c. 2004 Religion News Service
Spokane, Wash., Diocese Plans Bankruptcy Filing
(RNS) The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Wash., has announced that his diocese plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being unable to settle claims against it relating to sexual abuse.
Diocesan officials were unsuccessful in their attempts to settle 28 pending claims, Bishop William S. Skylstad wrote in his diocesan newspaper. He said those claims related to the actions of one former diocesan priest, Patrick O’Donnell.
But Skylstad said another 30 claims are pending in other cases, bringing the total of sought damages to “tens of millions of dollars.”
He hopes the move toward reorganization will permit fair treatment of the victims and the continuation of the diocese’s ministries.
“I am convinced that Chapter 11 provides justice for everyone involved,” Skylstad wrote in the Thursday edition of the Inland Register, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Spokane.
He expects the filing to take place by Nov. 29. If it occurs, Spokane will be the third diocese in U.S. history to make such a move. The Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., filed for bankruptcy protection in September, following a similar step by the Portland, Ore., archdiocese in July.
Skylstad currently is the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is expected to be named president when the group gathers in Washington Nov. 15-18.
A spokesman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the planned action of the diocese.
“Like his brother bishops in Tucson and Portland, Skylstad’s main concern is to prevent horrific cover-ups of abuse to be exposed in upcoming civil trials,” Michael Ross said in a statement.
“His real agenda is to make sure the secrets stay secret.”
_ Adelle M. Banks
Eds: Mathew in the 3rd graph below is cq.
Falwell Creates `21st-Century Resurrection’ of Moral Majority
(RNS) The Rev. Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the defunct Moral Majority, has formed The Faith and Values Coalition, which he said will “maintain an evangelical revolution of voters” with Christian values in mind.
“Essentially, TFVC is a 21st-century resurrection of the Moral Majority,” he said in a statement released Tuesday (Nov. 9).
Falwell, 71, intends to serve four years as national chairman. Author and theologian Tim LaHaye, known for the “Left Behind” series, will serve as board chairman, while Falwell’s son, Jonathan Falwell, will be executive director. Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a legal organization based in Orlando, Fla., that is known for its support of conservative causes, has been named vice chairman.
Falwell, a Lynchburg, Va., minister and chancellor of Liberty University, said the group is committed to helping President Bush have a successful second term but also is looking ahead to the next election.
The 2008 election of a president who is socially, fiscally and politically conservative is one of three primary objectives, along with confirmation of pro-life judges and passage of an amendment to the constitution declaring marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Falwell said he feels a divine call to pursue goals similar to those he had during the Moral Majority’s existence from 1979 to 1989.
“At that time, God burdened my heart to mobilize religious conservatives around a pro-life, pro-family, strong national defense and pro-Israel platform, designed to return America to her Judeo-Christian heritage,” he said.
“And I distinctively feel that burden again.”
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a frequent Falwell critic, dismissed the new effort as a gimmick for fundraising that may be short-lived.
“I welcome Falwell’s new organization to the debate,” said Lynn, whose watchdog organization is based in Washington. “I feel confident it will meet the same fate as the Moral Majority.”
_ Adelle M. Banks
Vatican and Italy to Catalog Inquisition Documents
VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican will open its archives to Italian state officials and academics for a computer-driven project that will catalogue all available documents on the Inquisition in Italy.
“Such a vast operation, never before undertaken, is of great importance to respond to new directions of international research on the control of religious ideas in Medieval and modern Europe,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
Under an agreement signed on Tuesday (Nov. 9), archivists will survey documentation held by the Vatican, the Italian government, Italian libraries and private collectors.
The Inquisition, begun by Pope Innocent III at the end of the 12th century in response to the alleged heresies of the Cathars, or Albigensians, and the Waldensians, spread throughout Europe and led to the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain.
Torture was permitted to secure proof of heresy, and if accused heretics did not repent, officials of the Inquisition could turn them over to civil authorities for execution by hanging or burning at the stake.
In 1542, Pope Paul II established the Roman Inquisition, a supreme inquisitorial tribunal aimed at combating Lutheranism and Calvanism and later concerned with witchcraft.
The agreement on cataloging was signed by Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Maurizio Fallace, director general of the Archives of the Italian Ministry of Culture, and Andrea Del Col, director of the Center of Research on the Inquisition at the University of Trieste. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is directly descended from the Inquisition.
Navarro-Valls said the computerized project would safeguard a unique cultural heritage and provide historical information in the fields of religious doctrine, science, popular culture, spontaneous holiness and censorship as well as “systems of social control” from the Medieval to the modern age.
_ Peggy Polk
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Membership Continues to Decline
(RNS) The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has seen a continuing decline in membership, according to reports from its congregations.
