Tag Archives: tolerance

15 years after Sept. 11: How the unity we forged broke apart

For a time, it felt like the attack that shattered America had also brought it together. After Sept. 11, signs of newfound unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing “God Bless America” together.

That cohesion feels vanishingly distant as the 15th anniversary of the attacks arrives Sunday. Gallup’s 15-year-old poll of Americans’ national pride hit its lowest-ever point this year. In a country that now seems carved up by door-slamming disputes over race, immigration, national security, policing and politics, people impelled by the spirit of common purpose after Sept. 11 rue how much it has slipped away.

Jon Hile figured he could help the ground zero cleanup because he worked in industrial air pollution control. So he traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to volunteer, and it is not exaggerating to say the experience changed his life. He came home and became a firefighter.

Hile, who now runs a risk management firm, remembers it as a time of communal kindness, when “everybody understood how quickly things could change … and how quickly you could feel vulnerable.”

A decade and a half later, he sees a nation where economic stress has pushed many people to look out for themselves. Where people stick to their comfort zones.

“I wish that we truly remembered,” he says, “like we said we’d never forget.”

Terrorism barely registered among Americans’ top worries in early September 2001, but amid economic concerns, a Gallup poll around then found only 43 percent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going.

Then, in under two hours on Sept. 11, the nation lost nearly 3,000 people, two of its tallest buildings and its sense of impregnability. But out of the shock, fear and sorrow rose a feeling of regaining some things, too _ a shared identity, a heartfelt commitment to the nation indivisible.

Stores ran out of flags. Americans from coast to coast cupped candle flames and prayed at vigils, gave blood and billions of dollars, cheered firefighters and police. Military recruits cited the attacks as they signed up.

Congress scrubbed partisanship to pass a $40 billion anti-terrorism and victim aid measure three days after the attacks, and approval ratings for lawmakers and the president sped to historic highs. A special postage stamp declared “United We Stand,” and Americans agreed: A Newsweek poll found 79 percent felt 9/11 would make the country stronger and more unified.

“I really saw people stand up for America. … And I was very proud of that,” recalls Maria Medrano-Nehls, a retired state library agency worker in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her foster daughter and niece, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Griess, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004.

Now, Medrano-Nehls thinks weariness from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and combative politics have pried Americans apart, and it pains her to think of the military serving a country so torn.

Larry Brook can still picture the crowd at a post-9/11 interfaith vigil at an amphitheater in Pelham, Alabama. The numbers seemed a tangible measure of an urge to come together.

Now? “I don’t think we’re anywhere close,” says Brook, who publishes Southern Jewish Life magazine. To him, political partisanship and clashes over Middle East policy are walling off middle ground.

Three days after 9/11, Joseph Esposito was at smoldering ground zero as Republican President George W. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and vowed the attackers “will hear all of us soon.” The moment became an emblem of American strength and resolve, and Esposito, then the New York Police Department’s top uniformed officer, was struck by “the camaraderie, the unity” of those days.

He remembers the support police enjoyed then, and how much the tone had changed by the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, when police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom said cops unjustly rounded and roughed them up. Now the city’s emergency management commissioner, Esposito has watched from the sidelines as a national protest movement has erupted in recent years from police killings of unarmed black men, and as police themselves have been killed by gunmen claiming vengeance.

These days, Esposito hopes his job can be unifying. He wants people to feel that the city helps neighborhoods equally to handle disaster. “The 1 percenters should not be better prepared than the 99 percent,” he says.

“If everyone feels they’re getting their fair share,” he adds, “it fosters better feelings toward one another.”

For all the signs of kinship after Sept. 11, the first retribution attack came just four days later, authorities said.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead while placing flowers on a memorial at his Mesa, Arizona, gas station. Prosecutors said the gunman mistook Sodhi, an Indian Sikh immigrant, for an Arab Muslim.

Seeing hundreds of people gather in solidarity on the night of his brother’s death showed me “the greatness of unity,” says Rana Singh Sodhi, of Gilbert, Arizona. But in the last two years, he’s felt a “change toward hatred again.” He worries politicians are stirring animosity toward immigrants and minorities.

So does Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali.

