By Joe Dougherty
The 2015 Catholic Faith in Action Advocacy Day took place Tuesday, March 24. Organized on behalf of the state’s bishops by the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC), Advocacy Day is a carefully planned and executed enterprise. The Texas legislature meets every other year. At that time, the TCC reviews bills entering the House and Senate to determine whether to oppose or support the bills on moral grounds. On Advocacy Day, Catholics from across the state gather in Austin to rally for the TCC’s positions and ensure that lawmakers hear their concerns. The TCC estimated that over 3,300 people attended last Tuesday’s events.
The University of Dallas community was encouraged to participate this year in celebration of the Diocese of Dallas’ 125th anniversary. Five members of Student Senate, including myself, Student Government president senior Christina Davis, sophomore Annamica Reding, and freshmen Judy Sommer and Michael Fazi, caught a bus to Austin early Tuesday morning. Our mission: Visit a lawmaker’s office and advocate our bills, then rally on the south side of the Capitol to bear witness to our beliefs. We were politely asked to stick to the TCC’s agenda during our trip, and express additional or conflicting views on our own time — Tuesday had to be univocal. Catholics who could not come to Austin were encouraged to call and email their representatives.
As our assigned congresswoman was on the House floor, we met with an aide who dutifully noted which bills we supported and why we were supporting them. Some of our group also visited the House Gallery to see a team of bishops recognized. We then headed outside for the rally. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston opened with a prayer, and legislators in attendance were applauded. More than 10 Texas bishops gave brief explanations of the Scripture and Tradition behind the legislation on their agendas.
Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores asserted that “the first responsibility of the Church is to respond with human compassion to human suffering.” Many others explained where they believe we should place this compassion, emphasizing justice for immigrants, protection of the poor and vulnerable, criminal justice, protection of human life, children and families, and health and human services.
Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, former rector of UD’s own Holy Trinity Seminary and a student of bioethics, talked about end-of-life responsibilities. Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso described how school-choice legislation could improve education opportunities via tax credits for scholarship donations. Beaumont Bishop Curtis Guillory advocated regulation of payday lenders, who charge interest above 500 percent and bolster chronic debt among poorer borrowers.
Maintaining their nonpartisanship, the bishops expressed views across the political spectrum. San Angelo Bishop Michael Sis denounced the death penalty on moral and financial grounds.
“[This] may not be the most popular position in the state of Texas,” he said.
Bishop William Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi called for government-sponsored healthcare for all people and lamented that “we are losing federal dollars.” Standing by immigrants, Laredo Bishop James Tamayo opposed some 20 bills that he said would “negatively impact DREAMers,” referring to unlawful immigrants at the heart of the controversial Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Bishop Plácido Rodríguez of Lubbock warned against bills that would allow open carry of guns in sacred and educational spaces.
Sara Garcia, a Catholic from the archdiocese of San Antonio, said she was encouraged to participate by her archbishop.
“It’s important not only to talk about what we believe, but also to walk that path. I do think it makes an impact,” Garcia said. “Our Church is very diverse in background, but overall, it’s important that these bishops remind us that what connects us is our faith. The Catholic Church is ‘bigger than politics.’”