Same-sex marriage vote…today?

Gov. Paterson has called the Senate in again today and it appears that he wants a vote on same-sex marriage.

Badly.

Opponents of gay marriage seem antsy.

In a statement, Richard E. Barnes, head of the NYS Catholic Conference, says:

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“The institution of marriage between a man and a woman is the fundamental building block of society, predating any human government and designed to create a stable family structure for children in a home with a father and mother. The wholesale redefinition of this timeless institution to include relationships between two men or two women has been consistently opposed by the state’s Catholic Bishops.

“If the legislature is going to consider such a radical social engineering experiment, it must be done with their most thoughtful pause and consideration. By putting this incredibly controversial measure on the special session agenda in this current atmosphere, the Governor has chosen the worst possible way of addressing it.

“We urge all Senators to vote no.”

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And the Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical lobbying group in Albany, sent out this email:

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New York Governor David Paterson has called for a vote on same-sex marriage during the Wednesday, June 24, 2009, special session of the State Senate. Same-sex marriage legislation has already passed the State Assembly and Governor Paterson is eager to sign the bill into law.  The State Senate is where this bill must be stopped!

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms is doing everything within its power to block this legislation, but the bottom line is that senators need to hear from constituents in their districts.  Senators need to know that this issue is of great importance to the people who elected them to office.  Please take action now – before it is too late.

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And now we wait.

Happy Birthday, Hastings Center

The Hastings Center, the first bioethics think tank, is celebrating its 40th birthday.

Westchester’s own Daniel Callahan, president emeritus, co-founded the center in 1969 in…where else?…Hastings. At the time, it was called the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences.

The center has since moved to Garrison, but still uses its married name.

There are now many bioethics departments and think tanks, in this country and around the world. And many leading bioethicists have a connection to the Hastings Center.

According to an editor’s note in the current Hastings Center Report:

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The Hastings Center came into being the year that Woodstock took place and “Hair” debuted on Broadway. Like these iconic events, it was a child of the sixties. It began as a grass roots effort—cofounders Daniel Callahan and Willard Gaylin hatched the idea at a neighbor’s Christmas party in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, in 1968. At the time, Callahan, a philosopher, was working for the Population Council on ethical problems of population limitation and finishing a book on abortion. Gaylin, a psychiatrist, had published books and articles on social problems.

Their idea was revolutionary both because the Center would be the first organization of its kind and because it would be the product of a biological revolution. Developments such as organ transplantation and genetic testing were changing lives, reshaping society, and posing ethical dilemmas that cried out for thoughtful analysis.

When the Center was incorporated in March 1969 as the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, the first challenge was to stake out its foundational issues. “We looked for topics that seemed to have a lifespan,” recalled Callahan. Population control, behavior control, death and dying, and genetics fit that description. Each topic had its own working group.

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So Happy Birthday, Hastings Center. May you stay 39 forever…

Archbishop Dolan likes joyful priests and Twinkies

I was a day late, but I got around last night to watching Benedict Groeschel’s interview with Archbishop Dolan on EWTN.

It was Groeschel’s Sunday Night Live show, which airs at 7 p.m. most weeks from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. (I probably would have attended if it wasn’t on Father’s Day. My kids wouldn’t have understood.)

You can watch it on Saturday at 5 p.m.

There were a lot of bellylaughs from Dolan, as you would expect. And some funny asides and quirky moments from Father Benedict, who has recovered well from a stroke of a few months ago but clearly doesn’t have the energy he did a few years back.

The show started with Groeshel calling his guest “my boss” and mistakenly calling him “your eminence” at one point.

“Some of these guys become cardinals,” Groeschel said with a shrug.

Most of the show focused on this being the Year of the Priest.

“One of the more towering pastoral challenges we have is to reclaim a sense of joy in the priesthood and a sense of appreciation for the gift of the priesthood in the church,” Dolan said. “I think this Year of the Priest might allow us to do that.”

He continued: “For the past 40 years, what do we have? A lot of questioning. A lot of criticism. A lot of scandal. A lot of departures from the priesthood. Who knows what that is all about. But that has left wounds in the priesthood.

“What you gently see coming about in the life of the church, I think, is a rediscovery of the mystery, the message, of the priesthood. And I’m thinking this Year of the Priest might be a real booster shot to accomplish that in the church universal. I’m raring to go for this.”

Even more so than usual, Dolan spoke with a barely containable…exuberance.

He talked about leaving Thursday for Rome to receive his pallium from the pope (the pallium being a wool vestment that goes to metropolitan archbishops who oversee neighboring dioceses in limited ways).

