Books pulled for image of smoking, drinking Jesus

CHENNAI, India (RNS) Authorities in India’s majority-Christian Meghalaya state have confiscated all copies of a text book that contains a picture of Jesus holding a can of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The controversial picture was discovered in a cursive writing book that was being used at a private school in the capital city of Shillong. It depicted the picture of Jesus on the page for the letter “I,” to represent “Idol.” State education minister Ampareen Lyngdoh condemned the illustration. “I am appalled and condemn the violent pictorial representation of Christ.

Nuns, priests in Third World lead growth as West falters

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The proportion of Catholic priests and nuns in Africa and Asia rose markedly over the last decade, while Europe’s share continued to diminish, according to official Vatican statistics released Saturday (Feb. 20). Among the figures in the 2010 Pontifical Yearbook: — Over a nine-year period from 2000 to 2008, the number of priests around the world increased by 1 percent, to a total of 409,166. European priests (who made up 51.5 percent of the total at the start of the decade) ended 2008 as a minority for the first time, at 47.1 percent. The next largest group was found in the Americas (30 percent), followed by Asia (13.2 percent), Africa (8.7 percent) and Oceania (1.2 percent).

Divorcees need not apply?

I’d like to propose a discussion on the merits of the following idea, regardless of whether you agree with the general subject one way or the other. Let me explain: Andrew Sullivan raises a provocative point by lambasting the Archdiocese of Washington over its decision to suspend its foster care services rather than comply with the city’s new gay marriage law. His point, in essence: “A simple parallel: does the Washington diocese’s charities employ any people who have been civilly divorced and are now re-married under DC law? If so, how are these individuals less offensive to the teachings of the Church on the institution of marriage than a member of a gay couple provided civil marriage licenses? “Catholic doctrine is very clear: a remarried person is not remarried in the eyes of the Church, and for the Church to employ such a person would be to recognize a civil marriage that violates one of its core principles.

Monday’s roundup

The Dalai Lama says he doesn’t care that the White House took a low-key approach to his meeting with President Obama last week. He also commented, obliquely, on Tiger Woods, saying that all religions have a negative view of adultery, and that self-discipline with an awareness of consequences can help manage unruly desires. Kultilda Woods, Tiger’s mom, said: “Since he was young, always Buddhism. Buddhist teach go inside deep to soul and correct bad thing to be a good thing. He got back to practice Buddhism again, that make him much better person.”

The economy’s immoral and people are angry, but then what?

NEW YORK (RNS) Ever since the Great Recession began in the fall of 2008, Christians and other faith leaders have criticized the speculative excess and greed that led to the crisis. A consensus on what to do about it, however, has yet to emerge. The parameters of the critique were recently staked out at the Trinity Institute’s “Building an Ethical Economy” conference here, at Trinity Episcopal Church in the heart of Wall Street. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams bemoaned the damage that results from “an economic climate in which everything reduces to the search for maximized profit and unlimited material growth.” Williams focused less on short-term action and more on how communities of faith need to examine language and self-image in order to contribute to building an ethical economy over the long term.

With the pope on your side…or not

One of the crosses Catholic intellectuals bear is having an occasionally infallible leader with whom you sometimes agree and sometimes, well, not so much. So John Gehring of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good today gladly uses the pope’s recent encyclical embrace of environmental concerns as a club with which to beat anti-environmentalist conservatives. And then there’s Austin Invereigh, British Isles blogger for In All Things, who’s got a heavy load to tote on the recent summit meeting His Holiness held with the Irish episcopacy on the gigantic priest pedophile cover-up scandal in the Emerald Isle.”The Irish bishops just don’t get it” is the title of post–but the real point that Invereigh can’t bring himself to utter except obliquely and in the passive voice–is that it’s the pope who doesn’t get it. Here are the key graphs: But Dr Martin’s approach was defeated in Rome, and the other
bishops returned home happy. Only one has had his offer to resign

Catholic Charities: the benefits issue

So the Archdiocese of Washington has gotten out of the foster care/adoption business, for which they’ve been receiving $2 million annually from the public purse. D.C.’s new same-sex marriage law requires all married couples to be treated equally, and because the Catholic church regards same-sex marriage as a crime against nature, it won’t be involved in placing and supervising children in homes where the two adults have been joined in such. In its press release, the Archdiocese says, “Same on the City for kicking a fine service provider to the curb.” No, the provider’s spiritual bosses just decided they couldn’t render unto Caesar in this case.Washington is following the lead of Boston and San Francisco, which also folded up their foster care operations rather than treat all unions equally. But so far as I can tell, this has not happened in Connecticut–and there’s also Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa to look into.

