Evangelicals launch bid to ditch nuclear weapons

(RNS) The destruction one nuclear bomb can wreak is more than horrifying, says megachurch pastor Rob Bell of Grandville, Mich. It’s an insult to God. “Nuclear weapons are a direct affront to God’s dream of shalom for the world,” Bell said Tuesday (April 28). “Life is beautiful, and nuclear weapons are ugly.” Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and an up-and-coming voice among young evangelicals, has joined other evangelicals to issue an impassioned call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Britons debate cost of hospital chaplains

CANTERBURY, England (RNS/ENI) A British secularist group has called on the government to end public support for hospital chaplains, saying the government has no business in paying the salaries of religious clergy. The National Secular Society (NSS) has sent a report to Britain’s Health Minister, Alan Johnson, calling for a review of hospital chaplaincy services with a view to ending taxpayer funding for them. “People are shocked to learn from us that chaplaincy services are costing the hard-pressed (publicly funded) National Health Service more than 40 million pounds ($60 million) a year,” Keith Porteous Wood, chief executive of the NSS, told Ecumenical News International. “This amount of money would pay for around another 1,300 nurses or over 2,645 cleaning staff,” said Porteous Wood. “I believe that the vast majority of people in Britain would say they’d go for extra nurses and cleaners and not religious services in hospitals by priests, imams and rabbis.”

Notre Dame says no Laetare Medal winner this year

(RNS) The University of Notre Dame said it will not award its prestigious Laetare Medal to anyone this year after a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican declined the honor to protest President Obama’s planned commencement address. Notre Dame, still reeling from blistering criticism from conservatives and more than 50 U.S. bishops for its invitation to Obama, picked federal Judge John T. Noonan to speak at the May 17 ceremonies. Noonan was the recipient of the 1984 Laetare Medal, which has been compared to the Nobel Prize among American Catholics. Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins said no medal would be awarded this year after former Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon declined the award on Monday (April 27). Glendon cited “very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision …

Bad news

The Dallas Morning News’ last two religion reporters have be reassigned to cover suburban schools. For many years the DMN was the gold star in religion reporting. Their contributions will be sorely missed in Dallas and way, way beyond.

“100 Days That Did Not Shake the World”

That’s the headline of an article about the first 100 days of the Obama administration in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, according to Catholic News Service. According to CNS, the article said Obama has been less liberal than predicted in many areas, including economics and international relations. “On ethical questions, too — which from the time of the electoral campaign have been the subject of strong worries by the Catholic bishops — Obama does not seem to have confirmed the radical innovations that he had discussed,” the article said. In particular, the NIH’s draft guidelines for embryonic stem cell research are not the radical policy change many had forseen. Someone contact Notre Dame.

Can a Communion chalice transmit swine flu?

(UNDATED) Religious groups across the country are urging houses of worship to take special precautions this weekend, including changing sacred practices, as the swine flu outbreak threatens to grow into a global pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 109 confirmed cases of the virus in 11 states on Thursday (April 30), and the World Health Organization raised its alert level on swine flu to Phase 5. The highest alert level, Phase 6, indicates that a pandemic is in progress. Should the outbreak reach that stage, the WHO may discourage or even ban public gatherings such as religious services, according to published reports. In Mexico, where the outbreak is believed to have begun, many Catholic churches have temporarily closed.

Pope to confront myriad challenges in Holy Land trip

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI departs next Friday (May 8) for what promises to be one of the most eventful and memorable events in his reign: a week-long visit to the Holy Land, with stops in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Benedict has presented the trip as first and foremost a pilgrimage to the “places sanctified by (Jesus’) earthly passage,” but given the powerful political and cultural tensions in the region, he is bound to confront a number of volatile issues on the ground — including some that have proved among the most controversial in his four-year papacy: Jewish-Catholic relations Benedict clearly hopes that his presence in Israel, less than four months after the international furor over his readmission of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, will relieve any remaining inter-religious tensions over the affair. According to Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, the two sides have “overcome these difficulties and misunderstandings in the best possible way”; and leading Israeli rabbis have welcomed the papal visit. Yet as Benedict’s own schedule demonstrates, sources of discord remain. Though he will follow traditional practice for visiting leaders by paying respects at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Benedict will not visit the adjacent museum, because its exhibits include a photo caption critical of the war-time Pope Pius XII.

