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Why organized labor is (still) a Catholic cause

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2018 / 04:49 am (CNA).- At a time when labor unions are weak, Catholics still have a place in the labor movement, said a priest who emphasized the Church’s historic efforts to teach the rights of labor and train workers to organize.

“On the local and state level, Catholics are a major part of the labor movement. They took to heart our Catholic social teaching, and tried to implement it in their workplace,” Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

However, he said, there is sometimes a disconnect between Catholics and support for organized labor.

“Like in so many areas of our faith, the heresy of radical individualism, a lack of knowledge about why unions were formed, and a general ignorance of what options workers have, have led to many Catholics to either not realize that the Church has favored workers’ associations, or that the Church even has a teaching that has to do with the workplace.”

Union membership peaked at 28 percent of the American workforce in 1954. According to 2017 figures, about 34 percent of public sector employees are unionized, but under 7 percent of private-sector employees are, CBS Moneywatch reports.

Unions continue to enjoy strong approval in the U.S., with 62 percent of respondents telling a recent Gallup survey they support organized labor.

But union support among some Catholics has waned, in part due to labor unions’ political support for legal abortion and pro-abortion rights political candidates, among other issues.

For Fr. Oubre, this shows the need for more faithful Catholics to join a union, not withdraw.

“The fact that many of the cultural war issues have been embraced by labor unions is a concern to me,” he said. “However, the Church and Labor have been here before.”

“From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a real effort by communists to take over the U.S. unions, and in some cases, they were successful. Instead of saying, ‘Catholics can’t join unions because they are communists,’ which was not accurate because many were not, the Church instead set up labor schools by the hundreds in parish basements.”

“The Church taught workers their rights under the law and Robert’s Rules of Order. It encouraged Catholic workers to run for union office, and bring their Catholic social teachings to bear,” the priest said. “This was very successful, and led to the purging of many communists from the union ranks.”

Catholics have historically played a major role in the U.S. labor movement, as evidenced by several prominent Catholics who have headed the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S.

Oubre said unions are a place for Christian evangelization and contribution.

“We cannot write off whole groups of people because part of their agenda is not in line with Catholic teaching,” he said. “Rather, we are called to engage these groups, be active in the organizations, and like in the past, direct these organizations in ways that respect God’s truth.”

The record of Catholic social teaching also backs labor and the right of workers to organize, Oubre said.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized that economic changes introduced new relationships between those who had wealth and those who did not.

“As cities grew, and manufacturing and industry developed, the relationship of responsibility that has existed in the past between the landowner and the peasant no longer existed,” Oubre explained.

“Pope Leo XIII recognized the natural right of people to associate with each other, whether these were religious associations or work guilds, he endorsed the importance of collective bargaining to promote the common good, and recognized the unequal contractual relationship between the worker and the employer.”

The labor market meant that workers were negotiating not only with an employer, but competing against all the other workers seeking the same job. Leo XIII said these pressures to accept employment at ever-lowering wages could lead workers “to agree to employment terms that did not supply the basic needs for a dignified family life.”

The labor-focused traditions of Catholic social teaching have continued especially through the work of Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

The Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution Gaudium et Spes names the right to found unions for working people as “among the basic rights of the human person.” These unions “should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way.” These rights include the freedom to take part in union activity “without risk of reprisal.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” also addresses the place of labor in Catholic thought and action.

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union public employees to pay fees to public sector unions for collective bargaining.

A U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson said the decision threatened to mandate a “Right-to-Work” environment in government employment in a way that undermines the ability of workers to organize.

Oubre said Catholic union backers object to such a legal principle “because it works against the principle of solidarity and the right of association.”

“‘Right to Work’ laws have their primary intention of weakening the organizing power of unions, and allow people to receive the benefit the union, without taking on the responsibility of being part of the union,” he said.

In Oubre’s view, a union-friendly legal environment is critical.

“One can pass laws that promote workers ability to organize together, or to discourage it,” he said.

He noted the proposals for a “card check” unionization effort, in which an employer must recognize a union if a majority of workers express a desire for a union using signed cards.

Obure said this effort now faces legal obstacles and simply “begins a long process where union avoidance experts are brought in, one-on-one meetings take place with workers, sometimes the leaders are fired, and every effort is made to dishearten the workers.”

“When the election comes around, the will of the workers has been crushed,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues annual Labor Day statements which continue “the long tradition of support for workers’ right to organize and join unions,” Oubre said.

In 2018, the statement stressed the importance of just wages for workers, especially for those who have difficulty securing basic needs. It also discussed problems of income inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as well as between ethnic groups and between the sexes.

“This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’,” the bishops’ message concluded.

 

This article was originally run on CNA Sept. 3, 2018.

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Pennsylvania AG files challenge to new federal religious freedom rules

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 14, 2018 / 09:01 pm (CNA).- New rules are set to ensure strong religious exemptions to federal mandates requiring employer health care plans to provide birth control coverage, but Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s legal challenge could derail them.

“Families rely on the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee to afford care,” Shapiro said Dec. 14. “Congress hasn’t changed the law, and the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule.”

He filed an amended complaint Friday challenging the Trump administration’s final religious exemption rules, set to take effect Jan. 14, 2019. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined the complaint, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Shapiro’s complaint makes several claims, including charges that the new rules violate the separation of church and state and allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sex.

On Nov. 7, the Trump administration released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called contraception mandate.

The rules allow colleges, universities, and health insurance companies to decline to cover contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortion, whether for religious or non-religious moral objections.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the new rules as “common-sense regulations that allow those with sincerely held religious or moral convictions opposing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to exclude such drugs and devices from their health plans.”

