A religion blog about religion blogs (and other things)

A freelance religion writer named Andrea Useem has unveiled a new website/blog called “ReligionWriter.com.”:http://www.religionwriter.com/ The idea is to look at issues in religion and how media cover them.

I met Andrea while traveling to last year’s Religion Newswriters Association conference in Salt Lake City. I was tremendously impressed that she was taking her young son on a long plane ride to such a harried, not child-friendly event.

As Andrea’s “bio”:http://religionwriter.com/?page_id=31 explains, she’s lived and worked around the world and has had her work published in many top-shelf periodicals. Her own story is worth reading.

Anyway, she interviewed me a few days back about the experience of working on this blog. A Q&A is up today…

30 victims

Just got back from surveying flood damage in Harrison/Rye (hey, it’s all hands on deck today) and heard how many people “died”:http://www.cnn.com/ at Virginia Tech this morning.

Thirty victims (at least).

It leads me to wonder: How much longer before we’re hearing from the murderer’s pastor that he seemed to be a pretty good guy?

The archdiocese’s long birthday celebration begins

As everyone in the Lower Hudson Valley tries to stay afloat…

The Archdiocese of New York opened its bicentennial year yesterday with a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The archdiocese’s actual 200th birthday won’t come until April 8 of next year, but the church has decided to go with a really long pre-game show.

The current issue of “Catholic New York,”:http://www.cny.org/ the official publication of the archdiocese, is fat (as in 128 pages) with articles about the big year.

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“Two hundred years young!” is how Cardinal Egan starts his “column.”:http://www.cny.org/archive/eg/eg041207.htm

He writes:

“On my desk as I write this article, there is an elegant medal that was struck for the centennial. On one side is an image of His Eminence, John Cardinal Farley, the Archbishop in 1908, and his episcopal predecessors. On the other side is an image of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on the left and the first German national parish of the Archdiocese, St. Nicholas, on the right. Both the medal and a stunning set of vestments used by Cardinal Farley in all of his important liturgies will be on display in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday, April 15th, for the Mass opening the Bicentennial. From their places in heaven, I am confident that Cardinal Farley, Cardinal Logue, Cardinal Gibbons and untold millions of Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York from its earliest days forward will be united with us in prayer, as certainly will be St. Patrick, the Patron of the Archdiocese and our Cathedral. May they join us in all of our liturgies and celebrations throughout the year that lies ahead.”

Catholic New York also includes several pages from Monsignor Thomas Shelley’s forthcoming book, Bicentennial History of the Archdiocese of New York. A “section”:http://www.cny.org/archive/ft/ft041207.htm on the CNY website opens with this:

“On Nov. 24, 1815, the good ship Sally sailed into New York harbor after a voyage of 67 days from Dublin. The trip had taken so long that there were rumors in New York that the vessel had been lost at sea. One of the passengers was an elderly Irishman who had caught a bad cold during the late autumn crossing of the North Atlantic. The Shamrock, the Irish newspaper in New York, misspelled his name as John Connoly, but it identified his occupation correctly. He was the newly appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of New York.

Nov. 24, 1815, is not a red letter day in the history of the Archdiocese of New York, but perhaps it should be because it was the first time that the fledgling diocese had a resident bishop. Bishop Connolly discovered that he was the spiritual leader of a community of some 12,000 souls in New York City and an unknown number of Catholics scattered across New York state and the northern half of New Jersey, an area of 55,000 square miles. A year later he wrote: “My daily burdens are truly greater than my strength, owing to my not having more than three priests to help me in this city.”

Today this same area comprises two archdioceses, nine dioceses, 2,000 churches, 6,000 priests and more than 10 million Catholics. Not even the wildest optimist could have envisioned such a development 200 years ago. To understand how it happened requires a look back as well as a look ahead.”

No, the pope has not named a new bishop for NY

I’ve gotten a few calls (including one at home, last night) from people who were stunned to see a “crawl” on News 12 that said Pope Benedict was about to name several new bishops — including one for New York!

But everyone can calm down.

