A new Catholic archbishop for Philly; Episcopal bishops divided in New York

Two things:

1. Should the Yankees play the Phillies in the World Series this fall — a possibility, at this point — we could see a high-stakes bet between two of the highest-profile and fastest-talking Catholic churchmen in the country.

New York pizza or a Philly Cheesesteak?

That’s because squaring off with Archbishop Dolan would be Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is leaving Denver to lead the deeply troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Chaput is a provocative and straight-talking bishop who promotes orthodox Catholicism — as he would put it — without compromise. Like Dolan, he’s a guy who says what he believes and isn’t afraid to use the media to get the word out. In fact, Chaput is one of the few bishop who regularly returns reporters’ calls.

He’ll get some calls in Philly, where a second Grand Jury report this  year blasted the archdiocese’s handling of sex abuse. In March, Cardinal Justin Rigali suspended 21 priests who had previously survived allegations of abuse.

Chaput tells the Catholic News Agency: “The Church in Philadelphia is at an important point in her life. It’s not a time to be embarrassed about what we believe. In fact, it becomes even more crucial to preach the Gospel – both within the Church and outside the Church.”

Chaput is well known for demanding fidelity of Catholics, including Catholic politicians. He says: “If we don’t live as faithful Catholics, we betray the Gospel. We forfeit the opportunity God gives us to make a significant difference for the evangelization of culture.”

If there is a Fall Classic bet between Dolan and Chaput, you know Dolan will be seriously craving that cheesesteak. I’m not sure how much Chaput likes to eat.

2. On a COMPLETELY unrelated note…

The NYTimes writes today about the Episcopal bishops overseeing the six dioceses of New York state being split over how to deal with the coming of civil gay marriage.

The Episcopal Church has long been quite gay-friendly, particularly in New York. But the national church has not staked a clear position on gay marriage, giving local bishops a lot of local leeway. But when comes to the Big M, New York’s bishops don’t see eye-to-eye.

As the Times’ Shaila Dewan writes: “In the state, with six Episcopal dioceses, the bishops are split: two have given the green light for priests to officiate at same-sex marriages, one has said absolutely not, two are undecided and one has staked out a middle ground, allowing priests to bless, but not officiate at, weddings of gay men and lesbians.”

Here in the Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk has been a vocal advocate of gay acceptance within the church. He also supported the legalization of civil gay marriage.

But he’s not ready to see his diocese conduct same-sex marriages until church law says it’s okay. “The church is still in the process of creating liturgies for these rites and incorporating them into church law,” he said.

Sisk told the Times that churches could host civil marriages led by secular officials — with an Episcopal priest offering a blessing.

Now that is a serious search for middle ground.

Change coming for Episcopal Diocese of NY

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.”


Jogging to church with Teddy Roosevelt

I went to Oyster Bay, Long Island, yesterday to tour Sagamore Hill — Teddy Roosevelt’s home — with a bunch of history teachers from Westchester and Putnam.

There was no religious element to my story. Or so I thought.

After lunch, we walked a few blocks to Christ Episcopal Church, where Roosevelt was a parishioner from 1888 to 1919.

The rector, the Rev. Peter Casparian, was used to seeing Teddy groupies coming through town. He said the locals call them “Ted Heads.”

Casparian, who was off-duty and was wearing sandals, told us that Roosevelt came from a Dutch Reformed Church background. But there was no Dutch Reformed church in town.

Plus, Roosevelt’s second wife, Edith, was already a member of Christ Church.

So, “He sat dutifully in the back pew,” Casparian told us.

He also told us that Roosevelt would have his children trot 2-and-a-half miles to church and then back home.

I’d like to see some modern suburbanites have their children jog to church or synagogue. That would be a story!

Although the church building we visited was not the same one that Roosevelt worshiped in (it was built in the 1920s), Teddy’s old pew is still there, right where he left it.

The teachers crowded around to see where the 26th president sat and kneeled.

This being a modern-day Episcopal church (i.e. liberal), Casparian couldn’t resist a pretty funny one-liner: “I always invite people to sit in Mr. Roosevelt’s pew and to pray for the Republican Party.”

Roosevelt, who read and wrote A LOT, apparently wrote down the reasons that a man should go to church.

