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c. 2006 Religion News Service

Cardinal Says Stem Cell Researchers Don’t Deserve Communion

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Roman Catholic doctors and researchers involved in stem cell research are unfit to receive Communion, a top Vatican cardinal declared Wednesday (June 28).

The comments appeared to step up the Vatican’s opposition to stem cell research _ a stance that has been strongly criticized by scientists who believe the research could produce life-saving breakthroughs.

In an interview with the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, reasserted his position that politicians who support legislation that defies church teaching on abortion should be denied Communion.

Asked whether the ban also applied to stem cell researchers, Trujillo replied: “Certainly. It’s the same thing. Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion, and excommunication applies to the woman, the doctors and the researchers that eliminate the embryo.”

Trujillo, who is considered a Vatican hard-liner, is one of the principal organizers behind Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Valencia, Spain, for the World Meeting of Families.

In recent years, traditionally Catholic Spain has passed laws legalizing gay marriage and adoption, liberalizing regulation on stem cell research and in vitro fertilization, and relaxing laws on divorce and abortion.

In predominantly Catholic Italy, meanwhile, ministers in the newly elected center-left government have begun to challenge the country’s stiff ban on stem cell research and in vitro fertilization. Some lawmakers have also called for Italy to legally recognize gay couples.

Trujillo called the legal recognition of gay couples a “juridical fiction.” He also said Benedict had “expressly” asked him “to explain the defense of life and the family to lawmakers.”

_ Stacy Meichtry

British Methodists Say No to Blessing Civil Partnerships

LONDON (RNS) The Methodist Church of Great Britain has ruled against any formal church blessing of civil partnerships or “gay marriages,” but said Methodist clergy will be able to say private prayers with a couple in a civil partnership.

The decision follows the new Civil Partnership Act, which allows same-sex couples to enter into a formal legal relationship with many of the legal benefits conferred by marriage.

The church’s assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland, said it will not authorize any form of service for blessing a civil partnership, and Methodist premises cannot be used for any prayers for civil partnerships.

On Tuesday (June 27), the conference said there is no reason why Methodists may not enter into a civil partnership, but reaffirmed the traditional teaching on marriage between a man and a woman.

The Methodist Church’s position on the issue is similar to that of the Church of England, whose bishops last July firmly rejected any idea of Anglican clergy offering a service of blessing for those registering a civil partnership.

“When clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership, they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case,” the Anglican bishops said.

The Methodist Church of Great Britain traces its roots to the Church of England. The United Methodist Church in the United States _ which also bans any blessing of gay unions _ was an offshoot of the British Methodist church.

_ Robert Nowell

Moscow Mayor Says Hindus Can Build Temple

(RNS) City leaders in Moscow will allot land for the construction of a Hare Krishna temple, ending a long-standing controversy over whether Hindus should have a place of worship in the Russian capital.

Sheila Dixit, chief minister of Delhi state _ which includes the Indian capital, New Delhi _ announced the move during a recent visit to Moscow, during which she attended a three-day cultural festival held under a “sister city” accord between the two capitals.

Dixit said Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had given her an assurance about the allotment of land for the temple, according to a report in the leading Indian newspaper The Hindu and a joint statement issued after the visit.

In January 2004, the mayor of Moscow signed a decree allocating land for the building of a new temple in place of an older Hindu temple that had been demolished under a city development plan.

The offer was later withdrawn, however, following mass protests that were reportedly organized by the Russian Orthodox Church against the building of a Hindu temple.

Archbishop Nikon, a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, has described Lord Krishna _ who is worshipped by more than 1 billion Hindus _ as an “evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God” in a letter to city officials urging a halt to temple construction.

There are an estimated 100,000 Hindus in Russia, including about 15,000 in Moscow. “However, this peaceful community is being denied a simple right to have a place of worship where they can pray, counsel and celebrate their faith,” said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, in a recent letter to the mayor of Moscow on behalf of 270 Hindu organizations.

_ Achal Narayanan

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Urges Jews Not to Hitchhike

JERUSALEM (RNS) Israel’s Chief Rabbinate issued a ruling Thursday (June 29) forbidding Israeli Jews from hitchhiking after Palestinian militants murdered a young Israeli hitchhiker from the West Bank.

Israeli Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that hitchhiking constitutes a potential danger to human life and is therefore prohibited by Jewish law.

