October 26, 2006

World News

Davenport Becomes Fourth Diocese
to Declare Bankruptcy


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                         © 2006 Religion News Service
capThe Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 10, becoming the fourth U.S. diocese to pursue the financial shelter because of costly sexual abuse litigation.
"I and the leadership of the diocese believe that, as difficult as this decision is, it provides the best opportunity for healing and for the just and fair compensation of those who have suffered sexual abuse by clergy in our diocese," Davenport Bishop William Franklin said in a statement.
The diocese is facing 25 claims of sexual abuse by clergy, according to the diocese. Since 2004, the diocese has paid more than $10.5 million to resolve dozens of claims filed against abusive priests, according to the Associated Press.
But a new set of accusations against former Bishop Lawrence Soens has led the diocese to seek financial protection through filing for bankruptcy, according to the AP. The first trial against Soens was scheduled to begin Oct. 23, but may now dismissed because of the bankruptcy filing, according to the alleged victims' attorney.
"I think it's a sad day for victims of clergy abuse in the Davenport Diocese as well as its parishioners," Craig Levien, the victims' lawyer, told the AP. "I believe it's just an unnecessary step ... with the real purpose being an effort to try and eliminate future responsibility." 
The dioceses of Portland, Ore., Spokane, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz., have also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Catholic Bishops Consider New Guidelines
for Ministry to Homosexuals


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service 

The nation's Catholic bishops will consider new pastoral guidelines in November for ministering to gays and lesbians that affirm traditional church teachings on sexuality in the face of a quickly changing culture.
Issues like same-sex marriage and civil unions, gay adoption and the clergy sexual abuse scandal were barely on the bishops' radar screen in 1997, the last time the U.S. bishops addressed ministry to homosexuals in detail.
With one eye on those domestic controversies and another on Rome, the new guidelines are the bishops' first attempt to forge a consensus on the role of gays and lesbians in the church.
"They grew out of a real concern from the bishops that they want to minister to homosexual Catholics and at the same time make sure that it's done properly," said the Rev. Tom Weinandy, executive director of the bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, which drafted the guidelines.
In development since 2002, the new 23-page "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care," will be debated and voted on at the bishops' annual fall meeting Nov. 13-16 in Baltimore.
According to an early draft, the proposed guidelines:
  • Welcome celibate gays to take part in parish life while asserting the church's "right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching."
  • Mandate that church ministers must not bless same-sex unions or marriages or promote them in any way.
  • Caution that public announcements of one's sexual orientation "are not helpful and should not be encouraged."
  • Specify that while baptism of children adopted by gay couples "represents a pastoral concern," nevertheless "the church does not refuse the Sacrament of Baptism to these children."
  • Warn those in Catholic ministry not to advocate against church teachings or adopt a position of "distant neutrality" toward them.
The guidelines -- particularly those dealing with Catholic ministries -- are rife with references to documents produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office headed by Pope Benedict XVI from 1981 until his election as pope in 2005.
In fact, the bishops' committee on doctrine began working on the guidelines in 2002, "with some encouragement" from the pope's old office, according to a cover letter attached to the draft.
"I think the concern there was -- that the bishops here in the U.S. were aware of as well -- that there were certain groups ministering to homosexuals but doing so in a way that was contrary to the teaching of the Catholic church," Weinandy said.

American Baptists Mull Sale of Headquarters Building


BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                  © 2006 Religion News Service
Officials of the American Baptist Churches USA are considering selling their Valley Forge, Pa., headquarters building, which currently houses Baptist offices in less than half of its space.
"We want to be good stewards of our resources and to `right-size' to fit our current space requirements," said the Rev. A. Roy Medley, the American Baptists' general secretary, in a statement. "We should not be in the real estate business. We need to remain focused on our primary work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ as radical disciples."
The denomination's General Board Executive Committee unanimously voted in September to recommend the sale; the full board is expected to act on the suggestion when it meets in mid-November.
"At one point, we had this building full of American Baptists," recalled the Rev. Bob Roberts, a spokesman for the denomination.
He said the recommendation comes as the American Baptists and other churches face changing giving patterns among members, who often wish to fund specific causes rather than a unified budget of a central office. Roberts said it did not relate to the struggles the denomination has had over homosexuality, which led in part to a decision last May by the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest to split from the denomination.
"When we built this, it was the era of ... very, very strong denominational loyalty and people willing to give the millions of dollars that it cost to put a building like this up," Roberts said.

Poll Finds Muslims Lean Democratic,
See War on Terror as War on Islam


BY KIETH ROSANGAR                                                                    © 2006 Religion News Service
A new survey by an Islamic advocacy group suggests that America's Muslim voters lean Democratic, and just over half fear that the war on terror has become a war on Islam.
Pollsters asked 1,000 Muslims about their political views, religion and levels of social integration in the survey. The results were published Tuesday (Oct. 24) by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
According to the survey, 89 percent of Muslims claim they vote regularly, and 42 percent identify themselves as Democrats. Seventeen percent said they were Republicans and 28 percent consider themselves independent.
The survey also focused on interfaith and political issues. For example, 84 percent of American Muslims believe they should more strongly emphasize the values they share with Christians and Jews; 55 percent said they fear the war on terror has become a war on Islam; 66 percent support working toward normalizing U.S. relations with Iran; and 12 percent believe the U.S. intervention in Iraq was worthwhile.
Nearly half of those polled avoided making a distinction between religious sects and said they consider themselves "just Muslims."
"The results are very important because they come at a critical time for the American Muslim community," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the group. "It shows that the Muslim community's vote should not be taken for granted."
The telephone survey was conducted Aug. 3-31 by Genesis Research Associates, and sampled 1,000 registered Muslim voters. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.