Bishop Kopacz opposes SB 2710

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                   February 15, 2017

Bishop Kopacz opposes SB 2710, so-called “Sanctuary Cities” bill

As Christians we are called to welcome the stranger and care for those in need. As citizens, we are called to keep our communities strong and safe. We feel that the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” bill (SB 2710) being debated right now in the Mississippi Legislature damages both of those efforts.

The bill is flawed and not needed. Its language is so broad it will only confuse an already complicated issue and could put already vulnerable people at higher risk. Members of our law enforcement communities work hard to build trust in their communities. Putting them under a vague mandate such as this one would damage that trust. Immigrants, both those who enter this country legally and those who have come here hoping for a path to a new life, may be scared to seek needed help if they believe officers and first responders have been pitted against them.

SB 2710 may confuse those seeking education services for their children or college students who wish to seek help from a counselor or other administrator on campus. All of these unintended consequences make this bill a poor proposal for our state.

We urge lawmakers and advocates to oppose SB 2710. We will, as a Catholic community, continue to work with immigrants and refugees – welcoming their contributions to our community and culture – even as we pray for a just solution to the challenges of immigration and security.

Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson

Media Contact:
Maureen Smith
Director of Communications
Catholic Diocese of Jackson
601-969-3581 (office)
251-753-6917 (cell)

Pope names new bishop for Biloxi, Bishop Kopacz offers warm welcome

BILOXI — Pope Francis has named Msgr. Louis Kihneman III, 64, as Bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi, and accepted the resignation of Bishop Roger Morin, 75, from the pastoral governance of that diocese. Msgr. Kihneman is a priest of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, and currently serves as vicar general.
The appointment was publicized in Washington, December 16, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Msgr. Louis Kihneman III

Msgr. Louis Kihneman III

Msgr. Kihneman III, was born on February 17, 1952 in Lafayette, Louisiana. He holds a bachelor of arts degree and master degrees in religious education and theology from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He attended St. Mary’s seminary, Houston, and was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Corpus Christi on November 18, 1977.
“I would like to personally welcome Monsignor Louis Kihneman to Mississippi and wish him all the best as he makes the transition to the episcopacy. He brings with him a wealth of experience, having served in many churches in the Gulf South as well as in Mexico. I will keep him in my prayers and I look forward to serving with him in the Magnolia state for many years to come,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson. “I would also like to thank Bishop Roger Morin for his many years of devoted service and wish him a peaceful and prayerful retirement.”
Assignments after ordination included, parochial vicar at San Isidro Labrador Church, Arteaga, Mexico, 1977; St. Anthony of Padua Church, Robstown, Texas, 1978; Christ the King parish, Corpus Christi, 1980; Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Corpus Christi, 1981. Pastor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Alice, 1983; diocesan director of vocations and seminarians, 1986-1993; director, St. John Vianney House of Studies, 1986-1993; director of Christian leadership vocations, 1986-1993; pastor, Sacred Heart Church, Rockport, 1993-2011; vicar general, 2010-present; pastor, St. Philip Church, Corpus Christi, 2014 – present.
Other assignments include marriage tribunal advocate, diocesan director of religious education, priest personnel board, associate vicar for clergy, presbyteral council member and as chancellor.
Bishop Roger P. Morin was born on March 7, 1941 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was ordained a priest on April 15, 1971; he was appointed auxiliary bishop of New Orleans on February 11, 2003, and ordained a bishop on April 22, 2003. He was appointed bishop of Biloxi on February 23, 2009.
The Diocese of Biloxi, originally part of the Diocese of Jackson, comprises 9,653 square miles in the state of Mississippi. It has a total population of 818,801 people of which 57,912 or seven percent, are Catholic.

Media Contact:
Maureen Smith
Director of Communications
Catholic Diocese of Jackson
(601) 969-3581- office
(251) 753-6917

Memorial Arrangements for Sister Paula and Sister Margaret

Arrangements for Sr. Margaret Held, OSF, and Sr. Paula Merrill, SCN, both found murdered in their home Thursday, Aug 25, in Durant, Miss., are as follows:
Wake Service — Sunday, Aug. 28, 5:30 p.m. at St. Thomas Church in Lexington.
Memorial Mass — Monday, Aug. 29, 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson.
Their mortal remains will be taken to their respective Mother Houses after the Wake Service for Funeral Masses with their respective communities. The Memorial on Monday will be an opportunity for our diocesan community and friends to celebrate the lives of these two remarkable women. Bishop Kopacz will be the principal celebrant.
Parking is available in the Regions Garage for a small fee.

