D.C. Cardinal Wuerl To AFL-CIO: Catholic Social Teaching ‘Explicitly Recognizes Organized Labor As Instruments of Solidarity and Justice’

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, speaks during the announcement of the winning design for the furnishings for Papal Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during Pope Francis' visit, on display at Catholic University's Miller Exhibition Hall in Washington, DC, June 2, 2015.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

At an address delivered at AFL-CIO headquarters, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. announced that organized labor is recognized by the Catholic Church as one of the “instruments of solidarity and justice,” and that such solidarity should not be taken for granted or denied.

During the conference, titled “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity and Faith,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said the Church was in the midst of a “renewal of appreciation of this long-standing teaching on social justice” as expressed in the New Evangelization. “Catholic social teaching,” he said, “is based on our recognition in faith that all of us belong to one human family.”

Quoting Pope Francis, Wuerl added that solidarity is based in charity and, thus, commitment to the common good, and is “expressed in works of generosity, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Wuerl echoed Pope Francis’ concern that the word “solidarity” has drawn hostility in our culture. The cardinal named relativism, secularism and materialism as “challenges” in our culture, and included among those challenges “individualism,” which, he said, “can center on the self and lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards each other.”

“Everything we do, everything we have materially, is dependent upon the assistance of others,” said Wuerl in a statement that seemed to channel Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in — none of this would be possible without a whole legion of people working to make it so.”

The cardinal added that Pope Francis said, “the culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not, I repeat, not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world…”

Relating the concept of solidarity to labor, Wuerl said that associations of workers are important “because they allow us not only to ‘do more’ or ‘have more’ but to ‘be more’ … more a person with God–given dignity, more a provider for a family, more a contributor to the common good, more a flourishing child of God.”

Wuerl also related his talk about solidarity to Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment, and the importance to be “inclusive in our outreach to all people, to demonstrate the commitment to protect the environment and our respect for all human life.” He said the Pope’s new teaching demonstrates “how much we are interconnected and interdependent.”

On the occasion of Wuerl’s address to the AFL-CIO, Elizabeth Dias at Time observes that Big Labor hopes to “get a bump” from the anticipated visit of Pope Francis in the fall.

Dias writes:

Wuerl and [AFL-CIO president Richard] Trumka are less odd couple than one might think. Both are Catholic, both are in “exile from western Pennsylvania,” as Trumka put it, and both make it a priority to advocate for workers who are poor and immigrants. Both are also hoping that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. in September will be an opportunity to build momentum toward around [sic] supporting workers and immigrants. “Just the fact that he is coming here, not even that he has arrived yet, has brought renewed hope to the people all through the labor movement,” Trumka said later at a small press conference about the event. “He is coming here in a moment of renewal,” Wuerl added. “His focus will be to energize the faithful and through that, give new hope to the whole community.”

Dias notes the AFL-CIO conference was the first in years that featured prominent Catholic leaders.

“Monday’s event stressed a shared theological and moral foundation for protecting and supporting laborers, and Wuerl’s and Trumka’s language was at times interchangeable,” she writes.

“That phrase – raising wages – expresses a moral vision,” said Trumka, “because when we fight for a living wage, for earned sick days and paid family leave, we are not just seeking economic gains. We are seeking the material foundations of a good life that makes it possible for us to care for each other, for families to raise children and care for the elderly and for us to be part of the faith life of our community.”

Dias points to other signs that Big Labor will take advantage of the visit to the United States by Pope Francis. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) visited the Vatican last week to lobby the Pope to speak about race relations, income inequality and immigration when he visits.

In preparation for the Pope’s arrival in the U.S., Big Labor and liberal faith groups are working jointly to draw attention to issues such as the environment, civil rights, amnesty and inequality, according to AFL-CIO press secretary Gonzalo Salvador.

As Trumka said, “The American labor movement is at the disposal of the Pope. We will do anything that he needs to be done to make his visit a total success.”