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The bishop and the strike.

When Calgary's Catholic bishop refused to speak to the Calgary Herald after the paper's journalists went on strike, I assumed he just misunderstood the situation.

Even when Bishop Fred Henry's stance aligned him with icons of Canada's anti-faith, anti-Catholic, pro-abortion establishment such as Margaret Atwood and June Callwood, I believed he was simply erring on the diplomatic side of moral neutrality.

Wrong. On both counts.

"I admit that 'not talking' is not a neutral stance, it wasn't intended to be-it's a low level protest," Bishop Henry wrote to Herald journalist Joe Woodard a month after the strike began.

Bishop Henry said he found Herald management's approach "morally problematic" and "an abuse of power"- even though the union abandoned negotiations and tried to shut the paper down Nov. 8. (Had it succeeded, 450 non-union, non-journalistic jobs would have been threatened.)

"I'm also acutely aware of my responsibility re. proclaiming the gospel (sic), which might even call for an escalation of the approach," Bishop Henry added.

The Bishop seemed blissfully unaware of the irony of his last sentence. The letter was prompted by Woodard calling him to comment in his pastoral role on an address the Holy Father gave at an ecumenical gathering.

How the Bishop of Calgary fulfills his Gospel responsibilities by refusing to speak to one of Western Canada's largest newspapers about the Bishop of Rome's teachings is something only a bishop could understand.

It gets worse. Or at least it could get a lot more awkward for Bishop Henry as the strike drags toward its fourth month.

In early March, the Calgary Herald will co-sponsor a major Jubilee 2000 conference on Catholic education in Western Canada. Cardinal Mahoney, of Los Angeles, is scheduled to be the key note speaker. The Herald has run advertisements for the conference, is working with the Calgary Catholic School Board to stage it, and plans a special supplement celebrating Catholic education.

Charity beginning at home, it would seem unimaginably uncharitable for the Bishop of Calgary to snub a sponsor of a Catholic educational conference in his own city. But then, it defies imagining that the Bishop of Calgary would cast his lot with the likes of Margaret Atwood and June Callwood. Atwood is a living repudiation of almost everything the Church teaches. Callwood has always made much of her Catholic upbringing in explaining her vehement support for abortion, homosexual rights, etc.

True, Bishop Henry did not actually walk the picket line in front of the Herald building as Atwood, Callwood and other carpet bagging liberal literati did when they were in Calgary during November for a lavish arts fund-raising dinner.

"He just refuses to give an interview to the Herald for the duration of our labor troubles," Woodard told me after getting voice mail from the bishop. The silence of the prelate pricked my curiosity to say the least. From the moment he stepped foot in Calgary, Bishop Henry has proven unafraid of controversy.

He was literally picking up his luggage from the carousel at the airport when he gave a take-no-prisoners media interview sharply criticizing the Klein government's reliance on video lottery terminal gambling.

Within days of that, he had waded into a labour dispute between the Calgary Catholic School Board and its unionized caretakers-on the side of the oppressed janitors, of course. Some say his intervention actually prolonged the work stoppage, and cost the caretakers a paycheque or two. Bishop Henry also had stern public words last summer for the tactics of both sides when the Catholic board and its teachers were on the verge of a strike.

In fairness, while his manner some-times seems clumsy, no one can fault the bishop for failing to put "Jesus Christ... at the heart" of public life, particularly in Catholic schools. I have nothing but admiration for someone so willing to use his institutional influence to directly and unequivocally fight for the place of the faith in the public square.

Yet even that raises an irony about which the bishop seems blissfully oblivious.

Until roughly four years ago, the Calgary Herald was a corner of the public square from which the Faith was gleefully banished. When I joined the Herald, it was just grudgingly beginning to grant that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, might be treated without open hostility. In the years since, we have successfully fought to gain welcome for faith issues in the news and opinion sections of the paper, and not just on the designated religion page.

Among the most obdurate foes of that opening to faith were a large number of those who went on strike against the Herald--the very people to whom Bishop Henry gives deliberate support by refusing to speak to the Herald.

Again in fairness to the bishop, he is not alone. Terry Downey, president of fledgling St. Mary's College--Calgary's only Catholic liberal arts post-secondary school--has also refused to speak to those Herald journalists who defied the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers' Union and exercised their democratic right to go to work.

This raises a question as to why so many Catholics persistently fail to recognize their true friends at critical moments. A deeper question is how a truly disreputable outfit such as the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers' Union can hold enough sway over the public imagination to influence even highly intelligent people such as the Bishop of Calgary and the president of a new, modern Catholic college.

The closest I've come to an answer is that the union gets the edge on the basis of pure, unadulterated sentimentality. The image of a strike as an uneven battle between honest workin' folk and rapacious corporate blackguards is enmeshed in the North American psyche. The instant "the workers" walk out the door, they're presumed wronged until the company hollers "uncle" and folds.

Certainly, in the case of the Herald strike, nothing could be further from the truth. I don't say that from any ideological antipathy. I believe in unions. Vulnerable people need bargaining agents to act for them. As Pope Leo XIII said in the great encyclical, Rerum novarum, workers must not be forced to accept wages and conditions "against which justice cries out in protest."

But, as a member of the bargaining unit when the organizing vote was held at the Herald in the fall of 1998, I could see events unfolding with the strategic finesse of a train wreck. It was obvious the union was stoking the frustrations of long-time, middle-aged employees for purposes of its own. This purpose was revealed with utter frankness by a union organizer who told me: "I don't believe real journalism can be done in a non-union paper, and I certainly don't believe it can be done at a paper owned by Conrad Black."

How this helped allay the local concerns of long-serving Calgary Herald journalists he was unable to say. It didn't matter. All that mattered was manipulating those journalists into confusing dissatisfaction with injustice.

Manipulate the union did. When those journalists blew out the door to start their disastrous strike, some were describing their working conditions as "intolerable" and unbearable.

These were people earning an average of $63,000 a year (some as much as $74,000 a year) working 7.5 hour days in a gorgeous building overlooking Calgary, with free parking, a company-supplied fitness centre, a subsidized cafeteria and an on-site daycare.

Such, such were the lies told by the union that one young journalist who came back to work after three weeks on the picket line told me he considered it "the most evil organization" he'd ever encountered.

"You mean misguided," I said.

"No," he said. "I mean evil."

Everything members were told to convince them to support the strike was so convoluted as to be incomprehensible, or an outright falsehood, he added. I asked him how he was fooled by such tactics.

"They know no one wants to let colleagues down, so they keep group pressure on all the time. It's like being part of a cult," he answered. Despite that insider's view, it doesn't defy imagining when liberal follow-alongs such as Margaret Atwood and June Callwood lend their considerable public relations clout to such a shameful endeavour.

For a Catholic bishop to be similarly taken in, however, almost defies belief.

Peter Stockland is an editor and columnist for the Calgary Herald and a regular contributor to Catholic Insight.
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Title Annotation:Bishop Fred Henry; Calgary Herald strike
Author:Stockland, Peter
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CALB
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Letters to the Editor.
Next Article:Catholic social teaching Part I.

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