VCC details legislative priorities

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The 2016 Virginia legislature convened Jan. 13 with more than 1,000 bills awaiting legislative review and action. Many of these bills will have a direct impact on Catholic interests in the commonwealth.

The Virginia Catholic Conference is the policy agency for Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo. Jeff Caruso, VCC executive director, came to Holy Family Church in Dale City Jan. 16 to present the conference's legislative priorities to members of the Arlington Peace and Justice Commission at the "Church in State" conference.

Father Gerry Creedon, chairman of the commission and pastor of Holy Family Church, welcomed more than 60 people who came to hear Caruso speak.

Marsha Williams, a Holy Family parishioner, opened the session with a prayer.

Before introducing Caruso, Father Creedon quoted from Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech delivered Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood," said King.

Father Creedon then spoke of Pope Francis' commitment to Catholic social teaching.

"Pope Francis has done more (for peace and justice) than theologians have done in 50 years," he said.

Father Creedon also commented on the Jubilee Year of Mercy that began in December.

"Where's the mercy in abortion and the death penalty," he said.

In his presentation, Caruso detailed the priorities of the VCC for this year. Topping the list was respect life legislation that includes restricting state funding of abortion and abortion providers, and preserving the gains that were made in previous years.

Caruso said the VCC also wants to close the "gun show loophole" that would require unlicensed sellers to perform background checks on all buyers.

Other life issues included exempting individuals with serious mental illness from execution. The VCC also supports raising the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500, opposes cuts to community-based juvenile justice programs and supports expanding Medicaid coverage in the commonwealth.

For a comprehensive list of VCC priorities go to bit.ly/1n7GYaA.

Questions and comments from the audience were often spirited, and Caruso addressed them all.

"We favor health care for all," said Caruso on the Affordable Care Act question, adding that there must be restrictions on abortion.

John K. Bergen, a parishioner of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, and public health and safety coordinator for the Northern Virginia chapter of the Brady Campaign, said he would like to see the diocese come out stronger on gun safety issues.

Matthew Shadle, a theology professor at Marymount University in Arlington, decried what he sees as unfair immigration policies in some Northern Virginia municipalities.

Shadle said the VCC has a lot on its plate.

"It's amazing to hear all the issues the VCC is engaged in," he said.

The event was scheduled to end at noon, but it went on for 30 extra minutes. Father Creedon introduced Lonnie Ellis of the Catholic Climate Covenant and Richard Nagel, executive director of Neighbor's Keeper, a nonprofit, 501c3 education organization, whose organization helps individuals navigate the the complexities of the Affordable Care Act.

Before the conference ended, Father Creedon told the attendees that they need to help create a world without anger and hatred.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016