Some Things Change, Some Do Not
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
Changes are coming to the North Dakota Catholic Conference. The bishops of North Dakota have chosen David Tamisiea as the new executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. David started on November 1.
I will remain as a co-director and the conference’s general counsel while David transitions into the new position. For the next months, he and I will share the privilege of writing this column.
The mission and positions of the conference will not change. The North Dakota Catholic Conference represents the state’s Catholic bishops as they apply Catholic social doctrine to present situations. Present situations may change, but Catholic social doctrine does not.
The truth of this statement stuck out as I looked at the first columns I wrote. I started writing this column in June of 2001. Two hundred twenty-five columns followed, spanning twenty-two years. All of them are online on the North Dakota Catholic Conference’s website (ndcatholic.org).
For example, while the first column in 2001 introduced readers to the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the next three columns discussed issues and principles that are still relevant today.
The second column in 2001 concerned embryonic stem cell research. At the time, politicians and large biotech companies were calling for federal funding of research that intentionally killed human embryos. Federal funding was eventually given, but the research did not yield the results promised and interest in embryonic stem cell research faded. Nevertheless, destructive research on human embryos continues.
Incidentally, destructive research on human embryos was prohibited in North Dakota in 2001 and still is today.
For the third column, I wrote about the United States Catholic bishops’ commitment to the pro-life cause and how their two-prong approach was the best chance for overturning Roe v. Wade and ending abortion in our country. One prong was the call to expand services to pregnant women and families. The other prong was the incremental approach to law and policy. It consisted of passing pro-life laws at the edges of Roe that simultaneously protected unborn life and built the groundwork for overturning Roe.
The legal strategy worked. Last year, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its related cases when it decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Almost all abortions are now prohibited in North Dakota.
The other part of that approach is also still relevant. The Catholic Church in the United States has re-emphasized the need to reach out to mothers, responding to their needs so that no woman feels compelled to choose abortion.
The fourth column of 2001 was about the then-pending Farm Bill. As I write this, Congress still has not finished work on the 2023 Farm Bill. The principles I discussed for the 2001 Farm Bill apply to the 2023 Farm Bill. They were:
The Need to Respect the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. Public and social policies must put the human person first. Society cannot consider farmers and ranchers expendable in the name of “progress” or “efficiency.”
The Common Good. We must work to preserve family farms and ranches because they provide one of the best guarantees of a healthy community.
The Integrity of Creation. Agriculture should support farmers and ranchers in the exercise of stewardship of Creation.
The Universal Destination of Goods. The goods of creation are meant for all, throughout generations. Policies should foster a wide distribution of ownership in agriculture rather than concentration and policies should provide just compensation to ranchers and farmers for their labor.
Subsidiarity. Agriculture policies should not unduly interfere with the ability of persons and communities to exercise responsible self-governance.
Option for the Poor. We should judge policies concerning rural life according to how they affect the least among us -- those with less power and influence, the most vulnerable, and the marginalized.
The fact that these principles are just as relevant today as they were in 2001 illustrates how Catholic social doctrine does not change. Catholic social doctrine is not the opinion of particular popes at a particular time. It is part of the Church’s official teaching. The principles were relevant in 2001, are relevant today, and will be relevant in 2045. Agriculture practices and policies may change. There may not even be a Farm Bill in twenty-two years. The Church, however, will still have Her teaching and it will be relevant to how the country shapes agriculture policies.
The same is true for many issues. Whether the issue concerns human embryos, abortion, agriculture, or any of the many other issues addressed in these columns, the present facts, political situations, and legislators will change. The Church’s social doctrine will not.
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.