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
Foot Washing Lands Government
Official in Hot Water
he ritual of washing feet has a deep-seated tie to Holy Week, a symbol of the humility Jesus showed in performing the act for his disciples the day before his death.
Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, took that custom into the workplace on April 1, going around the government complex throughout the day to wash the feet of willing employees.
"As the chief executive officer of St. Bernard Parish Government, I thought it was an appropriate gesture to show that I am as humbled as any other sinner in the world, so much so that I would offer to wash the feet of the employees," Taffaro said.
Taffaro did not publicize his actions. A reporter was alerted to the matter by several phone calls from people who had heard from government employees whose feet were washed.
The incident does touch on the line drawn between church and state, as well as the delicate relationship between boss and employee.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded on Monday (April 5) with a letter from executive director Marjorie R. Esman reminding Taffaro that the Constitution prohibits government officials from imposing religious practices on employees at the workplace. Esman said the ACLU trusts he will refrain from further religious practices in the workplace.
Taffaro said employees were not pressured to let him wash their feet and the vast majority accepted the offer.
"If they wanted to participate, they could. If they didn't, no problem," said Taffaro, who is Catholic. "I didn't keep a list or anything like that."
Vatican Orders Bishops to Report Charges to Police
The Vatican on April 12 published an on-line guide to its disciplinary procedures in processing cases of sexually abusive priests, including a mandate to cooperate with local civil authorities.
Running less than 700 words in length, the guide is intended for lay people and non-specialists in church law. Based on a 2001 decree by Pope John Paul II, it explains in ordinary language the rules followed by church officials, both at the local level and at the Vatican, in investigating and punishing cases of sex abuse.
According to the guide, the "local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric," and refers every allegation with a "semblance of truth" to the Vatican's doctrinal office, which since 2001 has had global jurisdiction over cases of pedophile priests.
"Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed," the guide notes.
Some critics have pointed to a 2001 letter by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, imposing a "pontifical secret" on all sex abuse investigations as evidence he conspired to cover up for pedophile priests. The Vatican has insisted that bishops were never forbidden to report such crimes to the local civil authorities.
The online guide emphasizes the local bishop's "power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese," even before investigations have concluded.
Recent weeks have brought charges that Ratzinger, who ran the Vatican's doctrinal office from 1981 until his election as pope in 2005, delayed acting against pedophile priests despite entreaties from local bishops who sought to discipline them.
The "most serious" penalty that can be imposed on a clerical sex abuser is defrocking ("dismissal from the clerical state"), either as a result of a trial or in rare cases by decree of the pope, the guide notes. When accused priests themselves asked to be defrocked, the document notes, the pope can choose to grant their requests "for the good of the church."
The guide notes that changes to the law governing the Vatican's handling of sex abuse allegations are currently "under discussion," but any such modifications "will not change" the rules outlined in the document.
Faith Leaders Weigh in on Stevens' Legacy
As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens prepares for retirement, religious advocates are cheering his support of church-state separation and readying for the battle over his successor.
Stevens, the court's oldest justice at age 89, sent a letter to President Obama on April 9 informing him that he would retire when the high court concludes for this year's summer recess.
"Justice Stevens is an icon -- a thoughtful, perceptive justice who understands the role of church-state separation in American life," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It is vitally important that President Obama choose a high court nominee who understands that government may not meddle in matters of religion."
In a strongly worded dissent in a 2002 ruling upholding an Ohio voucher program that benefited private religious schools, Stevens wrote: "Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy."
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty praised Stevens as "a friend of church-state separation," but criticized his siding with a 1990 ruling that allowed Oregon anti-drug laws to halt the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, in Native American religious ceremonies.
J. Brent Walker, the committee's executive director, said he hopes Obama will nominate a successor "who will be willing to permit--or even require--the government's accommodation of religion in appropriate cases and to respect the autonomy rights of religion and religious organizations."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian law firm, called for a thorough confirmation process for Stevens' successor, "with specific focus on the nominee's judicial philosophy including how the nominee views the Constitution, the role of judges, and the rule of law."
Muslims, Sikhs Welcome Change in Airport Security Screenings
Muslim and Sikh groups praised the Transportation Security Administration for rolling back screening rules on passengers arriving from 14 primarily Islamic countries, even as some worry that profiling will continue.
The new rules had been enacted after a Nigerian Muslim man tried and failed to explode a bomb onboard a Northwest Airlines jet bound for Detroit on Christmas Day. Civil liberty groups said the rules amounted to ethnic and religious profiling.
The suspect in that case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had not been subjected to extra screening despite being listed in a government database of suspected or known terrorists.
Under revamped policies announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on April 2, international passengers will be compared against intelligence data based on physical descriptions or travel patterns. Napolitano said passengers who are flagged for extra security may face "explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams or pat-downs" prior to boarding flights for the U.S.
Religious groups welcomed the change, saying the old system was ineffective and arbitrary. It would not have subjected Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber of British-Jamaican ancestry, to enhanced screening," said Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based group Muslim Advocates, who had raised concerns with Napolitano earlier this year.
The Sikh Coalition called the change "a step in the right direction," but said Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs will likely face continued profiling because of the "broad discretion" that airport screeners have in pulling aside passengers for extra scrutiny based solely on appearance or ethnic origin.