Catholic advocates prepare for 2015 General Assembly

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Holy Family Church in Dale City hosted "A Catholic Perspective on Issues before the Virginia General Assembly 2015," a Jan. 10 presentation for potential advocates interested in this year's Catholic Advocacy Day.

Speakers included Father Gerry Creedon, chair of the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, and Jeff Caruso and Michael Lewis of the Virginia Catholic Conference. Father Creedon, pastor of Holy Family Church, spoke about the theological sources of the Catholic Church's social mission. Caruso and Lewis related public policy concerns during this year's General Assembly session, which began Jan. 14.

Catholic Advocacy Day will take place Jan. 29, starting with an 8:45 a.m. briefing at the SunTrust Center in Richmond and followed by legislator visits at the General Assembly Building. Advocates from across Virginia are encouraged to participate, with registration required by Jan. 23.

Representing Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, the VCC aims to bring respect life, social justice, and family life and education initiatives before the Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress.

Father Creedon said that Catholic solidarity means fighting against poverty, confronting "the empire of money," alleviating "painful immigrations," ridding society of drugs and violence, and helping those on the margins of society.

To segue into Caruso and Lewis' presentation, Father Creedon said, "We must (base) our engagement (in) the teachings of Jesus … Let's ground ourselves in Jesus."

Caruso, VCC executive director, talked about the importance of grass roots advocacy and making advocacy "mainstream."

Together, Caruso and Lewis previewed several Catholic advocacy priorities, addressing points in the VCC's legislative agenda, including abortion, human trafficking, immigration, the death penalty, religious liberty, health care and the environment.

Caruso explained that Catholic advocates must consider state laws practically and what can reasonably be achieved, saying that the most realistic approach is to "protect gains made over the last few years."

One issue of VCC compromise is the death penalty.

"We oppose all use of the death penalty," said Caruso, "but some of you may have heard that Virginia is a really tough environment."

Virginia is one of the states most likely to use capital punishment. Caruso said the VCC hopes it can restrict Virginia's use of the death penalty to cases based on biological, rather than circumstantial, evidence.

Financial concerns also may restrict what the VCC may accomplish this session.

"We are looking for a standalone human trafficking law in Virginia," said Caruso. "Virginia is the only state in the United States without one, which gets in the way of prosecuting to the fullest extent possible. A bill (for the law) will cost money - a big barrier because of the state's current budget situation (with cutbacks.)"

During the question-and-answer session, audience members asked about the VCC's stance on additional topics, such as minimum wage, rehousing veterans, gun violence and uranium mining.

The topic of school choice laws as a matter of religious liberty also arose.

"Catholic schools are not for the elite," said Father Creedon, explaining that a family's financial situation should not prevent children from receiving a Catholic school education.

"We support school choice laws as broadly as possible," said Caruso. "Parents have the primary responsibility for choosing education for their children. It is our priority to continue to ensure that the school choice program is working better and better."

The bulk of the questions involved clarification on health care, including Medicaid.

"It is unconscionable that so many people in the commonwealth do not have health care coverage," said Caruso.

"It makes financial and moral sense," said Lewis. "Whether the state ponies up the money or not, we pay for it through emergency rooms."

In Father Creedon's parting words at the program, he said he wants Catholic advocates to feel inspired by "charity and justice" this legislative session.

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Find out more

Learn more about Catholic Advocacy Day at the Virginia General Assembly at Follow the VCC on Twitter @VACatholicConf for Catholic Advocacy Day updates marked with #CatholicAdvocacyDay.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015