July 19, 2006

World News

House Marriage Amendment Falls Short

By PETER SACHS                                                                                   © 2006 Religion News Service

capThe House of Representatives rejected Tuesday (July 18) an attempt to amend the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage, falling short of the required two-thirds majority.
While 236 House members supported the amendment, 187 voted against it. Still the amendment gained votes from 2004, when 227 representatives voted for a similar amendment.
The two hours of debate leading to the vote were fiery. Lawmakers on one side said the amendment intruded on church activities and civil rights, while others asserted that a majority of the American people believe marriage should be kept as the traditionally defined union of a man and woman.
The Federal Marriage Amendment, which the Senate rejected June 7, would have added a definition of marriage as a heterosexual union to the Constitution. Even if the House had passed the amendment, it would not have gone on to the states for ratification, since the Senate rejected it. "This legislation should have never reached the floor of the House, yet once again politics goes against common sense," Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, said.
Republicans on Capital Hill have made the marriage amendment part of their "American Values Agenda," designed to galvanize the party's base ahead of November elections.
But Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., denied that the issue was brought to the floor for political reasons. The fact that the Senate defeated the amendment is all the more justification for the House to "stand up and send a positive message to the American people about what is the best environment for a family," Graves said.
Religious groups have continued to stake out positions on both sides of the issue, sending out a barrage of statements in recent days as courts upheld a state marriage law in Nebraska and kept a similar referendum alive in Tennessee. Both measures would limit marriage to the union of one man and one woman. Forty-six states have laws or constitutional amendments that define marriage as a heterosexual union.
"The constituents deserve to know where their representative in Congress stands on the issue," said Amanda Banks, a federal policy analyst for the conservative Focus on the Family. "(The amendment) will not go anywhere unless members are required to vote on it."

Catholic Bishops Plan Response to Revivalist Movements

BY STACY MEICHTRY                                                                         © 2006 Religion News Service
The Vatican convened Roman Catholic bishops in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday (July 17) to discuss the inroads Christian revivalist movements and Evangelical churches have made into regions once dominated by Catholic missionaries.
The weeklong seminar aims "to find a pastoral response to the emerging challenges, particularly the rapid growth of new religious movements -- Pentecostal, Evangelical and charismatic," the Vatican said in a statement released Monday.
Revival churches have been eating away at Catholicism's numbers in Africa, Asia and Latin America in recent years. Followers of Pentecostal and charismatic churches preach a more direct relationship with Jesus Christ than Catholic theology typically allows. Worship is often accented by speaking in tongues and can involve faith healing.
The growth of Pentecostalism has been particularly rapid. The movement, which marked its hundredth anniversary in April, claims up to 600,000 members worldwide.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is presiding at the meeting.

Top Episcopal Bishop Challenges "Two-tier" Plan


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                               © 2006 Religion News Service
The outgoing leader of the Episcopal Church challenged a recently proposed plan to divide the worldwide Anglican Communion into two camps of churches, saying that it "raises serious questions about how we understand ourselves as being the church."
"Such a two-tiered view of our common life suggests to me amputated limbs and severed branches without any life-giving relationship to the One who is the source of all life," said the church's Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.
Griswold's nine-year tenure as presiding bishop ends in November, when Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will assume the role.
The two-tier plan was proposed in June by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, in response to the controversy that has erupted since the Episcopal Church elected an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. With 2.2 million members, the Episcopal Church is the American arm of the Anglican Communion. Many of the 37 other Anglican provinces consider homosexuality a sin and at least 22 have declared themselves in "impaired" or broken communion with the American church.
Under Williams' plan the 38 Anglican provinces would be divided between "constituent churches" with decision-making privileges and "churches in association" without those privileges. Particular provinces' stances on homosexuality could be a crucial factor in deciding whether they are full members of the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church moved to address some concerns over its liberalism on sexuality issues in June when it called on church leaders to "exercise restraint" by not ordaining any more gay bishops.
"Our response expressed a strong desire to engage the work of reconciliation as part of a global communion in which strongly held opinions on variations in human sexuality have threatened to displace the creeds and sacraments in articulating the faith we share," Griswold said.

Vatican Reports `Fat Cattle Year' With Surplus of $12.4 Million

BY STACY MEICHTRY                                                                            © 2006 Religion News Service

The Holy See reported a surplus of nearly $12.4 million in 2005-- the city-state's best financial results in eight years. The positive results indicate that Vatican finances have safely rebounded from a four-year dip into the red that ended in 2004. The 2005 results, presented on July 12, saw the Holy See's surplus rise $8.3 million from 2004.
"There are times when the cattle are fat, and others when they are thin," Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, president of the Holy See's economic affairs office, said at a press conference. "This was a fat cattle year," the cardinal said, echoing a parable from the Bible.
Sebastiani said the dollar's stability against the euro in 2005 spurred the turnaround, boosting the Holy See's investments in dollar-denominated assets. Sebastiani did not disclose any further details on the nature of those assets, and the Vatican does not release its full financial results.
Profits from Vatican investments in the global markets, he said, soared to $54.9 million in 2005 from $7.7 million in 2004. The gains allowed the Holy See to absorb the costs of maintaining Vatican Radio, which lost about $29.8 million in 2005. Other expenses included John Paul II's funeral and Pope Benedict XVI's election, which combined cost about $8.8 million, according to the Vatican.
Sebastiani said the Holy See managed to offset the expense, because the funeral generated an influx of ticket sales to the Vatican museums and caused sales of Vatican publications to spike.
Most of the Vatican's finances rely on the contributions of local dioceses. In 2005, the Vatican registered a slight increase in contributions, which totaled $92.6 million. An additional $58.3 million were donated to the Benedict XVI's personal fund, known as Peter's Pence. Donors from the U.S. led the world, accounting for nearly 33 percent of the contributions to the Holy See and the pope, Sebastiani said.