FEMA Extends Faith-Based Initiative
With Hurricane Reimbursements
BY ADELLE M. BANKS © 2005 Religion News Service
he Federal Emergency Management Agency intends to reimburse religious groups that have offered relief to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, marking a new step in the White House's faith-based initiative.
The move by FEMA is being criticized by a church-state watchdog group, while a scholar of the faith-based initiative says it should not cause constitutional alarm.
Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA, said the government will reimburse sheltering expenses of private nonprofit organizations if they made an agreement with county or state government officials to house evacuees.
"We want to make sure that every group, religious or nonreligious, which opens its doors and opens its arms to shelter evacuees from this storm are able to get compensated for their generosity," Kinerney said in an interview.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued a statement protesting the plans.
"After FEMA's ineptitude in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it's distressing to see the Bush administration making even more blunders," said Lynn.
"Before millions of taxpayer dollars are turned over to churches, there must be strict accountability provisions and safeguards to protect the civil and religious liberty rights of those who need help."
But Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, called the reported plans "entirely an extension of the faith-based initiative" and said they don't prompt the kinds of constitutional issues that have been raised by other aspects of the initiative.
"There's nothing that's particularly constitutionally troubling about it as long as the government is treating religious providers no different from others in that same circumstance," he said in an interview.
Tuttle, who also serves as an analyst with the Albany, N.Y.-based Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, noted that it is unusual for individual houses of worship to be reimbursed by the government, but there is precedent for FEMA funding for religious buildings.
In 2002, President Bush ordered FEMA to change its policies so religious nonprofits could qualify for emergency relief after a natural disaster. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Congress passed legislation that permitted grants to houses of worship that were damaged at that time, he said.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America ended it's annual appropriation to Americans United in the mid 1990s, says Robert Nixon, a retired General Conference official and former AU president and trustee. "I think that was the right decision."
Irish Church Leaders Praise IRA for Laying Down Arms
BY ROBERT NOWELL © 2005 Religion News Service
The Irish Republican Army's final decommissioning of its weapons has been warmly welcomed by church leaders in Northern Ireland.
"For Irish Republicanism, today's announcement represents a massive step," said the Anglican primate, Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh, of the announcement made Monday (Sept. 26) by Gen. John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
"For all of us it can become a major step towards a peaceful and just society if it heralds the end of all criminality and violence in future," said Eames.
He warned that many who had been disappointed in the past would take "a great deal of convincing" but urged all politicians to reflect carefully and "measure their response most carefully."
Welcoming the announcement, the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said: "This represents an immensely significant confidence-building measure in favor of a more peaceful and stable society in Northern Ireland. Today's announcement is a vindication of the efforts undertaken by all those who have, over the years, courageously worked to replace violence with dialogue."
They called on "all other paramilitary groups" to affirm their commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
The president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev. Desmond Bain, said decommissioning had "opened wide the door for progress towards better understanding." He said everyone now needed to work for "the trust that will bring us all closer to the future of justice and peace that God intends."
The decommissioning process was observed by two religious eyewitnesses, the Rev. Harold Good, former president of the Methodist Church, and Catholic priest Alec Reid.
They said they spent "many days watching the meticulous and painstaking way" in which de Chastelain and his colleagues went about the task of decommissioning the "huge amounts" of explosives, arms and ammunition.
In a statement, they said they were convinced "beyond any shadow of doubt the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned."
Report Provides New Details of Secret Election of New Pope
BY STACY MEICHTRY © 2005 Religion News Service
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina received enough votes during the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI to have blocked the pontiff's election, according to a detailed report published Friday (Sept. 23) in Italy.
The report, published in the quarterly review Limes, draws from the diary of an anonymous cardinal who voted in the April conclave. In leaking his diary, the author appears to have compromised the oath of secrecy that all cardinals took upon entering the conclave.
According to the account, support for the Argentine peaked at the third ballot with 40 votes -- the exact number of votes required to block the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's candidacy. On the same ballot, Ratzinger received 72 votes -- five votes shy of the quorum. A total of 115 Cardinals voted in the conclave.
Bergoglio, who emerged as a dark horse candidate weeks before the conclave, built momentum throughout the conclave, receiving 10 votes to Ratzinger's 47 on the opening ballot, which was held on the evening of April 18. The following day, he received 35 votes on the second ballot while Ratzinger garnered 65, the report said.
The diary is unclear as to why Bergoglio's candidacy faltered in the fourth and final vote that elected Ratzinger. But the report suggests that Bergoglio appeared reticent to ultimately challenge Ratzinger for the papacy.
Describing Bergoglio casting his vote beneath Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" fresco, the anonymous cardinal wrote: "He had his face fixed on the image of Christ judging the souls at the end of time. A suffering face that implored: God, don't do this to me."
In the run-up to the conclave, hopes were high that the first Latin American pope would be elected due to the high proportion of Catholics living on the continent.
Following the conclave, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels told reporters that "this conclave tells us that the church is not ready for a Latin American pope."
Some reports following Benedict's election said that Cardinal Carlo
Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, was Ratzinger's main rival. According to the diary, however, Martini received nine votes in the opening ballot and then dropped out of contention.
Anglicans in Nigeria Delete References
to Archbishop of Canterbury
BY ROBERT NOWELL © 2005 Religion News Service
The Anglican Church of Nigeria no longer defines itself as a Church in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury -- something that historically has been the fundamental definition of being a member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Church in Nigeria is the largest province in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. Its archbishop, Peter Akinola, has been among the most outspoken critics of pro-gay policies in Anglican provinces of the West, especially the Episcopal Church in the United States.
At its general synod in Onitsha this month, the Nigerian church deleted from its constitution the requirement that it should be "in full communion with the see of Canterbury and with all dioceses, provinces and regional churches which are in full communion with the see of Canterbury."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, currently Rowan Williams, leads the Church of England and is considered the first among equals and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion.
Instead the synod laid down that the Church of Nigeria "shall be in full communion with all Anglican churches, dioceses and provinces that hold and maintain the historic faith, doctrine, sacrament (sic) and discipline of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion."
The synod went on to delete a further subsection stating that the Church of Nigeria "may accept any alterations" to these classic formulations of Anglican belief "as may hereafter be adopted by the Church of England."
In a separate action, the Nigerian church adopted a new provision that empowers the church to create convocations and chaplaincies and appoint clergy to "like-minded faithful outside Nigeria." That action would recognize the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in America, allowing Akinola to directly minister to Anglicans in North America who are at odds with the policies of their own church with regard to homosexuality.
The Nigerian move was downplayed by John Rees, the registrar of the province of Canterbury, who pointed out that several other Anglican provinces make no direct reference to Canterbury in their constitutions.
"I do not see a difficulty," he told The Times of London. "It does not seem to me to change the legal position at all. There is nothing in what they have done that suggests to me that a clergyman from Nigeria would no longer be able to come and function in the Church of England in the same way that they might have done the day before yesterday."