ALBANY — A man in a wheelchair brought more than 1,000 Catholics to their feet in an ovation March 8 as he condemned proposed legislation that would allow human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research in New York state.
The Catholics, including 100 from the Diocese of Rochester led by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, were at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center for Public Policy Day, an annual lobbying event sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference, the state bishops’ lobbying arm. The Catholics included Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City, 15 bishops and auxiliary bishops from the state’s eight dioceses, and Bishop Basil Losten of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Conn., which includes New York state. The bishops concelebrated an afternoon Mass in the Convention Center.
Steven McDonald, a New York City police officer who was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in 1986 while on duty, served as Public Policy Day’s keynote speaker. He told the Catholics that embryonic stem-cell research is immoral, even though proponents of harvesting embryonic stem cells argue that they can be used to help patients recover from various diseases.
“I would not support such research — even if it was my only option for personal recovery — because it is destroying human life,” he said.
The Catholic Conference has noted that the Assembly has passed legislation to allow human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research in its last two sessions. Similar legislation is now gaining support in the Senate, the conference says, because proponents believe the biotechnology industry can provide jobs in New York state. However, the Catholic Church teaches that embryos are human beings and should not be killed, as they are when their stem cells are harvested.
A conference statement emphasized that the church supports the use of adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood, and noted that research on both has already led to treatments that have reversed the effects of paralysis, genetic diseases, leukemia and diseases affecting the liver, heart and brain. The conference also stressed that research on adult stem cells is a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars, as opposed to embryonic stem cells that have not “demonstrated scientific success or economic promise.”
Bishop Clark called McDonald a “powerful witness” to the church’s pro-life stance against embryonic stem-cell research. He added that the church’s position against the destruction of human embryos and for the use of adult stem cells is objectively sound.
“I think there’s no incompatibility between good science and good morals,” Bishop Clark said.
Bishop Clark also noted that he was in Albany to press for legislation — Senate Bill 1939 — that gives tax credits to parents who pay tuition at nonpublic schools, including Catholic ones. The legislation would also allow teachers in nonpublic schools to get a tax credit for purchasing teaching supplies, and any parent, including public school ones, to get a credit for such educational expenses as tutoring or educational software. Such legislation was promoted by Cardinal Egan during a morning press conference.
“(A tax credit) would strengthen public schools by enabling the state to spend more per capita on the overwhelming majority of students who remain in (public schools),” the cardinal said. “And it would stabilize Catholic and independent schools, which are of great public benefit but are increasingly struggling to survive.”
As did Catholics from other dioceses, Catholics from the Rochester Diocese formed small groups during the day to meet with legislators on such issues as stem-cell research and tuition tax credits.
The conference noted that Catholics also lobbied their legislators to call for abolition of the death penalty; increase funding for mental-health and chemical-dependency services; give judges wider sentencing discretion in drug-offender cases; increased use of addiction-treatment programs; ensure adequate Medicaid reimbursement and enactment of reforms necessary to ensure health-care access and coverage for low- and moderate-income individuals; and promote affordable, quality housing for low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
Affordable housing is the priority parish advocacy issue in the Rochester Diocese this year, according to diocesan officials. Copies of petitions signed by thousands of parishioners throughout the diocese that call on legislators to appropriate funding to create 5,000 additional affordable-housing units in New York state were presented to legislators during Public Policy Day.
To learn more about these issues, visit the Catholic Conference Web site at www.nyscatholic.org.