Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 07/11/2017

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The Virginia Way: disagreeing without being disagreeable

By Bill Re, Associate Director

The horrific attack last month on a U.S. Representative and others in Alexandria made me reflect on the experiences I had earlier this year working my first General Assembly session in Richmond.

There is a saying in politics: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” I always interpreted that as praise for campaigning­­—that it is idealistic and inspiring—and a criticism of governing—that it is boring and unimaginative, and that pragmatic compromises ought to be viewed cynically.

But based on my first session, I have somewhat reversed my view. The poetry of campaigns can often be more like something out of the Iliad, with Achilles dragging Hector’s bloodied body through the streets, than like a Shakespearean love sonnet. And the prose of governance is often more like the prose of Scholastic philosophers, well thought out and willing to engage sincerely with objectors, and less like the instruction manual for a kitchen appliance.

I saw those involved were able to disagree without being disagreeable. Committee hearings were typically polite. Many people could rehearse the arguments for and against each position; I would be hard-pressed to think of a better way of showing respect for an opponent in a debate than being able to articulate his or her position in an informed and convincing way. With disagreements understood and in the open, things became less emotional and more sincere. I heard more than one legislator talk about the genuine friendships which they had developed with people across the aisle. And there was willingness to praise one another publicly. I will not soon forget the encomiums given by Democrats and Republicans for retiring legislators, such as Speaker William Howell and Del. David Albo, among others.

Despite the impression given in the media, there is a lot of agreement in our legislature. Of the 926 bills passed by the General Assembly in 2017, 519 passed unanimously. Of the 3033 floor votes, 2219 were unanimous. And of the 814 contested floor votes, only 238 had a lot of opposition, with only 59 straight party-line votes.

I do not mean to sound Pollyannaish. Of course disagreement exists; that happens when serious-minded people approach important issues from different perspectives. And legislators do employ procedural roadblocks and tricks to derail legislation; that is within the rules of the game, as is criticizing them for doing so. But what surprised me was that after all was said and done, legislators could still make gestures of respect to their opponents, and at least tried to acknowledge each other’s good will.

Back in February, while preaching at Virginia Vespers during the legislative session, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge said, “No matter how harsh the political climate can get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other.” For a good example of how to do just that, one could do a lot worse than looking to the Virginia General Assembly.

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Bill Re, an associate director at the Conference who began in November 2016, just completed working his first General Assembly session.

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Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 06/06/2017

Easter people look forward: Why the Church welcomes migrants

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 04/26/2017

Putting Virginia’s Opioid Crisis into Perspective: A Weekly Massacre

opioid

This is the third and final part of a series about issues related to poverty in Southwest, Southside and Eastern Shore, Virginia.

By August Wallmeyer

It’s hard these days to read a newspaper or hear a broadcast news report without getting an update on Virginia’s opioid epidemic and the deaths resulting from use of this and other illegal drugs.  The statistics are staggering.  The number of our fellow citizens dying from accidental drug overdoses is extremely discouraging and sad, but it’s hard to actually comprehend the size and scope of the tragedy.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently found a way to put the carnage in perspective:  Recalling the mass shooting at Virginia Tech ten years ago—itself an unimaginable, horrible event that took 33 lives—the Times-Dispatch wrote that the deaths resulting from the misuse of opioids and other drugs in Virginia are equivalent to another Virginia Tech massacre every week!  The current annual death rate is more than 1,400 in Virginia alone, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

And the problem undoubtedly is getting worse, not better.  Doing research for my recent book, The Extremes of Virginia, I found that in Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the death rate from opioid abuse was 56 percent higher than in Virginia as a whole.  And the opioid problem continues to worsen.

Law enforcement and health care providers are becoming overwhelmed with the volume of drug addicts and overdoses.  The CEO of a hospital in Smyth County in Southwest Virginia recently pleaded for creation of a task force composed of business, civic groups, churches, government officials, health care providers and others to confront the budgetary and social problems resulting from the drug crisis.  Other jurisdictions all across Virginia are struggling with the same situations, proof that the problems are not confined to the rural, poor areas in the Extremes of Virginia.  Virtually every locality in the Commonwealth—central Virginia, Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, the Shenandoah Valley—all parts of Virginia are affected.  And this drug crisis cuts across all racial, economic and social boundaries.  Although the conventional wisdom is that African-Americans are the major “hard” drug users, white males in the 25-55 age group are dying at rates far in excess of other groups.

