Catholic bishops choose their leaders

Some interesting developments from the U.S. Catholic Bishops conference in Baltimore, where the bishops have elected new officers.

tjndc5-5hekwiukesgj4a7u9om_layout2.jpgCardinal Francis George of Chicago (that’s him), “as expected,”:,1,34653.story?ctrack=1&cset=true was elected president. He is widely considered the “first among equals” among the big-city cardinal/archbishops, a top thinker whose opinions count in Rome.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson was elected vice president, with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee coming in second. Many observers think that Dolan has a shot to be come the next archbishop of New York (although others think he is destined to get Chicago after George).

Also — and this is kind of interesting — the chairmanship of a committee on canon law did not go to Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, a leading proponent of not giving Communion to pro-choice politicians like Rudy Giuliani. The seat instead went to Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago.

As NCR’s “John Allen”: explains it:

Burke has garnered national attention for his strong stand in favor of using canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law to justify refusing communion to politicians who support abortion rights, and his election could have been seen as an endorsement of that position.

Cardinal Egan, by the way, is not at the meetings because, as Whispers’ Rocco Palmo reports, he is “recuperating from an emergency dental procedure performed over the weekend.”

More on the big trip

Second day thoughts on the pope’s itinerary:

1. It’s notable that during a packed, six-day visit, the pope will find the time for an interreligious meeting in Washington on April 17 and an ecumenical event in NYC on April 18. We don’t know much about these events. But Benedict XVI knows he’s coming to two religiously diverse and pluralistic cities in a religiously diverse and pluralistic country — where religious leaders are pretty much expected to reach out to others.

There is a great deal of Muslim participation in Washington’s interfaith affairs, thanks in large part to the presence of Georgetown University. So it will be mighty interesting (19 months after the pope’s Regensburg speech) to hear what Benedict might have to say about the growing presence of Islam in the U.S. Despite tensions in this country, Muslims have — for an assortment of reasons — fit better in the American mix than they have in the pope’s Europe.

Benedict is also bound to reach out in some way to the Jewish community. He has already met with a good many American Jewish leaders at the Vatican.

The ecumenical event in NYC will also be closely watched (yes, I know, every stop on the trip will be). In the city of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, will he make note of the Episcopal Church’s ongoing embrace of gays and lesbians? Will he acknowledge the growing presence of evangelicals and Pentecostals in NYC and across the U.S.? You have to figure that Benedict will embrace the city’s Orthodox Christians leaders.

Here’s hoping that the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Garrison — longtime leaders in the Catholic ecumenical/interfaith world — will play a role here somewhere.

2. The Vatican has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq since Day One. When Benedict addresses the U.N. on April 18, whatever his main subject, what will he say about the war? Will he critique American foreign policy while in the U.S., days after meeting President Bush at the White House?

3. The pope’s visit to Ground Zero on the morning of April 20 promises to be the most moving part of the trip. For Catholics especially — not to mention those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 — to see the pope at the site is certain to be a deeply emotional experience.

4. One must wonder: When and where will the presidential candidates attempt to grab onto the pope’s white coattails?

Don’t plan on cruising around Yonkers on April 19

It’s official: Pope Benedict XVI is stopping in Yonkers.

The rest of the media, I realize, are emphasizing his “planned visits”: to Ground Zero, to St. Patrick’s, to Yankee Stadium, to the U.N.

tjndc5-5hbdco9qpso1arjbem9q_layout.jpgAll of that is important, of course. I’ll be there. But St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers is our backyard — and the pope himself will be there on April 19.

The papal visit, on the whole, should be something to behold. Pope John Paul II came to the U.S. first as an unknown, as a mysterious Polish fellow. Then he returned years later as a superstar, a pope like none before him.

Benedict is well known to all…as Cardinal Ratzinger. But I think there will be tremendous curiosity about how he will present himself to America as the pope.

Anyway, get ready for five months of build-up. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Catholic Church in the U.S. but forgot to ask.

Our blogs, by the way, have been down all day (until now). Let’s hope they stay healthy for a while.

More thoughts on the pope later. I’ll be on RNN’s NewsCenter now at 5:30 or so.

Mormon scholar leaving NYC for other coast

A prominent Mormon scholar is leaving New York for Claremont, Calif., where Claremont Graduate University is starting a professorship in Mormon studies.

It’s a sign that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being taken seriously by the wider academic world.

2007_bushman.jpgRichard Bushman, professor emeritus of early American history at Columbia University, has long been a favorite journalist’s source on all things Mormon. In 2005, he published “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,” a biography of the faith’s founder and prophet.

Bushman told the “LA Times”:,1,2895107.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=1&cset=true that he hasn’t faced much anti-Mormon discrimination in the academic world, but that some profs show what he called “great curiosity.”

“How can you be a scholar and believe in all of these extravagant doctrines and happenings,” he said, summarizing the attitude.

If Mitt Romney lasts deep into the primary season, Bushman will likely become a national voice on a faith that is still quite mysterious for most folks.

Happy Diwali

Today begins Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.

It is Hinduism’s most important festival and is also celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.

The origins of the festival are connected to many legends. These days, it celebrates the victory of good over evil.

tjndc5-5hby1xtp6kz15pczwdhr_layout.jpgIn India, Diwali is a national holiday. The country’s stock exchanges, for instance, only opened for one hour today.

