Vatican goes Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on Beatles

In what is likely to be the most fun story of the week

The Vatican newspaper has noted the 40th anniversary of the White Album, praising the Beatles’ “unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words.”

L’Osservatore Romano even dismisses Lennon’s famous line that his band was “more popular than Jesus.”

The article said it was just “showing off, bragging by a young English working-class musician who had … enjoyed unexpected success.”

Too bad John’s not around to react…

If I remember correctly, one of the songs on the White Album, “Dear Prudence,” was about Mia Farrow’s sister, who was with the Beatles when they were studying Transcendental Meditation in India.

A strange alchemy, indeed.

The Vatican’s website doesn’t have the story yet, but check back Wednesday to see if an English-language version of the article pops up…

Religious services prolong life (researchers say)

You want to live longer? It may help to attend religious services more often.

That’s the finding of a new study by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

According to a statement:

The researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 post-menopausal women participating in the WHI. They examined the prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion with subsequent cardiovascular events and overall rates of mortality. Although the study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services, it did not show any consistent change in rates of morbidity and death specifically related to cardiovascular disease, with no explanation readily evident.

The study adjusted for participation of individuals within communal organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. However, even after controlling for such behavior and other health-related factors, the improvements in morbidity and mortality rates exceeded expectations.

Eliezer Schnall, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University and lead author of the study, said: “Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption. There is something here that we don’t quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results.”

Yeah, I know that Yeshiva is an Orthodox Jewish institution. Is the study somehow biased? I can’t say, but it was published in “Psychology and Health,” the journal of the European Health Psychology Society. Europeans are generally post-religious, right?

You can read the actual study HERE.

Beyond turkey

Tis the season for interfaith thanksgiving prayer services.

It’s seems that there’s more every year. The Chappaqua Interfaith Council will hold its 4 p.m. service at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester on Sunday.

The Brewster/Carmel Clergy Association will hold its ecumenical service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Brewster on Tuesday (Nov. 25) at 7 p.m.

The Interreligious Council of New Rochelle has a big one every Thanksgiving morning. This year it’s at 9 a.m. at Trinity St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

And there are several others.

Bringing together people of different faiths for prayer services can be a tricky matter. But Thanksgiving is probably the ideal time to give it a try.

A big day for Roy Bourgeois

Talk about coincidences.

Today is the deadline for Father Roy Bourgeois of Maryknoll to recant his support for women’s ordination as priests — or face likely excommunication by the Vatican.

Today is also the opening of Bourgeois’ annual demonstration outside Fort Benning, Ga., the home of the Army’s School of the Americas, which Bourgeois has been protesting for 18 years.

About 20,000 people are expected to join him.

Bourgeois is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his peace work. But he’s been no hero in Rome since participating in an “ordination” ceremony for a woman in August in Lexington, Ky.

Bourgeois knew the risk he was taking, and has continued to take by publicly stating that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is an injustice.

On the blog for (Jesuit) America magazine, the Rev. James Martin wrote:

Fr. Bourgeois is impelled to follow his conscience; the Vatican is impelled to enforce canon law. The collision course was inevitable.

One reflection: The ordination rite in which Fr. Bourgeois participated occurred in August. That means that within three months, the excommunication had been communicated from the Vatican to Fr. Bourgeois. In the eyes of the Vatican, his actions represented a grave offense that required swift action and a severe penalty.

Would that the church had acted with equal swiftness against sexually abusive priests. Would that bishops who had moved abusive priests from parish to parish were met with the same severity of justice.

Were their offenses of lesser “gravity”? Did they cause lesser “scandal”?

Strong words.

And more from the prominent Catholic writer Sidney Callahan:

How do you “recant” and begin to believe something you don’t believe?The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is ordering Father Roy Bourgeois M.M. to recant his belief and support for women’s ordination. If not, he will be excommunicated in thirty days.

But does the CDF have some secret formula or operating instructions for going against one’s conscience when ordered to do so?

I understand how Vatican authorities might solve their problem of dissent by simply expecting people to lie, if you just say the right words all will be forgiven. Inconveniently of course, lying and bearing false witness (even against yourself) has been forbidden since Sinai, so that option is out.

If Bourgeois is excommunicated — as even he expects — what will Maryknoll do? The Ossining-based missionary order has strongly supported his work to close the School of the Americas.

Will Maryknoll feel forced to distance itself from his work? Or will Maryknoll continue its support even after one of their own is “returned to the lay state” and kicked out of the church?

New Catholic schools boss gets going

My colleague Randi Weiner sat down yesterday with the new superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, Timothy J. McNiff.

I was supposed to sit in, but I got sidetracked.

Anyway, Randi did a fine job getting a sense of the new boss, who comes to NY after 13 years in the same job for the Diocese of Arlington, Va. (That’s McNiff yesterday at St. Augustine’s in Ossining, chatting with the church’s colorful pastor, Monsignor Hilary Franco.)

I know that some in New York had hoped that an insider would get the job. But others feel that an outside perspective is a good thing, given the many and varied challenges facing Catholic education in NY.

McNiff, a marathon runner, doesn’t sound shy. He wants to find new “financial models” for the schools:

I think they were looking for someone who had a vision for Catholic education that could take the archdiocesan high schools into the future, and someone who had track experience in this type of work. Someone who is not bashful or inhibited about marketing the wonderful work that Catholic schools do. I feel perfectly comfortable in that forum.

Having heard Archbishop Donald Wuerl from Washington, D.C., speak on this topic recently, I can’t help thinking that new financial models will involve partnerships with the business world.

This is a bit of a homecoming for McNiff. His family moved around a lot with his FBI-agent father, but he spent some time as a student at St. Augustine’s in New City.

‘What happened to Kavanagh?’

