History > 2009 > USA > Faith (II)
The Vatican’s Invitation to Anglicans
Dies at 91
December 16, 2009
The New York Times
By KEITH SCHNEIDER
Oral Roberts, the Pentecostal evangelist whose televised faith-healing
ministry attracted millions of followers worldwide and made him one of the most
recognizable and controversial religious leaders of the 20th century, died
Tuesday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 91.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Melany Ethridge, a spokeswoman
for Mr. Roberts. He died at a hospital in Newport Beach, where he lived.
At the height of his influence, Mr. Roberts sat at the head of a religious,
educational and communications enterprise based in Tulsa, Okla., that managed a
university that bears his name, mounted healing “crusades” on five continents,
preached on prime-time national television and published dozens of books and
He was the patriarch of the “prosperity gospel,” a theology that promotes the
idea that Christians who pray and donate with sufficient fervency will be
rewarded with health, wealth and happiness. Mr. Roberts trained and mentored
several generations of younger prosperity gospel preachers who now have
television and multimedia empires of their own. Mr. Roberts was as politically
conservative as his contemporaries in what became known as the “religious
right,” but he was known more for his religious style than for his political
pronouncements. He was widely lampooned after he proclaimed on his television
program in 1987 that God would “call him home” if he did not raise millions.
By 1985, the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University
employed more than 2,300 people and earned $110 million in revenue. The expanse
of Mr. Roberts’s ministry, coupled with his fiery preaching, tycoonlike vision
and jet-set lifestyle, also attracted persistent questions throughout his career
about his theology and his unorthodox fund-raising techniques, although no
credible evidence of malfeasance was ever produced on his watch.
His university later fell into debt, however, and his son, Richard Roberts, was
forced to leave his post as head of the university in 2007 after he was accused
of using university funds for personal luxuries.
Oral Roberts, who rose from stifling poverty and a nearly fatal case of
tuberculosis as a teenager, rarely fought back in public. He was convinced, he
said, that God had spoken to him directly as a young man and had ordered him on
the path — pursued with uncommon entrepreneurial energy — to “put Jesus into my
focus at the center of all my thoughts, my dreams, my plans, my accomplishments,
my destiny and any legacy I might leave behind.”
His influence derived from his intimate understanding of those who turned to him
for worship. They were white and black and Hispanic, the poor and the ill,
hard-working people who could not afford an abundance of material possessions
but whose dreams of health and prosperity were tied to an abiding love of God.
The rise of his ministry coincided with the development of television. Mr.
Roberts was among the first American religious leaders to recognize and deploy
this new communications tool to touch people, and he seized on its extraordinary
national and global reach. It helped that he was a natural showman, capable of
booming, florid oratory. But he could also be intimate and tender, relying on a
homespun speaking style, a gentle touch and a deep knowledge of Scripture to
connect with his followers, many of whom viewed him as heroic.
He began his television career in 1954 by filming worship services conducted
under a traveling tent, the largest of which held 10,000 people. He maintained
that God worked in a miraculous way through his hands, and the peak of every
service came when he seated himself like a prince on an elevated stage and
worshipers gathered in a prayer line. One by one they paused before Mr. Roberts,
spellbound, as his right hand gripped their bodies and he prayed for healing.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and other religious
denominations questioned the authenticity of the healing. In the mid-1950s, in a
step that would become familiar, a group of Arizona ministers offered to pay
$1,000 to anyone who had been healed by Mr. Roberts and could provide medical
proof. They received no response. Still, thousands of Mr. Roberts’s followers
asserted that they had been cured by his hand alone.
On the first night of a 10-day crusade in Harrisburg, Pa., for example, a frail
boy stricken by polio and epilepsy rose unsteadily to his feet after Mr. Roberts
had touched him. Of his doubters, Mr. Roberts said at the time: “I’ll leave them
to their theology. I’m out to save souls. I have more friends among doctors than
Mr. Roberts’s will to succeed, as well as his fame, helped to elevate
Pentecostal theology and practice, including the belief in faith healing, divine
miracles and speaking in tongues, to the religious mainstream. During the 1970s,
Time magazine reported, his television program “Oral Roberts and You” was the
leading religious telecast in the nation.
Oral Roberts University estimated that Mr. Roberts, its founder and first
president, had personally laid his hands on more than 1.5 million people during
his career, reached more than 500 million people on television and radio, and
received millions of letters and appeals. Among those seeking counsel and prayer
were Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter. John Lennon
wrote a letter to Mr. Roberts in 1972 seeking forgiveness for publicly remarking
that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” and asking him to “explain to me
what Christianity can do for me.”
Mr. Roberts’s prominence and will to succeed were important factors in building
the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and combining them into the
fastest-growing Christian movements in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.
“No one had done more to bring the Pentecostal message to respectability and
visibility in America,” David Edwin Harrell Jr. wrote in “Oral Roberts: An
American Life” (Indiana University, 1985).
Granville Oral Roberts was born on Jan. 24, 1918, in the countryside near Ada,
in Pontotoc County, Okla. He was the youngest of four children, three of them
boys, raised in frontier poverty by Ellis Roberts, a traveling Pentecostal
preacher, and his wife, Claudius, who was part Cherokee. When he was 16, Mr.
Roberts was found to have a case of tuberculosis so advanced that he was not
expected to survive. While he was bedridden, a healing evangelist named George
Moncey held worship services in a tent in Ada. On the car ride to Mr. Moncey’s
service, Mr. Roberts later recalled, he heard God talking to him.
“It was as if I was totally alone,” Mr. Roberts wrote in his autobiography,
“Expect a Miracle” (Thomas Nelson, 1995), one of more than 50 books he wrote.
“Then I heard that voice I’ve heard many times since: ‘Son, I am going to heal
you, and you are to take my healing power to your generation. You are to build
me a university and build it on my authority and the Holy Spirit.’ ”
At the end of the service, Mr. Roberts recalled, Mr. Moncey stepped in front of
him, put his hand on the boy’s head and commanded the disease to “come out of
Mr. Roberts recovered fully and began a new life of prayer and preaching. He was
18 when he delivered his first sermon. That same year he met Evelyn Lutman
Fahnestock, a schoolteacher. They married on Christmas Day, 1938. By then Mr.
Roberts was two years into a 12-year career as a pastor in towns around the
South and had studied at Oklahoma Baptist College and other religious
In the late 1940s, Mr. Roberts said, he heard God speak to him again, urging him
to “be like Jesus and heal people as he did.” He rented an auditorium in Enid,
Okla., and held his first healing service. A turnout of 1,000 inspired him to
resign his pastorate in Enid and move to Tulsa, where he founded the Oral
Roberts Evangelistic Association and began an itinerant ministry of faith
In 1963 he founded Oral Roberts University. Accredited in 1971, it now has about
3,000 students and is the largest charismatic Christian university in the world.
In 1978 he began building the City of Faith Medical Center, a 2.2
million-square-foot, $250 million assemblage. But its construction was
challenged by Tulsa’s existing hospital providers, who questioned the need.
The medical center’s economic problems produced an indelible moment that seemed
to distill the concerns about Mr. Roberts’s practices that many of his opponents
had long harbored. In early January 1987, on his television show, he made an
appeal that tied his life to a $4.5 million fund-raising goal.
“I’m asking you to help extend my life,” he said. “We’re at the point where God
could call Oral Roberts home in March.”
The appeal was widely ridiculed by religious leaders and late-night television
comedians. Mr. Roberts subsequently announced that he had met his goal, raising
a total of $8 million, and that his life had been spared. The medical center
closed in 1989.
Mr. Roberts’s personal life was as prone to crisis as his career. Rebecca, his
oldest child, and her husband, Marshall Nash, died in a plane crash in 1977. His
youngest son, Ronnie Roberts, died of a self-inflicted gunshot in 1982.
Mr. Roberts’s wife of 66 years, Evelyn, died in 2005. He is survived by a
daughter, Roberta Potts, and a son, Richard Roberts, who succeeded him as
president of Oral Roberts University and resigned in 2007, both of Tulsa; 12
grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.
Mr. Roberts came out of retirement in 2007 to temporarily assume the largely
ceremonial position of co-president of Oral Roberts University, after Richard
Roberts took a leave of absence. In 2009, Oral Roberts addressed the Oklahoma
State Senate, which had passed a resolution honoring him for his life’s work.
“I’m 91 years of age, and I’ll soon be going home to my heavenly father,” he
said. “I look forward to that with great peace and joy, leaving behind my legacy
to bless the people.”
Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.
Oral Roberts, Fiery
Preacher, Dies at 91, NYT, 16.12.2009,
A Cardinal’s Response to a Scandal
December 14, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “A Bishop’s Words” (editorial, Dec. 7):
The arrogance of Cardinal Edward M. Egan is stunning. My thanks to The New York
Times for bringing the lawsuit that finally compelled the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Bridgeport to release documents relating to sexual abuse of children.
As a child growing up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, I was sexually abused by a
priest. He was never punished by the church or by civil law. Like the other
little girls who were victims, I could not tell my mother. Priests, after all,
were next to God. My father would have killed him, so I couldn’t tell him
either. The Irish poor could hardly feed themselves, let alone bring a lawsuit.
The abusing priest lived to be 97 and was simply transferred from parish to
parish. I know this because an elderly cousin sent me his glowing obituary. I
couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth.
The question, then, for Cardinal Egan is not how many priests actually do not
abuse children, but how many abusing priests have gotten away with it.
Minneapolis, Dec. 7, 2009
To the Editor:
In “A Bishop’s Words,” you have pointed to the essence of the sexual abuse
problem in the Catholic Church, in that a bishop can obfuscate, cover up and
stonewall abuses going on in his diocese because it is part of the culture of
the hierarchy in the church, emanating right from the Vatican, where the pope
and the Curia know what goes on with their underlings.
As bishop of Bridgeport, Cardinal Edward M. Egan had the tacit approval of the
Vatican, where the culture is blind to any actions as long as it covers up
anything that might embarrass the institutional church. The prime example of
this is Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who in Boston was egregious in aiding and
abetting sexual abuse. And what happened to him? He was given a cushy job in
Cardinal Egan is but one of many, but the heart of the problem lies in Rome.
Paul M. Hennessey
Wharton, N.J., Dec. 7, 2009
To the Editor:
There were clearly terrible mistakes made by the leadership of the Catholic
Church during the period of the abuse scandal. This should not be minimized in
any way. But please bear in mind that the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops instituted, in response, a series of vigorous controls to prevent this
from ever happening again, and the church will be better for this.
I would remind you at the same time, however, that during the course of this
terrible period, in excess of 95 percent of Catholic priests served their flocks
with holiness, honor and humility, and the world remained a much better place
because of these holy, dedicated men.
If you look hard enough, you will indeed find thousands upon thousands of
stories where lives and souls were saved by the dedicated, selfless service of
Michael J. Rogers
Rocky Hill, Conn., Dec. 7, 2009
To the Editor:
So Cardinal Edward M. Egan thinks that it’s “marvelous” how “very few [priests]
have even been accused” of sexual abuse and “how very few [cases] have even come
close to having anyone prove anything.” I wonder whether Cardinal Egan, whose
legal testimony as bishop of Bridgeport focused on deflecting accusations
against his clergy, and his fellow bishops have counted the cost of their years
of stonewalling, their attempts through church lawyers to discredit accusers,
and their strategy of hiding suspected abusers in plain sight by transferring
them from parish to parish.
The most obvious cost is to a generation of Catholics whose trust in their
church has been repaid by the discovery that that church for many years put its
own welfare above that of their children.
And there is the cost the church’s own teaching authority and its moral
authority have suffered by its persistent refusal to take responsibility for the
But a cost less remarked is to the reputation of parish priests, who became
unjustly suspect despite their blameless conduct because the bishops’ shell game
diffused the suspicion that should have been directed against the abusers alone
among the members of all the religious communities in which they continued to
In seeking to whitewash the guilty, the bishops besmirched the innocent.
Newark, Del., Dec. 7, 2009
To the Editor:
If someone were to make sexual abuse charges against an employee of The New York
Times, are we to expect that Times officials would not give the accused a fair
hearing? So why should a different standard apply to Cardinal Edward M. Egan,
who, when he was the bishop of Bridgeport, refused to throw his priests under
the bus as soon as accusations surfaced?
Of course, sexual abuse is indefensible. It is also indefensible for the leaders
of organizations to sell out their own on the basis of an accusation. It takes
courage to defend the rights of the accused, especially when the charges are
serious, and that’s why Cardinal Egan should be admired, not chastised.
William A. Donohue
President, Catholic League
for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, Dec. 7, 2009
A Cardinal’s Response to
a Scandal, NYT, 14.12.2009,
A Bishop’s Words
December 7, 2009
The New York Times
In the end it was not the power of repentance or compassion that compelled
the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., to release more than 12,000
pages of documents relating to lawsuits alleging decades of sexual abuse of
children by its priests.
It was a court order. The diocese had spent seven years fighting a lawsuit
brought by The New York Times and three other newspapers to unseal the records
in 23 lawsuits involving accusations against seven priests. The diocese, which
settled those cases in 2002, was ready to battle all the way to the United
States Supreme Court to keep the archive secret. It lost in October, when the
justices declined to hear its appeal.
Much about those cases was known, and the documents do not greatly revise our
knowledge about the scandal that engulfed the entire church after erupting in
Boston in 2002. The accounts of priests preying on children, being moved among
parishes and shielded by their bishops while their accusers were ignored or
bullied into silence, are a familiar, awful story.
But still it is hard not to feel a chill reading the testimony from two
depositions given in 1997 and 1999 by Edward Egan, who was then bishop of
Bridgeport and later named a cardinal and archbishop of New York. As he
skirmishes with lawyers, he betrays a distressing tendency to disbelieve
accusers and to shuck off blame.
He responds to accounts of abuse not with shame but skepticism, and exhibits the
keen instinct for fraternal self-protection that reliably put shepherds ahead of
the traumatized flock.
Referring to the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, whom 12 former parishioners accused of
abuses involving oral and anal sex and beatings, Bishop Egan said: “I am not
aware of those things. I am aware of the claims of those things, the allegations
of those things. I am aware that there are a number of people who know one
another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth.”
Absent in those pages is a sense of understanding of the true scope of the
tragedy. Compare Bishop Egan’s words with those of the archbishop of Dublin,
Diarmuid Martin, who, after the release of a recent report detailing years of
abuse and cover-ups in Ireland, said:
“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and
always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of
the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders —
bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the
diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”
Bishop Egan, with institutional pride, looks at the relatively low rate of
proven abuse cases as a sort of perverse accomplishment.
“It’s marvelous,” he said, “when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of
priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come
close to having anyone prove anything.”
A Bishop’s Words, NYT, 7.12.2009,
2nd Gay Bishop Elected for Episcopal Church
December 5, 2009
Filed at 7:58 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a lesbian as
assistant bishop Saturday, the second openly gay bishop in the global Anglican
fellowship, which is already deeply fractured over the first.
The Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore needs approval from a majority of dioceses
across the church before she can be consecrated as assistant bishop in the Los
Still, her victory underscored a continued Episcopal commitment to accepting
same-sex relationships despite enormous pressure from other Anglicans to change
The head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is
scheduled to consecrate Glasspool on May 15 in Los Angeles, if the church
accepts the vote.
''Any group of people who have been oppressed because of any one, isolated
aspect of their persons yearns for justice and equal rights,'' Glasspool said in
a statement, thanking the diocese for choosing her.
Glasspool was elected on a seventh ballot that included two other candidates.
She won 153 clergy votes and 203 lay votes, giving her just enough to emerge as
The election began Friday with six candidates vying for two vacancies for
The winner for the first vacancy was the Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, rector of
St. Clement's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente. As the balloting
progressed for the second vacancy, two other candidates eventually withdrew.
The Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the United States, caused an
uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of
Breakaway Episcopal conservatives have formed a rival church, the Anglican
Church in North America. Several overseas Anglicans have been pressuring the
Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to
officially recognize the new conservative entity.
The Rev. Kendall Harmon of the traditional Diocese of South Carolina, which
recently voted to distance itself from the national church, said Saturday's vote
would further damage relations among Episcopalians, their fellow Anglicans and
''This decision represents an intransigent embrace of a pattern of life
Christians throughout history and the world have rejected as against biblical
teaching,'' said Harmon, an adviser to the diocesan bishop.
