Catholics

the Web Editors 8-03-2015
T photography / Shutterstock.com

Central Park aerial view in Manhattan, New York. Photo via T photography / Shutterstock.com

In March 2015, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a general survey on American religious affiliation, irrespective of geographic setting. According to that survey, the three largest religious groups in the United States are Catholics (22 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (22 percent), and white evangelical Protestants (18 percent).

But what religious groups dominate in urban centers? And in which cities do certain religious groups dominate?

St Roch Church in the Staten Island borough of New York. Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

The United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.

That’s the top finding – one that will ricochet through American faith, culture, and politics – in the Pew Research Center’s newest report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” released May 12.

This trend “is big, it’s broad, and it’s everywhere,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.

the Web Editors 2-27-2015

1. PHOTOS: Painter Immortalized Last Meals of 600 Prisoners Put to Death

Artist Julie Green collects information published in death-row inmates’ death notices about their last moments. She then puts cobalt blue paint to porcelain plates to illustrate their final meals — from pizza and birthday cake to Jolly Ranchers. Her goal: “to continue paining fifty plates a year until capital punishment is abolished.”

2. Net Neutrality Victory Is Civil Rights History in the Making

“Today’s civil rights activists have a much more powerful tool at our disposal – the open Internet. Our ability to be heard, counted, and visible in this democracy now depends on an open Internet, because it allows voices and ideas to spread based on their quality – not the amount of money behind them.”

3. WATCH: It Turns Out Lighting Affects Color

And lots of other things, actually. If you’re still hashing it out with your roommates or spouse about the color of #TheDress, here’s science (and music!) to the rescue. (Team #whiteandgold!) Also, if you need more science, you can always ask Science Mike, who offers this great video explainer.

4. Activists Warn of End of Christian Presence in Middle East

Following ISIS’ kidnapping of at least 90 Assyrian Christians in an attack on about 35 mostly Assyrian settlements, groups in the region warn that we may be witnessing the end of Christian presence in the region: “After the Iraq war of 2003, and since the Syrian crisis began, the persecution unleashed on them – including extortion, kidnappings, murder, the ethnic cleansing of entire swaths of Baghdad, the Nineveh plains, and now much of north-east Syria, has been so vast that their very existence in their ancestral homelands is in grave peril.”

5. In 23 States, the Largest Religious Group Is Now ‘Unaffiliated’

This, according to Public Religion Research Institute’s just-released American Values Atlas, which breaks down various religious and political demographics. Find out the largest religious group in your state at the link!

6. WATCH: Jim Inhofe’s Snowball Has Disproven Climate Change Once and For All

That one time a United States senator — the one who also happens to be the chairman of the environment committee — threw a snowball while on the floor to dispute climate change. Because snow. 

7. An Anti-ISIS Summit in Mecca

“Whether ISIS’s deeds are labeled ‘violent extremism’ or ‘Islamized terrorism,’ the conversations in Washington and Mecca had at least one thing in common: They deepened the debate over whether ISIS and its fellow travelers are ‘Islamic,’ and whether the answer matters in the first place. That debate is not just academic. It has real consequences for how the Islamic State’s opponents mount their counteroffensive.”

8. VIDEO: Banksy Goes Undercover in Gaza, Releases MIni-Documentary

The unidentified street artist Banksy has re-emerged in Gaza to create a political mini-documentary about life inside the war-torn region.

9. Why We Must Change How We Change the World

World Relief President and CEO Stephan Bauman’s new book Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World is now out. In this piece, he lays out why he is hopeful about the future of efforts to address injustice: “We are caught in a vicious cycle, a dangerous dynamic that shapes our views about the people who experience suffering. As a result, those trapped in poverty are dehumanized and poverty is dumbed down while good, well-intended people really believe they are caring, world-conscious, and ethical. But change is coming.” 

10. 10 Things Catholics Are Tired of Hearing

Why do you worship statues? Why do you pray to Mary instead of God? And more confusion in the Protestant understanding of Catholicism. Handy to bookmark for the next inevitable conversation about the purpose of confession or the Apocrypha. 

Photo by Adelle Banks/RNS

Nicole Been of Chicago receives ashes during “Ashes to Go” in Washington, D.C. Photo by Adelle Banks/RNS

Chances are you’ll see a bunch of folks walking around with shmutz on their foreheads this Wednesday. The ‘Splainer asks what having a dirty forehead has to do with being a Christian and why this ritual is gaining in popularity.

Q: Excuse me, but why do you have dirt on your forehead?

A: Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Q: Well, that’s cheerful. Why would anyone want to start a workday on such a downer?

A: It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.

“Barbie” and “Ken” figurines on display in Berlin. Photo courtesy of 360b via Shutterstock/RNS.

Barbie has had a number of careers in her 55 years — flight attendant, veterinarian, astronaut, even president. Her latest role, however, is raising eyebrows.

Italy’s Catholic bishops are furious about controversial artistic depictions of the popular Barbie and Ken dolls as the Virgin Mary and a crucified Jesus Christ and other saints.

