Topic: Forum

Forum – Fall 2017: Pope Francis Revives the Workers’ Church

Pope with workers

The Catholic Church in America—once an ally of workers and their unions—grew deferential to big money in recent decades. Now, prompted by the Pope, a new generation of labor priests and bishops is trying to change that. This article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine.

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By John Gehring October 23, 2017

Jorge Ramirez still remembers his Mexican immigrant father coming home with a bloody face after trying to organize his fellow workers in the Back of the Yards, a storied industrial area in Chicago. “My mom would stitch him up in the kitchen,” says Ramirez, 46, now the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “It was brutal, but we always had the Catholic Church. There was always a Catholic priest around.”

As unions face an increasingly hostile political climate and grapple with fresh approaches to becoming relevant to a new generation, there are signs that an old ally is once again stepping up. The Catholic Church, which has an imperfect but long history of using its institutional muscle and moral voice to defend workers’ rights, is getting a serious pep talk from a pope who has put labor rights back at the forefront of the Church’s public agenda.

Unions are “prophetic” institutions that “unmask the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers,” Pope Francis said in a June speech to the Confederation of Trade Unions, Italy’s equivalent of the AFL-CIO. While conservative politicians, corporate leaders, and well-funded organizations on the right have spent decades trying to dismantle the labor movement, Francis recognizes that what he calls the “dictatorship of an impersonal economy” is the result of an ideology that demonizes unions, worships individualism, and champions unfettered markets. “The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the trade union because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy,” he said. “This is one of the greatest sins.”

American union leaders have been energized by this unexpected boost from one of the world’s most popular and influential religious leaders. The shoutouts from a pope with a global bully pulpit are not only symbolically potent. There are tangible signs of a “Francis effect” on the Church’s relationship with the American labor movement. When Ramirez of the Chicago Federation of Labor first met the new archbishop whom Pope Francis appointed to the Chicago archdiocese in 2014, it didn’t take long for Cardinal Blase Cupich to express his commitment to workers. In a major address at Plumbers Union Hall on the city’s west side two years ago, Cupich delivered a clear message. “I have come today to tell Chicago workers: The Catholic Church is with you. Pope Francis is with you. I am with you,” Cupich said.

Nor did the cardinal stop there. He specifically took aim at “right to work” laws, arguing that the Church is “duty-bound to challenge such efforts.” He also made clear that the Church has “never made a distinction between private and public sectors,” a critical point as public-sector unions are frequently targeted by conservative opponents both inside and outside the Church.

For Ramirez, with his childhood memories of Catholic clergy standing up for his father, the speech struck a nerve. “Workers are so hungry for this message,” he says. “It resonates because it shows the Church is in touch with workers, and that the Church hears them and has the courage to speak out.” Ramirez notes that the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents 300 unions and has more than 500,000 members, is reaffirming a project labor agreement with the Chicago archdiocese that ensures union labor is used on construction projects. The Chicago archdiocese, which employs 15,000 full and part-time workers, also honors picket lines and encourages priests to support the labor movement.

Union leaders beyond Chicago are also buzzing about the new climate. Damon Silvers, policy director at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, admits he was surprised when Catholic scholars and advocates began reaching out to the federation after the Pope’s election in 2013. Silvers knew about the Church’s role in labor history, including Pope John Paul II’s support for the solidarity movement in Poland, but he wasn’t used to Catholic leaders beating down his door. The election of the first pope from Latin America was a game-changer.

“Pope Francis set the tone,” Silvers says. “The dignity of work really matters to him. Both the labor movement and the Church are remembering again that Catholic social teaching is one of the fundamental principles of the American labor movement.” Catholic immigrants from Europe found a refuge and an advocate in the Church and unions a century ago. Today Latino immigrants, a large percentage of them Catholic, make up a significant share of workers trying to climb up from the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Silvers recognizes not only the historical parallel, but a potential template for the future. “The labor movement needs a larger ecosystem to grow and thrive,” he says. “A critical part of that ecosystem is the Catholic Church. We have to be embedded in the lives of working people in a multidimensional way and have a connection to the spiritual life of its members. There is a deeper thing here we’re trying to do as a movement. People are not simply the sum of their economic parts. Workers are not a commodity. The Church at its best is trying to help people live as something more than a thing. In that sense, the Church and labor need each other because we’re engaged in a common project.”