After 9/11, he invited first responders for tea and coffee at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center to show appreciation and emphasize that Muslims “are regular Americans.” Now, Ali, who is African-American, believes Muslims and people of color are being demonized with “incendiary and divisive” remarks.

“We can’t act like racism hasn’t been a part of all this,” he says.

Can the United States feel united again?

Some Americans fear it will take another catastrophe, if even that can shift the climate. Others are looking to political leaders to set a more collaborative tone, or to Americans themselves to make an effort to understand and respect one another.

When Sonia Shah thinks about the push and pull of American unity since the attacks that killed her father, Jayesh, at the World Trade Center, she pictures a rock hitting a pond.

The innermost ripple, that’s the tight circle of support that came together around the people most directly affected by tragedy. Outside it, bigger and more diffuse, are bands of debate over policies and politics in the wake of 9/11.

“We usually see the outer rings of the arguments,” says the Baylor University senior. “But I think there always is a current of unity that goes underneath things.”

 

Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Nati Harnik in Lincoln, Nebraska; Mike Householder in Farmington Hills, Michigan; Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; David R. Martin in New York; Jay Reeves in Pelham, Alabama; and Brian Skoloff in Gilbert, Arizona.

Religious leaders advocate for transgender rights

They stood for tolerance and kindness.

They stood for inclusion and protection.

They stood for right and against harm.

More than 400 clergy rallied in late May outside St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, calling for the repeal of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and praying for freedom from prejudice.

Clergy members from across the state but also far beyond assembled for the event, protesting the Republican legislation that rolls back LGBT civil rights and prevents transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

“We stand for love in the way that Jesus expressed it, which means inclusion, which means acceptance, and which means seeing every person as a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God,” said the Rev. Martha Kearse of St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Organized under the banner of “Faith in Public Life,” the clergy represented Metropolitan Community, Lutheran, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterian, United Methodist, First Congregation, Unitarian Universalist, and Catholic churches, as well as Buddhist temples, Quaker groups and Jewish synagogues — both reform and conservative.

The faith-based leaders called on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to seek the counsel of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who earlier this year vetoed an anti-LGBT bill, citing his Christian faith.

“We affirm that all people are beloved by God and that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is wrong,” the clergy members wrote in a letter to McCrory.

Witnesses to the rally said they were inspired, and reminded of the role clergy played in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“This event might have been lost in all the news over HB 2 and the boycotts, but we’ll remember it when we look back on this time,” said LGBT civil rights activist Kate Eckerd of Asheville, North Carolina. “This was a moment, a real moment, when you look at who was there and where they came from and what they demanded because of their faith, not in spite of their faith.”

The display of faith-based unity against HB 2 and for LGBT equality surprised Eckerd, who said she gets mixed signals at the Catholic church she attends.

“The people are good,” she said. “The message from the priest, not so good.”

The range of religious trans inclusion

An analysis by the Pew Research Center finds that some religious institutions are starting to formally address the participation of transgender people in their congregations and in clergy positions, while others remain steadfastly against inclusion.

The review by Pew found:

• On the negative end of the inclusion spectrum, the Assemblies of God, Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and Southern Baptist Convention have stated barriers to inclusion. The synod instructs ministers on how to counsel transgender people and encourage them to seek mental health treatment while Southern Baptist Convention in 2014 adopted a resolution stating that transgender people can only be members if they repent. The Mormon church, meanwhile, says people considering “elective transsexual operations” cannot be baptized or confirmed.

• In the middle, the Church of God, Presbyterian Church in American, Roman Catholic Church, and African American Episcopal Church have no official position on inclusion and send mixed messages on the issue. The Catholic church says gender is permanently fixed at birth and Pope Francis has said gender theory is a danger to humanity, but the pope has also met with a transgender man.

• The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church have a reputation as inclusive but lack an official statement.

• More definitively, the Episcopal Church, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, and United Church of Christ have official statements regarding the inclusion of transgender people. The Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution in 2015 that “encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates … to continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions” and “urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression and that require individuals to be treated equally under the law as the gender by which they identify.”

