Former Episcopal treasurer admits to embezzling more than $1.5 million

c. 1995 Religion News Service (RNS)-The former treasurer of the Episcopal Church admitted Wednesday to a federal court in Newark, N.J., that she embezzled more than $1.5 million from the church and evaded income taxes on part of the stolen money. Ellen F. Cooke, 52, who served as the church’s top financial officer from 1986 to 1995, pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transfer of stolen money and one count of tax evasion. She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the first count, and 5 years and a $250,000 fine on the second count. Prosecutors and attorneys for Cooke have agreed as part of her plea arrangement that she should serve between 31 and 46 months in prison.

National Religion Report

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Following is a collection of domestic religion stories compiled from RNS staff, wire and denominational reports). Supreme Court allows $1.5 million judgment against Christian Scientists (RNS)-The Supreme Court Monday (Jan. 22) let stand a Minnesota appeals court’s $1.5 million damage judgment against four Christian Scientists, including the mother of a Minnesota boy who died from diabetes treated with prayer instead of medicine. Without comment, the court rejected arguments that the award won by the boy’s father violated religious freedom.

TOP STORY: JUDAISM IN AMERICA: Synagogues reward Jewish families willing to relocate

c. 1996 Religion News Service LOWELL, Mass.-“WANTED,”said the ad, published in a regional Jewish newspaper.”$2,500 reward. Pioneering families to revitalize the Jewish community in Lowell.” With car-dealer flair and Wild West drama, a rabbi here is beckoning Jews to a new frontier, urging them to settle in a city that he said is a worthy, and far less pricey, alternative to the suburbs of choice for many Jews. “It’s been my perception that Lowell always gets a bad rap,”said Orthodox Rabbi David Abramchik, a Jewish day school principal, citing headlines about the city’s crime and economic troubles.”The $2,500 is not the issue.

COMMENTARY: The murky waters of `parental rights’ legislation

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.) (RNS)-It’s an idea that has some merit. But the real key to parental responsibility is morals, not laws. A bill called the”Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act,”now pending in both houses of Congress, would require federal agencies to show”a compelling government interest”before displacing a parent’s authority to supervise a child’s upbringing.

NEWS STORY: Christian leaders urge new mobilization against religious persecution

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-Leaders of more than 40 evangelical and Catholic organizations Tuesday (Jan. 23) urged the federal government to take up the cause of persecuted Christians around the world. At the same time, the leaders, representing churches, mission agencies and political advocacy groups, conceded that the Christian community itself has not spoken out forcefully enough on the issue.”Our consciences have been seared … by the indifference, the lack of moral outrage (and) the absolutely scandalous silence of the Christian community toward the persecution of Christians worldwide,”said former Watergate figure Charles Colson, president of the evangelical Prison Fellowship International.

TOP STORY: ISLAM IN AMERICAL: In prisons, a declaration of faith often means conversion to Islam

c. 1996 Religion News Service STORMVILLE, N.Y. (RNS)-The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, said Imam Hasib Abdul-Haqq, the Muslim chaplain at Green Haven Correctional Facility here, is a time for patience, a time to develop the discipline that enables a person to accept his destiny. For Amir Ali Brathwaite, one of nearly 200 men who listened as Abdul-Haqq delivered his sermon during a recent prison prayer service, the message held a poignancy that only someone in his situation can fully appreciate. Brathwaite has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in a bank robbery in which one person was murdered. At age 25, he has already spent seven years behind bars, the last four at Green Haven, a maximum-security state prison for men set on a slight rise in the wooded countryside about a 90-minute drive north of New York City.

COMMENTARY: What’s so bad about men?

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Frederica Mathewes-Green is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is the author of the recent book”Real Choices”and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today and other publications.) (RNS)-It’s not every day you get to see a photo of a woman folding a man up and pushing him into a suitcase. But there she is: standing outside a compact car, shoving an amiable-looking fellow in a rugby shirt into a carrying case. Make that a”4858944 Zippered Nylon Carrying Tote.”Yes, this is Safe-T-Man, the inflatable bodyguard,”a life-size, simulated male that appears to be 180 lbs.

NEWS STORY: Thousands urge Clinton to ban late-term abortion procedure

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-Thousands of cheering anti-abortion activists, rallying here Monday on the 23rd anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, condemned President Clinton for his stance on abortion and urged him to approve a proposed legislative ban on a controversial procedure. The annual march, held on the Ellipse in sight of the White House, drew about 60,000 people from across the nation, according to the U.S. Park Police. In numerous speeches to the sign-waving throng, Republican members of Congress condemned Clinton for his plans to veto a proposal, passed by the House and Senate, to ban an infrequent late-term procedure known as the”partial-birth”abortion.

