Dolan still dealing with Milwaukee problems

Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s final weeks in Milwaukee may not be easy ones.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has reached a new settlement with a victim of a former Milwaukee priest named Siegfried Widera, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In 2006, the archdiocese reached at $17 million settlement with 10 victims of sexual abuse — nine of whom were molested by Widera.

Widera jumped to his death in May 2003 after he was cornered by police.

Peter Isely, a local spokesman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that the latest case was a surprise and called on Dolan to say how many other settlements may be in the pipeline.

“He never mentioned this case,” Isely told the JS. “How many other secret negotiations of sex abuse cases has Dolan got the archdiocese in?”

Analyzing the ELCA’s attendance free-fall

I’ve written a lot over the years about the struggles of mainline Protestant denominations to maintain membership and church attendance.

The ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is now reporting that average church attendance on Sunday at its 10,448 congregations has fallen from 144 people to 131 — since 2002.

That’s bad.

The Lutheran — an ELCA national publication — quotes New York’s former ELCA bishop, Stephen Bouman, who is now national director of evangelical outreach for the denomination: “We’ve also lost our evangelizing power [and] that effort to instill the faith and practices of discipleship in our children and today’s emerging generation.”

Bouman also said: “There is a particular connection between vitality and attendance at worship and the connection a congregation has in mission to its community.”

Bouman and other mainline leaders have cited these problems for many years. The problem if figuring out how to fix them.

The current head of the ELCA’s New York Synod, Bishop Robert Rimbo, in his weekly message, notes the attendance free-fall:

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What’s up?

This study is alarming. Why would people not come together regularly to worship? Whatever our personal spiritual lives may be, worship for Lutherans is essential, nourishing, connecting. Simply being missed should draw us back together, attract the young to their friends, the old to lifelong comrades, the lonely to kinship, the kids to a new family.

I think demographics play a part. The next generation is largely unchurched, families with children are overextended, retirees move to the shore in summer and the south in winter, the faithful grandparent generation is dying.

The culprit may be our leisure society. And, believe me, I know what you are facing: working hard all week makes us feel we’ve fulfilled our obligations, need to connect with family, and enjoy that blessed reprieve of a weekend at the beach or mountains or maybe just sipping an unhurried cup of coffee while reading the Times. We want to play with the toys we worked hard to buy.

When did God’s gift of the Sabbath become a weekend away from our Lord and from each other? Without getting into worship wars, poor preaching, church disputes, or bad music, we must ask more fundamental questions. How important, how powerful is our need simply to be together? The early Christians obviously felt the presence of Christ in their gatherings but they experienced a kind of rare community, koinonia, they called it (Acts 2.42). Is there a way we can be accountable to each other as sisters and brothers in Christ? Would a pastor or deacon, a council member or a friend simply call Sunday afternoon and say “We missed you”?

Pastors tell me it starts when people join, and I have experienced the same reality. Many new members don’t intend to worship weekly. Do they need other options to be together? Could the standard for membership be two gatherings each week? How else could one hope to sustain any relationship? Let us start from the truth that we are members of a Body, not names in a directory. Let us all speak lovingly: we miss each other, we enjoy each other, we long to be together. Then we will depart strengthened, and I’m guessing we will return to be strengthened again.

Jonas Brothers, Christian brothers

My kids watch a lot of stuff on the Disney Channel, so I’ve been aware of the Jonas Brothers for a while.

Three sweet kids who sing sweet pop songs.

They have apparently became a Pop Culture Phenomenon, and are now making surprise visits to movie theaters where their 3D concert film is showing.

They popped up at the Palisades Center on Saturday, causing young girls to swoon.

They also did a quickie press conference at the Westchester County Airport. And they were close to their hometown of Wyckoff, N.J.

I feel it is my duty to note that the Jonas Brothers are committed evangelical Christians.

Their dad, Kevin, is a former minister who managed Christian music groups (and now manages his sons).

The brothers wear “purity rings” that symbolize their commitment to wait for their wedding nights.

They are not an overt “Christian band,” but their faith is apparently right there. Joe Jonas: “Even songs we write today, if you really listen to the lyrics, it can be about love songs, but it’s also about our relationship with God. It’s simple. We’re Christian guys in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

A review of their most recent CD by Christian Music Today summed up:

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Like most albums, A Little Bit Longer will depend on the listener’s tolerance of teen pop conventions, both musical and lyrical. Don’t go into this album looking for deep Christian truths, because they’re not here. But those who appreciate pop for pop’s sake may be pleasantly surprised—tweens, teens, and even adults. Honor is due to the Jonas Brothers because these guys have come a long way in a short time. But it’s all too clear where they need to grow next. Imagine how much better the Jonas Brothers would be if they applied their fun sound to something more meaningful, and perhaps even spiritual.

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Joanne Brokaw, who writes about Christian entertainment, has her doubts about how the Jonas Bros are marketing themselves:

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And the last thing I hate is that their heart throb, teen idol status sends mixed messages about their stance on purity. I love that the guys wear purity rings and I believe they believe in what the rings stand for. But when you see them posing seductively on the cover of Rolling Stone (really, who thought that was cute?) and talking about their first kiss in Tiger Beat (or Bop or PopStar or whatever teen magazine you pick up), without an explanation of what purity really means, there’s the danger that what they share with their peers is simply a message that says, “Wear a purity ring but still be consumed with lusting after hot guys.”

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Jonas Brothers. Christians. So noted.

Papal economics 101

How bad is the worldwide economy when the pope plans to write an encyclical about it?

