Bad News for Bishops

We’ve long known that Catholics have roughly the same views on social issues like abortion and homosexuality as the rest of the population. What is so striking about yesterday’s Gallup survey is the liberalism of observant Catholics–those who attend church regularly–compared to their non-Catholic counterparts. Indeed (look at the moral acceptability of homosexual relations), they’re way more liberal. To be sure, the regular-attending Catholics are less liberal than the nonregular-attending ones. But there’s really only one issue where the Catholic church’s teaching seems to have a distinctive impact: the death penalty.

Poll finds Catholics to the left of U.S. on social issues

(RNS) American Catholics are more liberal than the general population on social issues like divorce and homosexuality, despite the Catholic Church’s longstanding conservatism on both issues, according to a new survey. Catholics are more likely than non-Catholics to say that homosexual relations, divorce, and heterosexual sex outside wedlock are morally acceptable, according to an analysis by Gallup pollsters released on Monday (March 30). In other areas, Catholics are nearly identical to the population at large. For example, 4 in 10 Catholics say abortion is “morally acceptable,” compared to 41 percent of all Americans. And 63 percent back embryonic stem cell research, compared to 62 percent overall.

Jews prepare to `bless the sun’ before Passover

NEW YORK (RNS) Traditionalist Jews and tree-huggers alike are coming together for Birkat HaHammah, a Jewish holiday that falls only once every 28 years, marking the sun’s return to its original position at creation. This year, the celebration takes place at sunrise April 8, followed by the start of Passover at sunset. The timing is a coincidence that won’t happen again until 2437; unlike major Jewish holidays, which run on a lunar cycle, the “blessing the sun” is based on the Julian calendar. Still, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has encouraged Jews to take advantage of the convergence, offering suggestions for tying the obscure observance with the major annual holiday. Families can discuss the meaning of Birkat HaHammah during the traditional questions asked at the first Seder meal, and turn the pre-Passover ritual of ridding homes of leavened bread into a simultaneous search for light bulbs that can be replaced with energy-efficient models, said Liore Milgrom-Elcott, COEJL spokeswoman.

Pakistani-born Anglican bishop abruptly steps down

LONDON (RNS) The Church of England’s first (and so far only) Asian bishop, who received death threats after criticizing Islamic extremists last year, stunned the church by announcing his resignation to take up a job defending Christians. The often outspoken Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali disclosed Saturday (March 28) that “I have decided that the time is now right for me to step down,” even though at age 59, he could have stayed on as bishop for at least 11 more years. Nazir-Ali, born in Pakistan to Christian parents, became the first non-white diocesan bishop in the Church of England 15 years ago when he was named the 106th bishop of Rochester. He said he will leave his post by Sept. 12.

`Good Book’ in six words

Today, I’m “reviewing” David Plotz’s “Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible.” My six-word review: `Good Book’ makes God look bad. For an explanation of the thinking behind six-word reviews, please see here.

Gay marriage fight shifts back to New England

Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery. Neighboring New Hampshire declared its independence from England before any other colony. Maine led the way with Prohibition. These days, Yankee activism has another cause – gay rights.

Abortionist Tiller acquited on all counts

After years of investigations and four days of testimony, jurors here took just 45 minutes on Friday to acquit a controversial abortion doctor of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.

Atlanta pastor taken down by sex scandal dies

Bishop Earl Paulk gained the attention of presidents and preached to hundreds of thousands of people, but he may be remembered for the sex scandals that rocked the Atlanta-area megachurch he started. Paulk, the 81-year-old founder of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill in South DeKalb County, died Sunday at Atlanta Medical Center after battling cancer for years


An update on my adventures through public broadcasting on Friday: My take on President Obama’s first couple weeks with his revamped faith-based office, with NPR’s Michele Martin, and dissecting the pope’s recent trip to Africa, with Bob Abernethy of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Group wants more Muslim hires at White House

In a bid to get more Muslim Americans working in the Obama administration, a book with the resumes of 45 of the nation’s most qualified — Ivy League grads, Fortune 500 executives and public servants, all carefully vetted — has been submitted to the White House.

Easter hats fall victim to economic downturn

SILVER SPRING, Md. — There are many things that Paula Settles is willing to forgo in these budget-conscious times, but an Easter hat isn’t one of them. “I wouldn’t consider going to church without a hat on,” said Settles, an African-American retiree of a certain age who’s already planning her outfit for Easter services at her Baptist church in Washington, D.C. She’s decided on a saucer-sized number with two long pheasant feathers for Easter morning, but in an effort to keep costs down, she’s pairing it with an outfit that’s already in her closet. “My hat will freshen up an old outfit,” she said. “It was more cost-effective for me to get a new hat than a new suit, new shoes, all of that.”

Fighting the Fighting Irish

In today’s WaPo, Ken Woodward makes the case for inviting President Obama to give the commencement address at his alma mater, Notre Dame. The president is the president, after all, and it’s a longstanding tradition for Notre Dame to invite presidents. Catholicism is no isolated sect that declines to engage the world. Offering the commencement speaker an honorary degree is merely customary, signaling no endorsement of his policy positions. While I’m not entirely convinced by the last point–an honor is an honor–it’s not entirely unreasonable.The larger issue has to do with the question of invited speakers on Catholic campuses, and the increased tendency in conservative Catholic circles to treat abortion dissenters as pariahs who must neither be seen nor heard.


One hates to dump on people of good will, but it’s time to recognize that talking about common ground on abortion is creating more ill will than just going ahead and staking out some territory. A few days ago, progressive Catholics Simone Campbell and John Gehring contributed an op-ed piece to the Cleveland Plain Dealer chastising both secular left and religious right for refusing to heed the calls for truce in their pro-choice v. pro-life culture war. This has elicited a tough rejoinder from the redoubtable Fred Clarkson over at Talk To Action, wherein (among other things) he makes the point that in addition to the secular rights community, the pro-choice side also includes actual religious folks who believe that abortion can be a moral choice. Those in the pro-life community interested in making alliances with pro-choicers need to learn to acknowledge that.But mainly, they ought to stop talking about the need for common ground and tell us what they consider the common ground to be. When the prominent conservative Catholic law professor Doug Kmiec signed on with the Obama campaign last year, he made the case for an approach to “abortion reduction” based on social policies intended to make it easier for abortion-tempted women to carry their pregnancies to term.

Orwell in Tibet

China has designated March 28 “Serf Liberation Day” in Tibet to mark the “light” and “affluence” they’ve brought to the benighted masses since invaded the Himalayan highlands in the 1950s. They’re not fooling anyone, says USA Today in an editorial today. “Tibetans and most of the rest of the world know better: that a Chinese invasion forced the Dalai Lama, Tibetans’ spiritual leader, to flee with thousands of followers. He is a Gandhi-like icon, publicizing Tibetans’ plight and seeking autonomy through peaceful means. The Chinese can physically crush Tibetan protests this weekend.