Sanctioned founder of Legion of Christ dies

The 87-year-old founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was accused of sex abuse and gently sanctioned by the Vatican in 2006, has died.

The Rev. Marcial Maciel founded the Legion, a Catholic order generally regarded as especially conservative, in 1941 in Mexico.

The order has grown amazingly fast. It now has a presence in 40 countries and has gotten a lot of attention for attracting vocations at a time when older orders are hurting for priests.

1148030877_g_0.jpgThe Legion has a strong presence in Westchester. It has plans to build a liberal arts university in Thornwood and a seminary in New Castle.

More than a decade ago, journalists made public accusations from nine former seminarians that Maciel had abused them decades before. The accusations were denied by Maciel and the Legion.

Pope John Paul II was known to a great fan of the Legion (that’s Maciel with him). But in May 2006, after Pope Benedict XVI had taken over, the Vatican announced that Maciel would stop celebrating Mass in public and that he would live out a “reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry.”

The Legion announced today that Maciel died yesterday in the U.S. of natural causes.

‘The four chaplains’ remembered

A priest, a rabbi, two ministers. All chaplains.

chaplains_pentagon.jpgThey famously went down with the U.S.A.T. Dorchester on Feb. 2, 1943, giving up their life jackets to others and staying on board until the bitter end. Nearly 700 men died.

This Sunday (Feb. 3) American Legion Post #1009 in Yorktown Heights will hold an interfaith service commemorating the sacrifice of the “Four Chaplains.”

The 2 p.m. ceremony, open to the public, will take place at Post #1009, 235 Veterans’ Road, Yorktown Heights. For information: (914) 739-1890 or (845) 528-7987.

The four chaplains were: Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister.

The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation has more on their story.

Speaker series opens with expert on Russia

It’s like the 92nd Street Y, right here in the burbs.

I’ve blogged in the past about the tremendous speaker series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor.

Ken Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek and former religion editor there, is a parishioner at St. Theresa’s and uses his contacts to bring in big-name speakers.

And it’s all for free. At 7:30 p.m.

The winter/spring series opens Monday and may be the best line-up yet.

andrew_nagorski.jpgOn Monday (Feb. 4): Andrew Nagorski (right), longtime foreign correspondent for Newsweek and twice the magazine’s Moscow Bureau Chief. His topic: “The Greatest Battle: Putin, Stalin and the struggle to face the truth about Russia’s history.”

On Monday, Feb. 25: Scott Appleby, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and former director of the university’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. His topic: Adrift or awakened: Catholic leadership and authority after the abuse crisis.”

Appleby is a terrific and forceful writer on Catholic matters. I heard him address the U.S. bishops in 2002, at the height of the crisis, and can attest that he is also an excellent speaker.

On Monday, March 3: Jack Miles, distinguished professor of English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Miles is a winner of a McArthur “genius” award and of a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for “God: A Biography.” His topic: “The missionary moment: Christian America in the world war of ideas.”

He’ll focus on the common belief in the Muslim world that the U.S. is a Christian nation waging war on Islam. Miles’ biography of God is a great read.

On Monday, May 5, Father Donald Cozzens, professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland and former rector of St. Mary’s Seminary there. He has written five books on the Catholic priesthood including his latest, Freeing Celibacy. His topic: “A priesthood in crisis, a church in trouble: Is there light in this darkness.”

Cozzens has been a tremendously provocative writer in recent years. His book The Changing Face of the Priesthood directly and honestly addressed the question of why a large percentage of Catholic priests are gay. His book seemed to open the way for Catholic scholars to discuss the subject. At St. Theresa’s he’ll discuss the steep decline in vocations.

St. Theresa’s is a small church with ample parking. There’s not a bad seat (or pew). If you attend, you won’t be disappointed.

The Super Bowl…like any sacred event

Ever year at Super Bowl time and World Series time, people point out the parallels between sports fandom and religious fervor.

(It may also happen with NASCAR events, but I wouldn’t know.)

Anyway, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, an astute commentator on the interaction between religion and, well, everything else, has sent out some thoughts or talking points about the Big Game this Sunday.

hirschfieldp.jpgHirschfield is co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC and the author of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (he’s a big promoter of interfaith dialogue).

