Archbishop Listecki of Milwaukee supports public service workers in Wisconsin. Listecki refers to the 1986 U.S. Bishops’ document Economic Justice for All. How do you explain such an event? Moribund Catholic Social Teaching dragged out of the basement of the bankrupt Archdiocese – no way! But it happened.
It must be the ‘ghosts’ again. The ghosts of Krugman and Reich are the classical capitalist economists Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus. Listecki’s ghosts are Milwaukee Catholic Social Teaching giants who are innumerable. They taught and put into practice Quadragesimo Anno in the 1930’s. Let’s mention Cardinal Mench, Bishop Hass, and priest Russell Beix. Interestingly enough, Bishop Hass was an advisor to Franklin Roosevelt.
Listecki’s support for workers was a major breakthrough. Post Vatican II right wing Catholicism is creating a new narrative. Pius XI wouldn’t recognize it as Catholic. Reactions include a fierce push back by liberals, (e.g. Call to Action) an automatic discounting by the faithful of anything said by the bishops, or just a walking away. Those with little or a distorted knowledge of Catholic theology jumped on the right wing band wagon to denounce national social programs as suggested by Q.A. and Rerum Novarum. President Obama’s National Health Care law was attacked by Catholic Bishops including Listecki. The Catholic Social Teaching originally authored by conservative Popes Leo XIII and Pius IX was forgotten.
An indication that there was really something wrong was when right wing journalist Robert Novak decided to become a Roman Catholic. Worse, we now have Newt Gingrich embracing Catholicism in his attempt to become president.
Pope John Paul II is a focus of the debate between R.C. liberals and conservatives. J.P. II and John XXIII are at opposite poles on church political structure. Vatican II implied a radical change in structure by advocating freedom of conscience, recognition that the Holy Spirit – ‘ghost’ if you will - enlightens all, parish councils, and bishop’s conferences. These notes of Vatican II indicate a less authoritarian Church – a non brokered religion. J.P. II swung the other way. The principle of subsidiarity presented in Q.A. was interpreted as viable, but subject to Vatican approval. J.P. II’s refusal to consider women priests dumfounded biblical scholars and women’s rights advocates. He strongly rejected communism as have popes in the past. As a result J.P. II became the Pope of the right wing. Gingrich and his wife have produced a film about J.P. II and the fall of communism in Poland.
Forgotten by liberals and conservatives is the fact that John Paul II wrote very strong encyclicals concerning worker’s rights – e.g. Laborem Exercens – “labor unions are indispensible, labor is prior to capital.” A classmate, Professor Al Gini of Loyola University – Chicago, claims that this encyclical is the best writing on ‘work’ since Marx. My guess is that Gingrich knows that J.P. II in Cuba during a homily denounced neo-liberal trade agreements and the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Fidel Castro clapped and cheered. I doubt that this is in the Gingrich film.
It is recognized that J.P. II and John XIII are polar opposites on Church authority, but they are in conformity on Catholic Social Teaching with J.P. II, an even stronger advocate of workers’ rights than the documents of Vatican II. (OK – OK - We’ll get to subsidiarity later.)
Has Archbishop Listecki and his inspiring ghosts re-entered Catholic Social Teaching into the dialogue on economic justice? If his intervention is considered a church pronouncement, it will be useless, but if it is taken and given in the spirit of discussion we can move ahead. The situation in Wisconsin is a confrontation of power blocks, but it is a moral issue and should be resolved with reference to the common good as the social encyclicals suggest.