COMMENTARY: Four films you might not see—but should

PARK CITY, Utah (RNS) The Sundance Film Festival facilitates epiphanies. I know because I’ve been here only one day and I can already feel, in the words of Carole King, the earth move under my feet and the sky tumbling down, all because of four simple little student films. An epiphany is a sort of hit-you-over-the-head moment, a “sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something,” is how the dictionary puts it. Usually it’s “initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” In each of these low-budget films, the central character faces a life-changing situation that triggers an epiphany. “On the Road to Tel-Aviv,” by Israeli Khen Shalem, tells the true story of passengers boarding a bus to Tel-Aviv who balk at sharing the ride with a Palestinian woman they believe may be a terrorist.

Thursday’s roundup

Friends of Scott Roeder (left), the anti-abortion militant accused of killing abortionist George Tiller last year, say he’s eager and anxious to tell his side of the story in court today. In Colorado, a man facing drug charges is eager and anxious to get high again — all in the name of God, he says. Also in court, the Oregon father accused in his son’s faith-healing death says he never sought medical help, in part, because he never thought his son was close to death. German officials are apparently embarrassed after U.S. officials granted political asylum to a Christian family who wanted to homeschool their kids, but were told it was against German law. Court officials in Arkansas, meanwhile, will hold hearings to figure the fate of children seized from convicted evangelist Tony Alamo’s compound.

No women need apply

You figure the crackdown on women in (some quarters of) American Catholicism has gone pretty far when the popular music director of a major Fairfax, Virginia church is canned for the following paragraph in a WaPo story on the women’s ordination question:Sylvia Mulherin, 69, a former nun married to a former priest, said that
Jesus was progressive in his treatment of women but that, over time,
men unjustly pushed women out. “Maybe the women don’t have to come in
the back door, but we still have to sit in the pews,” said Mulherin,
who lives in Fairfax County. Mulherin says she is not among those pushing for women’s ordination. Indeed, she is a conservative who describes herself on her Facebook page as a fan of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. In December, she gave Newt a round of Facebook applause for denouncing the “deliberate amnesia of the academic Left” in overlooking the “great men” of the American past.

Church of England loses $78 million in N.Y. real estate deal

(RNS) The Church of England will lose about $78 million in a New York real estate investment gone sour, according to Episcopal News Service. The Anglican church’s investment was part of a record-setting $5.4 billion deal put together in 2006 by two New York-based firms to buy two massive apartment complexes in Manhattan. After defaulting on loan payments, the firms will cede the downtown properties — Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village — to its lenders. The Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian denomination, invested about $78 million (40 million pounds) in 2007, before real estate values in New York and elsewhere began to plummet. Ben Wilson, a senior media office for the Church of England told ENS that the New York investment represents less than 1 percent of the church’s assets, which are valued at some $6.4 billion, according to ENS.

Custodian indicted in stabbing death of priest

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (RNS) A former custodian of St. Patrick Church in Chatham, N.J., was indicted Tuesday (Jan. 26) on charges of murdering the parish priest last October by stabbing him repeatedly with a knife. Jose Feliciano, 64, of Easton, Pa., is accused of killing the Rev. Edward Hinds, 61, in the parish rectory on Oct. 22, according to an indictment handed up by a grand jury.

Child-welfare worker disputes parents’ faith-healing claims

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) A state child-welfare worker has denied he told two parents accused in the faith-healing death of their 16-year-old son the boy had the right to refuse medical care. Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of their son, Neil, have based part of their defense on a claim that Department of Human Services worker Jeffrey L. Lewis advised them the boy was old enough to make his own medical decisions. Oregon law gives children 15 and older the right to seek medical care, but does not address whether they can reject medical treatment. The Beagleys and their extended family are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which generally rejects medical treatment in favor of faith healing.

SIDEBAR: Excerpts from Gayle Haggard’s `Why I Stayed’

(RNS) Excerpts from “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour” by Gayle Haggard: “I believed Ted had been honest with me, and our physical relationship certainly didn’t indicate that homosexuality was even a possibility. Our sexual relationship had always been strong and satisfying, and I didn’t believe for one instant that Ted had been regularly visiting a gay escort.” “And so that night I began my journey of choosing … choosing to love. I chose to press through my feelings of anger.

