WASHINGTON (CNS) – The American bishops’ pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” turned 35 in November, but some panelists said at a November 22 forum to mark the anniversary of pastoral, its publication seems much older.

“These issues are still with us today – the poverty issues, the unemployment issues, and it has affected the black community and the immigrant community in a very important way,” said Jesuit Father David Hollenbach, who has served as a consultant. with a committee of bishops responsible for drafting the letter.

It remains to be resolved, he added, “the problems facing working class workers in the United States today.”

“The last 35 years have been dominated, unfortunately, by anti-labor legislation in the United States,” said Meghan Clark, professor of theology at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, and herself a fellow of ‘a union, during the forum.

“Birthdays come and go, and we don’t see a lot of official attention in the United States from the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops),” Clark said. One exception, she noted, was a joint document with the Catholic Health Association on the rights and responsibilities of union members and employers in Catholic health facilities.

What plagues Clark, she said, are the burdens placed on “domestic workers, farm workers, caregivers and so many others whose experiences have been brought to light by the pandemic and still have no place at the table ”.

“The effort of the bishops (in crafting ‘economic justice for all’) has been immense, but given their content, I think more voices of people who have been directly affected need to participate in conversations like this one, ”said panelist Roxana Bendezú, executive director of Migrant Roots Media and program director at Pax Christi USA. “The people directly affected should be those who write the analyzes for dissemination. “

In five parts, “Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the American Economy” examined the Church’s view of economic life, beginning with a discussion of Christian principles and their role. in economic matters. He presented proposals for employment, poverty, food and agriculture and international development; described a “New American Experience” and a “Partnership for the Common Good”.

Father Hollenbach detailed the preparatory work by writing the pastoral – which was originally intended to be a declaration on capitalism, as the American bishops had recently approved a declaration on Marxism.

Two of the concerns expressed by the bishops on the committee were that the Reagan administration “embraces a very strongly free market” but “doesn’t care much about unemployment.” The unemployment rate in the United States was very high, ”said Father Hollenbach. They decided to focus on poverty and unemployment, later adding agriculture.

The consultation was extended from unions to Catholic conservatives Michael Novak and former Treasury Secretary William Simon – who wrote their own statement, “Towards the Future”, expressing their objections to a first published draft of pastoral ministry in 1984. Father Hollenbach said the first draft appeared as the first New York Times front page article the next day.

“There was an important meeting where they met a group of Latin American bishops. They were concerned – and this was raised by the bishops of Latin America – about the impact of the economy on the developing world, including Latin America, ”he said.

“Economic justice for all” was “the document of the bishops, not the document of those of us who served on staff,” said Father Hollenbach. “Consultants would prepare documents and the bishops would sit down to tear it up and rewrite it. “

“The meaning of the term ‘justice’, of course, is much debated,” going back as far as Plato, ”he added.“ Justice is a very complex idea and it has been much contested by Western thought and world. ”But what the bishops chose for the pastoral letter was“ a strongly social orientation towards what justice means ”.

Father Hollenbach said the bishops are “very firm in supporting the labor movement in their document.” He defines work as “an expression of my dignity, but it also allows me to acquire the resources” to participate fully in the economy. “Economic justice for all” also contained an “option for the poor,” he added. “It’s about meeting the needs of those who are left behind or excluded so as to help them become poor.”

Clark traced the development of Catholic social education since the publication of the pastoral.

“Shortly before ‘Economic justice for all’, (St.) John Paul (II) published ‘Laborem Exercens’ (‘By work’) trying to show more of a theology of work,” he said. she declared.

“What is often overlooked because it is situated between two giant impacts, between John Paul II and (Pope) Francis”, she said, is the encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI of 2009 ” Caritas in Veritate ”(“ Charity in truth ”). He “has a lot to say about economic justice and work”, she added, in particular as regards “exclusion and marginalization, and in particular the right to organize”.

Clark said: “Benedict XVI spoke about this attack on the right of workers to organize in ‘Caritas in Veritiate’. … The root of the problem for Benedict is that work is not valued in a meaningful way. “

Pope Francis met with the Italian unions in 2017, Clark said, and told them: “There is no great society without a great union. The current pope also addressed the International Labor Organization, to which he “decried the lack of benefits” granted to workers, she added. “He said once again that workers have the fundamental right to organize. “

Bendezú urged to “go back to the roots”. In her own remarks, she went as far as Pope Nicholas V, who she said granted the Portuguese a monopoly on trade with Africa – and allowed Africans to be slaved.

“Who are the initially displaced people? Bendezú asked. “Look at the people who are suffering the consequences right now. “

Bendezú cited his own Andean ancestry, saying his ancestors believed that the “imposition” of Catholicism “was a matter of life and death, right?” Either accept it or die.

She added, “The only way to move forward is to recognize that what these people brought was not Christianity. … This was not the story of Jesus. I reject this.

Rather, she said she is embracing “the Jesus who was a refugee, the Jesus who came from what we would now call a working class family, who kicked the moneylenders out of the temple.”

A new “economic justice for all” is not likely to happen anytime soon, Father Hollenbach said. “These documents made Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger (then head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later Pope Benedict XVI) very nervous.

“He was very worried that the American bishops and Brazilian bishops were speaking out on their own too much and not just following the Vatican’s lead. He thought it was a movement to decentralize the church.

To remedy this, “the people who were appointed bishops have changed dramatically,” he said – a change already underway at the time of writing the pastoral.

In addition, he said, Cardinal Ratzinger “removed the power of the bishops” as a conference to publish an educational document. In 1983, the cardinal issued a statement saying that episcopal conferences themselves did not have the “mandateum docendi,” or teaching authority, to issue such a document.

The anniversary of “Economic Justice for All” also gave panelists the opportunity to comment on recent Church news.

Without naming him, two panelists criticized the remarks on the “awakened” movements of Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, made earlier in November in a videotaped speech at a conference Catholic in Madrid.

The Archbishop spoke of “the rise of new ideologies and secular movements for social change in the United States and their implications for the Catholic Church”.

Without mentioning any particular group, he said the church must proclaim Jesus Christ “boldly” and “creatively” in the face of new secular movements that promote “social justice”, “awakening” and “awakening”. intersectionality ”, among other beliefs, as the answer to all the ills of society.

“Let’s get the elephant out of the room,” panelist Bendezú said. “Having leaders who speak out against the movements, the Black Lives Matter movement, ‘woke people up’ whatever the term is these days, instead of walking with us on the streets, instead of organizing in spaces like this, instead of really coming to support what people are doing on the ground. Instead, in Europe, they speak out against it. It’s so embarrassing, honestly.

“It is in direct contradiction to what the pastoral work of ‘Economic Justice for All’ represents,” said Father Hollenbach. “Not just a deviation, but a contradiction. It is a very unfortunate speech.