Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over 4,000 Catholics visited Texas’ capitol in Austin, including bishops from the state's 15 dioceses, to meet with legislators and discuss legislation under consideration. “It's important that we present a united voice,” Helen Osman, communications consultant for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, told CNA April 10.
“It took many hours of coordination, but the Texas legislators knew that the Church was present in the Capitol on April 4 – and we were there not in self-interest, but for the good of all citizens in the state of Texas,” she added. “Our motivation – to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the poor, for human life and dignity – gives our voice a gravitas that many special interest groups lack.”
For Catholic Advocacy Day, each of Texas' 181 legislators received a visit from a team of “Catholic advocates” who live in his or her district. They focused on issues grouped under the topics of protecting human life; children and families; health and human services; justice for immigrants; protecting the poor and vulnerable; and criminal justice.
“The team had a list of bills that were prioritized by the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops since they were relevant to the bishops’ agenda, had been reviewed by the Catholic conference, and were active in the legislative process,” Osman said. “We also held a rally outside the Capitol, where the bishops addressed all participants,” she added.
Osman said the group was among the more favorably received groups of capitol visitors. “We bring a spirit of joy and generosity to our conversations, and the legislators appreciate that!” she said. “These events can persuade a legislator to consider changing his or her position on important legislation. Catholics can effectively exercise their call to be faithful citizens by working with their bishops through their state Catholic conferences.“
Pro-life bills under consideration address partial-birth abortion, “wrongful birth” lawsuits, mandatory reporting for abortion complications, and efforts to increase penalties for abortions coerced by human traffickers. There is a bill concerning parental choice in education and several bills concerning foster care.
The Texas bishops oppose a bill that targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, while they support a “targeted, proportional and humane” bill that would increase punishment for unlawful immigrants who commit violent crimes and also guarantee their deportation by authorities.
Some criminal justice bills concern accurate instructions to jurors in death penalty cases and the establishment of a special anti-human trafficking unit in the state’s Department of Public Safety. The Texas Catholic conference backs a bill that would provide better access to mental heath and substance abuse treatment, as well as a bill to establish a state grant to match donations to organizations that provide mental health programs.
On environmental issues, the conference opposes a bill that would limit a local community’s ability to control the export of its groundwater, on the grounds it violates subsidiarity. It also opposes a bill that would repeal the contested case process for environmental quality permits, on the grounds that it “limits the community's ability to protect health considering potential environmental hazards.”
Osman encouraged Catholics to look to their bishops for guidance. “The bishops use their state Catholic conferences to research and monitor active legislation, and to convey the Church’s moral guidance.”
Ahead of the event, Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Dallas said it was an exciting opportunity to visit legislators. “We are able to stand in solidarity as people of faith to meet with our local legislative leaders in order to work together for the common good,” he said, according to the Dallas diocese’s website.
Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the event was an “exciting opportunity” for Catholic constituents. “They are able to stand in solidarity with their bishops, and meet their local legislators who are interested in hearing their point of view on these important issues,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.