Don’t privatize water

I’m late on this, but I have to put it out there anyway (and I didn’t see it anywhere else)…

Way, way back in August (maybe I was on vacation), the United Church of Canada “voted to discourage”: the purchase of bottled water  –  in order to avoid the privatization of water.

The denomination’s General Council voted to “firmly call upon our federal government to declare water as a human right, support municipalities in keeping water in public control, and resist any attempts by the United States to increase exports of Canadian fresh water under the energy proportional sharing provisions of NAFTA.”

The UCC is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada.

The bishops take on Iraq

I wish I could be at the U.S. Catholic bishops conference in Baltimore. The first American diocese was in Baltimore, you know…

Bishop William S. Skylstad, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened things up yesterday by “calling”: for a more substantive and non-partisan discussion about the future of Iraq. Non-partisan? Who is going to agree to that?

Catholic bishops at the Vatican and in the U.S. had serious doubts about the war beforehand, a point that Skylstad made.

“The Holy See and our bishops’ Conference have repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation,” Skylstad said.

He didn’t suggest a timeline for the U.S. to leave, but said this:

“Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition. Our nation should look for effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal.”

Also yesterday, the bishops “voted to spend”: $335,000 on the first stages of a study that the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is doing on the causes and context of sexual abuse by priests.

John Jay has to raise funds for the study, which is expected to cost $2-3 million.

The first part of study will look at “whether the incidence of abuse of children by priests is or is not consistent with overall social patterns of deviant behavior during the last half century,” according to John Jay’s proposal. If these patterns are observed to be different, “then the hypotheses to be explored would inquire about ministry-specific factors.” 

The second part of the study will look at how dioceses responded — good cases and not so good cases.

A third segment will consider how abusive priests are different from other priests and from sex abusers who are not priests.

If it sounds like this will take a while, it will. The study won’t be done until 2009.

Still sorting through election results

More religious reactions to last week’s elections:

— The devoutly liberal “People for the American Way Foundation”: says that exit polls show that the Republican advantage with religious folks is much less of an advantage than it used to be.

The percentage of Americans who attend weekly religious services and voted Republican was cut almost in half from 2004 to 2006, they say.

— “The Muslim American Society”: says that a significant turnout by Muslim voters may have affected certain races. The group sites the U.S. Senate race in Virginia won by Democrat Jim Webb over incumbent Republican George Allen.

“Webb was declared the winner in this election by a margin of about 7,000 votes, and his victory in this extremely close race insured the Democratic Party control of the United States Senate,” the group said in a statement. “There are approximately 60,000 Muslim voters in Virginia, with 85% of them living in Northern Virginia. According to MAS CEE Director Mukit Hossain, it is estimated that 47,700 Muslims voted for Jim Webb, which positively contributed to his narrow victory over Senator George Allen.”

— “,”: a website that promotes “Building a culture of life through civil responsibility,” says that conservatives did not turn out to support Republicans because they feel let down by the GOP. The group’s president, Jason S. Jones, put it this way:

“Conservatives were shocked when President Bush tried to pass off Harriet Miers as a competent Supreme Court nominee; Conservatives were shocked when the Administration appeased the homosexual lobby by offering up Scott Bloch (head of the Office of Special Counsel) as a sacrificial lamb; and Conservatives were shocked when President Bush— with less than 90 days to the mid-term election— stated that he favored over-the-counter sales of the abortifacient Plan B drug.”

— The liberal to moderate Interfaith Alliance lists its “Top 10 abuses of religion in politics”: during the 2006 campaign season.”

Some highlights: Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, a Republican, using pastors to raise money (he lost); Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee hands out business cards with the Ten Commandments on the back (he lost); and voter guides distributed by two Christian groups in Alabama ask candidates for the favorite Bible verses.

— An online “survey by”: showed that evangelicals have soured on the GOP.

Another finding from the survey (via a Beliefnet summary): “Perhaps most surprisingly, half (49.3 percent) of these evangelicals do not believe that President Bush’s faith makes him a better President. 37.2 percent said it’s had no effect at all and 12 percent reported that it’s made him worse.”

Eisen on Zionism

“Arnold Eisen,”: the closely watched chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, will get right to it in one of his first major presentations on Thursday.

