Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for October, 2009

Dolan takes on the Times10.30.09

There’s been a lot of buzz about Archbishop Dolan starting a blog.

There will be more buzz now that the Boss has posted a letter that he submitted to the NYTimes, which Dolan says the Times declined to publish.

In his letter/blog post, Dolan takes the Times to task for several examples of what he believes to be anti-Catholicism in its pages.

tjndc5-5p0fc8qf1e9x8c196h4_layoutHe starts off: “October is the month we relish the highpoint of our national pastime, especially when one of our own New York teams is in the World Series!

Sadly, America has another national pastime, this one not pleasant at all: anti-catholicism.”

He cites four problems:

1) A Times article about child sex abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, about which he says “Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency.”

2) An article about a priest who fathered a child two decades ago and has had a strained relationship with the mother and child. Dolan writes: ”..one still has to wonder why a quarter-century old story of a sin by a priest is now suddenly more pressing and newsworthy than the war in Afghanistan, health care, and starvation–genocide in Sudan. No other cleric from religions other than Catholic ever seems to merit such attention.”

3) The Times’ lead story last week about the Vatican’s move to welcome disenchanted Anglicans. He writes: “Of course, the reality is simply that for years thousands of Anglicans have been asking Rome to be accepted into the Catholic Church with a special sensitivity for their own tradition. As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s chief ecumenist, observed, “We are not fishing in the Anglican pond.” Not enough for the Times; for them, this was another case of the conniving Vatican luring and bidding unsuspecting, good people, greedily capitalizing on the current internal tensions in Anglicanism.”

4) A column by Maureen Dowd, in which Dowd takes aim at the Catholic Church’s treatment of women, in particular nuns. Dolans writes: “In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish, or African-American religious issue, she digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible…”

Bishops and Catholic leaders often charge the mainstream media with anti-Catholicism. Dolan, though, is unusually precise about what he doesn’t like and why. That’s why the Catholic blogosphere is getting revved up about his piece.

I’m not a media critic—and I’ve always thought that it’s a bit unfair that every word in the Times gets dissected for hidden meanings and agendas—but I have a few thoughts.

About Brooklyn’s Orthodox (we’re really talking Hasidic) community, Dolans writes “there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone.” Tiny? Dolan is new in town, so he probably doesn’t know that we’re talking about a vast, fast-growing community.

The problem of sex abuse in the Hasidic community is only beginning to be grasped and understood by the outside world, so it might be a bit early to expect the Times or anyone else to know how to address it. It will have to be addressed, of course, and there is reason to think that the DA’s office has let things slide for too long.

By comparison, clerical sex abuse in the Catholic community is something we learned about piece-by-piece over at least two decades before the scandal of 2002 erupted.

Measuring the merits of one newspaper article is always a difficult exercise. The priest-fathered-a-child story was an interesting tale, but whether it merited its prominent play is probably in the eye of the beholder.

I agree that the Anglican conversion story was overplayed by the national media, not just the Times. A strong argument can be made—and is being made—that the Vatican was simply responding to convervative Anglicans who had reached out to Rome. We already knew about the Anglican Communion’s internal divisions and the potential for break-ups.

The clear implication of much of the media coverage is that the Vatican is seeking converts in some sort of aggressive new way.

Maureen Dowd was being Maureen Dowd. Right?

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in anti-Catholicism, Archbishop Dolan, Brooklyn, Child sex abuse, Conservative Anglicans, Hasidic Jews, New York Timeswith 6 Comments →

Want to learn more about meditation?10.29.09

Doesn’t it seem like everyone is meditating these days?

Churches and synagogues host all sorts of meditation groups, and community-based meditation (and yoga) centers are opening all over.

I guess it’s no surprise given our stressed-out, racing-for-time, recession-weary culture.

tjndc5-5ftmfxpazk3x2wz89zn_layoutA few years ago, I wrote about an in-depth, three-year class in Buddhism for meditators who want to go deeper in the traditions and beliefs behind…sitting (that’s what meditators call it). It was a terrific program offered at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel.

