Indian high court says couples can legally cohabitate

CHENNAI, India (RNS) India’s highest court has ruled that unmarried couples have the right to live together and there is nothing illegal in live-in relationships between consenting adults. “When two adult people want to live together, what is the offense? Living together is a right to life,” a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in New Delhi said in a March 23 decision. The judges’ ruling came during a case involving a popular south Indian movie actress, Khushboo Sundar, who was accused of corrupting young minds with her controversial views on premarital sex, virginity and live-in relationships. The actress, popularly known as Khushboo, appealed to the Supreme Court to quash more than 20 criminal cases filed against her in various courts in the country in 2005 after she allegedly endorsed premarital sex in press interviews.

Church reformers have second thoughts on pope

(RNS) To many advocates of reform in the Catholic Church, the election of conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope in April 2005 was a blow to hopes the Vatican would change positions on gender, sexuality, divorce, and the church hierarchy. Yet the result encouraged three prominent reformers who were appointed to a U.S. bishops’ National Review Board. The three American Catholics — a judge, an attorney and a newspaper publisher — were concerned mainly with the clergy sex scandal. They had met with Ratzinger in his Vatican office in 2004 for an extensive discussion on the cover-ups of clergy sex abuse of children, and came to view Ratzinger as the best churchman anywhere on the issue. A year later, when he became Pope Benedict XVI, they were often quoted praising him in American news articles.

Hierarchy rallies around beleaguered pope

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Prominent bishops in Europe and North America are rallying behind a beleaguered Pope Benedict XVI, trying to fend off charges that Benedict mishandled cases of clerical sex abuse before becoming pope. “Our earthly shepherd (is) now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus,” said New York’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, at the conclusion of a Palm Sunday (March 28) Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. News reports have led to charges that Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, approved the 1980 reassignment to pastoral work of an accused pedophile in Munich, Germany, who was later convicted of sexually abusing other children. Other reports have provoked protests over Ratzinger’s apparent decision, in 1998, to suspend disciplinary procedures against a Milwaukee priest who was accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974.

Monday’s roundup

It’s a stormy beginning to Holy Week for the Catholic Church, as it continues to deal with accusations that Pope Benedict XVI failed to punish pedophile priests, or at least remove them from ministry. Protesters took to the streets in London, an Austrian bishop announced an investigation into charges of rape and molestation by Catholic clergy, the Swiss president said their should be a registry of pedophile priests, and a prominent, but retired Cardinal said the church should rethink its celibacy requirement for priests. Benedict didn’t mention the crisis during his Palm Sunday homily but did say, “From God comes the courage not to be intimidated by petty gossip,” which some abuse victims say trivializes their suffering. The Vatican says how it handles the crisis will be “crucial for its moral credibility.” On Italian TV three deaf men confronted a spokesman for the diocese where they were molested as children.

Diarmuid Martin v. Timothy Dolan

Or call it ecclesiastical leadership versus the defensive crouch. In his Palm Sunday sermon, the Archbishop of Dublin, who has been the true stand-up guy in the Irish scandal, had this to say:The Church in Dublin is still stung by the horrible abuse which innocent
children endured through people who were Christ’s ministers and who
were called to act in Christ’s name. How was it that the innocence of
children was not embraced; how did it happen that in our Church the
temptation to protect institution was given priority over healing the
most innocent and the vulnerable.Now contrast Martin’s simple acknowledgment that the central issue is cover-up with the overwrought refusal of the Archbishop of New York to go there: The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few
priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story
from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.Anytime
this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs
to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority
of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics
experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.What
deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy
Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man
who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification,
reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.Cover-up? For Dolan, this is only about the physical abuse, the media, the small number of abusing priests, the “re-wounding” of the victims, the unjustified attacks on the pope. As Ross Douthat, no wild-eyed Church-basher, writes in today’s NYT.But the crisis of authority endures.

Aw, Pew.

The Papacy and War against the ‘Saracens’, 795-1216

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Far
be it from me to suggest that the good folks at Pew are competitive or
anything, but I could not help but notice a curious omission in the 
just-released report
from the Pew Forum on religion in the news in 2009; namely, a certain reticence
about the amount of notice garnered by Trinity College’s 2008 American Religious
Identification Survey (ARIS). Here’s the deal. In its survey, Pew differentiates coverage according to types
of media, making the observation that religion news tends to generate a lot of
buzz in the blogosphere, as per the following graphic:Popular
Religion Topics on Blogs in 2009WeekTopic*Percent of LinksFeb. 9-13Catholic Indulgences (#3 story
that week)7%Feb. 16-20Founder of Islamic TV Station
Charged with Beheading Wife (#4 story)8%Mar.

