Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
As Georgia State senators Lester Jackson of Savannah, left, and Donzella James of College Park look on, Archbishop Gregory, second from left, proudly draws attention to the large Catholic contingent occupying the gallery above the Senate floor. Standing behind James, the only Catholic in the Georgia State Senate, is Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference.


Youthful Presence At 2010 Catholic Day At Capitol

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published March 18, 2010

The bright red colors of Our Lady of Mercy High School stood out in downtown Atlanta on March 10, as the entire junior class of the Fayetteville school attended the fourth annual Catholic Day at the Capitol.

Some 70 students arrived with school principal Danny Dorsel and chaplain Father Jimmy Adams. They attended a legislative briefing at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and then joined other Catholics in visiting sessions of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and expressing their positions on bills under consideration.

Three bills were highlighted this year. Pat Chivers, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, led the briefing, which also featured comments from Mary Boyert, director of respect life ministry, and Susan Sullivan, director of parish social justice ministries.

“Today, we are speaking as Catholics with one voice,” said Sullivan, as she addressed the crowd of nearly 100 in the basement of the Shrine.

After the briefing, the students and adults grabbed their umbrellas and put up their hoods as they braved the steady rain to walk to the Capitol on Washington Street. Again, the colors of OLM stood out in the gallery as hundreds came to watch the opening session of the Senate, where Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory served as chaplain. Some students listened, others took pictures, but all were excited to participate in the event, which was the first time many had visited the legislature.

Catholics are a dominant presence in the Senate gallery, where they observed Archbishop Gregory serve as the chaplain for the opening session, March 10. Photo By Michael Alexander

Addressing legislators, Archbishop Gregory encouraged them to weigh the issues and make conscientious decisions about how the bills would affect the people of Georgia.

“As you consider the many issues coming before you in the remaining days of the legislative session, I encourage you in your work of public service to balance the needs and the desires of our people,” said Archbishop Gregory. “While you face tough ethical decisions, keep the expectations of the powerful in proper perspective. I hope your view will be through eyes of compassion, especially for the human lives that need our respect and protection, and for the poor and needy in our state.”

The archbishop then led the entire assembly in prayer, building on the remarks he made in his opening statement.

“Gracious Lord, God of mercy and love, bless these legislators who earnestly seek your wisdom and compassion. Enlighten their minds with the insight needed to understand the complex issues before them,” the archbishop prayed.

“Instill in each one the compassion they need to pass just legislation that benefits all the people of Georgia, particularly those who are most vulnerable and those who cannot speak for themselves,” he continued. “Bless each senator and spread your blessing over their spouses, their families, staff, and all who will participate in this General Assembly session.”

Those participating in Catholic Day at the Capitol were briefed on three bills that would be addressed, Senate Bills 304 and 361 and House Bill 1155. Participants received a summary of the bills, information on how to find their representatives and a copy of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Herb Leinberger, right, a parishioner of Saint Katharine Drexel Mission, Trenton, meets with Representative Martin Scott of Rossville. Saint Katharine Drexel Mission resides in Dade County, which is part of the Georgia 2nd House District that Scott represents. Photo By Michael Alexander

House Bill 1155, sponsored by Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), would make it a crime to perform an abortion based on the race or gender of the unborn child.

Senate Bill 361, sponsored by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), would expand eligibility for a limited school voucher program for elementary, middle and high school students to include children with certain special needs, children who are or who have been in foster care and children with a parent currently in the military, reserves or National Guard.

The most controversial bill was Senate Bill 304, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). The bill, which would provide a process for connecting children who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation with much-needed restorative services through juvenile court, received various reactions from Catholics.

Some were concerned that this bill will repeal the current law, thus decriminalizing acts performed by those who participate in the sexual exploitation of children.

“I am very concerned about the message that is being sent to the community due to the Catholic Church asking for us to lobby for and advocate in favor of SB 304,” said a parishioner from St. Vincent de Paul Church, Dallas.

“The ends do not justify the means, which are the supposed good intentions to help these children by decriminalizing underage prostitution and pornography,” she said.

However, Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, said there has been a lot of confusion regarding SB 304. Mulcahy is working with Sen. Unterman and others to infuse new language into the bill to clearly state its purpose.

“The real purpose of the bill is not to decriminalize (prostitution), but to give these kids care and not put them into jail. If they go to jail, they learn worse things,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is draft some language to make it clear that these kids will be put into treatment,” Mulcahy added. By offering counseling and other services, supporters of the bill hope they will be able to help those victimized return to healthy, productive lives.

The group of Catholics present at the Capitol had the chance to meet their legislators and let them know they are informed and interested in what is going on in the House and Senate.

Dorsel felt it was important for his students to be present at Catholic Day at the Capitol to see how the larger Catholic community faces these issues.

“I wanted them to see how to be Catholic in all aspects of life,” said the OLM principal. “I wanted them to see how to live your faith in the real world, outside of church, outside of school.”

And the students definitely enjoyed the chance to participate in an important day for the archdiocese.

“It is exciting to experience this as a Catholic school community,” said Caitlin Rose.

Adults, clergy, the junior class from Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville, and the pro-life club from St. Anne Pacelli School, Columbus, attend the legislative briefing session at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Photo By Michael Alexander

Another school, St. Anne Pacelli, Columbus, also brought a group to experience the day. About 14 students involved with the pro-life club at the school attended.

“I want to broaden the horizon of those involved with the pro-life movement,” said Jeff Chardos, who chaperoned the group. He felt the students needed to see there was more to being pro-life than protests and marches.

The two school groups easily made up the majority of Catholics present. It was a sign to the legislators that the next generation is paying attention to what is going on and that they also need to pay attention, for they are the ones setting the example.

“I am certain that all of you seek to be public servants who are dedicated to enacting laws for the people of our state that apply equally to the rich and the poor, the powerful and the marginalized,” Archbishop Gregory told the assembly. “That is why public officials are so often seen as the very pillars of a society. You embody the highest principles and values of our citizens.”