In a First, Israeli President to Visit Vatican

BY STACY MEICHTRY                                                                                                   © 2005 Religion News Service

resident Moshe Katsav of Israel is due to visit Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Nov. 17, marking the first official visit by an Israeli head of state to the seat of Roman Catholicism.

Benedict, who as a boy was briefly forced to enlist in the Hitler Youth movement, appears to have invited Katsav to underscore dialogue between Catholicism and Judaism on the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Time." Produced during the Second Vatican Council, the document denounced the notion that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus Christ -- a belief that fueled centuries of conflict between the faiths.

"The visit is of great symbolic value," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

According to the Times of London, Oded Ben-Hur, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, called the visit "history in the making."

The Vatican has not yet commented on the visit, which has not been officially announced.

Katsav, Israel's ceremonial president, will make the visit 12 years after Jerusalem and the Holy See established diplomatic relations. Relations took another step forward when John Paul II visited Israel in 2000 and placed a hand-written note at the Western Wall expressing remorse for Christian hostility toward Jews.

Tensions increased in August after Israeli officials accused Benedict of omitting their country from a list of terrorist targets that included Britain, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. The rift appeared to heal, however, when Benedict visited a Jewish synagogue in Cologne during his first trip outside Italy.

Methodist Survey shows Sexual
Harassment a Problem in its Ranks

BY KABUIKA KAMUNGA                                                                                                  © 2005 Religion News Service

Sexual harassment is a pernicious problem in the United Methodist Church, according to a survey of church pastors, bishops and laity.

In the survey, 67.3 percent of respondents said they had experienced or observed harassment. Sixty percent of the alleged harassment was committed by persons of the laity, compared to 35 percent by clergy. About 47 percent said they reported the harassment, according to United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss of Colorado presented preliminary results of the study during the United Methodist Church's Commission on the Status and Role of Women Sept. 15-17 annual meeting in Cambridge, Mass.

Of the 1,300 people who responded to the survey 72 percent were clergy, 51.3 percent students, 50.6 percent church employees and 38.9 percent laity.

Although the United Methodist church has policies on sexual harassment, some respondents said victims were not taken seriously when they reported the abuses.

"A parishioner harassed me for three years ... " one respondent wrote in the survey. "I called my D.S. (district superintendent) to let him know. My D.S. said if I went to the police, I would never work again."

"It took 20 years of complaints from seminary students before this pastor was investigated and removed," said another respondent.

More than half of the alleged incidents occurred on church properties, according to respondents. The incidents included unsolicited physical touching, unsought letters or e-mails of a sexual nature and attempted or actual sexual assault or rape.

Several women said they did not know how and where to report, according to the study. "Sometimes you have to endure the hassle," one respondent wrote in the survey.


Senate May Call Dobson to Share Info on Miers Nomination

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                                       © 2005 Religion News Service

James Dobson, the influential head of Colorado-based Focus on the Family, has said he knows information about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers that "I probably shouldn't know." Now senators say they want the same information, and could subpoena him to find out.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he may call Dobson to testify about what confidential information he was given by the White House that makes him support Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. He also wants to know if Miers made promises about how she would vote on the high court.

"If Dr. Dobson knows something that he shouldn't know or something that I ought to know, I'm going to find out," Specter said on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

Dobson has acknowledged he talked with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove about Miers. On his daily radio program, Dobson said "when you know some of the things that I know that I probably shouldn't know, you will understand why I have said with fear and trepidation that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice."

Specter and the panel's leading Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both said they would consider calling Dobson as a witness. Specter said he wants to know if any "back room deals" were made to get Miers on the high court.

Dobson's office declined to comment, but said Dobson would be speaking about the issue on his radio talk show on Wednesday and Thursday.

Many conservatives have said Miers, the White House counsel, is not as qualified and tested as other potential nominees for the high court. Now some groups are also upset at the White House for pushing Miers' evangelical faith as part of her qualifications.

"While we share Miss Miers' evangelical faith, we find the continual emphasis on it by her supporters to be inappropriate and patronizing," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the Washington-based Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group. "It offends the Constitution."

Judge: Salvation Army Can Use Faith as Factor in Hiring

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                © 2005 Religion News Service

(RNS) Addressing a key aspect of President Bush's faith-based initiative, a federal judge has ruled the Salvation Army has the right to hire employees according to its faith principles, even when the charity receives government funding.

"The notion that the Constitution would compel a religious organization contracting with the state to secularize its ranks is untenable in light of the Supreme Court's recognition that the government may contract with religious organizations for the provision of social services," said U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein in a Sept. 30 opinion issued in New York City.

"Nothing in the Constitution precludes Congress from accommodating the Salvation Army's residual free exercise interest in selecting and managing its employees with reference to religion."

The opinion dismisses parts of a case filed against the Salvation Army and New York officials in 2004 by current and former employees of the Army who alleged they were victims of religious discrimination.

George Washington University Law School professor Ira Lupu said Stein's ruling on the hiring issue helps the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, which has argued that acceptance of government funding should not change the hiring policies adhered to by a religious group.

"This opinion very much reaffirms what people in the White House office have been saying," he said.

Paul Mourning, a lawyer representing the Greater New York Division of the Salvation Army, welcomed the ruling.

"The Salvation Army is quite pleased with the decision," he said. "The court has dismissed substantially all the claims that were brought against the Salvation Army."

He added that the Salvation Army, which is an evangelical church, abides by contractural agreements with government agencies, even when it is required not to consider its religious beliefs.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, decried the decision, which she said frees churches and temples that have contracts with government agencies to discriminate on the basis of religion.

"We think that it's profoundly wrong to allow government funds to be used for bigoted hiring practices," she said.

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