Bishop's comments at centre of IR tug-of-war

Reacting to a statement by Parramatta Bishop Kevin Manning who said that the Workchoices legislation violates Catholic social teaching on the option for the poor, Prime Minister John Howard said that even a Catholic bishop does not speak for all Catholics.

The Age reports that the Prime Minister made the comments in the midst of a Federal parliament battle over Workchoices in which the Labor Party highlighted Bishop Manning's comment that the industrial relations shake-up violated Catholic teachings.

"WorkChoices violates Catholic social teaching on the option for the poor and, indeed, any reasonable notion of a fair go," Bishop Manning told a WorkChoices seminar staged by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations in Sydney last week.

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith seized on the comments, reported in this week's Catholic Weekly, calling on Prime Minister John Howard to respond.

Mr Howard said he had not read the article but said he was unsurprised by Bishop Manning's comments.

"I'm not surprised that Bishop Manning should have made those comments, I think over the years Bishop Manning has been, on a number of issues, quite critical of the government's policies," Mr Howard said.

"But even a Catholic bishop does not speak for all Catholics in this country."

Mr Howard went on to attack Labor for trying to claim the correct viewpoint for Catholics was to be oppose WorkChoices.

"My advice to people on this side of the house, if we are to have a sensible debate on the merits of this legislation, let's leave out invocations to the clergy out of the argument."

In spirited criticism of the new legislation, Bishop Manning said that the Work Choices legislation is "manifestly unjust" and unfair and the Government has "failed in its duty to promote the common good".

According to the Catholic Weekly, he also said they breach the conventions of the International Labour Organisation and the social teaching of the Church.

The Bishop said employees cannot be treated as commodities and that in Catholic thinking, people are not valued according to their work, but rather work is valued because it is the free act of a human person.

He said the great injustice of WorkChoices legislation is that it "obliterates the principal instrument of collective action which is collective bargaining."

"The right of workers to act collectively is central to Catholic social teaching. It was stated explicitly in [the encyclical] Rerum Novarum," said the Bishop.

This is not the first time Mr Howard has lashed out at selected bishops over Government policies. In 2003, Howard similarly dismissed Bishop Pat Power's concerns over the Government's involvement in the Iraq war but endorsed other clerics who agreed with his position.

In a recent speech on WorkChoices in Brisbane, Jesuit lawyer Fr Frank Brennan has dubbed the practice "cherry picking of bishops."

Govt accuses unions of false IR ads (The Age 8/8/06)
Bishop brands IR laws unjust, unfair (Catholic Weekly 6/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Bishop's Letters

Families biggest losers under Workchoices, say clerics (CathNews 30/6/06)
Bishop Manning briefs police on new workplace moral conundrum (CathNews 24/5/06)
Brennan foreshadows lower minimum wage (CathNews 2/5/06)
St Joseph the Worker call to listen to threatened workers (CathNews 1/5/06)
Employment body echoes concern on minimum wage (CathNews 27/3/06)

WA dispute shapes as IR test case (ABC Online News 8/8/06)

9 Aug 2006