Excommunicated priest now faces explusion

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, the Louisiana native and peace activist who was excommunicated three years ago for publicly supporting women’s ordination, now faces expulsion from his religious order and from the priesthood. Bourgeois and Mike Virgintino, a spokesman for the Maryknolls, a missionary order of priests, confirmed that “with much sadness” the order served Bourgeois written notice that he must publicly recant his support for women’s ordination by Saturday (April 2). Without his compliance, a second warning will be issued, followed by the Maryknolls’ request to Rome that Bourgeois be dismissed from the order and “laicized,” or defrocked after 38 years as priest, Virgintino said. Bourgeois said in an interview from his home in Columbus, Ga., he cannot, as a matter of conscience, recant his belief that women are called to the Catholic priesthood. “They’re asking me to tell a lie,” he said.

Catholic bishops censure feminist theologian’s book

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned a book by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a prominent feminist theologian, charging that her attempts to forge new understandings of God depart from traditional Catholic theology. The bishops’ Committee on Doctrine on Wednesday (March 30) said Johnson’s 2007 book, “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,” could be dangerous for the “broad audience” it seeks to reach. The book came under scrutiny after several bishops relayed concerns about its contents. The bishops said the book’s “basic problem” is that it does not “take the faith of the church as its starting point. Instead, the author employs standards from outside the faith to criticize and to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God” as taught by the church.

Showtime soap opera features history’s bad-boy Borgia pope

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Modern popes have had their fans and detractors, but few would dispute their reputations for personal virtue. That’s partly why the five most recent pontiffs — including John Paul II, who will be beatified on May 1 — are under formal consideration for sainthood. But as the new television show “The Borgias” is about to remind us, it was not always thus. Billed as the “sordid saga” of the “original crime family,” the eight-week drama series premieres Sunday (April 3) on the Showtime network with an episode about the 1492 election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI. Showtime’s website calls Alexander (played by Jeremy Irons) a “wily, rapacious” patriarch who followed his “corrupt rise” to the papacy by committing “every sin in the book to amass and retain power, influence and enormous wealth.”

COMMENTARY: As we forgive those who trespass against us …

(RNS) How do I forgive those who have wronged me? Can I restore a relationship with someone who has deeply hurt me? Can ethnic groups set aside centuries of grievances and warring ways? Can the proverbial lion lay down with the lamb? My friend Marty composed the music for the most successful game franchise in history, Halo.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

The worst of the Great Recession may be over for some churches, according to a new survey. Forty-three percent of churches reported a rise in contributions last year; 39 percent saw a decline. Both are improvements over 2009. Someone dropped a $30,000 lottery ticket in the collection plate of a Maryland church. The House voted to reinstate school vouchers for D.C. students, making the Catholic Church and Speaker Boehner (it’s his pet project) very happy; church-state watchdogs and atheists, not so much.

The Right to Build Mosques

Relying on Associate (not Chief) Justice Joseph Story’s recasting of the First Amendment’s approach to religious establishment and free exercise, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer is continuing to press his case that the Framers merely intended the clauses to keep Christian sects from fighting amongst each other, and that therefore Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques.Brilliant jurist he may have been, but Story was too much a prisoner of the Pan-Protestantism of the Second Great Awakening to acknowledge the Enlightenment convictions that lie behind the religion clauses. Warren Throckmorton cites chapter and verse from the constitutional debates to show how mistaken the Story-Fischer view is. I’d just add these paragraphs from George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Newport, written in August of 1790, less than a year after Congress submitted the Bill of Rights to the states.The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud
themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and
liberal policy–a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty
of conscience and immunities of citizenship.It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the
indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of
their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the
United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no
assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should
demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their
effectual support. Washington’s point is that the new country established rights of conscience on a precisely equal basis–that this was not a Christian place that was kind enough to let Jews worship as they wished.

Jews pressure Facebook over Palestinian page

(RNS) Facebook shut down a “Third Palestinian Intifada” page and similar groups this week, prompted by complaints from Jewish groups that the content had crossed the line from free speech to violent incitement. The campaign has raised questions about whether Facebook should be used to facilitate some popular uprisings but not others, and even whether Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lost touch with his family’s Jewish roots. Inspired by the successful use of social media to fuel popular protests in Egypt and elsewhere, the intifada fan page had amassed more than 300,000 “likes” from users for its proposed May 15 uprising before disappearing Tuesday (March 29). Facebook, which has more than 500 million users worldwide, prohibits content that is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” The intifada page was permitted as long as the creators maintained a theme of peaceful protest and deleted violent postings.

