Catholic bishops on the ‘Slumdog Millionarie’ bandwagon

The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released its 10 best movies of the year (from a Catholic perspective).

They are:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Express

Flash of Genius


Henry Poole is Here

The Secret Life of Bees

Slumdog Millionaire

Son of Rainbow

The Visitor


They also have a Top 10 family films list, which includes High School Musical 3!

African Americans are more religious

African Americans are more religious than other Americans, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has found.

No surprise, really. The “black church” has been a seminal institution in the black community since the days of slavery, offering spiritual and material sustenance through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the northern migration and on and on.

The Pew Forum has a very detailed breakdown HERE.

87% of African Americans belong to a religious group. 79% say that religion is very important in their lives (compared to 56% for all Americans).

Also, 88% are certain that God exists, 76% pray at least daily and 53% go to church at least once a week.

The church breakdown: 78% of African Americans are Protestants and 59% belong to the historically black churches. 5% are Catholic, 1% Jehovah’s Witness, 1% Muslim.

12% are unaffiliated (compared with 16% overall).

This is interesting: When it comes to politics, only 23% of African Americans describe themselves as liberal. 32% say they’re conservative, and 36% moderate.

46% of African Americans say homosexuality should be discouraged (compared to 40% overall).

Here are some findings on opposition to abortion (straight from the Pew Forum):

Why did the pope do it?

Everywhere I’ve gone in recent days, people have asked me about the pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of four “traditionalist” bishops — one of whom says that no Jews were gassed by the Nazis.

People seem to be generally baffled: Who are these bishops? What’s the deal with the Society of St. Pius X, the group to which the bishops belong? Why does the pope care so much about reconciling with these folks? Doesn’t it look like the Vatican somehow endorses their views?

I decided to let someone else answer these questions. So I called Father James Massa, who is basically the point person on ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We had a good, long chat last night, which I will write about it my FaithBeat column tomorrow.

Massa told me that he is not surprised by the vast reaction to the pope’s move, given some of the statements made by Bishop Richard Williamson about the Holocaust.

“To deny the Holocaust is an outrageous and offensive statement and is unacceptable,” Massa said.

The Lutheran connection to Groundhog Day

You know the guy in the tuxedo and top hat who holds up Punxsutawney Phil every year on Groundhog Day?

Well, he’s a Lutheran.

“Phil is fun, but our faith is in Christ,” says Bud Dunkel, 78, a retired roofer.

And two congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America serve up soup and sandwiches every year to thousands after Phil sees or doesn’t see his shadow.

The big day is coming on Monday.

If you want to know more, the ELCA News Service has the details.

(AP photo/Keith Srakocic)

Question about Islam? Call a Muslim

Billboards in two dozen American cities are advertising a phone number — 1-877-WHY-ISLAM — where you can reach actual Muslims to ask questions about Islam.

It’s part of a campaign by the Islamic Circle of North America to educate non-Muslims about the faith, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Volunteers in New Jersey field about 1,000 calls a month.

Questions can also be emailed to

“The idea was to help answer the questions that people have about Islam,” said ICNA board member Hanif Harris, a 38-year-old Realtor. “This way, they’ll get the answers directly from Muslims.”

I haven’t seen a billboard myself. But I may have to find one. It seems to be a pretty neat idea.

Investigating a cardinal?

One question I still hear asked about the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal is how bishops who left abusive priests in ministry have gotten off more or less unscathed.

The question was most asked about Cardinal Bernard Law, in particular. He resigned under pressure, but has made out reasonably well within the church.

But now the U.S. attorney in LA has launched a federal grand jury investigation into Cardinal Roger Mahony, the LA Times is reporting. The investigation is said to be in connection with Mahony’s response to the abuse of minors by priests.

The implications here, one would think, could be great.

Mahony’s lawyer tells the LA Times that there is an investigation underway, but that the cardinal is not a target.

Mahony has been one of the most apologetic bishops in the U.S. But he’s had a lot to apologize for:

Two years ago, the archdiocese agreed to pay $660 million to 508 people who accused priests of sexual abuse. The payout was the largest settlement in a scandal that has involved an estimated 5,000 priests nationwide and cost the Roman Catholic Church more than $2 billion to resolve cases in this country alone.

David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, not surprisingly is quite supportive of the investigation: “It is long, long overdue. It is just crucial that the hierarchy face criminal charges, because almost every other conceivable means have been tried to bring reform.”

Updike couldn’t make the ‘leap of unfaith’

I’ve been reading a lot about John Updike since his death yesterday — just as I read so many of Updike’s words through the years.

It seems that one of his most quoted statements since yesterday is this:

I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe. I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, ‘This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’

It would be easy to imagine one of his characters saying something similar — in more poetic prose, of course.

Religion infused so much of his writing. It was kind of a theme within all his other themes.

