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Notebook Religion

Roger's dodge

CASTING SHADOWS: Mahony (left) and Gómez. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Dana Edelson/NBC

Christoph Waltz

John Amis/EPA/Newscom


Roger's dodge

Cardinal admits ‘mistakes’ in dealing with predator priests but plans to attend conclave

Alleged cover-ups of abuse by Catholic priests have continued to cast a shadow on Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement and the choice of his successor. In the United States furor over the abuse scandal has focused on former Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, who was stripped of most of his remaining official duties earlier this year after released church documents apparently revealed Mahony’s efforts to protect abuser priests.

Mahony has admitted to “mistakes” in early policies regarding those priests, but he has also criticized his successor José Gómez (who removed the former archbishop from his public role) for his handling of the controversy. On his blog, Mahony recently seemed to compare himself to Christ the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, prompting conservative American blogger Rod Dreher to call Mahony a “sociopathic narcissist.”

In spite of the punitive measures against Mahony, Archbishop Gomez’s office still regards him as a cardinal and bishop in “good standing,” and therefore he remains eligible to participate in the Vatican conclave to select the new pope. U.S. and Italian critics have urged Mahony not to attend the meeting, but the former archbishop arrived in Rome in late February, tweeting that the city was enjoying “Great Holy Spirit weather!!” By contrast, Archbishop Keith O’Brien, Britain’s top Catholic leader, resigned in the wake of accusations of sexual misconduct, and is not attending the conclave. 

‘Vicious’ sentiment

NBC’s Saturday Night Live caused an uproar among many Christians when on Feb. 16 it aired a satirical commercial titled “DJesus Uncrossed,” a take-off on director Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained. The spoof, which featured recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, depicted a resurrected Jesus and his followers taking (ridiculously) bloody revenge on the Romans who crucified him, and “preaching anything but forgiveness.”

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance says that Saturday Night Live has gone “out of their way to mock Jesus Christ and Christianity,” suggesting that the show would never do the same to Muslims. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League calls the segment “vicious.” 

Outraged Christians also got support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose executive director, Nihad Awad, says that “such misrepresentation of what Jesus, peace be upon him, stands for is extremely offensive to Muslims and to all those who believe in his message.” (Muslims traditionally revere Jesus as a great prophet, but not the Son of God.) Luke Moon of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, however, urges restraint in responding to disrespectful portrayals of Christ. Free speech includes the right to offensive speech, he says, and “Christians, although the easiest and most popular targets of mockery and humiliation, should be the strongest advocates for this freedom.” —T.K.

Mega growth

A new survey from the Leadership Network shows that in a time when many American congregations are struggling to cover expenses, most megachurches are doing fine financially. The survey of more than 700 leaders of large churches (“megachurches” are defined as those with more than 2,000 weekly attendees) reveals that 83 percent expect to make budget this year. Three-quarters of them plan on hiring new staff, while 81 percent will give staff pay raises, and 79 percent report at least modest growth in attendance. The attendance pattern stands in stark contrast to Protestant churches overall, of which only about 20 percent are growing.

Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research notes that the survey provides continuing evidence that “the number of megachurches is not declining,” and that megachurches “are financially healthier than non-megas.” The churches in the report receive almost all of their income from congregational giving, and all get at least some gifts electronically, by online donations or via lobby kiosks. The number of American megachurches has grown dramatically in recent decades, from about 50 such congregations in 1970 to approximately 1,600 today. —T.K.