Sunday happened to be Groeschel’s 50th anniversary as a priest. He and Dolan reminisced a bit about the “beautiful early days” before Vatican II made things nutty.

Groeschel: “I think the vocation ceased to be and what happened is it became a job or a profession. Don’t ever call the priesthood a profession.”

The duo talked a lot about the declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood.  Dolan offered an explanation that I’ve heard many times: “The problem is not that the Lord isn’t calling. He is calling. The problem is that we’re not listening.”

When Groeshel said that as a boy, he wanted to be a fireman, Dolan responded: “Well, you’re still saving the people from fire!”

Dolan laughed long and hard. I mean hard.

When he calmed a bit, Dolan said that he thought one reason that we have fewer priests is that fewer men are taught by nuns as children — a very plausible point.

Dolan said that the key — and he told me this several times in an interview — is that priests have to go about their lives with joy. Parents will not want their boys to become priests if their parish priests seem uninspired and tired all the time.

“Who wants to join a group of crabs?” he said, laughing. “Some of us have become that way.”

They talked a bit about the rise of a “new atheism,” which Dolan said might be a good thing if it shakes up the faithful. “I wonder if for too long we maybe coasted…” he said.

Groeshel started a conversation about what it means to be an orthodox Catholic. He said he did not like to be called conservative: “Conservative means preserving the status quo. I think the status quo should be dynamited.”

Groeschel said he has started a campaign to get nuns to wear habits, and acknowledged that he has gotten at least one angry letter from a dissenting nun.

He also came down hard on Catholic colleges and universities that do a poor job “representing the Catholic faith.” Dolan grimaced when Groeschel brought it up.

Groeschel came up with this unique, Groeschelian statement:

“I would think there is a special place in purgatory for those who run so-called Catholic colleges and universities that are not really living up to it. And when they get there in purgatory, they have bubble-gum flavored soda and Twinkies to live off for a long, long time.”

Well, the Archbishop of New York responded without missing a beat: “I wouldn’t mind that. I like Hostess Twinkies.”

An Israeli diplomat’s take on the popes

Serving as Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican must be a mighty tricky post.

The current man is Mordechay Lewy, a veteran Israeli diplomat who has represented his country in Germany, Sweden, Thailand and now at the Holy See. That’s Lewy (yeah, the guy on the right).

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson recently interviewed Lewy when he was in town to speak at Boston College.

If you’re interested in Catholic-Jewish relations, you should read the whole Q&A.

Here are a few snippets:

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Q: You’ve been at the Vatican for a year. What have you learned?
A: From the books you can see that it is an absolute monarchy, but it is not. Far, far from that. Structural absolute monarchy doesn’t mean that the monarch is trying to exercise, on every day basis, his authority. You are reducing your authority if you are using it too often.

Q: There was some criticism of the way he (POPE BENEDICT XVI) characterized the Holocaust.
A: People who were expressing those disappointments, which to my mind were unjustified, were on second or third thought retracting them. It didn’t cast a real shadow on the visit. It was filling the columns in the press for one or two days. The speeches of the pope were of enormous importance to everybody, not only to us, but to everybody. What he contributed at Yad Vashem was a completely different approach which was an enrichment to the culture of memory, and it was almost a wake-up from an unexpected corner for people to think a little bit differently, and not to expect a ritual. This pope is not one who is getting into existing patterns of rituals – it’s not a challenge for him intellectually – so he would like really to set his mind and contribute his own thoughts, which are rather deep thoughts about what Yad Vashem means.

Q: Do you have a position on Pius XII’s historic role?
A: Historically speaking, I think he was neither a hero nor a villain. It is probably the right thing to think of a more balanced view of him. The problem is that we are looking at him through the filter of a post-conciliar church. He is definitely a protagonist of the pre-conciliar church, and the pre-conciliar church has, as its main assignment, to seek all possible means to salvation for its own flock. He is not a pope for the Jews; he is not a pope for the Mohammedans; he is not a pope for everyone who was not Catholic. ‘My main task is to save the souls of the Catholic Church.’ This is why he did a concordat with the Germans. He didn’t make a concordat because he was Hitler’s pope. This is a mistaken concept. He did it in order to survive, to make it happen that the church can survive a godless regime. This was the term that they used. He tried also to make a concordat with the Soviet Union, but the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t like this idea. It is wrong to look for any affinity between him and the Nazis.

It is also wrong to say that he didn’t save Jews. Everybody who knows the history of those who were saved among Roman Jewry knows that they hid in the church, they hid in Roman monasteries, in the Vatican itself people were hidden. To look for written evidence, an order of the pope, well…this is odd. This is not how it works.

‘The wedding was performed by…’

Each week, after I make my way through the good stuff in the Sunday Times, I quickly peruse the wedding announcements.

