Catholics gather at the Capitol
to discuss legislative priorities

Jason Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, spoke during the Catholics at the Capitol event Feb. 23 at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Issues ranging from school choice to respect for life to gun violence were discussed at a Catholics at the Capitol event at the Kentucky State Capitol Feb. 23.

The event aimed to help Catholics both learn about issues important to the church and visit lawmakers. It was sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy voice of Kentucky’s bishops. A group of about 30 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Owensboro participated.

Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro said an opening prayer, remembering those affected by tornadoes that caused death and destruction in Western Kentucky in December.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz delivered opening remarks, calling the Capitol event a “day of good citizenry.”

“We do it because of our faith, our faith in action,” he said.

The archbishop also noted that “as we think of what’s good for our Commonwealth, it’s good for us to be specific. … To think of the people we already know” who are affected by the issues on the day’s agenda.

Members of the faithful, including Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities of Louisville, center, and Diane Boehnlein, a member of St. Frances of Rome Church, listened as a legislator spoke during the Catholics at the Capitol event Feb. 23 at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky.(Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Archbishop Kurtz encouraged those in attendance to keep four ‘Cs’ in mind when meeting with the lawmakers later that day:

  • Courage is needed to say the “things we need to say in defense of others.”
  • Compassion to “think very specifically of the people you come to represent. Allow compassion to come through as clearly as courage.”
  • Civility to “be respectful.” Begin the conversation with legislators “by saying thank you for your willingness to be a civil servant.”
  • Calm to “approach things with confidence that God is acting through you for the good of the community.”

Following the archbishop’s remarks, Jason Hall, who serves as the executive director of the Catholic conference, told participants that the event

“helps us to have a presence (at the Capitol) and show that Catholics are committed on issues as a church.”

“The hope is that by meeting your legislators, you see they are knowable,” he said. “When they know you and they know you pay attention, it makes a difference.”

Hall shared that among the bills the conference is supporting are:

  • House Bill 269 seeks to add a diagnosis of serious mental illness to the disabilities that prohibit the death penalty for individuals convicted of capital offenses. This bill is awaiting action in the Senate.
  • House Bill 305 seeks to expand the Education Opportunity Account Act, which was passed last year. The EOA program would provide financial assistance to families with children in kindergarten through grade 12 in private and public schools for educational expenses. The bill also seeks to provide need-based tuition assistance for non-public school students in kindergarten through grade 12 statewide. Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK, said support for the bill is high. He told the group that the bill has “lots of momentum. We are changing people’s minds.”

The EOA Act is being challenged in court, but this “doesn’t prevent them from passing House Bill 305,” said Vandiver. The Kentucky Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal.

  • The Yes for Life Alliance, which aims to raise awareness and build support for a proposed amendment to Kentucky’s constitution related to abortion. The measure clarifies that there is no right to abortion or the funding of abortion in the state’s constitution. It will be on the ballot in November.
  • Senate Bill 278 seeks to allow authorities to intervene and temporarily remove a firearm in a situation where an individual possesses one and has exhibited warning signs that they may be a danger to themselves and others. This bill is awaiting action in a Senate Committee.

The proposal is named for Whitney/Strong, a nonprofit co-founded by Whitney Austin to advocate for responsible gun ownership.

Austin spoke to the group Feb. 23 at the capitol, explaining that by a “miracle,” she survived a mass shooting at a Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, where she was working in 2018.

Whitney Austin spoke about the Whitney Strong proposal during the Catholics at the Capitol event Feb. 23 at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Austin said that instead of “walking into Fifth Third to work on my projects, I walked into a mass shooting. … Three people died,” she said. “By the grace of God I survived 12 bullets.”

The proposal is called a “crisis aversion and rights retention” bill, Austin said, adding that it will allow authorities to “press pause,” remove a firearm and get the individual the help they need.

Austin told participants that “the only reason things change is because they (legislators) hear from you. … If you believe in your heart this is the right issue, don’t give up.”

Brian Gregory, a member of St. Edward Church in the Archdiocese of Louisville, was among those who attended the event.

Gregory, who is the Grand Knight of St. Edward’s Knights of Columbus Council 15841, said he was attending the event for the first time and that he wanted to learn about the issues and share the knowledge with members of the Knights.

“I’m here to learn so I can share information and if it resonates with some of them they can contact their legislators and get some good work done,” he said. “Louisville is in a crisis with the violence and this is people trying to help out. We need to work together to find some common ground. It affects all of us, our family, friends and neighbors. We’re all in this together.”

Participants also heard from three legislators. Following the presentations, participants had the opportunity to meet with legislators and then sit in the gallery to watch the House and Senate convene. Archbishop Kurtz prayed the opening prayer for the Senate.

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