Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy wing of Minnesota’s Catholic bishops, said Tuesday that they want a resolution to the state shutdown that protects poor Minnesotans. But their request also contains a slew of controversial social issues, including vouchers for private school students and a ban on certain forms of stem-cell research. The bishops didn’t back either Gov. Mark Dayton or legislative Republicans, but did criticize cuts to the social safety net.
The bishops attacked anti-government sentiment prominent in Republican talking points.
“Ensuring the welfare of all Minnesotans is a core function of government,” said Jason Adkins, MCC’s executive director, said in a statement. “Although controlling spending and putting the state on sound fiscal footing are important goals, those with limited means should not be shouldering that responsibility, especially as politicians continue to load budgets with tax loopholes, subsidies, and spending projects that serve narrow special interests.”
Rev. John M. LeVoir, Bishop of New Ulm, added that private charities such as Catholic Charities depend on partnerships with government in order to help those in need of assistance.
“The Church, of course, has a fundamental imperative from her Lord to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless,” he said. “But the state should, when necessary, support the work of upholding the dignity of her citizens, thereby assuring the common good. In Minnesota, churches and non-profits have a long and fruitful history of collaborating with government to provide support to Minnesotans in need.”
The bishops said they oppose cuts to Minnesota’s General Assistance program and the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which provide subsidized health care and food for low income Minnesotans.
But while the bishops seem to be indicating support for Dayton’s plan, they threw a curve ball in asking that a slew of contentious social issues, opposed by Dayton and supported by Republicans, be included in any final negotiations.
The bishops are asking for a ban on taxpayer-funded abortion and a ban on certain types of stem cell research. In addition, the bishops are seeking scholarships and vouchers for private schools, programs that have been tried in other states and that have benefited the bottom line of Catholic schools.
“These policies should be a part of any final budget agreement because they promote both the sanctity of life and educational opportunity for parents and students who could not otherwise afford it,” Jason Adkins, executive director of MCC . “Protecting human life from conception to natural death, as well as supporting parental choice in education, has been and will remain priorities for Minnesota’s Catholic bishops.”
Republicans brought those issues to the bargaining table just before a lack of compromise brought the state to a shutdown.
The bishops’ request follows a move by an interfaith group of religious leaders who went to the Capitol on Tuesday to deliver a letter, signed by 235 congregation heads across the state, seeking a just solution to the budget impasse. No legislators came forward to receive their letter or gifts of bread, milk and honey — symbols of Minnesota’s abundance — in person.