Ohio Catholic Conference Sits on Sidelines in Crucial Labor Fight
While We Believe Ohio’s mobilization against anti-union legislation in the state includes a diverse coalition of prominent religious leaders, the Catholic Conference of Ohio is missing in action. From the Columbus Dispatch yesterday:
Leaders are now calling on more than 200 church leaders in central Ohio and across the state to take messages of fairness, labor justice and equality to their pulpits…Business groups, including the Ohio Farm Bureau, have joined Republicans to defend the new law, while a variety of union supporters are pushing for repeal. The Catholic Conference of Ohio says it is neutral on Issue 2.
So let me get this straight. The Catholic Church has been defending the vital role of unions since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that puts the dignity of work and labor rights at the center of Catholic social teaching. Now, during one of the most important struggles for worker justice in state history, Ohio Catholic leaders are sitting on the sideline? This is a stunning abdication of moral leadership.
Just last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a powerful Labor Day statement defending unions at a time when states like Ohio and Wisconsin are eviscerating labor rights. Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, made it pretty clear:
Our Church continues to teach that unions remain an effective instrument to protect the dignity of work and the rights of workers…Workers and their unions, as well as employers and their businesses, all have responsibility to seek the common good, not just their own economic, political, or institutional interests…An economy that cannot provide employment, decent wages and benefits, and a sense of participation and ownership for its workers is broken in fundamental ways.
The Ohio Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops on matters of public policy, isn’t quite as inspiring in its explanation for why the Church in Ohio is neutral on this ballot initiative: “A voter’s position on Issue 2 involves a prudential judgment where people of good will may differ on the specifics of this proposal,” the conference states. It’s hard not to view this as a glaring double standard in light of other political debates Catholic bishops have had no problem weighing in on over the last few years. For instance, the bishops were deep in the legislative weeds and ultimately opposed the health care reform law because they made a flawed policy analysis that the Affordable Care Act allows for tax payer funding of abortion – a claim debunked by health law experts, the Catholic Health Association and many pro-life leaders.
Those I’ve talked to about Catholic issues in Ohio, including a social action director who worked in a Catholic diocese there for several decades, have long lamented the decline of the Church’s social justice presence in the state. Abortion politics has consumed Ohio Catholic leaders, a trend that to some extent has been mirrored at the national level since the steady erosion of the Church’s “consistent ethic of life” engagement with politics defined by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, a towering figure in the history of US Catholicism.
Ohio’s Catholic Conference at least gives a passing nod to the Church’s long history of standing up for unions and defending labor rights on their web site, but the conference provides a “both sides” approach to the issue that is a weak cup of tea compared to the Church’s centuries-old tradition of vigorously defending workers. Ohio Catholics expect and deserve more from their spiritual leaders.
Photo credit: Progress Ohio, Flickr