Advocacy takes many forms: public education through social and other media; individual meetings and other communications with elected officials or their staffs; mobilization of Catholic organization members; testimony before public bodies; publication of research; consultation with state and local officials; comments on proposed local, state, or federal regulations; and participation in broad coalitions.
In all Catholic advocacy efforts, there should be a close connection between what we do for people in need on the services side (e.g., Catholic charities, health care, schools, housing) and what we seek to accomplish as advocates. There are at least seven questions to ask and answer in discerning and crafting a fully developed agenda:
- What advocacy issues are rooted in our ministries and in the experience of those we serve?
- What issues do our Catholic social justice and peace traditions address, providing principles that ground specific policy applications?
- On what issues can we make a significant difference? In seeking to discern which might be the most effective advocacy efforts, we might prioritize these types of instances: where the issue is closely contested; where the moral voice might be especially persuasive; or where Catholic ministries have a pertinent viewpoint and telling lessons to cite by drawing from (and appealing to) our experience.
- What issues particularly impact the poor and vulnerable people whom we serve?
- On what issues can we develop effective coalitions—with other Catholic organizations, with other faith communities, and with others in the civic community?
- What can really be achieved on a given issue? And, in tension with this, where do Catholics need to be outspoken and prophetic even if the issue is judged to be potentially “a lost cause”—at least in the short term?
- What issues will affect the mission and work of our ministries–for example, legislation requiring staff or volunteers to report undocumented persons to the civil authorities, or perhaps civil laws violating our moral principles as they relate to matters that are bioethical or medical in nature?
It is important that organizations keep a manageable list of advocacy issues on which they commit their staff and volunteers. These seven questions can help in this winnowing process so that energies are focused and advocates are not seen as “social gadflies” who issue statement after statement that are perceived as disconnected from the service and ministries upon which the credibility of Catholic advocacy is founded. Organizations must be vigilant against being manipulated or “used” by the political left or right, by Republicans or Democrats, for their partisan purposes. The focus must remain centered on the needs of the poor and vulnerable and the means to be effective advocates on their behalf in the light of the Scriptures and Catholic social teaching.
Catholic advocates and all Catholic ministries are called to a strong prophetic advocacy for the poor and vulnerable rooted in a tradition of careful but passionate advocacy in the face of many complex challenges locally, nationally, and globally. This is not an endeavor for the faint-hearted, but standing with the poor never has been—from the days of the Hebrew prophets to the time of Jesus to the present moment.