Peace & Justice

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Making judgments

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., a professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University, writes in the March 12 issue of America magazine about making political and moral judgments:
In this election year, two questions will guide my deliberation: What evidence is being ignored when people make political or economic claims? And what questions are not being asked about social and moral issues?

Making political judgments, like making moral judgments, ideally approximates the procedures of a courtroom. In fact, when we exercise our conscience, which is our practical moral judgment, we are acting as a judge. And like any good judge, if we are going to be able to render a judgment, we must have evidence. Otherwise our judgments are groundless and, in a worst case scenario, dangerous.

Hearsay is not enough. Interpretations are tendentiously inadequate. Unexamined premises nullify arguments. Evidence that has been tampered with is disqualified. And yet these tactics are the stuff of the political and media discourse that seems to rule the day.

You can read more here.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Poverty panel Tuesday

Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard will discuss poverty in America on Tuesday, March 27 at 7 p.m. in the Hospitality Center of St. Joseph’s Provincial House, 385 Watervliet-Shaker Road (Route 155), Latham.

Bishop Hubbard will discuss today’s conditions in light of his years of direct service to the poor as a priest in Albany’s South End, his long service with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and his current position as Chair of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Also speaking will be Chris Parsons, Director of the ASPIRE program for the Schenectady City Mission, who will present ideas on what local residents can do to assist those in need.

A free-will offering will be taken up for Catholic Charities’ emergency food services fund.

The session is sponsored by the Commission on Peace and Justice, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

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A win for Catholic schools?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have proposed “increasing public funding for religious and private schools, potentially reversing years of cuts and handing the Roman Catholic Church a political victory.”
Under Mr. Cuomo's budget plan, nonpublic schools would get about $117 million, or a 13% increase, to carry out administrative duties the state requires, such as taking attendance, giving standardized tests and running immunization programs. The Assembly's plan puts such spending at about $118 million, while the Senate sets aside $133 million.
. . .

The New York State Catholic Conference led the push for money for 1,800 nonpublic schools with 416,000 students.
. . .
And it marked a rare victory in Albany for private and religious schools, which say, even with the funding boost, they are still owed more money.

The state aid is essentially a reimbursement to the private schools for the time it takes teachers and other administrators for duties they might perform anyway.

The Catholic Conference estimates nonpublic schools are owed back payments of about $325 million because the state underestimates the cost of such duties.

"We have a long way to go, probably a number of years, before the state satisfies their obligation to our schools," said Jim Cultrara, the Catholic Conference's director of education.

The New York State Catholic Conference has more information regarding its legislative proposals about education here.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bishop Hubbard on political engagement

Today’s Times Union carries an abridged version of the homily that Bishop Howard J. Hubbard delivered on Tuesday at a Mass coinciding with the Public Policy Day for New York Catholics, organized by the New York State Catholic Conference. Here is an excerpt:
However, when entering the public debate people of faith cannot claim moral superiority for our position simply because we quote from the Scriptures or church teaching. We owe the public a careful accounting of how we have come to our moral conclusions, and we must translate our faith-based positions into language that can serve as a basis for civil discourse in a religiously pluralistic society.

The inclusion of explicitly religious moral values in the public debate requires us to keep the moral factors central to it and to set an example of how this can be done with sensitivity and rationality. We must demonstrate that we can keep our deepest convictions and still maintain civil courtesy. We must show that we can test others' arguments but not question their motives and that we can presume good will even when we disagree strongly.

There is an equally important battle to be won within our church itself, namely, that of the legitimacy of Catholic social justice advocacy, which is as much a part of our tradition as the proclamation of the word and the celebration of the sacraments.

Many Catholics are unaware of the church's social teaching, and Catholics are also the least likely of the faith groups to participate in civic engagement. We are more comfortable in running food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless than in advocating with our elected representatives for public policies that will address the root causes of poverty and injustice.

Many, especially some in the media, portray the Catholic community as being concerned only about abortion or issues of human sexuality. We are proudly concerned about these issues because they deal with the sanctity of life. Indeed, we have addressed this explicitly in our opposition to the radical reproductive health care act. Yet we are also gravely concerned about the education of the young, service to the poor through food programs, affordable housing and employment, creating a viable path to citizenship for newly arrived immigrants and assisting to inmates in their reintegration in the community,

You can read more here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jesus in disguise?


Public Policy Day Report

The Evangelist has an article on Public Policy Day at the State Capitol in Albany, as well as a meeting the bishops had with Governor Andrew Cuomo the previous day.
Ahead of the lobbying day on Monday, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Albany Diocese, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese and their fellow New York State bishops met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders at the state Capitol.

During the closed-door meeting, the bishops thanked Gov. Cuomo for restoring a new sense of trust, confidence and fiscal responsibility in state government.

Bishop Hubbard said that the bishops monitor about 70 public policy issues, but pared the list down for their audience with the governor. Among other topics, they addressed:

• safe and affordable housing for the poor;

• farmworkers' rights;

• affordable and accessible day care;

• job transportation in rural communities;

• job training in prisons and for low-income people;

• funding for prison chaplains;

• Catholic education; and

• the public assistance grant.