Two Argentinian artists, Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini, produced 33 dolls of various religious figures for a show named “Barbie, The Plastic Religion,” which opens in Buenos Aires on Oct. 11.

SIR, an Italian website backed by the Italian bishops conference, denounced the controversial toys in an editorial, which asks: ” What is the difference between provocation and bad taste?”

New Pew Research Center study had Americans rate religious groups. Image courtesy Bill Webster, via Pew Research Center.

A new Pew Research survey finds U.S. adults feel most warmly about people who share their religion or those they know as family, friends or co-workers.

Americans give their highest scores to Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals on a zero-to-100 “thermometer” featured in the survey, “How Americans Feel about Religious Groups,” released Wednesday. They’re nestled within a few degrees of each other: Jews, 63; Catholics, 62; evangelicals, 61.

In the middle of the chart: Buddhists, 53; Hindus, 50; Mormons, 48. Trending to the chilly negative zone: atheists at 41 and Muslims at 40.

Pew took the thermal reading because “understanding the question of how religious groups view each other is valuable in a country where religion plays an important role in public life,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research.

Senator Marco Rubio at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore.

How many voters know that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Roman Catholic? Or that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist, not a Latino Catholic? Or that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worships at both a Catholic parish and an evangelical church?

More importantly, does it matter?

Actually, it does in today’s Republican Party, where a number of factors have forged a new religious identity that supersedes familiar old categories.

These prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost insurmountable. Look no further than the stunning Virginia primary victory of Dave Brat, a Catholic with degrees from a Reformed Protestant college in Michigan and Princeton Theological Seminary, who took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week.

A Swiss Guard salutes Pope Francis and cardinals. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

When evangelicals and Catholics set aside centuries of mutual suspicion 20 years ago, the idea was fairly simple: Even if we can’t always work together, at least let’s not work against each other.

Now, two decades after the launch of the group Evangelicals and Catholics Together , relations between the two groups appear stronger than ever, forged by shared battles over abortion, same-sex marriage, religious freedom, and immigration.

A new pope is finding crossover appeal among evangelicals who share Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelism and his distaste for the fancier trappings and authoritarianism of the papacy.

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis celebrating Via Crucis in Rome on April 18, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The latest dust-up about the unscripted words of Pope Francis came this week when he tweeted, in Latin, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” Conservative Catholics had their underwear in a bundle, nervously tweeting away about the dangers of addressing complex issues on Twitter, and warning about thinking that “redistribution” would solve global inequities. Some feared this was giving Thomas Piketty’s new popular book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, more press. Liberal Catholics were delightfully surprised, once again, and argued that the pope was doing nothing more than putting Catholic social teaching into a tweet.

But this latest interchange, happening of course between Catholics in the global “North,” misses the real point.

Jim Wallis 3-13-2014
Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 5, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 5, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Today the world celebrates Pope Francis’ first year. Notice I didn’t say the church is celebrating, but the world. The pope has graced the covers of every magazine from TIME to Rolling Stone over the past year. People all over the world are delighted by the breath of fresh air he has brought. His popularity has moved beyond Catholics to Christians of all kinds, believers from other faith traditions, agnostics, and the “nones,” who are very drawn to this pope who emphasizes love and simple living.

But the pope said last week that he is not a “ superman” and does not want to be a celebrity. He is just trying to talk and live like Jesus, a point he makes repeatedly to shrug off his media darling standing. From the moment he took the name Francis, he made clear his, and thus the church’s priorities: the poor, peace, and the creation. Francis is now challenging the most powerful people and places in the world, as well as a popular culture that mostly asks how we can serve ourselves.

Pope Francis is right: it is not about him; it’s about the Christ he follows. Everything Francis is saying and doing is aimed at pressing this question: Are Christians going to follow Jesus or not? That should be the question on the first anniversary of this new pope. Are we Christians ready and willing to follow Jesus? How can we then serve the world?

Photo courtesy Donovan Marks / Washington National Cathedral. Via RNS.

Joe Biden was a young senator from Delaware when he was first exposed to the evils of apartheid. As the only white lawmaker in a congressional delegation to South Africa, he resisted security officers who tried to usher him through one door, and his more senior black colleagues through another.

“I had what we Catholics call an epiphany,” the vice president said Wednesday as official Washington packed the National Cathedral to recall the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

“He was the most impressive man or woman I have ever met in my life,” Biden said of Mandela, who died peacefully on Dec. 5.

John Fea 11-27-2013

Pope Francis. JeffyBruno / Flickr

Pope Francis on Tuesday released his first apostolic exhortation since his election in March. The message, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), challenges Catholics — both laity and clergy — to pay more attention to evangelizing the world.

While most American evangelicals do not usually read papal pronouncements, it would be a shame if we did not familiarize ourselves with Francis’ newest document, for there is much in it that evangelicals could embrace:

“Personal Preference by Religion and Race/Ethnicity” chart courtesy of Pew Research Center. Via RNS

Death may be inevitable, but one in three Americans – including most blacks and Hispanics – want doctors to never quit fighting it.