Loss of Sisters in Durant

We are terribly saddened to have to announce the murder of two sisters in our diocese. Police found two bodies in the home of Sister Paula Merrill, SCN, and Sister Margaret Held, OSF, in Durant, Miss. this morning after they did not show up to the Lexington Medical Clinic, where they worked.

“These sisters have spent years of dedicated service here in Mississippi. They absolutely loved the people in their community,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “We mourn with the people of Lexington and Durant and we pray for the Sisters of Charity, the School Sisters of St. Francis and the families left behind,” he added.

“These were the two sweetest sisters you could imagine. It’s so senseless,” Father Greg Plata, OFM, told a reporter on the scene. Father Plata is the priest at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Lexington.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have posted a remembrance on their website:

Pray for Sisters found dead in Mississippi

Mississippi of State Secretary of State also released a statement late Thursday: “Lynn and I grieve the loss of Sisters Paula Merrill and Margaret Held, who were found violently killed in their home in Durant, Mississippi, this morning. Unbridled love and care for mankind has been met with unparalleled savagery. These faithful nuns worked tirelessly at the Lexington Medical Clinic to make the Holmes County community and Mississippi a better place to live. We hope justice will be swiftly served.”

Media inquiries:
Maureen Smith

Bishop Kopacz releases radio spots

Bishop Joseph Kopacz recorded a series of radio spots to air throughout the state on the News Mississippi Network of stations throughout the year. Here is a sampling of the spots. Learn more about faithful citizenship at Any parish that wants copies of the spots can contact Maureen Smith, director of communications at 601-969-3581 or


Diocese joins bishops in call for prayer, dialogue, end to violence

The Diocese of Jackson joins the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a call for prayer to end all violence. We urge everyone to engage in nonviolent, but necessary dialogue to identify and address the issues facing our nation today.

July 8, 2016

WASHINGTON—Following the deadly attacks on police officers in Dallas, during a protest rally in response to the killings of two men in Louisiana and Minnesota, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops extended a call to prayer, reflection, civility and peaceful dialogue.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, issued the following statement July 8.
Let Us Gather at the Cross

A statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The assassination of Dallas police officers last night was an act of unjustifiable evil. To all people of good will, let us beg for the strength to resist the hatred that blinds us to our common humanity. To my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us gather at the Cross of Jesus. Our Savior suffered at the hands of humanity’s worst impulses, but He did not lose hope in us or in His heavenly father. Love overcomes evil.

The police are not a faceless enemy. They are sons and daughters offering their lives to protect their brothers and sisters. Jesus reminds us, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (JN 15:13). So too, the suspects in crimes or routine traffic stops are not just a faceless threat. They are members of our family in need of assistance, protection and fairness. When compassion does not drive our response to the suffering of either, we have failed one another.

The need to place ever greater value on the life and dignity of all persons, regardless of their station in life, calls us to a moment of national reflection. In the days ahead, we will look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.

Let us pray for the comfort of everyone affected and that our national conversation will bear the good fruit of healing and peace.

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, tragedy, attacks, violence, Dallas, race relations, mental health, economic opportunity, restorative justice, gun violence

Bishop Kopacz releases statement on court actions on HB1523, abortion

“We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.”

This introductory paragraph to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on religious liberty encapsulates the struggle of all Americans with deeply held religious beliefs.

Both the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal regarding abortion laws and the blanket rejection of HB1523 vividly represent the current struggle for religious freedom in America. People of faith are called to be active in the political process – to protect the dignity of each human being and to make our communities stronger overall.

While we are disappointed that a Federal Judge has blocked the entire religious liberty law passed this year in Mississippi, we are glad the law has opened a dialogue about the tension between religious belief and civil law. The Catholic Church in Mississippi will continue to seek exemption in the specific areas of marriage and employment in certain ministries while engaging in respectful dialogue with our neighbors.

We are saddened at this country’s insistence on abortion, the destruction of innocent lives, and the laws that have been passed to support this continued destruction. The laws requiring doctors to have admitting privileges, although seen as a roadblock for abortion facilities, are in reality a commitment to the good health of all. Especially when a crisis happens and a woman who has undergone an abortion needs other medical attention. Presently they must go to the nearest emergency room and be treated by the next available emergency doctor.

The church will continue to work and pray for an end to abortion while supporting those in crisis pregnancy through ministries such as Birthright and Rachel’s Vineyard.

We must strike a just balance between church and state, not just for our own protection, but for the protection of other faiths and society as a whole. The USCCB document continues, “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.” Once the state begins to limit the rights of people of one faith, we must be concerned for people of all faiths and beliefs.

