Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for November, 2010

Trying to get atheists out of the closet11.30.10

When I was working on my book a few years ago — you know, the one about religious explanations for the tsunami — my editor suggested that I speak to some non-believers.

I wasn’t anxious to do so. I figured they would just crow about how something as awful as the tsunami was proof that there is no God or god.

But I went ahead and added a chapter on what non-believers had to say.

One of them was a fellow named Dave Silverman, who was then the communications guy for America Atheists, the most prominent atheists group (if there is such a thing) that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

I remember the talk well because Silverman was so eager to get at it. He was funny, bright and somewhat brash. He told me how much he loved to debate religious leaders on just about any godly subject.

When it came to natural disasters, Silverman skipped right over the central question of whether there is a God or god. He wanted to talk about why anyone would want to worship a god who made, or let, the tsunami happen.

I mention Silverman now because he has since become president of American Atheists and is the guy behind the controversial billboard that has gone up on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.

It’s the one that shows the Nativity scene beneath the words “You KNOW it’s a Myth/This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

Judging from the AA website, Silverman is having a blast going on TV and radio to defend the move and take on his God-fearing opponents. He insists — as he did when he spoke to me — that there are plenty of atheists out there, but they won’t admit it.

The comments on Silverman’s blog are interesting. There is a lot of debate about the tone of the ad.

One person writes: “I have to say that I also don’t like the billboard. A simple message wishing everyone a Happy Solstice or something with the web site would get the message out. Everyone knows we believe the whole Christmas thing is a myth. Why get people mad at us? How about being more civil? Let’s be part of the holiday tradition.”

But another says: “If we put up a billboard that was all things to everyone and addressed every single concern we have, it would be a cluttered mess. This billboard is targeted toward a specific audience: it is not meant to be all things to all people.”

Well, ol’ Dave Silverman has got people talking, just as he wanted.

So here’s a big Happy Nothing to you, Dave.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Atheists, Billboards, Christmas, New Yorkwith 3 Comments →

Judge halts Oklahoma’s ban on Islamic law11.29.10

You may or may not know that on Nov. 2, 70 percent of Oklahomans voted for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit state courts from considering…Islamic law when making decisions.

The move was presented by its supporters as something of a preemptive strike against Islam having, let’s say, undue influence over the affairs of Oklahoma.

Well, a federal judge has decided not to certify the election results until she considers a challenge to the law from a Muslim Oklahoman.

The Muslim in question, Muneer Awad, 27,  executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, says the amendment would be discriminatory, preventing for instance the execution of his will when he dies.

According to the Oklahoman, the judge wrote: “This order addresses issues that go to the very foundation of our country, our (U.S.) Constitution, and particularly, the Bill of Rights. Throughout the course of our country’s history, the will of the ‘majority’ has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals, an occurrence which our founders foresaw and provided for through the Bill of Rights.”

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad had this to say: “Today marks another day in American history in which our courts have defended the Constitution against those who would deny its protections to a minority community. We agree with Judge Miles-LaGrange and the U.S. Supreme Court that ‘fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote.'”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Constitutional amendment, Federal judge, Muslim law, Oklahomawith Comments Off on Judge halts Oklahoma’s ban on Islamic law

Advent/Christmas concert at Dunwoodie11.23.10

Yes, holiday concerts are coming.

For example…the 23rd Annual Advent-Christmas Concert of Sacred Music at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers will be held on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m.

According to a release: “Conducting the choir will be Dr. Jennifer Pascual, professor of music at Dunwoodie.  She is the current holder of the Monsignor Richard B. Curtin and Reverend Anthony D. Sorgie Chair in Sacred Music and Art, an endowed academic chair in place at the seminary.  In addition, she is director of music at the Cathedral of St. Patrick.”

Among selections that will be performed are “ Midnight Mass for Christmas” by Marc–Antoine Charpentier.

Tickets are $30 — which includes a reserved seat and a post-concert reception. Tickets should be available at the door.

