NY’s Archbishop O’Brien named to Vatican congregation

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and one of New York’s best-known priests, has been “named”:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0702956.htm to the Congregation for Catholic Education by Pope Benedict XVI.

The congregation has responsibility for Catholic seminaries. O’Brien did two stints as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers and was also rector of the prestigious Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome.

tjndc5-5b5dw9zucjm1dehhoezi_layout.jpgHe also oversaw a recent series of visitations to the nation’s more than 220 Catholic seminaries to see how they were preparing future priests.

O’Brien is a Bronx native who was ordained an auxiliary bishop of New York in 1996, the year before he was named to his current post, overseeing the boundaryless archdiocese for all Catholic military personnel and their families.

He was widely considered the favorite to succeed Cardinal John O’Connor as Archbishop of New York and is still considered by some to be a contender for New York, should Cardinal Egan actually retire. At 68, others think his time has passed.

O’Brien is still a regular visitor to New York, where he has many lifelong friends.

Also named to the Congregation for Catholic Education: Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec.

The Vatican also announced that a married couple from Madison, Conn., Carl A. and Dorian Anderson, has been named to the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Catholic schools’ savior not a believer

What a hoot. I mentioned yesterday philanthropist Robert Wilson’s $22.5 million gift to NY’s Catholic schools. I somehow missed the fact that Wilson is an atheist.

“Catholic World News”:http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=51344 describes the news like this:

Explaining his decision to make the grant to a Catholic charity, Wilson pointed out that his money would be used to pay for the education of children, rather than for specifically religious purposes.

While he is not religious, Wilson indicated a deep respect for the Catholic faith. “Let’s face it,” he told a reporter: “without the Roman Catholic Church there would be no Western civilization.”

Atheist bloggers seem to be enjoying Wilson’s day in the sun. “Daylightatheism”:http://www.daylightatheism.org/ says:

The desire to help needy students from poor families get a quality education is a great and praiseworthy act of compassion, and in Catholic schools, at least, the degree of religious indoctrination is likely to be minimal. At least these schools do not discriminate against prospective students who hold a different faith, and teach good science unpolluted by superstitious notions like creationism. In any case, I hope these students remember that though they are attending a Catholic school, it is an atheist who put them there.

The pope’s communication issues

After all the “controversy”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-pope24may24,1,960372.story?ctrack=1&cset=true surrounding Pope Benedict’s comments on the Christian colonization of Latin America, I wanted to point out John Allen’s very interesting column from a few days back.

He wrote about the communication challenges facing the pope, who doesn’t always express himself in a way that the media and his worldwide audience understand.

Read Allen “here”:http://ncrcafe.org/node/1116.

Lutherans talk sexuality, AIDS, and their legacy

More than 500 pastors, lay delegates and others attended the annual assembly a few days back of the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The synod includes about 230 churches in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, as well NYC, Long Island, Dutchess, Sullivan, Ulster and Orange.

Next year, the synod will choose a new bishop to succeed Bishop Stephen Bouman of New City, who has served two terms as the ELCA’s spiritual leader in New York.

“What will our legacy be?” he asked the assembly. “What are the dreams of the next generation?”

voting.JPGDuring one of his talks, Bouman listed 10 subjects that Lutherans must be tired of hearing him talk about, including: sexuality, the “rerooting” of churches in their communities, Sept. 11, the Yankees and the fact that on any given Sunday, the synod worships in some 25 languages.

There’s no getting around the sexuality question, of course, as mainline Protestant denominations continue to tie themselves up in knots over homosexuality.

The synod passed a resolution that asks an upcoming national ELCA assembly to remove from church rules provisions that keep homosexuals from “the rosters of this church” and that require gays and lesbians to abstain from sexual relationships.

The synod also passed a resolution asking the ELCA to do what it can to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

Bishop Bouman offered a 10-year financial plan for the synod to ensure the long-term funding of ministries. The plan begins, he said, “with a basic trust in the generosity of God.�

Additionally, Pastor Dianne Loufman, one of Bouman’s assistants, had words of encouragement for ELCA churches that are struggling or, in her words, caught in a “wilderness time:”

“God can take an ending and make it a beginning. God can take the wilderness times and make it a pathway to through the wilderness.”

In the same vain, pastor Gary Mills, Bouman’s chief of staff, said that ELCA churches need to shake things up by reaching out to immigrants, youth, gays and the poor:

“I do not want a church that is clean and orderly, that is black and white; where every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. I want a church that is down and dirty… a church that affirms and re-affirms the world.�

The synod also revised the “call” process for choosing pastors for churches.

And it paid tribute to Joanne Strunck of Brewster, the well-liked administrative assistant to Bishop Bouman, who retires in June.

I’m on Westchester radio today

At noon today, I’m going to be the guest on Phil Reisman’s radio show, “High Noon,” on WVOX 1460 AM and online at “WVOX.com.”:http://www.wvox.com/

I’ll be talking about my new book, ““Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters.”

Big gifts for Catholic education

These are big days for Catholic schools in NYC (big as in $27 million big).

The Archdiocese of NY announced yesterday that a New York philanthropist has given $22.5 million to the Catholic schools’ inner city scholarship program. Then an anonymous donor stepped up to offer another $4.5 million.

