Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pope Hails Greek Orthodox Patriarch's Delegation; Asserts Search for Christian Unity Is Urgent Task

"Your presence is the sign of the profound bond that unites the Church of Constantinople with the Church of Rome in faith, in hope, and in charity," Pope Francis said yesterday, when he received the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which arrived in Rome to celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the Independent Catholic News website reports today (June 30, 2013).

The pope added, "The search for unity among Christians is an urgent task -- you have said that 'it is not a luxury, but an imperative' -- from which, today more than ever, we cannot prescind."

Francis praised the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches' fundamental contribution to the search for full communion.

The Holy Father concluded his address to the ecumenical delegation by calling on Saints Peter and Paul (patrons of the Church of Rome) and the Apostle Andrew (patron of the Church of Constantinople) to intercede "for our faithful and for the needs of the whole world, especially the poor, the suffering, and those who are unjustly persecuted for their faith."

Over 22M in Egypt Sign Petition to Remove Morsi; Is Accused of Failing to Carry Out 2011 Rev. Goals

More than 22 million people have signed a petition in Egypt demanding the departure of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and a snap election, the News Daily website reports today (June 30, 2013).

"Our petition has gathered 22,134,465 signatures," Tamarod (the opposition group) spokesman Mahmud Badr told journalists last night -- the eve of today's first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration for which it has called nationwide protests. Millions of protesters -- both for and against Morsi -- are expected to demonstrate throughout Egypt today.

The petition figure is higher than the number of people who voted for Morsi in last year's presidential election -- 12.23 million.

Morsi, 62, stands accused by his critics of failing to carry out the goals of the 2011 revolution that brought him to power, and of actually worsening his Islamic administration's relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church -- Egypt's largest Christian church.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pope Warns Prelates to Avoid Human Power; Asserts Faith in Christ Is the Light of Our Life

Pope Francis told prelates today (June 29, 2013) to shun the "logic of human power," pressing his campaign to root out corruption and other wrongdoing from the Vatican's scandal-tainted power structures, according to the Associated Press website.

The admonition came a day after the latest embarrassment for the Vatican hierarchy -- the arrest by Italian authorities of a Vatican accountant -- in a probe of an alleged attempt by the prelate to secure the smuggling of 20 million euros ($26 million) in banknotes from Switzerland into Italy.

The Italian monsignor -- who was suspended a few weeks earlier from his job in the Vatican finance office -- is also under investigation in a separate money-laundering probe by prosecutors in southern Italy.

"Whenever we let our thoughts, our feelings, or the logic of human power prevail, and we do not let ourselves be taught and guided by faith, by God, we become stumbling blocks," the pope said. "Faith in Christ is the light of our life as Christians and as ministers in the church."

American Jewish Student Killed in Egypt Protests; Andrew Pochter Stabbed When Filming Clashes

A 21-year-old American Jewish student from Chevy Chase, Maryland was killed yesterday during protests in Alexandria, Egypt. Andrew Driscoll Pochter had been in Egypt working for a nonprofit organization called Amideast, the Newser website reports today (June 29, 2013).

Pochter went to Alexandria for the summer to teach English to 7- and 8-year-old Egyptian children and to improve his Arabic, according to his parents. He was looking forward to returning to Kenyon College for his junior year and to spending his spring semester in Jordan, his parents said.

Pochter was stabbed in the chest during protests in Alexandria, say Egyptian authorities. The U.S. State Department says he had been photographing the clashes between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi near the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood when he was stabbed.

His family said: "He went to Egypt because he cared profoundly about the Middle East, and he planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding."

Femen Holds Topless Protest in Swedish Mosque; Seek Women's Rights, Opposed to Islamic Law

Three feminist activists -- from the radical feminist protest group Femen -- staged a topless protest inside a Stockholm, Sweden mosque today (June 29, 2013), before they were led away by police, according to the Hurriyet Daily News website.

The women burst into the mosque and tore off their black robes to bare their breasts, which were emblazoned with slogans such as "No sharia in Egypt and the world" and "My body is mine, not somebody's honor."

The women shouted "Free Women," "No Sharia," and "No Oppression." The mosque was largely empty at the time, except for a couple of employees and some members of the press who had been told of the planned protest.

Mosque employees called police who removed the women from the scene. Founded in Ukraine in 2008 -- and now having members in several additional European countries -- Femen is a self-declared "radical feminist" group known for its topless protests against sexual exploitation of women, sexism, and religious institutions.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Poland, Ukraine Bishops Sign Conciliation Paper; Forgive Evil on 70th Anniv. of Volhynia Massacres

Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Roman Catholic Episcopate, and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church, were the chief signatories today (June 28, 2013) of a Joint Declaration of Reconciliation document, according to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine website.

The declaration calls on Poles and Ukrainians to "open minds and hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation."

The appeal accompanies the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to World War II.

Besides citing "the evil" that was done against ethnic Poles, the resolution also refers to Polish counter-attacks, and the partisan war that unfolded. It is estimated that about 2,000 to 3,000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when fighting spread to other areas of southeast Poland from 1944 to 1947.

Vatican Priest Arrested for Illegal Money Scheme; Sought $26M in Cash from Switz. in a Private Jet

A Vatican official has been arrested by Italian police for allegedly trying to illegally bring $26 million in cash into the country from Switzerland with a private jet, the New York Post website reports today (June 28, 2013).

Prosecutor Nello Rossi says Monsignor Nunzio Scarano is accused of corruption and slander stemming from the plot, and was being held at a Rome prison.

He was allegedly asked by friends to bring back the money that had been given to financier Giovanni Carenzio in Switzerland. Scarano allegedly asked Giovanni Zito -- a military official -- to bring the money back by jet, thus avoiding customs.

Scarano was allegedly due to pay Zito a commission of 600,000 euros for the work. He paid only an initial installment of 400,000 euros before being arrested.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Woman Is the 500th Person Executed by Texas; Last Words:"I'm Going Home to Be with Jesus"

Kimberly McCarthy became the 500th person to be executed by the state of Texas yesterday since the death penalty was reinstated. In her final words, she said that she was "going home" to be with Jesus, and encouraged witnesses to "keep the faith," the Christian Post website reports today (June 27, 2013).

"This is not a loss. This is a win. You know where I'm going. I'm going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love you all," were McCarthy's final words before she was given a lethal dose of pentobarbital, and later pronounced dead.

McCarthy -- a former nursing home therapist who became addicted to crack cocaine -- was punished for a crime she was judged to have committed in 1997, a murder and robbery of her neighbor, a retired professor.

Tied to two other killings, she had been on death row for years, but was granted a reprieve in January while her lawyers appealed the case, claiming the jury was racially biased against her.

National Cath. Rings Bells to Glorify Gay Marriage; Cath. Dean: High Court Rulings Allow Gay Equality

The National Cathedral is ringing its church bells -- along with some other Washington, D.C. churches -- to celebrate yesterday's Supreme Court decisions in favor of gay marriage, the Religion Today website reports today (June 27, 2013).

Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said the bells rang at noon yesterday for 45 minutes to an hour. Bells also rang at other Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian churches.

The National Cathedral scheduled a prayer service for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender families last night at 7 p.m. to celebrate the rulings.