While government, law enforcement and health care officials scramble urgently to deal with these problems, thoughtful people must ask what are the underlying causes that seem to compel so many to use mind-altering drugs and what are the long-term, permanent solution strategies.  I’ve argued in The Extremes of Virginia that Virginia needs to spend serious money, effort and time to try to better understand the core problems that lead not only to use of illegal drugs, but also to higher suicide rates, festering unemployment and poverty, inferior health care and other problems that plague Virginia.  The legislature last session took some steps to curb excessive prescribing of opioids, which is a much-needed reaction to the current situation.  Additionally, the Virginia Catholic Conference advocated for much-needed funding for overdose reversal kits and expanded addiction treatment services, which was included in this year’s amended budget.  While certainly helpful, this “Band-Aid” approach is only that.  What we need is more investigation and greater understanding of the underlying causes of our major problems, coupled with sensible, long-term recommendations for improvement.  We need long-term strategies in addition to Band-Aids.

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August Wallmeyer, a member of the VCC Management Committee, is a former broadcast journalist, a semi-retired lobbyist, and the president of August Wallmeyer Communications.  Find “The Extremes of Virginia,” here.

 

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 04/19/2017

How to restore the dignity of work to unemployed in “Extremes of Virginia”

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This is the second in a series about poverty issues in Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore of Virginia

By August Wallmeyer

In my travels throughout the poor, rural areas of Virginia, one disheartening fact became very obvious. Young people in Virginia today are engaged in the same kind of disruptive economic migration that newly freed slaves in the South faced after the civil war: the need to relocate to search for gainful work and the dignity work brings to families. Just as in the late 1800s, those fleeing Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore of Virginia (areas I called The Extremes of Virginia in my recent book) are forced to break apart multi-generational families, discard their regional traditions and abandon ties to their native cultures, all in search of jobs, economic opportunity and education.

Today’s economic migrants are frustrated with the lack of local opportunities to trade honest work for a living wage to support themselves and their families. And the young people—and more than a few older ones, as well—have no other choice but to pull up stakes and head for greener pastures.

In those rural, poor areas of Virginia I wrote about population declined 2.3 percent in the first five years of this decade, compared to population growth of 4.1 percent in Virginia as a whole. And as a direct result, those rural, poor areas are becoming even poorer and older.

In The Extremes, the poverty rate is 67 percent higher than the statewide average. Household incomes average only 59 percent of statewide, and only 54 percent are in the civilian labor force, compared to 65 percent in Virginia. Sadly, suicide and illegal drug use are much more common in these economically bereft areas as well.

Federal and state governments, with good intentions, have tried to help, but without major successes. More than 50 years ago President Lyndon Johnson famously declared “war on poverty” in Appalachia. After spending more than $22 trillion (more than three times the cost of all U.S. wars) on anti-poverty programs, the poverty rate is essentially unchanged.

Today, Virginia’s latest jobs and economic development effort, GO Virginia, seeks to attract highly educated and trained professional workers and businesses to the Commonwealth, because these types of high-paying jobs have a larger “economic multiplier” effect on our economy. Fair enough, perhaps. We need trained professionals. But the GO Virginia strategy begs an important question: what about our citizens already here in Virginia who lack the education and training to become these desired professional workers and are woefully unprepared for the “better” professional jobs? In The Extremes, high school graduation rates are vastly inferior to the statewide statistics. And college graduation rates are less than half the statewide average. So these fellow citizens in rural, poor, less educated Virginia, hungry for any honest employment, aren’t likely to benefit from GO Virginia at all.

Catholic teaching is replete with references to the dignity of work, which is a fundamental human right. Performed by men and women who have their own inherent dignity, work also has dignity. It allows them to provide for their own basic needs and those of their families. Pope Francis has been quoted saying “We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work.”

Perhaps our governmental and business leaders should consider exactly how the dignity of work will come to rural, poor Virginia?

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August Wallmeyer, a member of the VCC Management Committee, is a former broadcast journalist, a semi-retired lobbyist, and the president of August Wallmeyer Communications.  Find “The Extremes of Virginia,” here

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 04/12/2017

The Extremes of Virginia

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 03/29/2017

For true health reform, look to the Church

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 03/23/2017

For true health reform, look to the Church

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This is the second part of a five-part series on the USCCB’s moral criteria for health care reform.

