FFRF, Vatican both prefer ‘clean money’
An Italian court in Rome rejected a request Oct. 20 by the Vatican Bank to lift a freeze on 23 million euros ($31.7 million) frozen as part of a probe into suspected money laundering by the Vatican Bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion. Bank Chairman Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and his deputy, Paolo Cipriani, are under investigation.
Nothing to see here, move along, is basically the church’s response. “This is a formal problem of interpretation,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Church exodus after anti-gay comments
At least 30,000 members of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church have left the country’s largest denomination after an Oct. 12 TV panel on gay rights, dealing with issues such as the right to adopt children and legalizing gender-neutral marriage.
Päivä Räsänen, Christian Democratic Party chairwoman, and Matti Repo, bishop of Tampere, took part. “I was especially offended by the opinions of Räsänen and Repo. I cannot in any way comprehend such discrimination,” said one former church member.
Räsänen was unapologetic: “Perhaps people in the national church have not known the church’s views on these matters.”
Stem cell institute pulls irreverent poem
The publicly funded California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s Stem Cell Awareness Day in early October featured a poetry contest. First prize went to Tyson Anderson, Tampa, Fla., for “Stem C.” It likened a scientific procedure to church communion, beginning biblically with “This is my body/which is given for you” and ending with “Take this/in remembrance of me.”
“Blasphemy!” cried the anti-abortion Life Legal Defense Foundation. “The choice of this poem for a prize represents the deliberate pilfering of the holiest of voluntary, sacrificial acts in the history of humanity.”
Don Gibbons, CIRM communications manager, told the San Francisco Examiner that he and the two other judges, including one devout Catholic, saw nothing belittling about “Stem C.” The poems were all pulled from the website but had already appeared in several print publications.
Secular student groups continue to grow
The number of secular student groups on college campuses is up 42 percent from a year ago, Jesse Galef, communications director of the Secular Student Alliance, told the FFRF October convention.
SSA-affiliated campus groups now number 225, compared to 159 in 2009.
James Johnson, ex-Jehovah’s Witness, started the Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers Alliance last year. He’s a graduate student studying plant science and biotechnology. “We try to build a safe space for people who feel like they can’t talk to anyone else about it,” Johnson said in a story in the Syracuse University Daily Orange.
With six members initially, AAF now has more than 100 members on its Facebook page and 25 members on OrgSync, plus 80 new students who signed up for the listserv this year, Johnson said.
Colorado votes down fetal personhood
Colorado voters defeated an anti-abortion proposal Nov. 2 that would have given unborn fetuses constitutional rights. It went down by a 3-to-1 margin, as did a similar measure in 2008.
The fetal personhood amendment would have enshrined religious dogma, saying life begins at the moment of conception and would have banned fertility treatments and emergency contraception if they harmed fertilized eggs.
Young Brits’ trinity secular, not holy
A “secular trinity” of themselves, their families and their friends are what give meaning to the lives of more and more young Britons.
A study for a book published by the Church of England concludes that people born after 1982 — Generation Y — have only a “faded cultural memory” of Christianity, reported the London Telegraph.
Fewer than one in five young people believes in a God “who created the world and hears my prayers” and teens were more likely to believe in the “nicer” parts of religious doctrine than the devil and punishment. Pop songs were played at memorial services “because the young congregation did not know any hymns.”
Sylvia Collins-Mayo, a sociologist, and Christopher Cocksworth, the bishop of Coventry, wrote the book, The Faith of Generation Y.
Trucker, Savior both ‘tougher than nails’
Kathleen Folden, 56, a long-haul trucker from Kalispell, Mont., drove 950 miles Oct. 6 to Loveland, Colo., to take a crowbar to a museum exhibit she said “desecrates my Lord.”
