By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
While gearing up for a busy second half of the 2021 legislative session, the Indiana Catholic Conference is also giving voice to important national issues and urging the faithful to do the same.
From COVID-19 relief and other federal legislation dominating recent headlines to ongoing debate over the death penalty, the Indiana Catholic Conference is staying engaged on matters that affect the common good and offering tools for people to influence the discussion at all levels of government.
“Advocacy is so important, and everyone can become involved in some way in shaping the outcome of critical issues,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “People step forward to vote for all sorts of reasons, and that is absolutely essential; but we are called to be involved in the public forum more than once every four years.”
Staying informed is the first step, Espada emphasized; and one reliable resource is the new weekly podcast that she hosts along with Alexander Mingus, the associate director of the ICC. Each Friday, the two post their latest discussion highlighting the issues most important to the Catholic Church and calling for public awareness and engagement.
The podcast is accessible on the ICC website, www.indianacc.org, which also offers a wealth of other information and resources. This includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which is the principal communication vehicle of the ICC for updating the faithful on the Church’s social teachings and legislative priorities to advance the common good. Signing up for I-CAN is simple, and members receive weekly reports via email that include a link to the latest ICC podcast.
“The ICC began podcasting at a time of booming popularity for this medium,” Mingus said. “Our brief I-CAN podcast episodes complement the written I-CAN reports and give members of our network another way to digest our updates from the Indiana Statehouse. In addition, the conversational format gives listeners anecdotal information they might not get from simply reading the I-CAN reports.”
In its education and advocacy efforts, the ICC supports and amplifies the priorities and messages of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Mingus has direct experience working with the USCCB. As a college student years ago majoring in political science and human rights studies, Mingus spent several months assigned to the USCCB in Washington, D.C. There, he met with legislators on Capitol Hill and witnessed how matters of faith can influence public debate and decision-making at all levels.
“After spending a summer as a USCCB intern, I was able to see the inner workings of the Church’s advocacy efforts at the federal level,” said Mingus, whose efforts primarily encompassed healthcare reform policy, and advocating for the poor and vulnerable. “Our counterparts there provide fitting guidance for our engagement with national politics in light of the Church’s teachings. We are fortunate to have their guidance in the complex and confusing web of national policies.”
The USCCB also offers this guidance to the general public through its website, www.usccb.org, and its action center, www.votervoice.net/USCCB/home. There, the organization posts alerts and position statements on the most important national issues and legislation of the day.
A recent example is COVID-19 relief. Almost exactly one year after the coronavirus pandemic drastically altered life for all Americans, the U.S. Senate on March 6 approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. At press time, the U.S. House of Representatives – which earlier passed its own version of the legislation – was expected to vote on the Senate bill as well.
The USCCB urged passage of the relief package because it “addresses the needs of many vulnerable people related to the pandemic.” At the same time, the bishops lamented the lack of protections for the unborn in the legislation.
“Unfortunately, unlike previous COVID relief bills, this bill appropriates billions of taxpayer dollars that are not subject to longstanding, bipartisan pro-life protections that are needed to prevent this funding from paying for abortions,” the bishops stated.
Promoting the sanctity of life is always at the forefront for both the USCCB and the ICC, and that includes efforts to abolish the death penalty. This is an issue that hits close to home for Hoosiers because the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute is the site of nearly all federal executions.
In 2020, the federal government reinstated the death penalty after an almost two-decade hiatus. Since July, 13 inmates have been executed by the U.S. government – all of them in Terre Haute.
In a December letter, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis called for an end to capital punishment.
“The death penalty, far from resolving anything or providing ‘justice’ for victims, ultimately contributes to the perpetuation of a culture of death,” Archbishop Thompson wrote. “The urgency of this appeal is directed toward promoting a culture of life that takes into consideration the ultimate dignity and sacredness of every person as well as society itself.
“I urge Catholics and all people of good will to join in the urgency of this call.”
Now, there are renewed efforts at the national level to do just as the U.S. bishops have been advocating. Congress is considering the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021, which would end the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing of those currently on death row.
“In a recent poll, more than 60 percent of Americans felt it was time for the death penalty to be abolished,” Espada said. “It’s important for the Catholic faithful to be involved in national conversations about important issues. We urge everyone to contact their state and federal representatives and make their voices heard.”
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.