The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Seven States Sue to Block
Controversial HHS Rule
even states have sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying a new regulation that permits health care workers to abstain from providing abortions is illegal.
The suit, filed January 15 by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, seeks to block the rule that is scheduled to take effect on January 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office. The rule permits health care workers to abstain from any service or activity that they object to based on moral or religious convictions.
"On its way out, the Bush administration has left a ticking legal time bomb set to explode literally the day of the inaugural and blow apart vital constitutional rights and women's health care," Blumenthal said. "The federal government is impermissibly interfering with constitutional rights and carefully crafted and balanced state measures protecting patients and women, particularly rape victims who may require immediate access to emergency contraception."
The suit charges that HHS exceeded its authority by creating a regulation that fails to define abortion and "essentially delegating that crucial function" to individuals and health care providers. The states joining Connecticut in the suit are California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.
The 127-page regulation, which was introduced on Dec. 18, was praised by religious conservatives who had sought relief from being punished for not performing abortions. Liberal groups have said the rule will place doctors' views above patients and undermine religious diversity.
An HHS spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Bishops Say Gay Seminary Problems Have Been `Overcome'
A Vatican probe of U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries that was ordered after the clergy sex abuse scandal has concluded that "difficulties" related to "homosexual behavior" have been largely "overcome."
"Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality--again usually homosexual behavior--continues to show up," reads the report, published on January 12 near the start of National Vocation Awareness Week. "However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
Overseen by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education with help from American bishops, the investigation was ordered in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in the U.S. church. The yearlong probe of the nation's more than 220 Catholic seminaries began in 2005 as the Vatican published new rules barring men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" or who "support the so-called `gay culture,'" from the priesthood. The U.S. Catholic bishops responded by promising to intensify the screening of candidates for ordination.
Gay-rights activists and scholars say the Vatican is using gay men as scapegoats for the sex abuse scandal, and argue that pedophilia is not connected to sexual orientation. The Vatican's broad, and at times blunt, evaluation touched on a number of facets of seminary training, including concepts of the priesthood, curfews and theological education.
But because of the abuse scandal's heavy toll on the U.S. church-- thousands of victims, several bankrupt dioceses and more than $2 billion in legal and counseling fees--the section on sexuality is sure to gain outsized attention. The church investigators "were obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries had suffered in the past decades," the report says. "Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior."
The report then says that "in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome."
But in schools run by religious orders, which operate largely out of the control of U.S. bishops, "ambiguity vis-à-vis homosexuality persists," the investigators reported.
"Laxity of discipline," unmonitored off-campus trips and use of the Internet were additional concerns, according to the report. In addition, the declining number of applicants for the priesthood poses a problem, the reviewers said. "Clearly, in some places, lack of vocations has caused some lowering of standards. Such a strategy risks possible wretched consequences."
The Rev. Thomas D. Williams, an American who teaches theology at Rome's Regina Apostolorum University, praised the report's "blunt tone" but doubted it would have much effect in the U.S. "I suppose it could be used by individual bishops who are more proactive as justification for action in areas they were already concerned about," Williams said. "But I doubt that will be the case, because that kind of bishop wouldn't need the document anyway."
Marianne Duddy-Burke, who heads DignityUSA, a pro-gay Catholic group, said the Catholic Church has "reinforced a climate of secrecy" in the seminaries that existed in the 1940s and 1950s. "It's not that gays aren't going into seminaries," she said, "it's that closeted gays are going into seminaries."
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said "the central problem is, and always has been, chancery offices, not seminaries."
"Arguing that some Vatican `probe' of seminaries is needed is just more of their finger-pointing and blame-shifting," said SNAP President Barbara Blaine.
Francis X. Rocca contributed to this report from Rome.
Seven out of 10 regular churchgoers would be at least somewhat open to switching denominations, with dramatic differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics, according to a study released by Ellison Research of Phoenix. As part of the survey, released January 12, Ellison polled a representative sample of 1,007 American adults. The sample included 471 respondents who regularly attend worship services at a church broadly considered to be within the Christian tradition: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. The survey also included Mormon respondents. Respondents who attend worship services once a month or more were first asked the specific denomination of the church they attend most often (for example, not just "Baptist," but "Southern Baptist," "Free Will Baptist," etc.). Then they were asked what role that denomination would play if they could no longer attend their current church (if the church closed or if they moved to another area, for instance). Three out of 10 churchgoers say they would only consider attending one denomination -- they would be open to nothing else. Another 44 percent report having one preferred denomination, but they would also consider others. Eleven percent have a small number of denominations they would consider, with no particular favorite among them. Six percent don't have any particular denomination they prefer, but they do have certain ones they would not consider. Finally, 9 percent say denomination does not factor into their decision of what church to attend. Denominational loyalty differs strongly between Protestants and Catholics. Six out of 10 active Catholics would only consider attending a Roman Catholic church, and another 29 percent prefer this, although they do not rule out other denominations. Eleven percent of Catholics do not show a specific preference for attending a Catholic parish. In comparison, just 16 percent of Protestant churchgoers will only consider attending their current denomination. Fifty-one percent do express preference for one denomination, but would also consider others. Thirty-three percent do not have any preference for one specific denomination. There is little difference between the loyalties of people who attend evangelical Protestant churches and those who attend a mainline Protestant denomination.
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Evangelicals, Progressives Announce Common Agenda
An evangelical-progressive coalition has developed an agenda aimed at moving beyond past divisions on hot-button social issues to seek policy changes on abortion, torture and other issues.
After two years of discussion, they have concluded that their "Come Let Us Reason Together" agenda will include reducing abortion, protecting employment rights of gays and lesbians, renouncing torture and immigration reform.
"We offer the president-elect and leaders of Congress on both sides of the aisle a road map on how to put an end to the culture wars, to move the country beyond the ugliness and stagnation of distrust and divide," said Rachel Laser, culture program director of the Third Way, a Washington progressive think tank, which spearheaded the coalition.
Evangelical leaders who do not condone gay marriage said they could nonetheless support greater workplace protections for gays and lesbians, provided there is an exemption for faith-based employers.
The abortion reduction component of the agenda includes preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women and expanding support for adoption. The opposition to torture includes a call for the U.S. to forbid any interrogation methods it does not want used against Americans. The immigration reform component calls for secure borders, an "earned path to citizenship" and a guest worker program that fills jobs but doesn't create a disadvantage for American workers.
The effort has been welcomed by organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and People for the American Way, and religious leaders such as Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw.