Bishop's Interview: Promoting the dignity of all in the state legislature

Editor: Bishop, the 84th Texas Legislative Session will begin on Jan. 13. Lawmakers are busy filing bills and the Texas Catholic Conference is examining all of them. What is the role of the TCC in the legislative process?
Bishop Vásquez: The Texas Catholic Conference is comprised of all of the bishops in the state of Texas. The primary purpose of the conference, which was established as the fifth state Catholic conference in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council, is to encourage and foster cooperation and communication among the dioceses and the ministries of the Catholic Church of Texas. 
A major function of the conference is to be the public policy arm of the conference’s board of directors, the bishops of Texas, before the Texas legislature, the Texas delegation in Congress and state agencies. Their role is to advocate on behalf of what the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Bishops throughout Texas see as important for sustaining, supporting, caring for the life and dignity of every human person from conception until natural death. Every other year prior to the convening of the state legislature, the Texas bishops and the staff at the Texas Catholic Conference review and discuss the legislative priorities for the upcoming session and then follow these priorities throughout the legislative session. 
Editor: What is the role of the lay Catholics in the legislative process? 
Bishop Vásquez: The first role is to be as informed as possible about the issues that are before the legislature. There will be many programs; there will be many projects; and there will be many bills that are proposed throughout this legislative session. Since in Texas we have a legislative session every other year, there are typically numerous items that are brought up for consideration. 
What I ask the Catholic lay people to do is to become as informed as possible through the Texas Catholic Conference. Sign up at www.txcatholic.org to receive the information as to what the issues are that the bishops are speaking about and why they are important. Also we should get to know our representatives and our senators, and we must communicate with them. As Catholics we must speak out to address the important issues, and one way to do that is by joining the Texas bishops at the 2015 Catholic Faith in Action Advocacy Day on March 24 (see box below).
Issues such as employment, immigration, family, education and health are concerns that impact every person in our state. Therefore, the question: How do we take care of all the people in the state is important. Laws should be just and fair, and they must support the dignity of every person and care for each person, especially the most vulnerable and the weakest in our society. We need to be informed, we need to communicate with our politicians, and lastly we must advocate on behalf of what we consider important.

Editor: What do the Texas bishops consider to be priority in this legislative session?
Bishop Vásquez:
The number one priority is always protecting human life; we must protect the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death. Human life is to be protected at its most vulnerable stage in the womb and also as one progresses throughout life. This also means we want to make sure that there is adequate health care provided for people, especially children and the elderly. We speak, of course, against abortion and euthanasia. We oppose public funding to abortion providers, and we support efforts to reform the statutes governing end-of-life care. The bishops speak out against anything that undermines the dignity of each person. 
There are too many children in our own state who suffer from poverty, and there are too many families who don’t have decent employment. How are we going to address these particular issues and help our bothers and sisters have a quality of life that is fair and just? We support legislation that promotes strong, stable and healthy families. We also support access to basic and preventative health care for low-income women and their children.
Through the Texas Catholic Conference, we promote the permanency of marriage between one man and one woman. And we support tax credits so that parents can send their children to the school that best meets the needs of the children. We support access to safe and affordable housing, and we support policies that will reduce food insecurity and hunger as well as end human trafficking and provide care for victims.

Editor: Immigration also remains a top priority, right?
Bishop Vásquez:
Yes, immigration is a priority, especially at the national level. We have a broken immigration system that is harming families. Recently through one provision of an executive action, President Obama created the opportunity for millions of adults who have no criminal record, who have resided in the U.S. for years and who have children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents to be allowed to stay and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. However, this action does not give them citizenship, it does not provide a path to citizenship, it does not give them access to health care, and it is not permanent. This was an attempt by our president to address the issue of an immigration that threatens and stresses families with deportation fears. Our current system is not benefitting people, nor is it helping our country; therefore, the issue must be addressed. This administrative action is one step, but it is not a complete solution. 
I pray that on the national level our legislators will come together to forge a plan that will overhaul our immigration system. My hope is that the plan will address border security as well as keep families together and provide legal status to immigrants with fair and just rights. Immigrants are people, and the majority of immigrants have come here seeking a better life. They may be escaping some type of persecution be it religious or political, or they may be escaping the violence of drug cartels and gangs. 
Immigrants are persons made in the image and likeness of God. This summer we witnessed the large buildup of unaccompanied minors at the border; these children and their parents need our help and our support. The bishops of the U.S. and of Texas strongly support justice for immigrants. We support immigration reform that is charitable and compassionate to those immigrants who are seeking a better life and at the same time have a secure border.

Editor: What is your prayer for Texas as the next session begins?
Bishop Vásquez:
My prayer is that God will guide our government officials to legislate and enact laws that benefit the common good. We pray the Holy Spirit will inspire our representatives and senators that they may be responsive to the needs of all. May they serve the good of all people, particularly the most vulnerable, poor and underserved in our society.

Texas Catholic Faith In Action Advocacy Day is March 24

Catholics from across Texas will unite for the Texas Catholic Conference’s 2015 Texas Catholic Faith In Action Advocacy Day on March 24. This rally is hosted by the Texas bishops to promote the church’s values of life, justice, charity and religious freedom to members of the 84th Texas Legislature. 
The day will begin at 11:30 a.m. on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol. A barbecue lunch will be served on the great lawn of the Capitol grounds. All Texas Catholics are urged to get involved and support the bishop’s legislative agenda by participating in the following activities:
Pray that legislators will hear the voice of Catholics throughout the state.
Learn more about the Texas Catholic Conference Legislative Agenda at www.txcatholic.org.
Come to the Catholic Faith in Action Advocacy Day on March 24. Wear an advocacy day T-shirt or royal blue.
Call and write your representatives.
For more details on the 2015 Advocacy Day, contact Barbara Budde at (512) 949-2471 or barbara-budde@austindiocese.org.

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