A statement on voting and political responsibility by the Catholic Bishops of New York State.
Recently, proposals have been put forth in our state to recognize so-called “same-sex marriage,” a radical step that would remove from marriage its most basic, fundamental characteristic, thereby altering its very essence. Our Governor has ordered recognition of such unions from other states as “marriages” in New York. This redefinition defies reason. Additionally, the state Assembly last year approved a measure to permit such “marriages” here, though to date the Senate has not.
Such actions, whether the legal union is called “marriage” or “civil union,” represent a destructive development for our state.
The joining of man and woman in the bond of marriage is a constant and visible reminder of God’s goodness and the beauty of the Divine plan for humankind. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ himself raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. And, indeed, all of the world’s great religions rightfully recognize marriage as a holy union of a man and a woman.
Numerous theological and religious arguments could be advanced as to why same-sex unions should be rejected. However, this is not simply a matter of theology, and religious values are not the sole source of opposition to this plan.
Marriage always has been, is now and always will be a union of one man and one woman in an enduring bond. This is consistent with biology and natural law, and should be obvious to all, no matter what their religion, or even if they have no religion at all. It is a mutual personal gift between the two that serves the individual couple in many ways, allowing them to grow in love and, through that love, to bring forth children.
Just as importantly, this union also serves the larger society. Marriage provides a stable family structure for the rearing of children and is the ultimate safeguard so that civil society can exist and flourish. That is why civil society through the ages has recognized its duty to foster and respect marriage between a man and a woman.
To be clear, the state’s historic recognition of marriage is based on the biological fact that the physical union of a man and a woman tends to lead to children. Common sense and empirical evidence tell us that children’s welfare is best served in most cases by their being reared in a stable home with their mother and father. This fact has been recognized and intuited by societies for millennia. Encouraging marriage between a man and a woman, therefore, serves the state’s interests, as well-reared children who live with their mother and father are much more likely to grow to be good citizens, thereby, creating wealth, stability and security for the members of the society.
On the other hand, there is no compelling state interest in granting legal recognition to same-sex relationships. The simple fact that two people have a committed relationship is not a reason for the state to confer upon it the status of marriage. If affection and commitment were the only prerequisites for a marital relationship, then it is conceivable that any two or more individuals could claim the right to a civil union, no matter what their relationship.
Recognizing same sex unions will only serve to devalue marriage even more than what has already occurred in recent years. Numerous scholars have written extensively of the negative impact on children and society resulting from our nation’s growing rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births over the last four decades.
Societal acceptance of casual divorce and single parenting was initially viewed by many as the natural progression of an enlightened society, just as “same-sex marriage” is viewed by some today.
Warnings from leaders such as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the consequences of family breakdown were once considered alarmist. Today they are seen as truly prophetic, as there is largely consensus among sociologists that children often suffer from divorce and single parenting. Research tells us that such children, in general, are not as well educated and earn less money as adults than children who live with a married mother and father and are more likely to engage in undesirable behaviors in their youth that may have long-term implications on their lives.
Marriage and family have worked well throughout history to promote the common good. “Same-sex marriage” furthers a societal disconnect between procreation and marriage while promoting the notion that a nontraditional family structure serves a child as well as a traditional one. We are confident that history will judge this notion harshly.
But what about the argument of proponents of “same-sex marriage” that traditional marriage is a form of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons? This is not the case, as marriage by definition is a union of physically and emotionally complementary male and female partners. However, it is true that homosexual persons sometimes face unjust discrimination in certain areas. This is wrong and must be opposed by everyone. But the state need not ignore the realities of natural law or discard thousands of years of human tradition to address such issues.
Clearly, the state can review whatever benefits or privileges that it has through the years conferred on married couples and, in cases where true discrimination may be at play, fashion legislative remedies. In reality, many benefits sometimes considered unique to married persons are open to all already. For example, New York State allows an individual to designate whomever he or she chooses as a health-care proxy. Homes may be owned jointly by unmarried persons and a person can bequeath property to survivors in a will as he or she sees fit.
The question of such benefits should not be allowed to cloud the discussion because, in truth, the movement for “same-sex marriage” is less about such benefits as it is about societal acceptance and approval of homosexual relationships. But it is not the business of the state to attempt to legislate such approval.
While sensitive to the pastoral needs of homosexual persons in our communities, families and churches, our role is to speak the truth in charity. As Catholic bishops, we want to make absolutely clear that our firm beliefs about marriage and against the governor’s proposal must not be misconstrued to be in any way a condemnation of homosexual people or an attack on their human dignity. Our Church teaches, and we affirm, that we must treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love, as we would all God’s children. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns that any form of prejudice and hatred – “every sign of unjust discrimination” – against homosexual people should be avoided. (CCC 2358)
But we must state that the most elementary study of history, sociology, biology or theology points to the certain truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, which the state should not and must not attempt to alter.