 

 

sidebar

Kennedy: Religious exemptions can’t trump civil rights

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy is pushing legislation that would ban religious exemptions from laws that guarantee fundamental civil and legal rights.

The Massachusetts Democrat says the bill is a response to what he calls ongoing attempts to cite religious beliefs as grounds to undermine civil rights protections, limit access to health care and refuse service to minority groups.

The bill would limit the use of such exemptions in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, public accommodations and social services provided through government contracts.

Kennedy says religious freedom is sacred, but shouldn’t harm others.

Kennedy’s bill would amend the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he says is used by those seeking to impose their beliefs on others or claim that their faith justifies discrimination.

Mormon Church leader criticizes Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for denying marriage licenses

The Mormon Church staked a deeper claim to middle ground in American society, advocating for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination and criticizing Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for refusing to license gay marriages.

“We may have cultural differences, but we should not have ‘culture wars,'” Mormon leader Dallin H. Oaks declared.

“On the big issues … both sides should seek a balance, not a total victory,” he said. “For example, religionists should not seek a veto over all non-discrimination laws that offend their religion, and the proponents of non-discrimination should not seek a veto over all assertions of religious freedom.”

Oaks’ speech marked another landmark moment in the conservative religion’s transformation from a faith that frowned on gays and lesbians to one becoming more welcoming and compassionate, albeit in small steps that may seem nominal to outsiders.

As with the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Francis, the conservative Mormons are trying to assert a softer position in society, while holding firm inside the church to its own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity.

The Mormons chose Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that guides The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to give the speech, the most detailed yet reflecting the new approach to what Mormons call “same-gendered attraction.” He brings credibility as a former Utah Supreme Court judge who also once served as a law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren on the U.S. Supreme Court, church officials said.

The discourse was delivered to a closed gathering of judges and clergy in Sacramento, California. A copy of the prepared remarks was provided to The Associated Press.

Oaks declared himself devoted to both church doctrine and the laws of a democratic society. But when conflicts between them arise and are decided, citizens of a democracy must follow court rulings, he said.

“Government officials must not apply these duties selectively according to their personal preferences – whatever their source,” Oaks said. “A county clerk’s recent invoking of religious reasons to justify refusal by her office and staff to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates this principle.”

Oaks didn’t call out Davis by name, but his reference was clear, and confirmed by church officials.

The “fairness for all” approach now advocated by the Mormons is essential to protecting religious liberties in an open society where different religions co-exist, Oaks asserted. This question isn’t academic, but personal, he added: His great-grandfather served time in a territorial prison for breaking a federal law intended to punish him for his religious beliefs, and his wife’s great-great-grandfather was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob.

“It is better to try to live with an unjust law than to contribute to the anarchy that a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln anticipated when he declared, ‘There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law,'” Oaks said.

After the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether in Rowan County, Kentucky rather than comply with rulings she said violate her personal religious beliefs. She was released from jail after members of her staff agreed to comply with a federal judge’s order to issue licenses to all legally eligible couples in her stead. The deputy clerks removed her name from the forms.

Once she was released, she further altered the forms to declare they were being issued under a federal court order.

The American Civil Liberties Union now wants U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis and her employees to reissue the licenses without alterations, and to fine her or appoint someone to replace her for this purpose if she continues to refuse. The judge has yet to rule.

In another balancing act, the Mormon Church decided to maintain its longtime affiliation with the Boy Scouts this summer, despite the Scouts’ decision to end its ban on gay troop leaders.

Spencer Clark, the executive director of Mormons for Equality, was complimentary of most of Oaks’ speech but took exception to the point that everybody should get something when laws are made. His group advocates for full equality for LGBT people.

“Making sure that segregationists ‘got something’ was rightfully not the goal of the civil rights movement,” Clark said. “Neither should the LGBT rights movement settle for less than full equal protection under the law.”

Task force celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week

The National LGBTQ Task Force is marking Bisexual Awareness Week 2015 by urging people to learn more about the realities of bisexual people’s lives.

“Much more public education is still needed as misconceptions and stereotypes about bisexual people have serious consequences. For instance, research shows that compared to heterosexual women and gay men, bisexual women experience higher rates of sexual assault, smoking, and suicide,”  said Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force.

