The feeling in America’s House of Labor was upbeat Monday when a clutch of Catholic bishops led by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl showed up to celebrate solidarity with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Last Friday’s defeat of “fast-track” authority in the House of Representatives had put a spring in labor’s step, and the bishops, representing what passes for the left wing of the U.S. hierarchy, were looking forward to this week’s roll-out of Pope Francis’ climate encyclical.
The occasion was a one-day conference organized by Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies and the AFL’s policy shop. Was this a re-creation of the old Catholic-Labor alliance? Certainly wishful talk was in the air.
Trumka spoke of “the large debt that we owe people of faith,” and praised the Church’s “new evangelization” campaign. “It’s very important to reinvigorate religion in an age of secularism,” he said.
Wuerl, delivering the keynote, equated organized labor with the new evangelization — both engaged in “the struggle for the common good.” Against what Pope Francis has called “the globalization of indifference,” the Church and the labor movement needed to help the culture “reappropriate solidarity.” Just as he, as a boy growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, had been taught by his grandfather never to cross a picket line, so “immigrants are the new picket lines of today, that we are all asked to respect.”
On hand to back Wuerl up were, among others, Pope Francis’ two signature American appointments, Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. “Brothers and sisters, we’re focused on solidarity today,” said Rev. Clete Kiley, a former executive director the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops whom Cupich has put in charge of day-to-day operations in Chicago. “I know and hope you will not let this chance slip by.”
As the absence of the poor and the immigrant on the priority list at last week’s semi-annual meeting of the USCCB in St. Louis made abundantly clear, the church’s progressive wing has a long ascent ahead of it, just as one win in Congress does not a summer make for the labor movement. Nevertheless, there was a palpable sense that the worm was turning. “We are,” declared AFL policy director Damon Silvers, “on the verge of the Franciscan Moment.”