While the denomination has reaped increased contributions, its research analyst John O’Hara said: “The real story is that membership is still declining.”
The number of baptized members at the end of 2003 was 2,488,936, which is 23,778 fewer than in 2002. Between 2001 and 2002, the baptized membership declined by 27,331.
The total of confirmed members for 2003 was 1,894,822, or 13,101 fewer than 2002. Confirmed membership declined by 13,026 from 2001 to 2002.
O’Hara said the membership declines “continue a trend of the past 30 years.”
Meanwhile, contributions in 2003 reached a record amount _ in excess of $1.2 billion. That is more than $53 million above contributions reported the year before and follows declines of $13.8 million in 2002 and $12.1 million in 2001.
The 2003 statistics are based on reports from 74 percent of congregations compiled by the denomination’s Office of Rosters and Statistics. About 10 percent fewer congregations reported their statistics for 2003 than made reports in 2002.
_ Adelle M. Banks
National Council of Churches Appeals for Post-Election Unity
(RNS) The National Council of Churches appealed for post-election national unity, bemoaning the “painful spectacle of Christians demonizing one another.”
The NCC, which represents 36 mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches, said both conservatives and liberals need to abandon “caricatures” of each other after an election in which religion played an unprecedented and often controversial role.
“We do not view the Christian community in our country as being divided into red and blue,” said a statement adopted during the NCC’s General Assembly meeting in St. Louis. “Our view is that we are a mosaic of God’s grace and presence.”
But the NCC, which tried to mobilize progressive people of faith in the election, stressed that the “values” that were decisive for one in five voters should include “the work of eliminating poverty, preserving the environment, and promoting peace.”
In other business, the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, said the council and its humanitarian arm, Church World Service, are both “robustly healthy” after teetering on the brink of bankruptcy four years ago.
Delegates also approved a “message of pastoral concern” on the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. “As we continue our deep concern for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, we express our grief for all the children _ Christian, Muslim and Jewish _ who prematurely die daily in the context of continuing grief,” delegates said.
Delegates also approved a comprehensive statement on children, promising to work for safe schools, quality affordable health care, arts education in schools and anti-poverty programs that combat hunger.
“Fear and uncertainty permeate many of these young lives,” the statement said. “Violence, sex and disillusionment can confront them each time they turn on the TV, read a newspaper, walk down the street or go to school. For many, poverty, neglect, inadequate health care, lack of quality child care and education are an all too cruel reality.”
_ Kevin Eckstrom
Bob Jones Calls Bush Electoral Victory A Divine Reprieve From Paganism
(RNS) The president of Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian school in South Carolina, has written President Bush to say his re-election shows God has given the nation “a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.”
Bob Jones III read his Nov. 3 letter to students at a chapel service on the Greenville, S.C., campus and it was posted on the school’s Web site.
“In your re-election, God has graciously granted America _ though she doesn’t deserve it _ a reprieve from the agenda of paganism,” he said.
Jones encouraged the president to move on with his conservative agenda, suggesting Bush should remove staffers who don’t agree with his biblical values.
“You owe the liberals nothing,” he said. “They despise you because they despise your Christ.”
Jones added that he expects those values to contribute to policy decisions made in the coming four years on matters such as sexuality, sanctity of life and freedom of speech.
“You have four years _ a brief time only _ to leave an imprint for righteousness upon this nation that brings with it the blessings of Almighty God,” he said.
President Bush was criticized for visiting the school during his campaign for president in 2000. At the time, the school had a ban on interracial dating, which it has since dropped, and was known for its belief that the pope is the Antichrist.
_ Adelle M. Banks
Presbyterians Outline Criteria for Israeli Divestment
(RNS) The Presbyterian Church (USA) has set six criteria to consider in its controversial plan to pursue “phased selective” financial divestment for companies doing business in Israel.
A church panel that oversees “socially responsible” investments met Nov. 4-6 in New York to establish a framework for church action against companies that are involved in Israeli settlements, construction of Israel’s “separation barrier” or that assist Palestinians in violence against Israelis.
The divestment plan, adopted by Presbyterian delegates in July, has met fierce opposition from Jewish groups who call it unfair. Despite several high-level summits with leaders from both faiths, the church has not signaled any desire to reconsider.
Four of the criteria will target companies that provide services to maintain Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. A fifth category would involve companies that provide products or financial support to target civilians on either side. A sixth category involves companies involved in construction or maintenance of Israel’s controversial separation barrier.
Church leaders stressed that divestment is a “last resort” that would need the approval of church delegates in 2006. Officials said they would first pursue corporate negotiations, followed by shareholders’ resolutions. The panel hopes to conclude its research by next spring.
