Column: Looming Issues for Next Session

1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe next legislative session is, depending on how you look at it, “only” or “still” five months away.  Either way, the session is approaching and now is a good time to recognize some looming issues for the next session.

The Budget 

The state budget is already the dominant issue.  The legislature just had a special session to address declining revenues, but the real work remains for the regular session.

On the one hand, North Dakota is, by some standards, doing well financially.  Unemployment is low and the state is funding some very real needs in infrastructure and education — though still not parental choice.  On the other hand, oil revenues are very low and agriculture commodity prices are taking a hit.  This means that the state is not expected to bring in as much revenue as previous years, which leads to new and difficult challenges with spending and collecting revenue.

Expect heated debates about the budget to dominate the session from Day 1 to sine die.

Human Service Needs

In February Governor ordered a set of across the board cuts for all state agencies.  These cuts hit the provision of human services especially hard.  For one thing, despite the fact that Department of Human Services targeted “new” programs for elimination, the fact remains that these were still needed programs and they were identified as such by the legislature.  Secondly, the truly needy are most impacted and are in less of a position than most of us to adjust the reduction or elimination of services.  Thirdly, some of those reductions, especially in the area of long-term care, resulted in additional losses in federal matching funds.

The Department of Human Services was spared in the second round of reductions that occurred in August, but it will likely have to present a reduced budget for the next biennium.  Just as the Year of Mercy closes, concerned citizens will have to work to make sure that our most vulnerable citizens are not left behind.

Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse

Just about every observer agrees that the state is in a crisis when it comes to behavioral health and substance abuse.  The situation was already bad before the opioid and fentanyl epidemic hit the state.  Nevertheless, while most would agree that something needs to be done, not everyone agrees on what should be done or whether there is enough funding and will to get it done.

The Department of Human Services is already in the process of reforming its delivery system through the Human Service Centers and the State Hospital.  In the meantime, an interim legislative committee has studied the matter and is preparing draft legislation for the next session.   Some of the proposals will require state funding.  There will exist tremendous pressure to not devote new funding to mental health and substance abuse services in light of the state’s budget problems.  Not acting, however, could put even more of our neighbors at risk and cost us more money in the long run through incarceration.

Incarceration Reform

Addressing our incarceration numbers is linked to addressing our behavioral health needs.  North Dakota locks up too many of its non-violent citizens for low-level drug-related crimes.  The situation is financially unsustainable and short-sighted as a policy matter.  Recommendations to lower penalties for non-violent offenses and offer alternatives to incarceration have met with some resistance.  Meanwhile, it is certain that any serious effort to address our skyrocketing incarceration rates must work in tandem with efforts to provide better and more extensive mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Medicaid Expansion

Over 19,000 North Dakotans have medical coverage as a result of Medicaid expansion passed by the legislature in 2013. Passage of the legislation, which the North Dakota Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic health care facilities supported, was difficult.  To appease some concerns, the legislation was given a “sunset” of July 31, 2017.  This means that the legislature must renew the program during the next legislative session or thousands of North Dakotans will lose or lack health care coverage they otherwise would have.  The families impacted usually earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but don’t earn enough to receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

There is a peek at some of the issues facing the next Legislative Assembly, and space does not allow me to write about the refugee program, revision of the state’s marriage laws, and protecting legislation to help the unborn and their mothers.  Stay tuned to the conference’s Facebook page and be sure to ask your candidates about these issues.

Column: Mercy in Anxious Times

berlinwallchurch2These are anxious times.  We have witnessed orchestrated acts of terror so senseless it boggles the mind.  Nearly 65 million people are displaced worldwide and there seems to exist no will or agreement to resettle them.  Mass shootings driven by hatred, despair, or mental instability seem to have become more commonplace.  A U.S. Supreme Court driven by abortion ideology has thrown-out decades of legal precedent.  Never before have the presumptive nominees for president been so disliked by the American public.  Christians and other religious minorities continue to face persecution and martyrdom around the world. Ideologically zealous bureaucracies are forcing people to embrace “gender philosophies” contrary to their religious beliefs and common sense.  Some political candidates seek a return of the use of torture.  Others support the use of drone strikes on civilians.

It is enough to think that we are living in W.B. Yeats’ The Second Coming:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

But we’ve been here before.  And we will be here again.

Yeats wrote his poem immediately after World War I, a war so violent, deadly, senseless, and sudden that it shook the Western world to its core. A mere twenty years later we experienced another world war.

