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Catholic Church voices support for unions, to a point
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome L. Listecki says there's “moral obligation… to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”
March 1st, 2011
01:40 PM ET

Catholic Church voices support for unions, to a point

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

With the Roman Catholic Church in the United States mostly identifying with conservative political causes these days - think abortion or gay marriage - seeing the American bishops come out for union workers battling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came as something of a surprise, a throwback to an era when the church was pretty well aligned with the American left.

“These are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a public letter last week.

“The debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy,” his letter said.

At the same time, the bishops are not actively lobbying on behalf of labor in Wisconsin or in other states where union/statehouse battles are playing out.

“We’re not preparing anything else,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokeswoman Mar Munoz-Visoso said Monday.

“The bishops of each state have the opportunity to participate in the dialogue and to bring Catholic teaching to that dialogue,” she said.

It’s a sharp contrast to how the church approaches some other issues, like abortion and immigration reform, on which the bishops have staked out a liberal line. On those issues, the bishops have used their political muscle to lobby Congress and other public officials.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin issued a statement (PDF) on Walker’s call for curbing collective bargaining rights that sounded sympathetic to unions, but he is refraining from further activism, a spokesman says.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome L. Listecki weighed in on the unions’ battle with the governor in February, saying that “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”

It is a “mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth,” Listecki’s statement said.

He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2009 that “the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend (workers’) rights must … be honored today even more than in the past.”

But a spokesman for Listecki said Monday that the archbishop and the broader church would refrain from further activism in the fight between workers and Walker.

“The role of the church is not to be partisan or to take sides; it’s always to teach,” said Jerry Topczewski, Listecki’s chief of staff.

The archbishop has turned down many requests to appear at rallies for and against Walker’s plan, Topczewski said.

He said Listecki’s statement last week has been cited by both supporters and opponents of Walker’s proposal and noted that the statement did not offer unqualified support for unions.

“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,” the archbishop’s statement said.

“Depending on who you talk to, you would think the archbishop is the biggest union supporter or the biggest union buster in Wisconsin,” Topczewski said.

Either way, the Catholic Church is staying on the sidelines of the nation's current labor battles for now, letting its public statements speak for themselves.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Politics • United States

soundoff (251 Responses)
  1. Chris_P

    If the church is so intent on supporting Unions why don"t the Catholic Hospitals have Union Representation? Most Catholic Hospitals do not have unions and most people retired from Catholic Hospitals do not have health benefits. Those that have retirement income from these same hospitals have very small retirement incomes in relation to others business'. Bishops, you cannot have it both ways!

    March 6, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  2. Chris_P

    I will with hold financial support to the Catholic Church as long as there is a speck of support for the WI union supporters. When these "Public Servants", make much more than I do as a tax payer and have far better paid benefits, it appears the Church is dismissive of my rights as a person that is forced to pay their salary. The "Servants" are now better paid than than those they are serving.

    March 6, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • John Tate

      Maybe, just maybe, these "servants" are a little more educated than the whining taxpayers whose kids they are trying to educate.

      December 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  3. james

    I wonder if the unions promised to donate large amounts of money to the Catholic church. What is happening is NOT about the right of government employees to work or earn a good living. It's all about union' power. The teachers and other government workers are only being asked to invest into their own retirement plans and share in the cost of health insurance Just Like the rest of us. Collective Bargaining is no longer necessary. There are plenty of government and private agencies/organizations who support employees who need to fight for their careers. Do your homework. Wake up people and look at the big picture here – Unions and the White House.

    March 6, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  4. ObjectiveOpinion

    If this is a catholic priest, why is he wearing a yamaka?

    March 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  5. Pips

    Catholic Church has always been on the side of family values. The Pope believes health care is a human right. No one should be denied. They believe in unions, because the Church is run on the same principals. People grouping together for a common cause with no restrictions on said group. The Catholic church were behind Obama, and voted for him in record numbers.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • james

      Hay PIP,
      The Catholic Church is made up of many cultural groups and economic levels. We, as a church, don't always agree on the same causes. Catholics, are very diversified in how we view social and political issues. I certainly don't believe that unions are God's answer to the needs of workers.

      March 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • John Tate

      Ask James what is God's answer to the needs of workers. What is God telling you?

      December 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  6. Orlando

    HelenHull, since when did the press or gov't officials beging collecting AND posting the religious beliefs of the people involved in the drug trade??

    Most drug consumers who are responsible for creating the drug ware are Caucasian and form the U.S. – meaning WASPs like you. So who should be the one to fix this issue? Billy Graham since he's the protestant pope of the U.S.?? Do you have his phone and email to rip him a new one for not doing anything about the drug consumption "his" WASPs have been doing??