During a talk he gave in 2004 at St. Bartholomew’s Church in NYC, Updike described his journey through American Protestant churches — Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, Unitarian, Episcopal, Methodist.

He said then: “When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there. It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”

James Yerkes, who wrote a book called “John Updike and Religion,” nailed it in this excerpt:

For Updike, human self-consciousness, synchronized with its parallel world-consciousness, finds itself confronted willy-nilly with an awareness of the Sacred, with God. If you tell the truth about us, as Updike sees it, you have to record the religious dimension of human existence. That is the truth, and truth is holy, is sacred. Writers, he says, are “servants of reality.”

What would Rabbi Klenicki say about Holocaust-denying bishop?

I should note the passing on Sunday of Rabbi Leon Klenicki, a pioneer in the world of interfaith relations, particularly relations between Jews and Catholics.

From the post-Vatican II period through the 1980s, when Catholic-Jewish relations blossomed in ways that could not have been previously foreseen, Klenicki was one of the most visible Jewish figures who met with popes, cardinals and Catholic theologians.

He was made a papal knight in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Klenicki worked as the head of interfaith affairs for the ADL before retiring at the end of 2000. Interestingly, he was for a long time professor of Jewish studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island.

In a touching letter to Klenicki’s wife, Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore and one of the Catholic Church’s pointmen on Catholic-Jewish relations, wrote:

One can only look back on Leon’s career with gratitude to God for the paths that he opened up for so many religious leaders committed to reversing centuries of estrangement between their own faith community and other traditions. His innovative lecture at the first continent-wide Latin American meeting of Catholics and Jews in 1968 elucidated, for the first time in that milieu, the practical and pastoral implications of Vatican’s II renewed teaching on the Jewish people and Judaism, captured famously in the decree Nostra aetate. Later on, Leon labored as an advisor to Catholic educators, even while carrying on his other ample responsibilities for the Reform Jewish movement in the U.S. and for the Anti-Defamation League as its chief interreligious officer. In his vast body of writings, Leon identified the principles of a new methodology in the way Catholics speak of their “elder brothers and sisters in the faith” in both catechetical and homiletic contexts. As a teacher to Catholic seminarians, as a friend to bishops, priests, and lay scholars—and as a respectful critic of whatever he perceived as departing from the necessary agenda of advancing mutual respect and understanding between Jews and Christians—Leon was a prophetic voice in our dialogues.

Ironically, Klenicki’s death comes as Catholic-Jewish relations are feeling some strain. The pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of four “traditionalist” bishops, one of whom says that no Jews were gassed by Nazi Germany, has produced a loud outcry.

In a somewhat shocking move today, Israel’s chief rabbinate severed ties with the Vatican to protest the decision. The chief rabbis of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, who signed a letter to the Vatican, canceled a meeting with the Vatican that was scheduled for March.

Pope Benedict today said he feels “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews and, according to the AP, warned against any Holocaust denial.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said “the difficulties expressed by the Israeli Rabbinate can be subjected to further and deeper reflection.”

What would Rabbi Klenicki say, one wonders?

Obama talks to Muslims first

You’ve probably heard by now that President Obama gave his first interview yesterday to Al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language news leader in the Middle East.

He made his goal pretty goal: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”

On THE situation, Obama said:

Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.

And so what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.

You can read the transcript on the Al-Arabiya website.

Or you can watch it here:

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Kneel before Super Bowl week!

People are always comparing sports to religion.

The passion. The rituals. The good guys and the bad guys. The highs and lows. The fervor.

The parallels are easy to see (even if, in my opinion, they tend to be overblown).

Super Bowl week is an especially popular time to look at the American obsession with big men who chase balls in matching uniforms (And, hey, I’m one of them. I have a zealot’s passion for the Oakland Raiders, which is like being part of a denomination that has seen better days).

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC, is a thoughtful guy who now and then shares his thoughts on the news of the day.

And these are his “talking points” on the Big Game:


The Super Bowl is a national holy day that is about much more than who will be declared the best team in professional football. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance, which speaks to their hopes and aspirations.

At this moment any opportunity to celebrate is really important, especially this one, because it doesn’t cost anything to gather in front of the TV. Experience of cheering for anything is very important right now. Too easy to fall into thinking that every day brings new despair. We still have it within us to scream good things.

Competition between a team that would have/could have/should have moved out of Pittsburgh ages ago (heart of the rust belt) and they didn’t, they hung in. The Cardinals did move from St. Louis to Arizona. They followed the growth curve of America. Two stories of America. Reflect on both. Learn from both.

Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday are more alike than most of us realize. Probably no accident that recreation and re-creation are the same word. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are as Gods.

Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough.

We experience that sense of “being in the zone,” what psychologists call “the flow state,” of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally.

The importance of using this safe experience to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter really cannot see beyond his own team and cannot appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallels to other groups in our world is clear.

People will create communities and celebrate this event, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.