How do we, as Christians, respond when troubling and chaotic times? Do we withdraw from the world, judging it irredeemable?  Do we embrace the changes, gradually or quickly, “going with the flow” enough so we can still make a difference elsewhere?  Do we let our anxieties and passions overtake us and join a worldly movement fighting in reaction to the changes and chaos?  Do we let our resistance become hatred of this world?

St. Paul instructs us to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Phil. 4:6)  This does not mean, however, that we should withdraw from society and only pray.  We are social creatures created to serve God and others.  We serve others not only through individual acts of charity, but also through social and government institutions.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has this to say about times of trouble:

“When human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, it makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission; it becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, an image of the power of the imperial persecutor “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev 17:6). The Beast is served by the “false prophet” (Rev 19:20), who, with beguiling signs, induces people to adore it. This vision is a prophetic indication of the snares used by Satan to rule men, stealing his way into their spirit with lies. But Christ is the Victorious Lamb who, down the course of human history, overcomes every power that would make it absolute. Before such a power, Saint John suggests the resistance of the martyrs; in this way, believers bear witness that corrupt and satanic power is defeated, because it no longer has any authority over them.” (382)

Three points come to mind when reading this passage.  First, it relies heavily on the Book of Revelation, which was written during a time when persecuted Christians were tempted to lose hope.  Second, the Beast of the Apocalypse, is not necessarily a ruler or world government. It could be a human-made ideology, like many of the false ideologies from the left and the right popular today.  Third, the lesson is that, by the cross and resurrection, Christ is victorious and overcomes every contrary power.

The Compendium goes on to note that we humans must perceive these truths and seek to fulfill, in social life, “truth, justice, freedom and solidarity that bring peace.”  We cannot withdraw.  Nor can we succumb to false man-made “solutions.”  Finally, we cannot be overcome by anxiety or despair.  Mercy is not served by any of those reactions.

Ten years after Yeats’ Second Coming, T.S. Eliot wrote Ash Wednesday.  A passage of the poem expresses this Christian idea of being in the world, caring for the world, but not being of the world, all the while embracing St. Paul’s call to prayer.  He wrote:

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Year of Mercy: The Dying and the Dead – New Column

If there is one theme that runs through all manifestations of mercy it is the call to never abandon.  Mercy calls us not to abandon those in prison, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the women who have had abortions, the unborn, refugees, or those with disabilities.

True mercy also means not abandoning the dying or the dead.hands

Under the guise of “mercy” and “compassion” assisted suicide and euthanasia are becoming increasingly acceptable.  Five states – Washington, California, Oregon, Vermont, and Montana – allow assisted suicide and at least five states are considering legislation to legalize it.

Proponents portray assisted suicide as a merciful act necessary to relieve a terminally-ill person’s pain and suffering, despite the fact that most of the laws do not require a person to actually be in pain or truly be terminally ill.  They go to great lengths to avoid the fact that assisted suicide is assisted killing.

Like abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are not examples of society rising up to meet the needs of the suffering, but are instead examples of society giving up and abandoning those in need.

As one of the official documents for the Year of Mercy reminds us:

The word for mercy in Latin is misericordia. The etymology of the word derives from the Latin misere (misery, necessity) and cor/ cordis (heart) and is identified with having a heart full of solidarity with those in need. So in everyday language mercy is identified with compassion and forgiveness.

Mercy, therefore, is linked to compassion.  Compassion means to “suffer with.”  As Jason Adkins, my counterpart in Minnesota, puts it: “Sending someone home with a vial of pills to die, and perhaps even die alone, is not compassion, it’s not humane.”

Even in jurisdictions that stop short of legalizing assisted suicide, we can be tempted to abandon the frail and the dying.  North Dakotans needing long-term care, for example, are among those hardest hit by the recent state budget cuts.

The Basic Care Assistance Program funds services that provide care, service, and supervision to those unable to live alone. According to the North Dakota Long Term Care Association the recent cuts will result in a loss of 40% of service providers in the program.  Meanwhile, nursing facilities are taking a $25.1 million hit.

The lack of services can contribute to subtle pressures to relieve perceived — but not actual — burdens. Without realizing it, we can be tempted to make health care decisions, especially for those at the end of life, for reasons of convenience disguised as compassion.

