New York bishops’ Catholic Action Network aids citizen advocacy
Since 2003, the Catholic Action Network has educated the faithful of New York state about issues of concern to the church and provided tools for people to voice those concerns directly to elected officials.
CAN is an arm of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in matters of public policy. People can sign up with CAN to receive educational updates and action alerts via emails or texts that link to an Action Center offering more information, a bill tracker, a way to look up one’s state and federal elected officials, and an option to send prewritten messages to those representatives.
“It is one tool in our advocacy toolbox. The CAN makes contacting our elected officials easy and efficient,” Kathleen Gallagher, CAN’s director, told the Catholic Courier.
Gallagher said the tools CAN provides make it easy for Catholics to register their opposition to such proposed state legislation as the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (A4321) and of recreational marijuana (A1248/S854), or their support for programs and funding for Catholic schools and limits on the use of solitary confinement in jails.
“Just a few clicks of the mouse or pressing of the keys and we can communicate with our lawmakers on a wide variety of issues,” she said.
Gallagher added that the state Legislature is the focus of significant activity right now. For example, in January, the Medical Aid in Dying Act was reintroduced for the third time after failing to pass in 2019 and 2020.
If passed, this bill would allow individuals with terminal illnesses to obtain from their doctors prescriptions for medications to end their lives.
The Medical Aid in Dying Act was cosponsored by 40 Assembly members along with 13 senators. The bill was referred to the Assembly Health Committee and has yet to be reintroduced into the Senate.
“This is a suicide bill,” Gallagher stated. “It would allow a person to take a lethal dose of drugs for the purpose of the voluntary termination of their life.”
According to information on its website, the state Catholic conference opposes the bill because “these policies are dangerous for patients, caregivers, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly and persons who are disabled. Suicide is not medical care.”
Gallagher said the bill’s proponents are seeking a cultural change that devalues human life, which is why CAN will continue to oppose the bill and refer to it as doctor-assisted suicide.
In addition to sending out action alerts on this issue, CAN is working in collaboration with other organizations in an alliance called the NY Alliance Against Assisted Suicide. The alliance comprises such members as patient advocates, disability-rights activists, health-care personnel and other faith-based advocacy organizations.
“Alliance partners are meeting with lawmakers all the time on this issue, educating them on the dangers of assisted suicide,” Gallagher noted.
Pro-life advocates in the Diocese of Rochester also have been meeting with elected officials and speaking out against the bill.
“I have been meeting with local legislators as a part of the Diocesan Public Policy Committee, and I have been speaking about the Medical Aid in Dying bill currently in committee in the Assembly,” said Shannon Kilbridge, diocesan life-issues coordinator.
Kilbridge said that during the 2020 Public Policy Weekend conducted at local parishes, almost 9,000 signatures were gathered on a petition against physician-assisted suicide and sent to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Most recently, an advocacy and education button has been added to LifeRoc.org, the website for the diocesan Office of Life Issues. The button leads to updated posts from the state Catholic conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Additionally, Kilbridge said parishes are including CAN information in their bulletins so that parishioners can write, call or email their legislators about important bills.
According to Gallagher, the most important thing Catholics can do is educate themselves about the issue of physician-assisted suicide specifically and even more broadly on what the church teaches about end-of-life issues.
“Participating in the shaping of good laws and policies is really a moral obligation for Catholics; it is part of faithful citizenship,” she added. “Citizen advocacy makes a big difference. It is not only our right as citizens, but also our moral responsibility as Catholics to be involved in legislative advocacy.”