September 13, 2006

World News

New Orleans Archdiocese Losses
Amount to $120 Million


BY BRUCE NOLAN                                                                        ©2006 Religion News Service 
capArchbishop Alfred Hughes has disclosed a new, much higher estimate of uninsured property damage to the churches, schools and other buildings of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The estimate of uninsured flood damage to the archdiocese's 1,274 buildings now stands at $120 million, far more than the $84 million the archdiocese estimated last spring, when it released a plan to temporarily reorganize worship and parish life among dozens of flooded church parishes.
Hughes said Monday (Aug. 28) the archdiocese expects to spend about $52 million just to repair churches and schools that are serving as temporary hosts to their closed neighbors.
He said Catholic agencies and ministries throughout the country have donated or committed about three-quarters of that amount. But Hughes said he has told local pastors they will have to try to raise the balance, about $13 million, on their own.
He said the archdiocese urged pastors to apply for aid under the Bush-Clinton Katrina fund, a $129 million private fund-raising effort that set aside $25 million for damaged churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. He said the archdiocese was ineligible to apply for the money, but parishes could do so individually.
Hughes estimated the archdiocese's total property losses at $225 million. Of that, $80 million in wind-related damage was fully insured. As for flood insurance, the archdiocese carried only $25 million, he said.
"The reason is the same that many people did not carry (adequate) flood insurance -- that it was so expensive it would be unrealistic for us to insure all the properties," he said.

