Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Family Pet's View of Poverty

Who would ever think of telling the story of a family living in poverty from the point of view of a dog?
That creativity award goes to Gwyneth Sise, who just completed 7th grade at St. Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam. She received national recognition for her touching tale through a competition conducted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD)
“The jury was impressed with both the artistic quality of your work and the message it captured about the struggles of low-income families working to overcome poverty in the United States,” said Biloxi Bishop Roger P. Morin, chair of the Subcommittee on CCHD, in his congratulatory letter to Ms. Sise. CCHD is the domestic anti-poverty, social justice program of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
CCHD developed the Multi-Media Youth Arts Contest in 2001, to help schools and parishes engage youth in learning about low-income people in the U.S. who are addressing the root causes of poverty. It is open to students in grades seven through twelve in Catholic parishes and schools.
The agency’s 2010 National CCHD Multi-Media Youth Arts Contest selected Ms. Sise, 12, as the National Third Prize winner among young people in grades 7-9.
You can read more about the contest and her award here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bishops Support Immigration Reform

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched the Justice for Immigrants campaign, calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The goal is for Congress to enact legislation that would keep families together, adopt smart and humane enforcement policies, and ensure that immigrants without legal status register with the government and begin a path toward citizenship.
One step toward this goal is enacting the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status and educational opportu­nity to those who entered the United States as minor children. The DREAM Act has two major provisions: (1) it creates a tiered system granting legal status to unauthorized aliens who arrived in the United States before age 16; and (2) it repeals current law so as to allow public universities to grant in-state tuition to unauthorized aliens without similarly hav­ing to offer in-state tuition to certain U.S. citizens.
The Dream Act (Develop­ment, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) in the Senate is S. 729. The companion bill in the House of Representatives is H.R. 1751. Please contact your legislators to urge their support. Contact your Senators here, and your Representatives here.
You can read more about the DREAM Act here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Federal Poverty Level Outdated

Many experts agree that the current system in the United States for calculating poverty and distributing aid is outdated.
The formula, developed in the early 1960s, is based on the cost of food to maintain a minimal nutritious diet. At the time, food made up one-third of a family’s household budget; today, food makes up only about 13% of the average family’s budget while housing has taken up a greater percentage of income.
In addition, the federal poverty level is the same throughout the United States, even though the cost of living varies by geographic location.
A coalition of non-profit groups has developed what is called a self-sufficiency standard for each of the counties in New York State, to more accurately reflect the amount of income necessary for various family types to meet basic needs without the help of public subsidies or private or informal assistance. The self-sufficiency standard includes specific, heavily researched data on the average costs of housing, health care, child care, food, transportation and taxes in each county.
The self-sufficiency standard is up to five times higher than the federal poverty level for some single parents in urban areas, and is rarely under 200% for any family type or geographic location.
The federal poverty level’s faulty assumptions and out-dated information present very serious problems, since it is used to determine eligibility for government assistance programs. The self-sufficiency standard’s more realistic data can and has been used as a tool to evaluate the impact of current and proposed work supports (SNAP/Food Stamp Program, Medicaid) or policy changes in child care co-payments, tax reforms or tax credits on family budgets.
For example, according to the self-sufficiency standard, a family in Albany County with two adults and two children (an infant and a preschooler) would need to make almost $65,000 annually to sustain itself without assistance. That is almost 300% of the federal poverty level, well above the 200% cutoff for many government programs.
To read the full report on the self-sufficiency standard and access county tables, click here:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Updates on Haiti

Father Joseph Philippe is in the Capital District to bring word on what is happening in Haiti, particularly in the rural region of Fondwa where he works to empower people of all ages.

Those who've heard him remember his joy and sense of humor. But his founding of Fonkoze, now Haiti's largest microcredit organization, and his commitment to transforming rural Haiti, which includes challenging a government that does nothing for peasants, have led to his going into hiding at least twice to save his life.

Below are some of the times when you might hear him.

Monday, July 19th, 12:15 - 1pm: Conference Rooms 1 & 2 at the Pastoral Center, 40 N. Main Ave., Albany. Bring your lunch.

Tuesday, July 20, 7pm - Our Lady of Victory Church, 55 North Lake Ave., Troy

Wednesday, July 21, 6pm-potluck supper; 7pm - presentation at Rosa House, 2251 Old 6th Ave., Troy

Thursday, July 22, 6pm - potluck supper; 7pm - presentation at the Pastoral Center, 40 N. Main Ave., Albany

Saturday, July 24, 4pm and Sunday, 8, 9:30 & 11:15am - Masses at St. Clement's Church, Saratoga Springs

Please come and bring a friend.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Father Peter Young's Saratoga Gala

Rev. Peter Young’s Saratoga gala featuring the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, will be Monday, July 19, 6-10:30 p.m., at Saratoga National Golf Club. The gala benefits Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment. Individual tickets, $75; patron, $125; silver table, $1,000; platinum table, $2,500.

