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Editorial: After the election

We tend to reduce politics to what happens on election day. That’s understandable, of course. It’s the day people feel like they “do something,” casting a vote for the candidates they believe will best serve the common good. And that something they do is relatively easy and concrete. You take a little while out of your day, go to the polling place, fill in a ballot, put on a little sticker, and when it’s all done, all those votes are tallied and determine a real outcome: who will be in elected office come next year. 

As church leaders have so often pointed out, however, the things that happen outside of election day matter a lot too. It’s outside of election day that legislation is drafted and voted on and perhaps passed into law. Outside of election day is when when regulations are made, debates on important issues are carried out, candidates who will be on the ballot are decided, party platforms are determined, and more. 

In short, it’s all the rest of the days of the year when policy is made (or not), our problems addressed (or not), and our divisions heal (or not). 

“Doing something” during those other days of the year can feel less easy and less concrete. It may involve deeper learning about an issue, figuring out the best way to contact a legislator or other public official, trying to express yourself clearly and respectfully and helpfully. Then, after all that, you may get a form letter from an official whose mind was never open on the subject to begin with and wonder if you’ve accomplished anything at all. 

Organizations like the Minnesota Catholic Conference do a good job of helping inform people about issues of concern to Catholics as they arise and connecting people to their representatives. They advocate approaching this from the standpoint of “civic friendship” — of developing personal, friendly relationships with elected officials and our fellow citizens. Please do check out their work at www.mncatholic.org and get on their Catholic Advocacy Network mailing list. 

However, even apart from building relationships with elected officials, what about improving civic friendship with our fellow citizens? We can do that even without an emailed action alert and policy briefing. Tension continues to rise in our society, along with distrust and sometimes hostility and hatred. We are the bearers of the truth of God’s love for the human race and for each member of it. We are bound by the commandment to love each other, to love even those who would be our enemies. 

Each of us in our small way can work on doing that 365 days a year. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: How should Catholics think about free speech?

Most of our public arguments are over rights, often competing rights. As Americans, we pride ourselves on advancing the concept of “unalienable rights,” inspiring other such efforts around the world. Our Constitution boasts the Bill of Rights, which protects such things as the right to practice your faith openly, to advocate publicly for your beliefs, to bear arms in self-defense, and much more. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Still, over the course of my life, rights discussions seem to have fallen into chaos and confusion. Because caring about rights is so essential to our tradition, getting your preferred policy declared “a right” — by the U.S. Supreme Court if at all possible — is a powerful rhetorical victory. It puts your opponents in the position of fighting against “a right,” which is practically un-American. 

Thus we have this growing list of absurd and bizarre things that have been declared “constitutional rights” even though they are not rooted in the text of that document at all, and often are advanced at the expense of rights that are explicitly protected by it, such as religious liberty and freedom of speech. 

Our confusion is not just here in America. Catholic News Agency reports that the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last month in favor of a woman who went, topless and covered in pro-abortion slogans, into a Paris church, disrupting a group practicing Christmas carols, to climb up on the altar, simulate an abortion of Jesus (using an animal liver), and then urinate in front of the faithful. 

She should not have been convicted, the court ruled, because she was simply exercising her right to “freedom of expression” to “contribute to the public debate on women’s rights.” Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, their new prime minister, recently promised to ease up on police literally arresting citizens for what they post on Twitter, such as a veteran who was arrested earlier this year for a post critical of authoritarian tendencies in the LGBT movement. 

Speaking of Twitter, there are, of course, many issues of the right to freedom of speech involving social media, some of which involve governments (including the U.S. federal government) and some of which don’t. Twitter itself was recently purchased by Elon Musk, who has promised to ease Twitter’s own censorship to make the site more open to a variety of viewpoints, and this has unleashed a torrent of controversy, as if the fate of the world is threatened by a website failing to, for instance, ban people who write in ways that contradict gender ideology. 

How are we to make sense of all these competing rights claims? 

I find a concept from Catholic social doctrine particularly helpful in seeking clarity: Rights are intrinsically connected to duties. This relates to the Catholic understanding of freedom itself, which is not just doing whatever I please but having the freedom to do the good, to do what I ought to do. 