Cardinal Dolan said Gov. Cuomo was "very attentive" and "well-briefed" and recognized the Church's role as a voice for the voiceless.

"In general, we [bishops] come up here to affirm and encourage" elected officials, rather than protest and oppose, Cardinal Dolan said. He added that meetings with governors are usually positive, but "with Gov. Cuomo, they're particularly friendly and substantive."

The entire article is here.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Redistricting machinations

New York’s State legislators are offering the promise of a constitutional amendment to correct the redistricting problems they seem unwilling to correct themselves. But is that amendment the answer? Two newspapers think not.

From the New York Times:
To seal the deal with Mr. Cuomo, legislative leaders have offered to support a flawed constitutional amendment they claim would reform things in time for the 2022 election. That is far too long to wait. And this “reform” is no better than what New York has now and would enshrine some of the worst practices in the Constitution.

It calls for a 10-member bipartisan commission to draw all of the maps, but an even number almost ensures gridlock. There is no clear way to assure that each district has the same number of voters. It makes no mention of a 2010 law requiring prisoners be counted at their homes, not in “prison gerrymandered” districts. If the Legislature doesn’t like what this group does, the whole shebang goes back to — the Legislature. When it comes to protecting their cushy jobs, Albany’s lawmakers will never keep their promises of reform.

From the Times Union:
The trade-off, such as it is, would be a constitutional amendment to make the redistricting process marginally more independent and nonpartisan. But the amendment the Legislature has offered to pass would leave it pretty much in control of redistricting. Some reform!

Moreover, such a constitutional amendment requires votes by two consecutive legislatures and then the public. So this Legislature could vote for the amendment, and the next Legislature could kill it. And since most of the lawmakers who broke their 2010 oath will probably be re-elected this fall, thanks to the gerrymandered maps that they’ve drawn, why shouldn’t we figure they’ll go back on their word again? Why trust them now?

As we have noted previously, perhaps, if more people contacted their representatives to express outrage, legislators might be more responsive. You can be one of those people by contacting the Senate switchboard at 518-455-2800 and the Assembly switchboard at 518-455-4100. Feel free to tell someone you read about it here.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Poverty video

Our Catholic faith calls us to protect the poor, such as the 1.4 billion persons who live on less than $1.25 a day and 46 million poor persons in our own country.

Bishop Howard Hubbard discusses poverty and politics in this video.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bishops address human needs in federal budget

Last week, the two U.S. bishops who lead the justice and peace efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote a letter to Congress affirming that the federal budget should affirm human life and dignity, put the needy first, and reflect shared responsibility to promote the common good:
“In the past year, Congress and the Administration have taken significant action to reduce the federal deficit, while attempting to protect programs that serve poor and vulnerable people,” wrote Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, in a March 6 letter. “Congress will continue to face difficult choices about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs. We fear the pressure to cut vital programs that protect the lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable will increase. As Catholic bishops, we have tried to remind Congress that these choices are economic, political, and moral.”

Bishop Blaire and Bishop Pates chair the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Committee on International Justice and Peace, respectively.

The bishops voiced support for moves to strengthen programs that help the poor and vulnerable, such as Pell Grants and improved workforce training and development. They also opposed moves negatively impacting poor families such as increasing the minimum rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance and a proposal to eliminate funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The bishops also made the case for protecting programs that help the poor internationally.

You can read more here.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

U.S. Bishops offer advice on Iran

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Chairman of the Committee on International Peace and Justice for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding Iran’s refusal to acknowledge its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its facilities for inspection. Here is an excerpt:
Based on the Church’s teaching on war and peace, the Bishops’ Conference urges the U.S. Government to continue to explore all available options to resolve the conflict with Iran through diplomatic, rather than military, means. As Pope Benedict XVI has stated: “As far as Iran is concerned, tireless efforts must be made to seek a negotiated solution to the controversy concerning the nation’s nuclear program, through a mechanism capable of satisfying the legitimate demands of the country and of the international community.” Before military options are considered, all alternatives, including effective and targeted sanctions and incentives for Iran to engage in diplomacy and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), need to be exhausted.

From a moral perspective, in the absence of an immediate threat against the United States or our allies, military action would constitute an act of preventive war. The Catholic Church teaches: “[E]ngaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 501) In Catholic teaching, the use of force must always be a last resort. Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves they do not justify military action.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

America is #1. But not in a good way.

We came across this interesting article with the headline “The Best Country in the World at Being Last”
The group of twenty advanced democracies—the major countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, the Nordic countries, Canada, and others—can be thought of as our peer nations. Here’s what we see when we look at these countries. To our great shame, America now has

• the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;

• the greatest inequality of incomes;

• the lowest social mobility;

• the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;

• the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;

• the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;

• the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;

• the highest homicide rate;

• the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;

• the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;

• the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);

• the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy)

The rest of the article is here, along with suggestions on how we can improve our situation.