Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do-it-yourself redistricting

Costas Panagopoulos, an associate professor of political science and director of the 2012 New York Redistricting Project at Fordham University, will be in Albany tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 1) to host a panel discussion and demonstration of software for redistricting from 2 to 4 p.m. in Hearing Room A of the Legislative Office Building in Albany. The easy-to-use software will be used in a student competition to design fair and equitable redistricting maps. The event is free and open to the public.

As he notes today in an o-ed piece in today’s Times Union:
Legislative redistricting has long been marred by backroom deal-making and a lack of public input. By restricting public access, politicians have been able to gerrymander districts to benefit themselves and their party.

Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn to reflect population and demographic changes. In theory, this guarantees that all citizens are fairly and equally represented through their elected officials. However, partisan gerrymandering often slices communities apart and creates districts that fail to ensure effective minority representation. Invariably, this dynamic contributes to partisan gridlock that paralyzes the political and policy making process.

As the state Legislature is in the midst of drawing its own lines, there is real concern about how the new maps will be produced. In past redistricting, both parties have joined to institutionalize partisan control of the Assembly and the Senate by creating fewer competitive races. Partisan control of the redistricting process has resulted in badly contorted districts that neglect communities and preclude competitive elections.

For all kinds of communities to be fairly represented in government, redistricting must be accountable to the communities being represented. The process must be transparent, accountable and open to public engagement.

Now, with the availability of user-friendly, free software, every citizen can have the tools to produce legislative maps. "The 2012 New York Redistricting Project", a collaborative effort between the Fordham Center of Electoral Politics and Democracy and the Public Mapping Project, seeks to promote these mapping tools, by training the public to use them effectively and become involved in redistricting.
We urge you to show up for the presentation on Tuesday, but, in the meantime, you can read more of his op-ed here.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A history of Catholics helping the poor?

Thomas J. Craughwell has an interesting look at Catholic history in Our Sunday Visitor, in an article headlined, “Church history is essential Catholic reading: Learning the narrative of the Church’s triumphs and shortcomings helps us gain perspective on the Faith.”

In light of our earlier post about the number of Catholics who believe that they can be good Catholics without donating time or money to help the poor, we were struck by this:
In the first centuries of the Church, one of the sharpest differences between Christians and their pagan neighbors was the Christian concept of care and compassion for the poor. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the first seven deacons were ordained, among other things, to care for impoverished widows (Acts 6: 1-6). By the year 100, Christians routinely fasted, sometimes two or three days a week, donating the food they had not eaten to feed the destitute in their city. Such sacrificial compassion was incomprehensible to pagan Romans, who agreed with the philosopher Plautus that feeding a beggar was wasteful: “You lose what you give and prolong his life for misery,” Plautus wrote.

After 313, the year Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the empire, Christians were able to expand their charitable activity. They opened hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the elderly and the disabled — all institutions unknown in the pagan world.
This week’s statistics on Catholic giving seem to be a big step backwards.

Labels: ,

Are churches becoming more religious and less spiritual?

Peter Smith, a reporter who covers religion for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, writes about that possibility here. An excerpt regarding a survey of more than 10,000 congregations shows that many, particularly "Oldline Protestant" churches, are tanking:
Many of these same churches, according to the Faith Communities Today survey, are also putting less emphasis on spiritual activities, such as prayer and Bible study.

Veteran religion writer David Briggs poses what could be called the "duh" question: Could there be a connection?

It isn’t hard, he writes, to connect the dots. Most people go to church because — surprise — of their own personal piety. The more spiritually connected people feel, the more active they tend to be in church, and vice versa, the research shows.

Briggs, blogging for the Association of Religion Data Archives, said that if churches are struggling, perhaps that’s because they’re becoming precisely the opposite of what many people are defining themselves as: religious, but not spiritual:

It’s challenging, he acknowledges, for churches to try to pump up their spiritual vitality when membership is down, money is down and everyone is stretched and stressed:

"The loss of morale creates an environment where many say: ‘It doesn’t feel as if God is in this place,’ said David Roozen, a lead researcher of the Faith Communities Today survey.

"But part of the issue is also the choices many church leaders have made to place greater emphasis on social service programs or church committee work than on promoting spiritual growth.

