Bishop Joseph Kopacz comments on sentencing of Rodney Sanders

On Thursday, June 21, Rodney Earl Sanders pleaded guilty to murdering Sister Paula Merrill, SCN, and Sister Margaret Held, SSSF, during an August 2016 home burglary in Durant. Holmes County Circuit Judge Jannie Lewis sentenced Sanders to two life sentences without the possibility for parole for the murders, a 25-year sentence for burglary and a 5-year sentence for stealing the Sisters’ car. What is significant about the sentence is that the Sisters’ families and religious communities have asked, from the very first days of this case, that the state forgo the death penalty.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopcaz of the Diocese of Jackson offered the following reaction to the sentencing:

“Sr. Paula Merrill and Sr. Margaret Held deserve to be honored for their lives of service. The action of the court — in accepting this plea and sentencing Rodney Sanders to life without parole — does just that. In solidarity with Sr. Margaret, Sr. Paula, their families and the teachings of the Catholic Church, we continue to oppose the death penalty.

I would like to applaud the investigators, prosecutors and the judge who helped bring this tragic case to a just conclusion, taking into account the wishes of the families and, indeed, the victims themselves who would have opposed the death penalty. While we continue to mourn the loss of Sister Paula Merrill and Sister Margaret Held, we must also uphold the dignity of all people, including their murderer. We honor the memory of these two amazing women by continuing to call for a restorative justice without violence or revenge. Our continued prayer is for peace and healing for Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret’s families as well as for Rodney Sanders and his family.”

Bishop Kopacz speaks at Child Protection Conference

Bishop Joseph Kopacz will give the closing address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Child and Youth Protection Leadership Conference in New Orleans, La. on Wednesday, June 6. His presentation focuses on “Renewing our vision for the promise to protect and our pledge to heal.” The Diocese of Jackson is one of the conference sponsors.

The bishop wanted to make a copy of his presentation available to anyone who wishes to see it. Download the presentation here.  Look in the June 29 Mississippi Catholic for additional coverage.

Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist Bishops mark King assassination anniversary with joint statement

Joint Statement of Bishops Kopacz, Kihneman, Seage and Swanson

April 3, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As our nation gathers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this is an ideal time for our respective Christian communities to devote an even greater commitment to fostering understanding across racial, ethnic and gender divides.

As Bishops of the Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist traditions, we are asking each of our faithful to stand with us in recognizing and rejecting continued injustice against our neighbors.  As we celebrate this Easter season, a season of rebirth, let us all be reborn with a renewed spirit of love and compassion to strengthen our parish and secular communities and to not be afraid of the stranger at the door.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz                                    Bishop Louis F. Kihneman, III 
Eleventh Bishop                                                       Fourth Bishop
Catholic Diocese of Jackson                                   Catholic Diocese of Biloxi


Bishop Brian R. Seage                                         Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.
Tenth Bishop of the Episcopal                                 Resident Bishop, MS Conference
Diocese of Mississippi                                             The United Methodist Church


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

Bishops release statement on abortion bills

Joint Statement of Bishops Kopacz and Louis F. Kihneman, III 

The Catholic Bishops of Mississippi, Most Reverend Joseph R. Kopacz, Bishop of Jackson, and Most Reverend Louis F. Kihneman III, Bishop of Biloxi, have authorized the release of the following statement regarding last week’s U.S. Senate vote protecting unborn human life and the upcoming Mississippi Senate vote:

Last week the United States Senate sought to pass the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” This proposed law, which cleared the House of Representatives in 2013, 2015, and 2017, would prohibit abortions at 20 weeks and beyond after fertilization. Once again, the Senate failed to pass this into law, this time by nine votes. We Catholic Bishops of Mississippi wish to reaffirm the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. With Pope St. John Paul II, we recognize abortion as “a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders.”

We regret that this golden opportunity to protect innocent human life has once again passed us by, and we express deep sadness. We remind our representatives, once again in the words of Evangelium Vitae, that “they have a duty to make courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures.” We ask continued prayer for a culture of life to prevail in our society, and we urge those who voted against this legislation — especially those who are Catholic — to reconsider. Here in Mississippi, our House of Representatives is to be commended for voting to protect unborn human life after 15 weeks of gestation, and we hope and pray that the state Senate will, in turn, enact such protection.

