Catholic adoption agency loses fight over gay parents

LONDON (RNS) A Roman Catholic adoption agency has lost its fight for the right to continue its policy of refusing to place children with same-sex couples based on religious principles. The agency, Catholic Care, saw its battle to limit its adoption services to heterosexual-only parents collapse in a ruling Thursday (August 19) by the powerful Charity Commission, an independent watchdog in England, although funded by the British government. After a lengthy legal wrangle, the Charity Commission decreed that Charity Care’s stance amounted to discrimination based on sexual orientation because it “departs from the principle of treating people equally.” Charity Care had been targeted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which insisted such discrimination, was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is a signatory. Charity Care officials had said earlier that if it lost the case, it would shut down its adoption service rather than risk weakening or even losing its Catholic affiliation, but has yet to make a final decision.

New Catholic Mass approved for 2011 roll-out

WASHINGTON (RNS) The most sweeping changes to the Catholic Mass in 40 years will be rolled out in 2011, the U.S. bishops announced Friday (Aug. 20) after receiving formal approval from the Vatican. The new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, the official text of prayers and responses used in the Mass, will be implemented on Nov. 27, 2011, the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Vatican approval was granted on June 23, with additional changes approved on July 24.

Friday’s roundup

Evangelist Franklin Graham tells CNN that President Obama isn’t a Muslim now (1 in 4 Americans seem to think so) but he was born one. The White House is in damage control overdrive on those numbers, or denial mode, according to the Washington Times. Presidential prayer counselor Joel Hunter says Obama’s silence on his faith is a problem: “You know what happens with a vacuum?” he said. “It gets filled.”

`Queen of Muslim bashers’ at center of N.Y. mosque debate

(RNS) By some accounts, the heated opposition to the so-called Ground Zero mosque has been drummed up by a telegenic blogger with a strong New York accent and even stronger opinions. Pamela Geller, a Long Island native who writes the blog “Atlas Shrugs,” said she was the “quintessential New York City career girl,” before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, she has co-founded groups dedicated to fighting the “Islamization” of America, sponsored anti-Muslim ads in several cities, and, more recently, become a near daily presence on television news programs. Some even suggest that Geller deserves credit — or blame — for turning a local zoning decision about whether to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks from Ground Zero into a national political spectacle. “She’s been instrumental,” said Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group.

Volunteers flock to rebuild church torched by arson

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) The Rev. Hillary Chrisley has traveled throughout the deep South, helping to rebuild churches torched by arson, but traveling to the heart of New England was an anomaly for the pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, Calif. “This is our first venture up North,” she said, wiping sweat from her brow after hours of work at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ that was razed by arsonists hours after President Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president. Chrisley is one of 33 volunteers from her church and a synagogue in California who traveled here at their own expense to help the regular construction crew rebuild. “It’s bittersweet.

Church vows to burn Qurans without fire permit

(RNS) Fire officials in Gainesville, Fla., have denied a permit to a church that wants to burn Qurans on Sept. 11, but church officials said they’ll go ahead with the protest that has garnered worldwide attention. Leaders of the Dove World Outreach Center say “Islam is of the Devil” and plan to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Gene Prince, interim chief of Gainesville Fire Rescue, told The Gainesville Sun that he informed the church on Tuesday (Aug. 17) that the protest violates local fire-prevention laws, which include rules against burning corrugate cardboard or office paper, which includes books.

Books challenge consumer-driven church model

(RNS) Two new books challenge Christians to restore their faith to its true mission and forsake a consumerist mentality that some churches adapt in a bid to meet members’ needs. “Churches can better shape the faithful by recovering a sense that the life of faith is supposed to be a challenging experience,” said veteran journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald. “I think that this may start with a new consumer ethic for this new religious marketplace.” MacDonald, an ordained clergyman and a correspondent for Religion News Service, takes on the consumerist gospel in his recent book, “Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul.” He criticizes the easy gospel doled out by some congregations, arguing that faith loses its flavor when watered down.

Thursday’s roundup

Good morning, mosqueteers. Lots of news today. According to a Gallup poll, 37 percent of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s remarks on the planned construction of a mosque two blocks north of Ground Zero. Four in 10, however, have no opinion on the matter. Obama said yesterday that he has “no regrets” about his comments.

