Policy Positions

From his 1990 World Day of Peace address, Blessed Pope John II told us:

Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone. As I have pointed out, its various aspects demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing the duties and obligations that belong to individuals, peoples, States and the international community. This not only goes hand in hand with efforts to build true peace, but also confirms and reinforces those efforts in a concrete way. When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.

From At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Community in Appalachia from the Catholic Bishops of the Region, we read:

As Chapter 1 of Genesis tells us, God “said” that the water and the land, and the plants and the animals, and finally we humans, should all appear, and so we did. Thus the water and the land and the plants and the animals, and we humans too, are all expressions and revelations of God’s word of creation. All creation, including ourselves, truly speaks the beauty and goodness of God. All creation truly shows the loving face of the Creator. To be created in God’s own image means that we (humans) are called to care in love for our precious Earth, as if Earth were God’s own garden, just as God cares in love for all creation.

From This Land Is Home To Me, A Pastoral Letter on Poverty and Powerlessness from the Catholic Bishops of the Appalachian Region,

We must remind ourselves that the poor are special in the eyes of God,
for we have been told, in the voice of Mary,

God has pulled down princes from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
The hungry have been filled with good things,
the rich sent empty away. (Luke 1:52-53)

Even so, we know that our words are not perfect. For that reason, this letter is but one part of an unfinished conversation

with our people
with the truth of Appalachia
with the Living God.

Yet we still dare to speak, and speak strongly, first,because we trust our people and we know that those who belong to the Lord truly wish to do God’s will;
and second, because we believe that the cry of the poor is also a message of hope, a promise from Jesus,
that there can be a better way, for Jesus has told us,

The Truth will make you free. (John 8:32)

From the Catholic Catechism:

1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.

1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.

1932 The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy. [footnotes]

Abortion, Euthanasia, War:

2318 “In [God’s] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10).

2319 Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.

2320 The murder of a human being is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator.

2321 The prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defense is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.

2322 From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a “criminal” practice (GS 27 § 3), gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.

2323 Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being.

2324 Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.

2325 Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment.

2326 Scandal is a grave offense when by deed or omission it deliberately leads others to sin gravely.

2327 Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it. The Church prays: “From famine, pestilence, and war, O Lord, deliver us.”

2328 The Church and human reason assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts. Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes.

2329 “The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured” (GS 81 § 3).

2330 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9).

Religious Liberty:

Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The social duty of religion and the right to religious freedom

2104 “All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.” This duty derives from “the very dignity of the human person.” It does not contradict a “sincere respect” for different religions which frequently “reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men,” nor the requirement of charity, which urges Christians “to treat with love, prudence and patience those who are in error or ignorance with regard to the faith.”

2105 The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is “the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them “to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which [they] live.” The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies.

2106 “Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits.” This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it “continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.”

2107 “If because of the circumstances of a particular people special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional organization of a state, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well.”

2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.” [footnotes]

The following statements from Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, a joint statement from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, enumerate the most relevant of Catholic Social Teachings on the issue of migration:

The Church recognizes that all goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity which should be respected. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity which should be respected. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

Catechism of the Catholic Church:


1602 Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of “the wedding-feast of the Lamb.” Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its “mystery,” its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal “in the Lord” in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church.

Marriage in the order of creation

1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.” The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”

1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'”

1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” [footnotes]

Religious Commitment:

Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom

1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social. From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

1619 Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.

1620 Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other:

Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good. [footnotes]

Of course, the Catholic Conference of West Virginia wishes everyone to exercise their rights as citizens, not least Catholic West Virginians!

To aid faithful Catholics in the use of their rights and opportunities, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement on the responsibilities of Catholics to society, “Faithful Citizenship, A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility” (It can be found here.) The purpose of the statement is to communicate the Church’s teaching that every Catholic is called to active and faith-filled citizenship, based upon a properly informed conscience, so that each disciple of Christ publicly witnesses to the Church’s commitment to human life and dignity with special preference for the poor and the vulnerable.

