Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Hope everyone had a memorable Memorial Day. I bet Westboro Baptist Church did, after they were outnumbered 80 to 3 by protesters, including some purporting to be from the KKK, at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, where President Obama and other dignitaries spoke. European Union leaders said they would defend religious freedom in the Middle East as part of their support for the Arab Spring. While the Arab Spring initially appeared a boon for the dwindling number of Christian Arabs, now many fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, according to the NYT. Confessed terrorist David Headley, who assisted in the 2008 Mumbai attack, apparently forgot to destroy his field notes, revealing, in the words of one expert, that terrorists, like housewives, rely heavily on to-do lists.

Chaplains disrespecting religious liberty

When Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell sails off into its well-deserved sunset, gay and lesbian military personnel will be able to get married to members of their own sex without being cashiered, should they be fortunate enough to be posted in a state where same-sex marriage is allowed. But they won’t be able to get married on their military bases, if the House version of the current Defense Authorization Act passes. That’s because, thanks to newbie Rep. Vicky Harzler (R-Mo.), there’s a provision barring Defense Department employees from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies on military property.You’d think that all those who hold religious libery dear would be up in arms. After all, if a soldier or sailor wishes to solemnize his or her marriage with a religious ceremony, how could that invoke anything other than the same free-exercise justification that permits the U.S. government to hire military chaplains, build chapels, and otherwise subsidize religious practices in the military? But au contraire, comes now a letter from a group of “endorsing agents” representing various conservative denominations (including that exemplar of devotion to religious liberty, the Southern Baptist Convention), claiming that it is their own religious liberty that is threatened by permitting same-sex marriage ceremonies on a military base:No American, especially those serving in the armed forces, should be forced to abandon their religious beliefs or be marginalized for holding to those beliefs. It is not sufficient to posit, as the [Comprehensive Review Working Group] report did, that chaplains and service members remain free to exercise their faith in chapel services.

Happy Memorial Day

The Religion News Roundup is off today for Memorial Day. We’ll see you here tommorrow, same Bat channel, same Bat time. cheers, RNS

Crystal Cathedral goes up for sale

(RNS) The Crystal Cathedral has announced plans to sell its iconic glass-walled church in Southern California to pay back creditors and overcome bankruptcy. Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of founder Robert H. Schuller, said the church will remain as a tenant and will have the option to buy back some of church’s campus in Garden Grove. “We are thankful to the vendors for their patience and we are so sorry for any pain that they have incurred,” Schuller said in a statement on Thursday (May 26). The church campus is expected to be sold to an unnamed real estate investment group with a 15-year leaseback plan. The megachurch known for its “Hour of Power” television broadcast filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors last October.

Bishop Long settles sex suit out of court

(RNS) Bishop Eddie Long, an Atlanta-area megachurch pastor, has settled suits out of court with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, his church announced Thursday (May 26). “After a series of discussions, all parties involved have decided to resolve the civil cases out of court,” Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church said in a statement. “This decision was made to bring closure to this matter and to allow us to move forward with the plans God has for this ministry.” The brief statement from the church in suburban Lithonia described the resolution of the cases as “the most reasonable road for everyone to travel.” B.J. Bernstein, who represented Long’s accusers, confirmed the resolution.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Let us raise a pint today to the late Joe Feuerherd (at left), the hard-charging editor-in-chief of National Catholic Reporter, who died yesterday at the too young age of 48 after a valiant fight with cancer. Joe, the rest of us ink-stained wretches were privileged to count you among us, and we’ll miss you. From the Dept. of Wow, How the Mighty Have Fallen, the Crystal Cathedral is Southern California is being put up for sale, according to the LAT. Under the agreement, the architectural landmark would be sold to a real estate investment group, with a 15-year lease-back and the option to buy back the church’s core facilities.

God at the root of Malick’s `Tree of Life’

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Terrence Malick’s new film, “Tree of Life,” is nearly indescribable. Not because its beauty or virtuosity are beyond words, although it has its moments. “Tree of Life,” which opens on Friday (May 27), is iconoclastic, its plot nonlinear, constructed by a series of impressions, images and the emotionally charged dynamic between its characters. Fox Searchlight, the studio behind the film, described it as the story of “a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.” Yes, it is that.

Donohue v. Jay Report

What was Bill Donohue thinking when he decided to devote 24 pages to attacking the Jay Report for exonerating gay priests of responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis? The report contends that because homosexuals became a major presence in the priesthood only in the 1970s, they could not have brought about a crisis that began in the 1960s. Donohue claims that homosexuals actually began flooding the priesthood in the sixties, and so were indeed responsible. And according to him, a homosexual is not someone with a particular sexual identity but someone who performs certain acts. So given that four out of five child abuse cases involve male victims, it’s homosexuals in the priesthood who were responsible.

