Bad news for small-c catholic schools

Could this be the end of small-c catholic institutions?

I found this at The Motley Monk.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) told Manhattan College that they are not really a religious institution and therefore they can’t use a religious character to prevent the faculty from unionizing.

The NLRB used Manhattan College’s own literature for this decision.  Apparently, since Manhattan College says it is not trying to promote the Catholic Faith, … well… they can’t hide behind their religious identity.

Bottom line: Nominally Catholic schools which are not serious about their identity may have problems coming.

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  1. While one the one hand I can’t really work myself up into mourning over the fate of small c catholic institutions, I worry over the precedent – by now, well established – of one class of people using the state to impose what they want on a voluntary institution. We can all see where that kind of thinking leads. We should not hope for the pleasure of seeing well deserving institutions get their comeuppance, if the cost is hardship for faithful institutions. It may well be that a period of refining fire is coming, in which the dross will be burned off but at the price of great suffering for the gold, and we should be ready to endure it, but we should pray, as always: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

  2. Schadenfreude. O yes.

  3. Shellynna says:

    Call it The Carrot and The Stick approach to achieving a more robust Catholic identity: Pope Benedict and the Church offer the carrot of persuasion to small-c “catholic” institutions. The world offers the stick of persecution and oppression. If so-called “catholic” institutions turn up their noses to The Carrot offered by the Church, the world is more than ready to wield The Stick. If these institutions can’t achieve perfect contrition, maybe imperfect attrition will reconcile them to Mother Church.

  4. Peggy R says:

    St Louis U specifically went to court to claim it was not really Catholic so it could obtain MO state funds to build a sports arena. The arena is built and in use. They’ve created a credibility problem for themselves now.

  5. SonofMonica says:


  6. anna 6 says:

    Having visited MANY Catholic colleges with my children, I must say that I am a bit surprised by this one…
    Manhattan College appeared to us to be one of the most overtly Catholic schools of them all!
    Every event began with a genuine Catholic prayer (and not a generic one that invoked Allah, creator, sun, moon etc. that we witnessed at another “catholic” institution). Crucifixes were everywhere (unlike some schools that actually boasted “not to worry…there are no crucifixes in the classrooms”).

    The influence of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was very present in all of their presentations.

    This is very disappointing.

  7. randomcatholic says:

    What in Catholic doctrine prevents a Catholic faculty from unionizing? On what theological grounds would they deny the faculty the right to organize? It seems to me odd that they would seek religious redress in order to deny the faculty the right to organize. Consider the guilds of the middle ages. These were very Catholic institutions.

  8. @randomcatholic: It is not a matter of doctrine, it is a matter of civil law providing an exemption to religious institutions.

  9. Papabile says:

    This seriously concerns me because it could be used as a weapon against those institutions that set themselves up to actually be Catholic, and avoid associating with the diocese formally. It’s NLRB now, and EEOC later.

    Here’s an example… My daughter’s school was started by parents not happy with the way the diocesan schools were catechizing the kids. They started their own school, careful not to officially call it Catholic (in accord with the CIC), and they have daily Mass/Rosary. Mass is offered by diocesan Priests — usually the EF form.

    Now let’s say someone brings an EEOC complaint against them because they were not hired on the basis of their not being Catholics who actually practice their faith…. Are they really Catholic, as they are not associated with the diocese formally? They’re incorporated as a religious institution, but so was Manhattan College

    This is bad, terrible, horrendous precedent, and will be turned around and used against us at some point..

  10. Charivari Rob says:

    Wow. This is…

    …ironic. Manhattan College isn’t usually in my sphere of thought, but just last week I learned of the recent death of an older cousin who was a Jasper, and I was on their alumni website reading the obit.

    …disturbing. Some may find some satisfaction when a secular entity (such as the NLRB) agrees with their opinion that some institution isn’t Catholic enough. Have such folks considered the flip side – the disturbing potential that these entities will be empowered (in some eyes) to define which institutions are Catholic?

    RandomCatholic, Benjamin Newman hit the nail square on the head. I must admit, though, that my limited awareness of the issue is mostly confined to primary and secondary schools. I’ve not given it much thought regarding post-secondary education.

  11. Bryan Boyle says:

    I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.

    Lots of small-c ‘catholic’ schools sold their inheritance down the river to be able to stick their heads in the public trough up to the third cervical vertebra…including Manhattan (lead by their cross-Bronx rivals over at Fordham) and such (Georgetown, anyone?). It certainly clarifies matters, though it does invite problems somewhere down the line.

    You lie with dogs, you get fleas. You can’t, on the one hand, if you are going to be consistent, deny your ‘catholicity’ to ‘Der Stadt’ to take advantage of whatever lucre they’re throwing your way, and on the other hand, say you are ‘Catholic’ (with a capital C) to obtain the benefit of being exempted from onerous labor or whatever laws. Actions have consequences. In this case, they are truly reaping the fruits of their pandering to civil authority to obtain benefits from the government trough.

    Too bad for them. If they had more backbone (not all Catholic institutions drank the Land-O-Lakes Kool-Aid and are still thriving today) and less concern with the zeitgeist of being seen as culturally relevant, we would not be having this conversation, I’m thinking…

  12. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    Will this have any effect on the schools’ relationship with the IRS?