I recently heard that the monastery has started a new three-year cycle, and I bet there are a lot of suburbanites out there who would love it.

The website explains:

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The program is designed to give students an in-depth understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist practice in the three major traditions—Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

The first year of the program provides a broad overview of Buddhism. The second year focuses on Buddhist sutras. The third year focuses on Buddhist philosophy and applications such as science, psychology, and psychotherapy.

New students may enter the program in any of the three years and, having completed all three years in any order, are awarded a certificate. An optional fourth year (by invitation of the teacher) prepares students to become lay Dharma teachers. Those who complete the fourth year satisfactorily may be ordained in the Dharma Teacher Order.

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If you have questions, there are a bunch of answers on the website.

The teacher is The Ven. Dr. Thich Tri Hoang, who was ordained in Vietnam at the age of 24. He is a terrific sense of humor and seems to genuinely enjoy teaching Americans from diverse backgrounds.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Carmel NY, Chuang Yen Monastery, meditation, Three-year program, Ven. Thich Tri Hoangwith No Comments →

Bagels vs….Tastykakes?10.28.09

I’m off to the World Series in a few hours to talk to fans and write about the excitment.

Don’t be too jealous: I can’t actually see the game. The press box is filled and supplementary reporters such as myself are relegated to an auxiliary press room where we can work while we watch on TV!

But I can hear the crowd cheering (and I try to sneak a peak of the action before I get chased away by Yankee staffers who don’t like us standing between the sections of the press box).

Anyway, here’s a press release I just got:

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Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, have placed a friendly wager on the outcome of the 2009 World Series.

These two long-time friends spoke on Tuesday evening to settle the terms of the bet.  If the Phillies win, Archbishop Dolan will ship a dozen bagels to the City of Brotherly Love; if the Yankees prevail, Cardinal Rigali will send a box of Tastykakes to the Big Apple.

Archbishop Dolan said, “Cardinal Rigali is one of my closest and dearest friends; for several years he even served as my Archbishop so I feel a particular loyalty to him.  I know he has exquisite taste in most matters. I just wish he had better taste in baseball teams.”

Cardinal Rigali said, “I have great esteem for Archbishop Dolan.  He is a gifted spiritual leader who has been a true friend for many years.  That is why I am so sorry he will be disappointed when the Phillies successfully defend their World Championship.  We have the cream cheese ready for the bagels that I know will be arriving shortly after the Repeat in the City of Brotherly and Sisterly love.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Archbishop Rigali, Bagels, Tastykakes, World Serieswith 1 Comment →

The Ecumenical Patriarch is in town10.27.09

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Orthodox Christian world, is visiting the U.S. and is spending the next few days in New York.

He arrived in New Orleans last Tuesday and has spent the last week talking about the environment, which has become the subject he is most identified with.

4030726836_4d581561dbHe came to New York on Sunday and last night presided over the Ninth Annual Orthodox Prayer Service for the United Nations Community at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral in Manhattan.

Tonight he will be honored by Fordham U at its Rose Hill campus in the Bronx.

Tomorrow, he’ll meet with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, with Jewish leaders and with Bill Clinton, among others.

Then he’s off to Atlanta before a return to New York.

He was born Dimitrios Arhondonis in 1940 on the Island of Imvros (Gokceada) in Turkey and became ecumenical patriarch in 1991.

As EP, Bartholomew is considered the “first among equals” when it comes to the leaders of the various Orthodox churches. He is the symbolic head of Orthodox Christianity, but has little authority over any Orthodox church other than the Greek Orthodox Church.

I covered him when he came to New York in 1997 and spoke at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Yonkers. Even then, he focused on the world’s “ecological crisis” and urged religious leaders to unite to save the environment.

At the time, he said: “Ecological crisis does not know borders. Neither should there be borders in our cooperation. . . . In our era, when the planet Earth is becoming a single village, prejudices ought to be resolved.”

