Talking sexuality without rancor — and then dancing away from Lambeth

catherine-roskam-46_783631a1.jpgIn her final blogs from the Lambeth Conference, Bishop Catherine Roskam of NY writes about the bishops’ discussions on human sexuality and about saying goodbye.

Her thoughts on the “sex talks” seem quite positive:

What can I tell you about all this? That we shared with honesty and without rancor, the latter being a most blessed change from Lambeth 1998. That the atmosphere here has been prayerful and hospitable. That we have shared in depth and thereby deepened relationships. But I cannot tell you that all our differences have been resolved. They have not, and some seem irreconcilable at times. It is a great sadness to learn how much misinformation still circulates about the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada and how little is known of our efforts to remain in communion, some of which have engendered considerable sacrifice.

Nevertheless, what has been evident all along is the deep desire of everyone here to remain in communion. I hope and pray that with God’s grace, this will get us past our difficulties.

And in her final post, Roskam writes about all the Anglican bishops heading outside to boogie after the final Eucharist:

After the service we exited in the pouring rain for an outdoor picnic. As one Canterburyite said to us as she held her umbrella over our heads, “Welcome to an English barbecue!” After getting our food we hurried out of the rain into the auditorium where an exceptionally good band played music in the style of New Orleans. We were all very circumspect for a short while, but the music got to us, and before you knew it, bishops and spouses and our young stewards and monks and nuns were on the dance floor energetically responding to the beat in a variety of steps and styles, some I am sure never seen before! Different provinces danced with each other. Young and old danced together. The spirit of the room was pure joy. It was the kind of scene I would never have expected to see at a Lambeth Conference. But with God everything is possible. I am sorry that not all the bishops were there to share in this experience. But it is an image that gives one hope.

And now Roskam returns to her Dobbs Ferry office, from where she oversees Region 2 of the Episcopal Diocese of New York — Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

Religion jokes at work can be discrimination, court says

Be careful if you make jokes about faith around the water cooler.

At least in Jersey.

I’m just catching up with a decision late last week by the New Jersey Supreme Court that workplace jokes about someone’s religion can be a form of discrimination.

The ruling involved a discrimination claim by a Jewish police officer against the borough of Haddonfield in Camden County. Apparently, the officer’s chief referred to him as “the Jew.” The officer also found stickers of the flags of Israel and modern Germany on his locker.

Sophisticated humor.

According to the Star-Ledger, the court ruling included this: “It is necessary that our courts recognize that the religion-based harassing conduct that took place … in this ‘workplace culture’ is as offensive as other forms of discriminatory, harassing conduct outlawed in this state.”

Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley perseveres 5 years later

Back when Bishop Sean O’Malley got a call from the Vatican saying he would be the next archbishop of Boston, his response was not exactly enthusiastic:

“I dropped the phone . . . it was quite a shock,” he said. “I did ask him to reconsider, and it came back immediately with, no, this is what he wants you to do.”

The “he,” of course, was Pope John Paul II.

som_cardinal.jpgFive years after his arrival in Boston — an archdiocese that was practically crumbling — O’Malley talked recently to the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who takes a fine look at what O’Malley has confronted since 2003.

“When I got here I found out that things were worse than I had feared,” said the Capuchin friar, now a cardinal. “Things were just in very, very bad shape.”

Paulson writes:

O’Malley met with about 200 abuse victims and their families, and spent nearly $6 million on therapy and medication for them. He settled about 750 abuse claims – at a price tag of about $100 million. He oversaw about 250,000 criminal background checks of priests, deacons, educators, and volunteers, and put 293,000 children and 176,000 adults through abuse prevention training.

And, most dramatically, he pulled together an unprecedented meeting in Washington between Pope Benedict XVI and five victims of clergy sexual abuse – a watershed moment in the history of the abuse crisis.

And O’Malley did not only have to deal with the direct effects of the sex-abuse crisis. With the church’s finances in terrible shape, he has had to close numerous parishes, further angering the laity.

Five closed parishes remain occupied by protesters. Occupied!

There are also broader challenges, as Paulson writes:

And then there are the really big problems. Mass attendance is at historic lows. The number of priests is dwindling fast, with many expected to retire or die in the next few years. The Catholic Church’s influence on public policy is diminished. And, even among its own adherents, many of the church’s key teachings, on birth control, women’s ordination, homosexuality, divorce, capital punishment, and abortion are disputed, contested, and, at times, ignored. A recent Pew study found that 1 in every 10 Americans is a former Catholic.

It probably doesn’t help that O’Malley would prefer to be in a less conspicuous position, serving his church. He is man of few words, a friar, who could live without being a closely watched public figure.

“If I had my druthers I would prefer to be living in greater simplicity,” he tells Paulson. “I see the bishop’s role as being a pastor, more than being a celebrity. And I suppose that’s what I’m uncomfortable with.”

He does have his own blog!

Well-known Harlem priest, considered bishop contender, accused of abuse

Monsignor Wallace Harris — president of the Priests Council of the Archdiocese of New York, the vicar of Central Harlem, and one of the best known priests in the archdiocese — has been asked to step aside as pastor of Pastor of Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem because of allegations of sexual abuse.

During an otherwise quiet summer for the archdiocese, this is big news.

Many have believed that Harris, tall and charismatic and one of the few African-American priests in the archdiocese, would become a bishop.

news_21457.jpgHarris — known by all as Wally — played a major role in preparing for the papal visit to New York. He gave a prayer at Gov. Paterson’s inaugeration. He has also been very active with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to a statement released by the archdiocese yesterday, the archdiocese received an allegation that Harris committed abuse against a minor more than 20 years ago. After the matter was referred to the Manhattan D.A.’s office, the D.A. received a second allegation.