She continued, “Bisexual people are some of the most maligned and misunderstood members of our LGBTQ community. From assuming that we ‘don’t exist’ — even though statistically we comprise the largest group in our community — to the hyper-sexualizing of bisexual people; from saying we are ‘confused’ to suggesting that we can be ‘turned’ gay or lesbian or straight. This week we urge everyone in the LGBTQ community and the general public to educate themselves more about the issues affecting bisexual people. We exist in abundance and we deserve more attention to the reality of our lives.”

Carthage College hosts 3rd annual Diversity Summit

Carthage College, 2001 Alford Park Drive, Kenosha, is hosting its third annual Diversity Summit, with a series of activities and speakers focusing on the theme of religious tolerance.

The events are free to attend and open to the public. 

The schedule includes:

Tuesday, March 3, Charles Camosy discussing “Can Religion Contribute to Civil Discourse in an Era of Polarization?” at 7 p.m. at A. F. Siebert Chapel.Camosy teaches Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York. He attempts to dial down polarization and to fruitfully engage difficult issues like abortion, euthanasia, treatment of animals and health care distribution.

Thursday, March 5, Serve2Unite: Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis, at 7 p.m. at Campbell Student Union. Two men from vastly different backgrounds work together to promote peace through the organization Serve2Unite. Arno Michaelis was a founding member of what became the largest racist skinhead organization in the world and the lead singer of a hate-metal band. His love for his daughter and the forgiveness shown by those he once hated helped him to change and write “My Life After Hate.” Pardeep Kaleka is the oldest son of Satwant Singh Kaleka, who was president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin when he was killed Aug. 5, 2012. A teacher and former Milwaukee police officer in the inner city, Pardeep Kaleka is no stranger to the battle against racism, bigotry, and ignorance.

Tuesday, March 17, Rachel Greenblatt discussing “To Tell Their Children: Jewish Communal Memory in Early Modern Prague,” at 6 p.m. at Niemann Media Theater (Hedberg Library). Greenblatt is an external residential fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and a lecturer in Jewish Studies at the Harvard Divinity School.

Wednesday, March 18, Rabbi Irwin Kula discussing “Beyond Tolerance: The Indeterminacy of Truth and the Too Muchness of Our Identities” at 7 p.m. at Todd Wehr Center Room 128C. Kula uses Jewish wisdom to speak to all aspects of modern life and relationships. He consulted with government officials in Rwanda, helped build cultural and interfaith bridges in Qatar, and met with leaders as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Queen Noor to discuss compassionate leadership. Across the United States, he works with religious, business, and community leaders to promote leadership development and institutional change. He co-wrote “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life.”

Carthage is a four-year, private liberal arts college with roots in the Lutheran tradition, the campus has a prime location in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The campus, an 80-acre arboretum on the shore of Lake Michigan, is home to 150 scholars, 2,600 full-time students, and 400 part-time students.

On the Web …

https://www.carthage.edu/diversity/diversity-summit/

Beginning the journey to racial healing

We as human beings had the ability to dig ourselves into this ditch of racism and we can dig ourselves out. Here are seven things I know for sure about racism:

• It is not the fault of people today that we are in this ditch. There’s no room for blame.

• More laws won’t fix the problem. 

• Racism is very young in our human history and only went global in the 1600s. It is not innate. 

• If we can’t successfully talk about race, we can’t learn. And if we can’t learn, it won’t go away.

• A next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or a new common enemy like space aliens will not save us.

• Every race and culture has a role and work to do in healing the problem. 

Did the ‘60s fail us?

Leaders in the 1960s set a good foundation for upholding the Constitution’s commitment to the pursuit of happiness for everyone. But our society still experiences some of the most violent acts imaginable — and not just against people of color. Do we not get the connecting violence dots of race, heterosexism (homophobia) and almost exclusively white suburban school shootings? What happens to the most vulnerable in our society also visits the most privileged in one form or another. 

In some ways, the 1960s were easier for us to wrap our head around. Civil rights folks from all races and cultures had a common focus — upholding the Constitution and its mandate for equality under the law. The law was expected to be colorblind. But the ideal of colorblindness will not stop the murders in places like Ferguson and Milwaukee. 

