Father Mychal Judge.
Catholic League president Bill Donahue and many of his fellow Irish Americans are fuming mad at Mike Bloomberg.

No, they are not angry at the New York mayor’s handling of Hurricane Irene.

It is a religious conflict revolving around 9/11 which has many upset, and even calling upon the memory of 9/11’s first official victim, the sainted Irish American Franciscan Father Mychal Judge.

In short, we have the makings here of a different kind of hurricane, a full blown force of human nature which could leave a lot of destruction in its angry wake.

This week, Bloomberg announced that no members of any religious organizations would be speaking at the 9/11 anniversary ceremony. Bloomberg's office has argued the service should be focused on the families of the victims.

"There's an awful lot of people who would like to participate and you just can't do that,” Bloomberg noted.
Catholic League president Bill Donahue is having none of this.

“When it comes to granting the clergy their constitutional right to freedom of speech on the 10th anniversary of 9/11…(Bloomberg) simply elects to ban them,” said Donahue.

William McGurn, in The Wall Street Journal online, evoked the memory of the beloved Irish priest.
“The exclusion of religion from an important anniversary distorts an undeniable part of the 9/11 story, perhaps most vividly illustrated by its first recorded casualty -- a fire department chaplain named Rev. Mychal Judge.”

McGurn then quotes Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who said, "If the fear is that the inclusion of religious leaders at a public commemoration is divisive, we've really lost something."

Donahue offered this solution: “Mayor Bloomberg should reverse his decision, allowing a priest, minister, rabbi and imam to make a short statement.”

This certainly seems sensible. Sadly, it’s also absurd on its face.

First of all, clergy did not speak at the previous nine ceremonies. Then, obvious questions about Sikhs and Hindus and Mormons who died on 9/11 also arise.

Then there are the atheists who would inevitably enter the fray.

As it is, Republican presidential candidates such as Rick Santorum have already jumped into this battle, surely hoping to score political points as they paint themselves holier than every one else in the 2012 race.

Meanwhile, Donahue surely knows that a lot of people are enraged that imams and other Muslins are setting up shop two blocks from Ground Zero.

Seeing an imam actually at Ground Zero at the ceremony would surely whip up a lot of those hostile feelings.

Such an ugly fight, and possibly even lawsuits that would result, leading up to this solemn anniversary would surely taint the event.

No one denies religion did and should play a role in how families cope with this tragedy. But let’s also not be naïve.

Religion can divide as well as unite. Those familiar with Ireland can tell you a thing or two about that.
Same deal with evoking Father Mike. He was indeed an earthly saint. Yet many of his admirers also opt not confront obvious questions about his sexuality and the broader implications those questions raise about gays and the Catholic Church.

More simply, as a blogger at uscatholic.org noted: “With September 11 falling on a Sunday this year, there will be no shortage of religious ceremonies that day…There will certainly be opportunities for people to reflect and remember in a religious way.”

The broader, more disturbing problem here is the growing number of people in America who believe that, since the country is falling prey to evil secular forces, they need to fight harder to bring religion into the public sphere.

The first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, stressed that the U.S. Constitution would guide him, rather than any religious authority. That would probably get him booted from today’s Republican Party.

We live in a city of many religions and that is sometimes amazing, but let’s not pretend it is ever simple. Keeping religion out of the 9/11 anniversary is a bad decision -- with the exception, perhaps, of any other decision that could have been handed down on this very sensitive issue.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan.)