EDITOR’S NOTE: The last names of some people interviewed for this story were withheld in order to protect their privacy.
ALBANY — Alondo L. admitted he felt a bit nervous before speaking to a state legislator March 13 during the New York State Catholic Conference’s Public Policy Day.
A resident of Freedom House, a six-month residential addiction-treatment program operated by Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, Alondo and five other representatives from the Diocese of Rochester met with state Assemblyman Bill Reilich, R-Greece, at Reilich’s Albany office.
Despite his nerves, Alondo said he began to feel comfortable as he spoke to Reilich about the need to increase state funding for treatment programs similar to Freedom House, which Alondo said is helping him control his anger and work on other issues. He said he hopes to participate in next year’s Public Policy Day and serve as a positive role model of a program graduate.
Alondo was joined during Public Policy Day by more than a dozen men from Freedom House and about 60 people total from the Diocese of Rochester in delivering three-inch-thick copies of some of the petitions signed by more than 13,000 parishioners in the diocese. The petitions call for support of quality child care, early education, and services in the earliest years of children’s lives, including early intervention and home visiting.
Local Catholics also lobbied their legislators about:
* Enacting Gov. Spitzer’s tax proposal allowing parents to deduct as much as $1,000 for children’s tuition: The state Catholic conference says the proposal would net a maximum tax savings of $68 per child for Catholic school-tuition expenses.
Parents of private-school students are financially overburdened, while financial challenges have destabilized and closed many Catholic schools, said Mike May, a member of the Diocese of Rochester’s Monroe County Catholic Schools Board.
Recent ads placed in the Albany-based Legislative Gazette by the New York State United Teachers charge that “A private school tuition tax credit would be a back-door subsidy of schools that aren’t open to all children.” Yet May counters that parents of 500,000 children in independent and religious schools save state taxpayers more than $7.5 billion in public-school services annually. Even a modest break for parents paying both public-school taxes and private-school tuition would help, he said.
“If you do anything to help parents pay that, I think everyone’s a winner,” May said.
* Opposing taxpayer funding for human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research: Catholic social teaching holds that both destroy human life.
Reilich said Spitzer’s proposed $1.5 billion state bond issue to fund stem-cell research may undergo some rewriting, possibly reducing its size and removing funding for embryonic stem-cell study. However, he said the revised bond issue may now be earmarked for “emerging technologies,” which he said might not exclude embryonic stem-cell research in the future.
Catholics were cautioned to pay attention to such semantics, said Marvin Mich, Catholic Family Center’s director of social policy and research and a member of the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee. For example, he said that some proposals legislators have introduced claim to prohibit human cloning but allow a procedure labeled somatic cell nuclear transfer, which he said is a form of cloning.
* Expanding support services helping families to move from welfare to work: This initiative includes child day care, housing, education and training, transportation and health-care coverage. Dan Lill, a parishioner of Greece’s Holy Name of Jesus Church who volunteers with several area ministries, spoke about seeing many families in Rochester’s Lyell Avenue area who need such help.
“We need more help with day care and adequate housing,” he said.
* Expanding funding for education, vocation and treatment programs in the criminal-justice system: Freedom House residents advocated for expanded state support of alternatives to incarceration, treatment programs for those in prison and additional services to help former inmates successfully re-enter society. Several Freedom House residents said their program has a greater success rate than a comparable state-funded program. Several said they enjoyed the chance to speak on their own behalf.
“It was a beautiful opportunity for us,” said Paul G., a Freedom House resident. “We got to learn that if you don’t advocate for yourself, you won’t get anything done.”
* Making human trafficking a state crime; it is already a federal crime: Jos√© G., another Freedom House resident, told lawmakers he witnessed the results of human trafficking after meeting foreign women in New York City who had been forced into prostitution. Sister Janet Korn, social-justice awareness coordinator for the Rochester Diocese’s Catholic Charities and a member of the diocesan Public Policy Committee, said several foreign-born women helped by Catholic Family Center had similar stories of being forced into prostitution. Sister Korn said one-third of all those trafficked are children, who often are sexually exploited.
* Expanding access to health care to cover all uninsured children and making it easier to re-enroll in publicly sponsored health-insurance programs: Jackie Schwehm, an intern at Catholic Family Center, said navigating the process to re-enroll in such programs is confusing and difficult. Schwehm said she hoped lawmakers would make public health-insurance programs more available to those who don’t have insurance.
* Supporting the right of religious-affiliated organizations to provide services in accordance with their institutional consciences: Representatives asked lawmakers to ensure that religious organizations are not required to provide or pay for abortions or other procedures that are contrary to their missions.
When participants weren’t meeting with legislators, they were able to attend a Mass concelebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and the state’s bishops, including Bishop Matthew H. Clark. During the Mass, Cardinal Egan honored state Sen. John J. Marchi with the 2007 John Cardinal O’Connor Award for Extraordinary Service. Marchi, a Republican Catholic from Staten Island, retired in 2006 at 85 after a record 50 years in the state Senate.
Young people also were able to attend a youth workshop hosted by Sister Eileen McCann, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ consultant for youth and young-adult ministry, who spoke about how to live out the Scriptures through social justice. Though no Rochester Diocese youths attended the workshop, several went to the conference.
“We thought it was very important for us to bring youth to get them interested in Catholic social teaching,” said Deacon James Nail of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Ontario, whose advocacy group included high-school seniors Abram Moll and Sean Clancy.