To learn more, go here.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Catholic Charities Annual Report

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany responds to the needs of the many individuals and families that reach out for help. Their annual report is available here. Here is a list of their diocesan-wide services & ministries:

Social Action Ministries:
• Catholic Campaign for Human Development
• Catholic Relief Services
• Disaster Response
• Jail Ministry
• Public Policy
• Immigration/Citizenship
• Refugee Resettlement

• Aging
• Peace and Justice
• Restorative Justice

Housing and Property Management:
• DePaul Housing Management
• McCloskey

Community Services Corporation Alliance:
• Diocesan Community Health Alliance


Sunday, July 04, 2010

A matter of conscience

Writing n the June 21 edition of America magazine, the Jesuit John F. Kavanaugh writes about conscience, a subject of which there are many mistaken notions.
Although there is a range of opinions concerning what conscience is—from an inner voice, a feeling or a sense of shame to the internalized values of parents or culture—I propose that the most effective account is the one offered by St. Thomas Aquinas: Conscience is a particular kind of judgment, a moral judgment, by which we apply our knowledge of good and evil to practical action.

A conscience may be certain, but that does not mean it is correct.As a practical moral judgment, conscience takes the form: “I ought to do X.” Aquinas points out that when I make such a judgment, I should follow it. But acting on my conscience is not enough. Like any other kind of judgment—business, artistic, scientific or athletic—we base our moral judgments not only on principles but on evidence, data and information. A judgment made without data, evidence or information is a foolish one indeed. Thus, Aquinas thought it is as important to inform one’s conscience properly as it is to follow it. If I refuse to look at evidence or information in forming my moral judgment, I am actually refusing to act morally.

It is this second point that seems most neglected in ethical discourse today. There is little doubt that various religions, nation states and philosophies hold different ethical principles. But whether one’s principles are based on duty, the will of God, submission to Allah, happiness, liberty or the common good, such principles are empty if they are not applied to the specifics of evidence, information and data.

Unfortunately, it is the resistance to evidence and information that marks so much of our present moral discourse. That is why the “marketplace” of ideas, or the “public square” has become so segmented and rigid.

In the world of politics and media, we find an increasing segmentation not only of markets but of convictions as well. Information is edited and selected to conform to the conviction of the viewer or the voter. Thus, information no longer informs or challenges one’s moral judgement; it only confirms opinion, whether that opinion is warranted or not. Spend one evening comparing the programs offered by MSNBC and Fox News. Compare Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Whom do they ridicule? What is their presumed moral universe? What information do they never consider? If we listen to only one side of these polarities, we are not forming our judgment, we are propagandizing it.

The entire column is availalbe here.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Death Penalty Fizzles Again

David Kaczynski, head of New Yorkesr for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, has a blog posting about Ronell Wilson, convicted of killing two undercover police officers in a robbery that netted $120. Originally sentenced to death in a federal trial in 2006, Wilson had his sentence overturned yesterday by a federal appeals court that sent the case back to district court, where Wilson will be sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

Commenting on those who expressed outrage over this latest development, Mr. Kaczynski writes:

While their comments may play well politically, they change nothing and only serve to underscore the futility of the death penalty, with its broken promises to hurting victim family members and its untold millions of dollars wasted on political grandstanding.
Meanwhile, young people are dying on the streets Schenectady, Albany, and just about every other urban area in America. Where’s the outrage? Are their lives less valuable?

Here in Schenectady, we have no gang intervention program. No Ceasefire/SNUG program. (Too costly, we are told.) No community policing worthy of the name. The City Council recently declined to renew funding for the Weed & Seed community crime prevention program. Meanwhile, kids’ bodies keep piling up.

I don’t know how much money we taxpayers had to shell out for Ronell Wilson’s capital trial and appeals. Millions of dollars for sure. I can tell you this: the US Government spent an estimated $5 million to prosecute my brother capitally, and $3 million to defend him capitally. Like Ronell Wilson, my brother got life without parole. He stated that he would have preferred death, meaning that our government spent about $8 million trying to accommodate him.

Most of that amount could have been invested in effective crime prevention, treatment for the mentally ill, and real assistance to crime victims and their families – all efforts which (unlike the costly and futile death penalty) have been shown to save money and lives.

The entire blog entry is available here.