Paul Moses

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).

By this author

Divided on Religious Liberty

A new poll finds Americans are sharply divided on the question of religious liberty. The Public Religion Research Institute reports:

Nearly half (46%) of Americans say they are more concerned about the government interfering with the ability of people to freely practice their religion, while an equal number (46%) say they are more concerned about religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others.

Despite the U.S. Catholic bishops' campaign to highlight religious liberty as an issue, a majority of Catholics (51 percent) fall into the latter camp, while 42 percent said they were more concerned that the government was trying to interfere with the practice of religion. The poll highlights generational and gender differences among Catholics.

Millenials, aged 18 to 34, are far more likely to be concerned about religious groups tyring to impose thier beliefs on others, while those 69 and older are much more likely to be concerned about government interference. Catholic men were evenly divided on this issue, but women were more likely to be concerned about religious groups (55 percent) than they were about government interference with religion (36 percent).


Cardinal Dolan and the St. Patrick's Day Parade

Back when I was covering the religion beat at New York Newsday in 1992, I interviewed various theologians on the question of whether anything in Catholic teaching required that a group called the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization be barred from marching under its own banner in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade. The views I heard were diverse. One of the theologians, Father Avery Dulles, reached at his desk at Fordham University, told me he hadn't made up his mind. "It really depends. If it is a religious event, you kind of go in one direction," he said. "If it is a manifestation of civil order, I suppose then theology doesn't have too much to say about it."

I tracked down that yellowed news clipping after reading Cardinal Timothy Dolan's column in this weekend's issue of Catholic New York, newspaper of the New York archdiocese. As reported earlier this month, the cardinal had backed the decision of the parade committee to allow an Irish gay group to march in the parade, and also accepted the parade's invitation  to be the grand marshal in 2015. Facing criticism for this, Dolan responds in his column:

... the most important question I had to ask myself was this: does the new policy violate Catholic faith or morals? If it does, then the Committee has compromised the integrity of the Parade, and I must object and refuse to participate or support it.

From my review, it does not. Catholic teaching is clear: “being Gay” is not a sin, nor contrary to God’s revealed morals. Homosexual actions are—as are any sexual relations outside of the lifelong, faithful, loving, lifegiving bond of a man and woman in marriage—a moral teaching grounded in the Bible, reflected in nature, and faithfully taught by the Church.

So, while actions are immoral, identity is not!

In his reply, Dolan does not take the escape route that the parade is simply a civic event. It is "intimately linked to the Catholic Faith," he writes. Contrast that to my yellowed 1992 clipping, which reported the view of Catholic New York back then:  "There can be no doubt that a group which publicly proclaims its opposition to Church teaching by championing its preference for homosexual activity is out of place in this parade."

Rejecting claims of AP bias against Israel

An article in which a former reporter in The Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau accuses The AP of  anti-Israel, anti-Semitic bias has been getting a lot of attention. Like many other people, I received it in a friend’s e-mail blast. 

The statehouse probes: Perry, Christie and Cuomo

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has given over his fingerprints and smiling mug shot, and his lawyer calls the case against him “an attempt to criminalize politics”—that is, Perry’s hardnosed style of politics, which involved cutting off funds to a prosecutor who investigated his administration.

Indeed, there is a school of thought that prosecutors have been criminalizing political maneuvering in many places. In New Jersey, the U.S. attorney has a grand jury investigation into whether Gov. Chris Christie knew about his aides’ “Bridgegate” tactics (among other things). And the U.S. attorney in Manhattan is taking a very skeptical look at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cynical manipulation of a commission he appointed with the stated aim of exposing political corruption. Other governors such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker have also received prosecutorial scrutiny.

Even The New York Times editorial board has bought into Perry’s defense: “Bad political judgment is not necessarily a felony, and the indictment handed up against him on Friday— given the facts so far — appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution."

Why are the political maneuvers of so many governors being investigated? I’ve seen various theories. One is that prosecutors have political motives. Another, advanced by Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, is that with the demise of newspaper statehouse bureaus, governors are tempted to play their politics faster and looser.

My theory, based on some years of covering prosecutors up close, is a little different. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion about what to investigate and whom to prosecute. They are also quite attuned to the zeitgeist. In some sense, they have to be: They need to know what is going to play before a jury, and what will not.

The Pilgrim Crush in Spain

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the main route of the Camino de Santiago, the network of pilgrimage paths across Spain, has become so crowded in the summer that peregrinos are being asked to walk lesser-used trails.

The newsletter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino urged in its summer issue that peregrinos not walk the Camino Francés, “where the hysteria over securing a bunk, avoiding bedbugs, and finding relief from crowds reaches a fever pitch.”

One-sided coverage on Iraq in U.S. media

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times, does a good job in her column today of identifying ways in which the paper has amplified the hawkish voices who want the U.S. to intervene again in Iraq and downplayed views to the contrary. As she notes, this is especially disturbing given the paper's much-criticized coverage preceding the war in Iraq in 2003.

Pope Francis, St. Francis and the Middle East

With the symbolic gesture of praying for peace with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, Pope Francis once again brings to mind his namesake saint from Assisi.

St. Francis excelled at creating tableaux of peace and compassion, aimed at changing hearts and minds. Late in his life, he wrote a new verse about peacemaking for his poem “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” and had his friars sing it to the bishop and mayor of Assisi at a time when their conflict seemed ready to precipitate violence. According to an early account of Francis’s life, the two would-be combatants reconciled.

Pope Francis also has a knack for the compelling symbolic gesture. His decision to act on the Middle East stalemate brings to mind another effort on the part of St. Francis. With peace talks on their way to failing during the Fifth Crusade on the banks of the Nile, St. Francis took it on himself to seek out the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. Their meeting was peaceful and courteous—remarkably so, given the brutal violence of that war. Francis failed in his aim of converting the sultan, but at the same time he succeeded in providing the Crusade leaders with an important example: it was possible to talk with the enemy, one human being to another.


Boycotting Amazon and the new Internet Barons

I was chatting several days ago with Bill McGarvey, a friend who is co-author of the book The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between.  I told him that it struck me as an ideal present for a graduating high school student. Bill informed me, though, that he faced a problem: Amazon said on its website that it would usually take three to five weeks to ship it. This afternoon, it listed 3 to 5 seeks, then changed to 2 to 4. Either way, Amazon's shipping delay creates an obstacle for the customer who wants to give the book as a gift at a graduation party.

The problem is that Bill's book was published by an imprint of Hachette, which has refused to cave in to Amazon's increasing demands for larger payments from the publishing industry. The deliberately long shipping time is part of Amazon's campaign of intimidation against Hachette--and against its authors, their books and the free flow of ideas. It certainly puts Jeff Bezos in an odd position: owner of the Washington Post, which we look toward as a beacon of First Amendment values, and owner of a company trying to suppress the sale of books. It's brazen and it's wrong.

Ardelle Cowie, a Connecticut investor, is rightly bothered by this. According to The New York Times, she has begun a "lonely boycott" of Amazon. I wonder if it will be that lonely. After my conversation with Bill, I resolved I wouldn't buy anything from Amazon unless it was unavailable elsewhere.

Francis at the Bethlehem Security Wall

When Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall in March, 2000, I was watching on a big screen in the press room at the Jerusalem convention center. Covering the pope's pilgrimage for Newsday, I wasn't fortunate enough to be in the media pool for that event.

Study: Latino Catholics joining the "nones"

For decades, polls and studies have tracked the movement of Latinos from the Catholic Church to Protestant denominations, especially Pentecostalism. But a new Pew Research poll shows that large numbers of Latinos, particularly young adults, have switched from Catholicism to the "nones."