Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Small Town in Illinois that Bishop Jenky Forgot

Bishop Daniel Jenky by Nomad

Strange Remarks from a Bishop
Back in April of this year, Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois began a rambling sermon called "A Call to Catholic Men of Faith" with this observation: 
There is only one basic reason why Christianity exists and that is the fact that Jesus Christ truly rose from the grave.
It's quite a strange statement when you think about it but so boldly stated that few had to courage to challenge it. The resurrection was only one aspect of the Christ story. What about Christ providing a model through his love to all humankind, rich or poor, male or female and morally righteous or fallen? What about the Gospel of the all-forgiving Lord which was quite different than the image of God in the Old Testament? What about his command to the flock to "love thy neighbor"?  
According to Bishop Jenky, it was the miraculous reanimation of the flesh of Jesus which is "the only one basic reason why Christianity exists."

It must have been quite baffling to hear a bishop make such a statement. But there was quite a bit more in store for the congregation.

About three-quarters of the way into the lecture, the bishop’s remarks took an even more surprising turn. He used the pulpit to attack the president’s policies on healthcare by telling his parishioners:
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.
In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries -- only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.
Many across the country criticized these provocative remarks. By attempting to equate Obama to both Hitler and Stalin, Jenky tried to stir up public fears with visions of rampant fascism and outlandish notions of  shutting down of the Catholic Church. It was clear that Bishop Jenky was diving into uncharted waters. 
At that time , it sparked me to investigate the Church’s more recent history with fascism. (It was a rewarding investigation.)

A Church Without a Flock?
In point of fact, as far as a so-called Catholic conscience goes, according a survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, most U.S. Catholics ( 60 percent) think the church should focus more on social justice and helping the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion. 
And there's still worse news for Jenky.
A survey in September found that President Barack Obama holds a 54%-39% advantage over Mitt Romney among Catholics- despite the bishop's appeals.

As the election’s day of decision approaches, Bishop Jenky has again succumbed to temptation and took another plunge into the overheated, grimy world of American politics. The bishop ordered his priests to read his letter from the pulpit to their respective congregations on the weekend before the election. The Associated Press states:
Jenky's letter says the president and the current majority in the U.S. Senate have been unwilling to consider Catholic objections to a requirement that insurance companies provide birth control to employees of religious organizations.
The letter says voters who enable "the destruction of innocent human life in the womb" are "guilty of grave sin."
On Wednesday, he came within a hair of ordering every priest under his supervision to campaign for Mitt Romney. In a letter, Jenky told the priests in his diocese “[b]y virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your Bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.” The letter leaves little doubt that Jenky wants Obama out of the White House.
Many in and out of the Catholic Church have questioned both the wisdom and the prudence of Bishop Jenky’s stand. Is it either fair or wise- in a Church which has been seeing declining numbers in its flock- to force the congregation to choose between their faith and their political beliefs? Isn’t this.. well, crossing the line in a country that has somehow managed to balance freedom of speech with the separation of Church and State?

Bishop Jenky has already had a notable history even before this declaration. Since he became the eighth bishop of the Peoria, Illinois in 2002, the diocese has been rocked by the same sex abuse scandals that have become such a public relations nightmare for the Church all over the world. Some of the abuse allegations were particularly stunning too. The telling of those tales must wait until a later date. I want to take a different path for the moment.

Maytag: A Study in High Contrast

One part of a clergy job description is, of course, not only to lead crusades against the elected leaders of democracies, but also to provide comfort to victims in time of dire need.

In July 2004, Bishop Jenky performed a special mass to offer a bit of solace to the 1,600 Maytag workers at the Galesburg, Illinois plant. Maytag had announced that it would be shutting down the plant in coming September of that year. 

Things had been pretty grim at Maytag for quite some time. The company had failed to keep up with the competition domestically and abroad. According to the book, In the Shadow of the Dragon:
Maytag had a solid reputation in the United States, but it had failed to keep up with the changes in the global economy. It was trailing in third place behind Whirlpool and General Electric, and it was losing $ 9 million a year on sales of $4.7 billion. Whirlpool, in contrast, made profits of $406 million a year on sales of $13.2 billion.
The decision to close the plant in Galesburg was therefore, part of an overall strategy by Maytag's Chief Executive Ralph Hake, to reduce costs. He would go on to slash $150 million in costs the following year. 
A large part of the work from Galesburg was to be outsourced to a new Maytag plant in Reynosa, Mexico and it was the unions that fought hard to keep the jobs in the US. 
As reporter David Moberg tells us:
The local Machinists union fought the shutdown, taking their case to the streets, to the press, to politicians and to Maytag shareholders, .... But the union could not stop the Maytag jobs from being added to the tally of 2.7 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000. Those several million jobs were eliminated for many reasons—including declining demand, rising efficiency and increased imports—but a significant portion are the result of U.S. multinational corporations, like Maytag, moving production out of the country.

