A Catholic’s Case for the President by Tom Allio

Good evening everyone.  I am honored to serve as a member of Ohio Catholics for Obama and to be with you tonight at this watch party.

For more than three decades, I served as a social action director for the Diocese of Cleveland.  For 22 of those years, I had the privilege of serving as the senior director, managing the largest system of Catholic Social Action in the nation.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  One of the great documents of the Council was entitled “The Church in the Modern World.” Among other things, this document called lay persons to be leavens in society and to  make it more respectful of human life and dignity.  By participating in this forum and the debates that follow, you are acting as faithful citizens and carrying out the spirit of the Church in the Modern World.

I firmly believe that one’s faith ought to guide and inform one’s politics.  Our nation is enriched when people of faith properly raise their values and voices on the critical issues of the day and bring them into the political arena. I also believe it is up to each individual Catholic to properly form his/her conscience in order to adequately address social and political questions, as well as, to cast their vote responsibly. As the U.S. Bishops have said in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”: Catholics are called to measure every candidate, policy, and party platform on whether it protects human life and promotes human dignity, what it does to the poor and vulnerable and whether it promotes the common good.  Candidates should also be judged by their integrity, philosophy and performance.

Personally, I am pro life, pro family, pro poor, pro “care for God’s creation,” pro worker rights, pro human rights, and pro peace making.  I am also pro Barack Obama for President of the United States!

Some may say, the President is pro abortion, against religious liberty and he supports gay marriage. Should he not be disqualified for your vote?  Over all the years I’ve worked in Catholic social action, I have never met the perfect candidate…the candidate who completely embraces the totality of Catholic social teaching on human life, human dignity and the common good.  I have never met the candidate or public official, Democrat or Republican, who completely embraces the consistent ethic of life and carries it out perfectly in the political arena. So that leaves Catholics to make a prudential judgment in choosing a candidate.  Let me be very clear, no one can or should tell you for whom to vote.  It is up to you to make an informed and prudential decision.  And, I am here to say this evening that a Catholic in good conscience can vote for President Barack Obama.

My judgment is this:  President Obama deserves Catholic support because his vision, policies and plan for Ohio and the nation are more consistent with the principles and policies outlined by the U.S. Bishops in Faithful Citizenship than his opponent’s.  I support the President because I believe he can best promote the overall common good of our nation.  I support him because he best embraces the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.  With a clear conscience, I support the President because he can best address the critical issues of the campaign, namely, the economy, jobs, poverty, health care, tax reform, the budget, immigration, the environment, and questions of war and peace.  Apparently, I am not alone as the Pew research poll (September 27th) shows the President with a 54%-39% lead among Catholics over Romney.

My friends, the Romney/Ryan budget is a disaster for Ohio and the nation!   According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that budget would get 62% of its $5.3 trillion in non-defense cuts from programs that serve people of limited means.  The Center claims this budget would “likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).”

Romney/Ryan would dismantle Medicare, slash Medicaid and other health care for low-moderate income people.  It would alter the child tax credit that lifts children out of poverty, reduce the social service block grant and cut funding for Pell grants, funding for job training and funding for food stamps.  Regarding food stamps, we know the vast majority of those who benefit from food stamps are children.  Bread for the World estimates that every Church in America would have to come up with $50,000 to cover the cuts in food stamps alone.  Despite what Romney/Ryan believe…the charitable sector cannot relieve the pain and human suffering that would be inflicted by their cuts. Government has a role to pay. That is precisely what Cardinal Dolan said this past week.  These radical cuts prompted the U.S. Bishops to state that the Ryan budget fails to meet the “basic moral test.”   Speaking for the Bishops, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton said:  “Deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people.”

These policies stand in stark contrast to what the President has accomplished with regards to tax cuts for the middle class, passing the Affordable Care Act (which includes a pregnancy assistance fund that connects pregnant and parenting teens and women to a wide range of supportive services), reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (a long time priority of the Bishops), extending unemployment benefits for those hardest hit (again supported by the Bishops), strengthening Social Security, saving  jobs in the auto industry, reforming Wall Street and helping to create 4.4 million jobs, while taking steps to pull the country out of the Great Recession.  In addition, the President’s position on tax policy best reflects principles of fairness and progressivity, consistent with Catholic Social Teaching.

