Obama on dealing with ‘contradictions’

From Barack Obama’s speech this morning on race:

tjndc5-5j79tkuis9y17et80601_layout.jpg…we’ve heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy, and in some cases, pain.
For some, nagging questions remain: Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely, just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.


The church (Trinity United Church of Christ) contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children.
Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.
He contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Tibetan Buddhists making unfortunate headlines

Last year, religion journalists across the country chose the Buddhist monks of Myanmar as the “religion newsmakers” of 2007. The monks’ support of democracy, of course, was clamped down on — hard — by the military government.

tjndc5-5j77sgo7i1dmonjo601_layout.jpgMight the Dalai Lama or other Tibetan Buddhists become top religion newsmakers of 2008? Let’s hope not.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman apparently is saying that the Dalai Lama should face trial for inspiring the Tibetan riots of recent days.

The Dalai Lama himself said he would resign as Tibetan leader if the violence continues. He wants Tibetan autonomy within China (the Chinese insist he wants independence), but does not want to see the streets in flames…

Can the pope inspire vocations?

I’ve gotten quite a few comments about my Sunday article on the need for vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of NY. We also have a video on our “pope page.”

To sum up: The 10-county archdiocese has only 473 active diocesan priests and about 40 percent are over 65. Forty years ago, there were more than 1,000 priests.

tjndc5-5ipf5e12zxwvbglg6di_layout.jpgBut St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, the training ground for NY priests, is currently training only 23 seminarians for the archdiocese’s 405 parishes. And there are no incoming freshmen this fall.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that there is a real need for more seminarians.

The hope is that the big papal visit will inspire young men to listen for a call (from God) to the priesthood. Church officials believe that many young men are getting the call but do not hear it because they’re focused on worldly things — and are discouraged from hearing a religious call by friends, colleagues, even their families.

One point I didn’t mention: Every Catholic seminary in the country has been invited to send students to Yonkers for the papal youth rally on April 19. So there will be hundreds of seminarians to greet the pope.

TV watchers and others, then, may get the false impression that the beautiful New York seminary is overflowing with future priests…

United Church of Christ defends Obama’s pastor

Now that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s super-controversial Chicago pastor, has resigned from Obama’s campaign, here is a statement released by their denomination, the United Church of Christ.

It’s written as a news article, but is really a long statement supporting Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago:

tjndc5-5j5km2×3d101g3fzd60u_layout.jpgCleveland, OH– In the wake of misleading attacks on its mission and ministry, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ is being lauded by United Church of Christ leaders across the nation for the integrity of its worship, the breadth of its community involvement and the depth of its commitment to social justice.

“Trinity United Church of Christ is a great gift to our wider church family and to its own community in Chicago,” says UCC General Minister and President John H. Thomas. “At a time when it is being subjected to caricature and attack in the media, it is critical that all of us express our gratitude and support to this remarkable congregation, to Jeremiah A. Wright for his leadership over 36 years, and to Pastor Otis Moss III, as he assumes leadership at Trinity.”

Thomas says he has been saddened by news reports that “present such a caricature of a congregation that been such a great blessing.”

“These attacks, many of them motivated by their own partisan agenda, cannot go unchallenged,” Thomas emphasizes. “It’s time for all of us to say ‘No’ to these attacks and to declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends.” Continue reading

Kelly Clarkson live in Yonkers

It’s official: Pop princess Kelly Clarkson will sing for the pope in Yonkers on April 19.

I’m not a big “American Idol” guy, but I have heard her sing a few times and she has the pipes, as they say. She’ll sing “Ave Maria” for Benedict XVI, which the kids at the big youth rally should love, you would think.

tjndc5-5b5cndp58p5dsxzkezi_layout.jpgClarkson, who I understand is Catholic, will also sing at the pre-pope concert at Dunwoodie (where 20,000 youngsters will be assembled for hours before Benedict arrives).

And the next day, at Yankee Stadium, Harry Connick and Jose Feliciano will be among those who perform before the papal Mass.

Connick has apparently written a piece for the ocassion.

The Irish singer Dana, who bills herself as a Catholic, pro-life singer, will also perform at the Stadium.