For years, I have been constantly asked about “Charlie’s case” or about “What happened to Kavanagh?”

Monsignor Charles Kavanagh was the highest profile New York priest to be removed from ministry because of an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor. He was vicar of development for the Archdiocese of New York, pastor of a large Bronx parish and generally one of the best-known priests in New York.

That’s him with a couple of New York senators at Cardinal Egan’s installation in 2000 (Hillary would be elected a few months later).

His case is complicated, so I won’t rehash it here. But you can catch up with this article I did in today’s Journal News/LoHud about movement in his case.

Kavanagh was removed from ministry by Cardinal Egan in 2002 and his case more or less stalled until the Vatican ordered a church trial, which will held two years ago.

These things do not move quickly.

Today’s article has also provoked several people to call and email me about what has happened to Father Patrick Dunne, the former pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in White Plains who was charged with stealing more than $300,000 from the church.

As my colleague Rebecca Baker reports (several posts down on her blog), Dunne yesterday rejected a plea deal and is due back in White Plains City Court on Dec. 12.

Who inspired in 2008?

Beliefnet.com has come out with its nominees for the “Most Inspiring Person of the Year 2008.”

You can read about them and vote HERE.

It is an interesting and eclectic assortment of folks.

Briefly, the nominees are:

  1. Boy scouts from Iowa and Nebraska who came to the aid of many when a tornado ripped through western Iowa.
  2. Paul Newman, the late actor and philanthropist extraordinaire.
  3. Randy Pausch, the “Last Lecture” professor.
  4. Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson, who returned to battle in Iraq after losing a leg.
  5. Dr. Halima Bashir, who was brutalized for speaking out against the violence in Darfur.
  6. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a doctor who learned from her own stroke.
  7. Christina Applegate, actress and breast cancer survivor now fighting for a cure.
  8. Dara Torres, Olympic swimmer who reached out to a competitor.
  9. Darin Headrick, a school superintendent in Kansas who helped rebuild a school system after a tornado.
  10. Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian singer who showed tremendous courage after the death of his daughter.

You might remember that last year’s honor went to Liviu Librescu (pictured), the Holocaust survivor who died while trying to save others during the Virginia Tech massacre.

Episcopal Diocese of NY supports civil marriage for same-sex couples

The Episcopal Diocese of New York has come out in favor of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

At its 232nd Convention days ago, delegates approved this resolution:

[6] Resolved, That the 232nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in keeping with Resolution 15 of the 217th Convention of the Diocese, which made “known to the President of the United States, to the United States Senate and House of Representatives our support of full civil rights for all American citizens irrespective of sexual orientation,” calls upon the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New York to ensure civil marriage equality in this state by enacting the necessary legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry; and be it further

[7] Resolved, That copies of this Resolution be sent to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly of the State of New York.

Tina Donovan, Bishop Mark Sisk’s Deputy for Public Affairs, said: “When the delegates were considering an earlier resolution, the bishop said that what we were doing was attempting to discern the will of the Holy Spirit through the messy process of democracy. We think that that was precisely what we did with this vote…”

Of course, homosexuality — in particular, the consecration of an openly gay bishop — has been roiling the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican world for some time. The Diocese of NY’s decision to take a stand on what is in some ways the parallel civil debate will be cheered by some, jeered by others.

Stephen McFadden, chair of the diocesan committee on LGBT Concerns (who proposed the resolution), said: “Civil marriage provides dignity, rights and protections to same-sex couples and their families when they face the crises that can happen to any family, when a spouse becomes sick or disabled or dies, when we lose our jobs or need health care, or in caring for our children when an emergency occurs. At a time when some religious groups are actively fighting to block same-sex couples from marrying, the Episcopal Diocese of New York is standing up for equality.”

Shabbat under the stars

How can a planetarium star show at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers shed light on the Jewish Sabbath?

Members of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center will find out Saturday evening.

First, the Conservative congregation will have a special Havdalah service in the museum’s courtyard — marking the end of Shabbat.

Rabbi Barry Kenter explains: “The Havdalah ritual marks the conclusion of the Sabbath, separating the sacred quality of the Sabbath from the everydayness of the rest of the week. All of our senses are activated as we communally recite blessings over wine, fragrant spices and a multi-wicked candle.”

Then everyone will move into the planetarium for the star show. Why? Sandy Zisser, religious school director for the synagogue, explains:

The twist comes when we add the Jewish aspect to the presentation. The Planetarium show designer and I worked on creating additional programming to emphasize the difference between dawn and dusk, twilight and night, day and night. Because the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the stars play an intricate part of when the day begins and when it ends. Shabbat, the Sabbath, begins an hour before sundown and ends with the emergence of 3 stars.

Even our ‘National Cathedral’ is cutting back

Here’s another sign of how badly the nation is hurting:

Washington National Cathedral — where three presidential funerals have been held — is laying off 30 percent of it staff and cutting all sorts of programming.

There will even be fewer altar flowers and thinner worship folders on Sundays, the Washington Post reports.

The cathedral is self-sustaining. It does not receive support from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington or the national Episcopal Church, even though it is the cathedral for the Episcopal diocese.

On Sunday, the Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, said: “If you are a part of the cathedral’s life, or a friend of the cathedral’s in any way, we need your big, generous, ambitious support,” he said. “If you have not heard from us yet and we have your name, you will. We will find you.”

The cathedral is the 6th largest in the world.

From the cathedral’s website:

The Cathedral by the Numbers

  • Weight of the entire Cathedral: 150,000 tons
  • Heaviest single stone: 5.5 tons
  • Height of Cathedral’s center tower: 30 stories tall
  • Total cost of building the Cathedral: $65 million
  • Total years of construction: 83
  • Number of stained glass windows: 231
  • Number of gargoyles: 112
  • Number of angels: 288