In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: July 2002
- Serbian Orthodoxy takes ecumenical, interfaith turn
- Islam wins converts in Chiapas, Mexico
- Christian internet thriving around the Baltic Sea
- Christian internet expands in Europe
- Current Research: July 2002
- Declining ecumenism facing new challenges
- Voucher decision bolsters faith-based groups
- Violence and new religions: Lessons learned
- Sex abuse scandals — Watergate for young Catholics?
Findings & Footnotes: July 2002
01: There will likely be a wave of new books coming out on the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in the next few months.
Two recent works suggest that the scandals often relate to other issues in Catholicism. Betrayal: The Crisis In The Catholic Church (Little, Brown and Co, $23.95) by the investigative staff of the Boston Globe, relates how the initial scandal in the Boston area became a church-wide issue. The book, which reads as if a single author penned it, recounts the crisis both through reporting on the inner workings of the church in the U.S. (including the process by which bishops covered up the incidents), as well as in many in-depth interviews with the abused and abusers.
The book comes to few solid conclusions about the crisis, though it tends to locate most hopes for reform with the new groups of Catholic laity organizing and a “post-John Paul II” change of leadership that encourages more openness in the church.
The book Goodbye, Good Men, (Regnery Publishing, $27.95) by Michael S. Rose, makes no pretense of being an unbiased journalistic examination of the issues surrounding the sexual abuse crisis. Rather, it serves as an expose on the dissenting and gay subcultures in Catholic seminaries. Actually, the book, at least as originally published, made little reference to sexual abuse by priests.
But the new edition has been repackaged by its publisher, with a new introduction and other revisions that address the crisis. Rose’s main argument is that well-qualified, orthodox prospective priests are being filtered out of the seminary process by liberals, thus creating an artificial and contrived priest shortage.
Rose writes that the “root of [the child abuse problem and the cover-up] extends down to the very place where vocations to the priesthood germinate: the seminary…a corrupt, protective network starts in many seminaries where gay seminarians are actually encouraged to `act out’ or `explore their sexuality’ in highly inappropriate ways.” But Rose, whose evidence for his claims are mainly anecdotal, doesn’t explain how many of the accused priests were the products of the much more conservative seminary culture of the early to mid-1960s.
02: Books on Islam, particularly the meaning of Islamic jihad in light of Sept. 11, are likely to be another kind of religion best-seller. The following four books also focus on the current state and possible futures of militant Islam. John L. Esposito’s Unholy War: Terror In The Name Of Islam (Oxford University Press, $25) provides the most thorough theological background to the events of September 11 and Islamic extremism in general.
Esposito acknowledges the growing influence of radical Islam, but adds that it is due as much to “political and economic conditions” as theology. He stresses the dynamism and diversity of the faith around the world (in contrast to such critics as Samuel Huntington with his thesis on the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West). He sees reform as ultimately carrying the day in worldwide Islam rather than a “globalized Jihad.”
The rise of militant Islam in Central Asia is the subject of Ahmed Rashid’s Jihad (Yale University Press, $24). The events of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan revealed the extent to which militant Islam has taken hold in such Central Asian republics as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
Rashid, a journalist in Pakistan, makes it clear that the Islam taking root in these former Soviet states often comes from foreign sources: mainly Al Queda, Saudia Arabia, and Afghanistan, as well as the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Rashid is convinced that the repressive and inept governments of these nations (often clamping down on any form of Islam) have ignited the new militancy. He concludes that Tajikistan and its power sharing between Islamists and other groups can best serve as a model for Central Asian democracy.
French Islamic specialist Gilles Keppel’s Jihad: On The Trail Of Political Islam (Harvard University Press, $29.95) deals more with Islam in the Mideast and North Africa than the hot spots of Central Asia. Although Keppel writes little on Osama bin Ladin and the current wave of Islam, he does believe that the attacks of Sept. 11 may actually weaken the hold of militant Islam among many Muslims.
Keppel traces the rise of political Islam in the 20th century and notes that Islamists (those seeking to create totally Islamic states, often by force) have not been able to hold power for more than a few years, due to problems attracting both the poor and middle class. Because of such failures, Keppel writes that most Muslims no longer see political and militant Islam as the “source of utopia.” Like Rashid and Esposito, Keppel sees Islam taking a more pragmatic and flexible stance in the future.