I know a lot of people do it, although few admit it. It can be great fun to learn how two influential families intersect on their way to future (presumed) greatness.

But I pretty much focus on who performed the ceremony. What brand of clergy was it?

The last few years, there certainly seem to be more and more secular weddings, performed by judges, family friends and people who are ordained through the mail (LITERALLY).

You see more Hindu weddings and interfaith matches of all sorts and fewer Protestant get-togethers.

Kathryn Lofton, an assistant professor of American studies and religious studies at Yale, has an essay on ReligionDispatches about the wedding pages, which she calls “periodical porn.”

About the role of religion in the announcements, she writes:

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Religionists will appreciate the gesture to contractual ritual specificity. “In the case of a wedding, a civil union, or a partnership registration, we must have the name of the person who will sign the official certificate,” advises the online instructions for announcement submission, “For an interfaith event, please include the names and affiliations of any other officiants who will participate.”

Religion here is a first-paragraph shibboleth, the entry code to the subsequent curriculum vitae. Over the course of the announcements, the so-called “Episcopacy” has become less Anglican and more ethnic. In 1997, (EDIT: DAVID) Brooks tallied that “40 percent of the ceremonies are Jewish, only 17 percent are Episcopalian, 15 percent are Catholic, 13 percent are other Protestant, and 15 percent are non-religious or non-denominational.” Twelve years later, Jews remain in the lead, although with only 26 percent of the ceremonies. The other cohorts lost statistical heft, too, as 10 percent are Episcopalian, 16 percent are Catholic or Greek Orthodox, 21 percent are other Protestant, and another 21 percent are non-religious or non-denominational. This represents a decrease in Episcopalians and Jewish rites, yet an increase in the non-denominated (not to mention the 6 percent that are Sikh or Hindu) who are married by justices of the peace, university provosts, humanist celebrants, police chaplains, and, in one case, the former mayor of Malibu.

A minority of the announcements suggest a mix-and-match approach (with, say, a Hindu officiant and a Vietnamese ceremony), but the vast majority just incant Rabbi X or Reverend Y with a telegram’s abbreviated breeze.

At the end of the run (of genealogy, of professions, of pastors), it is hard not to wonder whether all this begetting does not diminish ritual potency, whether the rote rehearsal of genealogy affects the announced occasion. Philosopher C.D.C. Reeve wondered as much in Love’s Confusions (2005). “Even if the formulas of romance I employ are my very own,” he wrote, “their picture of love may not survive exposure.”

Gay marriage debate buzzing behind the scenes

Will a gay marriage vote actually take place in the topsy-turvy NYS Senate?

Gov. Paterson now says he’ll force senators to vote before they break for summer. He said yesterday that he’s calling the Senate into a special session after the nuttiness of recent weeks.

In a related story, Ossining’s Maggie Gallagher (that’s her), a leading foe of gay marriage in NYS, is being accused of running a front organization for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Gallagher is president of the National Organization for Marriage, which is spending big money on advertising and lobbying to defeat gay marriage in the NYS Senate. The group is also threatening to mount primaries against GOP senators who vote for gay marriage.

But as my colleague Keith Eddings reports, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating complaints that Gallagher’s group is a “front” for the Mormon church, which of course helped organize support for California’s Proposition 8. The investigation has to do with whether the church failed to report millions of dollars in “nonmonetary contributions” to Gallagher’s group.

Gallagher (who is Catholic) says her group is independent of any religious denomination: “It’s not true. I founded NOM. I’d be happy to work with Mormons, but NOM was not started at the suggestion of Salt Lake.”

Eddings notes that Kim Farah, an oft-quoted spokeswoman for the LDS, did not respond to a question about whether the Mormon church has been working to stop gay marriage in New York and elsewhere.

And back where the Reformation began…

There are few Lutherans these days in the land of Martin Luther.

It’s no surprise, really.

As the Washington Post reports, decades of communism in East Germany, followed by the secularism that has swept through Europe, has greatly diminished the role and profile of Christianity in Wittenberg, Germany. Yeah, that’s the place where Lutheran nailed his list of grievances on the door of the church.

The Post reports that the two main Lutheran denominations in the U.S. — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — are trying to revive Lutheranism in Wittenberg. But it’s not easy.

In September, Wittenberg began celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s arrival in the city.

And “Luther tourism” is good for the place, with some 200,000 people visiting the Castle Church each year.

But, as Wilhelm Torgerson, the Missouri Synod’s representative in Wittenberg, told the Post: “In east Germany, you actually have to go up to people and tell them who Jesus was. They say, ‘Oh yes, Christ. Didn’t he have something to do with Luther?’ “

Catholic bishops clarify points on how the church relates to the Jewish people

Seven years after Catholic and Jewish scholars worked on a document about evangelism, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a few clarifying points about how the Catholic Church relates to the Jewish community.

