Nun, 93, preaches the gospel behind razor-wire fences

MUSKEGON, Mich.-Sister Elizabeth Barilla rolled in a wheelchair past inmates playing basketball and raking spacious prison grounds. A pleasant breeze blew across what looked like a small-college campus, except for prisoners’ blue togs and the sun glinting off razor wire at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. Barilla was impatient to arrive for her monthly 6:15 p.m. class teaching the Bible and Catholic doctrine to a handful of prison’s 1,300 male inmates. She could have walked to her classroom with a cane, but at age 93, Sister Barilla gladly accepted the ride. At a security checkpoint, she was patted down and held onto her veil.

Donald Cozzens

During his recent trip to America, Pope Benedict XVI attended a youth rally at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.-the same school where enrollment has dwindled to the point that no new prospective priests are enrolled next fall. As the U.S. church ordains its crop of some 400 new priests in the coming weeks, church leaders hope Benedict’s words of encouragement will inspire more men to consider the priesthood. The Rev. Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University, however, believes it will take a major change in Vatican policy on celibacy to revitalize the priesthood. Cozzens, 69, has tracked the decline in vocations for more than a decade, including as rector of Cleveland’s St.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service British clerk files suit over gay partnerships LONDON (RNS) A Christian government clerk in Britain has taken her town hall bosses to court for threatening to fire her because she refused to register civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. Lillian Ladele, who earns more than $60,000 a year as a registrar, says she was bullied by officials at London’s Islington Council after she told them she objected on religious grounds to same-sex civil partnerships. In testimony before an employment tribunal in London, Ladele likened forcing her to preside over such ceremonies to force-feeding a Muslim “unclean” food. Ladele has registered births, deaths and marriages at the town hall for 16 years and had been allowed unofficially to opt out of civil partnership rites.

Monks top the charts

Last week, while writing about a mini-renaissance of interest in Gregorian chant (find it here) I mentioned that Universal Music Group, the record company best known for acts like Eminem and Snoop Dogg, had signed Austrian monks from a Cistercian monastery to cut an album. The album “Chant-Music for Paradise,” released this May, has hit #1 on the classical charts and #9 on the pop charts. A spokeswoman for the record company said: “These monks are singing stars who are in bed by 9pm, have their days filled with prayer, contemplation and good deeds: what better pop idol for 2008?”

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Frivolous Lawsuit

Sure the boy wizard has escaped some perilous foes, but how will Potter fare against the likes of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe, or the dreaded ACLU? A former Missouri librarian, Deborah Smith, said she was suspended for 10 days without pay after she refused to work at a Harry Potter event that she claims violates her religious beliefs. She’s a Southern Baptist, and didn’t want to dress like a like a witch for a library event celebrating the 2007 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” She thinks the books popularize witchcraft and the practice of the occult. Smith alleges that when she came back to work after the suspension her hours were cut and she was given more labor intensive tasks, according to this AP story. “Government employers must respect individuals’ religious beliefs,” said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which is representing Smith.

Field of Marital Dreams

If the new Field poll is on the money, not only is same-sex marriage a done deal in California, but anything looking like the national GOP of the past generation can pack up and head back east. The only religious bloc in solid opposition are evangelicals (those identifying themselves as born again). Other Protestants (by my back-of-the-envelope calculation) are in favor by a small margin, while Catholics are in opposition by a mere three percentage points. Those belonging to other religions split nearly two-to-one in favor, while the religious “nones” are in favor by nearly seven-to-one. Field divides up proponents in other ways–by age, gender, and geography–but no matter how you slice it, the answer’s the same.

Some U.S. Muslims quietly practice polygamy

Although polygamy is illegal in the U.S. and most mosques try to discourage plural marriages, some Muslim men in America have quietly married multiple wives.

Kansas bishop answers questions on Sebelius

Archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., tries to answers some of the more common questions and misunderstandings regarding his pastoral action against Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Texas says FLDS families are flight risk

Lawyers for Texas Child Protective Services warned that adults from a polygamous sect might flee the state if the Texas Supreme Court forces the agency to return hundreds of children to their parents’ custody.

Survey: Clergy among the uninsured

Many of the nation’s clergy are living without health insurance, a new survey of the 100-member board of the National Association of Evangelicals reveals. Most of those responding to the question “How do pastors and other church employees in your church, denomination or organization secure health insurance?” answered that they have no or little help from their denominations. Many pastors instead are opting to seek health benefits through a spouse’s employer, get a second job to acquire insurance, or go without health coverage. NAE President Leith Anderson said the prospects for some clergy could be dire.

Catholic split

An AP review of polls shows Obama and McCain splitting the Catholic vote. So, it seems, no particular Catholic problem for the Illinois senator.

Existential blongst

Tomorrow at 5:30 Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’ll be talking about the campaign on a radio show called The Blog Bunker, which airs daily on Sirius Radio’s Indie Talk Channel 110. The Blog Bunker bills itself as a “cutting-edge roundtable featuring a selection of the over 100 million bloggers around the globe,” which makes me think we’ve pretty much won the lottery, no matter how many people listen in, which I have no idea how many do. Of course, there aren’t, so far as I know, even 100 thousand people blogging on religion and the 2008 campaign, though it sometimes seems that way. Apart from the many, many political blogs that have seen fit to comment on the various religious issues that have reared their heads during this election cycle, church-state guru Melissa Rogers lists 100 blogs about religion and public affairs on her own blog on religion and public affairs. Understanding that narcissism is its own reward, it does make you wonder whether you’re adding any value to the world.