Bishop Joe Vásquez Did It Again

Bishop Joe Vásquez of the Diocese of Austin has done it again. People are protesting. Among the protesters are former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia and local activists. And people are upset. According to the local paper, “More than a dozen Catholic parishioners” are upset.

Yup, Bishop Joe has done it again. He’s stood up for the life of unborn children and upheld the Catholic Church’s teaching on anti-abortion legislation. And as a result, he’s made some people upset.

This Saturday Cristo Rey Catholic Church was set to host a public meeting about immigration. But upon learning that one of the speakers, U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez (an Illinois Democrat) has consistently voted in favor of abortion rights legislation, Bishop Joe moved the immigration meeting 2.5 blocks away from the church, to the A.B. Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center. This move comes on the heels of what some considered a controversial move concerning moving the Yom Kippur services of Temple Beth Shalom from St. Louis Catholic Church because Rabbi Alan Freedman serves on the board of Planned Parenthood.

Some individuals feel this move will be harmful to the meeting and the immigrant community. Why do they think that? It’s unclear.

Some individuals feel that being notified of the move the week-of the event was not enough notification time. As someone who works with large groups of people, I can definitely understand and sympathize about the frustrating nature of being notified of last minute changes. However, given the circumstances concerning one of the speakers, I definitely understand the need to move the meeting. Fortunately, the Diocese didn’t just make this decision on the morning of the event. Unfortunately, they might have been able to provide more notice on the need to move this event.

Some individuals believe this decision is un-Christian. A Cristo Rey parishioner is quoted in an Austin-American Statesman article as saying that “…our leader, who is suppose to be our shepherd, is acting against everything Christians teach.” I’m greatly troubled that a parishioner of Cristo Rey and a fellow Catholic cannot see how damaging it can be to allow speakers that act in ways contrary to our faith to have a voice in an activity that is being sponsored or co-sponsored by a Catholic Church, even if good can come from the situation, increased dialogue on immigration.

And some individuals are impressed and encouraged by Bishop Joe’s decision. But these individuals you won’t find quoted in the papers. However, you will find them within social media. I’ve already noticed on Twitter several Catholic Social Media friends from within the Diocese of Austin saying thank you and affirming Bishop Joe in his decision to move the immigration meeting.

In his decision to move this immigration meeting Bishop Joe has shown he is faithful to the teachings of the Church, reminding us all that to compromise one good for another is not an option in living our faith. He is showing us that as Catholics we are not an either-or faith, where we can choose one good over another. Bishop Joe is showing us that we are a both-and faith, where we should choose both goods and not compromise to do so. By moving the immigration meeting, Bishop Joe is showing that neither teachings of the Catholic Church concerning immigration or abortion are compromised, and that both are being addressed.

So, thank you Bishop Joe Vásquez, for doing it again. Thank you for being the shepherd in our Diocese, and showing us how we should act in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, even knowing it will create controversy.

  • Gage Blackwood

    A couple of concerns of mine:

    1. I don’t want to lump this together with the St. Louis incident. I believe those are different enough to merit separate discussions.

    2. My primary concern with this particular incident, with only going by the Stateman’s article (which we all know could be way off), is what is the Church’s role in conversation with our elected officials. I don’t know if this representative is Catholic and whether or not his own pastor/bishop/etc has privately discussed his voting history or not, so if more is known on that, may lead the conversation differently.

    But, my point is are we to engage the political world on the full spectrum of issues that the Church teaches?

    Yes, without a single doubt, abortion is absolutely and always wrong. I think even the pro-life legislation that allows exceptions for rape/incest is too weak. In short, this is not a question of the teachings regarding abortion.

    Can we engage in a dialogue with people of all political schools of thought on those particular issues that we do agree? How many pro-life (re abortion), pro-immigrant politicians are out there on the national scene? Are we only to work with those regarding immigration reform?

    My fear is the Church will be taken less and less seriously if we are willing to engage in dialogue with those that already 100% agree with the teachings of the Church. Yes, we send letters, testify and whatnot to all politicians, but why can’t we hear from those politicians who agree with the Church on a particular issue on how we can help improve that issue toward the goal of the Church’s teaching?

