What could Archbishop Dolan have done to fight gay marriage?

I came back from a few days away to see that Archbishop Dolan lit the first “virtual candle” on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral website.

It’s been a busy few weeks for Dolan.

He heard from several priests who don’t want to see their Catholic schools closed.

And he emerged as the face of the anti-gay marriage lobby in NYS. The losing face.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the growing social acceptance of — or lack of interest in — homosexuality and gay marriage. There was little public debate that I picked up on in the months leading up to the big vote in Albany.

And, honestly, I didn’t get a sense that the opposition — mostly the Catholic Church and a few evangelical lobbyists — were all that worked up about it. They were, and remain, clearly opposed to gay marriage. But maybe they thought there was little they could do.

I’ve come across a few anti-gay marriage commentators who feel the church could have done more to rally, or at least awaken, the troops.

Academic John Zmirak, writing for the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, compared the church’s combativeness to France’s capitulation to the Nazis.

He writes: “Instead of pulling out all the stops and calling in all its chips, the Church shrugged off the effort to defend the natural law as a good thing for all New Yorkers — and went scrambling for exemptions to guard its institutional interests. Republicans who were wary of gay marriage spent their political capital not fighting against the bill, but carving out little enclaves of protection for such oddball cults as might not want to solemnize same-sex rites.”

The conservative religion commentator Rod Dreher, a former Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian, writes that Dolan fought with a stunning half-heartedness.

He writes: “The archbishop was undoubtedly correct to describe the pro-gay forces as “very strong” and “well-financed” — but what is the Archdiocese of New York, chopped liver? Though greatly diminished in power from the glory days of Cardinal Spellman, there is no bully pulpit like the one Dolan has. Given the razor-thin margin of victory for the pro-gay side, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that a fully engaged Archbishop Dolan could have won this round for his side.”

Dreher also takes the Orthodox leadership in the U.S. to task.

He writes: “It’s not just the Catholic leadership. Bishops of the Eastern Orthodox churches, whose teaching on same-sex relations is equally ancient, and equally strong, are possibly even more tongue-tied than their Catholic counterparts. Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of my own church, the Orthodox Church in America, finds his authority effectively shattered by the Synod of Bishops, in part because they resented his signing the Manhattan Declaration in support of traditional marriage.

“True, Michael Dahulich, the OCA bishop of New York and New Jersey, issued an archpastoral letter condemning the New York legislature’s action. But one wonders how active the bishop and Empire State Orthodox clergy were in the fight when their voices might have made a difference?”

And Tom Deignan, a columnist for IrishCentral.com, somehow compares Dolan to Whitey Bulger, the old Boston mobster who got picked up recently. His headline: “How the mighty have fallen.”

Yeesh. He writes that both are Irish-American institutions who were “taken down.”

Deignan writes: “Not too long ago, there would have been an undeniable sense of war in the air, with Catholic leaders vowing to drive out the Catholic vote at election time, if lawmakers chose to stand against church teaching.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if a gay marriage bill was being debated during John Cardinal O’Connor’s reign as New York’s Catholic leader?”

But Deignan concedes that times have changed, even since O’Connor’s time, and there may have been little Dolan could do: “The problem, of course, is that vast numbers of Irish Catholics across New York — and America — are not exactly passionate in their opposition to gay marriage. Sure, some are not enthusiastic supporters.  But what we do know is that they do not simply follow the church’s clear opposition to it.”

And that, it seems to this observer, is the real issue.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Gay marriage opponents in New York face rising public support

As a vote on gay marriage may be nearing in the state Senate, with the likely results unclear at the moment, Archbishop Dolan is trying to rally the traditional troops.

He posted a blog Tuesday pleading with lawmakers to leave traditional marriage alone, and his arguments have been getting a fair amount of attention.

Dolan argues that the state — with a small ‘s’ — is using its power to force change on the culture. He compares this possibility to what the governments of North Korea and China do when they dictate the size of families and other private matters.

He writes:

*****

But, please, not here!  Our country’s founding principles speak of rights given by God, not invented by government, and certain noble values – life, home, family, marriage, children, faith – that are protected, not re-defined, by a state presuming omnipotence.

Please, not here!  We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought; we acknowledge that not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a “right.”  And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?

*****

A Wall Street Journal blogger writes that the outcome in Albany is a test of Dolan’s influence.

The biggest challenge face Dolan and others who oppose gay marriage appears to be that public acceptance of homosexuality is growing.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a simple chart showing that the percentage of Americans opposed to gay marriage has fallen from 57% to 35% since 2001.

A new study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases is 56 percent, virtually unchanged from 1999 (57). But during the same period, the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage has grown from 35 percent to 53 percent.

Looking at the view of Millennials — people ages 18-29 — the study concluded: “Millennials are conflicted about the morality of abortion, but most say gender sexual relationships are morally acceptable. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Millennials say sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable, compared to only 46% who say having an abortion is morally acceptable.”

Now, anyone can critique the numbers or how these studies are done. But something is going on here.

