Friday, December 31, 2010

Egypt Considers Easing Its Church Building Policy; Would End Having to Wait Years for State Approval

The Christian Post website reports today (December 31, 2010) that Egypt is considering changing its policy on the construction of new churches by making all houses of worship equal in the eyes of the law.

State minister for legal and parliamentary affairs Moufid Shihab said the government is discussing with Coptic Church leaders a potential "unified law on houses of worship" that would give churches and mosques the same legal rights.

Currently, not only is it almost impossible for Christians to build new churches in Egypt, but also difficult to repair existing buildings. Permission requests for church construction or repair take years -- given the roundabout bureaucratic procedures -- and usually end up being denied.

On the other hand, Muslims can build new mosques or repair existing ones freely in Egypt without having to obtain permits.

Australian War Expert: US Can't Win Afghan War; Compares US Fighting to Soviet Fighting in 1980s

The Australian website reports on January 1, 2011 that former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said today that the United States and its allies cannot win the war in Afghanistan.

According to 1980 Australian Cabinet documents -- just released to the public today -- Fraser, who was Australia's prime minister at that time, thought it was enormously serious when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979.

Comparing the current war in Afghanistan with the one in the 1980s, Fraser said he did not oppose the 2001 United States-led invasion when the original plan was to destroy al-Qaeda. "But the objective became not hunting al-Qaeda, but establishing an American-style democracy in Afghanistan, and I thought that was absurd," Fraser said.

Explaining why the U.S. cannot win the war in Afghanistan, Fraser said, "You can make military gains in an area, but then the Taliban fade away -- they move somewhere else. There are not enough troops to make an area safe, to hold it, to garrison it."

Two Christians Killed in Bomb Attacks in Baghdad; Muslims Bomb Homes to Deter New Year Cheer

The Radio Free Europe website reports today (December 31, 2010) that militant Muslims in Iraq -- determined to prevent Christians from celebrating the New Year's holiday -- have launched a series of bomb attacks on Christian homes in Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 16 others.

Police say assailants in southwest Baghdad threw explosives into the home of a Christian family, causing the two fatalities and injuring five others.

Other attacks on homes occurred in eastern and western Baghdad.

The attacks are believed to be the work of Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ukrainian-Kiev Patriarch Reveals Moscow Plan; Says Patriarch Kirill Is Trying to Destroy UOC-KP

The Religious Information Service of Ukraine website reports that Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP), published a statement today (December 30, 2010), indicating that a plan to destroy the UOC-KP "was created in Moscow and proposed by Patriarch Kirill and his subordinates to implement in Ukraine."

Patriarch Filaret said the plan put pressure on Ukrainian pastors and parishes to transfer from the Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Ukrainian Patriarch believes that further implementation of the plan threatens Ukrainian society. He urged the international community not to ignore the violations to human rights of the believers of the UOC-KP and to the pressure on this church.

The Ukrainian Christian Church is divided into three major branches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome.

Man Sentenced to Prison for Auschwitz Sign Theft; Swede Gets 2 Years, 8 Months for Instigating Theft

A Swedish man was sentenced today (December 30, 2010) to two years and eight months in prison for instigating the theft a year ago of the notorious "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free") sign from the former Auschwitz death camp, according to the Associate Press website.

A judge at a regional court in the southern Polish city of Krakow approved a settlement that Anders Hogstrom, 35, had reached with prosecutors.

Hogstrom had confessed to involvement in the December 2009 theft and was convicted of instigating it. He is expected to be transferred to Sweden in the coming weeks to serve his term.

The cynical slogan on the sign at the camp's entrance has become a potent symbol of Nazi Germany's atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust.

Five Militant Muslims Arrested for Terrorist Plan; Planned to Attack a Copenhagen Newspaper Office

The Copenhagen Post website reports today that the Danish intelligence agency PET arrested four men yesterday (December 29, 2010) on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack against the Copenhagen offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

The arrests were made in suburban Copenhagen following a long-term surveillance operation in collaboration with the Swedish law-enforcement agency SAPO.

PET said the attack was to be carried out "in the coming days." All four suspects have Middle Eastern or North African backgrounds.

In addition to the arrests in Denmark, Swedish officials arrested a fifth suspect in Stockholm at the same time.

During the arrests, Danish police found an assault rifle, a silencer, and ammunition.

Jakob Scharf, head of PET, described the suspects as "militant Islamists that had connections to international terror network."

Scharf added, "The arrests underscore the terrorist threat that Denmark faces, and in particular anyone who is connected to the Mohammad (demeaning) drawings."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pope Benedict to Reform Vatican Banking System; Will Deter Possibility of Money-Laundering, Fraud

The Catholic Culture website reports today (December 29, 2010) that Pope Benedict XVI will issue a document tomorrow that reforms the Vatican banking system.

The Vatican Press Office announced that a "motu proprio" will be released on December 30, imposing new regulations to combat the possibility of money-laundering and fraud.

The Pope will set up a new Financial Information Authority to "prevent and combat illegal activities" in financial affairs.

The new rules are in response to criticism that unnamed officials have used the Vatican bank to mask illegal transactions.

COMMENTARY: Greek Clergyman's Anti-Semitic Remarks on TV Are Unacceptable

The Greek government last week condemned the Metropolite of Piraeus Seraphim for making anti-Semitic statements during a national television interview.

During the interview, Metropolite Seraphim blamed world Jewry for Greece's current financial problems. He also said international Zionism is trying to destroy the family unit by promoting one-parent families and same-sex marriages.

Infuriated by Metropolite Seraphim's hateful anti-Semitic remarks, the Greek government said his TV statements are an insult to Greece and an insult to "our very society of which the Greek Jewish Community is an inseparable part."

The American Jewish Committee also condemned Metropolite Seraphim's anti-Semitic statements, and called on the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church -- including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- to condemn them.

The fact is that not only should Metropolite Seraphim's statements be condemned, but he should also be defrocked for making such anti-Semitic remarks.

To blame Jews for a failing economy in Greece -- as well as other negative occurrences in society -- is nothing more than a rationalization being used, with Jews being the scapegoat for these occurrences.

For a Greek Orthodox Metropolite to state in a national TV interview that the Jews are the cause of today's major problems in society is irresponsible and discriminatory. Indeed, society would be a much better place in which to live without Metropolite Seraphim serving in an ecclesiastical position.

Backlash Occurs in Israel Over Foreign Migrants; Current Sentiment Viewed as Racist, Xenophobic

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today (December 29, 2010) that a growing backlash is now occurring in Israel against an estimated 32,000 foreigners who are in Israel illegally -- many of them Africans who sneaked into Israel from Egypt and whose numbers have swelled in the past three years.

The rising chorus of anti-foreigner sentiment -- coupled with the recent edict signed by many Israeli rabbis against renting or selling homes to Israeli Arabs -- have prompted a national debate about the depth of racism and xenophobia in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers this issue to be so serious that he posted a statement on the You Tube website last week, calling for Israelis to end the current incitement.

In his statement, Netanyahu said, "We are a country that respects all peoples, whoever they are. Citizens of Israel must not take the law into their own hands, neither through violence nor through incitement."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bulgaria May Hand Over Vranisovski to FYROM; Sentenced to 2.5 Years in FYROM for Money Abuse

The Sofia Morning News website reports today (December 28, 2010) that authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have been requesting the extradition of Orthodox priest Jovan Vranisovski, who was arrested in Bulgaria in mid-November as a result of an international police order.

Although the insistence on the FYROM side has been firm, Bulgarian authorities have not confirmed whether they intend to deliver Vranisovski to FYROM.

Vranisovski has a 2.5-year sentence enacted against him in FYROM, which is why he left that country. Formerly, he acted as a cleric in FYROM, but presented himself as the Exarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country.

The problem is that the Macedonian Orthodox Church split from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, and is not recognized by Serbia as a separate ecclesiastical entity.

Vranisovski was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for his abuse of church money.

Patriarch Kirill: Russia Must Have Basic Values; Says Deny Political Power to Dissenters of Values

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said today (December 28, 2010) that authorities and society in Russia need to agree on fundamental values and develop the country based on them, the Interfax-Religion website reports.

"We need to agree on the corpus of these values and say: If a party's political program doesn't agree with these values, this political power can't be in our society," the Patriarch said at his meeting with the State Duma (Congress) in Moscow.

