January 9, 2009

Catholics called to action as government resumes business

By Brigid Cutis Ayer

Catholics have citizenship responsibilities beyond the voting booth that they must exercise, say U.S. Catholic bishops.

And there will be plenty of opportunities to do just that in the coming months as a new administration takes the helm in Washington, D.C., and as newly elected federal and state lawmakers head to their respective Capitol buildings to resume business. (Related story: An invitation from Indiana’s Catholic bishops)

Every January, 150 state lawmakers—better known as the Indiana General Assembly—descend upon the state Capitol in Indianapolis to conduct some of the state’s most important business. Passing a new two-year state budget will be one of those items this year.

And every year, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the Church’s official public policy watchdog and advocate, gears up to bring Catholic principles to the public square by sharing a consistent life ethic that every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, deserves dignity.

But the Indiana bishops and the ICC staff cannot do it alone. Catholics in the pew also have a role and responsibility in the public square as citizens.

These responsibilities are outlined in a November 2007 statement released by the bishops called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.”

It says, in part, “This obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.” The statement is available at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.

How does a Catholic in the pew begin to exercise his or her moral obligation to participate in public life? The ICC has made political engagement—a seemingly daunting task—simple, fast and effective through numerous resources they offer, including a new, electronic Legislative Action Center available on the ICC’s Web site.

“When the Indiana General Assembly is in session, getting input from constituents in a timely manner on legislation is vital to the process,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director.

“When Catholics contact their representatives in unison with the work of the Catholic Conference, it allows the Church to be more effective in shaping morally sound public policy. The use of this software by Catholics has the potential to significantly impact the Church’s role in the public policy arena,” Tebbe said. “It is my hope that our faith community will seize the opportunity to take advantage of this online tool.”

Tebbe added, “Catholics that have a particular interest in pro-life, social justice, education, immigration reform, health care or family life issues will be able to stay connected and be counted when important legislative decisions are made on priority issues the Church is following.”

Visitors to the ICC Web page (www.indianacc.org) can join the Indiana Catholic Action Network and, through an electronic Legislative Action Center, engage in a variety of grassroots political activities by a few simple keystrokes. One of the key features of the software allows visitors to quickly identify and contact their elected officials.

In addition to passing a two-year budget, the primary issues expected to be addressed by the Indiana General Assembly this session include: protection for the unborn; school choice tax credits; constitutional protections for the institution of marriage; and improving access to basic needs for the elderly, disabled, lower-income and immigrant families and children living in Indiana.

While the role of the ICC is to serve as the official voice of the Catholic Church in the public policy arena primarily in Indiana, those visiting the ICC Web page will also be notified about important federal legislation that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is concerned about, and be offered ways to contact members of Congress. Since 1967, the ICC has worked to bring a consistent life ethic to Hoosier public policy making.

Other resources on the Web page include background information on the ICC, including its mission and purpose, public policy statements which outline the Church’s teaching and support for particular moral issues that it is concerned about, legislative updates, and links to other Catholic entities of importance.

The Indiana General Assembly, the state’s legislative body made up of 50 state senators and 100 state representatives, began legislative business on Jan. 7.

To explore the ICC’s new online public policy tool and to join the ICC network, go to the ICC Web page at www.indianacc.org and click on “Legislative Action Center.”

(Bridget Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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