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2005-2006 Annual Report

by Tom Tracy

Each year, prior to the annual Red Mass for Catholic lawmakers working in Tallahassee, the state’s Catholic bishops traditionally are granted an informational meeting with Florida’s governor.

This month the Florida bishops hope to continue that tradition with the new Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

But that church-state relationship is not a once-a-year affair.

The Florida bishops have a permanent presence in Tallahassee in the form of the Florida Catholic Conference (FCC), a relatively small but expertly staffed group of lay professionals that help the bishops liaise with state government on matters of concern to the Catholic Church. Under the guidance of Executive Director Michael McCarron, the FCC is a nonpartisan public policy voice assisting to coordinate the cooperative undertakings among the seven dioceses in the Province of Miami (The province encompasses the state of Florida).

By establishing relationships with key representatives and agencies of Florida government and analyzing the moral dimension of public policies, the FCC’s mission statement proclaims the sanctity of life and dignity of the human person, assists decision makers in reaching just solutions and provides an avenue for Catholics in Florida to carry out their responsibility to participate in political life.

While staying nonpartisan and guided by Catholic teachings, FCC representatives are not violating church and state nor are they endorsing candidates or political parties, but rather letting the Catholic faith help form an approach to politics and public policy in areas of pro-life, social justice, education, immigration, bio-ethics and much more.

McCarron said that despite policy differences over the state death penalty and the approach to educational vouchers, that the FCC found an exceptional alley in the sanctity-of-life arena with former Gov. Jeb Bush, to a degree that may not be easily found in future governors. Nevertheless, the bishops hope to establish a good working relationship this year with key state officials and the Charlie Crist administration.

“We have been working with him for many years when he was in the Florida Senate, as commissioner of education, and as attorney general in terms of defending laws Gov. Bush assisted in enacting dealing with the sanctity of life,” McCarron said.

“He knows the personnel in our office and he knows about the FCC. We feel we can go forward with developing a relationship with him, but we are on different pages on embryonic stem cell research. We are actively working to oppose any state funding of it.

Another issue we have different perspectives on is the death penalty, and we are concerned the governor might escalate a (death penalty) rate that is already alarming.”

To help facilitate its work, the FCC has added a new position this year called Associate for Communications, in the person of Michele Taylor, who in the past served as personal assistant to McCarron. Taylor will help communicate to the media and public the FCC objectives, legislative actions and statements from the Florida bishops. One of its keys means of communications is the FCC website ( and a Legislative Advocacy Network, which Taylor hopes to expand to some several thousand individuals statewide who receive email notifications on pertinent legislative developments.

Moreover, McCarron said the FCC’s priorities for the 2007 legislative season include pro-life issues: “We have an astounding number of abortions in our state - more than 90,000 a year, but it is also an astounding statistic that 90 percent of young mothers who find that there is help available make a decision to keep their child,” he said, “so funding for pregnancy support services is a critically important priority.”

Likewise the public confusion of embryonic stem cell research is on the FCC radar, and McCarron said the bishops oppose state funding for research that destroys a human embryo — “that will be one of our toughest battles,” he said. Other legislative priorities for 2007 relate to affordable housing crisis following the recent hurricane seasons and an increase in property tax and home-owners insurance; farm worker justice; the environment; Catholic education; and much more.

Each year, Catholic laity in Florida are invited to attend a two-day event (March 13-14) called Catholic Days at the Capitol, which allows participants to learn about some of the current issues of concern to the Catholic Church in Florida under discussion in the legislature. Then, as a constituent, they are encouraged to meet with their legislators to speak to them about the Catholic position.

“Catholic Days is an extension of our efforts to communicate our concern for issues that affect the lives and dignity of the human person,” said Sheila Hopkins, associate for Social Concerns at the FCC. “This also allows participants the opportunity to become involved in the political process. Many are hooked once they come and see they have an opportunity to make a difference.”

To participate in Catholic Days at the Capitol, March13-14, call Lorraine Allaire of the Respect Life Office at (904) 308-7474 or email: Van transportation will be available to travel to Tallahassee.