Vatican appeals for former Iraqi leader’s life

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Tuesday (Oct. 26) called for former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to be spared the death penalty, and suggested it might intervene diplomatically on his behalf. “The position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty is known,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. “It is therefore truly hoped that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be carried out, precisely in order to favor reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great sufferings undergone there.” An Iraqi court on Tuesday condemned Aziz, 74, to death by hanging for his role in persecuting Shiite opposition parties opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Vitter riding high despite `very serious sin’ with D.C. madam

WASHINGTON (RNS) When Sen. David Vitter admitted in 2007 to a “very serious sin” after his phone number appeared on the list of a Washington escort service, the “family values” Louisiana Republican’s political career was suddenly on life support. The man who had made his name decrying public corruption and demanding that President Bill Clinton resign for lying about an affair with a White House aide was forced to confess to using the services of prostitutes. But three years later, independent polls have consistently shown Vitter comfortably ahead of his Democratic challenger, maintaining a double-digit lead heading into next week’s elections. Asked by “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart in September how Vitter could be ahead in the polls, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine replied: “Now that’s a tough one. I don’t know why.

Hoping to avert disaster, Democrats turn to black churches

WASHINGTON (RNS) Facing an electoral bloodbath at the voting booth next Tuesday, Democrats are turning to a key part of their base — African-Americans — and are using the black church to help get voters to the polls. In an election where Republicans appear poised to recapture the House and possibly the Senate, strong black turnout could be “the difference between a bad election and a horrible election,” said David Bositis, a political analyst from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The concerted outreach goes beyond traditional candidate stops at black pulpits on the Sunday before Election Day. President Obama has been on the phone with black clergy, and first lady Michelle Obama was the star attraction on a conference call with thousands of African-American women. The Democratic National Committee has dispatched staff to coordinate with black ministers as part of an aggressive get-out-the-vote mobilization, hoping to seize on early voting options in key states.

Has anyone seen Rod Dreher?

Whatever happened to Rod Dreher? As a writer he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Actually, he wasn’t my cup of tea. But he had a distinctive voice that made him into Beliefnet’s premier blogger, and seems to have earned him his current gig as director of publications at Templeton. On his arrival, he moved his blog to Templeton, and then, two months ago, it was shut down.

10 minutes with … Pastor Bruce Wersen

BURLINGTON, Wash. (RNS) About an hour north of Seattle, blue-state Washington becomes Glenn Beck country, literally: the Fox News personality and religious revivalist’s hometown of Mount Vernon celebrated “Glenn Beck Day” and presented him with a key to the city last year. Beck’s childhood friend, Pastor Bruce Wersen, fuses entertainment and mass media formats on a smaller scale from His Place Community Church in Burlington. Wersen, 48, a film student-turned-preacher who founded the evangelical congregation with his father 25 years ago, writes, produces and stars as the hapless driver in “Route 66: A Road Trip Through the Bible.” The online video series presents each of the Bible’s 66 books as conversations with hitchhikers in his clunker convertible.

U.S. is feeling charitable, just not through churches

(RNS) Americans are being more generous to religious charities, but why are they skimping on their giving to churches? A new report from Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based Christian research organization, contains an analysis that found from 2007 to 2008, Protestant churches saw a decrease of $20.02 in per-member annual charitable gifts. Meanwhile, Empty Tomb’s analysis of federal data found that annual average contributions to the category of “church, religious organizations,” which includes charities like World Vision and Salvation Army, increased by $41.59. Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb, said the good news/bad news difference is stark: giving to religious charities is up, while giving to churches is down. One reason?

