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
Catholic Mass Attendance Drops
to Mirror Protestant Levels
n Easter Sunday, Roman Catholics headed for church in droves--but far fewer attend Mass weekly than during the 1950s, according to an analysis by the Gallup Poll.
Catholic weekly church turnout has suffered a steady six-decade decline before leveling off in recent years, according to the pollsters. In 1955, three in four Catholics said they had attended church in the last seven days; in 2008, only 42 percent said the same.
Over the same time period, Protestant church attendance has remained steady, with slight increases in the 1970s and 1980s, and now outstrips Catholic turnout, 47 to 42 percent.
"Whatever the causes, it is clear that U.S. Catholics' once-nearly uniform obedience to their church's requirement of weekly Mass attendance has faded," said Gallup's Lydia Saad, "and Catholics are now no different from Protestants in their likelihood to attend church."
The deepest drop for Catholics came between 1967 and 1976, when 13 percent stopped going to Mass weekly, according to Gallup. The drop off has been most pronounced among Catholics under 60.
Despite a dip during the high-profile clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002, Catholic church attendance has hung around 44 percent since 2000, according to Gallup.
Repealing a rule designed to protect medical professionals who morally object to such practices as abortion and assisted suicide would "rend the fabric of our democracy and open wide the door for discrimination," Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land has told the federal government.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) neither to weaken nor strike down a regulation implemented by the same agency under the Bush administration. The rule--which went into effect just prior to President Obama taking office--was issued to clarify that federal law protects the rights of institutions and individuals not to participate in medical procedures to which they object on moral or religious grounds.
HHS, now under the Obama administration, announced March 10 it planned to cancel the regulation. It provided a 30-day public comment period until April 9, the date on which a letter from Land was sent to the department.
In his comments to HHS, Land said the Bush administration's rule should be fully retained because:
-- It enforces a series of conscience protections approved by Congress between the 1970s and 2005.
-- There are increasing reports of health-care workers being pressured to compromise their convictions.
-- A lack of protection could drive pro-lifers from medicine or prevent them from entering the profession, causing a strain on the health-care system.
-- It will safeguard the freedom of pro-life patients to choose physicians and pharmacies in line with their beliefs.
-- It will protect religious freedom as guaranteed in the First Amendment.
The final resolution of the rule could affect not only doctors but nurses, pharmacists, medical students, hospitals and insurance companies regarding such practices as abortion and such products as the Plan B "morning-after" pill and contraceptives with abortion-causing qualities. Some health-care providers already have reported coercion to go against their convictions. A survey of members of the Christian Medical Association found 41 percent said they had been discriminated against or pressured because they adhere to pro-life standards.
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Non-Jews Take Temporary Custody of Food During Passover
On April 8, Jose Mendez, a non-Jew, became owner of a huge amount of food he'll never eat. For the entire length of Passover, which runs April 8-16, Mendez legally possess hundreds of bags and boxes of bread, pasta and other leavened foods, or chametz, from Jewish homes. Once Passover ends, ownership will uneventfully revert back to the original owners.
Similar deals are struck -- usually for $1 or no money at all --between Jews and non-Jews around the world each Passover, and have been for centuries. The switch in legal possession is seen as helping Jews fulfill the biblical commandment against eating or owning leavened foods during the holiday, without having to dispose of large quantities of forbidden foods and suffer substantial financial loss.
Mendez, a 29-year-old Catholic immigrant from the Dominican Republic who works at the East Brunswick Jewish Center, and Rabbi Aaron Benson signed a form called a shtar mechirat chametz, which means "document for the sale of leavened bread," that governs the transaction.
The Passover ban on leavened foods stems from the experiences of Hebrew slaves in Egypt who, according to the Book of Exodus, fled the country in such haste 3,200 years ago that their bread did not have time to rise.
Mendez will have the legal right to dine on what he acquires, but practically speaking, he and non-Jewish signatories like him around the world never see the food, which typically stays in the Jews' homes in basements or plastic bags.
Earlier this week, the rabbi leafed through a thick file with 110 signatures of members who appointed Benson as their agent to sell their food to Mendez.
Like other observant Jews, he said, his congregants have labored to prepare their homes for Passover, throwing away some forbidden foods while placing others in sealed bags in basements or out-of-the-way closets.
"People take the season of Passover seriously," Benson said, noting that surveys indicate it is the most widely observed Jewish holiday. "With this contract, not only is leaven hidden from view and out of its place, but you've made a legal declaration of your separation from it. You're not supposed to eat it, see it or make any use of it. The box you put it into should be stored somewhere out of the way so you don't have anything to do with it during the holiday, in part because
it's full of forbidden products, and also because of the sale it belongs to Jose."
Most of the 110 families signing the contract included donations of $18--the Hebrew word for 18 means "life," and Jews consider the number lucky--that will be used to help poor Jews during Passover.
Rabbis of Orthodox and Conservative synagogues are more likely than rabbis in the liberal Reform movement to sign a shtar mechirat chametz, said Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Tenafly, New Jersey.
While Reform rabbis expect their synagogue members to prepare their homes for Passover, "the Reform movement is not focused on the legal technicalities in the same way as would be the Orthodox and Conservative," Millstein said. "... Many Reform Jews will say, `I'll just put the chametz in the basement and close the door. What's the difference, if I'm going to take it back anyway?'"
Jews at his synagogue bring leavened foods to the synagogue before the holiday to donate them to a local food pantry, he said.
Mendez, for his part, did not know any of these rules or arrangements existed, anywhere, until he began working at the center two years ago, he said.
He said he is glad to help Jewish people celebrate Passover, and that of course he would never think of actually trying to claim the food signed over to him.
The notion of doing so entertained Mendez, however, and he joked that although he typically eats chicken, rice and beans for dinner, what he will eat for the next eight nights "depends on what they have in their houses.
"I'm going to get my truck ready."
Army Chaplain Criticized for Fasting Call on Passover
The Army's top chaplain has come under fire from some Jews for issuing a call for a day of prayer and fasting that falls on the first day of Passover.
Major General Douglas Carver, a Southern Baptist and Army Chief of Chaplains, had issued the prayer call in response to the rising suicide rates among soldiers. Last year, the Army reported the highest suicide rate since record-keeping began in 1980.
"I therefore call the chaplaincy to a day of prayer and fasting, in keeping with your religious traditions, to be observed on 8 April 2009 that the united cry of our corps will be heard and answered regarding the protection, preservation, and peace for our Soldiers and Families," Carver said in his proclamation, which was issued March 2.
Carver told Baptist Press, his denomination's official news agency, that "April 8 is a Wednesday and prayer meeting night for Southern Baptists, so we really encourage not only Baptists but all local churches to pray for the military."
As chief of chaplains, however, Carver has oversight of Army chaplains of all faiths, including Jewish rabbis. Dozens of Jewish soldiers and chaplains have filed complaints with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that advocates religious neutrality in the military. Mikey Weinstein, president of the group, said there has been a "tsunami'' of complaints against the Day of Prayer, and believes the conflict with Passover is inexcusable.
"The fact that this would fall on this same day is not just wrong or bad, but unforgivable, and Carver should be severely disciplined,'' Weinstein said.
Weinstein's group is currently suing the Department of Defense for a "pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the precious religious freedoms'' of those in the military, and the group believes the day of prayer is just the latest example.