Faith and Politics

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, left, leads a prayer in front of the Supreme Court. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.

In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.

“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.

“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

Photo courtesy Gregory Dean / Shutterstock

Photo courtesy Gregory Dean / Shutterstock

The Roman Catholic Church in Australia acknowledged that “obligatory celibacy” may have contributed to decades of clerical sexual abuse of children in what may be the first such admission by church officials around the world.

A church advisory group called the Truth, Justice and Healing Council made the startling admission Dec. 12 in a report to the government’s Royal Commission, which is examining thousands of cases of abuse in Australia.

The 44-page report by the council attacked church culture and the impact of what it called “obedience and closed environments” in some religious orders and institutions.

“Church institutions and their leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child,” the report said.

Reflections of the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B. 

Jim Wallis 12-08-2014

Our mission was, is, and always will be centered in Jesus Christ. 

J. Brent Walker 12-05-2014
Photo via Masson / Shutterstock

Photo via Masson / Shutterstock

Like much of the pre-Christmas hype that used to come only after Thanksgiving, cries of a “War on Christmas” began early this year.

This time,  public school policies concerning religious holidays got caught in the crosshairs. Charges have been leveled in response to the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Education’s vote (7-1) to remove any mention of religious holidays on days that school is out. The action came after a complaint from a Muslim group that its holidays were not recognized as an occasion for school closure.

We live in a country that rightly prevents government endorsement of religion while protecting religious exercise. Indeed, public schools must accommodate the religious needs of the students without advancing religion itself.

In this spirit, the following policy guideline on excused absences for religious reasons was endorsed several decades ago by a slew of education and religious groups, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and has enjoyed the widespread approval and acceptance by school officials and religious liberty advocates alike:

Richard Wolf 12-03-2014
A view of the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2014. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS.

A view of the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2014. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS.

The Supreme Court — the last stop for condemned prisoners such as Scott Panetti, a Texan who is mentally ill — and whose case was just stayed by an appellate court —  appears increasingly wary of the death penalty.

In May, the justices blocked the execution of a Missouri murderer because his medical condition made it likely that he would suffer from a controversial lethal injection.

Later that month, the court ruled 5-4 that Florida must apply a margin of error to IQ tests, thereby making it harder for states to execute those with borderline intellectual disabilities.

In September, a tipping point on lethal injections was nearly reached when four of the nine justices sought to halt a Missouri prisoner’s execution because of the state’s use of a drug that had resulted in botched executions elsewhere.

And in October, the court stopped the execution of yet another Missouri man over concerns that his lawyers were ineffective and had missed a deadline for an appeal. The justices are deciding whether to hear that case in full.

Alexei Korolyov 11-20-2014

Eyüp Sultan mosque in Telfs, Austria. Photo courtesy of Hafelekar via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Austria’s Muslim community is incensed over the government’s plans to amend the country’s century-old law on Islam.

The new bill, championed by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz, forbids foreign funding of mosque construction or of imams working in the country and requires a unified German-language translation of the Quran.

The government argues the legislation, which Parliament will vote on this month, will help combat Islamic radicalism. Muslim groups and civic activists say it flouts the principle of equality.

“There is a general tone of mistrust toward Muslims,” said Carla Amina Baghajati, a prominent Muslim rights activist and spokeswoman for the country’s Islamic Religious Authority, referring to the bill. “The 1912 Islam law has set up a model of how state acknowledgment of a religious minority can help this minority better integrate. Muslims in Austria are proud of this law.”

Homeless men sleep just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo via Josephine McKenna/RNS.

Market speculation and pursuit of profits are hindering the global fight against hunger and poverty, Pope Francis said Nov. 20.

In an address at a U.N. conference in Rome on nutrition, the pope urged the world’s wealthiest nations to do more to help those in need.

“Perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry,” the pope told delegates from more than 170 countries attending the global gathering at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities,’” the pope said.

“The hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”

The Argentine pope has often called for greater compassion and justice for the world’s poor since his election last year, and he has made charity a priority of his pontificate.

People Magazine cover featuring Brittany Maynard. Photo courtesy of People/RNS.

Brittany Maynard chose to die Nov. 1, but on what would have been her 30th birthday Nov. 19, her voice in support of the Right to Die movement rang loud.

Maynard, who had an aggressive brain tumor, was the face of Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group campaigning to legalize physician-assisted dying in all 50 states. She still is.

On her birthday, the group released a “call to action” video with passages and narration drawn from prerecorded videos with Maynard (pronounced MayNARD) and other advocates explaining why the right to die by legal prescription is important to them. It is now legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico.

In the video, Maynard concludes: “If there’s one message to come away from everything that I’ve been through, it is no matter what life kind of presents you with, is never be afraid to use your own voice. And even if you are uncertain, even if your voice is shaking, ask the questions you want to ask, speak up for yourself. Advocate.”

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy hosts the Interfaith Alliance’s “State of Belief” radio show and podcast. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS

Like the lawmakers he lobbies on Capitol Hill, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy has a foot in two worlds — Washington during the week, his hometown on the weekends.

So when Gaddy boards a flight each Friday from Washington to Monroe, La., he ignores the person sitting next to him. It may not seem very pastoral, but in fact, it is: He has a sermon to write.

