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Religion Notes


Issue: "Lyons thrown to Baptists," Sept. 20, 1997

Preserving the Trinity

The Virgin Mary will not be upgraded to co-redeemer, and there are no plans to study the possibility. That was the Vatican's response to a Newsweek cover story floating the idea. The magazine reported the delivery to the Vatican of a petition bearing 40,383 signatures urging Pope John Paul II to make such a declaration. It also said 4.3 million Catholics, the late Mother Teresa, nearly 500 bishops, and 42 cardinals from around the world had made the same appeal. Catholic scholar Michael Novak said the article was misleading, either misused or failed to define key terms, and generally mishandled complex theological issues. He warned it could disrupt relations with evangelicals and other Protestants, and could confuse many Catholics. A papal study commission last year concluded Mary could never be "named on the level with the Word of God in his particular redemptive function." Pope John Paul II, who prays to Mary and credits her with saving his life from a would-be assassin's bullet and with the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, has addressed the issue numerous times. "It is always necessary in Marian doctrine to safeguard the infinite difference existing between the human person of Mary and the divine person of Jesus," he said in one talk.

Opening eyes on Capitol Hill

Christian groups on prayer tours of the U.S. Capitol now pray with their eyes open, pending a decision in federal court. "If we don't bow our heads or clasp our hands, the Capitol police don't seem to mind," says Gretchen Trump, coordinator of Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a small ministry that arranges prayer tours. Some people pray silently, others aloud in low conversational tones, she adds. Police last fall warned the leader of a tour group of eight that prayer in the Capitol Rotunda is considered a demonstration, and demonstrations there are illegal. Violators could be subject to penalties of up to $500 in fines and six months in jail. The leader was Pierre Bynum, Prayer Alert's editor and an assistant pastor at the Waldorf (Md.) Christian Assembly. He filed suit, seeking clarification of his rights. Federal courts have never ruled on whether the Rotunda is a public forum, which would allow all expressions of free speech, his attorney said. The police contend it is a workplace. A hearing was set for this month.

Supervising the shepherds

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Catholic officials in Dallas asked the Vatican to nullify the ordination of the priest at the center of a sexual abuse lawsuit that led to a $119.6 million judgment. The diocese said Rudolph Kos deceived church officials about his background and sexual orientation. A jury ordered the award to 11 plaintiffs in the civil suit on July 24, finding unanimously that the diocese was grossly negligent and concealed information in its handling of Kos. The diocese did not deny the plaintiffs were abused but contended its handling of the situation was not negligent. It suspended Kos more than a year after a youth complained of sexual abuse by him. Given Catholic theology concerning the priesthood, Vatican watchers say there is little chance the nullification request will be granted. The last such action on misrepresentation grounds occurred 47 years ago. Besides, says former Vatican embassy lawyer Thomas Doyle, "the damage has been done.... Is this a ploy to make the church look a little better? They ignored warnings for years and didn't do anything. You can't undo that." Meanwhile, a church accused of not adequately supervising its pastor was found not guilty by a jury in a civil court case in Santa Fe, N.M., last month. First Baptist Church, Chama, N.M., which has about 60 attendees, had been sued by a man who said his 13-year marriage fell apart after his wife became romantically involved with the church's pastor at the time. The suit said the church was negligent for not adequately researching a man's background before calling him as pastor, not adequately training him to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities, not adequately supervising him, and not firing him for cause. Defense attorneys said the pastor resigned immediately after the affair became known-before the church could fire him. The plaintiff collected $4,000 from the ex-pastor in a separate action, according to Baptist Press. The suit originally also cited the New Mexico Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. The two Baptist bodies were dropped from the suit after lawyers explained the autonomy of local churches. Observers speculated that millions of dollars of judgments against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse by priests may have been behind the naming of the Baptist groups in the lawsuit.


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