Archive for the ‘Catholics’ Category

Catholic Church cuts off ACORN funding

November 13, 2008

The Roman Catholic Church is cutting off funds to the community organizing group ACORN, citing complaints over its voter registration drives in the November 4 election as part of the reason.

By Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston
CNN Special Investigations Unit
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The Catholic Campaign for Human Development froze its contributions to the group in June amid allegations that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million.

This week, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Baltimore, Maryland, the campaign’s chairman said it was cutting all ties with the group.

Authorities raid a Las Vegas, Nevada, ACORN office after allegations of voter fraud.

Above: Authorities raid a Las Vegas, Nevada, ACORN office after allegations of voter fraud.

“We simply had too many questions and concerns to permit further CCHD funding of ACORN groups,” Roger Morin, the auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, Louisiana, told his colleagues in a letter to the conference.

The CCHD has donated more than $7.3 million to ACORN-related projects over the past decade, including $40,000 to an ACORN chapter in Las Vegas, Nevada, that was raided before the election in an investigation into fraudulent voter registration forms. Among other questionable documents, the ACORN chapter submitted registration forms for members of the Dallas Cowboys football team.

Read the rest:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/11/13/acorn.
catholics/index.html

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Rome hosts Vatican-Muslim summit

November 4, 2008

Muslim and Vatican officials are holding historic talks in Rome to establish a better inter-faith dialogue and defuse any future tensions.

Catholic-Muslim ties soured after Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in 2006, in which he linked Muslims with past violence.

BBC

The speech provoked Muslim outrage and triggered violent protests.

It also prompted leading Muslim scholars to launch an appeal to the Pope for greater theological dialogue, called the Common Word.

The manifesto now has more than 250 signatories.

Pope Benedict XVI. File photo

The Pope has sought to improve ties with the Muslim world since 2006

Muslim leaders say protests against the Pope’s speech – and also the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 – might have been avoided if Christian and Muslim leaders had spoken out together against such violence.

‘New chapter’

The three-day talks in Rome are being attended by nearly 60 religious leaders and scholars from each side.

The Muslim delegation is being led by Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric, while Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran heads the Vatican officials.

The meeting opens ” a new chapter in the long history” of the dialogue between the two faiths, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran told France’s La Croix newspaper on the eve of the talks.

Read the rest:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7707606.stm

Election Will Be Closer Than Many Think

November 3, 2008

It is painless and safe to make public predictions months away from Election Day. But on November 3rd, there’s nothing safe about it.

Yet if there’s any value in handicapping political outcomes beyond the lure of self-promotion—and I think there is—why are so many analysts hiding now?

By Father Johathan Morris
Fox News

I include myself in this gang of suddenly-quiet pundits. In both private conversations and on-air, I’ve wiggled out of many pleas for prophecy. I’ve learned to respect polls as a snapshot in time of a given population and to look beyond them as insufficient barometers of what the sum of voters will do behind the curtain. We mostly hide, or become uncharacteristically nuanced, on November 3rd because we simply don’t know what will happen, and the chances of people remembering our ignorance is just too high.

But today I’ll throw caution (and self-defense) to the wind in the name of the greater good and towards a more honest post-election analysis of where we are as a nation and what matters to us. Once again, if I am reading this correctly, I will repeat what I said on October 16th — the 2008 election will be closer than many polls are saying it will be on the eve of the election.

Today The Huffington Post prominently and proudly displays two of the newest and last polls of the election season, drawing samples from Saturday and Sunday polling results: CBS News gives Senator Obama a thirteen point lead among likely voters and USA / Gallup puts Senator Obama up by eleven points in the same group. Three days ago The New York Times also gave Senator Obama an eleven point lead nationally.

These polls understandably tempt journalists to suggest the race has been “clinched” by Senator Obama (as John King did recently did on CNN). — I hope such predictions won’t affect anyone’s interest in voting.

Here are my reasons for believing the race will be closer than these polls indicate:

1) According to varied professional sources with whom I have spoken, there exists a proportionally high number of potential voters who are refusing to be polled or express their opinion publicly. In a historic, high-octane race like 2008, I believe there are more reasons for a McCain supporter to stay silent than for an Obama supporter. It is understandable to imagine McCain supporters fearing labels such as “racist,” “homophobe,” “single-issue-voter,” “warmonger,” or “against change,” even if the voter is none of these.

