Vatican says new guidelines will combat global abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican announced on Friday (Nov. 19) that it is preparing international guidelines to prevent the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy, a long-awaited response to a scandal that has seeped into countless corners of the church. Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, announced the plan to the assembled College of Cardinals on Friday evening (Nov. 19). Levada, a former archbishop of San Francisco who is one of the highest-ranking Americans at the Vatican, told the cardinals that his office was preparing a letter to national bishops’ conferences offering guidelines “for a coordinated and efficacious program” on clerical sex abuse.

Canadian court rules dissident churches must abandon property

TORONTO (RNS/ENInews) An Canadian appeals court has ruled in favor of an Anglican diocese in a property dispute with congregations opposed to same-gender blessings. In a unanimous decision released on Monday (Nov. 15), British Columbia Court of Appeal Justice Mary Newbury, writing for a three-judge panel, dismissed an appeal by four breakaway parishes against a 2009 lower court ruling. Newbury said that the dissident clergy of the four parishes in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster cannot remove themselves from their bishop’s oversight and the diocesan structure and retain the right to use properties that are held for purposes of Anglican ministry in Canada. The diocese has begun to replace the clergy of the four Vancouver-area churches, whose properties are worth an estimated $20 million.

New rules on hospital visitations for gays and lesbians

(RNS) The Department of Health and Human Services unveiled regulations on Wednesday (Nov. 17) that will require hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid financing to drop any visitation policies that discriminate against gays, lesbians and transsexuals. The new rule, which will take effect in January, requires that hospitals have a written policy that must be explained to all patients and allows patients to determine who may visit them, regardless of legal relationships. Hospitals may limit visitation only if there is a clinical reason to do so, according to the rule, which will be added to the conditions for participating in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. The rule will trump previous practices in many American hospitals that restricted visitors for some patients — particularly in emergency rooms and intensive care units — to spouses and immediate family, a limitation that often cut off gay and lesbian patients from their partners. The final version, which follows a draft released in June, will go into effect Jan.

Marriage fades, but not for lack of couples

(RNS) The headline’s a shocker: Nearly four in 10 Americans believe marriage is obsolete. As in: Over and done with, hold the rice. Holy matrimony has gone the way of the rotary phone, the butter churner, and the eight-track tape. The Pew Research Center’s latest survey, released Thursday (Nov. 18), detected a growing perception of marriage’s obsolescence.

Thanksgiving’s a holiday atheists can believe in

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Ken Guthrie and his partner will be at his aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, sharing a table with his grandmother, siblings and cousins — a veritable holiday crowd. But when it comes time to express thanks, Guthrie, a board member of Salt Lake City Pagan Pride, will not be speaking to the Christian God his relatives might address. “I’m thanking, first, the universe for allowing me to be alive. I’m thanking my family for being with me, and I give thanks to the turkey that gave its life, the plants on our table, to the Earth itself for being abundant.” As the Rev. Thomas Goldsmith, pastor of this city’s First Unitarian Church, put it: Thanksgiving is one holiday on which everyone — pagans and theists, atheists and agnostics — can gather around the theme of gratitude.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

The world’s 200 or so Roman Catholic cardinals met Friday at the Vatican to discuss the clergy sex abuse crisis and religious freedom, an issue that gained fresh relevance with news that China plans to consecrate a bishop on Saturday without Pope Benedict XVI’s approval, the AP reports. Also on Saturday, two senior American archbishops will get their red hats as they are elevated to the cardinalate. One of the soon-to-be cardinals, Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly of Wisconsin, now head of the Vatican’s supreme court, says only the grace of God allowed him to persevere in seminary through the rebellious 1960s. Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, the other cardinal-to-be, celebrated Mass on Thursday for the 400 or so friends and family who have traveled with him to Rome for the big event. The Archbishop of Canterbury (aka the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion) told Vatican radio that he does not think B16’s throwing out the welcome mat for Anglican converts was an “aggressive act.”

Middle East clergy pray for drought relief

JERUSALEM (RNS) Experiencing the warmest, driest November on record, residents of the Holy Land are calling on a higher power to bring rain to this parched region. While winter traditionally arrives late here, the almost total lack of rainfall is threatening crops and the underground aquifers that provide fresh water. If the drought continues, it could intensify tensions between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, which share scarce water resources. Earlier this month (Nov.) on the Israeli-Palestinian border, priests, rabbis and imams prayed together for an end to the drought that has gripped this corner of the Middle East for the past seven years. Another interfaith prayer for rain took place this week in Jerusalem.

