Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for April, 2010

A liberal Catholic shot at the NYT04.29.10

As I’ve written before, recent media coverage of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has faced harsh criticism from those who sense anti-Catholic leanings in the secular media.

Weighing in now is none other than Westchester’s own Kenneth Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek (where he remains a contributing editor). I’ve often praised the terrific lecture series that Woodward organizes at his parish, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

In fact, the next FREE lecture is this Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., when Christian Smith, director of Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, will talk about “Souls in Transition: The Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Woodward has written a critique of the New York Times’ recent stories about sex abuse for the Catholic weekly, Commonweal. This is particularly interesting because Commonweal is, of course, a liberal magazine that has been very critical of the church’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Woodward’s essay, called “Church of the Times,” actually has two, almost separate themes.

The first is that the Times is a sort of Church of Secularism that can’t help seeing believers as space aliens—quite odd and difficult to understand. He makes the case that the Times operates much like the Vatican:

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As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.

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Woodward’s point that the Times sees its mission as Big and Important (“All the news that’s fit to print,” anyone?), not unlike a religious institution, is quirky and fun to consider, whether you agree or not.

His second point is that the Times’ coverage of two high-profile “scandals” was poorly done. He spends much less time on this point, opening and closing his essay with it.

First and foremost, he asserts that the Times has been too reliant on the legal papers (and views) of the lawyer Jeff Anderson, the most high-profile defender of abuse victims.

He writes: “It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.”

But Woodward doesn’t critique the stories—dates, places, chains of command—as other critics have tried to do.

Woodward does make one timely point about all the Times’ recent front-page stories about abuse scandals connected or vaguely connected to the pope: ”…clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper.”

I would like to know how the Times would explain its meager coverage of the Boy Scouts’ case, which involves a national organization having decades worth of files related to scout masters who have abused minors. Here is their most recent story about the case, which ran deep inside the paper.

The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, recently defended the paper’s coverage of things Catholic.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in anti-Catholicism, Briarcliff Manor, Christian Smith, Clark Hoyt, Commonweal, Jeff Anderson, Kenneth Woodward, Media coverage, New York Times, Sex abuse, St. Theresa's Churchwith 1 Comment →

Injured cop to be honored by pope’s United Nations representative04.28.10

You’ve probably read or heard about Off. Robert Salerno, the NYC police officer from West Harrison who was shot in the line of duty on March 22.

The 25-year-old Salerno is a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua RC Church in West Harrison (known by many as Silver Lake).

On Friday (April 27), St. Anthony’s will use the occasion of its Third Annual Blue Mass (honoring police and firefighters) to recognize their fallen and risen parishioner.

He will be be given a “Papal Medal” by none other than Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican ambassador to the United Nations.

Not only will representatives from dozens of police and fire departments be on hand for the 7:30 p.m. Blue Mass, but a bunch of cops from Salerno’s 44th precinct in the Bronx are expected.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Blue Mass, Robert Salerno, St. Anthony of Padua Church, West Harrisonwith No Comments →

A tradition-based ‘No’ to Orthodox female rabbis04.27.10

As  I mentioned a few days ago, the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents “modern Orthodox” rabbis, has been holding its annual meeting at Young Israel of Scarsdale (which is actually in New Rochelle, for what that’s worth).

The big issue for many was what the RCA would say about the role of women in the Orthodox community. Some have spoken out for female rabbis, others for lesser but significant roles for women in Orthodox life.

In a statement, the RCA describes the process of looking at the issue like this:

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Rather than delineating a specific menu or roadmap of appropriate or inappropriate roles and positions, the resolution sought to articulate the broad dimensions and values that, from an Orthodox perspective, should inform and shape the discussion and implementation of this defining issue in months and years to come. These include the importance of appropriate sensitivity to tradition, communal sensitivities, as well as the desire of both men and women to enhance Torah and mitzvoth, personally and communally. So too, is the need for a thorough foundation in appropriate halachic and communal precedent and process.

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In the end, the RCA passed a resolution, without dissent, that continues the movement’s ban on female rabbis while encouraging, in the most general terms, “appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women.”

Here is the resolution:

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1) The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our chaverim have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.

2) We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah, hashkafah, tradition and historical memory.

3) In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.

4) Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah, yir’at Shamayim, and dikduk be-mitzvot.

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What else did the RCA do in Scarsdale/New Rochelle?

Topics discussed included “Israel, Iran, US-Israel relations, conversion issues, rabbinic boundaries, Orthodox teens, counseling, dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, death and burial, family conflict, and others…”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Female rabbis, Modern Orthodox Judaism, Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbis, Young Israel of Scarsdalewith No Comments →

The rabbi sportswriter04.26.10

I remember when Mitch Albom was just a sports columnist.

