New York’s Catholic hospitals disappearing (with little notice)

“In 2007 there were eight Catholic acute care hospitals in New York City. By the end of 2008 there was only one.”

This is the opening line of an article in America magazine by Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a Franciscan brother who holds the Sisters of Charity Chair of Ethics at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan and is professor of medicine and director of the Bioethics Institute of New York Medical College in Valhalla.

A real grabber of a lead.

In the article — entitled “Then There Was One: The Unraveling of Catholic Health Care” — Sulmasy explains one of the most overlooked changes in Catholic life in New York. I mean, how many Catholic New Yorkers are even vaguely aware that Catholic hospitals have been falling like a row of dominoes?

The one left, by the way, is Sulmasy’s: St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan.

Sulmasy delves into the complex factors that have undermined Catholic health care, such as weak Catholic philanthropy. He writes: “It is a great irony: Catholics complain that they do not influence culture, but when they have the resources to make a difference, they tend not to support the institutions that can achieve influence.”

Strong stuff.

He also cites 1950s-style Catholic parochialism in the running of Catholic institutions. Not to mention poor political connections.

And he blames weak Catholic leadership: “It seems that in the current ecclesiastical climate, one succeeds not by one’s accomplishments but by not making mistakes.”

Sulmasy also suggests that Catholics are less interested in preserving Catholic institutions and are quite happy making use of quality, secular hospitals. He laments this shift: “Excellence and compassion are not antithetical. Catholic institutions can offer both in a truly distinctive way.”

In the end, he calls for fighting to save Catholic institutions, including hospitals: “Catholic institutions help to nourish the faith of those who work in them and are served by them.”

It’s ironic that New York Medical College, a medical school that describes itself as being “in the Catholic tradition” and where Sulmasy plays important roles, may soon be taken over by a non-Catholic college.

A crash course in Judaism (for Jews)

I’ve written before about Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program.

He’s basically dedicated his life to bringing lapsed Jews back into the fold. The NJOP has started programs like Shabbat Across America and Read Hebrew America that have been tremendously successful, especially given the great obstacles that all outreach programs face.

That’s him at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation in 2007.

Tomorrow (March 18), Buchwald is beginning one of his “Crash Courses in Basic Judaism” at Young Israel of New Rochelle (1149 North Ave.).

It’s a FREE three-week program that will cover belief in God and prayer (tomorrow), the Sabbath and Jewish observance (March 25), and sexuality (April 1). All classes begin at 7:30 p.m.

New Rochelle is home to one of the fast-growing Jewish communities around, including a vibrant Orthodox community. But there are certainly plenty of unaffiliated or secular Jews around — and they are the folks that Buchwald hopes to reach.

The program is being offered in conjunction with the Westchester Jewish Connection, a new outreach program based at Young Israel of New Rochelle. I plan to write more about the Connection once I know more about it.

For info or to register: 646-871-4444.

Can one be Christian-Muslim?

The Episcopal Church has become known for its theological…flexibility.

It’s become a pretty common position among Episcopal priests, for instance, that Christianity is not the only or even necessarily the best path to salvation.

But now we’re seeing a few Episcopal priests who also practice other faiths themselves.

The Providence Journal profiles Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest who may be defrocked by her bishop for insisting that she can be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time.

Redding, a former Rhode Islander, had been director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle — faith formation? — until 2007. Then word got out that she had also recited the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief in one God and acceptance of Muhammad as God’s final prophet.

She tells the Journal that she began to seriously study Islam after 9/11. Then an undisclosed personal crisis led her to the realization that “I needed to totally surrender myself to God. Surrender to God is what Islam is about.”

She also says: “It never occurred to me I was leaving Christianity any more than the early disciples of Jesus would have felt they were leaving Judaism by becoming his followers. It was only after the fact that I recognized it could be very confusing to many people.”

Rhode Island Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf tells the Journal: “As I understand it, Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Christ. They don’t believe in the death of Christ or that he is the Son of God, which are cornerstones of the Christian faith. Yes, there are people in every religion who try to stretch the basic tenets of a belief, but if you choose to be a priest within the Episcopal Church you are speaking for the church and its teachings. It demands a commitment.”

Interestingly, Redding believes that Jesus was crucified and resurrected, which goes against the teachings of Islam. A Muslim imam responds: “If she doesn’t believe that [Jesus] is the son of God, she is not Christian. And she can’t be a Muslim if she believes Jesus died on a cross.”


The election of a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan last month has brought attention to the bishop’s practice of Zen Buddhist meditation.

The diocese was well aware of and accepting of Thew Forrester’s practices.

