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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Catholic Conference’

 By: Caitlin Bootsma

Sometimes it seems like the fight for life, for marriage, for religious liberty and for social justice is just too large of a task. After all, I certainly don’t have the time to beat down legislators’ doors every day, nor do I know if they would listen to me if I did.

shutterstock_1619788And yet, I care very deeply about the laws that are being considered nationally and here in the state of Virginia. It matters to me that adopted children have the benefit of being placed with a married husband and wife and it matters to me that my taxpayer dollars do not go toward funding abortions of any kind.

Enter the Virginia Catholic Conference.

You may or may not be aware of all of the work that the Virginia Catholic Conference does on behalf of the Catholic Church in Virginia. Notably, under the direction of Jeff Caruso, the VCC has, for example, opposed the expansion of who can be sentenced with the death penalty, supported conscience protection for adoption and foster-care providers and supported better pre-natal health care for legal immigrants. A summary of highlights from the Virginia Catholic Conference’s advocacy work can be seen here.

For the next month, the Virginia legislature is in session deliberating a number of important pieces of legislation. One such bill, if passed, would limit state-funded abortions to lives that were conceived through rape or incest (which is federal law). Currently, Virginia also funds abortions of fetuses who have physical deformities or mental deficiencies. A bill being considered right now would limit state-funded abortions solely to those mandated by federal policy.

Crucial to the passing of these often life-saving bills is the participation of people like you and me. And here is the thing – this participation takes literally two minutes of your time. The Virginia Catholic Conference sends out an alert regarding bills like the one above and asks us to send a pre-written email to legislators, expressing our views. You might not think a quick action like this matters, but it does. Jeff Caruso has said time and time again that the tipping point for some legislators on issues has been how many of their constituents they have heard from.

Don’t delay. Lending our voice to these issues can make a huge impact and it is easy.

Sign up for the Virginia Catholic Conference emails. Follow and act on the alerts — especially during this legislative session.  We are called to be faithful citizens not only during election season, but every day throughout the year.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma, Office of Communications

When you read in the Washington Post that, “A provision in the law expanded preventive health-care benefits for women,” you could think that it is a positive development and simply skim to the next article.

If you look deeper, however, you’ll discover that recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that private health plans cover female surgical sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including drugs which can attack a developing unborn child before and after implantation in the mother’s womb.

The same Washington Post article explains that Catholic hospitals are concerned that they will be required to provide birth control under this new legislation and will not be eligible for a conscience exemption. The Post quotes a representative from the National Women’s Law Center who says that, “all women do use contraception at some point in their lives” so essentially this mandate should not provide a problem.

The clear bias of the article may make it difficult to recognize the real problem.

First of all, claiming that all women will use contraceptives is a vast generalization.

Secondly, this mandate ignores that contraceptives, including ella (which can destroy a human life weeks after conception), are morally reprehensible to many people, not only Catholics.

In other words, this legislation – without adequate conscience exemptions – goes against one of the founding principles of our country: freedom of conscience, the very liberty that we pride ourselves on as Americans, that our country is founded upon, that we write patriotic songs about.

This roadblock to our pursuit of true liberty is expressed by Cardinal DiNardo:  “Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees. To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

It is easy to treat this as just one more news story. However, except for a very narrow religious exemption that primarily affects churches, this new mandate will not only affect Catholic hospital. It will also require others who provides health insurance to their employees, including Catholic universities and schools and social service agencies such as Catholic Charities, to provide health insurance that  must now include free birth control.

So, what can we do?

  1. Keep the discussion alive. Too often, media or others can treat these debated issues as if they are done deals, that there is nothing else to be said, that everyone agrees. Let others know that this is a violation of your religious beliefs and, therefore, your right to liberty as an American.
  2. Pray for and support those health care workers or insurance providers who are fighting for conscience exemptions that will not force them to provide substances such as ella which can destroy human life.
  3. Let your voice be heard. Help ensure that a meaningful legislation on conscience exemption is enacted by Congress. Take a few minutes to write to your legislators about the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179). By writing, you tell your legislators how to best represent your view. The Virginia Catholic Conference offers the mechanism to do this on its website: http://capwiz.com/vacatholic/issues/alert/?alertid=51746501

The way I see it, liberty is not only a right, but also a responsibility. We have the opportunity to exercise our freedom of conscience and enable others to secure that right as well.

