Catholic bishop Joseph Keith Symons, 65, of the Palm Beach, Fla., diocese resigned this month after admitting he molested five boys in three Florida churches early in his 40-year career as a priest. He is the first U.S. Catholic bishop to resign for such conduct. Church officials said he will spend the next year in a treatment center. Two archbishops resigned in the early 1990s in cases involving sexual relationships with females.
Court says Amen in prayer case
Student-led prayers at graduation ceremonies do not violate the Constitution, the 9th Circuit federal appeals court ruled. An Idaho school district may continue its practice of allowing students in each graduating class to decide whether to include a prayer in the ceremony, a three-judge panel unanimously affirmed. The policy neither advances nor inhibits religion. The American Civil Liberties Union contended that because most of the district's residents are Mormons, school officials know that prayers will be included.
Now there is new evidence that Thomas Jefferson's pledge to separate church and state was made mostly for political reasons. That is the upshot of recent sleuthing by the FBI laboratory, according to James H. Hutson of the Library of Congress. At issue is a letter President Jefferson wrote in 1802 in which he tried to explain to Baptists in Danbury, Conn., his unwillingness to issue Thanksgiving proclamations. FBI technicians found that Mr. Jefferson had first written that he was "confining myself to the duties of my station, which are merely temporal," but had crossed out the sentence later. His political advisers convinced him that it would offend New England church people, Mr. Hutson suggested. The letter went on to urge a wall of separation between church and state. The letter and the FBI's work on its deletions are among items in an exhibit that opened at the Library of Congress this month. Wrote Mr. Hutson: "It will be of considerable interest in assessing the credibility of the Danbury Baptist letter as a tool of constitutional interpretation to know, as we now do, that it was written as a partisan counterpunch, aimed by Jefferson below the belt of enemies who were tormenting him more than a decade after the First Amendment was composed."
Methodists to the madness
Some evangelicals in the overwhelmingly liberal 375-congregation Northern California-Nevada regional conference of the United Methodist Church have decided to leave. There's little hope of seeing the conference return to the UMC's biblical roots, they contend, so why stay? Kevin Clancey, 39, resigned as pastor of 300-member Community United Methodist Church in Oakdale, a Modesto suburb. A UMC minister for 11 years, and until this month president of the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF) in the conference, he is launching a new church in the same town. ERF represents about 10 percent of the conference's 90,000 church members. This weekend (June 28), the growing 250-member Kingsburg United Methodist Church south of Fresno is expected to vote to leave the conference. Pastor Ed Ezaki, 41, an ERF member who has been at the church seven years, believes the vote will be unanimous. If all goes as planned, nine members will remain as trustees to hold the property. (In "connectional" churches, the property remains with the denomination.) The conference has indicated it will permit the congregation to occupy the building for two more months, possibly longer. Members hope they will be able to buy it. Evangelical leaders elsewhere in the 8.5-million-member UMC had implored their brethren in Northern California to be "patient." But pastor Ezaki, a Japanese American who graduated from Berkeley and Princeton, explained: "We've been codependent too long, we've been in denial too long. It's time for us to move on." Both he and pastor Clancey say they expect "several others" in the ERF to leave soon also.