 

Behind-the-scenes conversations between the AFL-CIO and Catholic leaders led to a high-profile conference at the union’s headquarters a few months before Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the United States. More than a dozen Catholic bishops and cardinals—several of them close advisers to Pope Francis took part in public dialogues around the theme “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity and Faith.” It was the first time in recent years that a number of Catholic heavyweights, including a cardinal, spoke at the federation’s headquarters. In a keynote speech, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington cited a “renewal of appreciation” for the “Catholic idea of solidarity.” He told labor leaders in the audience that the church cannot be “bystanders” in the fight for workers’ rights and referred to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as “our president.” A Catholic and the son of a coal miner from southwestern Pennsylvania, Trumka spoke in glowing terms about the Pope. “Part of the greatness of Pope Francis is that he sees everyone,” Trumka said. “And in seeing those who are excluded and suffering, he lifts all of us up so we can see and hear each other.”

Stephen Schneck, the recently retired director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, played a leading role in bringing AFL-CIO officials and the Catholic hierarchy together in recent years. “The picture of all those bishops standing with union leaders was amazing,” he said. “The optics sent a powerful message.”

When Pope Francis addressed the second Popular Movements event in Bolivia in 2015, he almost sounded like a fiery union agitator.

Mary Kay Henry grew up immersed in an environment where the priests, nuns, and lay Catholics in the pews at Holy Name parish in the suburbs of Detroit viewed the dignity of work as central to their faith. The president of the Service Employees International Union, Henry made her way through an eclectic gathering of faith-based organizers, union leaders, and Catholic bishops during a February meeting of “Popular Movements” in Modesto, California. Pope Francis had inspired the meeting as part of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which he launched in 2014. Held in Rome, the first event brought together activists from five continents: migrants, landless peasants, indigenous leaders, and representatives from trade unions. The themes of tierra, trabajo, and techo (land, labor, and housing) structured the original gathering and have remained the guiding focus during subsequent events. When Pope Francis addressed the second Popular Movements event in Bolivia in 2015, he almost sounded like a fiery union agitator. “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers, and the elites,” he said. “It is fundamentally in the hands of people and in their ability to organize.”

In Modesto, Henry chatted up a Vatican cardinal close to Pope Francis, briefing him about the Fight for 15 movement to raise wages of low-income workers, and told Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez she wanted to bring the union’s home health-care workers and janitors into closer dialogue with the church. More than half of SEIU members are Catholics, union officials estimate. “I’ve always felt the power of faith is key to any breakthrough that working people have made,” Henry told me. “I’m a Catholic, and my first experiences with solidarity came from the church and my family.” Several SEIU organizers and workers in the union visited the Vatican in 2015 for a round of meetings with church officials. Topics included the Fight for 15 movement, immigration reform, and mass incarceration.

“Pope Francis is really opening a space for those toiling in the vineyard to rise up,” Henry says. “The way he talks about economic inequality and links that to racism and care for the common home of our environment really affirms so much of what we’ve been fighting for over the years.”

One of the most significant ways a pope can steer the massive ocean liner that is the Catholic Church in a direction that reflects his priorities is through the bishops he appoints. In the United States, several Francis picks are emerging as strong allies of the labor movement. Cardinal Joe Tobin in Newark can bench-press more than 200 pounds, has the sturdy frame of a dock worker, and is at home at union events. This summer, he celebrated mass on the waterfront with members of the International Longshoremen’s Association who work for the Port of New York and New Jersey. The cardinal was also one of the keynote speakers at the New Jersey state AFL-CIO meeting in June held at Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City. He’s also been a vocal critic of President Trump’s aggressive immigration orders, calling them “the opposite of what it means to be an American.”

In Kentucky, Lexington Bishop John Stowe blasted his state’s right-to-work push in January. Strong labor unions, the bishop wrote in an open letter, “lead to more fair negotiations which benefit all workers in the state. The weakening of unions by so-called ‘right to work’ laws has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted. This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.”

