Wacky leaks

Much of the coverage of the latest Wikileaks release has noted a silver lining for the embarrassed State Department: abundant evidence that U.S. diplomats are insightful and informed observers of other countries, and in some cases even excellent writers. But some diplomatic correspondence simultaneously published by an Italian newspaper reveals that foreign service officers can be as fallible as the rest of us, including journalists. Turns out that U.S. embassy officials, handicapping the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, practically ruled out the election of the ultimate victor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Among the candidates portrayed as more promising in the cable to Washington was Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, subsequently the source of great embarrassment to the Vatican for his management of the Williamson affair and his support for a bishop who shielded a pedophile priest from the civil authorities. Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, a well-connected Vatican specialist, has observed with undisguised amusement that the diplomats’ predictions seem to have been based largely on the writings of American journalists.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

The arrest of a Somali-born teenager accused of trying to bomb a crowded Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., has raised questions about the government’s use of sting operations to capture terrorism suspects, the NYT reports. In related news, the FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information about the apparent torching of an Islamic center in Corvallis, Ore. that the suspect, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, attended intermittently. Folks in Corvallis are standing behind the mosque. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia ballot measure.

Catholic school enrollments worry church leaders

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Not much keeps Archbishop Gregory Aymond up at night. But one thing does make him toss and turn. In the past four years, especially after Hurricane Katrina, Catholic school enrollment has been steadily falling. Finding ways to reverse the trend has been the most challenging work of his administration. “It worries me,” Aymond said.

DADT and the Chaplains

The Defense Department’s superb report on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell includes an interesting contrast between the racial integration of the U.S. military in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the current homosexual integration. Then, when the military was out in front of the rest of the country, the chaplaincy corps was strongly supportive of integration. Now, many military chaplains “express opposition in religious terms to
allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.” What’s changed? Back then, most military chaplains were mainline Protestants and Catholic clergy whose racial views were at the liberal end of the spectrum. Today, the chaplaincy is dominated by white evangelicals–the only religious grouping in America opposed to gays serving in the military.

COMMENTARY: Closing doors but not closing down

(RNS) The closing of church doors is under way — long overdue in some cases, a shock in others. Before it goes a step further, however, it is imperative that church leaders be clear about what they are doing: they are closing a building, not a congregation. They are bowing to the unaffordable costs of maintaining bricks and mortar, but they aren’t terminating a faith community. In closing a physical facility, leaders shouldn’t disband a congregation and send its people out to find other buildings. That is precisely the wrong message to take from these transitions.

Religious groups support repealing gay military ban

WASHINGTON (RNS) As the Pentagon readies a long-awaited survey of military personnel on lifting the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy, a new poll suggests broad support across religious groups for allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. The Pentagon report, expected to be released Tuesday (Nov. 30), will include a survey of some 400,000 military personnel, and will be key for the Obama administration, which is hoping to push a repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell through Congress before the end of the year. Only 27 percent of Americans oppose lifting the ban, according to a poll released Monday (Nov. 29) by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Top Canadian archbishop arrested, charged with sexual assault

TORONTO (RNS) A Canadian Orthodox archbishop has been charged with sexual assault on two 10-year-old boys about 25 years ago. Kenneth William Storheim, known as Archbishop Seraphim, flew from his home in Edmonton, Alberta and surrendered to police in Winnipeg, Manitoba last week. He was charged with molesting two 10-year-old boys while serving as rector at Holy Trinity Sobor Cathedral in Winnipeg between 1984 and 1987. Citing a publication ban intended to protect the victims’ identities, police released no further details, except that they are not aware of any other complaints. Police began their investigation in July and a warrant for Storheim’s arrest was issued Nov.

Hate group watchdog adds Family Research Council to its list

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Southern Poverty Law Center is adding the Family Research Council and four other conservative religious organizations to its list of hate groups because of “falsehoods” in their anti-gay statements. Mark Potok, director of the center’s Intelligence Project, said the groups were not chosen because of their beliefs that homosexual activity is sinful. “The religious nature of these organizations has absolutely nothing to do with our listings,” he said in an interview Monday (Nov. 29). “The listings are based on the propagation of known falsehoods and demonizing propaganda.”

Judge maintains ruling against Okla. Shariah ban

(RNS) A federal judge on Monday (Nov. 29) issued a temporary injunction against an Oklahoma referendum that sought to ban the use of Islamic law, or Shariah, in state courts. U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange had earlier issued a restraining order to prevent the Oklahoma State Elections Board from certifying the results of the Nov. 2 vote, when voters approved the referendum by a 70-30 percent margin. Noting that “the will of the `majority’ has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals,” the judge’s ruling on Monday in effect maintains her earlier conclusion that the referendum is likely unconstitutional.

Muslims, FBI search for answers after aborted Oregon terror plot

CORVALLIS, Ore. (RNS) The damage from a fire at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center early Sunday (Nov. 28) did not amount to much in material loss. But the symbolic wound went far deeper. Fire was apparently set to the mosque just a day after one of its on-again, off-again members was arrested in connection with the attempted bombing of the annual Christmas tree lighting in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Mormons lift the veil on official `handbook’ of teachings

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) For Mormons — or anyone else — who might be wondering, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no stand on drinking Coca-Cola. The church opposes gambling, guns in churches, euthanasia, Satan worship and hypnotism for entertainment. It also “strongly discourages” surrogacy, sperm donation and vasectomies. These and other positions are spelled out in what Mormons commonly refer to as “the handbook” — a newly published two-volume set of instructions for regional leaders, bishops and other local LDS leaders. Until now, the handbook was available only to these church leaders.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving, folks. Welcome back to the fray. Muslims in Oregon are bracing for backlash after a Somali-American man was accused of trying to blow up a van full of explosives during Portland’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The FBI is investigating a fire Sunday at the Islamic center in Corvallis, about 75 miles southwest of Portland, where suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud occasionally worshipped. Until recently, Mohamud had seemed to be a well-adjusted American teenager, interested in basketball, girls and the night life at Oregon State University, where he studied engineering, the NYT reports.

Zonker Lives in Middletown

Down I-91 from where I work–and where I’ve sent all three of my sons–sits an institution of high learning once known as P.C.U. It has given American culture some wonderful things (e.g. Mad Men), and for the past 30 years has celebrated its own distinctive culture with festivals named in honor of Zonker Harris and his uncle Duke–those less than reputable icons of American culture created by an alumnus of theat bigger institution of high learning even farther down I-91.This week Gary Trudeau has seen fit to return the honor, taking up cudgels against an administration that’s seeking to clean up Wesleyan’s image by suppressing the Zonker/Duke names. The strip is a hoot, and if Wes has any class (and savvy) it will forthwith invite Trudeau to show up at graduation for an honorary degree. (He does, I can vouch, give a superb commencement speech.) Meanwhile, for the back story, check out my son Ezra’s 2008 article in the school newspaper.


David Gibson has a fine wrap-up of the Great Condom Freak-out in today’s NYT Week in Review. His key point is that by justifying the use of condoms in certain cases as the lesser of evils, Pope Benedict has embraced the traditional Catholic approach to moral reasoning (casuistry) that he used to oppose. No wonder Catholic conservatives are so distressed. This sends a signal that the pope does not endorse the kind of moral absolutism that not only has condemned condoms in all cases but also has barred pro-choice Catholic politicians from the Eucharist and opposed the new health care law. It gives heart to Catholic progressives everywhere.