The 77-million-member Anglican Communion is a family of churches that trace
their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England. Most overseas
Anglicans are Bible conservatives.
In 2004, Anglican leaders had asked the Episcopal Church for a moratorium on
electing another gay bishop while they tried to prevent a permanent break in the
Since the request was made, some Episcopal gay priests were nominated for
bishop, but none was elected before Glasspool. Last July, the Episcopal General
Convention, the U.S. church's top policy making body, affirmed that gay and
lesbian priests were eligible to become bishops.
Jim Naughton of The Chicago Consultation, a group of Episcopal and Anglican
clergy and lay people who advocate on behalf of gays and lesbians, called
Glasspool's election ''a liberation.''
''We've been around this issue for 30 years,'' said Naughton, an adviser to the
bishop of Washington. ''It's unreasonable to expect us to refrain from acting on
the very prayerful conclusions that we've reached, especially when we think
there are issues of justice involved.''
Robinson said he told Glasspool before the election that he was grateful she was
willing to put herself in the stressful position of running for bishop.
''One of the reasons she is so the right person for this is that she knows who
she is and she knows she belongs to God and she knows everything else falls in
place when you keep that central,'' Robinson said in a phone interview. ''She's
no stranger to people who think she shouldn't be a priest because she's a woman,
or think she shouldn't be a priest because she's a lesbian.''
Glasspool, 55, an adviser, or canon, for eight years to the Diocese of
Maryland's bishop, said in an essay on the Los Angeles diocese Web site that she
had an ''intense struggle'' while in college with her sexuality and the call to
become a priest.
''Did God hate me (since I was a homosexual), or did God love me?'' she wrote.
''Did I hate (or love) myself?''
She said she met her partner, Becki Sander, while working in Massachusetts, and
the two have been together since 1988. When a colleague recently asked for
permission to submit Glasspool's name as a candidate in Los Angeles, she agreed
because she believed it was time ''for our wonderful church to move on and be
the inclusive church we say we are.''
A graduate of Dickinson College and Episcopal Divinity School, Glasspool was
ordained in 1981, and has led parishes in Annapolis, Md., Boston and
Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, who leads the diocese, urged Episcopal dioceses to
approve Glasspool's election and not base their decision on fear of how other
Anglicans will react.
The Los Angeles diocese has 70,000 members and covers six Southern California
counties. Jardine and Glasspool, whose titles will be suffragan bishops, are the
first women bishops in the Los Angeles diocese.
On the Net:
Weber reported from Los Angeles; AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll reported from
2nd Gay Bishop Elected
for Episcopal Church, NYT, 5.12.2009,
Kennedy Says R.I. Bishop Banned Him From Communion
November 22, 2009
Filed at 9:36 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin has banned Rep.
Patrick Kennedy from receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church,
in Rhode Island because of the congressman's support for abortion rights,
Kennedy said in a newspaper interview published Sunday.
The decision by the outspoken prelate, reported on The Providence Journal's Web
site, significantly escalates a bitter dispute between Tobin, an ultra orthodox
bishop, and Kennedy, a son of the nation's most famous Roman Catholic family.
''The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed
the diocesan priests not to give me Communion,'' Kennedy told the paper in an
interview conducted Friday.
Kennedy said the bishop had explained the penalty by telling him ''that I am not
a good practicing Catholic because of the positions that I've taken as a public
official,'' particularly on abortion.
He declined to say when or how Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he
declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop's injunction.
The paper said the bishop's spokesman declined to address the question of
whether he had told Kennedy not to receive Communion. But the bishop's office
cast doubt on Kennedy's related assertion about instructions to state priests.
''Bishop Tobin has never addressed matters relative to public officials
receiving Holy Communion with pastors of the diocese,'' spokesman Michael K.
Guilfoyle told the paper in an e-mailed statement.
Kennedy did not return messages left on his cell phone by The Associated Press,
and his staff refused to make the congressman available for comment. Tobin's
spokesman told the AP that the bishop would not comment on the issue.
Church law permits Tobin to ban Kennedy from receiving Communion within the
Diocese of Providence, which covers Rhode Island, but he cannot stop Kennedy
from receiving Communion elsewhere. It was unclear whether bishops overseeing
Washington and Massachusetts, where Kennedy's family has a seaside compound,
would issue similar bans.
Kennedy could appeal the decision to officials in the Vatican, but the hierarchy
of the Catholic church is unlikely to overturn a bishop, said Michael Sean
Winters, a church observer and author of ''Left At the Altar: How Democrats Lost
The Catholics And How Catholics Can Save The Democrats.''
''It's really bad theology,'' said Winters, who opposes abortion. ''You're
turning the altar rail into a battle field, a political battlefield no less, and
it does a disservice to the Eucharist.''
The dispute between the two men began in October when Kennedy in an interview on
CNSNews.com criticized the nation's Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose a
massive expansion of the nation's health care system unless it included tighter
restrictions on federally funded abortion.
Kennedy voted against an amendment to a Democratic health care plan sought by
the bishops. But he voted in favor of a health care plan that included the
amendment he opposed.
Tobin, the spiritual leader of the nation's most heavily Roman Catholic state,
demanded an apology from Kennedy after learning of his remarks and requested a
''While I greatly respect the Catholic Church and its leaders, like many Rhode
Islanders, the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some
issues does not make me any less of a Catholic,'' Kennedy wrote in a letter to
Tobin, agreeing to a sitdown. ''I embrace my faith which acknowledges the
existence of an imperfect humanity.''
Their meeting fell apart. While Tobin called it a mutual decision, Kennedy
accused Tobin of failing to abide by an agreement to stop discussing the
congressman's faith publicly.
Tobin followed up with a biting public letter published in a diocesan newspaper.
''Sorry, you can't chalk it up to an 'imperfect humanity.' Your position is
unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely
diminishes your Communion with the Church,'' Tobin wrote.
In subsequent interviews, Tobin said Kennedy should not receive Communion like
other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Still, the bishop
stopped short of ordering Kennedy not to receive the sacrament.
Kennedy Says R.I. Bishop
Banned Him From Communion, NYT, 22.11.2009,
Atheist Student Groups Flower on College Campuses
November 21, 2009
Filed at 2:06 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
AMES, Iowa (AP) -- The sign sits propped on a wooden chair, inviting all
comers: ''Ask an Atheist.''
Whenever a student gets within a few feet, Anastasia Bodnar waves and smiles,
trying to make a good first impression before eyes drift down to a word many
Americans rank down there with ''socialist.''
Bodnar is the happy face of atheism at Iowa State University. Once a week at
this booth at a campus community center, the PhD student who spends most of her
time researching the nutritional traits of corn takes questions and occasional
abuse while trying to raise the profile of religious skepticism.
''A lot of people on campus either don't know we exist or are afraid of us or
hate us,'' says Bodnar, president of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society.
''People assume we're rabble-rousing, when we're one of the gentlest groups on
As the stigma of atheism has diminished, campus atheists and agnostics are
coming out of the closet, fueling a sharp rise in the number of clubs like the
10-year-old group at Iowa State.
Campus affiliates of the Secular Student Alliance, a sort of Godless Campus
Crusade for Christ, have multiplied from 80 in 2007 to 100 in 2008 and 174 this
fall, providing the atheist movement new training grounds for future leaders. In
another sign of growing acceptance, at least three universities, including
Harvard, now have humanist chaplains meeting the needs of the not-so-spiritual.
With the growth has come soul-searching -- or the atheist equivalent -- about
what secular campus groups should look like. It's part of a broader
self-examination in the atheist movement triggered by the rise of the so-called
''new atheists,'' best-selling authors who denigrate religion and blame it for
the world's ills.
Should student atheist groups go it alone or build bridges with Christian
groups? Organize political protests or quiet discussion groups? Adopt the
militant posture of the new atheists? Or wave and smile?
As teenagers move into young adulthood, some leave God behind. But not in huge
More than three-quarters of young adults taking part in the National Study of
Youth and Religion profess a belief in God. But almost 7 percent fewer believe
in God as young adults (ages 18 to 23) than did as teenagers, according to the
study, which is tracking the same group of young people as they mature.
What young adults are less likely to believe in is religion. The number of those
who describe themselves as ''not religious'' nearly doubled, to 27 percent, in
Growing hostility toward religion was found, too. About 1 in 10 young adults are
''irreligious'' -- or actively against religion -- after virtually none of them
fit that description as teenagers.
At Iowa State, most of the club's roughly 30 members are ''former'' somethings,
mostly Christians. Many stress that their lives are guided not by
anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.
''The goal,'' said Andrew Severin, a post-doctoral researcher in bioinformatics,
''should a PhD student in biophysics, ''should be to obtain inner peace for
yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers.''
Severin calls himself a ''spiritual atheist.'' He doesn't believe in God or the
supernatural but thinks experiences like meditation or brushes with nature can
produce biochemical reactions that feel spiritual.
When the ISU club began in 1999, it was mostly a discussion group. But it soon
became clear that young people who leave organized religion miss something: a
sense of community. So the group added movie and board-game nights and, more
recently, twice-monthly Sunday brunches to the calendar.
''It's nice to be around people who aren't going to bash me for believing in
nothing,'' said Bricelyn Rector, a freshman from Sioux City who, like others,
described community as the club's greatest asset.
Members also seek to engage their peers at Iowa State, a 28,000-student science
and technology school where the student body leans conservative. There's a
''Brews and Views'' night at a local coffee house and talks by visiting speakers
common to any college campus.
''This is not a group of angry atheists. It's a group of very exuberant
atheists,'' said faculty sponsor Hector Avalos, a secular humanist and
well-known Biblical scholar who used to be a Pentecostal preacher. ''Their
primary aim is not to destroy the faith of Christians on campus. It's more live
and let live.''
The ''Ask an Atheist'' booth is the club's most visible outreach. On a recent
Friday, a handful of members stand ready to intercept students on their way to
eat lunch or withdraw money from a nearby ATM.
Traffic is slow. Scott Moseley, a Bettendorf, Iowa, senior, stops for a polite
He explains that he was raised Methodist, has a Buddhist friend and dates a
''My entire concept of one religion is kind of out the window,'' Moseley says.
Bodnar, an ex-Catholic married to a Buddhist, recommends the local Unitarian
Universalist congregation, a haven for a grab bag of religious backgrounds and a
few members of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society.
The closest thing to a confrontation comes when another student, a baseball cap
pulled tight to his brow, talks briefly about heaven before he mutters, ''I
can't listen to you guys,'' and walks away.
On most college campuses, secular groups take shape when non-believing students
arrive and find a couple-dozen Christian groups but no home for them. It isn't
that atheism is necessarily growing among students -- surveys show no uptick in
the number of atheist and agnostic young adults over the last 20 years.
But the greater willingness to speak out, paired with the diversity within the
movement, has resulted is a patchwork of clubs across the country united in
disbelief but different in mission.
At Texas State University in San Marcos, a group of freethinkers led by a former
Lutheran organizes rock-climbing outings and has co-sponsored a debate with a
campus Christian group.
The University of South Florida is home to two active clubs: a freethinkers
group that held a back-to-school barbecue and an atheist group that protested an
anti-abortion group's campus visit.
Still other clubs embrace rituals. At the University of Southern Maine, a
secular humanist organization has celebrated HumanLight, a secular alternative
to Christmas and Hanukkah.
Just in the past year, the Iowa State club has evolved in new directions. Some
are things churches have traditionally done -- like the club's first foray into
volunteerism, sleeping outside in cardboard boxes to raise money for homeless
Others get at the heart of tensions within the atheist movement. The club worked
with a Methodist church on a gay rights candlelight vigil, a gesture that would
make some atheists cringe.
''The trouble is, any time you start working with other groups, religion starts
coming in,'' said Victor Stenger, an adjunct professor of philosophy at the
University of Colorado and author of ''The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for
Science and Reason.''
''People bring up Jesus, they're trying to proselytize, trying to get people to
go to church,'' Stenger said. ''The atheist groups just can't put up with it.
They have to argue against it.''
More recently, the ISU club's non-confrontational philosophy has been tested by
a debate over the fate of a small chapel at Memorial Union on campus.
The club has avoided taking a position because members are divided. Some want
the chapel's religious symbols -- including an eight-foot wooden cross --
removed on First Amendment grounds. Others fear repercussions and don't think a
fight is worth it.
''The point of the club is not to make waves or controversy,'' said Bodnar,
adding that she is uncomfortable with ''calling out religion as wrong.''
Some club members would like to be more confrontational when circumstances
merit. Junior Brian Gress was interested in participating this fall in a
nationwide ''Blasphemy Day,'' a stick in the eye to religion. But the club
passed and the idea fizzled.
''You should always try to make friends, but there are certain things about
religion that can't be tolerated,'' Gress said. ''Basically, the intolerance of
religion can't be tolerated.''
Most affiliates of the Secular Student Alliance fall somewhere between militant
and why-can't-we-all-just-get-along, said Lyz Liddell, senior campus organizer
for the Columbus, Ohio-based group.
''College students can be a little more susceptible to the more reactionary
anti-religion voices, partly because it's so new to them,'' she said. ''My
impression is after a couple of years, they mellow out.''
Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at
the University of Notre Dame and a principal investigator on the youth and
religion study, said campus atheist groups are better off without militancy.
Young adults are taught their entire lives to be nonjudgmental, that different
points of views are OK and that there is no one truth, he said.
''Emerging adults are just not into trying to make other people be or do
something,'' Smith said. ''If I were advising atheists and humanists, I would
say their long-term prospects are much better if they can successfully create
this space where people view them as happy, OK, cooperative, nice people.''
At Iowa State, what one club member describes as a band of misfits and outcasts
is trying to carve out a space where atheists who raise a fist and atheists who
wave and smile can coexist peacefully.
Eric Gorski can be reached at egorski(at)ap.org or via
Atheist Student Groups
Flower on College Campuses, NYT, 21.11.2009,
Complications Grow for Muslims Serving Nation
November 9, 2009
The New York Times
By ANDREA ELLIOTT
Abdi Akgun joined the Marines in August of 2000, fresh out of
high school and eager to serve his country. As a Muslim, the attacks of Sept. 11
only steeled his resolve to fight terrorism.
But two years later, when Mr. Akgun was deployed to Iraq with the 26th Marine
Expeditionary Unit, the thought of confronting Muslims in battle gave him pause.
He was haunted by the possibility that he might end up killing innocent
“It’s kind of like the Civil War, where brothers fought each other across the
Mason-Dixon line,” Mr. Akgun, 28, of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who returned from Iraq
without ever pulling the trigger. “I don’t want to stain my faith, I don’t want
to stain my fellow Muslims, and I also don’t want to stain my country’s flag.”
Thousands of Muslims have served in the United States military — a legacy that
some trace to the First World War. But in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, as the
United States has become mired in two wars on Muslim lands, the service of
Muslim-Americans is more necessary and more complicated than ever before.
In the aftermath of the shootings at Fort Hood on Thursday by Maj. Nidal Malik
Hasan of the Army, a psychiatrist, many Muslim soldiers and their commanders say
they fear that the relationship between the military and its Muslim service
members will only grow more difficult.
On Sunday, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said he worried
about a backlash against Muslims in the armed forces and emphasized the
military’s reliance on those men and women.
“Our diversity, not only in our Army but in our country, is a strength,” General
Casey said Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “And as horrific as this tragedy
was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
It is unclear what might have motivated Major Hasan, who is suspected of killing
13 people. Senior military and law enforcement officials said they had
tentatively dismissed the possibility that he was carrying out a terrorist plot.
He seems to have been influenced by a mixture of political, religious and
psychological factors, the officials said.
Muslim leaders, advocates and military service members have taken pains to
denounce the shooting and distance themselves from Major Hasan. They make the
point that his violence is no more representative of them than it is of other
groups to which he belongs, including Army psychiatrists.
“I don’t understand why the Muslim-American community has to take responsibility
for him,” said Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North
America. “The Army has had at least as much time and opportunity to form and
shape this person as the Muslim community.”
That sentiment was echoed by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South
Carolina, who told “Face the Nation” on CBS that the shooting was “not about his
religion — the fact that this man was a Muslim.”