Why do I have a right to religious liberty? Because I have a duty to seek God and to serve him. Why do I have a right to vote and participate politically in society? Because I have a duty to contribute to the common good. Why do I have a right to educate my children in a manner consistent with my values? Because I have a God-given duty to my children to raise them, care for them, and teach them. Why do I have rights of conscience? Because I have a duty to follow my conscience, to do good and avoid evil. 

If we want to authentically understand what rights are, the essential starting point is the duties we have as human persons. Those duties give shape and structure and context and content to our rights. The more deeply connected to our duties some right is, the more fundamental and important it is. The reverse is also true. 

So what of freedom of expression, then? What duties give shape and purpose to our right to freedom of speech? One of them (I think there are others) is obvious: to speak the truth. We have a right to express ourselves because we have a duty to bear witness to the truth. 

Of course, as fallen human beings, we have many disagreements, sometimes profound ones, about what the truth is. In humility, and out of respect for the dignity of the human person, it follows that we should have a pretty high tolerance for the speech of viewpoints we find wrong or even offensive. 

But we also distinguish between the idea and the means of expressing it, some of which are more valuable and worthy of protection than others. The poor woman who desecrated the altar in the Paris church, for instance, was advocating a view about abortion that I personally find abhorrent and offensive. She had no legitimate right to her sacrilege, but I have no doubt she sincerely believes in what she’s advocating, and would defend her right to argue for it in the same civilized ways open to all of us. 

We used to think along these lines. In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court identified “certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech” that could be prohibited without raising any constitutional issue, including “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words.” The court’s reasoning was very similar to the reasoning I’ve outlined, that these kinds of speech are “no essential part of any exposition of ideas” and of such limited social value their harm far outweighs any good they might do. 

With the court’s subsequent decisions, those days are gone. Now the lewd, the profane, the libelous, the insulting, and “fighting” words are the stuff of our public discourse, from presidents on down to Twitter. Censorship increasingly involves the restricting of ideas, not the manner in which they are spoken — the reverse of what it ought to be. Consider that the 1942 case involved someone who called a police officer a “fascist,” among other things. How many times have you heard someone called that in the last week? 

Our ability to return to sanity in these matters is limited, but for our own clarity of mind, it’s helpful to frame these questions in terms of that principle from Catholic social doctrine: rights are intrinsically connected to duties. 

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected].

Father Nicholas Nelson: As Vatican II turns 60, what did the documents say?

This past Oct. 11, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical council. It was a gathering of most all the bishops from around the world, more than 2,600 in total. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

In the decades following the council, a lot of change took place, most noticeably in regard to the liturgy, and these changes were attributed to the council. People suggested that these changes were intended by the bishops at the council. And we can discuss whether these changes were positive or negative, but regardless of any person’s opinion, it’s important to know what the bishops actually approved of at the council. What do the documents themselves say? 

The first document approved by the bishops was on the liturgy. It is titled “Sacrosanctum Concilium.” For this column, I’d like to take a look at a number of the various liturgical changes that took place in the past 60 years and consider if that is truly what the council intended. What does SC actually say? 

What something is, what its purpose is, matters. If you asked your average Catholic “what is the Mass?” you will get various answers. Very rarely have I heard a Catholic correctly respond, “The Mass is a sacrifice.” SC says, “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again” (47). At the Mass, we unite ourselves with the priest and offer the living Christ as a sacrifice to God the Father. 

At your average Catholic parish Sunday Mass, you will not hear any Latin. Whereas, SC says, “… the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (36.1). And oftentimes, Catholics will get upset if there is Latin in the Mass, especially if it’s something that they normally sing in English. SC says that English may be used. “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (54). The Ordinary of the Mass includes the dialogue parts, as well as the chants that are present at every Mass, such as the Lord have Mercy, the Gloria, the Lamb of God, the Our Father, and even the Creed. The council desires that the people can sing those parts in Latin. 

We have become accustomed to the four-hymn sandwich at Mass. There is the Mass and then you add four melodic hymns to it. Whereas, SC says, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (116). 

A desire for activism has permeated your average Catholic’s disposition at Mass. There is a temptation to want more and more people doing more and more things at the Mass, when in reality, our participation is most importantly an interior participation. The original word for “active” is “actuosa.” It means an “actualized” or “activated” participation. But this participation is first and foremost founded on the imprinted baptismal character of the individual. We cannot truly participate in Christ’s self-offering unless we are first incorporated into his body. SC says, “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence” (30). 