Harris denies it all.

According to the archdiocese: “Monsignor Harris has therefore been directed to step aside from his position as pastor and is not permitted to function as a priest until such time as the Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board has studied the matter and made its recommendations to the Archdiocese.

Monsignor Harris has denied the allegations, which concern actions that allegedly occurred twenty years ago.”

Barbara Dorris, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — SNAP — released a strongly worded statement today about the allegations against Harris. I don’t know how much she knows about the case and the allegations themselves, but she seems to assume the worst:

We grieve for these two victims and strongly suspect there are others. We commend them for having the strength to come forward and hope their courage inspires others who are suffering to speak up. When victims and witnesses take action, there’s at least a chance for healing, justice and prevention. But when they keep silent, kids keep being abused.

We’re shocked and saddened that New York Catholic officials aren’t prodding anyone with information about these alleged crimes to step forward. That’s what any caring, responsible leader would do, especially because history, psychology and common sense suggest that Msgr. Harris is guilty and likely molested others too.

We believe it is the civil and Christian duty of anyone who saw, suspected or suffered Harris’ misdeeds to call police officials, not church officials, immediately. This is the best way to ensure that children are safeguarded and a cover up is prevented.

Harris became pastor of St. Charles in 1989. According to the parish website:

Under his leadership, St. Charles has experienced an explosive increase in the number of parishioners.

Msgr. Harris has been recognized as a formidable, yet compassionate church leader and is recognized for these characteristics within the Archdiocese, ecumenical and African American community. He has distinguished himself internationally as evidenced by the consistent number of visitors the church services from as far away as West Africa, France, and Italy.

Only four months ago, Harris was in charge of Pope Benedict XVI’s highly successful Mass at Yankee Stadium…

China still clamping down on religious freedom, agency says

A lot of people have been watching to see what China will do or say about religious freedom in the time leading up to the Olympics.

Well, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says that China is failing its big test and that President Bush needs to trumpet religious freedom when he attends the games.

According to the non-partisan agency:

Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns who peacefully protested against Chinese government rights violations, including the freedom of religion, this past spring remain in detention or are missing and unaccounted for. Almost 700 Protestant religious leaders who have not or cannot gain government registration have been detained in the past year. Over 30 Catholic bishops and priests remain in detention, including two priests arrested just this month. Security forces continue to repress Falun Gong and Uighur Muslim adherents, and scores of their religious leaders and followers continue to be detained for “illegal religious activities.”

The Chinese government is so intent on maintaining control over allegedly problematic religious communities that lawyers who take up the cases of persecuted religious leaders and journalists who report on their situation are jailed, beaten, and harassed.

Sounds grim.

I recently talked to Pastor Doug Leonard of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, who will be visiting China with a small delegation this month to talk about religious freedom. I’ll be writing about his trip in the next week or two…

New York Episcopal bishop denies supposed comments about domestic violence

New York’s Bishop Catherine Roskam, it seems, has started an international stir!

I’ve been writing in recent days about Roskam — the assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York — blogging from the Lambeth Conference (the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops in England).

I’ve noted that she is a consistently honest and liberal voice who is an unabashed supporter of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life.

Yesterday’s headline in the the UK’s Telegraph was this:

Woman bishop claims church leaders from developing countries beat their wives

catherine-roskam-46_783631a.jpgBeneath the headline was this photo of Roskam. Yowza!

The article opened like this:

The Rt Rev Catherine Roskam, Suffragan Bishop of New York, said domestic violence is deemed acceptable in some parts of the world and that “even the most devout Christians” are guilty of it.

She said some of the 670 Anglican bishops gathered in Canterbury for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference probably beat their wives, and added that it is difficult to discuss it with them because they do not believe it is wrong.

Her comments have been condemned as outrageous and untrue, and a further example of the condescending attitude of western Anglicans to those in developing countries.

The Telegraph included these reactions:

Archbishop John Chew, the Primate of South-East Asia, said: “I don’t think it’s fair for her to say that. Bishops respect their wives – how could any bishop condone domestic violence?

“I don’t think we see things like that in the church, what she said is far removed from the real picture.”

Bishop Paul Yugusuk from Sudan said: “I don’t think it’s true – the church speaks out against this.

“In the wider community these things still exist but we don’t do that as bishops or pastors.

“She is being unfair – she’s talking from a general view without any evidence.”

In her latest blog post (sent to me via email, but not on her blogpage as of this writing), Roskam writes that she was horrified when she saw the newspaper story. She says the newspaper quoted “selectively” from an interview she had given at a press briefing.

Roskam writes:

And no, I did not say that clergy in the Third World beat their wives! In fact I said nothing about violence in the developing world per se. All my comments were made in the context of the pervasive nature of vioence against women all around the world. The only area I singled out was our own context, siting the recent spate of murders in the New York area of women, and sometimes their children also, by husbands or boyfriends. But of course, those comments were not quoted.

Roskam writes that she asked to address the matter during an afternoon session yesterday.

“I stated unequivocally that I never said — nor would I say — that clergy in the third world beat their wives,” she writes. “I told them of the context of what was quoted and told them of what had been omitted. I apologized for anything I might have said that led to misunderstanding toward my brother bishops or jeopardized already difficult ongoing conversations at this conference.”

She writes that her fellow bishops expressed mostly support after her comments.

Roskam concludes her blog post with this:

I have to say it is very disheartening after all these years of building relationships around the globe to think of these lies going out over the internet to people who don’t know me and who will believe what was said. At the same time, I also need to reiterate that violence against women remains a problem the world over, and all of us within the church and in the larger society must do all we can to prevent it.