    Honestly, my operating mode for situations like this (where I disagree with the Bishop at first glance) is to keep diving in until I understand/agree with the Bishop, so I’m not trying to say he’s wrong, but I don’t understand how pushing away everyone who disagree on one particular (and yes, extremely important) matter of faith helps us achieve our socio-political goals across the board.

    3. My first thought was to St. Ignatius. I don’t know exactly what this advocacy event Sunday night is about (trying to understand the announcement with the kids trying to stay good for the last few minutes of Mass isn’t easy), but what if an openly pro-choice politician was invited by virtue of his/her position as one of our local politicians? Should I expect this to be moved if he/she confirms attendance? Can parishes put on these kind of events? Would parishes even try?

    Just random thoughts as I try to understand how to make sense of the decision with the information I have.

    • Rita (Garcia) Suva

      Gage, thanks for your comments and thoughts. I will try to address them, please let me know if I should clarify any of this. Please note that I am in no way speaking for the Diocese of Austin, Bishop Joe or any of the parishes of Austin, but rather based on my own experience, thoughts and research, having worked in the church for several years.

      1. I agree the St.Louis incident in general is a separate issue. However, secular media has referred back to it, and will continue to do so in situations such as these. So I just wanted to make sure to reference it.

      2. The church most certainly has a role in conversation with our elected officials. Many Catholics in the Diocese of Austin are actively involved and engaged in the political processes at the state and local level. This past Wednesday was Catholic Advocacy Day at the Capitol, and is a prime example of this. Catholics from all over the state, including nine Texas Bishops and Cardinal Dinardo and hundreds of Catholics meet with politicians concerns what and who we advocate for as Catholics and within the teachings of the Catholic Church.

      Regarding Bishop Joe’s decision to move the immigration meeting, I too, was initially concerned about the whys of the situation. So I sought out more information. And so while I can’t be positive about the concerns of Bishop Joe, I would imagine some of the concerns the about this Immigration Meeting stem from the focus of the meeting and advertising being on Gutierrez, and not just on immigration. The Cristo Rey bulletin advertises this event as “An Evening with the Honorable Luis Gutierrez” and as an opportunity to “…meet a champion of immigration reform… share your questions and stories.”

      Concerning Gutierrez, I did further research and according to the Washington Post, Luis Gutierrez is Catholic ( ), but am unsure what Gutierrez’s history is with dialoging with his pastor, bishop, etc.

      Knowing that a primary focus will be on Gutierrez speaking, and because Gutierrez is a very public Catholic not living out his call to follow all the teachings of the Catholic Church, Bishop Joe was probably concerned the meeting was scheduled to be held at a Catholic Church and was being co-sponsored by Cristo Rey Church. And as bishop, it is Bishop Joe’s responsibility to “…ensure the conformity with Church teaching of Catholics [or the suitability of non-Catholics] invited to speak, perform, present, etc. in our diocese” (Diocese of Austin, Bishop’s Office Memorandum on the Application for Temporary Visitors and Lay Guest Speakers). So even though we are called to engage the political world on the full spectrum of issues that the Church teaches, we are also called to hold our brothers and sisters in faith accountable for how they live their faith, including Gutierrez.

      I understand your fear and concern that the Church will be taken less seriously if we aren’t willing to engage in dialogue with those who do not agree with all the teaching of the Church. I’m concerned about that too. And there is nothing that says we cannot work with politicians who agree with only some of the Church teachings. We can and should engage in a dialogue with people of all political schools of thought on those particular issues that we do agree.
      We should be actively engaging all politicians to work toward the goal of the Church’s teachings. And I know many within my parish that work with local and state politicians towards these goals. However, we must be aware of the manner in which this is done. A dialogue, which is what we are called to do with any who agree or disagree with Catholic teachings, is very different from a forum in which presentations are primary. And this particular Immigration Meeting is a forum that will feature a talk by Gutierrez and several others.

