On April 3, 2020, as the nation was in the early grips of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state was in complete lockdown, the New York State legislature passed its state budget for FY 2021. Buried in that 400-page document, passed at 3 a.m., was language legalizing commercial gestational surrogacy in the state. The dead-of-night move came after years of opposition to legalization by some feminist groups and the Catholic Conference because it exploits women, reducing their bodies to raw materials for the wealthy to create biological offspring, and exploits the children born of such arrangements, who are treated as commodities to be bought and sold.
Today, the legislation took effect legalizing these commercial arrangements, which in recent years have been banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, much of Asia, and several countries in South America, precisely because the practice is exploitive and leads to trafficking of women and children.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis continues to wreak financial havoc on Catholic schools across the state, according James D. Cultrara, director for education of the NYS Catholic Conference and executive secretary of the NYS Council of Catholic School Superintendents, in testimony before a joint legislative hearing on the state Elementary and Secondary Education Budget on January 28.
Cultrara submitted written testimony and also testified live in the virtual Zoom legislative hearing. He noted that the pandemic was a major factor in the closing of more than 30 Catholic schools across the state last June.
“The financial hardship did not end with the close of the last school year,” Cultrara said in the written testimony. “Re-registrations for the fall were dramatically lower, leaving administrators unsure of whether they could survive the next school year. As they prepared to reopen their schools for in-person instruction – under the strict health and educational requirements of the state – they were forced to bear the unanticipated costs of hiring additional nurses and other staff, installing physical barriers and signage, purchasing personal protective equipment, acquiring cleaning supplies, arranging for ongoing sanitizing throughout and between each day, installing or modifying air purification equipment, purchasing and training for additional technology related to remote learning, collecting and reporting data to the Department of Health on a daily basis – the list goes on and on.”
Richard E. Barnes, who has served with the New York State Catholic Conference for nearly 32 years, the last 19 as executive director, has resigned after accepting a position as director of community relations and regional senior advisor for the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, a $3.2 billion philanthropic foundation focused on improving the well-being of
vulnerable New Yorkers, bolstering health outcomes of diverse communities, and eliminating barriers to care.
Dennis Poust, who has served as director of communications for the Conference for the last 20 years, has been appointed interim executive director by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the Conference. The transition becomes effective January 1.
“We have been so blessed for so many years to have Rick Barnes at the helm of the state Catholic Conference,” Cardinal Dolan said. “His sharp legal mind, political instincts, and commitment
to social justice have made him an invaluable asset to the Bishops and to the entire Church in New York State. I’m pleased that Rick will continue to be in service to those in need through his important work at the Cabrini Foundation.”
Barnes, who received his bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University (1983) and juris doctor degree from Albany Law School (1986) came to the Conference in 1989 as legislative counsel before being named executive director in 2001. He is a past president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors.
“It has been a privilege for me every day of the last 32 years to serve first as legislative counsel and then as executive director of the Catholic Conference,” Barnes said. “I’m grateful to the Bishops for the opportunity they have afforded me, and I am excited about my next phase and the chance to advance Mother Cabrini’s vision of the Gospel, in service to the poor and vulnerable.”
Barnes will serve as one of two community relations directors, with Barnes focusing on outreach to New Yorkers north of the Hudson Valley. With his three decades of experience and unique understanding of challenges facing these regions, he will also serve as a regional senior advisor to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation executive staff.
Barnes and his wife, Sheila, live in Delmar and are the parents of two children.
Poust, who received a bachelor’s degree in politics from New York University in 1988, came to the Conference in 2001 after having lived the previous six years in Austin, Texas. Born and raised in the Bronx, he began his career as a reporter and editor at Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, and also contributed regularly to several national Catholic publications.
“As the long-time public voice of the Bishops on public policy matters, Dennis has demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the many important issues facing our Church and state, and an expertise in communicating – to the Catholic faithful, to the media and to public officials,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I have every confidence the Conference will be in good hands going forward.”
Poust noted: “I’m so grateful for the trust that Cardinal Dolan and the Bishops have placed in me. My life’s work has been to advocate for the teachings and positions of the Catholic faith in the public square, and this opportunity to lead the Conference as interim executive director is the culmination of that.”
