A title for Father Norton

Talk about a nice parting gift for Father Stephen Norton, the outgoing president of Kennedy Catholic H.S. in Somers.

1.jpgHis baseball team on Saturday won the Class B New York state championship, the school’s first title.

Norton, of course, is one of many New York priests who have been given new assignments at the end of the month. Many in the Kennedy H.S. community are quite upset about his reassignment to a parish in Dutchess County. (LATE ADD: I understand that at least some priests who were told by phone that they would be reassigned have not received letters from the archdiocese making the moves official. Hmmm.)

Several Kennedy parents and others insist that Norton did himself no favors with higher-ups by opposing plans for a new church on the high school grounds — ironically, right where the baseball field is.

Teaching ‘Saudi Islam’ in Virginia

I’ve blogged a few times about the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal agency that studies religious freedom issues abroad and recommendations actions for the U.S. government.

Well, the commission is quite interested in a private school in northern Virginia — because it is run by the government of Saudi Arabia.

mvc-1.gifAccording to a statement from the commission, the Islamic Saudi Academy uses textbooks for high-school age students that contain passages that seem to condone violence and hatred of other groups.

Interestingly, the commission asked the U.S. State Department, which has copies of the textbooks, to turn them over for review. But, according to the commission: “… as of this writing, the Department has not made them available either to the public or to the Commission, nor has it released any statement about the content of the books that it received.”

Very strange.

Still the commission has obtained copies of 17 textbooks from other sources. What did the commission find is being taught in northern Virginia?

The most problematic texts involve passages that are not directly from the Koran but rather contain the Saudi government’s particular interpretation of Koranic and other Islamic texts. Some passages clearly exhort the readers to commit acts of violence, as can be seen in the following two examples:

  • In a twelfth-grade Tafsir (Koranic interpretation) textbook, the authors state that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate (a convert from Islam), an adulterer, or someone who has murdered a believer intentionally: “He (praised is He) prohibits killing the soul that God has forbidden (to kill) unless for just cause…” Just cause is then defined in the text as “unbelief after belief, adultery, and killing an inviolable believer intentionally.” (Tafsir, Arabic/Sharia, 123)
  • A twelfth-grade Tawhid (monotheism) textbook states that “[m]ajor polytheism makes blood and wealth permissible,” which in Islamic legal terms means that a Muslim can take the life and property of someone believed to be guilty of this alleged transgression with impunity. (Tawhid, Arabic/Sharia, 15) Under the Saudi interpretation of Islam, “major polytheists” include Shi’a and Sufi Muslims, who visit the shrines of their saints to ask for intercession with God on their behalf, as well as Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists.

Then there are other statements that “vilify adherents of the Ahmadi, Baha’i, and Jewish religions, as well as of Shi’a Islam.”Among them:

  • “It [Baha’ism] is one of the destructive esoteric sects in the modern age… It has become clear that Babism [the precursor to Baha’ism], Baha’ism, and Qadyanism [Ahmadism] represent wayward forces inside the Islamic world that seek to strike it from within and weaken it. They are colonial pillars in our Islamic countries and among the true obstacles to a renaissance.” (“Aspects of Muslim Political and Cultural History,” Eleventh Grade, 99-100)
  • “The cause of the discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people. A sly, wicked person who sinfully and deceitfully professed Islam infiltrated (the Muslims). He was ‘Abd Allah b. Saba’ (from the Jews of Yemen). [___]* began spewing his malice and venom against the third of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, ‘Uthman (may God be pleased with him), and falsely accused him.” (Tawhid, Administrative/Social Sciences Track, 67)
    (*The word or words here were obscured by correction fluid.)
  • Sunni Muslims are told to “shun those who are extreme regarding the People of the House (Muhammad’s family) and who claim infallibility for them.” (Tawhid, Arabic/Sharia 82; Tawhid, Administrative/Social Sciences Track, 65) This would include all Shi’a Muslims, for whom the doctrine of infallibility is a cardinal principle.