Wednesday’s roundup

Fifty-six national faith groups and dozens of regionall religious organizations have signed a letter to Congress asking them to “take heart and move meaningful health care reform forward.” The U.S. Catholic Bishops, who did not sign the document, put out their own strongly worded statement, declaring that the “health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority.” The bishops said Congress should not “abandon this task,” but rather put aside divisions and get’er done. The online dating site eHarmony has met a match with a $1.5 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by gays and lesbians who said the service discriminated against them. The company also said it will make its Web site more “welcoming” to same-sex seekers.

10 minutes with … Andrea Strongwater

(RNS) Six million Jews perished during the Holocaust, a tragedy mourned every Jan. 27 on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and during the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah, which falls on April 12 this year. But for Andrea Strongwater, 60, a Polish-American Jew whose grandfather tried to save Jews during World War II, the devastating death toll overshadows a broader loss: an entire way of life — schools, shops, synagogues — that had thrived for centuries, obliterated within a few years. By painting “The Lost Synagogues of Europe,” a series that recreates some of the historic houses of worship destroyed by the Nazis, the artist hopes to remind younger generations of what — not just who — vanished. She has completed 70 of 106 planned paintings so far, which have been shown in New York, the Midwest, and sold as postcards at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and online at

Faced with scandal, Haggard’s wife tells why she stayed

(RNS) Under similar circumstances, many women would have kicked their husbands to the couch. Or the curb. But for Gayle Haggard, the gay sex-and-drug scandal that toppled her husband’s ministry was simply ” the mountain we had to go over.” And now, on the other side of that mountain, she’s preaching a message that many might find hard to understand, much less practice: forgiveness. In “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in my Darkest Hour,” Haggard, 52, describes in candid detail the bumpy road she walked alongside her husband, former evangelical icon Ted Haggard, after the 2006 scandal left them literally wandering in the desert, both physically and emotionally.

COMMENTARY: Redemption and renewal

(RNS) We all love a redemption story. There’s profound appeal in a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches tale. The fall-from-grace-followed-by-a-spectacular-comeback is about as ingrained in our American psyche (and soul) as rooting for the underdog, generosity to those in distress and second chances. So when I walked into the movie theater recently to see the new Jeff Bridges film “Crazy Heart,” I was expecting to love it. I am a diehard Bridges fan (he is the Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” after all) and almost as big a fan of T Bone Burnett, who wrote the film’s original music.

USCCB Wants Health Care Reform?

According to David Gibson, the Catholic bishops have been shocked and dismayed at the rapidity with which health care reform has gone from near sure thing to near death. So they’ve written yet another letter to Congress, urging passage of a comprehensive bill despite the changed “political contexts.” Color me not so impressed. Had the bishops not insisted on their whole package of pro-life measures, health care reform would have been enacted by now. Not only does the letter not acknowledge that, but it continues to insist that all they want is to maintain the status quo, which is simply not the case.

Doctor testifies for parents in faith-healing death

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) When their son became ill, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were confronted by several symptoms that would concern any reasonable parent but gave no indication that death was imminent, a pediatrician told jurors on Monday (Jan. 25). Dr. Douglas Diekema was the first defense witness called in the trial of the Oregon City couple. His testimony laid the foundation for the argument that the Beagleys acted prudently in making decisions about care for their 16-year-old son, Neil.

French panel recommends partial ban on Islamic veils

PARIS (RNS) Six years after banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in public schools, French lawmakers appear close to a measure to ban women from wearing face-covering veils in some public spaces. On Tuesday (Jan. 26), a parliamentary commission delivered a long-awaited report recommending that women be barred from wearing the full veil in public institutions and on public transportation. The bipartisan panel also recommended that foreigners who wear the full veil be denied French citizenship and residency. But in an indication of the issue’s sensitivity, the panel did not call for banning the garment from private buildings or public spaces such as streets.

Polish bishop, under fire from Jews, steps back from statement

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A Polish Catholic bishop who has been denounced for calling the Holocaust a “Jewish invention” distanced himself from the statement on Tuesday (Jan. 26), saying that he had been misunderstood. In an interview published Monday (Jan. 25) on an Italian Catholic Web site, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek was quoted as saying that Jews had “appropriated” the Holocaust for propaganda purposes. “It’s undeniable that most of the dead in the concentration camps were Jews, but the list also includes gypsies, Poles, Italians and Catholics,” Pieronek said.