Pope Benedict XVI begins second trip to Africa

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI opened his second papal trip to Africa on Friday (Nov. 18) with a warning against economic development through unbridled capitalism. Arriving in the West African country of Benin, Benedict told the country’s president and other dignitaries that the process of modernizing traditional societies entails certain “pitfalls,” including “unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance.” The pope also warned his hosts of the dangers of nationalism, “politicization of interreligious tensions,” and the “erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values.” During his three-day visit to Benin, Benedict will present Catholic bishops from across Africa with an authoritative papal document about the church’s efforts to promote “reconciliation, justice and peace.”

Students ‘do interfaith’ through universal language of music

DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) Say the word “interfaith” and the next word to roll off the tongue is probably “dialogue.” It’s hard to think of one without the other. But college students know there are other ways to communicate, and music may be chief among them. Students from three North Carolina universities — Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill — on Wednesday (Nov. 16) hosted an interfaith concert they dubbed “Abraham Jam” in an attempt to “do interfaith” in a novel way.

Friday Godbytes

The eyes have it: Muslim women in Saudi Arabia may be forced to start covering up ‘tempting’ eyes. The New York Times reviews a documentary about the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe. (it’s less gloomy than it sounds!) You’ve probably heard that meditation can be good for you, but did you know new studies think the practice can literally ease pain? Religion Dispatches reports on Reverend Billy, a New York City icon with an, er, entertaining approach to faith? The Christian Post says 150 Presbyterian Ministers in the Church of Scotland have threatened to resign over the issue of gay ordination.

Crystal Cathedral is cautionary tale for pastors

(RNS) The cash-strapped Crystal Cathedral’s pending transformation from a Protestant megachurch to a Roman Catholic cathedral should teach pastors not to spend millions on ornate buildings, a megachurch scholar says. A bankruptcy judge on Thursday (Nov. 17) approved of the sale of the iconic cathedral to the Catholic Diocese of Orange, Calif., for $57.5 million. “They don’t want to sink countless millions into building larger and more elaborate buildings,” said Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary. Thumma said the huge debt that led officials of the Southern California ministry to accept the sale of their 35-acre campus reflects what happens when a prominent pastor, a television ministry, or an iconic structure becomes the focal point.

Austrian bishops say no to lay-led Mass

(RNS/ENInews) Catholic bishops in Austria have rejected a call by dissident church members for lay people to preside at Mass when parishes have no priests, but the bishops also pledged to maintain a dialogue over possible changes in church life. Austria’s reformist We Are Church movement had asked for lay presiders on Nov. 5, following a “Call to Disobedience” signed last July by 250 of Austria’s 4,200 Catholic priests that urged the ordination of women priests and making Communion available to non-Catholics and remarried divorcees. The bishops said Austria’s dioceses were “taking opportunities to innovate” in response to “real and serious problems,” and were confident they would “find answers to the questions asked today.” However, the bishops added that the summons to disobedience had “triggered alarm and sadness,” and “left many Catholics shaking their heads.”

Friday’s Religion News Roundup: Episcopal abuse, Steven Spielberg, Prop 8

In a reminder that bad decisions on abusers aren’t limited to the Catholic Church or Penn State, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she ordained a former monk as an Episcopal priest even though he was booted from the abbey for improper contact with a minor. KJS says the Rev. Bede Parry seemed to have “demonstrated repentance and amendment of life.” Now, however, it looks like there are quite a few skeletons in Parry’s closet, and tongues are wagging that KJS either overlooked them, didn’t know or didn’t ask enough questions. From the Dept. of Separate but Related, 3 in 4 Australians say the abuse of minors is their biggest stumbling block in their views of Christianity.

Some Iowa tea leaves

The latest Iowa caucus poll is, as Mark Blumenthal points out, a little long in the tooth and, as the Iowa State pollsters point out, noteworthy for the number of Republicans who aren’t settled about who they’re going to caucus for. Nevertheless, it scatters some tea leaves that are worth scrutinizing.The big dogs are Cain (24.5 percent), Paul (20.4 percent, and Romney (16 percent). Everyone else is in single digits, below “Can’t Decide” at 8.1 percent. Religiously, likely GOP caucus-goers are divided into Catholics (16 percent), Born Again Protestants (47.5 percent), Protestants who don’t say they’re Born Again (20.9 percent); and Seculars–those pesky “Nones” (11 percent). So who among the top three do these several groups disproportionately favor or not?What jumps out is Paul’s overwhelming strength among the Seculars, even as he holds his own among the Born Agains, who we are entitled to treat as evangelicals.

