New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (right) and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. RNS photo by David Gibson.

The great and the good — and lots of politicians and TV pundits, too — gathered Thursday to hear comedian Stephen Colbert roast and toast everyone from Pope Francis to his host for the evening, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The 68th annual Al Smith Dinner, named for the first Catholic presidential candidate in American history, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel raised $3 million for New York’s neediest children.

Colbert is a lifelong Catholic, a man who is, as Alfred E. Smith IV said in introducing him, “serious about both his craft and his Catholic faith.” The cardinal — who is also pretty funny — and the comedian first met last fall, and Colbert had Dolan on his show last month. So the archbishop of New York returned the favor by having Colbert headline the dinner.

Graphic courtesy Public Religion Research Institute. Via RNS.

The number of Hispanic-Americans who say they adhere to no religion is growing and now rivals the number of Hispanic evangelicals, a new study has found.

The share of Hispanics living in the U.S. who say they are atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation has reached 12 percent, according to the 2013 Hispanic Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. That is double the rate reported in 1990 by the American Religious Identification Survey.

Researchers say Hispanic “nones” are now statistically equal to the number of U.S. Hispanic evangelical Protestants — 13 percent — and warn of a religious divide in the Hispanic community that will be felt for decades to come.

Lincoln Memorial, Oct. 6, 2013, closed due to government shutdown. Photo: RNS/courtesy Flickr user reivax via Wikimedia Commons

As the government shutdown enters its second week, some religious groups are starting to feel the pinch, and they’re also finding ways to reach out.

More than 90 Catholic, evangelical, and Protestant leaders have signed a statement rebuking “pro-life” lawmakers for the shutdown, saying they are “appalled that elected officials are pursuing an extreme ideological agenda at the expense of the working poor and vulnerable families” who won’t receive government benefits.

Starting Wednesday, evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant leaders will hold a daily “Faithful Filibuster” on Capitol Hill with Bible verses on the poor “to remind Congress that its dysfunction hurts struggling families and low-income people.”

Photo by Rachel Luna / courtesy Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Ken Bencomo and his partner of 10 years embrace after getting married.Photo by Rachel Luna/courtesy Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

They taught English, gym, music, and fifth grade, and are typically described as “beloved” by their students.

But that didn’t stop the Catholic schools where they worked from firing these teachers for their same-sex relationships, or, in one woman’s case, for admitting that she privately disagreed with church teaching on gay marriage.

A recent spate of sackings at Catholic institutions — about eight in the past two years — is wrenching for dioceses and Catholic schools, where some deem these decisions required and righteous, and others see them as unnecessary and prejudicial.

Eric J. Lyman 10-02-2013

Rome Papal Basilica of Saint Peter. Photo from Shutterstock, by LianeM

The special committee of eight cardinals created by Pope Francis with the goal of dramatically reforming the Vatican’s governance got off to an “encouraging” start, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said Wednesday, with a warning not to expect regular updates.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis met with the so-called Gang of Eight, or the Vatican G-8, on Tuesday and Wednesday to seek their counsel on possible reforms ranging from pastoral work with families and the role of the laity to the prickly issue of tackling the Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Francis I in Rome, Italy on September 4, 2013. Photo via Shutterstock, by Iacopo Guidi

Pope Francis has once again given a startlingly candid interview that reinforces his vision of a Catholic Church that engages the world and helps the poor rather than pursuing culture wars, and one “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

The pope’s conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist and well-known editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, took place at the pope’s residence in the Vatican guesthouse on Sept. 24 and was published on Tuesday.

His newest bombshell come just two weeks after the publication of the pope’s lengthy, groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journalist in which Francis said the church was “obsessed” with a few moral issues, like abortion and homosexuality, and needed an “attitude” adjustment if it hopes to strike a “new balance” in its approach to the wider world.

Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo via RNS/courtesy American Chesterston Society

Christians and Jews are mounting campaigns for and against a path to sainthood for British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of the world’s best-known Catholic converts.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and worked, has ordered an examination of Chesterton’s life — the first step in what is likely to be a long and unpredictable process toward canonization.

Eric J. Lyman 09-30-2013

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August, 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be formally declared saints on April 27, 2014, the Vatican said Monday. Pope Francis made the announcement during a meeting with cardinals gathered in Rome.

John Paul, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, and John, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, are considered two of the most influential religious leaders in the world in the last century, and they represent two poles in Roman Catholicism — John XXIII is a hero to liberals, while John Paul II is widely hailed by conservatives.

Eric J. Lyman 09-30-2013

#16 – Illustration by Neal Campbell, Vilonia, Ark. (Digital). Via RNS.

Are the media pulling their punches when it comes to Pope Francis?

