State bishops meet with governor, legislators

The three get in front of lawmakers to advocate on topics important to the Church 

By Katie Peterson
The Tennessee Register

Bishops (from left) Spalding, Talley, and Stika meet with Sen. Randy McNally, the lieutenant governor, who is a parishioner of St. Mary in Oak Ridge. Also pictured is Rick Musacchio, executive director of the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission.

The shepherds of the Catholic Church in Tennessee—Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, and Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville—came together to meet with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, members of the General Assembly, and state officials to discuss Catholic social teaching during the 2022 Catholic Day on the Hill on March 23.

Catholic Day on the Hill is an opportunity for leaders of the Catholic Church to get in front of state legislators in a one-on-one environment to discuss topics important to the Church and the laws that affect the people of Tennessee. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission has organized a Catholic Day on the Hill annually for more than 20 years.

“It’s important for the voice of the Catholic Church to be heard by our political leaders, and what we find in the state of Tennessee is a positive reception to the voice of Catholics concerning the needs of our people,” said Bishop Spalding. “I think being there in person, all three (bishops) together, speaks powerfully whether we’re talking to the executive or legislative branch.”

Bishop Stika stands with Sen. Randy McNally. The senator and lieutenant governor was among a number of legislators the three state bishops met with at Catholic Day on the Hill.

“Having the three men who have been called by the Lord and by the Holy Father to be shepherds of the three dioceses being together and brothers, it gives us a sense of solidarity,” added Bishop Talley. “We can speak with one voice about the goodness of God and our desire to love God and neighbor by serving neighbor.”

The bishops, along with members of the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission, representatives of Catholic Charities, the superintendents of the Catholic schools of the dioceses, and health-care workers, spoke to the politicians about seven key points of Catholic social teaching, with special emphasis on the respect for life from conception to natural death, the care for the vulnerable, education, and health care.

While expressing these points, the bishops also thanked legislators for their efforts, particularly with the General Assembly’s support of legislation preparing Tennessee to end abortion on demand in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the precedent put in place following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Bishop Stika (left) and Bishop Spalding concelebrate Mass at St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church at the start of Catholic Day on the Hill.

“It’s important for the bishops of our three dioceses to let the governor and our legislators know how supportive we are of their efforts to promote the dignity of every human person, their efforts to lift up the poorest of the poor, their efforts to help bring prosperity and jobs to Tennessee, because that affects all of our people,” said Bishop Talley.

And no matter what comes from the discussions, “we’ve already been successful today because we’re able to listen to our legislators and the governor, and they’re able to listen to us,” Bishop Talley said. “There’s been an interaction, a listening to one another’s hearts, and the more we communicate values to one another, the better it will be for us to walk along the way.”

“It’s successful for dialogue, for conversation,” added Bishop Stika. “In order to accomplish something, its talking person to person, it’s putting a face to a particular area or a particular work, and you can’t beat human relationships.”

Although Catholics only make up 4 percent of Tennessee’s population, the presence of the Church is still widespread across the state with 158 churches spread across 77 of the state’s 95 counties, 45 schools from elementary to college, eight hospitals, and six senior-living facilities.

“We’re a minority Church, but we have this huge impact, this tremendous impact,” said Bishop Stika. “If you combine the three dioceses, Catholic Charities would be the No. 1 (social services) agency outside of government service, and it’s the same with education.

Bishop Richard F. Stika greets Knoxville Catholic High School senior Spencer Stovall at Catholic Day on the Hill. Spencer recently received an appointment to West Point.

“It’s nice to make that connection (with state legislators) because we do have many things in common in the care of people,” Bishop Stika said.

And that’s in line with the overall message of the day, he said.

“The Catholic Church will continue to make a difference because the Catholic Church is here for people,” Bishop Stika said. “For example, with Catholic Charities, probably the majority of the people we serve are non-Catholics, but it’s part of our mission that Jesus has taught, so we continue to do it.”

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