Presbyterians to debate gay pastors, same-sex unions

SAN JOSE, Calif.-The nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination is scheduled Friday to debate the possibility of ordination for non-celibate gays and lesbians. At its biannual General Assembly, representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will consider a move to allow openly gay clergy but keep its current rules intact after a delicate compromise approved two years ago fell apart. Under the proposal, candidates for ordination would be allowed to declare a conscientious objection to church rules against actively gay clergy, but regional bodies would ultimately decide if that qualified as a disqualifier for ordination.

Church court finds Pa. bishop guilty of hiding abuse

PHILADELPHIA-A church court on Thursday (June 26) unanimously found the Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia, Charles E. Bennison, guilty of not responding appropriately to his brother’s sexual abuse of a teenage girl more than three decades ago. Bennison, 64, was convicted by the nine-member tribunal of “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.” Punishments could range from admonishment to having his ordination rescinded. As a 24-year-old married youth minister at Charles Bennison’s parish in the early 1970’s, his brother, John Bennison, initiated a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl that continued for more than three years. The court also found the bishop guilty of “suppressing” what he knew about his brother until the abuse became public knowledge in 2006.

Va. judge sides with breakaway Episcopal churches

WASHINGTON-A Civil War-era law that lets Virginia congregations keep their property when leaving a denomination where a “division” has occurred is constitutional, a local judge ruled Friday (June 27). Fairfax County Judge Randy I. Bellows’ ruling was greeted as a victory by 11 congregations that seceded from the Episcopal Church last year over theological disagreements. The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia sued the congregations, arguing that church property essentially belongs to the denomination and the diocese. They also argued that the 1867 “division” statute infringes on religious freedom. Bellows disagreed.

Russian Orthodox join U.S. Orthodox umbrella group

NEW YORK-For the first time in its 50-year history, an umbrella group of Eastern Orthodox Christian leaders now represents every American church in communion with the spiritual leader of world Orthodoxy.

Town asks court to decide upkeep of church cemetery

PALMYRA, Pa.-With residents calling it “pathetic” that no one is caring for a cemetery, town officials have asked the Lebanon County Court to decide who should be responsible for its upkeep.

So much to shout about

Ira B. Tucker, whose soulful baritone put the hum in the Dixie Hummingbirds, passed away June 24, according to this Washington Post obit. Acts like James Brown emulated him, songwriters like Paul Simon adored him; The Gospel great sung “Jesus is Coming” with such fire you’d swear the savior would walk through the door, just to see who was making all the ruckus. Here’s Tucker and the birds at their best.

Last Love Guru post … I swear

So, by now we’ve all heard about the fuss over the Love Guru, the new Mike Myers films that some Hindus claim is offensive and denigrating to Hindus. The charge has been mostly led by self-professed “acclaimed” Hindu leader Rajan Zed, a Hindu activist in Nevada. A few Hindu groups thought it was all much ado about nothing. As we reported last week, the Washington-based Hindu American Foundation had taken a wait-and-see approach and after a screening in Minneapolis on Thursday, board members found it “vulgar, crude … and tasteless” but nonetheless few screeners thought it “anti-Hindu or mean-spirited.”

A price too high

The New York Times ran a sobering account of the high cost of being a Christian in Iraq. And it’s well worth the read. Reporter Andrew E. Kramer writes about the payments made by Iraqi Christians to militant Iraqi groups for protection. Andrew White, who oversees Anglican churches in Iraq, said much of that protection money came from funds donated by Christians around the world to aid the country’s dwindling Christian minority. That money, in turn, was used by militant groups to fund the anti-U.S. insurgency that killed American soldiers.

Conservative U.S. archbishop to head Vatican high court

c. 2008 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke was named Friday (June 27) to head the Catholic Church’s highest court, a move that places an outspoken conservative in an important if not highly visible post. Burke, 59, will be the first American to serve as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The job usually comes with a cardinal’s red hat, which would add another American to the conclaves that elect popes.

Episcopal court finds Pa. bishop guilty of hiding abuse

c. 2008 Religion News Service PHILADELPHIA _ An Episcopal Church court on Thursday (June 26) unanimously found Bishop Charles E. Bennison guilty of not responding appropriately to sexual abuse committed by his brother against a teenage girl more than three decades ago. The 64-year-old Bennison, who has led the Philadelphia-based Diocese of Pennsylvania since 1998, was convicted by the nine-member panel of “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.” The panel of five bishops, two clergy and two laypeople will now decide the bishop’s punishment, which can range from an admonishment to ousting him from the clergy. As a married youth minister at Bennison’s parish in Upland, Calif., in the early 1970s, his 24-year-old brother, John Bennison, initiated a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl that continued for more than three years. Charles Bennison walked in on two encounters between his brother and the girl in church offices and Sunday school rooms at St.

Christian lawyer praises God for Supreme Court decision

Mathew D. Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and founder of Liberty Counsel, picked the title of a patriotic song from World War II to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Thursday that struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. “‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ is the best way to describe today’s decision,” Staver said in a statement released by his conservative law firm.

Cleaning St. Peter’s Needs a Careful, Acrobatic Touch: 925 words, with optional trim to 800

c. 2008 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ As the tomb of the first pope and the principal church of most of his 264 successors, St. Peter’s Basilica is Roman Catholicism’s greatest shrine. It’s also a treasure trove of artistic riches, with works by such artists as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini. At over 600 feet long, with a dome 450 feet high, it is one of the biggest churches in the world.

Burke to Rome, pronto

The appointment of St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke to head the Vatican’s highest court, effective at 5 p.m. today, has prompted the following assessment from Thomas Reese, S.J. of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Center (via a press release emailed around by Fr. Reese himself):“The appointment should make pro-choice Catholic politicians very nervous,” said Reese. “He will be a strong voice in the Vatican for cracking down on pro-choice politicians.” On the other hand, maybe Burke’s being kicked upstairs in order to avoid a denial-of-communion donnybrook this election season. “Tempus,” as they say in Rome, “est optimus iudex.”