Posts Tagged ‘Governor Andrew Cuomo’

The Gift of Life

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Here we are, in the month of May, when everyone joyfully celebrates Mothers Day, and we Catholics particularly remember our Blessed Mother Mary. It is Springtime, when God’s creation is bursting forth in all its beauty and fertility. All around us, we are reminded that our lives are a gift, ultimately from God, but also from our human mother and our human father. And we are grateful for this gift.

But anyone who picks up the morning newspaper, or turns on the television, can’t help but be deeply troubled by the condition of our culture, particularly how we treat the gift of life.

The national news has given us the nauseating story of the late-term abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell. He was convicted of multiple counts of murder last week, for killing babies who had been born alive after attempted abortions. For years he carried out his terrible trade under unsanitary and inhumane conditions, while the public health authorities of Pennsylvania stood aside and did nothing, out of an ideologically-motivated reluctance to intrude upon a woman’s “right to choose”. Many people, including other abortionists, knew about the abuses and injuries, yet nobody intervened. The Gosnell trial focused our nation’s attention on something it has been avoiding for decades — the essential cruelty of abortion.

So, you would think we could now finally start speaking openly and with common sense about abortion, seeking ways to limit it, discussing creative alternatives.

Apparently, though, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Instead, we see the President of the United States attending a gala event and toasting Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, the President never mentioned the word “abortion”, but instead praised Planned Parenthood for their work for “women’s health”. But make no mistake — Planned Parenthood may hide behind the term “women’s health”, but their business is really abortion. They do over 300,000 abortions every year, a great number of which are paid for by taxpayers. And they oppose any and all reasonable regulations of abortion, or even discussion about it.

We also have the threat of an expansion of abortion here in New York, under the rubric of “women’s equality”. Many of the governor’s proposals being advanced under that title are worthy of support, and we have not yet seen the actual details of his “Reproductive Health Act.” However, some of the advocates continue to insist that abortion is a central part of “women’s equality.” Their proposals include defining abortion as a “fundamental right”, as if it were equal in significance to the right to vote. They are also pressing to permit non-doctors to do abortions, and allowing risky late-term procedures to be done outside of hospitals. All this would expand the number of late-term abortions, and prevent many common-sense regulations, like ensuring that parents are involved in a decision made by a minor.

How does any of that make any sense? One abortion is too many, but every year we have over 100,000 in New York, and over a million in the United States. Over half of the African-American children conceived each year in New York are aborted, as much as 60% in some areas. So expansion of abortion is hardly something that anyone needs. I’m glad that more and more of our political leaders, including Governor Cuomo, are urging creative ways to decrease the number of abortions by assisting pregnant women, their unborn and newly-born babies.

Nor is there any reasonable way to consider abortion as good for “women’s health” or “equality”. Half of the aborted children are women, some of whom are aborted for no reason other than their sex. Women who have experienced abortion sometimes die from complications, or suffer psychological and physical effects for years afterwards. It is utter madness to treat the gift of a woman’s fertility as if it were a disease, and her unborn baby as if it were a tumor to be eliminated.

We frequently hear calls for a “national conversation” about serious issues, yet our leaders never seem to want to talk frankly about abortion. It has become the great taboo, the subject that we must never mention. When we do raise the subject, we are accused of “imposing our values” on others.

Really, who is imposing values? When our cultural leaders deny or avoid the truth about abortion, isn’t that imposing a view of reality? When the government forces taxpayers to pay for abortion, isn’t that an imposition of anti-life values? What about the unborn babies — how do they feel about having the value of “choice” imposed on them in the most permanent way possible?

Deep in our hearts, there are truths that cannot be erased, that cannot be completely clouded by ideology, or utilitarian calculations, or by our own weaknesses and self-delusions. Our lives are an awesome gift, they are precious and must be safeguarded and nurtured. But not just our own — every human life is just as important, and must be preserved and protected as well. We are all called to be a gift of self, a loving servant, to our brothers and sisters, particularly those in need. And we know, at the core of our being, that abortion contradicts these truths.

Our society is once again challenged to recognize these fundamental truths, to discuss them candidly, to deal with the hard and challenging decisions that they entail, and to support those who struggle with them. The days of denial have to come to an end. We can no longer hide behind euphemism and distraction.

Can we all finally agree that things have gone way too far, and begin to make corrections? Can we start to talk common sense?

 

Jesus, His Church and “the uns”

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Tomorrow, January 23, is the first feast day for the newly canonized Saint Marianne Cope. I wrote this reflection while I was in Molokai last week.

“The uns . . .”

George Higgins — the legendary “labor priest” from Chicago was, if I recall correctly, the first person I ever heard use that expression, yet he attributed it to the future — God willing — saint, Dorothy Day.