God never abandons and nor should we.  True mercy, true compassion, does not mean aiding in killing or taking actions that intentionally and directly cause death by act or omission.  We must provide ordinary care, including artificial food and water, so long as it provides a benefit. We can provide pain relief and comfort care, even if the method or treatment indirectly and unintentionally shortens life.  The overarching principle is to “be with,” not abandon.

To help guide decisions, whether they are made by you or by someone speaking on your behalf, get the Catholic Healthcare Directive from the North Dakota Catholic Conference at: or call 701-223-2519.


Earthly death inevitably comes.

The traditional seven corporeal works of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Bury the dead stands out in this list for a few reasons. To begin with, it is the only work not mentioned in Matthew 25.  Its scriptural basis come from the Book of Tobit, specifically verses 1:17 and 12:12.  It was not until the 12th century that bury the dead was included with the six from Matthew 25.  Thomas Aquinas in the next century firmly established it as one of the seven corporeal works of mercy.

It also stands out because it does not address an immediate need of a living person.  One way of understanding its inclusion is to remember the call to not abandon.  Treating deceased bodies with disrespect and disposing them like trash is a form of abandonment, not only of the body, but also of person who was living.  Aquinas saw a connection between how we treat the dead body and how we treat the memory of the dead and Christ himself, who was also a body and was also buried precursor to the resurrection.

As with caring for the dying, there are sometimes public policy issues that affect our call to bury the dead with dignity.  Many laws affect cemeteries, cremation, and related services.  In addition, Catholic cemeteries are increasingly seeing threats to their ability to operate in accordance with Catholic beliefs.

Thus, with death, as with dying, we need to be vigilant and never abandon.

New Column: The Co-Op Pope

Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by cooperatives, on condition that it is a real cooperative where capital does not have command over men but men over capital. - Pope Francis

Question: What do Pope Francis and North Dakotans have in common? Answer: A fondness for cooperatives.

North Dakotans are familiar with cooperatives. The Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives at North Dakota State University estimates that there exist over 500 cooperatives in the state. We have cooperatives involving agriculture, telecommunications, financing, insurance, electricity, and more. The state has often been called the nation’s leader in the cooperative movement.

Like many legal and economic developments, cooperatives often sprung from necessity. Farmers, for example, sometimes had to join forces to reduce purchasing costs. At other times, producers needed to work together to have sufficient bargaining power when dealing with monopolies like the railroads. Cooperatives have also allowed members to access needed resources for investment.

Cooperatives offer local control, direct ownership, and equitable distribution of the fruits of labor. Interestingly, support for these principles, and cooperatives themselves, are found in Catholic teaching.

Although often mislabeled as a document on climate change, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si is really an exploration of what the Christian faith means for the economy. It is worth noting that cooperatives are praised twice in the document, once in relation to agricultural cooperatives and again concerning energy cooperatives — two segments of the cooperative model with which North Dakotans are familiar.

Pope Francis has repeatedly hailed cooperatives. Speaking to an audience in Rome, the pope said: “Cooperatives should continue to be the motor that raises and develops the weakest part of our communities and civil society.” In Bolivia he spoke of how he has seen how cooperatives “were able to create work where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy.” He has often spoke about how he developed an enthusiasm for cooperatives when, as a teenager, he heard his father talk about “Christian cooperativism.” Indeed, Paul Hazen of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council, has dubbed Francis, the “co-op pope.”

Pope Francis, however, is not unique when it comes to expressing the Catholic preference for cooperative models of ownership and production. Catholic monasteries have operated as cooperatives for centuries. Cooperatives got a significant boost in popularity after Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum in 1891. It was the first “social encyclical” and rejected by unbridled capitalism and state socialism. Cooperatives provided an alternative. As Pope Francis puts it: cooperatives “are the concrete expression of the solidarity and subsidiarity that the social doctrine of the Church has always promoted between the person and the state.” Nearly ever pope since then, especially the last five, has promoted cooperatives as an alternative to systems where all the economic power is held by those who own the capital, rather than the workers, producers, or consumers.

Catholics have been putting the cooperative alternative into practice.The first credit union in the United States was founded by New Hampshire French-speaking Catholics in 1908. The world’s largest network of worker-owned cooperatives was started by a Catholic priest in Spain. Dorothy Day, one of the four “great Americans” mentioned by Pope Francis in his address to Congress, promoted and founded cooperatives in the United States as an alternative to communism and a form of uncaring, detached capitalism. Even today, Catholic bishops, aid organizations, and lay groups promote and create cooperatives around the world.

