The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Update: Parents Indicted
After Faith-healing Death of Girl
ntil the faith-healing death of little Ava Worthington on March 2, members of the Followers of Christ Church appear to have lost just one child to sickness since 1999, when state lawmakers banned parents from treating gravely ill children solely with prayer.
Tyler Duane Shaw of Oregon City died in 2003, three days short of his second birthday, of sudden complications from a throat infection. "His death was not considered to be anything but a natural death that had no indications of abuse or neglect," said Dr. Clifford Nelson, deputy state medical examiner. Church members declined to discuss religious beliefs and practices.
But child abuse detectives, medical examiners and many other local officials said they have seen signs of positive change in the church since the late 1990s, when several Followers of Christ children died from medically treatable conditions.
Since the new laws took effect in 1999, said child abuse Detective Jeff Green of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, "We haven't seen any cases of significant medical neglect ... until now."
Fifteen-month-old Ava Worthington died at home of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated with antibiotics, according to the state medical examiner's office. On March 28, a grand jury indicted her parents, Carl Brent and Raylene Worthington, on charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Ava's death brought back memories of Followers of Christ children who suffered and died before Oregon removed religious exemptions from state child abuse and homicide laws.
Tyler Shaw's sister, 5 1/2-month-old Valarie Lynn Shaw, was one of three Followers of Christ children who died in 1997 and 1998 after parents tried to heal them with prayer. The deaths, all from medically treatable conditions, sparked a firestorm among state legislators, who promptly struck down legal shields for faith-healing parents.
Before the law changed, church members who got in traffic accidents would take injured children home, rather than to the hospital, leaving police frustrated but powerless to intervene, Green said. In the two years after the law passed, detectives responded to two cases of sick or injured Followers of Christ children, Green said. One child had Crohn's disease and the other had a broken arm, which church members had tried to set themselves. In both cases, parents complied when police insisted that they take their children to licensed physicians.
Green said until Ava's death, he hadn't heard of any cases over the past nine years in which a Followers of Christ child might have died because of medical neglect.
Ava's parents also lost a baby boy in August 2001, but the death investigation was closed after family members told police the child was stillborn. Several other Followers of Christ children have also been stillborn or died during home births in recent years, but none of the investigated deaths resulted in criminal charges.
"They either had gotten the point, or there hadn't been anything serious enough to rise to this level of involvement," Green said.
Poll: Pope Unknown to Most Americans
Most Americans hold a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict XVI, but the vast majority confess they don't know much about the pontiff, according to a new poll. Just weeks before Benedict's first trip to the U.S. as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, 58 percent of Americans said they had a favorable or "very favorable" opinion of him.
But when asked how much they know about the 80-year-old German, 52 percent said "not very much," and nearly 30 percent said "nothing at all."
Benedict and Americans will have a chance to get to know one another better April 15-20, when the pope celebrates Masses, greets interfaith leaders, and visits heads of state in New York and Washington, D.C. Forty-two percent of Americans said they'd like to attend one of Benedict's public appearances, according to the survey, which was conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and financed by the Knights of Columbus. Sixty-six percent of Catholics said the same.
More than 70 percent of Americans look forward to hearing Benedict talk about spiritual matters such as God's presence in daily life, spiritual fulfillment and how to positively affect the world.
The survey polled 1,015 adults, 613 of whom were Catholic. The margin of error for all Americans is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for the Catholic sample alone it is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Vatican: Islam has `overtaken' number of Catholics
Islam has "overtaken" Catholicism in number of adherents, though Christianity as a whole remains the world's most widely professed faith, the Vatican's top statistician said.
"For the first time in history we are no longer at the summit: The Muslims have overtaken us," said Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, head of the Central Office of Church Statistics, in the Sunday (March 30) edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Muslims accounted for 19.2 percent of the world's population in 2006, whereas Catholics made up 17.4 percent, Formenti said, giving the total number of Catholics as 1.13 billion. All Christian denominations together accounted for 33 percent of the world population, the Vatican official noted.
Formenti suggested that the head count of Catholics was more "scientific" than the Muslim figures. The Vatican collects its data through surveys by Catholic dioceses and parishes, he explained; whereas the number of Muslims is based on information provided by Islamic states, which rely primarily on estimates of population growth. "While Islamic families continue to beget many children, Christiansinstead tend to have ever fewer," he said.
Formenti also noted statistical trends within the church, including a rise in the number of men studying for the priesthood. "It's the first time that the trend is positive at such levels," he said, noting that there were 115,000 men enrolled in seminaries around the world, compared to only 79,000 three decades earlier.
Evangelicals Less Likely to Divorce, Barna Survey Says
Evangelicals are less likely than the overall population to divorce, although one out of every four evangelicals who are or have been married nevertheless have gone through at least one divorce, according to a new study by The Barna Group.
The telephone survey found that, among all U.S. adults who have been married, 33 percent have been divorced at least once. By comparison, 26 percent of evangelicals who have been married have been divorced. The poll did not ask evangelicals whether the divorce occurred before or after their salvation experience.
The survey was based on a sample of 5,017 adults conducted over a year, from January 2007 through January 2008. Of this sample, 3,792 adults were or had been married.
Christian researcher George Barna said Americans have grown accustomed to divorce. "There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage," he said in a news release. "Interviews with young adults suggest that they want their initial marriage to last, but are not particularly optimistic about that possibility. There is also evidence that many young people are moving toward embracing the idea of serial marriage, in which a person gets married two or three times, seeking a different partner for each phase of their adult life."
Among adults who have been married the poll also found that:
-- 28 percent of self-identified conservatives who have been married have experienced a divorce, compared to 33 percent of moderates and 37 percent of liberals.
-- 38 percent of those associated with a non-Christian faith who have been married have been divorced.
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