For the people of Galesburg, still shell-shocked by the news, Bishop Jenky’s religious service provided at least some degree of commiseration. 
By any measure, the effect of the closure had devastating effects on the town. As one local source reveals:

Since the closing, the median household income of former Maytag workers has fallen by $10,000, even as household income here has risen. Former workers earned about $10,000 more than the median income of others in Knox County. Now their median income matches others' in town.

Moreover, the results of the Maytag Employees in Transition survey showed that while household income of Maytag workers in 2004 was between $40,000 and $50,000 when the plant was operating, the spread of earnings between former workers now has vastly increased. In the Maytag years, no worker reported a household income of under $20,000, while 16 percent do now. Conversely, households with incomes above $80,000 have risen.

Many of the Maytag families took on increased levels of debt since the plant closed. Forty percent of survey respondents also feel that they will never recover financially. Some also say they feel the same way about this town.
'It'd never be a good thing,' said Tony Asencio, 33. '(The plant closing) pretty much killed Galesburg.'
And another article tells us how the closure of that plant has ripped the heart out of the community:
And while they also miss the steady income and health benefits, according to the Maytag in Transition Survey, the sense of community they once had is perhaps one of the deepest losses of all.
Those events did not go entirely unnoticed. The matter came up at the Democratic Convention in a speech given by an unknown senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. On July 27, 2004, he told the delegates:
I say to you tonight: we have more work to do.
- More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Ill., who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour.
Meanwhile, the problems at Maytag were attracting the interest of outsiders in the business world as well. The following year after the closing of the Galesburg plant, The Haier Group, based in East China's Shandong Province, wanted to make an bid for Maytag. Maytag was seen as an opportunity to obtain a famous brand name. 

The only problem was that the Chinese company did not quite have money in the bank to cover the $1.2 billion offer. It was forced to turn to two New York equity firms for financial backing, the Blackstone Group and.. you guessed it, Bain Capital Partners LLC.

Eventually the Haier deal fell through and in 2005, the Chinese firm withdrew its bid. Maytag was sold to its leading market competitor, Whirlpool. Bain never saw the Chinese deal completed.

Nevertheless, the contrast between Bain Capital- the company that Romney made- and Barack Obama- the rising star- was already in sharp relief.

The Bain Support
I know what you might be saying. Excuse me, but Romney left Bain in 1999. When the Maytag bidding war was going on, he was governor of Massachusetts. 
That may be true but some have their doubts about Romney's claims that he was completely unconnected to Bain. Until Romney decides to release his tax returns, we are left to speculate how much he continued to profit personally from Bain Capital's decisions. Had the deal gone through, would Romney himself had profited? 
Romney agreed to sell his stake in the firm to his partners in 2000, in a complicated agreement that gave him a declining share of firm profits over the next 10 years...
Naturally the details of the final negotiations are not too clear. Neither Romney nor Bain Capital is willing to shed any light on the matter. Not now. Not ever.

The New York Times states that:
[Romney] negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain’s profits ever since, bringing the Romney family millions of dollars in income each year and bolstering the fortune that has helped finance Mr. Romney’s political aspirations.
We do know that employees at Bain Capital gave vital financial support in his political career. As Forbes notes:
The biggest asset he bequeathed, in retrospect: a track record that turned Bain Capital into a fundraising machine, as pension funds, endowments and rich families sought to capture some of those dazzling returns.
In turn, Romney was something like an investment for Bain Capital. In his first run for the presidency, persons affiliated with Bain Capital donated at least $99,800 to Romney’s campaign in the first quarter of 2007 and he received another $71,250 from employees of Bain. That’s according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

In this election, the executives at Bain surpassed themselves. According to USA Today:
Among Mitt Romney's most prolific fundraisers are two dozen current and former employees of Bain Capital and its parent firm who have helped raise at least $4.5 million to help their former colleague defeat President Obama.
More importantly perhaps, as its founder and long-time CEO, Romney’s mentality has shaped the ethics and the priorities of his company. Though he would like to have distanced himself from the decisions that Bain Capital would make after his departure, he cannot deny that Bain hasn’t really deviated too much from what Romney (if he had remained as CEO) would have done. 

For the good people of Galesburg, Bishop Jenky‘s statements against the president must seem bitterly ironic. Caught up in his own anti-abortion tirade, the Bishop has lost track of something very important. 
Obama was the only politician that remembered the blight of this Illinois town and called the nation’s attention to it. Meanwhile his opponent’s financial backers at Bain were eager to support foreign corporations in whatever way they could, guaranteeing that the American work force in the heartland would never be miraculously resurrected.