Bethlehem, Rome, Burnhams and Muslim Garb Case

Bethlehem, Rome, Burnhams and Muslim Garb Case

In Today's Edition:
  • Monks Escape Palestinians in Bethlehem Standoff; Negotiations Begin
  • From Rome: Pope Speaks out on Scandal as Cardinals Arrive
  • Female Fighter Pilot Back in Court over Muslim Garb
  • Burnhams in Sulu?
  • Other Headlines at a Glance

From Bethlehem: Monks Escape Palestinians in Church Standoff  ... The Israeli army Tuesday rescued three monks being held captive in Bethlehem's Church of The Nativity, reports the Jerusalem Post, CNS News and other media sources. The men reportedly climbed onto a roof inside the compound and waved a sign to soldiers that said, "Save us."

Bishop Aris Shirvanian, director of Ecumenical and External Affairs for the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem, confirmed that the three Armenian Christians had escaped from the church on Tuesday. "Only one of them is a priest, an old man, who is ailing, about 90 years old," Shirvanian told CNS News by telephone. One of the others is a lay deacon and third is a layman, who is the bell ringer, Shirvanian added.

Also from Bethlehem: Israeli soldiers surrounding the compound returned fire after Palestinian gunmen began shooting at them, sparking a fire near the living quarters of the Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials held their first round of negotiations in an effort to end the 21-day standoff. A Palestinian negotiating team, appointed by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, met with Israeli negotiators for the first time on Tuesday. According to CNS, a major issue is the fate of several dozen terrorists wanted by Israel, who are thought to be holed up inside the church.

From Rome: Pope Calls Abuse A Crime, Apologizes To Victims ... Pope John Paul II released a statement during his emergency two-day meeting with 12 American Cardinals that contains his strongest language yet against the abuse scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church.

While the Pope said such abuse "was rightly considered a crime by society," he also expressed his "solidarity and concern" for the victims of pedophile priests. "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young," the pope said in a transcript of a statement released by the Vatican. The pope also indicated that there would be no change in Church doctrine on priestly celibacy.

While the Vatican and the U.S. Cardinals talk, many bishops are increasingly calling for the resignation of the Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law. The nation's senior cardinal has thus far refused to step down, despite acknowledging transferring a priest accused of sexual misconduct to another parish.

Female Fighter Pilot, Forced To Wear Muslim Garb, Back in Court ... In federal district court today, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute will challenge the U.S. Department of Defense's motion to dismiss Lt. Col. Martha McSally's lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. McSally, a decorated pilot with the U.S. Air Force, filed suit in December 2001 to overturn a U.S. military policy that requires servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia, when traveling off-base, to wear the Muslim abaya, a black head-to-toe robe worn in certain Muslim cultures and perceived as a sign of subordination to men. The policy also requires that a woman be accompanied by a man and sit in the rear seat of any vehicle containing more than two passengers.

McSally claims the policy violates her constitutional rights to equal protection and the freedoms of religion and speech. In filing its motion to dismiss McSally's lawsuit, the Department of Defense claims to have resolved the issue by changing the policy's language from "mandatory" to "strongly encouraged." But attorneys for The Rutherford Institute say that language still presents concerns about coercion of female military service personnel.

Rutherford Institute attorneys are also charging the Pentagon with retaliatory treatment toward McSally as a result of her opposition to these discriminatory policies.

Burnhams Now in Sulu? ...  ASSIST News Service (ANS) reports that a former Siasi municipal official is theorizing that if Martin and Gracia Burnham are no longer in Basilan Province in the Philippines, then the only place the Abu Sayyaf members can bring their hostages is Sulu. No one has seen the Burnhams in the last two weeks. The New Tribes missionaries have been held by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) since last May.

Lawyer Arden Anni, former congressman of the 2nd district of Sulu and erstwhile mayor of Siasi municipality, said there is the possibility that because of military pressure against the ASG in Basilan, its hostages will be turned over to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) renegades in Sulu.

The MNLF renegades is another Islamic rebel group fighting for a separate Islamic state in the Southern Philippines. Anni also postulated that once the MNLF renegades take custody of the Burnham couple, they will pressure the government to release former MNLF Chair Nur Misuari in exchange of the freedom of the Burnham couple and possibly including Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.


Other Headlines at a Glance:

NCC Delegation Meets with Syria's President  ... Baptist Press
Residents Protest Covering of Ten Commandments Plaque  ... ABC
Texas Teacher Discriminated Against for Sending Kids to Christian School  ... CNS
Remarks on Homosexual Priests Called 'Inaccurate, Unfair'  ... CNS