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
Will The Pope Resign? Can He?
ill Pope Benedict XVI resign? Less than two weeks ago, that question was just a publicity-grabbing ploy by an Irish online bookmaker.
Now, following charges that he personally mishandled cases of pedophile priests in Munich and Milwaukee, the idea of Benedict stepping down is actually being taken seriously, at least in some quarters of the media.
"With his authority eroded, why does he even remain in office?" wrote Peter Wensierski on March 25 in the online edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
"If the church is to survive ... it will have to go through a wrenching transformation," wrote the influential Washington-based
blogger Andrew Sullivan the same day. "Beginning with the resignation of this Pope and an end to priestly celibacy."
The Roman Catholic Church's code of canon law does provide for the possibility of a pope stepping down, as long as the decision is "made freely."
Yet according to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, writing in "Lives of the Popes," no more than six popes have resigned over the Catholic Church's two millennia of history. All but two did so under pressure from secular potentates.
Gregory XII resigned in the year 1415 at the demand of a council of bishops, called to resolve the four-decade-long Western Schism that had divided the church between two rival claimants to the papal throne.
Only one pope, Celestine V, a Benedictine hermit who was later canonized as a saint, retired of his own volition, in 1294, pleading his unworthiness for the job and desire for a more tranquil life.
At least two recent popes have seriously considered resigning for reasons of physical or mental incapacity.
In 1989, Pope John Paul II left a written declaration that he would resign the papacy "in case of illness presumed to be incurable and of long duration, that impedes me from adequately exercising the functions of my apostolic ministry."
John Paul noted that he was "following the example" of Pope Paul VI, who in 1965 apparently made similar provisions for his own resignation in case of incapacity.
According to another document, recently revealed by the Vatican-appointed advocate for the late pope's canonization as a saint, John Paul also considered stepping down when he reached the standard bishop's retirement age of 75.
The advocate, Monsignor Slawomir Oder, writes that John Paul sought advice from experts on the historical and theological aspects of resignation, "consulting in particular then-Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger," now Pope Benedict.
Whatever Benedict may have advised, his predecessor finally decided that it was, as he put it, his "duty to continue to carry out the job for which Christ the Lord has called me, as long as he, in the mysterious designs of his providence, will want."
John Paul, of course, died of natural causes at age 84 in 2005, having endured years of painful illness, still reigning as pope.
Assuming that Benedict's health holds out, and no secular government or pretender to his throne pressures him to abandon it, the only precedent for resignation that this deeply traditional leader has to follow is that of the monastic Celestine.
For a man whose greatest joys are said to be liturgy, theology and music, there might be moments lately when that option seems hard to resist.
Survey Reveals Church Support For Immigration Reform
A new survey detected broad support among religious groups for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., rebutting a December survey showing most religious communities want to send illegal immigrants home.
According to the new study, released March 23 by the Public Religion Research Institute, 86 percent of U.S. voters support a
provision for an earned pathway to citizenship in which undocumented immigrants would need to pay taxes, work, register with the government and learn English before they can apply for citizenship.
The Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, said he was encouraged by the findings.
"People are clearly aware that our immigration system is broken," Reese said. "People want a system that not only is good for our national security and our economy but also one that protects the dignity of every human person and keeps families together."
The new study showed 92 percent of Catholics, 90 percent of white evangelicals and 87 percent of white mainline Protestants favor an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
A Zogby poll released last December by the more conservative Center for Immigration Studies, however, showed that 64 percent of Catholics and mainline Protestants, along with 76 percent of "born-again" Protestants, support enforcement to encourage illegal immigrants to go home. Researchers on the new survey said their results in favor of reform were consistent, even when the wording of the question was changed to ask if the United States should deport illegal immigrants. A slight majority, 56 percent, disagreed; Catholics (61 percent) were more likely to disagree than white mainline Protestants (54 percent) and white evangelicals (47 percent).
Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, said his poll was more accurate because it was based on random telephone calls, while the Zogby poll relied on an online internet panel.
The poll was based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,201 registered voters; it had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
S.C. Episcopal Diocese Declares Itself `Sovereign'
A South Carolina diocese has declared itself "sovereign" within the Episcopal Church, the latest salvo in a long-running skirmish between the conservative diocese and the denomination.
The Diocese of South Carolina, which covers 47 parishes in the eastern and coastal parts of the state, voted on Friday (March 26) to assert the local authority of Bishop Mark Lawrence, particularly in dealing with breakaway parishes.
Concerned that Lawrence would not fight to keep conservatives from seceding with church property, the Episcopal Church hired its own lawyer earlier this year. The 2.2 million-member denomination maintains that local parish property is held in trust for the regional diocese and the national church.
In a series of four resolutions, the South Carolina diocese declared that Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has "no authority to retain attorneys in this diocese that present themselves as counsel for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina."
The resolutions aim to put Lawrence in charge of the situation and allow him to provide a "generous pastoral response" to dissident parishes. Last October, Lawrence and the diocese said they would begin to partially withdraw from the Episcopal Church because of its growing liberalism, particularly its acceptance of homosexuality.
Addressing the diocese on Friday, Lawrence said he and Jefferts Schori "stand looking at one another across a wide, deep and seemingly unbridgeable theological and canonical chasm." The two will continue to talk, however, "even if it requires phone conversations from vastly different area codes," he said.
Archdiocese Must Open Bids on Katrina Reconstruction
The federal government has ordered the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans to open millions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina-related rebuilding to public bid, but will not penalize the church for not having done so thus far.
Auditors from the Department of Homeland Security told the archdiocese last month the church had to stop using only its preferred contractors in rebuilding parochial schools, gyms and other sites financed with FEMA reimbursement dollars.
While the notice did not specify how much the church spent without seeking public bids, a church report issued in the summer of 2008 told local Catholics the archdiocese then had spent $35.5 million in FEMA money on rebuilding.
According to FEMA officials, the archdiocese has collected $329 million in reimbursements thus far. Despite the finding, the government will not impose any penalty on the church for its past practices with FEMA dollars, FEMA spokesman Andrew Thomas said.
The federal auditors said church officials told them they had FEMA's verbal OK to work exclusively with their preferred contractors, although the church couldn't produce written evidence of that.
As a result of the audit, the archdiocese is designing an open bid process with FEMA's cooperation, said church spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey. She said the archdiocese does not expect to see significant building delays as a result of switching to open bids.
In a report late last year, the archdiocese said it planned to spend about $108 million rebuilding schools, gyms and community centers across the region. That figure does not include additional millions slated for rebuilding homes under the auspices of Christopher Homes, the church's charitable housing arm.