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Catholic Policy, Church Websites, Cuba, Israel & SBC

Catholic Policy, Church Websites, Cuba, Israel & SBC

In Today's Edition:

Bishops Vote Overwhelmingly to Bar Abusive Clergy ... (CNS News) -- American Catholic bishops meeting in Dallas voted 239 - 13 on Friday to approve a charter that would bar sexually abusive clergy from work connected to the church, but did not go so far as to automatically expel them from the priesthood. According to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, it would be left up to the presiding bishop in a parish, acting on the advice of an advisory board comprised mainly of lay people, to decide whether the priest would be defrocked.

Announcing the decision, Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: "From this day forward, no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States."

He added: "We bishops apologize to anyone harmed by one of our priests and for our tragically slow response in recognizing the horror of sexual abuse. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People stands as one of the greatest efforts anywhere in addressing sexual abuse of minors."

The charter "ensures that young people are protected, that victims are truly listened to and assisted, that all priests are trustworthy and that all bishops will act responsibly," he said. The charter also calls for police to be notified and to conduct investigations of any sexual abuse allegations, eliminating internal investigation.

What it does not do is fulfill the desire of the victim for zero tolerance of sexually abusive priests. The charter leaves a clause for older priests with only one allegation of sexual abuse in their past to remove themselves from active ministry and head to positions such as those in monasteries to finish their priesthood.


Evangelical Christian Boosting Israel's Morale with TV Spots  ... An American Evangelical Christian is launching a series of television commercials to voice his support for the people of Israel during these trying times. "For the first time in this country's history, television spots will begin airing to announce to the people of Israel that the vast majority of American Christians recognize Israel as their friend and ally," said Earl G. Cox of Charleston, South Carolina, reading a statement during a press conference at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Military Cemetery.

A former U.S. government official and political strategist who served in four presidential administrations, Cox chose to leave the political arena, and instead listen to "the call of God." Cox, who has been visiting Israel for the past month, said he specifically chose the venue of his announcement amid the tombstones of Israel's fallen "to make a statement."

"Terrorism is a by-product of an uncivilized, barbaric society... that has absolutely no regard for human life. I am committing myself to personally continue using one of the most powerful weapons in the war against terrorism: television and radio ads," Cox said.

In addition to the TV ads, Cox is producing a video presentation documenting the recent suicide bombings in Israel. The video will be shown in churches and synagogues in Charleston, South Carolina and will be made available on the Internet to other communities via the Christian Web site www.WorthyNews.com.


Cuban Christians Frustrated Over Community Church Plans ... (Compass Direct) -- Every Sunday, as many as 90 people cram into Pastor Julio Balas'* apartment near Havana for worship services. Though in recent years, Cuba's government has widely tolerated "house churches" such as Balas', what he's doing is illegal. Balas doesn't want to break the law. For more than three years, he and other evangelical leaders in Alamar, a coastal high-rise community about 10 miles from Havana, have sought to comply with laws that believers meet in church buildings.

Now he says that government plans appear to have stalled for a church building project for Alamar's believers. It's been at least 18 months since he's heard anything. "(The project) is in the hands of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC)," Balas said of the government-recognized alliance of denominations that acts as an intermediary between the state and Cuban religious groups. "But I don't think it will work."

Balas said that several churches in Alamar have sought their own land from the government, which controls all such projects and owns all land in Cuba. The state, however, has refused to grant land to churches and has denied almost all new church construction projects since Fidel Castro took power 43 years ago. It also denied individual requests from Alamar churches' for their own buildings.

Many evangelicals in Alamar share Balas' frustration with the CCC, which is seen as an arm of the state that tries to politicize faith. "The government looks to the Council to represent us," Balas said. "But it doesn't represent me. I simply don't care anything about the Council." (Reporting by Mackie Landers)


Hartford Institute Looks at Congregations and the Web ... Hartford Institute for Religion Research staff person Scott Thumma recently compiled statistics for a talk at MIT on the use of Web sites by congregations. Thumma found that over the past four years, the percentage of churches with Web sites had grown from about 11 percent to around 45 percent. This rush to post Web sites is dominated by wealthy congregations. There are strong correlations between the size and wealth of churches and the use of Web sites and e-mail communication within a congregation. Given the limited resources of the nearly 150,000 very small churches in the United States, such congregations are unlikely to build Web sites anytime in the near future that take full advantage of the Internet.

In the talk, Thumma suggested several possible repercussions of a church being "wired." There are indications that "a whole-hearted embrace of new technologies" may alter the cultural, interpersonal and social dynamics within a congregation. Increased reliance on the Internet can change the power structure of congregations, as well as create a host of new problems for leadership. Most importantly, as churches construct an online identity designed for broad appeal it may have serious implications for its culture and core mission. He questioned whether a congregation who fabricate a public web persona, then have trouble living up to the HTML image it has created for itself. Visit http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article6.html to read the full text of Thumma's talk.


Bush Urged to Repudiate Southern Baptists' Slam of Muhammad ... (CNS News) -- A prominent Southern Baptist's description of the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a "demon possessed pedophile" ratcheted up the tension this week between Christian and Muslim groups that were already hostile toward each other as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. When President Bush addressed the recent Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis, he praised the group for upholding the ideals of religious tolerance and civility.

"Baptists have had an extraordinary influence on American history," Bush said. "They were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom. Baptists have long upheld the ideal of a free church in a free state. And from the beginning, they believed that forcing a person to worship against his will violated the principles of both Christianity and civility."

However, comments made by Rev. Jerry Vines, the former president of the SBC, showed him to be neither tolerant nor civil, according to critics. Vines reportedly told several thousand delegates to the convention that many of the country's religious problems could be blamed on "religious pluralism."

"They would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity," Vines was quoted as saying. "Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl." Vines went on to say that Christianity would never produce terrorists like those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The comments drew immediate criticism from groups demanding a correction from SBC leaders. Instead, newly elected SBC President Rev. Jack Graham called Vines' comments "an accurate statement," and the outgoing president of the SBC, Dr. James Merritt, agreed that Vines' comments were appropriate. "Historically, he is on solid ground," Merritt said.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, called on President Bush to reject the statements by Vines. "President Bush should repudiate SBC leaders' rejection of the American tradition of religious pluralism and their appeals to bigotry," Neas said. "At a time when President Bush has called Americans to unity, he should not be embracing leaders whose message is grounded in sowing division."