This quotation includes “reverent silence” as in integral part of the Mass. Therefore, “active participation” precludes any sense of activism. The participation the council desires is an intentional act of the will to unite oneself with the offering of the living Christ to God the Father. This is expressed and strengthened by exterior expressions, but these actions are not in themselves sufficient for the quality of participation desired by the council. 

SC itself wanted to guard against radical changes. It said, “Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (23). 

The documents produced by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council are a rich treasure. I encourage you to read them, especially Sacrosanctum Concilium. We need to know our faith and what Vatican II actually teaches and what it desired to do for the church. 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet and vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Holy Spirit parish builds on ‘culture of generosity’ with hurricane aid

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Holy Spirit Church in Virginia has earned a reputation for generosity in recent years, in part through its participation in the Best Christmas Ever Movement, which last year, for instance, saw the parish provide stable housing in Duluth for a family in need.

Parishioners from Holy Spirit in Virginia load supplies in Minnesota and unload them Florida to provide relief from Hurricane Ian. (Submitted photo)

Father Brandon Moravitz, the parish pastor, said that the Best Christmas Ever connection led to the parish’s latest adventure in generosity. The organization’s founder had put Father Moravitz in contact with a Catholic man in Florida named Pat, who wanted to start doing something similar in his own parish. 

Father Brandon said he didn’t think much more of it until the deadly Hurricane Ian hit Florida, and he got a call from Pat, this time asking for material help. 

The call coincided with the Color Run in Virginia, a major annual celebration and fundraiser for the parish’s school, Marquette School. Father Moravitz said they quickly got word out that this year’s Color Run would be tied in to support for those in need in Florida. They alerted other parishes on the Iron Range. The Chamber of Commerce in town got word. A drop-off station was set up at the Color Run. 

The end result? “Three massive 30-foot trailers” filled with new generators, sanitation supplies, nonperishable food, diapers, and more. 

“There was one that was just full of water, bottled water,” Father Moravitz said. 

In addition to that support, the effort raised about $10,000 in funds. The donations came not only from the church but from the wider community in Virginia and from other parishes, such as St. Anthony in Ely. 

Then there was the question of getting it down to Florida. Father Moravitz said that three men from the parish drove it all down, but there was initially a challenge finding a good “landing spot” where they could drop off the supplies. Pat had called asking if Father Moravitz could connect the two bishops to try to clear a way. When Father Moravitz contacted Bishop Daniel Felton, he learned the two bishops already knew each other. Both had served as priests of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

“It couldn’t have been any easier,” Father Moravitz said. 

The men drove down, unloaded, helped at ground level, then worked their way back to Minnesota. The whole thing happened in the space of about 72 hours. 

“We were one of the first groups that got down there right after the hurricane,” Father Moravitz said. 

He noted that the the blessings went beyond just the material support, engaging parishioners like the drivers who were moved by it and the man down in Florida who was full of gratitude and had his faith reinvigorated. 

A culture of generosity 

Father Moravitz said the aid to Florida is an example of a culture of generosity the parish is trying to build, grounded in the idea that generosity inspires generosity and that generosity in prayer should inspire generosity in action. 

The pastor said he leans on his staff in these situations. Sometimes, in a case like this, it happens quickly, which can be difficult. But it’s what Father Moravitz describes as a “strategic trust in the Spirit.” He often sees people with different charisms rise up and take leadership roles. It’s not the same people doing things every time. It’s not always a committee, and it doesn’t always involve “over-planning,” which he said can lead to “our humanity” getting in the way of the Holy Spirit. 

Sometimes the inspiration is small. It may be a post from a community member on social media needing a snowblower. It may be regularly serving meals at the Salvation Army. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was directing support to a different struggling business each day. 

“I could tell you 50 stories,” Father Moravitz said. 

But the end result, he said, has been “so much joy and unity,” and it has brought people into RCIA and into the church, people whose “hearts are won through charity.” 

It has also built bridges within the community. Even secular organizations now know they can call the parish for volunteers. 

“I love rallying people to mission,” Father Moravitz said. “Somehow it’s just bearing fruit.” 

