Legislative Action
Home Up



"...Lay persons, organized in voluntary groups, have responsibilities to advocate for just and caring economic and social policies through parish

and diocesan structures often known as legislative networks."


A Catholic Framework for Economic Life

U.S. Bishops



Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000

Legislative Action

In November, 1986, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued a landmark pastoral letter on the U.S. economy called Economic Justice for All. It challenged our nation to put concern for the poor and vulnerable and pursuit of the common good at the center of our economic life.

Ten years later as they marked the pastoral letter's anniversary, the bishops recognized that while our economy has changed dramatically, the challenges facing us are no less compelling, and the principles they outlined ten years ago are no less important. At a time of growing national attention on such issues as globalization, income stagnation, and increasing wage disparities, the Catholic tradition of ethical reflection on economic issues has much to offer. In November, 1996, the bishops issued a brief ten-point summary of Catholic teaching on the economy titled A Catholic Framework for Economic Life. They called on the Catholic community to share these ten principles as broadly as possible.

The most important place to share Catholic social teaching is in the parish, not as an optional or fringe aspect of our faith, but as a central element of what it means to be Catholic. This resource is designed to help those responsible for social concerns and advocacy in the parish to incorporate Catholic teaching on economic life into their ministry.


The bishops have made it clear in their Catholic Framework for Economic Life that government has a crucial role in supporting and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. In the very same sentence, they indicate that lay persons, organized in voluntary groups, also have key responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to advocate for just and caring economic and social policies through parish and diocesan structures often known as legislative networks. What follows are some specific ideas and suggestions for parish leaders on how to develop a parish legislative advocacy effort.

Ideas and Suggestions
1. Prayerfully consider your parish's role as advocates for the poor and vulnerable in your community. Ask for God's guidance and support as you seek to become a voice for those unable to speak for themselves. Pray for courage, for knowledge, for resources, for empowering connections, for civility, for patience, and for the development of needed skills to carry out this important work.

2. Contact your diocesan peace and justice office, pro-life office, and/or your state Catholic conference to determine whether they are involved in advocacy and whether they would welcome your parish's involvement in their work. Ask about legislative networks, phone trees, and other efforts in which parishioners could participate.

3. Call national organizations which offer information on public policy issues (e.g., USCC Social Development and World Peace, Catholic Charities USA, Bread for the World, NCCB Pro-Life Office, NETWORK, Pax Christi). Many of these organizations send out Issue Backgrounders and/or periodic "Alerts" to members so that appropriate action can be taken on priority issues. For addresses and phone numbers, see the "Resources" section.

4. Contact local interfaith organizations to determine if they are involved in advocacy on economic issues and how your parish might participate.

5. Participate in legislative networks. Many diocesan and state Catholic conferences have formed legislative networks enabling parishioners to act together on public policy issues. These networks, made up of Catholics from a region or state, are organized to respond to a limited number of priority issues to protect or enhance the lives of vulnerable brothers and sisters. Information on issues is distributed through written alerts, telephone contact, e-mail, or fax machines. Your local diocesan social action office or state Catholic conference can tell you if such a network exists.

6. Hold a sign-up Sunday in your parish to create your own parish advocacy network or a chapter of an existing state or diocesan network. This sign-up process can take place after Masses, through existing parish organizations, or through bulletin announcements.

7. Set up meetings between your parish network members and elected representatives (city or county council, state legislature, or Congressional) from your area. The purpose of these meetings is to establish relationships, to share concerns of parishioners, and to lobby for specific issues. These meetings should be prepared for carefully, should be civil, but firm, and should be an effort to build a relationship of respect that can be developed further in the future.

8. Organize a letter writing or telephone campaign on a specific economic issue such as fair taxes, welfare reform, or changes in the minimum wage. This activity could be limited to those who have signed up for your parish network, or after receiving approval from appropriate persons, could be for the whole parish after Masses using petitions or postcards. In any case, it is important to provide brief but clear fact sheets on the issue, sample letters, and correct addresses and phone numbers of elected officials.

9. A legislative network established in your parish can carry out a number of other important parish and civic functions. For example, bi-annual, non-partisan voter registration drives held after each Mass communicates the importance of faithful participation in the country's leadership selection process. Other parishes have sponsored non-partisan candidates forums to provide an opportunity for parishioners to hear where potential leaders stand on a variety of priority issues.




Here are a few of the many resources available to help parishes strengthen their advocacy efforts. Contact your diocesan social action, Catholic Charities, and pro-life offices for additional ideas.

Documents and Videos

Bring Down the Walls. A video summary commemorating 100 years of Catholic social teaching. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1991. Video No. 746-4. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

Building Legislative Networks: Acting for Justice in the Public Arena. USCC Department of Social Development and World Peace, 1992. Telephone: 202-541-3191. A practical guide with examples from around the country.

Catholic Campaign for Children and Families Parish Resource Manual. Guide developed by USCC, in collaboration with other Catholic organizations, to strengthen parishes' service, advocacy, and action on behalf of children and families. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1992. English: Pub. No. 525- 9; Spanish: Pub. No. 534-8. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

A Century of Social Teaching: A Common Heritage, A Continuing Challenge, National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Statement in commemoration of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Rerum Novarum, outlines the principles and the call to social action in Catholic teaching. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1990. Pub. No. 379-5. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

Communities of Salt and Light Parish Resource Manual. The text of the bishops' statement, Communities of Salt and Light, along with practical suggestions for incorporating the Catholic social mission into all aspects of parish life. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services. 1993. Pub No. 702-2. Telephone: 1-800- 235-USCC.

