Iowa’s bishops discuss legislative priorities

Antonio Banuelos
The four bishops of Iowa pose for a picture last month promoting Pope Francis’ Share the Journey campaign.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger


Three young adults, in college or who have graduated, shared their stories with Iowa’s bishops of living in fear for their families and their futures because they are undocumented immigrants.

“I’ve heard stories like theirs before, but each time it brings the message home,” said Bishop Thomas Zink­ula of the immigrants’ Oct. 26 presentation at the Iowa Cath­olic Conference (ICC) Board of Directors meeting. “These are real people living real lives. They’re living in fear. Their parents brought them here illegally. They are caught in the politics of it all. … You can’t help but care about them and want to help,” the bishop added.

The presentation of the DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was one among several topics that the bishops addressed during the fall meeting of the ICC, the public policy arm of Iowa’s bishops. Other topics included Catholic schools and parental choice and discussion and approval of 2018 legislative concerns.


Iowa’s bishops have contacted the state’s congressional delegation in support of DACA youths and the DREAM Act of 2017. In a Sept. 1 letter to U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the bishops wrote: “DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.”

The bishops pointed out that since 2012 nearly 800,000 DACA youths in the U.S. have come forward, passed background checks, paid a fee, and received permission to live and work in America. Furthermore, the bishops asked King to “move forward in a bipartisan manner and find a permanent legislative solution to ensure that DACA youth can remain in the United States and continue their God-given potential.”

The letter was signed by Archbishop Michael Jackels, Archdiocese of Dubuque; Bishop Zinkula, Diocese of Davenport; Bishop R. Walker Nickless, Diocese of Sioux City; and Bishop Richard Pates, Diocese of Des Moines.

Bishop Zinkula said he has preached on the immigration reform issue and noted that it is one of the priorities of the diocesan Social Action Office and receives attention in The Catholic Messenger. Tom Chapman, the ICC’s executive director, noted that the board approved a resolution in support of immigrants, particularly in support of legislative protection for “Dreamers” (DACA recipients) to ensure that they are not deported. An action alert to send a message to Congress can be accessed at /icc/home.

Catholic schools

Lee Morrison, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Davenport, gave a report on Catholic schools on behalf of superintendents in all four dioceses. The ICC has been working with diocesan school superintendents to offer informational resources to parishes/Cath­olic schools re­gar­ding par­ental choice in education. The current School Tu­ition Organi­zation (STO) tax credit program remains an important vehicle to assist low-income students. It offers $12 million in tax credits to donors, which helps nonpublic schools raise about $18 million in scholarships, according to the ICC executive director. He noted that one legislator plans to introduce a bill to build on the STO by adding $5 million in tax credits (to a total of $17 million) and raising the eligibility guidelines for families to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

Last month, Iowa’s bishops released a statement in support of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) which they believe would empower parents statewide to choose the best and most suitable education for their children, regardless of economic standing.

The bishops said the ICC will ask the Iowa Legislature to enact an ESA program during the 2018 legislative session. They view nonpublic schools as “among the best anti-poverty programs, offering a first-rate education, enduring moral truth, and discipline that speak to the development of the whole person.”

ESAs are also a relatively inexpensive and efficient means to support parents and children, the bishops said. They estimate that for no more than an additional four percent of the current government spending on K-12 education, Iowa could offer comprehensive choice in education for all nonpublic school students. The ICC Board passed a resolution affirming its ongoing priority to achieve ESAs in Iowa.

Other priorities approved:
• Support for final passage of Senate File 359, restricting the use of fetal tissue for research following an elective abortion.
• Support for an increase in the state’s minimum wage.
• Opposition to Senate File 481 and similar legislation related to the treatment of immigrants.
• Opposition to efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

The ICC Board also approved 2018 Legislative Priorities and Principles. These begin with the right to life from natural conception to natural death and extend to access to productive work and fair wages, food and shelter, education and health care, protection from harm, and freedom to emigrate.

For more information on these priorities and principles, visit the Iowa Catholic Conference website at

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