The Vatican on ID; Germany’s growing Jewish population; Brooks explores Islamic humor

The Vatican’s newspaper has rejected the science of intelligent design, according to an article by Stacy Meichtry in Thursday’s RNS report: The Vatican’s official newspaper has published an article that dismisses the scientific validity of intelligent design and endorses a recent court ruling in Pennsylvania to keep the theory out of classrooms. Writing in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, Italy, accused proponents of intelligent design of improperly blurring the lines between science and faith to make their case that certain forms of biological life are too complex to have evolved through Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. “If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science,” he wrote. Elizabeth Bryant in Berlin reports that Germany is boasting the world’s fastest-growing Jewish population: By almost any benchmark, Boris Rosenthal is a German success story.

Hoping for anonymity

Quote of the Day: Former Praise the Lord (PTL) Leader Jim Bakker “Most of you are so young you don’t know who I am, and that’s good.” -Former Praise the Lord (PTL) Leader Jim Bakker speaking at MorningStar Fellowship Church in Fort Mill, S.C., a congregation that is located on the site where his ministry was headquartered before he was embroiled in a sex and money scandal in the late 1980s that resulted in prison time. He was quoted by The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C.

Now They Call Him `Father’ for Another Reason …

Catholics in Ireland say the church is losing good, qualified priests who are leaving their jobs because of mandatory celibacy. The Irish Examiner has the story of a 73-year-old priest, Father Maurice Dillane, who left the church after he fathered a baby with a 31-year-old woman. Critics of the celibacy policy say many men would stay priests if only they could marry. Dillane has since left the church and is raising the child with the baby’s mother.

Crowd Control

Crowd Control Can Save Lives at Large Islamic Gatherings The RNS article of the week (linked above) looks at crowd control strategies for major religious pilrimages. Quote: As desirable as it may seem to make all pilgrimages safe and comfortable, a certain degree of hardship has always been part of the pilgrimage experience, according to Kerry Walters, a philosophy professor at Gettysburg College who has studied the phenomenon.

COMMENTARY: Benedict XVI Already Has a Legacy: Ending the Imperial Papacy

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The best way to understand Pope Benedict XVI is to compare his succeeding the larger-than-life John Paul II to Harry Truman’s following the equally giant-sized Franklin D. Roosevelt. The year-end news roundups stressed the void left in the media universe by the death of John Paul. Pundits alternated between puzzlement at and pity for Benedict, a 78-year-old German scholar better known for summoning theologians to zero-hour examinations in the shadowed recesses of the Holy Office than greeting crowds in the flooding light of St. Peter’s Square. Analysts continue to shake his nine-month-old papacy as a child does an unopened present for clues about what is inside.

On Immigration Issue, Big Evangelical Groups Conspicuously Mum

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Advocates at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, can usually expect a warm greeting from large evangelical groups wielding clout in the halls of Congress. But this year, they’re getting a downright chilly reception to one of their priority agenda items: immigration reform. As Congress grapples with legislation regarding an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, the nation’s most powerful conservative Christian organizations have been watching from the sidelines. This occurs despite decades of evangelical initiative to make America a hospitable haven for religious and political refugees.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Bush Aide Tells Vatican Officials of Foes’ `Ruthless Secularization’ ROME (RNS) Enforcing a strict separation between church and state curtails religious freedom and deprives state-funded social programs of a “spiritual dimension,” a top aide to President Bush told an audience of Vatican officials. Jim Towey, who heads Bush’s program to provide federal funding to “faith-based” social services, made his comments Tuesday (Jan. 17) at a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Dignitas Humanae,” the ground-breaking 1965 Vatican document that recognized the rights of individuals to freedom of religion and the validity of separation between church and state. Towey decried the “ruthless secularization” of public life by Bush opponents who he said have falsely cast the president as a `chaplain-in-chief.” “I think we can agree to disagree with those who wish to banish religious voices from the public square,” Towey said.