The Rev. Gary Hall -- the cathedral's dean -- said in a statement that the church was ringing its bells "to celebrate the extension of federal marriage equality to all the same-sex couples modeling God's love in lifelong covenants." Hall added that the rulings should serve as a call for Christians to embrace religious marriage equality.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Boston Card.O'Malley Bans Priest from Dioc. Land; Radical Austrian Priest Schuller Tours US in July

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley says Fr. Helmut Schuller -- who is considered by many theologians to be a radical Austrian priest --  cannot speak on archdiocesan property, thus forcing a rescheduling of the Boston leg of his 15-city tour, which begins July 15, the National Catholic Reporter website reports today (June 26, 2013).

Last week, Cardinal O'Malley ruled that "Father Schuller could not speak at any Catholic parish because he espouses beliefs that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church."

Schuller is founder of the Austrian Priests' Initiative -- a group of Austrian priests pushing for institutional reforms in the Catholic church.

The group issued an "Appeal to Disobedience" in 2011, calling for (among other things) acceptance of women and married people to the Catholic priesthood.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Over 50 Percent of Workers Don't Like Their Jobs; One in Five Drain Co. Resources, Raise Discontent

More than half of Americans don't like their jobs, according to a recent poll. What's more, up to one in five aren't just uninspired at work, but are actively damaging their companies by draining resources and lowering morale, the Yahoo Finance website reports today (June 25, 2013).

According to polling firm Gallup's survey of about 150,000 full and part-time employees in 2012, 18 percent of employees could be characterized as "actively disengaged." These employees take more sick days, monopolize their managers' time, and -- perhaps most significantly -- spread their discontent among the staff.

"Actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work; they're busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish," the report concludes. Gallup estimates that this class of workers costs the U.S. between $450 billion and $550 billion a year in lost productivity.

Employers can hope that their good employees can beat out the bad, and perhaps sway the majority of simply unmotivated workers. About 30 percent of employees surveyed appeared to be actively and psychologically committed to work, but about 50 percent were unengaged by their work or managers. What appears to help tip the balance is the fact that actively disengaged employees quit at a higher rate.

Transgender 6-Year-Old Can Use Girls' Bathroom; Colo. Ruling Is 1st Favoring Transgender Students

The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled on June 23 that Coy Mathis -- a transgender 6-year-old who identifies as a female -- has the legal right to use the girls' bathroom at his elementary school in Fountain, Colorado. The ruling concluded that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 created an unnecessary situation in which Mathis would be subject to harassment when it barred him from using the girls' bathroom, the Christian Post website reports today (June 25, 2013).

Steven Chavez -- the division director for the Colorado Civil Rights Division -- wrote in his decision, that prohibiting Coy and telling him "that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive."

The decision marks the first ruling in the nation holding that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms that match the gender with which they identify, and the most comprehensive ruling ever supporting the rights of transgender people to access bathrooms without harassment or discrimination. The decision  could serve as a precedent for all 50 states.

Mathis' parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, filed a complaint with the state's civil rights division, after the school district told them their first grader would not be allowed to use female bathrooms. Now, transgender advocates are hailing the civil rights decision as a major step toward equal rights.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Former Italian PM Berlusconi Guilty of Sex Acts; Paid Under-Age Prostitute for Sex at Milan Villa

A court in Milan, Italy has convicted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- a billionaire -- of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute during infamous "bunga bunga" parties at his Milan villa, and then using his influence to try to cover it up, the New York Post website reports today (June 24, 2013).

Berlusconi, 76, was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life. The ban on holding office could mean the end of Berlusconi's two-decade political career. However, Berlusconi has the right to appeal at two more court levels before the sentence would become final.

Berlusconi holds no official post in the current Italian government, but remains influential in the uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive elections in February.

Both Berlusconi and Karima El Mahroug -- the Moroccan prostitute at the center of the scandal -- have denied ever having sex.

Pope Francis' No-Show at Concert Stuns Cardinals; Is More Concerned with Appraising Church Crises

A last-minute no-show by Pope Francis at a concert where he was to have been the guest of honor has sent another signal that he is going to do things his way, and does not like the Vatican high life, the Reuters website reports today (June 24, 2013).

The gala concert on June 22 was scheduled before his election in March. But the white papal armchair set up in the presumption that he would be there remained empty.

Minutes before the concert was due to start, an archbishop told the crowd of cardinals and Italian dignitaries that an "urgent commitment that cannot be postponed" would prevent Francis from attending the concert.

The prelates -- assured that health was not the reason for the no-show -- were stunned and looked disoriented, realizing that the message he wanted to send was that, with the Church in crisis, he had too much pastoral work to do to attend social events.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Taliban Kills 11 on a Mountain Tour in Pakistan; Calls it Retaliation for Leader Killed By US Drone

At least a dozen Islamic militants wearing police uniforms last night shot to death a Pakistani and 10 foreign tourists -- including an American -- who were visiting one of the world's highest mountains in a remote area of northern Pakistan that has been largely peaceful, the Newser website reports today (June 23, 2013).

The local Taliban took responsibility for the killings, saying it was to avenge the death of a leader killed in a U.S. drone strike on May 29. "By killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks," said a spokesman.

The attack took place at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world at 26,660 feet.

"The government of Pakistan expresses its deep sense of shock and grief on this brutal act of terrorism," said a statement by the foreign ministry, stating it would "take all measures to ensure the safety of foreign tourists."

Syrian Rebels Behead Christian for Rebel Criticism; Man's Headless Corpse Eaten by Dogs on Roadside

Syrian rebels beheaded a Christian man and fed his body to dogs, according to a nun who says the West is ignoring atrocities committed by Islamic extremists, the Creeping Sharia website reports today (June 23, 2013).

The nun said taxi driver, Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped after his brother was heard complaining that fighters against the ruling regime behaved like bandits.

She said the headless corpse was found by the side of the road, being eaten by hungry dogs. He had recently married and was soon to be a father.

Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix said: "His only crime was his brother criticized the rebels, accused them of acting like bandits, which is what they are."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Priest Rips Nancy Pelosi for Supporting Abortion; "Comply with Church Values or Renounce Faith"

Friar Frank Pavone -- national director for Priests for Life -- isn't pulling any punches in a letter he penned to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a self-proclaimed Catholic: Either comply with the teachings of the Church, or renounce your faith, he wrote to Pelosi, the Washington Times website reports today (June 22, 2013).

The priest was especially outraged at Pelosi's open pro-abortion views, seen as a direct conflict with Catholic teachings. His letter came on the heels of her recent explanation to a reporter that abortion was in line with her religious views.

Friar Pavone further wrote: "Whatever Catholic faith you claim to respect and practice, it is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches. And I speak for countless Catholics when I say that it's time for you to stop speaking as if it were."

He added, "Mrs. Pelosi, for decades you have gotten away with betraying and misrepresenting the Catholic faith as well as the responsibilities of public office. We have had enough of it. Either exercise your duties as a public servant and a Catholic, or have the honesty to formally renounce them."

Christian School Separates Boys, Girls in Sports; Won't Let Girl, 12, Play on Boys' Football Team

A private Christian school in Georgia is maintaining its policy regarding gender and sports in spite of the objections of one female student, who wishes to continue playing on the school's boys' football team, the Christian Post website reports today (June 22, 2013).