He added, "If we have a clear set of values that no one can ignore, destroy, or fight against, then we will have a minimal foundation for public consensus."

According to Patriarch Kirill, it is "the strategy to develop people's life" and political forces should abandon "superstructure values."

Pastor Is Charged with Christmas Eve Burglary; Stole Several Items Worth Over $10,000 in Break

The Everyday Christian website reports today (December 28, 2010) that a woman pastor in Dallas, Texas is embroiled in controversy after she was charged with the Christmas Eve theft of more than $10,000 in fur coats, purses, and electronics from the home of one of her former congregants. She was also charged with resisting arrest.

Sandy McGriff, pastor of The Church of The Living God, said she was securing the items for a friend after having seen a side window broken and burglars coming out of Serita Agnew's house.

Agnew's neighbor, however, told police a much different story, saying he saw McGriff smashing the window and climbing in herself after climbing a ladder.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Greek Minister Blasts Turkish Forces in Cyprus; Forces Stopped Orthodox Service Christmas Day

The Athens News website reports that Greek Foreign Minister Grigoris Delavekouras said today (December 27, 2010) -- referring to a ban on Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies in the occupied Karpassia peninsula in Cyprus -- that "the forbidding of a religious ceremony to be held on Christmas day in Rizokarpasso and Yialousa constitutes a very serious violation of the human rights of the enclaved Greek Cypriots of Karpasia, and reveals the real face of the occupation regime, leaving exposed those who support it and are trying to beautify it."

The Turkish occupation forces stopped a religious service on Christmas day, at the Turkish-occupied villages of Rizoparpasso and Yialousa, where Greek Cypriots have been living under illegal Turkish occupation since 1974.

Delavekouras added, "the unacceptable negative actions of the occupation regime do not contribute to the creation of a climate facilitating the progress of negotiations and achieving a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus issue."

More Than 100,000 Pilgrims Travel to Bethlehem; Third Straight Christmas for Record No.of Tourists

The little town of Bethlehem saw the highest number of Christian pilgrims in a decade, according to the Christian Post website.

More than 100,000 people from around the world gathered in the town famous for being the birthplace of Jesus, up from 50,000 last year.

The number of pilgrims this Christmas marks the third straight year that Bethlehem has seen a record-high number of tourists during Christmas.

About a third of Bethlehem's residents are Christians, down from about 75 percent in the 1950s.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poll Shows Serbians Preferred Life Under Tito; Say Standard of Living Was Best During Tito's Rule

A new poll shows that as many as 81 percent of Serbians believe they lived best in the former Yugoslavia "during the time of socialism," according to the Balkan Insight website.

The survey focused on the respondents' views on the transition "from socialism to capitalism," and a clear majority said they trusted social institutions the most during the rule of Yugoslav communist president Josip Broz Tito.

The standard of living during Tito's rule from World War II to the 1980s was also assessed as best, whereas the Milosevic decade of the 1990s, and the subsequent decade since the fall of his regime are seen as "more or less the same."

According to the poll coordinator, Srecko Mihailovic, "what seems to be most disturbing" in the answers is that 23 percent of respondents think that Serbia is governed by criminals, 18 percent believe that the country is run by the president, the government and parliament, and another 18 percent believe that the country is run by owners of large companies, while 12 percent think that Serbia is ruled by "the international community."

The poll was conducted by the Center for Social Democratic Studies (CSSD), the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, and the Center for Free Elections and Democracy. It included 1,813 respondents.

Israeli Foreign Minister: Peace Is "Impossible;" World Is Likely to Recognize a Palestinian State

The CBS News website reports today (December 26, 2010) that Israel's foreign minister believes a peace deal with the Palestinians is impossible under current conditions -- and that Israel should not pursue one.

Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli diplomats today that Israel should instead seek a long-term interim agreement on security and economic matters. Palestinians have consistently rejected that approach.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down last September. U.S. mediators have not been able to restart them.

Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that if Israel does not enter into peace talks with the Palestinians, then "the whole world" -- including the United States -- is likely to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state, a development Israel would not like.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

VP Biden Believes Gay Marriage Is "Inevitable;" Obama Still Undecided If Gay Couples Can Marry

Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday (December 24, 2010) that the U.S. is evolving on the issue of gay marriage, and he believes it is inevitable that there will be a national consensus.

He said the same thing is happening with the issue of marriage that happened with gays' service in the military, according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

Changes in attitude by military leaders allowed the repeal by Congress last week of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that will allow gays to serve openly in the military.

President Obama said he is still wrestling with whether gay couples should have the right to marry, now that the change in the law will allow them to serve openly in combat.

Female Bomber Kills 45 at Pakistan Food Center; Pakistan Taliban Claims Responsibility for Attack

A burqa-clad female suicide bomber in Pakistan today (December 25, 2010) lobbed hand grenades, then detonated her explosive belt among a crowd at an aid center, killing at least 45 people in a key tribal region bordering Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press website.

The bomber -- dressed in a head-to-toe burqa robe -- charged toward a group of 300 people lined up outside the food and distribution center in the town of Khar, tossing two hand grenades before blowing herself up.

In addition to killing 45 people, the attack wounded more than 100, at least 30 critically.

The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the Christmas-day suicide attack -- the first by a female in Pakistan -- through its spokesman, Azam Tariq.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pope Prays for Peace in Midnight Christmas Mass; Views Christmas Night as God's Closeness to Man

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Christmas midnight Mass today (December 24, 2010), and in a sombre reflection during his homily noted how the promise of peace brought by Jesus' birth has yet to be fulfilled.

Thousands of people flocked to St. Peter's Basilica for the ceremony, while many more followed the proceedings on giant video screens in St. Peter's Square, the Earth Times website reports.

"This child (Jesus) has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might," the pontiff said in his homily.

Part of the significance of Christmas night is "simply joy at God's closeness" to mankind, he added.

COMMENTARY: Time to Put Christ Back in Christmas

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Were the gifts I just wrapped for the kids and my spouse.

The above mini-poem that I just wrote seems to be the meaning of Christmas for most Americans today; that is, buying, wrapping, giving, and receiving gifts for family members, close friends, and fellow workers.

The real purpose of Christmas -- the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago -- somehow seems to have been forgotten by most Christians. Except for hearing some Christmas songs on a CD or on the radio, most Americans devote little if any time even thinking about Christ during the Christmas season.

The fact is that we have become so involved with our own selfish desires -- such as giving and receiving gifts, decorating our homes, and going to parties -- that we have neglected the true meaning of Christmas.

In addition to exchanging gifts, the Christmas season should be a time when we genuinely glorify Christ and thank Him profusely for everything He has given us. In fact, Christ loved man so much, that He allowed Himself to be crucified, in order to save mankind.

We should fast, attend church services, and receive Holy Communion more often during the Christmas season to let Christ know that we really love and glorify Him.

To be sure, we can still "shop till we drop," and exchange gifts during "the most beautiful time of the year," but unless we also devote a large amount of our time worshiping and glorifying Christ, we have lost the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Greek Govt. Condemns Metropolite Seraphim; Says His Anti-Semitic TV Remarks Insult Society

The Greek government today (December 23, 2010) condemned a high-level Orthodox priest for making anti-Semitic statements during a television interview, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website.

The Metropolite of Piraeus Seraphim blamed world Jewry for Greece's current financial problems and for other ills in the country during an appearance last Monday on Mega TV, Greece's largest television network.

Metropolite Seraphim also said during the interview that there is a conspiracy to enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy, and he accused international Zionism of trying to destroy the family unit by promoting one-parent families and same-sex marriages.

George Petalotis, an assistant minister to Prime Minister George Papandreou, said in a statement issued today: "It is the government's duty to stigmatize as unacceptable the language that denies the Holocaust -- the biggest crime against humanity. These views insult Greece. They insult our very society of which the Greek Jewish Community is an inseparable part."

Yesterday (December 22), the American Jewish Committee called on the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church to condemn the Metropolite's statements.

Gaza Christians Head to Bethlehem for Christmas; Some 3,500 Christians, 1.5M Muslims Live in Gaza

More than 500 members of the Gaza Strip's Christian community left the blockaded territory today (December 23, 2010) to join Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the town where Christ was born.

About 3,500 Christians live in Gaza among 1.5 million Muslims, according to the Guardian (British) website.

The Rev. David Neuhaus, Roman Catholic vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Christian population in the Holy Land, said violence against Gaza Christians was largely "Islamic fundamental vigilante justice."

