Summer Updates
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference

August 2018

The news did not slow down during the summer. Here is a round-up.

Family Planning Funds

In the last column, I wrote about regulations proposed by the Trump Administration that would change how grantees use federal family planning funds. Those changes would allow North Dakota to enforce its law against using funds for abortion referrals. Thanks to your calls and emails, Governor Doug Burgum submitted comments to the administration in support of those rules. We do not know at this time when the new rules will be finalized.


On July 4, Bishop David Kagan and Bishop John Folda issued a joint statement on immigration. The statement mentions important principles for an immigration policy based on church doctrine and Sacred Scripture. While there is room within Catholic teaching for differences of opinion on some aspects of immigration policy, there are basic principles that always apply and cannot be violated. They are:

  • People have a right to migrate to seek safety, basic needs, work, and opportunities essential to their life and dignity and that of their families;

  • Justice requires that countries receive immigrants, provided it is without actual detriment to the welfare of their citizens;

  • Nations should provide immediate protection to refugees and asylum seekers who flee wars and persecution;

  • Sovereign nations have the right to secure their borders, but this must be accomplished only for legitimate reasons for the sake of the common good and never in a manner that violates the basic rights and dignity of immigrants or the primacy of the family;

  • Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civic burdens; and

  • The rights and dignity of all immigrants and their families must always be respected.

These principles flow from society’s obligation to put families first. Regarding the practice of family separation, the bishops stated: “The family is so vitally important, not only to a child’s life, but also to society as a whole, that children should be removed from their family caregiver only when, through due process, it is established that removal is necessary to protect the child from harm. Merely crossing the border without authorization does not meet this threshold.”

Roe v. Wade and North Dakota’s Trigger Ban

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has brought new attention to Roe v. Wade and what would happen if the Supreme Court overturned the infamous case creating a right to abortion.

The space for this column does not allow an explanation of what that case really did, how the “right” to abortion has changed through the years, and the likelihood that Roe would be “overturned.” However, here are some factors to consider.

Roe, with its companion case, was a radical decision that declared a near absolute right to abortion for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy. The “right” has changed since then, but when abortion lobbyists talk about “Roe,” that is what they want.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently launched two related efforts. The first educate people on what “Roe” really means. The second urges U.S. senators to not apply a pro-Roe litmus test to any nominee. Find our more at:

Some people have claimed that North Dakota would automatically ban abortion is Kavanaugh is confirmed. It is not that simple. In 2007, the legislature enacted a law prohibiting physicians from performing most abortions. The law would only go into effect if and when the attorney general submitted an opinion to the Legislative Council that the law is “enforceable.” Note that it does not require that Roe v. Wade be overturned.

For that to happen, the right case raising the right issues at the right time would have to come before the Supreme Court. Then, of course, the Court would have rule to allow a prohibition. All those conditions could happen, but it could take years.

Death Penalty Clarification

On August 2 Pope Francis issued a change to the Catechism stating that the death penalty is always inadmissible in light of a developing understanding of the dignity and life of the human person. Some Catholics in the United States who support the death penalty think that Pope Francis is mistaken and that capital punishment is acceptable here. They are mistaken on two fronts. First, the change is now part of Church doctrine, not a mere opinion of a pope. Second, the death penalty was already unacceptable in our country.

In 1995 St. John Paul II stated that it was morally wrong to use the death penalty “except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” He added that in today’s society, “such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” The United States is one of the wealthiest and strongest nations in the world. No other country, then as now, is more capable of defending society without use of the death penalty. In short, the death penalty was morally unacceptable in the United States before and after August 2.

Your Faith, Your Vote

An election is approaching. The North Dakota Catholic Conference has a resource to help you, the Catholic voter fulfill your Christian obligations as an educated voter with an informed conscience. Christians should set aside ideologies like “conservative” or “progressive,” party identification, and self-interest, to vote for human life and dignity, and the common good. The resources, at, will be updated periodically during the campaign season.

Catholic parishes in the state are not allowed to have any voter education material that mentions a candidate or political party in any way. If there are any questions about what parishes and priests are allowed and not allowed to do, see the Your Faith, Your Vote website or contact the North Dakota Catholic Conference office.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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Bismarck, North Dakota

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