The Right to Unionize & Defense of the Poor
Ed. Note: The following constitutes a slightly abridged version of the 1984 Labor Day message issued by the U.S. Catholic Conference, written this year by Archbishop John J. O’Connor. The message was written before — but with an eye toward — the publication of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter “Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” the first draft of which is to be released this month.
A committee of bishops chaired by Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee has been at work for about three years on the preparation of the first draft of a pastoral letter that will deal with “Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy.”
I consider it appropriate to offer some reflections on the significance of this pastoral letter and the discussions that it will undoubtedly generate within the Catholic community and society at large.
One of the first and most important needs to be served by the pastoral letter is that of educating Catholics about the long tradition of Catholic social teaching. This teaching is an integral part of our religious faith, yet it is neither widely known nor understood. The encyclical documents that have embodied this teaching during the past century are like a treasure buried in a field. They are a rich source of teaching and values that relate to many of the problems, issues, and decisions that face us in the everyday working world, yet they have often been overlooked or forgotten. The pastoral letter on the economy will provide the opportunity to raise up this buried treasure and dust off its many valuable contents.
Some observers have suggested that the bishops’ discussion of economic concerns will somehow put them in a new and different role. It is important to correct that misperception. There is, in fact, a long tradition of Catholic teaching on economic matters. The upcoming pastoral letter will take its place in this ongoing tradition of social teaching — a teaching that has its roots in Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and in the very life and message of Jesus himself.
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