American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (Free Press, $26), by Steven Emerson, is by far the most controversial of these books. Emerson has spent years seeking to uncover Islamic militancy in the U.S. and has been heavily criticized by Muslim leaders for his alleged bias and prejudice against Islam.
In the book, Emerson seeks to trace Islamic militancy to such mainstream Muslim groups as the American Muslim Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He claims that while these organizations might condemn terrorist attacks on the surface, at the same time they function as ideological supporters of Muslims engaged in terrorist actions against the West and Israel.
Defining what constitutes “ideological support” is where American Jihad will run into the most criticism, as Emerson tries to tease out the connections between various leaders and members of these American groups and violent and radical Islam. For instance, Emerson writes that when leaders and clergy use battle imagery and rhetoric in relation to American society, they are veering close to encouraging terrorism. Even those critical of Emerson’s methods will find his opening account of the first World Trade Center bombing gripping.
Serbian Orthodoxy takes ecumenical, interfaith turn
The Serbian Orthodox Church is attempting to shed its past image as a stronghold of nationalism and foster interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.
At a mid-June New York conference RW attended, Boris Milosavljevic, Yugoslavian Deputy Secretary of Religious Affairs, and Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montanegro and the Littoral spoke of plans to hold an interfaith conference next year that would bring together all of the religious leaders in the Balkans. The conference will issue a common statement on religious and ethnic tolerance. “The Serbian Orthodox Church is good-willed and very tolerant in working with other faith-based groups. The precondition [for participating in the conference] is faith for true dialogue,” Milosavljevic said.
Although 120 monasteries and churches in Serbia have been destroyed by the Kosovo Muslims in revenge for Serbian actions during the war, Metropolitan Amfilohije said the church is calling for Serbians to opt for “justice rather than vengeance.” Meanwhile, The Tablet magazine of Britain (May 25) reports that the Serbian church has agreed to reopen ties with the Vatican more than a decade after the outbreak of way in the Balkans. The magazine reports that interreligious councils have emerged in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia since the war, and that the Serbian Orthodox now cooperate with Yugoslavia’s Catholic minority in charity work.
In explaining his church’s new ecumenical approach, Bishop Lavrentije of Sabvac-Valjeva borrowed language from Pope John Paul II, saying “Europe must breathe with both lungs, West and East, since both are needed to sustain life here.”
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London, W6 0Q2 UK)
Islam wins converts in Chiapas, Mexico
Some 300 Mexican Indians have converted to Islam in Chiapas in the southern part of the country since 1995. Fifteen of them have already made the pilgrimage to Mecca last November, reports Inter Press Service (June 18).
Those conversions are the result of missionary efforts launched by Spanish members of the Murabitun (http://www.murabitun.org), a sometimes controversial group led by a Scottish Sufi, Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi, reports the Houston Chronicle (June 22). Some of the Mexican converts have left the Murabitun in the meantime and have established another Islamic center a few miles from the main Muslim compound in San Cristobal.
According to Inter Press Service’s reporter Diego Cevallos, the newly converted Muslims “said they chose Islam out of conviction, but also because they were fed up with the often bloody clashes between Roman Catholics and Christians of other persuasions, who also tend to be divided along political lines in Chiapas.” Most of the new Muslims appear to be former evangelical Christians.
The proportion of people in Chiapas affiliated with Roman Catholicism is significantly lower than the national average (62 percent vs. 90 percent). Recently, some of the Spanish Muslim missionaries have been asked to leave Mexico because they came with tourist visas, failed to apply for proper legal status for their group (called Mision para el Dawa en Mexico) and lack proper residency documents, reports the Associated Press (June 16).
— By Jean-François Mayer
Christian internet thriving around the Baltic Sea
The strong Internet presence of the Lutheran Church in Estonia as well as in Finland, two countries on the shores of the Baltic Sea, came as a surprise to RW during the ECIC’s conference.
In Estonia, 20 percent of the population connects to the Internet at least once a week. The country is far ahead of the two other Baltic republics in that respect. One third of the Estonian Lutheran parishes are already online, which is the result of direct initiatives of those local parishes. There have already been three church Internet conferences in Estonia.