Yet also Sunday, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut,
announced he would hold hearings to explore whether Major Hasan’s actions
Whatever his possible motives, the emerging portrait of Major Hasan’s life in
the military casts light on some of the struggles and frustrations felt by other
Muslims in the services. He was disillusioned with the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, which he perceived to be part of a war on Islam, according to interviews
with friends and relatives.
He had been the subject of taunts and felt singled out by his fellow soldiers
for being Muslim, friends and relatives said. His uncle in Ramallah, West Bank,
Rafik Hamad, said Major Hasan’s fellow soldiers had once called him a “camel
That term, like “haaji” and “raghead,” has become a more common part of the
lexicon among soldiers on the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
several Muslim servicemen said in interviews. They spoke about the epithets
philosophically, saying they understood using them was a survival tactic to
dehumanize the enemy.
But for Muslim soldiers, particularly those who speak Arabic, the struggle to
distance themselves from those they fight has often proved more difficult in
Amjad Khan, who served in the Army for eight years and was deployed to Iraq,
said he had tried to get used to the way his fellow soldiers talked about
“It gets to you sometimes,” said Mr. Khan, 32, from Queens, who is of Pakistani
descent. “But the more personally you take things, the more you’re going to have
a hard time surviving.”
For Mr. Khan, the most difficult part of his wartime service came before he was
deployed, when a senior officer found his Islamic faith cause for suspicion.
“He said, ‘I have to watch my back because you might go nuts,’ ” Mr. Khan
Since Sept. 11, the nation’s military has recruited Muslim-Americans, eager to
have people with linguistic skills and a cultural understanding of the Middle
East. Some 3,557 military personnel identify themselves as Muslim among 1.4
million people in the active-duty population, according to official figures.
Muslim advocacy groups estimate the number to be far higher, as listing one’s
religious preference is voluntary.
Many Muslims are drawn to the military for the same reasons as other recruits.
In interviews, they cited patriotism, a search for discipline and their dreams
of attending college. Some Muslims said they had also enlisted to win new
respect in a country where people of their faith have struggled for acceptance.
But if military service has brought approval among non-Muslims, it has sometimes
invited a markedly different response among Muslims.
In the South Asian and Arab immigrant communities where the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq are deeply unpopular, Muslim military members have often felt
criticized for their service, Muslim chaplains, military members, veterans
advocates and others said in interviews.
Some return exhausted and traumatized from their tours, only to hear at their
local mosques that they will go to hell for “killing Muslims,” said Qaseem A.
Uqdah, the executive director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans
“Imagine you are 20 years old and you hear you’re going to purgatory,” Mr. Uqdah
said. He argued that Muslim groups must work harder to help their veterans cope
with coming home. “We are failing as a community here in America.”
During the first gulf war, Muslim scholars in the United States debated whether
members of their faith could righteously engage in combat in a Muslim country on
behalf of the United States military. The consensus was yes, provided the
conflict met the Islamic standard of a “just war.”
“In the Koran it says that war is to end the state of oppression and to uplift
the oppressed,” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor at the law school at the
University of California, Los Angeles.
But he and others interviewed said it has been increasingly difficult for
Muslims to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as accounts have emerged of
the killing of civilians, the corruption of American-backed local governments,
and prisoner abuses like that of the Abu Ghraib scandal .
“Is it an army that defends the oppressed, or have you slipped into becoming the
oppressor?” asked Mr. El Fadl, who has counseled Muslims conflicted about
enlisting. “People from the military who contact me, that’s what I find they’re
torn up about.”
And yet more than 3,500 Muslims have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according
to Defense Department figures provided to The Times. As of 2006, some 212
Muslim-American soldiers had been awarded Combat Action Ribbons for their
service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seven had been killed.
Too many Americans overlook the heroic efforts of Muslims in uniform, said Capt.
Eric Rahman, 35, an Army reservist who won the Bronze Star for his service in
Iraq at the start of the war. He cited the example of Petty Officer Michael A.
Monsoor, a Navy Seal who won the Medal of Honor after pulling a team member to
safety during firefight in 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq.
Petty Officer Monsoor died saving another American, yet he will never be
remembered like Major Hasan, said Captain Rahman.
Regardless, he said, Muslim- and Arab-Americans are crucial to the military’s
success in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Take a look at these conflicts,” he said. “We need those skill sets, we need
those backgrounds, we need those perspectives.”
Eric Schmitt, Damien Cave and Catrina Stewart contributed
for Muslims Serving Nation, NYT, 9.11.2009,
Barred From Field, Religious Signs Move to Stands
October 27, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBBIE BROWN
FORT OGLETHORPE, Ga. — In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the football
cheerleaders at a public high school here wanted to make the Bible a bigger part
of Friday night games. So, to the delight of fans, they painted messages like
“Commit to the Lord” on giant paper banners that the players charged through
onto the field.
That eight-year-old tradition ended last month after a parent expressed concern
that it could prompt a First Amendment lawsuit. Church and state were not
sufficiently separate, the school district agreed, and the banners came down.
Now, a month later, the new policy has produced an unexpected result: more
biblical verses than ever at football games, displayed not by cheerleaders but
by fans sitting in the stands.
Startled and dismayed by the district’s policy, this town of 9,600 people has
taken up the cause — and the signs — of the cheerleaders. Calling themselves
Warriors for Christ, a twist on the school’s Warriors nickname, fans have held
rallies at churches and a local polo field and sold more than 1,600 T-shirts
bearing passages from Deuteronomy and Timothy.
On game nights, the stadium of the school, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High, just
south of Chattanooga, is dotted with signs reading, “You Can’t Silence Us” and
“Living Faith Outloud,” along with biblical verses. Even Caleb Wickersham, a
17-year-old atheist from nearby southern Tennessee, acknowledges that fans are
exercising a legal right to free speech. “From an atheist’s standpoint, it’s
frustrating because I don’t want more religion in my face,” Caleb said. “But
it’s their constitutional right.”
The 15 cheerleaders on the varsity squad, most of them Baptist, had painted
their banners with New Testament verses like “I press on toward the goal to win
the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” (Philippians) and “For
God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and
self-discipline” (II Timothy).
But after the school was cautioned about the risk of a constitutional challenge,
the school board struck down the banners, drawing a flurry of attention from
news organizations and even a reference on “Saturday Night Live.” The parent who
contacted the school, Donna Jackson, is a graduate student at Liberty
University, the evangelical Virginia institution founded by the Rev. Jerry
Falwell. Ms. Jackson, who had taken a law class, says she was just trying to
protect the school from litigation.
Federal courts have ruled that public school students are free to promote their
faith, but not in school-sponsored clubs. With salaried coaches and the school’s
name on their uniforms, the cheerleaders would most likely be considered
school-sponsored, said the district’s lawyers.
Constitutional experts agree. Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First
Amendment Center in Washington, said the cheerleaders could display biblical
verses only if they were a student-led club and were not performing at a
But the backlash demonstrates the difficulty of separating church and state in
communities, especially in the South, where many prefer the two merged.
Most of those in and around Fort Oglethorpe seem to disagree with the policy.
More than 16,000 people have joined a Facebook group in support of the
cheerleaders, while only 77 have joined a group favoring the ban.
A leading Republican candidate for governor, Insurance Commissioner John W.
Oxendine, drove to the school to endorse the cheerleaders’ cause, and a
Tennessee newspaper cartoonist depicted them painting a sign that said “Go Big
Red!” with the G, O and D capitalized.
“It’s the Bible Belt,” said Jeff Porter, the owner of C & C Custom Tees, which
has sold 800 shirts supporting the cheerleaders. “I understand that the majority
doesn’t rule, but it seems unfair that one lady could complain and cause all of
this to stop.”
Kaitlynn Corley, an 18-year-old cheerleader, said the ban had put a damper on
her senior year, preventing her from singing “Jesus Loves You” with other fans.
The new banners display secular messages like “We Love Our Seniors” and
“Prepare, Compete, Finish” that she finds less inspirational.
“I’m a Christian, and I think it’s really neat to be part of a program that
wasn’t afraid to express its beliefs,” Kaitlynn said. “We are representatives of
the school, but we’re also individuals, and we have the right to believe
whatever religion we want.”
Many Christians, however, said that in losing a battle, they had won a war.
There are now more displays of religious belief at the games, and Tracey Reed,
Kaitlynn’s mother, said students “who may never have even heard these Scriptures
are thinking about them and maybe going home and looking them up in their
Before a game last Thursday, the football team prayed on the 50-yard line,
huddling around the captain, Zack Lewis. “In Jesus’ name!” he shouted as players
in red helmets surged out of the huddle. It was a voluntary prayer, led by
students, but all the players took part.
“God has prevailed on this issue,” said Brad Scott, a local youth minister.
“It’s caused Christians who were silent before to stand up for what they believe
in — to come to rallies, to meetings, to find out what’s happening in their
Mr. Haynes, of the First Amendment Center, said the protesters had inadvertently
served as actors in the proper workings of the First Amendment: they have failed
to reverse the ban, but they have promoted Christianity within constitutional
“They’ve just proven that Jefferson and Madison got it right,” he said. “It’s a
reminder of the difference between religion that’s state-sponsored and religion
that is vital, voluntary and robust.”
Many of the Warriors for Christ have stopped even asking the school board to
reverse its decision. They understand the risks of a lawsuit, especially in a
cash-short county. But the biblical quotations are seemingly here to stay.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’ll be with us at every game,” said Mark Humphrey,
the father of a cheerleader. “Home or away.”
Barred From Field,
Religious Signs Move to Stands, NYT, 27.10.2009,
The Nuns’ Story
October 25, 2009
The New York Times
By MAUREEN DOWD
Once, in the first grade, I was late for class. I started crying in the
schoolyard, terrified to go in and face the formidable Sister Hiltruda.
Father Montgomery, who looked like a handsome young priest out of a 1930s movie,
found me cowering and took my hand, leading me into the classroom.
Sister Hiltruda looked ready to pop, but she couldn’t say a word to me, then or
ever. There was no more unassailable patriarchy than the Catholic Church.
Nuns were second-class citizens then and — 40 years after feminism utterly
changed America — they still are. The matter of women as priests is closed, a
In 2004, the cardinal who would become Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Vatican
document urging women to be submissive partners, resisting any adversarial roles
with men and cultivating “feminine values” like “listening, welcoming, humility,
faithfulness, praise and waiting.”
Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was
christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a
conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop
who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to
Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.
The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the “quality of life” of
American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd
them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of
modernity or independence.
Nuns who took Vatican II as a mandate for reimagining their mission “started to
look uppity to an awful lot of bishops and priests and, of course, the Vatican,”
said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic
Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.”
The church enabled rampant pedophilia, but nuns who live in apartments and do
social work with ailing gays? Sacrilegious! The pope can wear Serengeti
sunglasses and expensive red loafers, but shorter hems for nuns? Disgraceful!
“It’s a tragedy because nuns are the jewels of the system,” said Bob Bennett,
the Washington lawyer who led the church’s lay inquiry into the pedophilia
scandal. “I was of the view that if they had been listened to more, some of this
stuff wouldn’t have happened.”
As the Vatican is trying to wall off the “brides of Christ,” Cask of Amontillado
style, it is welcoming extreme-right Anglicans into the Catholic Church — the
ones who are disgruntled about female priests and openly gay bishops. Il Papa is
even willing to bend Rome’s most doggedly held dogma, against married priests —
as long as they’re clutching the Anglicans’ Book of Common Prayer.
“Most of the Anglicans who want to move over to the Catholic Church under this
deal are people who have scorned women as priests and have scorned gay people,”
Briggs said. “The Vatican doesn’t care that these people are motivated by
The nuns are pushing back a bit, but it’s hard, since the church has decreed
that women can’t be adversarial to men. A nun writing in Commonweal as “Sister
X” protests, “American women religious are being bullied.”
She recalls that Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who heads one of the
investigations, moved a meeting at the University of Notre Dame off campus to
protest a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.” “It is the rare bishop,”
Sister X writes, “who has any real understanding of the lives women actually
The church can be flexible, except with women. Laurie Goodstein, the Times’s
religion writer, reported this month on an Illinois woman who had a son with a
Franciscan priest. The church agreed to child support but was stingy with money
for college and for doctors, once the son got terminal cancer. The priest had
never been disciplined and was a pastor in Wisconsin — until he hit the front
page. Even then, “Father” Willenborg was suspended only because the woman said
that he had pressed her to have an abortion and that he had also had a sexual
relationship with a teenager. (Maybe the church shouldn’t be so obdurate on
When then-Cardinal Ratzinger was “The Enforcer” in Rome, he investigated and
disciplined two American nuns. One, Jeannine Gramick, then of the School Sisters
of Notre Dame, founded a ministry to reconcile gays with the church, which
regards homosexual desires as “disordered.” The other, Mary Agnes Mansour of the
Sisters of Mercy, headed the Michigan Department of Social Services, which,
among other things, paid for abortions for poor women.
Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic congresswoman from Toledo and one of Bishop Blair’s
flock, got a resolution passed commending nuns for their humble service and
sacrifice. “The Vatican’s in another country,” she said. “Maybe people do things
differently there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will intervene.”
Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.
The Nuns’ Story, NYT,
Parishioners Recall Priest and Suspected Killer
October 26, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL WILSON and NATE SCHWEBER
Parishioners at the New Jersey church of a popular Roman Catholic priest who
was stabbed to death in his rectory last week on Sunday remembered fondly both
the victim and the unlikely suspect who the authorities said had confessed to
the crime — a 64-year-old janitor at the church.
The janitor, Jose Feliciano, of Easton, Pa., was described as a warm, friendly
family man who often played with parish children, parishioners at St. Patrick’s
Church in Chatham, N.J., said after morning Masses on Sunday.
Mr. Feliciano admitted to stabbing the pastor, the Rev. Edward Hinds, 61, during
a quarrel on Friday evening, wounding him 32 times and leaving his body on the
kitchen floor, according to the Morris County prosecutor’s office. He pretended
to discover the body the following day with a church deacon and even made a
half-hearted attempt at CPR, said the prosecutor, Robert A. Bianchi. Mr.
Feliciano has been charged with first-degree murder. A motive remains unclear.
The Rev. Owen Moran, a former assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s who celebrated
the Sunday Masses, asked for support for the janitor.
“We pray in a very special way for Jose, a prayer of hope and consolation,” he
said. “The Father Ed we know would forgive Jose. Father Ed probably did forgive
him before he died.”
Mr. Feliciano began working at St. Patrick’s in 1992, after moving to the area
from Puerto Rico, parishioners said. He moved to Pennsylvania several years
after that. In 1996, he was baptized after completing a class at the parish. He
has two children, a daughter in the eighth grade at St. Patrick’s school, and a
son who graduated from the grammar school and is now in high school, Father
Moran said. Both children were undergoing grief counseling, he added.
“They have a very important place in the community of St. Patrick’s, and they
always will,” he said during one Mass. “They are innocent victims of this. This
is their parish.”
Parishioners left the church in tears, and outside, expressed a disbelief that
seemed to be unanimous.
“This is a good man,” said Maureen Haggerty, a former trustee at the church,
referring to Mr. Feliciano. “Whatever happened, maybe it will become clear
The janitor was particularly good with children, friends said. “Jose was a nice
man,” said Lily Garrison. “His kids grew up with mine. I know him and his wife.
There’s just evil in the world — what can I say?”
Just last week, Mr. Feliciano was seen cheering up a teary-eyed preschool boy,
playing with his hat. “He would sing, dance and fool around with the kids,” said
Michele Fischer, 42. “He was a jovial soul.”
Mr. Feliciano confessed to the killing in a written affidavit, prosecutors said.
In the affidavit, he said that he and Father Hinds were arguing in the rectory
at 5 p.m. on Thursday. He then got a knife and stabbed the priest, according to
Afterward, he cleaned the scene with rags and paper towels and took them, with
Father Hinds’ cellphone, back home to Easton, the police said. The police later
tracked the cellphone to Easton.
Mr. Feliciano and a deacon went into the rectory after Father Hinds did not show
up for 8 a.m. Mass on Friday morning. After attempting CPR, Mr. Feliciano looked
up and said, “There’s nothing we can do,” the police said.
Another parishioner, Dr. Neal T. Collins, an oncologist, said he wondered if Mr.
