California Catholic Conference’s Rich Pastoral History

CCC 50 Years

The California Catholic Conference, which for 50 years has advocated for the common good in the California legislature, also offers pastoral initiatives that help Californians in their daily lives.

Every day in parishes and dioceses, countless acts of mercy are offered to those in need through parish ministries, outreach programs, or individual Catholics accompanying a brother or sister. There is never an end to the good work that can be done in Jesus’ name. Certain issues span our state, and the bishops of California come together to create solutions and opportunities for growth.

Over the last 50 years, the CCC, together with dioceses and parishes, have accompanied those who are mentally ill, comforted people who are terminally ill, helped migrants make a new life, provided life-changing support for at-risk youth, crime victims, prisoners and their families, and helped parents create strong, healthy families.

The pandemic has changed our lives in ways we have yet to understand. This is also true for the work of Catholic parishes and dioceses. California’s bishops were continually conscious of the challenges faced by elderly and homebound parishioners, families with young children in school, those who had lost their jobs, and those without access to quality medical care. They relied on the strength of pastoral programs already created and sought innovation to meet current needs.

In 2018, the bishops of California issued a pastoral letter on mental illness: Hope and Healing: A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of California on Caring for those who Suffer from Mental Illness. It calls for an end to the stigma of mental illness and greater cooperation and understanding between the medical and religious communities. It specifically addresses the lingering false belief that suicide is a certain path to hell.

Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan of San Diego also co-edited a pastoral handbook, “Responding to Suicide,” after losing three family members to suicide. The pastoral letter from the CCC has given him an opening to raise this issue widely among parishioners, he said.

“If pastors have an appreciation for the science of psychology – and don’t dismiss it in favor of judgment – the way we address people with mental disorders will be better,” Bishop Dolan said in an interview with The Southern Cross.

These pastoral tools and the understanding they have created throughout our California Catholic community allowed parishes to minister to the mental health needs of their communities all throughout the pandemic and beyond.

In 2016 – shortly after California’s legalization of physician-assisted suicide – the Conference collaborated with Catholic healthcare institutions to launch “Caring for the Whole Person,” which trains Catholic health professionals, clergy, and parishioners to support people who are seriously ill and at the end of life.  Surveys of participants show increased understanding of Church teaching on end-of-life decisions and of resources to help patients, care-givers, and families.

“Caring for the Whole Person is one of the most significant initiatives that we have undertaken at the California Catholic Conference,” said Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, who was a medical technologist before entering seminary.

“The fruits born will not only, God willing, make the extension of assisted suicide legislation in California unnecessary – which it inherently is – but will continue to deepen the Church’s commitment to Christ-centered communities where every person is loved, wanted, and worthy throughout life’s journey.”

Parish leaders and diocesan teams trained in Caring for the Whole Person provided greatly needed support for homebound parishioners, families with sick and dying loved ones, and entire communities during the pandemic. Leaders were poised to answer questions and offer resources. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles created a hotline called Hearts to Serve that connected parishioners in need with parish-based resources and referrals, including home deliveries of groceries and other supplies.

Catholics throughout California rallied behind families during the pandemic, supporting children studying at home or in school. According to Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, an unexpected benefit of the pandemic lockdown was that many parents had a chance to hear their children’s virtual classes.

“Eyes were opened – to both the positive and the negative,” she said. “They learned that their kids are learning amazing things in school – far more than we did at that age. But there were also eyes opened to the fact that, ‘Wow. My kids are being taught things that sound strange to my ears or that aren’t in keeping with the values we have in our home.’”

In response to the needs of parents, the CA Catholic Conference is working on resources to empower parents to advocate for their children, particularly within public schools. As children return to school, and parents have a new perspective on what their children are learning and how involved they want to be, we look forward to offering resources for parents to advocate with School Boards, share Catholic teaching with their children on challenging topics, and have rich conversations with students about faith and reason, morality and values, and working for the common good.

Assisting immigrants has also been a 50-year priority for the bishops. Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles has participated in CCC delegations to detention facilities for people awaiting rulings on their pleas to remain in this county. Many have lived in the United States for decades, paid taxes, and raised families.

In 2018 a CCC delegation visited a for-profit facility in Adelanto, Calif., a facility that has been the site of several suicides. More than 350 men and women waited patiently for Confession and packed into Masses celebrated in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese during the visit.

“There is a huge need for reform to the way we are dealing with these immigrants. It is very sad to see that the immigrants who are in these facilities have basically no rights under the constitution. Not even their basic human rights are respected,” Bishop O’Connell said. “There is a terrible amount of suffering.” 

Thanks to years of leadership from the California Bishops and through Catholic Charities in California, Catholics have been at the heart of outreach to the unaccompanied children coming to our state from South and Central America. Through the Immigration Task Force, Southern California dioceses work together pastorally to care for young people and families, especially as the pandemic forced additional constraints on the ability to welcome migrants and refugees into our communities.

The CCC’s work with migrants increasingly parallels its restorative justice outreach to reframe how society responds to crime victims, offenders, and their families. The program is funded through the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“The vision of restorative justice is to restore the right relationship between people,” Bishop O’Connell said. “To restore the relationship between victims and offenders, and between offenders, society, and the community to bring about some healing of all these broken relationships. And to bring healing to broken lives, whether they be those of the victims or the offenders.”

The CCC has created a bereavement guide for parishes to use in the pastoral care of victims and survivors, including the families of offenders.

“What do you do if someone comes to the door and someone in their family was killed in a violent crime?” said Debbie McDermott, CCC associate director for Restorative Justice.  “Survivors of violent crime and their family members are in grief. They don’t self-identify at the store or in church. They just live with their pain. We have to find ways to reach out and invite them in and make them feel welcome and help them deal with their grief.”

Statewide, restorative justice leaders worked with the incarcerated as well as with families, throughout the pandemic, making sure spiritual and material needs were met. The network, and the training provided through the CCC, creates an opportunity for restoration and peace within a community so often overlooked and forgotten.

“These CCC ministries embody the mission of the Church,” Bishop O’Connell said. “It’s to make present, where there is suffering, the compassion and mercy of Jesus in a real way.”

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