I borrowed it in my brief concluding remarks and prayer at last October’s Al Smith Dinner, as I praised God for the Church’s lookout for the uns — the un-documented, un-employed, un-housed, un-fed, un-healthy, un-born, un-wanted, misunderstood, un-justly treated — and prayed that our beloved country might work for a culture where that dreaded prefix — un — might be no longer.

It was, of course, Jesus who embraced the uns, namely, us, the unsaved!

And He had a particularly tender spot in His most Sacred Heart for those suffering folks that society called “the un-clean,” the dreaded lepers!

This posting was written in Molokai, in the Hawaiian Islands.  The thoughtful shepherd there, Bishop Larry Silva, kindly invited me to the local celebration of Saint Marianne Cope, newly canonized, who came here 125 years ago, from New York State, as Mother Marianne, to care for these “un-clean” on Molokai.  (Her feast day is tomorrow, January 23.)

Here she joined the legendary Saint Damien of Molokai at his “colony” on a secluded, segregated corner of the island, in embracing those with Hansen’s Disease.  She did it, Saint Marianne wrote, because Jesus did it, and because Saint Francis, the patron of her religious congregation, did it.

She and her sisters not only ministered to these dreaded misunderstood uns; they identified with them. Saint Damien did so to such an extent that he became a leper, literally.  It was Mother Marianne who nursed him as he died, who made him the sling for his ulcerated, decaying arm that we see in his final photographs.

Jesus and His Church are always on the side of the uns.

About five years ago, I travelled to India to visit our Catholic Relief Services workers.  There we had lunch with a radiant group of sisters, all Indian, and their 200 or so students, all girls from about six to twelve.  The girls lived there and went to school.  But our CRS guide told us the sisters were in deep trouble.  Some of them had already been arrested, even put in jail.  Why?

“Because these little girls are Delats, what the culture here used to call “un-touchables.”  The powerful people here are threatened that, once these girls are educated, they will no longer stay around for positions of servitude.  One of the women from the established families even asked, ‘If these girls are educated, who will bring us our tea?’  Thus, the sisters are considered disruptive and threatening.”

Jesus and His Church are always on the side of the uns.

Three years ago, the bishop of the United States went-to-bat for the uns, the unborn baby and the undocumented immigrant, who were left uncovered in legislation bishops had promoted for nine decades, the Affordable Health Care Act.

Next week every parish in the archdiocese will have its second annual food drive for the unfed of our communities, and over four thousand of our people, mostly young, will March for Life for the unborn this Friday in D.C.

One of the nicest compliments we bishops of New York ever got, in my four years here, anyway, came from Governor Andrew Cuomo when we met with him in Albany in March, 2011.

We had spoken to him of the concerns of the Catholic community of the state.  When we had said our piece, the governor commented.

 “Bishops, most of the time, people come to see me about an agenda to advance their own interests.  For the last twenty minutes, I’ve heard you speak on behalf of people who can really not help you much — the prisoners, the sick, the homeless, the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant.  I might disagree with you on a number of issues, but I’m proud of my Church for speaking-up on behalf of those most people don’t . . .

 “For as long as you did it for the uns, you did it for me . . . “

Subsidiarity and Solidarity

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

A couple of months ago, the bishops of the state of New York enjoyed a working luncheon with our new governor.  It was a productive and enlightening visit.

At the conclusion, Governor Andrew Cuomo made an observation that has stuck with me.  He commented:  “Most people who come to see me lobby on behalf of their own needs, their own group, or their own cause.  You bishops have just spent an hour talking to me about the needs of inner-city school kids, prisoners, immigrants, the uninsured sick, the elderly, moms and their babies, and nursing homes.”  [We had also spoken about the unborn and the defense of marriage.]

The governor thoughtfully concluded, “I am moved by your agenda, because it’s not your own, but for others, especially those in need.”

Okay, flattery will get you everywhere, but we bishops, in spite of some serious differences we may have with our governor, appreciated his observation, and sure hope it is deserved.

We bishops are not politicians, but pastors.  So we preach principles — not our own, but those rooted in the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus, Natural Law, and the tradition of our Church.  We then trust such principles will enlighten those who look to us for guidance.

As Blessed Pope John Paul II remarked, “The Church does not impose; she only proposes.”

And a fundamental proposition is that care for those struggling, the poor, sick, and abandoned, the vulnerable and defenseless, has a priority in our attention to what we call the common good.

This was the theme of a letter I sent — written in my capacity as president of the bishops’ conference last January — to each member of Congress as they got back to work, as well as a letter on the budget sent last month by my brothers, Bishop Stephen Blaire, chair of the bishops’ committee on domestic policy, and Bishop Howard Hubbard, chair of our committee on international policy sent recently to the House and Senate.  This was the theme again in my recent correspondence with Congressman Paul Ryan, which built on those two earlier letters.