Back in 2004, the late Bishop Jim Kelsey announced at a convention that Forrester has received “Buddhist lay ordination” and is “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

But in a statement issued last month, Forrester said that he is neither a Buddhist nor an ordained Buddhist priest.

Forrester said that “Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ-the-healer” and that he was given a “lay ordination,” requiring no oaths, because of his commitment to meditation.

Buddhism, unlike Islam, can be practiced as something other than a religious faith. It is widely held that one can meditate according to Zen tradition without changing their adherence to a non-Buddhist religion.

Catching up after a week ‘away’

I’m back from my week-long furlough.

It’s always good to get some down time (but it’s better with a paycheck).

I’ve gone through my 1,088 new emails and am ready, I think, to refocus on religion news.

What did I miss?

Over in Connecticut, a bizarre bill that would have changed the structure of Catholic parishes apparently caused quite a stir before dying a quick death.

The idea was to force Catholic parishes to be financially accountable by forcing pastors to report to boards of directors.

The authors of the bill must have missed those lessons in grade school, high school and college about the Constitution. They might want to take a peek at the document at some point in their political careers, no?

Anyway, thousands of Connecticut Catholics rallied in Hartford to oppose the bill, which was quickly pulled. (ADD: A reader notes that the bill could be revived at some point.)

What else?

Cardinal Egan, in a radio interview, suggested that the Catholic Church might consider opening the priesthood to married men. “I think it has to be looked at,” he said.


Apparently, Egan has been influenced by the lack of vocations to the priesthood in New York. Okay, but isn’t this a strange time to be bringing up such a weighty matter that has long been debated by lay Catholics?

Interesting that Egan noted that priests in the Eastern Catholic churches are allowed to be married. I’ve heard this argument made countless times by “progressive” Catholics. Now I can only wonder if Egan, in the waning days of his tenure, will follow up his radio interview with a more elaborate explanation of his position on this much-debated question (check out some of the comments on this David Gibson blog post).

What else?

The Pew Forum finds that church attendance has NOT increased during the recession.

And the recession continues. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in White Plains has had to evict a food pantry after 27 years. The church is running a deficit and needs to find a tenant who can pay.

I wrote my last FaithBeat column about a ministry at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Yorktown Heights that has been helping job seekers for 20 years. I went to a meeting attended by some 50 people who are out of work.

On a happier note, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day.

Cardinal Egan will get a send-off of sorts, as he waves to parade-goers from the steps of St. Patrick’s for the last time as archbishop.

And the parade will be dedicated to the Sisters of Charity, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary of serving New York’s poor.

I’m still on furlough, but…

On Friday, I got an advance peek at the new American Religious Identification Survey.

I couldn’t resist writing up a few observations to post this morning.

So here we go:

The percentage of Catholics in New York State has fallen from 44% in 1990 to 37% in 2008. That should be a worrisome decline for the RC Church, I would think, although it’s probably not all that noticeable because the total number of Catholics keeps climbing.

The percentage of other Christians has also slipped (36% to 34%) and the percentage of other religions has also gone down (10% to 8%).

Where did everyone go? You guessed it. The percentage of “nones” — people who do not identify with a faith — doubled from 7% to 14%.

And the percentage of people who “don’t know” or “refused” to answer — probably not folks who belong to houses of worship — doubled from 3% to 6%.

All around the Northeast, the percentages of “nones” jumped between 1990 and 2008: in NJ, 6% to 15%; in Pennsylvania, 6% to 15%; in Massachusetts, 8% to 22%; in New Hampshire, 9% to 29%; in Connecticut, 6% to 14%.

And elsewhere: in Virginia, 7% to 15%; in Kentucky, 7% to 13%; in Texas, 5% to 12%; in Wyoming, 14% to 28%.

Nationally, the “nones” have grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.

What’s going on here?

An introduction states: “The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”

Very interesting, no?

That’s it for now.

Back to furlough. (Don’t forget, editors, I wrote this Friday).

I’m on furlough

After today, I go on furlough — an unpaid vacation — for one week.

All Gannett employees are taking a week off during the first quarter of the year.

I won’t be blogging, checking my email, or doing anything else that is LoHud or Journal News-related.

Not allowed.

So have a good week.

A ministry too many people can use

Last night, I went to St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Yorktown Heights to visit the EARN program.

It’s not catechesis.

It’s a networking group for people who are looking for jobs. There were more than 50 people there.

St. Patrick’s started the EARN program 20 years ago this month, when a lot of local employers started throwing around the term “downsizing.”

