Dolan Agonistes

I’m afraid to say that His Merry Rotundity Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, is bidding fair to turn into the ecclesiastical twin of His Grumpy Bullyship William Donohue, president of the Catholic League. They’re both of a size, and though when they show up on your doorstep it’s Tim the Good Cop and Bill the Bad, sure it’s the same agenda that they have. Most recently, Dolan has taken to his blog to berate the New York Times for anti-Catholicism once again. The Gray Lady’s latest sins, from its October 15 issue, are an undignified photo of a nun in a theater listing of The Divine Sister, a play by Charles Busch; and Holland Cotter’s positive review of an exhibit of posters produced by ACT UP, the radical group that engaged in a range of agit-prop activities to dramatize the AIDS epidemic in the last decades of the last century.Dolan, for his part, is indulging in a bit of agit-prop himself. The Divine Sister is not, as he suggests, the second coming of Maria Monk, but a send-up of Hollywood versions of nuns that, as the Times’ Ben Brantley put it in his review of the play, displays “a canny awareness of how mass culture has
exploited our suspicions of those who live in religious orders.”

ACLU questions Sunday morning voting at churches

WASHINGTON (RNS) The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing plans by two Iowa churches to host early voting during worship services. “Combining polling places with religious services is an invitation to the abuse of both religion and the civic act of voting,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, reported The Des Moines Register. Satellite voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 24) at Cornerstone Church in Ames, which holds worship services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Another Ames congregation, Stonebrook Church, will host voting during the same six-hour period on Oct. 31.

Investor sues over poor returns for Bible.com

(RNS) A disgruntled investor has sued Bible.com, saying the website’s name alone should make it a “goldmine” — or at least more profitable than it is. James Solakian filed suit against Bible.com Inc in Delaware Chancery Court, according to the Reuters news agency. He says the website should be worth as least as much as Dictionary.com, Reference.com and Thesaurus.com, which together sold for $100 million in 2007. The Rev. R.S. “Bud” Miller, an Arizona pastor, registered the domain name in 1996 for $50, according to Reuters. Solakian acquired 28 percent of the company’s equity in 2001, Reuters reported.

Ohio priest ordered to pay back almost $4 million

CLEVELAND (RNS) A federal judge sentenced the Rev. Samuel Ciccolini to one day in prison and ordered him to pay almost $4 million in fines and restitution for evading banking regulations and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors say Ciccolini, known locally as Father Sam, has more than enough money to repay the funds. Ciccolini founded the Interval Brotherhood Home, a thriving drug and alcohol treatment center in Akron. But he found himself in trouble with the law when federal investigators caught on to his suspicious banking practices. U.S. District Judge James Gwin ordered Ciccolini to pay restitution of $3.5 million to the foundation that supports the Interval Brotherhood Home.

A Complicated Clinton

Michael Takiff’s massive new oral biography of President Clinton, “A Complicated Man,” hit the shelves this week. Oddly, despite reporting that Clinton called faith “probably the most important thing in my life,” religion gets precious little attention in the 496-page tome. Two passages, however, stuck out. The first is a reminiscence from the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, former pastor at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, where Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea regularly attended services and Sunday school. Wogaman says that after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Clinton was “pastor to the nation.”

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

After the elevation of 24 new cardinals, including two American archbishops, an Italian is the odds-on favorite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI if and when he shuffles off this mortal coil, according to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. The NYT looks at why their local guy, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, didn’t make the cardinal cut this time around. A Roman (secular) court upheld the seizure of $33 million from a Vatican bank account, which left a church spokesman astonished. Islam has gone on trial in Tennessee (where’s Darrow when you need him?) NPR fired commentator Juan Williams for saying Muslims make him nervous. Nearly half of Americans say following Christianity is a very important part of being “truly American.”

Poll: Americans say religious messages fuel negative views of gays

(RNS) Most Americans believe messages about homosexuality coming from religious institutions contribute to negative views of gays and lesbians, and higher rates of suicide among gay youths, a new poll reports. While split on whether same-sex relations are sinful, Americans are more than twice as likely to give houses of worship low marks on handling the issue of homosexuality, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday (Oct. 21). A plurality (45 percent) of Americans, however, give their own house of worship a `A’ or `B’ grade on how it handles homosexuality. After a recent spate of teen suicides prompted by anti-gay harassment and bullying, the poll indicates a strong concern among Americans about how religious messages are impacting public discussions of homosexuality.

Palin, at center of political stage, keeps mum on faith

(RNS) Sarah Palin once pursued politics out of a religious sense of calling, and considered her choice as vice presidential candidate by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain part of “God’s plan.” But now, as the midterm elections loom and Palin positions herself as the heroine of the Tea Party, Palin has become less vocal about the faith that propelled her onto the political scene. “She’s not even talking much about her Christian faith as a whole, much less as a Pentecostal Christian,” says author Stephen Mansfield, who charts Palin’s journey through religion and politics in a new book. As she stirs the Tea-Party pot at rallies across the country ahead of the midterm elections, the former Alaska governor occasionally refers to freedom as a “God-given right” or people with special needs and the elderly as “God’s gifts.” But her speeches tend to focus more on the economy and small-government populism than faith or social issues.