We will be the first to admit there is a lesson here.

Labels: ,

Catholic social teaching and Occupy Wall Street

Does Catholic social teaching support Occupy Wall Street? Columnist Tony Magliano says "yes" in this column distributed by Catholic News Service:
The Catholic social teaching principle known as “the universal destination of the earth’s goods” insists that all people deserve a fair share of creation and the goods of humankind, and certainly to the point of having each basic need met entirely.

Pope Paul VI taught that God intends for everyone to adequately share in the goods of the earth.

American society’s failure to fulfill this ethical principle is a moral indictment against most of Washington’s politicians, corporate America and liberal capitalism, which highly favors those with wealth and power at the painful expense of those with little or none.

Blessed John Paul said that the human inadequacies of capitalism are far from disappearing. So much of America’s political and economic system is unjust. And yet, for the most part, Catholics are silent.

Silence supports the rich and powerful, never the poor and weak.

But Catholic social teaching calls us to speak up for the poor and weak.

So let us raise our voices together with our courageous brothers and sisters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Demand that the do-little U.S. Congress:

– Significantly raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
– Drastically cut military spending; stop the wars.
– Create millions of public service jobs.
– Give small businesses (especially green energy companies) job-producing financial assistance.
– Extend the efficiency of Medicare to everyone.
– Pass strong anti-sweatshop legislation.
– Greatly increase poverty-focused assistance to the nation’s and world’s poor!
The entire column is here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is helping the poor falling out of fashion?

David Gibson and Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service report today on a new survey that “American Catholics have by and large remained loyal to the core teachings and sacraments of their faith, but increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality.”

Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and a co-author of the report, was quoted as saying, “It’s the core creedal sacramental issues that really matter to American Catholics, more than the external trappings of church authority.”

We recommend that you read the entire article here. However, as people who care about matters of peace and justice, we were concerned to read this:
In the 2011 survey, 60 percent of Catholics said you could be a good Catholic without donating time or money to help the poor, up from 44 percent in 2005. Similarly, three-quarters (74 percent) said you could be a good Catholic without donating time or money to a parish, up from 58 percent six years earlier.

Even among the “highly committed” Catholics, the importance of helping the poor fell from 39 percent to 30 percent in the past six years, which co-author William D’Antonio of Catholic University attributed to a “recession that they weren’t confronting in 2005.”
We believe that the importance of helping the poor should be increasing in a recession, even if the actual ability of many people to help as much as in the past might be decreasing.

Meanwhile, over at America magazine, the editors write, “‘Let the church do it’ has proved an appealing notion on the 2012 campaign trail.” However, looking at some facts (not including the bad news reported above) shows that expecting churches to make up a loss in government spending might just be wishful thinking.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate decided to take a look at the potential for church-based welfare. C.A.R.A. concentrated its analysis on one federal program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called “food stamps.” Last year this $68 billion program supported the diets of 18.6 million households. Assuming that every Catholic parish household would increase its weekly giving five-fold, from an average of $9.40 a week to just over $50 each week, C.A.R.A. reports that the Catholic Church in the United States could, after paying its own not insignificant expenses, conceivably pay for half the current federal food stamp budget.

Coming up with the revenue for the rest of what government does thus appears a daunting task. Last year Professor Wayne Flynt, of Auburn University, speculated that the 10,000 or so houses of worship in his home state of Alabama might be able to take care of its poor residents. “All you have to do is for your congregation to adopt 50 to 100 poor people,” he said, “and mentor them, and love them, and educate them and nurture them…. And I’ll guarantee you that if you do that, it will be closer to what Christ intended than Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare.” And the chances of that? “They will never do it,” Flynt said. “[T]he churches will not do it.”
The editors go on to address the long-standing Catholic concept of subsidiarity:
The concept does indeed discourage an overbearing government response to social concerns that could be ably addressed at lower levels of social agency. But subsidiarity does not exclude all government response to social need. Indeed, Catholic social teaching argues that it is the obligation of government—from local to state and on up to the federal level, as circumstances require—to protect human dignity that might be diminished by deprivation. The Catholic tradition, in fact, maintains an affirmative view of the positive role of government in addressing needs that have not been satisfied by the market system. And from this perspective the church accepts a collaborative, supplemental function with government, not replacing it or standing as a counterforce to it.

