When the bishops of Minnesota had breakfast with Gov. Mark Dayton and met with legislators at the State Capitol in mid-March, they weren’t just “keeping up appearances.” Beyond the pleasantries and the occasional photo-op, the day was a powerful encapsulation of the mission of the Minnesota Catholic Conference: to protect human dignity and advance the common good by living out the Church’s right and responsibility to participate in public conversation about laws and policies.
The bishops themselves have a unique responsibility to work for the good of everyone in our state —Catholic and non-Catholic alike. We are our brother’s keeper, and bishops must be leaders in our community.
But the bishops aren’t only leaders, they’re also teachers, and their legislative visit modeled for all of us what it means to be faithful citizens. In fact, shaping public discourse is a task properly suited to the laity, as the Church has reminded us regularly since the Second Vatican Council. As Pope Francis tells us, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.”
The Church proposes, it doesn’t impose
Faithful citizenship in the form of legislative advocacy means proposing principled policies, not engaging in religious debates. Therefore, during their meetings with elected officials, the bishops didn’t focus on catechesis. Instead, they advocated for concrete policy proposals that aim to tangibly promote human flourishing from “womb to tomb.”
Among the various issues discussed, the bishops urged legislators to create a fact-finding commission to study the risks of commercial surrogacy; they lobbied for a modest increase to the Minnesota Family Investment Program’s cash grant, which supports low-income families; and they asked that tuition be added as an eligible expense in the existing K-12 education tax credit in order to expand educational opportunities for kids from low-income households.
To be sure, the bishops’ legislative positions are not the only matters on which a Catholic may advocate or become engaged. There are thousands of bills introduced each year, and the bishops take positions on a small number of them. This underscores the fact that it is the laity, not the clergy, who have primary responsibility for employing their competencies and gifts to shape the public square.
Nonetheless, the policies the bishops encouraged lawmakers to adopt are instances of the Church’s social teaching being applied concretely, and serve as teaching moments for the rest of us. Not only are these proposals drawn from Catholic principles, but they’re also prudent and have a good chance of being passed into law. Therefore, the bishops’ legislative positions should be understood as a helpful resource for Catholics who want to foster just laws but sometimes don’t know what bills should be on their radar.
Our proposal to you
Knowing what bills to support is only part of shaping the political process; you also need to know who to contact and the right time to do so.
Although MCC staff cannot directly set up your appointments with legislators like we did for the bishops, we actively facilitate opportunities for you to connect with those who represent you. If you haven’t done so yet, becoming part of the Catholic Advocacy Network is an easy and effective way to join your voice with your bishop and tens of thousands of other Catholics across the state who are also working to enact just policies.
Furthermore, when speaking to elected officials from your district, you have an advantage that the bishops don’t: You’re the one who put them into office in the first place (and will decide if they stay there).
As many of the bishops remarked during the visit, your representatives want to have conversations about legislation with their constituents. In many instances, legislators may not have a clear-cut opinion on an issue and are content to stay in partisan holding patterns. Hearing that their constituents feel strongly about a particular policy can shake elected officials out of this complacency and prompt them to make a stand for human dignity and the common good.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference aims to propose principled policies and equip Minnesota Catholics to support them. Won’t you join us?
Liedl is communications manager at the Minnesota Catholic Conference. To access the bishops’ legislative priorities and join the Catholic Advocacy Network, visit http://www.mncatholic.org.