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
U.S. Supreme Court Approves Law
Curbing Child Pornography
he U.S. Supreme Court handed Congress a victory May 19 in its effort to combat child pornography after a previous effort fell short in the justices' eyes.
The high court voted 7-2 to reverse a lower court and uphold a 2003 law that bars the promotion or solicitation of actual or ostensible child pornography through such means as mail or the Internet.
Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia rejected the unanimous decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the law was overly broad and vague.
"There is no doubt that this prohibition falls well within constitutional bounds," Scalia wrote. "[W]e hold that offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography are categorically excluded from the First Amendment."
Supporters of the law applauded the ruling. "Friends of children and decency throughout the land have cause for rejoicing today," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "This decision is an encouraging sign that the Supreme Court is prepared to once again begin allowing Americans to exercise their authority and responsibility to protect children in this culture.
"This question needs to be asked: If society is not allowed to protect children from those who would pimp and pander pornographic images of children to their potential adult predators, how could you call that society decent?" Land said.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, described the ruling as "a very sound and reasoned decision that is long overdue. It's encouraging to see the high court finally give the government the tools it needs to punish those who pander or promote child pornography."
The opinion in U.S. v. Williams validated the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act, a law approved by Congress after the Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt in 2002. In that decision, the justices struck down a provision in the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act that addressed the use of computer-generated or enhanced images that appear to be of children involved in sexually explicit acts. Congress revised the "pandering" provision with the PROTECT Act in an effort to meet the high court's criteria for constitutionality.
What Scalia described as the PROTECT Act's "pandering and solicitation provision" is designed to punish a person who "advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits ... any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe," it is or contains "sexually explicit conduct" by a minor.
After a federal judge upheld the PROTECT Act, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court, based in Atlanta, ruled its "pandering" provision still fell short.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected arguments the law could sweep up some Hollywood films in its attempt to combat the spread of child pornography.
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Africa is the Catholic Church's region of biggest growth, with rising numbers of faithful, clergy, and religious orders, according to Vatican statistics. The church's growth in the Americas has largely stalled, meanwhile, and Europe's share of the world's largest church continues to decline.
The findings appeared in the May 18 issue of the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, in an article summarizing the new edition of the church's statistical yearbook, which features a survey of worldwide Catholicism in the period 2000-2006.
Though the world's proportion of baptized Catholics remained roughly the same over the seven-year period--1.1 billion Catholics, or 17.3 percent of the world's population--its geographical distribution shifted markedly. The most notable change was in Africa, whose share of the worldwide church rose from 12.4 percent to 14 percent. Even more dramatic was the increase in church personnel there. While the world total of Catholic priests barely increased, and the number of female religious actually fell, the church in Africa reported nearly a quarter more priests and almost one-sixth more nuns after seven years.
The Western Hemisphere held steady with about half of the world's Catholics and 30 percent of its priests. Asia's share of the world's Catholic population also remained unchanged at 10 percent, yet the continent produced an increasing share of the world's priests and nuns.
The church continued to shrink in its traditional heartland, Europe, whose portion of the world's Catholics fell from 26.8 percent to 25 percent, and where the number of priests declined by nearly 6 percent.
In an indication of future trends, fewer than one-fifth of all men preparing for the Catholic priesthood were studying at European seminaries at the end of 2006, the study showed, down from nearly a quarter in 2000.
Canadian Lutherans Ordain Openly Gay Married Man
Despite stern warnings and threats of discipline, a Lutheran church north of Toronto on May 16 ordained an openly gay man who is legally married to another man.
Lionel Ketola, 45, will now serve as associate pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario, and will also assume the non-official title of "ambassador of reconciliation."
It was the first Lutheran ordination of a non-celibate gay pastor in Canada, following at least 14 such ordinations in the United States.
"It's a privilege, but it's about so much more than one individual," a beaming Ketola said just before the ordination ceremony, held before a packed church. "It's about claiming justice within the church."
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, to which Holy Cross Lutheran belongs, narrowly defeated an attempt last summer to allow churches to bless same-sex unions. It does not allow for the ordination of practicing gay or lesbian clergy.
In the lead-up to the ordination, the bishop for the church's eastern synod, the Rev. Michael Pryse, warned that Holy Cross would face disciplinary action if the ordination and hiring of Ketola went ahead. "I am fearful that your actions have the potential to do irreparable damage to the already fragile connecting fabric of our church," Pryse wrote in one letter posted on the denomination's Web site.
He also sent a separate letter to Lutheran ministers telling them they would be subject to disciplinary action if they took part in the ordination service in an official capacity."