Exorcism show in the works (will Linda Blair be a consultant on how to play possessed?)

Back in November, there was something of a media frenzy when word got out that the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference was holding a conference to train potential exorcists.

I blogged at the time about the popularity of all things exorcism-related and wondered if there could be a reality TV show in the future about devil-hunting.

I joked: “Next on E: Get Me an Exorcist!”

Of course, in this culture where televised truth really, truly is stranger than fiction, such a TV show may be in the works.

Entertainment Weekly reports that the Discovery Channel is preparing a show called The Exorcist Files, which “will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church.”

I don’t know whether recreations count as reality TV. But I guess it would be difficult to get camera crews inside wherever actual exorcisms take place.

EW also reports that the Vatican has approved the project — which didn’t sound likely.

John Allen reports that the Vatican is denying any involvement.

But the show goes on. I still prefer my title: Get Me an Exorcist!

Hindu leader on Lindsay Lohan, Russell Brand, Julia Roberts, the Vatican and Diwali

I have been getting a lot of statements of late from Rajan Zed, a Hindu leader in Nevada who is quickly becoming a leading national spokesman for his faith.

Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, offered the first Hindu opening prayer before the U.S. Senate a few years ago (with several protesters in the back calling for his removal).

Zed is not shy, sending out press releases about all sorts of things.

You want examples? I got examples.

In July, he suggested that yoga and mediation would be helpful to Lindsay Lohan.

In September, he wrote that more Americans are becoming atheists and agnostics because religious leaders are alienating them. He wrote: “Our efforts at social control, judgmentalism (sic), stagnant approach, etc., might be turning them away resulting in many of them questioning belief in God, equating religion with fear, etc.”

Last month, he sent out a release with this headline: “Hindus want Russell Brand to solemnize wedding with proper Hindu rituals”

Huh? Russell Brand is a comedian who is engaged to pop singer Katy Perry (whose parents, I believe, are Pentecostal preachers).

This week, Zed has been really prolific.

On Monday, he denounced the Vatican newspaper for recently suggesting that the Simpsons (Homer, Marge, etc.) are Catholics (a strange story in itself since the Simpsons are clearly Protestants).

Zed’s release said that “claiming fictional cartoon characters from the world of television as your flock was exaggeration, wishful thinking and plain old greed.”

On Tuesday, he put out a statement about what Julia Roberts (a Hindu convert?) thinks about the Hindu festival of Diwali. He quotes her as saying “Ever since I developed my liking and fondness for Hinduism, I have been attracted and deeply fascinated by many facets of the multi dimensional Hinduism.”

Today, he simply asks all Hindus to take a vow of “selfless service” during Diwali. No mention of celebrities…

The imam’s troubles, Woody Allen, Jewish day schools and messy ice cream ads

A few matters great and small:

1. I’ve written in the past that I’ve heard only good things about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from those who know him. Rauf is, of course, the lead figure trying to develop the much-disputed Islamic center near Ground Zero.

But now Rauf is facing some pretty serious allegations about being, of all things, a slumlord in Jersey.

The Record of Bergen County, N.J., has written some disturbing stuff about a low-income apartment building in Union City that needs serious repairs. Its owner, Rauf, hasn’t been making them and is now being taken to court.

The Record’s Mike Kelly writes:

*****

Then, on Friday, on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Union City officials rushed again to Rauf’s building. PSE&G had shut off the electricity in the hallways. The reason: Rauf failed to pay a bill of almost $5,000, Stack said.

Not only were the hallways dark, but the electric-powered smoke detectors and fire alarms were not working. In other words, the building was now a fire trap.

When Union City officials persuaded PSE&G to restore electricity, they discovered yet another code violation – the fire alarms were not working anyway, even with electricity.

*****

Explanations, anyone?

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

2. Woody Allen has always been associated with a certain New York, Jewish sensibility.

A lot of Americans in the Heartland probably learned some of what they know about Jewish humor and even Jewish ways of looking at the world from Woody’s movies.

It didn’t make much of a difference, in this regard, that Woody was never a real religious guy.

But, still, many Jews probably winced while reading the NYT’s interview with The Woodman yesterday. He pretty much disowned the Tribe.

He didn’t want to be wished a “Happy New Year” for the Jewish new year, telling the Times: “That’s for your people. I don’t follow it. I wish I could get with it. It would be a big help on those dark nights.”

He also says: “To me, there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

Manu Fernandez /AP file

3. The Jewish Week reports on the first-ever study of how Jewish day schools handle the abuse of students — sexual, physical, psychological.