For information, call the Seminary Music Office at 914-968-6200, ext. 8308 or email: SeminaryConcertTickets@gmail.com.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Christmas concert, Dunwoodie, New Yorkwith Comments Off on Advent/Christmas concert at Dunwoodie

Change coming for Episcopal Diocese of NY11.22.10

Time to catch up with a few items from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which recently held its annual convention.

First off, Bishop Mark Sisk set in motion a process to find his successor. It is, however, a long process.

The diocese will hold an election next fall to choose a “bishop coadjutor,” who will eventually become the boss. Sisk himself served as bishop coadjutor for about three years before his predecessor, Bishop Richard Grein, retired.

Sisk, by any measure, has had a trying decade as bishop.

He was installed on Sept. 29, 2001, when we were all still in 9/11 shock.  Only a few weeks later, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine had a terrible fire.

During his tenure, the Episcopal Church has, of course, been at something like war with the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. The Episcopal Diocese of New York is unabashedly pro-gay, and Sisk has repeatedly sought to assure New York’s Episcopalians that this won’t change no matter what happens outside the diocese.

He told me once that it is only a matter of time before everyone else catches up with the modern understanding of (and acceptance of) homosexuality. Just wait it out.

As Episcopal Church membership has continued to decline, Sisk has tried to become something of a voice for liberal Christianity in New York. The diocese even hired PR giants Rubenstein Associates at one point to help get some press. I’m not sure how successful he’s been. In fact, Sisk’s announcement of his eventual retirement has gotten little notice.

Sisk is a thoughtful fellow, an appropriate leader for the modern, liberal Episcopal Church of NY. His successor will have his (or her) work cut out for him (or her).

Second, the diocese’s Number 2, Bishop Catherine Roskam, officially the “bishop suffragan,” also announced that she will retire. Her stepping down will come sooner, at the end of 2011.

Roskam is based in Dobbs Ferry and oversees what is known as Region 2 of the diocese: Westchester, Rockland and Putnam. What we like to call the LoHud.

When Roskam was consecrated a bishop in 1996, she became only the 4th female Episcopal bishop in the U.S.

Roskam, like Sisk, is very liberal, very pro-gay involvement in the church, and has never been shy about expressing her exasperation with conservative Christians. She has periodically drawn the ire of conservatives. Two years ago, she received international headlines when she suggested at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury that some Anglican bishops, based soley on the odds, probably beat their wives.

Over the years, Roskam has been very willing to answer my questions about just about anything. For that I thank her.

Finally, the diocese passed a resolution calling on the national church’s General Convention to authorize an investigation of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a group that fights against the liberal current in mainline Protestant denominations.

The IRD seems tickled to get such direct attention from an old foe. A spokesman says: “With the diocese steadily hemorrhaging members and funds, it’s apparently easier for it to blame the IRD than to own up to the church-damaging consequences of choosing revisionist theology and liberal politics above the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”


Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Diocese of NY, Episcopal Church, homosexuality, Liberalismwith Comments Off on Change coming for Episcopal Diocese of NY

A pre-Thanksgiving giving of thanks11.18.10

I mentioned yesterday that I was speaking this morning at the annual Thanksgiving Diversity Breakfast, put on by the Westchester chapter of the American Jewish Committee (with help from the Westchester Jewish Council and Manhattanville College).

They had a nice turnout and a packed program, which I was happy to be part of. This is what it looked like:

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Uncategorizedwith Comments Off on A pre-Thanksgiving giving of thanks

Celebrating diversity before Turkey Day11.17.10

Way, way back in November of 2002, I went to the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook to see the local unveiling of  “America’s Table,” a Thanksgiving reader developed by the American Jewish Committee.

The 15-page reader was designed to help any family, Jewish or not, add meaning to their Thanksgiving meal by discussing the immigrant experience in America.

Close to 50 people from different backgrounds took part, reading aloud. Several talked about the immigrant journeys of their ancestors.

I quoted Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski afterward: “Before I came to this breakfast, I felt weird. Now I feel normal.”

It was a unifying experience. That was the idea.

The Westchester chapter of the AJC has continued to hold annual Thanksgiving breakfasts since then. I’ve been to most of them, so I can tell you that it’s refreshing to hear people of different faiths and backgrounds talk about their stories — which often have striking similarities — just before one of the most American of holidays.

