Good Friday, the ‘Coffee Haggadah’ and the Catholic-media showdown

A few things today after a day off:

First, two Good Friday items. For the last decade, the largest non-denominational Protestant service in the region has been held in Westchester, usually at the Westchester County Center. I covered the “Westchester  One in Praise” service a couple of times and saw thousands gather on Good Friday — mostly evangelicals and Pentecostals, a racial and ethnic mix.

This year’s 7:30 p.m. service will be at Mount Vernon High School. The featured speaker will be Dr. Carolyn D. Showell of First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore.

What else? Last year, I visited the Peale Center for Christian Living up in Pawling to write about their annual Day of Prayer on Good Friday.

I sat in the back of a chapel at the home of Guideposts magazine and watched a few dozen people read prayer requests from strangers and then pray for them. Rotating teams of staff and volunteers prayed for something like 16,000 people between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

If you want to know more or might want to send in a prayer request for this year’s 40th anniversary Good Friday Day of Prayer, go to www.Ourprayer.org.

Second, Passover. Someone gave me a copy the other day of a Maxwell House Haggadah. I found myself wondering how a coffee company wound up creating the most popular Haggadah in the U.S., used by countless families at their seders over decades.

I came across a short article from Moment magazine that answered my questions.

Here is the opening:

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In 1923, when Maxwell House Coffee signed on with the Joseph Jacobs Advertising agency in New York, it was already a legend. Theodore Roosevelt supposedly drank a cup in 1907 at the Nashville hotel for which it was named, proclaiming it “good to the last drop.” Fortune smiled even more on the brand when Jacobs conceived a plan to entice American Jews to serve the coffee at their Seders. First, he lined up a prominent rabbi to assure Jews that coffee beans were not forbidden legumes but fruit. Then he convinced his client to underwrite America’s first mass-marketed Haggadah. When it appeared in 1934, free with the purchase of a can of coffee, the Maxwell House Haggadah swiftly revolutionized how American Jews celebrated Passover.

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So there you go. Producing a Haggadah — and a good one — was good for business.

Kraft, which now owns Maxwell House, still produces the Haggadah. One million copies were printed in 2009 for distribution through supermarket chains like ShopRite.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotsky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, notes: “Local custom ruled liturgy. Maxwell House did more to codify Jewish liturgy than any force in history.”

Being something of a coffee snob, I haven’t had a sip of Maxwell House in a long time. Now I find myself wondering what it tastes like.

Third, an international conflict grows over the recent media coverage of various sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

Several reports that have called into question the past decision-making of Pope Benedict have unleashed passionate defenses of the pope and increasingly  harsh criticism of the media — especially the New York Times.

Most of the criticism has focused on extensive NYT reporting about a late Milwaukee priest who allegedly molested close to 200 boys at a school for the deaf, where he worked from 1950 to 1974. While no one seems to dispute that the priest, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, was a monster, the Times’ contention that the pope — then Cardinal Ratzinger — was slow to react in 1996 has created the firestorm.

Archbishop Dolan, who defended the pope after Palm Sunday Mass by comparing attacks against him to the persecution of Jesus, now writes on his blog about “diatribes” against the church and the pope.

He concludes with this GREAT soundbite:

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Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.

I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.

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Meanwhile, a Milwaukee priest who presided over a canonical criminal trial involving Murphy, has stepped out in the Catholic media to complain that he has been widely misquoted — even though he was never interviewed by a journalist.

“As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth,” writes Father Thomas Brundage.

Brundage writes that Murphy was guilty of “unmitigated and gruesome crimes.” But he takes the Times to task for all sorts of things, which I can’t fully summarize here.

Among other things, he writes:

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With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

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On NationalReview.com, Raymond J. de Souza also dissects the Times’ coverage of the Ratzinger connection.

“The story is false,” he writes. “It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.”

Finally, Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and prominent historian of American religion, suggests on ReligionDispatches.org that Catholics who are “disgruntled” by scandal go Episcopalian.