Another sign that Catholic leaders are redoubling their efforts on worker justice issues is a project to create a new generation of “labor priests.” From the 1920s through the 1960s, clergy who stood with and advocated for workers were a central part of the labor movement. Priests ran labor training schools, often in parish halls, where workers learned about the minutiae of collective bargaining and the principles of Catholic social teaching. Reverend Clete Kiley, a Chicago priest and director for immigration policy at UNITE HERE, which represents more than 270,000 workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, laundry, and airport industries, is determined to revive that tradition. He launched a labor priest initiative in 2012, a loose network of more than 100 priests across the country who are trained to support workers through the framework of Catholic social justice. About half of the priests are immigrants. Most are under 40 years old. “Priests who work in immigrant communities are asking themselves what is happening to my parishioners when they go to work,” says Kiley, who is also chaplain for the Chicago Federation of Labor. “They hear about wage theft and unsafe working conditions. Some of the most egregious violations are against immigrants.”

Clergy receive training and opportunities to network at workshops hosted in different cities. Along with learning about Catholic teaching on labor, the clergy often hear directly from workers attempting to unionize. At one gathering last year, workers from several Las Vegas casinos shared their experiences about efforts to form a union.

During a recent visit to Owensboro, Kentucky, Kiley heard from priests who have watched well-paying factory jobs with solid benefits vanish from their communities, to be replaced by low-wage work with little security. Some clergy who are new to labor issues, especially in the South, can be skittish about speaking out. Kiley doesn’t force things. “I don’t start off talking about unions,” he says. “I talk about workers and their rights.”

The golden era between the Church and labor in the United States lasted roughly from the end of World War I to the late 1950s. Inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on labor and capital, Reverend John Ryan, a priest from Minnesota, became a nationally prominent social reformer whose writing and advocacy on behalf of living wages for workers later helped mold Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Ryan drafted a bold 1919 statement, the Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, that put moral weight behind what were then radical social reforms: a minimum wage, public housing for workers, and unemployment insurance. During the Great Depression, a generation of priests who had firsthand experiences with injustice and poverty came of age in an immigrant church that reflected a working-class ethic.

In the postwar decades, this sensibility began to shift as American Catholics grew wealthier, moved out of urban enclaves, and the church came to reflect the upwardly mobile aspirations of its parishioners, according to Joseph

McCartin, a Georgetown University history professor and director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. To be sure, caught up in the social activism of the 1960s and the spirit of Vatican II, Catholic leaders marched with Cesar Chavez behind banners of Our Lady of Guadalupe during grape boycotts organized by the United Farm Workers—and the U.S. Bishops’ Conference called efforts to bust unions “an intolerable attack on social solidarity” in a major 1986 economic justice national letter.

But McCartin points to well-funded efforts on the right in more recent years that have created a formidable counterweight to traditional church teaching on the economy and unions. “There have always been elements in the church that have not looked fondly on labor, but what is different now is the vast wealth pushing those points of view,” he says. The business school at Catholic University of America, McCartin notes, has accepted nearly $13 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the last several years, despite the Koch brothers’ abysmal track record of labor violations, toxic chemical spills, and funding of anti-union campaigns. In October, Catholic University’s business school is hosting a $2,500-per-person conference called “Good Profit,” featuring Charles Koch. Another well-funded foe of the labor movement is the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, led by a Catholic priest, Reverend Robert Sirico. Acton has benefited from the Koch Foundation and the Christian conservative DeVos family, the billionaire heirs to the Amway fortune who have bankrolled anti-union efforts in Michigan.

The boards of trustees at Catholic universities are also often populated by wealthy CEOs and business leaders who made their fortunes in private equity. “Many of these people are in the top 1 percent and they profited from and helped lead the transformation in our economy that benefited the wealthiest few,” McCartin says. “Many college presidents have boards who say, ‘Why should we deal with unions?’ In their own businesses, they don’t deal with unions.”

While some Catholic universities such as Georgetown have unionized janitors, food service workers, and adjunct professors, a number have aggressively resisted organizing drives by citing religious freedom arguments. Gerald Beyer, a Christian ethicist at Villanova University and Donald Carroll, an adjunct professor of law at the University of San Francisco, challenge that posture as blatant hypocrisy. “By deterring unionization efforts, universities violate adjuncts’ ability to live out Catholic teaching,” they wrote in the National Catholic Reporter.

