Pope grants wide authority to revamp Legion of Christ

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI has handed the Vatican’s chief auditor “wide-ranging powers” as he sets about reforming the powerful but scandal-hit Legionaries of Christ. In a decree published Saturday (July 24) on the website of the ultra-conservative order, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis will have final say over all decisions taken by the commission revising the Legionaries’ constitutions. The 74-year-old Italian, who is president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs for the Holy See, must approve the choice of new priests, schools and seminaries, the disposal of the wealthy order’s assets and other “extraordinary” administrative matters. He will be assisted by four personal advisers. The Legionaries extensive network comprises 900 priests and 3,000 seminarians operating in 20 countries.

Quietly, another mosque operates in shadow of Ground Zero

NEW YORK (RNS) Barely visible among the high-rise apartment buildings and cocktail lounges, a battered steel door in Manhattan’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood leads to a basement jammed with barefoot men praying on their lunch break. The makeshift mosque is a far cry from the 13-story proposed Cordoba House, the so-called planned “Ground Zero mosque” that’s two blocks closer to the busy construction site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. And the leaders of Masjid Manhattan want to keep it that way. “We are not involved with that other group,” said Imam Mustafa Elazabawy, raising his voice just loud enough to be heard above the din of an air conditioner unit, but not to disturb the Arabic recitations. “We have been here for 30 years, in this neighborhood.

Monday’s roundup

The Muslim imam behind the “ground zero mosque,” said it’s neither a mosque, nor at ground zero. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told Reuters, “We are trying to establish something that follows the YMCA concept but is not a church or a synagogue or, in this case, a mosque. We are taking that concept and adapting it to our time and the fact that we’re Muslims. It’s basically a Muslim Y.” <!–[if !mso]> st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–> Elsewhere in New York, the board of trustees of a Roman Catholic Church on Staten Island, whose members include NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan, rejected a proposal to sell a vacant convent to a Muslim organization that planned to use it as a mosque. WaPo profiles the 20-year-old Virginian charged last week with trying to fly to Somalia and join an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group and finds that, like a lot of young men Adam Chesser tried out a variety of identities (including breakdancer and Marilyn Manson wannabe) as he searched for his true self.

Latino Catholics v. political meddling

Making his own effort to explain Latino Catholic support for same-sex marriage in California, Joseph M. Palacios offers the following: It is important to note that modern Latin Catholicism has a dual
nature: it is “conservative” in the sense of family communalism and
tradition that the church offers, yet it is classically “liberal” in the
sense of not wanting the Catholic Church to have power in political
life– particularly after the long historical experience of the Latin
American Church “meddling in politics.” As Mexicans put it: “No meta en
la polĂ­tica.” A sizable majority of U.S. Latino Catholics shares
these attitudes with them. Increasingly they are joining their Latin
counterparts in accepting gays and lesbians as part of the social family
that is both Catholic and liberal. This makes sense to me–particularly since so large a proportion of Latinos in California have roots in Mexico, where keeping the church out of public life has been a state ideology since the revolution.

Jesus Toast

It seems that Jesus is everywhere these days. From pancakes and toast to a potato chip, the carpenter from Nazareth has been reaching out to us in the form of food for many a year. One artist in the UK, however, has taken this one step further: he has made a representation of the crucifix entirely out of – yup, you figured it – burnt toast. Using 153 pieces of charred toast, artist Adam Sheldon of Carlisle managed to create an incredible likeness of the crucifixion. It is now housed and displayed at the Anglican Church of St.

Students seek to revive progressive movement

WASHINGTON (RNS) Progressive Christian college students hope to reorganize a movement that propelled young adults into pro-civil rights and anti-war activities before it was disbanded decades ago. The U.S. Student Christian Movement, which officially ended more than 40 years ago, will be revived at an Oct. 8-11 meeting at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “Students will come together to discuss how they will collectively put their faith into action toward progressive Christian concerns,” said Luciano Kovacs, North America regional secretary of the World Student Christian Federation, in a statement released by the National Council of Churches. “SCM USA will provide the coordination of ecumenical student activities in the U.S., and subsequently connect U.S. students with the rest of the global federation.”

Lutherans apologize to Mennonites for persecution

STUTTGART, Germany (RNS/ENInews) A global Lutheran assembly in Germany has asked for forgiveness for the 16th-century persecution of Anabaptists, the religious reformers whose modern-day descendants include Mennonites. “We remember how Anabaptist Christians knew suffering and persecution, and we remember how some of our most honored Reformation leaders defended this persecution in the name of faithfulness,” said Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation, at a joint service of repentance with Mennonites on Thursday (July 22). Anabaptists, whose originally pejorative name means “re-baptizers,” stressed the need to baptize Christian believers, including those who had been baptized as infants. Both Protestants and Catholics persecuted Anabaptists as heretics, and many fled to America. “I think it would be naive to say that this (service) is an end to it.

