Faithful from around the Diocese of Phoenix received a dose of hope as well as sobering news at the 2018 Legislative Seminar.

The event, held during election years, began with Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica where Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted pointed to the words of the processional hymn that proclaim believers to be “ransomed, healed, restored,” and “forgiven.”

Those lyrics, the bishop said, “capture the profound truth of how Christ our King freed His mother of the burden of sin by reaching back in time and preparing her to be the perfect dwelling place for the Son of God.” We, too, the bishop said, were ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven and we bring those gifts to the public square. “We have no reason to come with pride or arrogance because we have done nothing to deserve” those gifts, but “we should come with a keen sense of duty,” the bishop said.

Talks given at the Diocesan Pastoral Center after the Mass and breakfast zeroed in on religious freedom, rights of conscience and the latest developments in transgender politics vis-a-vis Church teaching.

Sean Halpain, immediate past state deputy for the Knights of Columbus, one of the sponsors of the event, said the Knights are a non-partisan group but they are working to get out the vote. He called on attendees to “vote in accord with Catholic principles.”

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public-policy arm for the state’s five bishops, said he hoped that those who attended would leave “motivated” and with the knowledge that they are not alone.

Everyone who attended the talks received a copy of “Catholics in the Public Square,” penned by Bishop Olmsted and now in its fourth edition. The booklet is in “high demand,” Johnson said and more than 300,000 have been printed. “It makes my job easier when people know their faith,” he quipped.

Johnson pointed to the combined efforts of the ACC and local Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals who in the 2016 election opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arizona. “That year there were eight states that had it on the ballot and seven passed it. The only one that didn’t was Arizona.” He warned however that “there is too much money involved” and advocates of recreational cannabis “will be back.”

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which coordinates the Legislative Seminar. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)
(Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Arizona has much to be proud of, Johnson said, in terms of positive legislation such as pro-life laws; 20 new laws passed since 2003 that deal with school choice; and increases in the charitable tax credit. Nevertheless, there are “storm clouds on the horizon.” Efforts to legalize assisted suicide, remove the school tax credit and threats against rights of conscience and even the right of Catholic Charities to assist immigrants are all worrisome.

Johnson encouraged attendees to find out where candidates stand. “The Catholic Church does not endorse candidates but we do encourage the laity to vote and get involved and run for office.”

Ryan T. Anderson, a senior at The Heritage Foundation, gave the keynote address. His wife recently gave birth to the couple’s first child and he couched his remarks in terms of what a loving parent would want for his child.

“It breaks my heart to think that somewhere between 600,000 to 900,000 children are aborted each year in the U.S.,” Anderson said, calling it “our greatest national tragedy and disgrace.”

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The emphasis of his presentation, however, was on transgender politics. This latest debate is the outgrowth of the legalization of same-sex marriage and the breakdown of marriage in general.

“For 50 years, heterosexuals bought into the lie about normalized extramarital childbearing, no-fault divorce and the sexual revolution. It’s had disastrous consequences.”

When same-sex marriage was being argued before the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito asked where it would all end.

It was a point well made, Anderson said. “If two men can be married, why not three?” New terms have evolved such as “throuple” (three people in a sexual relationship) and the notion of “lease-lock,” a play on the word wedlock based on the notion that if one can lease a car, why not a spouse? “As we abandon the truth about marriage, there really isn’t any stopping point. We’ll continue to reap these bad consequences,” Anderson said.

He also warned that Tim Gill’s LGBTQ Foundation has pledged $500 million toward making sexual identity a protected class in the same manner as race and religion. Such a move would threaten religious and non-profit organizations.

“All of the wonderful successes here in Arizona … all of that could be at stake.” A collective gasp went up from the room as Anderson detailed how the non-profit status of schools and organizations plus tuition tax credits would be in danger.

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Alan Sears, founder and former general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom also spoke at the event. Both Anderson and Sears received standing ovations for their talks.

Isabel Morales of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tolleson attended the seminar and said she was inspired to want to vote on the propositions and for those candidates that support the Church’s teaching. “What I learned was really remarkable. I definitely feel motivated to vote for candidates that are pro-life.”