2) Similarly, pollsters have reported higher than usual numbers of undecided voters or voters still capable of changing their minds. People know Senator McCain. Do they know Senator Obama well enough to break for him this late in the game?

3) Most importantly, in 2004, pollsters were caught by surprise by the amount of voters who left the polls saying “social issues” were most influential in determining their vote. In 2008, the media has been mostly silent on these causes, focusing instead on the economy and Iraq. This focus ignores an important reality. The “Value Voters” block of mostly Evangelicals and a good percentage of conservative Catholics and others, may indeed be wrapped up in these urgent headlines, but there is no convincing data to suggest they have inverted their voting priorities, turning away from abortion, traditional marriage, limited government, etc. If Senator Kerry’s policy proposals were enough to get this voting block to the booth, Senator Obama’s policies should bring them out in droves.

So there you have my November 3rd take.

And if I’m right and the vote is close in 2008, when the Democratic Party has every political reason to wipe out the Republicans, it will mean our country rejects major elements of Senator Obama’s plan to revolutionize important American values, beginning with the right to life. Then the Democratic Party may see the benefit of freeing itself from the stranglehold of the culture of death, forced upon it by extreme, and extremely powerful, interest groups. What a relief it would be for “Values Voters” to have a viable alternative to the very imperfect Republican Party.

And what is your November 3rd prediction?

God bless,

Father Jonathan

Click here to watch Father Jonathan discuss “value voters” with FNC’s Bill Hemmer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EmBhM4HLL0

Father Jonathan Morris is author of the new book, “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for when Life Hurts”. For more information click here.

Pope at St. Patrick’s in New York: We Owe Bishop Hughes

April 20, 2008

When the Pope celebrated Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, a TV newsman reminded us that the cornerstone of that magnificent church was laid in 1858.  But I was reminded of one of the men who made that church possible: “Dagger” John Hughes….

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

John Joseph Hughes (1797–1864), Catholic Archbishop of New York, played three critical roles for Lincoln and the United States during the Civil War. He traveled to Europe in search of able-bodied Irishmen to enlist in the Union Army. He participated in tricky diplomatic missions to France and the Vatican to keep them out of the war. Finally, Hughes used his personal powers of persuasion and clout to help quell the 1863 draft riots in New York.

Archbishop John Hughes is also responsible for starting the project, raising the first monies and laying the cornerstone for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York — where Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Catholic Mass this week end.

View of the cathedral from Rockefeller Center.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York
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By the time of the Civil War, “Dagger” John Hughes was nearing the end of his influence and his life. He earned the nickname “Dagger” for two reasons: first, he signed his name to include a small cross, often confused for a dagger. Second: Hughes’ hard-nosed style and ability to toughly face difficult challenges earned him the reputation as the “Dagger” of the Irish community in New York.After the Civil War began in 1861, Lincoln desperately needed to keep up a dialogue of understanding with European monarchs. Lincoln wanted to keep European nations from assisting the Confederacy. Lincoln wanted a Catholic of stature to assist him in dealing with the Catholic leaders in Europe. He chose Dagger John Hughes.

Lincoln paired Hughes with Thurlow Weed to head the mission to Europe.

Harper’s Weekly reported on November 23, 1861 that “Mr. Weed [and Archbishop Hughes] left this port [New York] on Saturday last for Europe. He states himself that he goes on private business; the public, however, will be apt to suspect that his private business concerns the public interest. If the suspicion be correct, we may feel assured that our affairs will suffer no mischance in his hands. Few men in the country are such true patriots as Thurlow Weed.”


Archbishop John Hughes

European leaders wanted a divided nation on the American continent. In September 1861, England’s former Colonial secretary Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton stated that a permanent division of the United States would benefit the “safety of Europe.” A truly united United States “hung over Europe like a gathering and destructive thundercloud … [but] as America shall become subdivided into separate states … her ambition would be less formidable for the rest of the world.”

“Dagger” John understood his mission and President Lincoln’s concerns: even though he harbored no animosity toward the Confederacy. “My mission was and is a mission of peace between France and England on the one side, and the United States on the other. ….I made it known to the President that if I should come to Europe it would not be as a partisan of the North more than of the South; that I should represent the interests of the South as well as of the North; in short, the interests of all the United States just the same as if they had not been distracted by the present civil war. The people of the South know that I am not opposed to their interests.”

While Weed headed to London to apply his tact and persuasion on members of Queen Victoria’s government, Dagger John went to France to call upon Napoleon III.