These gifts couldn’t come at a better time for the archdiocese, which has closed a number of schools in recent years and is trying to reorganize Catholic education to ensure its long-term future.

Here’s the AP report:

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York philanthropist has donated $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York for its inner city scholarship program, the archdiocese announced Wednesday.
The gift from Robert Wilson — a publicity-shy retired hedge fund manager named one of Business Week’s “50 Most Generous Philanthropists� — will enable 3,000 children to attend inner-city Catholic elementary schools of their choice.
Cardinal Edward Egan called the donation a “historic and farsighted support� of his inner-city scholarship campaign, started in 2005.
Another Wall Street investor, who requested anonymity, has given $4.5 million to the scholarship program upon hearing of Wilson’s gift, said Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
With the two donations, the Cardinal’s Scholarship Program has raised $97 million toward a $158 million goal to provide scholarships to needy elementary school children — who live at or below the poverty line — “to fill every empty seat in archdiocesan inner city schools by 2010.�
In the first two years of the program, 3,700 children received scholarships of up to $2,100 per year to attend one of 86 elementary schools through eighth grade, in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.
With Wilson’s donation, Zwilling said, 5,000 scholarship seats remained unfilled.
“My hope is that my gift will inspire others to pony up,� Wilson told The New York Sun in Wednesday edition.
Wilson, who is in his 80s, according to the archdiocese, is one of the nation’s major philanthropists. According to Business Week, he has also contributed millions to environmental and wildlife conservation causes, the New York Public Library and the city’s arts institutions.
He reportedly made his money on Wall Street by turning a $15,000 investment into $225 million. He recently said he wants to give away 70 percent of his wealth before he dies.
The archdiocese said Wilson declined to provide his biography, saying he wanted the story to be about the scholarship program, not him.

More on the Von Hildebrand legacy

I have an “article”:http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070523/NEWS02/705230368 in today’s Journal News/LoHud.com about Alice von Hildebrand, a longtime New Rochelle resident and widow of Dietrich von Hildebrand, an eminent Catholic philosopher whose work was praised by Pius XII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, among others.

small-052207webpics33.jpgAlice, an important philosopher and writer herself, is committed to seeing many of her husband’s works republished or translated into English for the first time. She is working with the newly created “Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project”:http://www.hildebrandlegacy.org/ (an intellectual fan club) to achieve these goals.

And she has the support of Benedict XVI, which helps. This is the focus on my article.

Some friends pointed out today that Dietrich von Hildebrand also founded the “Roman Forum,”:http://www.romanforum.org/ a group of intellectuals that seeks to defend the Magisterium — or teaching power — of the Roman Catholic Church. I couldn’t fit this part of his legacy into my article, but figured I would bring it out here.

The Roman Forum has a lecture series in NYC and makes tapes available of past lectures, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, it was a pleasure meeting Alice von Hildebrand, an incredibly engaging and passionate woman who, at 84, continues to travel and speak about her late husband and her own work.

Their story is very much a love story.

Rev. Al among the Mormons

Al Sharpton in Salt Lake City? Not something you see everyday.

But a few weeks after Sharpton seemed to take a shot at Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, he spent Monday touring Latter-day Saint sites in Salt Lake.

“This visit was not about politics. It was not about controversy,” Sharpton told reporters, according to the “Salt Lake Tribune.”:http://www.sltrib.com/lds/ci_5953579 “It was about our trying to learn about each other as believers in God and Christ, to find common ground . . .[and] work together for the good of humanity.”
Not about politics? Not about controversy? That’s not something you hear everyday from Rev. Al.

What did Sharpton say about the Mormon presidential candidate a few weeks ago?

“As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation.”

Sharpton said his remarks were misinterpreted, but he apologized to Mormons.

”Whatever differences I have with their denomination or religion had nothing to do with my respect of their faith,” he said.

The first major national study of U.S. Muslims is out

Assimilated, happy and moderate.

That’s how the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life describes Muslim Americans, based on a “new study”:http://pewforum.org/surveys/muslim-american/ that Pew says is the first-ever nationwide, random survey of the Muslim community.

According to the survey: 51 percent of Muslims say they are “very concerned” about Islamic extremism in the world; 63 percent do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society; 62 percent say that life is better for women in the U.S. than in Muslim countries; and 71 percent agree that people who work hard can get ahead in the U.S.

I’ve only read a summary of the study, and not the study itself (it’s just out this morning). But one strange and unsettling finding is that only 40 percent of Muslim Americans say that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks. I’ll have to look deeper into this point.

Pew says that it conducted “more than 55,000 interviews to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States.” Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.

One very interesting point: Estimates of the number of Muslims in the U.S. vary widely. I’ve seen everything from 1 million to 7 million. Pew says that the total Muslim population is about 2.35 million, which rings true to me.

About two-thirds of Muslim Americans were born elsewhere. About 20 percent of all Muslims are African-American.

Fifty-three percent say that life has gotten harder for Muslims since 9/11. No surprise there.

I’m printing out the study and will read it as soon as I can find an hour.

Hear Jimmy Carter on Bush

I blogged this morning about Jimmy Carter’s comments on President Bush, as described by the Bible Belt Blogger.

Apparently, Carter is now saying that his comments may have been interpreted.

But you can listen to the interview yourself at “Bible Belt Blogger.”:http://spirituality.typepad.com/biblebelt/