Unfortunately, some have tried to paint the President as an enemy of the Catholic Church.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Partnerships the President has advanced encompass human services, international development, health care, responsible fatherhood and more. Specifically, partnerships with Catholic non-profit agencies have totaled more than $1.5 billion over the past two years.  His record also includes:

1.    Partnerships with Catholic Charities agencies on human services, housing and other services of more than $1 billion, which is an increase of over $120 million from 2009-2010.

2.  Partnerships with Catholic Relief Services of more than $500 million, which represents a significant increase since 2008.

3.  Partnerships with the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services on refugee assistance totaling an average of $28 million per year.

In the remaining days of this historic campaign, I urge you to make this record known to your friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow parishioners and family members. I am proud to be among those who count themselves as Catholics for Obama and I am certain that his reelection is in the best interests of the people of our great nation.


Tom Allio served the Diocese of Cleveland for 321/2 years as a Director in the Diocesan Social Action Office;  For 22 years he served as the Senior Director for Social Action, managing the largest system of Catholic Social Action in the nation.








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Five Reflections for Catholics in an Election Year by Thomas J. Allio Jr.


This was developed four years ago and I believe it is still relevant today.  Readers may  want to consult with the 2012 version of Faithful Citizenship developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The link is provided at the bottom of this blog.

1. Develop a well informed Christian conscience.

The Church equips her members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reasoning and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship)

The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. (Faithful Citizenship-FC)

A well informed 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. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. (Doctrinal Note, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Vatican, 2002).

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the Creator. (Catechism of the Catholic Church- 1783).

2. Measure every candidate, policy, and party platform on whether it protects human life and promotes human dignity, what it does to the poor and vulnerable and whether it promotes the common good.

The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood; neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every person as a child of God. (FC)

Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues ofjustice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, # 4).

Prudence is especially important when deciding how to vote. Prudence enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, no 1806).

Our Bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Their purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth.

3. Become an active participant in the political process, vote and encourage others to vote.

We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate more fully in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge of American Catholics, USCCB, 1998, #34).

As the Holy Father also taught in Deus Caritas Est, “the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful” (no. 29). This duty is more critical than ever in today’s political environment, where Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. Yet this is not a time for retreat or discouragement; rather, it is a time for renewed engagement. Forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations, and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square. (FC)

4. Refrain from partisan activities and discourage the distribution of partisan materials on Church property.

During election years, there may be many handouts and voter guides that are produced and distributed. We encourage Catholics to seek those resources that are authorized by their own bishops, their state Catholic conferences, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (FC)

“While individual Catholics may choose to participate in partisan politics and the campaigns of various candidates, at no time and in no way should we as the Catholic Church give any semblance of such political participation as that is not the role of the church.” (Bishop Richard G. Lennon, 2006 Statement on the Election Season).

“Distribution of campaign literature for or granting permission to candidates and those advocating on behalf of a candidate to distribute campaign literature on parish property, including parish parking lots,” is not permissible. “Campaign literature would include, among other things, any voter scorecards, endorsements from outside organizations, fliers, or other materials that are biased toward a particular candidate.” (Cleveland Diocesan Legal Office, Guidelines for Parishes and Political Activity, 2006).

5. Utilize election year resources of the United States Bishops Conference


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Nuns on the Bus Represent the Best the Catholic Church Has to Offer

Catholic sisters are under fire from the Vatican for being “radical feminists” more concerned about poverty and social justice than abortion and gay marriage. This criticism has been painful, disappointing and a source of alienation for many sisters. It’s also deeply troubling to many lay Catholics who admire their commitment to Gospel values. During my three decades as the social action director in the Diocese of Cleveland, I learned that women religious represent the very best the Catholic Church has to offer.


