An historic Catholic seminary high school shuts down

Back in 2001, I interviewed a young man, Robert Repenning of New City, who was about to be ordained a priest.

At the age of 14, he had entered Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, the Archdiocese of New York’s long-time high school for young men who might have a vocation to the priesthood. He told me that he entered as part of a class of 42, but he was the only one to make it to ordination.

Repenning — when went on to serve as a chaplain in Iraq and now serves at St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Fishkill — knew he was among the last of a dying breed. Preparatory seminaries for teenage boys were on their way out.

New York’s “Cathedral Preparatory”: is no longer a high school, but organizes monthly retreat weekends at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers for teens who might have a calling.

And last week, Chicago’s Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary closed down for good. The school had 1,300 students during the 1950s. Cardinal Egan and Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory were among its alumni.

But Quigley’s enrollment has plummeted and only one student in the past 17 years actually became a priest.

20070622-150312-pic-536772023_t220.jpg“This is more or less the final nail in the coffin of the preparatory seminary,” Notre Dame’s R. Scott Appleby, a leading Catholic Church historian, told the AP.

“Historians of the Catholic Church will point to the closing of Quigley as a final landmark in a trend that has been building now for almost 50 years,” he said.

Overall vocations to the priesthood have been falling for decades. Dioceses are grappling with the implications of having fewer and fewer priests. Analysts generally offer the same reasons: a diminishing sense of selflessness in the culture; a lack of respect for commitment; smaller families that don’t want a son to commit to a chaste, childless life; the sex-abuse scandals; and a lack of vocations from the growing Hispanic community.

Considering the overall picture, it’s not surprising that few families are anxious to see their 14-year-old sons begin a possible path to seminary.

A big book weighs in on evolution

I get a lot of books dropped on my desk. But not too many 12-pounders.

I can hardly lift it with one hand: The “Atlas of Creation.”:

thumbphp.jpegIt’s 800 pages and 12 pounds (it says on the DHL slip on the box).

And what is the Atlas of Creation, you ask? Apparently, it is the work of one Adnan Oktar (pen-name: Harun Yahya), a Turkish writer who is “well-known as the author of important works disclosing the imposture of evolutionists, their invalid claims, and the dark liaisons between Darwinism and such bloody ideologies as fascism and communism.”

There you have it.

The tome is filled with pictures of fossils that are supposed to show that living beings have not changed at all in million of years. Everything — people, animals, plants — are as they were.

Opening it up to any page —page 431 — I find a picture of a grasshopper and a description that says the grasshopper has been around for 50 million years. Unchanged.

“According to fossil discoveries, all inspect species appeared suddenly, with all their particular characteristics, and have survived with those same characteristics ever since.”

A press release from Global Publishing in Istanbul promises that the book crushing my lap is the first of seven volumes.

Evan the Panderer?

I haven’t seen Evan Almighty. I don’t get to too many adult movies these days.

But I came across this interesting “take on the movie”: by David Plotz on

tjndc5-5f7fi87wcbk1incki5b8_layout.jpgHe writes about how the movie panders to potential religious ticket-buyers. I wasn’t surprised. Last week, I blogged about how an ad for the movie was wrapped around this month’s issue of Christianity Today, an important monthly magazine for evangelicals.

In case you haven’t seen the ads, the movie centers around an ordinary Joe who is told by God to build an ark.

Plotz writes:

You might argue that making a comedy about Noah’s ark—one of the Bible’s grimmest stories—is a bit like making a sex farce about the Rwandan genocide. But the problem is not the comic aspiration. VeggieTales is proof that Bible comedy based on unpleasant stories is possible. No, what’s disturbing about Evan Almighty is its flaccid approach to faith. All that is compelling, moving, and profound about the Noah story has been systematically excised. In the Bible, God chooses Noah to survive because Noah is a righteous man. But Evan is faithless and stupid, and comes to believe in God only because God hammers him over the head with about 137 miracles. Any moron will believe when an omnipotent divine being appears in the back seat of his car and starts sending him pairs of lions and giraffes. The lesson of the Bible is that faith is hard, and unrewarding, and painful. Faith is belief when there are no giraffes.

The holiday season is only 6 months away

Yeah, it’s summertime and the end-of-the-year holiday season seems so far away.

