WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. episcopal conference is underlining the moral element of the current national debate over unions and collective bargaining, noting that it's not simply "ideology or power" that's at stake, but also principles of justice.
Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said this Thursday in a letter that expressed "support for and solidarity" with the stance of the Wisconsin bishops' conference.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee and president of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference wrote a letter Feb. 17 that affirmed the rights of workers and the value of unions, as tens of thousands of public employees gathered in Madison to protest a proposed bill that would limit the collective bargaining rights of unions and raise the cost of pensions and health care benefits.
Supporters of the bill say these measures would bring public sector jobs in Wisconsin more in line with the wages and benefit plans available to private sector employees, and could save the cash-strapped state as much as $300 million.
The bill, which is being promoted by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, passed the Republican-led lower house today. It awaits a vote in the upper house, but that vote cannot take place until 17 Democratic state senators to return to the state.
Bishop Blaire wrote, "You and our brother bishops in Wisconsin are offering a timely reminder of what the Church teaches on the rights and duties of workers, including the right to form and belong to unions and other associations, and the obligation to address difficult problems with respect for the rights and needs of all. As you insist, 'hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.'"
"Catholic teaching and your statement remind us these are not just political conflicts or economic choices," he continued. "They are moral choices with enormous human dimensions.
"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."
Recalling the teachings of Benedict XVI and John Paul II on unions and the rights of workers, Bishop Blaire praised the Wisconsin bishops for consistently sharing the "teaching of the Church in the midst of this controversy" and made a call to everyone involved to overcome differences and put the common good first.
"We pray," he added, "that the leaders and people of Wisconsin -- and across our nation -- will respond to your 'appeal to everyone-- lawmakers, citizens, workers, and labor unions -- to move beyond divisive words and actions and work together, so that Wisconsin can recover in a humane way from the current fiscal crisis.'"
Working through the issue
Also on Thursday, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, issued a letter that sought to guide Catholics on "how a well-informed conscience might work through the dilemma which the situation poses."
The bishop noted that the issue has two "horns": "[It] comes down to either a choice for the common good, of sacrifice on the part of all, at times that pose immense economic threats, both present and future on the one hand, and on the other hand, a choice for the rights of workers to a just compensation for services rendered, and to the upholding of contracts legally made."
He said that as Catholics, it's possible to see both sides, "yet the current situation calls many of us to choose between these two goods." In the end, he stated, the "teaching of the Church allows for persons of good will to disagree as to which horn of this dilemma should be chosen, because there would be reasonable justification available for either alternative."
Bishop Morlino suggested that the current debate regarding the benefits and wages of public employees is one of "fairness," but noted that "there appears to be no common ground in terms of what the word 'fair' actually means."The relativism of our culture and society once again does us grave harm, because the cultural response to the question of the meaning of 'fair,'" and a "culture governed by the dictatorship of relativism cannot agree on what the word 'fair' means."What is left is the emotion which displays itself over and over again with increased lack of the civility."
"Please pray carefully about the decision of your own conscience on this matter," the bishop urged. "It is an excellent exercise for a responsible conscience. And please pray for peaceful demonstrations in our capitol city."
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On the Net:
Letter of Bishop Blaire: www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2011/11-038.shtml
Letter of Bishop Morlino: www.madisoncatholicherald.org/bishopscolumns/2083-20110224-column.html