By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Catholics across the state are encouraged to join Catholic Advocacy Network of Nebraska (CANN), a new grassroots effort to make it easier for “average-joe” Catholics to influence public policy.
Backed by prayer, CANN’s dual purposes are to educate all Catholics in the state about various moral and social issues, and to provide quick, effective ways for them to make their voices heard by lawmakers and other government officials.
The network has been set up by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), a non-profit organization representing all three Nebraska bishops in the public arena.
Led by recently appointed executive director Greg Schleppenbach, NCC works to fulfill the Church’s responsibility to contribute to public debate on moral and social issues.
“We have a gospel mandate to go into the world and preach the Good News,” Schleppenbach said. “That is one of the primary reasons why the Catholic Church exists.”
He continued, “That Gospel mandate includes the public arena.”
He acknowledged that many Catholics shy away from anything that seems to fall under the category of politics. However, there is a very clear distinction between getting into the muck of partisan divisiveness, and legitimately influencing public policy that affects every person living in the state.
“Within the church, we have every right and responsibility to talk about and advocate in the area of public policy,” Schleppenbach assured. “Promoting or supporting specific parties or candidates cannot be done, but we have a solemn obligation as Christians to be part of the public discussion and make our voices heard.”
He noted that there are many serious issues facing Nebraskans these days. CANN will help all Catholics become aware of and educated about these issues in preparation for taking a stance through conversations with friends or relatives, voting, or correspondence with lawmakers.
“We have a lawsuit challenge to the state constitutional amendment that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Schleppenbach said. “We have lots of challenges in areas of conscious and religious liberty. There are lots of issues related to the undermining of the dignity of human life. Health care and immigration issues are constantly before us.”
For many Catholics, the sheer number and serious nature of these issues can be overwhelming. That’s why Schleppenbach was interested in following the example of other state Catholic conferences in creating an action network to inform, educate and mobilize response.
“Grassroots constituents’ voice is one of the most powerful tool of any lobbyist,” he stated. “That’s something that most professional lobbyists do not have. They have other tools — money and other means of influence — but one of our biggest resources is our grassroots.”
He added, “Organizing and building a substantial grassroots network through CANN is very essential to our office as a voice of the bishops.”
Prayer is and always will be the most effective tool that Catholics have in affecting public policy. To that end, Schleppenbach asked the Carmelites to write a prayer for CANN (below). He said he hopes that every Catholic in the state will begin praying it daily.
Meanwhile, he has worked on rebranding the Nebraska Catholic Conference to better introduce the organization to Nebraska. The visual overhaul includes a new logo, a new, easy-to-navigate website and a new, easier-to-remember URL: NECatholic.org.
All Catholics in Nebraska are encouraged to visit NECatholic.org and click on the button in the upper right corner to join CANN. There are no fees to pay, and Schleppenbach promised that the name and address of each person who joins will be carefully guarded to prevent spam.
His goal is to get at least 10,000 of the state’s 400,000 Catholics registered with CANN in short order. CANN members can find a lot of inspiration in being one of tens of thousands of Catholics in the state who want to ensure that public policy aligns with the Church’s teaching on human rights, marriage, immigration and other issues.
Schleppenbach wants people to know that even though the general media and some courts would like Catholics to give up some of these issues as lost, there’s no need to be so defeatist. Legalized abortion is one prime example.
“When Roe v. Wade was handed down, all the media and courts said, ‘It’s settled. It’s law. We’ve settled the abortion debate.’ Clearly 42 years later, it’s not over, and it never will be over,” Schleppenbach said.
He predicts the marriage issue will be similar. However easy it is to think that the “other side” has won the debate and that a change in the definition of marriage is inevitable, there’s no reason for Catholics to give up.
“We have a responsibility in season and out of season to proclaim the fundamental truths about marriage and human life, and we do that from the perspective of a Resurrection People,” Schleppenbach said. “As long as we persist, faithfully using the gifts God gave us, we’re doing what God has asked of us, but always with that confidence and joy of knowing we’re operating from victory.”
Prayer for Catholic Advocacy Network of Nebraska
Eternal Father, You call us to engage the world so that Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, might be made visible in the words and actions of Your servants. Through the good work of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, may the light and grace of the Gospel shine upon the many difficult problems, questions, policies and issues that arise in our secular world, which so often does not recognize what is good and true and beautiful. Grant to all of those who work in and with the Nebraska Catholic Conference, on behalf of our citizens who are often denied justice in our culture, the charity, courage and perseverance they need to do Your work in serenity, joy and peace. We invoke the intercession of Blessed Mary and all of the Saints and the Holy Angels, who stand ready to carry out Your divine will. We ask all in the power of the Holy Spirit and through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord. Amen.