His ruling was announced just hours after the burned body of Eliyahu Asheri, an 18-year-old student, was discovered in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Asheri had reportedly been on his way to school in the West Bank when he was kidnapped on Sunday (June 25).

Earlier in the week Amar had asked Jews around the world to recite psalms on behalf of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the 19-year-old Israeli soldier who was abducted by Palestinian militants the same day.

Even before Amar’s appeal, many synagogues and religious organizations initiated prayers for Shalit, who was captured on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border by Palestinian militants who entered Israel through an underground tunnel. Two Israeli soldiers were killed during the ambush, as were Palestinian militants.

Following Shalit’s kidnapping, Israeli troops re-entered the Gaza Strip for the first time since the country pulled its settlers and soldiers from the territory in August 2005.

Rabbi Robert Shur, program coordinator in the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, said in a statement that the recitation should include Psalms 121 and 130, which are traditionally said in times of distress.

Psalm 121 reads in part: “I will lift up my eyes unto the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. … The Lord shall guard your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forever.”

_ Michele Chabin

Billy Graham Plans on Sermon at Upcoming Baltimore Festival

(RNS) A little more than a year after his last crusade, evangelist Billy Graham plans to deliver the ending sermon at a festival led by his son Franklin in Baltimore in early July.

The Metro Maryland Festival will be held July 7-9 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

“As he did in New Orleans earlier this year, evangelist Billy Graham is planning to go to Baltimore next month in support of his son Franklin’s three-day festival,” said A. Larry Ross, Graham’s spokesman. “Health permitting, he is hoping to bring the closing sermon on Sunday.”

Graham, 87, preached twice in New Orleans in March and is willing to continuing speaking as long as he is able, Ross said.

“While his Greater New York Crusade at Flushing Meadows, Queens, last summer was his last city-wide evangelistic campaign at the invitation of local churches, it was not Mr. Graham’s last opportunity to preach, which he has continually said he plans to do as long as the Lord gives him strength or until God retires him,” Ross added.

The festival is being organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and planned by more than 640 churches representing 45 denominations in the Baltimore area.

_ Adelle M. Bank

Black Clergy Hold Own Hearings on Response to Katrina

WASHINGTON (RNS) Upset that the federal government has not established a commission to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina, black church leaders from all over the nation have convened one of their own.

Leaders of the Katrina National Justice Commission say the congressional committee hearings held earlier this year were not enough, and recently held their first hearing at a church on Capitol Hill.

Additional hearings are being held this week (June 29-30) in New Orleans and July 27 in Houston.

“The (Gulf) community’s voice has been silenced,” said Portia Wills Lee, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, which organized the hearings. “We are trying to be a voice for the voiceless.”

The commission gives black church affiliates, evacuees, charitable organizations and government officials a channel to share response stories from areas that are still recovering from last year’s deadly storm.

The commission plans to compile testimonies and send its report to Congress, churches and organizations as well as make it available to the public.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., told the panel she pushed for a bipartisan congressional commission to examine the government’s response. Clinton said her bill was blocked by Congress’ Republican majority.

The Rev. David Goatley, executive director of Lott Carey International, an African-American Baptist mission organization, said his missions group coordinated a network of displaced pastors from the Gulf Coast willing to minister to fellow storm victims.

Goatley said the clergy helped people process questions of faith amid disaster by reminding them that “God is with us in the days of joy, and God is even with us in the days of distress.”

Goatley’s organization also developed six “Resurrection Centers” that provide social services, mental health support, child development programs and legal aid for victims of the storm.

_ J. Edward Mendez

Gore’s Documentary Wins Spiritual-Film Award

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was honored Wednesday (June 28) with a special Humanitas prize, giving a political tinge to a Hollywood award for spiritually driven screenplays.

Gore did not personally pick up the honor at the awards luncheon at the Universal Hilton Hotel, but the film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, repeatedly described Gore as passionate about the movie. “We don’t have a writer on this movie, but Al Gore deserves this award,” he said. “The feeling (in creating the film) was a sense of shared moral purpose.”

The 32-year-old Humanitas prizes were created by the Rev. Ellwood “Bud” Kieser, the late Catholic priest and television producer. The prizes award $115,000 annually to film and TV scripts that contain thoughtful stories and spiritually uplifting characters. Past winners include the drama “Hotel Rwanda” and the television hit “MASH.”

Honoring Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” marked the first time the prizes singled out a politician’s film. The Rev. Frank Desiderio, president of the Humanitas Prize organization, said Gore’s documentary, not Gore, was honored with the award.