Last night he said:

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4046124863_3268d8083dFirst, there is our fundamental conviction that it is our responsibility as human beings, as persons, to be stewards of God’s created order. The Greek term “oikonomos” –resonates beyond Orthodox Christianity. As “keepers/masters of our house—oikos”, we are all called to be sensitive to the greatest risk to the survival of our planet—namely, the dramatic changes in our climate, in our environment. Orthodox Christians understand the meaning of being stewards—oikonomoi—and we reach out our hands to you, diplomats and world leaders—to embrace the richness of this language, and to work together with all the Orthodox Christians around the world to set the example of respecting, nurturing, and preserving God’s created order.

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In the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, he wrote, in part:

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Last week, 200 leaders in the environmental movement gathered in New Orleans for the eighth ecological symposium organized by the Orthodox Christian Church. Participants included leading scientists and theologians, politicians and policy makers, business leaders and NGOs, environmentalists and journalists. Similar conferences have taken place on the Adriatic, Aegean, Baltic, and Black Seas, the Danube and Amazon Rivers, and the Arctic Ocean. This time we sailed the mighty Mississippi to consider its profound impact on the U.S. and its fate within the global environment.

It may seem out of character for a sacred institution to convene a conference on so secular an issue. After all, Jesus counseled us to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Climate change, pollution and the exploitation of our natural resources are commonly seen as the domain not of priests but rather of politicians, scientists, technocrats or interest groups organized by concerned citizens. What does preserving the planet have to do with saving the soul?

A lot, as it turns out. For if life is sacred, so is the entire web that sustains it. Some of those connections—the effects of overharvesting on the fish populations of the North Atlantic, for example—we understand very well. Others, such as the long-term health impacts of industrialization, we understand less well. But no one doubts that there is a connection and balance among all things animate and inanimate on this third planet from the Sun, and that there is a cost or benefit whenever we tamper with that balance.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Environment, Ninth Annual Orthodox Prayer Service, Religious cooperation, U.S. visitwith No Comments →

Antichrist in the news10.26.09

Someone asked me the other day if a new movie called Antichrist has something to do with the antichrist?

Does the film have religious overtones?

No, it doesn’t. It’s the latest work from a controversial, cutting-edge-type move-maker named Lars von Trier.

From what I’ve read, the film sounds pretty grim. It’s about chaos and sorrow—and there’s a talking fox.

But no antichrist.

collinsAt the same time, though, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver has been called the antichrist—as in the antichrist.

Erie County (think Buffalo) Executive Chris Collins (that’s him) compared Silver, an Orthodox Jew, to the antichrist at a GOP dinner on Saturday.

From a description I read, it sounded like a joke. Maybe not a funny one.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Antichrist, Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Lars von Trier, Sheldon Silverwith 1 Comment →

Catholic-Anglican, Catholic-Jewish updates10.23.09

A couple of quick updates:

1. I tried to make some sense yesterday of the Vatican’s plans for welcoming disaffected Anglicans. Seveal readers thought it’s a bigger deal than I did—and they may be right.

tjndc5-5b1zfjkl3wh1kt3dbk3i_layoutI got a pithy reaction from Bishop Catherine Roskam, the assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which I share here:

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We appreciate the welcome the pope extended to those in the Anglican communion who are disaffected. We for our part continue to welcome our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, both lay and ordained, conservative and liberal, who wish to belong to a church that treasures diversity of thought.

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John Allen has a comprehensive analysis of “What the Vatican’s Welcome of Anglicans means” HERE.

2. I wrote at the start of the week about Archbishop Dolan planning to take part in a program about Catholic-Jewish relations with the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC.