    Also, you need to control your gun stores and suppliers as they are the ones selling and shipping the AK47s down to Mexico and are the weapons being used to kill innocent civilians. You fellow countrymen have blood on their hands.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  7. Reality

    Wisconsin Christians should stop supporting their outdated religion monetarily and send said support to the state thereby solving the budget crises. Ditto for the followers of other religions.--–

    March 2, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  8. Julie Labrouste

    I don't even intend to read this article. All I saw was catholic church voices support for unions and though I'm very pro-union, I do not care two S**** what the catholic church as to say about...wait let me think...ANYTHING!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • az mary

      It was a Catholic Pope who first addressed the fact that people's work has value, not just the end product of that labor. It was a radical idea at the time, but was the first step toward the fair pay for workers whose boss got all of the money for the end procduct and may or may not have given his assistants a fair wage from what he was paid.

      March 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  9. ben

    I'm with Helen on this. Either the Catholics stay out of the conversation, or only let them have in on it if all the other religions of this country are involved as well. The last thing we need right now is the world believing that we are a "Christian Nation" We can't be a "melting po"t of cultural diversity and rule of law, if one religion keeps sticking its nose in politics...

    March 2, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Yeah..

      That's right. What makes them think they have freedom of speech? The don't agree with Ben, so they should just shut up.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  10. Mik

    If you want to know who runs the good old US of A – watch "Capitalism: A Love Story"... gotta love the part where the newly elected President, Ronald Regan was trying to give his "thanks" speech and the Meryl Lynch President steps in a says to him "HURRY THIS UP"... sorry, but it kinda looks like Big Corprate America is runnin' your country folks...

    March 2, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  11. deuce

    Nice to see that there's still some people out there that AREN'T turning on their neighbors. The people that work in these public unions didn't cause this problem; they pay taxes just like anyone else, and as they are pretty much all middle-class, they're suffering under the same tax burden most of us are.

    It's really saddening how easy people are being played here. Does no one else see it? 2 years ago we were SCREAMING for the blood of those on Wall Street that caused this whole mess in the first place, the billionaire investors playing fast and loose with billions of other people's money....and now today UNIONS are the reason we're insolvent? We're attacking TEACHERS and NURSES over their 40k-50k salary screaming "TOO MUCH"?????

    You fools need to wake the hell up and go after the real culprits. None of those Wall Street bankers paid any extra taxes for what they did, none of them served any time. They're still out there, playing the same games...and it's about time THEY felt the squeeze that all of us already feel.

    God bless you all.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • BabsNAZ

      Deuce,
      Thank you for the reply to this story. I have been just astounded for months now over the GOP going after unions. I have been astounded over all the support to the party that is at least partly responsible for the mess that we all find ourselves in right now. Wall Street has NEVER paid for the criminal actions that sent the economy over the edge. And the GOP and some Dems are still fighting ANY regulation to change/uphold the rules that would keep it from happening again. Very wealthy people are pulling the strings, sending common people in every which direction, fighting each other instead of looking at the people and organizations that got us here in the first place. They are turning the common person into cannibals, eating our own young. It is quite disgusting and I fear for the country. There is so much manipulation.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Yeah..

      I think it was John Stewart last night that pointed out that the GOP is against "class warfare" that pits rich vs poor, but OK with pitting the middle class vs. the slightly better off middle class.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  12. HelenHull 102951

    Why does'nt the Catholic Church keep their noses out of our bussiness and start sticking their noses in the very major problem in Mexico? Seeing how most of these trouble makers and useless creaturers are of catholic faith, and even more why does'nt the US gov start doing something about this problem in our back yard? This gov has turned their heads long enough and should considering heavy military presence on the borders of our country, the real answer is that they have allowed these leech's to flood into our country for so long that it's way out of control. If they need help to cleanse our country of these useless pests all they have to do is spend some of the wasted money on building better border walls and posting our troops on the borders instead of in every other place on earth with orders to defend these borders with any force they see fit, up to and including deadly force. I'll be the first one to join the forces along with the millions of other Americans that would enjoy showing these rodents that they are not welcome here. The reserves could start in the north and slowly work their way to the south until every mexican that is here illeagally are out of this country, but the gov would'nt do this because they are too busy finding new ways of allowing these pests to be leagal citizens. One day very soon, the prople of this country will turn to "VIGILANTIES" to rid this country of this garbage. This I would enjoy being a part of also!!! So back to the catholic chuch, tell your followers that they should stay in their own country and start fighting the cartels that control their coumtry instead of running away from the problem. It's common knowledge that these cowards will fight 10 to 1 rather than 1 on1. If they were to bond together and fight for their country the cartels would be out of bussiness in a matter of months.. Come on you mexican leeches go home and take back your country instead of running here and destroying our country. And to the US gov grow some balls before us Americans turn VIGILANTIES!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Yeah..

      I suppose that it doesn't bother you at all that:
      A) About a third of this country was stolen from Mexico. (Ever wonder about all the Spanish city and state names??)
      B) Most Mexicans are of Native American stock, and so have more right than you to be here.
      C) They want the same thing your ancestors came here for. A chance for a better life, freedom and a future for their children.
      D) They are actual human beings with hopes and dreams just like you... Well most of them probably aren't as insanely hate filled and ignorant.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.