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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. JWH

    Preach salvation because hell awaits many. They have no focus but the tihings of this world.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  2. JWH

    Wow, after dragging their feet on Pedo files, now they are so fast to support Unions. Catholics have for the most part, lost their soul. Thye do not totally follow Jesus' doctrine, if they did we would not have the mess we have now. 6 of 9 Justices are catholic in name only. Most are in name only, there lies the problem.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      "Pedo files"?

      You obviously didn't go to a Catholic school.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  3. jaz

    This is why we need to remove unions. We have laws in place to protect workers right. Gov'nt Workers SHOULD not unionized. They are paid thru ppl's taxes. I am so glad Gov Walker is standing firm.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Stev-o12

      Your entire movement wants to deregulate, destroy OSHA and all worker rights laws(overtime, job protection). Keep living with blinders on but realize your a menace to all decent people when you vote.

      March 1, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  4. jordan

    Stewie Griffin for president

    March 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  5. IceT

    There's nothing like advice on justice, fair dialog and participation in decision making coming from a dictatorship within one of the largest industries on the planet.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  6. Religious sects

    Why do people keep perpetuating the myth that religion invented morality? Then to further imply that morality in the workplace is protected by unions, what a stretch. The church certainly knows who butters their unleavened bread.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Colin

    It's big that even the Catholic Church, which usual backs conservative, right-wing ideas, is going out of its way to support unions on the left. I really applaud this. Removing collective bargaining is truly stripping people of their basic rights. It would be taking the "union" out of "unions". It amazes me how so many people believe that unions are against the middle class. The unions ARE the middle class. It's brings me a lot of joy to see that even the Catholic Church has recognized the immoral act to American's basic rights, which is trying to be done.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • seigell

      The unions might have been "the Middle Class" back in the '80s (1880's) when Corporate Barons were running roughshod over their workers and everyone was living in a Company Town at the mercy of their bosses goons. And getting the Government to call out the National Guard to harass and shoot at the union workers. But these days (current century), there are sufficient legal provisions and labor safety regulations and minimum wages embedded in State and Federal Law that the main effect of unions is to force large wage and benefit concessions which cripple companies ability to compete in the global marketplace. And to provide union management with employment beyond working as rank and file labor.

      March 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  8. T-party

    unions drive jobs out of America. Religion drives thinking caring people away from God.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  9. Cheryl Noddin

    I I would not concern myself over a union, however when business swing to the point where mature workers are deliberately targeted to avoid pension commitments, after years of competent service...perhaps the business community has brought this on themselves in what was bad ethical choices themselves. Few companies that made those choices succeeded and are no longer in business. It did them no good, companies that made ethical choices it came through in most of what they did and they still exist. I am not Catholic but I believe these comments stem from what most churches have witnessed in their congregations and probably they have made a wise choice in how they have somewhat supported moral choices.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • seigell

      You do realize that the topic is between the State Government of Wisconsin and the Public Workers Unions, no ?? Where does "Business" and "Companies" come into this ??

      March 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Partha

    Jesus would have been with the workers not with Koch brothers. Church is doing the correct thing in supporting the workers.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • P. Hamlin

      You sound like a Catholic too. The problem is that at election time the church preaches that we MUST NOT vote for a pro labor/pro choice candidate. We end up voting for the anti labor/prolife candidate. Soooo, there we go again. Remember its the elections that count. Not a little lip service from a Bishop. I go to mass and hear the political homilies at election time. I get the USCCB voters guide too. Its all about the elections and the church knows that, and in doing so has really hurt labor. God help the American wage earner.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  11. David

    Oh for pity's sake ... why is the Catholic Church weighing in? They don't live in the "real world." They're tax exempt. I'd like to see how the Church would respond if lay people who were teaching in their schools decided to unionize. Would they still be singing the same tune?

    March 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • EMNC

      In many places Catholic school teachers have unionized, especially at the high school level.

      March 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  12. Hypatia

    Every idiot who opposes unions should be forced to watch American Experience: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. That's what will happen if unions fold.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Shinea

      That is such BS! You compare the Unions of 100 years ago to the current crop of vultures? That's an INSULT to the men and women who actually DID SOMETHING for their members. THAT'S what makes ME mad! Complain to the union about bad working conditions and they tell you to file a grievance with the State Labor Board. the only thing the union does now is extort the taxpayers, bribe the politicians, protect the unqualified in their ranks and COLLECT UNION DUES!

      March 1, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Shinea

      Did I mention that your disingenuous hyperbole makes me angry!

      March 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • P. Hamlin

      You said it. Todays wage earners just doesn't know the heart break of the past. They actually think that business has their best intrest at heart. Its like the new parents that don't want to vaccinate their children. They have no concept of what is was like in the past before vaccines when entire families were wiped out. They are taking away pensions, health care and wages are lower than they were 30 years ago. But many don't get themselves informed and see the desimation of the middle class. We are becoming a mega rich and poor nation very rapidly.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  13. Dot44

    Suck up.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  14. Religious sects

    Unions aren't a "moral" choice, being responsible for you fellow man is a moral choice.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Cliff Vegas

      meh... sounds like you just buttoned up the morality argument in favor of unions. Funny how that circular logic works.

      March 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Cliff... I think you confused a union with someone that cares for others rather than the self-serving organization that uses it's members as pawns for their own quest for political power. Don't pay your dues & see how much they care about you. Disagree from within a union and see how much they support your view... but you must support theirs.

      March 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  15. Stev-o12

    The Church remembers the sins that took place before unions-suffering, slave wages. It is great to see them say something. The idiot working people who are supporting this anti union movement are the sheep that will destroy the advances made to ALL since the 30's and 40's.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  16. Reasons

    Funny, they can tell you what should be done in politics, but they sure as heck won't be paying any taxes... hmmm

    March 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  17. Mark Bollenback

    The church can't take a stand? Who else to recieve guidance from? Well, guess what., -the fat, self-righteous, overmascaraed tv preachers have no problem weighing down on the issues, and mainstream church better have an opinion too or else they become marginalized. Man I'm angry.

    March 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • P. Hamlin

      As a Catholic I can appreciate the church taking a stand, but come on, its the elections that count and the church leadership has as much as forced us to vote for anti labor Republican candidates since Ronald Reagan. You know the sermon we hear every year "you must not vote for the pro choice candidate". So we end up having to vote for the pro busines, ani labor candidate because of his supposed pro life stance. Sadley the pro lifers are usually very anti labor, anti SocSec, and anti medicare. Just wait, after the labor turmoil in WI dies down the church will again be preaching in favor of the anti labor, pro choice candidate. Right? And Here we go again! Hope you aren't too mad. I am frustrated myself. God Bless.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  18. Albert

    I always finding amusing when an immoral church tries to preach morals.

    March 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Cliff Vegas

      The actions of a few defines the morals of the many? And who are you to call the whole church immoral?

      March 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      Churches are similar to society in the sense churches are made up of people. Similarly, some people in churches as well as society fail. Although not catholic, I still believe the world has been made a better place by the likes of Mother Teresa etc and feel labeling the church negatively is just foolish

      March 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  19. fsmgroupie

    The catholic church has billions of dollars which they have conned from the poor. It's time to give it back ! Tax them now!

    March 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Linda

      So have all the other churches. Tax all of them, and probably the atheists too.

      March 1, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  20. JDinKC

    The headline should say 'workers unions', at first read on the front page (before clicking to the article) it seemed like they were talking about 'civil unions', which is usually the keyword when a church is mentioned.

    March 1, 2011 at 5:56 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.