Kevin ClarkeNovember 13, 2012

Given the state of the economy and the mood of the nation, a letter of hope during economic dark times seemed like a good idea when the U.S. bishops voted by a wide margin to draft a message on work and the economy during their June meeting in Atlanta. But after the draft of that resulting document was discussed by the bishops during their fall meeting in Baltimore yesterday, it became quickly clear that the statement was unexpectedly in trouble. Today the document, titled "The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times," was shot down, failing to achieve the two-thirds needed for passage. The vote was 134, yes, 84 no, with nine abstentions.

Written by a drafting committee headed by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, under some guidelines laid out by the bishops at their June meeting in Atlanta, the document had been challenged by Spokane's Blaise Cupich and retired Retired Archbishop and one-time conference president Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. According to the USCCB twitter feed from the meeting yesterday, Archbishop Fiorenza quickly criticized the document following its introduction by Archbishop Vigneron. "Why don't we address the growing gulf between the haves and the have nots?" he asked.

Archbishop Fiorenza said, "I have very serious questions about this," adding he had only received the draft for review three days earlier. "I am very disappointed, and I fear that this draft, if not changed in a major way," will harm the U.S. bishops' record on Catholic social teaching. He observed that the subtitle is about work: "A pastoral message on work, poverty and the economy," yet he said the document includes just one short reference on the right of workers to unionize.

"One sentence," he added. "It's almost like it was an afterthought. But when you look at the compendium of the social teachings of the church, there are three long paragraphs on the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike." He asked why "Hope of the Gospel" includes no reference, "not even a footnote," about the U.S. bishops' 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, "Economic Justice for All," which he noted was the product of several years of work.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., asked whether the drafting committee had consulted with an economist, which he said was one of the recommendations of the bishops in June.

They had not, Archbishop Vigneron told him. According to Vigneron, the document relied on encyclicals from popes JPII and Benedict XVI.

Retired Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the document "doesn't address in any way the major shift in the American economy." He also said it ought to reference the 1986 document "to show the continuity of what we said then."

After a day of review, the statement took more hits during floor debate today from a number of other bishops who complained that it did not properly connect to past Catholic social teaching, particularly the aforementioned pastoral "Economic Justice," was not suitably critical of the forces that brought the country to its economic knees in 2008 and had nothing too little to say about the role of unions.

Bishop Rosazza complained that the document has "no sting, no bite" and doesn't address cuts to government programs that help the poor. Albany's Bishop Howard Hubbard said the statement did not adequately address causes of economic collapse, the role of government, the decline of labor and Catholic social teaching. The document doesn't offer comfort or hope to anyone, complained Bishop Cupich, it speaks of market forces but not deregulation and immoral behavior that created the financial crisis.

Galveston's Cadinal Daniel DiNardo defended the statement, arguing Archbishop Vigneron did what he was asked; the problem may be that bishops' expectations for the statement were unreasonably high.

Having failed to pass in the conference, the document was effectively D.O.A. but elements within it may appear in future statements.

Have moderates in the conference finally decided to push back against the conference's conservative drift? Hard to say, (especially when your "insight" is based on a twitter feed!) but as many of the objectors here appear to be retired, non-voting members, there does not appear to be too much cause for celebration among Catholic progressives.

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9 years ago
@ Paul Leddy, Ms. Chris Nunez responds, thanks for going along with the notion that we should have working priests and bishops... but I gave the example of dish washers and so forth not for lack of sympathy for all those who are in the middle and upper middle class, rather it's because the middle and upper middle class have voices and are able to have themselves heard. I imagine that most of us who read America are somewhere in there (my mother used to use the phrase 'lower middle class' in order to avoid saying 'we're poor but surviving'. So for the sake of those who have no voice I write for dishwashers, although I do not wash dishes or drive a bus. You have a 'voice' and use it. I've worked in community service to homeless women, children and families with terminal illnesses, single-heads-of-household, and female ex-offenders, and at-risk-youth. So while I generally speak for myself and nobody else, I do try to speak for those who have no voice. I'm glad that you use yours, and pray that those I've helped will be able to, and have gained the strength to use their own voices.

This election shows me that they likely have. Oremos.
ed gleason
9 years ago
Eight of the 10 wealthiest counties in the US voted for Obama, The well off have gotten the message better than the bishops. now that's sad and it better well be fixed... pronto.
9 years ago
"Galveston's Cadinal Daniel DiNardo defended the statement, arguing Archbishop Vigneron did what he was asked; the problem may be that bishops' expectations for the statement were unreasonably high."

