Welcome to the new members of the Iowa Catholic Conference legislative network! As we head toward Christmas, our staff is making preparations for several events in January: the start of the legislative session on Jan. 12, the Midwest March for Life on Jan. 17, and the Iowa Institute for Social Action on Jan. 18-19.

We are working with supporters in the legislature to prepare an Education Savings Accounts (ESA) proposal. ESAs would allow parents who choose not to enroll their child in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a savings account set up by the state. This will help parents choose the most suitable education option for their children, regardless of economic standing.

Next month we’ll send you our annual preview of the legislative session, and then we’ll be off and running with regular updates from the capitol. Legislative leaders from both parties have raised the possibility of budget cuts due to previous spending commitments. These commitments include reimbursement to counties for property tax cuts, Medicaid and public education.

The Midwest March for Life sponsored by Iowa Right to Life will take place in Des Moines on Saturday, Jan. 17. To kick off the Midwest March, a Mass for Life will be celebrated at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines at 9 a.m. with Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.

Following the Mass, there will be:

  • a program on the west steps of the state capitol at 11 a.m.
  • a walk to the Iowa Supreme Court building
  • luncheon and workshops at the Iowa Event Center. (We’ll be presenting at one of the workshops.)

Go to www.iowartl.org to register. Even if you can’t attend the March for Life at the capitol you can participate in the Mass.

We also invite you to register for the Iowa Institute for Social Action sponsored by the Iowa Catholic Conference. The Institute will help you become a better advocate for the social concerns of the Church. As Pope Francis has said, “Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good.”

The 2015 Institute will be held on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Sunday and Monday, Jan. 18 and 19, at Saints John and Paul Parish in Altoona. The keynote speaker on Sunday afternoon will be Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Monday morning’s main speaker will be Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register, on the political landscape in Iowa and Washington, D.C.

There will also be a variety of breakout sessions during the two days, including a workshop on CRS/government collaboration in overseas development efforts, human trafficking, climate change, payday lending, pro-life activism on college campuses, and care for creation.

A special youth and young adult track at the Institute will feature Julia Dinsmore, a poet, author, spoken-word artist, mother and grandmother who has given presentations for more than 25 years. Most known for her poem “My Name is not ‘Those People’,” she promotes a greater understanding and appreciation for the strengths and resiliencies of people who are marginalized by poverty or other factors in our society.

Check out the full schedule on our registration website at iowasocialaction.eventbrite.com. The cost is $20 for adults, free for students. There will be a reception on Sunday and lunch on Monday.

We are very excited about the weekend of Jan. 17-19 and hope you can join us!

WILL WE HEAR FROM THE IOWA SUPREME COURT?

There’s speculation that we’ll hear from the Iowa Supreme Court soon on Planned Parenthood’s appeal of a state rule change that would essentially prohibit “webcam” abortions. Last year the Iowa Board of Medicine approved a rule that would require a physician to be physically present when abortion drugs are being provided, rather than pushing a button following a remote video consultation.

Our take is that the Board of Medicine has a right to establish a minimum standard of care for such a serious procedure. We oppose all abortions, but if abortions are to take place, the safety and informed consent for the women involved should be among our chief concerns.

ADMINISTRATIVE RELIEF FOR IMMIGRANTS WELCOMED

An ongoing priority of the U.S. Catholic bishops has been the compassionate reform of our country’s immigration system. Last month, President Obama announced a program that defers deportations for many undocumented immigrants – in large part, parents of U.S. citizens. Several states have filed suit to challenge the president’s action.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, said, “Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States, in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other. We’ve been on record asking the Administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters. As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

Bishop Elizondo urged Congress and the president to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation’s immigration system for the best interests of the nation and the migrants who seek refuge here.

USCCB WELCOMES CHANGE IN U.S. POLICY TOWARD CUBA

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the USCCB, welcomed the announcement by President Obama of the release of Alan Gross and other prisoners, and of the administration’s action to normalize relations with Cuba. It is being reported that the rapprochement is in part due to some encouragement by Pope Francis.

“We believe it is long past due that the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraw all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescind terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourage trade that will benefit both nations, lift restrictions on business and financial transactions, and facilitate cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction, human trafficking and scientific exchanges,” said Bishop Cantú.

AND FINALLY,

We are praying for you and your family this Advent season, especially for those of you whose family situation may not be everything you’d like it to be. Many blessings!