are called to address some of the new questions arising in our society." He was thinking, Pope Benedict explained by way of giving examples, "of the complex of issues that social scientists describe in terms of a conflict between worker and consumer. Without necessarily endorsing the thesis that the central focus on the worker has given way to a central focus on the consumer, this would still appear to constitute new ground for unions to explore creatively."

Pope Benedict then added that "the global context in which work takes place also demands that national labor unions, which tend to limit themselves to defending the interests of their registered members, should turn their attention to those outside their membership and in particular to workers in developing countries where social rights are often violated." The pope said that protecting these workers, which is "partly achieved through appropriate initiatives aimed at their countries of origin, will enable trade unions to demonstrate the authentic ethical and cultural motivations that made it possible for them in a different social and labor context to play a decisive role in development."

In another section of "Caritas in Veritate," Pope Benedict presented his list of "the stakeholders" in business enterprises. He said in Section 40 that responsibility toward the broader range of stakeholders - "namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society" -- often has weakened today "in favor of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility."

The "international capital market offers great freedom of action" for businesses in our times, Pope Benedict said. Yet, "there is also increasing awareness of the need for greater social responsibility on the part of business." There is, he said, "a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference."

The pope commented that "in recent years a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged who are often answerable only to the shareholders, generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Theology on Tap in Spokane: "We're always on a spiritual pilgrimage. … All of us realize that there are areas in our lives that are not fulfilled, not redeemed. We always have to look at another way to do it. Lent is a great time for that. … Never give up on yourself. Never think God is finished with you. There is always something God is calling you to next in your life." (Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., speaking during a Theology on Tap gathering Feb. 16 at O'Doherty's Irish Grille in downtown Spokane)

What the Pope Wanted in a New Archbishop: "The nuncio explained to me the Holy Father wanted someone who believed in the new evangelization and someone who is close to the people," said Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, reporting on the meeting at which the apostolic nuncio to Canada told him he had been named by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Archdiocese of Quebec City, Canada's primatial diocese. It seems Archbishop Lacroix did not simply receive a telephone call from the nuncio. Instead, the nuncio asked him to come to Ottawa, where he learned of his new appointment. Archbishop Lacroix said he is someone who will evangelize in God's name and someone who will dialogue with society beyond the church. "I am a simple man… I am not among the grand theologians of the world, but I love the Lord and I love the people," he said. (Based on a Feb. 24 Catholic News Service report)

5. Notes on Worry and Fear

Is there anything Christians really ought to fear? Basilian Father Thomas Rosica raised that question in a Feb. 23 discussion on the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation's blog, where he noted how often Jesus in the Gospels says to people, "Fear not!" Father Rosica, a noted Catholic communicator, heads the foundation, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

It turns out there is something "worth fearing," in Father Rosica's estimation. Jesus warned against those who in various ways are able to harm the soul, he said. But what could this warning refer to nowadays? Father Rosica responded that it refers to "those people or situations who can dehydrate the spirit, crushing it and sapping it of life, killing hopes and dreams, destroying faith and joy."

Often, though, people "who dehydrate the spirit and kill hope and joy are not 'bad' people," Father Rosica emphasized. On the contrary, he said they may well be "very good people, and yes, even 'church' people and 'religious' people!" For, he explained, "we often harm the souls of others through our cynicism, our meanness of spirit and smallness of mind and heart; our lack of faith, hope and joy."

Father Rosica was discussing Chapter 6 in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says people should not "worry about tomorrow," since "tomorrow will take care of itself." In this chapter Jesus "does not deny the reality of human needs, but forbids making them the object of anxious care and, in effect, becoming their slave," Father Rosica wrote.

It is in this chapter of Matthew that Jesus also directs attention to "the birds in the sky," which are fed by the "heavenly Father" despite neither sowing, nor reaping, nor gathering anything into barns for future use. Then Jesus asks, "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?"

But even someone like "the great Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis," who was "a devout Christian," found himself challenged by this Gospel passage, admitting "that throughout his life he was a great worrier," according to Father Rosica. He pointed out that "Lewis frequently wrote to his friends saying, 'If God wanted us to live like the birds of the air, it would have been nice for him to have given us a constitution that was more like theirs!"