We all share responsibility for the common good. It is an obligation we can partly meet through our government—a higher association of our neighbors and friends and family, acting on behalf of all.
The entire article is here.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vatican issues document to rein in global markets

Catholic News Service reports on the new Vatican document that calls for the gradual creation of a world political authority with broad powers to regulate financial markets and rein in the "inequalities and distortions of capitalist development."
The document said the current global financial crisis has revealed "selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale." A supranational authority, it said, is needed to place the common good at the center of international economic activity.

The 41-page text was titled, "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority." Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, it was released Oct. 24 in several languages, including a provisional translation in English.

The document cited the teachings of popes over the last 40 years on the need for a universal public authority that would transcend national interests. The current economic crisis, which has seen growing inequality between the rich and poor of the world, underlines the necessity to take concrete steps toward creating such an authority, it said.

One major step, it said, should be reform of the international monetary system in a way that involves developing countries. The document foresaw creation of a "central world bank" that would regulate the flow of monetary exchanges; it said the International Monetary Fund had lost the ability to control the amount of credit risk taken on by the system.

The entire article, which contains many more details, is available here.

Labels: ,

Rendering unto Caesar

Earlier this month, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan preached on one of the most familiar Gospel readings, which contains these words of Jesus, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but to God what belongs to God.” He notes that, “for 2000 years we, His followers, have been struggling to keep that delicate balance.”
Jesus and His Church, of course, have always encouraged us to be “in the world but not of it,” so, political responsibility, faithful citizenship, is a duty, a virtue . . .

For 2000 years we followers of Jesus have been trying to balance our duties to God and our duties to Caesar, to our government, longing for a society where the two orders are allied, not in conflict.

Our attempts these past two millennia have been awkward. At times we have erred on the side of our faith, believing that government owes religion certain privileges, power, dominion, even that government should enforce and impose a particular creed. This, of course, is theocracy; it is bad for the believer, bad for the Church, and bad for society, as we have learned the hard way.

At other times, we have erred on the side of attributing to the government a power and an authority reserved to God alone, reducing faith, religion, the Church, to a harassed, handcuffed hobby.

He then goes on to quote Blessed John Paul II, who spoke the following words on the mall in our nation’s capital thirty-two years ago:
Human-Christian values triumph when any system is reformed that authorized the exploitation of any human being; when upright service and honesty in public servants is promoted; when the dispensing of justice is fair and the same for all; when responsible use is made of the material and energy resources of the world -- resources that are meant for the benefit of all; when the environment is preserved intact for the future generations. Human-Christian values triumph by subjecting political and economic considerations to human dignity, by making them service the cause of every life created by God.

They both are correct. To read the rest of the homily, go here.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Catholic lethargy in public square

Russell Shaw, a contributing editor at Our Sunday Visitor, writes incisively about the documents issued by our bishops and the Vatican, and how few of us read them or even know about them. For all the work that goes into preparing these documents and statements, the sad truth is that, for the average person in the pews, they do not exist.
I was reminded of this by news of a study showing only 16 percent of American Catholics recall even hearing about the most recent of the “political responsibility” statement published quadrennially by the American bishops. And three-quarters of those who’d heard of it said it had “no influence at all” how they voted in 2008.

Yes, a small number of professional Church watchers have been arguing about these documents ever since the bishops’ conference began publishing them in 1976. They have been, and to some extent still are, a big bone of contention between liberal and conservative Catholic activists. Whether that will be true of the version forthcoming for next year’s election remains to be seen.

But hold that argument for another day. The point I’m making now is that, except for the activists, very few Catholics have read or heeded these much-discussed documents.

It’s no surprise. As somebody who drafted many bishops’ statements some years ago and did media relations on behalf of many others, I have no hesitation about saying it’s been this way a long time. Not just with bishops’ documents either. The same is true of documents from the pope and Roman Curia. Catholics by and large don’t read them or know what they say.

