‘We have been working at this for a very long time’

After Lambeth…life goes on in the Episcopal Church.

inpage_bishops_sisk.jpgI watched most of today’s Web-conference with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and New York Bishop Mark Sisk, who just got back from England and the worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops. You can see it HERE.

Sure, they talked about sexuality, homosexuality, the Episcopal Church’s tentative moratorium on gay bishops, all that. But no votes were taken. And it doesn’t sound like there were any real fireworks.

“We were very clear..that the well being and adequate and proper care of gay and lesbian members of this church is a significant matter to us,” Sisk said. “Even though other parts of the Communion may not understand that, we have been working at this for a very long time.”

Sisk also said: “The role of gay and lesbian people has been affirmed time and time again in our common life, by our resolutions, in our canons.”

In other words, Episcopal bishops in the U.S. will act as they see fit when it comes to same-sex unions and ordaining gay priests.

Interestingly, Jefferts Schori said there is “a lack of information and misinformation about this Episcopal Church of ours” on the part of her Anglican colleagues. Many did not know, she said, that the U.S. church will try to avoid consecrating gay bishops for the foreseeable future.

She also said that many bishops did not seem to believe that the Episcopal Church holds basic Christian beliefs.

“Not everybody believes that we believe them,” she said.

Sisk said that many bishops from developing countries were frustrated by all the sex talk at the expense of addressing worldwide poverty and health issues.

“These are the things that are absolutely crushing our communities,” Sisk said, paraphrasing them.

A denominational boss in Rockland

The leader of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in Rockland County through Saturday at a national conference for her Protestant denomination.

sharon_preaching.jpgSharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the denomination since 2005, is participating at the popular Stony Point Conference Center.

The denomination has some 700,000 members in 3,700 churches in the U.S. and Canada. It was formed in 1832.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a very ecumenically oriented denomination, and was a charter member of the World Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches (now the NCC).

8,000 pounds of Jesus

People who drive along Interstate 35 in Missouri are taking double-takes at a 25-foot-tall statue of Jesus.

It’s made of stainless steel and weighs 8,000 pounds.

The man who commissioned the statue — on whose land it stands — isn’t talking. The Kansas City Star reports that the statue will eventually be moved elsewhere.

Apparently, many people are coming to pray by the statue. A local TV station did this report:

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This brings to mind the 62-foot Jesus statue outside a Pentecostal church in Monroe, Ohio, which is visible from Interstate 75:

jesus-solidrockchurch.jpg

Obama’s ‘Muslim outreach’ adviser resigns

This event won’t help Barack Obama’s “Muslim image,” will it?

From the Wall Street Journal:

The Muslim-outreach coordinator to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama has resigned amid questions about his involvement in an Islamic investment fund and various Islamic groups.

Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi, who was appointed volunteer national coordinator for Muslim American affairs by the Obama campaign on July 26, stepped down Monday after an Internet newsletter wrote about his brief stint on the fund’s board, which also included a fundamentalist imam.

“Mr. Asbahi has informed the campaign that he no longer wishes to serve in his volunteer position, and we are in the process of searching for a new national Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

When a priest is accused

I’ve heard a lot of questions and comments in the last 24 hours about the treatment of Monsignor Wallace Harris.

images.jpegAs I wrote here yesterday, he is the prominent New York priest — coordinator of the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium — who has been twice accused of sexual abuse against minors.

The question I keep hearing: Why is Harris being portrayed as guilty before any conclusions have been reached?

The comment I keep hearing: Harris is too good of a priest for this to be true. The accusations must be unfounded.

I get the sense that after a couple of quiet years in terms of sex-abuse cases, people have forgotten what transpired in 2002. Unless I’m missing something, Harris has been treated just as other New York priests have since the national crisis occurred.

In 2002, the American bishops adopted their one-strike policy in regard to clerics who abuse minors. Also that year, the Archdiocese of New York set up a new policy to deal with accusations.

As with other cases, an initial accusation against Harris was studied by a lay review board of the archdiocese, which looks for basic credibility. The accusation — which dates back more than 20 years — was referred to the Manhattan DA’s office. The DA’s office heard of a second accusation, which also dates back more than 20 years.

Nothing is likely to come of the legal investigation because the accusations are too old. This is often the situation with abuse allegations.

In the meantime, the archdiocese directed Harris to not function as a priest until the lay review board makes a final recommendation to Cardinal Egan. The case may also be referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for final review before Egan acts.

This is the part that really disturbs people who feel that Harris is being punished before he has been found guilty of anything.

Some priests have languished in this state for years before their cases have been resolved. The most infamous case in New York is that of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, who was removed from ministry in 2002 because of an allegation of abuse, had a rare church trial in November 2006 and is still waiting for a resolution.

What ultimately happens to Harris is Egan’s call. Harris can be returned to ministry if found to be innocent. Or he can be punished by being defrocked or sentenced to a life of prayer and penance.

One priest accused of abuse since 2002 has been returned to ministry.