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Regulations concerning adoption in Virginia have been under much debate. Below is a joint statement from the Virginia Catholic Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington concerning their participation in comments given to the State Board of Social Services.

On April 20, the State Board of Social Services voted 7-2 in favor of adoption regulations supported by the Virginia Catholic Conference – regulations that had been amended by the Virginia Department of Social Services after a public comment period (ending April 1) that featured written submissions by the Conference, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, other faith-based organizations, and individuals.  Representatives of six faith-based organizations, including the Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, also appeared personally at the April 20 board meeting to offer public remarks in support of the amended regulations. The groups also reiterated their objections to the prior version.  At the conclusion of the meeting, the board approved the amended regulations.

Commenting on the outcome shortly after the vote occurred, Conference director Jeff Caruso observed, “Today, religious freedom was affirmed; freedom of conscience was affirmed; the freedom of all agencies, including faith-based agencies, to continue doing the great work they are doing was affirmed.”

Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, agreed:

“Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington has been providing adoption services consistent with the principles and moral teaching of the Catholic Faith for the citizens of the Commonwealth for nearly 65 years. We are relieved that the Board for the Department of Social Services will uphold religious freedom and thus allow Catholic Charities to continue providing adoption services that integrate our Catholic Faith.”

The full text of the Conference’s April 20 testimony to the board follows.

Comments on 22 VAC 40-131-170B

State Board of Social Services Meeting (April 20, 2011)

“On behalf of the Virginia Catholic Conference, I wish to convey support for the agency’s changes to 22 VAC 40-131-170B, which is part of the proposed Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Placing Agencies.  The Conference is the public-policy agency of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.   My comments reflect the shared perspective of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and of Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia within the Diocese of Richmond.

The newly proposed 22 VAC 40-131-170B states: “The licensee shall prohibit acts of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin to: (1) Delay or deny a child’s placement; or (2) Deny an individual the opportunity to become a foster or adoptive parent.”

This new version brings the provision squarely into line with federal law and eliminates inconsistencies with state law that were inherent in the prior version.  The new version is also responsive to comments submitted by the Conference on March 31 that objected to the inclusion of items such as sexual orientation, family status, religion, and age.

Including “sexual orientation” and “family status” would have posed conflicts with the missions, beliefs, and practices of organizations, such as ours, that profess certain deeply held convictions and religious beliefs regarding the institution of marriage, the family unit, and human sexuality.  Indeed, including these items could have forced some agencies into a choice of whether to follow their own missions or to adhere to the law.  Forcing this choice would have been an unacceptable violation of the freedom of conscience upon which our pluralistic society is based, and even of the religious freedom upon which our Commonwealth and our country were built.

It is also important to note that some agencies may currently have requirements for prospective adoptive parents regarding age, and may consider religion when making certain placements.  Birthparents may also consider such factors and should, along with agencies, be free to continue doing so.

In conclusion, faith-based agencies play a vital role in the fabric of our Commonwealth, and their right to carry out their mission in the services they provide must be respected and preserved.  The agency is right to affirm the current federal and state law and the paramount principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience as the correct paths to follow. These paths empower all agencies, included those that are faith-based, to continue the great work they are doing.

Thank you for your consideration of the perspective of Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses and their agencies in this matter.”

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Shortly before 10 last night, Virginia joined the growing number of states that have adopted restrictions against abortion coverage within its state health exchange (to be created pursuant to the new federal health-care law).  Via a 61-36 vote in the House and a 20-20 vote in the Senate (with the tie broken favorably by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling), the Commonwealth joined Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Idaho in making use of a provision in the federal law that provides, “[A] state may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an Exchange in such State if such State enacts a law to provide for such a prohibition.”

By banning coverage (within Virginia’s exchange) of abortions that have long been ineligible for federal funding in major health programs such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (that is, all abortions except for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother), Governor McDonnell’s successfully adopted amendment now ensures that, as discussions on establishing a state exchange proceed, health plans seeking to be part of the exchange will be prohibited from covering abortion on demand.