  13. Charivari Rob says:

    Massachusetts Catholic, you beat me to it.

    My next question was going to be: “If this stands, how long until some revenue-stream conscious mayor someplace starts leaning on Catholic institutions to ante up better in the payments in lieu of taxes department?”

    Yeah, PILOT usually comes up in discussions of Not-for-profit institutions, but can’t you just see some mayor somewhere trying to leverage “identity”?

  14. smad0142 says:

    Suprising. I went to a Lasallian High School in Denver, and while things were not perfect they weren’t anywhere near this bad. The Lasallians are typically considered to have remained pretty Catholic over the years, so I have no idea where this is coming from. Now being a student at a Jesuit university, I am even more well aware of how Catholic my high school was. This is a shame, and I hope the Brothers can salvage the situation before the unionization hits.

  15. randomcatholic says:

    Thanks for those offering clarification to my questions. I appreciate it.

    Admittedly I can lean a bit to the left on fiscal matters so my perspective may be different from many here. But here is my problem: why is Manhattan College trying to use its religious exemption to stop the faculty from organizing, when there is no religious reason (from a Catholic perspective) to deny them that right? Doesn’t that seem disingenuous? Or am I misreading the situation?

    Let me offer a hypothetical: Say I am an official at the national labor board. Say I know full well that the Catholic Church does not prohibit unions, and in fact, has promoted them in recent times in the U.S. (see tons of USCCB documents which are left of center on labor issues since the 60s…)

    Now, a Catholic college, which has become largely secularized anyway, is trying to stop its faculty from organizing even though there is no element of Catholic doctrine that would preclude the faculty from organizing. The faculty bring a case and it comes to my desk. How would I react? I hope I would say “even though I disagree with Manhattan College’s actions, and even though I know full well that their attempt to break this fledgling faculty organization on ‘religious’ grounds is hypocritical, the state does not have authority to get involved because Manhattan College is a religious institution.” But I can understand how someone would have the temptation to act differently.

    I don’t know much but I do know this: “bad cases make bad law.” Manhattan College arguably should not be trying to stop the faculty from organizing. Because they are trying to stop the faculty from organizing, the NLRB is getting involved. The resulting precedent could hurt religious institutions across this country.

  16. TNCath says:

    Schools owned and operated by the De La Salle Christian Brothers have been backpedaling their Catholic identity for many years now. They usually call themselves “LaSallian” after their founder, St. John Baptist De La Salle, who, I trust, is having a fit in Eternity as his order falls apart and the schools his order founded shed their heritage and the Faith. Sure, they may have crucifixes in their classrooms and constantly tout their founder, but look at their theology departments, check out the background of the faculty, especially some of the Brothers still teaching, and decide for yourself what they are really saying.

  17. Elizabeth D says:

    After reading the Motley Monk link, it seems like part of the issue is that in an environment of religious pluralism, Catholic education in general, has moved decidedly in the direction of offering or proposing Catholic beliefs to the intellectual reason and free will of the students (not itself wrong), rather than presenting them forthrightly as calling for the assent of faith. So, even where Catholic belief IS taught with commitment to orthodoxy, it has probably gotten a lot rarer for it to be anything like “indoctrination” or “proselytizing”.

  18. Tom Ryan says:

    In my four years at Manhattan (1979-1983), I had one “religious studies” class that was actually Catholic, so this is nothing new. Recently retired college President, Bro. Thomas Scanlon envisioned a strong, Catholic MC in the future and was excoriated in the campus newspaper, The Quadrangle. Good Brother Jasper (from whom the college sport teams take their name) has been spinning in his grave for decades…

  19. amylpav22 says:

    Schadenfreude. O yes.

    Ah, I believe that was the word I was looking for…

  20. vmanning says:

    Just WHY does the faculty want to unionize ? Without knowing more about the faculty members and the union organizers, it’s hard to understand. Are they underpaid? No employer-provided healthcare? Too little vacation time? Too few sabbaticals? Or do dissident catholycs seek union-thug protection from dismissal for their views? A catholic institution? How many faculty members have signed the mandatum?

  21. Gail F says:

    Do they want to join an existing union? If so, what sort of union? Unions aren’t anti-Catholic per se, but particular ones may be very different from Catholic principles.

  22. anilwang says:

    Ishmael, that is the way God works. If you look at the old testament, you’ll see that when God’s people wanted to go their own way instead of God’s way, God punished them by giving them what they wanted. Inevitably, this lead to disaster, but ultimately it lead to repentance.

    Small-c catholic schools need to be shown this example so they can repent before it’s too late.

  23. Katherine says:

    Nominally Catholic schools which are not serious about their identity may have problems coming.

    Why assume this is a problem for employees to use their God-given right to associate?

    While the secular law does provide an exemption from NLRB juridiction over church run insitutions, many Catholic schools still voluntarily agree to recognize their employee’s right to representatives of their own choosing. The Archdiocese of New York schools and hospitals have unions (strongly supported by the late John Cardinal O’Connor) as do other large archdioceses, Catholic private schools and hospitals.

    (full disclouse: My late husband was an officer of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists in the 1940s and 1950s).

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