Part II: Honoring Conscience Rights

By Michael Lewis, Associate Director

St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free.” (cf. Gal. 5:1, 13-18)  This freedom to serve is at the heart of the Church’s provision of quality health care services and quality health care coverage.  It is a response to our call to care for the sick and to affirm the dignity of all human life.  The Catholic Church is a leading provider of health care both here in Virginia and across the United States.  But is the freedom to serve diminishing in our own country – a nation that established religious liberty as its first freedom?  Recent events raise fundamental concerns.  Here are just two examples:

  • For the past several years, religious groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as Catholic and other faith-based colleges and universities, have been engaged in a protracted legal battle after the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that all health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs such as the “morning after pill” as part of the Affordable Care Act.
  •  In New Jersey, a lawsuit was filed against a Catholic hospital after it refused to perform an elective procedure that was found to be part of a patient’s plan to “change genders.”

As these and many other similar situations show, health care legislation now being considered by Congress must address the right to conscience protections, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rightly said in its March 8, 2017 letter to Representatives and Senators. ”Congress should expressly provide conscience protections as part of any health plan for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health care services.  Such protections should extend to all stakeholders, including insurers, purchasers, sponsors, and providers and should cover any regulatory mandates,” the Bishops say in their letter outlining five moral criteria for health reform.

However, the American Health Care Act, which Republicans have presented as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, still lacks any protections for conscience rights. In a March 17 letter to members of the House of Representatives, Bishop Frank DeWine of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, noted that the reforms currently being debated in Congress still fail to offer meaningful conscience protections against federal mandates requiring the provision of morally objectionable “preventive services” such as contraception, abortion, sterilizations and others.

The Church’s history is one of perseverance and service, even in the face of grave threats.  As Catholics, let us remember why Christ set us free.  As Americans, let us preserve this freedom, knowing that the common good of our country depends on it.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 03/16/2017

For true health reform, look to the Church

U.S. Capitol

This is the first of a five-part series on the USCCB’s moral criteria for health care reform.

Part 1: Affirm the dignity of life

By Michael Lewis, Associate Director

Health care reform is once again dominating our national political discussion.  During the recent election campaign, both parties pledged to revisit the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, promising everything from tweaks to the existing health care program to a wide-reaching repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.  Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled the American Health Care Act, a proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

As Congress begins its debate on reforming health care, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate outlining five moral criteria that should guide any and all discussion of health care reform. They are:

  1. Respect for life and dignity
  2. Honoring conscience rights
  3. Access for all
  4. Truly affordable
  5. Comprehensive and high-quality

As Catholics, caring for our brothers and sisters—materially and spiritually—is a moral obligation.  Health care, therefore, is a “fundamental issue of human life and dignity,” and a “critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry,” the USCCB writes.  Indeed, one in six Americans receives health care from a Catholic hospital.  Here in Virginia, the Sisters of Bon Secours run one of the largest health care systems in the Commonwealth, serving the greater Richmond and Hampton Roads regions, providing $159 million in combined charity care and other community benefits.

Let’s take a closer look now at the first, and bedrock, criterion: Respect for life and dignity.  The provision of health care must recognize the fundamental dignity of each and every patient, born and unborn.  Health care, the bishops write, “is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every human person.”

The art of medicine aims to heal and preserve life, not end it.  Abortion, therefore, is not “health care.”  In fact, the Hippocratic Oath, which has historically guided the ethics of the medical profession for thousands of years, says, “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.  In purity and in divine law will I carry out my life and my art.”

In keeping with medicine’s purpose of healing and preserving life, abortion has no place in genuine health reform.  As the bishops write, “no health reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.”

Many details of the American Health Care Act remain murky and numerous concerns have surfaced, but there is reason to hope that any future reform will reflect the bishops’ call to extend Hyde Amendment protections to all relevant health plans.  Meeting last week with pro-life leaders, Vice President Pence pledged the administration’s opposition to any subsidies for abortion on demand in the health care reform bill.  The American Health Care Act prohibits any federal funds or premium tax credits from being used for health plans that cover abortion on demand, and strips funding from Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortion in the United States.  In fact, the President recently challenged Planned Parenthood to stop doing abortions in exchange for maintaining its access to federal funds, a proposal that, unfortunately, Planned Parenthood rejected.

As the debate on health care reform moves forward, we look forward to bringing you the other four parts of this blog series and invite you to join your voices to those of Church leaders as they continue to provide a much-needed vision for compassionate, accessible, life-affirming health care.  Please stay tuned!

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