Feliciano had suffered some sort of head injury or brain tumor, provoking the
attack. “He was much more than a janitor,” said Dr. Collins, 50. “He was like
Priest and Suspected Killer, NYT, 26.10.2009,
Invitation to Anglicans
October 24, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
to Get Anglicans to Join Its Fold” (front page, Oct. 21) suggests that the
new overture of the Holy See to (some) Anglicans who already accept the Catholic
faith is a kind of greedy proselytizing, whereas it is, in fact, a generous,
long-awaited response to urgent, insistent requests from Anglicans in various
parts of the world to recover their full communion with the Catholic Church
without abandoning their entire liturgical and spiritual patrimony.
One such group of Anglicans, relatively small in number but worldwide in
extension and “Anglo-Catholic” in persuasion, calling itself the “Traditional”
Anglican Communion, made a formal approach to the Holy See in 2007 and has
waited two full years for a substantive response, which has now come.
An initial form of this new canonical framework announced on Oct. 20 was given
to the United States in 1980, called the Pastoral Provision, as a result of
which about 100 Anglo-Catholic clergy have been received and ordained as
Catholic priests and six small Anglican-Use congregations established.
This new improved canonical framework will permit all Anglicans (so-minded)
throughout the world on an equal basis to restore full communion with the
Catholic Church without abandoning their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.
(Msgr.) Daniel S. Hamilton
Lindenhurst, N.Y., Oct. 21, 2009
The writer is the editor of The Link, the newsletter of the Pastoral Provision,
To the Editor:
As a liberal Roman Catholic saddened by the various retrenchments of Pope
Benedict XVI, I am not shocked at the opportunism that would encourage
conservative Anglicans to join the Roman church.
The two aspects of this action that are particularly disturbing to me are the
attempts to capitalize upon another church’s internal struggles, which undermine
other aspects of ecumenism, and the choice of these issues themselves, which are
the subject that the Vatican has chosen to find new ways to attack.
It is discouraging to many of us to see Vatican II threads increasingly unwound
as the pope asserts his and his Curia’s power in the service of an ancien
David E. Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y., Oct. 21, 2009
The writer is a former Catholic priest.
To the Editor:
Regarding the Vatican and the disaffected Anglicans, I have a twofold response:
First, is this a precursor to the Vatican’s finally accepting a married clergy?
Then amen, so be it! The Catholic Church began with a married clergy.
Second, however, if the criterion of the disaffected Anglicans to convert to
Roman Catholicism is based on the presupposition that the Catholic hierarchy
forbids gays and women in the priesthood, then the prospective candidates will
be sadly disappointed.
Whether we care to admit it or not, there are many gays in the Catholic
priesthood, and many faithful lay Catholics would like to see women join the
I would hope that those converting to the Roman Catholic faith would do so
because of the church’s teaching on faith and morals rather than on a false
perception of an ecclesiastical utopia. My advice would be to look before you
leap — with faith, not fear!
(Rev.) Brian Jordan
New York, Oct. 22, 2009
The writer is a Franciscan priest.
To the Editor:
Re “Pope’s Invitation to Anglicans Raises Prospect of Married Catholic Priests’’
(news article, Oct. 22):
It needs to be said that once again the Vatican opens its arms to welcome those
disenchanted with female clergy. By reaching out to Anglicans unhappy with
female priests, the Catholic hierarchy continues to show an indifference to the
role that women could play in the priesthood.
It is no wonder that the Catholic priesthood is so often labeled an old boys’
club, like some relic of the past perpetuating itself in a modern church sorely
in need of ministers to serve its people.
Auburn, N.Y., Oct. 22, 2009
To the Editor:
What a pity that the Vatican mistakes opportunistic erosion of membership in
another communion for ecumenism. How far we’ve descended from the more
enlightened days of Vatican II and the inclusiveness of Pope John XXIII.
As a Catholic, I am appalled by the initiatives of the Vatican to steal away
disaffected Episcopalians and Anglicans, especially those whose disaffection
derives from opposition to women’s and gay rights.
Denying fundamental human rights seems the norm rather than recognizing rights
based on shared human values of mutual respect and acceptance within the human
family. Shame on the Vatican.
David M. Bossman
West Orange, N.J., Oct. 21, 2009
To the Editor:
No serious observer of the workings of the Holy See or of the bishops of the
Catholic Church would agree with your characterizations — to wit, “luring,”
“bidding,” “capitalizing” — of the most recent response of the Roman church to
the petitions made by some Anglicans in recent years.
The reluctance of the Holy See to give offense in an age of ecumenical
commitment is well known, and so the real story is that the move is viewed with
sympathy all around, even by those classical Anglicans who will not ever swim
The only ones perplexed and dismayed are those who do not understand the
attachment of Christians to apostolic tradition.
We have here the greatest witness to the old ecumenical ideal of corporate
reunion among those whose love for orthodoxy has moved them to unity. This is
not aggressive convert-making, but the natural convergence of like-minded
Numbers have nothing to do with Rome’s approach, but rather consistency and
(Rev.) Hugh Barbour
Silverado, Calif., Oct. 21, 2009
The Vatican’s Invitation
to Anglicans, NYT, 24.10.2009,
Priest Is Found Slain in New Jersey
October 24, 2009
The New York Times
By AL BAKER and NATE SCHWEBER
Until midmorning Friday, life in the bucolic commuter borough of Chatham,
N.J., was bustling uninterrupted: residents caught trains for work in Manhattan,
children went to school, and Halloween decorations were splayed on the lawns and
porches of homes throughout the tree-lined streets.
Violent crime is virtually unheard of there, and certainly not anything like
this: On Friday morning, a Roman Catholic priest who did not show up for 8 a.m.
Mass was found dead in his rectory with multiple injuries.
“We’re not getting into the nature of those wounds, but they are consistent with
a homicide,” Robert A. Bianchi, the Morris County prosecutor, said Friday
The priest, the Rev. Edward Hinds, 61, of St. Patrick’s Church, was outfitted in
formal black vestments when he was discovered shortly after 8 by a deacon and a
maintenance worker who used a key to enter the rectory. He was found in the
kitchen, off a hallway that connects the church and the rectory, according to
another priest, the Rev. Owen Moran. Father Moran said he would take over Father
Hinds’s duties for at least the weekend.
The prosecutor said the medical examiner’s staff found “significant trauma” to
the priest’s body, injuries that initial responders had not seen. He said the
severity of the wounds suggested that much effort had been put into ending the
As of Friday afternoon, he said, no suspects had been identified. The
authorities would not say if there were signs of forced entry.
As a bracing October day wound on, and a phalanx of law enforcement officers
descended on the church and strung up yellow crime-scene tape to close off some
streets, many who knew Father Ed, as he was known, described him as a pious man
who immersed himself in helping others, including the homeless and the needy.
Father Hinds was seen this week walking his cocker spaniel, said Kathy
Phillips-Bodie, 47, a crossing guard whose son attends the K-8 Catholic school
at St. Patrick’s. When Father Hinds’s body was found, the dog was nearby, the
Eileen Ruggiero, 35, whose son was baptized by Father Hinds, called the priest
“a wonderful man” and “an integral part of this community.”
The death made for “a very sad day,” said V. Nelson Vaughan III, Chatham’s
“This is almost unbelievable,” Mr. Vaughan said. “I’ve lived here since 1950,
and this is the second homicide in town I know of. It’s a peaceful, quiet,
Mr. Bianchi, the prosecutor, said that Chatham’s last homicide occurred in 1990,
and that was a case of aggravated manslaughter.
After hearing that a killer might be at large, some parents took their children
out of the parish school.
Father Moran said the last time anyone remembered seeing Father Hinds was
between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday. The death is believed to have occurred
between 11 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday, Mr. Bianchi said.
Mr. Bianchi said that Father Hinds attended a meeting on Thursday night, but he
would not specify what that meeting was about. Separately, a meeting on school
and public safety was held at the church on Thursday night, but Father Hinds did
not attend, according to Mr. Bianchi and Father Moran.
Born in 1948 in Morristown, N.J., Father Hinds was ordained in 1974, in Rome,
and earned a master’s degree in church administration from the Catholic
University of America in Washington, according to the Diocese of Paterson. He
first served in the St. Patrick parish from 1974 to 1978 and held a variety of
posts elsewhere before he returned to St. Patrick’s as pastor in 2003, the
In a statement, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli said: “We await the outcome of the
official investigation regarding the circumstances of his death. We offer our
support and prayers to the parishioners, families and friends of Father Hinds.”
Priest Is Found Slain in
New Jersey, NYT, 24.10.2009,
Vatican Bidding to Get Anglicans to Join Its Fold
October 21, 2009
The New York Times
By RACHEL DONADIO and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
VATICAN CITY — In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en
masse, the Vatican said Tuesday that it would make it easier for Anglicans
uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay
bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their
Anglicans would be able “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while
preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical
patrimony,” Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here.
It was unclear why the Vatican made the announcement now. But it seemed a rare
opportunity, audaciously executed, to capitalize on deep divisions within the
Anglican Church to attract new members at a time when the Catholic Church has
been trying to reinvigorate itself in Europe.
The issue has long been close to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI, who for years
has worked to build ties to those Anglicans who, like conservative Catholics,
spurn the idea of female and gay priests.
Catholic and Anglican leaders sought on Tuesday to present the move as a joint
effort to aid those seeking conversion. But it appeared that the Vatican had
engineered it on its own, presenting it as a fait accompli to the Most Rev.
Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of the Anglican
Communion, only in recent weeks. Some Anglican and Catholic leaders expressed
surprise, even shock, at the news.
The move could have the deepest impact in England, where large numbers of
traditionalist Anglicans have protested the Church of England’s embrace of
liberal theological reforms like consecrating female bishops. Experts say these
Anglicans, and others in places like Australia, might be attracted to the Roman
Catholic fold because they have had nowhere else to go.
If entire parishes or even dioceses leave the Church of England for the Catholic
Church, experts and church officials speculated, it could set off battles over
ownership of church buildings and land.
Pope Benedict has said that he will travel to Britain in 2010.
In the United States, traditionalist leaders said they would be less inclined
than their British counterparts to join the Catholic Church, because they have
already broken away from the Episcopal Church and formed their own conservative
Anglican structures (though some do allow women to be priests).
The Vatican’s announcement signals a significant moment in relations between two
churches that first parted in the Reformation of the 16th century over
theological issues and the primacy of the pope.
In recent decades, the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church have
sought to heal the centuries of division. Some feared that the Vatican’s move
might jeopardize decades of dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans by implying
that the aim was conversion.
The Very Rev. David Richardson, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to
the Vatican, said he was taken aback.
“I don’t see it as an affront to the Anglican Church, but I’m puzzled by what it
means and by the timing of it,” he said. “I think some Anglicans will feel
The decision creates a formal universal structure to streamline conversions that
had previously been evaluated case by case. The Vatican said that it would
release details in the coming weeks, but that generally, former Anglican
prelates chosen by the Catholic Church would oversee Anglicans, including entire
parishes or even dioceses, seeking to convert.
Under the new arrangement, the Catholic practice that has allowed married
Anglican priests to convert and become Catholic priests would continue. (There
have been very few such priests.) But only unmarried Anglican bishops or priests
could become Catholic bishops.
Cardinal Levada acknowledged that accepting large numbers of married Anglican
priests while forbidding Catholic priests to marry could pose problems for some
Catholics. But he argued that the circumstances differed.
Under the new structure, former Anglicans who become Catholic could preserve
some elements of Anglican worship, including hymns and other “intangible”
elements, Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, the Vatican’s deputy chief liturgical
officer, said at the news conference.
Cardinal Levada said that the Vatican had acted in response to many requests
from Anglicans since the Church of England ordained women in the 1990s, and,
more recently, when it faced what he called “a very difficult question” — the
ordination of openly gay clergy and the celebration of homosexual unions.
He said that 20 to 30 bishops and hundreds of other people had petitioned the
Vatican on the matter in recent years.
In the United States, disaffected conservatives in the Episcopal Church, the
American branch of Anglicanism, announced in 2008 that they were reorganizing as
the Anglican Church in North America.
Bishop Martyn Minns, a leader of that group, welcomed the pope’s decision. “It
demonstrates his conviction that the divisions in the Anglican Communion are
very serious and these are not things that are going to get papered over,” he
However, both Bishop Minns and Archbishop Robert Duncan, primate of the Anglican
Church in North America, said that they did not expect many conservative
Anglicans to accept the offer because the theological differences were too
“I don’t want to be a Roman Catholic,” said Bishop Minns. “There was a
Reformation, you remember.”
In Britain, the Rev. Rod Thomas, the chairman of Reform, a traditionalist
Anglican group, said, “I think it will be a trickle of people, not a flood.”
But he said that a flood could in fact develop if the Church of England did not
allow traditionalists to opt out of a recent church decision that women could be
consecrated as bishops.
Some said the move would probably not win over traditionalist Anglicans in
“Why should any conservative break away from a church where the moral
conservatives represent the overwhelming mass of opinion, such as in Nigeria?”
said Philip Jenkins, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and an expert
in the Catholic Church’s history in Africa and Asia.
The plan was announced at simultaneous news conferences at the Vatican and in
The Vatican’s archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and Archbishop
Williams of the Anglican Church issued a joint statement in which they said that
the new structure “brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who
have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.”
In London, Archbishop Williams minimized the impact of the announcement on
relations between the two churches. “It would not occur to me to see this as an
act of aggression or a statement of no confidence, precisely because the routine
relationships that we enjoy as churches will continue,” he said.
Vatican Bidding to Get
Anglicans to Join Its Fold, NYT, 21.10.2009,
A Mother, a Sick Son and His Father, the Priest
October 16, 2009
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
O’FALLON, Mo. — With three small children and her marriage in trouble, Pat
Bond attended a spirituality retreat for Roman Catholic women in Illinois 26
years ago in hopes of finding support and comfort.
What Ms. Bond found was a priest — a dynamic, handsome Franciscan friar in a
brown robe — who was serving as the spiritual director for the retreat and
agreed to begin counseling her on her marriage. One day, she said, as she was
leaving the priest’s parlor, he pulled her aside for a passionate kiss.
Ms. Bond separated from her husband, and for the next five years she and the
priest, the Rev. Henry Willenborg, carried on an intimate relationship,
according to interviews and court documents. In public, they were both leaders
in their Catholic community in Quincy, Ill. In private they functioned like a
married couple, sharing a bed, meals, movie nights and vacations with the
Eventually they had a son, setting off a series of legal battles as Ms. Bond
repeatedly petitioned the church for child support. The Franciscans acquiesced,
with the stipulation that she sign a confidentiality agreement. It is now an
agreement she is willing to break as both she and her child, Nathan Halbach, 22,
are battling cancer.
With little to lose, they are eager to tell their stories: the mother, a
once-faithful Catholic who says the church protected a philandering priest and
treated her as a legal adversary, and the son, about what it was like to grow up
knowing his absentee father was a priest.
“I’ve always called him Father Henry — never Father, never Dad,” said Nathan, at
home between hospital visits. “I always felt he picked religion over me.”
The relationship between Ms. Bond and the priest is hardly unique. While the
recent scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church have focused on the sexual
abuse of children, experts say that incidences of priests who have violated
sexual and emotional boundaries with adult women are far more common.
Clergy members of many faiths have crossed the line with women and had children
out of wedlock. But the problem is particularly fraught for the Catholic Church,
as Catholics in many countries are increasingly questioning the celibacy
requirement for priests. Ms. Bond’s case offers a rare look at how the church
goes to great lengths to silence these women, to avoid large settlements and to
keep the priests in active ministry. She has 23 years of documents, depositions,
correspondence, receipts and photographs relating to her case, which she has
kept in meticulous files.
Those files reveal that the church was tightfisted with her as she tried to care
for her son, particularly as his cancer treatments grew more costly. But they
also show that Father Willenborg suffered virtually no punishment, continuing to
serve in a variety of church posts.
The church entity Ms. Bond dealt with is the Order of Friars Minor, commonly
known as the Franciscans, whose members were known as mendicants because they
survived on handouts from the communities they served.
“I know better than Franciscans what it’s like to beg, because nothing has
happened without my begging the Franciscans,” said Ms. Bond, who is 53.
