Statements on gay bullying (Episcopal) and political involvement (Catholic)

I received two statements this morning from New York religious leaders about issues of great importance to them (and to many others).

First, I got a statement from Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of NY, about the several recent examples of bullying of gay people.

Not long after, I got one from the New York State Catholic Bishops Conference — representing Archbishop Dolan and seven other bishops — about why and how Catholics should take part in the political process.

Two very different issues.

Sisk writes, in part:

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No doubt you are aware of the recent widely reported incidences of bullying and invasion of privacy that resulted in the suicides of five young people in California, Indiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Texas. The tragic story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge last week, may have struck closest to home. But each of these deaths strikes at the body of Christ, and calls us as Christ’s disciples to answer cruelty and intolerance with loving compassion.

The Episcopal Church has long affirmed the dignity, equality and inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That these latest deaths should occur so near to the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming 12 years ago (Oct. 12, 1998) reminds us that there is much work yet to do to instill these values in the communities we serve.

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He concludes: “I urge you to remember lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in your prayers. May Christ comfort and heal the hearts of those most affected by these recent tragedies. And may their memories inspire us to more vocal expressions of justice, compassion and love.”

The Catholic bishops, meanwhile, open with this:

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We Catholics are called to look at politics as we are called to look at everything – through the lens of our faith. While we are free to join any political party that we choose or none at all, we must be cautious when we vote not to be guided solely by party loyalty or by self interest. Rather, we should be guided in evaluating the important issues facing our state and nation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church.

Our national and state elected officials have profound influence on countless matters of great importance, such as the right to life, issues of war and peace, the education of children and how we treat the poor and vulnerable. We must look at all of these issues as we form our consciences in preparation for Election Day.

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The bishops focus on the right to life: “The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office. As Faithful Citizenship teaches, “Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.” ”

The bishops’ statement also outlines questions that Catholics should ask politicians (and themselves) about the right to life, “parental rights in education,” “protecting marriage,” immigration reform, access to health care, protecting the poor, and religious liberty.

The statement ends with a plea to vote on Election Day.

Relics of two Catholic giants coming to NY

Relics of two significant Catholic figures will soon be coming to the New York area.

On Sept. 23, Archbishop Dolan will bless the first U.S. shrine dedicated to Cardinal John Henry Newman at the Church of Our Savior in New York City.

This will be only a few days after the pope beatifies Newman in England. That’s a big step toward possible sainthood.

The shrine will include a relic — a piece of Newman’s remains.

Newman was a priest in the Church of England who converted to Catholicism in 1845. He is much beloved by his fans for his intellectual approach to faith and his clear, powerful writing.

One week later, on Sept. 30, a relic of St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order, will be at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point. There will be a day-long youth rally and Dolan will celebrate Mass in the evening.

The relic (in this case, known to be an arm bone) will also be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 1 and 2.

The relic is the middle of a five-year trip around the world to celebrate the Salesians’ 150th anniversary and Bosco’s 200th birthday. Here’s a full explanation from Father Mike Mendl of the Salesians’ Eastern Province, based in New Rochelle:

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St. John Bosco, very often called simply Don Bosco, was an Italian saint (1815-1888), apostle of young people, founder of a religious congregation of men (priests, brothers) whom he called the Salesians (after St. Francis de Sales as patron) and a congregation of sisters called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians—commonly called the Salesian Sisters.  He also sent out missionaries to Latin America; today the Salesians are in 136 countries and are the second-largest order of religious men in the Catholic Church (about 16,000 in number), and the sisters are the largest order of women (about 14,000).

Last year our superiors started a relic from the body of Don Bosco on a trip around the world that will take over five years to complete, visiting every province (geographical division) of the Salesian world.  The occasion for this pilgrimage is to link the 150th anniversary of the Salesians (last December) and the 200th anniversary of Don Bosco’s birth (2015) while stirring up a renewed fervor for the spirit and apostolic work of Don Bosco (young people, missions, etc.), and among the Salesians themselves a rededication to our religious consecration, ideals, and mission to the young.

Catholics honor the relics of the saints as reminders that the saints were human beings like us, and we can imitate their virtues, welcome God’s grace, and become saints too.  In honoring the saints we honor God, who worked through them.

Insofar as some relics of saints are from their bodies (as distinguished from objects that they used), we also pay respect to the human body that will be raised up on the Last Day, as Jesus was raised from the dead.  The just will share in the eternal life of Christ.

‘Under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s’

Just checking in after finally crawling out of my sick bed.

I’ve had something — Swine flu? — since Thursday. Whatever it is, don’t get it.

I don’t have any idea what’s been going on, but a few emails about the Manhattan Declaration caught my attention.

Looks like it could open a new round of the Culture Wars.

It’s a no-sense, strongly worded statement from Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical leaders that basically says they will give no ground when it comes to abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

The statement urges nothing less than civil disobedience if it comes to that.