NEWS STORY: Vatican book on sexuality may bolster”parental rights”drive

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-The”parental rights”movement in the United States has gained an unintended assist from the Roman Catholic Church. In a new book on human sexuality, the church advises parents to become more involved in their children’s education, to the extent of removing them from school if they are unhappy with sex education programs.”It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles,”says the new Vatican book,”The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.” The 60-page tract was produced by the Pontifical Council for the Family after 11 years of study and in response to the growing dissatisfaction among Catholic parents on how sex education is taught in public schools. While the book is intended for global distribution, it appears aimed particularly at Western societies, including Western Europe and the United States.

NEWS STORY: Christian Right meeting in Memphis draws five GOP hopefuls

c. 1996 Religion News Service MEMPHIS, Tenn. (RNS)-Joined by five Republican presidential candidates, thousands of conservative Christians met in Memphis over the weekend for a two-day meeting designed to rally evangelical voters for the upcoming presidential primaries.”Our goal,”said Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus and one of many Christian Right leaders who spoke at the National Affairs Briefing,”should be to restore the country to its past great glory based on biblical Scripture and to confine the federal government to its proper constitutional boundaries.” The rally, which drew 4,000, included speeches by such conservative leaders as Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, as well as five GOP contenders: former commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Rep. Robert K. Dornan of California, and Alan Keyes, a former State Department official. President Clinton and three other Republican presidential hopefuls-Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes-were invited but did not attend.

TOP STORY: WAR AND PEACE IN BOSNIA: Sarajevo cardinal a staunch advocate of a multicultural Bosnia

c. 1996 Religion News Service SARAJEVO (RNS)-It’s hard to find anyone in the government-held parts of Sarajevo with an unkind word to say about Bosnia’s Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic. Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Jews alike speak of”their cardinal”with hometown pride.”Monsignor Puljic will be pope one day,”says Hebib Sulejman Suky, a Muslim and owner of the Ragusa Tavern.”He’s young, intelligent, and most importantly,”the bearded bar owner says with a laugh,”he’s Bosnian.” Despite the loyalty of his admirers, however, even Puljic’s closest circle was surprised when he was named cardinal a year ago. The decision came unexpectedly because there already exists a Catholic, Croatian cardinal in the former Yugoslavia.

COMMENTARY: The Millionaire’s Rumble and gods in cleats

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Charles W. Colson, former special counsel to Richard Nixon, served a prison term for his role in the Watergate scandal. He now heads Prison Fellowship International, an evangelical Christian ministry to the imprisoned and their families. Contact Colson via e-mail: 71421,1551 at compuserve.com.) (RNS)-The Super Bowl, otherwise known as the Millionaire’s Rumble, is probably our nation’s biggest pageant, replete with fireworks, marching bands, numbing hype, ceaseless commentary, presidential phone calls, blimps, flyovers, parachutists and the game itself, with its pathos, bathos, and Bud Bowl. At no other time, short of war, is America so wired to the television: so much so that a few years ago residents of Buffalo blew out their sewer system by overuse during commercials (the Buffalo Flush, as the phenomenon became known).

Denomination Report

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Following is a collection of news stories compiled from RNS staff, wire and denominational reports). Lutheran world body will not ease support for ordaining women (RNS)-The Lutheran World Federation will not drop its support of women’s ordination despite problems it creates for relations with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and the refusal of some Lutheran bodies to ordain females, according to the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the world body. At the same time, however, Noko said the issue is not yet a matter of”status confessionis”-a bedrock matter of faith-that would lead the federation to suspend a member church that refuses to ordain women as it did with two South African denominations that supported apartheid. The federation and its 122 member churches have been embroiled in a debate on the issue since Archbishop Janis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia announced in 1993 that he would end the Latvian church’s 18-year-old practice of ordaining women.

NEWS FEATURE: Armenian Christian leader bridges church division

c. 1996 Religion News Service WORCESTER, Mass. (RNS)-Armenian Christians in America, divided into two church jurisdictions for more than 60 years by Cold War politics, are on the road to reunion under a charismatic new spiritual leader. Karekin I, elected in Armenia in April as the catholicos, or worldwide head of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, is making old barriers crumble on his first visit to the United States in his new role.”No one is allowed to speak of two churches,”the 63-year-old black-robed monk, scholar and teacher has been telling receptive audiences throughout the nation. Members and priests affiliated with the two factions have attended all of Karekin’s appearances since his arrival in New York Jan.

NEWS FEATURE: Palestinian Christian cleric asks of Jerusalem, `Whose land is it?’

c. 1996 Religion News Service JERUSALEM (RNS)-“Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!” says the biblical prophet Micah. “At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.” If the Old Testament prophets were walking the streets of Jerusalem today, they would be denouncing Israeli policies of land confiscation, house demolition and unreasonable taxation of Palestinians, asserts the Rev. Canon Naim Ateek, a Palestinian cleric and prominent Anglican theologian known for adapting the liberation theology of Latin America’s barrios to the Arab refugee camps of the Middle East.