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c. 1996 Religion News Service

Episcopal Church recovers most of embezzled funds

(RNS) The Episcopal Church in the United States has closed the book on the Ellen Cooke scandal, announcing all but about $100,000 has been recovered from the $2.2 million embezzled by its former treasurer.

The total loss to the church was $422,094, including $320,000 in costs associated with the case, Episcopal News Service reported.”Those are the figures, and that ends it as far as we’re concerned,”said Bishop Don Wimberly of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., speaking for the council’s administration and finance committee.

In February 1995, Episcopal Church Center staff discovered the embezzlement. Cooke is serving a five-year prison term in West Virginia after pleading guilty to income tax evasion and transporting stolen money across state lines.”We promised that we would make a full report on the situation,”said Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning.”And I consider this a closing of the door on that chapter.” The church leader said he was”very pleased with the way it’s come out.”He also said that Cooke”continues to be in my prayers.” House of Deputies President Pamela Chinnis said there have been personnel changes and other improvements in the operation of the treasurer’s office since Cooke’s departure.”While that particular chapter had been one we’d rather not have lived through, I think (Browning) can be very pleased that he is leaving the Episcopal Church in a much stronger position financially,”she said.

Browning, who was installed as presiding bishop in 1986, is nearing the completion of his 12-year term.

Disney sticks with Dalai Lama film despite China’s objections

(RNS) The Walt Disney Co. remains committed to its plans to distribute a new film about the Dalai Lama despite objections from the Chinese government.

Chinese government officials have said the entertainment conglomerate is putting its business plans in China at risk by being involved in Martin Scorsese’s film”Kundun.””We have an agreement to distribute `Kundun’ domestically, and we intend to honor it,”Disney spokesman John Dreyer said, according to The New York Times.

Chinese control of Tibet is a touchy issue. Human rights advocates have labeled it repressive. Chinese officials find any portrayal of Tibet from the point of view of the exiled Tibetan religious leader unacceptable.”We are resolutely opposed to the making of this movie,”said Kong Min, an official of the Film Bureau of China’s Ministry of Radio Film and Television.”It is intended to glorify the Dalai Lama, so it is an interference in China’s internal affairs.” The opposition comes at a time when Disney officials are focusing on potentially lucrative business possibilities in China. They view the nation as an untapped market for Disney merchandising, films and, possibly, a theme park.

Disney executives have expressed hopes that the company’s talks with Chinese officials will continue.”Kundun,”which focuses on the Dalai Lama’s life from age 2 1/2 to 17, is jointly produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures and Scorsese’s Refuge Productions. Disney is expected to release the film late next year in the United States.

Mission-minded American released from North Korea

(RNS) An American jailed in North Korea on spy charges _ whose family said he crossed the border for missionary purposes _ arrived home safely Wednesday (Nov. 27) after being detained since Aug. 24.

Evan C. Hunziker was looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with relatives after Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., negotiated his release, the Associated Press reported.

Richardson commended North Korea for agreeing to the release, but denied the spying charges.”I think he is a peaceful human being who made a mistake,”Richardson said.”He’s not a spy.” Hunziker, 26, of Tacoma, Wash., had been detained after illegally crossing from China into the isolated communist country.

Although North Koreans charged him with espionage, Hunziker’s relatives said he discovered Christianity while in jail for drunken driving last year and most likely crossed the border to try to convert North Koreans.

Hunziker, appearing tired after his ordeal, said being back in the United States”feels great.” Richardson said Hunziker was treated”in a humanitarian manner”and was kept in a hotel for two of the three months of his detention.

Hunziker’s father, Edwin, said he was told by the State Department that North Korea had initially demanded $100,000 for his son’s release, but that figure was decreased to $5,000″room and board.”Richardson said a hotel bill of less than $5,000 was paid but he was vague about who paid it.”It’s a great relief to know that he’s out of their hands,”said Edwin Hunziker in a telephone interview.

Anglicans scrap practice of reading marriage banns

(RNS) In a surprise move Tuesday (Nov. 26), the Church of England’s General Synod voted to scrap the 800-year-old practice of reading out the banns of marriage in church on three separate Sundays before a couple can be married.

The procedure _ described as”a medieval anachronism”by the Rev. Richard Hanford, whose motion the synod adopted _ is an invitation for anyone who knows”any cause or just impediment”to the pending marriage to voice an objection.

Delegates to the synod recognized that the majority of couples whose banns of marriage are read in church are generally unknown to the congregation. They called on the synod’s standing committee to look for another way to inform church members of weddings planned by congregants.

ELCA distributes message on sexuality

(RNS) The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has distributed a message called”Sexuality: Some Common Convictions”that summarizes areas of apparent consensus within the denomination on human sexuality issues.

The denomination’s 11,000 congregations are getting their first look at the message after it was adopted by the ELCA Church Council Nov. 9 and made public Nov. 25.

The message’s preface explains that the statement follows considerable discussion over the past few years within the denomination _ and the greater society _ about sexuality. The church has published three study documents on sexuality. None have been adopted as church policy statements. “It presents some convictions regarding sexuality on which there generally seems to be theologically based agreement within this church,”the preface reads.”Its purpose is to provide guidance for members of our church, and as a public witness in the wider society.” The message affirms marriage as”a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman,”but adds that the church hopes to be a place where”single adults can find guidance for their particular spiritual, ethical, psychological and social issues.” It calls on sexually active couples to be prepared to provide for children or to use effective and safe contraception.”As a church we affirm the importance of education about sexuality that emphasizes respect, mutuality, responsibility and abstinence outside of marriage,”the message reads.

Although the message calls divorce”tragic,”it says the ending of a marriage is sometimes the”better option”and adds that”remarriage can be an opportunity to use wisdom gained from the past to create a new relationship of loving commitment and joy.” The message does not address homosexuality because of the level of disagreement on the issue in the church, but closes with advice on dealing with areas of contention:”Trust in the gospel brings together people whose differences over sexuality ought not be a basis for division.”

Quote of the Day: United Church of Christ pastoral letter on AIDS

(RNS) United Church of Christ officials have issued”A Pastoral Letter to the Churches on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)”that honors churches that have comforted those affected by AIDS, encourages churches to observe World AIDS Day on Sunday (Dec. 1) and urges congregations not to treat the AIDS epidemic as if it is someone else’s problem:”The AIDS epidemic, with its suffering and death, challenges us to respond to God’s call not to be afraid. It challenges our compassion and our faithfulness. It challenges us to confront our prejudices, to become knowledgeable about HIV and to extend ourselves in ministry to those who need our help. AIDS challenges us, individually, and as the church, to show love to those who feel unloved and to bring hope to those who are in despair, even as Jesus did so long ago.”

MJP END RNS

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