Cardinal Dulles’ farewell lecture

I mentioned last week that Cardinal Avery Dulles would give his final lecture this past Tuesday as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham.

Dulles, who is almost 90, is retiring at the end of the academic year.

tjndc5-5b5fg0cx1h3vp5buezi_layout1.jpgHe has been in very poor health in recent years, and some of his major speeches have been read by others. This was the case on Tuesday, when Dulles’ farewell address by read by Father Joe O’Hare, a former president of Fordham. Dulles sat nearby. (The picture is at St. Joseph’s Seminary in 2005, when he looked a bit better.)

Dulles’ words wrapped things up like this:

When in these lectures I affirm that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, or that he makes himself substantially present in the Eucharist, or that the gate to salvation is a narrow one, or that priestly ordination is reserved to men, or that capital punishment is sometimes warranted, in each case I am willingly adhering to the testimony of Scripture and perennial Catholic tradition.

Several times in the past year or two, I’ve heard rumors that Dulles might be gravely ill. The word has been spreading again the past few days, probably because Dulles did not give his lecture.

In his speech, Dulles wrote that a Polio infection from 1945 (while he was serving in the Navy) had left him unable to teach. I’ve heard that while Dulles has difficulty speaking and walking, he is still writing…

Pope plans brief meeting with Jewish leaders

I don’t know that anyone has reported this yet, but I understand that Pope Benedict will meet separately with Jewish leaders in Washington after his interreligious event on April 17.

I’m told that he’s going to squeeze in a short meeting with 50-60 Jewish leaders, something that has not been on the papal agenda.

One Jewish leader involved in interreligious dialogue told me that many in the Jewish community believe that Benedict will address the prayer of conversion for Jews that is part of the Latin Good Friday liturgy.

In an email to me, Father Rev. James Massa, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed that the meeting with Jewish leaders will take place.

“The Holy Father wanted to offer his Passover greetings to the Jewish community in the United States, and so he asked for this brief meeting immediately following the interreligious gathering at the John Paul II Cultural Center here in D.C.,” he wrote.

On the wrong side of the Catholic League

Way back in ’97, I profiled Bill Donohue, the new boss of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who was getting a lot of press for going after a TV show called “Nothing Sacred” (which went off the air soon after).

billdonhue.jpegAt the time, Donohue told me:

Many Catholics tend to be more passive, more diplomatic. I have declared that this organization will be responsibly aggressive. If we’re Catholic, we have to be responsible. But if we’re a civil rights organization, we have to be aggressive. I’m tired of the namby-pamby Catholic approach – turn the other cheek; don’t rock the boat. Not us.

In recent days, Donohue’s aggressiveness has been aimed here at the Journal News/LoHud.

Some background: For months now, I’ve been doing advance coverage of the papal visit. We have a website with several videos about the pope, graphics and articles. In addition, of course, I’ve written several articles for the newspaper. And I blog about the pope just about daily.

We have plenty more coverage planned. I’ve already completed an article about Pope Benedict XVI’s concerns about religious and moral relativism, which will run any day now. And we have a bunch of other articles in the works.

One of those articles — one — is about lapsed Catholics. The fact is that there are a lot of lapsed or former or non-practicing Catholics in New York. Everybody knows a few or even many. So what does the papal visit mean to them? Do they miss having a sense of connection to the Catholic community? How do they relate to the pope?

The idea is not to give people an open forum to criticize the pope, but to recognize a sizable group of people. Again, it’s one article out of dozens.

The reporter working on this story, Ernie Garcia, decided to put a message out on LoHud asking “lapsed Catholics” who might have something to say about the pope to contact him. This is an example of what’s called “crowd-sourcing,” a popular journalistic convention these days that basically seeks to have people come to us instead of us always going to them.