The Catholic Church welcomes everyone in our parishes, schools and service centers. We have and will continue to help anyone in need through Catholic Charities, schools and parish ministries, regardless of your faith, beliefs or background. And we will continue to raise our voices both in our churches and in our communities in defense of human dignity and justice.

+Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Catholic Diocese of Jackson

Additional resources: USCCB document Our Most Cherished Liberty; Previous statement on HB1523BirthrightRachel’s Vineyard; Catholic Charities of Jackson

Media Contact:
Maureen Smith
Director of Communications
Catholic Diocese of Jackson
601-969-3581 (office)
251-753-6917 (cell)

Bishops oppose expansion of payday lending

Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi sent the following letter to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on Wednesday, May 11, opposing an expansion of payday lending in the state. The governor has until the end of the day Friday, May 13, to take action. The Catholic Church in Mississippi is urging him to let this bill die.

May 11, 2016

The Honorable Phil Bryant
State of Mississippi
P.O. Box 139
Jackson, MS 399205

Dear Governor Bryant:

Thank you for your dedicated service to the people of Mississippi. We are writing to express our concern with Senate Bill (SB) 2409, titled the Mississippi Credit Availability Act. This bill runs counter to Catholic social teaching as well as biblical and legal traditions calling for restraint against usurious lending practices.

SB 2409 would allow an expansion of existing predatory loan practices by payday and car title lenders through the creation of a new dangerous long-term loan product. The long-term installment loans allowed for in SB 2409 would carry a nearly 300 percent annual percentage rate (APR) on loans as large as $2,500 that can last for up to a year. These long-term loans with exorbitant interest rates would be available in addition to the existing short-term payday and car title loan products that already have trapped thousands of low-income Mississippians in a cycle of debt. In fact, the longer terms of the loans allowed for in SB 2409 would increase the likelihood that the payment will become an unsustainable burden especially for low-income consumers who often have volatile income and expenses.

This type of lending exploits those in need and our Catholic tradition warns against such modern day usury. The Vatican’s Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church states, “Usury is a scourge that is also a reality in our time and that has a stranglehold on many people’s lives.” Scripture warns strongly against abusive lending to those in desperate circumstances saying, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor, you shall not exact interest from them” (Exodus 22:25) and “Do not rob the poor because he is poor” (Proverbs 22:22). Our U.S. Catholic bishops have also expressed to Congress the need to protect low-income families from extremely onerous interest rates and fees as in payday loans.

Many other states have outlawed triple-digit interest rates such as that allowed for in SB 2409, including Ohio and Arizona. In 2006, the U.S. Congress established a 36 percent cap on annual interest rates for payday loans extended to members of the U.S. military. It is my sincere hope that you also will consider ways to protect consumers from harmful lending practices, rather than expand the menu of allowable products predatory lenders are able to offer. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop of Jackson

Bishop Roger P. Morin
Bishop of Biloxi

Diocese maintains gun-free policy

In light of the recent legislation concerning guns being allowed in churches and religious institutions, the Diocese of Jackson will maintain its current policy banning firearms and other weapons inside places of worship, schools, offices and service centers, despite a new law that would allow them. Bishop Joseph Kopacz does not feel there is any need to have firearms, whether they are concealed or publicly displayed, inside church-owned property.
“We are here to worship and to serve,” said Bishop Kopacz. “I understand that some parishes have private security officers and off-duty law enforcement officers patrolling their property, and that’s fine, if those people are from licensed security agencies with proper training, background checks and gun permits, but I see no reason for a gun to be inside a sanctuary or school, especially an unpermitted one,” he added.
The Mississippi legislature recently passed a law that would allow churches and other religious institutions to allow select certain members to undergo training and carry firearms inside their buildings, even without concealed weapon permits, however it remains our policy not to have any firearms in our buildings except in those cases where the parish or institution has hired a licensed security company. There are to be no parishioners or parents patrolling their facilities with guns.

Our mission to serve and educate: Bishop Kopacz addresses bill concerns

“The Diocese of Jackson supported and would continue to support a religious exemption on behalf of the mission of the Catholic Church with regard to education and social services. We would like to continue to provide these services while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The diocese had no involvement in the other portions of the bill that addressed business and government operations. The church will continue to work to protect its First Amendment right to worship, to educate and to serve in the public domain while respecting the dignity of all citizens.”

I responded to the recent inquires and feedback with the above statement regarding diocesan support for religious freedom that was signed into law in Mississippi with HB 1523. This law is wide ranging and it affects not only First Amendment Rights for recognized religious denominations, but also supports individual citizens with respect to freedom of conscience. The controversy, as we know, surrounds the conflict between religious freedom and freedom of conscience vs. discrimination. Most notably, although not exclusively, this has focused upon same sex civil unions and the redefinition of marriage in the law of the United States. For me as the Bishop of Jackson it is important to address this matter of vital importance as follows.