I mean, he was a good one. His columns for the Detroit Free Press got national ink and Albom became a regular guest on The Sports Reporters, an all-sports Meet the Press on ESPN.

Then Albom wrote Tuesdays With Morrie in 1997 and The Five People You Meet in Heaven in 2003 and became a publishing phenomenon.

He also became something of a spiritual self-help guru to the world.

Albom recently received an award from the Religion Communicators Council for his most recent book, Have a Little Faith, which recounts his writing of a eulogy for his hometown rabbi.

At the award ceremony, Albom took things a step further and offered a prayer.

It was a prayer for those who face despair.

That’s a long way from writing about the Lions’ latest loss.

He prays:

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Please help to clear despair from our hearts and see our way clear to the hope that exists as long as we take a breath, as long as we are here on your earth, as long as we believe in your mercy, your kindness,  your warmth.

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About those who are suffering and have lost loved ones, Albom asks of God:

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Show them that even when we lose people, they are still with us in our hearts, and that there is a world beyond this one, that we can hope and pray towards and look towards and is and always has been a beacon of light for our existence here on earth.

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No prayers for the Lions?

Here it is:

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Despair, Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom, Prayer, Religion Communicators Councilwith No Comments →

Tim Tebow, devout QB, picked by the right team in the right state04.23.10

Nobody brought this up on ESPN last night, but…

It’s fitting that college superstar quarterback Tim Tebow was drafted last night by the Denver Broncos.

Tebow is a devout evangelical Christian (you remember his pro-life commercial with mom during the Super Bowl) and Colorado is a national center of evangelical megachurches and evangelical organizations.

The millions of football analysts who are “breaking down” the Broncos’ selection of Tebow this morning are probably unaware of this unusual fit. But you can bet that Tebow, his family and all those evangelicals in Colorado are smiling.

Many are thanking God for bringing a Christian QB to Colorado.

Tebow’s father, Bob, is a leading missionary/evangelist in the Philippines, where the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association has been aiming to preach the Gospel in every village since 1985. And it’s a family Affair. Bob’s wife, Pam, and their five children are all deeply involved in the work.

That includes the youngest, known as Timmy.

The family’s website includes this:

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Although football is important to Tim, his priorities that precede football are faith, family, and academics. A verse from the Bible that he often quotes is Philippians 4:13, which credits the true source of his strength, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Tim loves football but knows that his career will end someday. His relationship with Jesus Christ, however, will never end.

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Timmy doesn’t have a contract yet but he does have his own foundation. Its mission is this: “The Foundation will utilize the public platform that God has given to Tim Tebow—through media, publishing, speaking engagements, special events, and mission trips—to inspire friends and supporters to work with the Foundation as a team in helping to make a difference.”

He should be right at home in Colorado, which is home to some of the nation’s most influential megachurches, including New Life Church in Colorado Springs (yes, that’s where Ted Haggard used to be pastor).

Dozens of evangelical groups have also put down roots in Colorado Springs, including Focus on the Family.

How will all those crazy Bronco fans feel about Tebow’s regular professions of faith? Sports fandom being what it is, they’ll be fine with it if Tebow plays like John Elway and the Broncos win. They’ll run out of patience fast if Tebow can’t adapt to the pro game (as many analysts expect) and the Broncos lose.

It will also be mighty interesting to see how Tebow—praised in college for tremendous leadership skills—will be received in an NFL lockerroom.

Being a big football fan myself who has read many books by former players, I have no doubt that Tebow will be a fine leader for the many Christians who now populate NFL teams. But the question is how he will relate to the many more worldly players who we read about quite often these days.

Having seen Tebow run over linebackers in college, I wouldn’t be surprised by anything he does.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am a rabid Oakland Raiders fan. The Raiders stink, but have a long, heated rivalry with the Denver Broncos.

Tim Tebow is easy to like. But I won’t be rooting for him.

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in 26562, Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, Colorado, Denver Broncos, Evangelicals, Focus on the Family, New Life Church, NFL draft, Tim Tebowwith 12 Comments →

Batman, the FBI and Torah04.22.10

The rabbi to the FBI’s behavioral science unit—whatever that means—will speak Tuesday (April 27)  at Young Israel of New Rochelle.

Rabbi Cary Friedman’s 8 p.m. talk is called “Bringing Spirituality to the FBI.”

ltHolyTorahAuthorFriedman, an Orthodox rabbi from Jersey, is a chaplain and motivational speaker “specializing in law enforcement-related issues,” according to a bio.