Calif. court hands conservatives a victory in Prop 8 case

LOS ANGELES (RNS) The California Supreme Court handed conservatives a big victory on Thursday (Nov. 17) by allowing them to defend a statewide ban on gay marriage that a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional last year. The court’s 7-0 ruling is a victory for conservative and evangelical backers of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California. State officials have declined to defend the measure in a federal appeals court. “When an initiative measure is challenged in court, the integrity and effectiveness of the judicial process require that a competent and spirited defense be presented,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in a concurring opinion.

Thursday Godbytes

As Occupy Wall Street protestors cope with being evicted from the from Zuccotti Park in New York City, Daniel Sieradski of the Jewish Daily Forward thinks the demonstrators could learn a thing or two from the Jewish Diaspora. (thanks for the tip, David!) Also, apparently the Occupy Wall Street encampments are home to more than just tents, drum circles, and activism: they’re also home to weddings – even Muslim weddings! But not all Muslims are feeling the love – Anti-Muslim hate crimes in America are up 50 percent according to the FBI. Beholdth: Queen Elizabeth II is marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible at Westminster Abbey, as well as the 400th anniversary of adding “th” to the end of words. Looks like Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is revving up the religious engine – or at least some religious friends of his are.

Catching up with Tim Goeglein

WASHINGTON (RNS) Tim Goeglein was the go-to person in George W. Bush’s White House for evangelical Christians until news broke in 2008 that he had plagiarized in columns in his hometown newspaper in Indiana. Goeglein, 47, and a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has just written “The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era.” He recently answered questions about plagiarism, forgiveness and moving on. Some answers have been edited for length or clarity. Q: You were caught plagiarizing in columns for your hometown newspaper seven years into your job as President Bush’s liaison to conservative Christians.

Episcopal head Jefferts Schori answers critics on abusive priest

(RNS) The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church on Thursday (Nov. 17) defended her decision to allow a former Roman Catholic monk to become an Episcopal priest even after he admitted to sexual misconduct with a minor. The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori has been under increasing pressure to answer charges that she did not properly investigate the Rev. Bede Parry’s past when she was bishop of Nevada in 2004. Jefferts Schori said she knew of only one incident when Parry sought ordination as an Episcopal priest. She also said that Parry, now 69, passed a background check and a psychological evaluation before he was ordained.

Lawyer urges Penn State to lift confidentiality claims

(RNS) As the Penn State abuse scandal blares in the news, hundreds of people around the country who were sexually abused as children will watch in legally imposed silence, says a Boston attorney and expert on such cases. Each is sworn to confidentiality agreements that bind them to secrecy, said Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer whose 2002 case blew open the Catholic Church abuse scandal worldwide. Garabedian, who has represented 1,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse, said Penn State officials need to say publicly whether they have ever required victims to sign such agreements as a condition of settlements in sexual abuse cases. “All institutions, private and public, will try to persuade victims to sign confidentiality agreements that swear everyone — victims, perpetrators and enablers — to silence,” he said. “Victims will often agree to silence because it’s too painful for them to think about it or humiliating for them to be known publicly.”

ThursdayâÂ?Â?s Religion News Roundup: Crystal Cathedral, Benetton, OWS

Occupy Wall Street protesters are on the move in Manhattan and elsewhere, and clashes with police are being reported. A banker-turned-Hindu monk says his OWS comrades need to meditate, not excoriate: “Anger won’t solve anything,” Rasanath Das, a former New York investment banker, tells Reuters. “We have to work from the heart… there is so much distrust now.” Rod Dreher has a thought experiment: What if NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg had evicted the bankers, and issued a statement similar to the one he put out this morning?

Tea Party, Occupy movements fail to capture Americans’ hearts

WASHINGTON (RNS) In a war between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement to capture the hearts of Americans, who wins? According to a new poll, it’s a draw. Less than a third of Americans say either movement represents their values, according to a poll released Wednesday (Nov. 16) by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. One thing, however, is clear: neither movement can make a strong claim to speak for Americans.

Donohue’s ideal world

As you may have noticed, Clay County, Mo. has let Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn accept a diversion program rather than be indicted for a second time in the case of one of his priests found with child pornography on  his computer. (Finn still faces a criminal indictment in Jackson County.) Reacting to the deal, which requires the bishop to meet regularly with the Clay County prosecutor, Catholic League President Bill Donohue contends:In an ideal world, there would have been no charges whatsoever: there
was no complainant and no violation of law. Quite unlike the Penn State
situation, where alleged victims have come forward, no one has come
forward in this case. Prosecutors have to be careful not to set the bar
too low, because otherwise they will need an army of attorneys to police
cases of suspected molestation that occur in public, as well as
private, institutions.I’m trying to figure out the workings of that ideal world.