Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Church-State Digest

With 34 Days to go until the reins of the church in the Big Apple formally pass into the hands of its tenth archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan's farewell tour headed to Albany this week for the New York bishops' annual lobbying day with the leaders of state government.

While measures lifting restrictions on abortions and permitting same-sex marriage stand more likely for a hearing given the capitol's newfound Democratic monopoly -- alongside the Governor's mansion and long-Blue Assembly, the Senate emerged from the November elections with its first Democratic majority since 1965 -- the departing head of the 2.5 million-member Gotham flock termed the meeting of the Empire State's prelates with Gov. David Paterson "simply great" and "one of the most effective meetings I've ever had anywhere."

During the encounter, the governor presented the cardinal with a framed proclamation in honor of Egan's "service to the state" over his nine years as archbishop of New York.

A staunch supporter of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Paterson -- the state's first African-American chief executive -- is Catholic.

Meanwhile, in a development quickly making its way around the tubes, Egan -- now apostolic administrator of the nation's second-largest diocese until Archbishop Timothy Dolan's 14 April installation -- raised eyebrows with a statement on an Albany radio show yesterday that the matter of mandatory celibacy for Latin-rite priests "is going to be discussed.

"It's a perfectly legitimate discussion," the cardinal said of the millennium-old discipline.

"I think it has to be looked at, and I'm not so sure it wouldn't be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture -- not to make an across-the-board determination."

Citing the experience of the church's Eastern rites, where clerics "do get married, no problem at all," Egan repeated the question, saying "Is it a closed issue? No -- that's not a dogmatic stand."

While the policy is, indeed, a disciplinary one and may be changed at any time by papal fiat, Cardinal Claudio Hummes was forced to retract similar comments made in the Brazilian press following his 2006 appointment as prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, reiterating some months later that any discussion of a change in the marital disposition of Roman-rite priests was "not on the table."

Celibacy aside, the cardinal addressed the importance of -- and the right to -- universal health care in his homily at the Public Policy Day Mass, which was attended by several thousand in an Albany hall.

Meanwhile, just up I-95 in Connecticut, a bill that had the state's bishops protesting at Apocalyptic tilt over the weekend has been scuttled amid an outcry from the pews.

Introduced last week, the controversial proposal -- Raised Bill 1098 -- would've reconstituted parish incorporation laws, placing control of each church's temporal matters in the hands of lay boards of directors on which the bishop of the place would have an ex officio seat, but lacking a vote.

The bill's constitutionality already widely in doubt, after the "Constitution State's" prelates drummed up opposition with letters read at Masses (and even blog posts) and the bill's sponsors were deluged with mail attacking the move -- and even reported death threats -- plans for a hearing today were yanked, and 1098 was killed for this legislative session. But even so, an estimated 4,000 of the faithful still converged on the capitol in Hartford earlier today to protest as Gov. Jodi Rell blasted the bill as "blatantly unconstitutional, insensitive and inappropriate."

Along the way, added firepower was contributed by the Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus, whose Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, took to the local press to slam the proposal as a "shredding" of the First Amendment and a return to 19th century-style "bigotry and intolerance" toward Catholics, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who warned of the bill's national implications if it succeeded.

Yet even that's not all: back in New York, the stage is being set for a church-state gird-up of a slightly different sort as the top hand at the Gotham church's satellite-radio Catholic Channel looks to a re-run for office.

Having taken 42 percent of the vote in the 2005 race for Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino -- programming director of the Pope-approved Sirius XM outlet since its 2006 launch -- took to The Times on Sunday to announce his rematch against the three-term incumbent, Democrat Andy Spano.

Host of Egan's weekly recorded chat on the channel's airwaves, the ESPN vet said he'll take a leave in the fall to focus on the November campaign.