Religion News Service’s Emily McFarlan Miller reports, “A special session of the United Methodist Church decided Tuesday (Feb. 26) to strengthen the denomination’s ban on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ people.” Of three proposals before the church, fifty-three percent of the delegates at the St. Louis meeting voted to approve the so-called “Traditional Plan,” which took a harder line against LGBTQ inclusion. McFarlan Miller writes, “LGBTQ United Methodists and those who support their full inclusion in the church have to decide what comes next, said the Rev. Gregory Gross, a delegate from the Northern Illinois Conference and organizer with the Queer Clergy Caucus. There may no longer be room for them in the denomination, he said. So LGBTQ Methodists may have to envision ‘a new expression of Methodism.'”
Reuters’ Sonali Paul and Philip Pullella report, “An Australian court has found Cardinal George Pell, one of the highest ranking Vatican officials and a former top adviser to Pope Francis, guilty on five charges of child sexual offences committed more than two decades ago against 13-year-old boys.” Pell was found guilty on December 11, but the court made the verdict public on Tuesday after it lifted a suppression order on the trial. A victim said in an emailed statement, “Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.”
Religion News Service’s Yonat Shimron writes about a February 15 lawsuit against the federal government and South Carolina, which alleges that Miracle Hill Ministries unconstitutionally discriminates against non-Protestants. Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic, applied four years ago to mentor foster children at the Greenville ministry before being denied, allegedly because of her faith. Shimron writes, “The suit challenges a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exemption that allows all foster care agencies in South Carolina to disregard a regulation barring religious discrimination in federally funded foster care programs.” Shimron adds that the lawsuit reveals a degree of bias against Catholics in the South, and it poses a question: Who is the right kind of Christian?
The New York Times’s Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo write that conflicting views about homosexuality in the church distracted discussions at the Vatican conference on the sexual abuse of children, despite the lack of connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. They write, “Each day at the meeting, reporters from conservative Catholic news outlets peppered the meeting’s organizers with questions about why they are dodging the topic of homosexuality. Their short answer: because it is irrelevant.” They add, “Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller of Germany published an open letter to the presidents of bishops’ conferences representing various countries at the meeting, urging them to end their ‘conspiracy of silence’ about the ‘plague of the homosexual agenda.’”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jesse Bogan reports on a special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, being held in St. Louis, which is focusing on homosexuality, a topic that is dividing congregants. Bogan writes, “The uproar boils down to this line in the denomination’s Book of Discipline: ‘The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ Officially, United Methodist pastors aren’t supposed to preside over same-sex marriages and, although gay and lesbian clergy can be ordained, they must be celibate.” The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics Director Marie Griffith said, “They are trying to hold everyone together, and ultimately some difficult choices are going to have to be made, because the issues are too important on all sides.”
The New York Times’s Jason Horowitz reports, “With his moral authority in question and his papal legacy in the balance, Pope Francis opened a historic summit meeting at the Vatican on Thursday devoted to clerical child sexual abuse, an issue that has for decades devastated some corners of his vast church while being utterly ignored and denied in others.” The four-day conference aims to educate nearly 200 Catholic leaders on the severity of the crisis, and how to address it going forward. The pope said, “We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice.” Horowitz adds, “After the pope spoke on Thursday, the Holy See said the assembled bishops privately watched prerecorded video presentations of testimonials from victims, who were not identified to the news media.”
The New York Time’s Elizabeth Dias profiles gay priests and seminarians who discuss the challenges of being leaders in a church that is critical of homosexuality, despite there being thousands of gay priests. Dias writes, “The fall of Theodore E. McCarrick, the once-powerful cardinal who was defrocked last week for sexual abuse of boys and young men, has inflamed accusations that homosexuality is to blame for the church’s resurgent abuse crisis.” She notes there are studies that find no connection between sexual abuse and homosexuality. Father Bob Bussen of Park City, Utah, who was outed around 12 years ago, said, “Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating. It is not a closet. It is a cage.”
CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Carma Hassan report, “An investigation into an encounter between Kentucky high school students and Native American activists has found ‘no evidence of offensive or racist statements’ by the students, according to a report posted on the Diocese of Covington website. Video of last month’s encounter between Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic High students at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial stirred debate over whether the teenagers were mocking Phillips or whether Phillips was interfering with them.” The diocese at first apologized to Phillips and condemned the students’ actions, but it now says that apology was premature.
The Atlantic’s Emma Green profiles Cardinal Seán O’Malley, and writes about his struggles to institute reforms to address the sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church. O’Malley, a close advisor to the pope and the leader of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said of the upcoming summit on sexual abuse at the Vatican: “My worry is that the expectations in the United States are that this meeting is going to address all of our local concerns here, which is not necessarily the case.” Green writes, “O’Malley’s career, with all of its successes and frustrations, illuminates why the sex-abuse crisis has once again subsumed the Catholic Church—and why this institution, one of the world’s great moral authorities, has been incapable of solving one of the most morally straightforward problems of our time.”
For The Atlantic, Wajahat Ali criticizes the Supreme Court’s refusal to allow a Muslim inmate to have an imam by his side during his execution. The state argued that Domineque Ray waited too long to request an imam, and, for security reasons, his request could not be filled in time. Ali writes, “Whatever the legal merits of these individual decisions, the lasting impression they create for Americans is undeniable: Islam is a faith tradition that is not only inferior to Christianity but also inherently hostile to America.”