Voice of the Faithful hanging on

Last night, I was invited to speak to the Larchmont chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

I believe it is the only VOTF chapter in Westchester County (and one of only a couple in the entire Archdiocese of New York).

You might remember that VOTF was started in Boston in 2002, as the sex-abuse crisis began to spiral out of the control. The group initially presented itself as faithful Catholics — not radicals — who were disgusted by the crisis and wanted to call for a greater lay voice in their church.

Eight years later, VOTF is still going.

But the group hasn’t grown, has withered in many places and — importantly — has few members under 60. Nationally, the group has broadened its message, making less effort to distinguish itself from Catholic reform groups like Call to Action.

The 30 or so people who came to Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian Church last night seemed uncertain about the influence of Voice of the Faithful. During the Q&A part, several people wondered why Catholics in their 30s and 40s don’t get involved.

They asked me to talk about my life as a religion writer, which I did. How I got involved. The different communities I covered. Things like that.

Then we talked about whether the New York Times has an anti-Catholic bent, why more people don’t know about the Legionaries of Christ scandal, the relationship between bishops and priests, the ongoing abuse scandals in Ireland and Germany. And things like that.

Everybody was very kind and affirming. These are people who read many of my religion articles, which is always nice to hear.

I told the group that I had mixed feelings about not covering their church’s recent international problems (since I no longer cover religion, of course).

On the one hand, it would be quite interesting to talk to Catholics about their feelings regarding the news.

On the other, I would quickly tire of having to contend with the question of whether the media (particularly the NYT) are anti-Catholic. And I would also dislike being called anti-Catholic myself on a near-daily basis, which is what happened when I wrote about any aspect of the sex-abuse scandals.

So I’ll keep following things from afar, until my editor tells me otherwise.

A side note: Voice of the Faithful New York will on Sunday (May 16) honor Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who may or may be excommunicated for participating in the unsanctioned “ordination” of a female priest.

They’re giving him the Msgr. Philip J. Murnion Priest of Integrity Award.

A statement says: “The award recognizes Fr. Roy’s call for justice for women in the Catholic Church.”

Hey, what does it mean to be a Jew?

Just as I enjoy lists and rankings, I like it when a media outlet asks a group of people a question or two and allows them to respond.

Especially if it’s a good question and an interesting group of responders.

For its 35th anniversary, Moment magazine has asked 35 prominent  Jews two questions:

What does it mean to be a Jew today?

And…What do Jews bring to the world today?

Their answers are here and here.

Here are a few snippets from some of their answers:

Ed Asner: “Being Jewish has subjected me to influences that had I been a non-Jew wouldn’t have entered my life. It has given me the quality of being identified as the other, which has special blessings. It has given me greater vision, tolerance and compassion and fewer boundaries than I would have had as a non-Jew.”

All-media Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: “We have mastered certain tenets of life that the modern world fails at. We know how to create passionate marriages. We know so much about inspiring children. We have focused on these things as a people for three millennia. We ought to share what we have learned with the rest of the world.”

The one-and-only Mel Brooks: “I’m part of the generation that changed their name so they’d get hired. I went from Kaminsky to Brooks. My mother’s name was Brookman. But I couldn’t fit Brookman on the drums. I was a drummer. So I got as far as Brook and then put on an “s.” There was a lot of comedy when I was a little kid, street corner comics. We couldn’t own railroads, so prize fighting and comedy were open to us. We’re still comedians. Maybe because Jews cried for so long, it was time to laugh. Who knows?”

Ari Fleischer: “What Jews can offer is a constant reminder that there is moral right and moral wrong and that one of the greatest dangers is relativism.”

Boxing champ and rabbinical student Yuri Foreman: “What Judaism brings to the world is elevating the mundane.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I hope, in all the years I have the good fortune to serve on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain steadfast in the service of that demand.”

Mystery writer Walter Mosley: “What do Jews have to contribute to the world? Albert Einstein.”

