Care for the environment, faithful citizenship and protection of the unborn have been designated by the diocesan Public Policy Committee as the diocese’s three awareness-raising priorities for 2007-08.
The committee’s advocacy component will address environmental concerns related to global climate change. Parishes are encouraged to promote greater awareness of the issue during the fall, and a related petition will be circulated among parishes on diocesan Public Policy Weekend, Feb. 2-3, 2008. Signed petitions will then be taken to Albany by delegates to the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Forum on March 11, 2008.
Each year the committee prioritizes one advocacy issue and two educational components. Global climate change was an educational component last year, and Father Brian Cool, committee chair, said he’s already seeing signs that diocesan Catholics are taking this issue to heart, thanks to the committee’s work as well as former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“We’re making great strides, not only because of the Al Gore movie but also because we’re also getting back to our fundamental roots — that God creates us and God creates nature, so we are not masters of creation. We are stewards of creation,” said Father Cool, who also serves as Catholic chaplain at the University of Rochester.
Father Cool noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized this issue in 2001, when it released “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good.” He added that the Public Policy Committee has developed resource materials for parishes, available at www.dor.org/charities/dioprograms/.htm. He suggested that faith communities add special components on creation/environmental justice, perhaps using Oct. 4 — the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment — as a jumping-off point.
In addition to this advocacy issue, the Public Policy Committee has targeted faithful citizenship and affirming the dignity of the unborn as educational priorities for the year.
“Faithful citizenship” refers to a statement issued every four years by the USCCB in conjunction with upcoming presidential elections. It seeks to reinforce Catholic social teaching in the voting process with respect to four moral priorities: protection of human life; promotion of family life; pursuit of social justice; and practice of global solidarity.
“I encourage all of you to get involved in the political process. Study the issues and the candidates, pray, reflect on our tradition of justice, set aside partisan politics, and bring all of your creativity to seeking solutions that build up the human family,” Bishop Matthew H. Clark wrote in a letter that appears on the diocesan Web site.
Father Cool emphasized that Catholics should be vigilant about moral issues each year at election time, not just during a presidential election.
“Really, every election reminds folks that we’re called to be involved in the democratic political process, not be bystanders,” he said. “We fail to understand that elected representatives are acting in our name. We put them there, and whatever they do, they do it for us.”
Dignity of the unborn human being, the second educational issue, is a reaction to the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act introduced in June 2007 by Gov. Elliot Spitzer. Passage of this bill by the state Legislature would make abortion virtually immune from any state regulation; repeal the requirement that only doctors can perform abortions; eliminate conscience protection for religious hospitals; and allow late-term, post-viability abortions.
¬†”(Spitzer’s) goal is to solidify into New York state law more liberal policies in actions of abortion, in a state that’s already one of the most liberal in the country,” Father Cool said.
Father Cool noted that the Public Policy Committee is active throughout the year in promoting its priorities. For instance, he, diocesan Catholic Charities Director Jack Balinsky and other Catholic Charities representatives from around the diocese have visited numerous legislative leaders in their districts in recent months “to dialogue about Catholic teaching and values — kind of share with them, and get back from them what they feel.”
The Public Policy Committee also is continuing advocacy efforts on its priorities from prior years, including children at risk; ethical stem-cell research; access to health care; fair-labor practices for farmworkers; justice for immigrants; affordable housing; peace-building; and protest of the death penalty.