What’s different today?

The new watchword is equity — the recognition that it is a human virtue like truthfulness and kindness. Equity recognizes the oneness of the human species and demands “justice for all.”

Unfortunately, we have all grown up in an environment that teaches us some people aren’t quite as deserving as others. We see this played out as racism, heterosexism, sexism and all the other -isms we know. When the –isms are addressed, we all benefit. Consider the movement among physically challenged people to demand sidewalks and curbs suited to their needs. Everyone benefited — new fathers with baby strollers, the elderly, bicycle riders, etc.

When we address the inequities reserved for the most vulnerable people, then everybody moves ahead. The Milwaukee that only benefits some will not attract the growth and development that will provide a comfortable future for all.

The path forward

We fear the emotions surrounding dealing with racism because we haven’t been taught how to discuss it. The penalties for making mistakes can be embarrassing and severe. Here’s the path I took to break my own “don’t-talk rule”:

• It’s not my job to fix other people as it relates to race. I have enough work to do on myself. The incorrect stuff I learned is emotionally set in me, but I can redirect my thinking and response. The incorrect stuff is a distortion of reality.  

• I made a conscious decision to learn and grow. I pay attention to times when I’m tempted to let my fear or judgments override my value system. I refuse to leave a legacy of racism for my grandson.

• I know that if I was born a white woman in the United States, I would act like her, talk like her and think like her. That realization not only changed my attitude but how other people sense me.

There are four fundamental things to know about racial healing:

• Only talking about one side of the coin distorts our worldview.

• Accept that white people of goodwill don’t know what they don’t know. Remember the white s/heroes of racial civil rights.

• People of color must not internalize the lie of inferiority and stop acting it out. This includes not using the “N” word and believing that it’s not cool to excel in school.

• Consider what the oneness of humankind means physically, intellectually, socially, psychologically and spiritually.

I decided I wouldn’t give up when dealing with racism got hard. I read everything I could. I learned more about myself than anybody else, and I accepted the fact that I will make mistakes. Some have been embarrassing, but my efforts and willingness to learn have gotten me many passes with people. I ask that they help me grow.

I discovered my new role and talents as part of fixing the problem. It is completely different from what I imagined.  A radio talk host and author? My, my.

I found people and racial healing tools that made sense to me and I trust them. 

I don’t have all the answers, but I found experts who do have pieces of the answer. That’s why I wrote a book as a racial healing learning tool. You don’t have to buy my book. The interviews are available free online.

There’s a big difference between entertainment, talking and actually dialoguing with one another. We will never be able to learn all of the written and unwritten rules of various cultures — they are way too complex. My fellow human beings can trust that I will continue to be in a learning mode. 

There is an architecture and design to racial healing, just as there’s an architecture and design to racism. Once I started replacing fear and embarrassment with the desire to engage in the healing process, my life opened up to more people. It feels good to continue to grow into my new role — and perhaps leave a contribution that will last for generations.

The business community and nonprofits hold great promise. For the most part, these sectors are less segregated than our neighborhoods. This is where we have one of the greatest opportunities to learn new ways and unlearn some very bad habits.

I have faith in our human family. We have demonstrated that we can get better and do better — just not always fast enough.

Sharon E. Davis is a former Information Technology executive and now president of SeDA Consulting, which provides strategic people planning, executive coaching and change management. She also has hosted the VoiceAmerica radio show, A Safe Place to Talk about Race and is author of the book A Safe Place to Talk about Race, 10 Thought-Provoking Interviews. She recently moved to Milwaukee to be close to her grandson. For more about Davis and her work, go to
seda-consulting.com.


Vatican ambassador: U.S. bishops should not preach ideology

The Vatican ambassador to the U.S., addressing American bishops at their first national meeting since Pope Francis was elected, said this week they should not “follow a particular ideology” and should make Roman Catholics feel more welcome in church.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano noted the challenges from broader society to Christian teaching. He cautioned that the bishops’ witness to faith would be undermined if they failed to live simply. Francis, in office for eight months, has captured attention for eschewing some of the pomp of the papacy, including his decision to live in the Vatican hotel and his use of an economy car.

