Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Re: Illinois Bishop Repudiates USCCB Amicus Brief in Public-Sector Union Dues Case

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters/File Photo)

Bishop Paprocki’s repudiation of the USCCB’s amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME ought to make clear to the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters why he shouldn’t have been “gobsmacked” by my critique of that brief. At the risk of overkill, let me address Winters’s other comments contesting my initial post.

Winters claims that the USCCB brief “is so obviously in a long line of explicit church teaching.” But as I explained, today’s public-sector unions are enemies of important Catholic causes. That sad reality, which Winters does not address or dispute, must be factored into the prudential judgment that any reasonable person would make about coerced union fees. Indeed, “a long line of explicit church teaching” makes this clear. In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII warned Catholic workers not to join unions that “are managed on principles ill-according with Christianity and the public well-being,” and he insisted that “working men’s associations” must “look first and before all things to God” and “must pay special and chief attention to the duties of religion and morality.” In Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI emphasized that unions forfeit the justification for their existence when they adopt “a materialistic and atheistic philosophy” that “shows no respect for a religious outlook on life, for freedom or human dignity.”

Winters faults me for not treating earlier statements of staff bureaucrats as the positions of American bishops. I recognize that the bishops have (unwisely, in my judgment) often delegated to unsupervised or poorly supervised staffers the authority to speak on their behalf. But I don’t accept the often highly implausible fiction that statements made by those staffers in fact reflect the considered positions of the bishops. Bishop Paprocki’s statement shows that I am right to reject this fiction.

Winters also tries to use against me my punctiliousness and transparency in making even minor changes to my posts. With the snarky advice to me to “Get a new research team!,” Winters claims at the outset of his comments that my post has “corrections [plural] in the body of the text” and that a second post of mine “explain[s] an additional correction.” In my initial post, I made a single change, eliminating a one-sentence “Indeed” point. My second post  illustrated that the USCCB amicus brief had caused “the dangerous misperception that [the USCCB] considers right-to-work laws in the public sector to violate Catholic social teaching as severely as laws imposing abortion and same-sex marriage do.” I merely noted in one bracketed sentence that I had tweaked a passage to soften a criticism. I look forward to Winters’s many needed corrections to his comments.


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