He will discuss “Rethinking Zionism: Challenges and Opportunities at a Time of Crisis.”:

A statement from the seminary says that Eisen is working on a book that will probe new possibilities for the meaning of Zionism.

As far as his lecture, the statement says, “Defining Zionism as a tradition that, like Judaism, can only remain vital through continual study and reinterpretation of core texts and ideas, Professor Eisen will discuss how American Jews need to change and strengthen their relationship to Israel in light of contemporary developments.”

When he held a town hall meeting in Harrison a few weeks back, Eisen said he was far more concerned about Israel than about the future of Judaism in America. He also said that he wants to make the seminary a focal point in developing a dialogue between Muslims and Jews.

John Jay, church hero

The 230th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, held Friday and Saturday in Tarrytown, adopted a resolution urging the development of a commemoration of John Jay.

 John Jay, you ask? The John Jay who served in the Continental Congress and has that School of Criminal Justice named after him?

Yes, that’s him. If you want to know why the Episcopal Church might recognize him, read this “blog post”: by the Rev. Tobias Haller, a Bronx priest who sponsored the resolution.

“Jay was not only pivotal in the creation of this nation, and the peaceful settlement of the Revolution, but in the early constitution of the Episcopal Church, locally and nationally,” Haller writes.

How should Catholics minister to gays?

The U.S. Catholic bishops begin meeting today in Baltimore. They’ll deal with a lot of issues, great and small, though Thursday.

At some point, they will consider “proposed guidelines”: for the “pastoral care of persons with a homosexual inclination.”

The Catholic Church holds that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and that homosexual practice is at all times a sin. The guidelines try to emphasize that the church must minister to people with a gay or lesbian orientation — helping them to stay chaste — and must do so without hatred or scorn.

“It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered,” the guidelines say. “Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church.â€?

The bishops, of course, are attempting to walk a fine line. They want to love and understand and minister to gay people, without being unnecessarily judgmental, while holding that gay sex will remain unacceptable. The church opposes civil unions for gay couples and the adoption of children by gay couples.

The guidelines state:

“By its very nature, human sexuality finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the indissoluble and lifelong bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. It is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong.

The bishops have decided to consider such guidelines because of confusion over whether churches can have special ministries for homosexuals. The answer is “yes,” but that everyone should be clear that the church’s positions on homosexuality have not changed.

Many Protestants who oppose the promotion of gay rights in their denominations say that homosexuality is some sort of psychological disorder that can fixed through therapy. The guidelines that the bishops will consider do not take this position, instead stating that:

“There is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination. There is no consensus on therapy. Some have found therapy helpful. There is, however, no moral obligation to attempt.”

Also on the agenda: The bishops will consider a “statement”: about how Catholics can prepare to receive Holy Communion — and when they should not receive it.








Many Episcopalians, but not most

I was pulling into the Marriott parking lot in Tarrytown this afternoon when I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “Many Episcopalians still believe the Bible is true.”

Pretty funny. My guess is that the driver of the car was not referring to most of the Episcopalians where he was going.

We were both heading to the 230th annual Convention of the “Episcopal Diocese of New York,”: which is liberal and progressive (choose your favorite label) and openly gay friendly.

The Episcopal Church, of course, is enmeshed in conflict over gay rights — both within (between liberals and conservatives) and without (between the church’s liberal national leaders and the conservative Anglican leaders of Africa and elsewhere).

The bumper sticker is particularly funny because its producer, and those who slap it on their bumpers, believe that “many” Episcopalians, but not “most,” still believe the Bible and its supposed prohibition of homosexuality are true.

I spent a few hours at the convention today and reached two easy conclusions. The first is that Episcopalians are real nice folks. I already knew it. They laugh easily (including at themselves).

The second is that the Diocese of New York is doing a lot of good work. Everyone wanted to tell me about the diocese’s new relationship with a diocese in central Tanzania. It’s simple: $50 buys the essentials for dirt-poor children who otherwise could not go to school. The Anglican Diocese of Central Tanganyika has 40,000 orphans who lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

For information: or 914-693-3848.

Still, the gay debate hangs over everything in the church, it seems. It came up today and will again tomorrow, when delegates vote on whether to ask their bishop to ignore a recent national church request — that bishops not choose openly gay bishops for the foreseeable future.

