East Village church saved by anonymous donor

And now the good news:

_mg_2654.jpgSt. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in the East Village, scheduled to be torn down, has been saved by an anonymous donor.

The Committee to Save St. Brigid, which has been putting on the full-court press to save the 1848 church, must be thrilled.

Mr. Donor has pledged $10 to renovate the church, $2 million to establish an endowment and $8 million to support St. Brigid’s School.

In a statement from the archdiocese, Cardinal Egan said:

This magnificent gift will make it possible for Saint Brigid’s Church to be fittingly restored with its significant structural problems properly addressed. The two additional gifts, to create an endowment for the parish and to support the parish school, are a powerful testament to the donor’s goodness and understanding. He has my heartfelt gratitude, as I recently told him at a meeting in my residence.

American Bible Society reviewing link to e-commerce tycoon

I got this ominous-sounding press release today from the American Bible Society, a NYC-based group, nearly 200 years old, that tries to make the Bible available to everyone:

New York – May 20, 2008 – The American Bible Society Board Chairman, Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson, announced today that two American Bible Society executives, Dr. Paul Irwin, President, and Richard Stewart, Chief Financial Officer, have been placed on leave at the request of the Board of Trustees.

The Board has committed to a full and independent review of the financial stewardship of the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society’s Executive Vice Presidents, Dr. R. L. Vest and The Reverend Simon Barnes, will assume responsibility for day-to-day operations, reporting to the American Bible Society Board of Trustees Chairman, Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson.

On Sunday, the NYT ran a lengthy story about a guy named Richard J. Gordon, an “electronic commerce” tycoon who has had a wide range of clients — from porn companies to, you guessed, it the American Bible Society.

The Times reported that the American Bible Society paid $5 million to Gordon’s company between 2005 and 2007 for several projects, including digitizing the Bible.

“I have absolutely no knowledge of Richard Gordon’s involvement in pornography,” Paul Irwin told the Times.

Unwelcome media coverage continues

And away we go…

Cardinal Egan has a meeting scheduled with his Priests Council tomorrow. I know a lot priests are betting that it will be canceled.

But if it’s not, what will he say?

There is also a meeting scheduled tomorrow of the Priest Personnel Board, which, according to several sources, was not consulted on the recent priest reassignments and which has requested a meeting with the cardinal.

A big day.

The sudden reassignment of dozens of priests is continuing to cause, shall we way, great upset across the archdiocese. I write about it today. The NYTimes writes about it today. Whispers in the Loggia writes about it today.

tjndc5-5b53mmt54q010n0lq7p4_layout.jpgWe all know that the cardinal dislikes media coverage, especially of this sort, so who knows how he’ll react. The public suggestion from anonymous priests (more on that in a moment) that the cardinal reassigned certain priests as punishment will not go over well. (I should note here that the cardinal’s spokesman, Joe Zwilling, said that any reassignments were made to meet a “pastoral need.”)

Perhaps more importantly, many Catholic New Yorkers appear to be quite upset with the sudden loss of their priests. Some have already voice their complaints downtown. Based on the all the calls and emails I’ve received so far this morning, more is to come. The archdiocese will have to deal with it.

So what does it all mean?

It’s become quite clear in recent years that a large number of New York priests are quite unhappy with Cardinal Egan’s leadership. What’s a large number? I can’t say. Neither can anyone else. But if you spend a lot of time talking to priests, as I do — priests I know well, priests I know a bit, priests I meet for the first time — you find a thickening cloud of dissension.

When an anonymous letter circulated two years ago that was highly critical of Egan, many priests did not like the tone of the letter but couldn’t help agreeing with much of its contents.

Soon after, Egan was asked during an NBC interview about the letter and his relationship with his priests. He answered:

I think they’re very good. I’m delighted with the relationship with the priests, and I think that the way they reacted to the letter that everybody wants to talk about is a very good indication of how good they are. In any organization as big as the Archdiocese of New York, there’re going to be people who are disappointed about appointments or disappointed about whatever, and so there’s going to be a certain amount of unhappiness.

There is a certain amount of unhappiness. I’ve spoken to more than a dozen priests during the past few days. Most sound fed up and demoralized — and so soon after the juice provided by the papal visit.

One told me last night: “Things are very bad. They more they do this, the more they alienate people. And the cardinal just doesn’t get. We’re seeing the real Machiavellian side of things.”

Oh yes, on the rare occasions when I use anonymous sources, as I did in today’s article, I like to use the blog to explain why. I know a lot of people hate seeing anonymous sources in the media. I understand why.