Actually the people of the nation's 'expectations for the statement' and for the bishops were unreasonably high. The bishops have been uncomfortably silent for a good decade now, even before the first election of Barak Obama, as the nation's houses were being pulled out from under the very feet of the people of the land, and jobs were being lost in the millions, the bishops remained silent.

Maybe if the bishops had to work for a living at least part time doing something else, like washing dishes, driving buses, building cars, waiting on tables, they'd have a sense of what the People of God must endure, and how the gospel is to be interpreted and held to, and beyond that, those very documents written in times of similar distress. Could it be that a full third of our bishops don't know the documents of the Catholic Church, the history of those documents or the burdens of the People of God?

Blessed Dorothy Day if you can convert some hearts, now's the time. Oremos!
Jacqueline MCGEE
9 years ago
It is sad that the bishops standing up for the poor are the ones who are retired.  Our active bishops long since appear to have made a pact with the powers that be in America.  If they wait long enough for the older bishops to die off, they can write what they want, I guess.  It is a point worth making that the history of the Church contains many eras in which the hierarchy pledged itself to the needs of the wealthy, not those of the poor. 
kevin hickson
9 years ago
It is disturbing that there was no input sought from economists. There seems to be a question about the discernment process they went through to produce the document. Perhaps also with 23 million unemployed in this country, input should be sought from some of them. Additionally they should seek input from those of us who are laid off union members both public and private and ask us about the attack on workers rights especially the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. In all due respect the Bishops should table this and take Cardinal Dolan's advice from yesterday on reconcillation and start over.
Molly Roach
9 years ago
Yes, let the bishops work for their living. Then they can compose statements on the economy.  Until such time, they are creators of empty commentary/
Robert Killoren
9 years ago
Huzzah! At last some breath of life from the bishops. While retired bishops may have led the charge, the vote shows broad dismay with the disguising of Catholic social justice perpetrated by reactionary men. I believe the presidential election led the quiet majority to say enough with right wing ideologies. It is not too late for them to stand in support of the sisters and demand an end to the witch hunt.
Jim McCrea
9 years ago
It appears that the charge against adoption was led by RETIRED bishops ... those with no more dreams of earning a fancier dress and pointier hat.
How long, O Lord ... how long?
And why???
Vince Killoran
9 years ago
Sad to read about this weak document-especially in light of the '86 pastoral.  It's especially unfortunate that the archbishop from Detroit of all places would slight the importance of the labor movement.

But it's not surprising to learn about this. In my parish & diocese labor and economic issues get about 5 seconds of pulpit time, a few lines in the diocese newspaper, and no resources. It's all about stem cells, reproduction, and who should be allowed to marry.
Paul Leddy
9 years ago
One doesn't have to be at the bottom of the economic/social sphere to experience what Chris Nunez implied when he wrote "Maybe if the bishops had to work for a living at least part time doing something else, like washing dishes, driving buses, building cars, waiting on tables, they'd have a sense of what the People of God must endure."
The middle class and the upper middle class have suffered greatly also.  It would be better put if only Mr. Nunez suggested that the bishops try to find a job, to cover their mortgage, to keep their health insurance, to fund their retirement and to keep the job - then they'd have a sense of what the People of God must endure.
The idea that only those on the bottom rung - if they are on that rung at all - suffer economic hardship is long past. Now, it is every man for himself.
The theatre of the absurd - the "Occupy Wall Street" movement - had no effect, from its inception it had no effect because the forces it was trying to influence are so isolated from the rest of the world, that they could ignore it.  And, whoever they are, did.
The American Catholic Church always seems to come up a day late and a dollar short.  Grand responses to issues that most Americans have already decided upon.  The American Catholic Church has been out-witted, out-done and ultimately is ignored. 
All of us will have the next four years to watch as the Church is humiliated into accepting positions it wouldn't accept but now has to - in order to survive.
The Church is in a desparate situation. We're all in a desparate situation.  I trust in the Holy Spirit, especially now if the best response is "Galveston's Cadinal Daniel DiNardo defended the statement, arguing Archbishop Vigneron did what he was asked..."
Amy Ho-Ohn
9 years ago
I am somewhat favorably disposed to unions on principle; my grandfather was active in his union and one of his uncles is said to have been a professional goon. But I think we need to be a little bit careful what the "right to unionize" means.

The right of workers to unionize themselves is one thing. The right of labor activists to unionize workers against their will is something completely different. The right of workers to have the government require employers to recognize unions or force them to agree to arbitration is a third issue.

