By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 19, 2012
Nearly 100 people participated in this year’s first Faith & Public Policy Workshop sponsored by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, representing the commencement of the 2012 Georgia legislative session and aiming to prepare Catholics for an upcoming presidential election season.
Key political themes and issues were presented and discussed among the crowd, which gathered in Nolan Hall at St. Ann Church on Jan. 7. Parishioners from throughout the archdiocese, Catholic school students and clergy all participated in the event, which strived to give Catholics a foundation for discerning legislation and probable candidates.
Archdiocesan communications director Pat Chivers helped lead the event, providing some comments herself before introducing the other workshop presenters. Chivers encouraged Catholics to become involved in the legislative process this year, a sentiment echoed by the other presenters, including Kat Doyle, director of social justice ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan respect life ministry, and Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference.
Chivers urged participants to take an active role as Catholics and encouraged them to speak out on their faith.
Chivers was clear on the fact that the Catholic Church does not endorse political parties or candidates, but rather provides resources to help Catholics build a moral foundation on which to act in the political arena. One of these resources is “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a guide written by the Catholic bishops of the United States.
“In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation,” the text reads. “This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all that we do.”
Doyle and Boyert presented together, walking participants through the seven themes of Catholic social teaching described in the bishops’ document on faithful citizenship: (1) life and dignity of the human person, (2) call to family, community and participation, (3) rights and responsibilities, (4) option for the poor and vulnerable, (5) the dignity of work and the rights of workers, (6) solidarity and (7) care for God’s creation.
“We are called to be peacemakers in a world of war,” said Doyle as she discussed the importance of seeking the common good of all people. Boyert and Doyle discussed each theme, defining some key issues that are a part of each one. For example, “life and dignity of the human person” provides the foundation for the public policy positions of the U.S. bishops on ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, the death penalty and torture, said Boyert.
The purpose of providing this framework is that it allows citizens to see beyond political parties. Catholic social teaching provides a moral platform from which Catholics can engage in political life, Boyert said. The teachings focus on the needs of the weak rather than the benefits of the strong, the presenters concluded.
Mulcahy, who represents the Catholic bishops in Georgia in public affairs through the work of the Georgia Catholic Conference, took some time to explain the legislative process and gave attendees tips on how they can become involved. Whether it is sharing ideas with local legislators, contacting these legislators to voice opinions, or attending hearings to stay current on how certain bills are progressing, he emphasized that there are many opportunities to participate in the legislative process.
Mulcahy spoke of several issues that will be addressed through various pieces of legislation in 2012 in Georgia, though no specific bills were discussed. These include abortion, assisted suicide, the death penalty and immigration reform, among others. By staying involved and following appropriate legislation, local Catholics can have an effect on how certain bills progress through the Georgia House and Senate, Mulcahy said.
The issue of the Church endorsing candidates was also addressed by Mulcahy, who explained the legal difficulties with the issue. Since the Church is a tax-exempt charitable organization it does not endorse individual candidates, lest it lose its 501(c)(3) status, he said. Secondly, the Church encourages its members to participate in the political process. The role of the Church is to teach, Mulcahy said.
One of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s most effective efforts regarding political participation is the annual Catholic Day at the Capitol, when local Catholics serve as advocates for public policies that protect the vulnerable and promote the common good. This year all three Georgia bishops, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Savannah Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, will participate in the day of action.
Following the presentations, participants in the workshop were given the opportunity to ask questions and comment on points made throughout the day.
“I was so impressed by the level of the presentation today,” said Ann Marie Martin, a parishioner at St. Ann Church. She attended the workshop with her husband, Jim, who both felt the presenters were knowledgeable and well-versed in Catholic teachings.
Attendees also discussed issues in small groups with other parishioners at the event. Some discussed various ways to discern how to vote on certain issues while others shared their views on the responsibility of Catholics to remain engaged in politics, not just during election years.
“Our responsibility does not end after we vote,” said Michael LeDue, a parishioner at St. Brendan the Navigator, Cumming. He attended the workshop with his wife, Anne, who echoed his statement.
“We are giving them our voice so we need to pay attention to what they are saying,” she said.
Many agreed that prayer was an effective tool in discerning political issues, but the act of discussing the themes of Catholic social teaching with other Catholics is also a great advantage.
As lobbyists, said Chivers, “Our tools … are the Bible, the rosary and the truth.”