I made the trip with a group of history teachers who are part of a terrific program funded by a federal grant to Northern Westchester/Putnam BOCES. My article should be up tomorrow or in a day or two.

Photo: Library of Congress

NY’s mainline Protestant leaders support proposed downtown Islamic center

It’s taken a while, but New York’s mainline Protestant leaders have issued statements about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero.

No great surprises here. The NY bishops of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church all gently support the project, while acknowledging the pain still felt by so many.

I’ll paste their full statements below.

United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Park declares his support for the project, writing that “denying the fundamental right of a religious community, as long as it fulfills the same legal requirements applied to all other religious communities, by singling it out for the wrong reasons, compromises the integrity of who we are at our core.”

He also writes: “Our hearts break over the sacrifice of the dead from 9/11 and the pains and sufferings of their loved ones and our country. However, to truly honor them, to truly preserve the historic significance of the Ground Zero, and to truly triumph over the evil force of 9/11, it is necessary to stand firm on what America believes in and be willing to pay whatever the price to protect and preserve freedom and equality for all.”

ELCA Bishop Robert Rimbo doesn’t offer the same outright pledge of support, but concludes with this: “There is much pain very near the surface of our emotions with regard to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. But how will preventing this center from being constructed help us to deal with that pain? There is great fear driving our lives today. How do persons of faith respond to that fear? We commend ourselves to the reliable and merciful arms of the God of Abraham, the God whom Jesus calls Abba, the God whom Muslims and Christians in various parts of the world call Allah. This God promises a reign in which all shall be well. Our faith is bigger and stronger than all our fears.”

Italics mine. Sure sounds like he is in favor getting beyond the fear and building the place.

Finally, Episcopal Bishop Mark Sisk, as I noted last week, wrote a public letter supporting the Islamic center. It includes this: “The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly-charged issue. But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents.”

Of course, Archbishop Tim Dolan has offered to be a conciliatory voice, but has stopped short of taking a position. In a recent blog post, he wrote: “Although I have no strong sentiment about what should be decided about the eventual where of the Islamic Center, I do have strong convictions about how such a discussion should be reached: civilly and charitably.  The hot-heads on either side must not dominate.”

Here are the full UMC, ELCA and Episcopal Church statements… Continue reading

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.)

The Episcopal drama continues

The next step in the slow break-up (or whatever it is) between the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communication appears to be underway.

Episcopalians Gay BishopsThe Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has elected a lesbian priest as a bishop. If U.S. church leaders affirm the decision and the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool (that’s her) is consecrated, well, the chain reaction is pretty easy to foresee.

In fact, it’s already started.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, normally a cautious fellow, has already released this statement:

*****
The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.

*****

Of course, it was the consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003 that really highlighted the growing divide between the Episcopal Church and much of the Anglican Communion over homosexuality.

As has been reported ad nauseum since then, Episcopalians are much more liberal on these matters than many of their Anglican brethren overseas.

Episcopal leaders decided in 2006 to try to refrain from picking any more gay bishops for a while. But they said “oh forget it, we’ll do what we want” this past July.

So we’ll see what happens.

As I often say at the end of these Episcopal break-up posts, it’s all much ado about nothing here in the Diocese of New York, where bishops, most priests and most parishioners are gay-friendly, proud of it and largely disinterested in doing anything to please their would-be detractors.

The diocese’s statement about gay marriage being defeated by the NYS Senate last week included this: “In calling your senators and in continuing to advocate, be sure to let them know that the Episcopal Diocese of New York remains on the record as supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples, as per our resolution at the 2008 Diocesan Convention.  Although the governor and the senate leaders were told of this, we should continually remind them as we go forward, so as to balance out the voices of other religious groups that fought against marriage equality.”

Episcopal gay debates getting old?

Is it me, or are we seeing less intense media coverage of the Episcopal Church’s internal gyrations over homosexuality?

I mean, the EC’s General Convention has been underway for a week out in Disneyland. First, Episcopal leaders passed measures saying that ordination should be open to all — softening, if not erasing, the church’s 3-year-old restriction on ordaining gay bishops. That’s Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop, addressing his fellow bishops at the GA.

