Abortion debate opens rift between bishops, hospitals

WASHINGTON (RNS) An umbrella group of Catholic hospitals is backing a Phoenix hospital that was stripped of its church affiliation, sowing the seeds for another sharp conflict between the hierarchy and Catholic health care providers. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center “correctly applied” church guidelines when it terminated the pregnancy of a dangerously ill woman last year. Catholic Healthcare West, the parent company for St. Joseph’s, is a member of the CHA, which represents more than 620 hospitals and 60 health care systems in the U.S. “They had been confronted with a heartbreaking situation,” Keehan said in a statement, adding that the hospital saved “the only life that was possible to save.”

U.N. adopts `defamation of religions’ resolution with fewer votes

(RNS) The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday (Dec. 21) on “combating defamation of religions,” drawing criticism from human rights organizations and U.S. officials who say support for the measure continues to decline. The resolution sponsored by Islamic countries passed with 79 to 67, with 40 abstentions. Critics say it does more harm than good by limiting speech rather than protecting religious rights. The group Human Rights First, which has monitored the issue, called it the “slimmest margin of support since the resolution was first introduced a decade ago.”

Scandals prompt exodus from Catholic church in Germany

BERLIN (RNS) Beset by a series of sex abuse and financial scandals, the Catholic Church in Germany is seeing membership plunge as 2010 comes to a close, according to a series of surveys conducted by German media outlets. The results released did not include an overall nationwide tally, but based on figures for individual dioceses, tens of thousands of Catholics have opted to officially leave the church over the course of the year. The departures are not just a matter of filling church pews, but also coffers, since people who officially separate from the church are no longer required to pay a church tax automatically withdrawn from their salary. According to the data gathered by the German Press Agency dpa and the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, the diocese of Augsburg was one of the hardest hit, with 11,351 departures in 2010, up from 6,953 in 2009. The Augsburg diocese was at the center of a dispute over a bishop who fought to hold on to his job after allegations that he had hit orphans and misused church funds.

The steady drip, drip, drip of WikiLeaks

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has released four more WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican, from 2001, 2002 and 2009, all somehow related to Catholic-Jewish tensions over the possible canonization as a saint of Pope Pius XII. One of the cables, from last October, reports that the Vatican backed out of an agreement to join an international Holocaust memorial organization, perhaps because the organization had pressed it to open sections of the Vatican archives relating to Pius’s record during World War II — when critics say he failed to do or say enough to stop the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

President Obama signed legislation this morning that will allow gays to serve openly in the military (pic at left). Gay rights advocates scored a victory on the international scene, too, as UN member states restored sexual orientation to a resolution opposing arbitrary executions. The Vatican sought to clarify the pope’s controversial comments about condoms, saying he did not suggest condom use could be condoned as a means of avoiding pregnancy. The statement, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated, however, that HIV-positive prostitutes “who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another.” The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Jews ready to roll out new `ethical kosher’ seals

NEW YORK (RNS) What does it really mean for your Hebrew National hot dog to “answer to a higher authority?” For years, it’s meant a kosher certification that ensured Jewish (and non-Jewish) consumers were buying a product that met strict religious standards for slaughter and preparation that went beyond government requirements. Now a controversial Jewish movement believes kosher food must meet an even higher ethical ideal — and they’re rolling out a stamp of approval to make it official. The new Magen Tzedek “seal of justice,” developed by Conservative Judaism’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission will be tested on at least two kosher food companies in early 2011. Standards and fees will be adjusted after 10 weeks of reviewing a host of conditions — including labor, animal welfare, consumer rights, corporate integrity and environmental impact — and analyzed by a New York-based auditing firm, said Rabbi Morris Allen, the project’s director.

10 minutes with … Robby McGee

(RNS) Every December, Christmas culture warriors square off in town squares and school auditoriums over nativity scenes, Christmas carols and whether it’s politically correct to say “Merry Christmas.” For Robby McGee, president of the Nashville-based evangelical group Reaching International, the strategic battleground is the shopping mall, where he believes too many retailers and restaurants eagerly capitalize on Christmas shoppers, but gloss over the reason for the season. With ChristmasMerchants.com, McGee, 47, promotes a “nice” list of merchants who use “Merry Christmas” in their greetings and ads, a “naughty” list of those who don’t — which this year includes Banana Republic, Olive Garden and Walgreens, among others. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q. What distinguishes your group from others that also push for more Christmas displays and language in the public sphere?