Maddy Blythe, a 12-year-old female student at Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, Georgia, is decrying the school's policy regarding gender and sports, as she has played on the boys' football team for the past year and wishes to keep playing.

The school, however, has responded by saying its policy dictates that middle school students play on their respective gender's team, and therefore Blythe will no longer be able to play on the boys' team next season.

"Our official policy is that middle school girls play girl sports and middle school boys play boy sports," Phil Roberts, athletic director at the private Christian school, said in an emailed statement to the local news media.

Friday, June 21, 2013

U.S. Charges Ex-NSA Contractor with Treason; Leaked Classified Papers on Govt. Spying to Press

Edward Snowden -- the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor whose leaking of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of U.S. government surveillance -- has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property for disclosing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers, the New York Times website reports today (June 21, 2013).

The charges were filed under seal on June 14 and unsealed late today. American officials said they had asked authorities in Hong Kong -- where Snowden is believed to be hiding -- to detain him while an indictment and an extradition request were prepared.

The attempt to extradite Snowden may produce a lengthy legal battle whose outcome is uncertain, because the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong includes an exception for political offenses, and Snowden could argue that his prosecution is political in nature.

Snowden -- who turned 30 today -- fled to Hong Kong last month, carrying four laptop computers, after leaving his job at the NSA's eavesdropping station in Hawaii. He has given hundreds of highly classified documents to The Guardian, the British newspaper, which has written a series of articles about the incredible amount of eavesdropping that the U.S. government conducts. Snowden said he did so -- even though he knew he was violating the law --  because he could not live, in good conscience, with Americans secretly being denied their freedom and their right of privacy.

Serbian Priest Beats Addict to Death, Gets 20 Years; Branislav Peranovic Is Guilty of 2nd Degree Murder

A Serbian Orthodox priest was jailed for 20 years today (June 21, 2013) for beating to death a drug addict in his care -- an incident seen as being a blow to the reputation of Serbia's influential Orthodox Church -- according to the Reuters website.

A court in the western Serbian town of Sabac found priest Branislav Peranovic guilty of second-degree murder, saying he punched, kicked, and beat to death Nebojsa Zarubac with a 1.5-meter stick in August 2012.

"The sentence could have been greater, given the brutality, the way in which he was killed," said the victim's father, Milos Zarubac, according to Serbian Radio B92.

The case comes against a backdrop of rising friction between the Orthodox Church and Serbia's government, which have clashed over Belgrade's increasingly conciliatory position on Serbia's former province of Kosovo -- home of some of the church's most prized monasteries -- an independent Albanian-majority nation since 2008.

Israel's Chief Rabbi Metzger Is Probed for Bribery; Is Accused of Stealing a Huge Amount of Shekels

Police from the National Fraud Squad in Israel raided the home and offices of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger yesterday (June 20), and questioned him under caution for hours, as part of a bribery, fraud, money-laundering, and breach-of-trust case. Metzger was released to five days house arrest last night following some 10 hours of questioning, the Jerusalem Post website reports today (June 21, 2013).

Metzger is forbidden to enter his offices, leave the country, or make contact with any of the other suspects in the case.

Metzger and three other men are suspected of being involved in the pilfering of hundreds of thousands of shekels from a number of charities.

Following an undercover investigation, officers went public yesterday, arresting the three suspects and seizing documents, computers, and other materials from Metzger's home and office they believe may be linked to the allegations. The suspects include Haim Nissan Eisenshtat, who worked for years as Metzger's driver and personal assistant. Eisenshtat is accused of taking bribes, fraud, breach of trust, and money laundering.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Obama's Speech Angers Cath. in Northern Ireland; Tells Belfast Crowd Catholic Schools Are "Divisive"

President Barack Obama is under fire this week after a speech he gave in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in which he labeled Catholic schools "divisive" and likened them to former segregated schools in America's Deep South, the Life Site News website reports today (June 20, 2013).

Obama's comments have not only angered Catholics in Northern Ireland, but also have put him at odds with the Vatican's highest authorities in what remains an extremely complex and sensitive internal political dispute.

In comments that the "Scottish Catholic Observer" called "alarming" and "unfounded," Obama implied that tensions between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland would be eliminated if there were no separation between Catholic and Protestant schools.

"Issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity -- symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others -- these are not tangential to peace; they're essential to it," Obama said.

Four Convicted in KY for Assaulting Gay Relative; Get Prison Sentences Under Fed. Hate Crime Law

Two men and two women were convicted in Kentucky yesterday (June 19) for kidnapping and assaulting a gay relative, the Daily Beast website reports today (June 20, 2013).

The four received varying prison sentences for taking Kevin Pennington to a deserted state park road and assaulting him in April 2011.

The two men received 30-year and 17-year sentences, while the two 20-year-old women both received just eight years because they testified against their male relatives.

The women were the first people to be convicted under the federal hate crime law, which was expanded in 2009 to include crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or race.

Pope Francis Alters Cath. Mass to Add St. Joseph; Doing So Gives Church's Grace to "Fatherly Care"

The Vatican announced today (June 20, 2013) that Pope Francis has approved a change in the Catholic Mass -- effective immediately -- to include prayers referencing St. Joseph, according to the Huffington Post website.

The additions -- which in English amount to five words inserted after the Eucharistic prayer -- were issued by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The new words, "with blessed Joseph, her spouse," follow a mention of Mary and are included in three different versions of the prayer.

The change reflects the church's growing interest in "fatherly care," said the Rev. Dan Merz, associate director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"It's emphasizing that St. Joseph was someone who protected the Blessed Virgin and who cared for Jesus. We call him the foster father of Jesus, but we have to think of that word in the sense that he fostered the humanity of Jesus," said Merz. "He nurtured and helped Christ grow into an adult."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

FBI Chief: Drones Are Used in US for Surveillance; Congress May Pass Law to Limit Drones in the US

The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) acknowledged today (June 19, 2013) that his agency uses drones (pilotless remote-controlled airplanes) to conduct surveillance in the United States, but said it does so rarely, according to the Wall Street Journal website.

When asked about drones today at a Senate hearing, FBI director Robert Mueller said the agency uses them "in a very, very minimal way, very seldom."

Federal agencies have been using drones for years to monitor the northern and southern borders of the U.S., and those drones have occasionally been deployed to help domestic law-enforcement agencies like the FBI.

The use of such drones is politically charged and civil-rights advocates say there are no clear privacy rules governing the use of drones. That being the case, U.S. Congressmen and Senators are planning to pass a law soon,  forbidding the U.S. government from using drones to kill Americans in the U.S., because doing so would deny Americans of their constitutional rights to due process of law.

Few Religious Groups Fighting Climate Change; Pope Francis to Focus on Environmental Caring

Few religious communities have gone as far in fighting climate change as a church in Queensland, Australia, which has 24 solar panels bolted to the roof in the shape of a Christian cross, the Reuters website reports today (June 19, 2013).

"It's very effective. It's inspired some members of our congregation to install panels on their homes," Rev. David Lowry said of the "solar cross" mounted in 2009 on the Caloundra Uniting Church, which groups three Protestant denominations.