Sincerely yours in Christ,                                                   Sincerely yours in Christ,

Joseph R. Kopacz                                                               Louis F. Kihneman, III
Bishop of Jackson                                                                Bishop of Biloxi


Joint Letter download here

Unborn Child Protection Act download here


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

Bishop Kopacz, remembering MLK, calls for just immigration reform, end to prejudice

When tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians were forced from their homes in the 1970s, Catholic Charities across the nation, including the one right here in Jackson, Mississippi, welcomed them.

When thousands of boys in the Sudan faced the choice of being forced into a murderous militia or fleeing for their lives, again, Catholic Charities opened the door, offering a new home, counseling to ease the burdens of what they had witnessed and families to walk with them on their new journey.

As drug wars and civil strife destroyed the fabric of the simple agrarian cultures in Central America, driving families northward, Catholic Charities smoothed their transition into new communities. As the evil of war, prejudice and violence spreads from one global region to another, we stand ready to welcome the stranger.

In our own nation, Catholics, primarily women religious, answered the call to educate and empower the African American community in a time when they were denied the right to vote, to learn and to have access to equal rights as citizens of the United States. As the Civil Rights Movement took shape, clergy and lay Catholics stepped up. They marched, spoke out and, in some cases, protected the very lives of Civil Rights icons in their homes, convents and rectories. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took refuge at Holy Child Jesus in Canton. Franciscan sisters in Meridian protected another Civil Rights leader from a mob hoping to lynch him. In Natchez, Greenwood and beyond, we find stories of those who worked to advance the movement.

The central theme to this work — all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Reports this week of disparaging remarks made by President Donald Trump regarding people from nations wracked by poverty, natural disaster and civil unrest warrant a strong response. No one asks to be born into poverty, thrust into war or see their homeland destroyed.

As we mark Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is appropriate to remember and renew our commitment to the poor and vulnerable.

I call again on our lawmakers to forge a just and equitable solution for Dreamers, those brought to this nation as children who are now a part of the very fabric of our nation. I call on them to work out immigration policies with an eye to global justice and mercy. I urge them to put aside politics and be leaders with practical integrity.

In the meantime, in collaboration with the State Department, Homeland Security, the State of Mississippi, State wide agencies and a host of dedicated individuals, Catholic Charities in Jackson will continue its work with unaccompanied refugee minors, ministering to those driven from their homes as Joseph and Mary were driven from Bethlehem. Our Migrant Resource Center will continue to assist those who are here legally and who wish to call themselves Americans, as well as those who are undocumented to uphold their basic human rights.  Our parishes and schools will continue to strive toward our mission to Embrace Diversity, Serve Others and Inspire Disciples.

Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Jackson

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

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson covers 65 counties in Mississippi and includes 96 parishes and missions, 12 schools and more than 25 service programs administered through Catholic Charities of Jackson, Inc. Bishop Joseph Kopacz is the 11th bishop for the diocese.

Statement regarding death of Cardinal Law

JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson acknowledges the death of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, Wednesday, Dec. 20, in Rome. He was 86-years-old. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but will likely take place in Rome.

Cardinal Law served as a priest in the Diocese of then Natchez-Jackson from 1961 – 1973. During his time here, he was a tireless and ardent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. “While many will criticize his harmful decisions while he was Archbishop in Boston, others, especially here in Mississippi, remember his work as a pastor and an advocate for social justice,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz, bishop of the Diocese of Jackson.

Cardinal Law was ordained for the priesthood on May 21, 1961, after having completed his seminary training at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La., and at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, OH.

He was assigned as associate pastor of St. Paul Parish in Vicksburg where he served for two years. In January 1963, Law was appointed as associate pastor of St. Therese parish in Jackson and in addition to his pastoral duties he began studying to become editor and business manager of the diocesan newspaper – The Mississippi Register. He assumed these duties in March of 1963.

During his five-year tenure at the newspaper, Law used his editorial column to address a myriad of issues and topics in society and the church. Most notably he wrote forcefully in opposition to segregation and racial injustices. His March 1964 editorial entitle “Legal Segregation is Dying” won Editorial of the Year from the National Catholic Press Association.

Law also used local TV to conduct an eight-night on-air evangelization mission. Law reached more than 100,000 viewers each night.

