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. Tesserian

    The solution is simple and elegant: Cut taxes by 1/2, cut military spending by 1/2. Just do it!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  2. RDKirk

    I'm not a member of a union. I've never been a member of a union. Nobody in my family has ever been a member of a union. But I have read history, and I understand that the reason I get paid vacations, sick leave, overtime, and all these other benefits I can take for granted is because 100 years ago union members were willing to be beaten and killed by Organized Business in order to win the right of collective bargaining. The last four years should have taught us that Organized Business has not yet "come to Jesus"–we can lose those benefits very easily.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  3. jojo

    I love how people get offended by other peoples opinions. That needs to stop if we ever want to stop the elite in power. Religion period is the most evil corrupt mind control trick the devil has been playing since Abraham. The Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are all one in the same and if you look at their history and study the followers up even until today you will realize that the only supreme "god" they are worshiping is satan! Giving out money does not make what they do godlike. To be become True God means to evolve individually as people. Not some blood thirsty, greedy religion to worship him. That's satan and has always been. If the elite bankers and elite religious heads were good people no one in this world would be hungry or have disease. So helping out the catastrophes that they caused does not make them good people.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Hiawa23

      I agree, religion as a whole doesn't seem believeable to me. There is supposed to be this supreme force who has control of eveything yet, this invisble man, needs puny humans to worship him, tide 10% to give him power. The way I see it, if my life is already planned then the supreme invisible man already knows what I will do with my life. This is not an attempt to bash religion, I just don't believe in it, & it seems it was created to control people. I don't believe in things I can't see hearsmell or touch. I think what happens in all our lives will happen, good or bad whether you say 1 prayer or 1000 prayers cause things happens because they are supposed to happen, of which many of them you have no control over.

      March 2, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  4. PJ

    Don't you just love that Red Carpet outfit!! They need the good publicity; however, going too far will cause them constipation.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  5. JLS639

    "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"

    I do not know why this should surprise anyone. The Roman Catholic Church has always been pro-union.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  6. Hiawa23

    With all the child abuse that has gone in the Catholic Church & swept under the bridge all these years, really, who cares what they think. Religious folks as a whole seem to be hypocrites, while looking down on those who don't share their view. I think the Unions should contribute more to their insurance, their pensions, but i don't think they should give up their collective bargaining. Many posts in threads like this sound like Fox News sound bites as it's clear many just post what they heard someone else say on tv. I hear many try to say the unions are why most states are nearly broke. We did not get to where we are because of unions. They want to cut pay for public employees, & benefits, but you never hear Senators, Congress people taking pay cuts, & if everything is on the table, then seems to me, we need to draw down both wars & get out of these other countries, draw down all these military bases we have across the world. Seems to me it's an effort to make the unions, teachers, govt employees out to be the bad guys when most of them work as hard as we do, of course you are going to have some who don't & game the system, that happens. Maybe they need to repeal the tax cut to the top percent who really don't need it. I hear many say but these people create jobs, well, what's the excuse of 9.4% unemployment, close to 15-20% in the minority communities. Seems to me most of us are screwed by the rich as they will make laws that protect them & the people who fund their campaigns.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • William Andrews


      March 2, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  7. conradshull

    First paragraph "...a surprise, a throwback to an era when the church was pretty well aligned with the American left." Huh?

    March 2, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  8. Jorge

    NO church has any truck telling anybody what to do within their household as long as it does not detriment the well-being or safety of anyone or breaks the law. Enough with the church B.S. Churches involved in government have been stifling the progress of humanity since the indictment and sentencing of Jesus Christ.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  9. Bibletruth

    that should have been God.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  10. 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 8:05 am |
  11. steveo

    Politicians and priests make great bed partners.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • sylvias mother

      And little twerps living in their mother's basement make ridiculous statements.

      March 2, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  12. Joe12

    This is lobbying by Catholic Bishops.
    If tax-exempt religious organizations "teach" political positions, then they should lose their tax-exempt status.
    Henry VIII eliminated his budget problems using a variation of this method. We should too.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • JLS639

      Oh, you think we should murder clergy, plunder their property and sell it at auction?

      March 2, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  13. Mark

    On those issues, the bishops have used their political muscle to lobby Congress and other public officials.

    “The role of the church is not to be partisan or to take sides; it’s always to teach,”

    Um, isn't using political muscle to lobby Congress and other public officials, "taking sides"?

    March 2, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  14. P.W. Palan

    If the Catholic Church is so supportive of unions, why will they not allow elementary school teachers in Philadelphia to organize? They have agressively opposed this for decades.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • David Johnson

      I didn't know that. What are their reasons for this? Is it only the Kindergarten?


      March 2, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  15. hausinbotyadasauderbogameatball

    sell outs.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:56 am |
  16. Thomas

    What rube wrote this article? The basic facts may be somewhat correct, but the Hi Lights are focused on what they think they meant, not on what they said. "The leader of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin "..... The Pope was there? He spoke and said what? "t’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" The Catholic Church has staked out a liberal position on abortion? The author of this article is an idiot.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • john

      Hey bonehead. It means that the catholic church is very liberal in using its voice/power of influence to impact those issues. Or in other words, the catholic church has used its power/voice very liberally to influence those issues. You are an I_D_I_O_T. Take some time to READ. bon ehead.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • rC

      I guess that makes Thomas a rube. LOL

      March 2, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • rC

      Hey everyone, I'm DOUBTING THOMAS understands the English language very well.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • rC

      Please Thomas, AQUINUS with your mastery of the English language.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  17. michron

    So the church thinks we have a moral responsibility to drive the country into bankruptcy? More good thinking from those who brought us the inquisition.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:31 am |
    • David Johnson


      The Unions aren't responsible for the deficit. Huge tax cuts and 2 wars on credit were the cause. Can you say George W. Bush?

      The unions have already agreed to cuts. The Republican effort is pure union busting.


      March 2, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  18. Katie

    I don't listen to the church about things like this. Each person has the ability to make decisions for themselves. Who care's if the church thinks what you do is wrong? In the end, it really won't matter.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • John in NY

      Obviously you do since you cared enough to click on the link to this story, read the story and then comment on it.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  19. guy

    AS a human being...we have a basic need of belonging to something, be it a group of friends, a church or a work group.
    When that ability to be part of a group is blocked it has negative consequences for all....Try researching Maslow...for some insight...

    March 2, 2011 at 6:01 am |
    • Brad L

      Those who cannot feel strong or confident in their own abilities can only feel strong when they identify with a group. A nation of strong individuals makes a strong nation.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:02 am |

    I just farted. Shoooooo : )

    March 2, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • BADGUY

      The Church did not mind supporting (aggressively) the Republican party in the last election. I think their thoughts now are: "the general public is turning. We'd better stay out of it". I think they're right. It would probably be the "last straw" for the Catholic Church in the United States.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:17 am |
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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.