For Minnesota’s bishops, a recent day of meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton and state legislators in St. Paul was an opportunity to build relationships and discuss the Church’s public policy priorities.
“The biggest value [of a day like this] is to get to know the people,” said St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler. It helps bishops and legislators to better understand each other’s goals and values, he said.
“The funny thing about being a Catholic at the Legislature is that you find things you agree about with almost every legislator, and you find things that you can make a legislator uncomfortable with as well,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
He attributed this to the foundation of Catholic social teaching. “Our ideas are based on the Gospel,” he said, “and that doesn’t know any party lines.”
When the state’s Catholic bishops come together, they speak with a voice that represents many people of faith, he said, adding that “it’s especially important to us as Catholics to try to influence the common good, to try to bring the truth about human dignity to our society and to our laws so we have a more just society.”
The bishops met with Dayton over breakfast March 16 at the governor’s residence in St. Paul. Later in the morning, they broke into pairs to visit with legislators at the State Office Building and Minnesota Senate Building while restoration work continues at the Capitol.
The day was organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. Also participating in meetings with legislators were Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm, Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, Bishop John Quinn of Winona and Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston.
The meetings come as deadlines loom in April for committee action on bills and legislators debate spending decisions in light of a $900 million budget surplus.
In their meetings with Dayton and legislators, the bishops focused on a number of priorities that promote human dignity, the common good and policies consistent with the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. These include establishing a legislative commission to study the potential impact of commercial surrogacy on women and children, increasing cash grants available through the Minnesota Family Investment Program and expanding educational opportunities for all children.
Minnesota law currently doesn’t address the practice of commercial surrogacy, in which a woman gestates a child implanted through in vitro fertilization for another party at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
MCC wants to ensure that public policies protect vulnerable persons from being exploited or treated like a commercial commodity. The bishops note that recent news stories have raised alarming issues regarding surrogacy, including coerced abortions, human trafficking and industry fraud.
“We don’t want policymakers to make a decision about [surrogacy] before they learn enough about it,” Bishop Kettler said. “This is why it’s important for the Legislature to form a bipartisan commission to study it, get to know more about it and then make decisions about surrogacy after that.”
Bishop LeVoir said the bishops spoke to Dayton about the commission “and he told us he was supportive of that.”
The bishops also support increasing cash grants through the Minnesota Family Investment Program, a program to aid low-income families with children that has not seen an increase in its monthly cash grant since 1986.
For that reason, said Bishop Hoeppner, “We’re endorsing a bill which allows a monthly increase of $100, and the governor said this morning that he would support that. … A family could then receive $1,200 more a year for things that they really need,” like stable housing and transportation to work.
The bishops also are seeking to help families by supporting expansion of the state’s education tax credit to include tuition costs.
The change would allow more families to enroll their children in schools, including private schools, of their choice, “particularly families that are experiencing difficulty economically,” Bishop Quinn said.
“We see that as really a matter of justice to help families be able to choose the school that they know will best educate their child,” he said. “We look at it as a way to help our young people get the best education so they can be great citizens of our state.”
As Americans prepare for this fall’s elections, the bishops are encouraging Catholics to educate themselves about the issues and the candidates and to get involved in the political process.
“When you’re baptized, you’re made another Christ — that’s your identity, that’s who you are,” Bishop LeVoir said. “You’re an image of Christ wherever you go. … As baptized people, [we] have the responsibility of evangelizing. That’s [a] big topic of Pope Francis — living the Gospel wherever you are.”
He encourages Catholics in his diocese to read and study the U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and living out the principles of Catholic social teaching on which it is based.
It’s important to not be discouraged by the tenor of the current national political conversation, Bishop Cozzens said.
“It’s really easy today, especially with the way the national election is going and the great divisions that exist, to give up on politics,” he said. “But democracy is a process that requires us to get our hands dirty … and it’s really important that we have that one-on-one encounter with the people who are making our laws.
“I would really encourage Catholics to follow what’s happening down here at the Legislature while [it is] in session,” he said, adding that MCC does a good job of keeping Catholics informed about important hearings and bills so they can participate in building a more just, dignified society.
Prayer and voting also are key.
“We don’t want to lose sight of the fundamental need to pray for our country, pray for our civic officials, and likewise to work for the common good,” Bishop Sirba said.
After studying and praying about the issues, Bishop Kettler said, people need to “make wise decisions about it, and then go and vote.”
For more on information, visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s website at http://www.mncc.org, and click on “2016 Legislative Session.”
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