He was very active in interracial, interfaith and ecumenical committees and action groups. This earned him the opportunity to be under the watchful eye of the KKK, the Citizens’ Council and the State Sovereignty Committee. It also earned him the opportunity to serve as executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ secretariat on ecumenical and interreligious affairs in Washington, D.C., from 1968-1971. Upon his return, Law was appointed vicar general of the diocese by Bishop Joseph B. Brunini. He served in this capacity until his appointment as Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri on Oct. 23, 1973. He was ordained and installed there on December 5, 1973.

On January 11, 1984, he was appointed Archbishop of Boston and was installed March 23 of that same year. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals on May 25, 1985.


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

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson covers 65 counties in Mississippi and includes 96 parishes and missions, 12 schools and more than 25 service programs administered through Catholic Charities of Jackson, Inc. Bishop Joseph Kopacz is the 11th bishop for the diocese.

Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal bishops release joint statement about Mississippi Museum opening

Joint Statement of Bishops Kopacz, Seage and Swanson

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are honored to join with the good people of our state in the celebration of Mississippi’s Bicentennial, 200 years of statehood. This milestone has already been celebrated in numerous ways across the State, and these celebrations will culminate with the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on December 10, 2017. We have no doubt that these two museums will illuminate the history, culture, and numerous achievements of our State, and its people, and will help people everywhere comprehend and put into proper context our past and present, as well as help us better understand the challenges we face in the future.

Born from the racial and other tensions of the 1950’s and 60’s, at various times our predecessors in office spoke with conviction and in one united voice against the variety of forces undermining society and the common good, including violence, racism, bigotry and racial injustice. Once again, we come together to make our voices heard on a subject of weighty importance to our State.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is the first, publicly funded museum of its type in the country. It will serve as a significant acknowledgement and affirmation by our state not only of its accomplishments but of its sometimes bloody and shameful past. Our hope, indeed our common prayer, is that the Museum will help us move toward individual and collective reconciliation for the hurts, injustices, prejudices, failures, violence and omissions of the past and empower coming generations of Mississippians to do justice and love mercy.

All of us – from the poorest of the poor to those who stride in the corridors of power in Jackson and Washington – must do all in our power to respect the dignity of every human being and constantly strive for justice and peace. Without overlooking President Trump’s provocative statements surrounding racial strife in our nation, our fervent hope is that the President will use his attendance at the opening of the Museums and the Bicentennial Celebration to acknowledge the sacrifice and witness of countless individuals who offered themselves, their souls and bodies, to eliminate injustice and oppression in our State.

Our State’s Bicentennial is a cause for celebration. May it also be an occasion for us to launch new and meaningful efforts of reconciliation and healing.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz         Bishop Brian R. Seage              Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.
11th Bishop of the Catholic       10th Bishop of the Episcopal       MS Conference of The United
Diocese of Jackson                   Diocese of Mississippi                Methodist Church

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

Bishop Kopacz releases statement in solidarity with ‘Dreamers’

Nov. 2, 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,
With the passing of time since September 5 and the rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, those not directly affected can be lulled into sleep that this crisis has passed. All who are directly affected, either personally, or with a family member, friend, or neighbor, know differently. Unless this reality is addressed justly and comprehensively by the United States Congress in March 2018, this presidential decision will mushroom into a crisis for all affected Dreamers, as well as for all whose lives will be adversely impacted, especially family members.
As Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, I am in solidarity with my brother Bishops throughout the United States, standing with all Dreamers for whom this nation is the only homeland you know. You have lived here for most of your lives, you were educated here, you work here, and many of you have defended our nation in the Armed Services, all of which is to say that you have dreamed here and have been building a life for yourselves while contributing to our nation’s wellbeing. The Diocese of Jackson is in solidarity with you, welcomes you, prays with you and for you, and will advocate for a just legal decision when the United Sates Congress addresses this critical issue of national integrity and identity. You are our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, members of the Catholic Church and the family of God, and we will labor to uphold your dignity and rightful place in our nation.

Con el paso del tiempo desde el 5 de septiembre y la decisión de la Acción Diferida para Llegadas en la Infancia, DACA, aquellos que no se ven afectados directamente pueden ser arrullados en el sueño de que esta crisis ha pasado. Todos los que se ven directamente afectados, ya sea personalmente o con un familiar, amigo o vecino, saben de manera diferente.  A menos que esta realidad sea abordada justa y exhaustivamente por el Congreso de los Estados Unidos en marzo de 2018, esta decisión presidencial se convertirá en una crisis para todos los Soñadores afectados, así como todas sus vidas se verán negativamente afectadas, especialmente los miembros de la familia.