COMMENTARY: A change in my Facebook status

(RNS) “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” So goes the tagline for the new film, “Social Network,” which explores the disputes, betrayals and lawsuits surrounding Mark Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook. That Zuckerberg made enemies is indisputable. But the real question “Social Network” asks all of us is, “Can you make 500 million friends, without making any friends?” Harvard classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss sued Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their idea to create the site that eventually became Facebook.

Curialism on the March

The new collection of cardinals named by Pope Benedict yesterday is heavy with officials of the Roman curia. According to Tom Reese (in an emailed piece not yet posted now posted here), the curial component of the College of Cardinals has increased from 24 percent to 28 during Benedict’s papacy, and relatedly, the percentage of Italians from 16.5 percent to 20.7 percent. This reflects a notable shift from John Paul II’s policy of decreasing the number of Italians in favor of Eastern Europeans.It’s been clear for some time (at least to me and the editors of America) that major responsibility for the abuse crisis rests with the Curia. Here, for example, is a bit of America’s May 17, 2010 editorial:Beyond taking responsibility for the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by
clerics, the renewal of the church must include the reform of the Roman
Curia proposed by the Second Vatican Council and begun by Pope Paul VI. The interpersonal and institutional practices that blocked proper
handling of abuse cases must be rooted out.

Study: More link Christian faith to being American

(RNS) As the U.S. has grown more diverse, more Americans believe that being a Christian is a key aspect of being “truly American,” researchers say. Purdue University scholars found that between 1996 and 2004, Americans who saw Christian identity as a “very important” attribute of being American increased from 38 percent to 49 percent. Scholars said the findings, published in the fall issue of the journal Sociology of Religion, couldn’t be definitively tied to a particular event but they suspect the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have played a role. “We suspect that these events accentuated the connection between Christianity and American identity by reinforcing boundaries against non-Christians and people of foreign origin,” said Jeremy Brooks Straughn, co-author of the study. “Although we can’t be certain of the underlying causes, our data clearly show diverging attitudes between American Christians and their non-Christian counterparts here in the United States.”

Study: More link Christian faith to being American

(RNS) As the U.S. has grown more diverse, more Americans believe that being a Christian is a key aspect of being “truly American,” researchers say. Purdue University scholars found that between 1996 and 2004, Americans who saw Christian identity as a “very important” attribute of being American increased from 38 percent to 49 percent. Scholars said the findings, published in the fall issue of the journal Sociology of Religion, couldn’t be definitively tied to a particular event but they suspect the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have played a role. “We suspect that these events accentuated the connection between Christianity and American identity by reinforcing boundaries against non-Christians and people of foreign origin,” said Jeremy Brooks Straughn, co-author of the study. “Although we can’t be certain of the underlying causes, our data clearly show diverging attitudes between American Christians and their non-Christian counterparts here in the United States.”

Last holdout Episcopal diocese ordains female priest

(RNS) Women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church, after the last holdout, in Quincy, Ill., ordained its first woman on Saturday (Oct. 16). The Rev. Margaret Lee, a grandmother of five and former chemist, is the first woman ordained a priest in the Peoria-based Diocese of Quincy’s 133-year history, according to Episcopal News Service. She had been a deacon since 1996. A spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church said all 110 dioceses in the 2.1 million-member church have now ordained at least one female priest.

Washington archbishop speaks softly and carries a light crozier

WASHINGTON (RNS) In the U.S. Catholic Church, few posts are as prominent asArchbishop of Washington, whose seat in the nation’s capital guarantees a platform that extends far beyond local pews and parishes. Archbishop Donald Wuerl’s influence will only grow after Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal on Wednesday (Oct. 20), giving him the pontiff’s ear and a seat in the elite College of Cardinals that will eventually elect Benedict’s successor. In typical fashion, the mild-mannered Wuerl said in a statement he was “humbled” by the pope’s “trust in me as shepherd of this flock,” but saying it wasn’t about him. “This designation today is an honor for the church,” Wuerl said.

Pope names two Americans among 24 new cardinals

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Two American archbishops, one serving in Rome and the other in Washington, D.C., will be granted a cardinal’s red hat in a ceremony at the Vatican next month, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Wednesday (Oct. 20). Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, who heads the Vatican’s supreme court, were the only American names on a list of 24 men whom Benedict will admit to the College of Cardinals on Nov. 20. Twenty of the new cardinals, including Wuerl and Burke, are under the age of 80, and thus will be eligible to vote for the next pope.