Senator’s Shift Hurts Congressional Effort to Block Assisted Suicide Law

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Republicans control both chambers of Congress and likely could muster enough votes to block an Oregon law allowing physician-assisted suicide. But an apparent about-face by an Oregon senator could alter the political landscape dramatically in the Senate. After winning a 6-3 Supreme Court decision Tuesday, supporters of the Oregon law gained a second, unexpected victory: the grudging support of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith. In 2000, Smith supported legislation that would have blocked the Oregon law by preventing doctors from prescribing lethal doses of federally controlled pain medications.

COMMENTARY: Steven Spielberg’s `Munich,’ Through a Muslim’s Eyes

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As a Muslim, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see “Munich” _ after all, it’s a Hollywood movie about tracking down and killing Palestinian terrorists. I anticipated Hollywood’s stereotypical Arabs _ violent, barbaric, subhuman _ coupled with heroes who are no less violent than the bad guys, but whose deeds are glorified nonetheless. True to my expectations, the film was raw _ I cried through most of it, and even later in the parking lot. Contrary to what I had imagined, though, director Steven Spielberg defies stereotypes and asks tough questions that it would behoove all of us _ Americans, Israelis and Palestinians _ to ponder.

Victories for assisted suicide law; Evangelicals grapple with immigration policy

In Wednesday’s RNS transmission Jim Barnett reports that efforts to block the assisted suicide law will likely wither: Republicans control both chambers of Congress and likely could muster enough votes to block an Oregon law allowing physician-assisted suicide. But an apparent about-face by an Oregon senator could alter the political landscape dramatically in the Senate. After winning a 6-3 Supreme Court decision Tuesday (Jan. 17), supporters of the Oregon law gained a second, unexpected victory: the grudging support of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith. Because Senate rules protect personal prerogative, senior Republicans likely would defer to Smith’s wishes.

Pastor John Piper

Quote of the Day: Author and Pastor John Piper of Minneapolis “The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that.” -Author John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, writing in a letter to church members and supporters about learning that he has prostate cancer.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Pope John Paul II’s Gunman Released From Turkish Prison VATICAN CITY (RNS) Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who shot John Paul II in St. Peter’s square in 1981, was freed from a Turkish prison Thursday (Jan. 12), completing decades of jail time for the assassination attempt and the 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist that continues to stir controversy. Agca, a Turk, did not make a statement as he left the prison under heavy police escort.

Assisted suicide ruling; Traffic evangelist

In Tuesday’s RNS report Adelle M. Banks reports on reaction to the Supreme Court’s assisted suicide ruling today: Advocates reacted with triumph and disappointment to Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law, which touches on a variety of religious and ethical issues. In a 6-3 decision, the nation’s highest court determined that the U.S. attorney general is not permitted to prevent doctors from prescribing drugs for physician-assisted suicide when a state law permits such action. “The attorney general … is not authorized to make a rule declaring illegitimate a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that is specifically authorized under state law,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for the majority in the case. Greg Garrison writes from Birmingham, Ala.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service `Love’ Will Be Topic of Pope’s First Encyclical VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI is expected to delve into the nature of unconditional and erotic love with his first encyclical, the most authoritative form of papal writing. It is expected to be released in the coming days. The 50-page document entitled “Deus Caritas Est,” Latin for “God Is Love,” could set the tone of Benedict’s young papacy. Italian media reports say it will warn Catholics not to disassociate their feelings of erotic love from their understanding of unconditional love.

Supreme Court Sides With State’s Right to Legalize Assisted Suicide

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Advocates reacted with disappointment and triumph to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that continues the ethical debate on assisted suicide but keeps intact Oregon’s law permitting the procedure. In a 6-3 decision announced Tuesday (Jan. 17), the nation’s highest court sided with the state and against the authority of the U.S. attorney general to prevent doctors from prescribing life-ending drugs for terminally ill patients. The attorney general “is not authorized to make a rule declaring illegitimate a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that is specifically authorized under state law,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for the majority in the case.