“There has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message,” said Vigano, the apostolic nuncio based in Washington.

“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” Vigano said, noting that he visited the pope in June. “He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”

In a September interview, Francis said Catholic leaders should give greater emphasis to compassion and mercy, arguing the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception has been too narrow and alienating. For the last several years, the public sessions of the fall bishops’ assembly have centered on those hot-button social issues. This year’s meeting gave the first glimpse of how that message was resonating among American leaders.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, dedicated his speech to persecuted Christians overseas, asking the bishops to make international religious freedom a top priority. 

Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and others, are suing the Obama administration over a requirement that employers provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage. The bishops say the religious exemption to the rule violates the religious freedom of nonprofit and for-profit employers. The issue is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Dolan said in a news conference his speech was not a shift away from that fight – but an expansion of it. “It’s almost raised our consciousness to say we can’t stop here,” Dolan said.

But Mathew Schmalz, religious studies professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said highlighting the fight with the Obama administration would be seen as out of step with Francis’ message, especially at a time when the Vatican is moving away from a European focus. Francis is the first pope from Latin America.

“The bishops realize that they themselves are going to have to change their tone if they are to become more inclusive and complement the new tone coming from Pope Francis and the Vatican,” Schmalz said. “There is definitely something going on here: The American hierarchy is going to have to change its style or be left behind.”

The bishops had early in the meeting prayed for the thousands of victims of Friday’s typhoon in the Philippines and also discussed the response to the disaster by Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency.

But after a presentation on overall priorities of the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the conference, rose to say it was “missing this essential element” of a focus on the poor.

“It would help our conference be on record as trying to achieve what Pope Francis has put before us,” said Fiorenza, who retired as archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas.

Bishops also discussed how they would collect the information the Vatican is seeking ahead of a major meeting, or synod, on the family in Rome next year.

Last month, Vatican officials sent a survey to the national bishops conferences that took the unusual step of seeking broad input on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage. Bishops in England have put the questionnaire on the web for parishioners to respond. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said he planned to post the survey online within days.

Dolan is at the end of this three-year term as conference president. His successor will be elected today (Nov. 12), the final day of the public part of the meeting.

Casual quips by pope put Vatican on alert

Pope Francis has grabbed headlines with his off-the-cuff homilies, crowd-pleasing one-liners and lengthy interviews during which he has pontificated on everything from the church’s “obsession” with rules to how he won’t judge gays. But his chattiness has gotten him into some trouble, and the Vatican has gone into damage-control mode to clarify, correct or put his comments into context. Here’s a look at some of Francis’ more eyebrow-raising comments, and the efforts by the Vatican’s spin doctors to address them.

DID FRANCIS REALLY CONSIDER TURNING DOWN THE JOB?

In an interview with the Rome daily La Repubblica, editor Eugenio Scalfari quoted the pope as saying he was “seized by a great anxiety” moments after his election and asked the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel to give him a few minutes time to think things over.

“To make it go away and relax, I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows,” he was quoted as saying. “At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting.” The pope was quoted as saying he signed the acceptance form and went out on the balcony to be introduced to the world as Pope Francis.

But the Rev. Thomas Rosica, who helps with Vatican media relations, later said the interview didn’t reflect Francis’ real words. He said Scalfari neither recorded the conversation nor took notes, reconstructing the conversation from memory and printing it as a verbatim interview. The Vatican doesn’t dispute the overall thrust of the interview, which Scalfari said he submitted to Francis for review and which the Vatican newspaper reprinted verbatim. But Rosica said the purported “mystical” experience recounted by Repubblica after the election didn’t happen, though Francis himself has said previously and in public that “I didn’t want to be pope.”

CAN ATHEISTS BE SAVED?

One of the novelties introduced by Francis has been his daily 7 a.m. Mass in the Vatican hotel, to which groups and individuals are invited. Francis delivers homilies each day, the contents of which are summarized by Vatican Radio. On May 22, he caused no shortage of confusion when he suggested that even atheists could find salvation.