Prohibiting abortion coverage within health exchanges (through which federal taxpayer money will be routed) has been a top priority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, beginning during the debate on federal health care restructuring over a year ago and continuing after its passage in March of 2010.  The Virginia Catholic Conference is encouraged by the Commonwealth’s important contribution yesterday to the ongoing national effort to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that people will not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions. With the addition of Virginia, at least 10 states now restrict abortion coverage in health insurance policies generally and/or in policies traded on exchanges.

Also last night, the General Assembly added funding to the state budget for abstinence programs.  Governor McDonnell’s proposal to provide this money was the Conference’s other top priority (again in alliance with other groups) during yesterday’s one-day session and was approved by the House, 69-29, and by the Senate, 20-20 (with Bolling again casting the deciding vote to break the tie favorably).

The two 20-20 votes provide another example of how essential constituent input is.  Large numbers of people throughout Virginia contacted their legislators in support of these pro-life, pro-family amendments and made a very considerable difference in the outcomes.

To join the Conference’s email alert network, please visit www.vacatholic.org

 

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By: Jeff Caruso

Between 2004 and 2010, five new state research programs have been created. Each of the five includes a provision making it clear that no company can benefit from the program if it performs research on embryonic stem cells or aborted fetuses within Virginia’s borders.

However, the biotech industry has recently been engaged in an aggressive two-fold push: (1) for more lucrative state financial incentives, and (2) against restrictions supported by pro-life advocates on incentive-seeking companies that conduct life-destroying research. Given this activity, a state policy is needed more than ever to push back on behalf of Virginia taxpayers, so that we are not forced to finance entities that conduct unethical, immoral, and destructive research.

Please click here, scroll down, and then click “Send Message” to weigh in on this critical issue. Ask the Governor to propose policies to ensure that, across all state programs, Virginia consistently tells companies they are not welcome if they bring research that requires human lives to be destroyed to our Commonwealth.

Please share this with others who may have the same concerns. Also, please consider signing up for the Virginia Catholic Conference’s email network so that you can receive alerts like this directly in the future.

Thank you for advocating for the sanctity of human life.

 

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By: Jeff Caruso, Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference

Since before the Virginia General Assembly went into session on Jan. 12, the Virginia Catholic Conference has been busy working to ensure that proposed policies benefit the common good as understood in Catholic moral and social teaching, including respect for life from conception to natural death; preferential concern for the poor and “the least among us;’’ economic and social justice; support for the family and marriage; and parental choice in education.

Virginia Capitol, Richmond

Guided by the bishops and in a spirit of prayer, we’ve researched issues and held face-to-face meetings with legislators, government officials and other advocacy organizations.

Our recently developed agenda details the focus of our efforts during this 46-day session. High priority items include:

  • Protecting gains we made last year in restricting state abortion funding,
  • Ensuring that abortion clinics are subject to state regulation,
  • Preventing new biotech programs from funding embryonic stem cell research,
  • Stopping death penalty expansions,
  • Providing tax credits for corporate donations to scholarship programs for low-income K-12 students,
  • Providing immigrants with access to healthcare, and protecting them from harmful policies.

Especially now that the session has begun, the Virginia Catholic Conference is asking Catholics throughout the Commonwealth to join its efforts on behalf of life, dignity and the common good.

There are three key ways to become involved:

1) Act. Become a Conference’s e-mail advocacy network member and respond to its alerts.

  • Throughout the session (and beyond) members receive regular e-mail alerts pertaining to legislation being debated in the Virginia General Assembly (and, periodically, issues being considered in the U.S. Congress.) The Conference highlights the moral and social teaching involved, and urges its members to contact their legislator to advocate the Virginia Bishops’ stance. (This can be done with a few clicks of the mouse.) Also, members are encouraged to forward alerts to interested friends.
  • We know that our members’ legislative involvement has had a significant impact on legislation. During the 2010 session, for instance, legislation that significantly reduced abortion funding for Medicaid was attributed to constituent interest in the issue. We ask members to act on as many alerts as possible.

2) Advocate. Join the Virginia Catholic Conference at Catholic Advocacy Day in Richmond on Thursday, Jan. 27.