He notes that the Vatican has reached out to conservative Anglicans who are fed up with their church’s leftward drift.

Balmer writes:

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So what do we learn from these developments over the past five months? Consider the evidence. I gather that the lesson from the Vatican is that homosexuality, even on the part of those in loving, committed relationships, is sin, must be exposed to the light of day for its shamefulness and must never be countenanced. It’s okay, however, to turn a blind eye to pedophile priests, to reassign them quietly to do harm elsewhere or simply to ignore the problem.

I’ll take my Episcopal Church, warts and all, any day.

Archbishop Dolan vs. the Times, Round 3 and counting

I wrote the other day about media coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church and claims from some — including Archbishop Dolan — that the coverage has an anti-Catholic slant.

His main concern, as he wrote on his blog, is that the media focus on abuse in the Catholic world but largely ignore abuse in the larger society.

Dolan was not done.

image_xlimage_2010_03_R1433_DOLAN_POPE_3292010Yesterday, after Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan defended Pope Benedict XVI from media reports connecting the pontiff to sex-abuse scandals in Germany and the U.S. The Vatican has also been quite unhappy with some of the reports.

Dolan, as he tends to do, used strong, unambiguous words: “And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

…now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus…

That’s the New York Times he’s talking about there, folks.

According to the AP, Dolan got a 20-second standing ovation from the packed cathedral.

You get the feeling this isn’t over. Dolan has shown that he is quite comfortable charging anti-Catholicism in the media — especially the Times — and he does not take kindly to attacks on his Holy Father.

Here are his remarks in full:

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

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“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — — yet hopefully uplifting — — Sunday Mass?

“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”

Christian leaders promise to be civil

There have been a lot of calls for “civility” in recent months, as our public discourse sounds less and less civil.

When it comes to the left vs. right divide in this country (pick your own code words for the two sides), each side only blames the other for the lack of civility.

So, for what it’s worth, I bring to your attention a Convenant for Civility signed by several dozen Christian leaders, mostly liberals, but conservatives, too.

The covenant opens with this:

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As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse. The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “ put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

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Fair enough.

The covenant then commits its signers to: have dialogue that reflects the spirit of the Scriptures; treat everyone with a respect that reflects their creation in the image of God; disagree respectfully; be mindful of language; recognize the need for civility in the community; pray for political leaders; and pray for adversaries.

The covenant concludes with this:

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We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.

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ADD: Speaking of the need for civility…

Religious leaders in Cincinnati have signed an open letter denouncing the “mistreatment” of Rep. Steve Driehaus. He is, of course, the formerly anonymous anti-abortion Democrat who decided to vote for health-care reform when Obama promised to sign his executive order restricting the funding of abortion.

Apparently, a protest is planned outside his home Sunday.

The open letter, signed by more than 30 clergy, reads like this:

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As religious and community leaders, we call on our politicians, fellow religious leaders and citizens to publicly denounce the recent mistreatment of Rep. Steve Driehaus, his wife, and his children as unacceptable.

Rigorous and sometimes heated exchanges are to be expected in the midst of public policy debates, but recent and planned attacks on Rep. Steve Driehaus and his family have gone far beyond the bounds of what a civil society should tolerate.  Hostile out-of-town protestors have picketed his home while his wife and children were present and he was in Washington.  Anti-health care reform groups have placed pictures of his young daughters in newspaper ads.  House Minority Leader John Boehner suggested that Rep. Driehaus is a “dead man” in his district because of his vote on health care.  National news reports indicate that more protests are planned for this weekend at Rep. Driehaus’s home.

These actions fly in the face of our shared values.  They are not pro-life.  They are certainly not patriotic.
People of good will can disagree about policy, but disagreement does not grant us license to violate the Golden Rule.

We call on our politicians, fellow religious leaders and citizens who claim a “pro-family” label to join us in calling for restraint and for treating the Driehaus family with the same civility, respect and basic decency we would demand for our own families.

