In Labor Day message, US bishops call for emphasis on dignity of the worker

Florida farm laborers protest outside of a Tampa Publix in March, 2011. (Photo: Fritz Meyer)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stressed a properly ordered understanding of work, which prioritizes the worker and the family, in their 2017 statement for Labor Day,

This vision of work must ensure safe working conditions, show solidarity with those in poverty, and seek to emphasize the dignity of the worker rather than solely economic gain, the statement emphasized, Catholic News Agency reported Sept. 4

"Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households, and child poverty," said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development at the U.S. bishops' conference.

He called for legal safeguards to protect workers' rights and defend against exploitation.

He noted that legal protections is incapable of solving all problems when the culture itself must also change, saying such changes must go beyond politics, and aim to recover the understanding of work as "a cooperation with God's creative power."

Despite a growing economy, the bishop expressed concern that there is still a "stagnant or ... decreasing [wage] for the vast majority of people" and that the newly generated wealth is only going to a small percentage of people.

"The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner," said Dewane.

He stressed that, "We continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone," repeating the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in veritate.

That encyclical has also been echoed by Pope Francis, the bishop noted, pointing to the pontiff's challenge "to confront a twisted understanding of the purposes of labor which does not recognize talents as gifts from God."

"With such a mindset, it becomes possible to improperly justify economic and societal injustices," he added, and warned that "merit" can be used to unjustly excuse inequality in the work place.

"The poor person is considered undeserving and therefore to blame. And if poverty is the fault of the poor, the rich are exonerated from doing anything," said the bishop, repeating the words of Pope Francis.

Bishop Dewane said that seeing wealth as the basis for right or wrong, opposes the message of the Gospel and aligns itself to the opinions of Job's friends, who saw Job's misfortune as the result of his sin.

Pope Francis has said that this view contradicts God's "gaze of love" which is best reflected in the parable of the Prodigal Son, whose father "thinks no son deserves the acorns that are for the pigs," even when the son has failed.

However, this potential crisis is also an opportunity to regain the true nature of work, Bishop Dewane said, highlighting the importance of legal protections, unions, and rest.

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