By Katie Peterson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission has organized a Catholic Day on the Hill annually for more than 20 years.
The day is an opportunity for leaders of the Catholic Church to get in front of state legislators in a one-on-one environment to discuss topics important to the church and the laws that affect the people of Tennessee.
On this year’s Catholic Day on the Hill March 23, the state’s Catholic shepherds — Bishops J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, David P. Talley of Memphis and Richard F. Stika of Knoxville — met with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, members of the General Assembly and other state officials.
“It’s important for the voice of the Catholic Church to be heard by our political leaders, and what we find in the state of Tennessee is a positive reception to the voice of Catholics concerning the needs of our people,” Bishop Spalding told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
“I think being there in person, all three (bishops) together, speaks powerfully whether we’re talking to the executive or legislative branch,” he said.
“Having the three men who have been called by the Lord and by the Holy Father to be shepherds of the three dioceses being together and brothers, it gives us a sense of solidarity,” added Bishop Talley. “We can speak with one voice about the goodness of God and our desire to love God and neighbor by serving neighbor.”
The bishops along with members of the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission, representatives of Catholic Charities, the superintendents of the Catholic schools of the dioceses and health care workers, spoke to the politicians about key points of Catholic social teaching, with special emphasis on the respect for life from conception to natural death, the care for the vulnerable, education and health care.
The bishops also thanked legislators for their efforts, in particular for the General Assembly’s support of legislation to end abortion on demand in Tennessee if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion nationwide.
In June or early July, the court will issue a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. It is expected the court will uphold the law and by doing so overturn Roe, returning the abortion issue to the states.
“It’s important for the bishops of our three dioceses to let the governor and our legislators know how supportive we are of their efforts to promote the dignity of every human person, their efforts to lift up the poorest of the poor, their efforts to help bring prosperity and jobs to Tennessee, because that effects all of our people,” said Bishop Talley.
No matter what comes from the discussions, “we’ve already been successful today because we’re able to listen to our legislators and the governor, and they’re able to listen to us,” Bishop Talley said. “There’s been an interaction, a listening to one another’s hearts, and the more we communicate values to one another, the better it will be for us to walk along the way.”
“It’s successful for dialogue, for conversation,” added Bishop Stika. “In order to accomplish something, its talking person to person, it’s putting a face to a particular area or a particular work, and you can’t beat human relationships.”
Although Catholics only make up 4% of Tennessee’s population, the presence of the Catholic Church is still widespread across the state with 158 churches spread across 77 of the state’s 95 counties, 45 schools from elementary to college, eight hospitals and six senior living facilities.
“We’re a minority church, but we have this huge impact, this tremendous impact,” said Bishop Stika. “If you combine the three dioceses, Catholic Charities would be the No. 1 (social services) agency outside of government service, and it’s the same with education.”
“It’s nice to make that connection (with state legislators) because we do have many things in common in the care of people,” Bishop Stika said.
And that’s in line with the overall message of the day, he noted.
“The Catholic Church will continue to make a difference because the Catholic Church is here for people,” Bishop Stika said. “For example, with Catholic Charities, probably the majority of the people we serve are non-Catholics, but it’s part of our mission that Jesus has taught, so we continue to do it.”