Whether it’s because he carries his own bags or cold-calls troubled Catholics who write to him, or because he so clearly loves interacting with crowds or drives a beat-up Renault around the Vatican, it’s hard to tell. But at some point, much of the world’s media fell for the new pope.

Now an increasing number of Vatican insiders are asking whether the largely positive view of Francis affects the way the media cover the Holy See.

Julio Parissi prays for Luis Rosas of Holyoke, Mass. RNS file photo by Mieke Zuiderweg

A new survey of Hispanic political and religious values finds they’re overwhelmingly Democrats who hold a largely negative view of the Republican Party.

The 2013 Hispanic Values Survey of 1,563 Hispanic adults was conducted online in both English and Spanish between Aug. 23 and Sept. 3. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The survey found that most Hispanics are delighted with Argentine-born Pope Francis, but they hold slightly less favorable views of the Catholic Church. While nearly 69 percent look favorably on the pope, only 54 percent see the institution in a favorable light.

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian from Liberty Universtiy School of Law speaks during a panel Thursday. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

The Christian mission field “is a magnet” for sex abusers, Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse said Thursday to a room of journalists.

While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, ”I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference. But it’s harder to track.

“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,”  said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.

Air Force Capt. Mike Carey, a chaplain at Scott Air Force Base in Ill. RNS photo by Robert Cohen/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”

But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.

Eric J. Lyman 09-24-2013

Pope Francis arrives to meet youth in Cagliari, Sardinia. Photo: Via RNS. By Paul Haring/courtesy Catholic News Service

Pope Francis criticized what he called the “idolatry of money” on Sunday in a trip to one of the poorest regions of the European Union.

The pontiff, visiting the island of Sardinia off Italy’s western coast, departed from his prepared remarks to talk about his own family’s struggles as Italian immigrants in Argentina. Speaking on an island where more than half of workers under 30 are unemployed, Francis told the masses: “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope.”

Pope Francis waving. RNS art by Barbara Weeks, Chicago, Ill. (Watercolor)

Pope Francis’ comments last week on everything from gays to abortion (less talk, more mercy), the hierarchy (be pastors, not bureaucrats), and religious faith (doubt is part of belief) continue to reverberate through the church and the media.

Here are five broader insights that this wide-ranging interview revealed about Francis — and why they will be keys to reading his pontificate, and perhaps the future of Catholicism.

Portrait of Pope Francis by Debby Bird, Reston, Va. Via RNS

Pope Francis’ friendly letter to atheists, published this week by Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has been cheered by Catholics who welcomed another sign of the pontiff’s new openness to the world beyond the Vatican walls.

But it has also prompted some gnashing of teeth among others, who are reacting to headlines about the pope’s letter like this one in the British newspaper The Independent:

“Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”

Excommunicated Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who advocates for married priests within the Roman Catholic Church, said he has not split from Rome though many of the priests he ordained no longer see themselves as part of the church.

“We are not a breakaway church,” said Milingo, who married Maria Sung, a Korean acupunturist, in 2001. “Within the Catholic Church married priests existed for a thousand years.”

Alessandro Speciale 09-11-2013

A progressive theological current that emphasizes the Catholic Church’s closeness to the poor and the marginalized but was subject to decades of hostility and censure is now finding increasing favor in the Vatican under Pope Francis.

Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.

The meeting was announced on Sunday, Sept. 8, by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.

Comic book creator Gene Luen Yang on his latest work, Boxers & Saints.

Alessandro Speciale 08-02-2013
Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

In message published on Friday, Pope Francis took the rare step of personally expressing his “esteem and friendship” to the world’s Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.

While it is a long-established Vatican practice to send messages to the world’s religious leaders on their major holy days, those greetings are usually signed by the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.

In his message, Francis explains that in the first year of his papacy he wanted to personally greet Muslims, “especially those who are religious leaders.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had fraught relations with Muslims. In a 2006 speech he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had only brought “evil and inhuman” things to the world, sparking a worldwide crisis in Christian-Muslim relations.

Corrie Mitchell 08-01-2013
Sr. Simone Campbell talks to the press after meeting with a representative of Re

Sr. Simone Campbell talks to the press after meeting with a representative of Rep. Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. Photo via RNS.



Sister Simone Campbell, the face of the famous “Nuns on the Bus” tours, and Rep. Paul Ryan, the brains behind the House Republicans’ budget-cutting plans, have for more than a year represented diametrically opposed camps on how to apply Catholic social teaching to American fiscal policy.

At a House Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, the two Catholics had a chance to square off as the sister testified before Ryan’s committee about hardship in America as the nation nears the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s 1964 declaration of the “War on Poverty.”

Yet there were few fireworks nor much in the way of theological debate, as Ryan, R-Wis., did not go out of his way to champion the GOP budget plan that bears his name. That plan focuses on cutting social programs that Campbell says are key to supporting struggling Americans and also boosting the economy.