Catholic teaching, in contrast, has stood behind living wages and the right of all workers to organize since at least 1891, when Pope Leo XIII released the encyclical Rerum novarum. Catholic University itself also holds a special place in the struggle for workers’ rights. Msgr. John Ryan, who became a key advisor in helping President Franklin D. Roosevelt shape New Deal social reforms, wrote his doctoral dissertation at the university, and his seminal book, A Living Wage, applied the principles of Rerum novarum to the practical matters of work and family life.
Busch is an ambitious political player. Last spring, the Napa Institute hosted a $1,250-a-ticket meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington billed as an exclusive gathering of “Catholic leaders, clergy, and important D.C. insiders.” At that event, there wasn’t any mention of the Kochs’ well-funded attacks on public-sector unions or the GOP’s efforts to pass right-to-work legislation that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly opposes. Instead, Busch consistently praised the Trump administration as the most “pro-life” presidency in history.
While in recent years there has been a rekindling of old ties between the Catholic Church and the labor movement, only one local labor leader appears on the Principled Entrepreneurship agenda this week. David Hendrick, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2463, which represents Smithsonian Institution employees, is a former business owner and self-described conservative. “The time has come for the unions to stop their expansive and failed policy of being the rich uncle for the Democratic party,” Hendrick wrote in June. “Quit allowing others to put our face on the milk cartons of government waste.” Carly Fiorina, scheduled to speak on “work and spirituality,” has blamed “unions” and “government bureaucracies” for the pay gap between men and women.
Another conference speaker, Jay Richards, an assistant professor at the business school who goes by the handle “Free-Market Jay” on Twitter, has warned that “socialism is a perennial temptation” and touts what he calls “economic freedom” as the moral option for Christians. During a 2016 lecture at the Acton Institute, a free-market advocacy group led by the Catholic priest Rev. Robert Sirico, Richards scoffed at the Paris climate accords, questioned the impact of global warming, and maligned mainstream efforts to address climate change. Carbon dioxide has “very positive effects on the atmosphere,” he said: “the nature of Big Science leads to groupthink. There are no global policies to date that make any sense at all.” Given the priority Pope Francis has placed on the need to tackle climate change, and his critique of free-market fundamentalism as an ideology that often puts the profits of multinational corporations before environmental stewardship, it seemed an odd message from a professor at a Catholic university. Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, the national crafts store chain, and founder of the recently opened Museum of the Bible—a 430,000-square-foot building in downtown Washington where some conference sessions are being hosted—is speaking about the Bible as a “Guide for Work.” Hobby Lobby won a controversial U.S. Supreme Court case in 2014, which found the $4 billion company did not have to provide contraception coverage to its 32,000 workers. While lauded by some conservatives as a win for religious liberty, the decision also represented a victory for corporations at a time when the gap between worker pay and CEO wealth is at Gilded-Age levels. Conference speaker Arthur Brooks has carved out a reputation in some circles as a “compassionate conservative,” a go-to intellectual on the right. A convert to Catholicism, he is also comfortable in the hardball political culture that the Koch brothers have cultivated at exclusive, invitation-only events held in luxury locales, where movement-building strategy sessions and networking are paired. In a leaked agenda from a 2010 Koch conference, Brooks is listed as speaking on the topic, “Winning the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government.” In teaser language to his address, the program warns that “freedom is under relentless attack,” and describes free enterprise as “more than an economic system—it is a moral imperative, and we must defend it at all costs.” This messianic faith in the free market and knee-jerk hostility to nearly any governmental efforts to reign in the worst excesses of capitalism is anathema to traditional Catholic teaching on striking a proper balance between the market and the state.
Catholic University President John Garvey and Provost Andrew Abela penned a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed defending their decision to accept money from the Kochs, writing that they "won't cave to demands made by the liberal social-justice movement." Garvey and Abela say they welcome "constructive criticism" but argue "it would be a mistake to stifle debate by pretending that genuinely controversial positions are official church teaching." Abela, a former dean of the business school, is not slated to speak at the conference but has been a key player in courting big conservative donors, according to faculty. In a 2013 interview with Catholic News Service, amid criticism of the Koch donations, Abela strangely argued that “Catholic social teaching says nothing specifically about the issue of public sector unions.” Perhaps that was the voice of the Koch brothers whispering in his ear. The Koch network has poured considerable money into fighting public-sector unions in states like Wisconsin, not to mention into anti-democratic efforts to suppress voting rights. Abela might want to check in with Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. In a 2015 speech at Plumbers Union Hall, the cardinal noted the Church has “never made a distinction between private and public sector unions.” A “consistent ethic of solidarity,” the cardinal said, situates the Church’s respect for unions in the continuum of human dignity that includes “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, protecting the unborn, caring for the sick, and welcoming immigrants.”