Several themes run throughout Scripture and the church’s social doctrine that make cooperative models and worker ownership appealing. As already noted, they can be an alternative between collectivism and individualism run amuck. They also represent ways to respect both solidarity and subsidiarity, stewardship of the land, the dignity of labor and workers, respect for private property and the universal destination of goods, and the ecological integrity Pope Francis discusses in Laudato si.

Cooperatives may not work in every situation. Pope Francis warns that cooperatives, like other types of ownership can succumb to the temptation to put profit before people and thus become “false cooperatives.” Nevertheless, our experience with cooperatives might place North Dakotans in a better position to help create what Pope Francis calls a “healing” “economy of honesty.”

Column: Our Political Possessions

photo via by vilegye

photo via by vilegye

The Gospel story of the rich young man can teach us how to deal with our political possessions.

The gospels tell us that the man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus restates the commandments. The man replies that he has observed the commandments since his youth. Mark’s account says that Jesus looked at the man, “loved him,” and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Most reflections on the story focus on how merely following the commandments was considered insufficient – at least for the young man — and on Jesus’ warning, immediately after the departure of the young man, that it is “easier for a camel to pass through eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” There is, however, more to the story.

It would be a mistake to think that Jesus was instructing everyone to give all their possessions to the poor. He said that possessions would make it difficult, but not impossible, to receive eternal life. Jesus instructed this particular young man to sell all that he had. Why? I think the answer is found in Mark’s explanation that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. It was a very personal message by the only one who can see straight into a person’s heart. Jesus saw that with this man, adherence to the commandments would not be enough. The man’s attachment to possessions would always be a barrier to giving his life fully to God.

For that reason, we should consider the story to be about more than material wealth. We all have attachments and possessions to which we hold on, even as we follow the commandments and precepts of the church.

Political and ideological beliefs can become such possessions. People can buy-in to certain philosophies and partisan positions to the point that they cling to them like the young man and his wealth.

Read the rest . . .

Our Commitment to Refugees

Within the pro-life movement we often hear that a classroom of children is killed each week by abortion.  The claim holds true for North Dakota.  The state has lower abortion numbers than most states, but is also has smaller class sizes.  An average of fifteen unborn children of North Dakota residents are aborted each week.  A classroom size a week is about 800 a year.respect-life-2015-montage

The statistical information on women subjected to abortions is remarkably consistent. The overwhelming majority of them are unmarried, about 87%. Eighty percent of them have less than a four-year degree.  Twenty percent of them are non-white, which is twice the percentage of the state’s population.  Although we do not have economic data, we can safely conclude, based on other studies and the fact that most of them are unmarried and lacking a college degree, that they are poor.

We can also conclude that the children, if they were not aborted, would be more likely to grow up in poverty.  Growing up in a single-parent household is one of the strongest indicators that child will live in poverty.  It also strongly correlated to other social problems, such as involvement in crime, substance abuse, problems in school, and more.  The absence of a college degree by the parent, like racial factors, compounds the problems.

No matter what their marital, educational, or racial status, one hundred percent of the women have something in their life that led them to the unplanned pregnancy and the abortionist.  It could be drugs, mental health issues, a lack of maturity, domestic abuse, or any number of other issues.  Whatever the issue, it probably would have an impact on the child if he or she was born.

This does not mean that the child would be doomed to a life of poverty and delinquency.  For the record, I was raised by a single parent.  Statistically, however, the child and mother is much more likely to face these challenges.

To the purveyors of the culture of death, these are exactly the reasons these women should get abortions.  “Better a dead child than a poor child or an inconvenienced parent” is their motto.  The love and mercy of the culture of life, however, embraces every child and mother.  There exists no circumstance, no matter how bad, that justifies abortion.  That is the pro-life way.

Which brings us back to the claim about a classroom a week being lost by abortion.  Implicit in that lament is that society should welcome every one of those children no matter what their situation and no matter what challenges they pose to the rest of us.  Also implicit is that our acceptance of these children and our responsibilities to care and educate them is not dependent on the size of the classroom.  If the abortion numbers doubled, our commitment to life – and them – would not change.

This commitment is something we should remember as our nation and our state prepares to welcome more refugees.  Each year Lutheran Social Services helps the federal government place about 400 refugees in the state.  There are some indications that the number will increase to around 500.  Even the higher number is less than a classroom a week.