He also said, "Christians are not targeted by Muslims, but life is not simple when you live minute by minute according to the mores of a different religion."

Palestinians Want UN to Stop Israeli Settlements; Ask Countries to Recognize "A State of Palestine"

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 23, 2010) that the Palestinians have prepared a draft resolution condemning Israeli building on their biblical heartland -- Judea and Samaria on the West Bank -- and they intend to present the resolution to the United Nations Security Council.

The move comes after the U.S. backed down on its demand that Israel renew a freeze on building in Judea and Samaria earlier this month.

In response to the Palestinian draft resolution, Israeli ambassador to the UN Meron Reuben said Palestinian "attempts to bypass this road only move us further away from returning to the negotiation table and reaching a two-state solution."

During the past month, Palestinians have been urging countries to recognize "a state of Palestine" within the 1967 boundaries; that is, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Eastern Jerusalem. At least two Latin American countries -- Argentina and Brazil -- have already recognized "a state of Palestine."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kansas Churches Sue City Over "Driveway Fee;" Say It Is a Tax to Punish Churches on Attendance

The Christian Post website reports today (December 22, 2010) that two Kansas religious institutions have sued a city for imposing a tax-like fee that levies charges on the number of trips attendees make to their places of worship.

First Baptist Church of Mission and the Archdiocese of Kansas City are both suing Mission, Kansas to repeal the property tax attorneys say is disguised as a "driveway fee" to evade having to grant exemptions.

The "driveway fee" would cost the institutions over $1,000 in the coming year. The Mission City Council asserts that the fee is not a tax, but others disagree.

"No one should be taxing church attendance, but that's what this tax does: It punishes churches based on their attendance," said Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Erick Stanley, who is representing both religious institutions in the lawsuit.

COMMENTARY: Catholic Church Must Be Serious in Defrocking Abusive Priests

Pope Benedict XVI this week in his end-of-the-year speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops said revelations of child abuse by Catholic priests in 2010 reached "an unimaginable dimension" that required the church to accept the "humiliation" as a call for renewal.

At the same time, the pope said that society must share the blame for this phenomenon, because we are living in a society in which the mistreatment of children is "common."

Blaming a secular society in which mistreatment of children is common, can only be considered as an excuse -- or at least a softening -- by the pope for the abusive priests' inappropriate behavior. The fact is that there should be no sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, regardless of how society treats children.

The sexual abuse scandal of Catholic priests, which first occurred in the United States in 2002, erupted on a global scale this year with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and elsewhere of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to these crimes for decades.

Actually, the scandal dates back to the 1970s, as a result of the Catholic Church's policy of secrecy in which bishops transferred pedophile priests to different communities -- instead of defrocking them -- as a means of "resolving" this problem. In reality, this policy backfired, because most of these transferred priests again were sexually abusive toward children.

Many people have raised questions about how Pope Benedict himself handled abuse cases, both as an archbishop in Munich and as head of the Vatican office that handled abuse cases. Some people have even called for his resignation as pope.

Fortunately, Pope Benedict recently implemented a long overdue policy which calls for bishops to defrock sexually abusive priests. If this policy had been in use 40 years ago -- as it should have been -- the Catholic Church would have several billion more dollars than it has today.

But more importantly, such a policy would have prevented the sexual abuse of thousands of innocent children -- an abuse that these children will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

Iraqi Churches Cancel Christmas Mass, Festivities; Fear More Terrorist Attacks by Muslim Extremists

The Associated Press reports that Iraqi Christians today (December 22, 2010) called off Christmas festivities across the country, because al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on a beleaguered community still terrified from a bloody siege at a Baghdad church two months ago.

A council representing Christian denominations across Iraq advised its followers to cancel public Christmas celebrations out of concern over new terrorist attacks.

Church officials in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, the southern city of Basra, and in the capital, Baghdad, confirmed they will not put up Christmas decorations or hold evening Mass, and have urged worshipers to refrain from decorating their homes.

"Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "The situation of Christians is bleak," he added.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Phoenix Bishop Ends Hospital's Catholic Alliance; Calls Surgery to Save Woman's Life "An Abortion"

The Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona today (December 21, 2010) stripped a local hospital of Catholic affiliation after it ended a woman's pregnancy to save her life, according to the Reuters website.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead said he had no choice but to sever ties after St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center violated church teaching in the November 2009 case. He called the surgery involving the 11-week pregnancy "an abortion."

Linda Hunt, St. Joseph's hospital president, said she is saddened by Olmstead's announcement.

The patient suffered from pulmonary hypertension that could limit the functioning of her heart and lungs, the hospital said. Failure to end the pregnancy could have exacerbated the condition, it added.

Get Thee Out of the Nunnery, Bishop Tells Sisters; Three Nuns Had Decided to Convert to Catholicism

The Telegraph (British) website reports today (December 21, 2010) that three nuns have been forced to leave their convent, as a result of their decision to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism.

The nuns were told to leave the Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham by the Rt. Rev. Peter Wheatley, the Bishop of Edmonton and Visitor to the house.

Four older nuns, who also live in the house, were upset by the decision of the younger nuns, since they felt it divided the house, and left them running the community on their own.

Sisters Wendy Renate, Jane Louise, and Carolyne Joseph wanted to stay at the priory until they could be received as Catholics, but were told to leave.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jimmy Carter: US Will Soon Elect a Gay President; Compares Current Gay Issue to Former Race Issue

The CNS News website reports today (December 20, 2010) that former President Jimmy Carter says the US would be willing to elect a gay president "in the near future."

Carter made his remarks on the Big Think website, which describes itself as a "global forum connecting people and ideas."

Asked if the US is ready for a gay president, Carter said, "I would say the answer is yes. I don't know about the next election, but I think in the near future. Because step by step, we have realized that this issue of homosexuality has the same adverse and progressive elements as when we dealt with the race issue 50 years ago."

"Yes, I would say the answer is yes," Carter added.

UK Arrests 12 Men Suspected of Terrorist Plot; Suspects Had Links to Pakistan and Bangladesh

Police in Britain today (December 20, 2010) arrested 12 men -- ranging in age from 17 to 28 -- accused of plotting a large-scale terror attack on targets in the United Kingdom (UK), according to the Associated Press website.

The suspects had been under surveillance for several weeks, and were believed to have links to Pakistan and Bangladesh, security officials said.

Police swooped in before dawn this morning in coordinated raids on houses in four cities -- London, the Welsh city of Cardiff, and English cities of Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent.

John Yates -- Britain's senior counterterrorism police officer -- said today's raids indicated that the dozen suspects across the UK were planning something big. The suspects -- believed to be Islamist militants -- are British nationals with links to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Pope Reflects on Child Abuse by Priests in 2010; Says Abuse of Children Is Now Common in Society

The Newsvine website reports that Pope Benedict XVI today (December 20, 2010) told Vatican officials that they must reflect on the church's culpability in its child sex-abuse scandal, but he also blamed a secular society in which he said the mistreatment of children was frighteningly common.

In his traditional end-of-the-year speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops, Benedict said revelations of abuse in 2010 reached "an unimaginable dimension" that required the church to accept the "humiliation" as a call for renewal.

"We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen," the pope said.

Benedict also said, however, that the scandal must be seen in a broader social context, in which child pornography is considered normal by society and drug use and sexual tourism are on the rise.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Russian Orthodox Church Ends Govt. Comradery; Says Govt. Must Listen to the People, Not the Elite

The NFTU blog reports today (December 19, 2010) that disorders in the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities are calling into question the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian regime, with the church distancing itself from the state and the state no longer able to count on the unquestioned obedience of the church.

On December 18, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin -- head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department on Relations between the Church and Society and a protege of Patriarch Kirill -- made a remarkable declaration to a Moscow roundtable on recent developments of inter-ethnic relations in the Russian Federation.

He said, "It is evident that the majority of the population of the country is not completely satisfied with the social difficulties which exist, the actions of particular representatives of diasporas, the gap between the people and the making of decisions, corruption, illegality, and the total lawlessness of local powers that be."

Chaplin added, "If the powers that be would listen to the people, then and only then would the people acquire a firm footing. The powers that be today must listen not to the elites but to the people, and the elites, if they have a sufficient level of intellect and expertise, must be able to convince the people that what they propose is really useful for the people."

