Jeanie Groh 09-19-2012
 RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

The largest ivory crucifix in the Philippines hangs in a museum in Manila. RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.

“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.

“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.

Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.

Adnan Silajdzic 09-17-2012

As told to Rose Marie Berger

the Web Editors 07-31-2012

Today marks the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spanish founder of the Jesuits. View the video below to learn more about St. Ignatius from Fr. James Martin, SJ.

Who Cares About the Saints?...Ignatius from Loyola Productions on Vimeo.

Greg Garrison 07-18-2012
Alabama Virgin Mary shrine photo courtesy of Caritas of Alabama via RNS.

Alabama Virgin Mary shrine photo courtesy of Caritas of Alabama via RNS.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Could a Virgin Mary statue under a pine tree in the middle of a cow pasture in rural Alabama one day become an officially recognized international pilgrimage site of the Roman Catholic Church?

Yes, it could, said Michael D. Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department and a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama who has specialized in studying the role of Virgin Mary apparitions in the Catholic Church.

“Without a doubt,” Murphy said. “Some very unusual places have ended up becoming pilgrimage sites.”

Marija Lunetti, the visionary who has been reporting daily visions of the Virgin Mary since she was a teenager in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, had two outdoors apparitions in a field under a pine tree in Shelby County, Ala., during a highly publicized “five days of prayer” July 1-5 at Caritas of Birmingham.

Lunetti was one of six Medjugorje youths who began reporting apparitions of Mary in 1981. She was 16 at the time and known as Marija Pavlovic. Now 47, married with four children and living in Italy, Lunetti continues having daily visions.

She has been visiting Alabama since 1988, when she came to donate a kidney at UAB Hospital for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic. She had apparitions in the hospital and at the home of Caritas of Birmingham founder Terry Colafrancesco.

the Web Editors 07-14-2012

EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Gates talks to the Guardian (UK) newspaper about reconciling her Catholic faith  — the wife of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says she attends mass regularly — with her work promoting family planning. Gates was in London this week to discuss promoting contraception in the developing world with UK government representatives. The Gates Foundation hopes to encourage donor pledges that will enable 120 million women to have access to contraceptives by 2020.

Logo of the North American Old Catholic Church via

Logo of the North American Old Catholic Church via

Archbishop Michael Seneco, of Washington, D.C., is a gay man who plans to marry his longtime partner in September.

Bishop Jim Morgan, of Ogden, Utah, is also gay and has been with the man he considers his husband for 30 years.

In this church, the bishops’ marital relations haven’t caused a ripple among the clergy or the laity. No protests. No outraged believers. No furious voting.

Duane Shank 04-20-2012

Quote of the day.
“I don’t want to overemphasize my Catholicism here. But I know my religion. I know religions in general. In the New Testament, the one place where Jesus talks about the death penalty, he says, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ When I’ve reflected on the death penalty, the reality is I frequently ponder that passage.” Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, who will soon sign a bill abolishing the death penalty in the state.
(Washington Post)

Annalisa Musarra 04-18-2012
Tony Magdaraog/

Devotees celebrate the feast of The Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines. Tony Magdaraog/

Belief in God is slowly declining in most countries around the world, according to a new poll, but the truest of the true believers can still be found in developing countries and Catholic societies.

The “Beliefs about God Across Time and Countries” report, released Wednesday (April 18) by researchers at the University of Chicago, found the Philippines to be the country with the highest belief, where 94 percent of Filipinos said they were strong believers who had always believed.

At the opposite end, at just 13 percent, was the former East Germany.

Bob Smietana 04-04-2012
Public domain, Wikipedia Commons

Public domain, Wikipedia Commons

One of the largest student religious groups at Vanderbilt University is leaving campus in a dispute over the school's non-discrimination policy that bars student groups from requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs.

Leaders of Vanderbilt Catholic, which has 500 members, says the rule make no sense. P.J. Jedlovec, the group's president, says the group's meetings are open to all students, but only people who share the group's beliefs can be leaders.

"If we were open to having non-Catholics lead the organization, we wouldn't be Catholic anymore," Jedlovec said.

Peggy McGlone 03-26-2012
"Leaving." Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

"Leaving." Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

TRENTON, N.J. — As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.

The bishop would have gotten an earful.

Their reasons ranged from the personal ("the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all") to the political ("eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing") to the doctrinal ("don't spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control").

In addition, they said, they didn't like the church's handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

Elizabethe Holland 03-02-2012
(Catholic classroom photo by

(Catholic classroom photo by

NORMANDY, Mo. — A popular music teacher at a Catholic Church was fired after church officials learned that he planned to marry his male partner of 20 years in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal.

The teacher, Al Fischer, confirmed that he was fired Feb. 17 from his job of four years at St. Ann Catholic School. When asked to comment on his firing, Fischer declined and referred to a letter emailed to his students' parents shortly after his termination.

In the letter, Fischer tells parents of "my joyful news, and my sad news" — the former being his plans to marry his longtime partner in New York City, and the latter, "that I can't be your music teacher anymore."