The commission concludes:

More broadly, the analysis of the ills of the Muslim world that is offered in the ISA textbooks—that it was strong when united under a single caliph, a single language (Arabic), and a single creed (Sunnism), and that it has grown weak because of foreign influence and internal religious and ethnic divisions—is identical to some of the exclusionary ideological arguments used by extremists to justify acts of terror.

In the Commission’s view, these troubling passages should be modified, clarified, or removed altogether from the next edition of the textbooks in order to bring the books at this Saudi government school into conformity with international human rights standards.

Now, the Islamic Saudi Academy’s website says the school values its relations with its neighbors. It says:

ISA not only promotes respect and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and Americans while keeping within the Muslim faith, it strives for its staff and students to uphold tolerance, honesty, integrity and compassion, qualities that represent the best of both American and Arabic cultures.

Tributes keep coming for Russert, a devout Catholic and hero of the old media

I’m a little surprised by the amount of attention given to the death of Tim Russert.

I was a big fan. He was a tremendously engaging political analyst and a great interviewer. But I think the fact that he was well-liked and respected among his colleagues in the old media can be seen in all the tributes.

tjndc5-5kg54uitk8z1bq5chh46_layout.jpg“Meet the Press” got about 3 million viewers a week, 4 million for a big-name guest. “Dancing With the Stars,” by arbitrary comparison, gets about 20 million viewers a week (yes, I know it’s prime time). But I think a lot of old media types see Russert as representing a day they long for, when a show like “Meet the Press” drove the political discussion in this country.

Having read and heard a bunch of tributes, it seems that Russert was best known for his love of politics, his father, his Catholic faith, Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills (not necessarily in that order).

No doubt, Russert was the celebrity MC at many Catholic events.

I found a summary of his speech to Boston College’s Class of 2004. The Boston Globe included this:

In his keynote speech, Russert described having a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1985, to ask him to appear on the “Today” show. Russert said he forgot his concerns about NBC’s ratings and instead thought about “the prospect of salvation.”

“You heard this tough, no-nonsense hard-hitting moderator of `Meet the Press’ begin by saying, `Bless me Father!’ ” Russert said.

Wolf Blitzer wrote about Russert meeting Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks ago in Washington (introducing them is the Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University):

While we were waiting for the pope to arrive, he was like a little boy. He had his rosaries in his hand, ready for the pope to bless them. This was not the Tim Russert whom we all saw and admired as he grilled presidents, prime ministers, kings and mere politicians. When the pope finally approached him, he could barely utter a word. This was a special moment, and he knew it.

Catholic News Service wrote about Russert’s faith. It noted that Russert was to give the Catholic Common Ground Initiative’s Philip J. Murnion Lecture June 27 at The Catholic University in Washington.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ communications committee, told CNS: “Those of us who shared his Catholic faith and his deep love for it appreciate his sharing of the story of his own faith and his loyalty to the life of the Catholic Church in this country and the many charities to which he contributed his time and talent.”

A Buffalo News tribute ends like this:

And now, America faces the shocking prospect of that campaign continuing without Russert asking Barack Obama and John McCain tough questions.

“It’s going to be strange indeed to turn on the TV on Sundays and not hear his voice,” wrote Ezra Klein, a blogger for the American Prospect.

“Presumably, he’s up somewhere beyond the cloudline, hectoring God about His inconsistencies. ‘But Lord, in Exodus 6:12, you clearly said . . . ’ ”

Catholic radio loses Father Paul Keenan

I just heard that Father Paul Keenan, the longtime radio voice of the Archdiocese of New York, died a few days ago.

father_paul.gifHe had a show on WABC radio for many years. More recently, he was heard on the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

He had an active website of his own.

The writer Susan Konig recorded some memories of him here.

I met Father Keenan several times. He was very pleasant and easy to talk to. I could see why he did well on the radio.

