Noting that as members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province, and especially as members of the JPR Commission (JPRC), "we are called to act on behalf of justice by the Gospel, the Church, and our Constitutions, Mission Statement, and Rule of Life," and that "witness to these values may sometimes involve taking a public stance in the hope of exercising our prophetic role in the Church to help foster a more just society," the Commission had asked for the authority to make such statements in our own name, provided certain guidelines were followed.
The first of these is group discernment. The JPR Director is expected to consult the members of the Commission before issuing or signing on to any statements. In this discernment, "care must be given to obtaining reliable information adequate to understand the issue in context and sufficient facts to make a reasonable judgment about the issue."
"Full consideration" must also be given to any impact "on the personal, local community and province levels," recognizing that while only the Provincial Superior may speak on behalf of the entire Province, the Commission's statements will "reflect on the Province as a whole." Therefore, the Commission and/or JPR Director is expected to "consult with provincial leadership before taking any actions" that could have repercussions for the Province or its members, and must sign any public statement as "the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province" so that this is clear. (The new policy also considers "emergency situations" in which there is not time to consult the whole JPRC, but in this case the Director could not act without the approval of the Provincial.)
The Council discussed the possibility that some might nonetheless see such statements as doing or attempting to do just that, but concluded that while there is no way to make certain that won't happen, it is still the right of the Commission to speak publicly on its own behalf.
Prior to this, the only time the Commission had signed onto any type of statement was last fall, on a letter to President Obama in favor of accepting more Syrian refugees. Although there was no policy in force then, we judged that this was not a “public” statement but simply a letter to a public official. I also signed an investor letter in support of the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 after consultation with Deacon Dave Nagel, but that involved the Province's role as investors, not a Commission action. But these are examples of issues that we felt were so clear as to not require consultation with the Council, and they agreed that in cases like this we would not need their approval.
Right now we are considering our first public "sign on," as endorsers of a bill in Congress that would ban private prisons and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention. Because CMSM Justice and Peace Office has encouraged men's religious congregations to sign on, and therefore this would normally be another example of something we wouldn't go to the Provincial with, because it the bill is co-sponsored by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, we would consult with Fr. Ed before taking that step. I give these examples so as to help you see how we intend to use this authority, and to give you the chance to share any concerns you might have with us or the provincial leadership. This is not something we will ever take lightly or attempt to do in secret.
The second thing the Council approved was a change to our guidelines for funding of social justice-related agencies in Wisconsin, Texas and Chicago. These grants have been given out annually for decades now. As best as I've been able to piece together from Johnny Klingler, Tony Russo and Bob Bossie, who all served in this role from the 70's on, the original impetus for the grants was that, while South Dakota's ministry was focused on St. Joseph's and the reservations, and Mississippi's on Southern Missions, in these three states SCJ's were involved mainly in parish work or formation.
Financial support for schools in SCJ-run parishes like Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston and St. Martin of Tours in Franklin was was probably the reason for the initial grants, and this support continues today. But SCJs also came into contact with many non-SCJ entities serving the same communities they were, and some became supporters of such groups, whether volunteering directly, serving on their boards, or getting involved in other ways. They saw these organizations as partners in ministry - serving, advocating and empowering the poor, powerless and vulnerable. So grants began to be given to these groups, with the main condition being some type of SCJ involvement or at least recommendation.
In recent years, the grants continued though SCJ involvement in many of these groups diminished as our numbers shrank and in some cases (like Green Bay and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas) our physical presence ended. When my position was created in 2014, it was funded out of the social justice grants budget and the grants to outside organizations was cut in half (although support of our two parish schools was not). I've personally visited all twelve of the groups we currently fund, and the Commission has done either site visits or interviews with the leadership of all the groups in WI and Chicago, and hopes to visit Houston soon and learn about the groups we've funded there.
As we've continued our relationship with these groups, we've become convinced that these partnerships are still important, and that the contribution these groups make to the Dehonian mission of "transforming souls and societies" and attacking the root causes of social problems is more important than whether a single SCJ is directly involved. So we continue to fund, for example, St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay even though the Province does not have a presence there anymore, because it is a legacy of Guy Blair.
The change in guidelines, then, was to reprioritize our primary criteria. “How well an organization's priorities and approaches match the Dehonian Charism" now replaces “direct involvement of SCJs” as the primary criterion in our guidelines for funding of outside organizations. Direct SCJ involvement (or involvement by the Director or other Dehonian associates will still be a “plus” for a group, but no longer will lack of it be a disqualifying factor.
Again, I write at length about all this here, although the information is already in our Commission minutes published in Cor Unum, to be sure members of the Province are aware of these developments and understand the reasoning behind them. As ever, your comments or questions are always welcome!