The Pope Doesn’t Speak For Me?

Jimmy Mac sent this link from Pennsylvania. Bishop Joseph “The USCCB Does Not Speak For Me” Martino is asking school principals to assemble lists of anti-union parents to help lobby state government. At risk is the legal exemption of religious institutions that permits union-busting.

School super Joseph Casciano channels auxiliary Bishop John Doughterty acting, presumably on orders from the top, asks each diocesan school …

(H)ave parents contact their respective legislator and ask him/her to refrain from supporting this bill since we love our schools and wish them to continue into the future.

They do not have to take a position of support for or against unions but rather that we are seeking the assistance of the legislators to allow this matter to resolve itself in time.

Pro-union parents are upset. Will people not on the roster be blacklisted? The diocese cautions no such thing is being considered. And ordinarily, I’d be inclined to agree.

But consider the recent behavior of Bishop Martino: agitating against a former Pennsylvania parishioner, crashing a parish meeting, then the dire warnings about the inauguration Bible still being warm from President Obama’s hand and FOCA being signed into law. Nothing less than “the end of Catholic schools” is being touted as the final result if–gasp!–bishops had to deal with unions.

I’m waiting for the next money quote from Bishop Martino, “The pope doesn’t speak for me.”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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16 Responses to The Pope Doesn’t Speak For Me?

  1. Liam says:

    WWJD – What would John (Cardinal O’Connor, a predecessor of Martino) do?

    Catholic teaching doesn’t dogmatize the establishment of trade unions, but given the nature of American employment law, it’s about the only effective form of defending certain rights of workers within organizations of concentrated power.

    It might be different were American law to favor certain things that many non-American legal systems favor, such as labor representation on corporate boards, corporate ends encompassing the stakeholder rights of labor as well as capital holders, and requirements for cause or good faith in terminations, et cet.

  2. Todd says:

    Correct as always, Liam.

    I would hope the bishop isn’t pinning his stance on a fundamentalist absolute such as “The Church doesn’t force me to recognize.”

    An adult approach to faith assumes an active … dialogue, if you will, with life’s experiences and the ability to apply all the nuances of social situations with what is right and moral.

    If the bishop is content to stand on a soapbox of personal taste (“I don’t like unions.”) and childishness (“You can’t make me.”) then I think we have a deeper problem than we thought.

  3. Thankfully, with all respect for his authority, Bishop Joseph does not speak for me.

  4. John Heavrin says:

    It could be that Bishop Martino is not anti-union as a matter of principle, but simply realizes the obvious: Catholic schools have become nearly prohibitively expensive to operate as it is, without unionized teachers. With unionization, it would simply be too expensive and that would be the end.

    The clock is ticking on Catholic schools anyway and has been ever since the disappearance of female (and to some extent male) Religious. The model was founded assuming such labor; the model can’t really work otherwise.

    Surely you can understand this, Todd. At some point, parishioners won’t pay for it. What then? There are always public schools to take the place of Catholic schools; it’s happening anyway. All staffers of Catholic parishes, not just teachers, should be careful what they wish for. In purely economic terms, (which is how most Catholics surely look at it, given ignorance of the precepts of the Church), parish contributions are purely discretionary.

    In general, to repeat, I imagine that Catholic schools will disappear before they will unionize.

  5. John Heavrin says:

    Qui tacet consentit, it appears.

  6. Liam says:

    No it don’t.

  7. John Heavrin says:

    Liam, are you suggesting that supporting a school with a unionized faculty is something that the average American parish (another institution that would seem to be circling the bowl) would choose to support? Or could do so for very long if it did make that choice? Seems unlikely even in the best of times, let alone the times we’re facing in the decade to come. Four and five figures for tuition: among the first things to be excised from a Catholic family’s budget.

    Again, without a workforce made up of people who’ve taken a vow of poverty, for whom the organizing principles of life are sacrifice and self-denial, the model seems overdue to fail.

    What am I missing here? Do you forsee government subsidy for Catholic education in this country? Enough to support a unionized workforce. In the U S of A?

    I think Bishop Martino would declare that the Pope doesn’t speak for him before such a thing would occur. In other words, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  8. Todd says:

    By the time my daughter reached grade 9, I would indeed have been looking at five-figure tuition in Kansas City.

    As it is, given the sacrifices teachers make to teach in Catholic schools, I doubt that Big Wages would be their big issue. However, parishes and dioceses could afford to offer benefits comparable to what clergy receive. There’s no reason to deny grievance processes, and other things ensured for the ordained.