Keenan also had a blog on the archdiocese’s website. In his last post, “The triumph of kindness,” dated June 3, he wrote:

There are millions of opportunities to test the triumph of kindness. I think of parents whose children have special needs or disabilities. How many times they may be tempted to react with understandable anger and frustration. And how many times they choose patience and kindness instead! It happens time after time, each and every day.

Or you can watch family and friends deal with people with speech impediments or with hearing difficulties. Instead of conversations being tense, these people take the whole thing as a matter of course without causing the other person hurt or embarrassment. It is the triumph of kindness once again.

Kindness, I think, is at its best when we are dealing with someone with whom we disagree. Can we express our opinions to each other without putting the other down or insulting them? If so, that is the triumph of kindness.

Archbishop O’Brien takes aim at Legionaries of Christ

Baltimore’s Archbishop Edwin O’Brien has taken a direct and hard shot at the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative and sometimes controversial Roman Catholic religious order.

tjndc5-5b5dj9hpmec7lvuzezi_layout.jpgO’Brien has directed the Legionaries (and its lay movement, Regnum Christi) to disclose all its activities within the Archdiocese of Baltimore and — this is serious — to end one-on-one spiritual direction with anyone under 18.

Furthermore, O’Brien (that’s him) granted an interview about the move to John Allen, the respected and influential journalist for National Catholic Reporter, guaranteeing that his remarks will be widely seen.

Asked by Allen about the Legionaries’ spiritual counseling to teens, O’Brien says:

But what goes on in the one-on-one counseling … there seems to be a tendency to say, ‘We represent God. You can tell us anything, and you better believe that what we tell you is from God too. If your parents disagree, we know better. We’re in the God business, and they’re really not.’ This is a caricature, but it’s there.

They sponsor father/son weekends. The father drives 14 hours, brings the kid up to New Hampshire and drops the kid off at 11:00 at night. Where’s the farther going to stay? Well, there’s a place about 40 miles away you can stay, so the father’s sleeping in the car overnight. Next day they’re ready for the hike, but no, the fathers don’t go, it’s just the counselors and the kids. That’s the tendency.

Who’s in charge of this? Who’s responsible? Each time you meet with an official, [they say], ‘Oh, no, that didn’t happen, did it? You should have let us know right away. That’s not right.’ But it happens over and over again.

This is serious stuff.

O’Brien, of course, is a native New Yorker and widely known figure in these parts. He only became archbishop last year after Cardinal William Keeler’s retirement.

The Legionaries — who have a strong presence in Westchester — are a fast-growing order of priests that has many supporters and many detractors. Their greatest supporter was none other than Pope John Paul II, who never missed a chance to promote them.

Then John Paul died — and Pope Benedict XVI censured Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Legion’s founder, who had been accused many years before of sex abuse by former seminarians.

Orthodox Catholics often point to the Legion’s success drawing vocations as proof that Orthodoxy connects with young men. But others question the Legion’s methods. In 2004, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese shut down the Legion’s operations.

Now O’Brien is really piling on. He criticizes the Legion as an outside critic might, in terms not generally heard from an archbishop:

I’ve always suspected the flaws in the organization are endemic to it. There’s no remedying them, because it’s so deeply ingrained. There’s a sense of secrecy right from the seminary. The seminarians move two-by-two wherever they go. If one criticizes anything about the institution, the other one has to report it. … All this flows into Regnum Christi as well. Nothing happens in Regnum Christi without the Legionaries.

And then there is this exchange between Allen and O’Brien about the allegations agains the order’s founder:

Do you believe that any reform in the Legionaries has to involve coming to terms with the charges against Fr. Maciel?

It’s got to be faced. They really have to face it. First of all, they have to come to grips with it themselves, within their own community of Legionaries. They have to squarely face it. They need to be able to say, ‘The evidence seems to be that this man engaged in some activities that were less than honorable, and maybe even sinful.’ Of course, I don’t know what the evidence is, but …

One presumes that the CDF would not have reached the judgment it did without compelling evidence.

