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)

Bishop’s Statement on Orlando tragedy

June 13, 2016

As Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, I ask all the faithful to offer prayers and acts of mercy on behalf of the lives of so many innocent people extinguished in the blink of an eye by a deranged and misguided gunman in Orlando yesterday morning. We pray for them and for their families and friends who are now facing an unimaginable grief.

This senseless act of hatred adds to the seemingly unending number of acts of violence in our world against the life and dignity of each and every human person. In the face of such evil, now more than ever, we must respond with the love and compassion of Christ in order to bring true and lasting peace in our families, our communities and our world.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

+Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop of Jackson


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

Statement from Bishop Kopacz regarding HB 1523

Statement from Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson regarding HB 1523 signed into law April 5 by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant:

“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.”

Announcing the death of Bishop William Houck

U.S. BISHOP WILLIAM R. HOUCKIt is with a heavy heart and great sadness that I announce the death of our beloved former bishop, Bishop Emeritus William R. Houck, who led our diocese from June 5, 1984 – Jan. 3, 2003 Bishop Houck recently underwent a single bypass for blockage in a main artery. He was recovering but took a turn for the worse last night. God called him home at around 1 a.m. He was 89 years old.

We rejoice in the confident knowledge that he is at peace.
Arrangements are incomplete at this time. We will send them out as soon as we have them finalized.

Eternal rest grant unto him, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Yours in Christ,

+Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson

Bishop Houck’s life and work.

Funeral Arrangements for Bishop Houck are as follows:

A Rite of Reception of the Body will be held on Tuesday, March 15, at 4 p.m. in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle. Visitation will follow until 7 p.m. Tuesday, then continue on Wednesday, March 16, from 10 a.m. – 12noon; and 2– 7 p.m. with a Vigil/Wake Service at 7 p.m. in the Cathedral. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the Cathedral on Thursday, March 17, at 12:30 p.m. with interment in the Bishop’s Cemetery next to the Cathedral.

Bishop Houck’s Obituary

Listening Session canceled due to threat of severe weather

Tonight’s scheduled Listening Session at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Madison has been moved to Monday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m., due to the threat of severe weather. Organizers are aware that this falls on Spring Break for many schools and we regret the inconvenience. Those who were planning to attend, but will be out of town that week should contact the chancery office at 601-969-1880 or stop by the chancery at 237 E. Amite St. to pick up a comment sheet by Tuesday, March 8.

Diocese seeks input for a Shared Vision and Pastoral Priority Plan

Bishop Joseph Kopacz  has launched a year-long process of discerning and proclaiming a shared vision and priorities for the church in this part of Mississippi. The process will be facilitated by Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), an organization dedicated to helping strengthen the church through leadership formation and consultation. While the process is very structured it starts and ends with the people.
The Diocese has announced 15 listening sessions across the state for the faithful. Chancery staff and priests will have their own sessions. A facilitator trained by Catholic Leadership Institute will lead a structured discussion about people’s hopes and dreams and a scribe will record each session. The faithful will also be invited to answer some questions in writing at the sessions. The listening sessions are bilingual. A Leadership Council of representatives will then be commissioned by Bishop Kopacz to go through training from CLI, sort through the responses and prayerfully discern a shared vision and a set of pastoral priorities to move the diocese forward for the next 3-5 years. Please make plans to attend a session to help with this process. The schedule is below and is attached as a downloadable document.

Listening sessions flyer:
SPANISH listening sessions flyer

Developing a Diocesan Vision

Mon., Feb. 15 St. Dominic Center, Toulouse Bldg 6:30 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 16 Meridian, St. Patrick 6:30 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 17 Vicksburg, St. Paul 6:30 p.m.
Thur, Feb. 18 Brookhaven, St. Francis 6:30 p.m.
Sun, Feb. 21 Southaven, Christ the King 4:00 p.m with dinner
Mon, Feb. 22 Clarksdale, St. Elizabeth 6:30 p.m.
Tues, Feb. 23 Madison, St. Francis 6:30 p.m.
Wed, Feb. 24 Tupelo, St. James 6:30 p.m.
Thur, Feb. 25 Starkville, St. Joseph 6:30 p.m.
Sun, Feb. 28 Greenwood, Immaculate Heart of Mary 4:00 p.m.
Mon, Feb. 29 Greenville, St. Joseph 6:30 p.m.
Tues, Mar. 1 Natchez, St. Mary 6:30 p.m.
Wed, Mar. 2 Batesville, St. Mary 6:30 p.m.

Diocese invites all to celebrate Jubilee Year of Mercy

Logo for Holy Year of Mercy Bishop Joseph Kopacz opened the Holy Door at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Sunday, Dec. 13. Pope Francis had already opened the Holy Doors at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to begin an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Catholic faithful around the world are encouraged to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy during the year and dedicate themselves to bringing mercy to life in our troubled world.

The Diocese of Jackson has a whole year’s worth of opportunities for prayer, pilgrimage and action.

-Download the Diocese of Jackson Calendar of the Events Jubilee of Mercy here.

Read Misericordiae Vultus, the papal bull about the Jubilee here.

Keep up with Jubilee Year of Mercy events around the world here.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe faithful are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Door in their diocese during the year.
As distance may be a factor for some, Bishop Joseph Kopacz has designated several pilgrimage sites around the diocese as places of prayer, mercy and reconciliation.
In a letter to pastors at the designated sites, Bishop Kopacz wrote: “Since pilgrimage is a key element of any jubilee year and to allow the faithful who may not be able to make it to the cathedral to participate in the pilgrimage of walking through a holy door, I have designated numerous pilgrimage sites around our diocese. In several places I have designated all parishes in a town as “stations” to make up the whole pilgrimage site.
“Pilgrims will need to make a visit to all stations as part of the one pilgrimage. I think asking the faithful to make pilgrimages to several stations in one site reflects the spirit of mercy and forgiveness intended by the Holy Father in declaring this Jubilee of Mercy,” wrote Bishop Kopacz.
In announcing the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis explained in Misericordiae Vultus, the papal bull declaring the special jubilee: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.”

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