My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Recently I participated in a meeting between Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn and several other Catholic Bishops of Illinois. Some reports of this meeting have been inaccurate or incomplete. Since I was present for this meeting, I would like to set the record straight.
The meeting took place on Friday, Dec. 16, at the Union League Club in Chicago. It was a pastoral conversation between the governor, who is a professed Catholic, Cardinal George and eight other Catholic bishops from four of the dioceses in Illinois.
Our conversation was cordial and mutually respectful. I have known Gov. Quinn since he was lieutenant governor and I was auxiliary bishop of Chicago. We used to see each other from time to time at civic functions and church services, often involving the Polish-American community. Gov. Quinn attended Catholic schools and is very conversant about the Bible and the Catholic faith.
It was the governor who opened the door to this pastoral discussion by citing his religion, his faith and his conscience to justify his actions promoting intrinsic evils such as abortion. The bishops of Illinois had recently criticized the governor for presenting a "pro-choice leadership award" at a fundraiser for a political action committee that has raised millions of dollars to elect "pro-choice" candidates to state and local office in Illinois and to support the lobbying efforts of Planned Parenthood in Springfield, one of the leading abortion providers nationally and in our community.
While the recipient of the award was a victim of rape, she was being honored not for that fact but for her "pro-choice leadership." Another woman came to protest the award and was present outside of the event. Her name is Mary Higgins, a woman who was raped when she was a college freshman 33 years ago and gave birth to a daughter as a result. She said, "I am here to represent victims of sexual assault who choose life and to point out that the decision to take the life of a human being is never the answer to a violent crime. Where in the world do we punish innocent children for the sins and the violence of their father?"
In response to our criticism, Gov. Quinn expressed his openness to talk with us about our concerns regarding his involvement with a pro-abortion organization. In our conversation, we didn't talk that much about abortion as such, since he is well aware of church teaching in that regard. Rather, we discussed some of the foundational principles of our faith, such as conscience.
We acknowledged that conscience is free, but it also must be based on the truth. Invoking conscience does not make a falsehood true. People are free to reject Catholic teaching, but then they should have the integrity not to invoke the Catholic faith to justify positions that are contrary to the faith itself. When a public person makes such statements, we bishops feel it is our obligation to respond since we have taken an oath to explain and defend the integrity of the Catholic faith.
Gov. Quinn expressed his desire to work together to help the poor. Certainly, in principle, helping the poor is a value that the bishops can share with the governor. I pointed out, however, that it is difficult to imagine how we can collaborate when the State of Illinois in recent months has cancelled almost $6 million in state contracts that supported not only our foster care and adoption programs, but helped finance the whole infrastructure of the work of Catholic Charities to help the poor in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Even more millions of dollars in contracts have been cancelled in the other dioceses of Illinois for Catholic Charities and Catholic social services. In fact it is the State of Illinois that pushed Catholic Charities out of foster care solely because of our belief that children are best provided for in the loving home of a married mother and a father.
The governor suggested that we form partnerships with secular agencies that do not share our beliefs, but we pointed out that such partnerships cannot be formed without violating our religious principles. The secular agencies that have been formed to handle foster care in Peoria and Belleville are separate from the Catholic Church. The dioceses do not have a "partnership" with these agencies.
Our role as bishops at this meeting was to speak as pastors, not as lobbyists. I did not ask for reinstatement of our Catholic Charities' foster care contracts with the state and the governor has made it clear that such contracts with the church will not be forthcoming.
So it is time to move on. The beginning of a new year is a good time to set some fresh directions with new focus and renewed energies. Catholic Charities will continue to help the poor in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in a variety of ways, but will need to rely more on private charity rather than government contracts. Charity is all about generosity and sacrifice. We all need to be charitable not only because it helps the poor, but also because it helps the giver to grow in holiness.
May God give us this grace. Amen.