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.

Lutheran leader seeks Communion agreement with pope

ROME (RNS/ENInews) The president of the Lutheran World Federation is calling on Lutherans and Catholics to issue a common statement on Holy Communion to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. “Our intention is to arrive at 2017 with a common Roman Catholic-Lutheran declaration on Eucharistic hospitality,” Bishop Munib Younan told the Italian Protestant news agency NEV before meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday (Dec. 16). “Eucharistic hospitality,” means that Catholics would be able to receive Communion at Lutheran worship services, and Lutherans would be able to do the same at a Catholic Mass. In a speech during his meeting with Younan, Benedict praised progress in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue but did not make any reference to the bishop’s Eucharist proposal.

10 minutes with … Laura Hobgood-Oster

(RNS) The full force of Christian compassion and hospitality should be applied to all creatures — including animals, university professor Laura Hobgood-Oster argues in a recent book. Taking her cues from Christian scripture, history and tradition, Hobgood-Oster strives to alert Christians to the modern plight of animals. Her book, “The Friends We Keep,” is a comprehensive study of the historical, social, personal and theological issues related to animals, arguing that people of all faiths — and no faith — are compelled to offer “radical hospitality” to animals. Hobgood-Oster, who teaches religion and environmental studies at Southwestern University in Texas, portrays animals as companions to beloved saints and worthy beings created by God. She also explores how they have been abused and mistreated since the days of the Roman Empire.

10 minutes with âÂ?¦ Linda Mobley

(RNS) In this season of giving thanks and counting blessings, Linda Mobley of Vancouver, Wash., says she’s been blessed by breast cancer. Twice. She thought she’d beaten the disease eight years ago. But soon after she’d self-published her book, “Blessed with Cancer,” in July, Mobley was told the cancer had returned, metastasized into her bones. It was stage 4, incurable.

Study calls for sensitivity in Muslims’ medical care

(RNS) U.S. doctors need to take religious values into account while providing health care, especially when the patient is a Muslim woman, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Dr. Aasim Padela, the study’s lead author and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan, assessed the obstacles Muslims face because of Islam’s call for modesty and limited interaction with those of the opposite sex. “Health care providers need a better understanding of how religious values and ethics can affect the care a patient seeks and then receives,” he said in a statement. “When we accommodate our patients’ religious practices, we provide them with a more holistic quality of care.” Revealing hospital gowns, doctors of the opposite sex and secluded examination rooms with closed doors all make Muslim women feel uneasy, according to the study.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

More than 40 worshippers at a Baghdad Catholic church were killed when insurgents stormed the church Sunday night; U.S. military officials said the subsequent raid by Iraqi commandos that killed the hijackers demonstrates the Iraqis’ ability to fight for themselves. B16 denounced the attack as “ferocious.” Victims’ groups held a vigil yesterday in St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican says we’re all in this together, so let’s try and get along. A California man is charged with beating an elderly priest who allegedly abused him decades ago during a camping trip.

COMMENTARY: Thrift store saints

(RNS) What I actually know about God might, on a good day, fit on a quarter of the head of a pin compared to the fullness of God’s true hugeness. That said, there are a couple of things about the Almighty that I’m pretty certain are true. God’s grace is always staggering and often surprising. And God has a tremendous sense of humor. Case in point: Second-hand socks.

Anti-abortion `Pro-Life Freedom Ride’ turned away from King’s tomb

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Invoking the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, anti-abortion clergy members and their supporters on Saturday (July 24) embarked on a “Pro-Life Freedom Ride” but were turned away from King’s tomb in Atlanta. The group, organized by New York-based Priests For Life, held a prayer vigil at a Planned Parenthood clinic before making the three-hour drive to Atlanta, where they had planned to hold a service at King’s tomb. King’s niece, Alveda King, directs African-American outreach for Priests for Life, and said she has “no doubt that if they were alive, my uncle Martin and my father A.D. would be with us on these Freedom Rides for the unborn.” The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, told a kick-off rally here that the group plans to fight for “equal protection for our youngest brothers and sisters.”