Report: Small churches feeling financial squeeze

(RNS) Almost all U.S. churches witnessed a change in the financial giving they received in 2010 compared to 2009, with smaller churches feeling the squeeze but larger churches faring relatively better, according to a new report. Only 12 percent of churches reported unchanged giving from 2009, according to the State of the Plate survey released Wednesday (March 30), while 43 percent of churches experienced a giving increase and 39 percent reported a decrease. Smaller congregations were more likely to see a decrease in giving, said Matt Branaugh, an editor at Christianity Today International, which helped gather the data for the State of the Plate for the past two years. “We do see smaller churches continuing to struggle, it seems more so than larger-sized churches,” Branaugh said. The report found that about 40 percent of churches with fewer than 249 attendees experienced a drop in giving.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to read KJV Bible over Holy Week

LONDON (RNS/ENInews) William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre will mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with a cover-to-cover reading between Palm Sunday and Easter Monday. Twenty actors will take part in the reading, which is scheduled to take 69 hours over eight days. They will recite all 1,189 chapters of the historic Bible in the theater built as a replica of the place that saw many of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. “Four hundred years ago, a set of church scholars sat in Stationer’s Hall by St. Paul’s Cathedral and put the finishing touches to the King James Bible.

The Religious Newt

Amy Sullivan, may her blog posts increase, has a fine one up on Swampland explaining why the Gingrichian outreach to evangelicals is likely to go nowhere. Among other things, the guy seems incapable of showing remorse (read: repentance) for his well-known sins (ah, those adulteries), and unaware that evangelicals really like to be told your conversion story.But, you say, Newt ain’t no evangelical; he made his conversion to Roman Catholicism two years ago. True enough, but if he’s acquired some Catholic chops on his faith journey, he’s keeping them well hidden. In his public utterances, there’s nothing but the usual conservative sloganeering about the importance of faith and the dangers of secularism. Actually, it’s worse than that.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Senate Democrats held what they billed as the first-ever congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims. The hearing was notably different in tone and substance from the one held by House Republicans earlier this month, which explored homegrown Islamic radicalism. In an interesting exchange, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who convened the hearing, asked one of his witnesses, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to defend the right of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero in NYC. McCarrick demurred, saying it was a local real estate issue. The point may be moot, though, since two co-founders of the project say they may build an interfaith center instead. Religious leaders in France are protesting plans by President Sarkozy to hold a debate next week on Islam’s role in the country, saying they fear it could stigmatize Muslims. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has invited Coptic Christians to join their new political party.

For Mormons, what does `follow the Prophet’ really mean?

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormon President Thomas S. Monson, his two right-hand men and 12 apostles will take to the podium at this weekend's (April 2-3) General Conference and offer sermons that many Mormons will treat like faxes from God. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider these 15 men “prophets, seers and revelators” and look to them for divine guidance on issues as profound as the role of the Holy Spirit and as seemingly trivial as using “thee” and “thy” in prayers. Mormons don't use the term “infallibility” to refer to their leaders and readily acknowledge that they are imperfect men. In practice, though, Mormon belief comes awfully close to that standard. “We pay lip service to the prophet's fallibility,” said Edward Kimball, son of late church President Spencer W. Kimball.

Religious freedom envoy tries for a second time

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Obama administration’s nominee to oversee international religious freedom returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday (March 29) in her second bid to charm senators who have doubts about her lack of experience. “The life and professional background I offer to this position are unique,” the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I’ve brought people of different faiths together to achieve common objectives, including religious freedom and respect for people of all faiths and beliefs.” Cook was initially nominated for the long-vacant post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom last June but her nomination lagged in the Senate and expired in December. President Obama renominated her in February as critics complained the longtime vacancy reflected the administration’s low priority for the issue.

In Senate Muslim hearings, a decided change in tone

WASHINGTON (RNS) It was billed as the first-ever congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims. But it played more like an Act II than a premiere. In many ways, the hearing led by Senate Democrats on Tuesday (March 29) was the dramatic antithesis of one House Republicans held earlier this month on homegrown Islamic radicalism. Instead of gavel-banging, decorum prevailed. Sober statistics stood in for emotional anecdotes, and laughter, not sobs, resounded in the committee room. While an audience packed the gallery, the dais was empty save for the six senators who came and went.