K of C: Young Catholics interested in faith, but open to relativism

I am always way leery of polls or surveys done by special-interest groups or groups with a clear point of view.

Almost every time, the poll happens to show public support for whatever point of view the group has or promotes.

That’s life, right?

So when I got an email promoting a “new survey of young Catholics” from the Knights of Columbus, I expected to open a press release proclaiming that all is right with the Catholic world from the point of view of young Catholics.

But no.

When I clicked on the email, I got this headline:

“New Survey of Young Catholics Shows Promise and Challenges for the Catholic Church: Believe in God, interested in the faith and clear on personal morality, but see morality overall as relative”

The release explains that high percentages of Catholic Millennials (ages 18-29) believe in God, see religion as at least “somewhat important” in their lives and believe that “commitment to marriage is under-valued.”

At the same time, pretty high percentages accept the kind of religious relativism that Pope Benedict has railed against.

61% believe “that it is all right for a Catholic to practice more than one religion (although 57% of practicing Catholics disagree). And 82% of Catholic Millennials see morals as “relative” (with only 54% of practicing Catholics disagreeing).

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson says: “It is very important for the Church to understand the outlook of the next generation of adult Catholics. Catholic Millennials support Church teaching in a wide variety of areas, including contentious issues like abortion and euthanasia. In other areas, the cultural relativism that Pope Benedict XVI has spoken so much about is very evident, and it confirms the wisdom of his attention to this question as central to the New Evangelization.”

So, congratulations to the K of C for being direct and honest and producing a poll that seems to jive with what’s going on out there.

From interviewing the pope to running Westchester

Last night’s victory for Rob Astorino in the race for Westchester County Executive is a loss for the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS and XM Satellite Radio.

tjndc5-5rp90b09wpw14hpf8el0_layoutAstorino has served as program director since the channel kicked off in December 2006, with its programming run by the Archdiocese of New York.

He’s been on leave since Labor Day while campaigning and will briefly return to the channel to wrap things up before beginning his new job.

Since the start, the Catholic Channel has aimed to be entertaining and educational, a modern alternative to EWTN.

“We tell the hosts: ‘Don’t talk shop,'” Astorino told me when I profiled the Channel in 2007. “‘Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about on the faith. Educate and re-educate.'”

In his role with the Catholic Channel, Astorino has had a rare level of access to the leaders of the Catholic Church.

He hosted a weekly show with Cardinal Egan and then Archbishop Dolan. He also traveled the country to interview bishops, archbishops and cardinals (since the Channel is national).

He even got to interview Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff was in New York.

Astorino told me at the time: “I think he realized the importance of this trip, that people are getting to know him on a personal level. The throngs on Fifth Avenue and at the seminary were so vibrant, it was amazing. When I met him, he was very gentle, very happy.”

Now Astorino gets to try using his communication skills in a very different capacity.

In a completely unrelated Catholic Channel note…When I profiled the channel, I focused on a Westchester couple — Dave and Susan Konig — who hosted a very funny show on the Channel. Dave is a comedian and Susan a writer, and their show was smart and energetic.

At some point, maybe late last year, I read that the Konigs had decided to do other things and were leaving the Channel.

I was a tad surprised, but didn’t think anything of it.

tjndc5-5eb3jlrm5fn1nbjf2hux_layoutBut I recently got a mass email from Dave Konig promoting a show he’s doing. It said: “Jewboy or: How I Converted from Judaism to Catholicism and Back to Judaism AND Lost Those Stubborn Last 10 Pounds!”

Then I checked out the comedy club where he was performing and found this description of his show: “Three-time Emmy Award winning comedian Dave Konig goes fom being a Hebrew School dropout to a national spokesman for the Catholic Church and back again, with celebrity appearances by Marisa Tomei, Richard Simmons, and the entire Seacaucas Fire Department along the way.”

So I guess I now know why the Konigs left the Catholic Channel.


1. Dave Konig let me know that he and Susan did not leave the Catholic Channel because he left the Catholic faith. “Leaving the Catholic Channel precipitated my (reconversion) back to Judaism, not the other way around!” he writes.

2. I should have noted that Susan Konig just ran for a seat on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, but came up a bit short.

3. Archbishop Dolan is now offering congratulations to Astorino on his blog:


Rob has served the Catholic Channel well, and I’ve very much enjoyed working with him.  A few years ago, he came to Milwaukee to interview me for The Catholic Channel, and back in February, on the day my appointment to New York was announced, Rob interviewed me and Cardinal Egan.  In April, we began our weekly program, Conversation with the Archbishop which I have immensely enjoyed.

Just a few weeks ago, Rob and his lovely wife, Sheila had their third child, a beautiful young girl named Ashlin who joins big brother Sean and big sister Kiley.  My prayers and best wishes are with Rob as he undertakes his new responsibilities as a father and County Executive.

Archbishop Dolan, JTS’s Eisen to talk Catholic-Jewish stuff

Archbishop Dolan will share the stage with a prominent Jewish leader next month to speak about an always interesting subject (and one that’s surprisingly sensitive at the moment): the state of Catholic-Jewish relations.

