Signing off

I guess it’s obvious from my lack of posts so far this year that I am no longer blogging religiously.

But I wanted to officially sign off and say thanks for reading. I wrote 2,383 posts over several years and enjoyed doing it.

I’m too busy covering education these days to give this blog anywhere near the attention it deserves. Plus, I’ve been off the religion beat long enough that I no longer have the insight or sources to offer a “New York point of view” on religion news.

I know some people found this blog from my “Faithbeat” Twitter account. I set up that account while I was still covering religion full-time (and when I was writing a weekly column called “FaithBeat.”) I linked the Twitter account to my blog — but also intended to Tweet religion news. But then I lost the religion beat and the Twitter thing never got going.

Again, thanks for reading. I hope to cover religion again, in some form, in the future. For now, I’m focused on test scores, teacher evaluations, school budgets and the strange mix of acronyms that drive education news.


What was the biggest religion story of ’11?

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

My old friends at the Religion Newswriters Association just voted for the top 10 religon news stories of the year. I miss participating in the vote. I used to take it very seriously, shifting around my top stories until I came up with a solid top 10 (or so I thought).

Anyway, here the top 10 for 2011 (I’ll comment a bit at the end):


1. The death of Osama bin Laden spurs discussions among people of faith on issues of forgiveness, peace,  justice and retribution.

2. Lively congressional hearings are held on the civil rights of American Muslims. In the House hearings focus on alleged radicalism and in the Senate on crimes reported against Muslims.

3. Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Mo. is charged with failure to report the suspected abuse of a child, becoming the first active bishop in the country to face criminal prosecution in such a case.

4. The Catholic Church introduces a new translation of the Roman Missal throughout the English–speaking world, making the first significant change to a liturgy since 1973.

5. Presbyterian Church (USA) allows local option on ordination of partnered gay people. Church defections over the issue continue among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. 

6. Pope John Paul II is beatified—the last step before sainthood—in a May ceremony attended by more than million people in Rome.

7. California evangelist Harold Camping attracts attention with his predictions that the world would end in May and again in October.

8. A book by Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell, “Love Wins,” presenting a much less harsh picture of hell than is traditional, stirs discussion in evangelical circles.  Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention rebut it.

9. The Personhood Initiative, designed to outlaw abortion by declaring a fetus a person, fails on Election Day in Mississippi, but advocates plan to try in other states. Meanwhile, reports show the number of restrictions adopted throughout the country against abortion during the year are far more than in any previous year.

10. Bible translations make news, with celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version; criticism, notably by Southern Baptists, about gender usage in the newest New International Version; and completion of the Common English Bible.


 The first thing that strikes me is that it was a pretty quiet year for religion news. Yes, the death of bin Laden spurred a very interesting and unexpected debate about many things, including the right way to “celebrate” the death of a really bad guy.

But the only other story that really captured public attention — the only story I heard people talking about — was the Harold Camping “End of the World” prediction. For most people, it was a goof, a laugh, a distraction from the economy and everything else.

A few of the other stories were certainly important. The new Catholic liturgy affects a lot of people, although I haven’t heard many complaints about it or praise for it (a priest did tell me that a group of priests are getting together after New Year’s to voice their concerns). PCUSA’s decision to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians seemed inevitable. Ditto Pope JPII’s beatification.

The “Love Wins” book, which didn’t rule out salvation for non-Christians, didn’t get much attention around here, where most people already felt that way.

The congressional hearings on American Muslims — the number 2 story  of the year — stirred less talk than the question of whether they should have been held at all.

The criminal prosecution of Kansas City’s Catholic bishop, a significant story in obvious ways, also got little attention that I could see. It certainly wasn’t the sex-abuse story of the year.

I don’t have any better ideas for the top religion stories of ’11. I think RNA got it right. It was just a quiet year.

RNA, by the way, did not named a Religion Newsmaker of the Year, as it normally does. The vote was too close between Harold Camping, Pope Benedict and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

It wasn’t a good year for Camping, prediction-wise. But at least he was one of the top newsmakers!




The new Catholic Mass translation: A bit like Y2K?

Catholics who attended Mass yesterday were introduced to a new translation of the liturgy that was in the works for many years.

My colleague Robert Marchant wrote about the much-anticipated changes:


“Some of the changes will alter the most familiar call-and-responses of the service. The greeting “The Lord be with you / And also with you” will be changed to: “And with your spirit.”

New words with a distinctly Latin flavor, such as “oblation” and “consubstantial,” will harken back to the old Latin Mass that was phased out in favor of services in the local vernacular language. Some new body language — striking one’s chest when asking for forgiveness — will also be added. Changes in the melody and the phrasing of the parts of the Mass that are sung — the Holy, Holy, Holy, etc — are also in store.”