The Catholic League somehow came across Ernie’s message. Bill Donohue put out a response that is difficult to summarize, so here it is:

This is a gift the pope will surely cherish—knowing how ex-Catholics feel about their former religion. We’d like to return the favor and that is why we have secured the e-mails of 134 Journal News employees, ranging from the Publisher, Michael J. Fisch, to the Gardening & Horticultural Editor, Gayle Williams (sorry, Gayle, but someone has to be last). We are sending them the following survey:

Protestants: Given that no religious group switches denominations more than Protestants, can you tell us what it feels like to bounce around from one contiguous neighborhood to another in search of the ideal church.

Jews: Given that the vast majority of Jews do not attend synagogue and that 52 percent of them intermarry, can you tell us what it feels like to be a non-Jewish Jew.

Muslims: Given that Muslims who convert may be murdered, can you tell us if you’ve at least fantasized about converting.

“Please vet your remarks by first reporting to Ernie Garcia. We have appointed Ernie The Journal News liaison to the Catholic League.”

We all got a chuckle out of it.

Bob Fredericks, who is the deputy managing editor for local news here, sent an email to a communications person for the Catholic League, suggesting that they take a look at our overall pope coverage. He didn’t get a response, so he called the office yesterday.

He was told that the Catholic League was not interested in anything but the “lapsed Catholic” message.

This morning, Donohue was on “Fox & Friends” on Fox TV, and I’m told that he singled out the Journal News for criticism.

So there you go.


15 years later, new synagogue will be dedicated

It’s been a long haul for Young Israel of New Rochelle.

tjndc5-5b3ghwc62ps14zxle6jt_layout.jpgThe Orthodox congregation announced back in 1993 that it had outgrown its home, a former church on North Avenue (that’s it), and that it would build a larger synagogue a short distance away on the road.

Then came lots of community opposition (“It’s too big and will cause too much traffic.”), lawsuits and daunting approval processes. There were charges of anti-Orthodoxism, even among Jews, and all sorts of nasty stuff.

But Young Israel persevered. The legal process ended in 2006. And the new synagogue was built (but not without squabbling with contractors).

I just got an email saying that Young Israel of New Rochelle will open and dedicate its new home this Sunday, with a procession and dancing in the street.

Will Catholic teachers strike when Benedict’s in town?

When the union representing teachers at 10 Catholic high schools said a few months back that they might strike during the papal visit, I was skeptical.

Would teachers really want to strike when Benedict’s in town?

It sounded like a strategy to get the Archdiocese of New York to improve its contract offer before the pope arrives.

But now the papal visit is only weeks away and the Lay Faculty Association yesterday voted 132-20 — that’s pretty one-sided — to authorize a strike.

Many teachers are bitter over what they perceive to be poor treatment and a lack of respect from the archdiocese. But the archdiocese says its contract offer is both fair and the best it can do.

If relations between the archdiocese and the LFA were bad before…

The LFA has been without a contract since Aug. 31. It’s important to note that this union represents about 430 teachers at 10 schools run by the archdiocese, including Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, Maria Regina in Hartsdale and Kennedy Catholic in Somers.

The larger Catholic teachers union, the Federation of Catholic Teachers, which represents about 3,300 elementary school teachers, is also without a contract. But the federation, which is traditionally much less confrontational than the LFA, is not threatening a strike.

If the LFA does strike when Benedict is in town, will the pope even know? You have to figure he won’t spend much time watching the news. And his keepers probably won’t share the news of picketing teachers.

But Cardinal Egan will know. Things could get ugly.

What’s on the pope’s mind

I’m just catching up with a fine “papal preview” by John Thavis of Catholic News Service, who says that the pope’s Palm Sunday sermon may give a good sense of what he’ll say in the U.S.

He writes:

tjndc5-5jbathxeeoxtz4lzg04_layout.jpg Naturally, the pope will tailor his U.S. talks to specific audiences, including educators, priests and seminarians, young people and bishops.

But rather than a laundry list of specific problems and solutions, his listeners in Washington and New York are apt to hear carefully reasoned arguments about the foundational values of Christianity.