Jacob Toma ordained a deacon

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Bishop Daniel Felton ordained Jacob Toma a deacon of the Diocese of Duluth, in a Mass on the diocesan patronal feast, Oct. 7, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Bishop Daniel Felton symbolically hands on the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Grant Toma as part of the ordination rite Oct. 7, as Deacon Grant Toma, the ordinand’s father, looks on. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Deacon Toma, from Hibbing, was ordained as part of his journey toward priestly ordination. Assisting Bishop Felton at the Mass was his father, Deacon Grant Toma, who is a permanent deacon of the diocese. Among those in attendance were also his mother Deborah, his brother, and his two sisters, along with students from Assumption School in Hibbing and the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy. 

Bishop Felton, in his homily, asked Deacon Toma’s family and friends to consider the call of the deacon and its duties, which include proclaiming the Gospel, preparing the sacrifice of the Mass, distributing Holy Communion, baptizing, presiding at weddings and funerals, engaging in works of charity, and more. 

“Now, the way he goes about these duties, you should be able to recognize him as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not to be served,” the bishop said. “… Because in the end, Jacob, today is really not about you at all but rather is a celebration of what the Lord wants to do in you and through you in your service to and for others.” 

He said the call is to follow the mandate and example of Jesus himself. 

“As Deacon Jacob, how many times you will be called upon to put a towel around your waist, pick up a bowl of water, as you spend the rest of your life washing the feet of the downtrodden, the brokenhearted, and the marginalized,” Bishop Felton said. 

He noted that Deacon Toma’s first job — as a dishwasher — was just one step in preparation for the diaconal call, where he will wash feet and not dishes.

Deacon Jacob Toma, left, and Deacon Grant Toma assist Bishop Daniel Felton during the ordination Mass Oct. 7. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

The bishop also held up the example of Mary to the new deacon, noting that she had been “so present” to Deacon Toma “in these last days of preparing for your ordination.” He said the new deacon had begun his pre-ordination retreat on the feast of the Nativity of Mary, had concluded it on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and was being ordained on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the patronal feast of the Duluth Diocese. 

“Through the intercession of Mary, may you follow her example and recall always that this ordination is not about you,” he said. “It is all about the Lord Jesus Christ calling you to do as he has done, not to be served but to serve.” 

Deacon Toma is presently assigned to serve the Cathedral and at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth. 

Whom should I vote for?

Inside the Capitol 

We are often asked — by both laity and priests — why the Minnesota Catholic Conference does not produce voter guides or candidate scoresheets that identify candidates and votes they took on specific bills or lay out their positions on issues. Understandably so, the frequency of this query tends to grow in the weeks leading up to a big election. 

MCC does not produce voter guides for some important practical reasons. For one, legislators rarely take clear-cut votes on specific or solitary issues; legislation is often rolled into omnibus bills that include many pieces of legislation and is usually adopted along party-line votes by a whole legislative caucus. Secondly, candidates generally do not respond to questionnaires from outside groups about their positions, particularly ones that do not provide endorsements or campaign contributions. Furthermore, if we were to try and cobble together their positions via public sources, they are often intentionally ambiguous about positions on controversial issues, and even the construction of such voter guides would entail editorial choices that could lead to accusations of bias. 

Ultimately, we believe relying on voter guides and scoresheets undercuts the process by which citizens must educate themselves about the issues, and form relationships with candidates so that they can influence their work throughout their time in office. We cannot be content to vote once every couple of years and then wash our hands of the results. Our system requires active participation by its citizens, or important decisions will be left to those who show up. It is why the church calls the laity to be “faithful citizens.” 

The work of faithful citizenship must begin with forming one’s conscience in the church’s social teaching — the toolbox of principles used to shape social and political life. It is not a set of prescriptions or ready-made answers. Instead, it is a mental model for well-formed Catholics to guide their actions. 

This year, Minnesota’s bishops have offered a statement about how to prioritize the principles of Catholic social teaching in light of the signs of the times, particularly during an election-year debate in which abortion dominates the headlines. Take time to familiarize yourself with the statement, which sheds light on the need for right relationships to create true justice and the preeminence of prenatal justice in our voting considerations. 