But that didn’t stop reps from the “Catholic League”: and the “Thomas More Law Center”: from holding a press conference yesterday on the steps of NYC Hall. They called on the NYC schools to change their controversial policy on holiday displays.

If you haven’t heard, the NYC schools allow displays that include a menorah and the Muslim star and crescent — deeming them secular symbols that lead to interreligious understanding.

But schools are not allowed to include nativity scenes, which are considered too religious.

Not surprisingly, many Christian groups consider the policy to be an outrage.

A Catholic mother of two sons in the NYC schools sued the school system in 2002. But a federal judge upheld the school policy and an appeals court affirmed the decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court “declined to hear”: the case back in February — a big blow to advocacy groups that hoped the top court would set a new precedent opening the way for more religious symbols in schools.

Yesterday, Brian Rooney of the Thomas More Law Center and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue stood with NYC Councilman Tony Avella, who has introduced a City Council resolution that calls for the schools to amend its holiday display policy. They urged supporters to lobby for the resolution.

Rooney said:

A bureaucrat in the city Department of Education should not be the final arbiter as to what symbol is best suited for display—especially when a clear hostility towards one particular religion is manifest.

However this ends up, we’ll be hearing about it come December.

Obama preaches ‘politics of conscience’

Does the liberal version of a religious politician sound like this?

“Faith doesn’t mean you don’t have doubts,” Barack Obama said Saturday in Hartford when he addressed nearly 12,000 members of the United Church of Christ, his liberal Protestant denomination.

tjndc5-5fd583kgchw16h2xpakw_layout.jpgAccording to the “Hartford Courant’s Elizabeth Hamilton,”:,0,3580516.story?coll=hc-big-headlines-breaking Obama said that his conversion to Christianity at 26 was a “choice, not an epiphany.” He also said that “the skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish.”

Not what you would expect President Bush to say (or Mitt Romney, for that matter; McCain, maybe?).

As Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards race to create an updated “progressive Christian” Democratic presidential model (not as God-fearing as Jimmy Carter?), Obama got the chance to address a whole progressive Christian denomination’s national meeting.

He called for a “politics of conscience” — hard to argue with that — and tied a liberal reading of the Bible to the political biggies like Iraq and immigration.

“We need to heed the biblical call to care for `the least of these’ and lift the poor out of despair,” he said. “That’s why it’s not just a policy issue when we fight to expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage. If you’re working 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t be living in poverty.”

Obama also took some shots at the Religious Right, a campaign tactic that is likely to resonate with Democrats and independents who are religious or not:

Faith got hijacked. Partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian right, who’ve been all too eager to exploit what divides us.

We should expect to hear a lot of this — religion, good; Jesus, good and compassionate, Religious Right, bad — from all the Dems as things heat up.

Obama set to preach

Barack Obama will talk God tomorrow.

He is scheduled to give an address to his fellow “United Church of Christ”: members at a big denominational gathering in Hartford.

At a time when Democrats are trying hard to talk about faith in a way that connects with liberal-to-moderate religious “voters,”: Obama’s speech could indicate what he’ll have to say down the line.

The AP’s terrific Rachel Zoll puts Obama’s opportunity and challenge into context in this filing:

In the constellation of Protestant churches, the United Church of Christ is far from the biggest, wealthiest or best-known.
But Democrat Barack Obama is making time in his presidential campaign Saturday to address the denomination he joined two decades ago in Chicago, hoping his presence will signal to a broader audience of churchgoing Americans that he’s truly one of them.
“If he’s a nominee, he’s going to have to reach out to people of faith somehow and he has to do that in a way that doesn’t alienate the secular, liberal crowd,� said Laura Olson, a Clemson University professor who specializes in religion and politics. “If people can say, ’Here’s what Obama said to the UCC,’ and quote from that down the road, that could help him win over people from moderate to progressive faith.�
There’s no question that he’ll get a rousing welcome at the national meeting in Hartford, Conn. — and not just because he’s the best-known face in the denomination. Continue reading

Giuliani under fire for loyalty to accused Long Island priest

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse by priests are fuming over a report about Rudy Giuliani’s continuing loyalty to a Long Island priest who is accused of abusing minors.

The “report on”: deals with Giuliani’s lifelong friendship with Monsignor Alan Placa, who was cited by a 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report for both accusing children and covering up abuse committed by other priests.

rudy.jpegPlaca was suspended from his priestly duties five years ago, around the time he began working for Giuliani’s company.