Refugees are not individuals merely seeking to take advantage of American life.  They have unwillingly left their homeland to escape persecution and war.  Before admission to the US, each refugee undergoes an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process.  Our response to refugees goes beyond the biblical call to treat the “alien among us” no differently than the citizen.  They come needing food, clothing, shelter, employment, English language training, and orientation to a new community and culture.  They are among the “least of us” that demand our welcoming embrace.

Nevertheless, there are some who oppose the placement of refugees in the state.  They cite the “burdens” refugees place on communities.  Refugee resettlement does place some burdens on our resources and sometimes those burdens can be disproportionate geographically.  Finding ways to minimize and accept those burdens, however, is the right thing to do.  It is no different from when a family embraces an unexpected pregnancy by a teenage daughter.  Yes, it is a difficult, but she and the child are deserving of our love, not abandonment that could drive the young woman to the abortionist.

The human family, meaning society, must embrace the burdens of accepting refugees and not abandon them to what is in many cases certain death in their home country.  If we are sincere about our willingness as a society to accept all the children destroyed by abortion, we must also be willing to embrace refugees escaping persecution and death.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference

The Truth About Planned Parenthood

plannedparenthood34cThe Truth About Planned Parenthood

by Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference

August 2015

Calls to defund Planned Parenthood renewed after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos that shows Planned Parenthood staff engaged in the collection and distribution of tissue and organs from aborted unborn children.  The center claims that the videos show Planned Parenthood engaged in illegal activity, including the sale of unborn body parts for profit.  Planned Parenthood claims that its actions were not for profit, were legal, and that defunding Planned Parenthood will deny access to women’s health and increase abortions.  When we examine the facts, it becomes clear that Planned Parenthood’s claims do not justify continued funding with our tax dollars.

Planned Parenthood does abortions, and lots of them

Planned Parenthood claims that only three percent of its services are abortions.  It arrives at this figure by counting every little service it provides, such as a pregnancy test, a Pap test, and tests for STDs.  Suppose, therefore, that a woman comes in for an abortion.  Planned Parenthood first tests if she’s pregnant, tests for STDs, conducts the abortion, and hands her contraceptives on the way out.  By Planned Parenthood’s figuring, only one-fourth of the activities conducted involved abortion.  Rich Lowry of the National Review noted that with this reasoning, “Major League Baseball teams could say that they sell about 20 million hot dogs and play 2,430 games in a season, so baseball is only .012 percent of what they do.”

Three percent is a lot and is three percent too much

Three percent of Planned Parenthood’s business comes to about 330,000 abortions a year.  That is 330,000 too many.  Any organization that does any abortions should forfeit access to taxpayer money.

Planned Parenthood is Anti-Religious Freedom

It is tempting to say that Planned Parenthood is all about abortion, but the truth is that the organization has included hostility toward religious freedom in its activities.  When North Dakota voters considered a religious freedom measure Planned Parenthood affiliates from around the nation contributed $1.2 Million toward its defeat.  They did this despite the fact that Planned Parenthood does not have a clinic in the state, the measure had nothing to do with “reproductive rights,” and many Planned Parenthood clinics operate in states with similar laws with no problems.

Don’t believe the claim that abortions will go up if Planned Parenthood loses tax funding or closes clinics 

This claim appeals to the belief that greater access to contraceptives would lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and therefore fewer abortions.  The much ignored problem with this claim is that there exists little or no empirical evidence to support it.  In fact, most studies closely looking at the issue have found that the opposite is true.  For example, states and nations that fund and encourage high contraception access have higher rates and numbers  of abortions.  States like North Dakota that provide no funding for contraception have lower abortion rates.

Planned Parenthood’s Distraction Defense

Planned Parenthood claims the videos were edited.  Actually, the unedited versions were posted  at the same time.  Planned Parenthood claims that they were secretly and illegally filmed.  That might be true, but it does not change the substance of the videos.  Planned Parenthood claims that the people behind the videos are extremists.  Once again, who made the videos and what connections they might have had to other organizations is irrelevant.  It does not change the substance of the videos.

It does not matter that it was legal

Perhaps the most used distraction technique is the claim that what Planned Parenthood did is legal under federal law.  The Center for Medical Progress alleges that the videos show Planned Parenthood engaged in the trafficking of fetal body parts for a profit, something that is illegal under federal law.  The legal system will have to determine whether Planned Parenthood violated federal laws. In the meantime, we should not lose sight of the fact that even what Planned Parenthood admits to doing is unconscionable, even if legal.