It is a simple yet effective and moving experience.

You can download “America’s Table” here.

This year’s breakfast is tomorrow morning at Manhattanville College. I’ll be the speaker. I only get 10 minutes or so — so I shouldn’t slow things down too much.

I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve learned from covering many groups of people over the years.

This year’s breakfast will also honor three organizations: the Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville; Westchester Youth Councils; and Neighbors Link. Congratulations to them.

The AJC, the Westchester Jewish Council and Manhattanville on putting on this year’s breakfast.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Diversity, immigration, Thanksgivingwith Comments Off on Celebrating diversity before Turkey Day

Dolan not yet a cardinal, but a president11.16.10

So Archbishop Dolan was today elected the next president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He needed a 50 percent majority and won on the third vote, according to Catholic News Agency. He won out over Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, who had the inside track as vice president since 2010.

Although the VP usually gets the top job, Kicanas has been considered unusually vulnerable. Many conservative Catholics considered him to be too liberal, while others criticized his past handling of sex abuse.

As president, Dolan will be easily the most visible Catholic leader in the U.S. Of course, as archbishop of NY, he was already right up there.

Among other things, Dolan will help set the tone for the church’s position on numerous church/state issues, including how Catholic politicians who go against church teachings should be received by the faithful.

Richard Barnes, executive director of The New York State Catholic Conference, which lobbies in Albany on behalf of Dolan and NY state’s other bishops, issued this statement: “We at the New York State Catholic Conference are thrilled with the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The U.S. Bishops made an inspired choice in electing Archbishop Dolan, who we in New York already know as a compassionate shepherd, a gifted preacher and a brilliant historian. The natural joy he exudes in his vocation has been an inspiration to millions of Catholics in the Empire State since his appointment as Archbishop of New York. We know he will bring to the national conference these same great gifts. We are so pleased to be able to share him with the entire country for the next three years.”

UPDATE: More reactions:

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life: “Both Archbishop Dolan and (VP) Archbishop Kurtz have been unequivocal in their defense of the unborn, which for our ministry is the primary focus. They have welcomed and encouraged the work of Priests for Life, and for that we are grateful.”

The American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi Gary Greenebaum: “Archbishop Dolan’s election is another significant step in furthering the positive and evolving relationship between Catholics and Jews in the United States.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Catholic Church, U.S. Bishops Conferencewith 1 Comment →

Exorcism madness11.15.10

Everyone loves a good exorcism story!

Or at least a story about exorcists. Catholic News Service reported a few days ago that the U.S. Bishops Conference was holding a two-day meeting to train bishops and priests as potential exorcists. Then the NYPost picked it up and everyone picked it up.

The fascination with exorcists is easy to understand. Everyone remembers how scared they were when they first saw the movie (I know I do).

And, let’s face it, the notion of a priest expelling the devil from a human being can be hard to jive with our modern, high-tech, science-loving culture. Doesn’t Apple have an APP to rid one of the devil?

But the Catholic Church is quite serious about exorcisms, as the calling of this conference shows. 56 bishops and 66 priests were signed up for the conference, which was to take place Friday and Saturday. (I haven’t been able to find any coverage of the conference.)

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, told CNS that the 5 or 6 exorcists in the U.S. are in big demand. But full exorcisms are rare, he said, and not as dramatic as what Linda Blair went through.

He said: “We, because of Hollywood, have this kind of exaggerated sense of not only a very dramatic kind of possession, but also a very dramatic kind of exorcism. It ties in with our culture of quick fixes: You do it once and person is going to be liberated.”

Why do I have a feeling that some director out there is thinking “Hmmm, maybe it’s time for a remake. Maybe Miley Cyrus is looking for something to help her get past that whole Hannah Montana phase.”

Or, perhaps, there is a reality TV show out there. “Next on E: Get Me an Exorcist!”

Did you know that William O’Malley, a Jesuit and professor at Fordham Prep, played Father Dyer in the movie. “Shooting this film was like being a kid in the sandlot who gets invited to join the Yankees for a year,” he said a few years ago.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholic bishops, Exorcism, Exorcistswith Comments Off on Exorcism madness

Archdiocese of NY sets out to ‘make all things new’11.11.10

As is always the case when Catholic schools are about to close, a lot of people in the affected parishes are hurt, frustrated and disappointed.