Monsignor Edward Weber, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Nyack and Rockland’s Catholic vicar, described the change for priests: “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. As a priest, I’ve really had to study. You can’t go out there cold, or you’ll get lost. This Sunday will be the big test.”

At, the prominent Catholic writer Peter Steinfels started off his post — “The Aftermass” — with “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Or was it?”

He also wrote:


“There was a good deal more stumbling over “and with your spirit” — about a 50-50 split, I’d say. After the post-communion prayer, we welcome any newcomers in the congregation, and when the pastor resumed “The Lord be with you,” the response was particularly ragged. So he laughingly tried it again and again, and we rose to a rousing, “And with your spirit!”

Frankly I wish he would do that more often. A majority of the congregation mouths most responses, if at all, with scarcely enough vigor to be heard by the person in back or front of them. This raises doubts in my mind whether forty years after Vatican II the basic idea of active participation in a communal worship has been successfully communicated. I was hoping that the introduction of the new translation might be an occasion to undertake the catechesis which had not been done in the 1970s.”


There are many interesting comments below Steinfels’ post.

One reader wrote: “My own pastor (after four masses with a total of 1500+ people) says he didn’t get one single comment, positive or negative, about any of the changes. Not at all sure what that means, and neither was he.”

Several people agreed with this observation from a reader: “To me the most jarring and wrong-headed change was the repeated use of “chalice” rather than cup – “the chalice of salvation”? This fussiness about Jesus using a chalice is particularly silly since in the assembly’s proclamation of the mystery of faith right after the consecration, it’s still a “cup.” ”

The well-known theologian Joseph Komonchak offered this: “In our tiny parish, no big deal. One woman remarked: “What is all the fuss about?” It was a little bit like Y2K–nothing disastrous happened.”


The next Episcopal bishop of New York is, among other things, a cartoonist

I’ve been too busy with massive education projects and way-complicated education stories of late to think about my old God-beat.

So time to do a little catch-up:

The Episcopal Diocese of New York on Saturday elected a bishop-coadjutor elect. This means that the fellow in question, the Rev. Canon Andrew Dietsche, is in line to become the next bishop when current Bishop Mark Sisk retires in 2014 (he needs the consent of other bishops and standing committees from other dioceses).

Dietsche, who lives in Poughkeepsie, is already on the staff of the NY Diocese, serving as canon for pastoral care. Interestingly, he was not one of five candidates put forth in August by a special committee of the diocese. But he was one of two candidates nominated from the floor and was elected on the third round of balloting.

His resume includes these responsibilities in his current position:


• Coordinated medical, mental health, spiritual and financial resources for clergy well-being.
• Liaison to the Clergy Critical Needs Committee, the Executive Committee of the Mid-Hudson Region,
and the former Clergy Wholeness Committee;  Member of the Liturgy Committee.
• Member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for the Relief of Clergy Widows and Orphans.
• Cartoonist for the Episcopal New Yorker.
• Keynoter for diocesan and regional conferences in New York and New Jersey, particularly priests’ and
deacons’ conferences.
• Workshops and Presentations, regionally and parochially, on Pastoral Care in Parishes, Spiritual and
Pastoral Issues of Death and Dying, and Clergy Stress and Self-Care.
• Vestry Retreats, Vestry Training, and Vestry Consultation.
• Stewardship education and preaching, and conflict resolution.


Dietsche, 57, will become bishop at a challenging time for the diocese and for the Episcopal Church. Membership has been falling for decades. Many churches in the Lower Hudson Valley have small, aging congregations. The denomination has, of course, faced all sorts of internal conflicts over homosexuality. And the profile of the Episcopal Bishop of New York is much lower than it was a few decades ago (despite Sisk being a really smart, level-headed and respected guy).

After his election, Dietsche said this:

“I believe that it is especially a privilege to be the church in uncertain times.  It is the greatest gift to face challenges which surpass our ability and understanding, for it is only then that we learn what it really means to trust God.  We are in a season in which so much of our common life, the life and health of so many churches, and the resources on which our ministries and our mission have depended, can no longer be taken for granted.  The particular challenges with which we will contend in this next chapter of our life will test us, but I am certain that, God being our helper, we will prevail over fear and doubt and by the witness of a courageous faith give glory to God.  I thank the clergy and people of New York for inviting me to lead them into that wonderful future, and I ask God’s blessing on this, our great Diocese of New York.”

Another catch-up on the news…

I’ve been too busy to blog of late. I’ll try to write more, but it’s all about finding the time.

Catching up on a few things:

1. Father Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who faces dismissal from the order because of his support for women’s ordination, is not going quietly. He led a march to the Vatican a few days back to press his cause and was briefly detained by police. Bourgeois either has been excommunicated or soon will be because of his public stand, depending on which report you read.

