Archdiocese learning from TeleForum feedback

When Archbishop Samuel Aquila held his first live town hall-like phone call with thousands of Catholics before Christmas, hundreds of participants left voicemail messages for him.

Now a team from the Archdiocese of Denver is working with the archbishop to help him sort through the 268 messages, and to respond to those that left specific questions or requested information or guidance on a number of topics.

“We were all impressed, the archbishop included, by the incredible response to our inaugural TeleForum,” said Karna Swanson, executive director of communications for the Archdiocese of Denver. “It has been a learning experience for us to go through the voicemails and find out what questions and concerns people have, and we are coming up with new ideas and ways to address those issues.”

“But first,” she added, “we have a lot of calls to return.”

Voicemail messages were left for the archbishop during the inaugural phone call using technology called TeleForum, a product developed by the Highlands Ranch-based company Broadnet. The company donated the technology to the archdiocese as a way to open communication lines between the everyday Catholic and the archbishop.

During the hour-long event Dec. 21, voicemails left by participants were as varied as the live questions the archbishop answered.

The majority of participants—more than 100 voicemails—wished the archbishop merry Christmas and blessings on him and his ministry. More than 50 specifically thanked him for the TeleForum and asked to be included on the next phone call.

“Again, it was wonderful hearing your voice,” said one participant identified as Barbara. “I’ve never spoken to a bishop. Thank you.”

Another participant named Bill said, “I really appreciate the time you have taken at a very busy time of the year to listen to (these) various questions … and I hope to continue to be a part of this.”

About 16 participants specifically asked about ways to participate in the new evangelization and guidance on how to draw fallen-away Catholics in the family back to the Church. Some expressed concern about catechizing younger generations.

Richard said in his voicemail, “I’m calling to ask about the archbishop’s and the archdiocese’s strategic aspirations when it comes to educating our high school students … I’m interested (to) know more about the archdiocese’s objectives, goals and strategy for making sure we’re meeting the needs of these students who face so many challenges.”

Several other participants asked for information about annulments and Church teaching and support for divorced Catholics. Also on several faithful’s minds was how to support Catholic education.

Rather than asking questions, many also expressed the joy of their faith with the archbishop or about the struggles in their family life.

Others left queries about heaven, the sacraments, Cuba and how the archbishop spends his free time.

One woman, Frances, told the archbishop, “Thank you, dear bishop, for this unexpected and truly blessed Christmas gift. I was feeling so very alone tonight and this is a bleak time that was enlightened by your teaching and reaching out. I feel very much encouraged. Thank you and God bless.”

Swanson said the archdiocese hopes to hold more TeleForums with the archbishop this year. Listen to a recording of the phone call online at https://vekeo.com/channels/archdiocese-of-denver/.

 

By the Numbers
Christmas TeleForum Voicemails
More than 113 participants wished blessings on the archbishop
Some 50 requested to be a part of the next call
16 asked about evangelizing youth and fallen-away Catholics
9 left comments about local priests and parish life
7 asked for support and questions on Catholic education
5 asked about annulments and divorce

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”