The Salon report includes this:

Placa has worked for Giuliani Partners since 2002. As of June 2007, he
remains on the payroll. “He is currently employed here,” Giuliani
spokeswoman Sunny Mindel confirmed to Salon, adding that Giuliani
“believes Alan has been unjustly accused.” Mindel declined to discuss
what role Placa plays with the consulting firm, or how much he is paid.
Says Richard Tollner, who testified before the grand jury that Placa had
molested him, “[Giuliani] has to speak up for himself and explain
himself. If he doesn’t, people shouldn’t vote for him.” Adds Anne
Barrett Doyle, co-director of, which tracks
suspected priest abuse, “I think Rudy Giuliani has to account for his
friendship with a credibly accused child molester.”

A statement released today by “SNAP,”: the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, reads like this:

We call on Rudy Giuliani to fire Placa and publicly apologize to Long Island Catholics for knowingly hiring a man who clearly, repeatedly, and intentionally helped hide child sex crimes by clergy.

Regardless of whether Giuliani ever formally seeks public office again, regardless of whether other Placa accusers ever step forward, there’s ample evidence showing that Placa consistently protected predators, shrewdly deceived victims, and covered up horrific clergy sex crimes. By his own admissions, he never reported these devastating crimes to law enforcement and he advised dozens of other Catholic officials across the country on how to do likewise.

Sir Salman flap grows

The search for the “historical Jesus,” it seems, will never end.

How many books have been written over the past 20 years about who Jesus really was? Jesus has been deconstructed from every possible social, cultural, historical and psychological angle.

A group of provocative scholars called the Jesus Seminar even produced a version of the Gospels that used color coding to grade 500 statements attributed to Jesus. They marked what they believed Jesus said, probably said, did not say but meant, and did not say.

mailer.jpegA decade ago, I read Normal Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son, in which the Jewish writer imagined what an insecure, waffling Jesus might have written about his life.

I was thinking about Mailer’s book this morning when I was reading about Muslims in Kashmir closing shops and schools to protest Britain’s awarding of knighthood to Salman Rushdie.

Could you imagine American Christians trying to destroy Mailer because of his book? Many Christians might not like the book. They may not like Mailer. But most probably recognize that Mailer is a writer, a noted producer of literature.

Novelists write from the gut, not to appease religious authorities.

images1.jpegThat’s why I think this whole Rushdie flap may greatly concern Americans who are struggling to understand the vast Muslim world…

Here’s today’s AP story:

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Most shops, offices and schools were closed Friday in India’s Muslim-majority Kashmir region to protest Britain awarding a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie, who has been accused of insulting Islam.
The strike was called by the Islamic rebel group Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of several groups protesting predominantly Hindu India’s rule in the divided Himalayan state.
In Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, many shops, buisnesses and schools heeded the strike call. But some parts of downtown remained open for business, and traffic was steady on the roads.
While no violence has been reported so far, police and security forces were on alert to thwart any widespread protests.
In Pakistan, supporters from the nation’s radical Islamic groups were set to hold protests later Friday over Rushdie’s knighthood. Continue reading

Winding down in Albany

The legislative sessions ends in Albany today. There are a lot of bills with religious components.

The New York chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, for instance, is calling on Muslims and others to contact their state senators about a bill that would recognize Muslim holidays in the NYC schools.