Beyond his vocal support of the role of unions, the Pope is striking at the heart of neoliberal economics and market fundamentalism in ways that make some well-heeled donors in Catholic circles jittery. After Francis wrote an encyclical that blasted trickle-down economics, questioned “the absolute autonomy of markets,” and said that poverty would never be addressed without “attacking the structural causes of inequality,” the billionaire cofounder of Home Depot complained to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (not one of Pope Francis’s appointees). Ken Langone, who spearheaded a $180 million restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, confided to the cardinal that one of his wealthy friends was so upset by the Pope’s words that he was considering pocketing his contribution to the renovation. Cardinal Dolan told CNBC that he would assure the reluctant donor that he was “misunderstanding” Francis. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “The Pope’s Case for Virtuous Capitalism,” Dolan offered a much sunnier assessment of 21st-century capitalism than the pope has. The free market, the cardinal wrote, “has undoubtedly led to a tremendous increase in overall wealth and well-being around the world.” He argued it was a mistake to “reject economic liberty in favor of government control.” When Larry Kudlow, a CNBC commentator who had questioned the Pope’s understanding of capitalism, tweeted that he helped Dolan with the op-ed, the optics were awkward, to say the least.

Some wealthy Catholics seem content to blatantly co-opt and deliberately misconstrue the Pope’s words. John and Carol Saeman, who are active in a network of Catholic business leaders called Legatus, started by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, wrote a head-scratching Washington Post op-ed in 2014 in which they strained to align themselves with Francis. “For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’s call to love and serve the poor,” wrote the couple, who are financial contributors to the Koch-backed Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Every summer, wealthy Catholics active in Legatus and a cadre of the U.S. hierarchy’s more conservative bishops gather at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, owned by Catholic philanthropist Timothy Busch. The business school at Catholic University is named after Busch, who gave the university $15 million, its largest-ever donation. Busch has called the minimum wage “an anti-market regulation,” cites the Koch brothers as an inspiration, and hosted a conference at the Trump International Hotel in Washington earlier this year where he praised the president for being a staunch “pro-life” leader.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading conservative voice in the hierarchy, acknowledged in a 2014 speech at the Napa retreat that the Pope’s views on economics are likely not in line with many of the Catholic CEOs gathered at the resort. “What Francis says about economic justice may be hard for some of us to hear,” the archbishop said. “So we need to read the Holy Father’s writings for ourselves, without the filter of the mass media. Then we need to open our hearts to what God is telling us through his words.”

Far from Napa Valley, a union leader in Atlantic City often found himself wondering why it was so hard to find Catholic clergy ready to stand with workers fighting against casino bosses who squeezed their employees. Bob McDevitt, the president of UNITE HERE Local 54, started in the union as a 19year-old bartender’s assistant in the Playboy casino. He now leads a union that has lost 40 percent of its members over the last decade. Five casinos have closed since 2013. He recalls one civil disobedience action with workers at the now shuttered Taj Majal casino. Only one priest showed up, and he came from outside the city.

“From a practical standpoint, if so many people in your pews are in organized labor it doesn’t make sense for the church to be tone-deaf to this experience,” McDevitt says. “I’m not the best Catholic, but I know the church talks all the time about social justice. It’s just a matter of doing what you said should be done.”

Things started to change when a new young pastor, Reverend Jon Thomas, was assigned to McDevitt’s church, the Parish of St. Monica, in 2015. Thomas is part of the labor priest network. The pastor teamed up with McDevitt to plan a special mass dedicated to solidarity with workers. The local bishop fully supported the idea, and while he couldn’t attend because of an illness, his letter was read to the congregation. After the service, Thomas and his parishioners marched down Atlantic Avenue in a procession behind a banner of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers. It was the kind of visual, public support that showed the church and labor walking side by side. “So many of my parishioners are union members, and they bring their fears of downsizing or losing their jobs to church,” Thomas says. “I need to be involved. I’m trying to make the church relevant to their lives.”

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Photo credit:  Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP

Forum – Winter 2017: San Diego Catholic Bishop Calls Leaders to Disrupt and Rebuild

Conversation

 

MODESTO,  Calif., Feb. 18, 2017 – The Most Rev. Robert W. McElroy, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, today delivered the following comments at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements during a panel discussion on the barriers marginalized people face in housing and work.