Church officials, however, say they acted generously.
“The province went well beyond what the law would require, and was concerned for
the boy and his well-being,” said the Rev. William Spencer, provincial minister
of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart, which is Father Willenborg’s
province in St. Louis. “We were willing to do whatever we could to respond to
The priest Ms. Bond fell in love with so many years ago, Father Willenborg, is
currently the senior pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, a large, historic parish of
1,350 families on the shores of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wis. The church spire
is visible from miles away, and the parish operates an adjoining school. On a
recent Sunday, Father Willenborg affably led a morning Mass for about 300
people, adding a special blessing for the grandparents in the congregation.
Afterward, in his office, he acknowledged that he does have a son, is aware his
son is terminally ill, and said that he had tried to be attentive.
He said he did not want to talk about the situation, and pointed out that Ms.
Bond had more to lose than he did because she had signed a confidentiality
agreement that, if broken, requires her to pay a penalty. He asserted that Ms.
Bond had shown no care for his needs and was only concerned about money, and
that his son had shunned him. He said that he and the Franciscans had done
“We’ve been very caring, very supportive, very generous over these 20-something
years. It’s very tragic what’s going on with Nathan, but, you know?” said Father
Willenborg, before trailing off and ending the interview.
‘A Chosen One’
Father Willenborg’s Franciscan superiors were aware of his relationship with Ms.
Bond well before Nathan was born. A year earlier, Father Willenborg and Ms. Bond
had conceived another child. Ms. Bond said that Father Willenborg suggested she
have an abortion, which she found unthinkable. He finally informed his
Franciscan superiors of their liaison.
The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. The Franciscans kept Father Willenborg in
place as rector of their seminary in Quincy, Ill.
The couple then resolved to keep the relationship platonic, according to Ms.
Bond, (whose recounting of events is consistent with what Father Willenborg said
in a legal deposition). But a few months later, during an Easter-season retreat
they had planned together for about 90 women, Father Willenborg showed up at her
door. Ms. Bond said she was sure that Nathan was conceived that night.
Their relationship, she said, made her feel happier than she ever had in her
life. She would watch him work, and feel proud that he was a comfort to so many
people. As a Catholic, she said she knew their relationship was wrong, but she
was also swept up in the feeling that there was something spiritual and even
exalted about it.
“Here I am this small-town girl, and at the time I didn’t feel that I was very
attractive,” she said, “and yet he’s putting his vows on the side and he wants
to be with me, in the most intimate, loving way. It was quite an honor.”
“It’s such a powerful thing because you think — and this is the illness of it,
too — you are led to believe and you let yourself believe, that you are a chosen
one. That you are so special,” she said, adding of the priest, “It’s not that
they’re putting God aside, it’s that they’re bringing you up to their level.”
Before their baby was born, the Franciscans strongly advised Ms. Bond to give it
up for adoption, the correspondence shows. She refused.
“What would I say to my other children, after coming home from the hospital:
‘I’m sorry, I forgot to bring your family member home’?” she said.
Father Willenborg himself performed the baptism. Ms. Bond named the boy Nathan
John Paul Halbach, giving him the last name of her former husband, who was still
an involved father to the three children they had together and supported them
Ms. Bond retained a lawyer, and the Franciscans gave her $1,000 toward the costs
of the birth that were not covered by insurance, and $505 toward baby furniture.
The Franciscans further agreed to pay $600 a month for the baby’s first 10
months, until Ms. Bond could return to work in a travel agency, and after that
$350 a month in child support until Nathan turned 18. It added up, after bank
and legal fees, to about $85,000 paid in a lump sum.
End to an idyll
For eight months, Father Willenborg continued to visit Ms. Bond’s home at night.
She said he would go right to the crib, pick up the baby and bring him to the
bed to cuddle with them.
An unexpected turn of events brought their idyll to an end. A young woman showed
up at Ms. Bond’s house in a rage. She told Ms. Bond that she had been in a
sexual relationship with Father Willenborg for years, since she was in high
school. (Reached by phone last week, the woman confirmed the relationship, and
said it had caused her a lifetime of pain. She asked to remain anonymous.)
Immediately, the Franciscans sent Father Willenborg to a treatment center in New
Mexico run by a religious order, for priests with sexual disorders and substance
Ms. Bond says that after that, they had sex together only once more: immediately
after he returned from seven months at the center. She still has the receipt
from the hotel room.
In a deposition years later, Father Willenborg said that the Franciscans had
never disciplined him, and never suggested that he leave religious life. He was
assigned to New Orleans to work with AIDS patients, and a few years later to the
headquarters of his order’s province in St. Louis to oversee “spiritual
formation” for priests, which includes educating them on how to remain celibate.
Ms. Bond, meanwhile, got help from a support group for women and priests
involved in relationships. The group, Good Tidings, was founded by Cait Finnegan
and her husband, a former Catholic priest, originally with the idea that they
would help priests who had fallen in love to discern whether to leave the
priesthood and marry, or remain in the priesthood and end the relationship.
“We were naïve,” Mrs. Finnegan said. “We quickly discovered that many of these
priests were playboys. They weren’t looking for any discernment, they were
simply staying and playing. It was the women who needed the support.
Unfortunately, many women accept the kind of abuse from a priest that they would
never accept if they were dating another man.”
She said that in 25 years, Good Tidings had been contacted by nearly 2,000 women
who said they were involved with priests, many who had signed child support and
confidentiality agreements like Ms. Bond’s. There are similar support groups in
at least seven countries.
A landmark study in 1990 by the scholar A. W. Richard Sipe, a former
Benedictine, found that 20 percent of Catholic priests were involved in
continuing sexual relationships with women, and an additional 8 percent to 10
percent had occasional heterosexual relationships.
“It’s not so much that people don’t know it happens, but they don’t know how
much it happens,” Mrs. Finnegan said.
Father Willenborg had no contact again with his son until the boy was 13. Nathan
remembers being so excited to finally meet his biological father that he
insisted on getting a haircut. He remembers that Father Willenborg took him to
McDonald’s and to see the movie “What Women Want.”
Nathan recalled, “It was sort of hard meeting this guy for the first time, at a
place where we couldn’t talk to each other.”
In the next few years, Nathan said his disappointment grew. Father Willenborg
did not visit, though he lived only 15 minutes away. He had promised to take
Nathan to a baseball game, but it was two years before he stopped by and later
called to say he had tickets. Nathan finally told Father Willenborg he did not
want to see him.
The child support money had run out long before Nathan turned 18. Ms. Bond had
used $38,000 of it as a down payment on a house. She remarried, twice, and her
last husband was a lawyer who encouraged Ms. Bond to petition the Franciscans
for money to help send Nathan to college.
The Franciscans resisted, and they ended up in court. Father Willenborg insisted
on a DNA test, which showed the probability of paternity was 99.9 percent.
“That really pushed me away further,” Nathan said. “It was ridiculous. He knew I
was his son.”
After months of court proceedings, the Franciscans agreed to pay half of
Nathan’s college expenses, plus $586 a month, until he turned 21.
Charles Todt, who served as a lawyer for Ms. Bond, said, “They spent the least
amount they could possibly spend under any circumstances.”
In his second year at the University of Missouri, Nathan began seeing double. He
became dizzy and had problems remembering things. He was found to have brain
tumors, and they were growing fast.
Illness and Mounting Costs
With the costs mounting for chemotherapy, radiation and craniotomies, Ms. Bond
again turned to the church. The Franciscans agreed to pay 50 percent of any
“extraordinary” medical costs, until he turned 23. Ms. Bond said she was greatly
relieved. She was involved in a messy divorce with her third husband, and could
not go back to work because caring for her son had become a full-time job.
She finally found a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York
City who proposed an experimental treatment on Nathan’s tumors, which had
returned despite all the previous treatments. They flew to New York for a
one-week consultation, and ended up staying for three months while he was in and
out of the hospital for treatment.
The Franciscans initially gave them $1,000 toward the trip, but then refused Ms.
Bond’s further requests for reimbursements for lodging expenses for her and
Nathan in New York. This is what pushed her over the edge, she said. Dozens of
e-mail messages between Ms. Bond and church lawyers document the back-and-forth.
Catherine A. Schroeder, the Franciscans’ lawyer, said Ms. Bond failed to provide
proper receipts, an accusation that Ms. Bond denies.
The head of the province then was the Rev. Michael Perry, who was recently
elected vicar general of the entire Order of Friars Minor. Reached at his office
in Rome, Father Perry declined to speak on the record about the decisions he
made, except to say, “Efforts were made not only to respect the law but to take
into account the dignity and the rights and the care of the child.”
To pay for the New York trip, Ms. Bond’s daughter Carrie Milton liquidated her
401(k) plan and sold T-shirts that said, “Cancer Sucks,” and Ms. Bond’s son
Christian Halbach emptied his savings account.
Ms. Bond prays to God constantly. But she has long left the Catholic Church and
attends a Methodist church.
Nathan is now so ill that he rarely leaves his house except for hospital visits.
The highlight of his day is lumbering to the mailbox, leaning on his mother, who
was told recently by doctors that she had carcinoid tumors in her appendix and
colon. Strangers who get Nathan’s name and address from Web sites for cancer
victims send him dozens of cards, often homemade, urging him not to give up.
Recently the mail included a card from Father Willenborg.
“I never understood,” Nathan said, “why he thought cards could make it all O.K.”
A Mother, a Sick Son and
His Father, the Priest, NYT, 16.10.2009,
The Constitution and the Cross
October 7, 2009
The New York Times
When the Supreme Court takes up a religion case, it often prompts overheated
charges: There is a war against Christianity under way; or civil liberties
groups are trying to turn this into a secular nation. The court is scheduled to
hear arguments on Wednesday in a case that raises none of these issues — even
though Americans may well be treated to another round of scare stories.
The narrow question is whether a large cross that has been placed on federal
land violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, the founders’
direction that there must be a wall of separation between church and state. The
court should rule that it does.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected a cross in 1934 in San Bernardino County,
Calif. — in what is now the Mojave National Preserve — to honor America’s war
dead. Since then, the cross has been replaced several times, most recently
around 1998. Its religious significance is clear, but the National Park Service
has not allowed other religions to add symbols. In 1999, the park service denied
a request by an individual to place a Buddhist memorial in the area. The cross
has also been the site of Easter sunrise services for more than 70 years.
Frank Buono, a former assistant superintendent of the preserve who said that he
still visits regularly, sued to challenge the display’s constitutionality.
The case comes to the Supreme Court in an unusual form. When a Federal District
Court ruled that the cross violated the establishment clause, Congress
transferred the property under it to a veterans’ group in exchange for other
property. In a second round of litigation, a Federal District Court ruled that
the land transfer continued the constitutional violation. The United States
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, affirmed.
The Supreme Court will first consider whether Mr. Buono has standing to
challenge the cross. The cross’s supporters argue that he has not really been
injured and, therefore, should not be able to sue. But as someone who was in
contact with the cross and was offended by its presence, he was injured. More
precisely, though, in this case, Mr. Buono has won a court injunction against
the cross, and Congress’s land transfer interferes with his injunction. He has a
right to challenge the transfer.
On the merits, the appeals court was right that the cross must come down. By
allowing a Christian cross, and not symbols of other faiths, on federal land,
the government was favoring one religion over others. Also, Congress has
designated the cross as a national memorial, which means that it continues to
have official government endorsement.
The land transfer was mere window-dressing. Bypassing normal procedures for
disposing of government land, Congress gave the land to an entity it understood
would keep up the cross, and it provided that the land would be returned if it
was not used as a memorial.
Religious symbolism of this kind on government land is, by its very nature,
exclusionary. Allowing only a cross to stand over the memorial sends a message
to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others that their sacrifices, and their family
members’ sacrifices, are not appreciated or mourned.
It also sends a message that state and church are intertwined. A single cross
does not, by itself, mean America has an established religion, but if the
Supreme Court stops caring that the government is promoting a particular
religion, we will be down the path toward having one.
The Constitution and the
Cross, NYT, 7.10.2009,
City Decides to Continue Pre-Meeting Invocation
October 2, 2009
The New York Times
By MALIA WOLLAN and JESSE McKINLEY
LODI, Calif. — When Karen Buchanan, an insurance claim worker and
self-described “free thinker and atheist,” first moved to this Central
California farming city three years ago, she started attending City Council
meetings to find out what was going on in local politics.
What she found, though, was surprising and upsetting, she said: each meeting
began with an invocation, often mentioning Jesus, sometimes asking attendees to
bow their heads, and periodically sprinkling in excerpts from the Bible.
“I was really uncomfortable,” Ms. Buchanan recalled. “There’s no reason to have
prayer. If the Council members need to pray, I’d think they could pray in quiet
before the meeting. Prayer isn’t city business.”
Perhaps not, but the Lodi City Council decided Wednesday night that it was
appropriate to pray before meetings as long as the prayers took place before the
opening gavel, and did not promote a specific religion or try to convert anyone.
Atheists are also invited to speak.
The Council’s vote, which was unanimous, was unlikely to satisfy either Ms.
Buchanan or the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has sent letters of
complaint here and to a dozen or so other cities in an effort to excise religion
from the stately and sometimes stultifying business of local governance.
The group’s list includes the alliterative trio of Tracy, Turlock and Tehachapi
in California, Chesapeake, Va., Memphis; and Independence, Mo.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, a founder and president of the foundation, which claims
14,000 members, said her group had two issues with the prayer: separation of
church and state, and government efficiency.
“We would prefer that there were no prayer at all; it’s divisive and a waste a
time,” Ms. Gaylor said. The complaints and the equally vocal support for
pre-meeting prayer were heard Wednesday in a special meeting that drew some 500
people and did not begin with a public invocation.
Alice Alvarez Aguila, a private home worker came with family members and friends
from Lighthouse Mission, a Pentecostal church in Stockton, Calif., about 15
“Why should they take the name of Jesus out of meetings when he shed his blood
on the cross for us?” she said.
Supporters of the Lodi prayer have found a national advocate in the Alliance
Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Arizona, which has sent letters
to thousands of city councils around the country in recent years, urging them to
keep their invocations and providing model prayer policies that they say do not
fall afoul of the law.
J. Michael Johnson, a senior legal counsel for the fund, accused the Freedom
From Religion Foundation of trying to “pick on these small-town governments and
trying to bully them into submission” adding that many legislative bodies pray
before taking up the agenda.
“It’s been an essential part of our heritage since the time of our nation’s
founding,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that it would only be “unconstitutional for
the government to tell them how to pray” or which God to pray for.
The prayers, he said, were “not an establishment of religion.”
Jesse H. Choper, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley,
said that the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Marsh v. Chambers found that prayer
before public meetings was allowed if the prayers remained nonsectarian.
“What we do know is the use of God is not unacceptable,” Professor Choper said.
Since 2006, the official policy of the Lodi Council has been to have only
non-denominational invocations, something that had apparently been ignored by
pastors who appeared at meetings on many occasions, according to a chart on the
Freedom From Religion foundation Web site.
Ms. Gaylor said she was disappointed by the Council’s decision and believed that
legal action would eventually be necessary.
She also said that if there was a deity he probably was not much interested in
local politics. “He’d be stopping up his ears,” she said.
Malia Wollan reported from Lodi, and Jesse McKinley from San Francisco.
City Decides to Continue
Pre-Meeting Invocation, NYT, 2.10.2009,
Muslims in Colorado Uneasy Over Terror Inquiry
September 20, 2009
The New York Times
By DAN FROSCH
AURORA, Colo. — Djilali Kacem tugged at his beard and surveyed the warehouse
of Islamic books he helps oversee near Denver International Airport.
“The government should know better by now,” said Mr. Kacem, an imam at a local
mosque. “It has been eight years since Sept. 11 and our government still
overacts sometimes when it comes to Muslims.”
As an investigation into a possible terrorist plot against New York City focused
increasingly last week on a local Afghani shuttle bus driver, some Muslims in
and around this Denver suburb have grown uneasy, saying they are concerned that
law-enforcement officials are going too far because the case involves a Muslim.
But others say that even if Muslims here feel they are being unfairly targeted,
law-enforcement officials are obligated to follow any leads, wherever they might
lead, and that in this case, the F.B.I. has acted appropriately so far.
