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
Catholics Report Rise in Abuse Cases
.S. Catholic leaders processed more than 800 allegations of clergy sexual abuse in 2008, a 16 percent increase from 2007. The majority of the allegations involved abuse that occurred decades ago.
A report issued March 13 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed 803 allegations were filed by 706 victims last year against 518 clergy. The church also spent more than $436 million in legal settlements, attorney fees and counseling costs.
Just 13 of the 803 cases involved alleged abuse of a minor that occurred during 2008. Nearly all of the cases involved accusations of molestation that occurred decades ago. The church said 83 percent of the accused clergy were dead, defrocked or missing.
The relative lack of recent cases shows that the American church has "turned a corner" in the abuse scandal that erupted seven years ago, said Teresa M. Kettlekamp, the director of the bishops' abuse-prevention office. "Is every diocese doing everything perfectly? No, we are not there yet, though we're far closer than we were last year, and the year before that, and all previous years," Kettlekamp wrote in the report.
Victims' advocates, however, raised questions about a section in the report that said "many dioceses are conducting ... investigations themselves without also making a report to civil authorities," which would be a direct violation of the bishops' 2002 reforms.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, worried that children may be at risk while church officials sift through allegations without first alerting law enforcement. "To be honest, this is precisely what got us into this mess to begin with: untrained, biased church amateurs trying to be cops, investigators, forensic experts and prosecutors," Clohessy said.
Kettlekamp, however, said her report raised the issue only as a cautionary warning to dioceses not to try to handle criminal behavior on their own. She said she would not include it in a "problem category."
"Our rule of thumb is that if it involves a current minor, you involve the civil authorities immediately and rely on their expertise," she said in an interview. "I'm not saying we have this problem; I'm saying I don't want this to become a problem."
The increase from 691 total allegations in 2007 to 803 in 2008 appears to be fueled by a 93 percent spike in abuse involving members of religious communities. Those allegations nearly doubled, from 92 to 178; 40 percent of the 2008 allegations involved one religious order. By comparison, the total number of allegations reported by the nation's 195 dioceses increased by 26, or 4 percent, from 2007.
Kettlekamp declined to name the religious order responsible for the majority of the increase, and referred calls to an umbrella group for men's religious orders. A spokesman said officials were out of the country and unable to comment.
ACLU, Faith Groups Protest Restrictions on Prison Books
A coalition of religious organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined forces to protest a proposed rule by the federal Bureau of Prisons to allow officials to ban religious materials from prison chapel libraries if they could possibly promote "violence or criminal activity."
A 14-page letter--signed by leaders of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, American Jewish Congress, Muslim Advocates, United Methodist Church, Seventh-day Adventists and others – was submitted March 17 to the Bureau of Prisons General Counsel.
"Distributing and reading religious material is as protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as worshipping in churches or preaching from the pulpits," said David Shapiro, the staff attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project. "It is not the role of the government to dictate what is religiously acceptable."
The outcry comes two years after federal prison officials were widely criticized for trying to push a list of "acceptable materials'' that restricted several popular books, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life.
Anger over that move prompted Congress to pass the Second Chance Act, which forbids prisons from restricting access to religious materials--with an exception for works that could incite criminal behavior.
The ACLU and others are concerned that under the proposed rule, prison officials would have the power to confiscate sacred texts or other works that could, in one way or another, be interpreted to promote violence. Critics say it is not the bureau's role to make that determination.
If the prison board decides to approve the rule, the coalition recommends that prison chaplains be consulted before any works are removed; prisoners be given at least 20 days notice prior to the removal of each work, to allow for filing grievances; and that publishers be notified when their works are banned.
Study: Compared to Christians, Fewer Jews `Switch' Faiths
Jews are less likely than Catholics or Protestants to change faiths, though religious switching nationwide has increased since 1965, according to a study released this week by the American Jewish Committee.
Most who leave Judaism become unaffiliated, rather than converting to another religion; Many continue to identify as Jewish in an ethnic or cultural sense, concluded the study's author, Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago.
"Jewish losses are disproportionately to no religion," he said.
With 76 percent retaining their faith, Jews are more "religiously stable" than Catholics (73 percent); and while eight in ten Protestants remain Protestant, specific denominations retain a much lower percentage of members--as low as 16 percent in one case.
Nevertheless, like its Christian counterparts, Judaism is losing more adherents than it gains. To improve these numbers, the study recommends that Jews increase social and educational religious opportunities for children, reach out to non-Jewish spouses of interfaith marriages, and actively recruit converts -- a practice traditionally discouraged, particularly in the Orthodox branch.
The study, whose respondents included about 1,000 Jews, 31,000 Protestants and 15,000 Catholics, follows up on a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which found that about 44 percent of Americans have left the religion they were raised in, if you include switching among Protestant denominations.
Citing such previous research, Smith agreed that factors such as participating in religious education as a child, being female, marrying someone of the same faith and identifying with an "ethnic" religion -- such as Judaism--contribute to less religious switching.
French Physicist Wins Templeton Prize
Bernard d'Espagnat, a renowned French physicist whose research has centered on hidden realities that are "beyond our possibilities of description," has won the 2009 Templeton Prize, valued at $1.42 million.
D'Espagnat becomes the latest in a series of physicists and cosmologists whose work at the intersection of religion and science has won the Templeton Prize, the world's single largest annual award given to an individual.
A professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Paris-Sud, d'Espagnat is perhaps best known for his research into what he terms "veiled reality"--a domain that underlies energy, matter, space and time--and the ways that science can help reveal the nature of reality.
D'Espagnat, 87, was an early visionary in the burgeoning field of science, religion and philosophy. He played a prominent role in the theoretical developments of research that combined information science, mathematics and physics into what is called "quantum information science."
The French scholar "has constructed a coherent body of work which shows why it is credible that the human mind is capable of perceiving deeper realities," Nidhal Guessoum, chairman of physics at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, wrote in nominating d'Espagnat for the Templeton Prize.
In remarks prepared for the announcement of the award on March 16 in Paris, d'Espagnat said the "ground of things ... lies beyond the reach of conceptualized knowledge, and mystery is not therefore something negative that has to be eliminated. On the contrary it is one of its constitutive elements."
As a result, he said, any conflict "between science and religion therefore vanishes."
The 2009 prize is the first to be awarded following the death of its founder, philanthropist and global investor Sir John M. Templeton, who died last July at the age of 95. The award honors a living person "who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works," according to the John Templeton Foundation, which is based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
Previous winners include evangelist Billy Graham, the late Mother Teresa and the late Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In keeping with Templeton's wishes, the prize's monetary value must always exceed that of the Nobel Prizes because of Templeton's belief "that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors," the foundation said.