The Vatican has dismissed on a technicality a complaint that the St. Louis-based Association of Catholic Elementary Educators filed in August charging that the head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis was violating church law by not permitting teachers in Roman Catholic elementary schools to unionize.
The association had argued that Archbishop Raymond L. Burke broke church law by writing in a June 9, 2004, letter that “neither the archdiocese nor individual parishes will recognize or bargain collectively with any organization as a representative of teachers.” (“St. Louis Catholic School Teachers Seek Union,” Nov. 24, 2004.)
For nine years, the association has sought recognition from the archdiocese as a union.
Archbishop Burke sent his letter after elementary school teachers had informed the pastors of 10 schools in the archdiocese that they wanted to hold union elections.
The Congregation for Catholic Education, the church department in Rome that handles education matters for the Vatican, responded to the association’s complaint in a Feb. 1 decision that said the congregation addresses only “singular administrative acts.” Archbishop Burke’s statement, according to the letter from the Vatican, doesn’t qualify as such an act because it is a general decree applying to all parties in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Mary Chubb, the president of the St. Louis teachers’ association, said she doesn’t understand how the Vatican could conclude that Archbishop Burke’s statement regarding negotiating with teachers isn’t a singular act, because the archdiocese has permitted teachers in its high schools to unionize but hasn’t done the same for elementary school teachers.
She said the association used that argument in an appeal it filed with the Congregation for Catholic Education after receiving its decision.
George Henry, the superintendent of education for the St. Louis Archdiocese, said he couldn’t shed any light on whether Archbishop Burke’s statement is a singular administrative act or general decree. “It’s the first time I’ve heard that terminology. I don’t know what any of those terms mean,” he said. “It’s really between the association and Rome.”
Ms. Chubb speculated that the congregation used a technicality to reject the complaint “to avoid the essential issue of recognition of these elections, the association, and commencing negotiations.”
She added: “We’ve been told [church officials] have a reputation for protecting each other and they don’t want to slap the bishop’s hand.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Vatican Office Rebuffs St. Louis Catholic Teachers