TORONTO -- A blistering critique by a group of Canadian bishops on the capitalist system's impact on workers was applauded by labor Friday, but was rebuked by Cardinal Emmett Carter and business leaders.
In a New Year's statement, the social affairs office of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops decried as a 'serious moral crisis' the record high 12.7 percent unemployment rate that has 1.5 million Canadians out of work.
'The needs of the poor have priority to the wants of the rich,' the statement said. 'The rights of workers are more important than the maximization of profits.'
But Cardinal Carter voiced disapproval of the statement at a news conference, stressing it emanated from a few bishops who did not represent the church as a whole.
'I have serious reservations concerning some of the material and attitudes contained therein,' the Cardinal said, noting the authors of the statement were not economists.
'I get a little uncomfortable when we get into the practical details on how the economy should be run,' he said.
The bishops stressed combatting unemployment should be the main priority of business and government, but the cardinal questioned this, saying inflation and unemployment were too closely linked to be dealt with separately.
The bishops blasted government wage-control programs as benefitting the wealthy and referred to the message of 'Jesus, who was himself a worker' in urging a greater role for organized labor in economic policy making.
The church leaders expressed grave concerns also for government cuts in social spending and welfare programs.
'Every effort must be made to curtail cutbacks in social services, maintain adequate health care and social security benefits and above all guarantee special assistance for the unemployed, welfare recipients, the working poor and one-industry towns suffering from plant shutdowns.'
The bishops urged a restructuring of Canada's industrial strategy toward retooling the country's factories, making them more competitive in the high technology computer age of the next decade.
Priority, they said, however, 'must be given to the dignity of human labor, not machines.'
One of the authors, Bishop John O'Mara of Thunder Bay, Ont., said they were responding to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's call in his October 'firteside chats' for a public dialogue on the economy.
'It's not enough to just make minor changes, or cosmetic changes, there is a basic moral disorder in the whole economy as we see it. We have to have an economy based on the importance of labor.'
In Ottawa, Canadian Labor Congress president Dennis McDermott applauded the statement, saying the bishops 'must have been in touch with God.'
In Vancouver Bill Hamilton, president of the Employers' Council of British Columbia, who will soon join the Macdonald commission on the economy, said he was 'astonished' at the statement.
'The church has every right to comment on society but they should do it in a better informed manner,' he said. 'The statement has a high moral character but from a pragmatic view they are totally out of touch with reality.
'It sounds as if we are dealing with people whose morality and economics are from the sixteenth century.'
In Montreal, Claude Dessurault, Quebec president of the Canadian Manufacturers Association, said the bishops 'may not be too well informed' on the poor shape of corporate profits in the last year.