But sometimes people have a real good reason to request anonymity. And sometimes there is no other way to do a story right.

In this case, priest after priest have told me that they fear retribution from the cardinal if they speak out in any way. Are they right to fear retribution? I don’t know. But they mean it. The priests I quote anonymously are people I believe to be credible, non-hysterical and, in most cases, representative of what others believe.

More on the priest shuffle

The fall-out continues from the transfer of some 47 priests within the Archdiocese of New York.

I wrote last week that priestly morale, already low, appeared to be going lower. Since then, I’ve spoken to quite a few priests — some affected by the transfers, some not. Everyone is mystified. Many are furious with Cardinal Egan.

Again, it’s normal for priests to be transferred this time of the year, particularly when their terms are up.

But at least some priests are being transferred in the middle of their terms. They got calls out of the blue from downtown — with no reason given for their sudden uprooting. I understand that some priests learned of the whole thing from priests who may be replacing them.

And, boy, people are angry.

tjndc5-5b5it3ivdrrf1y4mezi_layout.jpgThis is a tremendously difficult story to cover, from a journalist’s point of view. I’ve spoken to quite a few priests, but no one will go “on the record” because they fear how the cardinal might react. (I should also note that most stress that they do not want to be vindictive because Egan is, after all, their bishop.)

I know quite a few details about who is moving where and when, but can’t share them because I don’t want any priests I’ve spoken with to be identified.

I know that some pastors have told their parishioners during the past few days that they’re leaving. In several places, people may be gearing up to protest the transfers.

And the whole thing is not official until formal letters are sent out — and it’s in Catholic New York.

Unpleasantness abounds.

Of course, the whole matter feeds the When will the pope accept his retirement frenzy. The reassignments are seen — rightly or wrongly, I don’t know — as a move by an archbishop in his final days.

The fact that Monsignor Michael Hull, rector of the archdiocese’s minor seminary, has talked openly about leaving to take over July 1 as pastor of Epiphany parish in NYC has really stoked the retirement talk. Now everyone is waiting for Egan’s secretary/shadow, Monsignor Gregory Mustaciuolo, to be given a parish assignment.

I’ve heard of two or three parishes that might belong to Mustaciuolo, who many believe will be a bishop before long. If Mustaciuolo does get a parish, leaving Egan with perhaps a temporary secretary or none at all, retirement talk will become supernova hot in a flash.

Catholic bishops next door speak out on immigration

The Catholic bishops of Connecticut recently released a statement on immigration. It’s called “To See the Immigrant Through the Eyes of Faith.”

I wrote a few months ago that the religious leaders of New York were preparing a statement on immigration. It was supposed to be ready for Christmas.

The statement has been been delayed and delayed, but I’m told that it will be coming soon.

Anyway, the Connecticut bishops, in part, say:

We call on all Catholics to distance themselves from viewing immigrants to our nation, including undocumented immigrants, in terms and actions that reflect hate, racism and popular misconceptions. Most immigrants to our nation, especially those who are undocumented, flee their homeland because of extreme poverty, violence, persecution, or natural disaster. This movement of people from one place to another has remained a constant feature of human history. From a person’s human dignity flow basic human rights, including the right to leave one’s country and find a new place to live and work. In Catholic social teaching, these rights are not given by a government; they are inherent in the human person. In the United States, such immigration has shaped and will continue to shape significantly our economic, political, and cultural development. We are all well aware that our own nation is one built by immigrants fleeing poverty and searching for new opportunities.

It’s a statement that will make a lot of people angry, no?

ELCA synod, in the end, goes for an ‘outsider’

After a day in the sick bed, all achy, I’m back…

Let’s start the day with some thoughts on the election of the Rev. Robert Rimbo (that’s him) as the next bishop of the Metro New York Synod of the ELCA.

As I wrote last week, this is a real time of transition — if not crisis — for the synod. An internal study on the “state of the synod” found widespread unease about the future of the ELCA in New York. Many of those interviewed for the study believe that ailing churches have to be closed and that the next bishop will have to practice some real “hand-holding” with pastors and congregations that feel directionless.

rimbo8.jpgThe study found real disenchantment with the synod leadership (and I heard the same thing in my interviews with pastors). Many believe that the next bishop will have to narrow and focus the synod’s mission and get everyone on board.

(The synod, by the way, includes NYC, Long Island and the Hudson Valley…)

So two of the three leading vote-getters through the first few ballots for bishops were…staff members for the synod. Why?