Whither the Catholic Church?

How big a deal is the new tsunami of abuse-and-cover-up charges that is washing over the Catholic Church? In its editorial yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter takes a maximalist position:We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in
church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and
does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine
the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.That seems a bit hyperbolic. Is this a greater crisis than the one Pius IX faced during the Resorgimento? Greater than the Reformation?

Lilies Just for Easter

The Ledger: (RNS) To the untrained eye, the graceful lilies that arrive on church altars each year on Easter Sunday (April 4 this year) are a familiar symbol of resurrection and renewal. Like poinsettias on Christmas, it just wouldn’t be Easter without them. Full story.

Faith leaders call for civility after attacks

WASHINGTON (RNS) As Democratic lawmakers reel from violent attacks and threats, religious leaders have issued a “covenant for civility” pledging that they will pray for politicians and model respectful behavior. “The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences,” reads the statement, signed by more than 100 Christian leaders. The covenant was released Thursday (March 25) by the anti-poverty group Sojourners, as members of Congress who voted in favor of health care reform have faced attacks. A brick was thrown through Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter’s window in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and a gas line was cut at the home of the brother of Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va. Quoting the Bible, the faith leaders said political debaters should be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Oregon parents cite religion to opt out of vaccines

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) The number of parents in Oregon opting out of vaccines for their children is on the rise, state public health officials say. In 1992, 1.2 percent of kindergartners went unvaccinated. By last year, the rate had jumped to 4.9 percent — about 2,255 Oregon kindergartners. That so many Oregon parents have rejected vaccines alarms Oregon’s public health officials, who are planning a campaign this year that includes social networking to try to persuade them to reconsider.

Pope and president lead press coverage, study says

(RNS) The pope and the president dominated religion news in the American media last year, according to a new study. The Obama administration’s “faith-based initiative” accounted for three of the top 10 religion-focused stories, while two of the top 10 focused on Pope Benedict XVI. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the findings on Thursday (March 25). The role religion plays in the Obama administration garnered the most attention in the media, followed by the pope’s visit to the Middle East. Other top stories included Obama’s speech to the Turkish parliament and Benedict’s pardon of a controversial British bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Will the pope resign?

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Will Pope Benedict XVI resign? Less than two weeks ago, that question was just a publicity-grabbing ploy by an Irish online bookmaker. Now, following charges that he personally mishandled cases of pedophile priests in Munich and Milwaukee, the idea of Benedict stepping down is actually being taken seriously, at least in some quarters of the media. “With his authority eroded, why does he even remain in office?” wrote Peter Wensierski on Thursday (March 25) in the online edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel.

`Homoville,’ FL, 32601

Wayne Sapp, a pastor at Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Fla., is launching what appears to be a one-man crusade against Craig Lowe, who could become the city’s first openly gay mayor. Sapp can pretty much speak for himself on this one (he’s not shy about telling you what he really thinks), but he seems more ticked off at other Gainsville churches who won’t join his campaign than he is at the gay candidate. It’s worth noting that Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a complaint with the IRS, alleging that Sapp’s church is engaging in illegal politicking by opposing a specific candidate.

Friday’s roundup

The NYT dropped another bombshell today, citing a memo that shows future-Pope Benedict XVI was apprised of plans to return a priest accused of molesting children to pastoral work. Earlier this month, a Munich diocesan administrator fell on his sword and took responsibility for transferring the priest, who later molested more children. Memos show that Ratzinger, who led the Munich archdiocese, led a meeting in 1980 about the priest in which the transfer was approved and was kept informed about the priest’s reassignment, according to the Times. The Vatican’s response: “The article in the New York Times contains no new information beyond that which the archdiocese has already communicated concerning the then archbishop’s knowledge of the situation of Father H. Thus the archdiocese confirms the position, according to which the then archbishop had no knowledge of the decision to reassign Father H. to pastoral activities in a parish. It rejects any other version of events as mere speculation.”