TOP STORY: CHARITIES: Charities worry that flat tax would slash donations

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-The candidacy of Steve Forbes may be limping but the proposal that propelled him forward in the GOP presidential field-the flat tax-is alive and well and striking fear into the hearts of charitable groups that depend on tax-deductible donations. If there should ever be a flat tax, charities wonder, will there be a place on the famous super-simple postcard for listing and deducting money you’ve given to charity? The firmest flat-tax advocates say: Drop it. Forbes himself says Americans don’t need an incentive to be generous.

Church groups balk at potential CIA use of clergy in covert operations

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-Religious groups expressed concern Thursday (Feb. 22) about a loophole in CIA rules that allows the U.S. spy agency to use clergy and missionaries for covert work overseas. The rules forbid the CIA from hiring or establishing any intelligence relationships”with any U.S. clergy or missionary whether or not ordained, who is sent out by a mission or church organization to preach, teach, heal or proselytize.” But The Washington Post reported Thursday that a little noticed provision of those rules allows the CIA director to waive the ban in extraordinary circumstances.

TOP STORY: THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Heresy trial could be dividing line for Episcopalians

c. 1996 Religion News Service NEWARK, N.J. (RNS)-The Rev. Barry Stopfel, rector of St. George’s Church in Maplewood, N.J., a Newark suburb, opens his packages cautiously these days. He worries that his address is in the phone book and that his car is too accessible. He hopes his fears are unfounded, but given the quality of his hate mail, he says he can’t afford to relax.

COMMENTARY: Purim’s festivity masks a dreadful reality

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) (RNS)-The biblical Book of Esther is a literary gem, a sweeping study of monumental conflicts, tremendous courage and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It tells the 2,500-year-old story of how a villainous prime minister, Haman, nearly carried out his evil plan of murdering all the Jews of Persia. Only the vigilance of Mordecai, a Persian Jew, and the timely intervention of his niece, Queen Esther, foiled Haman’s diabolical scheme. On Monday evening (March 4), this masterpiece will be read in synagogues throughout the world as Jews celebrate Purim, the joyous and boisterous holiday commemorating Esther’s heroic actions that saved her people.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Rwanda war crimes trials may start in April (RNS)-War crimes trials against Rwandans accused of participating in the 1994 mass murder of up to 1 million people may begin in April, according to officials of the U.N. Tribunal charged with bringing them to justice. The trials will be held in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, which is the tribunal headquarters. Andronico Adede, the tribunal registrar, said a prison to house genocide suspects would be completed by the end of March, the Reuter News Agency reported. The tribunal has issued indictments against two Rwandans held in Zambia for their alleged roles in the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

TOP STORY: ARTS AND RELIGION: Houses of worship, temples of dreams

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Particles of light trickle through a stained-glass window. The beam of a movie projector casts scenes of grace and grandeur onto the screen of a hushed and darkened theater. To novelist John Updike, both images resonate with ideas of the sacred: the church, a place to offer prayers; the cinema, a temple for the worship of our dreams. Ever since the Puritans planted their vigorous Protestant ethic in the receptive soil of the new world, Updike said, a distinctive kind of faith has permeated the American experience-faith in God and in the seemingly limitless capacity to invent and re-invent ourselves. His latest novel,”In the Beauty of the Lilies”(Knopf), Updike explores how ideas of faith unfold and fade over four generations of one 20th-century American family.

Pope urges resolve on celibacy among African priests

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-Reflecting his concern about the failure of many priests to fulfill the rigors of their chosen lives, Pope John Paul II on Tuesday (Feb. 20) urged Tanzania’s bishops to”foster an unfailing commitment to holiness and a renewed dedication to the apostolate.” The pope, whose message appeared to be aimed at Africa in general, said candidates for the priesthood should be better screened to insure they are committed to observing celibacy and chastity. In addition, candidates should be prepared to”avoid the pitfalls of a secularized style of living,”John Paul said.”Celibacy is a journey of absolute trust in God, which enables priests to serve Christ and his church with an undivided heart,”the pope said.”It is a call to radical discipleship.”