Haggard Warns Against Decline of U.S. Religious Freedom

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                              © 2006 Religion News Service
National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard warned that religious freedom is in danger of being greatly reduced in this country.
"I think right now we're in the beginning stages of the erosion of freedom of religion in the United States," he told more than 200 people gathered for the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association. "The challenges are building for more and more limitation of religious speech."
Haggard, 50, the senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., cited personal examples in which he had spoken out on public issues and had been criticized for doing so as a member of the clergy. He also cited his organization's intervention in a lawsuit filed by Air Force veteran Mikey Weinstein, who wants to halt what he calls unconstitutional evangelistic practices within the Air Force.
"If this lawsuit prevails, we'll have increased government supervision of religious speech," Haggard said.
Weinstein said Haggard has mischaracterized his suit, which he says aims to protect men and women in uniform and on duty from being pressured to change their faith.
"I think Ted Haggard is the Prince of Darkness when it comes to religious freedom," said Weinstein, reached by phone in Albuquerque, N.M. "He's the one who's really trying to suppress religious freedom by ensuring that one particular biblical worldview becomes the official biblical worldview of the U.S. government, and particularly the Department of Defense."
Haggard warned that if Weinstein's suit prevails, government officials will have the power to censor or monitor religious speech by chaplains or between service members -- a change that would result in America's first "established church."
As leader of the umbrella organization of evangelicals, Haggard said the group's membership is broader than most people think. He said four recent presidents may best exemplify evangelical diversity--Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who are Democrats and have had affiliations with the Southern Baptist Convention, and Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Republicans with links to mainline Protestant denominations.
Asked about evangelicals' reputation for a "my way or the highway" view about their beliefs, Haggard said evangelicals can be strong in their beliefs but yet protect the beliefs of others.
"We feel comfortable in a guaranteed right to heaven," he said. "The test of every person that believes anything for sure is how they treat people who don't feel the same way."
Suit Filed to Stop Bush Marriage Initiative
BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                         © 2006 Religion News Service
A liberal watchdog group filed a federal lawsuit recently to halt government grants to a Washington state program that offers Bible-based marriage workshops.
According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is based in Washington, D.C., the government violated the Constitution when it awarded the "fundamentalist Christian" Northwest Marriage Institute two federal grants worth $97,750 last year.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United, said the lawsuit could have "important national implications because the Bush administration is promoting massive federal funding for marriage programs."
In 2005, the federal government poured more than $2 billion into faith-based social service organizations, according to the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. In addition, Congress is setting aside $500 million over the next five years to promote marriage.
Northwest Marriage Institute, based in Vancouver, Wash., received $97,750 in government grants in 2005 through the Department of Health and Human Services. Northwest Marriage has two employees and offers distinctly Christian lessons for spouses, according to Bob Whiddon Jr., a former Churches of Christ pastor who now runs the institute.
"We are a faith-based organization and we do provide faith-based counseling. ... I use the Bible as my counseling manual," Whiddon said.
But no government money was spent on Northwest Marriage Institute's counseling programs, Whiddon said. Both the White House faith-based office and the Institute for Youth Development, an intermediary group that helps the government dispense grants, were clear about the guidelines associated with federal funding, Whiddon said.
"We haven't done anything wrong and we have not used any money for religious activities," Whiddon said.
Instead, Whiddon said, the government grant funded "capacity building": The institute bought office equipment and hired a consultant and a federal-grant specialist.
But in a legal brief filed Tuesday in Washington state, Americans United said the government money was spent "directly for religious purposes: to create material with explicitly religious content, to purchase supplies used in religious programming and to pay a portion of the salaries of the employees who conduct the Bible-based counseling."
The Department of Health and Human Services could not be reached immediately for comment on the lawsuit.
This is Americans United's first lawsuit over federal funding, according to Joe Conn, an Americans United spokesman. The group is involved in three other lawsuits over state funding, Conn said.
In June a federal judge ruled in favor of Americans United against a state-funded prison ministry program in Iowa.
Vatican Astronomer Says He Wasn't Fired for Intelligent Design
BY STACY MEICHTRY                                                                   © 2006 Religion News Service
The former director of the Vatican Observatory has rejected speculation that he was replaced because of his vocal opposition to "intelligent design," adding that Pope Benedict XVI "enthusiastically supported" his work.
Breaking a three-week silence, the Jesuit priest and astronomer George Coyne said he volunteered to step down, citing a need for fresh leadership at the observatory following his nearly 28-year tenure.
Coyne made his comments in an e-mail to Religion News Service on Saturday (Sept. 9), after returning from a summer holiday. That vacation overlapped with the Vatican's announcement on Aug. 19 that the Rev. Jose Funes, also a Jesuit, had been appointed to succeed him.
"Upon my return from a vacation, during which I purposely avoided the news, I hear some media reports that I have been dismissed by the pope. This is simply not true," Coyne wrote.
Over the past year, Coyne has frequently attacked "intelligent design"--the idea that the world is too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection -- as a "religious movement."
In staunchly defending evolution, Coyne has also frequently crossed swords with Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, a former protege and close adviser to Benedict whose support of intelligent design has been instrumental in introducing the theory into Catholic discourse.
The clash opened a divide between Vatican scientists who support Charles Darwin's theory and prominent theologians who believe evolution has been exaggerated to mount ideological attacks to disprove the existence of a creator God.
Coyne, who has served under three popes, dismissed as "imaginative journalism" reports linking his outspoken views to the decision to replace him.
"The work of the Vatican Observatory under my directorship has been enthusiastically supported by John Paul I, if for ever so short a reign; by John Paul II, in many marvelous ways; and now by Pope Benedict XVI," he wrote.
Coyne said he had in recent years pressed his Jesuit superiors who operate the centuries-old observatory to find a new director. The search got under way in May.
"They finally agreed to begin a search for a new director resulting, rather rapidly to my delight, in the appointment of Jose Funes," Coyne said. He praised Funes as a "well established international scholar" who is "devoted to the intellectual life of the church."
The Argentine-born Funes, 43, holds a doctorate in astronomy from the
University of Padua in Italy. He also studied theology at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.
In his new post, he will oversee the Vatican Astronomical Observatory, founded by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and the observatory's modern research center in Mount Graham, Ariz.
Coyne will retain his post as chairman of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and expects to return to the observatory's research staff once he completes a one-year sabbatical, which began this month.
During the sabbatical, he will serve as a parish priest at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Raleigh, N.C.