It’s pretty clear that delegates will approve the resolution, which has a long list of sponsors.

Whoever was driving in front of me today is destined to drive away grumbling.

Back to the Methodist bishops

I blogged last week about the bishops of the United Methodist Church meeting outside the U.S. for the first time — in Mozambique.

I thought it was interesting because of the global connections within the Methodist world and the growing relationship between American and African Methodists. But the gathering received hardly any media coverage (at least that I saw).

I’m stubborn, so here are some highlights from the conference, which ended a few days back (via the UM News Service):

— The Rev. “John Wesley Kurewa,”: founding vice chancellor of Africa University, a university founded by the UMC in Zimbabwe, said that African churches are obsessed with evangelism.

“Evangelism is the heartbeat ministry of the church in Africa,” he said.

He also said that Pentecostal churches are growing in Africa by preaching a gospel of prosperity and optimism.

“The church in Africa has inherited the gospel of the cross and suffering,” he said. “There is another aspect of the gospel that we seem to forget: the gospel of the resurrection, the gospel of the Holy Spirit, the gospel of joy.”

— “Bishop Janice Huie,”: the president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, challenged the more than 70 bishops there to take the lead in fighting global poverty and other overwhelming problems.

“Leaders shape hope when we offer vision to the church,” she said. “We shape hope when we help people dream big enough to be faithful to God and to capture their own imaginations.”

— None other than “Nelson Mandela,”: now 87 and frail, also addressed the bishops. He went to a Methodist school in South Africa.

“I had no idea whatsoever that I would be brought to such a sacred gathering,” he said.

— The bishops also talked about the need to dialogue with those who feel differently about the controversial theological and social issues facing the denomination (i.e. gay rights). A bishops’ Task Force on Unity is working on a “Covenant for Conversationâ€? that it hopes will set new “rules of engagementâ€? for the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

If they get anywhere, they might want to share the rules with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Conservative Jews and whoever else can use them.

U2 Eucharist on TV 2-night

Couldn’t get to either of the U2 Eucharists at “All Saints’ Episcopal Church”: in Briarcliff Manor, but you’re still curious about it?

ABC’s “Nightline”: is scheduled to show a feature tonight about the U2 Eucharist — including scenes from last week’s service at All Saints. The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the church, will likely be in the clip.

If you’re like me and you’ve kind of forgotten about Nightline since Ted Koppel’s retirement, this could be a good time to check it out. Channel 7 (on all local systems, I think) at 11:30 p.m.

If you haven’t heard about the whole U2 Eucharist phenomenon, check out my recent “article”: in USA TODAY (which got Nightline’s attention).

Kavanagh trial set

It’s been 10 months since the Archdiocese of New York announced that Monsignor Charles Kavanagh would get a church trial.

It took a while, but the trial will begin Monday in Erie, Pa., and last the week. I understand that the parties involved were notified last week.

You might remember that the Vatican decided to hold the trial outside New York in order to reduce media coverage. The Archdiocese of New York had made the recommendation.

Kavanagh was the archdiocese’s vicar of development — its chief fundraiser and a well-known figure among affluent Catholics in the suburbs. He was also pastor of St. Raymond’s in the Bronx, a large and prestigious parish.

It all came tumbling down in 2002. Daniel Donohue, who grew up in Peekskill, charged that Kavanagh had initiated an inappropriately close and sexually charged relationship when Donohue was a student at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, a high school for prospective seminarians, from 1978 to 1982.

He accused Kavanagh of getting into bed with him, but did not accuse him of genital contact.

Kavanagh later told me that he had a close relationship with Donohue, but only as a spiritual mentor and friend.

Egan removed Kavanagh after an archdiocesan lay committee reviewed the case. Kavanagh’s banishment from ministry led to an outcry from many priests and supporters. They maintained that he did not get due process.

The case eventually made it to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ordered the trial. And here we are.

I spoke a little while ago with Donohue, now 42 and a father of four. He has little good to say about the church process that led to the trial. And he doesn’t like that the trial will be secret, with witnesses testifying behind closed doors.

But he’s glad to get the chance to testify next Friday, whatever it means.