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket religious liberty legal group, praised the new rules, saying they signaled the end of a “long, unnecessary culture war.” Rienzi’s legal group represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged mandates requiring them to provide such coverage to employees.

“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace,” Rienzi said last month.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and California, which challenge their religious exemptions allowing them to decline to provide the coverage to which they object.

The U.S. Supreme Court had barred enforcement of the mandate on closely held private companies in its 2014 case involving Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an Evangelical Christian family that objected to some of the mandated drugs.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving other plaintiffs challenging the mandate and sent these cases back to their respective federal courts. The court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor case, Zubik v. Burwell, is named for Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who is a plaintiff.

Bishop Zubik came under fire for his diocese’s handling of sex abuse cases after Shapiro’s office in August released a grand jury report on six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, citing allegations of abuse over a span of decades.

The Trump administration’s 2017 religious exemptions to the HHS rule were still being litigated in court. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on Thursday lifted a district court’s preliminary nationwide injunction against the 2017 religious exemptions, but allowed the injunction to stand in the five states that have filed legal challenges.

The majority decision by Ninth Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace acknowledged that free exercise of religion and conscience are “undoubtedly, fundamentally important.”

“Protecting religious liberty and conscience is obviously in the public interest. However, balancing the equities is not an exact science,” the decision continued. The majority said the appellate court lacked sufficient basis “to second-guess the district court and to conclude that its decision was illogical, implausible, or without support in the record.”

The decision faulted federal officials for not satisfying the rules of the Administrative Procedure Act, including requirements for public comment on new rules.

A nationwide injunction against the 2017 rules was still in effect in Pennsylvania, however.

Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2014 District Court decision against EWTN Global Catholic Network, the parent company of Catholic News Agency, in its lawsuit against the mandate.

Under the terms of the settlement with Department of Health and Human Services, EWTN will not be required to provide contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients through its employee health care plan.

Minn. archbishop announces moves to end culture fostering clergy abuse

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 14, 2018 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced Friday several changes meant “to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.”

Among these are the creation of a new position within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to ensure that “the voice of survivors of clergy sexual abuse will be regularly heard within Archdiocesan leadership,” Hebda wrote in a Dec. 14 letter.

“To strengthen that voice, I want to say again today that any survivor who at any time entered into a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality provision is released from that provision,” he added.

“I also reiterate my pledge to meet with any survivors who would like to do so.”

Hebda wrote that he plans to make himself available to survivors of abuse all Friday afternoons in February, March, and April, as well as other times and places. Planning for spiritual outreach in 2019 is also underway, he said.

Hebda reiterated that he strongly favors a “lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop.”

Hebda’s predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, was the subject of a misconduct allegation involving adult males in 2014. Nienstedt delegated the investigation to his senior auxiliary bishop, who submitted the investigative materials to then-Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò after seeking the counsel of two law firms. In addition, the allegations against Nienstedt were provided to the county attorney’s office.

However, the situation remains “unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public” because Hebda said as far as he knows, the Vatican’s effort into the investigation ended when Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his office in June 2015.

Archbishop Viganò has since denied that he ordered the Vatican’s investigation of Nienstedt to be halted.

Hebda wrote of the investigation: “I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”

An additional allegation emerged that then-bishop of New Ulm Nienstedt, at a 2005 World Youth Day event in Germany, had invited minors to his hotel room, proceeded to undress and had invited them to do the same – an account which Nienstedt denies. Hebda said he transmitted information about this allegation to the nuncio in 2016.

“I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedt’s ministry,” Hebda wrote.

“My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I have no general juridical authority over Archbishop Nienstedt or any other bishop outside the Archdiocese.”

However, Hebda did offer clarification that Nienstedt, like any priest facing misconduct allegations, “would not be free to exercise public ministry in this Archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved.”

Hebda said he would continue to advocate for an independent review board, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation to whatever national or regional review board is created.

“In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons,” the archbishop wrote.

“The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.”

Six lay men installed as acolytes in Spokane

Spokane, Wash., Dec 14, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane installed six laymen who are not in formation for holy orders as acolytes Wednesday.

“The men were chosen for their dedication to the cathedral family, and their service at the Altar reflects their commitment to service in the wider community,” Fr. Darrin Connall, vicar general and rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes,  said Dec. 12.

The six men insalled as acolytes are Dave Gibb, Gene DiRe, Justin Bullock, Dennis Johnson, Thomas Lavagetto, and Rick Sparrow.

The installation of acolytes is effected by the bishop praying over the candidates, and then giving each the Eucharistic vessels.

The ministry of acolyte is most often conferred upon men in who are in formation for the diaconate or priesthood, but the Code of Canon Law does provide that “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications … can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”

Becoming an acolyte does not grant one the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

In the dioceses of the US, the qualifications to be installed as a lector or acolyte are having completed one's 21st year, and possessing the skills necessary for an effective service at the altar, being a fully initiated member of the Church, being free of any canonical penalty, and living a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.

Lay persons who are not installed acolytes can supply certain of their duties, when the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking.

However, installed acolytes are permitted to purify the Eucharistic vessels, which task cannot be supplied by another lay person.

The installation of lay men not in formation for holy orders as acolytes is not common among dioceses in the US, though the Diocese of Lincoln is among those which do so.

Bishop Daly, 58, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He was consecrated a bishop in 2011, serving as auxiliary bishop of San Jose until he became Bishop of Spokane in 2015.