The USCCB has a very rich website on the duties and opportunities for Catholics exercising their rights as citizens, and also on the values supported by Catholic citizens. As an aid to West Virginians interested in these topics, we provide a link to this “Faithful Citizenship” website: http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/index.htm

We trust you will explore this multi-faceted site, and also go ahead and take a look at what else you can find at www.usccb.org There’s a lot!

“We believe, on balance, that public financing can be an appropriate way to fund most election costs. Government is the means by which society seeks to identify, achieve, and protect the common good. As this is a concern for all people, it is appropriate that the cost of doing so be shared by all. The use of tax dollars to fund campaigns of qualified candidates without regard to their philosophy can effectively foster the common good by encouraging more people of diverse backgrounds to seek public office. To the extent that public financing makes candidates less dependent on the funds of special interest groups, the public debates over issues will be less subject to domination or distortion by special interests.” Renewing Participation in Public Life: A Call for Campaign Finance Reform Catholic Bishops of Wisconsin June 26, 2000 http://www.wisconsin.nasccd.org/bin/wisconsin/content/pages/Statements/cfreform.htm?_resolutionfile=ftppath%7Cpages/Statements/cfreform.htm

Public financing of state legislative elections is a proposition whose time has come. Catholic Social Teaching views the capacity to participate in one’s government and the decisions affecting society as both a basic right and a responsibility. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church #1913 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P6L.HTM) Catholics are encouraged to vote, and also to hold public office when they feel they can be of service. Consequently, it is undesirable that running for public office should cost far more than the average citizen can afford. Evidence at the national level that campaign contributions create obstacles to participation by the general electorate indicates that it is time to find other ways to finance political campaigns.

Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have voluntary programs for public campaign finance. No candidate is required to select public financing. However, these states’ programs have been shown to increase the diversity and the number of candidates seeking election, and fewer seats are uncontested. Publicly financed candidates say they spend more time listening to the concerns of their constituents. Many say that it has resulted in increased public policy directed toward the common good and less that appears directed toward satisfying large campaign contributors.

In the 2000 election cycle, less than a quarter of a percent of West Virginians made a contribution to a political campaign. Yet the cost of elections continues to rise in every cycle. Voluntary public financing is one practical way of addressing this inequity. Such financing would help to re-engage West Virginians in our political process. More variety and fewer uncontested races could increase voter turnout and help achieve the goal, ratified by the Catholic Church, of maximum public participation in our government.

Suggested Policy Directions

We support

  • A voluntary public financing program
  • A voluntary check–off on WV income tax forms to help support the program
  • Exploration of a variety of funding mechanisms such as a percentage of unclaimed assets, a percentage of funds available as surplus, etc.

The family is the most basic social organization. While social institutions increasingly share many of the family’s responsibilities toward children, they can never take the place of families. Social institutions – government at all levels, employers, religious institutions, schools, media, community organizations – should enter into creative partnerships with families to assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities toward children. Economic and social policies such as minimum wage, child care, educational resources, and parental leave should be continually evaluated in light of their impact on the strength and stability of family life.

When a family lives in fidelity it is a place of refuge and dignity, a place where each member is accepted, respected and honored precisely because he or she is a person. Unfortunately, instead of being the source, school, and standard for fidelity, sometimes the family can become the scene of life’s harshest violations. We must do all that we can to insure that families are healthy and safe places for children.

Principles for Action

“Families often become unsustainable when people lose their sense of self worth, particularly when they are out of work, or under great hardship. Clearly the present economic crisis, not only in Appalachia but around the world, is for many individuals and families one of those moments of great hardship…But we trust in Jesus’ healing love. And so we know that these great wounds can be healed. To help wounded families to find healing, and to become emotionally sustainable, we need prayer and forgiveness, but not a false forgiveness which covers up the problem. For loving forgiveness must always be based on truth. To live the truth in love, we need personal and family supports, rooted in the local community.” Appalachian Bishops, At Home in the Web of Life, 1995

We support policies that:

  • Put children and families first;
  • Help families meet their responsibilities to their children;
  • Help to provide affordable, quality child care;
  • Provide quality educational opportunities for every child;
  • Protect children from abuse and neglect;
  • Fight poverty, joblessness, lack of access to affordable health care, and decent housing;
  • Target families that require the most help – those facing poverty and discrimination, while recognizing our responsibility to all;
  • Recognize the West Virginia Self Sufficiency Standard as a benchmark for providing adequate wages and social services to our families.

