Catholic Democrats question pope’s silence on Holocaust

WASHINGTON-Nearly 50 Catholic members of the U.S. House asked Pope Benedict for “clarification” on Friday (Jan. 30) about why he readmitted a schismatic bishop who has publicly doubted that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The lawmakers, all Democrats, acknowledged the pope’s right to lift the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson and three others, but said they did not understand why the pope has not publicly repudiated his comments. “This is too sensitive an issue to be handled without a direct repudiation of Bishop Williamson’s views,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “As a spiritual leader and the head of the Catholic Church, we believe it is vital that you publicly state your unequivocal position on this matter so that it is clear where the Church stands on one of the most consequential events of the 20th century.”

George Beverly Shea marks 100 years

George Beverly Shea, the longtime singer who accompanied evangelist Billy Graham on his crusades across the world, turns 100 on Sunday. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced it will mark the milestone the next day at a private gathering at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C. The association noted that Graham has said he “would feel lost getting up to preach if Bev were not there to prepare the way through an appropriate song.” Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross said Friday that it was uncertain if Graham, a comparatively young 90, will attend the celebration. “It’s all based on his strength,” Ross said. “If he did, it would just be a cameo.”

College loses president, but receives $10 million gift

OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) A Christian liberal arts college in Florida lost its president to Oral Roberts University on Wednesday-but gained a $10 million pledge from a business associated with the chairman of ORU’s board of trustees. Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., announced the donation Thursday (Jan. 29) by Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc., an arts and crafts retailer known for shuttering its 400 stores in 30 states on Sundays. On Wednesday, Southeastern president Mark Rutland was hired as president of ORU, a charismatic Christian university in Tulsa, Okla., still recovering from a 2007 scandal tied to allegations of lavish spending by former president Richard Roberts. Mart Green, chairman of ORU’s board, is a Christian businessman whose family salvaged ORU with a $70 million donation after its financial problems surfaced in 2007.

Report: African-Americans surpass others in religiosity

WASHINGTON (RNS) African-Americans surpass others in the U.S. in a range of expressions of faith, from praying more to attending religious services more frequently, a new report shows. “Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87 percent of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another,” states “A Religious Portrait of African-Americans,” released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Friday (Jan. 30.) The analysis finds that: -79 percent of blacks say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of all U.S. adults -76 percent say they pray on at least daily, compared to 58 percent of the total U.S. population -88 percent believe in God with absolute certainty, compared to 71 percent of all U.S. adults -83 percent believe in angels and demons, compared to 68 percent of the total U.S. population. -53 percent of African-Americans report attending religious services at least weekly, compared to 39 percent of Americans overall. The research, drawn from Pew’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, showed that most African-Americans-59 percent-are affiliated with historically black churches.

Men plead not guilty in arson of black church

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) Three white men accused of setting fire to a black church hours after President Obama’s election pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday (Jan. 29), even though investigators claim the men had previously confessed. Michael F. Jacques, 24; Benjamin F. Haskell, 22; and Thomas A. Gleason Jr., 21; pleaded innocent at a brief arraignment. They are charged with a civil rights violation using arson, which carries a 10-year minimum prison sentence.

Vatican to probe U.S. nuns’ dwindling numbers

WASHINGTON-Prompted by a steep decline in the number of women entering the Catholic sisterhood in the U.S., the Vatican has ordered an unprecedented review of the nation’s 400 women’s religious congregations, officials announced here Friday (Jan. 30). The “Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States,” officially began Friday, said Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, a spokeswoman for the visitation, and will continue for about two years. It is the first review of all the communities of women religious in the U.S., officials said. Mother Mary Clare Millea, a Connecticut native who is superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was appointed by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to lead the review.

Holocaust-denying bishop apologizes to pope

VATICAN CITY-A Holocaust-denying bishop who was readmitted to the Catholic Church apologized Friday (Jan. 30) to Pope Benedict XVI for the “unnecessary distress and problems” caused by his “imprudent remarks.” Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four leaders of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) whose 1988 excommunications were lifted by the pope on Jan. 21, posted the statement on his personal blog.

Tips for altar-ing the spiritual balance of your home

(UNDATED) Covered with photos, to-do lists, notes to loved ones and the collected magnets of a dozen vacations, a refrigerator door may say more about your heart than any other spot. If that’s the case, you might want to think about creating an actual altar-a designated space where whatever you love can renew your spirit on a regular basis. Jagatjoti Singh Khalsa, a Portland, Ore., designer and author of “Altar Your Space: A Guide to the Restorative Home” (Mandala Publishing, $29.95, 160 pages), thinks many people look for renewal in all the wrong places-outside of where they live, in places they visit, he said in a recent interview. “They’re not paying much attention to-or spending much time on-the one place where they have complete influence: influence over sound, sense, color and texture.” Khalsa, who’s created restorative spaces in one home and an office since moving to Portland last summer, has also worked with celebrities, including Sharon Stone and Jeremy Piven, turning their homes into sanctuaries.

Redeemed, how he loves to proclaim it

Patton Dodd has a good piece over at Slate about Ted Haggard’s “restoration,” or to be more precise, what his restoration looks like vs. what it should look like. Money quote: “The problem for people like Ted Haggard … is that he was in a position of public trust. Once fully lost, that trust can never be fully restored.

Seminary sues over embezzled funds

Dallas Theological Seminary is suing its former chief financial officer, attempting to recover more than $165,000 that the school says he embezzled.

For better or worser

Pope Benedict said Catholic officials are granting marriage annulments too readily, according to the this CNS story. Moneyquote: “`We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry,'” the pope said in a speech Jan. 29 to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.”

Darwain Day proposal creates controversy

Removing the names of Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei seemed to be the sticking point last night for a resolution that would declare February “Science Month” in Whitehall. The councilwoman who proposed the resolution said it wouldn’t be worthwhile without naming the two specific scientists, even though it looked as though the proclamation wouldn’t pass unless the names were axed.

Priests defends Holocaust-denier

ROME-A priest in an ultraconservative society recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI has defended a bishop in his group and joined him in expressing doubts about the Holocaust.

Priests’ remarks embarrass pope

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Outbursts about Jews and Muslims by Italian leaders of an ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic group show the challenge facing Pope Benedict as he tries to bring them back into the Church.

LA archdiocese confirms federal probe

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, confirmed Thursday that a federal grand jury is investigating whether the archdiocese mishandled priests who had sexually abused children.