Chair of Subcommittee on Catholic Health Care & Work
Ten days from now we celebrate Labor Day. The Working Paper and process we share today is an example of the challenges and opportunities we face in observing the day dedicated to work and workers.
Leaders of the labor movement, Catholic health care, and our bishops' Conference have been in dialogue for almost two years exploring what Catholic social teaching requires of employers and employees, workers and managers, unions and hospitals. I've been a bishop for a long time --- 22 years. I've been part of many dialogues -- ecumenical and interfaith, secular and religious, inside and outside our Conference, and I know how challenging they can be. That is why I am so impressed with this process. It has not been easy. It has been very candid and constructive. It has involved national officials and local leaders who have front line responsibilities. We have shared our past disappointments and current misgivings and tried to move beyond them. We asked what Catholic teaching requires of all of us -- unions, management, bishops and the Catholic community -- and we found significant common ground.
This Working Paper is not a pastoral letter nor formal statement of our Conference. It is the product of a candid and constructive dialogue among leaders of Catholic health care, the labor movement, and the bishops' Conference. It offers a healthy alternative to the often contentious status quo. I want to emphasize that this important effort is not related to any current dispute. It is not a response to the controversies of the moment. Instead, it may be a road map for avoiding future conflict.
I wish to acknowledge several people who helped us reach this point. First of all, Sr. Mary Roch Rocklage, RSM, Chairperson of the Board of the Sisters of Mercy Health System in St. Louis, who brought this idea to the Domestic Policy Committee. Sr. Roch has given her life to Catholic health care. She was convinced that the labor-management status quo diminished all of us. She insisted we had to think and act "outside of the box" of conventional wisdom. Without Sr. Roch this process would not have begun and could not have succeeded.
Fr. Michael Place, President and CEO of the Catholic Heath Association, accepted our invitation to join in this dialogue in which he was both a teacher and an advocate. He knows Catholic social teaching as well as anyone and he has been a strong and articulate advocate for Catholic health care in this process.
Mr. Gerry Shea, Assistant to the President for Government Affairs, AFL-CIO, has spent his career organizing workers and advocating for their interests. He knows both Catholic health care and labor, their challenges and their opportunities. His has sought to build "creative partnerships" where the rights of workers are recognized and protected and where we all work together for affordable and accessible health care for everyone.
Our staff, John Carr, Nancy Wisdo, and Thomas Shellabarger have helped us find the right words to express both the common ground we have found and the differences which remain.
This Working Paper is both an achievement and a continuing challenge. A remarkable group of national leaders and frontline administrators have come to significant agreement on principles and practices that describes a fair and just workplace .
But much work remains. This Working Paper is a tool, not a solution. It is a resource for continued dialogue not a final answer. The organizations represented in this dialogue, the Bishops' Conference, Catholic Health Association, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the AFL-CIO, are committed to taking it back to our own communities for discussion and action.
As just one example, the bishops and leaders of Catholic health care in the Northwest are meeting next week. This Working Paper will be at the center of our agenda. I know that the Catholic Health Association and the AFL-CIO are planning similar convenings.
There are many risks in dialogue. The nay-sayers can always point to what can be lost. But the concern and controversy surrounding Catholic health care and labor have called into question Catholic values, health care ministry, and our commitment to a fair and just workplace. None of us -- Catholic health care, the labor movement, or the Church has been well served by the status quo -- with all of its conflict and contention. It is time to renew our focus on the heart of Catholic health care, the patients we serve and the workers who provide the care. This will require restraint and cooperation, new attitudes and behaviors by all those in our health care ministry -- workers and managers, bishops and consumers.
We are convinced that this Working Paper can be a help and resource in this process. It will not be easy. Many will find shortcomings. Some will have difficulty letting go of their pain from past disputes. But in our hearts we know the status quo diminishes all of us -- Catholic health care, labor, and the Church.
Now is the time for a new commitment to listen to workers, to respect their free choices and to work for affordable, accessible health care for all.