He’ll discuss the subject with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, on Nov. 5. The occasion will be the seventeenth annual Nostra Aetate Dialogue at Fordham U.

tjndc5-5qxce77ojdg11ntdqa9f_layoutThe event will take place at the McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham University Law School, 140 West 62nd Street.

Edward Bristow, professor of History at Fordham University, will moderate.

Catholic-Jewish relations have generally been bright in recent years, improving by the decade since Vatican II. But there has been some…strain…the past few years.

Mel Gibson’s movie made a lot of people uncomfortable a while back.

Then Pope B16 urged wider use of the Latin Mass, raising concerns about a once-a-year Good Friday prayer urging conversion of the Jews.

Early this year, B16 lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who happened to be a Holocaust-denier.

tjndc5-5bqpzs3t3fts6xgf2g9_layoutAnd most recently, Jewish leaders have been peeved about a legalistic statement from the Catholic bishops of the U.S. that said that even though the Catholic Church recognizes the covenant between God and the Jewish people, Catholics must affirm their belief that Jesus Christ “fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham.”

The statement includes:


With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the “gifts and the call” that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation.


When one considers the near-miraculous improvements in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past 40 years — and we’re talking about a deep and meaningful relationship — one could make the case that the events of recent years are minor and somewhat inevitable, given the real differences between the religions.

Still, it will be quite interesting to see how Dolan and Eisen, two personable and articulate men, frame these issues and concerns.

Eisen (that’s him, below), who came to JTS in 2007, has expressed a great interest in interreligious work. This is a good opportunity for him to make a significant contribution on issues of interest to many people.

Archbishops of New York are remembered, in part, by how well they get along with New York’s large and influential Jewish community. Cardinal O’Connor, of course, was the Archbishop of Catholic-Jewish Relations, beloved by New York’s Jewish community.

Cardinal Egan got along well with the JC, but he was more reticent (as he was with all things).

Dolan got rave reviews from Milwaukee’s Jewish community, and got off to a good start here, as well.

You have to figure that when he gets to Fordham, he’ll be well-versed on the issues and concerns out there and ready to soothe them.

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.

More big-time lectures coming to St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff

The terrific lecture series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor gets going again in a few weeks.

It’s free. Open to all. 7:30 p.m. each time.

A nice, small church with plenty of parking. Get there 20 minutes early if you want to sit toward the front.

Here’s the line-up for the fall:

Thursday, Oct. 8, Donald Lopez, “Buddhism: What it is and isn’t?” Lopez is distinguished professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan and a translator for the Dalai Lama. He will explain why Buddhism appeals to so many Westerners these days.

Monday, Nov. 9, Father Robert Imbelli, “What is this pope up to? The theological vision of Benedict XVI.” Imbelli, a prof of theology at Boston College, will explain the vision behind the pope’s encyclicals, his book about Jesus and his changes in the liturgy.

Monday, Dec. 7, Jonathan Alter, “The Reality of Hope: Barack Obama’s first year.” The longtime political analyst will offer a preview of his new book detailing Year One for Obama.

A tale of how Mormon leaders came to a papal prayer service in NYC

On April 18, 2008, I attended Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer service in New York City with more than 250 Christian leaders from just about every Christian tradition around.

I didn’t know, and I don’t remember reading anywhere, that two leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were there. In the second row.

There is a extremely interesting tale of the “behind the scenes” decision-making process that led to the seating of two Mormon leaders in the summer edition of Ecumenical Trends, published by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Garrison. It was written by Father James Massa, head of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here’s the thing: Mormons consider themselves to be Christians. But the Catholic Church — and most mainstream Christian denominations — disagree.

For one thing, Mormons do not accept the Trinity. They believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be three Gods who are “one in purpose,” but NOT one God in three persons.

So when the LDS church asked to be included in a papal event, the question facing Massa was: Which one?

Should he include them in the prayer service for Christians or a second meeting with representatives of non-Christian religions?

What a religious quandary!

Massa writes that the LDS leadership has been much more visible in recent years, working with other faiths on social and cultural issues. And Catholics and Mormons have a lot in common when it comes to issues of public morality, he notes.

The Bishops Conference asked the Vatican for advice, but was told that they were in a “better position than the Holy See to make the decision,” Massa writes.

He also writes:


One member of my staff wisely counseled that I speak with the offices of key Orthodox and Evangelical leaders who might register the most discomfort knowing that they would be participating in the April 18 prayer service with Mormons. Such are the ironies of today’s ecumenical engagements: Officers for Catholic Bishops calling Orthodox hierarchs and Evangelical megapastors to make sure they have no strong objections to Mormons being invited to a prayer service with the Pope! The answer came back: “Yes, they can come. But don’t make them too prominent!”


And so two members of the Quorum of the Twelve — the second-highest leadership body in the LDS church — were invited to the ecumenical prayer service for Christians.

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder M. Russell Ballard sat in the second row at St. Joseph’s Church.

