Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality, and ethics.
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Cardinal Dolan: Catholic Church Could Do Better on Gay Outreach
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the top U.S. Catholic prelate, says the Roman Catholic Church has to make sure that its defense of traditional marriage is not reduced to an attack on gays and lesbians.
Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and last month was reputed to have gathered some votes in the Vatican conclave where Pope Francis was eventually elected.
He made his remarks on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday, just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases.
Vatican Intrigue Is Age-Old Part of Papal Politics
The Vatican appears rocked by scandalous rumors and resignations just as church leaders must gear up to replace frail Pope Benedict XVI with a closed-door conclave.
But Vatican experts say if you think the world’s largest nongovernmental institution is in unprecedented chaos right now, think again.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano presents the papal fisherman ring to Pope Benedict XVI at the new pope’s installation Mass. The fisherman’s ring bears an image of Peter, his boat and his net, which figure in two Gospel accounts of miraculous catches of fish. Benedict said that while fish die when removed from the sea, “in the mission of a fisher of men the reverse is true.”
“Have you ever heard of the Borgias?” quipped professor Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department for Fordham University in New York. They were the larcenous, adulterous, murderous, election-rigging, Renaissance-era family of renaissance popes “who ran the papacy for decades like a private fief.”
For all the sex, money, and power headlines wafting out of Rome these days, at least no one has been murdered. Infighting and innuendo, though, are ancient traditions that have moved into the bright lights of the 24/7 news cycle and social media.
Newtown Shootings Renew Questions About Evil and Suffering
That cry has echoed ever since news of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
As the names of those who died are made known, that cry is followed by a question: Why? Why does God allow evil?
This agonizing question arises among religious believers after tragedies great and small. It’s also one that priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams will wrestle with.
The Rev. Jerry Smith of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville said that although this weekend marked the third Sunday in Advent, which focuses on hope in advance of Christmas, the church also has to talk about the reality of evil.
“We have to speak about this shooting and we have to recognize, this is the very darkness that Christ came into the world to dispel,” Smith told The Tennessean.
The Rev. Neill S. Morgan, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sherman, Texas, says on the congregation’s website that now is a time for prayer.
But, says Morgan, “all the existential questions about God, justice, and love” will come. “We wonder what we can do to prevent such violence in the world, our nation, and our community.”
‘Are You My Mother?’ Sometimes, There’s No Easy Answer
In a classic 1960 children's book, a baby bird toddles up to one critter after another asking, "Are you my mother?"
For some babies today, there's no simple answer — biologically or legally.
Advances in artificial reproductive technologies mean a baby could have three "mothers" — the genetic mother, the birth mother and the intended parent, who may be a woman or a man.
Statutes on surrogacy, adoption, divorce and inheritance vary state by state, court by court, decision by decision. For nontraditional couples, the patchwork of laws makes it even more complex. New York allows gay marriage but forbids surrogacy, for example, while Utah permits surrogacy but bans gay marriage.
Evangelist Billy Graham in Hospital with Bronchitis
Evangelist Billy Graham, 93, was admitted to a North Carolina hospital after he developed a fever on Saturday and is now being treated for bronchitis, said his longtime spokesman, A. Larry Ross.
“Mr. Graham continues to do well and the infection is responding well to treatment,” said Dr. David Pucci, the pulmonologist who is treating Graham at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., on Monday. Graham is in stable condition.
Graham spent Sunday watching the Olympics and the broadcast of the worship services at First Baptist Spartanburg, where the guest preacher this week was his grandson, third-generation evangelist William Graham IV, Ross said.
Philadelphia Trial Revives Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal
Ten years ago, the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal dominated the headlines with horrific stories of priests preying on vulnerable youths and a church hierarchy more concerned with protecting clergy instead of kids.
Now, it's back. A Philadelphia jury is deliberating whether, for the first time, a high-ranking church official will be held criminally accountable.
However the jury rules, the case carries symbolic freight far heavier than the grim details in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary for the clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It revives the breadth and depth of the abuse crisis, its extraordinary costs and unending frustrations.
More Churches Turning to High-Tech Outreach
Christ Fellowship exemplifies most of the latest ways churches dramatically extend their reach of church beyond any one time or local address. Such congregations signal "a willingness to meet new challenges," said Scott Thumma, of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He's the author of a study by Faith Communities Today (FACT) of how churches, synagogues and mosques use the Internet and other technology.
FACT's national survey of 11,077 of the nation's 335,000 congregations, released in March, found seven in 10 U.S. congregations had websites, and four in 10 had Facebook pages by 2010, Thumma says.
‘Reverts’ Return to Their Childhood Faith
Bruce Bolin celebrated Easter Sunday this weekend among Southern Baptists, just as he did when he prayed at a tiny Kentucky church where his family filled half the pews.
After decades away from faith, "I slowly began to see what I was missing was the relationship with God that I could find in my church," said Boling, 45, who has settled in with a little Baptist congregation in Hendersonville, Tenn.
Lydia Scrafano's heart again thrilled to hear Catholic hymns sounding on a great pipe organ, just as she did as a child in Detroit.
"I missed it all. I missed taking Communion with a priest. I missed the stained glass. I missed the Virgin Mary," says Scrafano, 55, who has reconnected with her faith through a Catholic church in Williamsburg, Va.
Like many Christians and Jews, Boling and Scrafano drifted — or marched — away from the religion of their childhood. Then, unlike most, they came back.
Experts Challenge Santorum’s Remarks Linking College to Faith Loss
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum's claim that U.S. colleges drive young Christians out of church is facing scrutiny from Protestant and Catholic experts.
Santorum told talk show host Glenn Beck late last week that "62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it." He also has called President Obama a "snob" for wanting more Americans to attend college.
"There is no statistical difference in the dropout rate among those who attended college and those that did not attend college," said Thom Rainer, president of the Southern Baptists' LifeWay Christian Resources research firm. "Going to college doesn't make you a religious dropout."
A 2007 LifeWay survey did find seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.
The real causes: lack of "a robust faith," strongly committed parents and an essential church connection, Rainer said.