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
Sexual Abuse Allegations Plunge in 2009
he number of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy in the U.S. declined dramatically last year, even as similar accusations spread through Europe, according to a report commissioned by the country's Catholic bishops.
There were 513 allegations against 346 U.S. Catholic clergy last year, both drops of more than 30 percent from 2008, and the lowest totals since the church began taking a tally in 2004, according to figures released March 23 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Most of the allegations accuse diocesan priests of molesting boys aged 10-14 decades ago, according to the report. Six instances of abuse against minors occurred during 2009; 48 allegations were determined false or unsubstantiated.
The report was conducted by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; it surveyed 193 of the 195 U.S. dioceses and 159 of the country's 219 religious orders. One percent of the dioceses and 27 percent of the orders did not respond to the survey.
Victims' groups say reports are bogus because they rely on dioceses instead of outside observers to tally the allegations. "These numbers come from most of the same bishops who concealed and enabled clergy
child sex crimes for decades," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "They are inherently suspect, to say the least."
Even as the number of victims and accused clergy decline, the sexual abuse scandal, which erupted in 2002, continues to take a financial toll on the church. The U.S. church paid more than $120 million in settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, and legal fees, according to the report. About a third of that total was covered by insurance, according to the report.
The church also spent $22 million in child protection efforts, the report said. Since 1950, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is estimated to have paid $2.7 billion in sex abuse-related costs.
Alabama Gambling Debate Heats Up
Two Southern Baptist politicians are at the center of a gambling debate in Alabama, where the state's governor says electronic bingo machines are illegal and the attorney general says they're not in some cases.
Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican and member of First Baptist Church in Ashland, formed a Task Force on Illegal Gambling more than a year ago to enforce state laws that outlaw various forms of gambling, including slot machines.
But a judge ruled March 8 that attorney general Troy King, a Republican and a member of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, should decide whether to prosecute gambling operators.
At issue are thousands of electronic bingo machines, which look and play like slot machines, but dole out cash based on rapid, computerized games of bingo, according to manufacturers. Alabama's constitution explicitly forbids slot machines, but some counties have passed constitutional amendments allowing traditional paper bingo for charity.
Sixteen counties and two towns in the state have such amendments, The Alabama Baptist reported, with four of the counties currently operating the video bingo machines.
Casinos have cropped up in Alabama to compete with Mississippi's Gulf Coast complexes, and millions of dollars have been poured into the industry, with some casinos resembling those in Las Vegas. Glitzy high-rise hotels and other attractions are meant to make Alabama a vacation destination, the gambling industry says.
Last fall the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that electronic bingo machines, which are prevalent in the state's casinos, are in fact an illegal form of gambling because the machines "have none of the elements of human skill and interaction that are fundamental to the game of bingo."
Furthermore, the court said the machines "operate almost exactly like slot machines." Riley said the ruling was a clear victory for his task force, which was set to shut down illegal gambling halls. King, though, asked district attorneys in counties with constitutional amendments allowing paper bingo to study the ruling and determine if the machines used in their areas are legal.
At their annual meeting in November, messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention passed a resolution on bingo gambling, noting that the Alabama constitution prohibits games of chance and the 18 areas with constitutional amendments only approve limited charity bingo for the benefit of nonprofit organizations and for no other purpose.
Local governing bodies, the resolution said, have used such amendments as a means of allowing unlawful electronic bingo gambling to proliferate. Alabama Baptists reaffirmed their opposition to electronic bingo gambling in the state and called on pastors to inform their congregations on the ill effects of gambling.
Southern Baptists in Alabama also asked the state legislature to oppose legislation that would permit or expand gambling of any type, including charity bingo.
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Court: No Overtime Pay For Seminarians
Two Catholic seminarians do not have the right to receive overtime wages from the Archdiocese of Seattle, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 16.
While training to become Catholic priests in Mexico, Cesar Rosas and Jesus Alcazar served a Washington state parish as part of a diocesan placement program. The men said they were forced to work overtime without pay cleaning the parish and assisting at Mass, in violation of Washington's Minimum Wage Act.
But employment decisions by religious groups are subject to a "ministerial exception" under the Constitution's First Amendment, the appeals court ruled.
"This `ministerial exception' helps preserve the wall between church and state from even the mundane government intrusion presented here," wrote Judge Robert Beezer.
The seminarians argued that their primary functions at St. Mary Catholic Church in Marysville, Washington, were nonreligious. But the circuit court, which upheld a lower court's decision, adopted a three-part test to determine that the ministerial exception applied: they were employed by a religious institution, chosen for the position largely on religious criteria, and performed religious duties.
Clergy, White House Strategize on Immigration Reform
On the heels of a rally on the National Mall by immigration reform advocates, religious leaders met at the White House on March 22 to plot strategy despite a packed election-year political calendar.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Latino Christians are frustrated with the slow pace of change on immigration reform, along with growing numbers of deportations.
Still, Rodriguez said he hopes President Obama will use some of the same strategies he used with health care reform--including a national address--to also succeed on immigration reform.
"It's time to get to work and see some outcomes," Rodriguez said.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of the anti-poverty group, Sojourners, said the faith community is ready to help Obama mobilize the grass roots.
"There has never been more unity on this issue in the faith community," said Wallis, describing the commitment from the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, Catholic and Jewish leaders who participated in Monday's meeting.
"This is not a Hispanic issue," he said. "This is a faith issue. This is a family issue."
With the attention on health care in recent months and continuing focus on efforts to spur job creation, the leaders acknowledged the need for pragmatism by the White House. But they hope immigration reform can be addressed before the mid-term elections in November.
"Things happen in God's time," said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches, as a loud thunderclap rang out above the White House. "I think God's time is about care for the neighbor, and it's time for that."