Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 1999
New group looks at public policy
Church teaching can serve as Alberta's conscience
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
After years of talk, the idea of a provincial Catholic advocacy group has come to life.
Spiritus defines itself as a "grassroots Catholic organization, advocating and mobilizing on issues that impact faith and life." The group held its inaugural meeting in Edmonton Nov. 12, approving bylaws and a vision statement, and electing a board of directors.
The vision, says President Colin MacIsaac of Calgary, is for a Catholic community which will be guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church, and which will become a "community of conscience" on education, health care and social justice issues.
"It comes from a need in the Catholic community voiced over the years . . . for some kind of vehicle where we could have some impact on society."
Through Spiritus, MacIsaac says, Catholics around the province can be informed about the moral implications of public policy, and can have some influence in bringing the "human side" of issues to the government's attention.
CWL President Lucille Partington, one of the directors of Spiritus, says she's excited about the new group's potential to bring Catholics together.
More than 10,000 CWL members are already involved in all aspects of the community, she says. "We're on school boards, and we're involved in hospital and social outreach programs. But there is the bigger picture, and that is the scriptural understanding of our role as Catholics.
"Right now, if something is happening in the schools or hospitals, we read about it, but we think that the people involved in the school or hospital will look after it," Partington says, adding this could lead to the "erosion" of hospitals and schools.
Because the Church is so large and widespread, she says, "we have suffered in the past from the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing."
She sees Spiritus as a way to use the networks already established by Catholic organizations throughout the province for communication and evangelization, particularly for young people.
Past President David MacDougall agrees young Catholics should be a key part of the makeup of Spiritus.
"The feeling was that a new advocacy group had to represent a broad spectrum with no alliances to any other organized group," says the former Catholic school teacher, administrator and trustee.
The plan, MacIsaac says, is to have a board of directors
composed of both independent members and established organizations. Currently, the board is dominated by members of the founding groups: the CWL, Knights of Columbus, Alberta Teachers' Association and Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association (ACSTA).
Partington says the leadership of the Catholic education community was essential in getting the group off the ground.
"Any time you're beginning a new organization, if you don't have a plan beyond setting your goals and vision, and if you don't have a way to reach and educate your membership, you become just another organization."
MacDougall says Spiritus is determined not to become a static group.
"We're past the navel-gazing phase, and we will start to look at issues immediately," he says, adding that issues to be discussed at the board's January meeting will likely include the province's restructuring of health care.
The board of directors plans to work closely with the Alberta bishops, MacDougall says, looking for guidance in the form of statements from the bishops on issues the group is discussing.
From there, the message would be circulated through the membership of Spiritus to the Catholic community throughout the province. This could be particularly helpful, MacIsaac says, when an election is imminent.
"The Church isn't in the game of promoting one candidate over another. But there is something to be said for making people stand up and be counted in terms of where they stand on issues."
He sees the group hosting forums to provide Catholics with information they may not get elsewhere, to make candidates look at issues from another point of view and, if necessary, "to put our weight together to let people know if something is not in the best interest of not only the Catholic community, but society at large."
It's a realistic goal, MacDougall agrees.
"If an issue comes out that gets under the skin of 300,000 voters, it could topple any government."