Wisconsin: Dorothy Day vs the Son of a Preacher

Dorothy Day spoke of a desire to “change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world.” And she lived those words.

Gov. Scott Walker, whose bio opens with the fact that he is the “son of a preacher,” is also changing the world in Wisconsin. Except he is intent on making it a lot harder for working people by denying public employees the right to negotiate for working conditions that will allow them to “feed, clothe and shelter themselves.”

Where is the Catholic Church in all this?

Where is the “preferential option for the poor” in Scott Walker’s determination to pass a law specifically designed to destroy unions?

The US Bishops have not been silent. But they have parsed their words carefully.

“Hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers,” said Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in mid-February. But he also offered the caution that not “every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid” and that unions need to “make sacrifices when required” in adjusting to “new economic realities.”  They did. And their collective bargaining rights were still taken away.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Chairman, of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the  US Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on Congress to “put poor and vulnerable people first” as they consider how to spend Federal dollars.  He commended the Wisconsin bishop’s statement, calling it a “timely reminder of what the church teaches on the rights and duties of workers.”

These are carefully tempered responses to the heavy-handed actions of Gov. Walker.

Revive the Passion of Economic Justice for All

This is not anything like the passionate language of the 1986 letter Economic Justice for All in which the US Bishops stated without equivocation: No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing. . . . to bargain collectively. . . .We vehemently oppose violations of the freedom to associate, wherever they occur, for they are an intolerable attack on social solidarity.”

Is the language of the Bishops today tempered in part by the fact that while the Church once vigorously supported the rights of workers, too many Catholic institutions are today hostile to unions?

The level of assault on workers’ rights should surely qualify as an “an alarming and grave injustice” –which is how Archbishop Timothy Dolan saw President Obama’s decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Protecting marriage as an institution for heterosexuals only, policing a woman’s reproductive rights or protecting an unborn fetus appear to kindle the Church’s passions and sense of public outrage more readily than the double speak and double standards of politicians or the sins of men in high places. How else to explain the shielding of sexual predators? How else to explain the convenient annulment of the marriages of high profile politicians? How else to explain the welcoming of someone like the thrice-married Newt Gingrich as a Catholic: marriage annulled, married again by Catholic rites and now intent on rediscovering God –and his presidential ambitions—in America.

I suspect Christ is with the workers in Wisconsin. Would that the Church was too: more visibly, more vocally, and as willing to dispense judgment on the men who do wrong as they are to condemn the women who do right.

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Posted in Business and Justice, Catholics and Culture, Equality and Faith, I BLOG, Justice, US Bishops, Workers' Rights
6 comments on “Wisconsin: Dorothy Day vs the Son of a Preacher
  1. Tom Spring says:

    The Catholic bishops have become wimps when it comes to justice. Their statements regarding the situation in Wisconsin disgust me. Their lack of any priniciple regarding the Iraq war was sinful. I suspect they are afraid of losing donations from rich Catholics who have decided to protect their money instead of working for the common good.

    The Catholic Church is supposed to be the sacrament of Jesus Christ. In other words, where the church is, people should be able to discern the love and care that Jesus displayed. It ain’t happening!!

  2. Pat Gozemba says:

    I remember the days when the Catholic Church was clearly with workers. Who was that pope who wrote an encyclical about justice and workers’ rights. I know. I know. I’ll Google it soon.

  3. Pat Gozemba says:

    A little research: Rerum Novarum 1891 by Leo XIII. Classic document.

  4. Sheela Jane Menon says:

    I recently watched Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and was pleasantly surprised to learn that a bishop celebrated Mass at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in solidarity with the workers’ December 2008 strike against Bank of America. Turns out that the Bishop – James Alan Wilkowski – is Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Catholic Church, not a Roman Catholic Bishop as I had assumed when watching the film. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see a member of the clergy standing with the workers and sending a clear message of religious solidarity.

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