Itzhak Perlman: “Somebody asked me once, “Why are so many Jews great violinists?” I don’t know. It’s a cycle, it’s a hunger. Today, the cycle is not necessarily toward the Jewish violinists but Asian ones. Koreans are number one right now. A lot of people say, well, you have to be Jewish to play it this way. I don’t know if this is true or not. But maybe pain and suffering, a little krechts in what you’re doing, a sigh—a real sigh—helps.”

Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas of Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers: “To be a Jew is to be a part of a people with a very open, vibrant and inclusive spiritual path. I am a first-generation Cuban-American rabbi and am in contact with many people who are descendants of 14th-century Spanish and Portuguese Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition but who continued to practice Jewish customs in secret all over the world. Today, there are millions of such people in Latin America, and an enormous number of them are seeking out their Jewish roots. What is calling them home to Judaism is a spiritual quest to get above all the chasing after power and the unbridled hedonism that goes on in this world.”

Introducing…St. Thurgood Marshall

Speaking of Supreme Court justices…

The Episcopal Church will on Sunday add Thurgood Marshall to its roster of “Holy Women and Holy Men,” which is “akin to being granted sainthood,” according to the church.

A special service will be held at 4 p.m. at St. Philip’s Church in Harlem, where Marshall was a longtime parishioner.

Several choirs will participate and Bishop of New York Mark Sisk will celebrate the Holy Eucharist.

The preacher will be the Rev. George W. Brandt, Jr., rector of St. Michael’s Church on West 99th Street.

The Episcopal Church is also moving toward setting May 17 — the day of Marshall’s victory in the Brown vs. Board of Education case — as his feast day. It could happen by 2015, but the Episcopal Church is encouraging people to mark the feast day now.

(Hey, Zach.)

6 Catholics, 3 Jews, 0 Protestants

We’ll probably hear a lot over the coming weeks about the U.S. Supreme Court becoming Protestant-less for the first time ever.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Obama’s nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, is Jewish. If she gets confirmed, the court will have six Catholic justices and three Jewish justices (although not all are religiously observant).

How important is it that the court won’t have a Protestant justice?

I guess it’s one of those “turning the page” moments, a solid reminder of the long, slow demise of mainline Protestant numbers and influence in this country.

Mainliners used to run the show, basically, dominating many American institutions. As we all know (at least those of us who follow this stuff), this hasn’t been the case for quite some time.

One might wonder if and when evangelical Christians — who make up at least a quarter of Americans — might replace mainliners on the top bench.

A CNN report notes:

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Evangelical Protestant colleges, meanwhile — including Regent University and Liberty University, founded by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell respectively — have had law schools only since the 1980s.

And law schools with Protestant roots, like Harvard and Yale, shed their religious identities a long time ago, part of the broader fading of a distinct mainline Protestant identity in the U.S..

Some legal and religious scholars say the dearth of qualified evangelical candidates for the Supreme Court came into sharp relief in 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to the high court.

An evangelical Christian whom the White House promoted strenuously among evangelicals, Miers had her nomination brought down largely by conservatives — nonevangelicals, mostly — who said she was not qualified for the position.

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I’m not sure if there have been “evangelical” justices in the past.

Several websites I found that compiled the religions of past justices list about a dozen who were believed to be only “Protestant.” Some of them could have been evangelicals, at least in terms of belief and practice.

It would surprise no one if Obama picked a mainline Protestant for the court. But you have to figure that it will be a Republic president who chooses the next evangelical justice.

And what about an atheist justice, an outright nonbeliever?

He or she would have to be chosen, one would think, by a Democratic president with really high poll numbers.

(AP Photo/Harvard University News Office, Stephanie Mitchell)

An honorary doctorate for Catholic blogger

I just came across a story about Rocco Palmo, the guy behind the incredibly popular all-things-Catholic blog Whispers in the Loggia.

I had to mention that Rocco is in St. Louis today to receive an honorary doctorate from the Aquinas Institute of Theology. He’ll also be commencement speaker.