Charges filed against third faith-healing couple in Oregon

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) A couple who left their infant daughter’s fate to God rather than seek medical treatment for a mass that grew over her left eye will face charges of first-degree criminal mistreatment. Prosecutors said Thursday (July 22) during a custody hearing that a grand jury has indicted Timothy and Rebecca Wyland of Beavercreek, Ore., who belong to the Followers of Christ church. Two separate sets of parents from the church have faced criminal charges in the faith-healing deaths of their children; one was acquitted on nearly all charges last year, while the other was found guilty this spring. The Wylands’ 7-month-old daughter, Alayna, was placed in state custody earlier this month after child-welfare workers received a tip about the untreated and ballooning growth.

Friday’s roundup

Yet another set of parents from that Oregon faith-healing church is in trouble with the law — this time for not seeking medical attention for a massive growth on the eye of their seven-month-old daughter (photo, left). State officials assumed custody; the parents want her back. They’re from the same church as two other families who faced court trials in the faith-healing deaths of their children. Facebook is investigating why Sarah Palin’s message against the Ground Zero mosque in New York got deleted; a repost has Palin saying it would be “an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project sponsored by such an individual to go forward on such hallowed ground.” Across the harbor on Staten Island, Catholic officials say they won’t sell a shuttered Catholic church to a group of Muslims who wanted to turn it into a mosque.

Christians examine morality of birth control

(RNS) Is contraception a sin? The very suggestion made Bryan Hodge and his classmates at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute laugh. As his friends scoffed and began rebutting the oddball idea, Hodge found himself on the other side, poking holes in their arguments. He finished a bachelor’s degree in biblical theology at Moody and earned a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Now, more than a decade later, he is trying to drive a hole the size of the ark through what has become conventional wisdom among many Christians: that contraception is perfectly moral.

Why Latino Catholics support marriage

The most notable result of the new Public Religion Research Institute survey of attitudes toward Proposition 8 is the divide between Latino Catholics and Latino Protestants. The former are more in favor of same-sex marriage than any other ethno-religious group in the survey; the former are more opposed. (That’s Catholics 57-38 in favor versus Protestants 73-22 opposed.) The correlation that’s caught most attention is the disproportionately high number of Latino Catholics (41 percent) who think of God as an impersonal force. Although we’re unfortunately not given a number for Latino Protestants, we are meant to assume that most of them regard God “as a person with whom one can have a relationship.”I can’t dispute the Catholic number, but it makes no sense to me as an explanation. Latino Catholicism is, by all accounts, rich in personal connection–to the Virgin Mary and other saints, for example.

Help! The President’s Faith-Based Initiative is Missing!

A few days ago, WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein put up a plaintive post on the newspaper’s Under God blog asking for help in finding out what’s up with the faith-based initiative out in the dozen federal departments that have dedicated officials embedded in them.I’ve been requesting access to even a few of these offices for more
than six months, but am getting nowhere with the White House. And the
people who run the offices aren’t allowed to say three words to a
reporter. If you know what these people do, or
if you know someone who knows what these people do, or if you have some
good ideas for us as we explore what these people do, please e-mail me:
boorsteinm@washpost.comBoorstein’s the local religion beat reporter, and no one’s done more to cover the faith-based initiative since Obama took office. If anyone ought to have access to the relevant federal officials, she should. Why the hell shouldn’t the public be entitled to know what’s going on?

Priest under fire for serving Communion to a dog

TORONTO (RNS) The Anglican Church in Canada is dealing with fallout following a published report that a priest gave Communion to a dog. One congregant has quit St. Peter’s Anglican Church in downtown Toronto in protest over the June 27 incident, in which interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea gave Communion to a man and his dog. The Toronto Star reports that according to those in attendance, it was a spontaneous gesture intended to make both the dog and its owner — a first-timer at the church — feel welcome. Peggy Needham, a lay official who was sitting near the altar, said that when it was when it was time for Communion, the man went up to receive the bread and the wine, with the dog.

Catholic group comes to aid of Democrats who supported health care

(RNS) A Catholic group that backed the health care reform bill will spend $500,000 on ads and organizers for at least four congressional Democrats who are under fire from anti-abortion groups for their support of the bill. Washington-based Catholics United isn’t backing any Republican members of Congress because none supported the health care reform bill, according to spokesman James Salt. Salt said Ohio Reps. John Boccieri and Steve Driehaus, Virginia’s Tom Perriello and Pennsylvania’s Kathy Dahlkemperare facing a “coordinated misinformation campaign from a host of self-proclaimed pro-life groups intended to perpetuate the misconception that the health care reform bill passed earlier this year allowed for federal funding of elective abortion.” The group’s organizers and volunteers will monitor religious right activities in the targeted districts to counter inaccurate attacks. Earlier this year, it placed television ads on Driehaus’ and Boccieri’s behalf.

Citing Madoff losses, American Jewish Congress suspends operations

NEW YORK (RNS) The American Jewish Congress, a national advocacy group that has argued for church-state separation on prayer in public schools, has laid off most employees and suspended operations. The 92-year-old organization lost $21 million of its $24 million endowment to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which devastated a range of Jewish groups, including Yeshiva University. As with other nonprofits, the economic downturn has also hobbled fundraising efforts, officials said. Once a prominent organization in combating anti-Semitism and promoting women’s rights and other progressive policies, the AJCongress has struggled in recent years to distinguish itself from the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, said Jonathan Sarna, an American Jewish history professor at Brandeis University. “Once it lost almost all of its endowment, its days were numbered,” Sarna said.