It is always nice to hear from Catholics across Pennsylvania on social media in response to postings that we make on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We offer several postings daily on a variety of topics, but especially on those dealing with the happenings in the state House and Senate. That’s our focus at the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference: we are the public relations arm of the bishops across the state.
One of the comments that I have gotten in years past is to the effect of ‘why do you talk with that lawmaker when they are in favor of abortion?’
Well…we make it a point to work with everyone. Or at least try to.
“We work with Republicans. We work with Democrats,” said Eric Failing, the Executive Director of the PCC. “Sometimes up at the Capitol I’ll get asked ‘are you Republican or a Democrat?’ I tell them that “I don’t like to say I’m an ‘R’ or a ‘D.’ I’m a ‘C.’ I’m Catholic.
“We work with people on all sides of the issue on both sides of the aisle. When I first interviewed for the position, I talked to the bishops about this and they said something that has never left me. They said when you think of all the senators and all the representatives and all their staff….we shouldn’t think of them as from this party or that party. We should think of them as souls.”
One of our biggest allies in Harrisburg has been Democratic Senator Judy Schwank of Berks Co. She is firmly pro-choice, but has worked with us on a number of bills– most recently on Senate Bill 262, the Maternal Mortality Review Act SB 262. It will require the PA Department of Health to annually publish severe maternal morbidity date using hospital discharge information. It’s part of a package of bills aimed at addressing maternal morbidity and improving maternal health outcomes. It was just signed into law by a Democratic governor.
It can be intimidating when you hear certain lawmakers speaking passionately on the House and Senate floor, or in the press. You think to yourself, ‘they couldn’t possibly want to even meet with me, much less agree on anything.’ While sometimes that is true, it more often is not. Most lawmakers realize they have to work with those on the other side of the aisle or the other side of an issue to get things done.
It brings to mind an interview I had back in 2019 with Democratic Rep. Jordan Harris of Philadelphia. We met in his district office and I have to admit I was a bit intimidated. He was a forceful speaker on the House floor and I was surprised that he had even agreed to an interview. But then he said something that has stuck with me ever since. He quoted the abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass, who said “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
Harris is pro-choice as well. And while the sanctity of life is at the top of our list of values and pursuits, we cannot afford to ignore those who disagree with us on one or two issues. We’d be left to fend for ourselves.
The meeting with Rep. Harris went very well. And obviously left an impression on me.
“It’s difficult to dislike or hate somebody—I would say it’s impossible—once you get to know them,” Failing said. “Because what I think we’re always going to find is that we have more in common with folks than we may know and that they have more in common with us than they may know. That’s how friendship starts. We may not agree with everybody on every issue, but we’re all God’s children.’