Bourgeois’ ongoing, very pubic struggle with the church is surely causing anguish for many at Ossining-based Maryknoll, where many love Bourgeois but can’t support him openly.

2. The Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is starting a “strategic planning process” for its future.

They’re asking congregants to fill out on-line surveys by the end of the year that ask for the main strength of one’s congregation, the most significant issue facing one’s congregation and one’s “dream” or vision for their congregation.

It’s hard for me to see how such a survey will produce any new information or surprises. You can pretty much predict what the most common responses will be.

3. As Mitt Romney holds on as one of the top contenders for the GOP nomination, we are hearing more and more about his Mormon faith and what it means to non-Mormon Republicans (just as we did four years ago).

If you don’t really get, I strongly suggest that you read a recent explainer by Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one of the country’s best religion writers. She offers a terrific primer on Mormon belief that offers just enough theology. Give it a try.

4. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom since 1991 and one of the world’s most prominent rabbis and Jewish thinkers, will speak next Saturday night, Oct. 29, at 8 at Young Israel of Scarsdale.

You can see a sampling of numerous writings and speeches and “thoughts of the day” on his website.

Keeping up with Archbishop O’Brien

A friend made me realize today that I never mentioned a significant story with local ties: the reassignment in late summer of Archbishop Edwin O’Brien from Baltimore to a Vatican post.

As I’ve written many times in the past, O’Brien grew up in Bedford and graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Katonah, which evolved into Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers (that’s him at Kennedy in 2003). He is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who did two stints as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

O’Brien served as a civilian chaplain at West Point and then an Army chaplain in Vietnam, and later served as secretary to Cardinals Terence Cooke and John O’Connor. In 1996, he became an auxiliary bishop of New York.

For years, he was considered a leading contender to become archbishop of New York. Instead, in 2007, he got the top job in Baltimore, where, it’s safe to say, he was expected to remain for more than a few years.

But at some point in 2012, he will leave for Rome. He has been named the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is an ancient Catholic order that seeks to promote and defend Christianity in the Holy Land.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo, who broke the story two days before the official announcement, had this to say about O’Brien’s new gig:


A notably energetic figure — he’s exhorted his priests on the importance of personal fitness — word from Rome emphatically adds that, despite the age of the millennium-old order’s new chief, “this is not a ‘retirement’ appointment.” O’Brien’s enjoyment of travel, efficient management-style and savvy at navigating difficult geopolitical situations (a skill honed during his decade leading the archdiocese for the Military Services) are all expected to be employed to their fullest extent, both for the effectiveness of the order’s work in the Holy Land, and to keep connected with the group’s membership spread across the globe.


O’Brien will leave Baltimore once his successor is named.

No easy peace on gay marriage or the Middle East

Catching up with a few things after — during — a very busy week. (I’ve been reviewing hundreds of state education reports. You don’t want to know.)

1. So Archbishop Dolan is fighting mad at the Obama administration over gay marriage. It’s not just that the administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but how the administration is characterizing those who oppose gay marriage.

He wrote to Obama: “The institution of marriage is built on this truth, which goes to the core of what the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and the millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue, want for all children and for the common good of society.  That is why it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies identified in the attached analysis, attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.  It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.”

A staff analysis from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (of which Dolan is president) notes that the Justice Department is comparing the Defense of Marriage Act to racial discrimination laws.

The analysis states bluntly: “According to the government?s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people.  The false claim that animus is at work ignores the
intrinsic goods of complementarity and fruitfulness found only in the union of man and woman as husband and wife.  DoJ?s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave practical consequences.”

2. On the same subject at the state level, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked a state court on Friday to toss a lawsuit filed by an evangelical lobbying group that challenges the state’s gay marriage law.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed the suit in July, contending that the state Senate broke its own procedural rules before its closely watched vote approving same-sex marriage.

According to the AP: “In his motion to dismiss, Schneiderman relies heavily on the separation of powers to argue the court shouldn’t get involved in matters “wholly internal” to the legislature. He also contends the various meetings between executive and legislative branch members, lobbyists and other interested parties were proper under the open meetings law.”

Also, a short article on the NYCF website makes the case that town clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage should not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. They are standing behind Rose Marie Belforti, Ledyard town clerk in Cayuga County, who apparently wouldn’t issue a license to a lesbian couple.

NYCF states: “They’re putting legal pressure on Mrs. Belforti to sign same-sex “marriage” licenses, but Rose Belforti is standing tall. We know that the fragrance of Rose’s act of obedience is a sweet smell to her Savior.”

3. As the U.N. wrestles today with whether to create a Palestinian state — and all that would mean — the Jewish Week writes about a recent meeting of local Israelis and Palestinians right here in Yonkers.

