National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 9, 2007


Sisters and the union

As an employee at California’s St. Jude Hospital, I want to thank columnist Rosemary Ruether for her insightful analysis on the antiunion actions of St. Joseph Health System (NCR, Oct. 12). Ms. Ruether recognized that the hospital administration’s antiunion position could not be hidden beneath their carefully worded statements.

I would like to take issue with one statement made by CEO Deborah Proctor, who claims that mistakes made by management before she started in 2005 have been “overcome.” If that were the case, then why are hospital employees with excellent performance records being fired and threatened with termination?

This seems to be happening shortly after employees become involved with union organizing. Why has hospital security descended en mass on pro-union workers? I was targeted for handing out our newsletters, an activity protected by the Constitution. Why do my coworkers ask me in a fearful and hushed tone away from any listening ears about the progress of our organizing campaign? The answer could only be that the hospital has created a climate of fear.

The system’s actions speak louder than its words. Those actions could speak a very positive message, being doers of the values not just speaking of the values. Agree to fair ground rules for a union election. That is what we are all waiting for.

Brea, Calif.

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There is a wide chasm between the reality in the St. Joseph Health System hospitals and what Deborah Proctor, Sr. Katherine Gray and the rest of the system’s administrators believe. They believe they are not antiunion but their behavior shows otherwise. They believe that a fair election agreement with workers who want a union would somehow “limit” their employees’ freedom of choice, when in reality the stifling atmosphere in their own hospitals has already done that far more effectively than any mutually negotiated agreement ever could. In short, they believe everything in their hospitals is going just fine and they are unaware just how out of touch with reality that vision really is. I hope that the NCR article will help them come to terms with what’s really happening at the St. Joseph Health System and encourage them work with those of us on the frontlines to come to a workable solution.

Orange, Calif.

* * *

Rosemary Ruether’s description of the antiunion behavior of the St. Joseph Health System in her article “The Sisters, the Workers and the Union” is way too familiar. When I first started Interfaith Worker Justice 11 years ago, I thought religious hospitals and nursing homes that hired union-busting law firms and aggressively fought unions just didn’t understand the impact their actions had on workers. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Most understand exactly what they are doing, despite their actions being in direct conflict with their faith body’s teachings about workers’ rights to organize.

Although we should all continue to challenge religious institutions to live up to their teachings, the best solution to this union-busting behavior throughout the society would be for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This groundbreaking legislation would allow workers to choose to be represented by a union through a simple card-check recognition process, strengthen fines against employers who bust unions and ensure that workers who choose to be represented by a union are able to get a first contract. Unions, like the church, aren’t perfect institutions, but they are the best antipoverty vehicle available for low-wage workers.



Interestingly, University of St. Thomas President Dennis Dease now extends an invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on campus and authorizes a forum to be cosponsored by the local Israel-advocacy group, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas ( NCR, Oct. 19). The mission of the council is alien to justice, self-determination and equal rights in the Holy Land as enshrined in the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions. As a result, and given the inflated definition of “anti-Semitism” that now includes “opposition to Zionism” and “sympathy with the opponents of Israel,” how is it possible to advocate on behalf of the dehumanized Palestinians without incurring the slur of anti-Semitism? Recall that President Dease wishes to avoid “lurching from controversy to controversy.”

The issue now becomes who, at the forum, will truthfully present the climate of suffering and humiliation endured by the Palestinian people without frustrating President Dease’s wish not to lurch into the “controversy.” Will President Dease find Palestinian spokespersons who will not offend members of the Jewish Israeli advocacy community so that he can look forward to a reasoned debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

St. Paul, Minn.


The definition of mysticism by Fr. Gilbert Padilla in his letter to the editor regarding Mother Teresa (NCR, Oct. 12) struck me as chilling. Father’s call to the priesthood was a mystical experience and included strong feeling. The apostles at the Transfiguration had a mystical experience involving strong human feeling. “It is good for us,” exclaimed St. Peter. All union with God has a physical impact, a heart dimension. Mysticism cannot be divorced from our humanity. While alive, a person is not a union of body and soul but a unity. Prayer and good deeds are inseparably both physical and spiritual. We are not angels.

Riviera Beach, Fla.