Are the media picking on the Catholic Church?

Headlines about sex-abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church seem to be everywhere these days.

And that means that media coverage will be widely critiqued — and often judged to be anti-Catholic.

In fact, none other than Archbishop Dolan, on his Facebook page, when writing about a NYT article about a scandal in Germany, alleges that his church is getting singled out:

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What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey. Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

The sexual abuse of our young people is an international, cultural, societal horror. It affects every religion, country, family, job, profession, vocation, and ethnic group.

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Dolan also argues that the church is getting little credit for all that it’s done to correct past problems.

Just this week, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference announced that its annual report card on sex abuse “shows the fewest number of victims, allegations and offenders in dioceses since 2004.”

In 2009, dioceses across the country received 398 allegations. 71% of the allegations involved incidents from 1960 to 1984. Only SIX allegations involved children under the age of 18 during the year 2009.

Dioceses spent more than $21 million for child protection programs including training, background checks and salaries for compliance staff, according to the report.

Referring to the church’s policies on sex-abuse, adopted in 2002, Cardinal Francis George, president of the Bishops Conference, writes: “The Charter is causing a cultural change in the U.S. Catholic Church, one I hope will permeate all areas of society.”

The church’s efforts to turn things around are why Dolan also writes:

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We Catholics have for a decade apologized, cried, reached out, shouted mea culpa, and engaged in a comprehensive reform that has met with widespread acclaim. We’ve got a long way to go, and the reform still has to continue.

But it is fair to say that, just as the Catholic Church may have been a bleak example of how not to respond to this tragedy in the past, the Church is now a model of what to do. As the National Review Online observes, “. . . the Church’s efforts to come to grips with this problem within the household of faith — more far reaching than in any other institution or sector of society — have led others to look to the Catholic Church for guidance on how to address what is, in fact, a global plague.”

As another doctor, Paul McHugh, an international scholar on this subject at Johns Hopkins University, remarked, “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”

That, of course, is another headline you’ll never see.

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Dolan couldn’t have been happy to see today’s NYT, which features a front-page article about a late Wisconsin priest who molested hundreds of boys — while the Vatican did not react to pleas from several bishops to do something.

It’s one of those stories that leaves you shaking your head. How could it happen?

So, is Dolan right that the Catholic Church is being picked on and not given credit for its reforms? It’s a tough case to make when the pope is apologizing to the people of Ireland for decades of abuse and Germans are up in arms about scandals there.

Sure, the church is trying to turn things around (although some advocates for victims would say that some bishops and dioceses are still dragging their feet). But Catholics and the society at large are still only coming to terms with decades of abuse and how it happened.

I, for one, find it hard to buy the argument that sex-abuse outside the Catholic Church gets ignored by the media. It’s a case I’ve heard for the last decade.

Dolan notes that there has been much more abuse in public schools than in churches. It’s true, BUT each school system is responsible for what its employees do. There is no national school board that sets policies on abuse or can shuttle abusive teachers around.

When an abusive teacher is arrested in, say, Tulsa, the media there cover it. But the rest of the country has no interest. So, while there is extensive coverage of abuse in schools and other walks of life, the coverage does not feel tied together like coverage of abuse in the hierarchical Catholic Church.

When Jeanine Pirro was the Westchester DA and regularly busted men for seeking under-age sex partners via the Web, the Journal News put just about every case on Page One. But these were “local” stories that the national media would not have picked up on.

This week, a sex-abuse trial in Portland, Ore., involving the Boy Scouts of America revealed that the Scouts have kept confidential NATIONAL files on suspected abusers among its troop leaders. The trial has received extensive media coverage all across the country — as have past trials involving sex abuse in the Boy Scouts.

Sex abuse does get covered in all areas.