“We were rewarding the movie,” Desiderio said. “The movie raises important social issues.”

Other honors were bestowed on filmmaker Paul Haggis for the screenplay of his drama “Crash,” which this year won the Academy Award for best picture, and the film “Quinceanera,” about the Catholic celebration for Hispanic girls on their 15th birthday.

The medical drama “House” and the karma-driven hit comedy series “My Name Is Earl” won awards for television programs.

“I’ve heard of people using (`My Name Is Earl’) in sermons, which is pretty cool,” said Greg Garcia, a creator and writer for the program.

Desiderio said the awards committee liked the writing on “Earl” because “the fundamental premise of the show is moral conversion. You go from a ne’er-do-well to a do-gooder.”

_ David Finnigan

Secret Files of Prewar Pope to Be Released

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The secret files of Pope Pius XI, who reigned until the start of World War II, will be released from the Vatican archives in mid-September, the Holy See announced Friday (June 30).

The files, which cover Pius XI’s tenure as pope, from Feb. 6, 1922, to Feb. 10, 1939, are sure to attract the attention of scholars studying the legacy of his successor, Pius XII.

Pius XII, who has been criticized for his perceived failure to defend European Jewry from the Nazis, served as Pius XI’s chief negotiator with Nazi Germany prior to his election as pope.

In 1933, Pius XII, then known as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, brokered a special treaty between Nazi Germany and the Holy See known as the “Reichskonkordat,” which included guarantees of liberty for the church, independence for Catholic organizations and religious teaching in schools.

Pius XI later condemned Hitler’s regime in a 1937 encyclical that cited Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism as a violation of the Reichskonkordat. It was also during Pius XI’s reign that the Vatican negotiated the 1929 Lateran Pact with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. That agreement established Vatican City as a sovereign state.

Scholars will be able to access the files beginning Sept. 18.

_ Stacy Meichtry

NCC, Rights Group Hail Supreme Court Ruling on Guantanamo Detainees

(RNS) The National Council of Churches says Thursday’s (June 29) Supreme Court ruling barring the use of military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo Bay is “a reasoned affirmation of what people of faith have been trying to communicate to the White House for years.”

“Any effort to deny the rule of law to accused individuals, no matter how grievous the charges, is a denial of the most fundamental expression of American democratic ideals,” the ecumenical agency said in a statement issued after the court’s ruling.

The court, on a 5-3 vote, repudiated the Bush administration’s plan to put 10 of the approximately 450 detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility on trial before military commission.

Justices said such commissions _ which would have sharply reduced rights available to the defendants, including the right to be present at his trial and to know all the evidence against him _ were unauthorized by federal statute and also violated international law.

In addition to the NCC, the Council on American-Islamic Relations also hailed the ruling.

Corey Saylor, government affairs director for the Washington-based group, called the ruling “a victory for the rule of law that will help to improve our nation’s deteriorating image worldwide.”

In its statement, the NCC _ which has been in the forefront of those arguing for closing the much-criticized facility and treating those captured within the bounds of international law _ noted that other presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt had ignored democratic ideals in order to do what they believed would protect the country.

“Neither action has been upheld by the verdict of history or by the U.S. Constitution, and neither will the Bush administration’s unconstitutional decisions in Guantanamo,” the NCC statement said.

“Now that the highest court in the land has ruled, we call on the Bush administration to take prompt action to restore the rule of law to Guantanamo and everywhere else it has been undermined in the often dubious justification of fighting terrorism.”

The ruling, which barred the Bush administration from using military commissions to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a driver for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was called a major setback for the administration’s expansive view that the president has virtually unlimited powers in fighting the war on terrorism.

“For too long too much deference has been given to this executive in the `war on terror,’ and the administration has sought to apply the narrowest interpretation to judicial rulings that have gone against it,” said Rob Freer, a spokesman for Amnesty International.

President Bush, however, said he will work with Congress in an effort to devise legislation that would allow the revamped commission to try the suspects and still withstand constitutional muster.

_ David E. Anderson

Quote of the Week: Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton

(RNS) “There are no gay people coming to our churches to get married, but there are plenty of people coming with problems voting or their sons in jail.”

_ The Rev. Al Sharpton, who joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and other black leaders in a clergy conference on Monday (June 26) in Dallas to organize in response to conservative Christians who they believe have used abortion and gay marriage to distract from moral issues such as poverty, war and voting rights. He was quoted by the Associated Press.


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