Fischer's partner, Charlie Robin, told the Post-Dispatch that the couple's relationship was not a secret at St. Ann, and that Fischer was fired after a representative of the St. Louis Archdiocese overheard him talking to co-workers about his wedding plans.

Daniel Burke 02-12-2012
Pope Paul VI. Image via Wiki Commons,

Pope Paul VI. Image via Wiki Commons,

Editor's Note: The following aritcle was written in 2008, around the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the papal document that reinforced the Catholic Church's ban on artificial birth control. 

Some say Pope Paul VI predicted the dangers of loosening sexual morals: widespread divorce, disease and promiscuity. Others say he cracked open a culture of dissent that has seeped into every corner of the church.

Either way, more than 40 years after Paul VI released ``Humanae Vitae'' on July 25, 1968, the papal encylical banning most forms of birth control continues to be a flashpoint in the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said Humanae Vitae set up ``a direct conflict between many people's experience ... and the authority of the church.''

An empty contraceptive pill container. Image via Wylio

An empty contraceptive pill container. Image via Wylio

A majority of Americans — including Catholics — believe that employers should be required to provide employee health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost, according to a new survey.

But the research by the Public Religion Polling Institute shows that when it comes to providing religious exemptions from free contraceptive coverage – something the White House is sharply criticized for failing to do – the public is much more divided.

The Catholic bishops have slammed the Obama administration in recent weeks, urging priests to read letters from the pulpit blasting a new Health & Human Services rule that will require some Catholic institutions, such as universities, to cover employees' contraceptive costs. 

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate." Included on the list was, "Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate."

The survey released today, however, paints a more nuanced picture.

Alessandro Speciale 02-03-2012
"Galileo Galilei - Church of Santa Croce" via Wylio

"Galileo Galilei - Church of Santa Croce" via Wylio

VATICAN CITY — Nearly four centuries after the Roman Catholic Church branded Galileo Galilei a heretic for positing that the sun was the center of the universe, the Vatican is co-hosting a major science exhibition in his hometown.

The Vatican is teaming with Italy's main physics research center to host "Stories from Another World. The Universe Inside and Outside of Us," in Pisa.

The exhibit will illustrate the progress of knowledge of the physical universe, from prehistoric times to recent discoveries. The exhibit is organized by the Specola Vaticana — the Vatican-supported observatory — and Italy's National Institute for Nuclear Physics, together with Pisa University's physics department.

The exhibition aims to tell "the history of the universe, from the particles which make up the atoms in our bodies to distant galaxies," the Rev. Jose Funes, director of the observatory, told reporters on Thursday (Feb. 2).

the Web Editors 01-06-2012
Rick Santorum. Image via Wylio

Rick Santorum. Image via Wylio

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum is a darling of the Christian right, and made a tremendous showing among evangelicals in the Iowa caucuses. But Santorum himself is a Catholic, and while many of his more socially conservative positions have endeared him to the evangelical community, they actually conflict with the teachings of his own church. The theological tensions in Santorum's record pose potential political problems for his candidacy: Can he bring Catholics into his camp despite advocating unorthodox positions? And can he maintain his reputation among conservative Christians as a principled man of religious integrity, despite taking political stances that violate the teachings of his own faith?

Santorum has often defended the role of religion in political affairs, stating that his own faith was a significant factor in his Senate career.

"The social teachings of my faith were a factor in my work as a senator," Santorum wrote in a 2007 opinion piece for the Philadelphia Enquirer, explaining his votes in favor of global AIDS relief as rooted in Christian teachings to "care for the poor."

But on two issues in particular, Santorum has broken with official Catholic doctrine to side with hardline evangelicals against accepted scientific conclusions. On several other matters, Santorum's political positions have sparked ire among Catholics concerned with social justice.

Karen Sue Smith 01-01-2012

Fifty years after Vatican II, will a new generation of lay Catholics lead prophetic change in the church and in the world?

Cathleen Falsani 11-14-2011
Sister Annunziata, in a favorite photo from her days in Rome.

Sister Annunziata, in a favorite photo from her days in Rome.

All of my life, religious sisters have had a special place in my heart and imagination.

I love nuns. LOVE them.

So a story in today's New York Times caught my eye (and my heart) immediately when I saw the headline: "Sisters of St. Francis, Quiet Shareholder Activists" and then the even-better headline on the story's web page at "Nuns Who Won't Stop Nudging."

Joshua Witchger 11-09-2011

Looking at reality TV’s latest sensation: All American Muslim, stories of Missouri's Chocolate University harvesting more than cocoa beans, exploring the terms behind the latest anti-bullying legislation, Bill McKibben, social media meets religion, God and sports, Proposition 8, and more.

the Web Editors 10-19-2011

The high cost of anti-immigration laws. Why candidates' faith matters. ABC News' exclusive interview with President Obama. U.S. Hispanics choosing churches outside Catholicism. Three U.S. Congressmen tour the Canadian tar sands. Who are the death penalty's most ardent supporters? Investors worth a collective $20 trillion (with a T!) call for urgent action on climate change. And God's economy.

the Web Editors 09-28-2011
Aide: Obama faces 'titanic struggle' in 2012