There are several reasons. Church documents tend to be long and difficult for people without much practice reading them. These days they’re readily available on the Internet, but people still must make a small effort to access them — and they don’t. Priests rarely preach on them, and while Catholic papers faithfully report on them, many Catholics can’t be bothered to read the Catholic press to find out what’s going on.

Thus, what many Catholics know about the Church and the teaching of the magisterium comes to them largely (if it comes at all) from the reporting of the secular media. And secular media generally do a better job covering high school field hockey than reporting important statements by the bishops and the pope.

And that is one of the reasons we will be making an effort in coming days to make people more aware of this blog. We hope that it will be a place where people can come for a quick update on what is happening in the area of peace and justice, primarily from a Catholic perspective, but also with an awareness that there are others in the world with many good and wise things to add to the conversation.

We also will strive to be a resource, with links to the many other resources available on-line.

We will explain not just why the Church is involved in matters of peace and justice, but also will offer opportunities for our readers to get involved as well.

To begin, take another look at the top right-hand side of this page. There you will find links not only to the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, but also the New York State Catholic Conference and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also there is a link to The Busy Christian's Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, a fascinating, illustrated, easy-to-read presentation of teachings going back to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, issued in 1891.

We hope that you will explore what we have to offer, and that you will return often to see what we have added.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Differing philosophies on how to redistrict

Felicia Krieg of The Legislative Gazette has a story in this week’s newspaper about redistricting and an issue that should concern all of us, i.e., the difference in populations between legislative districts. According to the paper:
The populations of current Senate and Assembly districts are too inconsistent, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NYPIRG, and both are hoping to reform this in a bill currently before the Legislature. But another good government group, Common Cause, is warning that more flexibility in a district's population may be needed in order to keep communities of interest intact and "reasonably compact."

In the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, the governor recommends a plus or minus 1 percent standard deviation in a given district. And an Oct. 7 report on redistricting released by the New York Public Interest Research Group supports the governor's recommendation. It calls the plus or minus 1 percent proposed maximum standard deviation "not only desirable, but feasible and doable."

Legislative district lines are redrawn every ten years, based on U.S. Census data. The last of the 12 public hearings held by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), charged with drawing new legislative districts based on population, was held on Oct. 5. Cuomo has said repeatedly that he would veto any new district lines drawn by legislators.

Standard deviation in a Senate or Assembly district's population shows how many percentage points the population is away from the population average of all the districts. Currently, Senate and Assembly districts in New York can vary as much as plus or minus 5 percent from the average district size.

While Common Cause/NY supports Cuomo's bill and NYPIRG's desire to carefully examine the past problems there have been with redistricting and some solutions to remedy them, Common Cause is recommending a plus or minus 3 percent maximum deviation so there is more leeway to keep communities of interest and municipalities intact and ensure relatively compact districts.

"While numerical equivalency is a key component of real redistricting reform, we are concerned that it comply with, not cost, other important good government criteria: maintaining communities of interest, keeping cities, towns, counties, and villages intact whenever possible, and drawing districts that are reasonably compact," said Susan Lerner, executive director for Common Cause/NY.

Lerner offered Albany County as an example to illustrate a problem with drawing districts using a plus or minus 1 percent standard deviation. The population of Albany County is 304,204, with a standard deviation of minus 2.57 percent. It makes more sense, Lerner said, to keep the county intact as one Senate district and have a greater standard deviation, rather than breaking it up to adhere to the plus or minus 1 percent rule.

The differences between several good government groups are presented in the rest of the article, which is here.


So long, it’s been good to know ya

If we are not here tomorrow, it might be because of this, the end of the world, originally predicted for last May, but now scheduled for today. According to Reuters:
An evangelical broadcaster whose end-of-the-world prophecy earlier this year stirred a global media frenzy has vanished from the public eye and airwaves ahead of his recalibrated doomsday date, set for Friday.

Days after the apocalypse he originally predicted for May 21 conspicuously failed to materialize, Harold Camping emerged from a brief seclusion to say he had merely miscalculated by five months, and he pronounced a new Judgment Day, October 21.

The following month, the now 90-year-old former civil engineer was said by his California-based Christian radio network to have suffered a stroke that left him hospitalized.

He has largely dropped out of sight since then, and his daily radio program, "Open Forum," broadcast on more than 60 U.S. stations, has been canceled.

