Thursday, August 31, 2006

Labor Day, 1

With Labor Day approaching, we at Albany Catholic thought it would be good to spend a few days focusing on issues of labor in America. We begin with this Labor Day Statement by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, dealing with the issue of immigration.
In his powerful encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Jesus calls us to expand who we see as our neighbor. The Holy Father, citing the parable of the Good Samaritan, says that "neighbor" can no longer be limited to

the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. ... 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Mt 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God. (para. 15).

Who is our neighbor is not dependent on where they were born or what documents they possess.

The immigration debate this Labor Day challenges us to consider again who we are as a nation, how our economy treats all workers, how we welcome the "strangers" among us. As Catholics, we should join this discussion and bring our belief in the sacredness of human life, the inherent dignity of the human person and the value of work. We cannot simply retreat behind walls at our borders or in our hearts and minds. As believers, we are called to build bridges between the native born and newcomer, between legitimate concerns about security and national traditions of welcome, from fear and frustration to hope and action for a better tomorrow.

We recommend reading the entire statement.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


You may not have heard of the Sunlight Foundation's Earmark Project, which involves identifying the source of 1800 earmarks in an HHS appropriations bill. One person chose to look into the $1,175,000 in earmarks requested for the Friends of the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation, only to find that
. . . the foundation was created by a Washington healthcare lobbyist, S. J. "Bud" Grant, in late 1999. Bud baby made himself the president and CEO and now rakes in almost $400,000 annually overseeing an operation with less than $5 million in revenue.
. . .
The treasurer, Robert Bishop, is a New York State and City lobbyist who takes in $114,000 for spending 20 hours per week on the foundation's business.

Sharmon Paschal Thornton, Charlie Rangel's legislative consultant, made $122,500 in consulting fees in 2004.

And so on.

This setup was a new one on me.

Lobbyist getting on in years wants to get away from the daily grind of lobbying so he sets up a private foundation funded by the federal government and gives himself a cushy job and a handsome salary.

You can (and should) read more here. As Albany Catholic has noted previously, problems such as this are not limited to one political party. As responsible stewards of God's gifts, we need to not just insist our elected representatives budget funds for important projects, but also demand that they stop wasting money on wasteful boondoggles such as this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stevie Wonder and the NSA

Someone just sent me this link. Turn up your speakers and hum along to the Stevie Wonder hit, "I just called to say I love you."

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's a secret

We Catholics are accustomed to some secrecy. After all, our Pope is elected in secret, and our bishops meet in secret. However, as American citizens, we do not need such secrecy from our elected representatives. An editorial in the Albany Times Union gives an example of what we mean:
According to a report by Rebecca Carr of Cox News Service, legislation that would have created an easy to navigate database tracking about $2.5 trillion of government spending -- contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance -- was headed for almost certain passage. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., was unanimously approved by a voice vote of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month. Its supporters included Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Why, then, isn't it that much closer to law by now?

So begins a story of the underhanded ways of Washington. Who's the rogue senator who resorted to secrecy to stop an open government bill?

To follow this plot requires an understanding of the arcane ways of the Senate. It's possible to use subterfuge to defeat, or at least derail, legislation. All it requires is for a senator to go to the leader of his or her party and ask that the bill not be brought up for a vote. That means, in this case, that either Mr. Frist or Mr. Reid stopped a bill they had ostensibly supported.

The same Senate rules prohibit those party leaders from disclosing which of them did this dirty deed, and at which senator's behest. It's treated like classified information.

It's troubling enough that Congress functions like this. All the worse is that this is such an important bill that serves the pubic interest. That some would stoop to such depths in opposition to government transparency can only suggests that the awarding of the government contracts and grants the database would track is even more corrupt than anyone had suspected.

The entire editorial is here. Albany Catholic suggests that each of us contact our congressional representatives to see what they are doing to end this system of deception. Tell them we want the rules changed so that one person cannot stop legislation that apparently has wide-spread support. If they won’t do that, at least let them make public the name of the individual(s) who are preventing a vote on important bi-partisan legislation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thirty years later . . .

An article in the September issue of U.S. Catholic reports that after more than 30 years of stalemate, some on both sides of the abortion debate are ready to put down their signs and start trying to work together.
After more than three decades of legal abortion in the United States, neither public opinion nor the rate of abortions has changed significantly, causing people in both movements to think about focusing on more universally accepted ways to build a culture of life in this country.