EARN has continued to meet every month since then, even during good times.

These are not good times.

I’m writing about EARN — a ministry of St. Patrick’s — for tomorrow’s FaithBeat column.

By the way, if there is one thing that people of different faiths can agree on, it’s that our top national priority is fixing the economy.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life explains further.

The meaning of the Public Apology

The Public Apology has become a defining event of our culture.

Entertainers, athletes, politicians, preachers, you name it — they do wrong, they get caught and they stand in front of a bank of microphones to apologize.

Then they’re graded by the media. “Contrition? A 7.”

The United Methodist News Service asked several ethicists to consider the “authenticity” of public apologies, a fine idea.

Bishop Kenneth Carder, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School, blamed the superficiality of many such apologies on…the church.

“…when we, as a church, no long practice confession, forgiveness and accountability, we should not be surprised if the broader culture substitutes for genuine confession a political spin or superficial healing of wounds,” he said.

The Rev. Katie Cannon (that’s her), professor of Christian social ethics at Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Va., said that there is a growing public skepticism about celebrity apologies: “The apologies we hear today are mea culpa. Repentance means being willing to make restitution or reparation and a sacrifice has to be offered and some good faith act needs to follow so that it is not cheap or an action that has no substance behind it.”

The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, a Christian ethicist and pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb., said that a meaningful apology has to acknowledge that trust has been violated.

“If they (apologies) are very vague in general, it conveys something less than a grasp of why it matters,” he said.

More on the androgynous name of God

Last summer, I wrote an article about Rabbi Mark Sameth from Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who was about to publish a provocative scholarly piece about the Hebrew name of God that is known as the Tetragrammaton.

It is the four letters Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay and it appears 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Sameth developed a “theory” that the four letters should actually be read in reverse. When they are, he said, the new name makes the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.”

As I wrote at the time: “God thus becomes a dual-gendered deity, bringing together all the male and female energy in the universe, the yin and the yang that have divided the sexes from Adam and Eve to Homer and Marge.”

I got a huge reaction to my article about Sameth’s article. People from many, many religious traditions found meaning in Sameth’s ideas.

I mention this now because Sameth has written an article in the Spring 2009 edition of Reform Judaism magazine, further explaining his theory.

He writes:


He-She, I believe, is the long-unpronounceable Name of God! This secret has been hiding in plain sight for all these years, for it explicitly states in the Torah: God created the earth-creature in God’s own image, male and female.

Needless to say, the notion of an androgynous God creating essentially androgynous human beings has profound implications. Long ago the Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism par excellence, declared, “It is incumbent on a man to ever be male and female”—a strange statement especially in the 13th century. But recently our society has begun to show signs of being able to understand, and willing to accept, this message.


He later writes:


It is time for us to consider changing our most sacred prayers, in particular those which refer to God as Lord. The early rabbis employed the word “Lord” (Adonai in Hebrew) as a respectful substitute for the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton, and recently some Reform Jews—including the editors of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary—have chosen not to use it. With this new cognition of the Tetragrammaton, we can confidently revisit our faithful declaration: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and affirm instead: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: He-She is Our God, He-She is One.”

It is time for us to affirm that Reform Judaism’s tradition of gender equality—which has empowered women to become rabbis, cantors, and congregational lay leaders—is not a modern and somehow less authentic invention, but emblematic of Judaism’s most ancient conception of God.

SNAP takes on Dolan — outside St. Patrick’s

If you happen to walking past St. Patrick’s Cathedral this afternoon, you may see some commotion outside.

SNAP — the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — is holding a news conference outside the cathedral at 1:30 to “warn” New Yorkers about Archbishop Dolan’s alleged failures in Milwaukee.

Clearly, Dolan has gotten a very positive overall welcome in New York. But it hasn’t been unanimous.

SNAP contends that Dolan has, among other things, failed to deal with abusive priests who are part of religious communities in Milwaukee.

According to a release from SNAP:


Based on Dolan’s promises to root out sex offending clergy, many Milwaukee Catholics felt hopeful, just like many New York Catholics feel now. Their initial optimism, SNAP says, was quickly dashed. They argue that Dolan is a ‘master’ of public relations and symbolism, while quietly but effectively continuing to keep archdiocesan cover ups covered up.

One survivor who will speak was sexually assaulted by a priest as child in the Milwaukee archdiocese and has had extensive written and verbal communications with Dolan. The other, raped as a seven year old child by a Milwaukee priest, was chosen by Dolan to serve on the archbishop’s ‘Clergy Sexual Abuse Advisory Board,’ has also met personally with Dolan.