Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for April, 2011

Beatification will stir memories of JPII04.29.11

I was in St. Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II died in 2005 and very little time went by before people started talking about his inevitable canonization.

It was a given that this pope—whom so many called John Paul the Great—would be on the fast-track to beatification. So here we are, six years later, and JPII will be beatified on Sunday.

What is there to say about JPII? It’s still kind of hard to believe that he’s gone, because he was around for so long. His pivotal role in Catholic history, in world history, is clear.

Archbishop Dolan writes about seeing him “up close,” when Dolan was rector of the North American College in Rome from 1994 to 2001. He writes:

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It’s said you just sort of know when you’re in the presence of sanctity. You don’t need much proof or clinical verification; nope — our “gut,” our hearts, our souls just sense it.

Holy Mother Church doesn’t stop here, of course, and I’m glad she doesn’t. She requires some “proofs,” such as widespread public veneration, miracles and a scrupulous study of the holy one’s life. I suppose she has been burned enough to know you always can’t trust your “gut.”

In the case of Blessed Pope John Paul II, we’ve got both.

My heart, soul and (rather considerable) “gut” can testify, from the vantage point of a box seat for at least seven years of his remarkable pontificate, that this was a man of remarkable, extraordinary, heroic sanctity.

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Many still wonder about how active John Paul was during the final years of his pontificate, when his illnesses were more evident by the day, and whether he did enough to curtail and respond to sexual abuse. His steadfast support of Marcial Maciel, the since-disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is a blight on his record, the size of which is in the eye of the beholder.

But few people know about the Maciel scandal. When most people see images of JPII on TV this weekend, they’ll think of his worldwide travels and his incredible ability to…inspire.

I always think of running into Father Benedict Groeschel in Rome in 2001, when we were there for the consistory where Cardinal Egan got his red hat.

Groeschel said to me:

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I was saying to myself this morning in St. Peter’s Square, `Who is the holiest person here right now?’ and I figured it was probably some dear old lady in the crowd, someone who is close to God. Then I was looking at the pope up on his chair. I thought of how hard he works and of his complete service to all who want him. And I thought that he just might be the holiest person. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in his case, it does.”

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(AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Pope John Paul IIwith 1 Comment →

Checking in on the East Ramapo schools04.28.11

The Forward is weighing in on the ongoing Orthodox/non-Orthodox tensions in the East Ramapo school district.

The article focuses on the recent resignation of school board President Nathan Rothschild, who was subsequently charged with felony mail fraud, and an investigation of the district by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Here is the Forward’s “nut graph” or a brief introduction to a very strange place:

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Just 40 minutes from Manhattan, East Ramapo is an ethnically diverse school district in the heart of Rockland County. The district encompasses two centers of the county’s burgeoning Orthodox population: the Hasidic enclave of New Square and the Orthodox hamlet of Monsey. Though members of the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities in the district largely send their children to private religious schools, they held five of nine seats on the East Ramapo Board of Education until the board president’s recent resignation. Four of the five are Hasidic.

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The article doesn’t even mention that the board recently removed long-time Superintendent Ira Oustatcher or that the district is in terrible financial straits.

The board recently approved a budget proposal that would cut 89 jobs and still raise taxes by 7.53 percent, one of the largest increases in the region.

Yikes.

The photo is of a recent protest, outside the district offices, of the slipping quality of education.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in East Ramapowith No Comments →

Dick Cavett to MC dinner for Iona’s Br. Liguroi04.27.11

Who wouldn’t want to have Dick Cavett MC a dinner honoring them?

I mean, Dick Cavett.

Well, retiring Iona College President Brother James Liguori will get the honor on Friday at Iona’s 50th Annual Trustee Dinner. The black tie event will be at the Waldorf.

Also scheduled to be on hand: “American Pie” maker (and Iona alum) Don McLean; Dick Gephardt; former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney; Westchester’s own Rob Astorino;  Cardinal Ed Egan; and others.

Not a bad supporting cast for Br. Liguori, who has been president of Iona for 17 years. And Dick Cavett at the mike.

I recently wrote about Liguori being the last of a string of Christian Brothers to serve as president. Incoming President Robert Nyre is a layman. There simply aren’t as many Christian Brothers—or Catholic brothers, period—as there used to be.

By the way, the College of New Rochelle, at its commencement on May 26, will confer honorary doctorates on its own president, Stephen Sweeny,  who is retiring in June, and on Archbishop Dolan.