COMMENTARY: Lessons from 2010 for 2011

(RNS) Among the many highlights of 2010 was a thread of spiritual pondering that wove its way through the year’s events — both personal and global. As is my tradition in this space, here are a few of the most intriguing spiritual insights I heard (and in some cases rediscovered) from the last 12 months. May 2011 be full of blessings and rich insights into faith and the divine. Happy New Year to all! “Be thou comforted, little dog.

Magisterium: Pope meant what he said

So now we have the official word
from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Condoms are a
lesser evil, when used by prostitutes infected with HIV. Ultra
theologians who have claimed the the use of condoms in such
circumstances only add crime to crime…are wrong. Pope Benedict meant
what he said. Naturally, some of the usual suspects on the right (Matt Bowman, Thomas Peters)
are claiming that they had it right all along, that all those who said
that Benedict had laid down something new were wrong. That’s just
blowing smoke.

Poll finds family, not JesusâÂ?Â? birth, at heart of Christmas

(RNS) While nearly all Americans celebrate Christmas, most focus more on family than religious traditions, a new survey shows. Out of a list of 14 things people do at Christmas, the most common activity — at 89 percent — was giving gifts to family members, reports LifeWay Research. More than 75 percent also gather with family or friends for a Christmas meal, put up a Christmas tree, listen to Christmas music and decorate their homes. “For many in our culture, the season is disconnected from the reason,” said Ed Stetzer, president of the Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research, in releasing the findings on Monday (Dec. 20).

Creationism holds steady at four in 10 Americans, Gallup says

(RNS) Four in 10 Americans believe that God created humans in something like their present form within the last 10,000 years, according to a new Gallup Poll. While that percentage represents a slight dip from 2008, when 44 percent said they do not believe divinely made humans evolved over time, it has remained remarkably stable since 1982, the earliest year for which Gallup provided data. Nearly as many Americans (38 percent in 2010) say they believe humans evolved over time, but that God guided the process. That percentage, too, has remained consistent since 1982. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who believe humans evolved apart from any divine intervention crept up from 14 percent in 2008 to 16 percent this year.

Vatican says no change to teaching on condoms, prostitutes

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments about condoms do not mark a change in “Catholic moral teaching” or “pastoral practice” on AIDS prevention or contraception, the Vatican said Tuesday (Dec. 21). The statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Catholic Church’s highest doctrinal body, represents a rare official clarification of a pope’s words from a Vatican agency. Tuesday’s statement comes in response to widespread controversy and confusion over Benedict’s remarks about condoms in “Light of the World,” a book-length interview with the pope published late last month. Some commentators interpreted Benedict’s words to constitute a reversal of the church’s long-standing opposition to condom use for disease prevention, and even a possible shift in Catholic teaching against contraception more generally.

So much for that Prince of Peace stuff …

The good folks out at Repent Amarillo (self-described “outside the box in terms of traditional American Christian practices”) have opened up a new front in the War on Christmas, this time executing Santa Claus with a firing squad. Among St. Nic’s alleged “heinous” transgressions: “You have sought to substitute yourself for the place for the only begotten son of God, Jesus Christ, during the Christmas season. You are thus guilty of being a symbol of idolatry.” “You have sought to become a stumbling block for parents who lie to their children that you exist to bring them gifts.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Conservative politicians in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, Reuters reports. A Tea Party founder who once belonged to the United Methodist Church now calls the denomination the “First Church of Karl Marx,” and says, “If you hate America, you have a great future in the Methodist Church.” A businessman says his “Catholics Come Home” campaign has drawn 200,000 former Catholics back to the fold. In one diocese alone, more than 17,000 Germans left the Roman Catholic Church this year, according to German media. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley has apologized to parishioners after a priest called several men “cowards” for accusing the church’s former pastor of abuse.