Bishop Richard J. Malone has named Kevin A. Keenan as diocesan representative to the New York State Public Policy Committee. In this role Keenan will serve as a voice for Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo to Albany legislators.
As the former communications director for the Diocese of Buffalo, Keenan has a history of delivering the bishop's message to the general public. His appointment comes with a restructuring of the Public Policy Committee. Each of New York's eight dioceses will now have only one representative on the committee, instead of two or more seats as in the past.
"I have complete confidence in Kevin," said Bishop Malone. "He has a tremendous grasp of Catholic teaching in many areas including Catholic social teaching. He's a fantastic communicator. I know he will be a great spokesperson for Catholic social teaching, which is what really informs public policy, and do it very responsibly in my name and for the diocese."
In his new position, Keenan will be working closely with Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-Life Activities for the diocese. Calire will serve as the internal public policy liaison.
No stranger to politics, Calire has led marches on Washington every January to protest Roe v. Wade and keeps on top of legislation pertaining to abortion and end of life issues.
"I've been involved with public policy right from day one, because our office has, as one of its components, advocacy for public policy," she said. "Vine and Branches (a parish-based advocacy group) has a public policy committee where we meet regularly to talk about the issues the bishop's concerned about, and we try to make sure we're having regularly scheduled appointments with our elected officials."
Last year, Calire had four one-on-one appointments and several phone conversations with local legislators to "try to give them our point of view as to how we would like them to think about it when they go to cast their vote."
The reformulated committee met for the first time Jan. 13 in Albany.
"The committee is in the process now of determining what the Public Policy goals will be for the Catholic Church in New York state, and also what the strategy will be to achieve those goals, and also, how do we best advise the bishops of New York when it comes to Public Policy," Keenan said. "So, we'll make those recommendations and the bishops will act on the recommendations. Then they set the public policy for the state. It's then up to the members of that committee to come back to their individual dioceses, report to the bishop, and coordinate with the bishop."
The committee will base their goals for the year on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Jan. 21 State of the State and budget address.
The next step is to establish a team to work within the diocese. Keenan and Calire will reach out to lay people, clergy and vowed religious involved in various ministries in the diocese.
"Bishop Malone thought as a broad brushstroke that it would make the most sense if we had somebody representing from pro-life, somebody from education, somebody from Catholic Charities, and have this committee ready to attack any of those issues from the perspective of bringing it down from whatever was presented from the Conference of Bishops and brought to Bishop Malone," Calire said. "So he would be able to put his own flavor into how he wanted that presented, ultimately, into the pews; so that we can get our Catholics involved in a way in which they will be able to effectively know how to approach a particular issues and be able to get results."
"Life remains the paramount issue for the Catholic Church in New York state, in the U.S., and in the Church universal," Keenan said. "Obviously, education is going to be an issue because the Education Investment Tax Credit was not approved last year. I think early in the session you're going to see that addressed, along with making sure the Abortion Expansion does not become law in New York state. We're looking at some other issues right now."
The state legislature presents thousands of bills a year. The state Catholic Conference monitors hundreds of them, becoming active with dozens.
One thing interested Catholics can do right now is tap into the Catholic Action Network, which informs members of bills being prepared for vote. Registration can be found at nyscatholic.org. The Diocese of Buffalo has 6,570 members, the fourth highest membership.
"We're going to use that group of Catholics to really help when it comes to generating action on certain issues," Keenan said. "We're also going to look at the possibility of reaching out to elected officials in the Diocese of Buffalo to let them know what the Catholic footprint is in their district, and to give them contact information. There are often times when their constituents come to their office and they need help. It may be help with housing, it may be help with education, it maybe be help with their health. The Catholic Church can help in all those areas and many more. So, we want to give the elected officials the tools so they know exactly what the Church is able to do to help their district. Like any other ministry, we serve because we're Catholic, not because they are."
Keenan wants to make sure the Catholic voice is heard loud and clear.
"Cheryl and I can be the liaisons between the bishop and the Catholics in the diocese who really, over the years, have been active in engaging in these public policy issues," Keenan said.. We saw it with the Education Investment Tax Credit rally that we had in Niagara Square last spring, the rally that was held at the First Niagara Center on the same issue with 10,000 people at the arena. It's recognized that Buffalo is one of those dioceses that's a 'go to' diocese when an issue needs to be addressed, when awareness needs to be raised, and then action needs to be taken.