Polls: One in four Americans thinks Obama’s a Muslim

WASHINGTON (RNS) Two new polls say as many as one in four Americans mistakenly believe President Obama is a Muslim, presenting the White House with the unique challenge of defining a central element of the president’s life story. Asked in a Time magazine poll whether the president is a Muslim or a Christian, 24 percent of respondents said Muslim, and 47 percent said Christian. A separate Pew poll released Thursday (Aug. 19) found that 18 percent of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim. A full 43 percent of Americans — across lines of race, political party and religion — don’t know what faith he follows.

COMMENTARY: Stormy seas for our ship of state

(RNS) When a ship tosses about during a gale, passengers rely on the captain to navigate safely through the dangerous water. America is currently in an economic, political and cultural storm. While the 310 million people aboard our national ship of state expect our leaders to plot a successful course, we are also responsible for the wellbeing of those around us, especially those vulnerable passengers who are “different.” It is neither a new image, nor a new problem. In the 17th century, Baptist minister Roger Williams, a strong champion of religious liberty and the founder of Rhode Island, wrote: “It hath fallen out sometimes, that both papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked on one ship; upon which supposal I affirm, that all the liberty of conscience, that ever I pleaded for, turns upon these two hinges — that none of the papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks, be forced to come to the ship’s prayers of worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.”

Israeli vintners seek to grow beyond kosher stigma

JERUSALEM (RNS) When wine merchants Avi Ben and Shmulik Cohen organized Jerusalem’s first wine festival in 2003, they were more concerned with the size of the crowd size than the quality of the wine. At the time, the city was plagued by frequent suicide bombings, driving Israelis to spend their free time elsewhere. The two oenophiles figured a balmy summer festival in an outdoor sculpture garden would pump some life back into the local social scene. And it did. About 6,000 guests showed up to the three-evening event, as did 18 wine vendors.

Episcopal bishop, back in office, vows to stay

(RNS) The embattled Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia said he erred in not investigating his brother’s sexual abuse of an underage girl 35 years ago, but brushed aside calls for his resignation, saying it is more “interesting” for him to remain in office. Bishop Charles Bennison was removed from ministry in 2007, when he was charged with “conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy.” A church court found him guilty in 2008. But Bennison returned to his Philadelphia office on Monday (Aug. 16) after a church appeals court ruled last month the 10-year statute of limitations on the charge had expired.

Hispanic leaders warn GOP on repealing `birthright citizenship’

WASHINGTON (RNS) As they push for immigration reform, Hispanic evangelical leaders said Republican proposals to repeal the 14th Amendment’s “birthright citizenship” provision could erode support from Hispanic voters. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Aug. 8 a repeal of the birthright provision is “worth considering.” Other Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also have said it should be reviewed. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, harshly criticized such statements.

Baha’i community `stunned’ by `harsh’ sentences in Iran

(RNS/ENInews) The Baha’i International Community said the harsh prison sentences meted out against seven Iranian Baha’i leaders are an unjust punishment against innocent people and an entire religious community. The five men and two women imprisoned were arrested in May 2008 and later charged with “spying for foreigners,” as well as “spreading corruption on Earth” and “cooperating with Israel.” Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, whose Defenders of Human Rights Center represented the Baha’i defendants, said she was “stunned” by the seven- to 20-year jail terms. “I have read their case file page-by-page, and did not find anything proving the accusations, nor did I find any document that could prove the claims of the prosecutor,” Ebadi said in an interview with the BBC. The Baha’í faith is a monotheistic religion founded in 19th-century Persia, and which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. It has around 6 million followers in more than 200 countries and territories, but is considered an illegal sect inside Iran.

COMMENTARY: New York’s anti-religious pandemic

NEW YORK (RNS) Who could be against Mother Teresa? It’s a good question, and one that New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked after the Empire State Building refused to light its spire in Teresa’s signature blue and white to honor the 100th anniversary of her birth on Aug. 26. Mother Teresa, as we all know, made it her life’s work to care for the most abandoned people on the planet. Along the way, she won the Nobel Peace Prize and is now one step away from sainthood.