And that number has nearly doubled in 23 years, a new survey finds.

In 1990, 15 percent of U.S. adults said doctors should do everything possible for a patient, even in the face of incurable illness and pain. Today, 31 percent hold that view, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

The majority of U.S. adults (66 percent) still say there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die. At the same time, however, the never-say-die view calling for nonstop aggressive treatment has increased across every religion, race, ethnicity, and level of education.

Rose Marie Berger 11-04-2013
Iacopo Guidi / Shutterstock

Pope Francis I in Rome, Italy, in September. Iacopo Guidi / Shutterstock

In an unsurprising move, last week Pope Francis issued a questionnaire of sorts to the world’s Catholics to find out what we think about issues related to the family. He wants to know what we think about contraception, same-sex unions, and communion for divorced and remarried couples.

The Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to distribute the survey “immediately and as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received,” according to a letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the Synod of Bishops. A copy of Baldisseri’s letter was obtained by National Catholic Reporter. 

Pope Francis outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 4. Photo via RNS, by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

In an unusual move, the Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to quickly canvas the faithful for their views on topics like gay marriage, divorce, and birth control ahead of a major meeting of church leaders set for next fall.

But it’s not clear how or whether the American bishops will undertake such an effort, or if they will only send their own views to Rome.

The letter from the Vatican to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was dated Oct. 18 and it asked that a series of questions be shared “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received” in time for a February planning meeting in Rome.

Faculty and candidates for graduation at Saint Mary Seminary. Photo via RNS/by Renata M. Courey / courtesy Saint Mary Seminary

After decades of glum trends — fewer priests, fewer parishes — the Catholic Church in the United States has a new statistic to cheer: More men are now enrolled in graduate-level seminaries, the main pipeline to the priesthood, than in nearly two decades.

This year’s tally of 3,694 graduate theology students represents a 16 percent increase since 1995 and a 10 percent jump since 2005, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

Seminary directors cite more encouragement from bishops and parishes, the draw of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the social-justice-minded Pope Francis, and a growing sense that the church is past the corrosive impact of the sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002.

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.

The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.

Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.

Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says Mass in Madrid in 2011, Jeffrey Bruno / Shutterstock

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says Mass in Madrid in 2011, Jeffrey Bruno / Shutterstock.com

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the most famous funny man in the American hierarchy, went on The Colbert Report Tuesday night to trade quips with another funny guy — and another well-known Catholic — host Stephen Colbert.

Indeed, as Colbert — inhabiting his onscreen persona as a blowhard rightwing pundit — said in welcoming Dolan: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”

But it was actually Dolan who got the first gag, and giggles, as he walked onto the set and ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert’s hand as if he were greeting the pope.

“I’ve got to get a nice big ring if you’re going to be kissing my hand!” replied Colbert, who seemed — uncharacteristically —  unsure of how to play the exchange.

In fact, while Colbert was in full faux bloviating mode, he seemed to let Dolan set the pace of their chat; Colbert didn’t poke too hard on topics that could have prompted controversy.

Part of the relative deference may stem from the fact that Colbert is a serious Catholic who has taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish. Or perhaps it was because Colbert knows Dolan personally, having appeared — out of character — at a forum on faith and humor last year at Fordham University. Or maybe Colbert was a bit out of practice: This was his first show after a two-week summer break, part of which he spent in Rome.

Beau Underwood 8-15-2013
Rep. Steve King, photo by republicanconference / Flickr.com

Rep. Steve King, photo by republicanconference / Flickr.com

In the New Testament book of James, we are cautioned about the power of our tongues. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10). 

This is a lesson that Iowa Congressman Steve King apparently needs to learn. On Sunday, Rep. King appeared on Meet the Press and stood by his outrageous assertion that:

“For every [undocumented immigrant eligible for the DREAM act] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Given the absurd and offensive nature of his statements, strong criticism swiftly followed. The Washington Post’s fact checker awarded it “Four Pinocchios,” which is a rating that is only applied to “whoppers.” House Speaker John Boehner previously denounced the comments as “offensive” and out of line with our society’s values. 

Rep. King is known as an ardent opponent of immigration reform and has made controversial statements in the past, so his latest remarks are neither shocking nor a surprise.

But they should be.

Kevin Appleby 8-14-2013
Stamp of an immigrant family. Photo courtesy catwalker/shutterstock.com

Stamp of an immigrant family. Photo courtesy catwalker/shutterstock.com

More than any other organized religion in the United States, the Catholic Church is an immigrant church that has grown with the nation, welcoming successive generations of immigrants who have helped build our country. To borrow a phrase from a toy store, immigrants are us.

More recently, some have questioned the bishops’ involvement in the national debate over immigration, perhaps wanting the church to stay neutral. But if they did so, they’d be untrue to their roots.

The church and her institutions have welcomed and helped integrate into American life Irish and Italian immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Central and Eastern Europeans who fled Europe after the Second World War; and Latin American and Asian populations more recently.

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