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PCC Welcomes Two New Staff

PCC’s newest staff members: Eric Failing, Director of Social Concerns, and Stephany Dugan, Director of Outreach.

Two new faces joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC), public affairs agency of the ten Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania based in the state capital, Harrisburg. Eric Failing is director of social concerns and Stephany Dugan is director of outreach.

The PCC’s mission is to formulate positions on public policy issues that affect the Church as an institution, but also on issues of morality, health, welfare, human rights, education and the common good. The PCC officially represents the Church before state government and works in cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on federal issues. The PCC also aims to foster a public understanding of the Church’s teaching and concern about all of these issues.

Mr. Failing represents the Church’s concern about pro-life, social justice, and family-life issues and helps diocesan Catholic Charities agencies by monitoring legislation and regulations that affect them and the services they offer. He lobbies the state legislature on behalf of low-income and other needy population groups.

Ms. Dugan manages the Catholic Advocacy Network and the PCC’s website and social media. Her work helps to arm Catholics with the truth and authentic Church teaching behind today’s public policy issues so they can be effective advocates for the Gospel in the public square.

Learn about the latest issues and take action through the Catholic Advocacy Network at



JUNE 2017 column. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at,, and

Life of Cardinal William H. Keeler Honored by State Legislature

The life of Cardinal William H. Keeler was honored and celebrated on Monday, June 12, 2017, by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with the unanimous adoption of House Resolution 345.

The resolution was introduced by state Rep. Frank Ryan of Lebanon County.

Cardinal Keeler, who was called to the priesthood at an early age, was widely known for forging strong relationships with other religious denominations, particularly Jews and Protestants.

A native of Lebanon and attendee of Lebanon Catholic High School, Cardinal Keeler served as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg from 1984 to 1989 and was president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Administrative Board. Namely, he was instrumental in arranging Pope John Paul II’s historic 1987 meetings with Jewish leaders in Miami, Florida, and with Protestant leaders in Columbia, South Carolina.

He was appointed the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore in 1989, became President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992.

In November 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed then-Archbishop Keeler to the College of Cardinals making him the third Archbishop of Baltimore to receive the distinction.

In his own words: “I wondered about a way of saying thank you to God and giving back to the church and the gifts that God has given to me. It was as simple as that. For me, becoming a priest was not complicated.” – From The Catholic Review of Baltimore.

Cardinal William Henry Keeler

March 4, 1931 – March 23, 2017

Advocates, Lawmakers ‘Stand up for Life’ at Capitol Rally

Standing  united on the steps of the state’s Capitol, pro-life advocates and lawmakers renewed the call to stand up for life by urging passage of legislation (House Bill 77 or Senate Bill 3) which would reform Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who was inspired by the verse 30:19 from Deuteronomy where God advises us to “choose life”, led the call to support legislation to enact a ban on abortions from the 20th week on during a pregnancy.

Research, medical advances and scientific evidence have all shown that by the 20th week of a pregnancy, unborn babies are capable of feeling pain in utero – furthering the need to stand up for the protection of the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

In addition, the legislation also would completely ban the cruel and brutal practice of dismemberment abortions in the state of Pennsylvania.

More than 12 other states, including neighboring Ohio have begun to reduce the maximum gestational age for legal abortions. Sitting down, Pennsylvania will remain off that list. Standing up, Pennsylvania could be the next state to save the lives of unborn children and protect the lives of mothers!

Urge your state representative to stand up for life and support this legislation. Send a message here through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Maybe the cure is the problem

The following is an article by Aaron Matthew Weldon that appeared as the May 25, 2017, entry on “God’s Servant First: A USCCB Religious Freedom Blog.”

American culture today is highly individualistic.  Many of us make major life decisions on our own, we move from place to place, or we make frequent changes in employment.

My wife and I have made three major moves in the relatively short span in which we have been married.  Each time, the first thing we wanted to do was “get settled”—that is, get involved in a church, make friends, and start working.

I suspect many people are like me in that they feel vulnerable when it seems like they must make it in the world alone.  We want to belong.  We want to belong to a church, a community group, a service organization, or some other group.

The basic human need to belong entails a need for a healthy pluralism; a healthy pluralism means, among other things, that organizations are free to order themselves in accordance with the purposes of the group, including religious purposes.

For example, in a pluralistic society, a religious organization is free to hire only people who support the mission of the organization.  In this sense, religious freedom helps foster a healthy pluralism by maintaining space for religious institutions to purse their unique missions.

Yet authentic pluralism, understandably, may look frightening to the isolated individual.  What if I cannot get involved with a particular student group on campus?  What if I don’t fit into that club?  What if I disagree with the goals of a potential employer?  The fear of exclusion results in praise for institutions to the extent that they are “inclusive,” and punishment to the extent that they appear to be “exclusionary,” which is sometimes further maligned as “discriminatory.”