It turns out that Dolan will be focusing quite a bit about Catholic relations with the Jewish community—and not just in New York.

tjndc5-5p0fc6hpy5iqbjxb6h4_thumbnailHe’s been named Moderator of Jewish Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a pretty significant role. He’s replacing Cardinal William H. Keeler, the retired Archbishop of Baltimore, who has been a key international figure in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The appointment is effective Nov. 11 and is good for five years.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the Bishops  Conference, says:

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Since the Second Vatican Council, important strides in this relationship have been made through dialogue and collaboration in countering racism, anti-Semitism and other offenses against human dignity. Our Episcopal Conference, through the leadership of your predecessors in New York, and especially through the tireless and generous service of Cardinal William Keeler, has sought to contribute to the work of reconciliation between the Church and the Jewish people after centuries of mutual estrangement. While we look back with gratitude on nearly a half century of progress in these efforts at healing and renewal, we also know that important and pressing challenges lie ahead for us.

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George also said that the Jewish community will find Dolan to be “a friend who communicates the joy of his own faith, while at the same time conveying profound respect for the spiritual gifts of the other.”

Dolan will join Keeler on November 11 for the semi-annual USCCB’s consultation with the National Council of Synagogues—with Dolan taking over as co-chair.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Bishop Catherine Roskam, Cardinal Francis George, Catholic-Jewish relations, Disaffected Anglicans, Moderator of Jewish Affairs, National Council of Synagogues, USCCB, Vaticanwith No Comments →

Soupy Sales, the KKK, Mister Rogers and me10.23.09

Two quirky notes about Soupy Sales, the pie-throwing comedian and early TV star who died yesterday:

Obit Soupy Sales1. The AP notes that Sales was born Milton Supman in 1926, in Franklinton, N.C., where his was the only Jewish family in town. His parents owned a dry-goods store and apparently sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan.

Yikes.

2. TV writer Verne Gay notes that when Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—graduated from a (Presbyterian) seminary and saw a TV for the first time in his parents’ home, the first thing he saw was Sales and someone else throwing pies at each other.

Mister Rogers was so turned off that he decided to start his own TV show as a non-pie-throwing alternative.

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One final, completely unrelated note: When I was a kid, my parents somehow came up with a Soupy Sales doll (remember, he was a big star back in the day). I cried whenever I saw the doll. I still remember the fuzzy black hair on its head.

I think I found a picture of it:

SmallDoll

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Jewish, Ku Klux Klan, Mister Rogers, Soupy Saleswith No Comments →

Wild wisdom from dung beetles and their friends10.22.09

You have to like this book title: Ostriches, Dung Beetles, and Other Spiritual Masters, A Book of Wisdom from the Wild.

Dung beetles, yeah.

McLaughlin Janice CroppedIt’s a new book by Sister Janice McLaughlin, president of the Ossining-based Maryknoll Sisters, who did missions work in Zimbabwe in Central Africa for the past 30 years.

It’s been described to me as “a lovely little book of meditations on African animals from the wild, their characteristics and what they have to say to us.”

McLaughlin explains: “From Kilimanjaro to Cape Town, I have been privileged to interact with the people who live in harmony with nature and with the abundance of wildlife that make the continent such a Garden of Eden.”

She will be available to sign copies of the book at the Maryknoll Sisters’ annual International Bazaar on Saturday (Oct. 24) at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, 10 Pinesbridge Road, in Ossining.

Booths will display items from Africa, the Americas, East and South Asia and the Pacific Islands, areas where the Maryknoll Sisters work in mission. The purpose of the bazaar is to raise funds to support the sisters and their work.

Directions are HERE. The bazaar is from 10 to 4 and Sister McLaughlin will be there all day.

bazaar09_front

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "Ostriches, and Other Spiritual Masters", Dung Beetles, International Bazaar, Maryknoll Sisters, Ossining, Sister Janice McLaughlinwith No Comments →

Study: Congregations should team up on social service projects10.22.09

This is common sense, I suppose, but still worth noting…

So many religious congregations struggle to maintain effective social-service ministries in their communities. Especially these days, when money is tight and many houses of worship are scrimping to pay their electric bills, it can be hard to keep soup kitchens, food pantries and other ministries alive.

A new study of 59 agencies founded by religious groups has found that congregations are better off NOT going it alone. Regional efforts, including interfaith initiatives, are the way to go.