Here are his thoughts:

1. This really is a competition between two understandings of what sports is all about and says a lot about the two teams’ fans and how they see the world. If you root for the underdog, and think it’s about the struggle to succeed, you’re probably a Giants fan. If you crave perfection like a machine, the Pats are your team.

2. Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday are more alike than most of us realize. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance which speaks to their hope and aspirations. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are as Gods.

3. Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough. We experience “being in the zone,� what psychologists call “the flow state,� of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally.

4. The importance of using this safe experience to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter can not see beyond his own team and can not appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallel to world events is clear.

5. People will create communities and celebrate this event, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.

For what it’s worth (not much), I take the Patriots, 38-16.

Sainthood path begins for Paulist founder

Cardinal Egan has opened a “cause” for the canonization of Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, who founded the Paulist Fathers.

home.jpgHecker, a native New Yorker who was born in 1819, lived a difficult early life before converting to Catholicism, becoming a priest, and establishing the first religious congregation of Catholic men in America.

According to Beth Griffin of Catholic News Service:

Paulist Father Paul Robichaud, postulator of Father Hecker’s cause, officially requested that Cardinal Egan initiate the archdiocesan inquiry into “the life, service and holiness of this servant of God.” With the formal opening of his cause, Father Hecker receives the title servant of God.

Cardinal Egan accepted Father Robichaud’s request, declared he was initiating the inquiry and would consult with his brother bishops and petition the Holy See. Cardinal Egan took the first of several oaths promising to fulfill his duties for the archdiocesan inquiry.

At the start of the long, slow process of promoting sainthood, Egan celebrated a Mass at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on the Upper West Side, a parish established by Hecker.

3.jpgEgan said:

Father Hecker is truly a saint for our day. We think of saints of people who went through life without challenges and without hurt. That changes with Isaac Hecker. … He is a saint like us: a saint who has suffered, a saint who made his way through life bearing crosses with a tremendous faith.

As Griffin explained:

(Egan) said the native New Yorker was born in 1819 to German immigrant parents. He escaped a yellow fever epidemic, nearly died of smallpox and carried its physical scars throughout his life. He worked with his older brothers in their successful bakery and flour business, but did not have an interest in commerce. He was disappointed with the outcome of political causes he supported.

He was a seeker.

The Paulist Fathers try to preach the Gospel in ways that resonate with contemporary culture, not an easy thing to do. They see themselves as missionaries in America, still.

A good example of their work is, a lively and provocative website that aims to be “An online magazine for spiritual seekers in their 20s and 30s.”

Here’s a good bio of Hecker on BustedHalo.

Who will Pat Robertson endorse now?

Now we know what Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani meant.


Rudy won’t even make it to the New York primary.

For months, I’ve had a friendly debate with our columnist Noreen O’Donnell about Giuliani’s chances of winning the Republican nomination.

1a531aba-4a49-4246-90d6-91873d03bf7f_ms.jpegNoreen believed that in the post-9/11 world, Rudy had the credibility to go all the way. She was won over by the argument that social conservatives would see the war on terror as the greatest “moral” struggle of the day, surpassing even abortion.

I couldn’t see it. I just didn’t see how a pro-choice, gay-friendly, thrice-married New Yorker could win over large numbers of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics, a large hunk of the folks who vote in GOP primaries. (I was certainly influenced by interviewing evangelical and Catholic analysts, who couldn’t imagine a formula for Rudy to win.)

But I’m not gloating this morning, Noreen.

It’s hard to say that Rudy’s transformation from GOP front-runner to Ron Paul-sized afterthought had much to do with his positions on “moral values” issues. It sure looks like he fizzled right out because he was a lousy candidate.

Shalom, ‘Shalom’ TV

A Jewish TV network called Shalom is apparently going national.

The network is now available only in Philadelphia, parts of Delaware, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and northern Virginia.

But on Friday, the network joins all Comcast systems across the country.

logo_f1.gifAnd the network is in talks with Time Warner Cable, which serves NYC and parts of New Jersey, to pick it up in February.

Shalom is getting closer to the Lower Hudson Valley…

According to the network’s website:

Programs on Shalom TV reflect and address the diversity and pluralism of the Jewish experience. The service does not represent any specific movement or organization in the Jewish community.