You may receive the statement in your bulletin at Mass, or you can find it on our election resources page at mncatholic.org/electionresources

Once we form our conscience, then we inform ourselves of the candidates’ positions and apply our formation to their positions. Making an informed vote requires that we get to know our candidates. Although MCC does not distribute a candidate scorecard, we do provide you with, among other resources, a questionnaire that you can download to ask questions of your candidates. 

Most candidates’ websites provide direct contact information for the candidate. Candidates are surprisingly accessible. We recently published a series of video interviews we conducted with candidates for state legislature so that Catholics have examples of the types of conversations they can have with candidates. 

Reaching out directly to candidates will allow you to learn where they stand on issues of life, dignity, and the common good. That is the recipe for informed voting, but also the building blocks for relationships that can help transform our state for the better. 

Thanksgiving message from Bishop Daniel

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices! These hymnal words remind us that November is packed with opportunities to be a people of gratitude and thanksgiving. In so many ways, we acknowledge God as the Source of our blessings and the Giver of all gifts. Unfortunately, we often take those gifts and blessings for granted. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

The most beautiful way that we have as Catholics to say thank you to God is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (Mass). The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eukharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” In other words, every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we come together to thank God for the many blessings that have been bestowed on us during the week leading up to the Sunday Eucharist. In fact, during the Mass we pray Eucharistic Prayers to praise and thank God in the most profound way that we know as Catholics. Mass is not about what I am going to get out of it or what I am going to take away from it, but it is singularly focused on God and our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving. 

It is in the Holy Eucharist that we receive and embody the greatest blessing and gift of all, the very real presence of Jesus Christ. Now if that does not make us humbly fall to our knees to offer prayers of gratitude, nothing will. How can someone say that I do not get anything out of going to Mass, when in fact one receives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ himself? All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment thine! 

We celebrate Thanksgiving Day to profoundly remind us of how blest we are at any moment, regardless of the challenges that we may be facing in that same moment. I can think of no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than going to a Mass to offer your heart and voice of eukharistia to God. Thanksgiving Day and the Holy Eucharist invite us to live life with a deep sense of gratitude – not for a day or a Sunday—but every day of our lives. 

Please know how grateful I am for you and for my call to be the Bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, I join you every day in thanking God, with our hands and hearts and voices! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: Was I wrong for not speaking up for Jesus and the church?

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she started saying negative things about Jesus and the church. I knew that what she was saying wasn’t true. I didn’t say anything but feel like I should have. I just feel so badly for not speaking up. Was that wrong? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I am so glad that you are asking about this. It demonstrates that you actually care and that you want to defend the truth about God and the church. Rather than looking at your question (”Was that wrong?”), I think it might be more productive to ask what was going on in your mind and heart at that moment. 

There are at least four possible reasons you didn’t say something. There might be more, but I have found that these are typically the four reasons why we fail to speak when something like this happens. (Note that these can also be the reasons we don’t speak up when someone is being gossiped about or otherwise maligned.) 

The first reason could be a lack of wisdom: You simply didn’t know what to say. This is common. Someone might be talking about something they heard on a podcast or watched on YouTube somewhere. Maybe it is something along the lines of, “Did you know that the story of Jesus is based off of the ancient Egyptian story of Horus?” They can sound so certain and authoritative. They could possibly even make references to stories you have never heard of. How does a person engage these claims without having studied the fact that the “connection” between Jesus and Horus was completely fabricated in the 19th century by an English poet who was interested in Egyptology? If one were to read the actual myth of Horus, it is plain to see there is absolutely no connection between this myth and the factual and historical events of the life of Jesus. But if you have never encountered this claim, how could you know? 

In those cases, it would not be wrong not to speak up. Your silence simply means that you lack the wisdom to engage. 

The second reason could be a lack of courage: You knew how to respond but were afraid. This can also happen quite often. It might be possible that we have a great deal of respect (or fear) for the person speaking. Because of this, we may shrink back from challenging them for fear of what they might think. This could be connected to vanity. Vanity is not limited to the kind of person who checks themselves out in a mirror often. The sin of vanity is much more ubiquitous: an inordinate preoccupation with what others might think. Because of this, I may not speak up because of what an individual might think of me. 

