March 18, 2011

Catholic Conference’s role is ‘to promote the public good’

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Why is the Church involved in public policy? The short answer is “to form and inform,” says Glenn Tebbe, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) executive director.

“The role of the ICC is two-fold,” Tebbe said. “Our role is to bring Church teachings to the public square where appropriate. Secondly, our role is to assist in forming the consciences of our faith community, to act as liaison by informing people in the pew [about] what’s going on, and to help them take part in the political process. The overall goal of the Church in the public square is to promote the public good.”

In 2007, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement called “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” outlining the Church’s and the faithful’s role in the political process.

It states, “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.”

The document continues, “The Catholic community enters public life not to impose sectarian doctrine, but to act on our moral convictions, to share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and to participate in the dialogue over our nation’s future.”

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, said, “Advocacy groups as a whole do play a very important role, and serve as an important informational tool for lawmakers. They bring a certain expertise in an area. In the case of the [Indiana] Catholic Conference, they are able to bring to bear the well-thought-out, well-articulated positions of the Church.

“In terms of advocacy groups, I can’t tell you how important a role these groups play,” Broden said. “We are a part-time legislature. We all have jobs outside of the legislature. We need reliable, honest information on these issues that we face because we can’t be experts in all these issues.”

Broden, who is an attorney, said there are certain areas of expertise that he brings to the state Senate because of his profession.

“But there are a full range of issues that, quite frankly, I don’t have the expertise on,” he said. “So again, we rely as legislators on these groups, and you learn to discern which informational groups provide honest, straight information that will enlighten and enhance your ability to analyze issues. Some groups don’t have that reputation.

“Obviously, I would put the Catholic conference undoubtedly in the category of providing exceptional information with respect to particular bills and issues that the legislators face,” he said. “The Indiana Catholic Conference plays an indispensable role in educating lawmakers.”

Emily Snipes, the ICC diocesan coordinator for the Evansville Diocese, said, “The work [that] the ICC does is important because it is nearly impossible for the average Catholic to keep up-to-date on all the legislation that occurs. They provide education for both Catholics and the general population.

“The ICC also acts as one unified voice for the Church, which allows us to have a clear position that leaves no room for misinterpretation,” Snipes said. “Much of what they do is unseen, but so vital to how we uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Jesuit Father James Dixon, the ICC diocesan coordinator for the Gary Diocese, said that the ICC gives Catholics a very hands-on way of making their commitment to the Gospel and Catholic social teaching practical, which is important.

“Being an ICC coordinator gives me a practical, useful tool for working with the Catholics, especially those on peace and justice committees who are seeking works of justice and social change,” he said. “It is one of the most important things I do in this office.”

Fred Everett, the ICC diocesan coordinator for the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, said, “The ICC brings the wisdom of the Church as it bears on ethical and public policy issues. If legislators are wondering where the Church is on an issue or what Christian principles apply, they know to contact Glenn Tebbe. In addition, other pro-life, pro-family, pro-immigrant, pro-poor and pro-education groups can look to the conference for guidance.

“I enjoy the interaction with legislators and others on public policy matters,” he said. “The process, however, is not always a pretty one. I am often reminded of the saying commonly attributed to Bismarck that, ‘Laws are like sausages—it’s better not to know how they are made!’ ”

Since 1967, the ICC has been the official representative for the Church in Indiana on both state and national issues. It consists of a board of directors, professional staff, diocesan coordinators and interested Catholics who want to participate in the public policy arena. The board includes the bishop and one layperson from each of Indiana’s five dioceses.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information on the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to its website at

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