The Catholic Church supports quality education in both public and private institutions. All children especially the most vulnerable have an inalienable right to quality education. Parents have a primary duty and right to participate in the education of their children; as such, they should enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school. The state is bound by the principle of distributive justice to ensure that public funding for education is available so that parents are freely able to choose schools in accordance with their conscience. The state must also guarantee that all children have access to quality education in a safe and orderly environment.

In order to ensure that the teachings of our faith are passed on, the Catholic Church of West Virginia consists of 34 schools that integrate quality education with Catholic faith formation. Respecting the richness and diversity of our Diocese, the catholic school communities embody Christ and are committed to providing quality education for all students in a nurturing, Christ-centered environment. The schools host a solid curriculum that is rooted in the basics, yet provide a variety of co-curricular classes and extra-curricular activities to develop the whole child. Technology, fine arts and foreign language are a strong part of many of our school programs. Our schools work to accompany families in challenging children to recognize, develop and share their God-given gifts and talents. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is proud to serve the church through the 25 elementary schools, 7 high schools, 1 independent Catholic school and Wheeling Jesuit University who together serve over 9,000 students each year.

We call for policies that –

  • Ensure a fair and equitable tax financing system for education;
  • Provide all parents a tax credit, a tax deduction or other incentives to help parents finance their children’s education;
  • Ensure that children have access to safe havens in their communities before and after school and during the summer;
  • Provide all children with access to education-enhancing technology;
  • Encourage parental involvement in their children’s education;
  • Allow schools to demonstrate accountability in ways that best meet the needs of parents and the local community;
  • Support child nutrition programs to insure good health and enhanced learning.

Elderly workers who have found themselves without sufficient income to retire are a common sight at local fast-food restaurants. Stories abound of parents working two or even three jobs in an effort to support their families. West Virginia has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the United States.

In their 1985 document Economic Justice for All, the U.S. Bishops state that “In recent years the minimum wage has not been adjusted to keep pace with inflation. . .We believe Congress should raise the minimum wage in order to restore the purchasing power it has lost due to inflation.” (#197 http://www.osjspm.org/cst/eja.htm)This statement is equally true now, when real wages have not increased since the mid 1970’s and most employer-provided benefits are becoming a thing of the past. Women still earn only seventy-three cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same position. The average worker falls farther and farther behind while CEO and other corporate salaries have skyrocketed. The gap between rich and poor in our country has never been greater.

Principles For Action

“In return for their labor, workers have a right to wages and other benefits sufficient to sustain life in dignity. As Pope Leo XIII stated, every working person has ‘the right of securing things to sustain life.’ The way power is distributed in a market economy frequently gives employers greater bargaining power than employees in the negotiation of labor contracts. Such unequal power may press workers into a choice between an inadequate wage and no wage at all. But justice, not charity, demands certain minimum guarantees. The provision of wages and other benefits sufficient to support a family in dignity is a basic necessity to prevent this exploitation of workers” (U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All, #103).

The Appalachian Bishops state in This Land is Home to Me (1975), “As a counter-force to the unaccountable power of … multinational corporations, there must arise a corresponding multinational labor movement, rooted in a vision of justice, rising above corruption and narrowness, with a universal concern for all workers, for all consumers, for all people.” (http://www.osjspm.org/cst/thisland.htm )

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that would:

  • encourage West Virginia to pass “living wage” legislation
  • help small employers to provide health insurance for their employeess
  • end wage discrimination and require equal pay for equal work
  • phase out “training wages” for young people

The U.S. Bishops’ 1985 document Economic Justice for All suggests that any evaluation of the tax system should be guided by three principles:

  • Taxes should raise adequate revenue to meet the needs of society, especially those of the poor and vulnerable.
  • The system should be progressive, requiring those with relatively greater financial resources to pay higher rates of taxation.
  • Taxes such as a “flat” tax, food taxes, sales taxes, and payroll taxes are basically regressive, and should be minimized or eliminated.

