9 Bishops Express Opinions on Public Policy Issues
Thoughts from Archbishop Joseph Naumann, and Bishops Ronald Gainer, Liam Cary, Thomas Tobin, Michael Burbidge, Thomas Paprocki, Joseph Coffey, Joseph Strickland and Timothy Freyer.
I asked nine active Catholic bishops working in different parts of the United States to comment on issues of public policy and culture they thought important to the country. The following are their thoughts.
Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the Archdiocese for the Military Services has had an extensive background in the pro-life movement, including praying in front of abortion clinics and participating in Operation Rescue. He commented:
“I can remember when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973. I was 13. My dad told us about it at the dinner table. From that moment, I became a pro-lifer. In the years following, we made many annual trips down to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. We want to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe. But we know that will not end our pro-life efforts — we will have to continue our work at the state level. As the majority of bishops at [our 2019] meeting indicated, abortion is the preeminent life issue of our time.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois agreed that abortion was a key issue. He said:
“When I talk about the Right to Life, I say that abortion is the defining issue of our time. Will we be a culture of life, or, as Pope St. John Paul II said, a “culture of death?” Unfortunately, I don’t see many of our politicians talking about it. We can’t ignore the defining issue of our time; this issue must be front and center when we choose candidates for public office.
“[Regarding Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nation’s anti-abortion laws] … I think we’re in a stronger position than we were in back in the 1970s. Back then, many people thought that this was the trend, and that abortion will always be with us. The Supreme Court has spoken, and the matter is ended. But that is far from the case.
“Today, we see that many young people are very pro-life. But, before we can change laws, we have to change hearts.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, played a prominent role in opposing same-sex “marriage” in his state, an effort that was unsuccessful. He commented:
“I was terribly disappointed when [same-sex “marriage”] passed in Rhode Island, despite the strong presence of the Catholic Church and the large number of Catholics in our general assembly. A number of Catholic legislators neglected our faith, which was heartbreaking. It wasn’t long after that that the U.S. Supreme Court announced its [Obergefell] decision.
Same-sex marriage is one more influence eroding and chipping away at the importance of marriage and family life. I don’t know if we can legislatively turn things around, as it’s become ingrained in our culture. But we can continue to promote our understanding of marriage and family life. We may not win, but we must be faithful.”
Sex Identity and Gender Issues
Bishop Ronald Gainer is head of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and serves as president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. Speaking for the Conference, he said:
“Among our chief concerns are the so-called equality regulations that 16 of our municipalities have passed. These regulations mandate non-discrimination, including discrimination related to sex identity and gender issues. Some have no religious exemptions, which is very troubling. They could force us to violate our Catholic principles in such areas as hiring and adoptions. We would like to see a statewide initiative protecting religious freedom which would override harmful provisions in municipal legislation.”
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia released a 2021 letter entitled “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.” He observed:
“The issue of gender ideology is a sensitive one, and it impacts parishes and families. I think it is important at this time to teach the truth of how God created us in love, and to equip the faithful to be able to understand and explain to others what Jesus taught. … If we deny there is a God who created us in a moment of time as his beloved child, when we do not accept who we are and how God created us as male or female, we reject all that flows from that, and all that God teaches. Error cannot bring peace or happiness in one’s life. Acceptance of gender ideology increases one’s struggles, and does not make things better. Do not affirm what is false. Respond in truth.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, expressed his concerns about H.R. 5, the so-called “Equality Act,” which Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said will be “a momentous step toward finally and fully ending discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.” The archbishop responded:
“I fear it will coerce religious institutions like ours to do things that violate our conscience or prevent us from participating in government programs. This is related to gender issues and other issues as well. Unless it can be improved, I would oppose it vigorously.”
Bishop Timothy Freyer of the Diocese of Orange, California, saw his own father die when the bishop was only 13. Hence, he experienced life growing up as a teen without a father in the home (although due to death, not abandonment) which has given him a sensitivity to children who do not have a father in the home. He remarked:
“Many children are raised in homes without their biological fathers. Boys, in particular, don’t have that role model so that they can learn to be good Christian men.
“Also, many men are not spiritual fathers in the home. They may be good men, but they are not leading the family to Christ, or even going to Mass with the family. Studies show that a good indicator of whether or not children stay Catholic is whether or not their fathers actively practice the faith. If there is no spiritual father in the home, it is easy for the children drift away from the Faith.
“The crisis of fatherlessness has an adverse effect on overall society as well. Many who are drug addicted, homeless or having mental health issues in our country are the products of fatherless homes. It has wreaked havoc on our country; millions of children are growing up without the helpful influence of a father.”
Bishop Liam Cary of Diocese of Baker, Oregon, is concerned about state measures that hamper the work of the Church. He explained:
“In Oregon, I’m increasingly concerned about the bureaucratic imposition of a secular morality. We had a state bureaucracy make a change to our state insurance that would allow 15-year-old children to have sex reassignment procedures without the approval of their parents. The bureaucracy made its decision, and everyone is expected to get in line.
“Or, there was a bakery outside of Portland that refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The state fined them $135,000 and drove them out of business. They are trying to force citizens to do something that goes against their conscience.”
Birth Control and the Sexual Revolution
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, worries that secular views of sex and marriage are harmful to society. He said:
“I was 10 years old in 1968, the year Humanae Vitae came out. It was, by and large, ignored and contradicted. I think that much of the harm that has come to the world through the Sexual Revolution is due to ignoring Church teaching in matters of sexuality articulated by documents such as Humanae Vitae. In one of the paragraphs, Pope Paul VI makes a series of predictions of what will happen in the world due to widespread use of artificial contraception [e.g., increase of marital unfaithfulness, a decline in morality, loss of respect for women, government promotion of contraception and family planning]. We’ve certainly seen that these predictions have come true.”