Moreover, there is little evidence that swarms of believers who once fanned out in cities nationwide with placards advertising Camping's message -- some giving up life savings in anticipation of being swept into heaven -- were following a new doomsday countdown.

The rest of the article is here. When will people realize that the Book of Revelation was written to encourage persecuted Christians almost 2,000 years ago, and is not a Fodor's guide to the apocalypse?

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Virgin of the Silver Screen

Judith Dupre, a New York Times bestseller author and the author of the acclaimed Full of Grace, Encountering Mary in Faith, Art & Life, will be in Albany on October 22 to present "Mary in the Movies," a fun and thought-provoking evening of film clips and commentary on the Virgin of the silver screen. She will look at classic and popular films that Mary has inspired, and examine her hold on the creative and spiritual imagination. The evening is a benefit for the Food Pantry of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul.

“Virgin and mother, peasant and queen, inspiration and apparition—no one persona fully expresses the identity of the Virgin Mary," said Ms. Dupre. "Through the centuries, she has inspired countless artists. Filmmakers are no exception, casting her in movies such as The Gospel According to St Matthew, The Passion of the Christ, and The Nativity Story. Marian references and symbolism abound in secular movies too, including The Godfather II, A Bridge Too Far, and Ella Enchanted."

The event will take place on October 22 at St. Vincent's Church, 900 Madison Avenue in Albany. There will be a Soup and Bread Supper at 6 p.m. in the community room, followed by Mary in the Movies at 7 p.m in the Church. Afterwards, dessert will be provided in the community room, at which time copies of Full of Grace will be available for sale and signing by the author.

A free will offering will benefit those who come to the St. Vincent's Food Pantry.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vatican to issue document on global financial reform

Catholic News Service (CNS) is reporting that the Vatican has scheduled a news conference for October 24 to release a document “on reform of the global financial system and the potential role of a public regulatory authority.” According to CNS:
The Vatican said the document would address "reform of the international financial system with a view toward a general public authority."

The wording refers to a section of the 1963 encyclical "Peace on Earth" ("Pacem in Terris"), which stated:

"Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are worldwide in their dimensions; problems, therefore, which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization and means co-extensive with these problems, and with a worldwide sphere of activity."

In recent months, the Vatican's justice and peace council has convened experts for discussions of the ethical dimension of the global financial crisis. At one conference sponsored by the council last May, participants said Catholics were looking for guidance from the Vatican on ethical principles for the world of finance and the environment.

In his 2009 encyclical "Charity in Truth" ("Caritas in Veritate"), Pope Benedict XVI addressed the worsening effects of the global crisis and said there was "an urgent need of a true world political authority" that could give poorer nations a bigger voice in financial decision-making, help manage the global economy, guarantee food security, better protect the environment and regulate migration.

The entire article is available here.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Freedom from hunger?

An alert reader sent us a link to yesterday's News Briefs from Catholic News Service, which reported on the Pope's statement on hunger:
Pope Benedict XVI appealed for immediate and long-term relief for the world's hungry, saying the right to adequate nourishment is a fundamental part of the right to life. The hunger crisis that affects millions of people today is a sign of the deep gulf between the haves and the have-nots of the world and calls for changes in lifestyle and in global economic mechanisms, the pope said in a message marking World Food Day Oct. 16.

. . .

"Freedom from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete manifestation of that right to life which, although solemnly proclaimed, often remains far from being effectively implemented," he said. The theme of this year's World Food Day focused on food prices, and the pope said current pricing volatility reflected the tendency toward speculation on food commodities. He said a new global attitude is needed. "There are clear signs of the profound division between those who lack daily sustenance and those who have huge resources at their disposal," he said. Given the dramatic nature of the problem, reflection and analysis are not enough -- action must be taken, he said.

The entire news brief is here. It is the fourth item listed.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anti-Poverty Week

This is Anti-Poverty Week in Australia (October 16-22). The main aims of Anti-Poverty Week are to:
Strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and in Australia;

Encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.

Everyone who is interested in helping to reduce poverty and hardship here or overseas is encouraged to organise their own activities during the Week or join in some being organised by other people.

In addition to resources about poverty in Australia, the website offers resources from around the world, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.