Media coverage was not allowed of the synod assembly, so I was not inside. But people who were inside theorize that delegates were scared, confused and uncertain — and nearly made the conservative choice of selecting someone they know.

The key to the election, though, may have been that the third finalist — Rimbo, a Manhattan pastor since 2005 and former Michigan bishop — pledged to serve only one six-year term. By voting for him, delegates could choose an “outsider” with leadership experience who would serve as something of a transitional bishop to whatever future may be in store for the synod.

And that’s what they did.

Asked about his principle challenge, Rimbo said:

Creating a culture of faith rather than fear, abundance rather than scarcity, and focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us.

I would persistently remind us that we are engaged in God’s mission for the life of the world and we should not be timid, but boldly proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

I’ll try to talk to Rimbo in the next couple of weeks about how he plans to address the many concerns voiced in the synod report.

A former bishop wins race to become next NY Synod bishop

The next bishop of the NY Metro Synod of the ELCA will be the Rev. Robert Rimbo, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan.

He previously served as bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod, but gave it up to become a pastor in NYC.

I don’t have the final tally yet, but I’m told that Rimbo won a razor-thin vote over the Rev. Bob Wollenburg, who led on previous ballots.

And there were several abstentions…

Rimbo won the fifth and final ballot. He’ll take over Aug. 1.

Questions for bishop candidates

While we wait for the results of the latest ballot for ELCA bishop of NY…

It’s interesting to note that the synod has prepared a list of 11 questions for delegates to ask of the final three candidates tomorrow morning (assuming a bishop hasn’t already been chosen).

The questions are:

1. Please comment on your abilities as a fundraiser and an administrator, and the relative importance you would place on these roles as synodical Bishop.

2. What needs healing in our Synod? Why? How shall it be healed?

3. How did you discern the call to keep your name before this Assembly?

4. What is the greatest challenge facing the church in the next 10 years?

5. List five priorities as Bishop. Imagine a pie chart indicating the amount of your time and energy that you and staff members will give to each.

6. In the report of the Town Hall Meetings in 2006, Youth & Family Ministry was rated as the highest concern among the eight mission initiatives listed in the survey. As Bishop, how will you respond to that concern?
7. The 2009, Churchwide Assembly will most likely address the rostering of clergy in same sex relationships. What is your position on this issue? If the Assembly decides to deny or approve the rostering of pastors in same sex committed relationships, how will you handle this issue on the territory of the Metropolitan New York Synod?
8. Thinking outside the Lutheran box for a moment, and without using “stained glass” terms such as “re-rooting,” “evangelism,” “stewardship,” even “Gospel-centered mission,” give us actionable proposals which will stop the slide and give direction.

9 .The Synod Ministry Review or Audit reported that a sense of disconnection – between geographic regions, among pastors, between individual congregations and the Synod – is endemic. How would you address the disconnect?

10. The Synod Ministry Review Audit reported a strong sense that too many “visions” have been placed before us in recent years, without adequate focus or follow-through. Address the issue of vision for this Synod.

11. What is a favorite hymn and how does it reflect your faith and theology?

Church of England considers female bishops (and havens for opponents)

As the Episcopal Church in this country continues to struggle with internal debate over homosexuality…

The Church of England is moving toward the consecration of female bishops (which the American church already does). But it ain’t easy.

The Times of London reports that one option under consideration is the creation of special borderless dioceses for “traditionalists” who do not want female bishops. Women would not be eligible to become bishops in those dioceses.

But nearly half of all female priests in the Church of England have signed an open letter to the church’s bishops saying they would rather not become bishops if doing so will mean changing the structure and mission of the larger church.

The letter includes this:

“We long to see the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England, and believe it is right both in principle and in timing. But because we love the Church, we are not willing to assent to a further fracture in our communion and threat to our unity. If it is to be episcopacy for women qualified by legal arrangements to ‘protect’ others from our oversight, then our answer, respectfully, is thank you, but no.”

Bishop list whittled down for ELCA

The second ballot has been tallied for the election of the next New York bishop of the ELCA.

Seven names survive — and will be moving to the third ballot this afternoon.

thumb-wollenburg.jpgGetting by far the most votes on the second ballot was the Rev. Bob Wollenburg, a staffer for the Metro NY Synod. He is assistant to the bishop for resource development and planned giving.

Wollenburg (that’s him) got 164 votes. The Rev. Gary Mills, chief of staff for the synod, was second with 49 votes.