Many religions have been wary of moving to install renewable energy sources on their places of worship -- or of taking a strong stand on climate change in general -- despite teachings that people should be custodians of nature.

But that is slowly changing, thanks to current religious leaders including Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis's stress on environmental protection since he was elected Pope in March and his choice of the name of a 13th century nature lover -- Saint Francis of Assisi -- is expected to make a difference for all religions trying to work out how to safeguard the planet from threats, including climate change.

Also, Patriarch Bartholomew -- spiritual head of the world's Greek Orthodox Christians -- has been so concerned about maintaining a clean environment that he was nicknamed "the Green Patriarch" by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Taliban Kills Americans After Peace Office Opens; Afghan Pres. Pulls Out of Security Talks with U.S.

Four American troops were killed in a rocket attack on a convoy near Bergram Air Base in Afghanistan today (June 19, 2013), just hours after the the Taliban office opened its doors for peace talks with the U.S.  in Doha, Qatar, according to the Newser website.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as Afghan forces formally took charge of the country's security.

In another setback for the hopes of military stability, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced today that the Afghan government was pulling out of talks on a new security deal with the U.S.

Karzai's announcement is believed to be a protest at his government being sidelined by U.S.--Taliban talks.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bulgarian Orth. Church Rips Planned Gay Parade; Claims It "Jeopardizes the Moral Pillars of Society"

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has condemned the upcoming Sofia Pride LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) parade in the nation's capital, claiming the event would "jeopardize the moral pillars of society," the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (June 18, 2013).

The Orthodox Church has claimed that "homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality are an unnatural and harmful violation of God's will."

The clerics also believe that "unnatural" relations between people would "devalue" their personality.

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has called upon the Bulgarian government to cancel the LGBT parade, which is scheduled to take place on June 22.

Cath.Elem.Teacher Loses Job Due to Ex-Husband; Diocese Fears His Domestic Abuse Endangers Kids

A veteran teacher at a Catholic school has lost her job because officials are worried her ex-husband -- now serving a jail sentence for domestic abuse and stalking -- will pose a danger to students and teachers after he is released on June 28, the LA Times website reports today (June 18, 2013).

When Martin Charlesworth, 41, showed up at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, California in January, school officials put the school on lockdown and called police. By coming to the school, he was in violation of a restraining order, court records indicate.

Later, school officials put second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth on "indefinite leave" and removed her four children from the school. Since then, Charlesworth, 39, has been on paid leave, but recently was informed that -- after 14 years as a teacher in the San Diego Catholic diocese -- she will not be offered a teaching job for next school year.

"Please understand that this was a very difficult decision to make, and we are deeply, deeply sorry about this situation," the diocese's director of schools wrote. He added, "We will continue to pray for you and your family."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Streisand Blasts Jewish Rel. Practices in Israel; Singer Upset Ultra-Orth. Jews Shame Women

Entertainment star Barbra Streisand is attacking Jewish religious practices in Israel that treat women differently from men, the Newsmax World website reports today (June 17, 2013).

Streisand says she is distressed to read about women in Israel "being forced to sit on the back of the bus,"  women being assaulted while praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall, and women prohibited from singing in public. She was referring to recent incidents demeaning women that are observed by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Streisand was speaking today at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, where she received an honorary Ph.D. noting her dedication to Israel. She urged equality and praised the university for issuing its largest-ever number of doctorates to women this year.

The American Jewish singer is in Israel to attend the 90th birthday party of Israeli President Shimon Peres before holding her first-ever concerts in Israel this weekend.

Lutherans,Cath. to Co-Mark Reformation Anniv.; Say That Condemning Each Other's Faith Is Over

Senior Roman Catholic and Lutheran officials announced today (June 17, 2013) they would mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 as a shared event -- rather than highlight the clash that split Western Christianity -- the Reuters website reports.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) presented a report in Geneva admitting both were guilty of harming Christian unity in the past and describing a growing consensus between the two churches in recent decades.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses -- the doctrinal challenge that launched the Protestant Reformation -- will be the first centenary celebration in the age of ecumenism, globalization, and the secularization of Western societies.

"The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the 16th century is over," the report said. It added, "The reasons for mutually condemning each other's faith have fallen by the wayside,"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Iran to Send 4K Troops to Syria to Support Assad; Decision Was Made Before June 14 Pres. Election

Iran has decided to deploy 4,000 troops to Syria to aid Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in a civil war against rebels, the RIA Novosti (Russian) website reports today (June 16, 2013).

The decision to send a contingent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria was taken before the June 14 presidential election, which brought reformist-backed cleric Hassan Rouhani to power in Iran.

This comes after Washington announced on June 13 that it will provide support to Syria's rebels, saying it has "high confidence" the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. The Syrian government denied the accusations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on June 14 that U.S. military aid to Syrian rebels may lead to further escalation of violence in Syria. Some 93,000 Syrians have been killed in the the civil war that has been going on in Syria since March 2011.

Kidnapped Syrian Archbishops Most Likely Killed; Rel. Rights Agency Believes They Died on April 22

Speakers at a conference in Oxford, England last week gave strong indications that the two Orthodox Christian archbishops kidnapped near the Syrian city of Aleppo on April 22 have been killed, The Tablet (British) website reports today (June 16, 2013).

A senior regional source said he thought Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi had been murdered on the day that they were kidnapped.

The two archbishops were intercepted while on a humanitarian mission in Syria to negotiate the release of two abducted priests. Their driver, a deacon, was shot dead at the scene.

John Eibner -- head of the Zurich-based religious rights agency Christian Solidarity International -- told The Tablet: "With each day with no news and no hard information, the likelihood of their survival diminishes."

COMMENTARY: Courts in the United States Must Not Yield to Islamic Sharia Law

This month, a court in Germany decided a divorce case based on Islamic Sharia law, instead of German law, because the couple had been married in a predominantly Islamic country.

The ruling was the latest in a large number of court cases in Germany, in which judges have used Sharia law -- rather than German law -- to reach their decisions when either the plaintiff or the defendant was a Muslim.

The fact is that using Sharia law sets a bad precedent in Germany, because doing so encourages a dangerous encroachment of Islamic law on German jurisprudence.

According to one German legal expert, Sharia law in Germany has become far more widespread than most people realize, and this "parallel justice system" is undermining the rule of law in Germany.

We believe that it would behoove the United States to learn from Germany's experience, and not yield to Sharia law in its courts, despite the fact that some extremist Muslims living in the United States have been attempting to adopt such a phenomenon.

After all, America is primarily a Christian nation -- not an Islamic nation -- and as long as Muslims live in the United States, they must abide by America's traditional legal system.

Moreover, allowing Sharia law to prevail in American courts in cases involving Muslims, would inevitably lead to a double standard insofar as American justice is concerned.

For example, Muslim men -- according to Sharia law -- are allowed to batter their wives in an argument or when their wives do something that is unacceptable by Islamic tradition, but America's laws strictly forbid such physical assaults on women. Should this Islamic tradition mean that it is perfectly legal  for Muslim men to batter their wives in America? Of course not.

