HOUSTON – Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks on a wide range of issues in an exclusive KPRC2 interview.
DiNardo sat down with KPRC2's Bill Balleza to discuss his relationship with President Donald Trump's administration, immigration, abortion and refugees.
ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
Balleza: What does it mean to you to be named President?
Cardinal: I was Vice President, elected vice president, a little over three years ago, and the natural progression is that if you've been vice president when the elections come up in the third year, you tend to be elected president. So, though I am honored that the bishops elected me, it was not, as they say, totally unforeseen that I was going to be elected president. My work as president, it may actually sound a little more formidable than it is. It's a job, though, and a job part of helping to deal with a bureaucracy of the bishops conference. I call in every morning at 7:40 to 7:45 am. We have a general secretary who helps me to see what issues need to be worked on. The bishops conference in the United States works by committee, though. The chairs of the committees are really crucial. The president is there to hear them out and to get ready for the two big meetings we have every year. One in November and one in June. In fact, we will be meeting in March to do all of the agenda for the June meeting...Because I'm president, for instance, I get letters and correspondents from presidents from other bishops conferences throughout the world, asking for something, or wanting to meet, things of that nature...So, I have to say it's busy, it's a job I am honored (to do). I do run the meetings during the three years that I am the chair of the Bishops conference. So, it's a responsibility... I always like to say to people here: "Remember what Rome says is true: Your first job is being bishop of Galveston-Houston." So, don't forget that, and so I keep that in mind all the time.
MEETING WITH THE POPE
Balleza: I understand you had a meeting with the Holy Father shortly after becoming president.
Cardinal: My meeting right after I became president, I have to say was pretty quick... And it was good. We are planning for a meeting for October, and that will be probably more substantial.
MEETING WITH CONGRESS
Balleza: One of the things you do as president is to liaise with the government.
Cardinal:The bishop of the conference will, on occasion, meet with the president of the United States, and we're hoping that... It's a new administration, it takes some time to do something along those lines. I've also met, for instance, with the Speaker of the House and the head of the Senate... Though we deal with the administration, obviously, you know Congress is pretty important... And I've been able to do some of that. That's part of the role the president and vice president have in meeting together with the various heads in the government. We have some interest, they obviously have interest. In any given administration or congress, there's things we can agree on and work on. There's obviously some issues we maybe disagree on, and that just requires patience and perseverance.
MEETING WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP
Balleza: If and when you do meet with President Trump, what will you talk to him about with regards to immigration and refugees?
Cardinal: I think people would imagine every government has a right to protect its borders and its citizens. We don't dispute that. Our problem is some of the recent government intervention. Let's say, the executive orders of the president we think may ultimately hurt our security. It is setting a lot of the immigration people and some of our immigrants, documents and undocumented into intense anxiety. Let me give you simply an incidental thing. I do meetings with our schools offices and schools, and a number of our teachers have expressed to me that some of the children, even in our schools, worry, "Is mommy and daddy going to be home tonight?" It's that kind of thing are they overly pre-occupied (with) because they read too much into the news, that's probably true, but that's not conducive to families. We want to see families stay united. It's one of our concerns. It would be one of the things I'd bring up. I'm also interested in DACA. As you know, those were young people who did come forward when they were asked under the Obama Administration, there was a rule put together that they could have a little bit more freedom, e. Even though they are not technically documented. Now, there is some concern by them. Are they going to go after us now that they know all about us?
Balleza: Are these things you're actively talking with Members of Congress about?
Cardinal: We are talking about it now. On the point of view of the refugees, a number of the refugees, I think it's clear they're coming in, it's very clear thing what's happening with the courts what the president did in January, for our point of view, a lot of the people have been waiting, lots of time, for years. And now they're in limbo in many ways. Our refugee resettlement, there are lots of groups that do it throughout the United States. But to give you an example of our Catholic Church, our Catholic Charities has been settling refugees for 50 years... We make sure when someone comes in, we have a case worker. You don't just bring them in and just leave them. We work hard... We think these people are desperately waiting to come in. Three months may not sound like much, but it could be really bad for some of those coming in. Whatever religious faith they are, Islam, religious minority group, may I add in light of that though, we have some also pre-occupation with the Christian groups. Whether Catholic Orthodox, Protestant in the Middle East. I mean, they've literally been decimated. And we have some concerns about this and bringing them in, and so those would be issues I would bring up with everybody. Everybody when we meet.
Balleza: Abortion has been, has always been a major issue.
Cardinal: First, we're grateful there are signs from the new administration they are much more positive toward Pro-Life things than would've been true before... We are trying to work quietly on some issues, particularly relative to health care and religious liberty for our Catholic hospitals. We will always work on that. Some people have said you've got so many big issues. But we'll never leave aside the human person and the issue of abortion and euthanasia. That's still big for us.
Balleza: Do you have any hip pocket issues you'd love to talk to the president about when you meet with him?
Cardinal: An issue that both right and left in recent years have begun to see that maybe we need to do something, some renew and refinement, is prison rReform. We have a huge number of prisons within the territory of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston -- I regularly go and visit the prisons. I think we need to do something in prisons, the people should be there, I'm not questioning that. What I'm saying is we can help people do better so when they come out, we do not have this constant circle of people returning to prison. We need to do something to help the prisoners get rehabilitated. I'd like to see some work done on that.
HOUSTON'S GROWTH AND DIVERSITY
Balleza: I turned around and I look at this city and I go, "Gosh, this has turned into a huge city!"
Cardinal: It's huge here. Bill and this is the United Nations... We say mass in 14 to 16 different languages every week, just for us. And the public school system has 58 or 60 languages. We are the United Nations. We are growing. We are getting bigger. I say, I could open up two new parishes tomorrow morning if I had more priests. I've dedicated 26 new church buildings in the last 10 years. So we're in growth. It's beautiful, I love Houston. Houston is a city you can come to, and after a year and a half, you're a native! So many new people here.
Cardinal: Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and it's time to tell my Catholic community... It's a beautiful time of the year for us, and a blessed time. To all the people in Houston who have been invariably kind to me since I've been here. The day I was named a Cardinal, that very day, I got a phone call from a Baptist woman in town. I took the call. And she said, "You know what this means, but is this good for Houston?" I say, "I think it's okay." "If it's good enough for Houston, it's good enough for me!"