COMMENTARY: The Death of America's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Military Policy

The Senate vote yesterday (December 18, 2010) to end the 17-year ban on openly gay troops in America's armed forces, in effect, puts the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to its death. The House of Representatives has already voted to end the military ban on gays, and President Obama is against the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The fact that two federal judges -- in separate cases last month -- found the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy unconstitutional because it discriminates against gays and lesbians, indicates that this policy never should have been put in place.

Since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was implemented in 1993, some 14,000 American troops have had to leave the service for being gay. Many of these former troops plan to re-enlist now that they will be allowed to remain in the service, even if they admit that they are gay.

Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military is a step toward equality in America. Although we do not approve of the gay and lesbian lifestyle in America, we do believe that these people are entitled to equal rights.

As the two recent court rulings indicate, denying gays the right to serve in the military is unconstitutional.

The fact is that the U.S. Constitution makes it very clear that America is a democracy in which all of its people are entitled to certain inalienable rights -- among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- and it is imperative that these rights prevail in America, regardless of a person's race, nationality, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Kissinger's Secret Comments to Nixon Shocking; "Not an American Concern if Russia Gasses Jews"

Many Americans -- and especially Jews throughout the world -- have been shocked by remarks made by Henry Kissinger on secret White House recordings that were released last week by the Nixon Presidential Library Museum.

According to the Jewish Week website, Kissinger, who is Jewish himself, said, "The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."

Kissinger, then National Security Adviser, made the disgusting remarks on March 1, 1973, to President Nixon, after Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had requested that the United States intervene on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Nixon's response was no less disconcerting. He said, "I know, we can't blow up the world because of it."

Sociologists have a term they use to describe a person who betrays or bad-mouths his own ethnicity or religion. The term they use is called "self-hatred." Kissinger's indifference toward Jews going to gas chambers in the Soviet Union is a good example of self-hatred.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Report Voices Concern for Christians in Europe; Calls for Laws That Promote Freedom of Religion

A report released today (December 18, 2010) has voiced concern over the ability of Christians in Europe to publicly express their faith, according to the Christian Today website.

The report is released every five years by the Vienna-based Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe.

The report said, "Hate speech legislation has a tendency to indirectly discriminate against Christians, criminalizing core elements of Christian teaching.

It added, "We recommend that legislators carefully consider legislation with a view to freedom of religion, speech, and conscience especially with regard to its effect on Christians."

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Military Policy Shot Down; Senate, House Repeal It, President Favors Repeal

The New York Times website reports that the U.S. Senate today (December 18, 2010) cleared the way for repealing the Pentagon's ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

By a vote of 63 to 33, the Senate acted to cut off debate on a measure that will let President Obama declare an end to the Clinton-era policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell," which allows gay members of the armed forces to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret. The House of Representatives had already approved repealing the measure by a 250 to 175 vote.

Following the Senate vote today, President Obama said, "By ending 'don't ask, don't tell,' no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay."

At least two federal judges in separate cases last month ruled that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is unconstitutional, because it discriminates against gays.

Vatican Blasts China's Human Rights Violation; Clergy Forced by China to Attend Church Meeting

The Reuters website reports today that the Vatican has condemned "a grave violation of human rights" in China, where state authorities forced several bishops and priests to attend a meeting of a state-backed church that does not have the Pope's approval.

In a statement yesterday (December 17, 2010), it expressed "profound sorrow" that the body -- known as the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives -- forced Catholic clergy to attend the meeting in Beijing on December 7-9.

The Vatican said numerous bishops, priests, and lay believers loyal to the Pope were forced to attend, despite explicit instructions from the Vatican not to do so.

The Vatican said in a statement that it considers China's "persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens' lives as a sign of fear and weakness."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Court: Hofstad Group Was Terrorist Organization; Seven Men of Group in Holland Sentenced to Jail

The Dutch News website reports that the Amsterdam Appeal Court ruled today (December 17, 2010) that a group of seven young men -- who became known as the Hofstad group -- had formed an organization which aimed to carry out terrorist attacks.

The seven defendants were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 months and 13 years. The longest sentence went to Muslim convert Jason Walters.

The seven are part of a loose grouping of young Muslims that police named the Hofstad group. It includes Mohammed Bouyeri, who murdered film maker Theo van Gogh in 2004.

Italian Teens Send Nude Photos on the Internet; Survey Says They Do It to Receive Money, Gifts

The Life in Italy website reports today (December 17, 2010) that 14 percent of Italian teenagers send photos of themselves naked on the Internet, in order to receive gifts such as money or having their cell phone recharged, according to a survey that just came out this week.

Ten percent of these children are 15-years-old, the survey found.

The association Save the Children said the data was "worrisome."

The figures emerged as a result of a national convention for the Italian Society of Gynecology and Midwives about adolescents and Internet-related risks.

Poland Rips Russian Report on April Plane Crash; Polish Prime Minister Tusk: Report "Unacceptable"

A Russian report on last April's plane crash that killed the Polish president and much of the country's political and military elite is "unacceptable," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said today (December 17, 2010), according to the World News website.

The plane carrying Lech Kaczynski and 95 other top officials to a ceremony commemorating the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in Katyn crashed into woods on April 10 in Smolensk, Russia.

In the report, which was released today, Russian flight experts blamed the Polish pilot of the plane for the accident, because of his decision to approach the landing strip despite heavy fog and warnings by air traffic controllers.

In Poland, however, there has also been talk of alleged mistakes by the Russian airport personnel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pope: Christians Most Persecuted Religious Group; Says Year 2010 Marked by "Religious Intolerance"

The CNS News website reports that Pope Benedict XVI today (December 16, 2010) singled out Christians as the religious group that suffers from the most persecution, denouncing lack of freedom of worship as an "intolerable" threat to world security.

The message reflected a pressing concern by Benedict in recent months for the plight of Christian minorities in parts of the world -- especially in the Middle East.

"Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance," Benedict lamented in the message for World Peace Day, celebrated by the church on January 1, but traditionally released in advance.

He wrote that he was especially thinking of Iraq, "which continues to be a theater of violence and strife" as it aims for stability and reconciliation.

Serbian Bishop Irinej Blasts WWII Nazi Crimes; Ranks Them Worse Than Communist Crimes

Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Bishop Irinej says he is against any equating of the German Nazi crimes with those committed by communists in former Yugoslavia, the B92 website reports today (December 16, 2010).

"Without justifying any execution without a trial, we cannot put an equation sign between that kind of terror and the Holocaust," the SPC dignitary told the Holocaust Seminar at the Assembly of Vojvodina in Novi Sad.

Irinej said it was true that communist authorities of former Yugoslavia killed people without putting them on trial -- in the wake of World War II -- but he added there were no indications that among the murdered, apart from innocent victims, were also those who had been directly involved in Nazi formations who committed crimes against Jews, Serbs, and others.

The SPC bishop also noted that in Serbia, the Holocaust was conducted by the German occupying army, led by its special police, the Gestapo, and not the then government in Serbia, which was tolerated by the Germans.

Islamic-Christian Conference Held in Bethlehem; Designed to Advance Peace, Respect in Palestine

The Religion News website reports today (December 16, 2010) that more than 400 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders from across Palestine and the world gathered on December 14 at the first International Islamic-Christian Conference in Bethlehem.

Organized by Religions for Peace-Palestine -- in cooperation with the Palestinian Islamic Christian Commission -- the event was designed to advance dialogue and cooperation among Christians and Muslims in Palestine, and to enhance the culture of co-existence and respect for each other.

The conference was led by Sheikh Mohammad Husein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, and His Beatitude Michel Sabbath, Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem and a Religions for Peace Co-President.

Religions for Peace -- the world's largest multi-religious coalition -- promotes common action among the world's religious communities for peace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

COMMENTARY: Orthodox Hierarchy Needs to Assist Unpaid Bulgarian Priests

On December 13, 2010, the Novinite (Bulgarian) website reported that several Bulgarian priests and church employees decided to join a trade union -- something heretofore unheard of for clergy.

They joined the trade union because they were not paid and they did not receive statutory entitlements. This clergy union comes under the National Labor Confederation of "Podkrepa" (Support).

Late last month, the clergy from the northern Vratsa Eparchy voiced outrage against the Bulgarian Holy Synod over not receiving salary and benefits. The bank accounts of the Eparchy have been frozen due to staggering debt.