Support for Mideast peace process grows among U.S. Jews

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-American-Jewish support for the Middle East peace process has jumped significantly in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to an American Jewish Committee survey released today (Feb. 21). Seventy-nine percent of those Jews polled in the January survey said they supported the peace process, an 11 percentage point increase from September 1995, the last time a similar poll was conducted by the American Jewish Committee. David Singer, American Jewish Committee research director, attributed the sharp increase to”the sympathy factor.””The dramatic increase in support has far less to do with the actual unfolding of the peace process on the ground than with a sense of sympathy for Rabin and the policies he championed,”Singer said.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Vatican says Belgrade ties don’t suggest political support (RNS)-The Vatican defended its decision Wednesday (Feb. 21) to resume diplomatic ties with Yugoslavia, apparently wary that Serbia-the dominant force in the Yugoslav federation-might use the decision as a propaganda tool to boost its international image. In a carefully worded statement, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls made clear that the former Yugoslavia, not the Catholic Church, was responsible for severing relations in 1992, and that resumption of ties was merely a return to the status quo.”The government of Belgrade pulled its ambassador to the Holy See in February 1992, leaving from that date on its diplomatic post vacant,”he said.”These developments,”he said in reference to resumed relations,”do not comprise on behalf of the Holy See any judgment on the legal border disputes of the former Yugoslavia.” On Tuesday (Feb.

COMMENTARY: The KKK and a little girl’s prayer

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)-“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength,”wrote David in Psalm 8. I was reminded of this truth recently as I listened to the prayer of my 6-year-old daughter. Jael has recently become concerned about the Ku Klux Klan.

Observing Ramadan’s end, White House hosts first Muslim fete

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-American Muslims marked a milestone in the growth and acceptance of Islam in the United States Tuesday (Feb. 20) with the first presidential reception to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.”It’s only fitting that just as children and families of other faiths come here to celebrate their holy days that (Muslims) come here, too,”First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the family-oriented event in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. The late afternoon reception marked the day Muslims call Eid al-Fitr-“the feast of the fastbreaking.”It signals the end of Ramadan, a month of self-reflection and self-imposed discipline during which observant Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Ramadan, according to Muslim tradition, is the month in which Allah (God) began to reveal the Koran-the Muslim scripture-to the Prophet Muhammad in seventh-century Arabia.

TOP STORY: NORTHERN IRELAND: Chances for peace slipping away in Ireland

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-With the chance of ending a bloody religious and political war in Northern Ireland slipping away, the Clinton administration is engaged in intense negotiations with the British and Irish governments and Northern Irish political factions to restore a 17-month cease-fire and resume peace talks. Political leaders have a week or two at best to repair the shattered peace process before it completely disintegrates, according to those close to the negotiations. Now that the outlawed Irish Republican Army has resumed its campaign of terror, Great Britain and Ireland are bracing for retaliations from Protestant paramilitary groups. The IRA bombing of a double-decker bus Sunday (Feb.

Pope sends Vatican envoy to East Timor

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-In an apparent attempt to find a diplomatic solution to Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor, Pope John Paul II on Tuesday (Feb. 20) dispatched a top Vatican envoy to the province and to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to meet with government and religious leaders. The mission of Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, one of the pope’s most trusted advisers, comes as the pontiff has stepped up his efforts at prodding Indonesia to relax, if not cede, control of the former Portuguese colony that it invaded in 1975 and formally annexed in 1976. Indonesia, with a population of more than 191 million-the world’s fourth largest nation-is overwhelmingly Muslim.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Researcher finds changed attitudes on Roman Catholic priesthood (RNS)-Support for a married clergy and women priests has grown among Roman Catholic parishioners over the past three years, while support for the teaching authority of the pope has declined, according to the Rev. Thomas P. Sweetser, co-director of the Parish Evaluation Project. Writing in the Feb. 17 issue of America magazine, the Jesuit journal, Sweetser said 61 percent of Roman Catholic parishioners favor allowing priests to marry and still do their ministry, up 13 percent since 1992. The same trend is apparent in reaction to women priests, he wrote.

COMMENTARY: This just in: The `Honey’ syndrome

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)-One of the tasks of journalism is trend-spotting and, if possible, inflating the wisp of fad or coincidence with enough hot air to lift it grandly into the sky. The competition is fierce, and if you’re going to be the first to spot a trend you must be quick as well as creative. It’s my pleasure, then, to warn that an ominous trend is on the horizon, and as far as I know I’m the first to sight it forming like a distant thundercloud.