In Finland, besides an active presence of the Lutheran Church on the Internet, a commercial Christian company called CredoNet has established a number of websites with specialized content (for ministers, for church music, etc.). A new, ecumenical Website (including the Pentecostal Church), currently in a test phase, will soon be present on the welcome page of the leading Finnish web portal.CredoNet is owned partly by the Lutheran Church (with a minority of the shares), and partly by the Kotima Group, a Christian publishing house with 34 magazines (combined readership: 1.5 million).
The magazines provide editorial content to CredoNet, which has itself a staff of 20 people. The most used website among those launched by CredoNet is a website for children, providing them with a safe environment to explore the Internet. Most of those websites are free of charge, except for a fee-based Christian databank of images.
“The average Finn doesn’t attend church every Sunday, but is linked to the Church in many ways,” CredoNet’s Johanna Rautianen told RW. “What CredoNet tries to do is to keep the message there, to have it available.”
— By Jean-François Mayer
Christian internet expands in Europe
Around the mid-1990s, members of Protestant and Catholic Churches in several European countries began to pay attention to the Internet. Since then, the growth of interest and involvement has been rapid. For instance, there are today no less than 6,200 Catholic websites in Italy, Fr. Franco Mazza, web coordinator of the Conference of Italian bishops, told RW.
Most European Christian websites continue to be maintained by dedicated individuals. In France, voluntary work still plays an essential role for the updating of the websites of many Catholic dioceses. However, several countries show clear trends towards a professionalization of the Christian presence on the Web.
This was evidenced by two recent conferences which RW attended. On June 8, the first French gathering on the Christian Internet took place in Paris. From June 9 to 12, the 7th European Christian Internet Conference convened in Cologne, Germany. Both conferences drew less than 50 participants, but they included some key players. One of the major concerns of European Christian webmasters is to avoid being confined to a “virtual ghetto,” visited only by believers.
Consequently, the challenge is to find ways to make Christian websites noticed by and interesting to wider, secular audiences.”The time has come for a new cooperation with partners outside the church community,” said Rev. Ralf Peter Reimann of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.
Indeed, the affirmation of a Christian presence on the Internet does not only mean getting high rankings in the results when typing keywords into major search engines. An even more important goal is to convince the most visited commercial portals to link their welcome pages to religious information put online by the churches, or even to provide those portals with religious content tailored to serve their purposes.
Even in secularized Europe, this does not appear completely impossible, since there may be cases of a mutual interest. For instance, one of the most important French commercial portals on marriage has agreed to link to a Catholic website on the same issue, since people desiring to have a church wedding are pleased to find such information.
Similar experiences have been reported from Finland and from Germany, where some church websites provide both religious content and general information intended for a local community beyond the walls of the church.
(Websites: http://www.eklesia.net, Christian Internet in France; http://www.ecic.info, ECIC).
— By Jean-François Mayer
Current Research: July 2002
01: Close to two-thirds of bishops have allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working, “a practice that spans the decades and continues today,” reports the Dallas Morning News (June 12).
A three-month study conducted by the newspaper, which involved studying the records of the top leaders in each of the nation’s dioceses, found that at least 111 of them were headed by men who have protected accused priests or other church figures, such as brothers in religious orders, teachers and youth group workers. Such protection took the form of ignoring warnings about suspicious behavior, and keeping priests on the job after admission of wrongdoing, diagnoses of sexual disorders or even criminal convictions.
02: Faith-based social ministries that use federal funds are not losing their religious identities nor compromising their teachings, according to a recent study.
The results of the study, which was conducted by Stephen Monsma of Pepperdine University, examined the faith-based programs in four cities (Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia), yet may not please liberal or conservative critics, notes the Washington Times (June 11). The liberal view that federal funding of faith-based groups would coerce or discrimate against people based on faith did not pan out, as Monsma found that in these cities, at least, that fear did not materialize.
Conservatives have widely speculated that government support would weaken the religious identity of the faith-based group. But Monsma found that government officials asked few questions of the groups being funded. He concludes that taking government money does not secularize a religious organization. Rather, the organization itself makes the decision to move in a more secular direction.
03: A comparative study of 21 countries reveals that those nations with a Protestant heritage are far more likely to have embraced environmentalism than the others.