“Families with incomes below the poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. They are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not have the additional burden of paying taxes.” (Economic Justice for All, #202 http://www.osjspm.org/cst/eja.htm )

In Economic Justice for All, our nation’s Bishops state that the tax system should constantly be evaluated in terms of its effect on the poor and otherwise vulnerable. West Virginia ranks consistently in the top ten states on the level of its taxation of the incomes of persons living below poverty level. Although the poverty level for a family of three is consider to be $17,028, West Virginia begins taxing income at $10,000. Our state taxes a family of three with minimum wage earnings ($10,712) at the fourth highest rate in the country: $143. The state’s six percent food tax exacts a much larger percentage of a poor family’s income than of a wealthy family’s. Meanwhile, severance and resource taxes are proportionately low, and their collection only minimally enforced. In the interest of justice, tax policy should be aimed at meeting the needs of the poor, and requiring those who profit from our state’s natural resources to pay a fair share.

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that would:

  • Would raise the no-tax floor in West Virginia to at least the national poverty level
  • Explore the possibility of an Earned Income Credit for very low income families
  • Gradually eliminate the food tax, or provide vouchers to low income families
  • Provide for consistent enforcement of payment of severance taxes on coal, natural gas, oil, and timber
  • Evaluate tax incentives for businesses on the basis of their effectiveness in increasing economic well-being for the people of West Virginia

There is a health care crisis in the United States, and West Virginia has not escaped its effects. Despite the overall health of the economy, recent statistics show that an estimated 309,600 West Virginians (17.2% of the population) are without health insurance coverage. Approximately 34,000 of the uninsured are children. Most of the uninsured adults are working people who do not receive insurance through their employers, and cannot afford to purchase it themselves. The costs of lack of access to health care are considerable, and affect not only those denied access, but the rest of our citizens as well. Persons who do not have adequate coverage are less likely to receive appropriate preventive and primary care, are more likely to rely on emergency rooms for treatment, and are more likely to postpone needed treatment, which can result in more serious health problems. When they do receive care, its cost is likely to be shifted to other payers, increasing everyone’s insurance costs. Recent significant cuts in Medicaid are contributing to the difficulty of our health care systems in providing critical services to all our citizens.

Principles for Action
The Bishops of this country have long called for American society to move toward the establishment of a national policy that guarantees adequate health care for all while maintaining a pluralistic approach. As this develops, the role of Catholic institutions in the health field will change. They will take an even greater responsibility in fulfilling the prophetic role of promoting basic Christian values, championing the cause of the poor and neglected in society, and finding new ways to blend personal care and technological skills in health care service. (Health and Health Care, A Pastoral Letter of the American Bishops, Nov. 19, 1981, p.13 http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/HEALTH.PDF )

Concerned about the increasing number of vulnerable Americans not covered by health insurance, the Bishops have inaugurated a “Health Care for All!” campaign. (http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/brochure1.pdf ) This initiative advocates an approach that respects life from conception to natural death, has a priority concern for the poor, includes universal access to comprehensive benefits, and preserves pluralism in health care delivery while pursuing the common good.

We call for policies that –

  • Work toward providing health care coverage for all West Virginians (i.e. which expand insurance coverage for children and adults by supporting employer-based plans, expanding public coverage, increasing options for self-employed persons, and expanding Medicaid to meet the needs of all the poor).
  • Address the fundamental inequities of health care financing in our country
  • Provide financial support for rural hospitals and clinics
  • Deal equitably with the “cost shifting” and medical malpractice issues

Everyone wants a place to call home. For many in our state and country, affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult to secure. Although West Virginia has the nation’s highest rate of home ownership, a substantial number of these are mobile homes, older homes that are not well-maintained, or other substandard dwellings. Often several families live in a home intended for a single family. Homeless persons may move from relative to relative just to keep a roof over their heads.

Recent cuts in Section 8 housing vouchers at the federal level have kept families from finding housing they can afford. And shelters are overcrowded in many of our urban areas. Some have seen an increase in requests for shelter beds of as much as 35% over the past year.