Gaddy, a progressive defender of religious freedom, will retire next month as president of the Interfaith Alliance. But he plans to continue as pastor of Northminster Church, an Alliance of Baptists congregation that his members describe as an island of liberalism in a sea of Louisiana conservatism.

For 16 years, the former Southern Baptist has worn two hats — preaching most Sundays and advocating for equal treatment of people of all beliefs on weekdays in Washington.

“A lot of the people in Washington who talk about religion don’t understand religion; it’s more of a subject of theoretical discussion,” said Gaddy, 73, in an interview in his small office near Georgetown. “And I think that’s why it has been important that I have my one foot in a local congregation and one foot in a national agency.”

Rev. Dr. Guy Nave 11-14-2014
Nagib /

Nagib /

I am a professor of religion at a small liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa. For the last two weeks in my Religion 239: Clamoring for Change course, students and I have been reading the book Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude. We have been discussing the issue of “justice,” and we have been playing with an image of God as one who works from the bottom-up on behalf of many rather than one who works from the top-down on behalf of a few.

A fundamental principle within this “bottom-up” theology is the idea of God taking sides (a view quite common in most of the “liberative” theologies). Many people, however, are often uncomfortable with the idea of God taking sides. They often assert that such an image contradicts the idea of an impartial and all-loving God who cares equally for all people.

A bottom-up theology of God asserts that God is a God who exists in relationship with all of creation at the same time every created thing is in relationship with every other created thing. While the relationships that involve human beings may be governed by several principles, I believe one principle that governs all human relationships is the principle of “justice.”

A homeless man sits close to where the showers are going to be built in St. Peter’s square. Photo via Josephine McKenna/RNS

In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor — and upend the expectations of the papacy — Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Nov. 13 that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin Nov. 17.

It’s an unconventional move, even for a pope who constantly preaches that more should be done to help the poor. It also could rankle traditionalists as the homeless line up to wash beneath the extravagant apostolic apartments that Francis shunned after his election.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Adrian Sztrajt, a 27-year-old homeless man from the Polish city of Chelm. “I would like to go for showers there.”

Sztrajt and his companion Grzegorz Bialas, also from Poland, sleep with half a dozen others under the porticoes in front of the Vatican press office beside St. Peter’s Square.

Bialas said he’s a fan of the pope but thinks the showers are “a bad idea” since they could attract hundreds of homeless to the Vatican. He also said it was possible for the homeless to get a shower elsewhere in Rome.

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo via Linda Sarsour/RNS

ISIS terrorist rampages, waves of anti-Muslim hate speech and fear-mongering Islamophobia are inspiring an outburst of online activism in the form of Twitter hashtags.

The question is: Does it work, especially over the long term?

An army of “clicktivists” — a mix of earnest advocates and pointed satirists — has entered the fray armed with 140-character positive, peaceful or humorous counter-messages.

Using names such as #TakeOnHate, #IStandUpBecause, and #NotInMyName, the pushback approach promotes the complexity, diversity and positive contributions of Islam and Muslims. Others, such as #MuslimApologies, offer sarcasm in service of the same message.

Yet the hashtags are often immediately co-opted by trolls spewing an opposite message. And some experts question whether clicktivist campaigns have lasting worth.

Linda Sarsour has no doubt they do. She’s a Brooklyn-based Palestinian activist in the streets and on social media and a co-creator of #TakeOnHate. The hashtag is accompanied by a resource website, launched in March by the National Network for Arab American Communities.

“The insidious thing about anti-Arab hate speech is that it seems to be acceptable, where the ‘N-word’ or anti-Semitic remarks are not taken with the same degree of outrage,” said Sarsour, who was chased down the street in September by a man who was later arrested for threatening to behead her

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of distributes communion in Arizona. Creative Commons image by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston/RNS

The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.

During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.

Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”

“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.

The Editors 11-10-2014

A video giving voice to the misunderstood in the Muslim community. 

The Editors 11-10-2014

A video on the audience reaction of protestors at the St. Louis Symphony. 

Jenna Barnett 11-10-2014

A map depicting five quality aid groups nationally and abroad. 

We have become resigned to politicians always blaming the other party for every problem instead of solving them and alleged political leaders pursuing a 24/7, 52-week strategy of winning instead of governing.
In times like these, when politicians are sweating to sway voters to their side, it is tempting to begin to define ourselves and each other through the frame of politics.
Richard Wolf 11-07-2014

The National Organization for Marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013. Creative Commons image by Elvert Barnes/RNS.

The same-sex marriage movement lost its first major case in a federal appeals court Thursday after a lengthy string of victories, creating a split among the nation’s circuit courts that virtually guarantees review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2-1 ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed lower court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

More important, it gives Supreme Court justices an appellate ruling that runs counter to four others from the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuits. Those rulings struck down same-sex marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, leading to similar action in neighboring states.

Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of the Republican Party’s most esteemed legal thinkers and writers, issued the 42-page decision precisely three months after hearing oral arguments in the cases, with fellow GOP nominee Deborah Cook concurring. He delivered a rare defeat for proponents of same-sex marriage, who had won nearly all the cases decided from Florida to Alaska since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

Sutton argued that appellate judges’ hands are tied by a one-sentence Supreme Court ruling from 1972, which “upheld the
right of the people of a state to define marriage as they see it.” Last year’s high court decision requiring the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages does not negate the earlier ruling as it applies to states where gay marriage is not legal, he said.