For the past century, from the worker movements of Catholic action in France, Belgium and Italy to Pope John XXIII’s call to re-structure the economies of the world in “Mater et Magistra,” to the piercing missionary message of the Latin American Church at Aparecida, the words “see,” “judge” and “act” have provided a powerful pathway for those who seek to renew the temporal order in the light of the Gospel and justice.

As the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace described this pathway, it lies in “seeing clearly the situation, judging with principles that foster the integral development of people and acting in a way which implements these principles in the light of everyone’s unique situation.”

There is no greater charter for this gathering taking place here in Modesto in these days than the simple but rich architecture of these three words: “see,” “judge” and “act.” Yet these words — which carry with them such a powerful history of social transformation around the world in service to the dignity of the human person — must be renewed and re-examined at every age and seen against the background of those social, economic and political forces in each historical moment.

In the United States we stand at a pivotal moment as a people and a nation, in which bitter divisions cleave our country and pollute our national dialogue.

In our reflections in these days, here, we must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by cultural currents which leave us isolated, embittered and angry. We must make the issues of jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities and the environment foundations for common efforts rather than of division.  We must see prophetic words and prophetic actions which produce unity and cohesion and we must do so in the spirit of hope which is realistic. For as Pope Francis stated to the meeting in Bolivia: “You are sowers of change,” and sowers never lose hope. 

See Clearly the Situation

One of the most striking elements of “Laudato Si” is its clear and bold analysis of the empirical realities that threaten the Earth which is our common home. “Seeing the situation clearly” is the whole foundation for that encyclical. It is the starting point for transformative justice. Pope Francis was unafraid to venture into this controversial set of questions about climate change and the environment despite the fact that massive social and economic forces, especially within our own country, have conspired to obscure the scientific realities of climate change and environmental degradation, in the very same way that the tobacco companies obscured for decades the medical science pertaining to smoking.

There is a lesson for us here, as agents of change and justice. Never be afraid to speak the truth. Always find your foundation for reflection and action in the fullness of empirical reality. Design strategies for change upon ever fuller dissemination of truths, even when they seem inconvenient to the cause.

This is an especially important anchor for us, in an age in which truth itself is under attack.

Pope Benedict lamented the diminishment of attention to the importance of objective truth in public life and discourse.  Now we come to a time when alternate facts compete with real facts, and whole industries have arisen to shape public opinion in destructively isolated and dishonest patterns. The dictum “see clearly the situation” has seldom been more difficult in our society in the United States.

Yet the very realities which our speakers this morning have all pointed to in capturing the depth of marginalization in housing, work and economic equality within the United States point us toward the clarification and the humanization of truth, which leads to a deeper grasp of the realities of injustice and marginalization that confront our nation.

As Pope Francis underscored in his words to the Popular Movements in Bolivia, “When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person and the exploited child, we have seen and heard not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh.”

One of the most important elements of your work as agents of justice in our midst in this country in this moment, is to help our society as a whole become more attuned to this reality of humanized truth, through narrative and witness, listening and solidarity. In this way, you not only witness to the truth through the lives and experiences of the marginalized, you help us all to see the most powerful realities of our world in greater depth.

Those realities embrace both scientific findings and stories of tragedy, economic analysis and the tears of the human heart. “See clearly the situation” is not merely a step in your work on behalf of justice, it shapes everything that you do to transform our world.

Judging with Principles to Foster Integral Development

The fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater autonomy or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation.

In that battle, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed. This stance of the Church’s teaching flows from the teaching of the Book of Genesis: The creation is the gift of God to all of humanity. Thus in the most fundamental way, there is a universal destination for all of the material goods that exist in this world. Wealth is a common heritage, not at its core a right of lineage or acquisition.

For this reason, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.

In Catholic teaching, the very rights which are being denied in our society to large numbers of those who live in our nation are intrinsic human rights in Catholic teaching: The right to medical care; to decent housing; to the protection of human life from conception to natural death; of the right to food; of the right to work. Catholic teaching sees these rights not merely as points for negotiation, provided only if there is excess in society after the workings of the free market system accomplished their distribution of the nation’s wealth. Rather, these rights are basic claims which every man, woman and family has upon our nation as a whole.

These are the fundamental principles which the Church points to as the basis for judgement for every political and social program that structures economic life within the United States. And they are supplemented in Catholic teaching by a grave suspicion about enormous levels of economic inequality in society. Pope Francis made clear the depth of this suspicion two years ago. “Inequality,” he said, “is the root of social evil.”