In the face of Vatican scrutiny, Catholic sisters are not retreating from their social justice mission. In fact, sisters from Network, a Washington-based advocacy organization that lobbies on Capitol Hill for those without a voice, have just hit the road for a “Nuns on the Bus” nine-state tour. They will visit Cleveland and other cities to highlight the heroic work of nuns and call for economic policies that serve the common good. Specifically, the sisters are drawing attention to how the House Republican budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, cuts food stamps for hungry families and threatens health care for low-income citizens while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Rep Ryan claims an economic agenda that hurts those already struggling on the margins of society reflects the values of his Catholic faith. This is more than wishful thinking. It’s flat out wrong. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a series of letters to Congress calling for a federal budget that protects the poor and addresses our fiscal challenges in a responsible way. The House Republican budget proposal “fails to meet these moral criteria,” the bishops wrote.


The spotlight Catholic sisters are shining on our struggling neighbors is needed more than ever. The Center for Community Solutions recently found that one in 10Ohio children lives in an extremely poor family with an income less than half of the poverty level (the poverty line is $19,000 per year for a family of three). The prophetic voice of these sisters and their commitment to proclaim a Gospel of Life is a sign of hope for many. They remind us that the budget is a moral document and irresponsible policy choices have a devastating impact on families.


For some, this bus tour may for the first time highlight the incredible work of Catholic nuns. But in our region women religious have been at the forefront of serving the hungry, homeless and unemployed for many years. They are often the first to care for new immigrants, offer compassion to those suffering from AIDS and bring dignity to those who are developmentally disabled. When services were lacking and poverty spiked, it was the sisters who created innovative programs that provided hope and opportunities. The nuns not only established vital services for our most vulnerable neighbors; they funded and staffed them. These faithful, humble and intelligent women deserve our sincere appreciation. I’m proud to stand in solidarity with them during this difficult time.


For centuries, Catholic sisters have walked with the least, the last and the lonely as Jesus taught us. Please welcome them as their drive for “faith, family and fairness” arrives in Cleveland next week. 



Tom Allio served the Diocese of Cleveland as the senior director of the Diocesan Social Action Office and the executive director of the Catholic
Commission of Summit County for 32 1/2 years.
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“How one leads or shephe…

“How one leads or shepherds one’s flock is every bit as important as what one accomplishes.”

Bishop Richard G. Lennon recently acknowledged what many within the Cleveland Diocesan administration, staff and parishes have known for several years. In a May 21, 2012 letter to all the priests of the diocese, Lennon wrote: “Over the past month, or so, I have become aware of a growing disconnect between many of the priests who serve so faithfully in this diocese and myself. It saddens me to hear reports that a number of our priests feel anxious and uncomfortable in my presence and that rather than being co-workers with me, a number of priests feel left out of consultation.” One can only take the Bishopʼs confession as a heartfelt expression.

Unfortunately, I would be remiss if I did not add that I believe a disconnect also exits between the Bishop and significant sectors of the lay Catholic Community, many religious leaders of other faiths in Northeast Ohio, many religious women and several civic and elected officials, who feel the Church has diminished its commitment to the region.

The Bishopʼs candor is striking for a number of reasons. Over the six full years since his installation as the tenth Bishop of Cleveland, Lennon has projected an image of being in total control of all things Catholic; laser like in his focus to tasks, no matter how small; the sole arbitrator of parish property; disinterested and impatient with honest dialogue; quick to label priests, staff or parishioners as disobedient or disloyal; and singularly committed to advancing his priorities. Some may give him high marks for his work ethic, commitment to matters of faith and morals, intense desire “to right size” the diocese, outreach to youth and young adults, and capacity as a fund raiser. Not many would give him high marks for his skills as a communicator, willingness to listen to diverse opinions, flexibility in correcting course, or for manifesting concern for the feelings of others.

What the Bishop has admitted is that the pastoral side of his leadership is somewhat lacking. As reported, at least three priests have called for his removal, 12 parishes are in the process of being reopened for his failure to comply with canon law, and two, long time popular and effective staff members summarily dismissed. What is not widely known is that Lennon was heavily criticized by members of his own priestʼs council after they learned of his shuttering of the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Office without their consultation. To many priests, this was the last straw and most likely precipitated the Bishop scheduling nine listening sessions with the priests of the diocese.