ACLU wants protection for women at religious hospitals

(RNS) After a controversial abortion performed at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, the American Civil Liberties Union is asking federal officials to protect “emergency reproductive care” at religiously affiliated hospitals. The ACLU called on the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to investigate violations of federal law concerning emergency reproductive care at religious hospitals. In its letter to CMS’s Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, the ACLU asked the government to clarify that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) protects all patients, including pregnant women, who need emergency care at all hospitals. “The government must ensure that the well-being of the patient does not take a back seat to religious beliefs,” said Vania Leveille, ACLU legislative counsel. The ACLU’s request follows recent national criticism of a bishop who announced the excommunication of a nun for approving an emergency abortion at St.

Thursday’s roundup

Secular groups are getting a little antsy with President Obama’s slow pace of reform on the White House’s faith-based office. Outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens says he has cancer of the esophagus and cancelled his book tour. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan carried forth (someone get her an editor) on her interpretation of the First Amendment’s Establish and Free Exercise clauses on religious freedom. The ACLU wants the feds to ensure that women have access to “emergency reproductive care” at religiously affiliated hospitals. Evangelical heroine and disability-rights activist Joni Eareckson Tada is recovering from breast cancer surgery.

Demographics race colors Israel’s abortion debate

JERUSALEM (RNS) Inside an office about the size of a three-bedroom apartment, the walls are covered with pictures of babies and letters from grateful mothers. In a warehouse a few blocks away, three workers pack boxes with essentials — diapers, baby wipes, formula, matzo for Passover in the spring — alongside stacks of pint-sized mattresses and rows of strollers. Meet the unlikely face of Israel’s “pro-choice,” anti-abortion movement: Efrat, a no-frills effort to dissuade Israeli women from having an abortion. There are no religious arguments or political lobbying at Efrat, where volunteers offer a year’s worth of services and supplies to women who choose — that’s the “pro-choice” part — to carry their children to term. “Women on the whole, they don’t want to do this abortion,” said Ruth Tidhar, an assistant director at Efrat.

COMMENTARY: What started on Mt. Sinai didn’t end there

(RNS) The story of the two-day Jewish festival of Shavuot — beginning this year at sundown on Tuesday (May 18) is well known, starting with a ragtag group of Israelites who had just escaped slavery in Pharaoh’s Egypt. The ancient Israelites, under Moses’ leadership, weren’t yet ready for prime time, much less entry into the Promised Land. First they had to endure 40 difficult years of wandering in the Sinai wilderness — time enough for a new generation to arise, one that was unburdened by the painful scars of slavery. Freedom without meaningful goals and defined laws frequently results in chaos, civil strife and self-destruction. Freedom needs a clear driving dream that motivates people and gives them purpose — not simply as individuals, but as a community of shared ideals and values.

D.A. reaches out to families in faith-healing church

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) District Attorney John Foote kept his promise to reach out to an Oregon City church whose members have been prosecuted for failing to provide adequate medical care for their children. Foote sent a letter to 415 families who belong to the Followers of Christ Church. The church has a long tradition of using faith healing rather than mainstream medical treatment, sometimes with fatal consequences. “As a starting point towards a possible dialogue between the church and law enforcement, let me ask the following question: Is there an opportunity for us to agree under what circumstances parents should take their children to a doctor or hospital for appropriate medical care?”

Bishop removes hospital from CHA over health care bill

WASHINGTON (RNS) A health care system in Rhode Island has withdrawn from the national Catholic Health Association in a lingering dispute over the health care bill Congress passed last month. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., demanded that CHA remove St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island from its membership rolls, calling its affiliation with CHA “embarrassing.” In a March 29 letter to CHA President and Chief Executive Officer Sister Carol Keehan, Tobin said CHA had “misled the public and caused serious scandal for many members of the church.” The CHA supported the health care bill, saying it would not increase public funding of abortion.

Experts describe Michigan militia as a cult

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (RNS) When militia expert Jack Kay first ran across a MySpace page for the Michigan-based Hutaree militia six months ago, he thought it was just another group wrapping itself in God and country. But on Monday (March 29), following weekend raids by federal authorities in three states, Kay said the group went beyond that initial assessment. “Everything I’ve read about them and on their Web site establish, to me, that they are a cult,” said Kay, the provost and executive vice-president of academic affairs at Eastern Michigan University, who has done extensive research on militias. “They are true believers.