I want to share an email blast I got today from Father Thomas Berg, a priest and head of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person. He deals often with the media and has this take on the recent coverage:

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You may have seen the front page (above the fold) story in today’s New York Times by Laurie Goldstein regarding Vatican inaction on a Milwaukee priest accused of sexual misconduct.  My take (and I know the author) is that while NYT is definitely taking aim at Pope Benedict and smells blood in the water, Goldstein’s real message was more about a culture of inaction and of hushing up abuse cases in order not to tarnish the image of the Church and to “avoid scandal”.   That internal culture and its attendant modes of operation certainly do need to change; they were, for all intents and purposes, still the m.o. in the late 90’s when these reports reached the Vatican. It may be the case that, at the time, then Cardinal Ratzinger was still working under those received ways of (in)action; but I believe the truth about Benedict is that his whole m.o. on how to handle these things underwent a real metamorphosis in the early part of the new decade of 2000.  Although lengthy, I encourage you to read the following article by John Allen which makes a compelling case for that sea change in mentality in Cardinal Ratzinger who became, in Allen’s words,  “a Catholic Eliot Ness” after becoming Pope in terms of handling high profile abuse cases. The question now is how the Pope will handle things from here and will he be true to his past.

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Read that John Allen story. I praised it just the other day.

Portion control, apostles, portion control!

This is one of those just-when-you-thought-you-heard-it-all items:

Two brother academics — an “eating behavior” expert and a religious studies prof — have studied images of the food in 52 of the best known paintings of the Last Supper and determined that the portions are getting larger over time.

They found that the main courses depicted in the paintings “grew by 69%, plate size by 66%, and bread size by 23%.”

Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, explains the significance: “I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or ‘portion distortion,’ is a recent phenomenon. But this research indicates that it’s a general trend for at least the last millennium.”

His bro, Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, says: “As the most famously depicted dinner of all time, the Last Supper is ideally suited for review.”

Just to be clear, they’re not blaming Jesus for super-sizing it.

They’re saying that artists through history have chosen to include larger and larger meals. Maybe they were hungry. Maybe they were farmers on the side.

Maybe Weight Watchers will produce their own illustration of the Last Supper with nice measured portions.

The brothers’ study will be included in the April edition of the International Journal of Obesity. You have to love the abstract:

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Portion sizes of foods have been noticably increasing in recent years, but when did this trend begin? If art imitates life and if food portions have been generally increasing with time, we might expect this trend to be reflected in paintings that depict food. Perhaps the most commonly painted meal has been that of Jesus Christ’s Last Supper, chronicled in the New Testament of the Bible. A CAD–CAM analysis of the relative food-to-head ratio in 52 representative paintings of the Last Supper showed that the relative sizes of the main dish (entree) (r=0.52, P=0.002), bread (r=0.30, P=0.04), and plates (r=0.46, P=0.02) have linearly increased over the past millennium.

The Sabbath as practice for death

The writer and critic Judith Shulevitz has a new book about the meaning of the Sabbath.

bookPaintingComboThe book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” explores not only the meaning of a day off from everyday stuff, but the difficulty of making it happen.

Slate.com has a fine, ongoing dialogue on the book and the subject that includes Shulevitz, Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and the liberal Catholic nun and scholar Mary C. Boys.

Lithwick brings up a provocative storyline in her first post to the other women:

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Perhaps the hardest part of Sabbath is quite literally the unplugging. If we turn off the televisions and the BlackBerrys, something might happen, and we might be the only ones who didn’t know about it. I wonder what you both think about the ways technology makes us feel connected to one another in ways that Sabbath once did. One of my favorite writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has described meditation as a sort of practice death. You get to drop out completely for a little while and discover that life tumbles by just fine without you. I have come to think of Sabbath the same way: as a practice death. Judith, you describe the seventh day as “God turning his back on us to occupy himself with something even more important to him than we are.” I wonder if that is—forgive me the fanciful notion—a sort of practice death even for God?

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The Sabbath as practice for death.