Wearing a T-shirt that read “My Savior Is Tougher Than Nails,” Folden yelled “filth, filth, filth” while smashing the plexiglass casing and ripping apart the 12-panel print titled “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals” by artist Enrique Chagoya. One panel showed Jesus riding a bicycle. The one that offended Folden depicted Jesus, eyes rolled back, atop a mostly clothed woman’s body. A man’s head, tongue out, was near the woman’s legs. The Spanish word “orgasmo” was in the background.
Chagoya, a Stanford University art professor and ex-Catholic, said the image was not about sex but was a commentary on Catholic Church corruption.
Folden was charged with criminal mischief, a fourth-degree felony. An anonymous person posted her $350 cash bond. Her trial is set for January. She pleaded not guilty at her arraignment while wearing a black T-shirt that said, “Jesus Beat the Devil . . .” on the front and “. . . with a Big Ugly Stick” on the back.
The city replaced the lithograph with a sign that said, “This artwork was removed due to an act of violence.”
Go ye now and text all nations
Pope Benedict decreed in October that the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, a new Vatican office, will employ “all the progress of the science of communications” to restore religion to the secular world, including areas of Europe he said have become “de-Christianized.”
The apostolic letter establishing the council is titled Ubicumque et Semper (Everywhere and Always), not to be confused with Heatwave’s 1976 R&B hit “Always and Forever.”
Monsignor Rino Fisichella will head the office charged with worldwide evangelizing. “My first concern is to get a computer on my desk so that I can have Internet access,” he said at a press briefing.
New curriculum after ‘Beat the Jew’ game
The Desert Sands School District, La Quinta, Calif., has instituted a tolerance curriculum at La Quinta High School after seven seniors played “Beat the Jew” in May on school grounds. The seven were disciplined in June. More than 30 other students “friended” the game on Facebook.
In the tag-like game, blindfolded “Jews” were taken off-campus by car and had to make their way back to base while being pursued by “Nazis.”
The Jewish Federation of Palm Springs and Desert Area donated the funds to pay for the training sessions.
Protesters greet pope on Spanish visit
Hundreds of gays and lesbians welcomed Pope Benedict to Spain with a “kiss-in” Nov. 7 in front of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s basilica. A similar event took place the day before in Santiago de Compostela, home to a shrine that attacts thousands of pilgrims each year.
At a separate, feminist-inspired Barcelona demonstration, more than 500 people marched behind banners reading “The woman decides to be a mother” and “Condoms save, the pope damns.”
The number of 20- to 24-year-olds who say they are practicing Catholics is 7%, with 51% saying they are non-practicing Catholics. Civil weddings outnumbered church weddings for the first time last year.
Survey: Colorado Springs most religious
In November, Men’s Health magazine ranked the 100 “most religious cities” in the U.S. Criteria included places of worship per capita, religious organizations and the number of volunteers who support them, amount of money donated to religious organizations and money spent on religious books.
Colorado Springs, Colo., home of Focus on the Family, was No. 1, followed by Greensboro, N.C., Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kan., Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Fla., Portland, Ore., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., and Little Rock, Ark.
FFRF’s home of Madison, Wis., was No. 81, three spots ahead of New York City. The “bottom 10” were Miami, Newark, N.J., Manchester, N.H., Fargo, N.D., Jersey City, N.J., Portland, Maine, Hartford, Conn., Boston, Providence, R.I., and Burlington, Vt. (birthplace of John Dewey).
Exorcism coming to a church near you?
Catholic clerics — 56 bishops and 66 priests — met in mid-November in Baltimore to learn how to perform the rite of exorcism. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, said the five or six exorcists in the U.S. are overwhelmed with requests.
Paprocki wants each diocese to have an exorcism resource person. Bishops must grant permission to perform one. “Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” Paprocki said. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.”
According to the church, you may be demonically possessed if you speak in a language you do not know, scratch or cut or bite yourself, display profound strength, find it hard to eat or sleep and hold extreme aversion to holy water, prayer and the names of Jesus and Mary and Joseph. — Bill Dunn