In the current issue of the Hedgehog Review (Spring), sociologist Robert Bellah cites the unpublished work of David Vogel of the University of California at Berkeley, who created a rating system for 21 of the richest nations regarding their involvement in the environmental cause. The nations were divided into two groups: “light green,” those countries mainly involved with the quality of air and water that directly affect their own populations; and “dark green,” countries concerned with the ecosphere, including endangered species, rain forests, ozone holes and “all the rest.”
Vogel finds that all but one of the dark green countries (the exception is Austria) are of Protestant heritage, and none of the light green countries is. The latter include six Catholic countries, one Greek Orthodox country (Greece), one Jewish country (Israel), and three Confucian/Buddhist countries (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). Vogel argues that it is not so much a direct connection with the doctrines of Protestantism (he notes that evangelical Protestants are among the groups least involved in environmentalism).
Rather, “dark green” environmentalism functions as a secularized version of Protestantism in these countries. Both environmentalism and Protestantism share a relatively pessimistic view of the world, they tend to make strong moral judgments, and share a romantic and “aesthetic appreciation of nature” (partly because much of Protestantism does not have a strong sense of liturgy and sacramentalism), and stress responsibility in dealing with nature.
(Hedgehog Review, P.O. Box 400816, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816)
04: Although observers have pointed to the growth of an Islamic “ghetto” in Britain, Muslims themselves have a strong desire for closer integration with mainstream society, according to a new poll.
In the wake of Sept. 11, there were growing fears that Britain’s almost 2 million Muslims made up a marginalized “parallel society” that could foster militancy among some of its members, as well as increase prejudice among non-Muslims. But the poll, conducted by the Guardian newspaper (June 17), finds that 41 percent of Muslims believed their community should do more to integrate with the rest of society. Another indicator of a desire for mainstream acceptance could be seen in wide Muslim support (65 percent) for government plans for compulsory English language and citizenship tests for new immigrants.
But the poll did identify a growing generation gap among British Muslims. For instance, 41 percent of Muslims under 34 say they define themselves first and foremost as Muslim, compared with 30 percent of those over 35. The young were also more likely to say that their community was too integrated.
05: More than one in every four Israelis is not Jewish, according to a recent study by Bar-Ilan University.
The Jerusalem Post (June 12) cites the study as showing that there are 83,868 mixed Jewish and non-Jewish couples (and unofficially that number could be as high as 114,254). In 50,000 of these cases from the official count, the wife is not Jewish, and another 33,500 families are not Jewish at all. Only 72 percent of Israelis are Jewish, with many being Israeli Arabs (18 percent). There is also a growing number of non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
The Bar-Ilan study comes in the wake of new figures from Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola, who estimates that 30,000 foreigners will immigrate to Israel this year — half of whom will not be Jewish. At the same time, 15,000 to 20,000 Jews are leaving Israel annually.
Declining ecumenism facing new challenges
There doesn’t seem to be any sign that ecumenism will recover from its doldrums, particularly as interfaith relations and a concern for coexistence now outweigh the drive for church unity among most denominations.
In an article in Ecumenical Trends magazine (June), Lutheran ecumenist William G. Rusch offers the above prognosis on ecumenism, noting that a long term decline of energy and interest in Christian unity among most churches continues. The older goal of unity and “communion” between different churches built on a common consensus theology can be found in Pope John Paul II’s statement Ut Unum Sint. But increasingly, such groups as the World Council of Churches and other churches see ecumenism mainly as cooperation on common goals, according to Rusch.
Another concern that will detract from the interest in church unity is the pressing matter of interfaith cooperation and dialogue (particularly after Sept. 11). Because so many issues dividing the churches “appear to be insoluble in the short term…probably new and major theological breakthroughs will not occur soon,” Rusch adds. As church leaderships continue to be preoccupied with denominational survival, and many clergy focus on parish survival, ecumenism will “be perceived as an elective.”
Rusch sees a model of ecumenism in the Lutheran/Catholic joint agreement on justification by faith issued in 1999, where the method used to achieve the agreement sought new language (avoiding age-old condemnations between the churches) to clear up and transcend historic misunderstandings. The “hard slogging of committed and qualified theologians necessary for such work will not be popular in today’s church environment, concludes Rusch.
(Ecumenical Trends, P.O. Box 306, Garrison, NY 10524-0306)
Voucher decision bolsters faith-based groups
The late June Supreme Court decision in favor of vouchers for private schools is likely to have favorable repercussions for faith-based groups seeking government support.