It’s a changing of the guard for New Rochelle’s Catholic colleges.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholic colleges, College presidentswith No Comments →

Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays04.25.11

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen—chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary—had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:

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“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”

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On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:

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During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Arnold Eisen, Catholic-Jewish relations, Jewish Theological Seminarywith No Comments →

Off04.18.11

I’m off this week. Be back next.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Uncategorizedwith 1 Comment →

Have a happy…04.15.11

Holy Week begins Sunday with Palm Sunday. The eight days of Passover begin Monday at sundown.

“The Ten Commandments” should be airing any day now.

A happy and meaningful holiday to all who observe.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Uncategorizedwith 1 Comment →

Can vegetarianism be the Reform Kosher?04.13.11

Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, comes with plenty of dietary rules. No bagels, for instance.

Well, a new book published by the Reform movement takes a fresh look at Jewish eating in general. It’s called “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.”

The Reform movement has traditionally rejected Kosher laws—or at least made them very optional. But the book (published by the Reform Rabbis association) explores the meaning of Kosher (or Kashrut) for liberal Jews in the modern world.

A press release says: “Does Kashrut represent a facade of religiosity, hiding immorality and abuse, or is it, in its purest form, a summons to raise the ethical standards of food production?  How does Kashrut enrich spiritual practice by teaching intentionality and gratitude?  Can paying attention to our own eating practices raise our awareness of the hungry?  Can Kashrut inspire us to eat healthfully?  Can these laws draw us around the same table, thus creating community?”

One essay in the book is by Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue (which is a non-denominational congregation). Sameth is a vegetarian and suggests that the Reform movement adopt vegetarianism as a formal dietary standard.

He writes: “Over one billion people on the planet are either starving or are chronically undernourished. Animal agriculture is inefficient in the extreme… You’ve got to invest eight to twelve pounds of grain for every one pound of edible beef you get back. Unbelievably inefficient. If we gave up our meat-based diets, simply stopped raising animals for food, all of those crops we are now raising to feed those animals would be sufficient to feed every starving man, woman, and child on the planet.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a nice feature about whether the book and other rumblings suggest that the Reform world is considering/suggesting/mulling over some sort of more formal kosher observance.

The article includes this:

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Some Reform leaders, including the book’s editor, Rabbi Mary Zamore of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, N.J., want to play down the trendiness aspect.

“This is part of a continuum within Reform Judaism,” said Zamore, who pushed the project along for 13 years. “It’s not liberal Judaism becoming something different; it’s that we continue to evolve. Here is a topic which for many Reform Jews was taboo or a non-starter. Now everywhere I go, people are talking about these topics as Reform Jews.”

“The Sacred Table” opens with a discussion of the historical Reform approach to kashrut and includes an overview of traditional kosher laws —a first for an official Reform publication, according to Zamore.

It also includes chapters on each of the Jewish values that proponents of ethical kashrut embrace as they seek to broaden the traditional definition of the Jewish diet, from the ban on “tzaar baalei chayim,” or cruelty to animals, to preventing “oshek,” or oppression of workers. It includes the results of a 2005 survey that showed increasing numbers of Reform synagogues, clergy and lay leaders are keeping kosher, partially or entirely. And it ends with a guide that Reform congregations can use to develop their own communal dietary practice, which may or may not include kashrut.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Kosher, Kosher standards, Reform Judaism, Vegetarianismwith No Comments →

Scientology’s ‘volunteer ministers’ at work in Japan04.11.11

I got a press release today from the Church of Scientology, promoting the work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” in Japan since the disaster.

The release includes this: “Since the disaster struck, the Scientology Volunteer Ministers Japan Disaster Response Team has helped more than 48,000 displaced persons in dozens of shelters distributing food, water and supplies and providing Scientology assists. Assists, often described as “spiritual first aid,” help the individual overcome the effects of loss, shock and trauma and speed recovery by addressing the spiritual and emotional factors in illness and injury.”

The work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” at disaster sites has long been controversial. Back in early ‘02, I wrote about their work at Ground Zero.

At the time, the chief of the National Mental Health Association told me: “”What Scientology is doing can be very dangerous if people think they are going to see legitimate mental health counselors. Their volunteer ministers are not trained in mental health services and actually reject science. We really believe that harm can be done here.”

