Episcopal Diocese of NY nominates five for bishop, including married lesbian priest

Here’s hoping you haven’t had too much damage from Irene.

Like every reporter, I’ve been driving around the past few days checking out the floods and downed trees and talking to exasperated people who don’t know when they’ll get power back.

But it appears that things could have been worse.

Otherwise…an interesting development from the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

You may know that Bishop Mark Sisk will retire over the next few years. The diocese has started a process to choose his successor. This morning, a committee announced the names of five nominees, one of which will be chosen by delegates to a diocesan convention on Oct. 29.

One of the nominees is the Rev. Tracey Lind of Cleveland, who is dean of Trinity Cathedral there. She is also a lesbian who got married in New Hampshire last year.

For obvious reasons, Lind’s election would be big news.

Although the Episcopal Church is very gay-friendly — and this is especially true of the Diocese of NY — many are still uncomfortable with gay marriage. In fact, Bishop Sisk supported the passage of civil gay marriage and has been an outspoken advocate for gays in the church, but does not believe that his priests should perform marriages for gay couples. Instead, he supports “clergy who wish to bless a couple who are members of the Church and who have entered into a same-sex civil marriage.”

If Lind was chosen bishop, would the Catholic Church send anyone to her installation?

Maybe we’ll find out. Maybe we won’t. Lind was also a candidate to become bishop of Chicago in 2007, but was not chosen.

You can read about the other nominees here.

Back to storm coverage…

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.

Change coming for Episcopal Diocese of NY

Time to catch up with a few items from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which recently held its annual convention.

First off, Bishop Mark Sisk set in motion a process to find his successor. It is, however, a long process.

The diocese will hold an election next fall to choose a “bishop coadjutor,” who will eventually become the boss. Sisk himself served as bishop coadjutor for about three years before his predecessor, Bishop Richard Grein, retired.

Sisk, by any measure, has had a trying decade as bishop.

He was installed on Sept. 29, 2001, when we were all still in 9/11 shock.  Only a few weeks later, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine had a terrible fire.

During his tenure, the Episcopal Church has, of course, been at something like war with the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. The Episcopal Diocese of New York is unabashedly pro-gay, and Sisk has repeatedly sought to assure New York’s Episcopalians that this won’t change no matter what happens outside the diocese.

He told me once that it is only a matter of time before everyone else catches up with the modern understanding of (and acceptance of) homosexuality. Just wait it out.

As Episcopal Church membership has continued to decline, Sisk has tried to become something of a voice for liberal Christianity in New York. The diocese even hired PR giants Rubenstein Associates at one point to help get some press. I’m not sure how successful he’s been. In fact, Sisk’s announcement of his eventual retirement has gotten little notice.

Sisk is a thoughtful fellow, an appropriate leader for the modern, liberal Episcopal Church of NY. His successor will have his (or her) work cut out for him (or her).

Second, the diocese’s Number 2, Bishop Catherine Roskam, officially the “bishop suffragan,” also announced that she will retire. Her stepping down will come sooner, at the end of 2011.

Roskam is based in Dobbs Ferry and oversees what is known as Region 2 of the diocese: Westchester, Rockland and Putnam. What we like to call the LoHud.

When Roskam was consecrated a bishop in 1996, she became only the 4th female Episcopal bishop in the U.S.

Roskam, like Sisk, is very liberal, very pro-gay involvement in the church, and has never been shy about expressing her exasperation with conservative Christians. She has periodically drawn the ire of conservatives. Two years ago, she received international headlines when she suggested at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury that some Anglican bishops, based soley on the odds, probably beat their wives.

Over the years, Roskam has been very willing to answer my questions about just about anything. For that I thank her.

Finally, the diocese passed a resolution calling on the national church’s General Convention to authorize an investigation of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a group that fights against the liberal current in mainline Protestant denominations.

The IRD seems tickled to get such direct attention from an old foe. A spokesman says: “With the diocese steadily hemorrhaging members and funds, it’s apparently easier for it to blame the IRD than to own up to the church-damaging consequences of choosing revisionist theology and liberal politics above the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”


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.

Your mosque round-up

In case you’re not completely sick of hearing about THE mosque, here is an update of the latest:

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NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered an impassioned speech at an event marking the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, saying that not allowing a proposed mosque to be built near ground zero would be “compromising our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.”

“We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting,” Bloomberg said at the dinner Tuesday in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan.

The mayor said he understood the “impulse to find another location for the mosque” but a compromise won’t end the debate.

“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be,” Bloomberg said. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”

*****

Meanwhile, Archbishop Dolan is calling for better manners, without taking a position on the controversy.

“We’re just a little bit apprehensive that those noble values may be a bit at risk in the way this conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place,” he said.

“I sure don’t have strong feelings on where the mosque should ultimately be,” he added.

*****

Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, released a public letter in support of the mosque. It’s a sharp piece based on his personal perspective — but oddly late to the debate:

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I am writing to tell you that I wholeheartedly join other religious and civic leaders in calling on all parties involved in the dispute over the planned lower Manhattan Islamic community center and mosque to convert a situation that has sadly become ever more divisive into, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently stated, “an opportunity for a civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion.”

The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly-charged issue. But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents.

The worldwide Islamic community is no more inclined to violence that any other. Within it, however, a struggle is going on – between the majority who seek to follow a moderate, loving religion and the few who would transform it into an intolerant theocracy intent on persecuting anyone, Muslim or otherwise, with whom they disagree. We should all, as Christians, reach out in friendship and love to the peaceful Islamic majority and do all in our power to build and strengthen bridges between our faiths. We should also all remember that the violence and hateful behavior of the extremist are not confined to any one religion.  Over the centuries we Christians have numbered more than a few among us who have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities in Christ’s name.

I must admit that I also have a more personal connection with this issue. At the Episcopal Diocese of New York we know the leaders of this project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. We know that they are loving, gentle people, who epitomize Islamic moderation. We know that as Sufis, they are members of an Islamic sect that teaches a universal belief in man’s relationship to God that is not dissimilar from mystic elements in certain strains of Judaism and Christianity. Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are, without question, people to whom Christians of good will should reach out with the hand of hospitality and friendship, as they reach out to us. I understand and support their desire to build an Islamic center, intended in part to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions.

For these reasons I applaud the positions taken by Governor Patterson, Mayor Bloomberg and others and look forward to furthering the efforts to resolve this issue. I am convinced, aided and guided by the One God who is creator of all, that people of goodwill can find a solution that will strengthen, rather than divide, the human condition…

*****

Finally, there’s the Greek Orthodox perspective:

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NEW YORK (AP) — Supporters of a Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near ground zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt.

But the World Trade Center site’s owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues.

Though the projects are not related, supporters — including George Pataki, New York’s governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks — have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas’ future while they lead a debate on whether and where the Islamic cultural center should be built.

“What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?” asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us.”

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(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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UPDATE: Now we have a 21-year-old guy from Southeast accused of stabbing a Muslim cabbie in NYC.

The driver says this: “Right now the public sentiment is very serious” because of the Ground Zero mosque debate. All drivers should be more careful.”