Below are two columns from the October 2014 issue of The Long Island Catholic Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here, and have access to all the stories. This month’s magazine also includes a moving story of a woman carrying on the pro-life legacy of her murdered daughter, the dedication of the Gold Star stadium at Chaminade High School, Bishop Murphy’s column on the importance of voting, columns by Mary Ellen Barrett and Msgr. James McNamara, local back-to-school photos and much more.
From the editor
by Rick Hinshaw
Voting rights and political opportunism
The approach of Election Day reminds us, as Bishop Murphy stresses on the facing page, of our sacred duty, as Catholic citizens, to vote.
It also occasions for me a need to address — as I did last year regarding actions by Govs. Cuomo and Christie — policies that to me suggest an undermining of the integrity of our democratic process for political gain.
I am writing this year of two opposite approaches to voting rights — one that would expand the franchise to noncitizens, another that denies the vote to some citizens.
Here in New York, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera and Brooklyn Assemblyman KarimCamara, both Democrats, have proposed extending the right to vote beyond those who are citizens of our state and nation. The purported reasoning — that universal participation is good for our democratic system — is dubious at best. The idea that people who are not fully invested in our nation as citizens should be involved in choosing our leaders and deciding the direction of our government raises obvious concerns, especially in this age of easy mobility and international terrorism. The political benefits, however, are obvious: such a policy would open up the franchise to millions of newly arrived immigrants, who have historically always gravitated to the Democratic Party. The party could realize an immediate windfall at the polls.
Anyone who has read my columns and editorials over the years knows that I take a back seat to no one in advocating — in accord with what I understand to be Catholic social teaching — immigration reform that is welcoming to the stranger, and that offers some accommodation to those who come here seeking to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families. Those who stay, assimilate and become citizens, should and do of course have the right to vote. It is perfectly reasonable, it seems to me — and not at all inconsistent with our Church’s social teachings — that those who are transient, or uninterested in assimilating and becoming citizens, should not have a role in choosing our government. Those who advocate that they do are actually hurting the cause of immigration reform, by convincing opponents that the push for reform is motivated not by humanitarian concerns but by political opportunism. In my view, those of us truly concerned about the plight of our immigrant population should be offended by any initiative that transforms immigrant families into political pawns, in a way that will only heighten resentments against them.
On the other side is the question of convicted felons permanently losing their right to vote. While this may vary from state to state, I was struck during one of the 2012 Republican presidential debates when Rick Santorum made what to me seemed an entirely reasonable suggestion, that we should look at reinstating the franchise for those who, having been convicted of a felony, have served their time and regained their freedom. Why should somebody who has paid for their crime, and is back in the community as a free citizen, not have their right to vote restored? Don’t we want former felons to become good citizens? Why then, if they do, would we continue to deny them one of the basic rights — and duties — of good citizenship?
But Mitt Romney jumped all over Santorum, trying to make him sound soft on crime. Why? Well, consider how Romney also pounced when Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, two of his other opponents for the GOP nomination, dipped their toes ever so gently into the waters of a softer tone on immigration — Gingrich averring that we shouldn’t be thinking about deporting undocumented immigrants who have been here for decades, Perry defending his state’s policy of granting immigrants who were brought here as children — and thus not culpable for their “illegal” status — access to lower state-resident tuition rates for Texas state colleges. These very modest steps, Romney charged, would serve as “magnets” for illegal immigration.
Romney, recall, was constantly looking for opportunities to get to the right of his more conservative opponents, in order to attract Republican primary voters. So was he willing to demagogue these important issues for political gain?
None of us, obviously, can read the minds of Messrs. Rivera and Camara as to why they would grant voting rights to noncitizens; nor that of Mr. Romney as to why he would perpetually deny voting rights to even reformed ex-felons. But as Catholic citizens called to use the democratic process to promote the common good, we should have a healthy skepticism toward policies whose benefit to the politicians who propose them is far more easily discernible than any purported benefits to the common good.
by Laura Cassell, CEO Diocesan Catholic Charities
Respect life and our care for Long Island’s seniors
Whenever we hear the phrase “Respect Life,” we naturally think about the new life of babies and the controversies surrounding abortion. And to be sure, since 1967, Catholic Charities has made new life possible through our Regina and Mary Residences for unwed, teen moms and their babies. Literally thousands of women facing crisis pregnancy have found the strength, skills, and encouragement to become confident, working, loving mothers and self-sustaining adults at Catholic Charities.
But today I want to share some thoughts about life on the opposite, sometimes forgotten end of the spectrum — about “respecting life” when it nears its end. I’ll begin with Mary, who in her 80s was facing the same bleak problems that plague many of our seniors. She and her husband owned a home for many years, but when he faced serious health setbacks, it was pay the doctors or pay their taxes. They eventually gave up their home and rented a small apartment, but a few short years later, almost all their savings had been eaten up by hospital and nursing home expenses. When he passed away, Mary’s small fixed income just wasn’t enough to pay a Long Island rent and her modest bills. Although capable of living independently, she had to move in with family and share a room with a teenage granddaughter, which was difficult for both of them. Feeling helpless, she grew despondent and depressed.
When Mary heard about Catholic Charities Affordable Senior Housing, she didn’t hesitate to apply. After she moved in she became one of our happiest and most active residents. At the age of 91 she wrote us, “I love it here. My friends are like family, so it’s a lot more than just a place to live. And now I can be the grandmother I really want to be for my wonderful granddaughter, rather than her roommate.”
I cried when Mary passed away last year, but I have the immeasurable satisfaction of knowing that her final years were mostly happy because of what we — Catholic Charities and you — made possible. Together, we made Mary’s life more beautiful when it could have been so sad. That’s why respecting life means so much more than ensuring that new life comes into this world. It means treasuring lives that our sometimes preoccupied society might deem a burden. It means defending the elderly and fighting for their right to a dignified and fulfilling life. It means not only recognizing their value, but celebrating it as well.
At Catholic Charities, we do that better than anyone. Seniors are one of Long Island’s fastest growing populations and we provide a wide range of services that help them live independently while promoting their physical health and emotional well-being. Our Senior Case Management team connects seniors with services at government agencies, parishes and community-based organizations. Our Meals on Wheels program delivers more than 250,000 nutritious meals per year to them in Nassau and Suffolk. Our four Senior Community Service Centers give them a place to go that offers meals, recreation and health services. Our four Congregate Meal Sites provide food and socialization, with two specifically dedicated to the visually and hearing impaired. And 1,412 seniors call our 1,298 apartments home. We even work with dozens of local high school volunteers who hold annual lunch dances that remind our seniors how much we love and value them.
Our goal is to do everything possible to keep Long Island seniors part of the communities that they helped build, living in the neighborhoods they love, surrounded by family and friends. It’s “Respect Life” in its most basic form: making sure our seniors feel loved and fulfilled. And while that may not sound like anything extraordinary, it’s one of the many, incredibly gratifying things you can be a part of when you support Catholic Charities.