Hillary Clinton—a staunch supporter of abortion rights—spoke last year about working with the prolife movement to realize a common goal of fewer abortions. On the same day, President George W. Bush called for the same thing, “seeking common ground where possible.”
[Benedictine Sister Adrienne Kaufmann] believes that dialogue is not just a feel-good activity or political sound bite; it is the most productive outlet for the prolife movement.

“To reduce or end abortion, prolife people need to get into dialogue with pro-choice people about things in this society they both care about, and work together to change them,” she says. “They have a lot more in common than they believe or imagine, but it’s submerged below this pool of enemy rhetoric. Instead they need to drop the rhetoric, look at ways to pool their energies, and make progress that way.”

The entire article is available here.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Words to ponder

In his monthly column in The Evangelist, Bishop Howard Hubbard writes:
The challenge for us, therefore, is to create a simpler and sustainable lifestyle:

* one that is less dependent on money, status, prestige, affluence and influence;

* one that is more open and available in service to others;

* a lifestyle characterized by simplicity in clothing, diet, transportation and entertainment; and

* a lifestyle characterized by prayers for, advocacy on behalf of and service to the poor.

Further, this preferential option for the poor must extend itself not only to those who are materially needy but also to those who are spiritually impoverished.

The most pitiful form of human poverty is not the deprivation of material goods and possessions but the lack of knowledge of God or the lack of a meaningful relationship with God.

We wholeheartedly recommend the entire column here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope

Help Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope, the national collection to support hurricane relief efforts in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Diocese of Biloxi on August 26-27, 2006.

The theme of the national collection—Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope—is inspired by Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, who proclaimed to the bishops of the United States that to “rebuild the Church is to rebuild hope itself.”

More information is available here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bread for the World Sunday

Bread for the World is a nationwide Christian movement that seeks justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers. The organization asks that you
join with churches and worshipping communities across the country…as we rededicate ourselves to ending hunger in God's world. Bread for the World Sunday is an opportunity for congregations to give thanks for the work of Bread for the World, which has enabled so many to be effective advocates for hungry people. It is a chance to pray for those in need and to renew our commitment to share our abundance with others.

Reserve free worship resources, bulletin inserts and BFW membership brochures to help your congregation participate in Bread for the World Sunday on October 29, 2006 or another Sunday between World Food Day (October 16) and Thanksgiving (November 23).

Click here to learn more. For six ways to celebrate Bread for the World Sunday, click here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Are you a social sinner?

Father Bryan Massingale recalls a particularly memorable trip to the grocery store with his grandmother when he was growing up in Milwaukee. They were stopped in a traffic jam caused by protesters clogging the streets. When Bryan asked what was up, his grandmother told him, “Those people are marching for your rights.” Some of those carrying picket signs were nuns and priests. He never forgot them.

Today, Massingale has taken up the mantle of working for social justice. One of the most sought-after speakers in the U.S. church today, he gives talks and writes on everything from peace to politics to AIDS.

In an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine, he says:
It was interesting that the same people who were praising the pope for having a very strong stance on abortion and stem cell research were absolutely opposed to his positions on war and peace and capital punishment. There’s a curious disconnect between people’s views on life issues and the Catholic Church’s position on social issues. In general, Catholics are not skilled at looking at issues of politics and social morality from the standpoint of faith.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Catching up on the news

While Albany Catholic was on hiatus, Catholic News Service reported on Common Ground's anniversary:
CHICAGO (CNS) -- Listening has to be an essential ingredient in relationships within the church, just as it must be in all healthy relationships, said the keynote speaker at an Aug. 11 event at Loyola University in Chicago marking the 10th anniversary of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., said that 10 years of seeking common ground within the church has only reinforced the idea of the initiative's founders, that seeking communion in Christ requires seeking communion with one another.

"The past 10 years have given me a privileged place where I have met people, some with very critical views of the church, who yet possess a passionate regard and deep love for the church," he said. "I have come to respect them and have concluded that they are critical precisely because they love that church family to which they belong."

The entire story is here. One of the goals of this blog is to promote civil dialogue in the church, especially in the area of politics. Please let us know if you think we are failing in that effort.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Water, water everywhere

We had a lovely vacation without newspapers, radio, television or a computer. The only discussion of current events involved talk of concerns about pollution of the lake where we were relaxing. Turns out that talk was prescient, for we returned home to this article about pollution of the earth’s oceans:
Scientists report that the seas are more acidic today than they have been in at least 650,000 years. At the current rate of increase, ocean acidity is expected, by the end of this century, to be 2 times what it was before the Industrial Revolution began 200 years ago. Such a change would devastate many species of fish and other animals that have thrived in chemically stable seawater for millions of years.