    Bishop Martino doesn’t like being told what-for on these issues. This has the whiff, not of economics, but of a prelate taking offense and having his personal taste badgered. He needs to grow up. Without the wholehearted support of his teachers, his schools are toast.

  9. John Heavrin says:

    There’s really no way to unionize an institution that doesn’t exist to make a profit, or exists by virtue of governemnt support. I mean, they could theoretically do it, but only if the union agreed not to seek wages, benefits, or “job security” guarantees, and what kind of union would that be.

    I don’t think the comparison with clergy makes any sense, Todd. First of all, clergy compensation is rather modest, although it does include room and board. But priests promise at ordination to obey the Bishop and his successors, and at least theoretically to go where they’re sent and to do the job they’re told to do. They commit their lives. Would lay teachers be willing to make a similar commitment?

    I know you dislike Bishop Martino, Todd, but you got to get real. GM can’t afford their union anymore. How the hell is the Diocese of Scranton supposed to? Pure fantasy.

  10. Jim McK says:

    John, your scenario is the fantasy. Schoolteachers in Scranton have long been organized, and have worked with Catholic school administrations to keep the Catholic schools running. The idea that they would cooperate as effectively in groups organized by management, rather than because of their own commitments to education and to their students, is beyond belief. By eliminating one of the major supporters of the diocesan school system, Martino has probably destroyed most, if not all, of the schools in the diocese.

    Apparently he has now decided to use the union issue so that he and his reorganization plans will not be blamed for the eventual closing of all the schools in the diocese. It is a very sad situation.

  11. Pingback: Lay Employees: What Would We Be Willing To Do? « Catholic Sensibility

  12. John Heavrin says:

    No, Jim, here’s the fantasy, which I suppose you and Todd share (so deeply that perhaps you don’t even realize it): that parishioners in the case of grammar schools, and parents in the case of high schools, would be willing and/or able to pay enough money to support a unionized work force.

    That’s a fantasy.

    Here’s what’s not a fantasy, no matter how much you guys want to whine about how mean a bully Bishop Martino is: if you want to teach in a Catholic school, you’re going to make significantly less money and have substantially fewer “rights” than teachers who are paid by the government. The more Catholic schools cost, the less affordable they’ll be for most, and the parents who can afford it will seriously question whether they’re worth it.
    Gradually Catholic parents–the kind of parents who for several decades now would never consider public school for their kids–will take the public school option. And then a funny thing happens: a critical mass of involved parents and well-prepared students moves from Catholic schools to public schools, and at that point, for that and other reasons, the game is over for Catholic schools.

    There’s no way around it: Catholic schools are based on a Religious faculty who for all intents and purposes were uncompensated beyond room and board. That it’s worked after the end of Religious orders is remarkable and something not many would have predicted. To an extent parishioners/parents have been willing to pay dramatically more for Catholic education (or in reality, to avoid public education, busing, etc.), but that era is ending quickly as it is. The increased costs of a union workforce would kill Catholic schools quick. They’ll close before they’ll unionize. For the most part, they’ll close anyway, as parishes contract, merge, and close.

    Unlike unionized auto workers, whose competition has a similar price point, or government workers, who have no competition, teachers in Catholic schools have no leverage to force their employer to accede to unionization. How long would the UAW (or Ford and GM themselves) last if Toyotas were being given away?

    Finally, I would hope that every American, conservative, liberal, or anywhere in between, would oppose government funding of religious education. With government funding comes government control. No, thanks.

  13. Jim McK says:

    John, I never said that parents would or should pay for schools with unionized faculty. I said that in the Scranton diocese, THEY WERE. So your speculation is fantasy, not based on fact.

    I agree with much of what you have written, but the problem is uncommitted teachers (lay or clergy) and uncommitted management (bishops and priests). Repudiating the assistance of a group committed to the schools, like the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers, is bizarre. It gives the individuals within that group, and their successors as teachers, a more tenuous connection with the schools, and makes it less likely that the bishop will be able to find competent faculty to staff the schools.

  14. John Heavrin says:

    Perhaps I am misjudging the current aims of the Scranton teachers. However, they must want some sort of check on the bishop’s authority, a check that would be enforceable in law. Otherwise, what’s the point of a union? They’re only necessary when parties can’t come to an agreement or treat one another fairly without the legal requirement to do so. I grew up in a union household. I know what good they can do, how necessary they were at one time, etc. But I also know what they’re all about: taking and sharing power.

    You tell me: why do the teachers in Scranton want a union, if not to, at least eventually, demand wages or benefit increases that would almost certainly be prohibitively expensive for the diocese, the revenue source of which is charity.