People’s wages have not kept up with increases in housing purchase and rental costs, and more people are losing their homes because they cannot make the payments. The Self-Sufficiency Standard for WV indicates that minimal family housing costs range from $450-$700 per month in most areas of our state, while a full-time minimum wage job pays only $14,000 per year. Housing costs can leave a family with few resources available for other necessities.

Principles for Action

Catholic Social Teaching has long recognized housing as a basic human right. The Catholic community–through its parishes, diocesan structures, and Catholic Charities agencies–is one of the largest providers of shelter in the nation. According to the Appalachian Bishops’ Pastoral Message At Home in the Web of Life (1995), sustainable development and sustainable communities must be able to supply people with “basic necessities like energy, food, water, and housing.”

“The second great commandment is to love our neighbor. We cannot deny the crying needs for decent housing experienced by the least of the brethren in our society. Effective love of neighbor requires concern for his or her living conditions.” The Right to a Decent Home, U.S. Bishops (1975)

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that would –

  • Fund the construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of housing for low-income families
  • Increase the availability of funding for Section 8 vouchers
  • Recognize particular needs for housing in rural areas, and problems related to inadequate and overcrowded rural housing
  • Combat predatory mortgage lending practices and educate the public on this topic
  • Provide adequate shelter for the homeless until they can regain housing

In 2024, Bishop Mark Brennan, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, issued this reflection on in vitro fertilization. In March of 2024, the Most Reverend Michael Burbridge, writing as Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued this statement on IVF. Additional resources on IVF can be found in the Outside Resources section below under the Reproductive Technology heading.

Abortion, Assisted Suicide Euthanasia and Capital Punishment

Principles for Action
All human life is a gift from God. We must confront a culture that honors violent solutions to complex social issues – abortion to address difficult pregnancies, euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with age and illness, and the death penalty to combat crime. In their 1995 Pastoral Letter, “At Home in the Web of Life,” the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia counter this “Culture of Death” with a vision of a “Culture of Life.” They write that this struggle of all society between a culture of death and a culture of life is also played out at the intimate level in personal relationships. Here the culture of death invades our very souls through addictions and co-dependencies, often leading to abuse and violence, especially against women and children.

And, they could have added, “the ill and elderly.” The bishops decry “a new selfishness spreads across the land, and not only in Appalachia,” which touches individuals in such policies as:

– abandonment of the poor,
– increase of racism and scape-goating,
– demands for more and more guns,
– growing use of the death-penalty,
– campaigns for abortion and euthanasia,

The West Virginia Catholic Conference evaluates legislative priorities using a theological and ethical framework that protects human life and promotes human dignity from life’s inception to its natural end.

Suggested Policy Directions

We call for policies that –

  • Respect and protect the right to life of every person – the unborn, the terminally ill, and the person convicted of crime;
  • Oppose public funding of abortion to protect the religious freedom of those opposed to abortion;
  • Urge the state to provide and adequately fund programs that assist children and pregnant women, especially the poor;
  • Oppose any attempt to legitimize or fund euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide;
  • Affirm public policies that respect the life and dignity of the dying including pain management and palliative care;
  • Protect the unborn, the elderly and the terminally ill in welfare and health care policies;
  • Oppose any attempt to reinstate the death penalty in the State.

Click here for a printable version of the document.

To combat poverty in our state, the Catholic Conference of WV supports policies that would:

  • encourage education as the best means of escaping poverty by providing workable options
  • make quality child care available in every county
  • encourage employers to consider on-site child care through grants and other incentives
  • explore options for aiding people in obtaining reliable transportation to work
  • create jobs with just wages and benefits

For further study of the problem, see Welfare Reform & www.catholiccharitiesusa.org

The Facts:

37.3 million Americans live below the official federal poverty level, which was $20,614 for a family of four in 2007.1 In the U.S., 1 in 8 people live in poverty; in West Virginia 1 in 6 people live in poverty (over 306,000 people). In the U.S., 1 in 6 children live in poverty; in West Virginia, 1 in 4 children. West Virginia is the sixth most poverty-stricken state in the union.

The number of people who are poor by the official government standards is more than to the combined populations of Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, New Hampshire and Idaho.