Less likely to be harmed are algae, sea grasses and other primitive forms of life that are already proliferating at the expense of fish, marine mammals and corals.

In a matter of decades, the world's remaining coral reefs could be too brittle to withstand pounding waves. Shells could become too fragile to protect their occupants. By the end of the century, much of the polar ocean is expected to be as acidified as the water that wrought such damage on the pteropods aboard the Discoverer.

Some marine biologists predict that altered acid levels will disrupt fisheries by melting away the bottom rungs of the food chain -- tiny planktonic plants and animals that provide the basic nutrition for all living things in the sea.

Columban Mission Magazine, in its May issue, focused on “Our Environment & the Good News,” with articles such as The Environment & the Papacy, and God’s Creation as a Commodity. We suggest you give it a read here. Just click on the link to the magazine on the left side of the Columban Fathers home page and scroll down to the May issue.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Albany Catholic is going on vacation for the next week and will have limited access to a computer, so we will not be posting on a regular basis until Saturday, August 19, although there may be a post or two if we get near the Internet. While we are gone, we recommend you read
Rebuilding the Covenant with the Poor
A Look at Poverty in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany
and a Call to Action on Behalf of the Poor

The link for this document, on the diocesan website, is here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A bishop speaks

Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chair of the Committee on International Policy for the U.S. bishops, issued a statement July 17 calling for a cease-fire in Lebanon, faulting Hamas and Hezbollah for triggering the crisis, criticizing Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure, expressing solidarity with the Lebanese, and asking the United States to exercise greater leadership to bring a halt to the violence. Here is the text of an interview the bishop conducted with National Catholic Reporter regarding developments in the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Catholic News Service reports here:
Pope Benedict XVI's choice as the next secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the current situation in Iraq demonstrates that the Vatican's warnings against the war were "prophetic."
. . .
On Iraq, Cardinal Bertone said he had agreed with the Vatican's position against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and added, "The current situation in Iraq shows how prophetic that judgment was."

Not that anyone will mention that from a pulpit. Or could Albany Catholic be wrong?


The situation in Lebanon has taken attention away from the humanitarian disaster in Darfur, which may no longer be on the front pages but still is desperately in need of help.
Darfur is fast slipping towards anarchy with fresh fighting displacing tens of thousands of people and violent attacks on relief workers forcing aid agencies to consider pulling out.

Clashes involving government forces, allied militia and rebel fighters, and dissident guerrilla groups have forced more than 50,000 people from their homes since a peace deal was signed three months ago. Most have ended up in overcrowded refugee camps, which are becoming increasingly difficult for aid agencies to reach.

Eight Sudanese humanitarian workers were killed last month, more than in the entire previous two years. The situation is so acute that at least one prominent agency has flown in a special trauma team to counsel staff.

The rest of the article is here. A list of resources on Darfur and Sudan is here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ann Coulter

We at Albany Catholic believe in the importance of civil discourse, a quality sorely lacking in today’s society. One of the worst offenders is Ann Coulter. Media Matters for America recently examined the heavily-footnoted Godless: The Church of Liberalism, and found that Ms. Coulter:
- misrepresented and distorted the statements of her sources;
- omitted information in those sources that refuted the claims in her book;
- misrepresented news coverage to allege bias;
- relied upon outdated and unreliable sources;
- and invented "facts."

You can read the entire report here. Dissenting opinions can be sent to

Churches for Middle East Peace

Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 21 public policy offices of national churches and agencies -- Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. They offer Current Talking Points on Mideast Crises for Congressional Meetings here. We at Albany Catholic believe these talking points also can be used for talking with parishioners. After all, with fighting in the land of Jesus’ birth, shouldn’t someone in a church be talking about the issue?

Monday, August 07, 2006

An impetus

It would be nice to think that matters in the state legislature are handled based on their importance to the people of New York. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For example, the matter’s importance to members of the legislature can be a determining factor as reported is this article by Marc Humbert of the Associated Press:
When Gov. George Pataki signed legislation in June 2004 to create comprehensive centers to deal with eating disorders, few on hand knew that for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno it was something more than just another bill-signing ceremony.

