Ky. diocese seeks foreign priests to plug clergy shortage

The Rev. Darrell Venters, lean and leathery as the Marlboro man – a cigarette in one hand and a cellphone with a ring tone like a church bell in the other – spends most of his days recruiting priests from overseas to serve in the small towns, rolling hills and farmland that make up the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro.

Church searches for answers after `Santa Claus massacre’

COVINA, Calif. (RNS) This Los Angeles suburb remains numb from the Christmas Eve murders carried out by a distraught ex-husband who dressed as Santa Claus and allegedly killed 10 people at the home of his ex-wife’s family. Bruce Jeffrey Pardo killed 10 people at the Covina home of his ex-wife’s parents before torching the house with a homemade flame-thrower, officials say. Pardo, who was badly burned in the attack, later killed himself at his brother’s home in Sylmar, Calif. Pardo, a 45-year-old unemployed engineer, was a volunteer usher at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose.

Focus pulls interview over Beck’s Mormon faith

(RNS) Colorado-based Focus on the Family has pulled an online interview with conservative television host Glenn Beck after concerns were raised about Beck’s Mormon faith. Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family Action, said that “differences in the Mormon faith and the historical evangelical faith are not inconsequential.” “We can, and do, gladly cooperate with friends outside of the evangelical heritage on common causes; but in no case do we intend to alter our clear distinction as unwaveringly grounded in evangelical theology.” Beck has appeared on Focus on the Family founder James Dobson’s radio program, and has hosted Dobson on his own former CNN show. Beck is scheduled to debut a new program on Fox News on Jan.

Williams says disestablished church not `the end of the world’

LONDON (RNS) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says he believes that severing the centuries-old ties between the Church of England and the British government would “by no means (be) the end of the world.” The comment, in an interview with the British magazine New Statesman, was one of the Anglican leader’s most outspoken statements to date on the touchy issue of church and state in Great Britain. Williams made it clear that he expects no disestablishment of the Church of England anytime soon, but that “I can see that it’s by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears.” The Church of England was formed in the 16th-century break from Roman Catholicism, with the English monarch-currently Queen Elizabeth II-as its head. Later, the prime minister became responsible for senior church appointments.

Icon exhibit hints at thaw in U.S.-Russian relations

CLINTON, Mass.-In this sleepy former mill town, where geopolitical tensions seem a world away, Americans are getting a fresh look at Russia through a lens that’s seldom made available on U.S. shores: the Russian sacred icon. Weekly attendance at the two-year-old Museum of Russian Icons has doubled from about 250 to 500 since mid-October, when 16 of Russia’s most precious icons arrived on loan from the state-run Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Visitors to the “Two Museums, One Culture” exhibit see ascetic lives of saints depicted in centuries-old, tempura-on-wood creations that survived a ban by atheist Soviet officials who burned millions of the holy objects. Russians regard these icons as portals to the holy, and now, as tangible links to a resurgent Christian tradition that thrived for more than 1,000 years in Russia before Soviet rule. “This (loan) is an exceptional gesture by the Tretyakov Gallery because these are sacred objects,” said Catherine LeGouis, a French and Russian literature expert at Mount Holyoke College and a collector of Russian icons.

Stop the Presses

Protestants read the Bible more than Catholics. Also: Politically, 41% of regular churchgoers are Republicans, 34% are Democrats, and 25% are unaffiliated with either major party. Fifty-six percent (56%) are politically conservative, 23% moderate and 20% politically liberal.

The New Establishment

Dan Gilgoff, late of Beliefnet’s God-o-Meter and now covering religion for U.S. News where he blogs as God & Country, has decided to crash our little three-way on religion and the Democratic Party. In a word, he objects to Pastordan’s denigration of Mike McCurry’s account of the Democratic Awakening. I’ll leave it to the good pastor to riposte as only he can. G&C Dan makes the case that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, the Eleison Group, and the Matthew 25 Network are something new under the Democratic sun, and deserve credit for turning out troops on election day and lobbying their party on behalf of the poor and “reducing the demand for abortion.” This returns our discussion to what we’ve been calling the Religious Industrial Complex (RIC).