Shulevitz, who writes in her book primarily from her Jewish perspective, responds in the ditigal “book club:”

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There’s nothing whimsical at all about the notion. The rabbis thought so, too; they called the Sabbath a foretaste of paradise. Thomas Shepard, the first great Puritan preacher on this side of the Atlantic and still one of the greatest theorists of the Sabbath, said that you prepared for the Sabbath as you prepared for heaven, and when the Sabbath came, you died for a day. This was to him a good thing, which shows you how different the Puritan vision of death was from ours. If you “died” right, you got to rest with Christ and “lie in his bosom all the day.”

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Shulevitz also notes: “The flip side of this amusingly morbid metaphor, however, is that to practice death, you have to remove yourself from life. The Puritans withdrew from the worldly pleasures, and we withdraw into the eerily silent world of the unplugged household.”

It’s a nice conversation to be “part of.”

Slate.com, by the way, also has a very funny piece by Emily Yoffe about taking a turn as a “motivational dancer” at a modern bar mitzvah.

If you don’t know what goes on at a modern bar mitvah or why motivational dancers might be needed, give Yoffie a shot.

She writes:

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I ponied across the floor and acted as if the adult couples wanted me to dance with them. A few guests commented on my efforts. “You have such spirit,” said one, which I took to mean, “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Another said, “You have so much energy,” kindly leaving off “for someone your age.”

Looking for a seder?

The National Jewish Outreach Program, which tries to reel in unobservant Jews, is co-sponsoring “communal outreach” seders across the country.

Including two in Westchester.

Young Israel of New Rochelle will host FREE community seders (the plural is really sedarim) on Monday and Tuesday — the first two nights of Passover — at 8 p.m. each night.

The FLAME, a long-standing Jewish outreach group run by local Rabbi Mat Hoffman, will oversee the seders in New Rochelle.

You may remember that Hoffman, an Orthodox rabbi from New Rochelle, hosted High Holy Day services in 2006 inside a (kosher) Chinese restaurant.

For info: mhoffman@bartonesq.com.

There will also be a free community seder on Tuesday at 8:45 p.m. at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation.

For info: office@mkhc.org.

ADD: I should have mentioned that the Chabad Lubavitch have a website that locates open seders AROUND THE WORLD.

Enter your country, state, city and zip code and find a seder near you!

Religious reactions to health-care vote coming forth

Health care reform is on its way and religious voices are issuing praise and condemnation.

c_ml_photoAn email blast from Rabbi Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives is barely satisfied with a “partial victory” — they preferred “medicare-for-all” or a single-payer government-run system.

“The greatest critique we have of how the Democrats achieved this victory was that they failed to articulate that principle of caring as the center of their legislative campaign, and hence failed to win over the majority to support the reform, a failure that may yet lead to significant losses at the polls in November,” Lerner writes.

Morna Murray, President of the liberal Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says “There is nothing more fundamental to our core Catholic principles than caring for the sick and most vulnerable. These votes today reflect that principle in action.”

On the other side, groups that believe that the reform bill will lead to the public funding of abortions were predictably dismayed.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is already working on how to counter the legislation:

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Yesterday I was privileged to deliver a homily at a prayer service held in the Capitol for members of Congress. I spoke about the fact that authority and power mean service, and that the people whom the legislators serve are not their people, but God’s people. We govern ourselves; our voices matter. Thank God that when legislators take public policy the wrong way, there are ways to remedy that. Let’s get started.

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day-gardner-color-scan-4-07.thumbnailDay Gardner, President of the National Black Pro-Life Union, writes: “Polls have consistently shown that America does not want this Healthcare monster for many reasons, yet, it is being shoved down our throats anyway…It’s obvious that Democrats don’t care what MOST of America wants.”

And on and on we go.

And as the health care debate moves into its next phase, the coming immigration reform debate moves closer to center stage.

Tens of thousands marched in D.C. yesterday to call for immigration reform — including some sort of amnesty for immigrants already here illegally. Religious groups were among the key organizers.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, probably spoke for many when he said: “As we gather on this beautiful and monumental expanse we are grateful that we reflect the very fabric of our nation. At this moment in history, as we look out upon our immigrant brothers and sisters, we are thankful that our nation’s call to be a beacon of hope comes with the continued call to justice and compassion.”