He and his wife, Mary, live in Delmar, and have three children.
The Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters.
Following is a statement by Dennis Poust, director of communications for the NYS Catholic Conference, regarding last night’s granting of an emergency writ of injunction by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of a challenge by the Diocese of Brooklyn and others over severe attendance restrictions instituted by New York State on houses of worship:
“Last night’s decision by the Supreme Court is an important one for religious liberty. While we believe, and the Court agreed, that the “hot zone” restrictions on religious gatherings were unduly harsh, our churches have been otherwise eager partners with the state in protecting the health of our parishioners, clergy, staff, and surrounding communities during this devastating pandemic. That will continue, as protecting the vulnerable is a pro-life principle. We are proud of the success we have had in keeping our people safe.”
The Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters.
Catholic New Yorkers now have the tools to make their voices heard to their elected officials right in the palm of their hand. The Catholic Action Network (CAN) can now text critical alerts directly to users’ smartphones, with links to quickly send messages to their elected officials on urgent issues of the day. To sign up, just text the word CAN to 50457. You’ll immediately receive a one-time link to complete your registration, which is free.
“CAN is a critical tool for everyday Catholics to quickly contact their legislators on all of the major issues of the day, whether it be abortion or assisted suicide, religious liberty, threats to the family, fair funding for Catholic schools, support for the poor and vulnerable, or protection of our environment,” said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, which operates the network. “And now it’s never been easier to do so quickly and efficiently.” More
Following is a statement of the New York State Catholic Conference on behalf of the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn:
Public officials have indicated that they may pursue the closure of all public and private schools in several COVID-19 “hot zones” in New York City and the Hudson Valley. We strongly urge that any action taken addresses actual problem schools where there is a sustained high rate of infection, rather than a broad-brush approach that penalizes all schools, children, and families needlessly.
The Catholic schools throughout our state and, particular in the densely populated New York City Metropolitan Area, have rightly been held up as a model for safety in these uncertain times. Our Catholic schools opened for full-time, in-person learning weeks before the New York City public schools and have had no significant COVID-19 outbreaks to date. More
With the Covid-19 crisis that has sickened and killed many thousands of New Yorkers and continues to threaten us, Governor Cuomo faces an unenviable reality. While he must continue efforts to keep New Yorkers safe, at the same time it falls upon him to address a historic budget shortfall caused by the shutdown of the state’s economy and the absence of federal aid to state and local governments.
As the governor considers the steps needed to restore our state to fiscal stability, the New York State Bishops offer prayers for wisdom, as well as a reminder that the state must never balance its budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.
Following is a statement of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic Bishops of New York State in public policy matters:
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Administration’s attempt to immediately end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is a widely supported and hugely successful program that has provided security and stability to thousands of law-abiding, hard-working young immigrants, many of whom have known no other home but the United States. We welcome this decision by the Court and urge the President and Congress to work together to make DACA protections permanent.
Below is a statement from Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, on Governor Cuomo’s announcement that religious services can resume statewide with limits:
“Today brings good news for people of faith, and we’re grateful that Gov. Cuomo has acknowledged the importance of religious faith and practice, especially now in this time of pandemic. Cardinal Dolan and the Bishops of New York State look forward to working with civic and health officials and other interfaith leaders to responsibly plan for resuming public religious services.
“Our Catholic people are hungry for the Mass and are anxious to gather together again in prayer and worship. At the same time, we have a moral obligation to protect our congregations and our clergy from COVID-19, so we will proceed slowly and responsibly and collaboratively.”
Following is a statement by Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, on the passage of legal commercial surrogacy in the state:
“The action by the legislature and governor to legalize monetary contracts for surrogate motherhood stands in stark contrast to most other democratic nations across the globe, which have outlawed the practice because of the exploitation of women and commodification of children that inevitably results from the profit-driven surrogacy industry.
“What makes it worse is our state elected officials included this major policy change in a 400-page budget bill in the midst of a pandemic crisis. We simply do not believe that such a critical legal and moral decision for our state should have been made behind the closed doors of a Capitol shut off to the public. The new law is bad for women and children, and the process is terrible for democracy.”