      3. On Sunday night an Accountability Session will be held at St. Ignatius, Martyr sponsored by the member organizations of Austin Interfaith (St. Ignatius is one of several Catholic Churches that belong to AI). Austin Interfaith is a multi-ethnic, multi-issue coalition of 30 religious congregations, public schools, and unions who work together to address public issues that affect our community.

      During this upcoming accountability forum, candidates running for Austin City Council and the boards of Austin Community College, Austin ISD and more will be asked to commit to an agenda focused on fighting poverty, building up the middle class and other justice-oriented issues. This agenda was created by the member organizations of Austin Interfaith prior to this accountability session.

      One important difference with this forum and the immigration forum is that in an Accountability Session such as this one, politicians are not there to speak, but rather to listen. Candidates are expected to listen to the members of Austin Interfaith as they lay out an agenda focused on justice and the needs of the community. Candidates are then asked to give a “yes” or “no” commitment to getting onboard with this agenda to work for social change and be a voice for justice for those in the community. No endorsements of candidates are given, but it allows the community to know where candidates stand on issues.

      All candidates are invited, including those who do not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, because of how the Accountability Session forums are set-up, no politician is given the opportunity to do more than represent themselves, answer “yes” or “no” to following the agenda requests the community has for them and occasionally provide clarification to an answer. These candidates present are not representing the Catholic Church, nor is their presence and speaking being sponsored by a Catholic Church, while Gutierrez’s is.

      There’s definitely a fine line about what is and is not acceptable within the Catholic Church when it comes to the issue of politics and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Inevitably mistakes will be made in how some of these situations are handled, however, if parishes never try to put on these kind of events, such as the Accountability Session or the Immigration Meeting featuring Gutierrez, we will have less of a voice and presence within politics and the world, which is the exact opposite of what we need to help bring about a just society.

      I hope this might have helped clarify the situations a little bit. If not, please let me know and I will try to clarify my thoughts on it further.

      • Gage Blackwood


        Thanks for the in-depth reply. I’ll hit on my reactions somewhat in the same vein as our two comments thus far.

        2. Knowing that it was presented as a “Night with…” changes things quite a bit, in my opinion. Without knowing more, if the event was to highlight his work with immigration with people asking him questions, then that’s a whole different thing than an immigration forum that included him, if that makes sense. Likewise, with him being a Catholic with a strong pro-choice record and it being an evening highlighting him–the Bishop’s decision makes much more sense than what I was going off of in the Statesman.

        But, my overall concern is still there. I appreciate the Catholic Advocacy Day, but to me, that’s still a bit one-sided (us telling them what we want) and something that most in the pews have no interaction with. I don’t think presentations are bad, per se. I don’t know all of the details of immigration law, how it has developed over the years, the current pitfalls/challenges in reform, etc and so having a panel of people speaking to these issues would be extremely interesting. Within the Catholic context, I think it should be moderated by a rep of the parish/diocese so that if anything against the teaching of the Church is mentioned, it gets corrected quickly.

        With the particular situation at hand, I think there are a couple particular things (from what I know) that would have the program fail my little vision:
        1. The presentation was billed about a particular person who happens to be speaking about a particular issue.
        2. The primary speaker is Catholic and actively has worked for an anti-Catholic position.

        A parish staff question – does the parish have to get all speakers approved by the Diocese? In my parish staff days, if the event was a parish event (e.g. not multi-parish), lay speakers did not need to be approved. If it was multiple parishes, then approval was needed. Clergy/religious always need a letter from their superior. Additionally, any speaker of sexuality had to be approved. It sounds like the policy has changed? Assuming so, it sounds like there was a failure to follow protocol either way since, at least back in the day, if we needed to get approval, we had to have it before the event could be publicly advertised.

        3. Thanks for the details on the event at St. Ignatius. I would caution though that just because the event isn’t sponsored by the parish isn’t a safety net. Granted, the situation is different, but I’m sure there were probably folks at St. Louis who thought their incident was fine since it was not anyone claiming to speak on behalf of the church at an event not sponsored by the parish.