The Australian website offers a series of Gospel reflections by Sister Veronica Lawson RSM from the Sisters of Mercy Ballarat Province that we think you might find useful.

Even though it is not Anti-Poverty Week here in the USA, we suggest you view some of these excellent resources to become familiar with the extent of the problem both here and elsewhere.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Does reading the Bible make you liberal?

Christianity Today reports on a recent poll from LifeWay Research which “looked into what happens when one actually reads the Bible, especially when one reads it independently outside the church.”

Perhaps we've assumed that such questions would be redundant, merely one more measure of religiosity, along with how often one attends church, how literally one views the Bible, and how much one prays. When researchers look at these indicators, they usually find a correlation with both political and moral conservativism. It's not always the case, but it is a trend. Reading the Bible on one's own makes a difference, too. The interesting part, however, is the unexpected difference it makes.

Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader. It increases opposition to abortion as well as homosexual marriage and unions. It boosts a belief that science helps reveal God's glory. It diminishes hopes that science will eventually solve humanity's problems. But unlike some other religious practices, reading the Bible more often has some liberalizing effects—or at least makes the reader more prone to agree with liberals on certain issues. This is true even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, and religious measures (like which religious tradition one affiliates with, and one's views of biblical literalism).

. . . .

Some of the most interesting findings relate to moral attitudes. "How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" Again, as would be expected, those with more liberal political leanings were more likely to say it's very or somewhat important. And those who read the Bible more often were more likely to agree. Indeed, they were almost 35 percent more likely to agree at each point on Baylor's five-point scale. That may be bad news for Glenn Beck, who last year told believers to leave their churches if they hear "social justice" language being used. Likewise, contrary to liberal media stereotypes, those who are most engaged in their faith (by directly and frequently reading its source material) are those who are most supportive of social and economic justice. A reading, politically conservative literalist is only slightly less supportive than a non-reading, politically liberal non-literalist.

. . .

Why The Bible Pushes You Leftward

The discussion becomes even more interesting when we consider who is most likely to read the Bible frequently. It's evangelicals and biblical literalists, those who tend to be more conservative on these topics. In other words, those who read the Bible most often are more conservative, but the more they read the Bible, the more likely it is that their views will change, at least on these topics.

Why does this happen? One possible explanation is that readers tend to have expectations of a text prior to reading it. Given the Bible's prominence in our society, it's little wonder that many people think they know what's in it before they open it up. But once they start reading it on their own, they are bound to be surprised by something, and this surprising new content is then integrated and grafted on to the familiar. Beliefs do change with the addition of new information.

But it doesn't have to be unfamiliar content to surprise the reader. It just has to be personally relevant. Frequent Bible readers may have different views of biblical authority, but they tend to read it devotionally, looking for ways in which Scripture is speaking directly to them. They will read until struck by something that sticks out in the text. Even if the reader thinks the Bible has some error or needs a lot of interpretation, this thunderbolt moment can take on tremendous personal significance.

But frequent Bible readers don't just see the Bible as personal. They also see it as authoritative, written by an author who had a specific context and intent, and they want to conform to its message. After all, why read the Bible with no desire to embrace what it teaches?

In short, sometimes reading the Bible can change views and attitudes because readers are surprised by what's in it. Other times, it's just a matter of discipleship.

You can read the entire article here.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

70th Anniversary

Angela Cave, staff writer for The Evangelist, has an article in the most recent issue of the paper about the 70th anniversary of Capital Area Council of Churches, “looking back at its evolution from a simple ecumenical group into a provider of social services.”
"It has moved into the community in very creative ways," said Rev. Robert Lamar, pastor emeritus of First Presbyterian Church in Albany and past executive director of the council.

Rev. Lamar has been involved in the council since the late 1950s. He described those early days as focused on "churchy business." But today, the council runs an emergency homeless shelter, prison ministries, incarceration prevention services, peace and justice forums and CROP Walks to support food pantries and soup kitchens.

The CACC oversees an interfaith prayer room at the Albany International Airport and chaplaincy programs at nursing homes and at The University at Albany and Albany Medical Center.