In some eparchies, priests receive less money than the minimum wage allows for in Bulgaria.

Church employee Hristo Latinov -- named as head of the clergy union -- said that it is "unacceptable, immoral, and scandalous" that priests are classified in the same labor law category as gravediggers and people with no college education. The clergy union is comprised of priests, sextons, administrative staff, and employees who manufacture candles.

The decision of Bulgarian priests to join a trade union has angered several church hierarchs who contend that a union of priests violates the church's internal canon law. These hierarchs believe that it is absurd for priests to join a union.

Incredible as it may seem, some Bulgarian priests have actually been "paid" in candles. This has resulted in one unnamed priest saying, "I cannot eat candles."

Unfortunately, this is a sad situation for many clergy in Bulgaria. Certainly, it is demeaning for a priest to have to join a trade union because he is paid so little -- or not paid at all.

Does this mean that Bulgarian priests could go on strike, in order to receive the salary to which they are entitled? They could go on strike, but doing so is very unlikely, since a strike -- especially a strike by priests -- is a violation of Christian principles and ideals.

Nonetheless, we cannot blame the unpaid or underpaid Bulgarian priests for joining a trade union. After all, these priests must provide food and other living necessities for themselves and their families.

Perhaps the Patriarch of Bulgaria or the Patriarch of Constantinople can assist these priests in receiving the compensation to which they are entitled.

Indeed, this is a sad situation and a stigma -- not only for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church but also for the Eastern Orthodox Church in general -- and it really needs to be addressed and resolved quickly at the highest administrative level of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

ACLU Warns Tenn. Schools about Christmas; Schools Ignore Warning, Focus on Christmas

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 15, 2010) that the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) -- a Christian legal group -- encouraged public school officials in Tennessee to continue recognizing Christmas, despite recent threats from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU warned public officials not to focus on one religious holiday -- like Christmas -- during the holiday season, claiming such action would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Hedy Weinberg, ACLU executive director in Tennessee, said people must embrace the constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment, in order to ensure that religious freedom flourishes.

But an ADF letter states, "No court has ever ruled that the Constitution demands school officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christmas."

Afghanistan Fighting Rises to Its Highest Level; Red Cross Finds It Difficult to Help Needy People

The Swiss Info website reports today (December 15, 2010) that the Red Cross is finding it more difficult to reach people in need in Afghanistan now than at any other time.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it expected fighting to increase in the coming year, just as it had in 2010 -- the deadliest year of the war in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Violence is at its worst across Afghanistan, with the insurgency spreading out of traditional strongholds in the south and east into once peaceful areas in the north and west.

The IRC said many areas of Afghanistan -- particularly in the north -- are now inaccessible not only for the IRC, but for hundreds of other aid groups as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Patriarch Kirill Calls on Society to End Extremism; Says Doing So Will Reduce Dangers of Radicalism

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church today (December 14, 2010) called on authorities, society, and religious organizations to join efforts in fighting the spread of radical views, according to the RIA Novosti (Russian) website.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia spoke following Saturday's riots in downtown Moscow, sparked by the death of a football fan killed in a street brawl by a dark-skinned internal migrant from the North Caucasus a week ago who said it had been self-defense.

Kirill said, "Fighting radicalism is the path to be followed to get inter-ethnic relations out of the dangerous state they are in."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has also urged a clampdown on clashes caused by racial, national, or religious hatred, as such acts "threaten the stability of the state."

Burglar Robs Orthodox Church in Syracuse, N.Y.; Steals Donation Box, Laptop, two TVs, and a VCR

The Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (December 14, 2010) that someone stole electronics and a donation box last week from St. Mary and St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Syracuse, NY.

The church was burglarized on the morning of December 9, according to the records.

Taken were a laptop, two small televisions, a VCR, a projector, and the donation box.

A witness said he saw a man leaving the scene with items from the church.

Iraq Builds Concrete Walls Around Its Churches; Govt. Is Determined to Avoid Church Massacres

The Church in Need website reports today (December 14, 2010) that concrete walls up to 10 feet high are being erected around churches in Baghdad and Mosul to protect Christmas worshipers in Iraq from being targeted by extremists.

The walls -- some of which are already in place -- are the strongest signal yet of the Iraqi government's determination to avoid a repeat of the October 31 massacre at Baghdad's Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, where 58 people were killed and more than 70 others were injured.

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said, "There is a kind of desperation. But whatever happens, the people are determined to celebrate the Christmas liturgy by any means possible."

Monday, December 13, 2010

U.S. Sends Seven FBI Bomb Experts to Sweden; Will Probe Suicide Attack by Islam Extremist

The FBI is sending seven bomb experts to Sweden to help investigate the weekend suicide attack by an Islamic extremist, the Swedish Wire website reports today (December 13, 2010).

The suicide bomber caused the twin blasts in a busy area of downtown Stockholm on Saturday evening (December 11), killing one person and injuring two others.

An Islamic website has named Taymour Abdelwahab as the attacker.

In messages before the blasts, the bomber said he targeted Sweden because of its military presence in Afghanistan and its support of Lars Vilks, who drew the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog in 2007.

India's UN Envoy Puri Is Detained at U.S. Airport; Refused to Remove Turban as Required by Security

The Daily Mail (British) website reports today (December 13, 2010) that India's UN envoy Hardeep Puri was detained for more than 30 minutes in a holding room at Houston Airport in Texas, after he refused to remove his turban.

The Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna today said, "We have taken it up with the U.S. authorities and the matter is at that stage."

Sikh men are expected to keep their heads covered in public at all times, and turbans are only to be removed in the most intimate of circumstances, or when washing. Sikhism is a Hindu religious sect that is popular in India.

Bulgarian Clerics Establish First Trade Union; Some Priests Receive Less Than Minimum Wage

The Novinite (Bulgarian) website reports today (December 13, 2010) that Bulgarian clerics and church employees have established a trade union, which became a member of the National Labor Confederation "Podkrepa" (Support).

This is the first ever clergy trade union in Bulgaria, and it joins an organization composed of 36 regional trade unions, 30 federations and national syndicates, and 4 associated organizations.

In late November, the clergy from the northern Vratsa Eparchy voiced outrage against the Bulgarian Holy Synod over not receiving salaries and benefits. The bank accounts of the Eparchy are blocked due to staggering debt and the Eparchy Council has been forced to sell church properties, in order to meet the needs of local clergy.

In some eparchies, high-ranking clerics demonstrate wealth -- such as expensive automobiles -- while other priests receive less than the minimum wage in Bulgaria.

VA Judge Strikes Down Federal Health Care Law; Rules It Exceeds Authority Const. Grants Congress

The Christian Broadcast Network reports that a federal judge in Richmond, Virginia ruled today (December 13, 2010) that the Obama administration's healthcare reform law is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson wrote that the statute's mandate for most Americans to obtain health coverage exceeds the authority granted to Congress in the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) filed the lawsuit challenging the measure last March, just minutes after President Obama signed the controversial bill into law.

The federal government is expected to appeal today's decision to the Supreme Court.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

COMMENTARY: Helen Thomas and Wayne State University in Disharmony

Helen Thomas has done it again -- bad-mouthed Jews, that is.

Last week, Thomas said the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street are owned by Zionists.

You may recall that Thomas was forced to resign her position as a Hearst Newspaper columnist last June, after she said that Israelis should get out of Palestine and go back to Poland, Germany, and other countries.

As a result of last week's mean-spirited words about Zionists by Thomas, Wayne State University in Detroit -- Thomas's alma mater -- decided to end the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award. The university considered her comments on Zionism to be anti-Semitic.

Thomas, in turn, blasted Wayne State for ending the award named for her, claiming the university "made a mockery of the First Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution in doing so.

So who is wrong in this situation -- Thomas or Wayne State? Actually, they are both wrong. Thomas is wrong because her comments are discriminatory toward American Zionists.

On the other hand, Wayne State is wrong in ending the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award as a means of retribution for her comments.

The fact is that an American university should be an institution that provides for a dialogue on a multitude of topics, including religion. This dialogue must allow for a freedom of expression and opinion of its discussants.

Failure to have a dialogue -- or ending it prematurely -- on a given topic does an injustice to the dialogue, in addition to being an insult to a university.

That said, by ending the Thomas award because of negative comments that Helen Thomas made about a religious group, conveys a paternalistic inflexibility and a denial of freedom of speech on the part of Wayne State University.