According to church teaching, the Catholic Church holds the “fullness of the means of salvation” – a message that has long been taken to mean that only Catholics can find salvation. But in his homily, Francis said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! `Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

Rosica issued a lengthy “explanatory note” a few days later after being inundated with questions about whether Francis was changing church doctrine on salvation. He noted that church teaching also holds that “those who through no fault of their own” don’t know about Jesus but seek God and try to do his will can also attain eternal salvation.

“Always keep in mind the audience and context of Pope Francis’ homilies,” Rosica cautioned. “His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate. He speaks in the context of Mass.”

SHOULD THE VATICAN BANK BE SAVED?

On April 24, Francis invited members of the Vatican bank to join him for Mass in the hotel. The Institute for Religious Works, as the bank is known, has been plagued by scandals – most recently over the arrest of a Vatican monsignor on charges he tried to smuggle some 20 million euro ($26 million) into Italy from Switzerland without declaring it at customs.

Given the scandals, the arrival of a reform-minded, non-nonsense pope has prompted a flurry of speculation that Francis might shut the bank down. So imagine the headlines that followed his April 24 homily, when he lamented how the church can sometimes become too bureaucratic, too much like an aid group, and that bureaucracies are necessary up to a point.

“The church isn’t an NGO, it’s a story of love,” Francis told the bank’s staff in the pews. “But there are the IOR folks here, excuse me, OK? Everything is necessary, offices are necessary, OK, but they’re only necessary up to a certain point: as a help to this story of love. But when the organization loses this primary place, when the love is gone, the poor church becomes an NGO. And this isn’t the way to go.”

Archbishop Angelo Becciu, under secretary of the Vatican secretariat of state, told the Vatican newspaper a few days later that Francis was by no means hinting that he might shut down the Vatican bank.

THE VICAR OF CHRIST SAID WHAT?

Sometimes, Francis’ one-liners don’t warrant Vatican clarification, but they’re worth repeating simply because they came from the lips of the Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church:

– Francis urged the church to “strip” itself of its worldy attachment to wealth during his Oct. 4 trip to Assisi and focus instead on the basics of Christ’s teachings. “You might say, `Can’t we have a more human Christianity, without the cross, without Jesus, without stripping ourselves?'” he asked rhetorically. “In this way we’d become pastry-shop Christians, like a pretty cake and nice sweet things. Pretty, but not true Christians.”

– Francis was asked June 7 why he chose to live in the Vatican hotel rather than the fancier Apostolic Palace where his predecessors lived. “If I was living alone, isolated, it wouldn’t be good for me,” he told students of Jesuit schools. “A professor asked me the same question, `Why don’t you go and live there (in the papal apartments)’? And I replied: `Listen to me professor, it is for psychiatric reasons.'”

– The pope has urged nuns and sisters to be like joyful mothers to the church, caring for its flock, and not act like they’re “old maids.” “It makes me sad when I find sisters who aren’t joyful,” he lamented during his Oct. 4 visit to a cloistered convent in Assisi. “They might smile, but with just a smile they could be flight attendants!”

Given Francis’ wry sense of humor and willingness to regularly ditch speeches prepared for him, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he wants the faithful to know the difference between a pontifical joke and an encyclical, a clever quip in a homily and infallible teaching.

“There are different genres of expression, some are magisterial and official, others are more pastoral,” Lombardi told The Associated Press. “They have a different doctrinal value.”

Faith-based leaders in LGBT community rejoice over pope’s message

Pope Francis, in an interview for a Jesuit publication in the U.S., said the Roman Catholic Church’s obsession with preaching against marriage for same-sex couples and reproductive freedoms was harmful to the church and its ministry.

The pope, while not changing church doctrine in any way or issuing any directives on church teachings, also said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to “interfere spiritually” in the lives of LGBT people.

Francis said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

He also said: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Francis’ comments to Civilta Cattolica contained no change in church teaching, but to some they represented a shift in tone and stood in contrast to the priorities of his immediate predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals who, in countries like the United States, have put themselves on the front lines in opposing abortion and gay marriage. They now find themselves being asked to preach more to those who have fallen away from the church and offer them a compassionate welcome home.

There’s been a lot of response to the pope’s remarks – positive, critical, guarded and skeptical. 

