St. Paul, Minn., Mar 6, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- At a time when, to many Catholics, politics in America seem at odds with faith and morals, Catholics in Minnesota gathered last month to demonstrate their active role in the legislative process.
On Feb. 19, over 1,000 Catholics, hailing from every one of Minnesota’s 90 state senate districts, gathered in Saint Paul for a day-long event called “Catholics at the Capitol.” The event was organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.
MCC Executive Director Jason Adkins described the day as “a fantastic experience of helping people overcome their misperceptions about politics, their fear of the process.”
Adkins expressed confidence that the day helped participants find “their voice as faithful citizens.”
Following the midterm elections of 2018, Minnesota is the only U.S. state with a divided state legislature: a Democratic majority controls the state House of Representatives, while a Republican majority holds sway in the state Senate. With a newly-elected Democratic governor, advocacy by the MCC has focused on the art of the possible.
While meeting with state legislators during the afternoon, Catholics at the Capitol participants were encouraged to voice support for two specific measures, using talking points and handouts provided by the MCC.
Adkins explained that these two initiatives — the regulation of surrogacy in the state to prevent commercial exploitation of women, and a package of bills aimed at providing support to mothers and their children from pregnancy to two years of age — were deliberately selected for the day, because they were thought to be non-controversial in the legislature.
“The main priority of the day was education. We certainly wanted to assist the legislative advocacy around those two issues, but we wanted to pick issues that we thought had a strong consensus behind them.” he said, so that participants could have a positive experience of interacting with their elected representatives.
“We also have recognized that the pro-life political cause has kind of reached a stalemate. If your state is not controlled totally by Republicans, then it’s hard to get any pro-life legislation passed.”
By focusing their efforts this legislative session on proposals like the “First 1000 Days” collection of bills in support of mothers and young children, Adkins said the MCC “wanted to try to break that Gordian knot and propose something that we think may not combat the supply of legal abortions, but it can try to fight the demand.”
CNA asked Adkins if the wave of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse (and reports of episcopal failures regarding the handling of such cases) have had an impact on the Minnesota bishops’ ability to speak effectively on social issues. He said they haven’t noticed any change in the responsiveness or receptiveness of legislators so far.
“But where it has an impact,” he continued, “and it’s undoubted that it does: it has an impact on the bishops’ ability to be effective teachers to their own flock. So that’s the real challenge that we’ve encountered.”
The bishops of Minnesota have not appeared shy about continuing to lead their people in public. During the event, they distributed “Minnesota: Our Common Home”, an “educational resource” published with the approval of the Catholic bishops of the state.
As the title indicates, the text is a localized digest of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical “On Care for our Common Home,” Laudato Si’.
The local text is significantly more compact than the original, with a word count under 13,000 compared to the encyclical’s more than 40,000 words.
The Minnesota document is presented in three parts: A Crisis of Nature, Ecological Conversion, and Integral Ecology.
The third part builds upon a phrase borrowed from Pope Francis — “integral ecology” — to call for a “consistent ethic of life” — a concept that, despite the controversy it has often engendered among American Catholics, is a core concept within the MCC’s efforts.
“Our belief is that ‘integral ecology’ is a very powerful way of repackaging the natural law: the idea that we have a created nature, and we live among things with a nature, that we must respect their possibilities and limitations, and living in accordance with the way God has ordered them, whether that's our bodies or the creation we see all around us in the earth,” Adkins told CNA.
Emphasis on ‘integral ecology’ provides a new framework for public advocacy in the state.
“Minnesota: Our Common Home” calls not only for stewardship of natural resources, but also for “an ecological view of the human person.”
The document also underscores “the underlying false belief that we can be God” at the root of social ills such as artificial contraception, the disconnection of gender from biology, and the growing prevalence of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“The bishops don't take positions on public policy because they want to play politics” Adkins said. “They do it to help identify for Catholics how our Catholic social teaching translates into concrete public policy that [citizens] can choose to take up and support in the public square.”
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