When we bishops propose moral principles — most often allied, by the way, with the basic philosophy of our beloved country, as enshrined in our normative documents like the Declaration of Independence — we get both blessed and cursed.

One side usually blesses us when we preach the virtue of fiscal responsibility, the civil rights of the unborn, the danger of government-tampering with the definition of marriage, and the principle of subsidiarity — that is, that the smaller units in our society, such as family, neighborhood, Church, and volunteer organizations, are usually preferable to big government in solving social ills.

Yet this same side then often cringes when we defend workers, speak on behalf of the rights of the undocumented immigrant, and remind government of the moral imperative to protect the poor.

The other side enjoys quoting us when we extol universal health care, question the death penalty, demand that every budget and program be assessed on whether it will help or hurt those in need, encourage international aid, and promote the principle of solidarity, namely, society’s shared duties to one another, especially the poor and struggling . . .

. . . and then these same folks bristle when we defend the rights of parents in education, those of the baby in the womb and grandma on her death bed, insist that America is at her best when people of faith have a respected voice in the public square, defend traditional marriage, and remind government that it has no right to intrude in Church affairs, but does have the obligation to protect the rights of conscience.

So, we bishops get both blessed and blasted, a friend or foe of bloggers, pundits, and politicians, depending on what the issue is.

But, once again, we’re used to it.  We try our best to be pastors, not politicians, teachers, not tacticians, shepherds, not strategists; we do not need to run for re-election (good thing, since most of us would probably lose!); and the only platform we have is God’s Word, as hardwired into the human heart and handed on by His Church, especially as taught by Jesus, who reminded us that, “As long as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”

Education Hearing

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Today, I participated in a budget hearing in Albany. Here are my remarks regarding the 2011-2012 Education Budget:

TESTIMONY OF THE NEW YORK STATE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE REGARDING THE 2011-2012 EDUCATION BUDGET

Albany, New York
February 15, 2011

Good afternoon, Senator DeFrancisco, Senator Flanagan, Assemblyman Farrell, Assemblywoman Nolan and honorable members, my name is Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.   Joining me today is Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools for the archdiocese, and Jim Cultrara, Director for Education at the NYS Catholic Conference, which I am honored to serve as president.

I am grateful for this opportunity to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals related to elementary and secondary education.  It is my hope and prayer that my comments help you shape a state budget that is fair, just and prudent.  I am honored to address distinguished public officials such as yourselves, and deeply appreciate your high interest in education.  I am here on behalf of the approximately 200,000 students in the state of New York in our Catholic schools, (the largest non-governmental school system in our state), young people and their parents of every religion or none at all, of every ethnic and economic background.  I am speaking for them.

While my formal written testimony addresses numerous areas where our schools are in need of assistance, I will limit my oral remarks to just three of them.

First is the area of Mandated Services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) Reimbursement:

The Governor is proposing an 8 percent cut in Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) and CAP reimbursement funding.  This proposed cut is on top of the 6 percent shortfall from last year’s state budget which itself was on top of cuts in reimbursement from the previous two years.  Are you sensing a theme here?  This 8 percent cut, I might add, is greater than the 7.3 percent cut to governmental schools.

Keep in mind that the state is already delinquent on reimbursement to religious and independent schools for mandates carried out by our schools dating as far back as the 2002-03 school year.  We estimate the state’s obligation to our schools to be more than $260 million, and as a result of the state’s delinquency, our schools have been forced to raise tuition to fill the gap.  Tragically, others have had to close because our families cannot bear the burden.

The blame for this growing debt falls squarely on the State Education Department which has yet to officially calculate their obligation to our schools under the 37-year old Mandated Services statute.   Part of the reason for the delay is that, in order to address an error the department made several years ago, they changed the CAP reimbursement formula to cover less than the full costs incurred by schools, and the department continues to use that faulty and unjust formula.

We recognize that the current fiscal situation will make it difficult for the state to satisfy its legal obligation.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that you begin to do so.  Accordingly, we urge you to do the following:

-          First, direct the State Education Department to correct their error and revert to using the originally agreed-upon CAP formula;

-          Second, insist that the State Education Department immediately provide an official accounting of the total amount that would be needed to fully reimburse our schools for the actual costs they have incurred beginning in the 2002-2003 school year to the present; and

-          Third, appropriate sufficient funds this coming fiscal year in order to keep the debt from growing any further and to ensure that the claims from each school can be fully paid.  We estimate the amount needed ranges from $50 to $60 million more than what the Governor recommended.

The second area is the MTA Payroll Tax:

As you know, the MTA payroll tax is costing our parents approximately $7 million dollars every year.  Governor Cuomo’s budget includes $70 million to reimburse public schools for their MTA costs, and not a dime for students in non-governmental schools.  Our schools do not have reserve funds or tax levy authority like their public school counterparts.  Our only options are to raise tuition and/or reduce services to students to cover this tax.  Higher tuition means fewer kids in our schools and greater strain on the public system and your budgets.