Como obispo de la diócesis de Jackson, me solidarizo con mis hermanos obispos en todos los Estados Unidos, junto con todos los Soñadores para quienes esta nación es la única patria que conocen. Ustedes han vivido aquí la mayor parte de sus vidas, fueron educados aquí, trabajan aquí, y muchos de ustedes han defendido a nuestra nación en los Servicios Armados, todo lo cual es para decir que han soñado aquí y han estado construyendo una vida para ustedes mismos mientras contribuyen al bienestar de nuestra nación. La diócesis de Jackson se solidariza con ustedes, les da la bienvenida, ora con ustedes y por ustedes, y defenderá una decisión legal justa cuando el Congreso de los Estados Unidos aborde este tema crítico de integridad e identidad nacional. Ustedes son nuestros hermanos y hermanas en el Señor Jesús, miembros de la Iglesia Católica y la familia de Dios, y trabajaremos para mantener su dignidad y el lugar que les corresponde en nuestra nación.

In the peace of Christ,
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson

Download the statement as a PDF here.

Bishop Kopacz, Bishop Kihneman pen letter to lawmakers about federal budget

The Bishops of Mississippi joined together Friday, May 26, to release a letter to lawmakers in response to the proposed federal budget.

May 26, 2017
This week, President Trump unveiled his FY18 federal budget proposal, a document that seeks to balance our nation’s budget but that is also a reflection of our American values. Or is it?
The budget includes steep cuts to both domestic and international funding for programs that help the poor, while increasing military spending. Many have spoken out in opposition to cuts of vital programs like Meals on Wheels or the Food Stamp program so many of our brothers and sisters rely on. And their voices have been amplified by media coverage of a budget that very much seems to be balanced on the backs of some of our fellow Americans who can least afford it.
For years, federal funding has been a revenue stream that supports essential health and social needs throughout Mississippi. Drastic cuts are certain to be harmful to all segments of the population, especially to vulnerable children and the elderly. Of course, it is incumbent upon our elected federal officials to direct the nation’s resources toward promoting the general welfare and national defense. On moral and civic grounds, we believe that a healthy and educated populace is of paramount importance for the security of our nation.
But we must also speak out about the draconian cuts to foreign aid funding the proposed budget includes. As Catholics, we’re called by the gospel to help our neighbors – whether they’re down the street or across the globe – and pay attention to ‘the least of these.’ Millions of people around the world depend on our generosity for their next meal, their clean drinking water, or the roof over their heads. But their voices aren’t heard. We must be their voice.
With nearly 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world right now – more than 20 million of them refugees – and famine-like conditions in four countries, the proposed elimination of U.S. food aid especially would create a massive gap in assistance, resulting in lives lost.
In Mali, for example, the American Catholic’s international aid organization, Catholic Relief Services, provides US-government funded school lunches to hundreds of thousands of children. It’s often their only reliable meal, and without it many would drop out of school.
Across East Africa, in Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, where famine was recently declared, food aid is a lifeline for millions who would otherwise be on the verge of starvation due to recurring drought and climate change.
Foreign aid provides much more than food. In Central America, for example, CRS and our local church partners provide job and skills training to youth whose lives are threatened daily by gang violence. Providing them with better economic prospects combats the proliferation of gangs and enables them to stay in their communities instead of migrating.
Americans are proud of international assistance that saves lives and gives people a chance at a future. We imagine ourselves in the shoes of a Somali woman who cannot feed her children, and she compels us to act. We feel God inviting us to be the Good Samaritan.
We have to be good stewards of our resources and balancing the budget requires difficult decisions. Those decisions should be “guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity, give central importance to “the least of these” (Matthew 25), and promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity,” as some of my brother bishops recently stated in a letter to Congress.
As the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States plays a key role in protecting the common good globally. The elimination of programs that offer food to starving families and development assistance to those seeking opportunity would have a detrimental impact on millions of lives around the world.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. We urge our government to listen as well, even amidst the many competing challenges we face around the world.

Yours in Christ,

Louis F. Kihneman, III                                                        Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Biloxi                         Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Jackson