Artificial feeding

Regarding the new Vatican rules on artificial feeding (NCR, Oct. 5): I never imagined the Vatican would determine the right to life on an economic basis, that those in a vegetative state with money must live but the poor can die. What about the poor who can’t afford dialysis, chemotherapy or life-giving surgery, all realities among the people I lived with in El Salvador? Is there no ethical guideline the Vatican can offer on behalf of their lives? I have a suggestion. Let’s work to make the right to a life of meaning a possibility for all and not focus on the costly extremes of care for a few. God doesn’t value one life over another.

College Park , Md.

Natural law

I agonize over our need to forge a global community in light of religious divisiveness. Just the “Briefs” (NCR, Oct. 12) are enough to drive me to despair. To the good, the Vatican is preparing a document on natural law. In my opinion, it is indeed our best hope for global consensus. But we must get the “natures” right. Only evidence-based science suffices, not esoteric “revelation” or long-standing in-house policy. Take human sexuality, for example. It’s more about emotional bonding and interpersonal (that is, spiritual) commitment than about the merely biological barnyard-like production of offspring. Therefore, by appeal to the true nature of human sexuality, let’s stop obsessing over contraception and let Catholic institutions freely and sanely offer contraceptive coverage in their heath plans.

Or take prenatal development. It is ludicrous to think that a fertilized ovum, an embryo, or even a fetus before at least 20 weeks (probably 25) is a person in any reasonable sense of the term. Therefore, by appeal to the true nature of human development -- and the long-standing Catholic moral principle of “sufficient reason” -- let the Connecticut Catholic Conference provide emergency contraception (Plan B) to rape victims.

The Vatican squanders the most powerful ethical position on the planet, more concerned about preserving its quaint, mythic power than fostering peace on Earth.


Dutch Dominicans

Bravo to the Dutch Dominicans (NCR, Oct. 12). Their solution to the priest shortage resonates with me as a true expression of the heart of the spirit of Jesus moving within and among us. How timely that this news appears in the same issue as a review of David Richo’s book on the Sacred Heart of the World. In the Dominicans’ view, the people of God are restored to our rightful place -- at the heart of the Eucharist -- and not limited by heady, restrictive directives from Rome. We are hungry for the spiritual nourishment of breaking bread and sharing the cup and celebrating Jesus in our midst. The Spirit is here, now, and does not need to wait for permission from Rome to inspire and empower us to gather together for spiritual nourishment. I hope this wonderfully bold message from the Dominicans will inspire more of the people of God to take action to fill our own spiritual hunger.

I spent my childhood in a Dominican parish and elementary school. It warms my heart to again perceive God as love through them.

Cupertino, Calif.

Married sex abusers

On Oct. 20, The Associated Press sent out a startling report, titled “Sexual misconduct plagues U.S. schools.” It was soon picked up by newspapers and the Internet. “There’s a dirty little secret lurking in America’s schools: sexually abusive teachers who prey on the very students they’re supposed to be nurturing,” the report said. I figured these teachers must all be celibates and celibacy was making these teachers suppress their sexual drives, forcing them into sexually abusing children. After all, the practice of priestly celibacy had been the explanation usually given for the phenomenon of clergy sexual abuse that occurred a few years ago, for which the Catholic church has already paid out $2 billion. It was the mantra repeated by readers and columnists of NCR, saying in effect: “Get rid of priestly celibacy and let Catholic priests get married and have a normal sex life like everybody else. This will end clergy sexual abuse once and for all.”

“The accused are overwhelmingly male, often popular, recognized for excellence,” reports the article. “Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there’s been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.” The AP investigation “found a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse.” So the overwhelming number of public school predators are married men, not celibates. Will NCR and its readers finally stop lobbying for the abolition of priestly celibacy on the specious argument that the practice of celibacy is repressive?


What Ahmadinejad said

Regarding the editorial “Tutu, Israel and open debate” (NCR, Oct. 19): I’m glad to see that someone read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 2002 speech. Would that someone had researched Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 speech. He did not call for Israel to be wiped out. Juan Cole, University of Michigan professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history, said that Ahmadinejad’s statement should be translated as: The Imam said that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must [vanish from] the page of time.” In the speech, Ahmadinejad gave Iran under the shah, the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq as examples of apparently invincible regimes that ceased to exist.

St. Paul, Minn.

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National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2007