  • It’s a great chance to learn the issues, pray and take part in grassroots advocacy. Catholic Advocacy Day begins at St. Peter’s Church with prayer and a word from our bishops. Conference staff give updates on legislative items under consideration in this year’s General Assembly, then participants caucus with other Catholics from their state senatorial district to decide who and how they will discuss the issues with their state senator and delegate.
  • Register online at www.vacatholic.org.

3) Pray.

  • Prayer is the essential tool. We ask for prayers of wisdom and persistence for our state and federal lawmakers, executives and other government officials, and for our Bishops, Conference staff, our e-mail advocacy network members—all of whom are essential to this work on behalf of the Common Good.

We hope you will join us!

Take action at www.vacatholic.org:

  • Join the Virginia Catholic Conference network and receive alerts
  • Spread that link to friends
  • Join us for Catholic Advocacy Day

“In the Catholic moral tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process is a moral obligation.  This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and bear Christian witness in all we do.” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2007)

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By Jeff Caruso, Executive Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference

These quiet days following Election Day 2010 stand in sharp contrast to the noisy chaotic days and months leading up to it. Voters, who carefully weighed the candidates’ positions, and did their part to earn red, white and blue “I Voted’’ stickers may think it’s time to turn their attention elsewhere, having completed their civic duty until next November. At least that’s the temptation.

Our responsibility as Catholic citizens goes well beyond Election Day. We are called to ongoing participation in civic life, and faithful citizenship means participating in that process 365 days a year, prayerfully and with well-formed consciences.

Virginia Capitol Building, Richmond

We love one another when we work to uphold the sanctity of life, achieve justice, care for the poor and the forgotten and highlight the importance of the family. In the public square — as Virginians and Americans — we seek to support public policy that serves the common good, especially our brothers and sisters in the human family who are voiceless or vulnerable.

It sounds simple enough: we should strive to ensure that the dignity of the human person is the measuring stick when governments consider legislation, policies and actions. But it’s not always easy to be involved in important issues in our own neighborhoods, much less in Richmond and Washington, D.C. The task of keeping up with issues competes with what’s happening at work, around the dinner table, in our parishes, or in our kids’ schools or playing fields.

That’s one of the reasons that Bishop Loverde and Bishop DiLorenzo of the Diocese of Richmond established the Virginia Catholic Conference: to help Catholics take part in important policy decisions. They recently designated Nov. 13-14 as “Advocacy Sunday” for parishes throughout the Commonwealth to actively recruit new members to our E-mail Advocacy Network. Our e-mail alerts inform our growing membership about policies being debated in areas such as respect for life, religious freedom, poverty reduction, education, family and marriage, and immigration. We provide background on Catholic social teaching pertaining to the issue, and give members who choose to act on that alert the means of immediately contacting their legislators to tell them how they, as constituents, want their representatives to respond to that issue.  These pre-drafted e-mails messages can be forwarded “as is” to legislators, or edited to add additional thoughts.

State legislators tell us when they’ve heard from large numbers of constituents.  Last spring, our email network members played a critical role in winning a 20-19 state Senate vote to approve new restrictions against state abortion funding.  These emails literally saved lives!

More than 100 parishes in the Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond are participating in the Virginia bishops’ Advocacy Sunday campaign, either on Nov. 13-14 or on another weekend close to that time. But you don’t have to wait to sign up for the network. Sign up on our website at any time at www.vacatholic.org and use the convenient “Join the Network!” feature. If you are already enrolled, are there three, four, or even five other people you could invite to join?

There are 650,000 Catholics registered in parishes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Imagine what could happen if all 650,000 joined their bishops in this collective effort to fight for life, justice, family and the common good.

That is why we’re asking parishioners across Virginia to become a member of the VCC Email Advocacy Network. Join today!

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By: Caitlin Forst

I always know it’s November when the leaves have changed colors, the breeze gets colder and, of course, when election day rolls around. Perhaps you’ve already decided which candidates to support or taken advantage of early voting options. Or maybe you aren’t even sure that you want to take the time to vote.

 

Participate in the political process

 

No matter your plan (and especially if you think you may not vote tomorrow), I encourage you to read the recent letter that Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo have put out regarding the connection between our faith and voting, which is crucial to our understanding of the role we are called to play in the political life of our country.

