By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), an increase in Iowa’s minimum wage, restrictions on the use of fetal tissue for research following an abortion, and support for refugees are top legislative priorities for Iowa’s Catholic bishops in 2016.
They affirmed these priorities and addressed other concerns – religious liberty in particular — during the biennial meeting of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) Board of Directors on Oct. 15 in Ankeny, Iowa.
Des Moines Diocesan Attorney Frank Harty of the Nyemaster law firm spoke to the board about religious liberty because of the bishops’ concern regarding the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The bishops expressed disappointment with the ruling in a June 26 statement and made clear their expectation that religious liberty will be honored.
“It seems that our whole religious liberties are being eroded, where we can’t practice the faith in the way we want to express our faith,” Bishop Martin Amos said.
As a result, the bishops wanted to have a discussion about religious liberty at their biennial meeting. “They wanted to talk about the challenges that might come about. The bottom line is that the bishops would like to arrive at some common policies and that’s what the discussion will be over the next few months,” said ICC Executive Director Tom Chapman. While each diocese is autonomous, the bishops agreed that consistency in policies is important. Harty has begun drafting some common policies related to religious liberty for each diocese to consider, Chapman added.
Looking for ways to collaborate with others on religious liberty, the bishops met with leaders in Iowa of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The Mormons organized a religious liberty day at the state capitol last spring, which was low key and well done, Chapman said. One example of a possible project for collaboration is working with the Red Cross to ensure that households have smoke alarms. Chapman will follow up with the Mormon leaders’ staff on this project and see what that might lead to in terms of future projects, such as a Religious Liberty Day in spring 2016.
“It was a wonderful meeting with them, sharing some of the things we hold in common such as religious liberty and supporting family life – those are the two big ones,” Bishop Amos said, “and care for people.” He has also met locally with Doug Cropper, president of the Davenport Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who serves as president and CEO of Genesis Health System.
During discussion about legislative concerns, the bishops identified ways to educate Catholics about end of life issues and advanced directives. Their hope is to have an education project launched in the next six months. “Everyone is concerned about what’s going to happen to them at the end of life. What we’re trying to do is create some resources for people. It might be in the form of speakers for parishes, trained by Catholic health care personnel,” Chapman said. The ICC has observed that many Catholics are confused about church teaching on end of life issues, thinking that every possible treatment must be attempted. The education project would articulate church teaching.
“We felt education is very critical,” Bishop Amos said, to address, “What is the positive response of the church to end of life issues?”
The bishops also listened to a presentation by Father Bud Grant, a theology professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport on “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on “care for our common home.” Chapman said the ICC has been considering how the encyclical will apply to the ICC’s public policy work.
Finally, the bishops encourage all people in their dioceses to participate in the “Vote to End Hunger Rally” on Sunday Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. at Grand View University in Des Moines. Bread for the World and the ICC are sponsoring the rally. Its purpose is to make hunger a priority issue in the presidential campaign. Speakers will include Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese and the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. Presidential candidates are invited. To sign up for the free event go to votetoendhungeriowa.eventbrite.com
The bishops are also encouraging parishioners to participate in the Jan. 16 Midwest March for Life in Des Moines.
Facts about the ICC
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is the public policy agency of the Catholic Church in Iowa. Its board of directors includes Iowa’s four diocesan bishops: Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines and Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City. Other members are lay people, priests, deacons and religious sisters.