RNS Daily Digest

Top Vatican cardinals appear divided on whether it is sinful to vote for politicians who defy church teaching on abortion. Following a recent appeal by Archbishop William Levada, the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer, for wider discussion regarding Catholic […]

c. 2005 Religion News Service

Cardinals Divided on Sinfulness of Voting for Abortion Rights Politicians

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Top Vatican cardinals appear divided on whether it is sinful to vote for politicians who defy church teaching on abortion.

Following a recent appeal by Archbishop William Levada, the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer, for wider discussion regarding Catholic politicians who defy church teaching on moral issues, Vatican cardinals are now debating whether the act of voting for wayward legislators also constitutes a sin.

In an interview published Thursday (Oct. 6) in Milan daily Corriere della Sera, the retired head of the Vatican supreme court, Cardinal Mario Pompedda, said that voting for an abortion rights candidate was not inherently sinful.

“I would be cautious in using the concept of sin, which implies intention,” Pompedda said, adding, “whoever votes for a `pro-abortion’ candidate must take responsibility, but that doesn’t mean we’re talking about sin.”

Pompedda said that Catholics could support an abortion rights candidate who represented a “lesser evil” when measured against his or her rivals.

That judgment appeared to contradict the views of Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, the Vatican health minister, who told Rome daily La Repubblica that “a Catholic cannot support a politician who presents abortion as a general norm.”

Barragan also indicated that Catholics who vote against church teaching were flirting with sin and, therefore, unfit to receive Communion.

“A son of the church cannot consider himself to be in full Communion if he supports what the church condemns,” Barragan said.

Pompedda also challenged an article in the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that referred to the so-called “morning-after pill” as “really and truly murder.”

“Murder refers to man, while here the reference is to the embryo.” Pompedda said, adding: “Should we suddenly erase this distinction?”

The comments came as hundreds of bishops attended a worldwide synod advising Pope Benedict XVI on the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the bread and wine ministered during Mass is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

The synod working paper states that Catholics who support candidates “openly in favor of abortion” are living in a state of mortal sin and are unfit to receive the Eucharist at Mass.

Levada urged the synod to explore the issue on Monday (Oct. 3), citing concern over “divisions” that developed in the American church during the 2004 presidential elections. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke set off a controversy in the run-up to the election when he declared he would deny Communion to Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic.

_ Stacy Meichtry

Judge: Salvation Army Can Use Faith as Factor in Hiring

(RNS) Addressing a key aspect of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, a federal judge has ruled the Salvation Army has the right to hire employees according to its faith principles, even when the charity receives government funding.

“The notion that the Constitution would compel a religious organization contracting with the state to secularize its ranks is untenable in light of the Supreme Court’s recognition that the government may contract with religious organizations for the provision of social services,” said U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein in a Sept. 30 opinion issued in New York City.

“Nothing in the Constitution precludes Congress from accommodating the Salvation Army’s residual free exercise interest in selecting and managing its employees with reference to religion.”

The opinion dismisses parts of a case filed against the Salvation Army and New York officials in 2004 by current and former employees of the Army who alleged they were victims of religious discrimination.

George Washington University Law School professor Ira Lupu said Stein’s ruling on the hiring issue helps the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, which has argued that acceptance of government funding should not change the hiring policies adhered to by a religious group.

“This opinion very much reaffirms what people in the White House office have been saying,” he said.

Paul Mourning, a lawyer representing the Greater New York Division of the Salvation Army, welcomed the ruling.

“The Salvation Army is quite pleased with the decision,” he said. “The court has dismissed substantially all the claims that were brought against the Salvation Army.”

He added that the Salvation Army, which is an evangelical church, abides by contractural agreements with government agencies, even when it is required not to consider its religious beliefs.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, decried the decision, which she said frees churches and temples that have contracts with government agencies to discriminate on the basis of religion.

“We think that it’s profoundly wrong to allow government funds to be used for bigoted hiring practices,” she said.

The court still will consider remaining issues in the case. They are related to charges that the Salvation Army retaliated against employees who complained about possible discrimination and claims that the religious organization may have used government funds it received for religious purposes.