Reading Benedict XVI

Readers with an interest in religion (like you!) should be grateful to blogger Andrew Sullivan for his extensive and passionate treatment of the topic. But gratitude doesn’t preclude a demand for accuracy. In a Christmas Eve post on some recent, controversial words of Benedict XVI, Sullivan makes much of the pope’s failure to mention the Second Vatican Council in “his summary of the recent history of the Church.” This is supposed to show “what a reactionary [Benedict] is.” Now, Benedict’s attitude toward Vatican II is a matter of wide debate.

Bah, Humbug!

If the Wall Street Journal wishes to give its readers a Christmas gift next year, how about retiring “In Hoc Anno Domini,” the pseudo-scriptural holiday editorial tapped out by Vermont Royster in 1949 and published by the newspaper on or about December 24 every year since. Historically confused, intellectually incoherent, and by now virtually incomprehensible, it has long outlived whatever useful service it might have done amidst the watch fires of the Cold War. After 60 appearances, enough already! “In Hoc” begins with Paul on the road to Damascus, and Rome in charge of the “known world.” That world was peaceful, yes, but the price was oppression for all who were “not the friends of Caesar.”

Wanted: inaugural sermons

If you hear a sermon during Inauguration Week that you consider memorable, the Library of Congress wants to know about it. With the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president, its American Folklife Center hopes to add sermons and speeches from an array of houses of worship and secular settings to its spoken-word collection, the center announced Tuesday. “In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009,” the center states on its Web site. “It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings.

Tres Amigos

Pleasant it is to arrive at (more or less) mutual agreement with cyberfriends, especially at this time of year. After a lively discussion, Pastordan, Rmj, and I seem to have found the same page to be on in re: the Democratic Party and its re-engagement in public religious discourse. Rmj offers a paragraph that, it seems to me, is in particular worth taking to heart:As I’ve said here, I think this issue goes deeper and further afield than politics or cultural shifts that made religion a more properly private matter. The latter is, I think, part of the ebb and flow of religion in American public life: sometimes we’re Jeffersonians, and religion is a nice idea for how to live one’s personal life; sometimes we’re devoted to a religious vision that all must share in public, or be declared politically apostate. It’s not a very pretty yin-yang, and not exactly a fruitful one, either; but there it is.I’d add that there are, kemo sabe, a lot of “we’s” here.

Bogus Bogus Trend Story?

Slate’s media watchdog Jack Shafer thinks he’s got the NYT dead to rights for Paul Vitello’s December 14 story on how the recession is boosting worship attendance, at evangelical churches in particular. Not so, clucks Shafer, citing Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport’s marshalling of evidence that there has, in fact, been no increase in church attendance in these hard times. Weekly attendance, saith Newport, has remained around 42 percent for months and months. Unbeknownst to Shafer, however, is the bogosity of Gallup’s church attendance numbers. What Newport doesn’t say is that his company’s surveys have shown church attendance to be in that exact numeric neighborhood ever since they began asking the question 60 years ago.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service New Congress reflects overall U.S. religious landscape WASHINGTON (RNS) The religious makeup of the incoming 111th Congress roughly matches the overall American religious landscape, with overrepresentation among Jews and Mormons, according to new analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Just over half (55 percent) of House and Senate members who will take office on Jan. 6 are Protestants, compared to 51 percent of the U.S. population. The second-largest group, Catholics, make up 30 percent of lawmakers, compared to 24 percent of all Americans.

Hanukkah gets (almost) hip

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Last week, Jill Miller Zimon, a writer from Pepper Pike, Ohio, attended her daughter’s school band concert. Four bands and orchestras performed. “All four played `Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,”’ said Zimon, laughing. “I thought I was going to tear my hair out.” Zimon, who’s Jewish, doesn’t think that would have happened a few decades ago.

Everyone’s got something to celebrate in December

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) If ever a month was made for celebrations, it’s December. Days are at their darkest in the Northern Hemisphere, and a ray of light holds promise _ whether it comes as a sliver of the sun, the Prince of Peace or an instant of enlightenment. Anthropologists think the winter solstice plays a part in why December seems holiday-heavy. Since Neolithic times, human beings have believed that the sun was reborn on the winter solstice (Sunday, Dec.