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New 'Social Contract' Needed, Bishop Says
By
Mark Pattison
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, September 6, 2010
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—A new "social contract" is needed in today's economy, said Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in the U.S. bishops' annual Labor Day statement.

"Currently, the rewards and 'security' that employers and society offer workers in return for an honest day's work do not reflect the global economy of the 21st century in which American workers are now trying to compete," said Bishop Murphy, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The statement, "A New 'Social Contract' for Today's 'New Things,'" was issued Aug. 23. The title is a reference to Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum," which in English means "Of New Things." The encyclical ushered in the era of Catholic social teaching.

Pope Leo, according to Bishop Murphy, "insisted on the value and dignity of the worker as a human being endowed with rights and responsibilities. He commended free association or unions as legitimate and he insisted on a family wage that corresponded to the needs of the worker and family."

The "new things" in Pope Leo's time included the ideological split between "collectivist organization with much governmental control" and the notion that "those who owned the means of production should be free to develop markets with the most able, or ruthless, rising to prominence and wealth," Bishop Murphy said, "Neither option seemed morally correct to the pope."

Today's "new things," the bishop added, can be traced to Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"). "One of the principal 'new things' addressed by Pope Benedict is globalization," he said.

"More than ever, the dignity of the worker is a foundation upon which we should measure much of what is good, and not so good, in the financial, industrial and service sectors of our economy and our world."

Bishop Murphy said, "Like Pope Paul VI before him, Pope Benedict uses the centrality of integral human development as one of the basic criteria to address the challenges of an interdependent world. Here the economic realities of one nation or one society are constantly being influenced by some or all of the economies and cultures of the rest of the world."

He quoted from "Caritas in Veritate": "I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity." The encyclical itself italicized for emphasis the entire second half of the sentence, beginning with "primary capital."

"Could a reawakening and new development of the roles of intermediary institutions, including voluntary associations and unions, be a force to call the market to a greater understanding of the centrality of the worker?" Bishop Murphy asked. "Could they be a means to restrain, mediate or hold accountable both the state and the marketplace? Could their voices help create greater economic and social justice, a more mutually respectful and collaborative stance by all the actors toward the economy, work and wealth creation around the world?

"Pope Benedict believes this," Bishop Murphy said.

"For the worker without employment, a job is the major issue," the bishop noted. "But jobs are not individual 'things' whose worth can be measured by numbers. Jobs are the result of initiatives creating markets that offer new opportunities in response to new challenges. These are not limited to our economy in isolation from others."

Bishop Murphy, in the statement, mourned the deaths of the 29 miners in a West Virginia mine explosion this past spring and of 11 workers in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that resulted in the months-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He also mourned persistent U.S. joblessness—15 million unemployed and 11 million able to find only part-time work—as "a pervasive failure of our economy."

Bishop Murphy castigated employers who cheat workers of their rightful wages. "National reports tell of factory workers whose time begins with the start of the conveyor belt not their arrival; of retail workers who are 'clocked out' and then required to restock or take inventory; and wait staff whose employers do not give them their tips," he said.

"Families struggling to make ends meet cannot have wage earners shortchanged on overtime or not get paid for all the hours they work," he added. "The dignity of the person is diminished when poor or middle-class people are denied their full wage or just compensation for their hard work."


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