This attitude has real consequences.  For example, on many college campuses, Christian groups have been forced to adopt “all-comers” policies.  Some colleges require that any student have the right to be a leader for any student group.  This may sound appealing on first blush, but it means that an atheist could lead a Bible study, a climate change denier could lead the environmental club, or a Republican could lead the College Democrats.

A false sense of “inclusivity” ends up meaning that organizations and clubs cannot really have a distinct purpose or mission.  Having mission-based policies would mean that the group must order itself both to support and to avoid subverting that mission; and that means excluding those who would subvert it or not support it strongly enough.  This exclusion is then called “discrimination.”

But if the group cannot order itself, there is nothing distinctive about it, and thus it cannot give the individual person the sense of belonging and opportunity for fulfillment that she is seeking.  The cure for exclusion ends up excluding anyone from belonging anywhere.  This reinforces the individualistic culture that causes people to feel so vulnerable in the first place.

Healthy pluralism is difficult.  The erosion of religious freedom makes authentic pluralism even more difficult. Without a healthy pluralism—that is, without the space for a variety of organizations and groups to thrive—human flourishing is diminished.

The desire to remove entry barriers to the groups that make up civil society is understandable.  We want everyone to belong somewhere; but we shouldn’t shoehorn everyone into belonging everywhere.  When the removal of barriers bleaches out distinctiveness and weakens mission—including religious mission—we undercut the goal of building a truly inclusive society.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is Religious Liberty Program Specialist for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Physician Assisted Suicide: The Real Effects

The Patients Rights Action Fund (PRAF) has released a new video “Physician Assisted Suicide: The Real Effects.” Featuring Dr. Brian Callister of Nevada, it addresses one of the most compelling dangers of legalizing assisted suicide – the denial of life-extending/-saving care & the concurrent “offer” to cover the cost of lethal drugs for suicide.

His experience is disturbing–and should be made known far & wide. Click the image to see the video on YouTube.

What’s on the PCC Legislative Agenda?

The PA Senate Bill Room

The 2017-2018 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is now fully underway and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association are tracking a number of different legislative proposals.

See what bills are on the radar screen

PCC and PCHA formulate policy positions about state government programs, legislation, and policies that affect the common good and the interests of the Church. Areas of interest include concern for the poor, education, faith and politics, health care, respect for human life, religious liberty and social justice.

In each two-year legislative session, the Legislative Reference Bureau prepares about 70 million pages of bills, amendments, resolutions, and citations introduced by the members of the General Assembly. Only a fraction of them will ever become law, but each one has the potential for consideration.

The PCC and PCHA review hundreds of these bills with a Catholic lens. Some bills may affect the Church, and its Catholic schools, charities, and health care facilities as an institution; but many more deserve consideration because they concern the welfare of others. The Gospel calls us to support and defend the common good.

With so many proposals to consider, how do the PCC and PCHA prioritize what to track? Bills that promote these values may earn Catholic support; bills that may harm or contradict will be opposed.

  • Protection of human life from conception until natural death.
  • Support of programs that provide aid to nonpublic school students and their parents, including school choice.
  • Health care and insurance reform that guarantees access to adequate health care, standard benefits, long-term care for all persons, and care that allows religiously-affiliated providers to deliver services in accord with their ethical and moral principles.
  • Strengthening Pennsylvania families and working to uphold the stability of marriage between one man and one woman.
  • Support for safe and affordable religious child care facilities.
  • Advocacy for social justice and human rights for all Pennsylvanians, especially for programs that serve people in need.
  • Protection of the right to religious freedom, whether within the Church walls or in the community.

Many bills that address important topics are introduced, but not all of them are likely to be considered. The PCC and PCHA include bills in its legislative review that seem to have “traction;” but things can happen fast in a legislative session. News and urgent calls to action are constantly updated on

Pray for our elected officials and their public policy deliberations. The well-being of Pennsylvania’s citizens depends on it!

Catholic Schools Stand Out in 2017 PA-CAPE Annual Awards

PA-CAPE award recipients at the awards ceremony in Harrisburg on May 10th. (L to R): Jeanne Koenig Meredith (St. Mary Interparochial School), Christopher Buck (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School), Mary B. Stauffer (Dayspring Christian Academy), Nona Shanis Melnick (Montessori Children’s House), Kevin Skaer (The Christian Academy), Rebecca Dewey (Gladwyne Montessori), Diane Hediger (representing Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School)

The Pennsylvania affiliate of the Council on American Private Education (PA-CAPE) honor Pennsylvania’s brightest teachers, administrators, and schools in the private sector each year.  The 2017 PA-CAPE Private School Teacher, Administrator, and School Awards included several Catholic winners. Representing approximately 85 percent of the students in private schools in Pennsylvania, PA-CAPE established the awards ceremony to elevate the status of private education in the eyes of the communities they serve as well as the Pennsylvania legislature.  There are many excellent candidates nominated for these awards each year, all of whom provide an outstanding example of how Pennsylvania private schools are changing the lives of students both in and out of the classroom.  We would like to recognize and congratulate the following individuals and school for winning this year’s awards.