Diwali is also a time for firecrackers.

In the picture, an Indian sculptor is campaigning against the use of firecrackers at the Puri beach in the Indian state of Orissa.

A few days back, the House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing “the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali.”

Ishani Chowdhury, executive director of the “Hindu-American Foundation,”: was pretty happy about it:

Today, the U.S. House made history in recognizing that the religious and cultural heritage of Hindu Americans is as significant as any in our pluralistic society. We are so thankful that two years of determined effort culminated in the historic vote that will make for a very joyous Diwali this year…today would not have been possible without the unstinted efforts of some very committed supporters and congressional leaders.

Blair saying goodbye to Church of England

When Tony Blair addressed the big Al Smith Dinner a few weeks ago in NYC, it was widely seen as a confirmation that the former British PM would convert to Catholicism, as had long been rumored.

Today, the British press is saying that Blair, a lifelong Anglican, will indeed convert.

tjndc5-5h1dn3ydfx5xetg11fh_layout.jpgBlair’s wife and kids are Catholic. And he often accompanied them to Mass. He even took Communion for a while before being told it was a no-no.

England’s “Guardian”:,,2208165,00.html says:

Mr Blair, now a Middle East peace envoy, was baptised as an Anglican but has been known to be interested in Catholicism for many years. He refrained from conversion earlier because of constitutional sensitivities. The Blair government pursued a number of policies which the church opposed: introducing civil partnerships, authorising stem cell research, extending equality regulations to adoptions by gay couples, failing to restrict abortions and going to war in Iraq. Famously, Mr Blair accepted the advice of his press secretary that “We don’t do God,” cutting a reference to the Almighty from a prime ministerial broadcast on the eve of the war.

Although there is no bar to a prime minister being a Catholic and both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have had Catholic leaders in recent years, there has never been a Catholic in Number 10. Only the sovereign and heirs to the crown and their spouses are legally barred from membership of the faith because of the Act of Settlement following the Glorious Revolution, which overthrew the last Catholic monarch, James II, in 1688.

St. Louis temple defying Catholic neighbors

Two Catholic women from the St. Louis area plan to be ordained as Catholic “priests” on Sunday at, of all places, a synagogue.

Yes, the whole thing is causing a lot of anxiety in St. Louie.

The two women, both in their 60s, are tabbed for “ordination” by an independent group called Roman Catholic WomenPriests, which is, of course, not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has warned the two women that they will be excommunicated if their go through with their ritual.

Burke is also not happy that Central Reform Congregation has agreed to host the event. It sounds as if Catholic/Jewish relations in St. Louis may be bruised for some time if the temple does not back out.

Rabbi Susan Talve told the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch:”: “We are being a sanctuary for people who didn’t have another safe place to go and were asking for sanctuary.”

The larger Jewish community in St. Louis is distancing itself from Central Reform. But Talve sounds unlikely to change her mind.

Father Vincent Heir, who directs the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ interfaith efforts, said: “This is about the integrity of communities. We don’t invite groups that would be hurtful to the Jewish community into Catholic churches.”

Let’s see what happens…

Artistic expression for Orthodox Jewish women

A new organization of observant Jewish artists and entertainers called Atara is holding a conference this weekend for women only.

The “conference,”: at the Yeshiva U Stern College for Women in NYC, will run from Saturday night (after Shabbat, of course) to Monday. It will cover drama, song composition, dance, playwriting, singing, choreography, you name it.

Hollywood film director Robin Garbose will talk about making it as an Orthodox woman in the entertainment industry. Can’t be easy.

Miriam Leah Droz, an artist who started the group, told the “New Jersey Jewish Standard”: that she did so because women are prohibited from performing for men.

“We think there’s a limitation on art, but art can’t function with limitations —that’s the whole point of art,” she said. “Atara is a reconciliation of art and Torah.”

Get the scoop on faith in the voting booth

So, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has asked Rudy Giuliani to “throw back”: Pat Robertson’s endorsement because of Robertson’s attacks on Islam.

There’s a better chance of the Yankees bringing back Torre and ARod (and Hideki Irabu).

Anyway, if you want to get a good sense of what the televangelist’s endorsement of pro-choice Rudy might mean, come to St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor on Tuesday evening at 7:30.

green.jpgThere you will get to hear the scholar “John Green,”: who promises to be among the most quoted people in America over the next year.

Green is our leading expert on how people of different faiths vote. What drives them? What are they looking for? Which candidates do they really like? Which candidates might lose the support of certain groups down the road?

He’s bound to talk about whether evangelicals are really cracking up (politically) and what role the Catholic bishops might play in determining Rudy’s fate.

Green has access to all the latest polls and breaks them down in a clear, sensible way. I’ve heard him speak several times.

The bottom line: If you’re into this stuff — religion and politics — you want to hear Green.

He’s the latest catch of Ken Woodward, contributing editor at Newsweek and a parishioner at “St. Theresa’s,”: who brings amazing speakers to his suburban church.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

Want to know how Republican support for the candidates breaks down by religious group?

The “Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life”: put this together, based on two recent surveys…

Rudy’s holding his own with white evangelicals. But he’s cleaning up with Catholics. What can the nation’s Catholic bishops be thinking about this?