Indeed, by acting as it did in this situation, Wayne State has clearly illustrated that it is not cognizant of one of the primary roles of an American university; namely, the role of allowing freedom of opinion, even if that opinion may be in contrast to its own.

Poland Sees a Significant Increase in Secularism; Church Leaders in Country Have Lost Credibility

The (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette website reports today (December 12, 2010) that Poland is still an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, but supporters and critics of the Catholic Church acknowledge that the society is changing.

They agree that church representatives in Poland have lost authority and credibility, and that the majority of the population is now moving toward a more secular view of life.

Church supporters said that the trend was evident in numbers: 95 percent of Poles identify themselves as Catholics, but only 41 percent attend Sunday Mass regularly. In big cities -- like Warsaw and Krakow -- only about 20 percent attend Sunday Mass.

"It seems we are Catholics in a cultural way; we identify as Catholics, but do not attend church," said Tomasz Terlikowski, editor of Fronda, a conservative Catholic magazine.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thomas Blasts Wayne State for Ending Her Award; University Ended Award for Anti Semitic Remarks

The CNS News website reports today (December 11, 2010) that longtime journalist Helen Thomas and an Arab-American group have blasted Thomas' Detroit alma mater for pulling an award named for her, because of comments she made that the university called anti-Semitic.

Thomas told the Detroit Free Press that Wayne State University "made a mockery of the First Amendment" by ending the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

The university cited comments Thomas made last week in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. She said the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street are owned by "Zionists."

Thomas, who was born to Lebanese Orthodox immigrants in Kentucky, was forced to resign last June as a Hearst Newspaper Columnist, after she said Israelis should get out of Palestine and go back to Poland, Germany, and other countries.

WEA Dedicates Evangelical Center in New York; Will Serve as Conference, Research, Work Center

For the first time since its establishment over a century ago, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) now has a center to gather and unite Christian leaders from around the globe, with the opening of a new facility in upstate New York.

On December 9, 2010, leadership and staff from WEA -- the world's largest body of evangelicals -- held a dedication service and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center which will serve as a conference, research, study, and work center for evangelicals worldwide, according to the Christian Post website.

The Evangelical Center -- located in Binghamton -- is a 64,000-square-foot facility with conference halls, offices, classrooms, a library, sports facilities, and a dining hall.

It will house the offices of WEA, which represent over 420 million evangelicals around the world through its global network, and its training arm -- the WEA Leadership Institute.

Serbian Court Clears 10 of Sheltering Mladic; Arrest of Mladic Is Required for Serbia to Join EU

Due to a lack of evidence, a Belgrade court yesterday (December 10, 2010) cleared 10 people accused of sheltering Ratko Mladic, who is wanted internationally for a genocide trial, according to the Earth Times website. Prosecutors said they plan to appeal the decision.

Accused of human atrocities -- including the massacre of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and shelling and sniping of Sarajevo in the 1992-95 Bosnian War -- Mladic is believed to be hiding in Serbia.

At least between 2002 and 2006, Serbian authorities knew where Mladic was hiding.

Mladic's prolonged run from justice is one of the crucial obstacles in Serbia's bid for membership in the European Union (EU).

The EU has asserted to Serbia that it will not be allowed to step closer to EU membership until Mladic is arrested and handed to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Catholic Nun Arrested for Embezzling Over $1.2 M; Was Vice President of Finance for Iona College

A Catholic nun, who served as the vice president of finance for Iona College in New York state, was arrested yesterday (December 9, 2010) for allegedly embezzling more than $1.2 million from the school, according to today's New York Daily News website.

Sister Marie Thornton, 62, was charged with stealing from the New Rochelle-based Catholic college over a 10-year period, beginning in 1999 by submitting false invoices and using a college-issued credit card, prosecutors said.

After she surrendered to authorities yesterday, Thornton pleaded not guilty at a Manhattan Federal Court arraignment. She was released without bail.

More than 4,000 students attend Iona College, which is located 20 miles north of Manhattan.

Iran Airs New Confession by Woman to Be Stoned; Says Besides Adultery She Helped To Kill Husband

The Iranian woman -- sentenced to death by stoning for adultery -- confessed to helping a man kill her husband and re-enacted the alleged crime in an interview broadcast today (December 10, 2010) on Iranian state television, according to the Associated Press website.

The move was seen by Western officials as an effort by the Iranian government to reduce international criticism over her being stoned to death.

Iranian authorities can now use the murder charge to justify executing Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani by hanging instead of stoning.

Ashtiani described how she began an affair with a man identified as Isa Taheri. She said she gave her husband an injection that rendered him unconscious, and then Taheri came to her house and electrocuted him.

Protestant Pastor in Iran Is Sentenced to Death; Youcef Nadarkhani Became a Christian at Age 19

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old Protestant pastor who became a Christian at the age of 19, has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam, the Catholic Culture website reports today (December 10, 2010).

The "draconian language in the verdict makes it very clear that the Iranian authorities mean business," said Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom.

"He could be executed at any time. And for what? For being a Christian," Leo added.

Nadarkhani's attorney has appealed the verdict to Iran's supreme court.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vandals Destroy 2,000-Year-Old Tree in England; Holy Thorn Tree Was a Symbol of Christendom

The Telegraph (British) website reports today (December 9, 2010) that vandals destroyed a historic tree last night, whose roots can be linked back to the origins of Christianity nearly 2,000 years ago.

The Holy Thorn tree in Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury, Somerset, is regarded as one of Britain's most important symbols of Christendom, and is said to be derived from the original planted by Joseph of Arimathea.

The tree is one of several Holy Thorns located around Glastonbury, but is the most significant because of its placing on the spot where Joseph visited.

Serbian Premier Changes Nobel Boycott Decision; Sasa Jankovic Will Travel to Oslo as PM's Rep

Serbia has changed its mind and has decided to send an official to Oslo, Norway for this year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on December 10, according to the Balkan Insight website.

Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic will travel to Oslo as Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic's envoy, to attend the ceremony honoring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The prime minister's cabinet said the decision to send an envoy to the ceremony is in line with the expectations of the Serbian public.

The director of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Center, Natasa Kandic, said President Boris Tadic should stand up and admit the decision was "shameful."

"Tadic should say that the shameful decision on the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was not in accordance with Serbia's proclaimed policy of respecting human rights and fighting against their violation," Kandic said.

Saudi Man Is Sentenced to Perform Prayer Calls; Also Ordered to Memorize a Section of the Koran

The Worldwide Religious News website reports today (December 9, 2010) that a court in Badr, Saudi Arabia yesterday sentenced a man to perform prayer calls at a local mosque for one month.

The man had been convicted of covering up details of a theft and was given the sentence as an alternative to the standard Saudi punishment of whipping.

In addition to performing the call to prayer five times a day, the man has been ordered by the court to memorize a section of the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

Saudi Arabia follows sharia -- that is, strict Islamic laws -- which usually uses corporal punishment for criminal offenses.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

COMMENTARY: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...Despite Complaints by Minorities

The perennial Christmas season song, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Everywhere You Go," may not be as true as it was several years ago.

Why? Because non-Christians have complained that the word Christmas -- as well as the nativity scenes of Christ -- somehow violate their rights. Consequently, nativity scenes in public commons and public buildings have had to be taken down in several communities in recent years because of these complaints.

Today, the tables were turned, as Christians in Boca Raton, Florida complained to its city government that it was discriminating against Christians by displaying menorahs -- but no nativity scenes -- in its public buildings. This situation is a good example of an old saying: What goes around comes around.

Unfortunately, the Christmas season is also a time when non-Christians prefer to use the saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," despite the fact that 69 percent of Americans prefer "Merry Christmas." Apparently, the Christ part of the word Christmas upsets some non-Christians.

Many department stores limit the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" -- instead preferring to use the phrase "Happy Holidays" -- because they are afraid that they may upset non-Christian shoppers.

Wal-Mart -- which is currently in the midst of a multi-million dollar lawsuit for its discrimination in another matter -- is allegedly the worst offender for refusing to use the word "Christmas."

Wal-Mart refers to its Christmas trees as Holiday trees -- hard to believe, isn't it? -- and tells its employees not to use the word Christmas, even when returning a greeting to a customer who has said "Merry Christmas."

About 76 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christians -- that is more than three-fourths of America's population. Only about 5 percent of Americans make up non-Christian religions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), while the remainder (a little less than 20 percent) of Americans are non-believers or atheists.

