Same old religious politics

The recent Gallup survey of partisan congressional preference shows (surprise!) that the electorate remains just about where it’s been for a decade when it comes to religious divisions. The more frequent worship attenders are more Republican; the less frequent, more Democratic. The biggest gap is among the Nones–those who say they have no religion–who prefer the Democrats by a 37-point margin, 62 percent to 25 percent. (Catholics skew Republican by 6 points and non-Catholic Christians by 10.) All in all, the God gap remains as robust as ever. 

Pope urges `sensitivity’ as Mass changes are introduced

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI warned that a forthcoming new English translation of the Catholic Mass could provoke “confusion or bewilderment” among worshipers if not “introduced with due sensitivity.” Benedict made his remarks on Wednesday (April 28), during lunch with a committee of English-speaking bishops from five continents, who have worked for nearly a decade with the Vatican’s liturgy office on preparing the new translation. “Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly 40 years of continuous use of the previous translation,” the pope said. “The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity, and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped.” The pope said the changes, if handled correctly, will help prevent ” any risk of confusion or bewilderment” in the most sweeping changes to Catholic worship since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

Catholic bishops slam `draconian’ Arizona law

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Catholic bishops slammed a new Arizona immigration law as “draconian” and called on Congress to stop political “gamesmanship” and pass immigration reform. Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, said Tuesday (April 27) the Arizona law could lead to ethnic profiling and adversely effect how immigrants are treated nationwide. Wester, speaking on behalf of fellow bishops, called on the Obama administration to review the law’s impact on civil rights and urged Washington to enact federal immigration reform. “While many of our federal elected officials have made good faith efforts to pass reform, too many still view the issue through a political lens, using it to gain political or partisan advantage,” Wester said in a statement. “This gamesmanship must stop.”

Polish Lutherans mourn second slain bishop

GENEVA (RNS/ENI) Lutherans in Poland lost a second bishop to tragedy when Bishop Mieczyslaw Cieslar died in a car accident as he returned from the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash that also claimed the life of Bishop Adam Pilch. Cieslar, of the Warsaw diocese of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, died on April 19 in a car accident on his way home from Kaczynski’s funeral, according to the Lutheran World Federation. The Rev. Ishmael Noko, the LWF’s general secretary, said in a condolence letter to the head of the church, Bishop Jerzy Samiec, that the untimely death of the Warsaw bishop came at a particularly difficult period of mourning for the country and its people. The Warsaw bishop was well known to the LWF as a church leader and seminary teacher, said Noko, who met with Cieslar as part of a Polish delegation that visited LWF headquarters in Geneva in 2000. “On that occasion we were privileged to come closer to him, know him as a warm hearted and committed servant of the Lord engaged in theological and inter-confessional conversations in Poland, and to appreciate his pastoral care for those who were entrusted to him in his various responsibilities,” Noko said.

Supreme Court says war memorial cross can stay

WASHINGTON (RNS) A divided Supreme Court on Wednesday (April 28) overruled a lower court that had said Congress erred when it transferred a war memorial cross in the Mojave National Preserve into private hands. The 5-4 ruling means the five-foot-cross, currently encased in plywood as the case made its way through the legal system, can remain while a lower court continues to consider the case. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court’s 5-4 majority, said, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.” Kennedy said the district court ruling — which could have resulted in the removal of the cross — did not focus enough on the memorial’s nonreligious context. The cross was erected in the California preserve primarily to memorialize American servicemen who died in World War I and not “to promote a Christian message,” Kennedy wrote.

10 minutes with … Rose Mary Sanchez-Guzman

(RNS) A rash of drug-related violence in Juarez, Mexico, has prompted some Christian organizations to halt educational tours that took Americans across the border from El Paso, Texas, to tour poor Juarez neighborhoods. But it hasn’t stopped Border Immersion Experience, a program of Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey (Christ the King Lutheran Church) in El Paso from leading visits to Juarez as part of its three- and seven-day programs that focus on border and immigration issues. For executive director Rose Mary Sanchez-Guzman, bringing groups to Juarez despite daily murders is both a matter of Christian witness and solidarity with Mexicans who cannot leave. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: What is the purpose of the Border Immersion Experience?

Tea Party insurgence ripples through Missouri Synod election

ST. LOUIS (RNS) When the nominations for president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were tallied and released earlier this month, a collective gasp went up from Lutherans who pay attention to things like presidential nominations. It wasn’t just that nine-year incumbent Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, 67, received 755 nominations, but that the Rev. Matthew Harrison, 48, received nearly double that amount: 1,332. Harrison, executive director of the church’s World Relief and Human Care office, has the support of a group called the Brothers of John the Steadfast whose mission is, in part, to “defend and promote the orthodox Christian faith which is taught in the Lutheran Confessions…” The group’s website ( is one of the voices in the conservative wing of the synod that’s unhappy with Kieschnick, and the group’s analysis said Kieschnick’s 755 nominations were the lowest number ever received by a sitting president.