Those who are opposed to amnesty and in favor of tougher border security will soon have their say, you have to think.

ADD: The strongest language I’ve seen on the health care vote comes from Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who calls this day “tragic.”

“This healthcare legislation will lead to the overwhelming majority of Americans living shorter lives, and experiencing more pain and suffering before they die,” Land writes.

Yowza. Shorter Lives for most. More pain. More suffering.

Land doesn’t stop there, comparing the effect of last night’s vote to that of…Pearl Harbor:

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“Liberals across America are rejoicing today over their ‘historic’ victory. My message to them is, ‘Enjoy it while you can.’ This was a Pyrrhic victory of epic proportions. The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor won a ‘historic’ victory as well. Their celebrations were cut short six months later when most of them were killed at the Battle of Midway. As Admiral Yamamoto said at the time ‘I am fearful . . . that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.’

John Allen looks at Ratzinger/Benedict’s response to abuse

The growing numbers of news reports about Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals in Germany and Ireland will draw every possible reaction from observers.

Some will say that it’s about time that the media are focusing on decades of abuse.

Others will say that the abuse cases in question date back to the 60s, 70s and sometimes 80, and that it is irresponsible for the media to cover these things as if they happened yesterday.

The fact that Pope Benedict XVI has been tied indirectly to one notorious case will ensure that emotions on all sides are hotter than ever.

JohnLAllenI have to recommend that people who want to get a handle on things read John Allen’s outstanding analysis in NCR. He focuses on Cardinal Ratzinger’s response to sex-abuse allegations and how he, as the pope, has evolved.

I see it as a detailed, comprehensive, pretty balanced and ultimately educational look at a big story. Of course, others will see it quite differently.

In fact, if you read it, go on and read the dozens of comments afterward. They cover the gamut.

He’s getting killed by critics of the church, like this one:

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I realize, John, that for your access to your sources at the Vatican, you cannot be too blunt. But talk about who has been drinking the Kool-Aid, you must be on a sugar-high! This is the Pope we are talking about who is able to demote and/or remove anyone in the hierarchy!!!! Not ONE bishop from the United States has been removed by this Pope; not ONE!!!!!!

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And he’s taking it from defenders of the church, like this one:

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Benedict is one of the greatest Popes in the History of the Church! There is so much more to all of this then know, we should becareful with what we say! He is the Pope, God had chosen him to lead his people in a World full of hate for the Church and our Lord.

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Many readers are arguing that John bends over backwards to present the pope in the best possible light.

The comments make for good reading. But read John first.

Joel’s back, the exorcist speaks, United Methodist giving down

Catching up with a few things:

tjndc5-5olhb0ef0dg4tug9as6_layout1. Televangelist/media sensation/inspirational speaker Joel Osteen returns to the area tomorrow (Friday, March 19), offering a “Night of Hope” at the Meadowlands arena. I just took a quick look for two tickets on Ticketmaster and there are some left — although the best available was the upper deck.

He’ll come closer to filling the place than the Nets.

2. If you are so inclined, the Times of London ran a story on the Vatican’s official exorcist.

FatherGabrieleAmorthFather Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has held the top devil-chasing post for 25 years, says he has dealt with some 70,000 cases.

He also blames sex-abuse scandals and other problems on the devil infiltrating the Vatican. He speaks of “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon.”

And if, like me, you’ve watched “The Exorcist” too many times, you’ll be interested to know that Amorth gives a thumbs up to the famous, 1973 film. It’s “exaggerated,” he says, but offers a “substantially exact” picture of demonic possession.

3. Want a pretty good sense of how the recession is affecting the day-to-day operations of a major denomination?

United Methodist churches contributed 84 percent of what the denomination budgeted to support worldwide ministries in 2009.

But the New York Conference was one of only 14 regional conferences (out of 63) that paid 100 percent of its budgeted contribution.