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.

How to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11

We are days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the media coverage is swelling each day.

I didn’t think that I would want to read tons of remembrances, analyses and essays. After all, what is left to say? But I can’t stop reading the stuff.

New York magazine’s “Encyclopedia of 9/11” — available on-line — is particularly good.

The religion world is, of course, quite focused on the anniversary. On my desk at the moment I have Christianity Today (“The Gospel at Ground Zero: The horrors of 9/11 were not unlike those of Good Friday”) and Guideposts (“9/11 Survivors: Journeys of Faith”).

I’m also looking at a new book — “Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11″ — by Wendy Stark Healy, former communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York.

On Sunday, I contributed a profile of Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, a Westchester plastic surgeon and a Muslim who has spent the last decade talking to people and groups about Islam.

What else? The AP’s fine religion writer Rachel Zoll interviewed Cardinal Egan about his experiences on 9/11. The article has gotten a lot of play. You can read it here.

Tomorrow night (Sept. 8), the Upper Room, a group of progressive Catholics from the New Rochelle area, will hold an “evening of prayer” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Province Center Chapel, 1338 North Ave. in New Ro.

On Sunday, Archbishop Dolan will celebrate a Memorial Mass at 9 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He will then celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Church, across from Ground Zero, at 12:30 p.m.

Also on Sunday, there will be an interfaith memorial service at Lyon Park in Port Chester at 4 p.m. It’s at Putnam Avenue and King Street.

Also on Sunday, Unity Made Visible, a 7-year-old interfaith group based in Bedford Hills, will hold a program of “music and uplifting messages.” It will be from 4 to 5:30 at Fox Lane H.S. Coordinator Paul Storfer said: “For too long, we have witnessed 9/11 being used as a rallying cry for those who preach divisiveness and intolerance. On the upcoming 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we at Unity Made Visible want to take this day back and turn it into an opportunity for unity, compassion, education, and understanding.”

It’s hard to understand why Mayor Bloomberg chose to exclude clergy-led prayers from the main commemoration on Sunday morning. Apparently, there will be spiritual readings and moments of silence. But why not include a priest, minister and rabbi — and maybe an imam?

One observer, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center who researches religious liberty, told AP that Bloomberg may have wanted to avoid the question of inviting a Muslim representative.

While some national voices have spoken out against Bloomberg’s decision, New York’s religious leaders haven’t had much to say. In fact, Archbishop Dolan told NY1 that he spoke with Bloomberg about it and was okay with the way things are going.

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.

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?

Dick Cavett to MC dinner for Iona’s Br. Liguroi

Who wouldn’t want to have Dick Cavett MC a dinner honoring them?

I mean, Dick Cavett.

Well, retiring Iona College President Brother James Liguori will get the honor on Friday at Iona’s 50th Annual Trustee Dinner. The black tie event will be at the Waldorf.

Also scheduled to be on hand: “American Pie” maker (and Iona alum) Don McLean; Dick Gephardt; former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney; Westchester’s own Rob Astorino;  Cardinal Ed Egan; and others.

Not a bad supporting cast for Br. Liguori, who has been president of Iona for 17 years. And Dick Cavett at the mike.

I recently wrote about Liguori being the last of a string of Christian Brothers to serve as president. Incoming President Robert Nyre is a layman. There simply aren’t as many Christian Brothers — or Catholic brothers, period — as there used to be.

By the way, the College of New Rochelle, at its commencement on May 26, will confer honorary doctorates on its own president, Stephen Sweeny,  who is retiring in June, and on Archbishop Dolan.

It’s a changing of the guard for New Rochelle’s Catholic colleges.

Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:

*****

“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”

*****

On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:

*****

During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Dolan on ’60 Minutes’ Sunday

Speaking of Archbishop Dolan, the archbishop of NY will be profiled Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

Dolan has, of course, been extremely critical of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Catholic Church, focusing his ire on the NYTimes.

When people think of the mainstream media, they often think of CBS News right alongside the mighty Times. And everyone knows that “60 Minutes,” maybe my all-time favorite television show, edits their segments very precisely.

But how do you say no to Morley Safer?

I’ll be mighty curious to see how it goes. My guess is that the thrust of the segment will be “These are difficult days for the Roman Catholic Church, but the archbishop of New York is a fresh face who is comfortable in front of TV cameras and is quite willing to discuss the pain caused by the sex-abuse scandals.”

Something like that.