Don’t do that Voodoo

Sam Freedman, now the sole NYT Saturday religion columnist, has a nice piece today slamming Haiti coverage for lack of attention, except negative, to what is commonly known in Anglophone countries as Voodoo. Pointing out that this is one of Haiti’s official religions, practiced by at least half its citizens, Freedman notes that reporters and commentators have not come close to showing it the kind of respect normally accorded the faith of those suffering horrendous “acts of God” like earthquakes.The worst offender was, as usual, Pat Robertson, who happily recycled the old canard about Haitian revolutionaries’ pact with the devil in order to blame the victims for their suffering. But among the more respectable offenders were Times columnist David Brooks–whose tawdry column on Haiti Freedman could not criticize, under Times rules–and Beliefnet columnist Rod Dreher, whom he does call out slyly as an ignoramus. Dreher, following Brooks, stuck his foot in it by suggesting that Haitians would be better off with the “Church of Christopher Hitchens” (i.e. atheism) than Voodoo. Having been slammed for that crack by various commenters, he proceeded to make matters worse by pursuing the subject all the way to a denunciation of syncretism in Christianity.

Not out of the Woods yet

Tiger Woods says he’s “deeply sorry” for straying from his marriage vows — “deeply irresponsible and foolish behavior,” he says, and the jury’s still out on whether or not people believe him. You can read his statement, or watch it, for yourself. He spoke openly and honestly about his Buddhist roots (and we all remember Brit Humes’ thoughts on that): Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.

Court suspends airport expansion through church cemetery

(RNS) The families of relatives buried in a cemetery near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport welcomed a temporary court decision that bars the immediate removal of graves to make way for a new runway. The latest juncture in a long-running battle came Thursday (Feb. 18), when the Illinois Appellate Court granted the families a temporary stay so they could appeal an earlier court ruling that permitted the aviation department’s purchase of the St. Johannes Cemetery. Bob Sell, a spokesman for the families, said the airport had begun disinterring a small number of the approximately 1,300 bodies in the cemetery before the latest court decision.

Court rules body should be exhumed, cremated to honor deceased’s will

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. (RNS) The body of a Jewish man should be exhumed from a cemetery where his Orthodox brother had him buried, so that it can be cremated according to the dead man’s wishes, an appellate court panel has ruled. Shortly before his death in 2007, Irving Gottesman expressed in his will and in a signed letter that he wanted to be cremated, the ashes scattered in Sunset Lake in Foxboro, Mass. But his girlfriend, who possessed those documents, never showed them to Gottesman’s younger brother Bert, who had Irving Gottesman buried in a New Jersey cemetery just hours after learning of his death on Sept. 21, 2007. The girlfriend, Bonnie Hiller, sued to have Gottesman’s remains disinterred.

Hungary intervenes in bid to save shuttered church

CLEVELAND (RNS) Former presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, joining a battle to save a Hungarian Catholic church from closure, has brought out a big gun: the Hungarian government. Kucinich met with an aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai to discuss St. Emeric church, a 105-year-old parish that has been ordered closed as part of a downsizing plan by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. The meeting was a follow-up to a meeting Kucinich had with the prime minister in December, when the congressman urged the Hungarian government to appeal St. Emeric’s closing to the Vatican in Rome.

Dissidents unveil rival Lutheran Church in North America

(RNS) Saying they’re done with efforts to reform the nation’s largest Lutheran body, dissidents unveiled blueprints Thursday (Feb. 18) for a rival denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The new body, which will hew to a more traditional line on issues of human sexuality, is expected to be formally launched in August as a conservative alternative to the 4.6 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. So far, at least seven ELCA congregations have voted to leave after the Chicago-based denomination lifted restrictions last summer on non-celibate gay clergy. An additional 28 congregations appear poised to leave.

Pentecostal chaplain available to all at Vancouver Olympics

VANCOUVER, B.C. (RNS) David Wells readily admits that Pentecostal Christians are not exactly well-known for leading multi-faith efforts. After all, Wells’ church, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, has close ties to the Assemblies of God in the U.S., which has produced polarizing figures like evangelists Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Benny Hinn, and even former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. But Wells — who has already been a chaplain at the 2006 Turin games and the summer games in Athens and Beijing — believes he’s “fully qualified” to serve as the official head of multi-faith chaplaincy services at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. The Pentecostal leader is in charge of coordinating more than 40 clergy from five major religious traditions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism — for the games. Wells acknowledged with a laugh that Pentecostals are “not recognized for working in interfaith” organizations.

Friday’s roundup

Just because it’s Friday: Throw away those Cheetos and cinnamon buns and grilled-cheese sandwiches. Jesus is now appearing in fireplaces, one British man says. China isn’t happy after President Obama met with the Dalai Lama yesterday, but most analysts don’t expect long-term damage to ties between Washington and Beijing. As expected, Pope Benedict XVI has approved the sainthood of Australia’s first saint, Mother Mary MacKillop. Saudi officials have sentenced a man with six wives to 120 lashes for having too many wives.