In fact, the recent disappearance and ultimate return of his 20-year-old granddaughter, and the disclosure that she suffers from anorexia nervosa, is just the latest event to demonstrate the nexus between personal experience and policy development.
. . .
Earlier this year, legislation to boost organ donation programs got a huge boost when Assemblyman Richard Brodsky revealed that his 14-year-old daughter Willie was in need of a second kidney transplant.

Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that not every legislative action requires a personal crisis to spur our elected leaders to do the right thing.

Action alert

Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued an Action Alert on the Middle East Crisis in which they ask your help. To learn what you can do, go here to request U.S. leadership to achieve an immediate ceasefire, deliver humanitarian aid and seek political solutions

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Misunderstood conservatives

The Los Angeles Times reports that ABC is unveiling a new sitcom starring Calista Flockhart as a conservative television pundit.
Indeed, the point of the show seems to be casting conservatives in a sympathetic and understanding light. As Jon Robin Baitz, a writer for the show, explained: "It's very, very interesting and compelling to us to try and understand this, to leave behind some of the smug presuppositions of the two coasts … to look at evolving patriotism and evolving traditionalism."
. . .
Flockhart's character is not merely non-insane, she's thoughtful, Baitz explained. "She's ideologically, in some respects, very much in mind with the older parts of the party, the sort of Eisenhower Republican, the William Buckley conservative."

If you didn't smack your forehead with the palm of your hand when you read that sentence, let me explain why you should have. Buckley was a staunch critic of Eisenhower. Indeed, he founded National Review in no small part to organize conservatives in opposition to Ike. As he wrote at one point: "It has been the dominating ambition of Eisenhower's Modern Republicanism to govern in such a fashion as to more or less please everybody. Such governments must shrink from principle."

The author provides other examples before asking, But where are the right's efforts at outreach? You don't hear conservatives mourning their lack of common ground with the English department at Columbia University. In fact, it's incredibly rare to find a conservative who understands liberalism as anything other than hatred for the rich and a desire to hand over our foreign policy to the United Nations.

In fact, how many of us know our political opponents merely as caricatures of themselves? The entire article is here. We at Albany Catholic hope that each of our readers will make the effort to understand those of differing political opinions as our brothers and sisters.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Is conservatism finished?

E. J. Dionne Jr. asks this question in his most recent column, available here:
What might have seemed an absurd question less than two years ago is now one of the most important issues in American politics. The question is being asked -- mostly quietly but occasionally publicly -- by conservatives themselves as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, and as their champions in the Republican Party use any means necessary to survive this fall's elections.

. . . Consider other profound fissures within the right. There is an increasingly bitter debate over whether it made any sense to wage war in Iraq in the hopes of transforming that country into a democracy. Conservatives with excellent philosophical credentials, including my colleague George F. Will, and Bill Buckley himself, see the enterprise as profoundly unconservative.

Friday, August 04, 2006

August conference

Kate Blain, assistant editor of The Evangelist, writes a front page article in this week’s issue regarding one of the speakers at The Convergence of Hope and History: Sustainable Solutions for a Peaceful World, which we first told you about here.
When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef in 1989 and dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, Jim Merkel felt responsible.

As a military engineer and arms trader, he realized that his career contributed to the instability of many world economies. Moreover, he was suddenly struck by the fact that his personal habits -- flying around the country on business trips, driving even the three miles to his office -- were damaging the planet.

Watching the devastation in Alaska, he felt as if "I was...a guilty party," he told The Evangelist. "Caring for the Earth was not a priority for me."

Mr. Merkel abruptly quit his job and began devoting his life to promoting environmental protection and world peace.

On August 18-19, he will be a keynoter and panelist at a conference at the National Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda: "The Convergence of Hope and History: Sustainable Solutions for a Peaceful World."

The conference is co-sponsored by the Albany diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice, the Interfaith Alliance of New York State, Veterans for Peace, Women Against War and Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace.

To learn more, go here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Silence in the churches

Barbara Brown Taylor teaches religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. Her new book is Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, published by HarperSanFrancisco. In the most recent issue of National Catholic Reporter, she writes, There is no better place to forget that the United States is at war than in church. Three years after the invasion of Iraq, stories of bloody bombings and mounting casualties still top each day’s news but remain conspicuously absent from the discourse of most neighborhood churches.
Like it or not, clergy are the arbiters of this uneasy peace. Called to be shepherds of the whole flock, we must think at least twice before taking stands that church members may hear as choosing sides. If we want to tell the truth, then we had better hide it inside a story, or else save room on our calendars to mend fences wrecked by bolting sheep.