A lot priests and others don’t like the way the system works these days. How many times have I heard a priest say “All it would take would be one person to falsely accuse me of something from back in seminary, and I would be ruined.”

But it appears that everyone is paying the cost for inaction on the part of too many bishops before 2002.

Beware religious #s

One thing I’ve learned after more than a decade on the religion beat is to always take religious “membership” numbers with that grain of salt.

Every religious group or denomination or sect counts membership differently. Some take it quite seriously — and have a standard for what membership means — while most groups care little about numbers (and may causally inflate them).

tjndc5-5cx9kciw3s1r65k4p4k_layout.jpgEvery group has its own issues.

Should a church count baptized folks as members even if they never come to services?

In the Jewish world, there is a never-ending debate over who should count as a Jew.

When it comes to the number of Muslims in the U.S., I’ve heard everything from 1 million to 6 million.

USA TODAY’S Cathy Lynn Grossman has a story today about plans for a new Muslim census. The Hartford Institute for Religious Research is doing the study.

I’m sure that whatever Hartford finds will be debated. As Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council for American-Islamic Relations, tells Grossman: “Numbers are a major factor in being marginalized or being recognized by decision-makers in public policy.”

McCain & Obama set for Al Smith Dinner

Guess who the speakers will be at this year’s Al Smith Dinner on Oct. 16?

John McCain and Barack Obama.

I decided to take a peek at the Al Smith Foundation’s website and there they were. 6:30 p.m. at the Waldorf-Astoria.

p1_mccain_all.jpgFour years ago, you might remember, the archdiocese — Cardinal Egan — decided not to invite the presidential candidates, President Bush and John Kerry. At the time, it was explained that “division and disagreement” between the two candidates was the reason they were not invited.

Of course, there is always division and disagreement between presidential candidates. But it was quite clear that Egan did not want to deal with having the pro-choice, CATHOLIC Kerry at his most closely watched event.

Instead, the audience was treated to George H.W. Bush and…Hugh Carey.

This year, though, the gloves will be off. If the race looks close, and it sure seems that it will be, all eyes will be on the Al Smith Dinner only 19 days before Election Day.

McCain was the featured speaker at the dinner only three years ago, when few observers thought he had a shot at the GOP nomination. At the time, he hadn’t decided whether or not to run.

A ‘uniquely American tale’ (of faith)

Newsweek’s cover story on the faith of Barack Obama includes this polling result: “12 percent of voters incorrectly believe he’s Muslim; more than a quarter believe he was raised in a Muslim home.”

112dfd90a3d14bbfbf8cb3d7ddd452b5.jpgThe magazine’s thorough description of B.O.’s faith journey says:

The story of Obama’s religious journey is a uniquely American tale. It’s one of a seeker, an intellectually curious young man trying to cobble together a religious identity out of myriad influences. Always drawn to life’s Big Questions, Obama embarked on a spiritual quest in which he tried to reconcile his rational side with his yearning for transcendence. He found Christ—but that hasn’t stopped him from asking questions. “I’m on my own faith journey and I’m searching,” he says. “I leave open the possibility that I’m entirely wrong.”

An accompanying essay by Jon Meacham pushes the same theme. He says that Obama is far more interested in asking questions that settling on answers:

Belief and doubt, hope and fear, ambition and humility: Obama’s religion is a new chapter in a long American tradition of presidents and politicians for whom faith is more a matter of mystery than magic, of enduring questions rather than pat answers. This is not to say that the religious are simplistic or simple-minded for believing, in the Christian tradition, that the world has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Son of God. It is to say, however, that reason and experience make it impossible for many believers to accept that any religious creed can alone make sense of the unfolding tragedy of history. The innocent suffer, and the innocent die; some are poor, and some are rich; evil can, and does, strike out of a brilliant blue sky. Where was God at Auschwitz? Where is he when a child dies? The old Sunday-school hymn—”Jesus loves me, yes I know/for the Bible tells me so”—is reassuring as far as it goes, but a lot of believers are more perplexed than enlightened the more they heed Saint Paul’s injunction to “think on these things.”

Rabbi speaks out for imam in trouble

Nice piece the other day in the Herald News of North N.J. about a rabbi who testified on behalf of an imam at the Muslim leader’s deportation hearing.

Rabbi David Senter and Imam Mohammad Qatanani met through interfaith work and became friends — despite sharp disagreements over Middle East politics. Senter grew up in Jersey City but lived for a while on the West Bank. Qatanani grew up in the West Bank and says his family’s former home in Jaffa was stolen by Israel.

imam.jpgQatanani (that’s him) faces deportation because immigration officials say he lied on a green card application by checking off that he had never been arrested. They say he was convicted in Israel of having ties to Hamas. Qatanani denies ties with Hamas, and says he was never told he was convicted.

But Senter recently took the stand to defend his friend. He wrote in a synagogue newsletter:

Are there those who will look at him and automatically believe that the things being said about him are true? Absolutely. These people may constitute a significant grouping within the Jewish community.

I, however, have a personal and professional relationship with this man.