Catching up on 9/11

It’s been a few days since I posted, as I’ve been trying to transition to my new life as a GA — general assignments — reporter.

I’ve been busy roaming around around, talking to people about the war in Afghanistan. Should we increase troops, pull the troops out or what? My story is out today, on the anniversary of 9/11 (which I’ll get to in a moment).

I have to say that I really appreciate the many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten from people about the demise of the religion beat here at LoHud/The Journal News. It means a lot to hear that people appreciated my coverage of religion for the last 12-plus years.

I understand that people feel it’s a mistake for LoHud/TJN to stop covering religion. But I also understand the very difficult challenges facing this business. We’re cutting back in many ares and trying to do other things well. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.

This is a tough week for me because the Religion Newswriters Association is holding its annual conference, in Minneapolis this year, and I’m not there. I’ve been to 8 or 9 conferences and  really enjoyed getting to know a group of reporters dedicated to covering religion as best they could.

It’s a smaller gathering this year, as many newspapers have been cutting out their religion coverage. The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who is in Minneapolis, writes on his blog about the religion beat being “endangered” (and has a few nice words to say about me).

So today it’s 9/11.

It was in the days after the attacks — and the weeks and months — that many people wrote and said that religion coverage was especially important to highlight and explain everything happening in the world today.

And explain we did.

Much of the coverage has focused, of course, on Islam, which was still a pretty mysterious (world) religion to most people before the attacks. I think it’s safe to say that people who want to know something about Islam now do.

Covering Islam has been no easy task for most journalists in this country. Why? We talk to and write about Muslims in America, who often see the world very differently from Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Iraq.

Many of the outrageous things we read about Muslims in the world — people being stoned, people being arrested for converting, a woman facing trial for wearing pants — are outrageous to Muslims who live and work in the U.S. And I can tell you, American Muslims are beyond tired of having to explain and apologize for the actions of people far, far away.

A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans, by and large, see Muslims as facing a great deal of discrimination — more than any group in society other than gays and lesbians.

Forty-five percent of the public says Islam is no more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Thirty-eight percent say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence.

But which Islam are we taking about? How it’s practiced in Pakistan or in Ohio?

A surprise to me: 45 percent of Americans say they know a Muslim personally. I would have expected 20 percent or something like that.

But get this: Only 41 percent of those polled could identify the name Muslims use for God (Allah) and their holy book (the Koran). I mean, what have you been doing for the last eight years?

Regardless, if you want to relive the emotions that Americans felt after 9/11 and the many questions that people asked, check out some of the video excerpts and interviews that made up the PBS special “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.”

Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, the prominent theologian from NY, said this:

*****

What does that mean? It means a boundary has been broken that opens up the floodgates to unstoppable horror, because human is all we are, all we can be, all we can appeal to. It’s our safety net. … But here, the more you show your humanity, the more you’re hated. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I saw it.

To me, to distract one from this, to look for explanations, is obscene. It’s an offense against the reality of what happened — an offense against our humanity — to look for political explanations, economic explanations, diplomatic explanations. “Oh, it’s American foreign policy. It is the arrival into our shores of the Palestinian-Israeli fight. It is globalization. It is the cultural wars. It is American imperialism.” All of that is proposed by the “Yes, but” brigade who got to work immediately after the explosion. It is obscene and irresponsible, because we were facing an attack, a hatred of humanity which is what we all have in common. It’s our line of defense, our only one. And now that was gone. …

The people who did this, who planned it, who brought it about, I don’t know what their theology or their ideology is. I take them at their word; they died with the name of God on their lips. People say they were sincere; well, yes, they were. They believed. This is an act for them that was a sincere act, the worship of their God. I take them at their word. Does that make them any less evil? Oh, but no, that precisely is the monstrosity. If they were not sincere, it would be a terrible thing, but … it is the sincerity, it is the free will. I mean, they willed this to happen. They willed the destruction of humanity, of humanness, of everybody in that place on that day at the World Trade Center. This was a freely willed act, very sincere. And this sincerity is one of the horrible characteristics of the face of evil I saw that day. …

An Israeli diplomat’s take on the popes

Serving as Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican must be a mighty tricky post.

The current man is Mordechay Lewy, a veteran Israeli diplomat who has represented his country in Germany, Sweden, Thailand and now at the Holy See. That’s Lewy (yeah, the guy on the right).

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson recently interviewed Lewy when he was in town to speak at Boston College.

If you’re interested in Catholic-Jewish relations, you should read the whole Q&A.

Here are a few snippets:

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Q: You’ve been at the Vatican for a year. What have you learned?
A: From the books you can see that it is an absolute monarchy, but it is not. Far, far from that. Structural absolute monarchy doesn’t mean that the monarch is trying to exercise, on every day basis, his authority. You are reducing your authority if you are using it too often.

Q: There was some criticism of the way he (POPE BENEDICT XVI) characterized the Holocaust.
A: People who were expressing those disappointments, which to my mind were unjustified, were on second or third thought retracting them. It didn’t cast a real shadow on the visit. It was filling the columns in the press for one or two days. The speeches of the pope were of enormous importance to everybody, not only to us, but to everybody. What he contributed at Yad Vashem was a completely different approach which was an enrichment to the culture of memory, and it was almost a wake-up from an unexpected corner for people to think a little bit differently, and not to expect a ritual. This pope is not one who is getting into existing patterns of rituals – it’s not a challenge for him intellectually – so he would like really to set his mind and contribute his own thoughts, which are rather deep thoughts about what Yad Vashem means.

Q: Do you have a position on Pius XII’s historic role?
A: Historically speaking, I think he was neither a hero nor a villain. It is probably the right thing to think of a more balanced view of him. The problem is that we are looking at him through the filter of a post-conciliar church. He is definitely a protagonist of the pre-conciliar church, and the pre-conciliar church has, as its main assignment, to seek all possible means to salvation for its own flock. He is not a pope for the Jews; he is not a pope for the Mohammedans; he is not a pope for everyone who was not Catholic. ‘My main task is to save the souls of the Catholic Church.’ This is why he did a concordat with the Germans. He didn’t make a concordat because he was Hitler’s pope. This is a mistaken concept. He did it in order to survive, to make it happen that the church can survive a godless regime. This was the term that they used. He tried also to make a concordat with the Soviet Union, but the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t like this idea. It is wrong to look for any affinity between him and the Nazis.

It is also wrong to say that he didn’t save Jews. Everybody who knows the history of those who were saved among Roman Jewry knows that they hid in the church, they hid in Roman monasteries, in the Vatican itself people were hidden. To look for written evidence, an order of the pope, well…this is odd. This is not how it works.

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:

*****

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.

Bishop Williamson’s views were no secret

So many have wondered how the Vatican could not have known about the Holocaust-denying views of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X.

All the curia had to do was talk to some of the former seminarians who studied under Williamson at the society’s Ridgefield, Conn., seminary during the 1980s, when Williamson was rector.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson reports today that some former seminarians vividly remember their rector making some…odd remarks.

“I have a sizable nose, and he would say to me, ‘Rizzo, are you baptized, or are you a Jew?’ ” the Rev. John Rizzo, a priest based in New Zealand, who left the Society, told Paulson.

Rizzo’s twin brother, Joseph, who left the seminary and was never ordained, said: “He called the Holocaust the biggest theatrics known to mankind – I remember sitting in a conference one time when he said those words, and I couldn’t believe it – he looked around the room and saw the jaws dropping.”