In his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis unmasked inequality as the foundation for a process of exclusion that cuts immense segments of society off from meaningful participation in social, political and economic life, as we have all heard this morning. It gives rise to a financial system that rules rather than serves humanity and a capitalism that literally kills those who have no utility as consumers.

Now, when I quote the Pope that “this economy kills,” people very often say to me, “Oh come on, that’s just an exaggeration; it’s a form of speech.”

I want to do an experiment with you. I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment. And close your eyes, and I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed:  A senior who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids; young people who can’t find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, or gangs or suicide. Think of one person you know that this economy has killed.

Now mourn them.

And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.
For Catholic social teaching, the surest pathway to economic justice is the provision of meaningful and sustainable work for all men and women capable of work. The “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” states, “Economic and social imbalances in the world of work must be addressed by restoring a just hierarchy of values and placing the dignity of workers before all else.”

In work, the Church proclaims, men and women find not only the most sustainable avenue to economic security but also become co-creators with God in the world in which we live. Work is thus profoundly a sacred reality. It protects human dignity even as it spiritually enriches that dignity. If we truly are in our work co-creators with God, don’t we think that deserves at least $15 an hour?

Acting

After the panel yesterday, when the panelists were asked in one word how they would summarize their message, I tried to think, what is the “act” that summarizes how we must act in this moment?

And I came up with two words. The first has been provided in our past election. President Trump was the candidate of “disruption.” He was “the disruptor,” he said, challenging the operations of our government and society that need reform.

Well now, we must all become disruptors. We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.

But we, as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, as people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders.

We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service to the dignity of the human person and assert what the American flag behinds us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal.

We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God, there are no children of a lesser god in our midst. That all of us are called to be cohesive and embrace one another and see ourselves as graced by God. We are called to rebuild our nation which does pay $15 an hour in wages, and provides decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest. And we need to rebuild our Earth, which is so much in danger by our own industries.

So let us see and judge and act.

Let us disrupt and rebuild in solidarity and peace.

And let us do God’s work.

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Forum – Winter 2017: Statements of Cardinal Cupich and Cardinal Tobin on the Executive Order on Refugees and Migrants

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Statement of Cardinal Cupich

January 29, 2017

This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history. The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.  Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.

These actions impose a sweeping and immediate halt on migrants and refugees from several countries, people who are suffering, fleeing for their lives. Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States. They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the eleventh hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.

We are told this is not the “Muslim ban” that had been proposed during the presidential campaign, but these actions focus on Muslim-majority countries. They make an exception for Christians and non-Muslim minorities, but not for Muslims refugees fleeing for their lives. Ironically, this ban does not include the home country of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. Yet, people from Iraq, even those who assisted our military in a destructive war, are excluded.

The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees who are fleeing for their lives and Catholic organizations have helped to resettle many families, men, women, and children, from around the globe. Many of our priests, religious and laypeople have accompanied newcomers precisely to assist them in this process. Because of our history of aiding in refugee and migrant settlement for decades, we know the very lengthy and thorough vetting process they must face before they are admitted to our country. We have seen initial fear turn into a generous willingness of local communities to accept and integrate refugees. Here in Chicago generations of migrants have found a new home. We are better for it.

The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them.

It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity. “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

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Statement of Cardinal Tobin

January 27, 2017

I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism.  The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens.

I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).  Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation.  They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.

Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.

In fact, threatening the so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration.  It only will harm all good people in those communities.

I am the grandson of immigrants and was raised in a multicultural neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  Throughout my life as a priest and bishop in the United States, I have lived and worked in communities that were enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths.  Those communities were strong, hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with affection for this nation and its people.

Here in Newark, we are in the final steps of preparing to welcome 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is only the latest group of people whom Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has helped to resettle during the past 40 years.  This current group of refugees has waited years for this moment and already has been cleared by the federal government.

They have complied with all of the stringent requirements of a vetting process that is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Catholic Charities, assisted by parishes and parishioners of the Archdiocese, will help them establish homes, jobs and new lives so that they can contribute positively to life in northern New Jersey.  When this group is settled, we hope to welcome others.

This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death.  The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups over the past 260 years whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.

Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of American eventually triumphed.

That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.

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