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New York Catholics Lobby State Lawmakers on Public Policy Day
Angela Cave
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, March 13, 2010
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ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS)—Conor Genovesi and Ben Valentine, Catholic high school teenagers from New York, wanted to be sure their state legislators heard their concerns about the future of Catholic schools.

"Youths need to be more involved in the community," Ben said. "If there are good schools, they'll be more involved."

The two teenagers from St. Paul the Apostle parish in Schenectady attended the annual public policy day at the state capitol in Albany March 9. They joined more than 1,000 others who participated in workshops and lobbied state lawmakers at the event sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops.

This year's event was the first time New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan attended. He was installed last April.

A group of administrators from St. Mary/St. Alphonsus School in Glens Falls and Christ the King School in Albany asked lawmakers for full reimbursement for the costs Catholic schools incur in complying with state mandates, which they said amounts to about $243 million.

"It's an issue of justice," explained Kate Fowler, principal at the Glens Falls school.

"It's really driving costs up," agreed Rose Meehan, a junior from Catholic Central High School in Troy.

Administrators from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady were pushing for state funding vouchers to promote school choice.

The policy day participants also were concerned about other social justice issues:Opposition to the Reproductive Health Act, which would legalize all abortions in the state.
  • Support for poor families, including affordable housing, job training and sufficient transportation.
  • Care for elderly and disabled.
  • Support for programs that successfully help former inmates re-enter society.
  • Restoration of funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.
Danielle Audette, a junior at Catholic Central High School, told The Evangelist, diocesan newspaper of Albany, that she was concerned about the proposed abortion bill, which could legalize even partial-birth abortions. She wanted to see pro-life organizations receive funding because "even pro-choice people should support a mother wanting to keep her baby."

Supporters of the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation said cuts there would undermine the pro-life cause, too. The state used to give $1.2 million in grants to 31 pro-life organizations that provide care to 5,600 teenage, poor or single mothers.

One such organization is Community Maternity Services, an Albany Catholic Charities agency that serves young, unmarried and pregnant mothers in high-need areas with alternatives to abortion. The annual bishop's appeal campaign brings in about $50,000, but only provides partial funding for the six-person staff.

There is no local funding, and counties will not pick up the costs, said Gen Overholt, program director. The organization will lose $133,000 if funding is cut.

"Who's going to help these kids if we're not here?" she asked. She said clients look for help if their baby is sick, they were expelled from school or they need help preparing for a job interview.

A reduction in funding won't change that, she said: "The kids won't know that. They'll still come banging down the door saying, 'Why aren't you here to help me?'"

Community Maternity Services representatives said they help the state financially because clients are kept healthy, off of public assistance and out of foster care.

Some Catholics came more for the experience than the chance to lobby. "Some parishioners from St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar said they looked at it as "a learning experience."

Pam Seward, Judi Doody and Maureen Cahill, all of whom were from St. Thomas, looked forward to a special Mass at the lobby day with Archbishop Dolan as well as workshops on Catholic social teaching.

The three women said they wanted to take knowledge back to fellow parishioners and encourage them to join the parish's public policy committee. They brought letters to their lawmakers from parishioners about reducing poverty.

Carmelite Sister Jean Davis of Germantown also came for the liturgy, as well as a speech from the president of Catholic Charities USA on its campaign to reduce poverty.

"It's important for us to come together and share our thoughts on where Catholic ministry is heading," she said.

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