CACC leaders are discussing challenges facing local faith and secular communities. About 85 churches, mostly Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox and mainline Protestants from Albany and southern Rensselaer Counties, are CACC members. Affiliate members include the First Unitarian Universalist Society and the Unification Church. Another 7,000 individuals are also members.

Less than a year ago, Rev. George Brennan was named the first Catholic executive director of the council.

"I feel a lot of positive energy," said Father Brennan, who is pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Copake Falls. "I think we have a lot to learn from one another."

Father Brennan has visited 70 churches since he began his role. He's been impressed by the CACC's "baptism witnesses" - members who attend baptisms at each other's churches.

The pastor introduced the practice at his own parish. The ecumenical witnesses serve as a "reminder that we're baptized into the Christian community," he explained.

The rest of the article is here.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The bishops' pastoral response to domestic violence against women states, in part:
Violence against women in the home has serious repercussions for children. Over 50 percent of men who abuse their wives also beat their children. Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictions and to become abusers themselves. The stage is set for a cycle of violence that may continue from generation to generation.

The Church can help break this cycle. Many abused women seek help first from the Church because they see it as a safe place. Even if their abusers isolate them from other social contacts, they may still allow them to go to church. Recognizing the critical role that the Church can play, we address this statement to several audiences:

- To women who are victims of violence and who may need the Church's help to break out of their pain and isolation;

- To pastors, parish personnel, and educators, who are often the first responders for abused women;

-To men who abuse and may not know how to break out of the cycle of violence; and

-To society, which has made some strides towards recognizing the extent of domestic violence against women.

We recognize that violence against women has many dimensions. This statement is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather to be an introduction, along with some practical suggestions of what dioceses and parishes can do now.

We suggest that you read the entire statement.


Monday, October 10, 2011

More on redistricting

Last week, Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union reported:
When LATFOR, the legislative panel charged with the controversial redistricting process, held its latest hearing Wednesday on Long Island, several witnesses drew attention to the area around Brentwood, which in contrast to wealthier communities in Suffolk County is denser and has a higher proportion of black and Latino residents.

The area is split among four Senate districts -- all occupied by Republicans.

According to researchers at the good-government group Common Cause, the neighborhood is one of the clearest examples of partisan gerrymandering. It illustrates a process called "cracking," in which certain pockets of voters -- often members of racial minorities -- are parceled off to several districts so their collective voting tendencies are diluted.

"When Hispanics march along Fifth Avenue in Brentwood in our annual parade they have a leg in one district and another in the adjacent district," said Assemblyman Phil Ramos, D-Central Islip. His district was created in the last round of redistricting, in 2002, from three other districts. He was the first Latino elected to the Legislature from Suffolk County; Latinos now comprise 14.9 percent of the voting-age population in the county.

While saying his election has helped steer more services to the area he represents -- school aid, a new state park -- Ramos said he believes courts are the best route to achieve minority representation. The federal Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination against racial or ethnic minorities in any electoral practice, including redistricting. The federal Department of Justice can sue to enforce its provisions, and three New York counties -- Brooklyn, Bronx and parts of Manhattan -- require pre-approval from the DOJ before implementing any electoral changes.

But Suffolk County lacks the requirement, as does Queens, which has seen an increase in its Asian-American population around Flushing, currently split into two districts represented by white senators -- and Monroe County, where majority-minority Rochester is split between two white senators.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat who is black, said a more independent process would produce better results. He accused Republicans who have long controlled the Senate as being "particularly masterful" at cracking in Suffolk, Nassau and Monroe counties.

A memo written in 2001 by a Senate Republican staffer -- recently recirculated by Senate Democrats -- referred to minority areas on Long Island as "politically undesirable."

Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union, previously wrote about the issue of redistricting. He does not present a flattering picture of our legislators.
Almost everybody in the Legislature -- 60 out of 62 senators, and 121 out of 150 Assembly members -- promised last year to support independent redistricting, rather than leaving it to the two-party legislative commission that has done the job before. But most of them lied: No independent redistricting plan emerged from the Legislature this year. So the same old system -- Democrats drawing lines favoring Democrats, Republicans drawing lines favoring Republicans -- is rolling toward an ugly finish.

Cuomo has said over and over that he will veto redistricting that isn't done by an independent group. Will he, really?

