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Workers, unions and ‘Caritas in Veritate’

September 17, 2015
Father George E. Schultze, SJ

What is the responsibility of Catholic school teachers with regard to the spoken and lived representation of Catholic moral values? Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” is a helpful point of departure for some observations about the recent contract negotiations between the San Francisco archdiocese and its unionized Catholic high school teachers.

“Caritas in Veritate” means “charity in truth”; in effect, to believe that “God is eternal love” and “absolute truth” means that charity and truth are inexorably linked. Pope Benedict XVI teaches that we discover truth within the foundational awareness of charity, and charity can authentically occur only within the presence of truth. The Catholic Church must necessarily speak on social questions such as the right to life, the family, marriage, racism, immigration and work life as part of its mission, and therefore the teaching of Catholic morality at its schools and other institutions will always address the lives of Catholics and all men and women of good will.

How do Catholics fully become the people God calls them to be? How do they help others to achieve that same end? “Caritas in Veritate” begins by stating, “Each person finds his good by adherence to God’s plan for him, in order to realize it fully: In this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf John 8:22).”

Catholics are taught that each person has a call and, while others may not believe in God, we recognize by our common humanity that every person has human dignity and a purpose in his or her life.

In the first few paragraphs of “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI points out that unfortunately, in this era, charity has often lost its meaning because it is detached from God’s love, and truth has become relative for many men and women. Modernists – the intellectual pacesetters for culture – mistakenly believe that love is what people decide it is based on their autonomous feelings, and that the only truth is one’s own ego and desires, or, in other words, the absence of objective truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Dei Verbum and St. Irenaeus, states: “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority’” (paragraph 77). It is by obligation and responsibility that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has sought fidelity to church teaching in the Catholic high schools, and for that matter, in all of the other Catholic educational institutions of the archdiocese.

In the area of personal morality, one would expect Catholic administrators, faculty, and staff to teach and adhere to the morality of the church even if at times failing in their own right. To promote views or to intentionally live a public life in a manner contrary to the church’s teaching, while, at the same time, representing one’s institution and oneself as Catholic, is to reject the mission and vision of the church. Such a living witness of contradiction also denies students and their parents a right to clear teaching and witness about church teaching on fundamental moral truths, and to dismiss the teaching authority the bishop has received through apostolic succession.

The focus of the disagreement between the San Francisco archdiocese and the archdiocesan high school teachers (represented by the Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, Local 2240 of the American Federation of Teachers), was not wages or working conditions, but a concern that the archdiocese would require the dismissal of employees who publicly oppose or reject the church’s teaching on artificial contraception, abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and other similar morality concerns. Yet, church teaching requires the archbishop to guide schools, workers, administrators, and others to the truth in charity. When the public witness of employees intentionally undermines church teaching, the archbishop has a duty to restore clarity to the mission of church schools.

A person with a well-formed conscience will have developed the will and reason necessary to live in such true freedom, and the presentation of the church’s moral teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an essential resource for developing such a conscience. The proposed morality language of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the recent contract negotiations was simply the fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church within the bounds of the collective bargaining agreement and employee handbook.

Jesuit Father Schultze is a professor at St. Patrick Seminary & University. A longer version of this essay was published originally in Catholic World Report on Sept. 6. For the complete essay, go to catholicworldreport.com.

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