On Tuesday, March 8, approximately 200 people from the seven counties of our diocese traveled to Albany in order to participate in the annual Catholics at the Capitol public policy day. Seasoned attendees were joined by younger colleagues, from our diocesan high schools, to discuss among themselves and then with legislators areas of concern in the upcoming legislative session.
Before the various workshops and visits began, however, we joined nearly 1,000 Catholics from throughout the state to do what we do best. We gathered in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located near many of the state government buildings, to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Fifteen bishops, several dozen priests and deacons, religious women and men in consecrated life and dedicated lay men and women, advocates of the Catholic position, joined in prayer asking God to bless our efforts and open the minds and hearts of those in state government to our concerns.
The Gospel for the Mass was Matthew 25:31-40 which speaks about the Last Judgment when the Lord will judge us on our actions towards others, especially the poor and vulnerable among us. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan powerfully reminded us that our advocacy on behalf of our brothers and sisters is firmly rooted in the Gospel. Catholics at the Capitol helped to give voice to the voiceless. What a privilege that was and is.
Among the issues discussed were the following:
• The need to maintain society’s traditional understanding of marriage. Marriage is not merely a private arrangement between two individuals, but is of vital concern to all members of our society. Throughout recorded history, marriage between a man and a woman has been humanity’s way of assuring the procreation, education and stable rearing of children. The state need not overturn the very nature of marriage as it has always been understood to address the unjust discrimination that homosexual persons sometimes face.
• Conscience protection must be honored. Religious liberty protections are urgently needed as religious organizations and individuals are increasingly being coerced into accepting standards and participating in activities which violate their deeply-held religious and moral beliefs. Recent legislative actions and judicial decisions highlight the urgency of establishing broad conscience protections for religious institutions in New York State. A state mandate for contraceptive insurance coverage and a requirement for adoption agencies to place children in same-sex coupled homes are a few of the recent legal changes in our state. The refusal of religious organizations to agree to some situations could cost them their state licenses to perform important activities, such as education, health care and social service. This has already happened in the U.S., Canada and Britain and would end up costing the state additional money to render critical services to poor, needy and vulnerable populations.
• The need to protect human life at all stages. The latest statistics show the national abortion rate at about 20%, with New York State’s at 37% and New York City’s at 41%. There are absolutely no restrictions on accessing abortion in New York State, which is why it is the abortion capital of the country. The Reproductive Health Act would ensure that abortions are legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy if they are deemed necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. New York lawmakers should be moving our state in the opposite direction: regulating the industry of abortion, restricting abortion, and funding real alternatives for women faced with unplanned pregnancies.
• The need to maintain the healthcare infrastructure and health care coverage for low and moderate income individuals. A redesign of the Medicaid system must not punish providers who treat a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients and are already operating on razor thin margins. The Medicaid crisis cannot be solved on the backs of recipients, but neither can it be laid at the feet of providers.
• Accessibility to Catholic schools and equity for all school children. Catholic schools are facing an economic crisis. A significant number of our schools have been forced to close and the solvency of others is increasingly threatened as fewer families are able to afford the dual burden of taxes and tuition. The state has not fulfilled its previous agreements. It is delinquent on more than $260 million in reimbursement to religious and independent schools for mandates already carried out by schools dating back as far as the 2002-03 school year. The state’s obligation to our schools is equal to approximately $530 per pupil. Catholic and other religious and independent schools educate nearly 500,000 children, save New York taxpayers $8.5 billion each year and are an integral part of New York’s economy. Parents of children in religious and independent schools deserve a fair share of their tax dollars.
• The state’s juvenile justice system serves neither the offender nor the society well and must be reformed. Greater effort must be made to rehabilitate youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system, place crime within a community context, offer alternatives to incarceration of juveniles, and hold public safety paramount.
The Bishops had the opportunity to discuss the issues outlined above at a pleasant luncheon with Governor Cuomo. Discussion with the Governor also included the ways in which the church and state can cooperate to better serve the people of the Empire State.
Catholics at the Capitol demonstrated the strength and unity of the Catholic voice to our state lawmakers. Hopefully, our efforts will not be reserved to one day in the year. In the days and years before us, let us continue to recognize Christ in our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable, and work on their behalf.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.