Communities of Salt and Light: Video. A video resource for parish social ministry, outlining the challenges of the bishops' statement and ways parishes can respond. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1994. Pub. No. 703-0. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.
  The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace. National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Statement on issues of peace in a changing world. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services. 1993. Pub. No. 705-7. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

I Am Only a Child. A video depiction of the personal and public policy agendas of Catholic Campaign for Children and Families. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1992. Video No. 748-0. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

"Issue Mailings," USCC Office of Social Development and World Peace. An assortment of issue briefings, action ALERTS, brochures, correspondence, articles, and announcements related to social action. Subscription. Telephone 1-202-541-3191.

Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Least Among us, and Pursuing the Common Good. USCC Administrative Board. Statement on Catholic political Responsibility, including "do's and don'ts." Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1996. Pub. No. 5-043. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

Putting Children and Families First: A Challenge to Our Church, Nation, and World. National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Statement outlines the challenges of putting children and families first and launched the Catholic Campaign for Children and Families. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services. 1992. Pub. No. 469-4. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching. National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Statement on environmental justice. Washington, D.C.: USCC Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1990. Pub. No. 468-6. Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC.

Respect Life Manual. NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Annual packet containing resources to help parishes implement a year-round pro-life program. Washington, D.C.: Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Telephone: 202-541-3070.

Other Resources

    Empowerment: Skills for Parish Social Action. Harry Fagan. Paulist Press, 1979.

Legislative Advocacy: The Nuts and Bolts of Affecting Public Policy. Jesuit Conference. Telephone: 202-462-7008.

The Faith That Does Justice: Examining Christian Sources for Social Change. John Haughey, SJ, ed. Paulist Press, 1977.

So You Want to Make a Difference: Advocacy is the Key. Nancy Amidei. OMB Watch, 1991.

Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice. Peter J. Henriot, SJ, and Joe Holland. Orbis Books, 1983.

Advofax. Catholic Charities USA's regular "faxes" which provide timely reports on priority federal legislation, key decision makers, voting records, and recommended activities to Catholic Charities agencies and other activists. (See address below).

Christian Faith and Public Policy: No Grounds for Divorce. Arthur Simon. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

The Connection. Bimonthly magazine focusing on issues, legislation, voting records, and other resources connected to Catholic Social Action. Available from NETWORK, 801 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., Suite 460. Washington, D.C. 20003- 2167. Telephone: 202-547-5556.

Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought. Fred Kammer, SJ. Paulist Press, 1991.


Diocesan and State Organizations

Several diocesan offices can help you identify opportunities to learn about and act on local, state, national, and international issues. Often, they also have staff available for training and consultation.

  • Peace and Justice Office

  • Pro-Life Office

  • Migration and Refugee Office

  • Diocesan Catholic Charities

  • Catholic Relief Services Office

Your state Catholic Conference, which may have been created to coordinate Catholic advocacy on the state level, can also help you identify state and local issues. To get the name and number of your own state Catholic Conference office you can call the USCC Office of Government Liaison at 202-541-3140.

NCCB/USCC Departments

National Conference of Catholic Bishops
United States Catholic Conference
3211 Fourth Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017-1194
Several offices within the NCCB/USCC may be of assistance to you. Among them are the following:



  • Respect Life Program
    Telephone: 202-541-3070
    Produces a manual, posters, flyers, brochures, and two newsletters on consistent ethic of life issues.

  • Social Development & World Peace
    Telephone: 202-541-3195
    Produces resources, manuals, and regular mailings with updates and action alerts on national and international public policy issues of concern to the Church.
  • Migration and Refugee Services
    Telephone: 202-541-3352
    Offers information on issues affecting immigrants and refugees.
  • Office for Publishing
    & Promotion Services
    Telephone: 1-800-235-USCC
    Publishes conciliar, papal, and U.S. Catholic Bishops' statements on social issues and other resources.

Other Organizations

801 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E.
Suite 460
Washington, D.C. 20003-2167
Telephone: 202-547-5556
NETWORK is a membership organization of lay and religious women and men who act on their faith by lobbying on national public policy issues; it produces a newsletter and voter education and advocacy materials.

Pax Christi USA
348 E. Tenth Street
Erie, PA 16503
Telephone: 814-453-4955
The national branch of the Catholic peace movement produces a newsletter on peacemaking and justice, as well as information on action opportunities.

National Pastoral Life Center
299 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012-2806
Telephone: 212-431-7825
The national association of diocesan social action directors can identify models of parish and diocesan public policy efforts around the country.

Bread for the World
1100 Wayne Avenue, Suite 1000
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Telephone: 301-608-2400
Bread for the world offers educational and advocacy materials on issues of international and domestic hunger and justice.

Catholic Charities USA
1731 King Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22301
Telephone: 703-549-1390
Provides information and action alerts on issues of poverty and human services.

Catholic Relief Services
209 W. Fayette Street
Baltimore, MD. 21201-3443
Telephone: 410-625-2220
The U.S. Bishops overseas development agency provides information on U.S. foreign policy and its implications for humanitarian and development concerns internationally.

National Catholic Rural Life Conference
4625 Beaver Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310-2199
Telephone: 515-270-2634
Provides information on issues related to rural life and agriculture.

National Committee for a Human Life Amendment
1511 K Street, N.W., Suite 335
Washington, D.C. 20005
Telephone: 202-393-0703
A national pro-life advocacy and education organization that works with church groups to affect pro-life legislation.


Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000