We call on our state government to reject attempts to alter the sacred institution of marriage. We strongly encourage all Catholic New Yorkers and everyone who believes in the sanctity of marriage to make their voices heard on this compelling moral and social issue.
+Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York
+Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
Bishop of Brooklyn
+Edward U. Kmiec
Bishop of Buffalo
+Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Ogdensburg
+Matthew H. Clark
Bishop of Rochester
+William F. Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
+James M. Moynihan
Bishop of Syracuse
NYS Bishops Good Friday Statement on Immigration Reform
Our country is in the midst of a pivotal national debate on immigration reform, the outcome of which will have a profound impact on the lives of millions of people, as well as serious long-term implications for the kind of society we want to be. It is important and necessary to address how better to secure our borders. However, we also must ask how to achieve reform that recognizes the reality of the presence among us of our immigrant sisters and brothers, acknowledges their contributions to our economy and society, and provides a pathway of hope for them and their families. Our challenge is to find a solution that is balanced, seeking the common good while respecting the rights and dignity of everyone.
Dear People of God,
Ours is a world in which, for several hundred years, we have all benefited from the extraordinary achievements of scientific research, technological skill and human creative genius. Yet neither in the past nor today have men and women ever been free to disregard the questions of the meaning of human life and the defense and protection of human dignity that are the foundation of all human rights and the basis of civil society. The past has taught with too many examples that human ingenuity can be used for destructive purposes if not harnessed to a proper vision of the human person in accordance with natural law, aided by the insights of religious faith.
By the Bishops of New York State
Introduction: Why We Are Writing This Pastoral Letter Now
This is a challenging and crucial time for the people and leaders of New York State. Many people are struggling while escalating demands, and claims on both our private and public resources create painful and difficult choices for us as we set our social, economic and fiscal priorities for this year. We know that sacrifices will be required from all. We also believe that a commitment to the common good requires that the benefits and burdens, the gains and sacrifices be shared equitably, with special attention to how these decisions impact our poorest and most vulnerable people. We are writing this pastoral letter because our faith calls us, as followers of Jesus Christ, to express our deep conviction that New York State’s historical covenant with people who are in need and struggling, must be maintained, not weakened, and even strengthened where necessary as we set these priorities.
Confronted with no other means of defending our religious freedom against a governmental assault, plaintiffs representing a broad array of Catholic and Protestant entities today have taken the necessary step of initiating legal action against the State of New York.
Printable brochure HERE.
Due to the changing trends in funeral practices, the Bishops of New York State have prepared this brochure to answer common questions regarding the important elements of Church teaching concerning cremation. The responses are consistent with the U.S. Bishops’ “Order of Christian Funerals” and “Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites” documents, which were consulted as source material.
A pastoral statement on parental rights in education by the Catholic Bishops of New York State
Children are our most precious gift and represent our greatest hope. Parents have a unique and primary responsibility in the rearing of children. By providing a loving home, instilling faith and values, and directing their children’s education, they are rendering an invaluable service both to their children and to the greater society. More
We, the Catholic Bishops of New York State, are united in the view that legislation passed today in the state Senate that would force Catholic employers to provide coverage for contraception in employee health insurance plans is a clear and unprecedented violation of religious liberty. By providing a religious exemption for parishes while forcing Catholic education, health and human service ministries to violate the teaching of our faith, the Senate is legislating what is and is not Catholic. This is a grave and unconstitutional encroachment by government into the realm of religion.
A rapidly approaching milestone of federal welfare reform threatens the well being of thousands of New Yorkers on public assistance. This is a matter of grave concern for the Catholic Bishops of New York State, and we stress that immediate action is required, both for the people immediately affected and for all who suffer in poverty.
As part of 1996 legislation overhauling the nation’s welfare system, a lifetime limit of 60 months for receiving cash assistance was instituted. For that reason, on December 1 of this year, federal benefits for thousands of recipients will end forever. Many of those about to be cut-off from assistance are the most vulnerable members of an already vulnerable population.
In a spirit of justice and charity, we call on our political leaders to take the necessary steps to ensure that this population of New Yorkers receive the support they need to live in dignity as human beings made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.