Indeed, allowing Sharia law to be used in America's courts would result in two systems of justice in the United States -- and such a dual system would greatly impede the traditional modus operandi of  jurisprudence in America. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Attack on Women Scholars in Pakistan Kills 22; Killers Slam Students,Teachers of Female Univ.

An extraordinary attack on women university students and teachers today (June 15, 2013) left 22 people dead and scores wounded. An explosion set off a fire on a bus, which trapped many of the young women, according to the Big News Network website.

Pakistani police blamed the attack on insurgents. Many Islamic insurgents are opposed to women being educated, because they believe that educating women is a violation of traditional Islam.

The attack began when a bomb exploded on a bus carrying the university personnel. It had stopped on the grounds of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University. Eleven students and teachers were killed, while 20 more were wounded.

As the wounded were arriving at the emergency room at a nearby hospital, the insurgents attacked and seized the hospital, Bolan medical complex. Hundreds of doctors, nurses, and patients were held hostage leading to a prolonged gun fight between the insurgents and security police.

The siege ended with two of the militants blowing themselves up after two others were killed in the shootout. The deputy commissioner of Quetta, three security police members, and three nurses were also killed. Quetta is renowned as a city plagued by insurgent unrest.

Neb. Christian College Expels a Lesbian Student; Ends Her Scholarship, Demands She Pay Tuition

Danielle Powell was just months away from her college graduation when she fell in love with a woman student, but same-sex relationships are forbidden at Grace University -- a Christian college in Omaha, Nebraska -- the ABC News website reports today (June 15, 2013).

The school suspended Powell, took away her scholarship, and then expelled her for her continued relationship with the female student, according to a petition posted online by Powell's now-wife. Powell was one semester short of graduating.

Now, Powell and her wife, Michelle Rogers, have started a petition asking for signatures and letters to be written to the university forgiving Powell's tuition debt and protesting alleged discrimination. Powell is black.

According to the petition, Powell received scholarships to fund her tuition at Grace, and the school has demanded that she repay $6,300 of tuition fees that her scholarship would have covered, had she not been expelled.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nazi SS Commander Is Secretly Living in Minn.; Michael Karkoc Might Be Prosecuted in Poland

A top commander of a Nazi SS (storm trooper) unit has been secretly living in Minneapolis, Minnesota since shortly after World War II, the Raw Story website reports today (June 14, 2013).

According to records obtained by an Associated Press Freedom of Information Act request, Michael Karkoc, 94, lied about his service in the SS-led Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion and the SS Galician Division, in order to gain entry into the United States after the war.

The Associated Press reported that statements from men in his units indicated that Karkoc was at the scene of atrocities in Ukraine and Poland, including massacres and the burning of villages filled with women and children.

Efraim Zuroff -- who works as the lead Nazi hunter at Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem -- told the Associated Press that there may be enough evidence to have Karkoc deported and prosecuted in Poland.

Dalai Lama:World Crises Require Women Leaders; Women More Compassionate in Leadership Roles

The Dalai Lama weighed in on the debate around women leadership and came out firmly on the side of the female, the Huffington Post website reports today (June 14, 2013).

Talking to reporters during a visit to Australia, the Buddhist leader was asked to weigh in on gender during a race for prime minister that has included charges of sexism.

Speaking in general terms, the Dalai Lama suggested that the crisis of suffering and inequality in the world requires a compassionate approach to leadership: "Females have more sensitivity about others' well-being. In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate."

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader then applied the same logic to his eventual successor by reaffirming that a female Dalai Lama is a viable occurrence.

German Courts Begin Ruling by Using Sharia Law; Judges Use Islamic Law If One on Trial Is Muslim

An appeals court in northwestern Germany has decided a contentious divorce case based on Islamic Sharia law, the Clarion Project website reports today (June 14, 2013).

The ruling is the latest in a growing number of court cases in Germany in which judges refer or defer to Islamic law because either the plaintiffs or the defendants are Muslim.

Critics say the cases -- especially those in which German law has taken a back seat to Sharia law -- reflect a dangerous encroachment of Islamic law into the German legal system and set a bad precedent.

In the latest case, the Appeals Court in Hamm -- a city in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia -- ruled on June 2 that whoever marries according to Islamic law in a Muslim country and later seeks a divorce in Germany must abide by the original terms set forth by Sharia law.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Israeli PM Netanyahu Opens Exhibit in Auschwitz; Says Israel Is Bound to Prevent Another Holocaust

In a defiant speech from the place that symbolizes the suffering of Jews during World War II, Israel's prime minister warned today (June 13, 2013) that the Jewish state of Israel will do everything to prevent another Holocaust and to defend itself against any threat, according to the Associated Press website.

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke during the inauguration of a new pavilion at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz that is to educate visitors about the Holocaust and the Nazis' quest to exterminate Jews. Auschwitz -- with adjacent Birkenau -- was the most notorious in a system of death camps that Nazi Germany built and operated in occupied Poland during World War II.

"From here, the place that attests to the desire to destroy us, I, the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, say to all nations of the world: The state of Israel will do whatever is necessary to prevent another Holocaust," Netanyahu said, as he stood in front of the red-brick former prisoner block that houses the new exhibition.

"We must not be complacent in the face of threats of annihilation. We must not bury our heads in the sand or allow others to do the work for us," he said, in what appeared to be a reference to Iran and its nuclear program.

NYC Teacher Had Sex with Student But Avoids Jail; Erin Sayar and 16-Year-Old Had Sex Several Times

A Brooklyn high school teacher today (June 13, 2013) pleaded guilty to having sex with her 16-year-old student, in a no-jail court deal that will revoke her teaching license, the New York Post website reports.

Erin Sayar, 37, answered, "Yes," when the judge asked her whether she had sex with teenage football player Kevin Eng.

"The complainant and his family are amenable to the offer,"  assistant district attorney Serena Horowitz told the judge. "They stated to me that they don't want to see the defendant spend time in jail."

Sayar had sex with Eng at least eight times in her James Madison High School office and in her SUV, authorities have said. She even supplied Eng with pot that she kept hidden in her school-office filing cabinet.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

EU Lawmakers Blast US for Surveillance Snooping; Say Rights of 500M EU Citizens Violated by Spying

European Union (EU) lawmakers blasted the United States yesterday (June 11) for its recently revealed data snooping program, attacking Washington for treating its European allies as "foreigners" who are legitimate targets for surveillance, the Global News (Canadian) website reports today (June 12, 2013).

The four major groups at the legislature all condemned the U.S. programs, and the EU's top justice official said she will confront U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on whether U.S. services are vetting data of EU citizens and companies, and will insist on the fundamental respect of rights.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she will be seeking clear commitments during the June 14 trans-Atlantic ministerial that EU citizens will be granted the same rights as U.S. residents when it comes to data protection.

The EU parliament held an emergency debate on June 11 in Strasbourg, France, with lawmakers widely criticizing the programs as unworthy of a close ally. Dutch liberal Sophie in't Veld said it was unacceptable for the 500 million EU citizens that "a foreign nation has unlimited access to every intimate detail of their private lives. This is a very big issue," she said.

Paris Museum Enshrines PLO Suicide Bombers; Has 68 Images of Palestinian Freedom Martyrs

A Paris museum -- subsidized by the French government -- opened an exhibition of photos of Palestinian suicide bombers, that the museum calls "freedom fighters," the France 24 website reports today (June 12, 2013).