No one questions (I think) the general support offered by Scientology volunteers: passing out food; helping people find shelter; listening to people in crisis; etc.

The issue is the “spiritual first aid” provide by their “ministers,” who only read some Scientology materials and take an exam.

This is what I wrote in ‘02:

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Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.”

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A volunteer told me at the time: “If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever. Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

The press release about Japan includes this: “A man whose business was swept away in the tsunami began his assist in sorrow and walked away humming, telling the Volunteer Minister he plans to rebuild his inn as soon as he can.”

Scientology, by the way, is opposed to the practice of psychiatry and psychology.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Scientologywith 8 Comments →

Dying TV ancher feels ‘the presence of Christ in the room’04.07.11

I came across a story on CNN.com about a former TV sports anchor named Nick Charles.

I used to watch him and his partner Fred Hickman when CNN had a sports new network that competed with ESPN (before ESPN began solidifying its modern-day sports monopoly).

Can’t say that I knew anything about Charles. So I was surprised to see a photo of him looking old and weak and…sick.

It turns out that he found out in 2009 that he had incurable bladder cancer. He was given 4 to 20 months to live and is now at 21 months.

I point out the article because Charles talks a lot about mortality, lessons learned, family and a return to faith during the ‘90s—thanks to his third wife.

He feels a strong divine presence in his life. He says of Jesus, “One time, he sat right with me on the bed.”

It’s a moving story with a few curveballs, including Charles ongoing friendship with Mike Tyson, who comes across as a real good guy and friend at crunchtime.

There is a section in the story where Charles talks about what his last week of life is likely to be like. Read it.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in End of life, Mortality, Uncategorizedwith No Comments →

Presidential leanings based more on $$$ than moral issues, study finds04.05.11

It’s the conventional wisdom that during tough economic times, social issues take a backseat to money concerns.

And we’ve heard for some time that Tea Party types are more focused on deficits, taxes and Government Shrinkage than they are are “culture war” issues.

A new study from the Barna Group bares this out.

A survey of registered voters finds that choices in the next presidential race are more likely to be determined by “personal security and comfort” than by  candidates’ positions on “moral issues.”

Barna founds that the issues mostly likely to affect candidate support are health care (64%), tax policies (60%), terrorism (50%), employment policies (50%),  immigration policies (45%), education policy (44%), the wars in the Middle East (43%), and America’s dependence upon foreign oil (38%).

Bringing up the rear are issues that, according to Barna, have “distinct moral underpinnings:” domestic poverty policies (37%), abortion (27%), environmental policy (26%), and gay marriage (24%).

Here are a few interesting chunks of analysis from the Barna people:

1. On the role of “born again Christians,” often referred to by others as the “religious right:”

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One of the critical voting segments in America is born again Christians, who have represented nearly half of the votes cast in the most recent presidential elections. The interests of born again voters are distinct from those of non-born again adults: there were statistically significant differences in interest levels between those two segments regarding eight of the 12 issues in the survey. In each case where there was a gap between those groups, born again adults were more likely to consider the issue in question to have “a lot of influence” on their candidate selection. The largest gaps related to domestic poverty policy (19 points), terrorism (16 points), abortion (15 points), and dependence on foreign oil (15 points). Unexpectedly, there was no difference in the importance attached to the gay marriage issue between these two groups.

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2. On the differences between Mainline Protestants and other (evangelical) Protestants:

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There were significant differences between these two groups on nine of the 12 issues studied. The only issues on which the two groups saw eye-to-eye were health care (the top-ranked issue for both segments), education, and wars in the Middle East. The biggest gaps related to gay marriage (deemed to have a lot of influence on their candidate selection by 40% of non-mainline Protestants, but among only 17% of the mainliners) and abortion (highly influential for 43% of the non-mainline group but just 19% of the mainline adults).

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5. On differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants:

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Protestants and Catholics have become more similar to each other in political matters over the past several decades. On the 12 issues measured in the survey, there were significant differences between these two groups regarding only two issues: abortion and gay marriage. In both cases, Protestants were more likely than Catholics to indicate the issue would play a meaningful role in their candidate selection process. Overall, 35% of Protestants and 25% of Catholics said a candidate’s abortion position would greatly matter to them; one-third of Protestants (33%) and only one-fifth of Catholics (19%) said gay marriage policy would substantially affect their candidate decision.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Economic concerns, Moral issues, Presidential choiceswith No Comments →

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