Or maybe this happened in the context of a group. In that case, I may not say anything because I am not willing to appear different from the rest of the people involved. In Minnesota, we have this issue in spades. We are known for “Minnesota Nice.” We will often defer to “fitting in” rather than rise to the occasion and be willing to disagree with others publicly. 

In this case, it might be wrong to remain silent. But knowing that the reason is a lack of courage is helpful, because it reveals the way forward: There is a need for greater courage. 

The third reason could be a lack of love: You didn’t care enough to speak. This could come from our postmodern sense of indifference. In some circles, it is “not cool to care.” The kind of person who gets riled up enough to contradict someone could merely be contentious. But they could also be the kind of person who cares about the truth enough to become uncomfortable. They could be the kind of person who cares about the other people involved enough to know that they can’t just leave them alone in their ignorance. But too often, our lack of love for others (or the truth) can leave us silent when we should speak. 

In this case, it might be wrong to not say anything. This should rouse us to ask the God of love to move our hearts with a real and genuine concern for the truth and the people in our lives. 

The fourth reason could be that you discerned that this moment was simply not the right moment. There can be a time and a place for correction. It might be possible that you read the situation and figured that engaging the person in conversation or debate would not be helpful. I’ve been in this scenario far too often; the person is highly emotional (or highly intoxicated or in “on stage” mode) and it just seems clear that this would not be the right time. That could have been the case for you as well. 

If that is what happened, then we have to make sure that, some time in the future, we have the wisdom, the courage, and the love to reach out and offer that word of truth if the situation calls for it. 

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: Election Statement from the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

As we enter into the November elections, I draw to your attention to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that it is the duty of citizens to contribute along with authorities to the good of society in a spirit, of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom (CCC-2239), and as such we have a moral obligation to exercise the right to vote (CCC-2240). To that end, below please find an election statement from me and my brother bishops. 

Election Statement from the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota 

Catholics are called to be faithful citizens and to infuse public life with the values necessary to protect human dignity, combat injustice, and promote the common good. Because of this duty, it is necessary that we, your pastors, reflect with you on the state of our public life and the choices Minnesotans face as we go to the polls in a year in which all state legislative and executive officers are up for election. 

Right relationships 

The task of politics is to foster justice and the common good. Despite our many differences, pursuing justice is a cornerstone political value shared by almost all Americans. In Catholic social doctrine, working for justice requires establishing right relationships between persons, where each is given his or her due. Justice requires that all parties embrace certain responsibilities toward each other. Paraphrasing Pope St. Paul VI, if we want peace, we must work for justice. 

There are different types of justice. Commutative justice requires justice in commercial exchange. Distributive justice requires, among other things, that each person and family have access to the material resources they need not just to survive, but also to flourish. Economic justice means building an economic order on right relationships that foster both distributive and commutative justice. Social justice requires creating those conditions for all social actors, including schools, faith communities, and the government, to fulfill their social responsibilities. 

Criminal justice should be built on criminals taking responsibility for the injustice perpetrated on victims, and society working through the penal system to rehabilitate and then restore offenders to the community. Other types of justice include racial justice, environmental justice, and legal justice. 

When there is injustice in society, that is, when society fails to establish right relationships, the state can step in to help right what is wrong and to repair, in some measure, what is broken. That is a task of prudence, which is why it is important to carefully choose our elected leaders who, often at great sacrifice, take on the responsibility of making those decisions. They should be wise and virtuous. And voters, informed by Catholic social doctrine, should consider how candidates will work for the various types of justice across a spectrum of issues, including education, public safety, tax policy, migration, creation stewardship, and healthcare. 

This year, in a special way, we call on Catholics to consider how a candidate will work for prenatal justice as a pre-eminent consideration in his or her voting calculus. Prenatal justice is not simply being anti-abortion, though that is the foundation of the pro-life witness. Prenatal justice means establishing right relationships between the mother and the unborn child in her womb, between society and the unborn child, and between society and the mother and father of the unborn child. As life begins in the womb, so must justice. As we discuss below, there are responsibilities entailed by each set of relationships and good public policies that follow. 

Fostering prenatal justice 

The recent Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, declaring that there is no right to an abortion protected by the U.S. Constitution, has returned the matter of abortion to the political process for deliberation. 

Will states allow the continued killing of innocent human life? What are our responsibilities to the child and the mother? How do we foster right relationships between them and the broader society for the common good? These are questions elected officials must answer as they work to foster prenatal justice. 