Shalom TV is directed to every Jewish person with a sense of Jewish identity, and for members of the Jewish community seeking their roots.

Televised offerings are also for anyone with a passion for learning and a desire to gain a greater understanding of Jewish tradition, Jewish life, and the land of Israel.

United Methodists, ELCA near votes on ‘full communion’

The concept of unity among different Christian traditions is always tricky.

Everyone wants it, but no one knows what it might look like.

But “full communion” is a different matter.

Establishing full communion between denominations is about “acknowledging one another’s ministries as valid,” said the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

header-logo.gifThe United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — two of the country’s largest Protestant denominations and bellwethers of the mainline tradition — have been preparing for years to acknowledge one another’s ministries as valid.

Now they are close to voting on establishing full communion.

elca1b.gifUnited Methodists will vote on April 29; ELCAers in 2009.

A statement published by the two denominations in 2005 noted: “Lutherans and United Methodists have been well acquainted with one another. Our relationship, locally and nationally, has been forged through friendships, family ties, congregations, ecumenical councils, colleges and seminaries. We are, in countless places, partners in ministry.”

The two denominations plan to encourage joint Holy Communion services, based on guidelines that will be prepared.

The ELCA is already in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ and the Moravian Church in America.

The UMC is in full communion with the AME Church, the AME Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

A death in the family for Rev. Richardson

The Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson has never been one to stay quiet.

He’s not about to start now.

Christopher Ridley, the 23-year-old, off-duty Mount Vernon police officer who was fatally shot by Westchester County police on Friday in an apparent mistake, was a member of Richardson’s church, Grace Baptist in Mount Vernon.

tjndc5-5b5hvz3cym9bzkzsezi_layout.jpgRidley’s father has been the head of maintenance at Grace Baptist for a decade.

So this tragedy is very close to Richardson. It’s family to him.

Richardson called the shooting “an outrageous execution of a young African-American.”

Ridley was trying to break up a fight between two homeless men and apparently called for police back-up.

So now Richardson and Al Sharpton are waiting to see how the White Plains PD and the Westchester County DA’s office will handle things. They’re probably not going to want to wait very long for answers.

An addition: I just spoke to Richardson, hoping to find out more about what he meant when he called the shooting an “execution.”

He said that he didn’t mean to say that the four officers meant to kill Ridley.

The problem, he said, is that “police culture” teaches officers to distrust young black men.

“I was trying to use language that brings attention to how the system failed brother Ridley,” Richardson told me. “Brother Ridley sought to become part of the system, to advance good and positive outcomes. Then the system turned on him.”

The four cops involved in the shooting were themselves victims, Richardson said. Of the system. Of the culture.

“The problem is bigger than these police officers,” he said. “We have to get to a place where we don’t have police officers reacting that way to a black man.”

LDS president Hinckley got things done

Many New Yorkers may not grasp the tremendous impact of Gordon B. Hinckley, the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who died yesterday at 97.

The Mormon church experienced incredible growth, nationally and internationally, since Hinckley became president in 1995.

When he took over, the church was still seen a regional sect, confined to Utah and the American West. But today the church has 13 million members worldwide and is increasingly seem as a major player on the national religious scene.

gbhbom_medium.jpgHinckley increased the number of Mormon temples around the world from 47 to 124, making it possible for the most dedicated Latter-day Saints to live far from Utah. Temples are where Mormons in good standing take part in the church’s most important rituals.

The church announced plans way back in 1996 to build a temple right here in Harrison, on Kenilworth Road, just off I-287. But lawsuits and the town’s approval process slowed things down. In 2004, the church opened a temple in midtown Manhattan.

I’ve asked church officials repeatedly what might happen to the Harrison property. The answer was always the same: It’s President Hinckley’s decision.

Hinckley, in fact, drove through Harrison himself before the church bought its property. He was a real hands-on leader, despite his enormous international responsibilities.

The LDS church believes that its president is indeed a prophet, who runs things based on revelations from God.

We’ll soon learn who the 16th LDS president and prophet will be (and maybe, someday, what will happen to the Harrison property).

Here’s the coverage from the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, a paper owned by the Mormon church.

And here’s the coverage from the independent Salt Lake Tribune.