How one leads or shepherds oneʼs flock is every bit as important as what one accomplishes. Bishops are authentic teachers within the Catholic Church, however, this does not mean they cannot be servant leaders. It seems to me that in these challenging times, there is still a place for Bishops who act with humility, compassion, empathy, understanding, a sense of justice, a desire for personal conversion, an openness to discern the spirit and a love for all Godʼs people.

Bishop Lennon has pledged that he will come to the upcoming priest meetings and will “listen with an open heart.” If he is to regain the respect, trust and affection of his priests, he must not only listen…he must be open to changing his manner of leadership.

Tom Allio retired as the senior director of Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office in March 2010.  He served the diocese for 32 1/2 years.

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The Catholic Church and Faith Based Actions to Overcome Poverty

The Participation of the Catholic Church in Faith Based Actions to Overcome Poverty by Thomas J. Allio, Jr., retired senior director of the Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office

Like many Catholics in Northeast Ohio, I am very concerned that the Diocese of Cleveland was absent from the recent meeting to launch Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), which was attended by more than 2,000 interfaith leaders representing 40 congregations. As reported, Bishop Richard Lennon informed all pastors and parish administrators that he did not endorse this new organization. In fact, the Bishop prohibited any parish to participate. To date, there has been no public explanation regarding the lack of diocesan support.

At the risk of further alienation with the faith community, as well as many Catholics, Bishop Lennon should reconsider his position immediately. Minimally, it would be prudent to seek a dialogue with the founding leaders of GCC about any concerns he may have. After all, the stated issue agenda of GCC, education, jobs, health care, criminal justice and sustainable food, have been among the priorities of the United States Conference of Bishops for decades.

The stance by the Bishop is disconcerting on several fronts. It is a potential source of unnecessary division and confusion within the interfaith community; it sends a false message that the Catholic Church is willing and capable to “go it alone” when it comes to social action, and other important issues impacting the region; and it runs counter to the long and rich history of the diocese as a leader in convening and collaborating with people of other faiths to promote efforts to overcome poverty, human life and dignity, peace and human rights.

Since 1969, Catholic Social Action throughout the eight counties of the diocese, has been respected and recognized nationally for building broad based coalitions across faith, racial, ethnic, political and economic lines. These efforts have been inspired by the Gospel, teachings of the various Popes and Catholic Social Teaching. Working for the common good, those coalitions have been successful in achieving social and economic justice for the poor, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, new immigrants, seniors, the incarcerated, developmentally disabled, and many others. In addition, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a program of the U.S. Bishops, has provided seed money locally and nationally to thousands of grass roots organizations similar to Greater Cleveland Congregations. Among other things, these organizations have empowered low income people to prevent home foreclosures, improve neighborhoods, increase affordable housing, regulate payday lending, enhance the educational system, and create micro businesses. The investment from the Cleveland Diocese alone is in the millions of dollars. More than ever, Northeast Ohio needs this kind of collective, faith inspired action.For the better part of two decades, Bishop Anthony M. Pillaʼs Church in the City initiative built bridges among diverse people, organizations and the faith community throughout Northeast Ohio. Bishop Pilla invited all sectors to join him in efforts to combat urban sprawl, reduce poverty in the urban core, create housing, spur economic development, preserve farmland, and advance regional cooperation. During that period, the diocese worked with the public sector, interfaith leaders, non-profit agencies, lenders, environmentalists, corporate leaders, funders, preservationists, farmers and others to advance a common vision for the region.

As a Catholic who is extremely proud of the history of the diocese in these areas, I sincerely hope that Bishop Lennon accepts the invitation of Greater Cleveland Congregations and joins them in elevating the voice of the faith community on matters of social justice and human dignity. Admittedly, there are differences within the faith community, theological, as well as, political. When it comes to the poor, however, there is much we have in common.

It is imperative, however, that Catholics be at the table with those who do not completely embrace our principles or values on all issues. Acting together, we are much stronger than any one of us acting alone. Participation in interfaith efforts does not mean that one must compromise his/her belief set, theology or strongly held social teaching. That would be unacceptable. In fact, the public positions, policies and tactics taken by the coalition should not conflict with the moral and social teaching of any of its members. This requires leaders to be accountable to each other and respectful about areas in which they disagree. Such understanding and common ground is found in countless similar efforts across this nation.

