June 21, 2013

St. Barnabas parishioners work hard to defend religious liberty

Members of the St. Barnabas Religious Liberty Action Committee pose on June 9 in front of a booth run by the committee in the narthex of St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. The members are, from left, Dave and Jean Webb, Julie Oelker and Chuck Stumpf. (Submitted photo)

Members of the St. Barnabas Religious Liberty Action Committee pose on June 9 in front of a booth run by the committee in the narthex of St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. The members are, from left, Dave and Jean Webb, Julie Oelker and Chuck Stumpf. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis may seem a world away from the halls of power in Washington.

But a group of parishioners in the Indianapolis South Deanery faith community is working hard to motivate fellow Catholics to make their voices heard in defense of religious liberty.

In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that all businesses and nearly all religious organizations would be required to provide abortifacients, sterilizations and contraceptives in its employee health insurance plans. Soon after, these parishioners joined together to form the St. Barnabas Religious Liberty Action Committee.

Since April 2012, members of the committee have staffed a booth in the narthex of the parish’s church after each of its weekend Masses.

Information about challenges to religious liberty is offered at the booth and in the parish’s weekly bulletin.

“We’ve reached a lot of people at St. Barnabas,” said committee chairperson Chuck Stumpf. “It seems like the further we go along, the more people stop at the table and ask questions and pick up literature. Sometimes, they’ll take it to other folks or family members.”

The pamphlets and fliers offered at the booth and in the bulletin are updated on a regular basis, and are largely drawn from materials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Stumpf says sharing this information is key to getting more people to stand up to challenges to religious liberty.

“If you don’t know about it, you can’t react to it,” Stumpf said. “What we try to do is to give them as much information as possible so that they know about it. If they know about it, maybe they’ll get active.”

The committee is also organizing a conference on Sept. 22 at St. Barnabas Parish to spread information about threats to religious liberty and action that Catholics can take to defend their freedom.

One of the reasons that Stumpf, 68, is so passionate about this cause is that he can’t believe how different the federal government views religious organizations from the time when he was a young adult. He doesn’t want this trend to continue.

“It’s quite shocking that we’re here talking about threats to religious liberty,” Stumpf said. “Never in my lifetime did I think that that would be necessary.”

Fellow committee member Steve Sullivan sees his work in defending religious liberty as helping the generations that are coming after his.

“Every generation should be concerned about how they’re leaving this world for their children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren,” said Sullivan, 72. “That’s in all of our minds.”

He and other committee members are looking out not only for their own descendants, but for future generations.

That’s a reason why they’re interested in helping other parishes form religious liberty committees similar to the one at St. Barnabas.

Sullivan is excited when he considers the prospect of spreading the work of defending religious liberty to parishes across central and southern Indiana.

“Plant the seed and let it grow,” Sullivan said. “It’s extremely important. It would be very rewarding.”

Stumpf thinks that members of the committee have learned enough over the first year and three months of its existence to be able to help Catholics in other parishes defend religious liberty.

“I think we’ve been active enough to share whatever wisdom we have and whatever process we’ve used with other parishes,” Stumpf said. “If people have access to information more readily and have a process they can follow, they’ll be more apt to get involved.”

Msgr. Anthony Volz, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, has preached on religious liberty concerns and encouraged parishioners to pick up the literature made available by the religious liberty committee.

At the same time, he recognizes that it’s vitally important that lay Catholics like those who make up his parish’s religious liberty action committee take the lead in this effort.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary,” said Msgr. Volz. “It’s impressive to see people in the Church who are passionate about their faith and who are dealing with it themselves and wrestling with the issues. Like St. Paul said, you preach the Gospel whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.”

Stumpf agrees with his pastor’s assessment.

“The solution to this is the laity getting informed and being motivated and doing it,” Stumpf said. “ … The laity has to carry the ball.”

(For information on how to start a religious liberty committee in your parish, contact Chuck Stumpf at 317-786-3543 or send him an e-mail at cstumpfjr@comcast.net.)

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