In a country churchyard

Ruth Gledhill reports in the London Times that England’s Catholic bishops will be wading into the election campaign with a “controversial” document condemning moral failures and urging a return to the “classical Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity in public and private
life.” Meanwhile, staying with old friends in the Gloucestershire village of Berkeley far from the madding crowd, I paid a visit to the church of St Mary the Virgin, a Norman basilica-style edifice whose doors still show bullet holes from the civil war. It’s hard by Berkeley castle, where Edward II was likely murdered in 1327, and where Mr. and Mrs. (formerly Lord and Lady) Berkeley now reside. The Berkeleys are an old Catholic family–the castle chapel serves as the local Catholic church.Buried in St Mary’s churchyard is the jester of the Earl of Suffolk, who died in 1727 at the pretty ripe old age of 63. Jonathan Swift is said to have written his epitaph, not without significance for an aging blogger:HERE LIES THE EARL OF SUFFOLK’S FOOLMEN CALL’D HIM DICKY PEARCEHIS FOLLY SERV’D TO MAKE FOLKS LAUGHWHEN WIT AND MIRTH WERE SCARCEPOOR DICK ALAS IS DEAD AND GONEWHAT SIGNIFIES TO CRY?DICKYS ENOUGH ARE STILL BEHINDTO LAUGH AT BY AND BY

Post-earthquake faith

Since the massive earthquake hit Haiti in January, there has been an outpouring of relief efforts. But Florida Baptist Witness reports that there has also been an unusual number of conversions _ in the tens of thousands. The newspaper reports that more than 40,000 Haitians have made professions of Christian faith since the earthquake. Dennis Wilbanks, an associate in partnership missions with the Florida Baptist Convention, described a scene in Port-au-Prince in mid-February when the Haitian government called for three days of prayer and fasting. “People were in the streets, literally begging God for forgiveness and mercy,” he said.

Starr: An active churchgoer?

As Baptists continue to comment on the selection of former prosecutor Kenneth Starr as Baylor University’s new president, ethicist Robert Parham has questioned university regents’ description of him as an “active churchman.” Parham’s confirmed that Starr currently attends University Church of Christ in Malibu, Calif., but is not a member. Other media reports have said the dean of Pepperdine University’s law school belongs to McLean Bible Church in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. “Why would a ‘church leader’ not have a local church home where he lives?” asked Parham, who notes Starr has been on the West Coast since 2004.

Famed evangelist says wife has `no biblical grounds’ for divorce

(RNS) Famed television evangelist Benny Hinn has written a letter to his supporters saying his wife has “no biblical grounds” for filing for divorce. “My wife has no biblical grounds for what she has done,” the Pentecostal leader wrote in a letter posted on the Web site of his Texas-based Benny Hinn Ministries. “We both have kept our covenant with God and stayed pure before him, and I am praying with all my heart that our precious Lord Jesus will heal my family and protect his work for his glory.” Hinn wrote that his wife, Suzanne, filed for divorce on Feb. 1, and said he didn’t learn of the filing until 16 days later, from her lawyer.

German bishops `ashamed’ over abuse allegations

BERLIN (RNS) German Catholic bishops expressed shame and shock Thursday (Feb. 25) over a sexual abuse scandal that has grown to as many as 150 separate allegations of abuse across several decades at multiple Catholic institutions. The bishops’ statement was released as prosecutors in Munich and Bonn launched their own investigations into alleged abuse at parochial schools. “We are ashamed and shocked and we plead everyone for forgiveness and exculpation,” the German bishops conference said in a statement at the end of its annual meeting. “We are not at the start of our dealings with these failures, even if we have, until now, underestimated their extent.”

Under new rules, Mo. church with gay pastor readmitted to ELCA

(RNS) A Missouri bishop has lifted the public censure of a church that hired a lesbian priest in 2000 — believed to be a first since the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination removed a ban on gay clergy last summer. Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America lifted the public censure and admonition against Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in North Kansas City, Mo., in a Jan. 25 letter that was reported this week by the ELCA. The censure had been imposed by a previous bishop. In 2000, Abiding Peace hired the Rev. Donna Simon, an open lesbian, as pastor.

From inside a doublewide, a shot at the Prosperity Gospel

(RNS) Forty years ago, in the bedroom of a single-wide trailer in Columbus, Ga., 13-year old Karen Spears — now Karen Spears Zacharias — knelt in despair and beseeched God to come into her life. Young Karen had suffered a terrible tragedy: Her soldier father, David Spears, had been killed in Vietnam when she was 9 and the loss had taken a heavy toll on the family. “My mother shut down emotionally with the Lord,” recalls Zacharias, a journalist and author, looking back on her childhood. “She felt betrayed by God.” But Zacharias, inspired by a youth pastor, prayed to God at the time: “I ask you to come into my heart, cleanse my sins, be my Lord.”