The Catholic Churchʼs efforts to promote the common good, human life and dignity, to evangelize and to transform society become extremely limited if the Church isolates herself from other religious, civic, national, international and secular partners. I pray this does not happen.

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Obama Mandate and the U.S. Catholic Bishops


Whether he realizes it or not, President Obama has declared war with the U.S. Catholics Bishops. The administration has created a firestorm that must be quickly extinguished. Make no mistake about it, the January 20th decision by the Obama administration mandating that religious employers provide coverage for contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization under the Affordable Care Act is properly viewed by the Bishops as a direct attack on religious freedom. The mandate has far reaching effects. Among other things, thousands of employees of Catholic hospitals, universities, organizations, schools and Catholic Charities could lose their health care benefits rather than violate what essentially is a matter of conscience and religious principle. Without question, the bishops will vehemently oppose this mandate until it is overturned. Speaking for the U.S. Bishops, Cardinal elect Timothy Dolan said: “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldnʼt happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

 The campaign to overturn this mandate has already been launched with letters read from the pulpit, individual statements from Bishops, and action alerts urging calls and letters to Congressional representatives. Later this month, some 500 lay Catholic leaders will hold their annual social ministry conference in Washington. You can guess what the number one topic will be. This will serve to inspire greater mobilization within parishes across the nation.

 Clearly, this blunder by the administration is an affront to all people ofconscience. It can and should be rectified immediately. Furthermore, this misstep has united Catholics, Evangelicals, and other religious leaders and institutions like no other issue in recent times.  It also has the potential of adversely impacting the Presidentʼs bid for a second term by casting him as an enemy of people of faith, which he is not. Partisan organizations and individuals will enthusiastically use this issue as an opportunity to continue their opposition to national health care and as a platform to urge the electorate to oppose the President in the General Election. In their statements on the evening of the Florida Primary, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich capitalized on this controversy by strongly criticizing the President.

 My hope is that the administration will move quickly to broaden the exemption for religious employers so that such employers will not have to face the unacceptable prospect of violating their conscience by purchasing those services that are anathema to their moral teaching. I fear that if such action is not taken, the compelling issues of the economy, poverty, unemployment, health care, human life, debt, home foreclosure, war, and foreign policy will not receive the attention they deserve during this most critical election year.

(Tom Allio is the retired senior director of the Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office and the retired executive director of the Catholic Commission-Summit County. He served the Diocese of Cleveland for 32 1/2 years in social action).


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A Call to End the Catholic Civil War

Remarks by Thomas J. Allio Jr. to the Roundtable-February 13, 2011

Thank you Scott for your kind remarks. I greatly appreciate this recognition of the Roundtable. Your work is needed more than ever in our Church and the nation. I want you to know that I am extremely humbled by this award. The title “Servant of Justice” is rather daunting. If anything, I view myself as an unworthy servant, who surrounded himself with outstanding cast of (characters, I mean) leaders in Cleveland and Ohio, and, with them, tried to advance the ball of social justice and peace in our diocese, state and nation. So, I accept this honor in their behalf and all those who have inspired me throughout the years.

In my remarks, I intend to pay tribute to a real servant of justice, offer three challenges for our Church and conclude with some reflections on hope.

The real servants of justice are people like my former boss during 25 years of this wonderful run, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla. The Roundtable would not be recognizing me today if I had not had the privilege of being mentored and shepherded by him.

Through his support and leadership, Cleveland became the largest system of Catholic Social Action in the nation. (At the height, we had 16 full time people on staff. Sadly, today, five years after Bishop Pilla retired, six remain).

Bishop Pilla elevated the work of justice and peace in Cleveland through his own pastorals on poverty, peace, the environment and others, the nationally recognized Church in the City Initiative, his many interfaith efforts to overcome poverty in NEO, the empowerment of lay leaders who served on our five Catholic Commissions, the establishment of numerous community organizations, the founding of Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice, his intervention in the bankruptcy of LTV steel, our diocesan missionary work in El Salvador, the creation of the Leadership of Justice Institute and the Council on Global Solidarity, and his active support for the agenda of the Catholic Conference of Ohio and the USCCB.