Some school communities knew they were in trouble but hoped for the best.

A few thought they were doing okay and would be spared — at least for a while.

But when the announcement comes that your school is officially “at risk” and will likely lose its life-sustaining subsidy from the archdiocese, it’s a shock and difficult to absorb.

The archdiocese has, of course, closed dozens of schools in recent years. After each round of closings, school communities hope that the dust will settle for a while. But these are tough times economically, enrollments are down, and Archbishop Dolan has made clear his belief that in order to strengthen and promote healthy schools, the church has to stop subsidizing those that can’t make it on their own.

In fact, in his recent column, Dolan says that he’s prepared to face the big challenges facing the Catholic Church in New York.

As he puts it:

*****

At times, I am tempted to run from all of this, to avoid it, to deny that we need any planning, or that we even need to ask realistic questions and come to a clear direction with consequent tough decisions about the future. I’m tempted to say, “Forget about all this planning for the future. Let’s just keep things as they are and let nature take its course.” That is tempting; that is comfortable. That’s also irresponsible, lazy, destructive and dumb.

*****

Dolan writes about a new pastoral planning process within the archdiocese that will tackle a lot of the short-term and long-term challenges that priests and others have been talking about for, literally, decades. He’s calling the process “Making All Things New.”

I can’t tell you how many times priests and church officials and active laypeople have lamented to me that the archdiocese has avoided making tough decisions. The archdiocese has, for instance, been very quiet about its shrinking pool of (aging) parish priests and what this will mean for parish life in the not-too-distance future.

Cardinal Egan oversaw a much-hyped “realignment” of parishes that many observers saw as a minimal, let’s-wait-on-the-tough-decisions package.

But Dolan says it’s time to look at the Big Stuff:

*****

Let’s face it, we’ve got some tough decisions to make in the years ahead: our people are “on the move” and populations are shifting; parishes in wonderful neighborhoods that 25 years ago were teeming with large, young families are now quiet and empty, while outlying areas cannot build churches big enough or fast enough; older parishes with extensive facilities struggle to keep them in repair as their numbers shrink, while other parishes cannot find room for meetings, education and worship; the number of priests goes down, so we have to be creative and careful in their assignments, so that all can benefit from their essential ministry; and the sluggish economy and the demands on our resources make it imperative that we take stewardship of our finances, properties and buildings very seriously.

*****

One more note: It will be interesting to see how Dolan reacts to those parents and school communities that will inevitably resist the closing of their schools. When Egan closed schools and parishes, he generally avoided them and did not answer criticisms in public.

Many priests have noted that a more pastoral approach from the Archbishop of NY could do wonders.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archdiocese of New York, Catholic education, Catholic schoolswith Comments Off on Archdiocese of NY sets out to ‘make all things new’

Catholic schools in danger: 9 in Westchester, 1 in Putnam11.09.10

The Archdiocese of NY just released a list of 31 elementary schools that are considered to be “at risk.”

This means that they may well lose their subsidies from the archdiocese and shut down.

Everyone knew this day was coming since Archbishop Dolan said it was. He wants to close schools that can’t survive on their own so that he can strengthen the rest. That’s the goal.

The list includes 9 schools from Westchester (including 3 from Yonkers and 2 from Mount Vernon) and 1 from Putnam. There are no Rockland schools on the list.

Here are the 9:

Saint Ann, Ossining
Saint Anthony of Padua, West Harrison
Christ the King, Yonkers
Saint Bartholomew, Yonkers
Saint Mary, Yonkers
Saint Joseph, Croton Falls
Saint John the Evangelist, Mahopac
Sacred Heart School for the Arts, Mount Vernon
Saints Peter and Paul, Mount Vernon
Holy Name of Jesus, Valhalla

Archbishop Dolan says: “Catholic schools are here to stay, but, it is clear that we need to take a hard look at some of our schools and our resources.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Uncategorizedwith 7 Comments →

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