The press release from CBS News opens with this:

*****

CBS News)  Calling the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal “hideous” and “nauseating,” New York’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan says the scandal “needs to haunt” the church for some time to come.

In the wide-ranging interview, Dolan also discusses his past role as the archbishop of Milwaukee, his current mission and the state of the church in America with “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer. The profile of the leader of New York City’s two-million-plus Roman Catholics will be broadcast Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Asked if he feared the impact of the scandal would go on forever, Dolan replies, “In some ways, I don’t want it to be over, because…this was such a crisis in the Catholic Church that in a way, we don’t want to get over it too easily,” he tells Safer. “This needs to haunt us.”

*****

More information will be available about the interview, including Safer’s impressions, on 60minutesovertime.

Dolan: Come back to Confession

On this St. Patrick’s Day, Archbishop Dolan has released a pastoral letter about Confession.

The 11-page letter makes a case for the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance in Catholic life. It’s very much written in Dolan’s direct, somewhat informal, passionate style.

He asks that St. Patrick, the patron saint of the Archdiocese of NY, intercede by promoting a return to the Confessional. “To pronounce the sacramental absolution by which our sins are forgiven is one of primary reasons the Church and the priesthood exist,” he writes.

He laments that the words of absolution “are not heard as often as they should be
in the Church in New York.”

He offers a bit of (recent) historical perspective: “Not everything was perfect decades ago when most Catholics routinely went to confession – perhaps too routinely. But whatever problems existed in the 1950s are now a half-century in the past, and subsequent generations have grown up without any knowledge of whatever excesses may have existed. They have indeed grown up without what belongs to them as part of the patrimony as Catholics – the liberating, joyful experience of God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance.”

Dolan addresses the priests of NY: “My brother priests, we should never lose our amazement and our gratitude at this gift. The Spirit called down upon us at our ordination is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation. We need that same Holy Spirit, for the work of forgiving sins is a work as astonishing as the creation of the world – a work we can only do because the Lord Jesus explicitly entrusted it to us.”

He also cites the sexual-abuse scandals as having “taught us again” about the realities of sin. About the sins of Catholics, he writes: “We have failed to speak about them, and the now, as we have experienced so painfully, to our shame and embarrassment, we face the “attacks of the world that speak of our sins”. The attacks are real, and so too are our sins! The Christian should not wait for others to
speak of his sin; we should confess it simply, repent sincerely, and be forgiven quickly!”

Dolan spends some time on our “confessional culture,” which details sin and scandal and then watches celebrities offer public confessions and apologies. He writes: “The “confessional culture” around us shouts itself hoarse for it can confess, but there is no absolution. Sin confessed but unredeemed either leads to despair or is trivialized.”

In the end, Dolan suggests that some may find his letter to be too long.

“If so, take it as a sign of my eagerness to use all the persuasive power God has granted me in the service of a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance,” he writes.

Sex-abuse headlines just keep coming for the Catholic Church

During the past week alone:

1. A grand jury simply hammered the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a new report, saying that “not much has changed” in the way officials handle allegations of abuse. An indictment charged three priests and a school teacher with abusing minors during the 1990s and accused a former high-ranking official of the archdiocese with looking the other way. The defenders were arraigned Friday and granted bail.

2. A prominent lawyer for victims of abuse suggested that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee moved tens of millions of dollars off its books to shield the money from victims’ lawsuits. The lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, has been one of the church’s harshest critics. Archbishop Dolan, who was running the show in Milwaukee during the time period in question, said Sunday that the charge was “ludicrous.” Dolan could be deposed.

3. The NYT Magazine on Sunday ran a sweeping overview of the ongoing crisis in Ireland, where the church is trying to recover some of its former influence and authority. The article, by former Putnam County resident Russell Shorto, notes that regular Mass attendance in Ireland fell by 50 percent between 1974 and 2008.  The abbot of a Benedictine monastery in County Limerick told Shorto:

“Ireland is a prime example of what the church is facing, because they made this island into a concentration camp where they could control everything. And the control was really all about sex. They told you if you masturbated, it meant you were impure and had allowed the devil to work on you. Generations of people were crucified with guilt complexes. Now the game is up.”

No matter what your perspective, you have to wonder where it will end. Will the Roman Catholic Church recover? What would recovery look like?

It so happens that a neighbor of mine was telling me the other day that she has such deep resentment toward her church that she finds herself rooting against the church. She still goes to Mass.