Bishops nix move to force hiring of gays in churches

LONDON (RNS) Anglican bishops and other members of the House of Lords have nixed an attempt by the British government to force churches and other religious institutions to hire gays, lesbians and transgender people. The upper chamber of Parliament, which includes 26 Anglican bishops as members, rejected the proposed law change Monday (Jan 25) after church leaders argued it would violate tenets of their faith. Under current British law, churches, mosques and other religious establishments have the right to turn down candidates for jobs as ministers, priests, school principals or youth workers if they are actively gay or have had a sex change. The defeated legislation would have required churches and other religious groups to hire key staff even if their lifestyles conflicted with accepted religious doctrine. The House of Lords’ rejection, with support from the Conservative opposition party, was hailed by Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who holds the No.

Book traces the long strange trip of drug-induced spirituality

(RNS) If the word “psychedelic” conjures up images of San Francisco or Woodstock, there’s much more to learn from journalist Don Lattin’s mind-blowing guided tour of the colorful people who gave birth to America’s psychedelic era in an unlikely place: Harvard University. In his new book,”The Harvard Psychedelic Club,” which has received enthusiastic reviews and generated interest in Hollywood, Lattin expertly shows how Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil crossed paths at Harvard in the fall of 1960 before going their own separate ways. Lattin, a veteran religion reporter who walked on the wild side more than a few times himself, traces how the four men forever changed the way people — both straight and stoned — think about spirituality. Bits and pieces of their stories have been told before, but Lattin artfully weaves them together, creating a stronger, more compelling narrative that enlightens as much as it informs. “A few million people in my generation took some kind of psychedelic drug in the`60s and `70s,” says Lattin, a baby boomer who spent nearly two decades covering the multifaceted religious scene of the Left Coast for the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s a significant minority of people who experienced either profound enlightenment or soul-shattering psychological terror.

Tuesday’s roundup

With expected government cuts to abstinence education funds, evangelical Christians are picking up the slack. By the way, teenage pregnancy and abortion rates rose from 2005-2006, according to a report released Tuesday. Pro-gay religious leaders, including Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson are planning a multi-city event called “The American Prayer Hour” to counter the National Prayer Breakfast, which is run by The Family, a secretive conservative Christian group that has been accused of inspiring Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In another sign that we’re not out of the economic wilderness yet, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, one of Long Island’s largest employers, plants to offer buyouts to 25 percent of its 6,000 employees, the AP reports. John Travolta flew a private jet carrying supplies and Scientology ministers to Haiti.

Official: John Paul briefed on shooting plot, mulled resigning

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Italian left-wing terrorist group the Red Brigades plotted to kidnap Pope John Paul II, according to a new book released Tuesday (Jan. 26) by the Vatican-appointed advocate for John Paul’s canonization. The book, “Why He Is a Saint,” also reveals that the late pope personally confronted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev about possible Kremlin involvement in the 1981 attempt on the pope’s life. The book is written by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the postulator, or official advocate, for John Paul’s sainthood, with Saverio Gaeta, the editor-in-chief of the prominent Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family). The book says the Italian secret services informed John Paul about the Red Brigades plot early in his papacy, and that the pope “wondered about the motivations for the attack.”

COMMENTARY: Score one for thinking

(RNS) As a New York Jets fan, I was both frustrated and fascinated as I watched the Indianapolis Colts dismantle the Jets’ Super Bowl hopes in a conference title game on Sunday (Jan. 24). In losing 30-17, our Jets weren’t out-hustled, out-skilled or out-coached. What I saw from the vantage point of HDTV and endless replays of nearly every down was simple yet profound: the Jets were out-thought. Like an expert chess player, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning probed the Jets’ vaunted defense, found its weakness — the mid-range seam between linebackers defending short passes and safeties preventing bombs — and relentlessly exploited it.

Campioning Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wowed members of the Society of Jesus & friends with his elegant, eloquent, and moving acceptance of America’s Campion Award for achievement in letters last evening. Even though there’s been a fair amount of honor paid by the Catholic and Anglican churches to each others’ martyrs in recent years, it was still a bit of a bold move for the Jesuit magazine to give its highest award to the chief prelate of the church under whose auspices the famous Jesuit recusant was captured, hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1581. Not surprisingly, some on the right have taken the award as a purposeful poke in the eye to the Vatican in the wake of last year’s dust-up over Rome’s outreach to Anglicans who would be Anglo-Catholics. That’s  the view over at The American Catholic, where the award makes sense because “what the Church of England has morphed into,
a left wing pressure group with prayers, is frankly what America has been championing for years in the Catholic Church.” (Ah, that lovely Catholic blogosphere.) Actually, the award was decided on well before news of the new personal ordinariates hit the fan.And yet, lurking in the background are some real questions about the character of Catholic ecumenism these days.

Court says French cathedral belongs to Russia

(RNS/ENI) A French court has ruled that the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice, France, built with funding from Czar Nicholas II and completed just before Russia’s Soviet revolution, belongs to Russia and must be handed over. The victory is Russia’s latest in a series of battles for church property around the world — attempts by the Russian government and Russian Orthodox Church to reassert control over a widespread diaspora. A Russian ex-patriate group has run St. Nicholas under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul-based Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople since the 1920s.