Dalai Lama to open new center at MIT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On the campus of the country’s premier scientific university, the world’s best-known Buddhist leader on Thursday (April 30) called on educators to teach ethics and compassion without a basis in religious belief. Hundreds gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the Dalai Lama, speaking from the seated, cross-legged position of a sage, officially opened MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. “The majority of the 6 billion people on earth, I think, we can categorize as non-believers,” the Dalai Lama said. “So we must find a way to promote ethics and values with these nonbelievers …

COMMENTARY: Rome’s burning, so why are we fiddling?

(UNDATED) Is our population — as obsessed as it is with the trivial — capable of recognizing a crisis, much less mustering the disciplined response necessary to aggressively and intelligently resolve it? If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, how significant would it be for an entire nation of Americans to take up fiddling while our nation faces an economic, global and societal meltdown? There is reason to believe that’s exactly what’s happening. Two words to make my case: Susan Boyle. As you’ve probably seen, the dowdy Scottish singer wowed an entire nation, and later the world, when she appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

Obama Romana

Yesterday Rome spoke on The 100 Days and found that they were…not as bad as feared. According to the front-page story in L’Osservatore Romano, President Obama has operated with laudable caution, including on matters of ethics and morals. Notably, the pope’s paper found reason to praise the administration’s proposed guidelines for funding stem cell research and applauded the re-introduction in Congress of the Pregnant Women Support Act. The latter, as Tom Reese points out, is a “common ground” undertaking that has received the active lobbying support of Philadelphia’s archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and certified Big Dog In The Church. In the face of the anti-Notre Dame campaign of conservative Catholic activists, this looks very much like push-back.

The ghost of Tom Reese

Somebody check the water up in NYC. First Cardinal Egan, now the Jesuit editors at America magazine are suggesting the Catholic church consider married priests. Everyone knows that ordinations in the church are drastically declining and the church has not been able to stanch the flood. There were 5,700 fewer Catholic priest in 2008 then in 2000. “Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States,” America says.

Pope expresses `sorrow’ to victims of Canadian schools

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI met aboriginal survivors of Canada’s residential school system on Wednesday (Apr. 29) and voiced his “sorrow” over “deplorable” abuses in the church-run schools. “Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity,” the Vatican said in a statement. “His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society.” Benedict privately received a delegation led by Phil Fontaine, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, after the pope’s weekly public audience.

Robertson to step down as head of Regent University

(RNS) Pat Robertson will retire as president of Regent University, the Virginia school he founded, next year, the university announced Tuesday (April 28). Robertson, 79, founded the school in Virginia Beach in 1978 and has been president since 2000. After his retirement on July 1, 2010, he will remain the university’s chancellor and a member of its board of trustees. “Serving as Regent University’s president has been an honor and a joy,” Robertson said in a statement. “I am so delighted by the achievements of our rapidly growing school.

Hispanic groups divided over 2010 census

WASHINGTON (RNS) Two prominent Hispanic Christian organizations are divided on whether Latinos should participate in the 2010 U.S. census, while U.S. Catholic bishops say it’s in everyone’s “best interest to be counted.” The National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) is urging undocumented members of its churches to boycott the census until comprehensive immigration reform is signed into law. The group wants legislation enacted that provides a way for some 12 million undocumented persons to be legalized. “Our church leaders have witnessed misuse of otherwise benign census population data by state and local public officials in their efforts to pass and enact laws that assist in the perpetration of civil rights violations and abuses against undocumented workers and families,”said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of CONLAMIC, in an April 19 statement. But the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) said “Latinos, regardless of faith or legal status,” should take part in the census.

Vatican hopes ignoring `Angels and Demons’ will help it go away

LOS ANGELES — Controversy, if nothing else, sells newspapers and movie tickets. It worked with Ron Howard’s first film adaptation of a Dan Brown novel, 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code”; and Hollywood is hoping it will work again for their second collaboration, “Angels and Demons,” which opens nationwide on May 15. Howard recently stoked the fires with a terse op-ed in the Huffington Post, responding to criticism of the film by Catholic League President Bill Donohue. “Let me be clear: neither I nor `Angels & Demons’ are anti-Catholic,” Howard wrote. “And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery, set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome.”