        Somewhat related, and if you can’t comment that’s understandable, but any thoughts on State Rep. Rodriguez having an ad in St. Ig’s bulletin? He’s on the exec committee of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus which is very pro-choice…

        Thanks again for the response. With your additional research, the situation makes much more sense to me and helped me reconcile my opinion to the Bishop’s action.

        • Rita (Garcia) Suva


          You’re welcome for the response. I am never one to take a situation just at face value and always seek to understand and know more of situations such as these, where the Church, a bishop, etc may not initially seem to be acting in the best interests of the faith and people, but upon research usually are. And I hope this additional response will clarify some questions and provide more information.

          2. I understand your concerns about Catholics engaging politicians in dialogue and that is part of what takes place within Catholic Advocacy Day, but there are still many within the Diocese that work with politicians on a daily or weekly basis year around not just sharing what we want but in dialogue. And at some parishes like mine, there are ways for the “regular” parishioner to get involved in this action if they wish.

          In addition to dialogue though, since politicians were elected by the people, we are called to hold them accountable to how they are to vote on our behalf, which makes some events like the Catholic Advocacy Day and the Austin Interfaith forum imperative. I know that similar events to what you are discussing have been held at my parish and other parishes over the past years within the Diocese, providing information about what the teachings of the Catholic Church are and then providing a panel to speak on the issue and address questions. However, I do not know when the last one was on immigration.

          Concerning your parish staff question, things still operate similar to what you have said. To quote the current guidelines concerning lay speakers(last revised in 2010):
          “The Lay Guest Speaker/Performer Application is to be used to ensure the conformity with Church teaching of Catholics [or the suitability of non-Catholics] invited to speak, perform, present, etc. in our diocese; and to verify their EIM compliance. NOTE: Catholic applicants are asked to provide verification of compliance with the safe environment policies of their home diocese. This application is required for all youth events, any event that has a focus on human sexuality and any event that concerns Catholic doctrine/teaching. It is to be submitted for approval to the bishop’s office before the individual/group is formally invited to speak/perform . This includes events sponsored by/advertised in: Any diocesan office; A deanery or a group of parishes or Catholic schools; Any diocesan communications medium (ie E-Pistle, Catholic Spirit, Weekly Bulletin to parishes)… Parishes and schools hosting an event (one not advertised in any diocesan communication) may use this form, but are not required to do so. If used, it should be maintained at the local level.”

          So yes, as you said, a parish does not have to get a speaker approved if the event is just within its own parish. But if an event is multi-parish or advertised beyond the parish, all speakers must be approved by the Diocese. Clergy/religious must be approved and have a letter from their Diocese.

          3. St.Ignatius should have permission from the Bishop regarding this event, as both they and San Jose have hosted this event before. Part of the issue with the St.Louis event was that a faith service of another faith was going to be taken place within the church building and sanctuary. Since this event the Diocese has put a policy in place prohibiting the celebration of any other faith service within the church building and sanctuary, but allowing that we can share our other facilities with other faiths as long as sharing the facilities does not contradict with Church teachings.

          As far as State Rep. Rodriguez having an ad in the St. Ignatius bulletin, I honestly don’t know why he has an ad there, beyond the fact that he has paid for it to be. I also didn’t know he is on the Texas Women’s Health Caucus. Rodriguez might represent pro-life values on this committee, but that is not something I can say for sure. I am not directly involved in the ministries and committees that would know more about him and his political career, and have not paid too much attention to his political career because he is not my State Rep, but I will seek more information. Thank you for making me aware of this.

          Hope this helped clarify your questions a little more. Please let me know if you have any more questions regarding this. And if you have a chance, I encourage you to come witness the Austin Interfaith Accountability Session.

  • Cristóbal Almanza

    Great post Rita. I am thankful to have such a bold leader in our diocese.

  • Cristóbal Almanza

    Great post Rita. I am thankful to have such a bold leader in our diocese.