It is illegal in North Dakota 

What Planned Parenthood admits to doing would be a felony if done in North Dakota.  Our Congressional delegation should keep that in mind when voting on whether to defund Planned Parenthood.  North Dakotans have already said that Planned Parenthood’s actions are unacceptable.

Possible Good Does Not Make it Right

Planned Parenthood and its defenders have resorted to the consequentialist argument that, no matter how you feel about abortion, what was shown in the videos is actually good because it may lead to cures.  That is another distraction technique and one that relies on a flawed moral analysis.  A good outcome cannot justify an evil act.  The intentional killing of human life is evil and no amount of resulting “good” can make the killing morally acceptable.


Planned Parenthood likes to point out that no federal dollars pay for abortions.  This is partly true.  Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to directly pay for most abortions.  Tax dollars can, however, pay for abortions due to rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.  More importantly, all money is somewhat fungible.  Tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood help support its agenda in other ways, an agenda that includes abortions and anti-religious freedom activity.

The mere fact that something is legal does not mean that citizens should have to disregard an organization’s involvement in the activity when it comes to deciding whether to fund another activity by the organization.  In other words, even if our tax dollars do not directly pay for abortions, Planned Parenthood’s provision of abortion should exclude it from receiving our tax dollars.

Space does not permit discussion of Planned Parenthood’s never disavowed racist and eugenic history.  It should be clear, even without that information, that the time has come to defund Planned Parenthood and send it to the ash heap of history.

Mining the Past to Prepare for the Future

Mining the Past to Prepare for the Future

Pope Francis’ much anticipated encyclical on the environment will be released on June 18.


In anticipation of that event, we have mined the North Dakota Catholic Conference archives to look at what the conference has contributed to discussions on stewardship of creation and the related issues of farming, private property, and stewardship.


Creation, Property Rights, and the Law of Takings

The North Dakota Catholic Conference’s most comprehensive look at issues related to the environment was a newsletter published in 1996. Despite the passage of time, the lessons, being rooted in God’s Revelation, are just as relevant today.


An excerpt:


Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, has said: “Dakota is a painful reminder of human limits . . .” Those who have seen our state’s vast open spaces or experienced its sometimes severe weather may understand what she means. This reminder is also a chance for spiritual growth. “Nature, in Dakota,” Norris says, “can indeed be an experience of the holy.”

North Dakotans have another opportunity to understand creation. More so than in most states, the lives of North Dakotans revolve around what we do with God’s creation. Our lives are very much tied to the use of our land and natural resources. The proper use of creation is sanctioned and blessed by God. Proper use and ownership of the earth’s resources can be spiritually rewarding.

Catholic teaching affirms both the right to private property and the need to respect creation. Sometimes, however, these two principles appear to come in conflict, such as when our use of property harms the environment or when laws intended to protect the environment unduly infringe on our use of property.


The newsletter goes on to discuss the biblical, papal, and church documents on the environment, private property, and takings laws.  Read the rest . . .


Testimonies, Presentations, Bishops’ Statements, and Columns 

Throughout the years the North Dakota Catholic Conference has addressed issues related to stewardship of God’s creation in a number of ways.





Columns from the New Earth and Dakota Catholic Action

Testimonies, Statements, and Presentations

Also, the North Dakota Catholic Conference produced Stewards of Creation, Stewards of Hope, a video that received the 1999 Certificate of Merit from the Catholic Communications Campaign of the United States Catholic Conference.

With six stories of how persons on the Northern Plains apply faith to stewarding creation, the video and study guide used scripture, Catholic social teaching, and talks by Pope John Paul II for reflecting on how everyone can respond to God’s call to steward creation. Segments included:

  • Introduction Creation is a gift from God, but conflicts often develop about how to best care for creation
  • Wetlands and Farmers Farmers and wildlife preservationists work together for common solutions and the common good.
  • Wind Energy A religious community and an Indian community apply faith to their energy needs.
  • Farm Family A profile of a farming couple and how their beliefs shape how they farm.
  • Community Supported Agriculture A look at how communities can work with farmers for local food needs.
  • New Economic Initiatives Examines how applying faith and stewardship to development can help, rather than hinder, rural communities.
  • Simplicity A couple simplifies their life for others and creation.
  • Conclusion A look at how everyone can act as a good steward of God’s creation.

