Matters of faith

Next step in clergy sex abuse crisis

Three years after agreeing on a charter to protect children from sexual abuse by priests, US Catholic bishops are ready to finalize that policy and make permanent their ad hoc committee on the troubling issue.

At the spring meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which begins Thursday in Chicago, they will also consider financing for an independent study of the causes of the clergy abuse crisis.

Their actions come as the cost of settlements, counseling, and legal fees passes the $1 billion mark, as tallied by the Associated Press. Three dioceses have declared bankruptcy, and hundreds of cases remain to be dealt with.

Some technical revisions will be made to the charter and the legal norms that implement it. But the zero-tolerance policy - which removes a priest from the ministry for a single offense - is expected to be retained.

Many Catholics called for the study on the causes of the crisis, but the estimated cost of up to $4 million is greater than the conference can fund, says Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, communications director. So bishops will vote on spending $1 million, and also seek outside funding.

Ecumenical unity

American Christian leaders are working toward the formal launch of the most inclusive ecumenical body ever assembled in the country.

Christian Churches Together in the USA will include representatives from the major Christian families - Evangelical, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and ethnic or racial churches - hoping to present a more unified voice in areas of concern.

Theological and political differences have thwarted past attempts at unity. Neither Catholics nor Evangelicals have joined the National Council of Churches, but the new group has gradually gathered support from across the spectrum since 2001.

While Christian Churches Together reached its goal of at least 25 members (31 have now joined), leaders meeting earlier this month in Los Altos, Calif., opted to postpone the launch celebration until others, such as African-American denominations, decide whether to join. The group intends to serve as a forum for building trust and finding common ground.

Southern Baptists' new goal

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, holds its annual meeting in Nashville next week with the theme "Everybody Can" - evangelize, that is. The goal is to spur members to "win for Christ" and baptize 1 million people over the next year.

Last month a major study revealed that conservative control of the denomination over the past decade had not resulted in greater evangelism. About the same number of people were baptized in 2003 as in 1950 (some 377,000), the Baptist Press reports.

Religion and government

Despite the growing visibility of religion in the US political arena - or perhaps because of it - 61 percent of Americans say that religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions; only 37 percent support the idea.

Yet an AP-Ipsos poll conducted in May showed that Americans are more amenable to the practice than people in nine other countries. All five nations polled in highly secular Europe showed higher rates of disapproval (from 63 percent in Italy to 85 percent in France). And at least three-quarters of Mexicans and Australians oppose involvement of religious leaders.

When it comes to the importance of faith in one's life, only Mexico ranks as more religious than the US (86 to 84 percent). Italians are the most religious in Europe (80 percent). About two-thirds of Canadians and South Koreans say religion plays a central role in their lives, but only 43 percent of Britons do.

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