The state’s four Catholic bishops are at the statehouse today, urging legislators to provide health care for more Iowa children — especially the children of immigrants who were caught up in the raid at the Postville meatpacking plant last May.  Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus says things got “terribly messed up” in Postville and he worries our society has grown “callous to the suffering of vulnerable people.”

“…The state could do much more in all sorts of areas. Number one — enforcing our labor laws,” Hanus says. “Number two — enforcing our child labor laws, in particular.”

Davenport Bishop Martin Amos says he’s both “pro-life” and “pro-kids” — and those “undocumented” children in Postville need the state’s help. “I realize money’s tight, but I wonder if — in the long term — we aren’t saving money and we’re talking about children. It’s not their fault. We’re talking about disease,” Amos says, “so I really hope that they’re able to do more for children and in health care issues.”

Hanus, the top Catholic official in Iowa, hopes the situation in Postville and the recent discovery of a “bunkhouse” in Atalissa for mentally handicapped men who worked at West Liberty Foods spark a debate about the future of the meatpacking industry.

Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates says those who are more likely to “fall through the cracks” need to special attention from state policymakers.  “We are very conscious, I think, in times such as this that the common instinct is to pull together, to work for one another — especially for the poor, the recently arrived in our country, the children, all those who would otherwise be neglected and perhaps overlooked,” Pates says.

One bill pending in the Iowa House which would directly impact the bishops and the priests they oversee would require all Iowa clergy be “mandatory reporters” when they suspect children are being abused. Amos — from the Davenport Diocese — says he and the other bishops support the bill. “Our diocesan policy is probably stronger than the (proposed) law,” Amos says. “We just automatically turn those over to the policy. That’s just what you do, so I have no problem with that one.”

Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless says he and the other bishops are following the example of Jesus Christ, who some say was one of history’s best political activists. “You know, the church shouldn’t stay out of politics and we really have to be aware of the things that we can do to help people understand certain issues and do our best to do that, ” Nickless says, “so that’s why I’m here.”

According to The Iowa Catholic Conference, there are nearly half a million Catholics in Iowa. The four bishops will lead a mass at noon in a downtown Des Moines church. Iowa has four Catholic dioceses in Iowa, based in Dubuque, Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City.