That’s quite a feat for a 27-year-old blogger/journalist who started Whispers in 2004 not expecting it to go anywhere.

It shows how influential Rocco has become — not only to the religion journalists who are fascinated by him but in the Catholic world that he writes about so well.

Rocco is a whole new breed in that he tries to be a honest, semi-traditional journalist while at the same time proudly displaying his Roman Catholicism and his love for the church.

As he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tim Townsend: “I want the church to succeed. But I won’t say something brilliant happened when it hasn’t. I’m not a spokesperson for the church.”

Of course, some Catholics appreciate and value that perspective. Others feel that Rocco is insufficiently obedient.

He refers to his readers as his “Gang.” Here’s his post from Wednesday:

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Strange days, gang… strange, and then some. But all in good fun nonetheless.

Your narrator’s got some fish to fry on the road, and will plug away as time allows. In the meanwhile, though, your prayers, please; three weeks to LA — or, as some have already taken to calling it, “Dancing with the Cards”… and along the way, as ever, no shortage of horribly belated thank-yous and backlogged mail to dig out from under.

Whatta ride, gang. God love you lot forever — hope everything’s great on your end.

*****

If you read Whispers, you know that Rocco works out of his parents’ home and that he is always struggling to make a go of it financially. He doesn’t take advertising or subscriptions but counts on donations, many of which come from priests.

“The hardest part is trying to make a full-time living off it,” Rocco tells Townsend. “I have a girlfriend, and I’d like to give her a ring someday, but at this point, I’m waiting until I can clear out of my parents’ house.”

Here’s an interview with the young fella:

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Who plays the Holy Spirit?

Just out from the AP:

NEW YORK — Comedy Central has a cartoon series about Jesus Christ in the works.

Titled “JC,” the series depicts Christ as a “regular guy” who moves to New York to “escape his father’s enormous shadow.” His father is depicted as an apathetic man who would rather play video games than listen to his son talk about his new life.

Comedy Central has pushed the envelope in the past: The long-running “South Park” features Christ as a regular character.

The network says “JC” is on its development slate, steps away from the pilot stage and eventual airing. Many television series in development never make it to air.

*****

But will they do “Mohammed: The Mini-Series?”

Hindu group aims to ‘Take Back Yoga’

Everyone knows someone who does yoga.

Yoga has become the new aerobics — a great form of exercise that builds strength, flexibility and endurance and may also have other benefits.

Psychological. Emotional. Even spiritual.

But yoga’s spiritual roots — Hindu roots — are largely ignored by its many western teachers and followers.

No surprise, then, that the Hindu American Foundation has started a Take Yoga Back campaign aimed at reconnecting yoga and Hinduism.

According to a statement from the group: “From asanas named after Hindu Gods to the shared goal of moksha to the common pluralistic philosophy, the Hindu roots of yoga seem difficult to deny.  Yet, more often than not, many Western yoga practitioners are aghast at the very suggestion that the cherished “spiritual practice” of yoga is firmly grounded in Hindu philosophy.”

Apparently, Hindu scholar Aseem Shukla and “New Age” mega-guru Deepak Chopra have been engaging in a Great Yoga Debate on the WashPost’s On Faith Blog about whether it is legit to practice yoga without acknowledging the practice’s Hinduism.

Shukla writes: “Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.”

Chopra fires back: “If you strip away his sour mood and questionable assumptions, I think Shukla’s real lament is like that of Jews who see the young fleeing from the old ways and Christians sitting in half-empty churches. To him it could be said what is often said to these other religionists. Maybe it’s you who haven’t found a way to keep the temples, synagogues, and churches full. That’s a very different matter form the millions who are finding a spiritual path on their own, outside organized religion.”

Good stuff.

The Hindu American Foundation also has a paper explaining the yoga/Hindu connection.

It explains: “In a time where Hindus around the globe face discrimination and hate because of their religious identity, and Hindu belief and practice continues to be widely misunderstood due to exoticized portrayals of it being caricaturized in “caste, cows and curry” fashion, recognition of Yoga as a tremendous contribution of ancient Hindus to the world is imperative.”