The exhibition of 68 photos -- entitled "Death" by Ahlam Shibli -- opened on May 28 at the Jeu de Paume Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris.

The museum's website describes suicide bombers as "those who lost their lives fighting against the (Israeli) occupation," and the exhibition as being about "the efforts of Palestinian society to preserve their presence."

According to CRIF (Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions in France) -- the umbrella body of French Jewish communities --  the people commemorated in the photos are "mostly from the [Fatah-affiliated] al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades [of Hamas], and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine." All three are designated by the European Union as terrorist groups.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pope Confesses a Gay Lobby Exists in the Vatican; May Have Been Reason for Pope Benedict to Quit

Pope Francis has acknowledged the existence of a gay lobby in the Vatican and says he is consulting advisers on what to do about it, the Newsmax website reports today (June 11, 2013).

Speaking informally to a confederation of religious groups from Latin America, the Pope said: "In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people."

But, he added: "There also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true... The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there... We need to see what we can do."

The Pope's words -- reported on the Rorate Caeli website -- follow the completion of a secret report on the leaking of Vatican documents. The commission report -- led by three retired cardinals -- was presented earlier this year to Benedict XVI and Francis.

Rumors over the existence of such a group in the Vatican have circulated for years and the extent of the problem is thought to have influenced Benedict to resign -- the first Pope to resign in nearly 1,000 years. But until now, successive Popes never have publicly acknowledged the existence of such a group.

Obama Urged to Prosecute Snowden for Treason; Pols: Revealing Classified Info Assisted Al-Qaida

President Barack Obama has been urged to prosecute Edward Snowden -- the CIA and NSA contractor who revealed U.S. surveillance apparatus -- for treason, the All Voices website reports today (June 11, 2013).

Snowden, 29, was working for Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading provider of management and technology consulting services to the U.S. government in such areas as defense, intelligence, civil markets, etc. He revealed top secret documents of the National Security Agency (NSA) to the media from Hong Kong, where he is now seeking asylum.

Senior U.S. congressmen said that by revealing top secret intelligence information, Snowden has assisted al-Qaida. In his statements to the media, Snowden disclosed how the U.S. government collects telephone and online information. Some intelligence officials believe Snowden is a Chinese agent.

Republican congressman Peter King of New York -- who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee -- said in a statement, "The United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date." Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Snowden's revelation was "the worst form of treason." He added that Snowden must be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Abp.of Canterbury Will Visit Pope Francis June 14; Will Debate Solving Discord in Church and Society

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will be in Rome to visit Pope Francis this Friday, June 14, the Independent Catholic News website reports today (June 10, 2013).

"This brief visit," reads the release,  "is of particular interest since it is the first meeting of the Archbishop and the Pope since their inaugurations, which took place at about the same time, just over two months ago."

"This visit is an opportunity for the Archbishop and Pope Francis to review the present state of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion. In particular, the interest shown by Archbishop Welby in global justice and the ethical regulation of financial markets so that they do not oppress men and women, is echoed in the constant teaching of the Holy Father. "

The release continues, "Ever since his experience as an executive in an oil company, Archbishop Welby has placed great emphasis on reconciliation, and has continued to press for the resolution of conflicts within the Church and society. This also evokes Pope Francis' own call to build bridges between people of every nation, so that they may be seen not as rivals and threats, but as brothers and sisters."

NSA Info Leaker Did So to Expose Govt. Disgrace; Says "I Can't Allow US Govt. to Destroy Freedom"

The 29-year-old government contractor -- who turned whistleblower to reveal vast U.S. surveillance programs -- says he is not afraid, despite the intelligence authorities' threat to hunt him down for compromising classified National Security Agency (NSA) information, the News Daily website reports today (June 10, 2013). "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," he said.

In footage shot by The Guardian (British) newspaper, Edward Snowden said he packed his bags for Hong Kong three weeks ago, leaving behind "a very comfortable life" in Hawaii, a salary of $200,000, a girlfriend, a stable career, and a loving family.

"I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world," Snowden said.

Snowden is behind one of the most significant security breaches in U.S. history, joining the likes of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning, who released U.S. diplomatic cables and war logs to the WikiLeaks website. Snowden cited both Ellsberg and Manning as inspiration.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Neb. Woman, 19, Cited for Porn at Cath. School; Valerie Dodds Appeared Nude at Her Alma Mater

Valerie Dodds -- an aspiring porn star -- held an X-rated photo shoot at her former Nebraska Catholic school as a payback against her classmates and teachers who mocked her dreams of going into adult entertainment, the New York Daily News website reports today (June 9, 2013).

But the 19-year-old's Mother's Day exploit at Pius X High School in Lincoln, Nebraska earned her a citation for trespassing and public nudity.

"Everyone at my high school had something rude to say to me when I started my website and so this is my tribute to all of you," Dodds -- who goes by the adult name Val Midwest -- wrote on her website.

Dodds was photographed nude on the school's football field, dangling her body in front of the school's motto, "Restore All Things in Christ."

Glenn Greenwald:US Govt. Seeks to Purge Privacy; Adds Govt. Warps Patriot Act for Unlimited Power

Glenn Greenwald -- the journalist who broke the news that the U.S. government is monitoring vast quantities of American phone records -- is claiming the U.S. is building a "massive" snooping apparatus committed to destroying privacy worldwide, the Politico website reports today (June 9, 2013).

"There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world," charged Greenwald, a reporter for the British newspaper "The Guardian," speaking on CNN. He added, "That is not a hyperbole. That is their objective."

Greenwald -- speaking with CNN's Piers Morgan -- appeared during a week in which Americans learned that according to reports, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other parts of the government have been monitoring the phone records of Verizon users and accessing Internet information as part of intelligence-gathering procedures. Some Republicans and Democrats have defended the phone records strategy, including the highest-ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R- Ga.). But Greenwald dismissed those arguments.

Greenwald also told CNN that the Obama administration has taken a "warped and distorted" view of the PATRIOT Act -- the legislation that authorized certain kinds of surveillance for security reasons as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "What the Obama administration is doing in interpreting the PATRIOT Act is so warped and distorted and it vests themselves with such extremist surveillance powers over the United States and American citizens that Americans, in their words, would be stunned to learn what the Obama administration is doing," he said on CNN's "The Lead."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Abp. Chaput of Philly Tells Americans "Wake Up!;" Says Govt. Ending Rel. Freedom Set by Forefathers

Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput is calling on Americans to "wake up" and recognize that the Founding Fathers' vision of religious freedom is now threatened by the federal government, the Cybercast News Service website reports today (June 8, 2013).

"The day when Americans could take the Founders' understanding of religious freedom as a given is over," said the archbishop. "We need to wake up."

Chaput -- who leads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- pointed to Obamacare's sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation as one example. The regulation, issued by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, requires almost all health-care plans in the United States to provide coverage for sterilizations, artificial contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs to all women of reproductive age -- even if the person or employer providing the insurance coverage and even if the female beneficiaries themselves do not want the coverage and believe it is morally wrong and violates their religious beliefs.