Massa concludes his engaging piece (Ecumenical Trends is not on-line, so you can’t read it) with this:


Heaven may yet hold surprises even greater than was evident back in April 2008, when the Bishop of Rome called an assembly of Christians to prayer with the words: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”; and two Mormon elders, representing the first world religion to have arisen since Islam, responded: “And also with you.”

Sport and the development of the person

The Tour de France is passing by the pope’s vacation spot in the alpine town of Introd and Benedict — recuperating from a fall and fractured wrist — has a message for the bicyclists.

From the Vatican press office:


For the occasion of the passage of the Tour de France in the Valle d’Aosta, the Holy Father (who is spending some days at Les Combes near Introd) addresses his cordial greetings to all the athletes and to the organisers of the race, at the same time extending his thoughts to all sports men and women currently involved in various activities and competitions. His hope is that involvement in sport may contribute to the integral development of the person, and that it may never be separated from respect for moral and educational values.

‘Much more than your typical state visit’

President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI meet this morning. What will it look like?

Early this morning, Inside the Vatican‘s Robert Moynihan shared this image:


In about three hours, US President Barack Obama will arrive in the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XVI.

The leader of the world’s greatest temporal power will carry a gift for the leader of the world’s greatest spiritual power.

He will drive in his limousine into Vatican City, and into the Cortile San Damaso (photo, left, taken in 1930), the little square at the very heart of the Vatican.

He will get out of his car (parked more or less where the single car in this photo is parked), go into the door at the far end of the square, and, accompanied by American Archbishop James Harvey, the head of the papal household, take the elevator up to the fourth floor.

He will walk down a marble corridor to the Pope’s private library, overlooking St. Peter’s Square (the third window from the right on the top floor in this photo).

The Pope will greet him, and Obama will greet the Pope, and hand him a gift.

What gift will that be?


What are Obama and the pope discussing in one, relatively brief meeting?

According to the AP, they were likely to cover world poverty, the Middle East and “other topics.”

But the visit was expected to be “largely personal and spiritual.”

“There are issues on which they’ll agree, issues on which they’ll disagree and issues on which they’ll agree to continue to work on going forward,” deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough told reporters.

“Given the influence of the Catholic Church globally,” he said, and “the influence of the Catholic Church and church social teaching on the president himself, he recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit.”

Here’s a shot of the pope meeting with “first ladies” associated with the G8 economic summit (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano):

Papal economics 101, 201, etc.

The pope’s long-awaited treatise on economics — and our global economic problems — is long, expansive and quite critical of unregulated, profit-hungry capitalism.

Commentators who call Obama a socialist will not see it as a good thing, I think.

“By Benedict’s standards, Obama is a middle-of-the-roader,” Kirk Hanson, a business ethics professor at Santa Clara University, told me a few minutes ago.

The encyclical “Charity in Truth” can be read in its entirety on the Vatican website. All 144 pages worth. I gave it somewhere between a quick read and a thorough skim.

Pope Benedict, as you might expect, has no use for unregulated markets that are detached from their effects on people, communities and nations. He writes:


Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.


The pope calls for nothing less than a new financial world order in which the ultimate goal is…ethical behavior, not profit.

He writes: “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

Benedict weighs the positive and negative effects of globalization and decides that the global economy can be a good thing. But he wants global financial regulation.

This is an economic vision that grows from a commitment to Christian charity, not from economics textbooks. The encyclical opens with a long explanation of what charity really means. The pope writes:


Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law.




I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued. In the social, juridical, cultural, political and economic fields — the contexts, in other words, that are most exposed to this danger — it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility.


Of course, many conservative, free-market gurus will say that the pope’s economics are simply wrong, that increased regulation will only slow economic growth and hurt the poor even more.

But Benedict isn’t buying. He writes:


Above all, the intention to do good must not be considered incompatible with the effective capacity to produce goods. Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another. If love is wise, it can find ways of working in accordance with provident and just expediency, as is illustrated in a significant way by much of the experience of credit unions.


I spoke earlier with Hanson from Santa Clara University, who is doing a lot of interviews this morning because he is in a good position to comment on the encyclical. Not only does he teach business ethics, but he chaired hearings for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference when it released a statement on economics way back during the Reagan administration.

“To me, it is the first encyclical of a true global age,” he told me (at 6 a.m., California time).

Hanson was really struck by the sweep of the document, which ties in a complete commitment to environmentalism, concerns about weakening social safety nets and uncertain water supplies, musings about migration and global interdependence, you name it.

“This has been in the works for a long time,” he said. “Its release is well-time for the opening of the G8 summit (tomorrow) and the pope’s meeting with Obama (Friday). It is well-timed to foster debate.”

Pope defines bishop’s role

I’m off again this week, watching the kids until camp starts next week.

But I’ll post now and then.

I was interested to read about the pope’s remarks this morning when giving the pallium to his new archbishops, Tim Dolan among them.

The story from Catholic News Service is here.

Interesting that he said that bishops should not act like “prison guards.”

“To shepherd the flock means to be careful that the sheep find the right nourishment,” which for Christians is the word of God, he said.