Friday’s roundup

Members of the Secular Coalition for America will get their long-awaited sit-down with members of the Obama administration today; POTUS is not expected to attend. Speaking of POTUS, he and FLOTUS honored luminaries in the arts and humanities at 1,600 yesterday; Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel seems to be the only “religious” name on the list (unless some of you consider Bob Dylan in that category). Clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces continue in Hebron over Israel’s decision to include the Cave of the Patriarchs on a list of historical heritage sites (the site sits in the middle of Palestinian-controlled territory). The death toll from a stampede at a mosque in Timbuktu, where Muslims where observing the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, stands at 24. The two remaining U.S. missionaries in Haiti will stay locked up over the weekend, a Haitian judge says.German prosecutors have opened a probe into allegations of sexual abuse at a Jesuit-run school.

Fast for Lent

A Catholic priest in Ireland has boosted daily Mass attendance this Lenten season by pledging to get worshippers out the door in 15 minutes flat.

Signs from God

The Toronto Star has a cute little piece on church signs; you know, the ones outside churches and other houses of worship that tell you when the services start and sometimes even impart pithy little pieces of theology. For example: Feeling a little down in the mouth? Come in for faith lift. or, Want to talk to God? Try knee mail.

European court censures Turkey over religious identification

WARSAW (RNS/ENI) A European human rights court has condemned Turkey for requiring citizens to specify their religious status on national identity cards. “This is in breach of the state’s duty of neutrality and impartiality, since it leads the State to make an assessment of the applicant’s faith,” the European Court of Human Rights said in a ruling issued on Feb. 2. “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs has a negative aspect — namely, an individual’s right not to be obliged to disclose his or her religion, or to act in a manner that might enable conclusions to be drawn as to whether he or she holds such beliefs.” The case was taken to the court in Strasbourg, France, in 2005 by Sinan Isik, a member of Turkey’s Alevi community, after local courts refused to allow him to remove the “Muslim” tag from his national identity document.

Study: Catholic students more prone to `hook up’ at college

(RNS) Women at Catholic colleges engage more frequently in sexual “hook ups” than women at secular colleges, a new study shows, and researchers suspect alcohol may be the reason. The study defines a “hook up” as “a physical encounter between two people who are largely unfamiliar with one another or otherwise briefly acquainted.” The encounters typically involve “moderate to heavy alcohol and carry no anticipation of a future relationship.” Researchers at Mississippi State University found that religious female students tend to hook up less, unless they attend Catholic-affiliated institutions. In addition, students who attend church more regularly and report a deeper personal spirituality — especially women at conservative Protestant schools — are less likely to hook up.

Polish church stands by commemoration of German war dead

WARSAW (RNS/ENI) A Polish archbishop has sided with a Catholic parish that erected a memorial to civilians who died at the hands of Soviet torpedoes during World War II, even though the victims were from neighboring Nazi Germany. “I do not agree that this monument skirts over differences,” said Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin. “In times of war, all those who faced dramatic situations and died without knowing the fate of their loved ones were victims, irrespective of which side they found themselves on.” The monument, in the northern port city of Gdynia, commemorated the loss of nearly 20,000 lives — including more than 5,000 children — when Soviet torpedoes took down three separate liners as the Red Army advanced in the final months of the war. A total of 9,343 civilians were killed when the Gustloff was sunk after leaving Gdynia’s harbor on Jan.

Chaplains keep wary eye on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell repeal

WASHINGTON (RNS) As Congress and the Pentagon grapple with a proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military, some chaplains — especially evangelicals — worry the change will infringe on their religious beliefs. “It’s morally wrong,” said the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, saying his group believes the Bible condemns homosexuality. “The implication of that is that the military is going to force military personnel — both Christians and non-Christians — to accept that value.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, with the backing of the White House and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon will spend a year studying the ramifications of repealing the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy, which has been in place since 1993. In January, even before the change was announced, Baugham’s group huddled with military and legal experts to plan their opposition.

Thursday’s roundup

The much ballyhooed health-care summit is taking place today at Blair House (I know all of you are watching at your “summit parties”). The U.S. Catholic Bishops urged Congress to set aside partisan divisions and enact “genuine health care reform” that protects “the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all.” Investigators seized books on demons and atheism from a home linked to one of the men charged with setting a Texas church on fire. The chaplain’s office at Andrews Air Force Base has disinvited Family Research Council Prez Tony Perkins from its National Prayer Luncheon after Perkins denounced Obama’s call to end don’t-ask-don’t-tell. NPR interviewed the Pew Forum about its finding that 80 percent of Americans believe in miracles.