An underlying theme in Matthew 6 expresses "the sentiments of 'do not worry,'" Father Rosica said. He suggested that a better translation of this notion might be "Do not fret" or "Do not be preoccupied."

Father Rosica added that Jesus' disciples "may have legitimate concerns for material goods, but if those concerns are filled with insecurities and cause new forms of enslavement to wealth, they will inevitably lead people into slavery" to another master.

6. How to Face Gnawing Fears: Together, Not Alone

Many people found themselves haunted by fears of all kinds when the recession of the past few years got under way. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles commented in November 2008 that the strongest emotion experienced "during such desperate times is fear - fear that we will lose something, or everything, we have worked so hard to achieve such as a steady job, our home, the basic necessities for our families, opportunities for our children and the promise of a secure future."

Cardinal Mahony retired at the end of this February at the age of 75 and immediately was succeeded by Archbishop Jose Gomez, who was coadjutor archbishop.

There is nothing that "gnaws away at us so deeply as fear of the unknown future," Cardinal Mahony said in 2008. And fear "gives way to insecurity, worry, alarm and even desperation because so many of the elements causing our fears are beyond our personal ability to reverse."

Fear "is natural and normal" during such "distressing times, especially when others depend upon us for their well-being and their futures," he said. A question that arises in the face of such fear is where to turn for "consolation, guidance and hope."

The way forward is together, not alone, Cardinal Mahony explained. He said that if people fix their eyes on Jesus and allow themselves to feel "his personal care and comfort," they then will be able to see that "we go forward together, not alone and by ourselves. We turn to one another to share our strength and to unite our hopes with others. That is the Christian way."

In Catholic parishes and schools, people "need to be very attentive to each other," Cardinal Mahony stated. His advice was "to step forward quickly if someone we know is suffering severe desperation," since "they need our encouragement and our hope." In the process people will "learn to share more fully" than they ever thought they could.

Parishes ought to "serve as centers of hope" during times that are so fearful for so many, Cardinal Mahony urged. He said, "We need to model both understanding and outreach," for "we will only get through" such times "together -- not alone."

7. What the Future Holds for Consultation in Dioceses

Is consultation as highly valued in U.S. dioceses today as it was in the last part of the 20th century? Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., discussed consultation Feb. 7 in his "For His Friends" diocesan blog.

Three consultative bodies are required in dioceses by canon law: the college of consultors (priests Bishop Lynch said are selected by the bishop and who "serve as something of his senior cabinet"); the presbyteral council made up of priests elected by their peers and some named by the bishop; and the diocesan finance council. In St. Petersburg the finance council "is made up of about 15 laywomen and men with expertise and personal success in finance, accounting and investing," and a few pastors.

A fourth consultative body, one the bishop said is not required by canon law, is the diocesan pastoral council. In St. Petersburg it is "comprised of two priests and women and men from all five of our counties."

Bishop Lynch said the very existence of these bodies in a diocese "guarantees absolutely nothing," for it is up to the local bishop to determine how and how often they meet and "what these bodies deal with."

In the St. Petersburg Diocese, Bishop Lynch thinks that "most of those who have been engaged with me for the last 15 years would say that only substantive matters are brought for discussion and decision, and rarely is the advice of these consultative bodies rejected" by him. He commented that "collaboration and consultation at this level" do require the expenditure of time, which sometimes results in built-in delays.

Bishop Lynch suspects "the church in the United States is moving away from the commitment to collegiality and shared responsibility which marked the '70s and '80s." He acknowledged that "the church never has been a democracy," adding that "therein is probably the reason we have lasted as long as we have despite human deficiency."

Where will collegiality, shared responsibility and consultation "go in the future?" Any answer to that question would be "pure speculation," said Bishop Lynch. However, he continued, "if something major happens" in the Diocese of St. Petersburg that has been initiated by him, "you can pretty much go to the bank that a lot of others have been involved in the discussion leading up to it."

His "admittedly biased judgment at this point," the bishop explained, "is that while it might have taken a longer time period of gestation, the delivery and birth of the ideas have been and will be more happily received" if they follow upon discussion and consultation.