Then I read this report from the AP’s Marc Humbert about a Tuesday evening debate on same-sex marriage. It’s worth reading:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — It is a rare day in the state Legislature — perhaps once or twice a decade — when a debate keeps members in their seats listening intently to their colleagues.
It happened Tuesday evening as the state Assembly took up the difficult issue of same-sex marriage. The often emotional three-hour debate showed many at their best.
There was a mother’s story.
For five minutes, Teresa Sayward spoke to the hushed chamber about her son. About his coming home from elementary school and asking what “fag� and “queer� meant.
“My son didn’t want to be different. Lord knows, he wanted to change,� she recalled.
“So I consulted the church. I read everything I could. I read the Bible. I read white papers on this issue. Surely, I could make him normal,� said Sayward.
He also tried. He got a girlfriend in high school. It helped for a while, she said. His classmates were more accepting.
Then he went to college. There were drugs and questions about identity.
“When he would come home on the weekend, we would spend long nights crying together and talking,� she said. “One night, I said to him, ‘You have to be who you are. You can’t be what people think you should be.’
“And he said to me, ‘But Mom, I want to be normal. I want to have a house and a fence and a dog and children and I want to be successful,�’ Sayward said.
“He did decide with us — with his family, with his father and I — that he would be who he was. And, he became much happier in life,� she said. “I’m happy to report that my son has the house and the fence and the dog. And, he’s raised two wonderful young men.�
“Let’s search our hearts tonight and do the right thing and vote for the civil rights and the human rights of all of the people that we represent and give them the right to marry the people they love just like I had the right, 43 years ago, to marry my husband,� Sayward pleaded.
The applause went on for a full 20 seconds.
“The tears were streaming down my face,� said one veteran Democratic Assembly employee.
But Sayward, little known to most New Yorkers, is not a Democrat. She is no liberal New York City lawmaker. She was born, raised and still lives in Willsboro way up near the Canadian border. She can look across Lake Champlain to the Green Mountains of Vermont. She is a Republican from Republican country. There are 50,000 Republicans in her district and 21,000 Democrats.
It is not often that government debate, viewed as dry, formal and formulaic, impassions like this.
It happened in September 2001 as the Legislature adopted anti-terrorism measures in the days following the 9/11 attacks and in the state Senate in 1997 as that chamber rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow non-Indian casinos in New York.
While Sayward was perhaps the star Tuesday night, other Assembly members on both sides of the issue also impressed their colleagues.
Brian Kolb spoke of “the nuns who taught me in grammar school� and his marriage in the Catholic Church.
“I do feel threatened. I do feel harmed in terms of what you are trying to do with this particular bill because it’s a direct challenge to me and how I was brought up,� said the Canandaigua Republican as he came out against “a bill that tears at my very soul.�
“I might be over-dramatizing, but I truly fear we are witnessing the twilight of our modern civilization,� said Bronx Democrat Michael Benjamin as he voted with Kolb against the measure even while declaring his love “for my gay brother.�
Dierdre Scozzafava of St. Lawrence County told her Assembly colleagues “the politically easiest thing� for her would be to vote against the measure and support civil unions for gays.
But the Gouverneur Republican said that four days earlier she had sat with a good friend “and he explained to me why that did not provide him equal protection under the law.�
“What might be the easiest thing for me to do tonight, is not the right thing,� she said.
In all, four Republicans — Sayward, Scozzafava, Joel Miller of Dutchess County and Michael Spano of Westchester County — joined with 81 Democrats to win approval for the measure in the Assembly. It stands no chance of passage, for now, in the Republican-led state Senate.

New leadership for Dunwoodie, Catholic schools

Dunwoodie is getting a new boss. A bishop.

walsh.jpgAuxiliary Bishop “Gerald T. Walsh,”: a well-like priest and pastor of St. Elizabeth’s in Washington Heights since 1998, will become rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers on Aug. 1.

Changes at Dunwoodie have been rumored for some time, with several names being tossed about as contenders.

The outgoing rector, Monsignor Peter Finn, will return to Staten Island as pastor of Blessed Sacrament there. He had been pastor of St. Joseph-St. Thomas parish on Staten Island before Cardinal Egan assigned him to lead the seminary in 2001.

Finn has been very helpful to me, as far as making the seminary’s faculty available to discuss the issues of the day.

In addition, Monsignor Michael Hull, dean of St. John Neumann Residence, the pre-seminary (and everyone’s up-and-comer it seems), has been named rector of Neumann.

The great challenge facing everyone in the seminary system is finding potential priests to train. Vocations remain down, despite it being one of Cardinal Egan’s priorities since he came to NY.

And that’s not all.

Egan has also named Sister Marie Pappas as superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. A former 19-year teacher at Maria Regina H.S. in Hartsdale, Pappas has served as associate secretary of education for the past five years.

What this means is that Pappas will take over the day-to-day running of Catholic schools in NY from Dr. Catherine Hickey, who has been serving as both superintendent and secretary for education.

Hickey will remain the secretary and will continue to oversee the reorganization of Catholic schools into groups that will be run by one or more parishes. It’s a big, sensitive project that will take several years to complete.

Hickey, a longtime Yonkers resident, recently received the prestigious Msgr. John F. Meyers Award for her commitment to Catholic education.