“We have to be patient and coolheaded,” said Mohammad Noorzai, a former
president of the Colorado Muslim Society, whose small campus straddles Denver
and Aurora. “In the end, if there is evidence that somebody has done something
wrong, they have to be held accountable regardless of their ethnic background. I
think they need to pursue everything, and many of us agree with that.”
The man the authorities say is at the center of the investigation, Najibullah
Zazi, 24, initially denied any wrongdoing and voluntarily submitted to days of
questioning by the F.B.I. last week. According to government officials who have
been briefed on the case, Mr. Zazi had begun cooperating with the authorities
after three days of questioning by F.B.I. agents. He reportedly admitted that he
may have perhaps unwittingly crossed paths in Pakistan with extremists allied
with Al Qaeda. And, the officials said, that based on Mr. Zazi’s statements to
the agents, there are now some indications that he underwent training in
explosives and bomb-making while overseas.
Mr. Zazi has not been charged with any crime and neither federal nor New York
officials have publicly explained why or how they became interested in Mr. Zazi.
The questioning came after searches by federal agents of Mr. Zazi’s Aurora
apartment, his relatives’ home nearby and homes connected to Mr. Zazi in Queens.
With the Ramadan holiday winding down, word of the inquiry has spread throughout
the more than 10,000 Muslims who have settled in Aurora and parts of Denver.
“Colorado has always been seen as a good place to raise a family,” Mr. Noorzai
Unlike Muslim centers in other cities, there is no true Muslim neighborhood
here, but rather a patchwork of markets, restaurants and mosques among the strip
malls that line Aurora’s broad boulevards. Over the years, the Muslim population
has grown — with immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan pulled by the
lure of ample jobs, the word of a relative or the promise of a quieter life.
Mr. Zazi moved from Queens to Aurora, a city of about 300,000, and drives an
airport shuttle van. Although details of the investigation are still murky —
federal authorities shadowing Mr. Zazi apparently grew alarmed after a recent
cross-country trip he took to New York City — the question of Mr. Zazi’s guilt
or innocence is overshadowed for many by a feeling that the F.B.I.’s search of
his home, in a modest apartment complex, was too much.
Those who know Mr. Zazi describe him as quiet and unassuming, said Darin
Mangnall, a lawyer who represents taxi drivers and who once represented Mr. Zazi
in a minor traffic accident.
“My experience is that a lot of these guys are working hard,” he said. “A lot of
them have wives and children that are still living in their home country. They
don’t smoke. They don’t drink. They don’t do anything but drive a taxi out here.
I have a lot of sympathy for them.”
Mr. Noorzai, the former president of the organization, said many local Muslims
were trying to figure out whether anyone knew Mr. Zazi, and whether he did
“If this guy is innocent, then our community is going to feel like we are being
singled out,” he said.
Abdur-Rahim Ali, an imam at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center, said it was
important for investigators to follow all leads and be cautious when
investigating potential terrorist acts.
“As citizens, we prefer that,” he said.
Muslims in Colorado
Uneasy Over Terror Inquiry, NYT, 20.9.2009,
Giving Ramadan a Drumroll in Brooklyn at 4 A.M.
September 13, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK SEMPLE
A few hours before dawn, when most New Yorkers are fast asleep, a middle-aged
man rolls out of bed in Brooklyn, dons a billowy red outfit and matching turban,
climbs into his Lincoln Town Car, drives 15 minutes, pulls out a big drum and —
there on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood — starts to play.
The man, Mohammad Boota, is a Ramadan drummer. Every morning during the holy
month, which ends on Sept. 21, drummers stroll the streets of Muslim communities
around the world, waking worshipers so they can eat a meal before the day’s
But New York City, renowned for welcoming all manner of cultural traditions, has
limits to its hospitality. And so Mr. Boota, a Pakistani immigrant, has spent
the past several years learning uncomfortable lessons about noise-complaint hot
lines, American profanity and the particular crankiness of non-Muslims rousted
from sleep at 3:30 a.m.
“Everywhere they complain,” he said. “People go, like, ‘What the hell? What you
doing, man?’ They never know it’s Ramadan.”
Mr. Boota, 53, who immigrated in 1992 and earns his living as a limousine
driver, began waking Brooklynites in 2002. At first he moved freely around the
borough, picking a neighborhood to work each Ramadan morning.
Not everyone was thrilled, he said. People would throw open their windows and
yell at him, or call the police, who, he said, advised him kindly to move along.
As the years went by, he and his barrel drum were effectively banned from one
neighborhood after another. He now restricts himself to a short stretch of Coney
Island Avenue where many Pakistanis live.
Fearing that even that limited turf may be threatened real estate for him, he
has modified his approach even further — playing at well below his customary
volume, for only about 15 to 20 seconds in each location, and only once every
three or four days.
The complaints have stopped, he said. But as he reflected on his early years of
drumming in the streets of New York — before he knew better — wistfulness seeped
into his voice. He rattled off the places he used to play, however briefly:
“Avenue C, Newkirk Avenue, Ditmas, Foster, Avenue H, I, J and Neptune Avenue.”
“You know,” he reluctantly concluded, “in the United States you can’t do
anything without a permit.”
Mr. Boota wants to be a good American, and a good Muslim. “I don’t want to
bother other communities’ people,” he said. “Just the Pakistani people.”
Several prominent Muslim organizations in New York said they knew of no other
drummers who played on Ramadan mornings. But while the custom’s usefulness has
been largely eclipsed by the invention of the alarm clock, it has hung on in
many places. Indeed, Mr. Boota said he continues the practice, in spite of the
challenges and resistance, as much to keep a tradition alive as to feed a
cultural yen of his countrymen.
“They’re waiting for me,” he said.
The daily Ramadan fast runs from the start of dawn to dusk. So shortly after 3
one recent morning, Mr. Boota left his wife, Mumtaz, as she prepared a predawn
meal in their Coney Island apartment. About 15 minutes later he pulled his
Lincoln to a stop in front of Bismillah Food, a small Pakistani grocery store on
Coney Island Avenue, near Foster Avenue. Several men were inside; taxicabs
parked outside suggested their occupation.
In one fluid motion, Mr. Boota popped the trunk, cut the motor, leapt out,
hoisted the drum’s strap over his shoulder, greeted the owner — “Salaam aleikum”
— and, standing in the sidewalk penumbra of the shop’s fluorescent light, began
The men came to the door. “He’s a very popular man here,” one of them said,
nodding at Mr. Boota, who wore his usual performance attire: a traditional
shalwar kameez, a loose two-piece outfit, elaborately embroidered with gold
Mr. Boota wielded his two drumsticks in a galloping clangor that echoed off the
facades of the darkened buildings.
After about 20 seconds, he ended his performance with a punctuative smack of the
taut drum heads. There was an exchange of mumbled pleasantries in Arabic, the
men moved back inside the store, and as quickly as he had arrived, Mr. Boota was
behind the wheel of his car again, driving a block south to another
“A few seconds,” he said, as he cut the engine again. “Ten, 15 seconds, and
For the next 20 minutes, he repeated this drill outside three Pakistani
restaurants, four convenience and grocery stores and a service station.
No one complained — audibly, at least. And a close watch on nearby windows along
the street revealed no annoyed, or even curious, residents.
“You see, nobody yelling at you,” Mr. Boota said cheerily. “Everybody happy to
He added, “I don’t want people unhappy.”
Drumming, Mr. Boota said, is a family tradition. He is a seventh-generation
ceremonial drummer and is now training his 20-year-old son, Sher, one of eight
children. In addition to his Ramadan reveilles, Mr. Boota plays at Pakistani
weddings, birthday parties, graduation celebrations and other events.
“A lot of happiness hours!” he exclaimed.
During his rounds the next night, he stopped at a Pakistani-run service station
and wandered with his drum into the service bay. He wanted to demonstrate the
full capacity of his instrument. One of the mechanics slid the heavy doors shut,
and Mr. Boota started to play at full volume, unleashing deafening sheets of
sound. For three solid minutes he pounded out relentless, churning polyrhythms
that filled the space like smoke.
Mr. Boota was obviously reveling in the power of his drum after a week of
frustrated Ramadan duty. As the ringing in the listeners’ ears faded, he headed
back to his car.
“It’s a great noise,” he said.
Majeed Babar contributed reporting.
Giving Ramadan a
Drumroll in Brooklyn at 4 A.M., NYT, 13.9.2009,
Some Roman Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan
August 28, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON — The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
has been lobbying for three decades for the federal government to provide
universal health insurance, especially for the poor. Now, as President Obama
tries to rally Roman Catholics and other religious voters around his proposals
to do just that, a growing number of bishops are speaking out against it.
As recently as July, the bishops’ conference had largely embraced the
president’s goals, although with the caveat that any health care overhaul avoid
new federal financing of abortions. But in the last two weeks some leaders of
the conference, like Cardinal Justin Rigali, have concluded that Democrats’
efforts to carve out abortion coverage are so inadequate that lawmakers should
block the entire effort.
Others, echoing the popular alarms about “rationing,” contend that the proposals
could put a premium on efficacy that could penalize the chronically ill.
“No health care reform is better than the wrong sort of health care reform,”
Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, declared in a recent pastoral
letter, urging the faithful to call their members of Congress.
In a diocesan newspaper column this week, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver
agreed, saying the proposal was “not only imprudent; it’s also dangerous.”
The bishops’ opposition — published in diocesan newspapers, disseminated online
by conservative activists, and reported in a Roman Catholic newspaper to be
distributed this weekend at churches around the country — is another setback for
Mr. Obama’s health care efforts. His administration has been counting on the
support of Catholic leaders to help rally believers behind his health care plan.
Just last week, he held a conference call with 140,000 religious voters to
appeal to what he called their “moral convictions.”
The bishops’ backlash reflects a struggle within the church over how heavily to
weigh opposition to abortion against concerns about social justice.
“It is the great tension in Catholic thought right now,” said M. Cathleen
Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Notre Dame.
The same question, Professor Kaveny said, set off the debates over whether
conscientious Catholics could vote for Mr. Obama despite his support for
abortion rights, whether he should be invited to speak at Notre Dame, or whether
Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, like Vice President Joseph R.
Biden Jr., should present themselves for Communion.
Mr. Obama has said the health care overhaul should preserve the current policy
that federal money not pay for elective abortions, and congressional Democrats
say they are trying to do that. House health care legislation would allow the
secretary of Health and Human Services to decide whether a proposed government
insurance program would cover abortions. But any health insurance plan that does
cover abortion — whether government-run or private — would be required to
segregate its government subsidies from its patients’ premium payments so that
no taxpayer money would pay for the procedure. And all patients would have the
choice of plans that do and do not cover it.
House Democrats say many states similarly segregate federal money when they
cover abortion under Medicaid. But abortion opponents say they take as a model
the federal employees benefits program, which excludes health plans that cover
In an Aug. 11 letter to Congress, Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, head of the
bishops’ anti-abortion efforts called the proposed division of funds “an
illusion,” arguing that taxpayers would still indirectly help cover abortion. He
urged lawmakers to block the current House legislation from coming up for a vote
unless it can be amended to expressly prohibit financing for the procedure.
In his conference call with religious voters last week, Mr. Obama denied that
his plan would mean government financing for abortions, calling such assertions
“fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from
meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation.”
Now, a prominent Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor, is declaring that the
president was wrong, citing Cardinal Rigali’s letter about the House bill.
“U.S. Bishops, fact-checkers contradict Obama’s health claims on abortion,”
declares the headline in the issue of the paper that will be distributed in many
churches this weekend.
Liberal Catholic groups argued that most bishops still strongly supported the
broader goals of the health care proposals. “There are certainly some strident
voices out there that want to see health care reform abandoned on the back of
this issue,” said Victoria Kovari, acting director of the liberal Catholics in
Alliance for the Common Good, “but I don’t think that is where the bishops are.”
As recently as July 17, a letter to Mr. Obama and Congress from Bishop William
F. Murphy, chairman of the bishops’ domestic justice, appeared eager to back the
Bishop Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., noted that the “we strongly oppose
inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit.” But he
emphasized the priority the church placed on coverage for the poor, calling
health care “not a privilege but a right.”
“Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society,”
he wrote. “It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity.”
On its Web site this summer, the bishops’ conference published a commentary by
the Rev. Douglas Clark of Savannah, Ga., arguing that the country now rationed
“health care on the basis of wealth.” Father Clark cited an encyclical last
month from Pope Benedict XVI about the evils of global economic inequality.
Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association endorsed the president’s
plan without reservation.
But as the focus has shifted to the health care overhaul’s ramifications for
abortion provisions, bishops who oppose it on many grounds have grown more
“The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide
health care,” Bishop Nickless of Sioux City wrote, adding, “Any legislation that
undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.”
Some Roman Catholic
Bishops Assail Health Plan, NYT, 28.8.2009,
A Common Ground on Evolution?
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “A Grand Bargain Over Evolution,”
by Robert Wright (Op-Ed, Aug. 23):
Though many conflicts between science and religion are reconcilable, and the
attempts to bridge the divide admirable, one central conflict cannot be
reconciled. To the extent that theology makes fact claims about the origins or
“ultimate” nature of all things, it denies scientific method.
While personal revelation is an excellent way to know whom we love, it is an
abysmal way to seek knowledge about the universe. It becomes an excuse to
believe what one wishes to believe. That cannot be reconciled with science but
to the contrary impedes progress in fashioning a universal human ethic.
Paul L. LaClair
Kearny, N.J., Aug. 23, 2009
To the Editor:
Thanks to Robert Wright for his clarion call to end fruitless conflicts over
evolutionary theory. Unfortunately, Mr. Wright commits an elementary theological
error that tarnishes his insightful argument.
He speaks of a God who works remotely through evolutionary processes. On
traditional theistic grounds, this idea is simply incoherent. In theistic
religions, God is omnipresent, intimately exercising power in all beings.
Concepts like remote intervention or distance are thus inapplicable to an
omnipresent being acting through natural selection.
By using them, Mr. Wright offers not a grand bargain, but a theological Trojan
horse that eviscerates theism’s fundamental ideas.
Derek S. Jeffreys
Green Bay, Wis., Aug. 23, 2009
The writer is an associate professor of humanistic studies and religion at the
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.
To the Editor:
Robert Wright notes that the speculations he outlines on how a moral sense could
evolve are “compatible with the standard scientific theory of human creation.”
Indeed, these speculations — actually rigorous abstract arguments — have been
developed by evolutionary theorists who, like Mr. Wright, see our moral
intuitions as real phenomena in need of an explanation.
But the point of these arguments is to demonstrate that there can be a
traversable path, an evolutionary process, from, say, bacteria, to us (with our
moral intuitions) that doesn’t at any point require that the evolutionary
process itself have a purpose. In other words, their implication is that our
moral sense would evolve even if there weren’t a creative intelligence in the
So the compatibility that Mr. Wright finds is trivial.
Go ahead and believe in God, if you like, but don’t imagine that you have been
given any grounds for such a belief by science.
Medford, Mass., Aug. 23, 2009
The writer is co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts
To the Editor:
My middle-age recommitment to the theistic paradigm of my youth answered years
of unhappy experience (echoing Paul of Tarsus): “I do not do what I want, but I
do the very thing I hate.”
Most religions aim to help human beings address our own moral failings. They
provide stories, symbols and disciplines — reflecting a higher, transcendent
order — which seem to work in rescuing many from illusion, malice, self-created
suffering and self-righteousness.
When I joined Pascal in a leap of faith, my own gamble centered not on a
postmortem heaven or hell, but on the desire to live a more consistently
purposeful, altruistic and peaceful life in the days that are left to me.
My faith is based on moral (and aesthetic), not cosmological or ontological,
reasoning. I thank Robert Wright for explaining why it does not fly in the face
of the science I serve in my daily work as a physician.
Frederick A. Smith
Garden City, N.Y., Aug. 24, 2009
To the Editor:
Why should we be surprised if those who believe in God share some basic
assumptions with teleologically minded scientists, including evolutionary
psychologists and the sociobiologists who preceded them?
Stephen Jay Gould, where are you now that we need you? To remind us that some
sciences are essentially historical. And that a real acknowledgment of
contingency keeps us from seeing adaptation as the kind of purpose-driven life
Robert Wright thinks can bring evolution and God together.
