Religion Notes


Issue: "Putting Kyoto on ice," Aug. 8, 1998

Close the Bible

The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the sentence of a man who pleaded guilty last summer to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy he met in an Internet chat room. The high court said Sarpy County judge George A. Thompson erred in reading a Bible passage before sentencing Aaron T. Pattno, 26, to up to five years in prison. "Allowing the court to recite scripture, and thereby proclaim its interpretation of that scripture, implies that the court is advancing its own religious views from the bench," the justices wrote. Although the high court acknowledged the sentence fell within statutory guidelines, it ordered resentencing by another judge. Judge Thompson had quoted, in part, Romans 1:26-27 (RSV): "For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men...."

Bankruptcy averted

A tentative settlement was reached between the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and the remaining eight plaintiffs who won a record $119.6 million judgment in a sex-abuse case involving a priest. The eight agreed to settle for $22.5 million, according to news reports. Three others agreed in March to a $7.5 million settlement. The diocese was accused of knowing that priest Rudolph Kos, 53, who is serving a long prison sentence, was preying on children, but doing nothing about it. The judgment could have forced the diocese into bankruptcy. Mr. Kos was one of three priests Pope John Paul II recently defrocked without a canonical trial, a rarely used procedure. The other two were Boston priests; one has cost the diocese there millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit, the other has not been identified.

That's show biz: Family Channel out-Foxed

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Say goodbye to The Family Channel as it now appears. Its programming schedule will be replaced by that of the Fox Family Channel August 15. The daytime lineup will feature comedies and children's shows, with evenings dedicated to adult fare. The Family Channel, with access to 69 million households, is the nation's ninth largest cable TV network. Under pressure from the IRS, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network spun off The Family Channel in 1990 to International Family Entertainment (IFE), a partnership between Mr. Robertson and Denver-based cable giant TCI. IFE in turn was bought last year for $1.9 billion by Fox Kids Worldwide, a joint venture of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Saban Entertainment. Under the acquisition, Fox Kids agreed to retain CBN's "700 Club" in the schedule, though no time slot was specified. Initially, Fox Kids had assured IFE's 275 employees, including 100 at the CBN complex in Virginia Beach, Va., their jobs were safe. The company also indicated it would set up a multi-million-dollar facility near CBN. However, plans changed, and Fox Kids decided to move most of its operations to Los Angeles. Layoffs are in progress; according to company sources, only a handful of employees will be left in Virginia Beach by winter.

Charity, but with limits

President Clinton signed into law last month a bill that would protect charitable donations from creditors in bankruptcy cases. The new Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act prevents creditors from confiscating tithes and other charitable contributions made by donors who later file for bankruptcy. However, the protection is limited to donations of up to 15 percent of the debtor's annual income. Federal bankruptcy laws in the past have been interpreted to allow the confiscation of funds given during the year before a donor declared bankruptcy. Some state anti-fraud laws have allowed creditors to recover funds donated over several years. The new law bans this practice.

Vatican finances

The Vatican, plagued by multi-million-dollar deficits in the 1970s and 1980s, reported its biggest-ever budget surplus in 1997-$11 million, far above the $600,000 forecast. It took in about $204 million and spent $193 million, according to figures released last month. The record budget surplus (the previous high was $1.7 million in 1995) occurred despite significant conference and meeting expenses, the opening of new diplomatic missions, and an increase of 40 percent in family benefits for Vatican employees, officials said. They added that the figures are subject to verification by outside auditors, and a complete budget report will be sent to bishops around the world. The Vatican City State, which has a separate budget, reported a surplus of about $21.5 million for the same period. The excess is earmarked to help pay for parking facilities and modernization of the Vatican Museums entrance. However, contributions to Peter's Pence, a fund used by the pope for charity causes worldwide, totaled $52.4 million in 1997, down from $58.7 million in 1996. U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, former archbishop of Detroit, is generally credited with turning the Vatican's economic situation around, beginning in 1993. He ended his tenure as head of the Vatican's budget planning office late last year and now heads the commission that runs Vatican City State.


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