NCR publisher Joe Feuerherd dies at 48

(RNS) Joe Feuerherd, the editor-in-chief of National Catholic Reporter, who embodied the weekly newspaper’s fierce independence and liberal tilt, died on Wednesday (May 25) after an 18-month bout with cancer, NCR has announced. Feuerherd, who was also NCR’s publisher, was 48. A lifelong Catholic, Feuerherd began at NCR as an intern in 1984 while studying history at Catholic University in Washington, and quickly rose from sorting mail and making coffee to become the paper’s political affairs reporter during his senior year. Despite a family background in journalism, Feuerherd said it was “a revelation that a future could be made interviewing cardinals and members of Congress, peace activists and conservative supporters of the Contras, mandatory celibacy opponents and Latin Mass advocates.” Feuerherd also served stints as a public affairs adviser in Congress and at the Montgomery County Housing Commission in suburban Maryland.

Q&A with Elizabeth Smart

(RNS) For 18 months, she wasn’t a famous kidnapping survivor, nor the star witness in a headline-grabbing trial, nor the face of nonprofit group designed to help young abuse victims. She was simply Sister Smart. Elizabeth Smart, now 23, talked about her Mormon mission — an overseas adventure that took her to Paris soon after she testified at a competency hearing for her abductor, and was interrupted so she could testify at his trial. Brian David Mitchell, the mentally troubled street preacher who kidnapped 14-year-old Smart from her bedroom and held her for nine months, was sentenced Wednesday (May 25) to life in prison. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: How was your mission?

Second Catholic priest sworn in as House chaplain

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Rev. Patrick Conroy was sworn in Wednesday (May 25) as House chaplain, making him the first Jesuit to hold the position, and the first candidate forced to navigate around the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal. “It’s clear this loyal servant of the faithful is uniquely suited to serve as chaplain of the people’s House,” Speaker John Boehner said, noting that the chaplain “is the anchor of the House.” “Leader Pelosi and I have gotten a chance to know Father Pat, and we’re honored that he has accepted our invitation to serve as chaplain,” Boehner said. “We are blessed to have his guidance and his wisdom as we discharge our duties and fulfill our obligations to current and future generations of Americans.” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had raised questions about Conroy, 60, after learning that the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to a $166.1 million bankruptcy settlement involving more than 500 active claims of sexual or physical abuse.

Vatican closes monastery that attracted aristocrats, dancing nun

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has closed the monastery of a fourth-century Roman basilica on account of “liturgical and financial irregularities” that included performances by a nun who had once been a lap dancer. The Vatican cited “behavior not consonant with the monastic life” at the monastery attached to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which houses some of the Catholic Church’s most venerated relics. The monastery had become well-known in recent years for its links to Rome’s high society, and for sponsoring a televised Bible-reading marathon by celebrities, including Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. That same year, pop singer Madonna visited the church and reportedly admired its collection of relics, which include pieces of the “True Cross,” and a bone supposedly from the finger that St. Thomas put inside Jesus’ wounds following the Resurrection.

Adventists in Calif. city lose Sunday mail delivery

LOMA LINDA, Calif. (RNS) Postal carrier Ruth Gomez had prayed and waited for five years to be transferred to the Loma Linda Post Office so that she could finally put to rest the conflicts between her faith and her job. As a Seventh-day Adventist, Gomez observes the Sabbath on Saturday and Loma Linda, with its strong Adventist heritage, had swapped Saturday mail delivery for Sunday for 81 years. Just as Gomez arrived, however, the U.S. Postal Service announced it would end the special arrangement and align Loma Linda with the rest of the country. On the day before Easter, for the first time since the Great Depression, Loma Linda’s fleet of boxy, white mail trucks zipped around this 23,000-person city in San Bernardino County on a Saturday.

COMMENTARY: Harold and me

(RNS) California radio evangelist Harold Camping’s false prophecies about the Rapture and the end of the world, first in 1994 and now again in May 2011, are a bit of deja vu. Harold and I, you see, have a history. As a college student in the Bay Area in the late 1960’s, I read the Gospels for the first time and saw the distinction between Jesus and the Christian religion. I heard about an unorthodox Bible teacher on a local radio station, where you could watch the show through a street-side window on San Bruno Avenue in Berkeley. I went a couple of times, peering in the window to find an older-looking guy, Bible open, rambling on in a sonorous but resonant voice.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

I’m just gonna go ahead and kick this off with our favorite story of the day: The decapitated head of St. Vitalis of Assisi, the patron saint of venereal disease (who knew?), will be auctioned off on Sunday. Could be yours for the low-low price of around $1,700. More here. The street preacher who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart from her Utah bedroom in 2002 will spend the rest of his life in prison.