Almost half of all Americans will have experienced poverty for a year or more at some point in their lives by the time they reach age 60.2

Catholic Charities agencies serve one in every 10 people living in poverty. Catholic Charities West Virginia served 73,563 persons in 2006. (see www.catholiccharitieswv.org )


The current minimum wage in West Virginia for covered nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour. The West Virginia unemployment rate in August 2008 was 4.1%. 2

Racial Inequality

The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites is 8.2 percent, while the rate for Hispanics is 21.5 percent, the rate for Asians is 10.2 percent, and the rate for African Americans is 24.5 percent.


West Virginia boasts one of the highest percentages of homeowners. From 2000-2004 approximately 8 out of 10 West Virginians owned their own homes.3 That’s above the national average of fewer than 7 out of ten. Yet the median value of West Virginians’ homes (around $81,000) is the third lowest in the nation.4

1 http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1149
2 http://www.bls.gov/LAU/
3 http://www.hud.gov
4 http://www.census.gov


Medicaid funding levels in West Virginia potentially affect every person who seeks health care within our state. Directly affected are over 300,000 West Virginians who receive some assistance from Medicaid programs. Although there have been no changes in eligibility requirements, Medicaid rolls have increased in our state by 12% since 2001. Many more of our citizens are only a serious illness or financial setback away from depending on Medicaid.

Medicaid covers 74% of the state’s nursing home residents, pays for nearly two-thirds of WV births, pays for home health services that allow seniors to remain in their own homes, and covers basic health care for the state’s neediest families and children. If Medicaid can no longer pay for necessary services, providers will be faced with the dilemma of providing the service at no cost and shifting that cost to others, or not providing a needed service. Because of increased cost shifts, some businesses might have to stop offering insurance to employees, reduce coverage, or increase co-pays. And some service providers who cannot meet their expenses might cut services to the general public or simply go out of business.

Principles For Action

Most important from the standpoint of our Catholic Social Teaching, cuts will decrease health care services to the most vulnerable among us, who are least able to afford them. West Virginia’s eligibility requirements for Medicaid are already among the strictest in the nation. Helping to provide for those in our midst who are burdened by poverty is a moral obligation. Health care is a human right (John XXIII, Mater et Magistra #61 http://www.osjspm.org/cst/mm.htm ), not a commodity to be sold only to those who can afford it.

Suggested Policy Directions

  • We are concerned about policies that could arise from the state’s current waiver proposal, which could be used to cut services to individuals or to tailor eligibility requirements to selected groups. A waiver is not necessary to carry out the Governor’s administrative money-saving proposals.
  • We oppose co-pays for Medicaid services. Studies have repeatedly shown that even small co-pays of one or two dollars result in low-income persons failing to seek needed treatment.
  • We are concerned about the implementation of Personal Responsibility Accounts for Medicaid recipients. Such accounts greatly reduced the number of recipients under TANF, but there is no evidence that this increased the families’ well-being. Such accounts could reduce participants’ capacity to receive needed care.
  • We believe cost savings should be pursued through streamlining program administration and provider costs prior tocutting any services to Medicaid recipients.

Prejudice and Related Acts of Violence

Instances of prejudice and discrimination are on the rise in our society. Sometimes biases are masked and subtle, other times overt and violent. The Catholic Church teaches that every person has inherent dignity as a child of God, and is uniquely loved and valued. Any other characteristics a person might have are secondary with respect to this God-given dignity. All people are equal members of the human family, not categories to be singled out for attack or protection. At Home in the Web of Life states, “Because of God’s image within us, every human person has the right to all that is needed to guarantee human dignity.”

Prejudice is damaging both to its perpetrators and its victims. The church and other religious and social institutions have a responsibility to instruct citizens with regard to human dignity and respect for all persons. The motives and attitudes behind prejudice and violence must be addressed, or criminal acts based on them will continue. The question must be asked, “Why do so many in our society feel no compunction when it comes to hateful speech and actions against others?” Such attitudes are learned, and religious and community groups must spare no effort to educate members, and particularly children, on these vital issues if we hope to counter successfully the propaganda of bias-based organizations.