You should read it for yourself. But here’s a piece:

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Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non­believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

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And here’s the sword-waving close:

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Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo­destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti­life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Where did the Episcopalians go?

For an assortment of reasons, I haven’t had much time to focus today on Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Top Court in the Land.

She would be the sixth Catholic on the nine-justice court, which is notable because of what it says about the demise of anti-Catholicism. Who even cares that she’s Catholic?

Except for Catholics, of course.

For many Catholics — especially committed pro-life Catholics — the question may now become: Is Sotomayor Catholic enough?

She’s divorced. No kids. Her record on abortion — from what I understand — is somewhat unclear.

It’s early, but Sotomayor is being portrayed as a “social justice” Catholic.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson does a fine job compiling some early reactions from some of the top religion journalism bloggers out there.

He notes about the current Supreme Court: “Two of the justices are Jewish; the resignation of Justice David Souter, who is an Episcopalian, will leave, amazingly given the history of this nation, just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.”

Might we, one of these days, see an all-Catholic court?

I happen to be in the middle of a long profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. Roberts, of course, is also Catholic. But he probably wouldn’t be described as a “social justice Catholic,” at least by Jeffrey Toobin, the writer and CNN talking head.

Toobin writes this:

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In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Tributes keep coming for Russert, a devout Catholic and hero of the old media

I’m a little surprised by the amount of attention given to the death of Tim Russert.

I was a big fan. He was a tremendously engaging political analyst and a great interviewer. But I think the fact that he was well-liked and respected among his colleagues in the old media can be seen in all the tributes.

tjndc5-5kg54uitk8z1bq5chh46_layout.jpg“Meet the Press” got about 3 million viewers a week, 4 million for a big-name guest. “Dancing With the Stars,” by arbitrary comparison, gets about 20 million viewers a week (yes, I know it’s prime time). But I think a lot of old media types see Russert as representing a day they long for, when a show like “Meet the Press” drove the political discussion in this country.

Having read and heard a bunch of tributes, it seems that Russert was best known for his love of politics, his father, his Catholic faith, Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills (not necessarily in that order).

No doubt, Russert was the celebrity MC at many Catholic events.

I found a summary of his speech to Boston College’s Class of 2004. The Boston Globe included this:

In his keynote speech, Russert described having a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1985, to ask him to appear on the “Today” show. Russert said he forgot his concerns about NBC’s ratings and instead thought about “the prospect of salvation.”

“You heard this tough, no-nonsense hard-hitting moderator of `Meet the Press’ begin by saying, `Bless me Father!’ ” Russert said.

Wolf Blitzer wrote about Russert meeting Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks ago in Washington (introducing them is the Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University):

While we were waiting for the pope to arrive, he was like a little boy. He had his rosaries in his hand, ready for the pope to bless them. This was not the Tim Russert whom we all saw and admired as he grilled presidents, prime ministers, kings and mere politicians. When the pope finally approached him, he could barely utter a word. This was a special moment, and he knew it.

Catholic News Service wrote about Russert’s faith. It noted that Russert was to give the Catholic Common Ground Initiative’s Philip J. Murnion Lecture June 27 at The Catholic University in Washington.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ communications committee, told CNS: “Those of us who shared his Catholic faith and his deep love for it appreciate his sharing of the story of his own faith and his loyalty to the life of the Catholic Church in this country and the many charities to which he contributed his time and talent.”

A Buffalo News tribute ends like this:

And now, America faces the shocking prospect of that campaign continuing without Russert asking Barack Obama and John McCain tough questions.

“It’s going to be strange indeed to turn on the TV on Sundays and not hear his voice,” wrote Ezra Klein, a blogger for the American Prospect.

“Presumably, he’s up somewhere beyond the cloudline, hectoring God about His inconsistencies. ‘But Lord, in Exodus 6:12, you clearly said . . . ’ ”

Catholic Church increasingly Latino (as we know)

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a nice analysis of the “state of the Catholic Church” in the U.S. as the papal visit nears, drawn from its recent study of religion in America and other sources.

Here are a few nuggets about the immigration influence:

The vast majority (82%) of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were born in Latin America, and most Catholic immigrants from Latin America (52% of all Catholic immigrants to the U.S.) come from just one country — Mexico. Catholics are also well represented among immigrants coming to the U.S. from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and East Asia; more than one-in-four of all immigrants from these regions are Catholic.

Recent demographic analyses conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the Latino share of the U.S. population will grow significantly in the coming decades. Indeed, there are likely to be nearly 130 million Latinos in the U.S. by the year 2050 — more than three times the size of the Latino population in 2005 (42 million). These estimates project that Latinos will account for 29% of the U.S. population by 2050, up from 14% in 2005.