Bad new for Muslims

The arrest of a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan in connection with the attempted bombing of Times Square must have a lot of American Muslims nervous about possible repercussions.

By repercussions, I don’t mean threats of violence (although things do happen from time to time).

I’m talking about everything from nervous glances from neighbors and fellow shoppers at the supermarket to further difficulties with travel.

I know that suburban Muslims are super tired of having to apologize for the actions of violent strangers. Most just want to live their lives.

I would bet that many Muslim groups are right now trying to decide whether to put out statements condemning the attempted bombing. On the one hand, many people demand that Muslims condemn terrorism at every turn. On the other, even to condemn the bomber is to somehow acknowledge his connection to the faith, however distorted.

The guy says he acted alone. But who knows. The picture is of his home, apparently.

Bottom line: When a guy from Bridgeport who just returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan allegedly tries to kill large numbers of New Yorkers and tourists, things won’t get easier for followers of Islam.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Will Vatican’s Legion ‘takeover’ affect local properties?

So the Vatican is essentially taking over the Legionaries of Christ — the long controversial religious order that has fallen into disarray since a series of bizarre revelations about its famous founder.

The pope will name a “personal delegate” and a commission to run things and rethink the Legion’s mission and its place in the Catholic orbit.

Some people must be wondering today how this news will affect the Legion’s property holdings in Westchester.

I doubt that anyone knows.

The Legion owns two big, side-by-side tracts of land in Mount Pleasant and another nice piece of real estate in New Castle. I don’t have the patience right now to recount all the different Legion proposals for their Westchester property — or all the opposition from local governments and neighbors.

It will have to suffice to say that the Legion has had a rough time of it here in the Burbs, where people don’t like most big development proposals, especially those that take chunks of land off the tax rolls.

Once the Legion is remade — whatever that means, however the order will look — you have to figure that development plans will change. But we’ll see.

In case you don’t know, the Legion’s late founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who was treated as something like a living saint by his order, has been…discredited (that’s him with JPII). He molested seminarians, fathered children with several women and who knows what else.

The Vatican’s statement includes this:

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The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.

The very serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, as incontrovertible evidence has confirmed, sometimes resulted in actual crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious sentiment. The great majority of Legionaries were unaware of this life, above all because of the system of relationships built by Father Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up alibis, to gain the trust, the confidence and the silence of those around him, and to strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently, the lamentable discrediting and dismissal of whoever doubted his behavior was upright, as well as the misguided conviction of those who did not want to harm the good that the Legion was doing, created around him a defense mechanism that made him untouchable for a long time, making it very difficult to know his real life.

(AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)

UPDATE: The Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese calls out Pope JPII for his unquestioning support of Maciel after the Legion’s founder was facing numerous accusations:

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John Paul trusted those who cheered him and tried to crush those who questioned his ideas or actions. This led him to trust Maciel and distrust questioning Jesuits.

Having grown up in a persecuted church where unity was a mater of survival, John Paul could not accept open debate and discussion in the church. Loyalty was more important than intelligence or pastoral skill. As a result, the quality of bishops appointed under him declined, as did the competence of people working in the Vatican.

*****

Of JPII, Reese writes: “But the sad truth is that while he was good for the world, he was bad for the church.”

Strong words.

About the whole Legionaries scandal, Reese writes:

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But the Vatican response needs to focus not only on the Legionaries but also on itself. Why did it take 13 years for the Vatican to intervene? Why did the Congregation for Religious not investigate the numerous accusations against Maciel? Why did it approve such a defective constitution in the first place? Is it true, as Jason Berry alleges in the National Catholic Reporter, that Maciel used Legionaries’ money to buy influence with cardinals in the Vatican?

If the pope wants to deal with the core issue, he should hire an outside management consulting firm to answer these questions and to make recommendations on improving the Vatican curia. The sexual abuse crisis was not only caused by bad priest, it was compounded by bad management at the diocesan and Vatican level.