It is clear that Catholic teaching insists on the first of these. It is not so clear that it insists on the others.

Vince Killoran
9 years ago
Actually it does insist on the others although I don't think your wording is quite correct.

1. "The right of labor activists to unionize workers against their will is something completely different." I'm not certain what you mean by this. Are you referring to the "agency" or "closed" shop?  That comes only after a democratic election in which a majority of those voting choose a union much as they would a candidate for public office (the Wagner Act considers unions quasi-public organizations).

2 "The right of workers to have the government require employers to recognize unions or force them to agree to arbitration is a third issue." Ditto for this.  Are you arguing that workers should be able to vote on union recoginition and, if they do vote in favor, that employers should be allowed to just ignore the outcome?  That seems undemocratic. It certainly flies in the face of labor law since the Wagner Act and heaps of Church social teachings.It would take us back to the nineteenth century.

Actually some labor folks might agree with your comments : there are many rank-and-file labor activists who argue that U.S. labor law in inherently weak, that it favors employers, and that new forms of organzing (e.g., living wage, wildcat strikes, community boycotts and zoning prohibitions to shady employers) is the way to go. 
Tom Maher
9 years ago
Can you imagine how badly the Church's credibility and influence would suffer if it implicity gave open-ended, one-sided political support to one or another politcal groop such as big Labor?  Any such statement would have huge politcal implication which would entangle the Church factional politics. 

And what is the Church's interest here?  To make the world safe for a certain faction of "progressive Catholics" and their particular social and politcal ideas and goals.  They would of couse love to have their solutions were given unique ligitimacy in the debate on the economy but hat would be again a huge technical, political and moral mistake.  

The Church needs to avoid making economic and moral pronouncements on the economy beyond its expertise.   What going on in the economy and it smany deteriating conditions most economist have a hard time keeping up with.  Just this moring I heard one left-leaning economist sayig don't worry about sociial secuirity.  I changed the channel and another happened to warn we now must barrow 140 billion a year to make all social security payments. 

Neither the Church nor most of society fully understand the economic and financial crisis the nation is in.  The crdit rating agencies are once again threatening to lower the nations credit on the national debt which will at some point rasie the cost of fiancing our 16 trillion dollar national debt.. Labor leader Trumpka said yesteday at the meeting with the President that we should forget the dept and keep making payments without budget  cuts. The credit agnecies are telling us you better worry about cuts or your crdit rating wil be lowered and may be anyway.  Powerful politcal and economic forces are at work here.  Better for the Church not to willy-nilly involve itself in this intense politcal and economic contest which prevents a timely resolution of our economic and politcal differences. 

And of sourse we do not want at all to be like the countires of the Euro zone who with too high a debt to Gross Nation Product are badly suffering politcally and economically for the last two years. Greece, Spain , Portugal, Ireland and Italy are all suffering from too much national debt and are now unable or have great difficulty in getting more debt to finance their antional budgets.   The fact is a permanent workabke solution to these countries problems is unkown. The Church should not offer solutions to complex economic problems of nations when it has no expertise to give such advice.  
Robert Klahn
9 years ago
There is one very good reason to celebrate. The retired members who are protesting show it's not just the young who are demanding more. It's the continuity of Catholic teaching in support of the poor and workers reflected in the older members.

Thank you Catholic Bishops.
Michael Barberi
9 years ago
As for the Church's social teachings and the USCCB's statement on the economy et al, I was impressed with the candor of the bishops in disagreement with the draft, but equally disappointed that no economist was consulted on such a complex topic. I did find the 2/3rd's majority vote for passaage positive, even though any statement must gain Vatican approval before a formal release. This was an unfortunate outcome of JP II's reign.

While regional episcaptes such as the USCCB require a 2/3rds majority vote on important statements, no such majority voting is permitted on issues confronting the Synod of Bishops who often address world-wide problems confronting the Church.

As for the right of workers to unionize and to make their voices heard and meaningful to management, no such mechanism is available for the laity in the Catholic Church. The Church is indeed not a democracy, but that does not mean that the voices of the laity should not have an avenue so that their opinions, problems and concerns can be fully understood and accounted for in the Church's deliberations on complex issues that impact us all. Some say each bishop is the people's representative in such matters. However, in all my 35 years of Church attendance, no one has ever asked me or any of my Catholic Church-going friends for an opinion. There are some responsible theologians who do survey the laity, like the late Dean Hoge of the CUA, but it is a mystery how and if such data is ever used by the bishops, individually or collectively.

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