Pope Francis may not have changed anything as far as rigid Catholic doctrine goes but he has been outspoken about the problems of inequality and the need to improve the conditions of the poor, and this is an area where he can take action without contravening entrenched dogma.
Jim Hightower says that he now has an opportunity to show that these values are more than mere words, as a result of the awful way that Duquesne University in Pittsburgh treated one of its adjunct faculty Margaret Mary Vojtko, who died impoverished at the age of 83 after having taught there for 25 years with low pay and no benefits.
Her story would be unknown — except for Daniel Kovalik. A lawyer with the United Steelworkers, Daniel knew Margaret Mary through his union’s drive to help adjunct teachers organize for better pay and treatment. He wrote up her story, telling how Duquesne had let her spiral into abject poverty, and then they coldly booted her — no severance, no goodbyes, no nothing. Impoverished, abandoned, scared and stressed to the limit, her heart exploded shortly afterward.
The treatment of Vojtko galvanized the other adjuncts at the university who decided to join the United Steelworkers union so that they can better bargain for living wages and benefits. But the Catholic university has resorted to all manner of devious ploys to avoid granting them that right, and “they’ve even demanded a religious exemption from our labor laws, claiming that unionization would interfere with their teaching of Catholic values!” We recall the Catholic diocese in Cleveland using similar arguments to justify the highly restrictive morals clauses in its contracts with teachers.
The Steelworkers president has filed an appeal to that claim straight to pope Francis, telling him the sad story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, exactly the kind of person discarded by the ‘throwaway culture’ that the pope has condemned.
Let’s see what the pope does with this.