Yeshiva U in NYC conducted the survey and got responses from more than 40 percent of 320 schools polled. These included mostly modern Orthodox day schools, some Conservative schools and some Orthodox yeshivas.

According to the JW:

*****

Underscoring the need for more data on a problem little acknowledged until a decade ago, 80 percent of respondents report that “behavioral signs” are the primary means of identifying abuse, but only 15 percent of respondents said they could “easily identify abuse, with a full 48 percent disagreeing altogether,” according to the report.

“The headline here is that the community is recognizing a challenge and responding,” said Goldberg. He added that support is coming from rabbis, educators, lay leaders and philanthropists, and that efforts over the last decade have led “to what we expect is a ‘tipping point,’” where the community can face the challenges of abuse.

Yitzchak Schechter, a psychologist who headed the study and program with Goldberg, noted that “as a reflection of the changing times, 88 percent of the respondents agree or strongly agree that reporting abuse is accepted by the Torah.”

Though no statistical data is available for comparison, the study team said this represents “a very significant change in attitude” in the Orthodox community, where some still insist that rabbinic leaders, not secular authorities, should handle such cases.

4. Why would an ice cream company in Italy want to challenge the Vatican?

The company has an ad depicting a pregant nun eating ice cream. The ad promises ice cream that is “Immaculately Conceived.”

The same company produced an ad last year showing a nun and preist about to kiss.

The ads have faced all sorts of opposition. But the company, Antonio Fedirici, plans to press on. They have a bigger agenda, saying that the pregnant nun ad is supposed to “comment on and question, using satire and gentle humor, the relevance and hypocrisy of religion and the attitudes of the church to social issues.”

Will Vatican’s Legion ‘takeover’ affect local properties?

So the Vatican is essentially taking over the Legionaries of Christ — the long controversial religious order that has fallen into disarray since a series of bizarre revelations about its famous founder.

The pope will name a “personal delegate” and a commission to run things and rethink the Legion’s mission and its place in the Catholic orbit.

Some people must be wondering today how this news will affect the Legion’s property holdings in Westchester.

I doubt that anyone knows.

The Legion owns two big, side-by-side tracts of land in Mount Pleasant and another nice piece of real estate in New Castle. I don’t have the patience right now to recount all the different Legion proposals for their Westchester property — or all the opposition from local governments and neighbors.

It will have to suffice to say that the Legion has had a rough time of it here in the Burbs, where people don’t like most big development proposals, especially those that take chunks of land off the tax rolls.

Once the Legion is remade — whatever that means, however the order will look — you have to figure that development plans will change. But we’ll see.

In case you don’t know, the Legion’s late founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who was treated as something like a living saint by his order, has been…discredited (that’s him with JPII). He molested seminarians, fathered children with several women and who knows what else.

The Vatican’s statement includes this:

*****

The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.

The very serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, as incontrovertible evidence has confirmed, sometimes resulted in actual crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious sentiment. The great majority of Legionaries were unaware of this life, above all because of the system of relationships built by Father Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up alibis, to gain the trust, the confidence and the silence of those around him, and to strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently, the lamentable discrediting and dismissal of whoever doubted his behavior was upright, as well as the misguided conviction of those who did not want to harm the good that the Legion was doing, created around him a defense mechanism that made him untouchable for a long time, making it very difficult to know his real life.

(AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)

UPDATE: The Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese calls out Pope JPII for his unquestioning support of Maciel after the Legion’s founder was facing numerous accusations:

*****

John Paul trusted those who cheered him and tried to crush those who questioned his ideas or actions. This led him to trust Maciel and distrust questioning Jesuits.

Having grown up in a persecuted church where unity was a mater of survival, John Paul could not accept open debate and discussion in the church. Loyalty was more important than intelligence or pastoral skill. As a result, the quality of bishops appointed under him declined, as did the competence of people working in the Vatican.

*****

Of JPII, Reese writes: “But the sad truth is that while he was good for the world, he was bad for the church.”

Strong words.

About the whole Legionaries scandal, Reese writes:

*****

But the Vatican response needs to focus not only on the Legionaries but also on itself. Why did it take 13 years for the Vatican to intervene? Why did the Congregation for Religious not investigate the numerous accusations against Maciel? Why did it approve such a defective constitution in the first place? Is it true, as Jason Berry alleges in the National Catholic Reporter, that Maciel used Legionaries’ money to buy influence with cardinals in the Vatican?

If the pope wants to deal with the core issue, he should hire an outside management consulting firm to answer these questions and to make recommendations on improving the Vatican curia. The sexual abuse crisis was not only caused by bad priest, it was compounded by bad management at the diocesan and Vatican level.