As Kathleen Domingo takes a seat in a conference room filled with lawmakers, she realizes she is definitely NOT preaching to the choir. But the message of the Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 12 dioceses and archdioceses, remains the same.
“My job is to take what we believe and know to be true to our Catholic social doctrine and apply that to very practical issues that we are facing, particularly in our state,” Domingo said. “It’s a way of evangelizing to sort of a different crowd and in a different way. But I know that’s the main goal, to take the tenets of our faith and see how we can interject them in a new and effective way into the public policy conversations.”
And what a time to have those conversations.
These days, the Conference is engaged in a full spectrum of legislative issues that quite literally run from conception to end-of-life.
Domingo is the first woman director of the Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in California, its bishops and retired bishops. She spent more than eight years with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Office of Life, Justice and Peace, rising from Associate to Senior Director. Domingo is probably best known for her work with OneLifeLA, where she helped create and build the third largest pro-life event in the country.
Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego who serves as president of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, said, “From immigration to legislative advocacy to advising other arch/diocesan leaders around the United States, Mrs. Domingo has provided outstanding leadership and creativity in her role in the archdiocese.”
Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann was able to see Domingo’s work up close from across the Orange County line.
“Bishop McElroy and I really believed leadership for this moment in time,” Bishop Vann said.
McElroy added, “In her work and advocacy Kathleen has shown remarkable creativity and skill in developing and managing ministries for the vulnerable and the voiceless in our society, and we are delighted that her talents and faith will now be brought to the state level.”
Unlike many colleagues in other states, Domingo doesn’t come from a legislative background. She has a masters in theology from the John Paul II Institute, and it works.
“When I go and talk with legislators, I do so from that perspective,” she said. “When I walk into a room to meet with a legislator, I’m able to really share a personal experience and let them know this is what it means to be Catholic at the local level. When we help people in all walks of life get what they need to thrive and to live in keeping with their human dignity, that really changes the conversation.”
Talk to Domingo about priority issues, she invariably gets to the entire Catholic playbook: poverty, school choice, immigration, housing, foster care, healthcare, mental health, social and environmental justice and so forth.
However, two particular issues at opposite ends of earthly existence, where faith and legislation meet, loom in Washington D.C. and closer to home.
Most notably, the Supreme Court is in session and could make a decision that fundamentally changes the pro-life/abortion debate in the United States for decades.
In considering a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law, the Court could seriously alter or even overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional liberty to end a pregnancy.
For pro-life Catholics, such as Domingo, the Dec. 1 hearing is a defining moment.
“The importance of this case should not be underestimated,” she said. “It is the time for us to be as pro-life as we can be, in the truest meaning of that term. It is time for us to declare through our words and actions that women do not need abortion to be successful and fulfilled, that every child can be welcomed lovingly and that communities will support each other even through difficult times. This is how we overturn Roe v Wade as a nation.”
Closer to home, and at the other end of life, is a law the California legislature passed in September that speeds up and simplifies the process for those close to death to obtain lethal doses of drugs. Physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 2015 when it was passed “inappropriately,” according to the Conference during a Special Legislative Session on Medi-Cal. Domingo said the legislature’s actions are “a really strong concern for us, because that’s where we get to euthanasia which is really an additional step and a very concerning step.”
But Domingo sees a brighter day when the issue will return in a sunset clause in the law.
“I would love to get to that point where practically speaking, no one in California, even wants assisted suicide, including the terminal” she said, “that they feel so loved and supported and cared for that they don’t want that.