Yesterday, bishops authorized the church to start drafting a prayer for the blessing of same-sex couples.

You could argue that these are important steps that will further divide the EC from the worldwide Anglican Communion. And there has been plenty of media coverage. But the coverage seems to me to less vigorous then in recent years.

I get the feeling that after years of waiting for some sort of Episcopal/Anglican break-up, with every Episcopal action cited as potentially the fuse that will set it off, anticipation is starting to wane.

Haven’t we seen a pattern? The Episcopal Church does its thing, embracing gays and lesbians. Conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans condemn it all. A few Episcopalians break away. And life goes on.

Maybe there won’t be a pivotal turn, but the EC will slowly shrink and isolate itself a bit. Maybe.

Certainly here in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, where almost all Episcopalians are gay friendly, it’s much ado about nothing. That’s not to say that New York Episcopalians want to lose their Anglican friends overseas.

But they will be the church they want to be. And they’ll see what happens. I think.

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Episcopal/Anglican split to widen?

When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended the opening of the Episcopal Church’s national meeting in Anaheim last week, he said, “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”

So much for that.

Yesterday, bishops at the General Convention voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians to ministry.

The day before, lay leaders and clergy had passed a similar resolution. Their group, the House of Deputies, is expected to approve the bishops’ version before things break up Friday.

Three years ago, the Episcopal Church took the position that restraint should be showed in the selection of bishops — meaning that choosing another gay bishop, after Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, would further anger much of the Anglican Communion.

Now, the EC appears to be moving away from that position. But it’s still not entirely clear (at least to me) how the new resolutions are expected to change things.

The AP’s Rachel Zoll writes:

*****

Drafters of the latest statement insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.

“The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating,” in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. “These people have responded to God’s call.”

Another new Episcopal position on ordination?

Who can be ordained in the Episcopal Church?

Yeah, it’s still the $25,000 question.

Back in 2006, the EC’s General Convention decided that dioceses should show “restraint” when choosing bishops whose lifestyle could upset the wider Anglican Communion. They were talking about gays and lesbians, of course, in light of the super-controversial consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Well, yesterday at the 2009 General Convention, the House of Deputies (consisting of clergy and lay leaders) voted 2-to-1 for a resolution declaring that the ordination process be open to all.

The House of Bishops will have to agree for the resolution to be enacted.

Does the new resolution clarify things or further muddy the ordination waters?

According to an EC write-up: “Committee vice chair the Rev. Ian Douglas (Massachusetts) noted that the committee chose not to propose a straight-forward repeal or support of B033 (NOTE: showing restraint) but instead chose this language as a more comprehensive description of the church’s current reality.”

Time for the usual round of condemnations and shows of support.

Episcopal Church gets a Cutié

It’s been pointed out to me that I never updated the status of Father Alberto Cutié, the prominent Catholic priest from Miami Beach who got caught snuggling with a woman on the beach.

Last Thursday, Cutié announced that he was bolting Rome for the Episcopal Church. He said:

*****

I want to assure you that this journey did not begin a few weeks ago. I have searched my soul and sought after God’s guidance for a long time. I have also spoken to friends in and outside the Episcopal Church about their service to God and the many similarities that exist among the various branches of Christianity, which profess the Catholic faith. I have seen the ways that many of my brothers serve God as married men, with the blessing of forming a family. In this process, I must also recognize that I began to have spiritual and deep ideological struggles, especially in dealing with those who felt excluded from living a full sacramental life.

*****

Two days ago, Cutié showed up at his new church — a small Episcopal church in Florida — and packed the place. According to the Miami Herald, he wore the white robes of a lay minister because it will take a while before he is certified as an Episcopal priest.

He noted at one point: “They didn’t give me much time to pack.”

Cutié, 40, also introduced his fiance, 35-year-old Ruhama Buni Canellis. That’s them in the picture.

On the Herald website, you can see his sermon.

Cutié became famous (with Oprah’s help) for dispensing relationship advice, primarily to Hispanic Catholics. Many who favor optional celibacy for Catholic priests will no doubt point to his example as proof positive. Others will say that Cutié simply broke his vows.

AP Photo/C.M.Guerrero, Pool