With such an overwhelming percentage of Christians in America, it is only fair that religious minorities and atheists stop complaining about the use of the word Christmas or the public display of the nativity scene of Jesus.

The fact is that these religious minorities and atheists need to recognize that they are indeed minorities in a predominantly Christian society. That being the case, these minorities really have an obligation to respect the norms of the Christian majority -- after all, America is a democracy -- by allowing America's Christians to enjoy the Christmas season without being subject to unnecessary complaints.

Catholic League Rips Boca Raton Discrimination; Fla. City Displays Menorahs, No Nativity Scenes

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today (December 8, 2010) that a Catholic civil rights organization is accusing Boca Raton, Florida of discrimination for buying and displaying menorahs in public buildings without including a nativity scene.

"The city of Boca Raton is effectively discriminating against Christians by allowing one religious symbol, namely the menorah, to be displayed in public buildings, while censoring nativity scenes," Catholic League President Bill Donahue said in a statement issued December 7.

"Moreover, the menorah symbolizes a miracle that is recognized in Judaism as the religious symbol of Hanukkah," the statement said.

The Catholic League has offered to send the city a creche to display in a public building.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Greek Church Sues Port Authority of NY and NJ; Seeks to Compel Agency to Abide by 2008 Pact

A Greek Orthodox Church in New York City that was destroyed by terrorist acts on September 11, 2001 is taking legal action against the agency that owns ground zero, saying it has reneged on a promise to rebuild the church.

The Wall Street Journal reports that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church filed a notice of claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey yesterday (December 6, 2010). The notice of claim seeks to compel the agency to live up to what it says is a "binding preliminary agreement" from 2008.

The two sides spent years negotiating a deal that would let the church rebuild on land south of its original site in exchange for financial help. Negotiations broke down last March.

The agency said it has not seen the legal papers and declined to comment on the matter.

Serbia Will Boycott Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony; Imprisoned Dissident Liu Xiaobo Will Be Honored

Serbia is among 19 countries that will boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony this Friday (December 10, 2010) in Norway, where Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo will be honored with the award in his absence.

Serbia -- along with Russia and Ukraine -- are the only European countries that have said they will miss the ceremony, according to the Balkan Insight website.

The decision to grant this year's peace prize to the Chinese dissident was met with anger by the authorities in Beijing.

The prize committee praised Mr. Liu for his "long and non-violent struggle" and highlighted its belief in a "close connection between human rights and peace," but the Chinese government dismissed the "interference" in its home affairs.

Neither Liu Xiaobo -- who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion" -- nor his family will be allowed to leave China to attend the ceremony.

Worst Fire in Israel's History Has Been Put Out; Two Teenage Brothers Suspected of Setting Fire

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 7, 2010) that it took four days and aerial aid from 10 countries -- including the United States -- to extinguish the worst fire in Israel's history.

In the end, 42 people were killed, 12,500 acres of forestland destroyed, 250 homes damaged, and more than $50 million in damage caused, reports said.

By the morning of December 6, rain began falling in the Carmel region just south of Haifa, helping to end the deadly blaze.

It is still not certain how the fire started. Authorities arrested two teenage brothers on suspicion they had intentionally set the fire.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Argentina Recognizes Palestine as a "Free State;" PNA President Abbas Sought Recognition in Nov.

Argentina today (December 6, 2010) recognized Palestine as "a free and independent state" within its borders prior to the 1967 Six Day War, according to the Earth Times website.

The announcement today by the Argentine government followed Brazil's declaration of recognition on December 3.

The move came in a response to a request for recognition by Palestinian National Authority (PNA) president Mahmoud Abbas in late November.

There are about 360 families of Palestinian origin living in Argentina. The largest Jewish community in all of Latin America -- estimated to be over 180,000 people -- lives in Argentina.

Dr. Rowan Williams Will Minister Royal Wedding; Will Take Place at Westminster Abbey Next April

The Archbishop of Canterbury will officiate at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Telegraph (British) website learned today (December 6, 2010), although there has been no official announcement yet.

There had been mounting speculation that Dr. Rowan Williams would be overlooked for the role in favor of Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London.

Instead, Bishop Chartres will deliver the sermon after it was decided to share responsibilities between the two clerics by giving them both prominent roles.

Officials at Westminster Abbey -- where the wedding ceremony will take place next April -- have begun planning arrangements for the service. The Very Rev. John Hall, dean of the Abbey, will read the prayers.

Russia Now Has Over 30,000 Orthodox Churches; 23,000 Churches Restored in Russia Since 1990

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia today (December 6, 2010) cited statistics that 23,000 Orthodox Churches have been restored in Russia since 1990, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

"No other country has ever seen anything like that," he said.

"The world should be aware of Orthodox Russia's potential -- we are capable of performing a great feat of recreating the destroyed and desecrated things out of oblivion," Patriarch Kirill said.

In 1991, the former Soviet Union had 7,000 active churches, whereas the current number of churches has reached 30,000, he added.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

COMMENTARY: Time for the UN to End Islamic Barbarism Against Christians

A 17-year-old girl in Somalia was shot to death two weeks ago, because she converted from Islam to Christianity.

Perhaps the saddest part about the murder of Nurta Mohamed Farah is that it was most likely sparked by her own parents, because they had become so infuriated that she converted to Christianity.

Because Farah was so mistreated by her parents for her conversion -- she was even shackled to a tree -- she moved to live with some relatives in another part of Somalia. Nonetheless, two men came by her relatives' home shortly thereafter, and shot Farah twice -- once in the chest and once in the head -- causing her death.

This kind of barbarism in predominantly Islamic countries needs to be put to rest -- and fast. A person should have the right to convert to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism -- or any religion he or she desires -- without having his or her head blown off by Muslim extremists.

This savage behavior is nothing less than murder, and it should be treated accordingly. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials in Islamic countries tend to "look the other way" when a crime -- even murder -- involves Muslim barbarism against Christians.

I think of the Code of Hammurabi as I reflect on the brutal unnecessary ordeal that Farah went through for converting to Christianity. Hammurabi, you may recall from your ancient history or western civilization course, was a Babylonian ruler in the 18th century B.C.

His Code of Hammurabi was noted for initiating "lex talionis" -- that is, a punishment identical to the offense, such as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In the case of Farah's murder, the two men who committed this murder would be murdered themselves, then, based on the Code of Hammurabi.

Since most Islamic countries tend to forgo punishment against Muslims for their barbaric acts against Christians, the United Nations Human Rights division must take a serious look at this activity, and the UN must take whatever action is necessary against these nations to end this savagery. Then -- and only then -- will this Islamic barbarism be put to rest.

Pope, WCC Head Meet and Reaffirm Goals; Discuss Church Unity, Mideast Christians' Plight

The World Council of Churches (WCC) website reports that Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, met in a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican yesterday (December 4, 2010) for nearly a quarter of an hour.

The two church leaders discussed a number of issues, including church unity and the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Tveit said the pope was very interested in how the WCC will work with "our theological issues, and how we also strengthen the work of visible unity between the churches."

The WCC has 349 member churches -- mostly Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches -- that represent more than 550 million Christians around the world. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, but it has maintained close contact with the WCC, and has established itself as a partner in helping to steer the modern ecumenical movement.

Four Women Rabbis to Meet for First Time; To Celebrate Hanukkah Dec.6 in W. Newton, MA

Four pioneer female rabbis are meeting in the Boston area for what is being billed as a Hanukkah celebration, the Boston Herald website reports today (December 5, 2010).

The program Monday evening, December 6 -- called "Raising up the Light" -- features the first ordained North American Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative female rabbis, and an Orthodox rabba.

The panel discussion with Rabbis Sally Priesand, Sandy Sasso, and Amy Eilberg, and Rabba Sara Hurwitz is being held at Temple Reyim in West Newton, Massachusetts.

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts -- sponsor of this event -- says it is the first time all four of these women will have appeared publicly in one place.

The Orthodox branch of Judaism does not allow preaching in synagogues by women rabbis -- that is the reason Sara Hurwitz is called a rabba instead of a rabbi -- although it does allow them to teach and perform leadership roles in other Orthodox Judaic activities.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Somali Girl, 17, Shot Dead for Being a Christian; Parents Infuriated She Converted from Islam

A 17-year-old girl in Somalia -- who converted to Christianity from Islam -- was shot to death last week in an apparent "honor killing," according to the Christian Post website.