Happy (secular) St. Pat’s

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those wearing green.

tjndc5-5j6f4qnd9y0i51g7jka_layout.jpgFor Catholics, it’s really only half a St. Patrick’s Day. The secular celebration is, of course, underway. The big NYC parade is going off as scheduled. And lots of green beer will be swilled.

But the liturgical St. Patrick’s Day was Friday. It had to be moved because Holy Week is now underway.

Cardinal Egan’s Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning was for Holy Monday, not for St. Patrick’s Day. But for those assembled outside the cathedral, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot…

ELCA moves ahead (slowly) on sexuality

Well, a task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has released a long-awaited “draft” statement on human sexuality that may or may not satisfy anyone.

The 4.8-million-member ELCA is all caught up in the homosexuality debate — not unlike the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church.

images1.jpegThe ELCA’s membership is very divided over whether gays should be eligible for ordination and whether ministers should be allowed to bless same-sex unions (neither is currently allowed). The ELCA started a process in 2001 to develop a “social statement” on human sexuality and they don’t plan to wrap it up until 2009.

Some might say they’re dragging it out.

For good reason.

The draft statement recommends that the ELCA continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but does not take a position on whether gay unions should be recognized in another form.

The ELCA’s task force on sexuality will now take feedback until Nov. 1. Each regional synod of the denomination will hold a hearing to discuss the report.

Then the task force will begin to revise it.

In the conclusion, the report says:

Because of God’s embrace of all the creation in Christ, we are a people set free for lives of responsibility aimed at seeking the good of the neighbor. Following Jesus, we discern what this responsibility means in terms of human sexuality. We do this not in some abstract ideal realm, but amid all the complexities, conflicts, joys, and sorrows of actual social and individual life. It is a task that this church accepts as a redeemed community.

Benedict expected to have some things to say about Catholic colleges

For almost 20 years, there has been a simmering debate in the world of Catholic higher education about how Catholic all those Catholic colleges and universities need to be.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II called for Catholic institutions to refocus on their Catholic identities — and to be careful about widening the scope of their liberal arts missions to the point of allowing un-Catholic theology to masquerade as the real thing.

A papal document, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, spelled things out like this:

13. Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture(16), every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

“1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;

2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;

3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;

4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life”(17).

14. “In the light of these four characteristics, it is evident that besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities, a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message. In a Catholic University, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative”(18).

tjndc5-5b4wpivnwoks8s2d7p4_layout.jpg John Paul II started a debate that hasn’t gone away or been resolved. What does it mean to be a Catholic college? This question came up in 2004, when I wrote about Iona College returning crucifixes to its classrooms at the request of a benefactor.

Now Pope Benedict XVI is expected to pursue the question further.

He’ll address Catholic education offices (including Catholic college presidents) in Washington on April 17. The expectation is that he will ask Catholic educational institutions to act more Catholic.

The Rev. Timothy Broglio, archbishop of the U.S. military services, tells the Washington Post: “It’ll be very clear and distinct ideas. . . There will be no mistaking what he wants to say.”

But Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, says: “Whatever he says, I think, for the most part, it will fall on deaf ears. Universities are tough institutions to turn around, and faculty are very powerful. . . . I don’t think it will have much of an effect.”

A warning of our nation’s sinfulness

Is the U.S. something like the Weimar Republic, heading for a really ugly fall?

That’s the contention of a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and others who held a news conference yesterday in Spring Valley to warn that our society is morally deteriorating.

As my colleague Laura Incalcaterra reports, the group said that it is becoming more and more difficult to live Torah-observant lives when surrounded by sin.

img_1119.jpgThe event was set up by two groups, Jews for Morality and the Rabbinical Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs. Jews for Morality is sort of the Orthodox Jewish version of the “religious right,” condemning abortion and homosexuality as sinful blights on the culture.

Rabbi Noson Leiter, who is involved with both groups, said they want to call attention to the “free fall of standards of decency and basic moral principles in the public arena.”

As Jews for Morality’s website explains:

The world has been led to believe that living in grave sin, can be an ‘alternative lifestyle’ and the slaughter of infants, as a bizarre ‘right of the individual.’ These and similar doctrines which are infiltrating more and more into our society, is bringing our country and the rest of the world to a social disaster, and above all incurs the wrath of the Almighty. We fear the punishment of the Master of the Universe, may He protect us.