Maintaining Catholic identity a hot topic

Some may remember John Dilulio as the one-time head of President Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives office who resigned early on and criticized the president to Esquire magazine.

It was way back in August 2001, before 9/11 even.

Dilulio is now a political scientist based at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes a lot about religion, in particular his Catholic faith.

Next Tuesday (Nov. 8), he will be speaking at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor, continuing the parish’s unbelievably good (and free) lecture series run by parishioner and former Newsweek religion editor Ken Woodward.

Dilulio’s topic is especially timely: “Maintaining Catholic Identity: Right and Wrong Ways to Do It.”

It’s timely because a new study found that Catholic identity may be weakening for many Catholics.

For instance: About 40 percent of Catholics said you can be a good Catholic without believing that the bread and wine of Mass become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Only about 30 percent support the Magisterium — the teaching power of the Catholic Church.

Anyone who knows a lot of Catholics (and talks to them about their faith and beliefs) can’t be that surprised by these findings.

It will be interesting to hear what Dilulio, a self-described “extreme centrist,” will say about how to maintain Catholic identity. And how not to do it.




The King’s College, still kicking, has a new president

Remember The King’s College?

The evangelical Christian college was based in Briarcliff Manor from 1955 until the state ordered it to close in 1994.

At that point, the school was $20 million in the red, enrollment had plummeted from 870 to 170 students and the state determined that the college’s faculty was not up to snuff.

In 1992, the college began the process for selling its Westchester property to Tara Circle, an Irish-American organization that wanted to create an athletics and cultural center. If you were around at the time, you remember that the town of Briarcliff Manor had something of a civil war over the Tara Circle plans.

The opponents eventually won out. Then it took a decade for the town to decide what to do with the property.

Early this year, ground was broken for a $350 million senior housing community, The Club at Briarcliff Manor, which is set to open in 2013.

Why do I bring up The King’s College?

The college shut down in 1994, but was revived in 1998 with the assistance of Bill Bright, the late founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

It reopened in, of all places, the Empire State Building. According to the college’s website: “We exist to influence the world’s most strategic institutions. After a century in which many Christians have disengaged from the public square, we seek to enter it, declaring truth in a civil and persuasive manner.

New York City, the most critical city in the world, is our campus.”

Now The King’s College has a new president, the much noted and quoted conservative thinker Dinesh J. D’Souza. He is such a media force these days that The King’s College is bound to get a higher profile in the months to come.

In fact, D’Souza has just written an article in Forbes magazine about President Obama, in which he writes that “The President’s actions are so bizarre that they mystify his critics and supporters alike.”

He concludes that Obama is an “anticolonialist,” shaped by his father: “But to his son, the elder Obama represented a great and noble cause, the cause of anticolonialism.”

D’Souza writes:


It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father’s position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America’s power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe’s resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West.


So there is your update on The King’s College.

A liberal Catholic shot at the NYT

As I’ve written before, recent media coverage of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has faced harsh criticism from those who sense anti-Catholic leanings in the secular media.

Weighing in now is none other than Westchester’s own Kenneth Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek (where he remains a contributing editor). I’ve often praised the terrific lecture series that Woodward organizes at his parish, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

In fact, the next FREE lecture is this Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., when Christian Smith, director of Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, will talk about “Souls in Transition: The Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Woodward has written a critique of the New York Times’ recent stories about sex abuse for the Catholic weekly, Commonweal. This is particularly interesting because Commonweal is, of course, a liberal magazine that has been very critical of the church’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Woodward’s essay, called “Church of the Times,” actually has two, almost separate themes.

The first is that the Times is a sort of Church of Secularism that can’t help seeing believers as space aliens — quite odd and difficult to understand. He makes the case that the Times operates much like the Vatican:


As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.


Woodward’s point that the Times sees its mission as Big and Important (“All the news that’s fit to print,” anyone?), not unlike a religious institution, is quirky and fun to consider, whether you agree or not.

His second point is that the Times’ coverage of two high-profile “scandals” was poorly done. He spends much less time on this point, opening and closing his essay with it.

First and foremost, he asserts that the Times has been too reliant on the legal papers (and views) of the lawyer Jeff Anderson, the most high-profile defender of abuse victims.

He writes: “It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.”

But Woodward doesn’t critique the stories — dates, places, chains of command — as other critics have tried to do.

Woodward does make one timely point about all the Times’ recent front-page stories about abuse scandals connected or vaguely connected to the pope: “…clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper.”

I would like to know how the Times would explain its meager coverage of the Boy Scouts’ case, which involves a national organization having decades worth of files related to scout masters who have abused minors. Here is their most recent story about the case, which ran deep inside the paper.

The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, recently defended the paper’s coverage of things Catholic.