He’s also a big fan of the top secret agent around. Batman.

According to a profile from the New Jersey Jewish News, Friedman finds universal messages in the stories of the Caped Crusader and incorporates them into his teachings. He’s written a book called “Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life.”

imagesOne reviewer on Amazon calls it “possibly the most enjoyable self-help book ever.”

Friedman explains:

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When I was growing up, my house was filled with survivors. My mother and her friends would talk about whatever. But there was a certain need to confront a world that’s uncertain and a little scary. They made a conscious, deliberate, decisive effort to make some order of the world…


…as a kid, I latched on to Batman. It’s taken years to work out, but he resonated with me, because he also tried to make sense of a scary world. He saw his parents murdered before his eyes and tried to inject a sense of justice. But he did so without superpowers. He was an ordinary person who offered universal lessons about dealing with adversity.


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No word on whether Friedman will talk Batman in New Ro.


Or where Robin fits in.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Batman, Chaplains, FBI, Rabbi Cary Friedman, Young Israel of New Rochellewith No Comments →

Orthodox rabbis to discuss role of women, US/Israel relations at local conference04.21.10

Hundreds of Orthodox rabbis will gather at Young Israel of Scarsdale synagogue on Sunday for a three-day conference that will tackle some high-profile issues.

The occasion will be the national conference of the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents rabbis who come from the world of what’s known as “modern Orthodox” Judaism. The RCA is sort of the rabbinical wing of the Orthodox Union.

tjndc5-5jkqaekps2a10xpg7gda_layoutIt is certain to be a bittersweet gathering in many ways, since Young Israel’s late leader, Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein, was a former president of the RCA. Rubenstein, a prominent figure in the modern Orthodox community, and his wife, Deborah, died in a house fire in 2008.

According to the Jewish Week, the rabbis are expected to adopt some sort of statement on the role of women in modern Orthodox congregations.

Orthodox Judaism does not currently ordain female rabbis, although some would like to see this tradition change. It’s not going to.

But more than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on the RCA to “enable women in positions of communal religious leadership.” There could be some change in this area, but many traditionalists would prefer for things to stay as they are—with synagogue life run by men.

“I believe there is a reservoir of goodwill among our members, and people will be pleasantly impressed with the outcome,” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J., who is expected to be re-elected first vice president, tells the JW.

A recent RCA statement about the role of women included this:

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The RCA reaffirms its commitment to women’s Torah education and scholarship at the highest levels, and to the assumption of appropriate leadership roles within the Jewish community. We strongly maintain that any innovations that impact the community as a whole should be done only with the broad support of the Orthodox rabbinate and a firm grounding in the eternal mesorah of the Jewish people.

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MHsmallIn addition, at a time when many Jews are concerned about President Obama’s tougher than usual stance with Israel on housing/settlement issues, the conference’s featured speaker will be Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

He will speak about “Israel and America: The Defining Challenges, and the Role of the Orthodox Rabbinate.”

Another recent RCA statement included this:

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But none of that can explain the disproportionate, extraordinary, and unwarranted response by some spokesmen of the Obama administration in excoriating, condemning, and publicly lashing out at the duly elected representatives of the sovereign State of Israel.

There is no justification, neither on moral nor on diplomatic grounds, for escalating this policy disagreement into what some in the administration have called (to quote just one such phrase) “an affront to America.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Jewish Week, Malcolm Hoenlein, Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein, Rabbinical Council of America, US/Israel, Women's role, Young Israel of Scarsdalewith No Comments →

A Protestant-less Supreme Court?04.20.10

There has been much said in recent years about the number of Roman Catholics serving on the U.S. Supreme Court (even if Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor are different kinds of Catholics).

Stevens Turns 90But I didn’t fully realize that retiring Justice Stevens is the last Protestant on the high court.

Geoffrey Stone, law prof at the University of Chicago, raises the question—rhetorically, really—of whether Obama should name another Protestant.

So that there’s, you know, one.

Writing on the liberal Huffington Post, Stone, not surprisingly, concludes that affirmative action for Protestants is not necessary:

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Since the founding, there have been 112 justices of the Supreme Court. Of these, 94% have been Christian, 83% have been Protestant, 11% have been Catholic, and 6% have been Jewish.

The U.S. population today is roughly 78% Christian, 51% Protestant, 24% Catholic, 16% non-religious, 2% Mormon, 2% Jewish, and 2% Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu combined.

This means that, relative to the current population, Christians, Protestants and Jews have been substantially overrepresented on the Court historically, whereas Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, and especially non-religious people have been substantially underrepresented on the Court.