  • Rebecca Dewey – Early Childhood Educator (Gladwyne Montessori)
  • Nona Shanis Melnick – Early Childhood Administrator (Montessori Children’s House)
  • Mary B. Stauffer – Primary Educator (Dayspring Christian Academy)
  • Jeanne Koenig Meredith – Primary Administrator (St. Mary Interparochial School)
  • Christopher Buck – Secondary Educator (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School)
  • Kevin M. Skaer – Secondary Administrator (The Christian Academy)
  • Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School – Story Award


These teachers and administrators have a personal testimony that reinforces the overall significance of private school educators and leaders; we congratulate and thank them for the impact they make in their classrooms, schools, and in the lives of each of their students!

Growing Vegetables & Awareness in the State Capitol’s Hunger Garden

Some of Pennsylvania’s politicians play dirty at the State Capitol – literally. Several members of the Legislative Hunger Caucus led by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) got into the dirt and planted tomatoes, peppers, and other fresh vegetables in the Hunger Garden on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

Located on the State Capitol grounds between the Main Capitol Building and the Ryan Office Building, the Capitol Hunger Garden provides healthy food for the Downtown Daily Bread soup kitchen in Harrisburg and serves as a valuable tool to raise awareness of hunger issues in Pennsylvania.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers including Master Gardeners plant, cultivate, and harvest thousands of pounds of produce to feed many Pennsylvanians in need from this small plot of earth.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Social Concerns Director Eric Failing offered an appropriate quote from Pope Francis, “It is Jesus himself who invites us to make room in our hearts for the urgency to ‘feed the hungry,’ and the Church has made it one of the corporal works of mercy. To share what we have with those who lack the means to satisfy such a primary need, educates us in that charity that is an overflowing gift of passion for the life of the poor that the Lord makes us meet.”

Hunger is an issue that affects every community in America; men, women, the elderly, and especially children face food insecurity every day. Catholic Charities operate over 10.4 million food services across the country including food distribution in pantries and food banks, fully prepared meals served in dining facilities, soup kitchen facilities, and home delivery.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s Legislative Hunger Caucus here.

Inform Your Conscience: Who’s Who in the 2017 PA Primary Election

Pennsylvanians will take to the polls on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, to select candidates to represent their political parties in the state and local judicial elections, and municipal elections. What are the duties of these offices and why are they important to Catholics?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is composed of seven justices. It is Pennsylvania’s highest court, so in matters of law it is the Commonwealth’s court of last resort. It is also the oldest appellate court in the nation. Most of the cases that come before the PA Supreme Court are requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court; direct appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued; requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings; or requests to let someone go from illegal detention.

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts. Fifteen judges sit on this court to hear appeals in criminal and most civil cases from lower local courts, and appeals on matters involving children and families. The other intermediate appellate court is the Commonwealth Court. The nine judges on this court primarily hear cases that involve state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth.

Local courts at the county level are called Courts of Common Pleas. They are general trial courts where most cases are resolved. Lower than that and more local still are the municipal courts where district magistrates determine whether criminal cases are serious enough to be sent to the Court of Common Pleas.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s unified court system at

In the Primary Election, each political party will select its candidates for one Supreme Court Justice; four Superior Court Judges; two Commonwealth Court Judges; and the various candidates for the local courts and local municipal offices such as mayor, city council, school board, and others.

Statewide Judicial Ballot

PA Supreme Court (vote for one)





PA Superior Court (vote for four)





PA Commonwealth Court (vote for two)





The judges we elect have an important job. While our advocacy is directed toward the legislative process, many matters concerning abortion, the death penalty, religious liberty, marriage, and other questions of social justice may come before the courts. The checks and balances that the judicial branch has on the other branches of government are significant. We have a duty to support candidates that uphold moral values in all branches of government.

Educate your Conscience

There are a few sources of information where voters can gain insights into the qualifications and values of the judicial candidates. Some groups ask general questions on their candidate surveys; for example, the PA League of Women Voters and the PA Bar Association. Other groups may be more focused on the candidates’ positon on a few particular issues such as the PA ProLife Federation, the PA Family Institute or the National Organization for Women. You can also learn a lot about a candidate’s views from the endorsements they receive. Click the links on the names above to see the endorsements listed on each candidate’s campaign website.

Get Out To Vote!

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Get details about your polling place at And pray for Pennsylvania’s elected officials!