British Methodists Ready
to Fold, Join Anglicans
The leader of the Methodist Church of Great Britain says his denomination is now ready to rejoin the Church of England after a separation of more than two centuries.
David Gamble, president of the Methodist Conference, told the Church of England's General Synod on February 11 that "we are prepared to go out of existence not because we are declining or failing in our mission, but for the sake of our mission."
That mission, he said, is to "serve the needs" of the kingdom of God. It is not the first time that a reunion of the two churches has been proposed, but previous efforts have been torpedoed by a variety of divisions, including over the role of women in the church. The Methodists approved a merger in 1972, but the Church of England backed off because of opposition from Anglo-Catholics, which led the Anglican synod to reject reunion at that time.
Methodism sprang from the 18th-century evangelical teachings of John Wesley, himself an Anglican priest. But when Wesley died in 1791, the Methodists broke away from the rest of the Anglicans and went their own way.
There was no immediate official response from the Church of England about the Methodists' latest offer, but Anglican Bishop Christopher Cocksworth of Coventry conceded there would be "cultural clashes" ahead.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is likely to touch, perhaps in depth, on the subject of reunification when he addresses the Methodist Conference in June.
Membership in the Methodist Church in Britain has slumped in recent years and now stands at some 265,000, spread across 5,800 chapels and parishes. By comparison, the Church of England regularly draws an estimated 960,000 to its Sunday services.
Pope Condemns `Heinous Crime' of Sexual Abuse
Pope Benedict XVI concluded an unprecedented two-day crisis management session with Ireland's Catholic bishops on February 16, denouncing the sexual abuse of children as "not only a heinous crime but also a grave sin."
Benedict and senior Vatican cardinals met Monday and Tuesday with all 24 serving Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse of minors detailed in two Irish government-sponsored reports released last year.
According to a Vatican statement, the pope urged the bishops to identify "concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused ... and restoring the church's spiritual and moral credibility."
Over the two-day summit, all of the bishops made brief statements to the pope and responded to a draft pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, which would be Benedict's first major papal document devoted to clerical sex abuse. The Vatican says the letter from Benedict will be released before Easter.
Benedict gave no public response to a request from Irish sex abuse victims, which was hand-delivered by the visiting bishops, for a meeting with the pope. But at a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns said that he was "sure (Benedict) will be willing to meet victims in Ireland when the time is right."
The press conference offered the Irish bishops a prominent platform for voicing strong regrets.
"There have been failures of course in our leadership," said Cardinal Sean B. Brady, who as archbishop of Armagh is the highest-ranking Irish prelate. "The only way we will regain that credibility will be through our humiliation. ... Tomorrow is the
beginning of Lent, it is a time of penance, and we must begin with ourselves, (with) whatever the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes is today, (to) do a real penance and have a change of heart."
Four present or former auxiliary bishops of Dublin have offered to resign after last November's Murphy Commission Report, which uncovered a three-decade pattern of abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Dublin. So far, Benedict has accepted only one resignation, of Donal B. Murray of Limerick.
The pope's decision to call the Irish entire bishops' conference to address the matter was unprecedented. According to an experienced observer, this week's event reflects an increased sense of urgency on the Vatican's part.
"The Holy See is much more on top of the whole phenomenon this time around," said Paddy Agnew, Rome correspondent for the Irish Times. "The Americans had to appeal to Rome for a meeting; this time it was the Irish who were summoned."
Poll: Young Catholics Anti-abortion, Pro-pluralism
Young American Catholics largely support their church's teachings against abortion and euthanasia, while taking a relativistic attitude to religion and morality in general, according to a new poll.
According to a poll released on February 11, two thirds (66 percent) of Catholic "millennials" (aged 18-29) say that abortion is morally wrong, while 63 percent say the same of euthanasia. The poll was conducted by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.
Some of the survey results indicate a strong sense of religious identity among the respondents. Eighty percent told pollsters that religion is at least "somewhat important" in their lives, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) described themselves as very or somewhat interested in learning more about their faith.
"The church has a great opportunity to evangelize, and has much to build on with the next generation of Catholics," observed Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus.
But Anderson said the poll also provides evidence of the "cultural relativism that Pope Benedict XVI has spoken so much about."
Nearly two in three young Catholics described themselves as more "spiritual" than "religious." More than 80 percent said they see morals as "relative," while 61 percent said it is acceptable for a Catholic to practice more than one religion.
Oregon Poised to End Ban on Teachers' Religious Garb
Oregon is poised to become the 48th state to permit teachers to wear headscarves and other religious dress in school, ending an 87-year ban that was originally intended to keep Catholic nuns out of public schools.
The 51-8 vote by the state's House of Representatives is the first decision toward repealing Oregon's ban on religious garb. If passed, Nebraska and Pennsylvania would be the only remaining states to prohibit religious clothing.
If approved, the Oregon law would take effect in 2011. Before that, the state's education and labor agencies would hammer out rules designed to protect students from religious coercion while allowing observant Muslim women, Sikhs and Orthodox Jewish men to teach in Oregon classrooms.
The repeal now goes to the state Senate, where Majority Leader Richard Devlin says he personally favors the change but can't predict the vote.
Opponents of the change, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, say they want lawmakers to slow down and think harder about the ramifications. They say the rights of students—–particularly impressionable elementary pupils--to be free from religious indoctrination at school should be front and center. "The relationship between a teacher and a student is special," said Rep. Ron Maurer, a Republican. "We put those teachers on a pedestal."
Proponents hailed the February 10 vote as a victory for Muslim women and others who have been kept from teaching in Oregon by a faith that compels them to cover their heads. After the vote, Muslim and Sikh leaders predicted more young people from their faith communities would enter teaching, knowing they do not have to choose between honoring their beliefs and teaching in public schools.
"This is the way it's supposed to be," said Bahadur Singh, a member of the Sikh Temple of Salem, Oregon.
Oregon's ban, enacted in 1923, originally was designed to keep Catholic nuns from teaching in public schools during a time of anti-Catholic bigotry. "This unjust practice violates our core sense of civil rights and civil liberties," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat, who grew up as an Orthodox Jew whose beliefs compelled him to wear a yarmulke. "I see nothing in the mere wearing of clothing" by a teacher that proselytizes students, he said.