Landmarking battle between city, church heats up

CLEVELAND (RNS) Rebuffing the concerns of church leaders over the fate of shuttered church buildings, the city’s Landmarks Commission is recommending that six more Catholic churches be designated as historical city landmarks. The designation, which would give the buildings some protection against demolition or structural changes, is opposed by the Diocese of Cleveland, which is in the midst of closing some 50 parishes. The City Council would need to adopt legislation to implement the Commission’s recommendations, and in a letter sent to the commission and council members, the diocese called the proposals “extremely offensive.” “We do not seek nor do we approve of landmark designation …” said the letter from John Maimone, a finance officer with the diocese.

Mother found guilty in starvation case

NEWTON, N.J. (RNS) A woman who made no effort to feed her four starving children, telling them God would provide for them as they grew weaker and hungrier, was found guilty of child endangerment charges on Friday (Jan. 22). Jurors took just 30 minutes to reach a verdict in the case against Estelle Walker, 50, whose children were so malnourished they could hardly speak when police found them in a lakeside cabin arranged by her church in 2006. The children — ages 8, 9, 11 and 13 at the time — have since recovered. In finding Walker guilty, jurors rejected the unusual defense claim that the New York City woman was not responsible for her actions because of her strict religious beliefs and what her lawyer called an extreme reliance on God.

Monday’s roundup

As intellectuals stroke their chins over God’s role (or absence) in the Haitian earthquake, the American people at large have responded by opening their pocket books and donating more than $380 million _ much of it through the Interwebs _ for Haiti, a record for a foreign disaster, the Baltimore Sun reports. “It’s clear that people are rising to sacrifice,” said Mark Melia of Catholic Relief Services, which has taken in $23 million. “People are making large gifts that are not easy to make.” The screening at the Sundance Film Festival of a movie critical of Mormons’ role in Prop 8 drew only a few protesters. “The must be in church today,” said one of the movie’s producers about the lack of anti-gay-marriage activists.

At 88, nun keeps pushing for controversial pope’s sainthood

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (RNS) Nearly 20 portraits of Pope Pius XII line the walls of Sister Margherita Marchione’s office, and dozens of smaller likenesses fill shelves. There are also a pair of his shoes, his white zucchetto (or skullcap), and a gold reliquary containing two handkerchiefs and a strand of his hair. It is a veritable shrine built by Sister Margherita, 88, who became a vocal proponent of sainthood for Pius after learning in 1995 that her order in Rome, the Religious Teachers Filippini, had saved 114 Jews from the Nazis at the time Pius was pope. Hers is a controversial cause. The extent to which Pius helped or didn’t help Jews during World War II is a question that has divided historians and other church observers.

Jewish Bankers and Obama

OK, so this story is a little long in the tooth, but given the cast of characters it’s hard to resist. Last week, discussing Norman Podhoretz’s book, Why Are Jews Liberals? in the wake of the Massachusetts election and Obama’s pivot against Wall Street, Rush Limbaugh delivered himself of the following speculation:To some people, banker is a code word for Jewish; and guess who Obama
is assaulting? He’s assaulting bankers. He’s assaulting money people.

Pope to priests: Blog!

In his message for the 44th World Day of Communications yesterday, Pope Benedict urges Catholic priests to join the digital world and start spreading the Word by blog, tweet, and video. To be sure, the message suggests that the pontiff is himself a bit of a stranger to this world, referring as he does to “the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different ‘highways’ that form ‘cyberspace.'” Perhaps he should give some thought to teaching by example as well as by word, and fire up a blog of his own–say, “See of Peter.” Be that as it may, James Martin, S.J., the learned and culture-savvy managing culture editor of America, extends a warm blogger’s welcome to the message over at In All Things. Picking up where the pope leaves off, he runs though a bunch of examples from Jesus to Fulton Sheen to demonstrate that the “history of Christianity is in large part the history of the
church using to great effect the latest media, sometimes even inventing
media, to evangelize.” Of course, there’s also the history of the church doing what it can to control the latest media though the burning of books (see Abelard, Peter, et al.); the Index librorum prohibitorum and the Sacred Congregation of the Index (1571-1917); the episcopal use of the nihil obstat and the imprimatur; the censorship of movies via the various diocesan Legions of Decency, etc.

Chabad Excommunications

Over on FailedMessiah, the indispensable site for tracking the dark side of Orthodox Judaism, Shmarya Rosenberg has a new post up on one Israeli Chabad rabbi’s excommunication of some colleagues for violating certain halachic ordinances as an element of their belief in the messianic status of Chabad-Lubavitch’s late rebbe, Menachem Schneerson. This is not the only recent case of antinomian behavior in the Land of Lubavitch, and harks back to the wholesale antinomianism of the notorious failed messiah of the 17th century, Shabtai Tzvi. Rosenberg, who was profiled by Sam Freedman in the NYT a couple of weeks ago, concludes by likening the situation to the split between those early followers of Jesus who hewed to Jewish law and those who didn’t. At the moment, the Chabad antinomians seem pretty marginal–but then the rebbe has only been dead for 16 years–roughly where the Jesus followers were in the year 50. Normally, Chabad is seen by outsiders as comprised of messianists and non-messianists.

Online archive opens the Reformers’ works

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) Some surprises started unfolding when a team of Calvin Theological Seminary professors and graduate students recently launched the Post-Reformation Digital Library. Chief eye-openers included successfully tracking down rare Reformed theologians’ manuscripts once thought lost. Another revelation: 16th-18th century theologians and philosophers were brutally honest about their doctrinal positions and emotions, including the well-known Reformer John Calvin, who pushed the boundaries of good taste in a sermon about rowdy adolescents. “We’ve got things coming out of the woodwork that (were) lost for centuries,” said Todd Rester, a doctoral student who served on the project’s six-member editorial board.