By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
About 60 people gathered at St. Albert the Great Church Feb. 2 to learn about legislative issues important to the Catholic Church in Kentucky, such as access to Catholic education and abolition of the death penalty.
The Catholics @ the Capitol event was sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK), the public policy voice of the Kentucky’s bishops.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz delivered opening remarks, sharing with the group that he’d just returned from Vietnam two days before.
Having just come back from a country where some freedoms are still restricted made him “appreciate the freedom to gather at such an event and “form your conscience,” he said.
He also told his listeners that after 40 years, the Vietnamese government has given permission for a college-level Catholic School — the Catholic Institute of Vietnam — to be opened. Until now, he told them Catholic school beyond kindergarten was not allowed. Hospitals operated by the Catholic Church are still not permitted, he told listeners.
Archbishop Kurtz said the Catholics @ the Capitol event was an “exercise in citizenship” and he thanked participants for their “willingness in forming” their consciences.
He also urged them to study the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” on the political responsibility of Catholics. The document is updated and released every four years, prior to presidential elections.
Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK, told participants about the CCk’s “recent victories” in the Kentucky General Assembly, including the newest abortion-related bills signed into law last month.
“I want to let you know that sometimes our efforts do have a positive impact,” said Hall.
Hall also talked about issues the CCK is still working on, namely the death penalty and school-choice legislation.
The U.S. bishops, he noted, have long advocated for the abolition of the death penalty in this country.
“In 21st-century America, the conditions simply do not exist where we can justify the taking of an additional life,” said Hall. “As a result, the (government) should restrict itself to the means we have to protect the public and punish the aggressor.”
Hall said application of the death penalty in Kentucky “is woefully inconsistent.” Factors such as race and socioeconomic status are “huge determining factors” in whether a person is sentenced to death, said Hall. Other problems with the sentence, he said, include the fact that the law allows for the execution of the mentally ill and that there are no statewide standards for defense-attorney qualifications.
Switching gears, Hall said school-choice legislation will remain a priority for the CCK. House Bill (HB) 162 and Senate Bill (SB) 102 would offer tax credits to businesses and individuals who donate to certain scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
Wealthy families can choose the schools that’s best for their children, but low and middle income families don’t have the same opportunity, he noted. HB 162 and SB 102 would give parents that choice, said Hall.
Heather Lilla, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church who attended the event, is the mother of three young children. Lilla said she wanted to learn more about how the proposals may affect her family’s future. She also said she wanted to be more informed.
“I’m interested in seeing how we can impact social change in the state of Kentucky by creating awareness in our parish,” she said.
Linda Fitzgerald, a member of St. Albert the Great Church, said she felt she’s been “complacent” lately. It’s the reason, she said, she chose to attend the Catholics @ the Capitol event.
“I want to be more informed and find out what types of grassroots efforts I can get involved in,” she said. Sometimes it feels like its not possible to “impact the big picture,” but she realized that staying involved locally is a way to make an impact, she said.