In the day after the first reports of the interview, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force collected reaction from members of its national religious leadership roundtable.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA said, “We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the pope’s firm desire that the church be a ’home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation.”

She continued, in part, “LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the pope’s call for church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers. We hope that the bishops will heed this call and immediately end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits.”

Francis DeBernardo, the executive Director of New Ways Ministry, said, “Pope Francis’ interview in an American magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters. Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people. His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision. His message signals a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming to all.”

At NGLTF, faith work director Rebecca Voelkel said, “As a Christian pastor who understands the heart of the gospel to be justice and love for all God’s children, it is with gratitude that I receive the news of Pope Francis’ remarks. They mark a dramatic shift in tone whose impact is both welcome and needed. For too long, the Catholic Church’s ability to work on important justice issues has been marred because of the demeaning and abusive statements and actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and toward women who grapple with reproductive choices. As LGBT people die from violence around the world and women die from lack of access to reproductive services, Pope Francis’ statements may lead to life-saving changes.”

A representative with Light of Reform Mosque and Muslims for Progressive Values, Imam Daayiee, responded with the statement, “I am glad to hear the pope’s comments and I am prayerful the Islamic faith will also adjust its focus as well.”

The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, an early faith-based leader in the LGBT community, said, “Every crack in the door, or window, every generous, even if ambiguous, hint of openness from Pope Francis is encouraging –and we know will make many in the Vatican and the hierarchy nervous! More cause for rejoicing! That the Pope would take even a nuanced position in opposition to the slammed door policy of the last decades, is welcome, welcome, welcome.”

John Gustav-Wrathall, a senior vice president of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends, said, “Pope Francis’ statement is part of a growing trend among religious leaders in the most historically conservative denominations. We’re seeing similar efforts among Evangelical leaders and among leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to rein in institutional homophobia and make LGBT members feel more welcome.”

The Rev. Robin R. Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, added, “I am thrilled that the new pope is taking this opportunity to speak about his vision for and of the church, particularly as it relates to the more recent hyper-focus on issues of sexuality and reproduction. I believe that there are many within the progressive Baptist community around the world who will welcome the leadership that Pope Francis is offering on being the church for all and not a chapel for a few.”

HRC says Pope Francis sets ‘reset button’ on LGBT issues

The nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group says that Pope Francis’ recent remarks about LGBT people and homosexuality make clear the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is promoting tolerance and pressing “the reset button” on the church’s treatment of LGBT people.

The pope previously said “if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.”

More recently, in an interview, the pope said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

He also said the campaigns against reproductive rights and marriage equality harm the church: “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Responding, HRC president Chad Griffin said, “With these latest comments, Pope Francis has pressed the reset button on the Roman Catholic Church’s treatment of LGBT people, rolling back a years-long campaign at the highest levels of the Church to oppose any measure of dignity or equality.”

Griffin continued, “Now, it’s time for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to catch up and drop their opposition to even the most basic protections for LGBT people. Otherwise, they risk being left far behind by American Catholics and this remarkable pope.”

Polls show that a majority of Catholics in the United States support LGBT equality, but the U.S. church hierarchy has invested repeatedly in campaigns against equality, specifically efforts to pass anti-gay marriage amendments and oppose marriage equality laws.

“At a moment when Pope Francis is re-dedicating the church to tirelessly helping the poor, it’s unacceptable for American bishops to continue wasting millions of parishioner dollars on harmful anti-LGBT political campaigns that target members of their own flock,” Griffin said. “For the sake of LGBT Catholics, It’s essential that Pope Francis’ inspiring words lead to transformative change throughout the church hierarchy.”

Said Wilson Cruz of GLAAD: “Pope Francis today opened the door for LGBT people like me, who grow up in the Catholic Church, to be embraced, rather than condemned from afar. Though a growing number of Catholics already support gay and lesbian individuals, this is the first time that a pope has recognized the harm that the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s campaigns against LGBT people and families have caused. We urge bishops, cardinals and church leadership to listen to today’s message from Pope Francis and join him in putting an end to the rejection and pain that too many LGBT Catholics and our families face.”