Half of Americans say Obama holds different religious values

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama faces significant challenges on how Americans perceive his religious faith, as 51 percent say his beliefs differ from their own, according to a new poll. The 2010 post-election American Values Survey detected a link between views of the president’s beliefs and his favorability ratings: More than nine in 10 Americans who see his religious beliefs as similar to their own view Obama favorably; eight in 10 those who see differences view the president unfavorably. “Given that Americans generally want political leaders who share their values, this could be a serious problem for the president moving toward 2012,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll with the Brookings Institution. The findings follow earlier surveys that found as many as one in five Americans mistakenly believes Obama is a Muslim. Only 34 percent could correctly identify him as a Christian, according to a Pew Research Center poll released in August.

Tenn. judge refuses to block mosque construction

Tenn. judge refuses to block mosque construction(RNS) A Tennessee judge on Wednesday (Nov. 17) declined to halt the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro in a case that drew national attention after opponents sought to put Islam itself on trial.Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said the mosque’s opponents failed to prove that local government officials broke any laws when they approved the construction of a 52,000-square-foot Islamic center last May. Local Muslims say the new center is needed to accommodate their burgeoning congregation. Opponents argued that Islam is a violent political ideology that does not deserve the constitutional protections afforded to religions.

Survey: Four in 10 Americans say marriage is obsolete

(RNS) Marriage is on the decline in American society, with nearly four in 10 people claiming the institution is obsolete, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. The Pew survey, conducted in association with Time magazine, shows a shifting definition of marriage and increasing acceptance of cohabitation beyond traditional boundaries of matrimony. “The young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms — such as same-sex marriage and interracial marriage — in a positive light,” said the report, which was released Thursday (Nov. 18). Since 1990, cohabitation has nearly doubled, according to the Census Bureau, and the Pew survey showed that 44 percent of adults have lived with an unmarried partner at some point during their lives.

Critics blast Obama on faith-based hiring rules

WASHINGTON (RNS) A day after ordering a host of changes to the White House’s faith-based office, President Obama is facing mounting criticism for keeping in place Bush-era policies that allow faith-based social service providers to hire and fire based on religion. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers on Thursday (Nov. 18) voiced frustration that he has yet to hear administration plans to change those policies. He and other lawmakers were disappointed that no White House officials attended a subcommittee hearing on the faith-based office. “This isn’t a matter of one branch of government drawing a veil over a subject of this immediate importance and we have to guess or try to figure out what and why and when something further is coming,” Conyers, D-Mich, said at the hearing.

In Mormon president’s FBI files, signs of an early Tea Partier take root

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) The 1965 letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was packed with political dynamite, so Ezra Taft Benson marked it “personal-confidential.” Benson, the only man to serve in a presidential cabinet and go on to lead a worldwide church, the Mormons, was attempting to convince Hoover that the John Birch Society was a clear-thinking anti-communist group. He wrote how it had convinced him that a mutual friend had been a tool of the worldwide communist conspiracy. That friend was none other than former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Benson had served as secretary of agriculture from 1953 to 1961. “In my study of the (communist) conspiracy, which I am sure is weak compared with your own, the consequences of Mr. Eisenhower’s actions in dealing with the communists have been tragic,” Benson wrote.

COMMENTARY: Making the impossible possible

NEW YORK (RNS) I’m in the Big Apple to film a bit for the History Channel on the period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, which is a little spooky, very important and some would say very, very sketchy on details. It’s always intriguing to see what a producer finds interesting. In this case, John Marks, a former “60 Minutes” producer, is picking up two threads: What happened? And what does it mean? What he seems really interested in is what I would call the “possible impossible.”

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

President Obama signed an executive order that he says will improve the constitutional footing of the controversial White House faith-based office. Church-state watchdogs, though, are disappointed that the order allows public money to go directly to houses of worship, and does not address the “800-pound gorilla”: whether faith-based groups can get public money without following anti-discrimination hiring laws. A new polls shows another faith-based “dilemma” for Obama: only 40 percent of Americans say the president’s religious beliefs are similar to their own. OTOH, how many Americans would hitch their spiritual star to *any* prez, pol, or prelate? We contain multitudes, no?

Two cheers for Faith-based2

Yesterday the White House put out its long-awaited executive order (reprinted after the jump) on the rules governing faith-based social service provision, and it’s a solid step forward over the 2002 Bush executive order it replaces. What it tracks, pretty closely, are the recommendations of the task force for reforming the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that were presented to the president along with the rest of the OFANP Advisory Council’s recommendations back in March.The new order’s most important move is requiring that secular alternatives be made available to clients who don’t want to go to a faith-based organization (FBO). So if you prefer not to send your child to a mosque (or a synagogue, or a church) for his government-funded after-school program, you don’t have to do so. In fact, the Bush White House was not opposed to such a requirement; it was the states that objected. But if we’re going to tap religious institutions to provide government benefits, the mandate’s got to be there.Much of the order is non-controversial.