    Maybe I’m wrong, and wage/benefit parity is not the real goal here, and that such parity could somehow be affordable for a Catholic school system. But the situation sure looks and quacks like a duck to this outside observer.

  15. Christian says:

    Well folks, Bishop Martino DOES speak for me, in the sense that I am a Catholic School Parent in his Diocese, and am involved in many of the relevant affairs..

    First off, only a few schools were Unionized when it was a Parochial, rather than Diocesan, system. A few (not all) of the high schools and very few Elementary schools.

    In this case the drive for Unionization began with about the same attitude as the Bishop appears to have in rejecting it. During the consolidation study, it was stated that we will address the recognition of a Union for the new system once school boards and governors were put in place. Once that happened, they also happened to get a more accurate financial picture of the individual schools and system as a whole. Since the school’s accounting practices were horrid, the new system was based upon completely inaccurate data. as it turned out the new ‘financially sound’ system runs at a substantial deficit, and still needs further capital improvement.

    There were some concerns that a Union could unilaterally force greater and greater financial constraints on the system which could not at this early stage handle them. It was felt that an Employee council format could legitimately represent the teacher’s interest while at the same time prevent an impasse from developing which would cripple the schools. They were willing to think the best of people operating in a joint fashion with the Diocese, but think that the collaboration with a union might be more contentious. In Penna. if the private school teacher’s strike they could do so for an unlimited time.

    The drive for the union came about initially as decrying the Chutzpah of the Bishop to ‘lead them on; thinking that a union might be recognized’ and then refusing to acknowledge it.

    There was much talk about how Catholic School teachers sacrifice much, and have always been willing to do so, — why strike now? The union pointed out that one of their prime purposes was to negotiate non-compensation issues, like class size, number of classes, breaks etc.

    The Bishop, as is his habit, refused to change his mind since he felt he had all the relevant information needed when the decision was made in the first place. The ‘Union’ has not added anything substantive to the argument since that time, as to why the Union would be good for the Diocese, Students, Parents and Teachers. To the contrary, the union, on its blog and other forums makes some statements that can be perceived as ‘progressivly Catholic’. I do not refer to quotations of Councils and the Magisterium in support of Catholicism. This Diocese leans (emphasis) toward a more orthodox Catholicism (e.g. as seen on EWTN), and talking to parents, I hear somewhat less support of the union as time goes on. The Diocesan view on the Union and Legislation designed to force it upon the Diocese, is that the Union may demand concessions that are not in accord with Catholic teaching. So far, the Union is starting to demonstrate that this may not be a straw man argument.

    I have mixed feelings myself about the recognition of the Union, but as I said, SDACT has not made it’s case as to what benefit they would bring to the equation. If anything their continued public campaign is causing damage to the system by lessening the parental belief in its viability (enrollment system wide is declining) — and their recklessness in continuing to the degree they are gives creedence to the belief that they may seek concessions which may further damage the system. They may be well deserved concessions — but we have to stabilize the financial condition first.

    There are many things I do like about him. However, in spite of the Bishop’s ‘orthodox Catholic’ Blog appeal, he truly does not exhibit many charisms of ‘showing the carrot’ in a pastoral sense, and unfortunately alienates many who might truly see things his way anyhow. I really doubt that many of his nationwide supporters would be as enamored of him where he their Ordinary. Few people get to meet him or see him speak, so I cannot speak to his personal nature.

  16. Jim McK says:


    I also live in the diocese, though I am childless and have probably followed the controversy less closely than you have.

    What I find disturbing is the way the bishop has adopted an attitude so at odds with catholic teaching. Even your note reflects a view of unions and management as constantly at odds with one another, as if unions were a threat to the organization rather than a help. JP2 referred to unions as “movements of solidarity”, so this presumption of divisiveness is unfounded, and perhaps uncatholic.

    SDACT is probably the only organization which has the welfare of the catholic schools in Scranton as one of its aims. The bishop could have used that commitment when he restructured the schools. Instead of reaching out in solidarity, he told the union there was no management they could contact. There was no board setting salaries, even though salaries were somehow set.

    This insensitive attitude was manifest in other ways during the reorganizations. He dispersed much good will among alumni when he abolished the identities of the many schools in order to give new names to his schools. In other ways, he made the point that these were his schools and no one else’s, that they run by his fiat.

    As the union members know, that is not a good basis for education. “It takes a village” as the African proverb says. Solidarity, community, concern for one another are foundations of Catholic teaching. His attempts to go it alone seem like the worst thing I can imagine for a school system.

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