We are grateful for the efforts being made thus far to remedy this injustice.  I specifically want to thank Speaker Silver for his commitment and the full Assembly for having passed an MTA chapter amendment last year.  I also want to thank Senator Skelos, Senator Lanza and Senator Golden for leading the effort in the Senate this year.

While there is support from both sides of the aisle in each chamber, it is vital that you not let another year slip by without fixing the problem.  I urge you to include $7.5 million in the 2011-12 state budget to reimburse religious and independent schools for their MTA costs and to permanently include our children to the reimbursement entitlement in statute.

The third and most fundamental area is that of Parental Choice:

It is in the area of parental choice that we see the gravest injustice perpetrated on families, no matter whether it’s a family with children in public school or a family with children in a Catholic or Baptist school, Yeshiva, or some other independent school.

Let me reiterate an argument that I know you’ve heard before.  There are thousands of children trapped in chronically low-performing government schools — schools that have been proven to be ineffective.  The cost to the taxpayer and society in general is exorbitant.  The cost to the family, in the form of shattered hopes and dreams and lost human potential, is far deeper and more painful.

I stand with you in support of our public schools.  All I’m asking is that our support be for all our kids, whether they’re in government or independent schools.  The leadership of the public school teachers’ unions has a vested interest in and a responsibility to support their members – the vast majority of whom are dedicated and hardworking teachers who deserve our support.   However, the unions’ advocacy interests in this case conflict with the interests and needs of thousands of ordinary children and families.  The majority of these families will continue to choose public schools for their children.  But protecting jobs for adults justifies neither the burden on the taxpayer nor the violation of the rights of children who are forced to remain in schools that don’t serve them and that are likely unsafe.  Schools exist to serve children and should not be considered employment programs.

Our government is empowered to remove a child from a neglectful home – and rightfully so.  But why then isn’t a family empowered to remove their child from a government-run school that is neglecting their education or perhaps even their safety?  The only means of escape for these children is if their family has enough money to move them to another school, or if they win a seat in a charter school.  And what about the families whose children are enrolled in an independent school?  These families are shouldering the dual burden of taxes to support public schools and tuition to support their own children’s education.   Why can’t they get some of their own tax money back to help support their own children?

Perhaps some fear that supporting a broader parental choice program will harm public schools.  I’m here to tell you that you need not be afraid.

Just look at the experience in Milwaukee where we have the oldest and broadest parental choice programs in the country.  Opponents of parental choice argued that choice would decimate the public schools.  In fact, just the opposite happened.  Not only did public school expenditures rise, but so did public school enrollment and academic achievement.

But how can that be if more children were being enrolled in religious and independent schools?  Don’t take it from me, just ask former Milwaukee public officials, including Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee school superintendent, who argue that parental choice helped to revitalize the city and, as a result, people began moving their families back into the city.  Having served as the Archbishop of Milwaukee, I can attest to the fact that broad-based parental choice programs benefit all children in all schools.

Some will argue that we cannot afford parental choice programs.  Again, the opposite is true – we cannot afford not to enact parental choice.  If you continue to support only public schools, including charter schools, instead of all our children, then you will only exacerbate the fiscal crisis you are desperately and laudably trying to resolve, since the data clearly shows that we educate our children better for half the cost.  Simply put, helping our independent schools also helps our public schools and our budget!

The Governor proposes $250 million in new spending to reward academic improvement in public schools.  If you want academic success, you need to look no further than the New York’s religious and independent schools.  But do the 200,000 students in our schools get rewarded?  Quite the contrary.

The Governor also proposes another $250 million to reward administrative efficiencies in public schools.  Not only are New York’s religious and independent schools the most efficient, but our families – the families who sacrifice to pay public school taxes and private school tuition – are saving New York taxpayers at least $8 BILLION each and every year!  Where is their reward?  They don’t even get a thank you.  All they get are higher taxes and higher tuition.

I’m not surprised that our parents and kids are angry.  They know you support public schools – and that’s fine – so do they.  They know you support the growth of charter schools – and that’s fine too.  But they want to know why you are not supporting them as well.

As the public sector expands, the religious and independent sector is shrinking – and it is taxpaying families who pay the price.  Please reverse this trend.  We urge you to enact a scholarship or education tax credit program that will provide meaningful assistance to enable parents to choose the school best suited for their children.

All I’m asking is that, in justice, when you laudably move to promote education, it be for all our kids, not just those in government schools.

While this concludes my oral remarks, I offer additional areas in my written testimony.

My prayers and best wishes are with you.  I thank you for your time and consideration.  We are more than happy to answer any question you may have.