COMMENTARY: The stories of our lives

(RNS) “At the deepest level the story of any one of us,” theologian Frederick Buechner wrote in his book, “Yellow Leaves,” “is the story of all of us.” Standing on the beach surrounded by 75 friends and family last weekend, a few minutes before my son was baptized in the Pacific Ocean, Buechner’s words rolled through my mind like the waves crashing gently on the shore a few yards away. How we all got to that spot along the California coast is an epic story, the best one I know. It is a story of grace and redemption, of God’s providence and tenderness, of friendship and the bonds of community that even death cannot sever. It is our story, all of us.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

The AP looks at anti-Mormon sentiment rearing its head in races in Nevada and Idaho, a preview of what Mitt Romney could face in a 2012 White House bid (Romney’s campaigning against fellow Mormon Harry Reid in Nevada). Jeff Sharlet, who’s built his career tracking the elusive evangelical group that runs the infamous C Street House in Washington, tracks the C Street residents on the ballot next week. The founder of Tea Party Nation wants a Muslim-free Congress. The U.S. Department of Education reminded everyone about anti-bullying guidelines approved several years ago; Jewish groups say they will help protect Jewish college students from anti-Semitic bullying. NPR looks at anti-gay bullying in schools, especially its religious undertones.

Christianity’s contributions mostly negative, Americans say

(RNS) When asked about Christianity’s recent contributions to society, Americans cited more negatives than benefits, according to a new survey. The negative contribution cited most was hatred or violence in the name of Jesus, according to the Barna Group survey. Other frequently cited examples included opposition to gay marriage and the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. The positive contribution mentioned most was Christians’ helping the poor, as well as evangelism and influencing the country’s values. “Overall, there was a more extensive and diverse list of complaints about Christians and their churches than there was of examples of the benefits they have provided to society,” said the Barna Group, a Christian firm that researches U.S. faith and culture, in a report released Monday (Oct.

Mormon leader weighs in on same-sex attraction

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormons may not know until the hereafter what causes same-sex attraction, but “God loves all his children” and expects everyone to do the same, a top Mormon leader said Sunday (Oct. 24). While the message — delivered to more than 200,000 Utah Mormons — may not seem significant, the messenger was. As second counselor in the governing First Presidency, Dieter F. Uchtdorf is one of the highest-ranking leaders in the hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the thorny topic of same-sex attraction. The gentle tone and emphasis of Uchtdorf’s remarks came in the wake of a speech by Boyd K. Packer, senior member of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said homosexual “tendencies” can be “overcome.”

Gulf Coast food banks still in high demand

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Even with the deep sea oil hemorrhage halted and much of the fishing in the Gulf of Mexico reopened, major charity groups say the needs of impacted families remain dire. Officials from the local affiliates of Second Harvest Food Bank and Catholic Charities said members of the fishing, oil and service industries are still hurting six months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Perceptions that the crisis is over and that money from BP is taking care of all the losses have detracted from fundraising, officials said. “It’s a sustained 25 percent increase in demand,” said Natalie Jayroe, president of the food bank, referring to the number of people asking for food help. Second Harvest has distributed more than 610,000 meals to families affected by the BP oil spill.

COMMENTARY: Blessed are the weak

(RNS) When Jesus stood in the valley and taught his disciples, he stood among many who were sick and lost, and troubled by evil spirits. He called them “blessed.” In this large assembly, he also saw some who were rich, well-fed, happy, and held in high regard. To these winners in life he said, “Woe to you,” for hard days lay ahead. He wasn’t threatening them, as much as speaking the truth that nothing lasts.

Does Palin err in downplaying her beliefs?

Contra Costa Times (RNS): Sarah Palin once pursued politics out of a religious sense of calling, and considered her choice as vice presidential candidate by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain as part of “God’s plan.” Read more.

On Halloween Sunday, some opt for All Saints’ alternative parties

(RNS) While ghouls, witches and wizards run door-to-door for treats this Halloween, St. Michael, St. Patricia and St. Lawrence will swap candy in their basement, sharing stories of their heroic exploits. One child, wrapped in toilet paper, sticks out from the rest, not because he’s an Egyptian mummy but rather St.

National Cathedral hires a new resident mouse chaser

WASHINGTON (RNS) The newest employee at Washington National Cathedral was nowhere to be found in her office on a recent afternoon. She was probably out and about, staffers said, doing God’s work. “She likes to bring gifts from her adventures,” said Jean Jawdat, the deputy director of the Cathedral Choral Society. “She presents us with mice.” There are alley cats, lap cats and house cats — and then there’s Carmina, the only cat who’s able to call the House of Prayer for All People home.