Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Eastern Washington parishioners address Catholic social concerns on Capitol Hill
by Scott Cooper, for the Inland Register
(From the March 20, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
A delegation of Eastern Washington Catholics traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby lawmakers about Catholic social ministry concerns. (IR photo from Catholic Charities)
It has been called the “Woodstock for social justice geeks,” but the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in late February once again brought together Catholics from many ideological and theological persuasions to advocate for the common good and the most vulnerable among us, both here and abroad.
This year, 15 parishioners from the Spokane Diocese traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn more about public policy issues of concern to the Bishops, to pray and be inspired, and to meet with Senators and Representatives.
Representing the parishes of Assumption in Walla Walla, Sacred Heart in Pullman, Immaculate Conception in Colville, St. Joseph in Colbert, and St. Joseph, St. Augustine, Assumption and St. Aloysius in Spokane, the Eastern Washington delegates learned the fine points of “A Catholic Message to Congress: Put the Poor and Vulnerable First, Pursue Peace in a Broken World.” With 19 co-sponsors from Catholic Relief Services to the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, attendees were exposed to the wide range of the Church’s social mission.
We met personally with Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, while Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers was tied up in votes in the Capitol building (the Congresswoman has always graciously met with us in past years). At each visit, we asked Congress to oppose cuts in essential safety net programs such as child care assistance, home energy assistance, housing vouchers, Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). The Church knows well that private charity cannot begin to meet the needs these programs address.
One concrete step to assist vulnerable women and children is the Pregnant Women Support Act. We asked all three legislators to co-sponsor this measure (S. 2407 and H.R. 3192) in order to increase access to health care, nutrition and child care for pregnant women, to support pregnant women and young mothers pursuing higher education and job training, to improve services for pregnant women facing domestic violence, to mandate that health insurers not treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, and to collect accurate data on abortions and births.
We urged our senators to pass the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007 (S. 2523), to create a dedicated and ongoing source of funding for the production and rehabilitation of affordable housing units.
On the international side, we asked Congress to re-authorize the successful PEPFAR program (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), with which Catholic Relief Services has collaborated in several AIDS-devastated countries. I saw CRS’ AIDS work firsthand last year in Tanzania and Kenya, made possible by PEPFAR funding. We pointed out that the current PEPFAR language is bipartisan and allows Catholic agencies to take part, whereas proposed changes in that language to prefer agencies providing family planning services and focusing primarily on contraceptives rather than on abstinence and behavior change would effectively prohibit Catholic participation, removing treatment from thousands of HIV-positive people in developing countries for whom Catholic health care is the only option.
We urged greater diplomatic efforts to achieve the President’s goal of a peace agreement by the end of 2008 between Israel and Palestine. Peace in the Holy Land will not only have far-reaching effects in the Middle East, but around the world, and is naturally a concern for the bishops. We support holding both parties accountable for building a just peace, as well as funding to increase the Palestinian Authority’s capacity for self-governance, infrastructure, and humanitarian aid.
As St. Aloysius parishioners Tom and Nola Hall said, “The trip was a remarkable and spiritually rich experience and we learned much, not just about the legislative process as it relates to the USCCB agenda, but also more of what it means to be truly Catholic.”
We urge you to multiply the effect of the 15 delegates from the Spokane Diocese by calling local Congressional offices to add your voice for the bishops’ priorities. In Spokane, Sen. Patty Murray may be reached at (509) 624-5915, Sen. Maria Cantwell at (509) 353-2507, and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers at (509) 353-2374. The Congresswoman also has offices in Colville at (509) 684-3841 and Walla Walla at (509) 529-9358. For more information on the issues, you can call the Parish Social Ministry Office of Catholic Charities at (509) 358-4273 or visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org/sdwp.
(Scott Cooper is head of Parish Social Ministries for Catholic Charities Spokane.)