Bishop Pilla saw the value of a strong and united USCCB. In the 1980ʻs and 90ʻs, he helped shape an agenda in which remarkable work was accomplished by the conference. He served the conference in several capacities including President. He was first and foremost a spiritual leader with keen pastoral skills. He was extremely versed and committed to Catholic Social Teaching and an astute student of history. He had sharp political instincts, which he used locally to champion the plight of the poor, and nationally when he played a significant role in 2001 that convinced President George W. Bush to include the refundable child tax credit in his budget. This initiative lifted 500,000 children out of poverty. He was a leader who understood that trust and relationships are everything. He was a consensus builder, who was unafraid of genuine debate, diverse opinions and honest dialogue. His inspiring example gave credibility and life to our four decades of work in Cleveland.

He taught us that anyone who aspired to be a “Servant of Justice” must always strive to manifest Christʼs love for the poor and most

vulnerable. He insisted that we effectively give voice to the least in the halls and offices of the powerful. He also taught us that respect for the leaders we oppose is a requirement of Catholic social action.

Servants of justice must be unwavering in their commitment to defend human life and promote human dignity. However, such advocacy must be done in a spirit of love and in a manner that persuades, rather than, polarizes. Such servants must have the courage to stand for core principles no matter how unpopular they may be. Bishop Pilla often reminded us that the positions we take are not based upon some popularity polls but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, he believed that such servants should strive to build community, work in coalition, empower and mentor others. Winning on issues was important; however, the development of people was as equally important.

Servants of justice clearly understand that their allegiance is to the Gospel, which requires them to take prophetic stances that challenge corrupt structures, unjust policies and, at times, Church leaders. They

are nourished by a spiritual and prayer centered community that provides them the strength to persevere in the struggle and withstand the personal attacks that they are certain to endure. Finally, Bishop Pilla taught us that a servant of justice is one who regularly inspires hope…that our efforts, no matter how small are meaningful in the context of a merciful God, who only asks that we love others unconditionally.

I think these fundamental characteristics of a servant of justice can guide us in confronting the challenges we face as a Church and as social action leaders. Let me suggest three immediate challenges for us:

1. it is imperative that we be at the table with those who do not completely embrace our principles or values on all issues. Our efforts to promote the common good, to evangelize, and to transform our society become extremely limited if our Church isolates itself from other religious, civic, national, international and secular partners. The stakes are too high in the current budget and

tax debate, immigration reform, and health care and all the other issues we care so much about if we try to act alone.

It concerns me greatly that there are strident and influential voices that would be content to put a chilling effect on virtually all Catholic participation in outside coalitions and community organizations. Let me be very clear, as Church, I believe it would be wrong to participate in initiatives or partnerships in which the platform of the coalition includes professed values, principles, policies or actions that are contrary to Catholic moral or social teaching. That is to say, if the agenda of the coalition or community organization is inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching, we cannot participate. (The review and renewal of CCHD is most helpful). We should not avoid potential collaborations because of bloggers and strident critics who oppose any kind of coalition building. Simply put, there needs to be a dispassionate dialogue about this question. Hopefully, more education can be done with Church leaders so that they can better understand and appreciate the fundamentals of coalition building and the positive impact of such engagement.

2. The second challenge is that of building a life and human dignity movement in our nation. Such a movement would embrace the totality of Catholic social teaching and the call to stand with the unborn and vulnerable, as well as, the poor, those without health care, the unemployed, those on death row and those losing their homes to foreclosure. Such a movement would stand for human rights, care for Godʼs creation, peace and nonviolence, and all the issues related to reducing global poverty. Such a movement would acknowledge that all issues do not have the same moral weight but as Church we have an obligation to confront attacks against human life and dignity, injustice, and violations of human rights whenever and wherever we encounter them. The current legislative priorities of the USCCB, articulated by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, including the Protect Life Act, exemplify this vision.