Principles For Action

Churches and religious bodies should take the lead in setting an example of complete and loving respect in their treatment of all persons. This critical challenge of our time must ultimately be met through conversion of people’s minds and hearts. We are skeptical of the ability of legislation to address the inward attitudes that motivate people to commit crimes based on prejudice and bigotry, and therefore, we take no position on related legislative proposals.

It is our belief that all men, women, and children, whatever their differences, whatever their characteristics, merit fairness, equality of opportunity, public safety, and bodily integrity. Respect for the dignity of each person and the sanctity of life demands no less. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation. It is an indivisible good. We need then to show care for all life and for the life of everyone. Indeed, at an even deeper level, we need to go to the very roots of life and love.”

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that will –

  • Ensure equal and respectful treatment to all citizens, regardless of their circumstances

In 2024, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, issued this reflection on surrogacy, following remarks on the subject by Pope Francis.

The home should be a place of safety, caring, and security where family members can count on mutual love and respect. Sadly, for many West Virginians, home is a place of violence and fear.

Domestic violence crosses all lines of race, religion, economic status, and age. Defenseless children, ill or weakened elderly persons, and spouses are abused by family members taking advantage of their superior strength. And while there are indeed some cases in which a man suffers from domestic abuse, it is by far most common for a male to abuse a female family member.

Domestic violence creates tragedy for multiple generations. Studies have repeatedly shown that children who see or hear a parent being abused suffer profound effects. In the case of male children, such experience can lead to becoming another abuser. The recent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study showed that being in an abusive family can be linked to a number of future health risks and socialization problems for children.

Principles for Action
“The Catholic Church teaches that violence against another person in any form fails to treat that person as someone worthy of love. Instead, it treats the person as an object to be used. When violence occurs within a sacramental marriage, the abused spouse may question, “How do these violent acts relate to my promise to take my spouse for better or for worse?” The person being assaulted needs to know that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises.” USCCB, When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women, 1992

“Sometimes our local communities are devastated from the outside, but sometimes they are also devastated from the inside – in the very soul. Perhaps the worst internal devastation of local families and communities comes from domestic violence. This is not simply an Appalachian problem, but a problem of the whole world.” Appalachian Bishops, At Home in the Web of Life, 1995

We support policies that would:

  • Provide shelters and social programs to ensure the safety of victims of abuse
  • Enforce protective court orders related to victims of abuse
  • Demand accountability from abusers
  • Provide counseling and treatment for both abusers and abused
  • Educate the public on the seriousness of this issue and its long-term effects

The 2001 report, “Minority Youth and Juvenile Justice in West Virginia,” shows that African American youth are over-represented, based on their percentage of the general population, at every stage of the criminal justice system – from arrests by law enforcement to detention and imprisonment. The percentage of over-representation grows at every stage as the juvenile moves through the criminal justice process. West Virginia’s rates of over-representation of minority youth exceed national rates in all but one stage of the juvenile justice system.

Principles for Action
“Recent studies show that African, Hispanic, and Native Americans are often treated more harshly than other citizens in their encounters with the criminal justice system (including police activity, the handling of juvenile defendants, and prosecution and sentencing). These studies confirm that the racism and discrimination that continue to haunt our nation are reflected in similar ways in the criminal justice system.” (U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration, p.10 http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/criminal.htm )

” [S]ociety must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults – fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions. Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution.” (Ibid,p. 28)

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that would –

  • train police officers and juvenile justice personnel in awareness of racism
  • provide community service and educational options for juvenile offenders
  • offer counseling, mentoring, and other interventions to juvenile offenders and their families at the earliest possible stage
  • provide options for diversion, alternative sentencing, and restitution where appropriate
  • severely limit options for trying juveniles as adults

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” (John 14:27) Of all the attributes Jesus could have chosen as his parting gift to those he loved, he chose peace. And Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called God’s children.” (Matthew 5:9)

As the U.S. Bishops state in The Challenge of Peace (1983), Catholic tradition has always described peace as a positive good. “Peace is both a gift of God and a human work. It must be constructed on the basis of central human values: truth, justice, freedom, and love.”