A veto could send redistricting to the federal courts, where delays caused by legal maneuvering could lead to months of political chaos. So a Cuomo veto might mess with his mantra: While it would be both predictable and disciplined, it would border on unreasonable.

Still, to not deliver on the veto threat would be to abandon a key piece of the reform agenda that Cuomo promised New Yorkers. And when you're as popular as Cuomo is, you can handle the sort of onslaught that might follow a veto.

Recently Cuomo has signaled that he is open to nonpartisan redistricting approved by the Legislature under some conditions -- for example, if it recognizes communities of interest, such as ethnic and cultural similarities, and if it is based on demographics, rather than incumbent legislators' political needs. That's just the sort of compromise suggested by Common Cause, the good government lobby.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Finding religion in the sex abuse scandal

Associated Press reporter Tom Breen became a weekly Mass attendee after educating himself on the Catholic abuse scandals for his journalism job.

Breen writes:
I was baptized a Catholic, but never really in any tradition other than a vague understanding of Christianity coupled with a sort of tribal pull toward the Catholic Church. My mother died when I was very young, and my father had enough bad experiences with church growing up in an Irish neighborhood in Chicago that he wasn’t particularly driven to make sure my brother and I were raised as active members of the faith.

My father is a journalist, though, and it was his influence that steered me toward news. After college, I was working at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass., at the time the most recent sex abuse scandals began to break in Boston. Partly because I had some Catholic bric-a-brac on my desk, my editor assumed I actually knew something about the church, and so I was assigned to cover a few local stories related to the scandal.

I quickly realized that I didn’t know anything about Catholicism, and so to avoid embarrassing myself and the paper I resolved to learn what I could. In addition to reading everything I could get my hands on, I started pitching stories on religious topics that had nothing to do with the abuse scandal, hoping to bring myself up to speed.

This continued after I moved to the Journal Inquirer, the paper in my hometown of Manchester, Conn. By now I had discovered that I was interested not just in Catholic stories, but in religion generally. It was not only a fascinating topic, but it was one that not many other reporters were interested in covering, so I could pursue stories without stepping on any toes. I also had tremendously knowledgeable editors who were hungry for religion news. One of them put it to me in a way I’ve always remembered: compare the amount of resources the press spends on covering primary elections, he told me, with the number of people who vote in primary elections. Now compare the resources spent on covering religion with the number of people who attend a weekly worship service.

So that’s how I became hooked on religion coverage. On kind of a parallel track, I eventually became a devout Catholic, going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and becoming a weekly churchgoer. Ironically, it was my work covering elements of the sex abuse scandal that led me to become an “official” Catholic; I learned all I could about the faith to make sure my stories were accurate, and my learning convinced me this was the truth.

You can read more here. And thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey at for doing the legwork.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Biking to Florida

Don Berens, a parishioner at St. Pius X church in Loudonville, is pedaling his bicycle from Maine to Florida to raise money for the Emergency Assistance Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany.

If this news gives you a sense of deja vu, it might be because, in 2008, Don rode his bicycle from Los Angeles to Boston for the benefit of the same program.
Don’s journey began on September 22 when he and other cyclists left Portland Maine. If all goes well, they will arrive in Daytona on October 15.

Don’s goal is to bike 1,600 miles through thirteen states in 24 days. The goal of Catholic Charities is to raise money for every mile that Don bikes. All 100% of the funds collected will be used to fund the Emergency Assistance Program which supplies emergency help with utilities, food, shelter, clothing and transportation to those in need, regardless of faith, in the 14 counties of the diocese in eastern New York.

From the website:
Don explains: “Bikers know that, no matter how well prepared we may think we are, we sometimes have emergencies on the road and we need others’ help with food, water, directions, first aid or shelter in a thunderstorm. Good Samaritan strangers have bailed me out of more than one bicycling jam. It is fitting that this ride will promote the ability of Catholic Charities to help our neighbors who need a hand.

The heart and history of Catholic Charities lie in its concern for and response to persons in the greatest need. Let’s rally as a community and join this remarkable journey by pledging funds to help those less fortunate.

You can follow Don's adventure on his blog, here, and can even make a donation.

Labels: ,