Archbishop John Vlazny speaks to the crowd at Memorial Coliseum in 2000.
In Oregon, Archbishop John Vlazny spoke out to government plainly, once telling President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department that in refusing to block assisted suicide it was “abdicating its responsibility to protect vulnerable people from deadly harm.”
He wrote to lawmakers to urge forgiveness of debt for developing nations, to prevent the invasion of Iraq, to halt nuclear arms increases and to end the death penalty. He helped draft a bishops’ statement opposing capital punishment. “The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life,” the bishops said.
He often made appeals for universal health coverage and once pushed for background checks for buyers at gun shows as “reasonable and prudent policy.” He asked Sen. Gordon Smith to vote to maintain Medicaid levels, something the senator eventually did, in opposition to his fellow Republicans.
“When the state is establishing laws that govern the way we live together, those of us who participate in the democratic process must be heard,” he wrote in 1999. “We would be woefully inadequate citizens indeed were we to remain silent. When you are intimidated by such a challenge, just remember the Holocaust and all its silent enablers.”
In the spring of 2001, the archbishop and other religious leaders called on Oregon legislators to increase budgets for low-income Oregonians by almost $159 million. “Poor, vulnerable and needy persons in our state and society have a special call on our compassion,” the archbishop told a room full of reporters and photographers in Salem.
In what was called the Campaign for Fairness, the archbishop cited poor women, children, families, the aged and disabled people, explaining that budgetary decisions are moral decisions.
“We’re not playing the game of politics,” he said. “We are playing our advocacy role for poor people.”
In 2004, when Sen. John Kerry was running for president, the archbishop refused to do what some of his peers had done — threaten to withhold Communion from Kerry and other pro-choice politicians. In a move than won praise, he put the onus on the lawmakers instead.
“Catholics who publicly disagree with serious church teaching on such matters as abortion or same-sex marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion,” he wrote.
Archbishop Vlazny was among signatories on a statement supporting legislation to ban torture by the CIA and all agencies of the U.S. government.
In 2008, Archbishop Vlazny sent Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s phone number to the state’s Catholics after the Catholic governor hosted a National Abortion Rights Action League event in Portland just two days before a respect life Mass at St. Mary Cathedral.
The governor laid on a champagne reception and made a speech promoting abortion rights.
“This is a source of embarrassment for our church and a scandal for the Catholic community,” the archbishop said. “For a Catholic governor to host an event of this sort seems a deliberate dissent from the teachings of the Church.”
The archbishop not only invited Catholics to the two Masses, but also called on them to “express their displeasure to the governor and to remind him of the demands of personal integrity as a member of our faith community in the exercise of his office and public activities.”
In the spring and summer of 2012, Archbishop Vlazny held events calling for the protection of religious freedom. Liberty of conscience was under threat by federal health policy concerning health coverage of objectionable practices.
In a June Catholic Sentinel column, he wrote: “There is an urgent need for all Catholics, clergy, religious and laity, in cooperation with Christians, Jews and people of other faiths, to impress upon our elected representatives how important it is that religious liberty be protected in a free society such as our own.”
The effort to speak up for religious freedom in the halls of power has continued.
“When a government assumes the role of determining which activities are appropriate for a church, there is a serious violation of religious freedom,” the archbishop wrote in November, 2012, “an infringement of rights which, unfortunately, many still fail to concede, including some of our own Catholics in various branches of government.”