A Catholic bishop near the center of a hotly contested Supreme Court case over mandatory union fees rebuked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for filing a brief at the high court supporting a pro-choice labor organization.
The comments could undermine the force and authority of future USCCB filings at the high court.
The USCCB filed an amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) brief in Janus v. AFSCME, which asks the justices to decide whether public sector unions may charge non-members a compulsory fee for certain benefits like collective bargaining and dispute resolution. The Conference urged the Court to maintain the mandatory fees, arguing they are essential for economic justice.
The AFSCME is the largest public sector union in the country. It also has a long history of support for abortion rights, which is at odds with the Catholic Church’s pro-life commitments.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., the city where the Janus case originates, issued a statement indicating that he disagrees with the position the USCCB takes in the brief. He also said the brief does not reflect the official position of American church leaders, as the full conference of bishops never voted to adopt the views the brief embraces.
“In fact, no vote was taken on whether to file such a brief,” Paprocki said. “While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will.”
Since the USCCB periodically files amicus briefs in the Supreme Court, Paprocki’s comments suggest their filings may not always reflect the views of the American bishops, which would seem to compromise their potency. Some commentators have suggested the prelates should not delegate “to unsupervised or poorly supervised staffers the authority to speak on their behalf,” while others insist the brief fits comfortably into the long patrimony of Catholic teaching supporting organized labor.
The Court will hear arguments in Janus on Feb. 26.
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