It would be a dereliction of duty for us as bishops to pretend as though the abortion question was not a focus of Minnesota’s election discourse this year, especially as Dobbs has changed the abortion landscape in this nation. And as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.[1] 

Right now in Minnesota, the situation is troubling: in spite of the fact that scientific inquiry has definitively determined that human life begins at conception[2], a woman can procure an abortion for almost any reason at any stage of pregnancy up till birth. To put this in perspective, in 2021 there were 222 abortions involving babies older than 20 weeks. Almost half of all abortions are paid for with taxpayer funds. Our laws allow an 11-year-old girl to get an abortion without even one parent knowing. There is no requirement in force that a licensed physician perform an abortion. And abortion proponents, including elected officials, are working proactively to shut down pregnancy resource centers. 

Fostering right relationships requires that we determine what we, as a society, owe the unborn child in the womb. At minimum, that is the right an innocent human being has to life, as well as the protection of the law from being killed. It also requires welcoming the child into the world. 

Part of that welcome is establishing right relationships between mother, father, and child. We must encourage marriage and family stability, and clarify that abortion is not about bodily autonomy and freedom, but about the life of another human being for whom the father and mother are responsible.[3] 

It follows that if we are intent on protecting innocent children from abortion, and ensuring that parents meet their obligations, then, as a society, we must step in to ensure that mothers and fathers are supported when necessary due to economic hardship.[4] This means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional supports for expectant mothers; adequate healthcare coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; childcare assistance; housing supports; early learning assistance programs; and parenting education. Enacting paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is an imperative. We also need to continue to support pregnancy resource centers through programs such as the Positive Alternatives grants that help them walk with women in need during crisis pregnancies. 

Even beyond the pregnancy and years of early childhood development, we have a social duty to remove barriers to marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. In short, we need to make family economic security the principal consideration in budget and tax policy discussions. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society and the place where children can flourish.[5] In doing so, Minnesota can become the best place to bring children into the world.[6] And even if our state maintains a permissive abortion policy, putting families first will hopefully weaken demand for abortions. 

In sum, working for prenatal justice transcends the false binary of pitting mother against child. Our public policy can foster right relationships and support the work of fulfilling our responsibilities to each other. It is in the fulfillment of our duties, even in difficult situations, that we grow in virtue and character and realize the best chance of true happiness. 

Faithful citizenship 

We encourage Catholics and other advocates for human life to step proactively into the political debate both winsomely and charitably, and to use creatively all peaceable levers of political power to prudently, and incrementally, transform our cities and our state into places that respect the human rights of the unborn by welcoming them in life and protecting them by law. 

Part of that work is voting. A representative democracy such as ours requires that the citizenry elect good people into office and continue to inform their elected representatives of their views on important issues. 

Unfortunately, many candidates are openly advocating for Minnesota to become an abortion sanctuary state with taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, as well as pledging to deregulate the abortion industry by removing safeguards put in place to protect women from medical malpractice or to protect teenage girls from ill-considered abortions. Far too many others, moreover, although professing to be pro-life on paper, are going out of their way to avoid talking about Minnesota’s future as a potential abortion sanctuary or what should be done to limit abortion, preferring to avoid the subject altogether. 

In this situation, it is incumbent on the Catholic laity to be especially proactive in speaking to candidates about prenatal justice and supporting legislative and judicial efforts to limit abortion. The effect of proactive engagement with candidates, not just in this election cycle but also during their term of office, will give courage and political will to those who support pro-life policies in principle, and moderate the pro-abortion extremism of other candidates and elected officials. Catholics cannot expect just laws will be enacted without their faithful citizenship and building relationships with legislators. That is what faithful citizenship is all about. 

Combating abortion is a pre-eminent concern in public life 

As Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has noted, calling abortion a pre-eminent concern does not mean it is the only concern.[7] Ensuring that every human life is welcomed in life and respected by law does not end at birth. As discussed above, we believe that our Catholic faith leads us to promote an eco-system of public policy that promotes human flourishing for mother and child from conception to natural death. 

