In a column called "Clarifying the Fairness Issue," Madison bishop Robert Morlino fails to offer clarity on the controversy surrounding Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill. Morlino's essay, published in the Diocese of Madison's Catholic Herald, lacks the directness of Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki's Feb. 16 statement (PDF) addressed to the Wisconsin legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
Referring to Gov. Walker's attempt to weaken the rights of public employees, Listecki bluntly argued that "hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers." While acknowledging that unions must make sacrifices for the common good, Listecki insisted that it is "a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth." He takes a neutral stance, but his assertion of union rights resonates powerfully.
By contrast, it's difficult to follow Bishop Morlino's reasoning as he aims to "point out how a well-informed conscience might work through the dilemma which the situation poses."
Part of the problem is that Morlino obsesses on whether "the sacrifice which union members, including school teachers, are called upon to make, [is] proportionate to the relative sacrifice called for from all in difficult economic times." But the question of "sacrifice" is off target, as public employees have already signaled their willingness to accept Gov. Walker's increases in their pension and benefits payments.
In reality, the sticking point is Walker's call for an end to most collective bargaining rights for public employees. And in this clash between unions and the state's Republicans, the issue of "sacrifice" is irrelevant.
Morlino's statement veers further off track by lamenting that "there appears to be no common ground in terms of what the word 'fair' actually means among various individuals" - a result, he believes, of the "dictatorship" of cultural relativism.
But in what universe would everyone agree on the meaning of "fair"? If such a place existed, it would have no need of courts or political parties.
"This, then, is a moment in our state and in our nation when the terrible effects of relativism on a culture are being blatantly displayed," Morlino thunders. It's a statement likely to leave both sides in the budget-bill debate scratching their heads.