"The HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion," Archbishop Chaput wrote in a recent column posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The column is entitled, "Religious Freedom and the Need to Wake Up."

Patriarch Kirill Urges Monks to Ignore Internet; Calls Internet a "Hotbed of Sin and Temptation"

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has urged monks to turn their backs on the internet, in order to protect themselves from online temptations, such as pornography, the Big News Network website reports today (June 8, 2013).

Patriarch Kirill described the internet as a "hotbed of sin and temptation," and said that monks who forsake worldly pleasures in real life should do likewise on the internet.

The Russian Orthodox Church is known for promoting a strictly "traditionalist" view of many current social issues, particularly those related to sexuality and gender roles.

Kirill has also criticized feminism as being "very dangerous" and that "it is probably not by chance that most feminist leaders are unmarried women."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Russia Disrupts 300 at a Muslim Prayer Room; Seen as Putin's Harshness on Radical Islamists

Police in Moscow have detained more than 300 people at a Muslim prayer room in the Russian capital -- including 170 foreigners -- the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website reports today (June 7, 2013).

Police did not say why the people had been detained during the police action on June 7.

Police did say that Islamist literature had been confiscated to check for extremist content.

The raid comes after President Vladimir Putin ordered a crackdown on radical Islamists ahead of next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi. Putin told a meeting of security force officers earlier on June 7 that the "fight against corruption, crime, and the insurgency has to be carried out harshly and consistently."

High School Fines American Indian Grad. $1,000; Chelsey Ramer Wore Feather on Her Mortarboard

An American Indian student says she is being fined $1,000 for wearing a feather on her mortarboard when she graduated from high school in south Alabama in late May, the Associated Press website reports today (June 7, 2013).

Chelsey Ramer said that she feels like she's being discriminated against by her alma mater, Escambia Academy in Atmore, Alabama.

The 17-year-old is part of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and says she wore a feather at graduation last month to honor her heritage.

The school now is making Ramer pay a $1,000 fine to get her diploma and official transcript. She is accused of violating school policy, which states that students and staff are not allowed to wear extra items during graduation unless they are approved in advance by the administration.

Romania Bans Gay Marriage in New Constitution; Defines Marriage as Union of a Man and a Woman

An amendment to Romania's new constitution -- backed by members of parliament and the Greek Orthodox Church -- defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman alone, the Balkan Insight website reports today (June 7, 2013).

Previously, Romania's constitution used only the words "between spouses" when referring to the marriage partners.

Civic activists called the proposed change in the constitution a backward development. "While 16 countries in Europe already recognize marriage or civil partnership between persons of the same sex, Romania is now forbidding it," Remus Cernea, a politician and rights activist, said.

The Orthodox Church has often expressed disapproval of same-sex partnerships. More than 85 percent of Romania's population of 19.5 million belong to the Orthodox Church, which enjoys high levels of trust in the public. Moreover, none of Romania's major political parties -- either in government or in opposition -- supports same-sex marriage, or registered partnerships, or has proposed any law on the subject.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pope:Throwaway Culture Mars Environment, Life; Says "Economy and Financial System Lack Ethics"

Pope Francis has blamed widespread degradation of the natural environment and disregard for human life on an increasingly common "throwaway culture" that places no value on the needs of others, the Catholic News website reports today (June 6, 2013).

"We are living through a moment of crisis," the pope said on June 5 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.  "We see it in the environment, but above all we see it in man. The human person is in danger."

Noting that the United Nations had designated June 5 as World Environment Day, Pope Francis recalled the biblical account of creation, according to which God made man and woman to "cultivate and protect the earth."

"We have distanced ourselves from God, we do not read His signs," the pope said. "Today's environmental problems also betray neglect of what Catholic teaching calls 'human ecology,'" he said. "What rules today is not man, it is money," the pope said, denouncing an "economy and financial system lacking in ethics."

SC Valedictorian Bucks Prayer Ban at Graduation; Rips Pre-Approved Speech, Delivers Lord's Prayer

A South Carolina valedictorian disregarded a new ruling that prayer would be cut from his school district's graduation ceremonies, the Christian Broadcast News website reports today (June 6, 2013).

Roy Costner IV ripped up his pre-approved speech and instead spoke about his Christian upbringing.

He then delivered the Lord's Prayer to a crowd cheering in support.

The Pickens County School District says no disciplinary action will be taken against the valedictorian. A school spokesman says they won't punish a student for expressing his religious faith.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Turkish Protesters Demand Police Chief Sackings; Unions Join Protesters, Call on Erdogan to Resign

Turkish demonstrators demanded the sacking of police chiefs today (June 5, 2013) over a fierce crackdown on days of unprecedented protest against what they see as Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan's authoritarian rule, according to the Reuters website.

A delegation of activists met Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc at his office in Ankara and demanded the release of detained demonstrators, a halt to police use of tear gas, and the removal of senior officers who oversaw the crackdown.

Arinc -- formally in charge of the Turkish government while Erdogan is on an official visit to North Africa -- has apologized for "excessive violence" by police against the initial protest in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

Two people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured in the six days of unrest, dealing a blow to the prime minister's image at home and abroad. Erdogan has inflamed the situation by describing the protesters as looters and terrorists. Members of more than a dozen labor unions -- banging drums, trailing banners, and chanting "Tayip Resign" -- today marched into Taksim Square, where the demonstrators have been mostly peaceful during the past few days, after riot police withdrew.

Over 100 Unruly Jewish Students Kicked Off Plane; Yeshiva of Flatbush School Explores Anti-Semitism

An Orthodox Jewish high school in New York is investigating an incident in which more than 100 of its students were kicked off an early morning flight on June 3, the Washington Times website reports today (June 5, 2013).

Yeshiva of Flatbush's senior class trip was detoured after 101 students and eight chaperones were kicked off a plane bound for Atlanta, Georgia. Southwest -- which owns AirTran -- said the group of "non-compliant passengers" would not stay in their seats, and some were being disobedient by using their cell phones after being asked to turn them off.

The students and chaperones involved insist that Southwest Airlines crew members "overreacted" to the situation. "It blew out of proportion. It was a mountain out of a molehill," teacher Marian Wielgus -- one of the eight chaperones -- told CNN.

One student believes the group was targeted for its religious affiliation, suggesting that Southwest Airlines made up the story about the unruly and disobedient students in order to cover up the staff's anti-Semitic behavior. "They treated us like we were terrorists; I've never seen anything like it. I'm not someone to make these kinds of statements," Jonathan Zehavi told CNN.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ohio State Pres. Announces He Will Retire July 1; Said "You Just Can't Trust Those Damn Catholics"

Ohio State University (OSU) President E. Gordon Gee announced his retirement today (June 4, 2013), in the wake of a controversy surrounding comments he made criticizing the University of Notre Dame and Catholics, the Business Insider website reports.

Gee made the remarks at an OSU athletic council meeting in December, but his offensive comments on "those damn Catholics" at Notre Dame were made public by an Associated Press story just last week.

Regarding Notre Dame joining the Big 10 conference, Gee said: "The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week. You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that."

Gee is 69 years old and has been president of OSU since 2007. His retirement will begin July 1, 2013.

