Texas Catholic leaders on new pope, school choice


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:17 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 9 at 8:25 PM

AUSTIN -- Offering a blessing over lawmakers at the Texas Capitol, the state's highest-ranking Catholic official returned to Texas with praise for newly-elected Pope Francis. 
"I think he's been spectacular, a man of incredible humility," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston told KVUE Tuesday.
A participant in last month's papal conclave at the Vatican, DiNardo called the mood behind closed doors "serene." Once electors chose fellow Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina to replace retired Pope Benedict XVI, DiNardo says Bergoglio was reflective. 
"Once he had accepted he just said thank you, but he was obviously overwhelmed by this," said DiNardo.
Taking his name from the Catholic saint known for his compassion toward the poor, Pope Francis shocked with his modesty and humble actions such as washing the feet of convicts during Holy Week.
DiNardo told KVUE signs were evident from the beginning that this would be a different kind of pope.
"When he came out after he changed into his papal white cassock, that's when he told us about his love for the poor that he had, that's why he was choosing the name Francis," DiNardo said. "He didn't sit in a chair. He came down and greeted each one of us, already indicating from the very beginning that he wanted to be a man in authority who was also collaborative, humble."
"The next day when we had our first celebration of mass with him as pope, we were getting vested and the pope usually vests in another room," said DiNardo. "He came right down and vested with everybody else. It was quite a scene as the cardinals were looking around. Good grief, the pope's just one of us! It was very beautiful." 
Tuesday's trip to the Texas Capitol was also about politics. 
Speaking to more than a thousand Catholics on the Capitol steps, the top church leaders in the state outlined this session's priorities. Along with anti-abortion measures, Catholic bishops voiced support for legislation backed by some top Republicans including Senate Finance Chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston) creating business tax scholarships for private schools. 
"Our schools have been typically ones that do very well," said Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin. "Over 91 percent of those who go to Catholic schools end up graduating. That's a higher percentage than the state itself can produce. What we're saying is give us that option."    
"We're not taking any tax credit dollars from the state that goes into public education," said Vasquez. "This would be basically businesses who would give these tax credits, this money supporting Catholic education."
Vasquez says church leaders are also concerned over laws that would loosen restrictions on predatory payday lending they say targets the poor, as well as the deadlock between state leadership and the White House over expanding health coverage for more than a million low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act. 
"Let's compromise. We're praying and hoping that the governor here, the federal administration, the president would be able to work out a deal that would benefit the people of Texas," said Vasquez. "We need to support and take care of our poor, and Medicaid expansion provides that opportunity." 
Catholic leaders urged parishioners to make their political voices heard on issues from abortion and contraception to the right of churches to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. If state lawmakers could learn anything from the new pope's example, DiNardo offered a suggestion.
"Concern for the poor is a priority," he said.