“Divestment is a long way from this point in time,” Carol Hylkema, chair of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, told Presbyterian News Service.
It is unclear how much of the church’s $8 billion investment portfolio may be tied up in companies operating in Israel. The last time the church pursued divestment was against oil companies in Sudan, and earlier, the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa in the 1980s.
At the same time, the controversial plan has apparently sparked arson threats against churches. Officials said Friday (Nov. 12) they received an anonymous letter postmarked from Queens, N.Y., with threats that Presbyterian churches “will go up in flames _ bet your (expletive) that’s a terrorist threat.”
“Their (sic) will be Arson attacks against Presbyterian Churches with people inside there will be bloodshed,” the letter said. Church officials alerted law enforcement agencies and encouraged churches to beef up security and vigilance. The letter set a Nov. 15 deadline for the church to change course “or else.”
_ Kevin Eckstrom
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary President to Retire
(UNDATED) Carnegie Samuel Calian, among the longest-serving and most successful seminary presidents in the nation, will retire in January 2006 after 25 years at the helm of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
“I think the institution needs a change, I need a change. My wife wants a change,” said Calian, 71, the son of Armenia immigrants who Americanized his first name from “Carnig” to “Carnegie” when he was a child.
“I really feel that God has another chapter for me, but I don’t know what it is yet.”
He is the longest serving president of any seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and among the two or three longest serving among all 251 accredited seminaries in the nation. Under his leadership, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary was transformed from a struggling, liberal institution to a thriving one whose theologically diverse faculty includes some of the most prominent evangelical scholars in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Calian sought to create a centrist school that would model theological diversity and reconciliation to a divided church. Although the seminary is increasingly perceived as evangelical, he said the faculty represents a healthy cross section. Among them are New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon, whose “The Bible and Homosexual Practice” is a manifesto for opponents of gay ordination and Ronald Cole-Turner, a United Church of Christ theologian specializing in bioethical issues.
“Your perception of the school will depend on where you are standing. If you are on the left, you see the seminary moving away from you. If you are on the right, you see the seminary moving toward you. If you take the higher perspective, it’s really moving to the middle,” he said.
The theological shift has been accompanied by an increase in endowment from $9 million to $139 million, and in degree program enrollment from 210 to 380 students. Another 3,000 people attend the school’s continuing education courses each year.
Daniel Aleshire, president of the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting agency for seminaries, said that only a few large, evangelical seminaries surpassed Pittsburgh for growth in enrollment and financial stability over the past 20 years.
Among all seminaries, “PTS has done as well as any, and better than almost all of them in terms of the growth of assets that theological education requires,” he said.
_ Ann Rodgers
Defense Department, ACLU Settle Suit Over Scouting Practices
(RNS) The Department of Defense and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached a settlement regarding sponsorships on military property of Boy Scout troops with religious practices.
The ACLU objected to military units sponsoring Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs that required that participating youth believe in God and take an oath swearing duty to God.
Under the agreement announced Monday (Nov. 15), the Defense Department will inform its bases and other facilities in the next 60 days that they cannot serve as sponsors of the Boy Scout units.
“If our Constitution’s promise of religious liberty is to be a reality, the government should not be administering religious oaths or discriminating based upon religious beliefs,” said Adam Schwartz of the ACLU of Illinois in a statement about the settlement.
“This agreement removes the Pentagon from direct sponsorship of scout troops that engage in such discrimination.”
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, which acted as the attorney for the Defense Department in the case, said the settlement addresses participation of nongovernmental organizations such as the Boy Scouts. But he said the settlement will lead to the reiteration of an old rule, not the creation of a new one.
“There has been a pre-existing policy … that DOD personnel cannot in any form or fashion in an official capacity be involved in this,” he told Religion News Service.
The ACLU noted that the settlement does not prevent off-duty military employees from sponsoring Boy Scout units on their own time. Scouting troops that are not sponsored by the Defense Department will continue to have access to military facilities that are made available to other nongovernmental organizations.
Conservative Christian groups criticized the settlement.
“If you’ve got a problem with the Boy Scouts on military bases because the Scouts rely upon God, then you’ve got a problem with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which rely upon God,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, agreed.
“This is a history of humanistic fascism over religious freedom and the right of private organizations to set their own membership standards,” declared Sheldon.
The settlement resolves one part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU in 1999. Still unresolved is whether the Defense Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development can spend taxpayer funds to support Boy Scout groups with religious practices.
_ Adelle M. Banks
Quote of the Week: Pope John Paul II
(RNS) “You are crazy to make a film about me. But what have I ever done?”
_ Pope John Paul II when introduced to the Polish actor who will play him in a made-for-television film about his life.
MO END RNS