A Vatican bulletin from a few days ago, about a Q&A the pope held with clergy from Rome, noted:

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Benedict XVI explained that the Church has the duty to present a reasonable and well-argued criticism of the errors that have led to the current economic crisis. This duty, he said, forms part of the Church’s mission and must be exercised firmly and courageously, avoiding moralism but explaining matters using concrete reasons that may be understood by everyone.

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Then the bulletin got down to real Catholic economics, which does not sound exactly like unfettered capitalism:

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Referring to his forthcoming social Encyclical, the Pope then presented a synthetic overview of the crisis, analysing it at two levels. First he considered the macroeconomic aspects, highlighting the shortcomings of a system founded on selfishness and the idolatry of money, which cast a shadow over man’s reason and will and lead him into the ways of error. Here the Church is called to make her voice heard – nationally and internationally – in order to help bring about a change of direction and show the path of true reason illuminated by faith, which is the path of self-sacrifice and concern for the needy.

The second aspect of the Holy Father’s analysis concerned the sphere of microeconomics. Large-scale projects for reform, he said, cannot come about unless individuals alter their ways. If there are no just people, then there can be no justice. Hence he invited people to intensify their humble, everyday efforts for the conversion of hearts, an undertaking that above all involves parishes whose activity is not just limited to the local community but opens up to all humanity.

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Inside the Vatican notes:

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The Pope’s message fundamentally will be one of hope, no matter how devastating the global financial crisis becomes. But it will not seem hopeful to some, because it will be filled also with truth about how false economic principles and moral ideals can lead mankind toward the abyss, and into it.

On the old evangelical guard

Randall Balmer, a distinguished prof of American religion, writes on ReligionDispatches.org that retiring evangelical leader James Dobson is leaving behind a fractured, weakened “religious right.”

Balmer (that’s him) — professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University and the author of several books on evangelicals — tries to make a case that the standard “culture war” issues no longer appeal to evangelicals as they once did.

He writes:

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As I travel to evangelical colleges, I find that the issue of sexual identity, for example, is, well, not much of an issue among a younger generation of evangelicals. Sure, if you pressed them, many would say that homosexuality is wrong, but they simply can’t understand why Dobson and the other leaders of the Religious Right are so exercised over the matter.

So too with abortion. A younger generation of evangelicals has grown tired of the stalemated debate over abortion – or rather what passes for debate. Obama’s declaration that he would seek to limit the number of abortions resonated with them – or at least satisfied them, especially because they, like other Americans, recognize that making abortion illegal will not materially affect the incidence of abortion.

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Dobson, the long-time boss of Focus on the Family, said last week that he is retiring as chairman.

American Muslims right at home

41% of Muslims in the U.S. say they are “thriving,” according to a major new Gallup study of Muslim life.

That’s compared to 11% in Indonesia and Pakistan, 13% in Egypt, and high teens to 20% in Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Really.

The only place where a higher percentage of Muslims are thriving is Saudi Arabia (51%).

What do the Gallup people mean by thriving? They asked respondents to rate their lives — 0 for the worst possible life and 10 for the best possible life. Gallup counted as thriving anyone who rated their life at 7 or better and expects to be at 8 or better in five years.

Interesting. What percentage of Americans OVERALL do you think were thriving in 2008? According to Gallup, 46%.

What would the percentage be today, I wonder.

Other interesting findings from Gallup:

Muslim Americans are quite diverse in terms of political ideology: 29% liberal, 38% moderate, 25% conservative. But when it comes to party affiliation, they are less so: 49% Democrats, 8% Republican and 37% independent.

Asked whether religion plays an important part in their lives, 80% of Muslim Americans said yes (compared to 76% of Protestants, 68% of Catholics, 85% of Mormons, 39% of Jews and 65% of overall Americans).

Also, Muslim American WOMEN are among the mostly highly educated female religious groups, behind only Jewish women.

Mount Vernon ministers declare ‘SOS’ for their city

I wrote my FaithBeat column a couple of weeks ago about the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson and other ministers in Mount Vernon committing themselves to slow the tide of violence in their city.

Their impetus: 15 murders in 15 months. All young black men.

They’re holding a “summit on violence” at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Richardson’s Grace Baptist Church.

And the Rev. W. Darin Moore, pastor of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church and president of the United Black Clergy of Westchester — which is co-sponsoring tomorrow’s summit — is calling the initiative the SOS Coalition.

For “save our seeds.”

Their theme: “Reach Out, Root Out and Lift Up.”

Moore puts it like this: “Any loss of life is painful, however, the recent incidents of violence which have resulted in an average of one black male killed each month, is a crisis that demands an immediate, systematic, coordinated community response. We are sobered by the fact that this will be a long and arduous process, yet we are heartened by the potential of this community. Mt. Vernon is a great city with enormous possibilities.”

View religious art for Lent

Looking for something different for Lent?

The Maryknoll Sisters are offering an exhibit of woodland sculptures created by the late Sister Marie Pierre Semler (1901-1993).

The sculpture to the left is called “Mediator.”

The exhibit — free and open to all — will run through Sunday (March 8), 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, 10 Pinesbridge Road in Ossining.

According to the Sisters:

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Through 68 years of creativity, working in many mediums, her work has nourished the hearts and minds of many. Her contemplative spirit beckons us to see God in all things. Through her meditations, written in her later years, we can only imagine her relationship with God.

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Relatives of Sister Semler have exhibited her work at the University of Dayton, Marian Library Gallery in Ohio, the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, the Mariandale Chapel Gallery in Ossining and elsewhere.

Sister Semler created over 2,000 pieces of religious art.

You can see some of them HERE.