The Bishops emphasize that we should not leave our faith in the pews, but embrace our responsibility to live an integrated life – one where our values are reflected in every choice we make, including the political process.

They write:

“Participating in the political process is an integral part of who we are as people called to be faithful citizens — that is, Americans who practice civic virtue guided by their Catholic faith. But before engaging in such an important venture, we must first form our consciences thoughtfully, prayerfully, and correctly — just as an athlete practices thoroughly before entering an event. And the “venture” or “event” for which we are called to prepare ourselves is not merely the day of an election, although elections are certainly critical. Rather, exercising faithful citizenship means bringing our principles, guided by Gospel values, to bear on decisions that are shaped and made every day of every year.”

They continue:

“It is essential to remember that not all issues have equal moral weight; we must be able to discern differences in moral gravity among them before we vote. While most issues debated in the public square are matters of prudential judgment about which people of goodwill can legitimately disagree (e.g., deciding on the best way to ensure access to health care), some practices permitted by government (and sometimes even funded with taxpayers’ money) are intrinsically evil –that is, always incompatible with love of God and neighbor.”

Learn more about those principles and how they translate into action by reading the full text here.

If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that too often we do not consider the full responsibility we have not only as citizens of our country, but also as people given the freedom by God to pursue virtue in the private and public sphere.

Also, our obligation is not dependent on the winner, nor does it end after tomorrow – the Bishops also address this in their letter. Please sign up for action e-mail alerts from the Virginia Catholic Conference by visiting www.vacatholic.org. These alerts help me stay informed about public policy issues throughout the year.

See you at the polls!

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Friday, August 13, marks the 36th Anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Arlington. To mark this occasion, Bishop Loverde will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of  St. Thomas More at 12:05 p.m. 

Compared to others, our diocese is relatively young. When it was founded in 1974, there were approximately 136,000 Catholics in 49 parishes in the Diocese of Arlington. Now we have over 430,000 registered Catholics in 68 parishes. 

Priests and parishioners at the Catherdal of Saint Thomas More, Arlington.

 

To mark this anniversary, let’s take a brief look at how we got here. Catholics missionaries lived in Virginia as early as 1570.  Saint Mary Church in Old Town Alexandria was the first Catholic parish in the Commonwealth of Virginia, founded in 1795. Pope Pius VII established the Diocese of Richmond in 1820, encompassing the entire state of Virginia. Then, in 1972, priests in the Arlington and Alexandria area asked the Richmond bishop to petition Rome to establish a separate diocese in Northern Virginia. A number of our priests vividly remember the role they played in the foundation of the diocese. For example, Fr. Robert E. Avella was the first priest ordained for the Diocese of Arlington and is currently the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Arlington. In 1974, the Diocese of Arlington was established. The two Virginia dioceses still work together in efforts such as the Virginia Catholic Conference

Bishop Loverde with cardinals and brother bishops on the 35th Anniversary of the Diocese.

 

Since 1974, the Diocese of Arlington has served Virginians in the northern 21 counties of the Commonwealth. We have had three bishops:  Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, Bishop John R. Keating and Bishop Paul S. Loverde, who has led the diocese since 1999. 

For a full timeline of the history of our diocese, visit here. You also can check out the many parishes, schools and organizations in our diocese at www.arlingtondiocese.org.

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By: Therese Bermpohl

Traditional Marriage receives another blow from a California Judge. Federal judge, Vaughn Walker, struck down Proposition 8, the amendment in favor of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.  The judge’s decision is contrary to the will of the many people who have voted in favor of defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The USCCB released a statement Wednesday afternoon decrying the decision.

In 2006, prior to a VA ballot initiative, the Virginia Bishops spoke to the sanctity of marriage stating, “Because God designed the marital union as part of our intrinsic nature and established it as the foundation of our civilization, the proper role of both church and state is one of stewardship, to preserve our Creator’s great gift of marriage from one generation to the next.”

Marriage was instituted by God for the good of spouses, children and society. We must continue to fight for traditional marriage for the spiritual and temporal good of all.

To lend your voice to public policy efforts on this and other important issues, please visit www.vacatholic.org and sign up for its e-mail network.

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