On Palm Sunday, the pope posed a blunt question, one that caught people’s attention: “Is our faith pure and open enough?”

More questions quickly followed: Is the faith of today’s Christians pure enough to attract other spiritual seekers? Do modern Christians recognize that “greed is idolatry,” and is this awareness reflected in their lifestyles? Are Christians willing to let their own lives be radically shaped by Christ?

The pope’s words echoed a famous Good Friday meditation he wrote in 2005, a few weeks before his election, when he acknowledged the failings of Christians and characterized the church as a boat “taking in water on every side.”

This call to self-examination in light of the Gospel is high on the pope’s pastoral agenda. It’s not about “Catholic identity” imposed from the outside, and it’s not about following rules; it’s about provoking people to reflect on what it means to follow Christ.

Constantine’s Sword to arrive with the pope

Talk about timing.

On April 18, the day the pope arrives in NY (and the eve of the eve of Passover), a film based on James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword will open at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

jim_carroll_writer_1.jpgCarroll is a former Catholic priest and sharp critic of the Catholic Church. His book is largely about the history of anti-Semitism in the church.

A release says that in the film “Carroll raises difficult questions about Pope Benedict’s leadership.”

The timing of the premiere will, one has to believe, strike some people as inappropriate.

Here is a synopsis of the film from its website:

Constantine’s Sword is the story of James Carroll; a former Catholic priest on a journey to confront his past and uncover the roots of religiously inspired violence and war. His search also reveals a growing scandal involving religious infiltration of the U.S. military and the terrible consequences of religion’s influence on America’s foreign policy.

Carroll focuses on Christian antisemitism as the model for all religious hatred, exposing the cross as a symbol of a long history of violence against Jews (and, most recently, Moslems). The film brings the history of religious intolerance to life, tracing it as a source of the fanaticism that threatens the world today. At its core, Constantine’s Sword is a compelling personal narrative — a kind of detective story — as one man uncovers the dark areas of his own past, searching for a better future.

The other story about Obama and the United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ has set up a blog about Trinity UCC, Barack Obama’s church and the source of so much news in recent weeks. (ADD: It’s been pointed out to me that the UCC may not have set up the blog. But they’ve clearly endorsed it, putting it on their homepage.)

A very interesting UCC/Obama story that has not gotten much attention, though, is this: The Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether a speech that Obama gave last June at the United Church of Christ’s national gathering in Hartford was too political for a tax-exempt organization.

Obama is a UCC member and his address was presented as that of a UCC member at a denominational gathering. He also happens to be a politician. Obama spoke about the role of faith in public life.

tjndc5-5jbdd36bqo61c9sphg04_layout2.jpgReligious groups are allowed to invite political figures to address them — but they cannot endorse such figures. Was Obama’s appearance an inherent endorsement? Or merely a speech by a member (he was invited before he began running for president)? Or both?

The IRS letter says: “Our concerns are based on articles posted on several websites including the church’s which state that United States Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama addressed nearly 10,000 church members gathered at the United Church of Christ’s biennial General Synod at the Hartford Civic Center on June 23, 2007. In addition, 40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside the center to promote his campaign.”

The letter goes on to say that all churches “are prohibited from participating in, or intervening in (including the publication or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

The UCC says the investigation is “disturbing.”

Harry Connick working it for the pope

So Harry Connick Jr. was asked to write opening and closing pieces for thetjndc5-5j4pzvtw88h7qqsgj2c_layout.jpg pre-Mass program at Yankee Stadium on April 20.

Beth Griffin of Catholic News Service has a nice piece about the papal entertainment.

Stig Edgren, who is producing the entertainment portions of the New York events, told her that he booked Kelly Clarkson pronto for the pre-youth rally concert at St. Joseph’s Seminary on April 19.

“I was looking for an artist who was a good role model, a success, with no scandals,” he said.