Parish Life and Worship The unchanging teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage for nearly two thousand years has been the indissoluble and faithful union of one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage between two baptized Christians. This is one of our seven Sacraments. I first wrote about it last summer after the Supreme Court ruling. Read my column here. This unchangeable teaching has been restated by Pope Francis in his just released Post Synod Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, (The Joy of Love). “Marriage is between a man and a woman, and homosexual unions cannot be placed on the same level as Christian marriage.” (AL250) That said, it is important that we all learn to imitate God’s unconditional love for everyone.

Pope Francis wholeheartedly continues: “The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception.” (AL250) Furthermore, everyone is a son or daughter; everyone has a family history; everyone has bonds of love with family members; and everyone has friends in difficult and painful situations. “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, or needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an unmerited, unconditional, and gratuitous mercy.” AL297

Pope Francis is beloved by many because he is able to reaffirm the teachings of the Church with fidelity, compassion, and hope, a standard for the entire Church. Some want to frame the debate surrounding the Church’s teaching as discrimination and hostility toward homosexual persons. On the contrary, we are being faithful to our mission to “speak the truth in love” and to live with the heart and mind of our risen Lord who came that all might be reconciled to God.

The Mission to Educate At the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, in the great mandatum directed to his apostles, Jesus said: “Go and baptize all the nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you, and know that I am with you until the end of the age.” The Church has been faithful to this mission for nearly two thousand years in a myriad of ways: most notably in the family, in parish communities, and in formal education. The Catholic Diocese of Jackson has been part of this mission to educate since its inception in 1837 in all manners of teaching, including in our Catholic School system begun in 1847. I provided a broader overview of our proud legacy of education in the State in my letter to the State Legislature. The letter is available below.

All teachers who formally represent the Catholic Church in our schools or parishes must teach what the Church believes, and must live in a manner that is in harmony with Church teaching. With respect to marriage in our mission to teach a Catholic must be married in the Church. If a Catholic is living with another – even if the couple is a man and woman – without benefit of marriage, or married civilly without benefit of a Church marriage, then they would not be hired, or their employment would be terminated. Same sex civil unions are seen in this light and the standards that underlie our Catholic ethos would apply. This is not a matter of discrimination but of being faithful to the mission and Gospel teachings entrusted to the Church by the Lord Jesus. My letter to the Legislature (available below) concerns the right of the Church to hire and commission educators without animus or prejudice to our tradition of faith.

Lastly, it is essential to point out that the Catholic Church in Mississippi has educated all who have come through our doors, beginning with the children of slaves in the 1840s. Non Catholics comprise a significant percentage of those who occupy the seats in our school system, both as students and teachers, and diversity has been our hallmark since desegregation.

The Mission to Serve In the same letter to the State Legislators I made an appeal to the First Amendment Right to serve with regard to Catholic Charities which has been at the forefront of outreach to vulnerable populations in Mississippi since the mid 1960s. Currently there are 23 programs or ministries that serve homeless veterans, victims of domestic violence and rape, legal immigrants, unaccompanied refugee minors and children in the state foster care system, to name a few. We serve all who are in need or in crisis situations with expertise, compassion, confidentiality and respect. The dignity of each person is upheld, and no one is turned away.

The two areas of concern of which I wrote surrounded adoption and foster care, asking the legislators to uphold our desire to serve while remaining faithful to our tradition of marriage in the placement of children. Throughout the country these programs have been addressed differently by state. At this time an accommodation for religious organizations is not needed in Mississippi with HB1523. Should this law be repealed, we would again request these specific exemptions. Although we are receiving public funds to carry out these programs, I still believe that it would be beneficial to our state for all sectarian and non-sectarian organizations to work together to serve vulnerable children. If a sectarian organization, like the Catholic Church, can only go so far because of their beliefs, other organizations can then address this gap in service. I believe that legislators can apply First Amendment common sense to support the service of the Church in society when by far and away it is a legacy of service for the common good.

In conclusion, I hope that it is clear that the Catholic Church in Mississippi is committed to building up the quality of life for all Mississippians, treating all with dignity and respect while remaining faithful to our tradition of faith, education, and service. Our role in supporting this bill was limited to the specific issues outlined above. This is invoked with malice toward none. Likewise, there is certainly a place for freedom of conscience in the public domain, an inviolable attribute of human dignity, but it should never be employed to discriminate against any person, a direct assault against human dignity.

Yours in Christ,
+ Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Bishop of Diocese of Jackson

Letter from Mississippi Bishops regarding 1523.3.1.2016+JRK and +RBM