What we seek to emphasize here is that, just as the bishops of the United States have identified the ending of abortion as a pre-eminent policy priority[8], so too should Catholic voters make protecting innocent human life and stopping abortion extremism a pre-eminent consideration in our voting calculus.[9] 

Archbishop Bernard Hebda 
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis 

Bishop Joseph Williams 
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis 

Bishop Andrew Cozzens 
Diocese of Crookston 

Bishop Daniel Felton 
Diocese of Duluth 

Bishop Donald Kettler 
Diocese of Saint Cloud 

Bishop Chad Zielinski 
Diocese of New Ulm 

Bishop Robert Barron 
Diocese of Winona-Rochester 

[1] “[R]egarding abortion, the point when human life begins is not a religious belief but a scientific fact — a fact on which there is clear agreement even among leading abortion advocates. Second, the sanctity of human life is not merely Catholic doctrine but part of humanity’s global ethical heritage, and our nation’s founding principle.” (USCCB, “Living the Gospel of Life,” 23). 

[2] Mark Pattison, “Pope Francis ‘has our backs’ on pro-life cause, says archbishop,” Catholic News Service, Jan. 24, 2020, available at https://catholicnews.com/pope-francis-has-our-backs-on-pro-life-cause-says-archbishop/. 

[3] We understand that sometimes pregnancy can be the result of sexual coercion and rape. These are difficult situations that require care and sensitivity. We do not condone abortion in these instances, but we recognize that fostering justice may mean society has a special responsibility to care for the mother and child, including economic supports or facilitating adoption. Our parishes will help women in these difficult situations. 

[4] Though the overwhelming majority of abortions are procured because the mother does not wish to have a child, almost one in five are reportedly procured specifically due to economic hardship. 

[5] See the Minnesota Catholic Conference “Families First Project” (familiesfirstproject.com). Policies such as a permanent state child tax credit are the cornerstone of this initiative. 

[6] It should be emphasized that working for policies that promote human flourishing does not absolve anyone from the responsibility of working for an end to the state-sanctioned killing of innocent human life. “[B]eing ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.” (USCCB, “Living the Gospel of Life,” 22). 

[7] “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Pertaining to the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 4, 2002). 

[8] “Pope speaks to U.S. bishops about pro-life issues, transgender ideology,” Catholic News Service, Jan. 16, 2020, available at https://www.osvnews.com/2020/01/16/pope-speaks-to-u-s-bishops-about-pro-life-issues-transgender-ideology/. (Note Pope Francis’s agreement with U.S. bishops that abortion is a pre-eminent social and political concern). 

[9] “[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Pertaining to the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 4, 2002). 

MOMS fight for abortion regulation return

By Barb Umberger
The Catholic Spirit 

A group of mothers filed a motion to intervene in Ramsey County District Court Sept. 12, two months after a judge ruled July 13 that six laws regulating abortion in Minnesota were unconstitutional under the state constitution. The laws struck down included a 24-hour waiting period and requirements affecting minors, including parental notification for abortion-seeking girls under age 18.

Teresa Collett, center, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities, talks during a press conference at the State Capitol Sept. 13 by a group of mothers known collectively as MOMS — Mothers Offering Maternal Support. At left is Renee Carlson, general counsel for Minneapolis-based True North Legal, who served as emcee of the press conference. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, serves as lead counsel to “Mothers Offering Maternal Support,” a group of about 50 mothers of at least one minor daughter, who filed a motion Sept. 12 to intervene in Dr. Jane Doe, et al. v. State of Minnesota. 

She said she found it “astounding” that in three years of litigation, Attorney General Keith Ellison failed to consider a fact known to every parent of a teenager: They often make risky decisions and are susceptible to stress and pressure. 

MOMS held a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Sept. 13, where Collett and three members of MOMS spoke. Renee Carlson, general counsel for Minneapolis-based True North Legal, which supports the MOMS group’s effort, emceed the news conference. 

“We are optimistic that the district court judge will, in fact, allow us to enter the case, reopen the judgment, and allow us to defend these laws that the attorney general failed to defend,” Collett said. 

The Minnesota Catholic Conference and other pro-life groups support MOMS’ efforts, said Jason Adkins, MCC’s executive director and general counsel. A decision on the motion is expected relatively soon, he said. 

Mothers who have at least one minor daughter and are interested in becoming involved with the MOMS group can email [email protected]