After all, we can understand our moral codes and take them seriously without
believing that they need to be explained either by biology or the divine.
Rosemont, Pa., Aug. 23, 2009
The writer, a former president of Barnard College, is a cultural anthropologist.
To the Editor:
Robert Wright sees a modern theology that recognizes that God’s “role in the
creative process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection.”
According to Mr. Wright, good moral decisions are a happy concomitant of the
evolutionary mechanism of “reciprocal altruism.”
I beg to differ with Mr. Wright. As an orthodox Jew, I look to God and my
tradition for guidance and inspiration when making moral and ethical decisions.
While I believe in evolution, I do not believe that God “checked out” on his
active involvement in the universe once he decided on the mechanism of natural
We still need prayer and God’s help in making both our commonplace and
occasionally extraordinary moral and ethical decisions.
Highland Park, N.J., Aug. 25, 2009
A Common Ground on
Evolution?, NYT, 26.8.2009,
A Grand Bargain Over
August 23, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBERT WRIGHT
THE “war” between science and religion is notable for the amount of civil
disobedience on both sides. Most scientists and most religious believers refuse
to be drafted into the fight. Whether out of a live-and-let-live philosophy, or
a belief that religion and science are actually compatible, or a heartfelt
indifference to the question, they’re choosing to sit this one out.
Still, the war continues, and it’s not just a sideshow. There are intensely
motivated and vocal people on both sides making serious and conflicting claims.
There are atheists who go beyond declaring personal disbelief in God and insist
that any form of god-talk, any notion of higher purpose, is incompatible with a
scientific worldview. And there are religious believers who insist that
evolution can’t fully account for the creation of human beings.
I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they
realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong
for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative
power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the
If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look
different. Believers could scale back their conception of God’s role in
creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of “higher purpose” are
compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along.
The believers who need to hear this sermon aren’t just adherents of “intelligent
design,” who deny that natural selection can explain biological complexity in
general. There are also believers with smaller reservations about the Darwinian
story. They accept that God used evolution to do his creative work (“theistic
evolution”), but think that, even so, he had to step in and provide special
ingredients at some point.
Perhaps the most commonly cited ingredient is the human moral sense — the sense
that there is such a thing as right and wrong, along with some intuitions about
which is which. Even some believers who claim to be Darwinians say that the
moral sense will forever defy the explanatory power of natural selection and so
leave a special place for God in human creation.
This idea goes back to C. S. Lewis, the mid-20th-century Christian writer (and
author of “The Chronicles of Narnia”), who influenced many in the current
generation of Christian intellectuals.
Sure, Lewis said, evolution could have rendered humans capable of nice behavior;
we have affiliative impulses — a herding instinct, as he put it — like other
animals. But, he added, evolution couldn’t explain why humans would judge nice
behavior “good” and mean behavior “bad” — why we intuitively apprehend “the
moral law” and feel guilty when we’ve broken it.
The inexplicability of this apprehension, in Lewis’s view, was evidence that the
moral law did exist — “out there,” you might say — and was thus evidence that
God, too, existed.
Since Lewis wrote — and unbeknown to many believers — evolutionary psychologists
have developed a plausible account of the moral sense. They say it is in large
part natural selection’s way of equipping people to play non-zero-sum games —
games that can be win-win if the players cooperate or lose-lose if they don’t.
So, for example, feelings of guilt over betraying a friend are with us because
during evolution sustaining friendships brought benefits through the
non-zero-sum logic of one hand washing the other (“reciprocal altruism”).
Friendless people tend not to thrive.
Indeed, this dynamic of reciprocal altruism, as mediated by natural selection,
seems to have inclined us toward belief in some fairly abstract principles,
notably the idea that good deeds should be rewarded and bad deeds should be
punished. This may seem like jarring news for C. S. Lewis fans, who had hoped
that God was the one who wrote moral laws into the charter of the universe,
after which he directly inserted awareness of them in the human lineage.
But they may not have to stray quite as far from that scenario as they fear.
Maybe they can accept this evolutionary account, and be strict Darwinians, yet
hang on to notions of divinely imparted moral purpose.
The first step toward this more modern theology is for them to bite the bullet
and accept that God did his work remotely — that his role in the creative
process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection (whether by
dropping it into the primordial ooze or writing its eventual emergence into the
initial conditions of the universe or whatever).
Of course, to say that God trusted natural selection to do the creative work
assumes that natural selection, once in motion, would do it; that evolution
would yield a species that in essential respects — in spiritually relevant
respects, you might say — was like the human species. But this claim, though
inherently speculative, turns out to be scientifically plausible.
For starters, there are plenty of evolutionary biologists who believe that
evolution, given long enough, was likely to create a smart, articulate species —
not our species, complete with five fingers, armpits and all the rest — but some
social species with roughly our level of intelligence and linguistic complexity.
And what about the chances of a species with a moral sense? Well, a moral sense
seems to emerge when you take a smart, articulate species and throw in
reciprocal altruism. And evolution has proved creative enough to harness the
logic of reciprocal altruism again and again.
Vampire bats share blood with one another, and dolphins swap favors, and so do
monkeys. Is it all that unlikely that, even if humans had been wiped out a few
million years ago, eventually a species with reciprocal altruism would reach an
intellectual and linguistic level at which reciprocal altruism fostered moral
intuitions and moral discourse?
There’s already a good candidate for this role — the chimpanzee.
Chimps, some primatologists believe, have the rudiments of a sense of justice.
They sometimes seem to display moral indignation, “complaining” to other chimps
that an ally has failed to fulfill the terms of a reciprocally altruistic
relationship. Even now, if chimps are gradually evolving toward greater
intelligence, their evolutionary trajectory may be slowly converging on the same
moral intuitions that human evolution long ago converged on.
If evolution does tend to eventually “converge” on certain moral intuitions,
does that mean there were moral rules “out there” from the beginning, before
humans became aware of them — that natural selection didn’t “invent” human moral
intuitions so much as “discover” them? That would be good news for any believers
who want to preserve as much of the spirit of C. S. Lewis as Darwinism permits.
Something like this has been suggested by the evolutionary psychologist Steven
Pinker — who, as a contented atheist, can’t be accused of special pleading.
Mr. Pinker has noted how the interplay of evolved intuition and the dynamics of
discourse tends to forge agreement on something like the golden rule — that you
should treat people as you expect to be treated. He compares this natural
apprehension of a moral principle to the depth perception humans have thanks to
the evolution of stereo vision. Not all species (not even all two-eyed species)
have stereo vision, Mr. Pinker says, but any species that has it is picking up
on “real facts about the universe” that were true even before that species
evolved — namely, the three-dimensional nature of reality and laws of optics.
Similarly, certain intuitions about reciprocal moral obligation are picking up
on real facts about the logic of discourse and about generic social dynamics —
on principles that were true even before humans came along and illustrated them.
Including, in particular, the non-zero-sum dynamics that are part of our
As Mr. Pinker once put it in conversation with me: “There may be a sense in
which some moral statements aren’t just ... artifacts of a particular brain
wiring but are part of the reality of the universe, even if you can’t touch them
and weigh them.” Comparing these moral truths to mathematical truths, he said
that perhaps “they’re really true independent of our existence. I mean, they’re
out there and in some sense — it’s very difficult to grasp — but we discover
them, we don’t hallucinate them.”
Mr. Pinker’s atheism shows that thinking in these cosmic terms doesn’t lead you
inexorably to God. Indeed, the theo-biological scenario outlined above — God
initiating natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a
morally rich and reflective species — has some pretty speculative links in its
But the point is just that these speculations are compatible with the standard
scientific theory of human creation. If believers accepted them, that would,
among other things, end any conflict between religion and the teaching of
evolutionary biology. And theology would have done what it’s done before: evolve
— adapt its conception of God to advancing knowledge and to sheer logic.
But believers aren’t the only ones who could use some adapting. If there is to
be peace between religion and science, some of the more strident atheists will
need to make their own concessions to logic.
They could acknowledge, first of all, that any god whose creative role ends with
the beginning of natural selection is, strictly speaking, logically compatible
with Darwinism. (Darwin himself, though not a believer, said as much.) And they
might even grant that natural selection’s intrinsic creative power — something
they’ve been known to stress in other contexts — adds at least an iota of
plausibility to this remotely creative god.
And, god-talk aside, these atheist biologists could try to appreciate something
they still seem not to get: talk of “higher purpose” is not just compatible with
science, but engrained in it.
There is an episode in intellectual history that makes the point. It’s familiar
to biologists because it is sometimes used — wrongly, I think — to illustrate
the opposite point. Indeed, that use is what led Richard Dawkins, one of the
most vocal atheist biologists, to allude to it in the title of one of his books:
“The Blind Watchmaker.”
The story involves William Paley, a British theologian who, a few years before
Darwin was born, tried to use living creatures as evidence for the existence of
If you’re walking across a field and you find a pocket watch, Paley said, you
know it’s in a different category from the rocks lying around it: it’s a product
of design, with a complex functionality that doesn’t just happen by accident.
Well, he continued, organisms are like pocket watches — too complexly functional
to be an accident. So they must have a designer — God.
As Mr. Dawkins pointed out, we can now explain the origin of organisms without
positing a god. Yet Mr. Dawkins also conceded something to Paley that gets too
little attention: The complex functionality of an organism does demand a special
kind of explanation.
The reason is that, unlike a rock, an organism has things that look as if they
were designed to do something. Digestive tracts seem to exist in order to digest
food. The heart seems to exist in order to pump blood.
And, actually, even once you accept that natural selection, not God, is the
“designer” — the blind watchmaker, as Mr. Dawkins put it — there is a sense in
which these organs do have purposes, purposes that serve the organism’s larger
purpose of surviving and spreading its genes. As Daniel Dennett, the Darwinian
(and atheist) philosopher, has put it, an organism’s evolutionarily infused
purpose is “as real as purpose could ever be.”
SO in a sense Paley was right not just in saying that organisms must come from a
different creative process than rocks but also in saying that this creative
process imparts a purpose (however mundane) to organisms.
There are two morals to the story. One is that it is indeed legitimate, and not
at all unscientific, to do what Paley did: inspect a physical system for
evidence that it was given some purpose by some higher-order creative process.
If scientifically minded theologians want to apply that inspection to the entire
system of evolution, they’re free to do so.
The second moral of the story is that, even if evolution does have a “purpose,”
imparted by some higher-order creative process, that doesn’t mean there’s
anything mystical or immaterial going on. And it doesn’t mean there’s a god. For
all we know, there’s some “meta-natural-selection” process — playing out over
eons and perhaps over multiple universes — that spawned the algorithm of natural
selection, somewhat as natural selection spawned the algorithm contained in
At the same time, theologians can be excused for positing design of a more
intentional sort. After all, they can define their physical system — the system
they’re inspecting for evidence of purpose — as broadly as they like. They can
include not just the biological evolution that gave us an intelligent species
but also the subsequent “cultural evolution” — the evolution of ideas — that
this species launched (and that, probably, any comparably intelligent species
When you define the system this broadly, it takes on a more spiritually
suggestive cast. The technological part of cultural evolution has relentlessly
expanded social organization, leading us from isolated hunter-gatherer villages
all the way to the brink of a truly global society. And the continuing cohesion
of this social system (also known as world peace) may depend on people
everywhere using their moral equipment with growing wisdom — critically
reflecting on their moral intuitions, and on the way they’re naturally deployed,
and refining that deployment.
Clearly, this evolutionary narrative could fit into a theology with some classic
elements: a divinely imparted purpose that involves a struggle toward the good,
a struggle that even leads to a kind of climax of history. Such a theology could
actually abet the good, increase the chances of a happy ending. A more evolved
religion could do what religion has often done in the past: use an awe-inspiring
story to foster social cohesion — except this time on a global scale.
Of course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story
that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty
of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind. What’s more, science
has its own role to play in knitting the world together. The scientific
enterprise has long been on the frontiers of international community, fostering
an inclusive, cosmopolitan ethic — the kind of ethic that any religion worthy of
this moment in history must also foster.
William James said that religious belief is “the belief that there is an unseen
order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves
thereto.” Science has its own version of the unseen order, the laws of nature.
In principle, the two kinds of order can themselves be put into harmony — and in
that adjustment, too, may lie a supreme good.
Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author,
most recently, of “The Evolution of God.”
A Grand Bargain Over
Evolution, NYT, 23.8.2009,
Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy
August 22, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO and CHRISTINA CAPECCHI
After an emotional debate over the authority of Scripture and the limits of
biblical inclusiveness, leaders of the country’s largest Lutheran denomination
voted Friday to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to serve
as members of the clergy.
The vote made the denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the
latest mainline Protestant church to permit such ordinations, contributing to a
halting sense of momentum on the issue within liberal Protestantism.
By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates to the denomination’s national assembly in
Minneapolis approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for
people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships”
to serve as official ministers. (The church already allows celibate gay men and
lesbians to become members of the clergy.)
Just before the vote, the Rev. Mark Hanson, the church’s presiding bishop, led
the packed convention center in prayer. When the two bar graphs signaling the
vote’s outcome popped up on the hall’s big screens seconds later, there were
only a few quiet gasps, as delegates had been asked to avoid making an audible
scene. But around the convention hall, clusters of men and women hugged one
other and wept.
“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said
the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex
relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on
the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to
my name anymore.”
But the passage of the resolution now raises questions about the future of the
denomination, which has 4.6 million members but has seen its ranks steadily
dwindle, and whether it will see an exodus of its more conservative followers or
experience some sort of schism.
“I think we have stepped beyond what the word of God allows,” said the Rev.
Rebecca M. M. Heber of Heathrow, Fla., who said she was going to reconsider her
Conservative dissenters said they saw various options, including leaving for
another Lutheran denomination or creating their own unified body.
A contingent of 400 conservative congregations that make up a group that calls
itself Lutheran Core is to meet in September. Leaders of the group said their
plans were not to split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church but to try to
protect its “true tenets” from within.
Among so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations, distinguishable
theologically from their more conservative, evangelical Protestant counterparts,
both the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ already allow gay
The Episcopal Church has endured the most visible public flashpoints over
homosexuality, grappling in particular in the last few years with the
consecration of gay bishops. It affirmed last month, however, that “any ordained
ministry” was open to gay men and lesbians.
Earlier this year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected a measure that would
have opened the door for gay ordination, but the margin was narrower than in a
similar vote in 2001. The United Methodist Church voted not to change its stance
barring noncelibate homosexuals from ministry last year, after an emotional
debate at its general conference.
But the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s heavily Midwestern membership and the fact
that it is generally seen as falling squarely in the middle of the theological
milieu of mainline Protestantism imbued Friday’s vote with added significance,
religion scholars said.
Wendy Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University who has studied
Evangelical Lutheran churches grappling with the issue, said, “It does show, to
the extent that any mainline denominations are moving, I think they’re moving
slowly toward a more progressive direction.”
Describing the context of Friday’s vote, several religion experts likened it to
the court decision last year in Iowa legalizing same-sex marriage.
“In the same sense that the Iowa court decision might have opened people’s eyes,
causing them to say, ‘Iowa? What? Where?’” said Laura Olson, a professor of
political science at Clemson University who has studied mainline Protestantism.
“The E.L.C.A. isn’t necessarily quite as surprising in the religious sense, but
the message it’s sending is, yes, not only are more Americans from a religious
perspective getting behind gay rights, but these folks are not just quote
unquote coastal liberals.”
The denomination has struggled with the issue almost since its founding in the
late 1980s with the merger of three other Lutheran denominations.
In 2001, the church convened a committee to study the issue. It eventually
recommended guidelines for a denominational vote. In 2005, however, delegates
voted not to change its policies.
On Friday, delegates juggled raw emotion, fatigue and opposing interpretations
Before the vote but sensing its outcome, the Rev. Timothy Housholder of Cottage
Grove, Minn., introduced himself as a rostered pastor in the church, “at least
for a few more hours,” implying that he would leave the denomination and
eliciting a gasp from some audience members.
“Here I stand, broken and mournful, because of this assembly and her actions,”
Mr. Housholder said.
The Rev. Mark Lepper of Belle Plaine, Minn., called for the inclusion of gay
clergy members, saying, “Let’s stop leaving people behind and let’s be the
family God is calling us to be.”