The Church’s teaching has also established a strong presumption against war. Violence may at times seem to solve problems. But more often than not, it injures the innocent as well as combatants. People’s lives have intrinsic value-they are not “collateral damage.” And unfortunately, such events often create a reservoir of hatred and desire for revenge among those injured, eventually leading to more and more conflict.

But peace is far more than the absence of conflict or violence. God’s shalom is based on right relationship between God and the people, and between individual persons. Blessed John XXIII notes in Pacem in Terris (1963), “…there can be no peace between [persons] unless there is peace within each one of them; unless, that is, each one builds up within himself the order wished by God.”

The fruits of peace among nations are many. Food can be produced without destruction and delivered to family tables. Medicines are in more reliable supply, and hospital resources are not strained by necessary care for the wounded and maimed. People can travel to visit family and friends without constant fear for their safety on the roads. Children are able to attend school regularly. Homes can be built and maintained without fear of destruction by weaponry. People have time for leisure and rest. The common good blossoms and flourishes.

The fruits of peace between people are also many: understanding, cooperation, truthfulness, compassion. But like peace between nations, personal peace does not come without struggle and commitment. To achieve true peace, one must often be willing to compromise, to give up some of what one desires, to take the step of forgiveness. John Paul II recognized this truth in his 2004 World Day of Peace message. ” I feel it necessary to repeat that, for the establishment of true peace in the world, justice must find its fulfilment in charity. . . I have often reminded Christians and all persons of good will that forgiveness is needed for solving the problems of individuals and peoples. There is no peace without forgiveness!”

Peace is a priceless gift worth claiming and worth working for. Blessed John XXIII calls it a “fruitful source of many benefits, for its advantages will be felt everywhere, by individuals, by families, by nations, by the whole human family. The warning of Pius XII still rings in our ears, ‘Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.'” (Pacem in Terris, and cf. Pius XXII’s radio broadcast, August 24, 1939)

Thoughtful citizens are beginning to question the ability of privately-operated, for-profit corporations to manage prisons effectively. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community. Serious questions of public safety have arisen in states that permit private prisons. Their employees suffer from poor or improper training, under-staffing, high rates of turnover, low wages, and minimal benefits. Evidence also suggests that there are more frequent escapes from private prisons than state or federal facilities.

Prisoners in private facilities are frequently transferred from out of state, often to remote areas, depriving them of family and community support and contact. The principal strategy by which private prisons generate profit involves cutting corners in worker salaries and benefits, and failing to offer truly adequate programs, health care, and nutrition to those in custody. Rehabilitation programs leading to favorable evaluation for parole and release are not good for business.

As the Catholic Bishops of the South state in their document Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization, “We believe that private prisons confront us with serious moral issues, demanding a gospel response. To deprive other persons of their freedom, to restrict them from contact with other human beings, to use force against them up to and including deadly force, are the most serious of acts. To delegate such acts to institutions whose success depends on the amount of profit they generate is to invite abuse and to abdicate our responsibility to care for our sisters and brothers.”

Punishment in a just society must have clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the law. The common good is undermined when we forget that those who have committed crimes deserve to be treated with dignity as children of God. The ultimate aim of criminal sentences should be the re-integration of the offender into community and society. (See “Message of John Paul II for the Jubilee in Prisons,” July 9, 2000, section 5, at http://www.usccb.org/pope/prisons.htm )We commend the system of “Day Report Centers” arising in this state which, based upon a philosophy of “restorative justice,” provides alternatives to imprisonment for convicted felons posing low risk to the community. Indeed, education, counseling, and substance abuse programs, as well as a network of family and community support, are the most effective tools in achieving the goal of restoring those convicted of serious crimes to full participation in society.

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that –

  • Prohibit or limit privately-operated prisons in West Virginia
  • Provide quality educational and rehabilitative programs for prisoners
  • Challenge the idea that warehousing prisoners for profit is a legitimate form of “economic development”
  • Protect and encourage prisoners support networks, allowing contact with friends and family
  • Encourage alternative sentencing, especially for non-violent offenders
  • Protect public and prisoner safety by allowing only government to perform functions related to incarceration

Outside Resources