As the Latino share of the U.S. population grows, the proportion of American Catholics who are Latino is likely to grow as well. The Landscape Survey finds that Latinos now account for nearly a third (29%) of all Catholic adults in the U.S. Perhaps more significantly, Latinos account for nearly half of Catholics under age 40. In contrast, older Catholics are predominantly white. For example, only 12% of Catholics age 70 and older are Hispanic.

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Graphic source: Pew Forum

McCain’s minister: ‘I’m not anti-Catholic’

From Barack Obama’s pastor back to John McCain’s minister/endorser…

John Hagee is the San Antonio megachurch pastor who endorsed McCain and has since enduring a media firestorm for being anti-Catholic.

He has released a short sermon defending himself, which is on YouTube and was sent out today as a video press release.

Hagee states: “I am not now, nor have I ever been, anti-Catholic.” He explains that he supported a convent for retired nuns for 10 years and runs a soup kitchen that serves food primarily to Catholics.

He said that it is true that, as a strong supporter of Judaism and Israel, he has talked about the “past anti-Semitism” of both the Catholic Church and Protestant churches.

He put it like this:

Calling Christians to account for their past anti-Semitism does not make me anti-Catholic and it does not make me anti-Protestant.

Here’s the video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/rCS2snM5poE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

QB gunslinger, also Catholic

tjndc5-5j16avw3z9wkbdewo5g_layout1.jpgIn the sports world, much has been made of the recent retirement of Packers QB Brett Favre.

As a big football fan, I’ve always admired Favre’s aggressive play and off-the-field modesty (although I could do without seeing his Wrangler jeans commercial for the billionth time).

Through his long career, I don’t think I ever heard a word about Favre’s Catholic faith. I guess his wife wrote a bit about it in her recent book about surviving cancer.

But I came across an unusual column by Joseph Kip Kosek, an assistant prof of American Studies at George Washington University. He writes that Favre is: “a peculiar Christian athlete whose career defies familiar evangelical optimism in favor of a darker, distinctly Catholic vision.”

In other words, Favre is no Kurt Warner. (If you don’t follow football and you don’t know who Warner is, forget the whole thing…)


Why we called the pope an ‘enigma’

The headline on my article yesterday was:

For many, still an enigma

3 years into papacy, Benedict XVI remains mystery to Americans

tjndc5-5j9j8pyfp0814cxt9atd_layout.jpgI’ve received a few comments from readers who felt that the article was “negative” or “derogatory” to the pope. I don’t see it. But let me take a moment to explain what I wrote and why.

The main point: When talking to Catholics over the last few months, it became clear to me that many people don’t know what to make of Pope Benedict. It’s not that they’re critical of him. Or overly supportive.

Most people don’t have the time or interest to following papal happenings closely in the Catholic press — what the pope is writing or saying. And this pope is not nearly as prone to the grand gesture as was John Paul II. You have to pay attention to get a sense of what he is about.

So I set out to write an introduction to Benedict’s first three years as pope for Catholics — and others — who haven’t really paid attention since his election in April 2005. I talked to a lot of really smart people who observe the pope closely and asked them to explain Benedict’s pontificate, so far, in as basic terms as possible.

I asked them: What would you tell someone who now wants to figure out what this pope is about?

I don’t think that the clear consensus — that Benedict remains a mystery to most — is in any way derogatory or critical of the pope. It may take years (or longer) for his teachings to seep down. Or his visit to the U.S. may inspire many people to sit up and pay attention sooner. We’ll see.

One final point: Several people have suggested that it was not appropriate to run the article on Easter. I can certainly understand why someone who was focused yesterday on celebrating the Resurrection would feel that way. I really can. But we put out the Journal News/LoHud.com every day, even on Easter, and something has to go in the paper and on the Web.

Regardless, please check out our “pope page.”

Can the pope inspire vocations?

I’ve gotten quite a few comments about my Sunday article on the need for vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of NY. We also have a video on our “pope page.”

To sum up: The 10-county archdiocese has only 473 active diocesan priests and about 40 percent are over 65. Forty years ago, there were more than 1,000 priests.

tjndc5-5ipf5e12zxwvbglg6di_layout.jpgBut St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, the training ground for NY priests, is currently training only 23 seminarians for the archdiocese’s 405 parishes. And there are no incoming freshmen this fall.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that there is a real need for more seminarians.

The hope is that the big papal visit will inspire young men to listen for a call (from God) to the priesthood. Church officials believe that many young men are getting the call but do not hear it because they’re focused on worldly things — and are discouraged from hearing a religious call by friends, colleagues, even their families.

One point I didn’t mention: Every Catholic seminary in the country has been invited to send students to Yonkers for the papal youth rally on April 19. So there will be hundreds of seminarians to greet the pope.

TV watchers and others, then, may get the false impression that the beautiful New York seminary is overflowing with future priests…