In a release sent out today, the Bishops Conference explains that the original document, called “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” raised “many questions among Catholics” in the U.S. about the church’s relationship with the Jewish people.

The statement includes this:

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Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and Pastoral Practice, stated that there were two key points at issue.

“The USCCB reaffirms what the Holy See has stated repeatedly: that while the Catholic Church does not proselytize the Jewish people, neither does she fail to witness to them her faith in Christ, nor to welcome them to share in that same faith whenever appropriate.” Bishop Lori said. He added that current debates over the question of how Catholics understand the covenant with Moses in relation to Christ were equally important. The covenant with Moses, that continues to be adhered to by Jews today, is fulfilled, Christians believe, in Jesus.

“As followers of Jesus, we see his covenant as fulfilling God’s plan for the salvation of all peoples, both now and at the end of time,” Bishop Lori said.

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The Bishops Conference also released a four-page “note on ambiguities contained” in the original document.

The note concludes with this:

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With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the “gifts and the call” that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation. Fulfilling the mandate given her by the Lord, the Church, respecting human freedom, proclaims the truths of the Gospel in love.

Benedict Groeschel and Tim Dolan: A comedy team in the making?

Father Benedict Groeschel, the Franciscan friar who has been a popular writer and speaker for decades, has in recent years been doing a live TV show on EWTN on Sunday nights.

It’s called Sunday Night Live with Father Benedict Groeschel and is on most Sundays at 7 p.m. — live from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

People call in with questions and comments from all over and Father Benedict has guests on to interview.

This Sunday, on Father’s Day, he’ll have Archbishop Tim Dolan. It promises to be an interesting, engaging and amusing show.

If you’ve seen Groeschel speak, you know that he is a quirky fellow with an unpredictable sense of humor. He speaks with the freedom of someone who has been writing and speaking on just about everything for a long, long time. He doesn’t hold back when offering his conservative takes on Catholic theology or the issues of the day.

And Dolan, we all know by now, is also a rather outspoken guy with a lot on his mind.

It should make for fun television, even if you would never otherwise watch EWTN, the very traditional and often stodgy Catholic TV network.

I understand that Groeschel, who was hit by a car a few years ago and suffered a stroke a couple of months ago, is winding down his long and active ministry.

An evangelical Presbyterian in New York

I continue to be fascinated by how New Yorkers see all those evangelical Christians out there and by how Christians of the Heartland look at all those heathen New Yorkers.

It’s a staredown of sorts, based on some real truths, assumptions and myths on both sides.

The June issue of Christianity Today has a cover story on Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which is widely known outside of New York for bringing a lot of New Yorkers to…you won’t believe it… church.

The article explains that Keller was teaching and preaching in Philadelphia — not exactly cow country — when he wound up accepting a call to start a new church in the Ungodly Apple.

He got started 20 years ago, in 1989.

The article explains:

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Tim found Manhattan non-Christians amazingly, sometimes naïvely, curious. Though the borough’s 1.6 million people were used to religious diversity, many had never talked to an evangelical. Tim’s interest in art and music was an indispensable gift in communicating. His omnivorous reading also helped. New York is a city of high achievers to whom, Keller says, it made sense that a minister should be a scholar of ancient texts, exposing them to ideas and information beyond their experience. They needed someone who spoke their language, though, and Keller was a quick learner.

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Today, Redeemer sees about 5,000 people on Sundays at five services at three locations.

And Redeemer is planting churches around the New York area — including Trinity Presbyterian in Rye.

Keller insists that for 20 years, he has tried to preach to non-Christians. The idea is that many New Yorkers who come to his church, maybe with a friend, are not Christians. So he needs to meet them where they are, spiritually:

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The Kellers (note: meaning Time and wife Kathy) stick to a few rules. They never talk about politics. Tim always preaches with a non-Christian audience in mind, not merely avoiding offense, but exploring the text to find its good news for unbelievers as well as believers. The church emphasizes excellence in music and art, to the point of paying their musicians well (though not union scale). And it calls people to love and bless the city. It isn’t an appeal based on guilt toward a poor, lost community.

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The article makes a case that Keller changed the way that Christians look at New York and even cities in general. In fact, a Christianity Today editor named Andy Crouch is quoted as saying “Redeemer was the first to lead this change of posture to the city.”

A Redeemer elder named Charles Osewalt, a high school principal in the Bronx, explains why a change in viewpoint was needed: “Most churches look at New York as a cesspool.”