Bishops Need to Go to Bat for Their Own Workers
McBrien, Richard P., National Catholic Reporter
I keep hoping that one of these years the U.S. Catholic bishops will issue a Labor Day statement that focuses on the church's own responsibility to practice what it preaches and teaches about social justice and human rights.
Such a statement would ground its message in the theology of sacramentality, that is, in the church's call to be a credible sign and instrument of God's presence and saving activity on behalf of the whole world.
The time has come when the bishops need to stop addressing other agencies and institutions in society on their obligations, and begin turning the klieg lights on the church itself.
As Pope Paul VI reminded us in his 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi ("Of proclaiming the Gospel"), it is the essence of the church's mission to evangelize, but the church must begin "by being evangelized itself."
In the same document, the pope pointed out that people listen "more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if [they do] listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
"It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world," Paul VI continued, "in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus--the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity."
Pope Paul VI understood and embraced the principle of sacramentality. It is high time, some 35 years later, that our bishops did as well.
One of the obstacles is that the U.S. hierarchy has changed so much under Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI.
Some readers might recall the claim that was persuasively made, back in the 1940s and 1950s, that most American bishops came from households where the breadwinner was an ordinary workingman.
This meant that the bishops of those years were more likely to view social and political issues from the viewpoint of those on the lower end of the economic ladder. They were more readily disposed to support the rights of workers than the interests of their corporate employers.
Yesterday's bishops would have gone to bat, so to speak, for the right of workers--many of whom were Catholic--to form labor unions. Some assigned priests in their dioceses to run labor schools to instruct Catholic workers on the church's social teachings and to identify the rights they possess in the marketplace. …