There is no reason to believe that any major appointments are imminent. I think News 12 was simply referring to an AP story that moved yesterday, which opened like this:

“Two years into his reign, Pope Benedict XVI is finally poised to make a major mark on American Catholicism with a string of key bishop appointments and important decisions about the future of U.S. seminaries and bishops’ involvement in politics.”

“Finally poised” means, you know, in the next year or two. In Vatican Time, it’s the same as “any day now.”

Anyway, the AP story was written by a friend of mine, Eric Gorski, a top religion writer who recently left The Denver Post to join Rachel Zoll on the AP’s national religion desk. Here is his story in full:

By ERIC GORSKI>
AP Religion Writer>
Two years into his reign, Pope Benedict XVI is finally poised to make a major mark on American Catholicism with a string of key bishop appointments and important decisions about the future of U.S. seminaries and bishops’ involvement in politics.
Benedict’s election on April 19, 2005, shook liberals and comforted conservatives who expected a doctrinal hard-liner. So far, they have found an easier hand — and a one that has not made the United States much of a priority.
When Benedict has gained attention, it has mostly been on the world stage, focusing on the re-Christianization of Europe, Islam and mending relations with Orthodox Christians. He also has stressed universal themes of faith and reason.
“The last two years have been much quieter years as far as the papacy is concerned because you have a very different personality� than John Paul II, said Monsignor Robert Wister, chairman of the church history department at Seton Hall University’s School of Theology.
“Many Americans were surprised — some happily, some disappointed — that he did not turn into the pit bull of dogma. He is taking a very pastoral approach, and I think people resonate very positively with that.�
Yet America’s turn may be coming. At the top of the list is a looming generational shift among the nation’s bishops, whose decisions at the local level greatly affect Catholics in the pews and can carry national weight. For instance, church leaders recently closed parishes in Boston and New York, while the St. Louis archbishop has clashed with a heavily Polish parish over control of its assets. Continue reading

Jail chaplain suspended over anti-Islamic tracts

The long-time Protestant chaplain at the Rockland County Jail has been suspended for passing out anti-Islamic tracts, my colleague Suzan Clarke is “reporting”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070413/NEWS03/704130409/1019/SPECIAL02 today.

Teresa Darden Clapp has been the jail’s full-time chaplain since 1994, making you wonder how she could think she could get away with this.

Apparently, Clapp passed out tracts that characterize Allah as an idol or a devil. Whatever anyone thinks of Islam, Allah is simply Arabic for God.

The booklets come from “Chick Publications,”:http://www.chick.com/default.asp which produces evangelical tracts that go after not only Islam, but the Mormon Church, Masonry and Catholicism. You can order copies of “The Wafer God” or “Jesuit priest finds Christ, then exposes Rome’s secret.”

President Bush applauds Catholic schools

President Bush addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this morning in D.C. In the picture, he’s with Mother Assumpta Long, Prioress General of Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist.

Here’s his remarks, via a “transcript”:http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/04/20070413.html from the White House:

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THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all; please be seated. Good morning. Thank you. It’s good to be with you. You know how to make a Methodist feel right at home. (Laughter.) I noticed that this year’s breakfast was the Friday after Lent — (laughter) — you can eat your bacon in good conscience. (Laughter.) And the priests can relax. (Laughter.)
I appreciate the opportunity to be with you, I really do. I thank you for having this prayer breakfast. Prayer breakfasts show the true strength of our nation. I am honored that people say to me and Laura, “We pray for you.” It means a lot. A prayerful nation is a strong nation. A prayerful nation is a nation, the true strength of which lies in the hearts of the men and women of our nation.
Our Declaration of Independence states that our freedom rests on self-evident truths about the dignity of the human person. Throughout our nation’s history, Catholic Americans have embraced, sustained, and given their lives to defend these truths. This morning, we give thanks for the blessings of freedom, and we ask Almighty God to guide us as we renew our founding promise of liberty and justice for all.
I’m sorry Laura couldn’t be here. She is by far the best representative of our family. Thank you for praying for her.
I appreciate my friend, Leonard Leo, for inviting me. I thank the leaders of the National Catholic Prayer breakfast. Continue reading

Vatican II expert to talk church reform in Briarcliff Manor

Vatican II continues to live and breath. You know what I mean.

Catholics still praise and criticize the Second Vatican Council for just about everything under the sun.