A late June decision by the Supreme Court upheld that public money can support religious education as long as parents are given the choice of where to send their children to school. In the New York Times (June 28), legal expert Jeffrey Rosen writes that the court decision basically declared that the “era of strict separation between church and state is over.”
Rosen contrasts the decision with the “old-line” strict separationism represented by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California, which ruled in June that the Pledge of Allegiance in its reference to one nation “under God” violated the First Amendment. Another article in the Times notes that the voucher decision “comes at a time when the government is already moving to lift the barriers to using tax money for religious programs.
Such programs as charitable choice often aroused suspicions that they violated the First Amendment. But the decision has bolstered religious advocates who are “now planning to push efforts to channel an increasing amount of public money into other religious programs, including charities and social services, hospitals and even foreign aid missions,” writes Laurie Goodstein.
Violence and new religions: Lessons learned
It is difficult to predict violence in new religious movements based on objective measures, if only because such tendencies and actions are linked to a group’s perceptions of assault from the outside world, according to David Bromley of Commonwealth University.
That was one of the conclusions drawn by several scholars gathered for a session on violence and new religious movements at the International Conference of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions; http://www.cesnur.org) held in Salt Lake City in June. However, the session also made clear that much has been learned since Waco.
Lessons have not only been learned by scholars, but by law-enforcement agencies as well. Over the past few years, due to the obvious need to act preventively, there have been increasing exchanges between law officials and scholars. Experience has proved that “self-identified expertise does not equate with scholarship” and also that it can be counter-productive to react too agressively, said psychiatrist Greg Saathoff of the FBI’s Critical Incidents Response Group.
Law-enforcement has to a large extent been based upon behavioral sciences, he added, but this may involve risks of pathologizing religion. Among some twenty characteristics that may cause concern in a potentially volatile group include: interaction factors (the relations between the religious group and wider society), internal factors and belief factors, according to Catherine Wessinger of Loyola University, New Orleans.
Bromley suggested that research should move away from provocation (how a group is provoked by outside influences) theories toward interactional theories. Other directions for future research include a concern for scholars to carefully distinguish between new religious movements “in which conflict arises in the process of development” and movements “that begin as military or are involved in longstanding conflicts” (such as some Christian Identity or radical Muslim groups).
Analysis should focus more on a group’s leadership than followers, and research should be broadened to include non-U.S. and non-Western cases, Bromley added. Cases that stopped short of violence, as well as post-violence organization of groups that survived, should also be given more attention.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and editor of Religioscope website (http://www.religioscope.com)
Sex abuse scandals — Watergate for young Catholics?
The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is likely to have a major impact on younger generations, such as Generation X, according to observers. At a recent conference on anti-Catholicism in New York [see last month’s RW for full coverage], historian John McGreevy remarked that just as Vatican II was the defining event in the church for baby boomer Catholics, the sex abuse scandals will be just as momentous for Generation Xers.
In America magazine (June 3-10), Tom Beaudoin writes that for the post-Vatican II generations, “this is our first major church crisis. We do not remember the birth control debates of the late 1960s . . . The daily news of the manipulation and control, seduction and rape of boys and girls, young men and women by some of our priests is the first major test of our fidelity to the church. This is our Catholic Watergate….”
Beaudoin, a chronicler of the spiritual journey of Gen-Xers, writes that in observing young adults around the country, he finds a changing relation to the Church that was already in place before the scandals broke. The effect of these events is to “render passé any practical adherence to traditional Catholic understandings of the necessity and centrality of the institutional church for salvation, such as indefectibility, infallibility, even the hierarchy itself.
Thus, this crisis is moving young Catholics closer to a more classically Protestant understanding of the church as deeply sinful, as ever in the need of reform and, most important, as ultimately something to be set aside if it interrupts one’s relationship to God.” [Neither McGreevy nor Beaudoin cite surveys to support their views (although Beaudoin suggests that many of the sex abuse victims are of the Gen-X age). Most of the available surveys do not provide age-breakdowns on attitudes toward the abuse crisis.
But surveys do suggest that young adults are not necessarily the only ones to be most affected by or critical of the scandals. Polls from Gallup and Beliefnet/ABC report that it is Catholics with children who are the most angry at the church over the crisis. At the same time, those not attending Mass regularly are also found to be among the most angry — a category to which Gen-Xers belong.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)