At the same time, the state and federal government must do more to reduce and ultimately eliminate the root causes of poverty that prevent many of our brothers and sisters from achieving self-sufficiency and sharing in the American Dream. In the last five years, the documented welfare caseload in New York State has dropped 55 percent, with nearly 1 million fewer families on public assistance than in 1995. While at first blush this would appear to mean that reform has been successful, there is precious little data to back up that claim. In fact, evidence suggests that, while cases have been closed like never before, poverty continues to rise. We know, for instance, that in this same five-year period, our Catholic Charities agencies have seen a steady increase in demand for emergency services, including food, shelter and cash assistance.
Clearly, while thousands of New Yorkers have left welfare, in many cases they often struggle to make ends meet in low-wage jobs that leave them in poverty. The U.S. Bishops always have supported true welfare reform with policies that assist those who are able to work to acquire the skills necessary to move into meaningful jobs, while maintaining a program of economic assistance for those who will never be economically self-sufficient.
Therefore, with the imminent five-year cut-off looming for thousands of recipients, the Bishops of New York State respectfully request that the Legislature and Governor address the following critical issues:
Ensure a seamless transition. When New York implemented welfare reform, the Legislature intended to smoothly transition individuals from federally funded Family Assistance to a state-funded Safety Net Assistance program that does not provide cash benefits. However, earlier this year, the New York State Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance (OTDA) issued regulations requiring that those who have exhausted Family Assistance benefits will have to re-apply for Safety Net Assistance. But these delays in processing could expose families to increased hunger or loss of housing and shift onto not-for-profit providers, such as Catholic Charities and parish outreach centers, the need to meet emergency services.
Invest TANF funds responsibly. New York receives $2.4 billion annually from the federal government under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, based on the state’s 1995 welfare caseload. These funds are intended to provide cash assistance to families eligible for Family Assistance, as well as non-cash services for the working poor.
Declines in the welfare caseload have generated surplus funds, allowing New York to finance an expansion in the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanded child care subsidies, and create the Temporary Opportunities Program to deliver educational and job services to families up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line. These are all worthy and necessary endeavors. However, a large surplus remains, and the state would be wise to consider other poverty-fighting programs as well. For instance, the basic grant to those on Family Assistance has not been increased since 1990, severely eroding the buying power and financial security of low-income families. Nor have those on Family Assistance received appropriate education and training to succeed in a changing job market. The state must target TANF spending to increase the economic and social security of at-risk families and children in New York State.
Expand Definition of Allowable Activities. Federal welfare reform required that Family Assistance recipients must work or be placed in work-related activities, although many educational activities were excluded. New York State is allowed to exempt 20 percent of the Family Assistance caseload from the five-year time limit. Recipients are eligible for exemption if they are not able to achieve self-sufficiency for certain reasons. A majority of them have had poor education, combined with multiple disabilities, that made it difficult for local social service districts to place them in work activities. New York should ensure that there is a seamless exemption from time limits for the maximum 20 percent of FA recipients. The State could reduce the need for exemptions by modifying allowable activities, such as providing greater access to education programs that prepare FA recipients for self-sufficiency.
Understand the Effects of Welfare Reform. The dramatic five-year reduction in the welfare caseload has been characterized as an indicator of “successful” welfare reform. We fear that this has masked a failure to address the intractable problems of poverty. Whereas New York has focused on case reductions, there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of welfare reform, including any efforts to determine whether those who have left welfare are economically secure. Catholic agencies report that they are now more likely to provide food, clothing and shelter assistance to those who have left welfare, rather than those who remain on Family Assistance. This suggests that for many families leaving welfare has actually served to exacerbate their problems.
As New York marks the five-year anniversary of welfare reform, those who remain on assistance would benefit from intensive case management services. Rather than focusing on finger-imaging and drug screening (both of which seem to associate poverty with criminal behavior), local social service districts should conduct an assessment that determines a family’s strengths and needs. Then, supportive services could be delivered in an efficient manner, preparing those who require new skills or supports to enter the work force. At the same time, those who will never be able to work independently would receive the economic assistance that allow them to live an independent life with dignity.
Conclusion. As the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, the United States faces the creation of two, unequal societies, one rich and one poor. Our considerations of assistance and compassion are further affected by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Along with the resulting emotional and financial tolls and the loss of property, we must remember that those who are poor and vulnerable are also in need of our continued assistance and compassion. With the looming December 1 cut-off, our leaders do not have the luxury of waiting to address these critical issues.
The Bishops of New York State support policies that help those who are capable of work to move off welfare. However, we believe that the State has not yet conquered the biggest of challenge welfare reform: to end poverty as we know it. As the Congress prepares to reauthorize TANF in 2002, we will work to ensure that everyone who works full time can earn enough to raise a family. The challenges that face us might be daunting, but we can do no less than to respond to the economic needs of the poor and vulnerable among us.