Catch XXII | Bleader

Catch XXII

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A paradox is a terrible thing to waste.

The problem at St. Xavier University, as laid out by the Tribune Thursday, is that it's Catholic but not Catholic enough. Its administrators, explains reporter Manya Brachear, "insist that the school should be spared from attempts by the National Labor Relations Board to help adjunct faculty organize a union and push for a collective bargaining agreement to combat low wages and seek more stability on the job. But in a recent bold ruling, an NLRB official determined that the university doesn't meet the criteria to qualify for religious immunity."

Said the president of the university, Christine Wiseman, "They're using a test that not even the bishops use to determine whether or not we are Catholic — and they are finding us wanting under their own test. Well, who are they to determine our Catholic identity?"

The underlying issue here is whether NLRB interference violates the constitutional doctrine calling for the separation of church and state. Wiseman isn't to blame for the fact that the Catholic Church invokes that doctrine less persuasively these days, after so many years of raising it as a shield against inquisitive prosecutors. Brachear explains that the NLRB measures schools claiming religious protection against five standards — and St. Xavier doesn't meet them. Its articles of incorporation don't mention religion. Its teachers don't have to be Catholic. The Church doesn't underwrite it. Etcetera.

What's more:

Some say the university's opposition to a union for adjuncts further illustrates how far the school has deviated from the Catholic Church, which historically has supported workers' rights. They point to half a dozen papal encyclicals issued since 1891 that extol organized efforts to uphold workers' rights.

"If you want to exhibit Catholic identity, upholding the papal encyclicals on labor is a great place to start," said Clayton Sinyai of the Catholic Labor Network in Washington. "If you want to make a case that you're thinking like a secular institution, then ignoring Catholic social teaching on labor is a point of evidence, it would seem to me."

Brachear didn't pause to savor the paradox. We should. Poor Wiseman. If she gives the NLRB what it wants she shows that it can't tell her what to do. If she doesn't, she shows it can.

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