Michael Luo reported from New York, and Christina Capecchi from Minneapolis.
Lutheran Group Eases
Limits on Gay Clergy, NYT, 22.8.2009,
Episcopals’ First Openly Gay Bishop Speaks
July 17, 2009
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
ANAHEIM, Calif. — This week, gay-rights advocates at the Episcopal Church
convention here chalked up two major victories — moves that both liberals and
conservatives agree are probably a turning point in their church’s history.
Earlier in the week, the church voted to open the door to ordaining openly gay
bishops. And on Thursday the bishops voted to start the process of developing
rites for blessing same-sex marriages, and to give the green light to bishops
who are already doing so.
At the center of all these battles has been Bishop Gene Robinson, the first
openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He has been something of a human
lightning rod ever since the church voted at its convention in 2003 to consent
to his consecration as bishop of New Hampshire.
Since then, he has been lauded as a gay rights hero and vilified as the cause of
schism in both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the world’s
third largest network of churches. But as a bishop, he has an insider’s seat at
What follows is an interview with Bishop Robinson, conducted during a break at
Q: Thank you for making the time. You must have a lot of interview requests.
A: Yes, and I’m not doing any interviews, except this one. A lot of requests
came in after the bishops’ first vote on Monday (to allow for the consecration
of more gay bishops). Of course, the possibility of there being another gay
bishop in the House is something I’ve longed for for a long time. But I didn’t
feel like talking. I felt very sober. I know that what we’ve done here will be
very difficult for a lot of people in that room, and in the Communion.
Q: Many conservatives I’ve talked to say they are feeling very isolated at this
convention, and even railroaded.
A: Progressives stayed around and in the Episcopal Church for 30, 40 years when
we were the minority, and our voices weren’t heard, and we were pushed out. I
think a lot of them have never felt what it felt like to be in the minority. A
bunch of straight white guys are now sitting there and having that experience,
which is something I think could be valuable for anyone to experience.
Q: But conservatives have been saying for years that the Episcopal Church has
been taken over by the liberals.
A: The General Convention in 2003 might have looked like that to people, when
there was the vote for my consent (to be consecrated as a bishop). The
difference there is they were voting on a person. I had been so active in the
church, it was really hard for them to say no. What happened yesterday (with the
vote to move ahead on blessings for same-sex marriages) is they opened the way
for people they don’t know, and that’s a new and significant thing. It felt much
more theological and philosophical than being about an individual.
Q: Going into this convention you said you had a lot of trepidation because you
had recently been feeling a cold shoulder from your fellow bishops, and you
anticipated that they were prepared to vote against the gay-related legislation.
But on both key resolutions, your side prevailed. What happened?
A: The most significant thing that happened was on Tuesday, after the House of
Bishops stopped the debate on same-sex blessings and decided to have a smaller
group of bishops meet to discuss it further. They said anyone could come, and it
turned out it wasn’t a small group at all. There were 25 to 30 of us, and it
turned out to be the most significant interaction I’ve had with the bishops
since I’ve been elected.
It was profound and it was inspiring. People stood up and spoke their own truth,
both the pain and the joy. Everyone spoke honestly about what they needed to go
home with, what they could live with and what they couldn’t.
Q: So how do you explain the vote counts? The bishops passed both of these
measures resoundingly, and we are starting to hear of many
moderate-to-conservative bishops who voted “yes” on both ordinations and gay
A: Everyone acknowledges they know where this is going, that gay marriage is
becoming a reality. But we’re trying to bring our people along. One bishop said
to me he voted “no” so he could go home and do this work, as he explained it,
“so I can bring my people along.” He used the Nixon in China analogy. This was a
bishop who voted “no” on my consent in 2003.
Another bishop said that in his diocese he will never have to deal with gay
marriage. I told him, you don’t know where this is going. Gay marriage could go
to the Supreme Court, it could become the law of the land. Maybe part of your
responsibility is to get your people ready for where the country is going.
Also among the bishops, there was a real sympathy for those of us in
jurisdictions who are faced with this new reality (ie. legalization of gay
marriages or same-sex unions).
Q: Do you think there will now be an exodus from the church.
A: I think it will hold. Now that we’ve done the, quote, unthinkable, the church
won’t look much different than before. Opponents of marriage equality predict
the end of Western civilization as we know it if gay couples are allowed to
marry. And then when it comes, there’s no big whoop.
Q: I heard Bishop Bill Love of Albany yesterday saying how pained he was at
these actions the church has taken, and the reporters at this news conference
really pressed him on whether he would take his diocese out of the Episcopal
Church and he said no — that that was not where he felt that God was leading
A: Bill Love is a faithful Episcopalian, a man of integrity, and I respect him
deeply. (Bishop) Edward Little (also a conservative), I would trust my life to
him. He is the one I asked to intervene with (Archbishop of Canterbury) Rowan
Williams when Rowan told me I could not go to Lambeth (the convention of
Anglican bishops held last year in England).
I think maybe that’s what people don’t get about the House of Bishops. We have
longstanding relationships. We meet several times each year, at length, and
relationships build over time. We have a commitment to hang in there with one
another, though we have disagreements. The ones that did not have that
commitment are gone. The conversation has been a lot less shrill this year
because a lot of those shrill voices are gone. It’s given people permission to
Q: So where do you expect to see the next openly gay bishop?
A: There are two dioceses that are electing bishops soon, who I think are
capable of electing a gay bishop. Minnesota is electing a diocesan bishop, and
Los Angeles is electing two suffragan bishops (assistant bishops). But no
diocese is going to elect someone because they are gay. Who your bishop is
matters too much, affects too many people. Nobody is going to not take the best
person. But there’s no question it will happen, because there are just great
people out there who would make great bishops.
Q: Will Susan Russell (a priest who is the president of Integrity, a church
advocacy group for gay people) run in Los Angeles?
A: I don’t think so. I think she’s not interested. I think she understands there
is a need for people who do what she does, who can have a prophetic voice
outside of the episcopate. And there are lots of people who think she’s
Q: What has been the fallout of all of this on your own diocese, in New
Hampshire? Have you lost many church members?
A: Except for one parish in Rochester early on, no. That left about 15 people in
that congregation, they met for about a year, and then asked me to close them
down because there weren’t enough people to sustain a continued parish. That’s
all. That’s it. There’s no one, no priests or parishes associated with the
breakaway groups. Our diocese grew by 3 percent last year.
Q: And that makes how many church members?
A: There are 15,000 people in the diocese of New Hampshire.
Q: Who are you pulling in?
A: We have received so many Roman Catholics and young families, particularly
families who are saying, “We don’t want to raise our daughters in a church that
doesn’t value young people in our church.”
Q: Which vote that you’ve taken here do you think will have more impact, the one
on bishops, or the one on same-sex blessings?
A: Blessings. There are a lot of gay and lesbian people out there who are
looking for affirmation, who have no desire to be a bishop. I’ve been saying to
them, give the Episcopal Church a try, give church another try, and this is the
one I wanted to go home with. Were you there after the vote?
Q: I had to run off and file my story — it was late and I was missing my
A: It was amazing. We took the vote, there were closing prayers, and usually
somebody says amen and we’re up and out of there. But last night not a person
moved, for 10 minutes. There was absolute silence. I think we realized the
momentousness of what we’d done. People just sat their quietly praying. It was
amazing. It was almost as if we didn’t want to leave each other.
Episcopals’ First Openly
Gay Bishop Speaks, NYT, 17.7.2009,
Months to Live
Sisters Face Death With Dignity and Reverence
July 9, 2009
The New York Times
By JANE GROSS
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Gravely ill with heart disease, tethered to an oxygen tank,
her feet swollen and her appetite gone, Sister Dorothy Quinn, 87, readied
herself to die in the nursing wing of the Sisters of St. Joseph convent where
she has been a member since she was a teenager.
She was surrounded by friends and colleagues of nearly seven decades. Some had
been with her in college, others fellow teachers in Alabama at the time of the
Selma march, more from her years as a home health aide and spiritual counselor
to elderly shut-ins.
As she lay dying, Sister Dorothy declined most of her 23 medications not
essential for her heart condition, prescribed by specialists but winnowed by a
geriatrician who knows that elderly people are often overmedicated. She decided
against a mammogram to learn the nature of a lump in her one remaining breast,
understanding that she would not survive treatment.
There were goodbyes and decisions about giving away her quilting supplies and
the jigsaw puzzle collection that inspired the patterns of her one-of-a-kind
pieces. She consoled her biological sister, who pleaded with her to do whatever
it took to stay alive.
Even as her prognosis gradually improved from hours to weeks and even months,
Sister Dorothy’s goal was not immortality; it was getting back to quilting, as
she has. She spread her latest on her bed: Autumnal sunflowers. “I’m not afraid
of death,” she said. “Even when I was dying, I wasn’t afraid of it. You just get
a feeling within yourself at a certain point. You know when to let it be.”
A convent is a world apart, unduplicable. But the Sisters of St. Joseph, a
congregation in this Rochester suburb, animate many factors that studies say
contribute to successful aging and a gentle death — none of which require this
special setting. These include a large social network, intellectual stimulation,
continued engagement in life and spiritual beliefs, as well as health care
guided by the less-is-more principles of palliative and hospice care — trends
that are moving from the fringes to the mainstream.
For the elderly and infirm Roman Catholic sisters here, all of this takes place
in a Mother House designed like a secular retirement community for a
congregation that is literally dying off, like so many religious orders. On
average, one sister dies each month, right here, not in the hospital, because
few choose aggressive medical intervention at the end of life, although they are
welcome to it if they want.
“We approach our living and our dying in the same way, with discernment,” said
Sister Mary Lou Mitchell, the congregation president. “Maybe this is one of the
messages we can send to society, by modeling it.”
Primary care for most of the ailing sisters is provided by Dr. Robert C. McCann,
a geriatrician at the University of Rochester, who says that through a
combination of philosophy and happenstance, “they have better deaths than any
I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. McCann’s long relationship with the sisters gives him the time and
opportunity, impossible in the hurly-burly of an intensive-care unit, to clarify
goals of care long before a crisis: Whether feeding tubes or ventilators make
sense. If pain control is more important than alertness. That studies show that
CPR is rarely effective and often dangerous in the elderly.
“It is much easier to guide people to better choices here than in a hospital,”
he said, “and you don’t get a lot of pushback when you suggest that more
treatment is not better treatment.”
But that is not to say the sisters are denied aggressive treatment. Sister Mary
Jane Mitchell, 65, chose radical surgery and radiation for a grave form of brain
cancer. She now lives on the Alzheimer’s unit, unable to speak and squeezing
shut her lips when aides try to feed her.
Then there is Sister Marie Albert Alderman, 84 and blind in one eye from a
stroke. She sees a kidney specialist, who, she says, “is trying to keep me off
the machine by staying on top of things.” By that she means dialysis, which she
would not refuse. “If they want to try it, fine,” she said. “But I don’t want it
to go on and on and on.”
But Sister Mary Jane and Sister Marie Albert are exceptions here. Few sisters
opt for major surgery, high-tech diagnostic tests or life-sustaining machinery.
And nobody can remember the last time anyone died in a hospital, which was one
of the goals in selling the old Mother House, with its tumbledown infirmary — a
“Bells of St. Mary” kind of place — and using the money to finance a new
facility appropriate for end-of-life care.
“There is a time to die and a way to do that with reverence,” said Sister Mary
Lou, 56, a former nurse. “Hospitals should not be meccas for dying. Dying
belongs at home, in the community. We built this place with that in mind.”
In the old Mother House, the infirmary was a place apart. Here, everyone mixes.
Of the 150 residents, nearly half live in the west wing, designated for
independent living, in apartments with raised toilets, grab bars and the like.
These are the sisters who have given up paying jobs and shared apartments in the
community because of encroaching infirmity.
Forty sisters live in assisted-living studios, and another 40 in the nursing
home and Alzheimer’s unit, all in the east wing, with the chapel, dining rooms
and library at the central intersection. Closed-circuit television allows those
confined to their rooms to watch daily religious services.
Remaining money from the sale of the Mother House went into a shared retirement
fund covering the women’s lodging and medical care, along with Social Security
payments of the retired and salaries of those still working — one is a surgeon,
another a chief executive, and several are college professors. Dr. McCann bills
Medicare for home visits, although most of the care he delivers is not covered
by the government and goes without reimbursement.
Dr. McCann said that the sisters’ religious faith insulated them from
existential suffering — the “Why me?” refrain commonly heard among those without
a belief in an afterlife. Absent that anxiety and fear, Dr. McCann said, there
is less pain, less depression, and thus the sisters require only one-third the
amount of narcotics he uses to manage end-of-life symptoms among hospitalized
On recent rounds, Dr. McCann saw Sister Beverly Jones, 86, a former music
teacher losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. Upbeat, Sister Beverly told
the doctor about the latest book she was reading using a magnifying device —
“Beethoven’s Hair” by Russell Martin, about the composer’s DNA.
He also saw Sister Jamesine Riley, 75, once the president of the congregation,
who barely survived a car accident that left her with a brain injury, dozens of
broken bones and pneumonia. “You’re not giving up, are you?” Dr. McCann asked
“No, I’m discouraged, but I’m not giving up,” Sister Jamesine replied in a
He told her he worried that she now found herself with so little control. She
nodded in stoic assent.
Some days, Dr. McCann said, he arrives with his “head spinning,” from hospitals
and intensive-care units where death can be tortured, impersonal and wastefully
expensive, only to find himself in a “different world where it’s really possible
to focus on what’s important for people” and, he adds, “what’s exportable, what
we can learn from an ideal environment like this.”
Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Center on Longevity at Stanford
University, says the convent setting calms the tendency for public policy
discussion about end-of-life treatment “to devolve into a debate about
euthanasia or rationing health care based on age.”
“Every time I speak to a group about the need to improve the dying process,
somebody raises their hand and says, ‘You’re talking about killing old people,’
” Dr. Carstensen said. “But nobody would accuse Roman Catholic sisters of that.
They could be a beacon in talking about this without it turning into that
American black-and-white way of thinking: Either we have to throw everything
we’ve got at keeping people alive or leave them on the sidewalk to die.”
Often the Roman Catholic position on end-of-life issues is misconstrued as “do
anything and everything necessary” but nothing in Catholic theology demands
extraordinary intervention, experts say, nor do the sisters here, or their
resident chaplain, Msgr. William H. Shannon, 91, advocate euthanasia or
“Killing somebody who is very, very old, with a pill or something, that isn’t
right,” Sister Dorothy said. “But everybody has their own slant on life and
death. It’s legitimate to say no to extraordinary means. And dying people, you
can tell when they don’t want to eat or drink. That’s a natural thing.”
Barbara Cocilova, the nurse practitioner here, sees differences in the health of
these sisters compared with elderly patients in other settings. None have
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (perhaps because they do not smoke) and
only three have diabetes (often caused by obesity). Among those with
Alzheimer’s, Ms. Cocilova said, diagnostic tests tend to produce
better-than-expected results among those who are further along in the disease
process, a possible result of mental stimulation.
Dr. McCann and others say that the sisters benefit from advanced education, and
new ventures in retirement that keep them active. Sister Jamesine was a lawyer
who founded a legal clinic for Rochester’s working poor. Sister Mary Jane
Mitchell was the first female chaplain in a federal penitentiary.
Sister Bernadine Frieda, 91, spry and sharp, spends her days visiting the infirm
with Sister Marie Kellner, 77, both of them onetime science teachers. Sister
Marie, who left the classroom because of multiple sclerosis, reminds an
astounded sister with Alzheimer’s that she was once a high school principal (“I
was?!”) and sings “Peace Is Like a River” to the dying.
“We don’t let anyone go alone on the last journey,” Sister Marie said.
Seven priests moved here in old age, paying their own way, as does Father
Shannon, who presides over funerals that are more about the celebratory
“alleluia” than the glum “De Profundis.” But he has been with the sisters since
he entered the priesthood, first as a professor at Nazareth College, founded by
the order, and now as their chaplain. He shares with them the security of
knowing he will not die among strangers who have nothing in common but age and
“This is what our culture, our society, is starved for, to be rich in
relationships,” Sister Mary Lou said. “This is what everyone should have.”
Sisters Face Death With
Dignity and Reverence, NYT, 9.7.2009,