COMMENTARY: Happy Mothers Day

(RNS) Just when you think you’ve heard it all, another weird notion comes down the pike. Now scientists at England’s Newcastle University say they have grown human embryos from three parents. It’s called “Pronuclear transfer in human embryos to prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease” — at least that’s the title of the 12-author paper published in the scientific journal “Nature.” The way it seems to work is this: Mommy A and Daddy A risk producing a child with a genetic disorder, because Mommy A’s eggs have faulty electronic controls called mitochondria. So Mommy A and Daddy A provide egg and sperm to create an embryo in a Petri dish through in vitro fertilization.

Wednesday’s roundup

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the disputed Mojave Cross in California should be allowed to stay, and that the government went too far in ordering it taken down. The top American at the Vatican, Cardinal William Levada, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Pope Benedict XVI issues a more formal apology for sex abuse in June, when the church concludes its Year of the Priest. Our guy at the Vatican, Frank Rocca, says that’s equivalent to “all but confirmed.” (Full transcript here). The abuse scandal spreading through Chile has now resulted, apparently, in a bombing at a church.

Debate rages over day of prayer

Times Union: (RNS) Political debate over whether Americans should pause for a collective day of prayer heated up this week amid conservative uproar over a federal court ruling the law creating a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Full story.

Sorry, Dreher, no cheese

Over at the blog formerly known as Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher has discovered Mother Noella Marcellino, the famous cheese nun of Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, CT. Impressed with an account of her rap analogizing cheese maturation to the contemplative life, Dreher asks if there’s anywhere he can buy some of the cheese she makes:Because I’d sure like to support these holy women and their good work. And I’d like to eat some good cheese, too.As it happens, I was having lunch (yep, including some of that tasty Bethlehem cheese) with Mother Noella last Saturday, and I’m sorry to have to report that there’s none for sale. At this point they’re making just six cheeses a week, all for the consumption of themselves and their guests. Mother Noella, a microbiologist as well as Abbey choir-mistress, is spending much of her time these days writing articles on artisanal cheese-making in America and the history of cheese itself.

Levada fumbles

With Greece teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and Portugal, Spain, and Ireland not far behind, we are entitled to pose the question, “Is the Catholic Church too big to fail?”As tends to be the case for actors of comparable girth in the financial sector, the answer would seem to be, “Yes, probably.” But given the performance by those in charge over the past several months, you never know. Take, for instance, the following comment by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the course of a mild inquisition by the News Hour’s Margaret Warner yesterday:WARNER: So you don’t think it’s appropriate
that people hold the church to a higher standard? There is more focus
on the church? LEVADA: That’s a fair question.

Lutherans `deeply concerned’ over publisher lawsuit

(RNS) The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says it is “deeply concerned” for the welfare of employees who are suing its publishing arm over the termination of their pension plan. Augsburg Fortress, which publishes ELCA hymnals, Sunday school materials, and theological texts, told approximately 500 current and former employees in January that their pension plan was underfunded and would be terminated. Beth Lewis, the publisher’s president and CEO, said the plan had only $8.6 million to pay about $24 million in pension obligations, according to The Wall Street Journal. The recession and declining sales contributed to the shortfall. Augsburg decided to terminate the plan and distribute the assets based in part on how long employees had worked at the company.

Muslims want Graham barred from Capitol Hill prayer event

WASHINGTON (RNS) Days after evangelist Franklin Graham was disinvited from a Pentagon observance of the National Day of Prayer, a Muslim organization has asked members of Congress to follow suit. Corey Saylor, national legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, questioned Graham’s inclusion in a Capitol Hill event on May 6 because of his past statements that Islam is an “evil and wicked religion.” “Speakers such as Franklin Graham reflect a message of religious intolerance, rather than the more American message of differing faiths united in shared support of our nation’s founding principles,” Saylor said in a statement on Monday (April 26). D.J. Jordan, a spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., a sponsor of the congressional National Day of Prayer observance, said Tuesday the invitation would not be rescinded. Aderholt, in a statement, called Franklin Graham an “appropriate speaker” for the event, and said he was “honored that Franklin will come to Congress to speak and pray for the legislative branch of government on May 6.”

N.J. governor wants caps on pay for nonprofit CEOs

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) Gov. Chris Christie is seeking to limit how much the state is willing to pay for CEO salaries and employee benefits at nonprofit social service agencies that do business with the state. Beginning July 1, the state would cap the salaries of the top-earning executives at $141,000 for any social service agency with a budget over $20 million, according to a Department of Human Services draft memo dated April 16 obtained by The Star-Ledger. Executive directors who oversee budgets between $10 million and $20 million could receive no more than $126,900 in state compensation. Those overseeing a budget between $5 million and $10 million would get $119,850 a year from the state, and those with a budget below $5 million would get $105,750, according to the memo. At least 32 executive directors at community nonprofits made more money last year than the new structure would allow, according to a 2009 analysis by the Office of Legislative Services.