From a more pastoral point of view, clergy are often the only people in a congregation who regularly visit the sick, bury the dead and comfort those who mourn. Most of us have held enough broken hearts in our hands to wonder if this is not the division that matters most, beside which all other human rifts pale in comparison.

Yet at the same time, churches do not exist exclusively for the comfort of their own members. From earliest times, churches have also existed to stand with the poor, feed the hungry, visit those in prison and care for the widows and orphans, while challenging the authority of those in power who are not using their power to do these things. For clergy mindful of this ministry as well, there can come a time when keeping the flock together rubs hard against reminding the flock why it exists.

The entire article is available here (registration required).


The Education for Justice website, here, offers the following Prayer for an End to the Violence in Lebanon by Jill Rauh:

God of Solidarity,
We mourn the deaths of over 300 of our sisters and brothers in Lebanon, and the displacement of over 500,000. Give us the ability to feel compassion.

God of the Poor and the Vulnerable,
You call us to stand for the weak and for those who cannot protect themselves. Help us to stand for the poor and the vulnerable by refusing to stand for continued death, destruction, and devastation.

God who gave each person Human Dignity,
You desire that each person can live a dignified life, one in which basic needs are fulfilled. Because of this war, people are left without housing, without sanitation or electricity. Roads, transportation systems, and the ability to make a daily living are now destroyed for many.

God of Peace,
We pray for a true resolution to the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. The roots of the conflict are deep and much difficult dialogue will be needed. We realize that both sides share the guilt for needless destruction and suffering. Bring peace, O God.

God who gives each of us both rights and responsibilities,
Help us to guarantee the rights of those who suffer by reminding our leaders of their responsibilities toward the common good. Call all involved to dialogue. Let peace come. Amen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Songs of peace

SJSA Coffee House - Songs of Peace
Sunday, August 6th - 7 to 9pm

St. John's/St. Ann's Center, Zachaeus' River Room.
Corner of Fourth & Franklin Street in downtown Albany, NY.
In memorium for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Music performances
by Roger Mock, Terri Roben,
Paul Strausman, Raina Strausman, and Carol Coogan.
Also readings on peace by Barbara DiTomaso, Jim Sande
and Jayne Cavitt.

Donations will be accepted and will
go towards the Center, which provides food, furniture,
outreach, referrals, and holiday and summer programs
to those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender,
national origin, age, disease, handicap, or lifestyle.

Refreshments available. Air conditioned.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Evading taxes

One subject we have addressed on several occasions is the matter of people not paying their fair share in taxes. Much budget arguing could be avoided if we devoted the resources to tracking down those individuals who fail to do so. One example of what we mean is discussed here:
So many superrich Americans evade taxes using offshore accounts that law enforcement cannot control the growing misconduct, according to a Senate report that provides the most detailed look ever at high-level tax schemes.

Among the billionaires cited in the report are the owner of the New York Jets football team, Robert Wood Johnson IV; the producer of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children's show, Haim Saban; and two Texas businessmen, Charles and Sam Wyly, who the Center for Public Integrity found in 2000 were the ninth-largest contributors to President Bush.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Saban, who are portrayed as victims in the report, are scheduled to testify today before the Senate Permanent Investigations subcommittee. They are expected to say that professional advisers assured them their deals to avoid taxes were more likely lawful than not. The Wyly brothers told the committee that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and thus were not called to testify. The report characterizes them as active participants in tax schemes.

Cheating now equals about 7 cents out of each dollar paid by honest taxpayers, as much as $70 billion a year, the report estimated.

How many billions have to be lost before you write your congressional representatives to demand that something be done to end these practices? Another article on this subject is here.

Media bias II

Last week we told you about studies involving perceptions of media bias (here). Now we have a follow-up article:
Psychological experiments in recent years have shown that people are not evenhanded when they process information, even though they believe they are. (When people are asked whether they are biased, they say no. But when asked whether they think other people are biased, they say yes.) Partisans who watch presidential debates invariably think their guy won. When talking heads provide opinions after the debate, partisans regularly feel the people with whom they agree are making careful, reasoned arguments, whereas the people they disagree with sound like they have cloth for brains.

Of course, none of this applies to anyone we know. The entire article is here.