Catholics travel to capitol for social justice

April 30, 2013

AUSTIN — Joined as one in the Body of Christ — and in one voice — an estimated 1,500 blue-shirted Texas Catholics rallied on the steps of the state capitol April 9 to pray and campaign for the protection of society’s most desperate and vulnerable: the poor, the underprivileged and the unborn. 
Led by the Texas bishops and hosted by the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC), the faithful at Catholic Advocacy Day lobbied for and against bills pending before the 83rd Texas Legislature. The TCC is the bishops’ public-policy lobby in Austin. 

Many Catholics made personal appeals to lawmakers and their aides. About 200 clergy and lay persons came from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, brought by buses provided by Catholic Charities. 

The bishops were led by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo who reminded the rally that, “... this act of religious expression is perhaps the most cherished and precious of American freedoms.

“This is an opportunity to live and express our faith in our daily lives and in our actions. I point this out today because, unfortunately, our most cherished freedom — that of religious liberty and freedom — has come under increasing threat both in Washington and even here in Texas,” Cardinal DiNardo said. 

Threats to religious freedom were “rooted in a particular form of secularism in our culture [that] threatens to delegitimize the Church’s participation in publicly living out our faith,” he added.

Several bishops lauded advocates’ call to social justice and some targeted specific legislation. 

The bishops, through the TCC, show support for about 130 pending bills that strengthen education, fund alternatives to abortion, make health care more accessible, protect the rights of immigrants, fight human trafficking, protect children and families and promote the sanctity of life and death. 
The bishops were also lobbying against passage of about 40 bills — perhaps none quite so intensely as Senate Bill 1247, which allows extension of credit terms for so-called payday and auto-title loans. 

As introduced, the bill would have extended terms with no cap on compounded interest rates. Typical borrowers are those in desperate financial need. “I’ve seen people get so mired down in it. They really don’t understand what they’re getting into,” participant Anne Comeaux told the Herald.

Comeaux is the former director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. “It’s not people of ill will. It’s people trying to keep up with their debts. People who are trying to dig themselves out of a hole. What happens is, they just get into a deeper hole.”

The TCC called the initial bill “predatory” and was joined in opposition by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and the AARP.
As a result of that opposition, the bill was amended to limit debts imposed on borrowers as a percentage of their income, among other amendments. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), vowed to withdraw the bill if the amendments were not approved.

The TCC rescinded its opposition.
Comeaux’s parish, St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church in Houston, runs its own credit union for parishioners. 
Synopses on the bishops’ stance on pending legislation can be found on the TCC website: or follow the TCC on

Besides Cardinal DiNardo, other bishops included Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz; Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio; Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville; Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of the Diocese of Beaumont; Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi; Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of the Diocese of San Angelo; Bishop Plácido Rodríguez of the Diocese of Lubbock; Auxiliary Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of Dallas; Bishop Joe Vásquez of the Diocese of Austin and Bishop Patrick Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo.

“I think our colleagues would agree this was a great opportunity for us to walk the halls of our state capitol, to talk to our legislators... to express the moral and social concerns that emerge out of our tradition — and to support our bishops who are the teachers of the Church,” Deacon Sam Dunning said at the close of the day. 

Dunning is the Archdiocese’s director of the Office of Justice and Peace. “The Church has a long history of walking in solidarity with the poor, with those people in the margins, protecting the unborn and the dignity of the elderly and all in-between. That’s exactly what we did.

“And if you could see the expressions in the faces, especially of the young people who were with us... and how much fun they had doing this — knowing they were doing something very important. But also that it was an enjoyable experience. Hopefully we demonstrated that we do have access to our government leaders. They may not always take heed in what we are advocating, but they do hear us,” Deacon Dunning said. 
“Next time, we’d like to double the numbers who went with us this time,” he added.