Nurta Mohamed Farah had left her parents' home to live with relatives, after her parents tortured her for leaving Islam. She died on November 25, 2010.

Area sources said they strongly suspected that the two unidentified men who shot her in the chest and head with a pistol were relatives or acting on her parents' request.

Relatives buried Farah. Her parents had severely beaten her for leaving Islam and regularly shackled her to a tree at their home, Christian sources said.

Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Israeli Fire; Israelis Attribute Fire to Negligence, Drought

The Asia News website reports today (December 4, 2010) that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the fire that has devastated the forests of Mount Caramel -- the most serious environmental disaster in the history of Israel; however, Israeli police authorities attribute the blaze to negligence and the prolonged drought that is affecting the region.

A new Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group -- called the "Lions of the Mujahideen in Palestine" -- claims to have set the fire to the trees of Mount Caramel, triggering the inferno that is still raging.

The fire has caused at least 42 deaths, the evacuation of 17,000 people, and destroyed thousands of acres of forest in addition to many homes.

Despite the intervention of fire-fighting aircraft sent from abroad, the flames are not yet under control and the strong wind has fueled the fire, which now threatens some suburbs of Haifa.

Chanukah Menorah Is Lit at Brandenburg Gate; Site in Berlin Was Once a Symbol of Nazi Power

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today (December 4, 2010) that Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, the Chabbad rabbi in Berlin, helped set up the towering menorah at the Brandenburg Gate -- once a symbol of Nazi power -- on the first night of Chanukah.

In what was "the cold, dark center," of Nazi Germany, "we are here to say Am Yisrael Chail" -- the Jewish people live, said Teichtal.

The menorah -- lit on December 1 -- will stay up for the full eight days, with a public candle-lighting ceremony held each night of the holiday.

More than 200,000 Jews are now living in Germany -- the majority of them being immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came after 1990.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Over 150 Anglican Clerics Will Join RC Church; Pope's Easing Process to Convert Woos Anglicans

The Catholic Culture website reports today (December 3, 2010) that the leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) has disclosed that over 150 clerics in his group -- including 17 bishops -- plan to enter ordinariates with the Catholic Church in 2011.

Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth -- in a message to members of the TAC -- expressed high hopes for the success of the ordinariates, although he revealed that the past year's negotiations have not always proceeded smoothly.

"There have been exquisite difficulties this year," Archbishop Hepworth conceded. "We have discovered how little detailed knowledge we have of the way the Catholic Church does things, and the Catholic officials have discovered, I believe, their need to acquire a better and more profound knowledge of contemporary Anglicanism."

A little over a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI eased the process for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, because many thousands of disheartened Anglicans left the Anglican Church. They left it because they were opposed to its adoption of ultra-liberal and non-Christian policies, such as its acceptance of women priests, as well as gay and lesbian bishops.

Soldier in Bosnia Suspended for His Hitler Salute; Sent Back to Austria for Discipline and a Trial

An Austrian soldier faces legal charges for giving the Nazi Salute on an international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to the Austrian Times website.

The 19-year-old member of the militia branch of the Austrian army is accused of racially insulting Bosnians and an Austrian soldier of Turkish origin at a recent birthday party.

Austria currently participates in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The soldier was suspended from the mission and sent home, it was announced today (December 3, 2010).

He faces a disciplinary hearing with the army and a trial, since his superiors reported the incident to the Austrian state prosecution.

"Merry Christmas" Is Preferred Seasonal Greeting; Wal-Mart Stores Refuse to Use Word "Christmas"

In a recent national survey of 1,000 respondents, 69 percent answered that they preferred to see the holiday retail signs with the greeting "Merry Christmas" over "Happy Holidays," the Christian Post website reports today (December 3. 2010).

Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver said the results to the November poll corresponds to what he has been saying all along. "People enjoy Christmas," he stated.

Staver believes some stores limit their use of Christmas because "they felt it would offend a minority of shoppers."

Wal-Mart was among the worst offenders for refusing to use the word "Christmas." Wal-Mart went so far as to tell its employees not to return a greeting of "Merry Christmas" even if it was said by a customer," Staver stated.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WCC Head Rev. Tveit to Meet with Pope on Dec 4; Hopes Papal Meeting Will Advance Christian Unity

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, says he hopes his upcoming audience in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI will advance Christian unity, the Ecumenical News International website reports today (December 2, 2010).

"It is important that we speak honestly in this meeting about the challenges we have," Tveit said of the December 4, 2010 meeting at the Vatican.

It will be Tveit's first meeting with Pope Benedict since the Norwegian Lutheran theologian took up his WCC post last January.

Most observers believe that the Vatican sees relations with the Eastern Orthodox churches as having a higher priority than contacts with Protestants.

Harvard Law Students Sue US Over Pat-Downs; Say Airport Security Measures Violate US Const

The US government is being sued in federal court by two Harvard University Law School students, who claim their constitutional rights were violated by "nude body scanners" and "enhanced pat-downs" at airports, according to the Newsmax website.

Jeffrey Redfern, 27, and Anant Pradhan, 23, who are members of the law school's class of 2012, said the security measures taken at airports are "intrusive" and violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, according to their complaint filed on November 29, 2010.

The plaintiffs, who were given pat-downs at Boston's Logan International Airport, found the process "highly intrusive, including touching, better described as prodding and lifting of the genitals and buttocks," they said in the suit.

Named as defendants were Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Patriarch Bartholomew Stresses Value of Unity; Says Truth Essential for Orthodox-Catholic Unity

The Zenit website reports today (December 2, 2010) that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople is underlining the value of unity with the Catholic Church, but is pointing out that truth must be its foundation.

"Unity in love is of no benefit if it is not at the same time unity in faith and truth," the patriarch said on November 30 during the celebrations for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the patriarchate.

Quoting St. Paul, the patriarch pointed out that "being sincere in love, according to the Apostle's exhortation, we maintain the theological dialogue by the unanimous decision of all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches to examine, in love and sincerity, both the theological questions that unite as well as those that divide, until we arrive at the unity of faith."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

COMMENTARY: Angelina Jolie Does Not Deserve The Epithet "Ignorant"

Angelina Jolie was called "ignorant" this week by a group of women who were victims of sexual violence during the Bosnian War (1992-1995), because she is directing a love story film taking place in Bosnia during that war.

In a letter to the United Nations Refugee Agency -- in which Jolie is a goodwill ambassador -- the Women Victims of War said, "Angelina Jolie's ignorant attitude toward victims says enough about the scenario... We believe she has no more credibility to remain the ambassador."

It is estimated that some 50,000 rapes against women and girls -- some as young as 12 -- occurred during the Bosnian War. These mass rapes were part of the "ethnic cleansing" policy of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his genocide of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).

Rumors surfaced in Bosnia in October, 2010 that Jolie's film included a scene in which a Serbian rapes a Bosniak woman, and then marries her. These rumors proved to be untrue, as the film's love story is about a Bosniak woman who falls in love with a Serb man.

Despite the clarification of the love story in this film, the Women Victims of War still are opposed to it, as is indicated by their letter to the United Nations this week.

While these women have the right to express their opinion of Angelina Jolie to the United Nations, their use of the epithet "ignorant" to portray Jolie is irresponsible and repulsive. Moreover, their statement that Jolie should no longer remain an ambassador in the UN Refugee Agency because of this film, is not relevant to Jolie's ability to perform the tasks required of an ambassador.

The fact is that Jolie -- probably more than any other American actor -- has been a godsend for charitable causes and for humanity in general. She even adopted a Cambodian boy in 2002, and an Ethiopian girl in 2005.

Indeed, these actions convey Jolie's genuine empathy and her constant endeavor to help less fortunate people.

If one word could be used to describe Angelina Jolie and her ongoing humanitarian efforts, that word should be "philanthropist."

Russian Patriarch Kirill Wants to Go to Space; Says Orthodox Church Approves of Space Operations

The Interfax-Religion website reports today (December 1, 2010) that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has stated his interest in going to space.

Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said, "The Patriarch would like to go to space if there is an opportunity. It turned out that he once carried out 19 training flights on a jet, performing various aerobatic stunts."

Patriarch Kirill said the Orthodox Church approves of all current space operations and displayed keen interest in space simulators at the training center in Star City, according to Perminov.