Joan Frawley Desmond has published an excellent and balanced recap of the Wisconsin fight over reforming government unions and how local bishops responded to the struggle.
It’s not a rosy picture — Bishop Morlino of Madison in particular laments the divisions and partisanship which defined the Catholic debate throughout its course. But it’s important going forward that we understand what happened here, because similar wars over government union wages and benefits are sure to be fought in other states besides Wisconsin if we are to have any serious chance of balancing state budgets:
“…the internal Church debate has been complicated by dueling judgments regarding the legitimacy of public-sector unions and their tangled relationship with political leaders, who negotiate their contracts and then may expect their support during re-election.
Many social-justice advocates contend that public and private-sector unions are equally worthy of Catholic support. That position has provoked skepticism in tough economic times, when public employees may receive more generous benefits than other workers.
Once faithful allies of the nation’s trade-union movement, the bishops have turned their attention to immigration reform as a top priority, in part, because Hispanic Catholics have moved to the mainstream of the Church, while public-sector unions often back policy positions antithetical to Catholic teaching, from abortion rights to same-sex unions.
Given the Church’s legacy of strong support for workers’ rights, some public-union activists looked to the Wisconsin Catholic Conference for an endorsement.
Archbishop Listecki, president of the Wisconsin Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a carefully worded statement that affirmed the rights of workers but included a caveat: “It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.”