Absolutely. Without facing that, I think it casts a pall over any other objectivity, any other integrity, they claim to put forth as their qualifications to deal with lay people and with the Catholic church in general.

The Legion owns large estates in Mount Pleasant and New Castle, but has long been at odds with both towns over development plans. The Legion has plans to build a liberal arts college on part of its Mount Pleasant land.

Canadian gov’t agency tells minister to stop ‘disparaging’ gays

I got an interesting email today from New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative evangelical group that is pretty unhappy with Gov. Paterson’s call for NYS to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

pastor.jpgThe email — as a warning, I guess, of what might come in NY — tells the story of a Canadian pastor named Stephen Boissoin (that’s him). He got in trouble with the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal a couple of years back for writing a letter to the editor that condemned the “propagation” of homosexuality.

I looked it up and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms got it quite right.

The human rights tribunal recently decided that “Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall cease publishing in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.”

Can you enforce such a ruling in Canada, I wonder.

On June 19, NYers for Constitutional Freedoms is asking all “Bible-believing ministers” to gather in Albany’s Legislative Office Building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to challenge Paterson’s decision.

Then how come superheroes never pray for help?

Did you know that Superman is a Methodist?

That the Hulk is Catholic?

hulk.jpgThat Batman may be a (lapsed?) Episcopalian.

That Wolverine was raised Protestant but became a Buddhist?

And that Magneto, the archenemy of the X-Men, may well have been Jewish (part of a conspiracy to take over the world, no doubt).

Neither did I…

But it’s all right here, on a web page that is part of adherents.com and tells the religious origins (clever, huh?) of many superheroes.

Granted, many of the superpowered individuals listed are minor figures in the galaxy — and appeared to have been designed to appeal to a particular religious group (Krishna the Hindu hero, anyone?).

But many of the biggies are there, too.

Learn of the evidence that Green Lantern (Hal Jordan to you) may be Jewish or Catholic. It’s not quite clear.

But this we do know, true believers!:

But in any meaningful sense, Hal Jordan’s religion during most of his career as Green Lantern has been the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Green Lantern Corps itself. The Green Lantern Corps is not usually identified as a “religion.” In fact, many Green Lanterns from other worlds have been devout adherents of native religions, even while serving in the Corps. Nevertheless, being a Green Lantern has functioned as a religion for Hal Jordan, forming the basis for his worldview, values, rituals and beliefs.

Pastoring his home church to growth and more

I’m heading to Mount Vernon this morning to talk with the Rev. W. Darin Moore, pastor of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church.

darinmoore.jpgMoore is celebrating his 15th anniversary as pastor this week. Now, I know that pastors (and rabbis) are celebrating anniversaries all the time. I get at least a few calls every month asking me to write about a minister who is celebrating his 20th or a rabbi his 35th.

Most of the time, I say that I don’t write about the comings and goings of clergy — anniversaries included — because there are just too many of them. I can’t cover them all. I usually tell the caller or emailer “I need something more than an anniversary. I need an angle.”

In the case of Moore, though, his anniversary is significant. AME Zion pastors, like pastors in other Methodist denominations, are generally transferred every few years. But Moore has such a special thing going at Greater Centennial that the bishops of the AME Zion Church have left him in place (so far).

Moore grew up attending Greater Centennial. It’s his home church. In the Baptist world, it’s pretty common for ministers to pastor the church they grew up in. But it doesn’t happen often in the AME Zion community.

When Moore took over, the church had about 800 members. Today it has 5,000 — and has become an iconic place among the many churches in Mount Vernon, right up there with W. Franklyn Richardson’s Grace Baptist Church in terms of public profile.

Greater Centennial is one of the largest churches in the entire AME Zion denomination.

So you can see why the AME Zion bishops have left a good thing alone (so far). I’ll talk to Moore about how he’s done it.