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History > 2009 > USA > Faith (II)



Ryan Waller


The Vatican’s Invitation to Anglicans


















Oral Roberts,

Fiery Preacher,

Dies at 91


December 16, 2009
The New York Times


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 magazines.

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 among ministers.”

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 this boy.”

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 universities.

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 healing.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/us/16roberts.html







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.

Eileen Adamec
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 Rome.

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 Catholic priests.

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 cover-up.

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 live.

In seeking to whitewash the guilty, the bishops besmirched the innocent.

Thomas Leitch
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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/14/opinion/l14egan.html







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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/opinion/07mon2.html






2nd Gay Bishop Elected for Episcopal Church


December 5, 2009
Filed at 7:58 p.m. ET
The New York Times


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 Angeles diocese.

Still, her victory underscored a continued Episcopal commitment to accepting same-sex relationships despite enormous pressure from other Anglicans to change their stand.

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 winner.

The election began Friday with six candidates vying for two vacancies for assistant bishops.

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 New Hampshire.

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 other Christians.

''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 fellowship.

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 Philadelphia.

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 New York.

    2nd Gay Bishop Elected for Episcopal Church, NYT, 5.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/12/05/us/AP-US-Episcopalians-Gay-Bishops.html






Kennedy Says R.I. Bishop Banned Him From Communion


November 22, 2009
Filed at 9:36 a.m. ET
The New York Times


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 meeting.

''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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/11/22/us/AP-US-RI-Bishop-Kennedy.html






Atheist Student Groups Flower on College Campuses


November 21, 2009
Filed at 2:06 p.m. ET
The New York Times


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 campus.''

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 numbers.

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 young adulthood.

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 conversation.

He explains that he was raised Methodist, has a Buddhist friend and dates a Wiccan.

''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 youth.

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 http://twitter.com/egorski

    Atheist Student Groups Flower on College Campuses, NYT, 21.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/11/21/us/AP-US-REL-Atheism-on-Campus.html






Complications Grow for Muslims Serving Nation


November 9, 2009
The New York Times


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 civilians.

“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 constituted terrorism.

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 jockey.”

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 these wars.

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 Iraqis.

“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 recalled.

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 Affairs Council.

“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 reporting.

    Complications Grow for Muslims Serving Nation, NYT, 9.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/09/us/09muslim.html






Barred From Field, Religious Signs Move to Stands


October 27, 2009
The New York Times


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 school-sponsored event.

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 Bibles.”

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 government.”

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 boundaries.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/us/27cheerleader.html






Op-Ed Columnist

The Nuns’ Story


October 25, 2009
The New York Times



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 forbidden topic.

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 disdain.”

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 lead.”

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 condoms.)

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, 25.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/opinion/25dowd.html






Parishioners Recall Priest and Suspected Killer


October 26, 2009
The New York Times


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 someday.”

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 the affidavit.

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 family.”

    Parishioners Recall Priest and Suspected Killer, NYT, 26.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/nyregion/26priest.html







The Vatican’s Invitation to Anglicans


October 24, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Vatican Bidding 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, U.S.A.

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 régime.

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 priesthood.

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.

Eamon Coughlin
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 Tiber.

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 believers.

Numbers have nothing to do with Rome’s approach, but rather consistency and charity.

(Rev.) Hugh Barbour
Silverado, Calif., Oct. 21, 2009

    The Vatican’s Invitation to Anglicans, NYT, 24.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/24/opinion/l24vatican.html






Priest Is Found Slain in New Jersey


October 24, 2009
The New York Times


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 afternoon.

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 priest’s life.

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 prosecutor said.

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 mayor.

“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, friendly town.”

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 diocese said.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/24/nyregion/24priest.html






Vatican Bidding to Get Anglicans to Join Its Fold


October 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 traditions.

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 affronted.”

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 said.

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 great.

“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 Africa.

“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 London.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/world/europe/21pope.html






A Mother, a Sick Son and His Father, the Priest


October 16, 2009
The New York Times


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 children.

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 him.”

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 nothing bad.

“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 financially.

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 addictions.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/us/16priest.html







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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/opinion/07wed1.html






City Decides to Continue Pre-Meeting Invocation


October 2, 2009
The New York Times


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 miles away.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/us/02lodi.html






Muslims in Colorado Uneasy Over Terror Inquiry


September 20, 2009
The New York Times


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 said.

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 anything wrong.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/us/20aurora.html






Giving Ramadan a Drumroll in Brooklyn at 4 A.M.


September 13, 2009
The New York Times


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 fasting begins.

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 playing.

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 thread.

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 Pakistani-owned business.

“A few seconds,” he said, as he cut the engine again. “Ten, 15 seconds, and bye-bye.”

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 see you.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/nyregion/13drummer.html






Some Roman Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan


August 28, 2009
The New York Times


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 abortion.

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 Democrats’ effort.

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 vocal.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/health/policy/28catholics.html?hp







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 background.

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.

Daniel Dennett
Medford, Mass., Aug. 23, 2009

The writer is co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.

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.

Judith Shapiro
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 selection.

We still need prayer and God’s help in making both our commonplace and occasionally extraordinary moral and ethical decisions.

Frank Stechel
Highland Park, N.J., Aug. 25, 2009

    A Common Ground on Evolution?, NYT, 26.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/opinion/l26evolution.html






Op-Ed Contributor

A Grand Bargain Over Evolution


August 23, 2009
The New York Times


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 militantly atheistic.

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 universe.

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 chain.

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 a designer.

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 genomes.

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 would launch).

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/opinion/23wright.html






Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy


August 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 membership.

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 clergy members.

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 of Scripture.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/us/22lutherans.html?hp






Episcopals’ First Openly Gay Bishop Speaks


July 17, 2009
The New York Times


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 the proceedings.

What follows is an interview with Bishop Robinson, conducted during a break at the convention:

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 blessings.

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 them.

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 listen better.

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 strident.

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 deadlines.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/us/17bishop.html






Months to Live

Sisters Face Death With Dignity and Reverence


July 9, 2009
The New York Times


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 patients.

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 her.

“No, I’m discouraged, but I’m not giving up,” Sister Jamesine replied in a strong voice.

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 physician-assisted suicide.

“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 infirmity.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/health/09sisters.html