Czech High Court OKs Govt. Plan to Pay Churches; Will Get $3B Over 30 Yrs. for Communist Seizures

The Czech Republic's highest court yesterday upheld a government plan to pay billions of dollars to religious groups in compensation for property the country's former Communist regime seized from them, the Newsmax World website reports today (June 4, 2013).

The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by the republic's left-wing opposition, and chief Judge Pavel Rychetsky said his ruling yesterday is now final.

Under the plan, 16 churches will get 59 billion koruna ($3billion) in financial compensation over the next 30 years. They will also receive 56 percent of their former property now held by the state -- estimated at 75 billion koruna ($3.8 billion).

The plan is highly controversial in the Czech Republic -- a country with one of Europe's highest concentration of atheists. About 60 percent of the people in the Czech Republic are atheists.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jury Awards Fired Cath. School Teacher $170,000; Ohio Adioc. Fired Her After She Became Pregnant

A Catholic school teacher -- who is a lesbian and was fired after she became pregnant through artificial insemination -- was awarded $170,000 today (June 3, 2013), after winning her anti-discrimination lawsuit against an Ohio archdiocese, according to the Associated Press website.

A federal jury found that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati discriminated against Christa Dias by firing her in October 2010.

The jury said the archdiocese should pay a total of $71,000 for back pay and compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. Dias -- who taught computer classes -- had sued the archdiocese and two of its schools; the jury did not find the schools liable for damages.

Dias' attorney, Robert Klingler, had argued she was fired simply because she was pregnant and unmarried, a dismissal he said violated state and federal law. He had suggested damages as high as $637,000, but Dias -- who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her lesbian partner and their 2-year-old daughter -- said she was satisfied with the jury's award.

Boston Fire Chief Resigns Due to Bomb Criticism; 13 Deputy Chiefs Felt He Failed to Take Command

Boston's fire chief announced his resignation today (June 3, 2013), saying public criticism from his deputies for the way he responded to the marathon bombings has made it impossible for him to do his job, the Yahoo News website reports. Chief Steve Abraira said in a letter that his resignation is effective on June 7.

Thirteen of the department's 14 deputy chiefs complained to Mayor Tom Menino in a letter 11 days after the April 15 bombings that Abraira's failure to take command of the scene was indefensible and part of a pattern of shirking leadership.

"You can unequivocally consider this letter a vote of no confidence in Chief Abraira," said the letter to Menino.

Abraira has said his command staff had the bombing scene under control and he acted according to national standards, which dictate the chief takes charge only if something is going wrong.

NYC Muslim Cabbie Sentenced to 3 Yrs. in Prison; Mohammed Azam Rammed Cab into 2 Passengers

A Muslim cabbie was sentenced to three years in prison today (June 3, 2013) for recklessly ramming his taxi into two passengers as they insisted he had to drive them from Midtown New York to the Bronx, the Creeping Sharia website reports.

In begging unsuccessfully for a no-jail sentence, Mohammed Azam, 29, described himself as an otherwise upstanding immigrant who had become a citizen in pursuit of the American dream.

But the judge noted that Azam had lied on the stand when he claimed -- among other things -- that he believed victim Anthony Loreto was well enough to stand right up again after suffering multiple, life-threatening head fractures.

"In a fit of pique, Mr. Azam, you significantly diminished the quality of this young man's life," Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel FitzGerald said.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jews Vandalize The Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem; Spray Anti-Christian Insults in Hebrew on Its Wall

The Dormition Abbey -- one of the major sites for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land -- was vandalized on May 31, the Big News Network website reports today (June 2, 2013).

Graffiti and anti-Christian insults in Hebrew were sprayed on a wall. Two cars were also smeared with offensive words and all the tires were slashed.

The Abbey is located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem and cared for by German Benedictine monks. One of the gates of the nearby Greek Orthodox cemetery was also marked with graffiti.

The offensive words compared Christians to monkeys and called for revenge against Jesus. This incident is the latest in a succession of desecration of Christian monasteries in September and October last year.

Pope Leads Cath. in 1st Worldwide "Holy Hour;" Cath.Around the Globe Prayed for the Suffering

Pope Francis led Roman Catholics today (June 2. 2013) in the first-ever worldwide "Holy Hour," in which participants prayed at the same time around the globe for those suffering from war, slave labor, human trafficking, and the economic crisis, according to the Reuters website.

The Vatican asked Catholics to join the pope between 5-6 p.m. Rome time (11a.m.-12noon ET) in what is known as a Eucharistic adoration -- praying before a consecrated communion host. They were asked to gather in cathedrals, neighborhood parishes, and monasteries to pray for two general intentions penned by the pope, who prayed in St. Peter's Basilica.

One was for those "who still suffer slavery and who are victims of war, human trafficking, drug running and slave labor" as well as for the "unemployed, the elderly, migrants, the homeless, prisoners and those who experience marginalization."

The other was for the 1.2 billion member Church itself and that it be "without stain or blemish," an apparent allusion to scandals that have undermined its credibility, such as the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

A Vatican official said it was "the first time in the history of the Church" that such an event took place.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Gay Lutheran Bishop Elected to ELCA Cal. Synod; Rev.Guy Erwin Elected May 31 at Synod Assembly

Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin was elected Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) on May 31st, 2013 during the synod's assembly in Woodland Hills, California, the Huffington Post website reports today (June 1, 2013). He is the first openly gay clergy person elected to serve as one of the 65 synodical bishops in the denomination.

"The election of Pastor Erwin to the office of bishop occurred because he was the best candidate, not because he was a partnered gay man," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of "Reconciling Work," in a press release.

Rev. Erwin said, "I know that many will see my election as a significant milestone for both LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and Native Americans, and I pray that I can be a positive representation for both communities. There was a time when I believed that I would not be able to serve as a pastor in the ELCA. Our church has now recognized the God-given gifts and abilities that LGBT people can bring to the denomination."

Rev. Dr. Erwin holds the Chair of Lutheran Confessional Theology professor at California Lutheran University and directs the Segerhammar Center for Faith and Culture. A native of Oklahoma, he is an active member of the Osage Nation of Native Americans.

Russia: Boston Marathon Attacks Were Avoidable; Sent a Letter on Terrorist to FBI, Got No Response

A U.S. congressman said yesterday that Russian security officials told a congressional delegation in Moscow this week that the Boston Marathon bombing could have been prevented, if the U.S. had acted on information Moscow had provided, the Washington Post website reports today (June 1, 2013).

U.S. Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) said the six congressmen met with the Russian senior Federal Security Service (FSB) and counterintelligence officials on May 30, and saw a copy of a letter Russian officials said they sent to the FBI in March 2011 that provided details about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the bombing suspects.

The letter from the FSB -- read to the delegation by a translator -- suggested that Tsarnaev was far more committed to jihad than had been earlier reported. He became radicalized in Boston in 2010, the FSB said, and wanted to join Palestinian fighters -- an idea he gave up because the Arabic language gave him too much trouble.

The letter asked U.S. officials to notify Russia if Tsarnaev headed to his native Dagestan -- a predominantly Muslim-populated province in the Caucasus region of Russia. "They said there was no response," Keating said. The same letter, they said, was also sent to the CIA. "I was quite surprised, and I wasn't alone," Keating said. "They said they had identified him and they never got a reply. They said that repeatedly."