Such a movement would create a “big tent and large table” that would put aside partisanship and invite each believer to do what he or she does best. If advocating for the unborn and terminally ill are your

callings, you have a role to play and you will be affirmed and supported in these endeavors. If advocating issues that protect low income families and promoting global solidarity are your callings, you have a role to play and you will be affirmed and supported. However, as Catholics we must recognize that both callings and many, many others are legitimate expressions of our Catholic faith and indeed mark who we are as a faith community. One person cannot do everything, however, each of us can do one or more things that advance respect for human life and human dignity in our society. Perhaps, it is time to think of establishing a distinctly catholic organizing institute.

If we are to truly build such a movement, it must be more about announcing the Good News, rather than, inflicting personal attacks and demonizing individuals. It would truly be about proclaiming the Good News to the poor and liberation to captives. I think most of us want to be known as believers who announce and proclaim rather than people who denounce and condemn.

3. The final challenge for us is to do our part to end (what David Gibson calls) the Catholic civil war being waged within our Church. The lack of civility and dialogue divides the Body of Christ, keeps us from being all God calls us to be and diminishes our voice in the public policy arena. Last week, Archbishop Dolan warned that the church must “speak as one voice against the increasing political and social pressures that are trying to force the church to compromise her principles.”

I donʼt think I have to say much to this audience about what characterizes this conflict. The vilification, character assassination, guilt by association and the practice of the politics of personal destruction are unchristian acts that cry out for Episcopal intervention.

Too many lay leaders are unfairly demonized as social progressives, liberals, activists, and radicals. We cannot allow the secular media and their friends in the blogosphere to define us. Despite what some

pundits say, social justice is not a dirty word. In fact, Catholicism without social justice is a contradiction in terms.

It is unfortunate but true that many would rather personally smear, distort and assassinate the character of leaders rather than enter into dialogue with fellow Catholics with whom they would find there is much common ground. It ought to be apparent to all that what unites us as Catholics is so much stronger than our differences.

Today, truth is sacrificed if it gets in the way of serving some hyper partisan agenda. Rumor, gossip and partial information are like a spiritual sickness that spread from one anonymous blogger to another until they metastasize into a cancer that immobilizes Church leaders, debilitates lay leaders and paralyzes actions for the common good. Sadly, those who act in this manner view civility as a weakness.

Recently Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote about this topic in a piece entitled “Christian Discourse: Both Truth and Love.” (highly

recommend it to you). In part, the Cardinal said: “Christians must not only speak the truth but must also do so in love. It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity, with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the Church or Christ.” The constructive dialogue between the CHA and the Bishops is a wonderful example of what is possible.

My sincere hope is that new leadership of the USCCB, might consider taking on this challenge of ending the civil war within the Church. Already outside groups are formulating their strategies and score cards for the 2012 elections.

Although we have many challenges in the days ahead, I truly believe that we can advance our movement by: continuing to work with coalitions and diverse partners; building a life and human dignity movement in our parishes and doing our part to end the Catholic civil war. My call today is for more inclusivity and engagement, more

civility and understanding and greater unity within our Catholic family.

Let me conclude with some reflections on hope. The hope is that despite the recent dark times and the current economic hardships, we are members of a Church that does justice. We continue to change hearts and minds of parishioners while making life tolerable for millions around the world. And we do it on such a remarkable scale. We are members of a Church that strives to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ through such life giving institutions and vehicles like CRS, CCHD, our educational system, Catholic Health Care, Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Action. Our human and financial investments are substantial. What would our world be without these instruments of hope, healing and justice?

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Bishops issued a wonderful statement entitled: “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics.” The Bishops said: “We believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a “Gospel of Life.” “It invites all persons and societies to a

new life lived abundantly in respect for human dignity. We believe that this Gospel is not only a complement to American political principles, but also a cure for the spiritual sickness now infecting our society. As scripture says, no house can stand divided against itself (Luke 11:17). We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us. Nor can we practice the Gospel of life only as a private piety. American Catholics must live it vigorously and publicly, as a matter of national leadership and witness, or we will not live it at all.”

My sisters and brothers: you are signs of hope to so many. May you continue to take the banner from those who have gone before you and move forward in faith…mindful that we are people of hope and compassion. And with the guidance of our loving God, we will live the Gospel of Life authentically, vigorously, faithfully and publicly.

Thank you very much.


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