Jo Anne Schneider, a prof at the University of Maryland who led the project, explains: “We compared everything from small food pantries directly connected to a congregation to national hospital systems and their local affiliated hospitals. Congregation-focused models work well for mainline Protestants, Quakers and African American churches, but only if several congregations provide support or the sponsoring congregation is sufficiently active with enough resources to support the nonprofit. Jewish and Catholic systems rely on their communities as a whole with the Jewish Federation, Archdiocese, or Order providing centralized support. Some thriving evangelical organizations rely on networks with no formal connections to congregations.”

Again, it’s common sense. The old “two heads are better” thinking.

But many congregations, we all know, are kind of insular and committed to doing things the way things have always been done…

The study, called the Faith and Organizations Project, is being funded by a $500,000 grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment.

It’s all right HERE.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Faith and Organizations Project, Faith-based agencies, Lily Endowment, Religious congregations, Social-service agencies, University of Marylandwith 1 Comment →

Is the Vatican/Anglican story that big a deal?10.21.09

I would imagine that a lot of people are confused today by the Big News that the Vatican is taking steps to make it easier for conservative Anglicans to become Catholics while retaining Anglican traditions.

The fact that the NYTimes made it the Lead Story today will by itself tell many people that this is a major step for Rome.

I’m not so sure, although the whole thing is certainly quite interesting.

As you know, many traditional Anglicans—including Episcopalians in the U.S.—are unhappy with the liberal drift in parts of the Anglican Communion (meaning Europe and the U.S). They do not want to see gay bishops or female bishops. Some still do not want to see female priests. They don’t like the idea of some Anglican priests blessing same-sex couples.

Just last year, conservative Episcopalians in the U.S. left the church to form their own Anglican community, the Anglican Church in North America.

Now, some Anglicans have petitioned the Vatican to let them become Roman Catholics, while holding on to their Anglican liturgy.

But not that many.

Vatican AnglicansThe Times itself reports today that Cardinal William Levada (that’s him), the American boss of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “said that 20 to 30 bishops and hundreds of other people had petitioned the Vatican on the matter in recent years.”

We’re talking HUNDREDS of people out of 80 million Anglicans. Maybe a couple of thousand will think about making the change.

Most Anglicans live in parts of the world where their church communities are already quite traditional. So they’re good, more or less.

And disaffected Americans already have their own community that allows them to remain Anglicans.

So what’s the big deal?

Father Thomas Reese, the Jesuit scholar, writes that the most significant aspects of the whole story may be that the Catholic Church will recognize the Anglican liturgy—possibly opening the doors to other liturgical adventures—and that an uptick in married Anglican priests who become Catholic will raise new questions about the need for the celibate priesthood.

He writes:

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Despite all the Vatican attempts to downplay the acceptance of married Anglican priests, many people will ask why not married priests for other Catholics? Cardinal Levada said that not only married Anglican priests will be ordained but also married Anglican seminarians who join the Catholic Church. The Vatican has made clear that married Catholic priests will not be welcomed back to the priesthood, but could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church? If so, this could become a rich source of priests for the Catholic Church.

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This is interesting stuff. But I haven’t heard or read anything to make me think that we’re going to be see any major changes here in the Catholic or Anglican worlds.

Britain Vatican AnglicansMaybe that’s why two Anglican archbishops, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (that’s him), endorsed the whole thing, saying that it’s all good for conservative Anglicans who want out.

If they expected to lose significant numbers of Anglicans, I doubt they would have that reaction.

The funny thing to me is that I’ve long joked that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. could triple in size by actively seeking out lapsed Catholics. Come up with a fancy name for a “Try us, you’ll like us” program. Promote several easy steps toward becoming an Episcopalian. Explain how familiar the Episcopal liturgy would be for ex-Catholics.

Sort of like what the Vatican is doing, but in reverse.

But the Episcopal Church will never do it. It would be un-P.C.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Anglican Communion, Cardinal Levada, Conservative Anglicans, conversion, Thomas Reese, Vaticanwith 4 Comments →

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