But if anyone is in a position to throw a lasso around the whole thing — to say what’s worked, what hasn’t and where the jury is still out — it’s probably Father “Joseph Komonchak.”:http://religiousstudies.cua.edu/faculty/komonchak.cfm

He’ll speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday at “St. Theresa’s Catholic Church”:http://www.sainttheresa.org/article.asp?ID=148 in Briarcliff Manor, 1394 Pleasantville Road. His subject: “Vatican Council II: Is the Church We Have the Church the Council Envisioned?”

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It’s free. Anyone can come (and is encouraged to do so).

Komonchak is regarded as the leading American authority on Vatican II. He is the editor of the English-language editor of the five-volume History of Vatican II.

Just so happens, he grew up right in Rockland County, in Haverstraw. His grandpa helped found St. Mary’s Parish there. Komonchak is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and taught theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers for 10 years until leaving in 1977 for Catholic U. in Washington, where he still works.

His talk is part of an ongoing lecture series run by Ken Woodward, former religion boss at Newsweek. If you come, you can ask Komonchak that question about Nostra Aetate or Dignitatis Humanae that’s been bugging you all these years.

The spirituality of taxes

Never thought about the spiritual elements of paying taxes? Me neither.

Rabbi “Irwin Kula,”:http://www.clal.org/clal_faculty_ik.html president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC, will talk about the spirituality of taxes on The Today Show tomorrow morning.

CLAL provided this snapshot of what he’ll say:

“While nobody likes to pay taxes, well-known spiritual commentator Irwin Kula ((just named by Newsweek as No. 8 in its “Top 50 Rabbis in the Country”) offers a new approach to dealing with the “dreadedâ€? process, calling tax time a powerful moment for seeing ourselves in connection with others more clearly — in essence, a spiritual search. Tax time touches on a much larger issue — temptation. It asks us to see how honest and truthful we are, and the power that money has over us. It also asks us to look at our sense of responsibility to the wider community and the building of America. How do we balance our own well-being with the real needs of others?”

Mezuza emergency? Call Mezuza Depot

Need to have your mezuza checked out? Just call “Mezuza Depot.”:http://www.mezuzadepot.com/shop/ They even make housecalls.

Rabbi Melech Michales of Monsey is Mezuza Depot. He’s a certified sofer, meaning that he’s a Jewish scribe who can write Torah scrolls and Tefillin, in addition to Mezuzot.

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A Mezuza is a small parchment inscribed with two verses from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9 and 11:13-21) that is kept inside a small case, which is affixed to each doorpost and gate in a Jewish residence or business.

Michaels (that’s him) will come to your home to put up a Mezuza, take down a Mezuza, make sure you have them in all the right places, even waterproof an outdoor Mezuza.

And his fees are sure reasonable: only $6 to check a Mezuza and an additional $4 to put one up or take one down.

He’ll even send you a free one to use while yours is being repaired or replaced. He also has Tefillin. And he’ll teach you one-on-one how to be a sofer yourself.

That’s Mezuza Depot, for you.

Jewish groups concerned about religious ‘test’ for pols

Mitt Romney’s need to justify his Mormon beliefs to Christian conservatives is starting to concern the Jewish community, the “Jewish Week”:http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13907 reports.

“It’s not just that religion is an important factor for voters; we’re seeing the creation of a de facto religious test for high office,� Rabbi James Rudin, senior religious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, told the paper. Rudin, an interfaith dialogue veteran, is the author of “The Baptizing of America: the Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us.�

The ADL’s Abe Foxman said this:

“Every four years, it rises up a notch. We’re hearing more of it in this campaign, and we’ve just started; it’s taking on a life of its own.�

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance, which tries to counter the influence of the “religious right,” tells the Jewish Week that the media are focusing too much on the religious beliefs of candidates.

I have trouble agreeing with Gaddy. If religion is important to political power-brokers and to voters — right or wrong — we have to cover it. Romney is trying to address the concerns of evangelicals. John McCain did move away from his sharp criticism of the religious right. Barack Obama is talking about his faith.

Gaddy, Jewish groups and others have every right to be concerned about the influence of religious communities on the political process. But the media have to cover it.