Does the Pope Care About Workers' Rights?
That the history of Catholic social teaching on workers' rights is unlikely to make it into the Pope's speech shouldn't surprise anyone who's followed his tenure in the papacy. The Church under Benedict has its own hierarchy of inviolable teachings. For instance, Benedict kicks off his US tour with a face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush. Yet the fact that Bush has the blood of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children on his hands by failing to wage anything remotely resembling a "just war" in Iraq will pose no impediment to an amiable photo shoot between the two.
Despite the Church's opposition to discrimination, the historical record of women priests, deacons and bishops, and an escalating priest shortage, Catholic bishops unequivocally denounce the theologically well- educated as well as deeply pastoral Catholic women who are called to the priesthood and are moving ahead with ordination. Benedict set the tone for this culture of denunciation when, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he excommunicated the first seven women ordained Catholic priests, the earliest members of the thriving Roman Catholic Women Priests movement.
On the other hand, Benedict has never issued a similar public sanction against a single priest found guilty of raping, sodomizing or sexually terrorizing a child or against a single bishop who enabled such crimes to occur.
In fact, on this trip Benedict has chosen to avoid Boston, where the sex abuse crisis erupted in 2002. Nor does he plan to meet with any organizations representing the nation's more than 10,000 survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, yet another callous and stunning violation of his pastoral responsibility.
On his visit, Benedict is also unlikely to acknowledge the most recent bad news, coming from a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. It found that of the major religions in the United States, Catholicism has experienced the greatest loss of net members. That loss is partly offset by the high number of Catholic immigrants, primarily Latinos, joining the Church, but that should give Church leaders little comfort. If past surveys are any indication, these Catholics will eventually bring their own challenges to the Church's priorities and its intransigence on a host of critical issues.
For now, as the Pew survey shows, some 10 percent of all Americans--nearly 30 million people--are ex-Catholics, members of what one besieged progressive priest calls "the fastest-growing church in the United States."
Some disaffected and disillusioned Catholics are forming vibrant new spiritual communities that still identify themselves as members of the Church. Though Benedict will meet with the ecumenical leaders of other Christian denominations and with leaders of non-Christian traditions worldwide, he has no plans to address these disinherited Catholics. Their numbers include the unionizing teachers, errant theologians, married priests, women who aspire to the priesthood, clergy sex abuse survivors, homosexuals, the divorced and anyone remotely pro-choice.
In the Church of Benedict, some Catholics are in. Many are out. What Christian teaching countenances that?