When you stop and think about it, the New York state Senate may be close to voting for same-sex marriage (it’s a given in the Assembly), which would be a major cultural change, no matter what your viewpoint. And yet, there is very little public concern — or even interest — that I can pick up (granted, I live in the mostly liberal Burbs). Think about what the reaction might have been if a few senators tried to raise the issue 20 years ago or even 10?

I have to wonder: Is the long-term challenge facing Dolan and other religious leaders who oppose gay marriage what a roomful of senators might do? Or is it what the senators’ constituents believe and what they might believe a few years from now?

Trying to get atheists out of the closet

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.

Advent/Christmas concert at Dunwoodie

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.

Rabbi calls archbishop to apologize for rabbi (even though they all kind of agree)

The repercussions continue from Carl Paladino’s attempted buttering up of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community.

Paladino, of course, appeared with Flatbush’s Rabbi Yehuda Levin to denounce gay marriage and try to build support in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Paladino wound up backtracking a bit — even though he still opposes gay marriage. And Levin pulled his support for the Republican’s candidacy for governor.

Levin, who has worked with evangelicals to oppose gay marriage and abortion, decided to denounce Paladino from outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As a result…Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, called Archbishop Dolan to apologize.

Levin is not a member of the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox Union surely opposes gay marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

But Weinreb didn’t think that it was right for Levin to take his stand outside St. Patty’s.

So there you go.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

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:

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

New York not among the most religious states

You can’t be surprised.

Sure, there are tons of churches and synagogues in New York and lots of religious people to fill them.

imagesBut New York City and the Lower Hudson Valley — make that downstate to upstaters — is home to plenty of non-believers, free-thinkers and a lot of people whose faith is not a top priority in their lives.

Right?

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, New York is the 39th most religious state. The ranking is based on New Yorkers’ answer to one, key question: Whether religion is “very important” in their lives.

Only 46% said yes.

The national average is 56%. Mississippi came in first at 82% — way ahead of Alabama and Arkansas at 74%.

Yes, the top 10 is dominated by the South. Just like college football.

And the least religious state?

I would have guessed Washington state, which came in 36th in religious-ness.

Last place was a tie between neighbors New Hampshire and Vermont, where only 36 percent say religion is very important in their New England lives.

What would the Puritans say?

Tale of the tape: Yankees vs. Pope

So I was at Yankee Stadium last night for the first playoff game, talking to fans about the high cost of seeing Yankee baseball these days.

Being there was not unlike covering the pope’s visit to NY a couple of years back.

tjndc5-5jnvbyb0psn12s1ibitk_layoutFirst you have to go through security and line up for your press credentials. Granted, security was not nearly as extensive for the Yanks as it was for B16.

Then you have to find some room to work, with armies of media people all around you. The media section at the new Yankee Stadium is much more comfortable and roomy than at the old stadium, but it’s still real crowded. The Japanese reporters alone, who follow Hideki Matsui’s every move, take up a lot of room.

The Yankees have a lot of people who assist the media. They are constantly bringing out stacks of paper — statistics, quotations from the pre-game pressers, background info. It was the same with the pope, but the Yankee people produce more stuff.

I had a bit more freedom to move around during the game than I did during a papal event. And that’s understandable.

Interviewing fans at Yankee Stadium is not all that different from chatting with the faithful at the old Yankee Stadium (where B16 celebrated Mass) or at St. Joseph’s Seminary, where the pope held a massive youth rally.

Yankee fans, like pope fans, were thrilled to be at the big event. But they often have trouble explaining why.

tjndc5-5r7p9zi66kz12gmzgbw9_layoutIt’s obvious to them.

Who wouldn’t want to see the pope? Who wouldn’t want to see the Yanks in the playoffs?

What else? Pope followers wore special T-shirts from their parish, their youth group or the papal event itself. Yankee fans wear T-shirts sporting Derek Jeter’s name and number.

The papal events offered much memorabilia. But no one can compete with the Yanks when it comes to selling stuff.

Other than that, papal events and Yankee games each have some formality, serious moments, opportunities to cheer, and really loud PA systems.

And when they’re over, you have to wade through the crowd. It takes a while.

Studying the Mormon role in the marriage debate

We’ve heard about the strong role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in promoting California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between man and woman (and not man and man or woman and woman).

Now the Wash Post writes that gay marriage advocates around the country are studying the Mormon Church’s involvement — both out of respect for the church’s commitment and to defeat the church down the road.

The article notes:

*****

Mormon officials have tried to stay out of the controversy that followed the California vote, when the church’s prominent role in the marriage fight became clear. A spokeswoman in Salt Lake City declined to say whether the church is involved in debates going on in states such as New Jersey and New York, except to say that leaders remain intent on preserving the “divine institution” of marriage between man and woman. The faith holds that traditional marriage “transcends this world” and is necessary for “the fullness of joy in the next life.”

*****

By the way, the Rev. Joe Agne, pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, is being honored as “Person of the Year” by the Westchester County LGBT Advisory Board.

Agne recently invited the Loft, Westchester’s main gay and lesbian community center/advocacy group, to move its HQ to Memorial United’s church building.