The meeting was apparently called by the Dialogue Project, “a 10-year-old venture to build relationships between different ethnic and religious groups.”

Dergham Alkhatib, 43, who spent much of his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, told the Jewish Week that he was “conditioned to hate Jews.” Now he says: ““We have to overcome this miserable history, instead of looking at all Palestinians as terrorists and all Zionists as people who want to steal Palestinian homes.”

After Alkhatib talked about his concern that Palestinian refugees will be taken care of, the JW described what happened:


But Alkhatib’s comment drew an emotional response from Cari Gardner, 66, who said any reference to refugees or a Palestinian “right of return” is something that “triggers” her. She has no idea what “right of return” means, she told Alkhatib, known to friends as Leo. Does it mean that all Palestinian refugees should return, she asked, and, if so, to where — to the West Bank or to within Israel’s pre-1967 borders? Finally, she asked, can’t the refugees simply go on with their lives?

That, in turn, drew an emotional response from Lori, an American convert to Islam whose late husband was Palestinian. Turning to Gardner, Lori said that, while she understands her concern, she likens the feelings of Israelis who fear a massive influx of Palestinian refugees to the feelings of Palestinians in 1948 who witnessed a massive influx of Jews. “How did they feel seeing all these people coming in?” she asked.

Some might see such exchanges, especially between people who know and like each other, as a dismal sign. And many Jews and Muslims believe that such dialogues achieve little, if anything, and serve only to legitimize abhorrent points of view.

Nevertheless, members of the Yonkers group said participating in the dialogue over the years has changed their perception of the other group.

Priests for Life’s Father Pavone looking for new church home

There’s been tremendous interest this week in the fate of Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

As I wrote a few days ago, the bishop of Amarillo, Texas, has called Pavone away from PFL — questioning both the organization’s finances and Pavone’s obedience.

Today, PFL released a letter from the vicar of clergy in Amarillo stating that Pavone is a priest in good standing and has not been accused of malfeasance or wrong doing.

It sure seems that the toothpaste is out of the tube on this one. Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, in a letter to his fellow bishops across the country, wrote of Pavone that he needed “to safeguard his priestly ministry, to which I am obligated as his father, and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work.”

Apparently, at a press conference yesterday in Amarillo, Pavone said he is likely to leave the diocese and seek incardination elsewhere. Pavone already left the Archdiocese of New York after Cardinal Egan sought to have him serve in a parish.

What bishop will want to take Pavone now? We’ll see.

Not surprisingly, people have very strong opinions about Pavone. Some feel that his anti-abortion work is above reproach and that it is a crime to divorce Pavone from his ministry. Others feel that he is a priest adrift, removed from his vow of obedience, and needs to be reigned in.

In my previous post, by the way, I included Pavone’s own statement to me that some see him as a “loose cannon.” Except I banged it out as “loose canon,” which a reader described as “too cute.”It was unintentional, I assure you. But “loose canon” really is kind of cute.

No Senate vote set yet on gay marriage

As of a half hour ago, there’s no word on whether Senate Republicans will call a vote on gay marriage.

The AP just reported this:


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two Republican state senators in New York say no decision was made on the fate of gay marriage after a three-hour meeting behind closed doors Monday.

The senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, say gay marriage is tied up in negotiations with other issues including rent control in New York City and a statewide property tax cap.


Joe Spector of our Albany bureau has an interesting story today about Sen. Steve Saland, a respected Poughkeepsie Republican who could be the 32nd vote needed in the Senate for gay marriage to be passed.

Saland is apparently respected by both sides of the aisle for being a thoughtful veteran of the Senate. His office has been getting 60 or 70 calls an hour from people on all sides of the issue.

Everyone loves Judgment Day

I’ve been busy with school budgets this week and haven’t had a chance to review the big John Jay report on the causes of the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis.

But I’ll get to it.

Still, it seems the main thing everyone is talking about is Harold Camping and his Judgment Day prediction for Saturday. His people placed a full-page ad in the Journal News and other newspapers today warning of a worldwide earthquake that will begin Saturday and begging people to “cry out to God for mercy.”

The newspaper ad asks readers to buy multiple copies of the paper and send them to “leaders, relatives and friends.” So thank you for that, Mr. Camping.

I can’t believe how much attention this is getting. But Camping has somehow come up with the money to do quite an impressive marketing campaign. Who are his donors? One can only wonder.

My colleague Khurram Saeed has a fine story today about people traveling around Rockland County to warn of the Big Event to hit on Saturday.

Well, we’ll see what happens Saturday.

And we’ll see what Camping says Sunday if he’s still here.

( Photo by Peter Carr / The Journal News )