Catholic Doctrine on Food, Creation, and the Human Person

Finally, the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly published an essay by Christopher Dodson, the Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, on Catholic Doctrine on Food, Creation, and the Human Person.



The essay is available for purchase from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.  Below is the abstract.





Kevin Murphy’s essay “Christians and the New Food Movement” (Autumn 2011) rightly warns about introducing non-Christian ideas associated with certain environmental movements into church practices. However, the essay embraces several errors that ultimately conflict with the Catholic faith. Catholic social doctrine, rooted in the universality of Christ’s salvific act, requires viewing food, agriculture, and the economy through a moral lens. A refusal to engage in such issues because they might bring the Church into contact with heterodoxy leads to a form of protectionism that embraces a reductionist view of creation and, ultimately, the human person. National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 12.2 (Summer 2012): 217-226.

New Column: Principles about Life and Dying, Advance Care Options

Most families will eventually have to make health care decisions for a loved one at that person’s end-of-life. It can be a heart-wrenching time. The natural desire to see suffering end, to attend to “unfinished business,” and not “let go” can affect decision making. Emotions can cloud judgment.

For that reason, everyone can benefit by becoming familiar with some Christian principles about life and dying, advance care options, and relevant factual information.

Let’s start with some principles.

  • Human life is a precious gift from God. Every person has a duty to preserve his or her life and to use it for God’s glory.
  • We have the right to direct our own care and the responsibility to act according to the principles of Catholic moral teaching.
  • Suicide, euthanasia, and acts that intentionally and directly would cause death by deed or omission, are never morally acceptable.
  • A person may refuse medical treatment that is extraordinary because it offers little or no hope of benefit or cannot be provided without undue burden, expense, or pain.
  • There should be a strong presumption in favor of providing a person with nutrition (food) and hydration (water), even if medically assisted.
  • We have the right to comfort and to seek relief from pain, even if the method or treatment indirectly and unintentionally shortens life.

I have recently heard people say that removing or refusing non-beneficial e
xtraordinary care is a form of killing. Surprisingly, these people also thought that this killing was “okay” because the treatment was without benefit. This is very confused thinking. Intentional and direct killing is never morally acceptable, but the removal of extraordinary treatment is not killing. It is letting a person die naturally.

In November North Dakotans will have a chance to vote on the Human Life Amendment. The amendment states: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” The amendment was put on the ballot by the legislature to make clear that the North Dakota Constitution does not contain an unfettered right to abortion.

Opponents of the measure, however, are claiming that the amendment would prevent the use of advance directives and the removal of unnecessary burdensome treatments from a dying a person. The claim is completely false. For one thing, the amendment does not – and cannot – change laws about the care of persons at the end of life. Only the legislature can enact such laws. Secondly, these laws, like the prohibition against assisted suicide, prevent killing. Removing extraordinary care and the use of advance directives is not killing.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference strongly supports the Human Life Amendment and also encourages the use of advance directives, especially those that appoint a loved one to make decisions for the patient if he or she cannot speak for themselves. The amendment, which will be Measure 1 on the November ballot, does not conflict with the use advance directives.

Agents of the culture of death play upon the fears and emotions that come with the end of life. First they argued that assisted suicide and euthanasia were necessary because people could not guarantee that they would not be kept artificially alive against their wishes. But then several court cases, legislation, and the use of advance directives showed that the fear was unfounded. Then the death advocates started a misinformation campaign to convince people that, despite the law, advance directives and family instructions will not be followed. Now they want us to believe that an amendment to clarify that the state constitution does not give a right to abortion will nullify advance directives.

One way to fight the fear-mongering is to make sure you, your family, and your friends discuss what you want done if are incapacitated and facing death. Make use of the North Dakota Catholic Conference Health Care Directive. It is straightforward, short, and comes with a guide to answer frequently asked questions about the process, the law, and Catholic ethics.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference will send you as many copies as you’d like at no charge. You can also download them from our website:

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New Column: Lessons Learned

This spring marks my twentieth year with the North Dakota Catholic Conference.


People often ask what I have learned about politics and politicians during these twenty years. Three lessons stand out to me.
First, most people, including most lawmakers, are neither entirely “conservative” or “liberal.” The truth is that most of us live in a world of shades. Even the most tight-fisted fiscal conservative will loosen the purse strings for a cause close to her heart. A self-proclaimed “progressives” can shudder at breakdown of social norms.

Read the rest. . .