_ Adelle M. Banks

`Smoking Gun’ Unveiled in Intelligent Design Trial

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) Authors of a textbook critical of evolution replaced the word “creationism” with “intelligent design” in 1987, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court barred the teaching of creation science in public schools, a researcher of the history of intelligent design testified in federal court Wednesday (Oct. 5).

After the ruling, authors deleted more than 250 references to “creationism” and the “creator” from draft versions of the book, “Of Pandas and People,” and replaced them with “intelligent design” and “intelligent designer,” said Barbara Forrest, philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of the book “Creationism’s Trojan Horse _ The Wedge of Intelligent Design.”

“The substitution was made throughout” the book, Forrest said.

Gesturing to a chart on a courtroom screen, she said a computer word search showed how creationism and similar words were eliminated from the “Pandas” text after the Supreme Court ruling.

“You just saw the smoking gun,” Nick Matzke, spokesman for the National Center of Science Education, said in an interview after hearing Forrest’s testimony. “This proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that intelligent design is creationism.”

The book is mentioned as a reference in a four-paragraph statement read to ninth-grade science students in the Dover Area School District. The statement and the reasons why the school board approved it last fall are central to the legal dispute in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg.

Lawyers for the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit Christian law firm representing the district, repeatedly objected to Forrest’s credentials, saying she has no background in science.

Judge John E. Jones III allowed her to testify as an expert witness and said the defense could object to any questions it deemed to be outside her realm of expertise.

Proponents of intelligent design believe the universe and humans are too complex to be explained through evolution, and therefore must be the work of an unspecified intelligent designer.

Opponents say the statement, which refers students to “Pandas” and intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, injects religion into the high school science curriculum. Supporters of intelligent design say the statement represents a minor curriculum change that does not result in less instruction on evolution.

_ Bill Sulon

Protestant Churches to Address `Dirty Little Secret’ of Pornography

(RNS) It’s not a date on most religious calendars, but Sunday (Oct. 9) is the first “Porn Sunday,” as thousands of Protestant churchgoers nationwide take part in a campaign to address the “dirty little secret” of pornography use by some Christians.

“Porn is staring people in the face, and it’s time for the church to open its mouth and get the healing started,” said John Mahon, director of communications for XXXChurch.com, an Internet-based group organizing the event.

Sixty-five churches across the country _ and seven internationally _ have signed up, said Jay Pesek, coordinator of the event, adding that between 800 and 1,000 more churches have said they will hold their own “Porn Sundays” at a later date.

Participating churches, which pay $2,500 for the complete “Porn Sunday” kit, will show a brief video on pornography, and then address the issue through preaching, testimonials or prayer.

Congregants will be invited back for an evening screening of “Missionary Positions,” a movie-length documentary about the XXXChurch.com’s outreach to both pornography consumers and those who work in the pornography industry.

Solomon David, senior pastor of Bachelor Creek Church of Christ in Wabash, Ind., who is bringing “Porn Sunday” to his church, said he was initially “gun-shy” about bringing up pornography and sex, but said he has received nothing but “support and encouragement” from his rural, conservative congregation.

“We’re all sick of the effects of pornography in our lives,” David said.

According to a 2005 study by Christianity Today, 57 percent of pastors said that addiction to pornography is “the most sexually damaging issue” affecting their congregations.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of pastors said they had viewed Internet pornography within the last year _ and 30 percent within the last 30 days _ according to a 2002 Internet poll on Pastors.com.

Local and national organizers of “Porn Sunday” said that the Internet provided an easy and anonymous way to access pornography.

“People struggling with pornography use need to find accountability _ with their pastor, their wife, their best friend, whoever,” Mahon said.

XXXChurch.com offers free downloads of its “X3 Watch Accountability Software,” which regularly sends a record of “questionable” Web sites visited to a designated person.

_ Andrea Useem

Quote of the Day: Muslim leader Wajdi Said

(RNS) “Everyone knows (April 15) is the day on which you give the government what you owe. Ramadan is the time in which you give God what you owe.”

_ Wajdi Said, executive director of the Oregon-based Muslim Educational Trust, comparing the day federal income taxes are due to to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is marked by fasting, alms giving and prayer. He was quoted in The Oregonian of Portland, Ore.