To bring total Christian representation on the Supreme Court down to the percentage of Christians in the current population, none of the next 22 justices should be Christian.To bring total Protestant representation on the Supreme Court down to the percentage of Protestants in the current population, none of the next 69 justices should be Protestant.

To bring total Jewish representation on the Supreme Court down to the percentage of Jews in the current population, none of the next 139 justices should be Jewish.

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In the end, Stone offers that Supreme Court nominations should be based on competence and a legal vision “consonant” with the president’s own.

Diversity should be a secondary consideration, he writes.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholic justices, Geoffrey Stone, Justice Stevens, Last Protestant, U.S. Supreme Courtwith 2 Comments →

When non-Catholics support the mission of Catholic education04.19.10

Remember when that atheist fellow gave a bunch of money to New York’s Catholic schools a few years ago?

I came across a great quote from the guy, Robert W. Wilson:

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I remember the first time I had lunch with Cardinal Egan. We were finishing up, and he said, ‘Well, now that you’ve given all this money to our schools, I should try to convert you.’ I said to him, ‘Well, Cardinal, if you do, I suppose I should try to convert you. The only problem is that if I succeed, you’ll lose your job.’

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I came across Wilson’s great one-liner in a very interesting feature story from Philanthropy magazine about non-Catholics who give big money to Catholic schools.

about_studentsIn Wilson’s case, he was  won over by a simple fundraising letter from the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, which made the case that Catholic schools get results, but many kids can’t afford to go.

As a result, he’s written checks for more than $30 million since 2007.

Whoever wrote that fundraising letter should get a raise, no?

I found a good interview with Wilson here.

The Philanthropy article also profiles Jewish and secular individuals and foundations who give big bucks to Catholic education because of the education (as opposed to the Catholic part).

One such fellow is Stephen Schwarzman, a Jew and a very successful investor who serves on the board of the Archdiocese of NY’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund. (UPDATE: Turns out that while Schwarzman is a major donor to the ICSF, it’s his wife, Christine, who serves on the board.)

He’s committed to assuring that children from low-income families can attend Catholic schools for the full 12 years, so they don’t have to worry about losing scholarships mid-way through.

He tells Philanthropy:

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I have always been a big supporter of education in general. I’m especially impressed with the commitment the Archdiocese of New York has made to educate more than 40,000 inner-city students with a solid values-based academic program. They have achieved fantastic results—98 percent of the seniors graduate, and 97 percent of these graduates plan to pursue post-secondary education—especially for a student population that’s 93 percent minority, where 50 percent live near or below the poverty line.

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Photo: Inner-City Scholarship Fund

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Cardinal Egan, Catholic schools, Inner-City Scholarship Fund, Non-Catholic donors, Philanthrophy magazine, Robert W. Wilson, Stephen Schwarzmanwith No Comments →

National Day of Prayer ruled ‘unconstitutional’04.16.10

The National Day of Prayer is on the ropes.

Congress first authorized the “day” in 1952 (with President Truman’s blessing), calling on Americans to share a day focused on prayer. Earlier presidents, including Lincoln, had set less formal days of prayer.

The NDP has been held on the first Thursday in May since 1988.

Some folks never liked the idea, saying that the government should not be involved in endorsing prayer—even in such a simple way.

In recent years, there have been complaints that the planning and running of the NDP had been hijacked by conservative evangelicals, namely Focus on the Family.

Well, yesterday, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared the NDP to be unconstitutional.

US District Judge Barbara Crabb said that the NDP violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion.

She wrote: “Recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge, or practice rune magic.”

Obama toned things down last year, marking the NDP but not holding a public ceremony.

So what happens now?

The ruling was made on a lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based group. That’s Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Day of PrayerAccording to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Crabb postponed enforcement of the decision until all appeals are done. So the 2010 NDP will go off as planned on May 6.

Obama plans to make his 2010 proclamation.

“We have reviewed the court’s decision and it does not prevent the president from issuing a proclamation,” White House spokesman Matthew Lehrich said in an e-mail to the Journal Sentinel.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, led by Focus on the Family’s Shirley Dobson, will certainly go ahead with national observances on May 6—with or without the government’s involvement.

I haven’t seen a statement from the task force yet.

And I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten a slew of angry press releases from Christian groups. But there’s still time.

Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian public interest law firm, told the JS that the ruling would be overturned.

“In no way do we think this is the mainstream of judicial thinking in the United States,” he said.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Freedom from Religion Foundation, Jordan Sekulow, Judge Barbara Crabb, National Day of Prayer, National Day of Prayer Task Force, Unconstitutionalwith 1 Comment →

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