Historian Dean B. Mahin wrote that “Napoleon thought an independent Confederacy would provide a buffer between royalist Mexico and the republican United States.”

Even so, Hughes convinced the monarch to avoid involvement in the American conflict.

Then Hughes went to Italy on two missions. The first mission involved convincing the Vatican to keep out of the conflict. Hughes’ second mission was to persuade Irishmen serving as mercenaries in the Army of the Vatican to join their Irish immigrant countrymen in America and fight for the Union.

Hughes accomplished both missions. The Catholic Pope stayed out of the war, despite intense pressure and diplomatic maneuvering from the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis sent Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston to the Vatican in 1861 and Father John Bannon in 1864. Nether could change the neutrality of the influential Pontiff.

In Rome, Hughes also met with leading and influential Irish mercenaries, including Miles Keogh and John Coppinger. Both agreed to join the Union cause and both persuaded others to join them.

A short time later General George McClellan described Keogh as “a most gentlemanlike man, of soldierly appearance,” whose “record had been remarkable for the short time he had been in the army.”

Keogh would serve in many engagements of the Civil War and die alongside George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.

Bishop Hughes recruit John J. Coppinger also served with Custer. During the Civil War, General Custer wrote that Coppinger’s “ability as an officer is of the highest order. … As a soldier I consider him a model.”

Coppinger was still serving the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898 when he was promoted to Major-General of Volunteers.

Hughes remained on his diplomatic mission in Europe until the summer of 1862.

Dagger John’s final, but perhaps most significant, contribution to the Union cause came during New York’s draft riots of July 1863.

The Irish, most of whom were Catholics, hated the Union Army draft. Most Irishmen lacked the funds to buy their way out of service, the way more wealthy men did throughout the war. The Irish also avidly read newspapers recounting the valor of the Irish Brigade and other units. But Irish losses appalled them — and seemed disproportionate to the losses of non-Irish units. Irish boys made up about 15 percent of the Union army – and they were dying in droves.

The Irish had also reacted badly to Lincoln’s January Emancipation Proclamation. The Irish, arguably members of the lowest echelon of free American society, believed Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves only added another large population to their small niche of society.

So when Lincoln called a draft of even more men, the Irish went wild.

The New York Times reported that, “It seemed to be an understood thing that the negroes should be attacked wherever found.” An orphanage was burned to the ground, stores were ransacked and dozens of police officers were killed or injured.

In three days of mayhem and unrest, 443 people were arrested, 128 wounded, and over 50 people dead. The rioters also burned down more than 100 buildings and damaged about 200 others. Many of the killed and wounded were free Black men. were killed. Irishmen were largely responsible for the rioting.

“In New York no one had to ask who ruled the Church,” explained Professor Jay P. Dolan of the University of Notre Dame in his book “The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815-1865.”

“John Hughes was boss….He ruled like an Irish chieftain,” wrote Professor Dolan. A newspaper reporter of the time wrote that Archbishop Hughes was “more a Roman gladiator than a devout follower of the meek founder of Christianity.”

But Hughes and the Irish did not rule all New York. New York was rued by Protestants, who winked at the unruliness of the Irish Catholics. The historian E.P. Spann called New York City in the mid-19th century “the capital of Protestant America.” Protestant leadership, said Spann, “made no secret of their belief that Roman Catholicism was alien and inferior.” Though not condoning the riot, the Protestant leadership of New York largely considered the disorder “a Catholic problem.”

Hughes left his death bed to appeal to the Irish, their honor and their pride. Hughes challenged the Irish leaders with the words, “no blood of innocent martyrs, shed by Irish Catholics, has ever stained the soil of Ireland.” Thus Archbishop Hughes convinced the Irish to end the rioting and peace was restored in New York.

President Lincoln wrote that “having formed the Archbishop’s acquaintance in the earliest days of our country’s present troubles, his counsel and advice were gladly sought and continually received by the Government on those points which his position enabled him better than others to consider. At a conjuncture of deep interest to the country, the Archbishop, associated with others, went abroad, and did the nation a service there with all the loyalty, fidelity and practical wisdom which on so many other occasions illustrated his great ability for administration.”

Dagger John Hughes proved himself a formidable force in an era when a fighting bishop was needed. When the Vatican nuncio, Archbishop Bedini, asked an American priest to explain why people in America held Archbishop Hughes in such esteem, the answer was: “It is because he is always game.”

Dagger John Hughes: Lincoln emissary and leader of American Irishmen died in New York on January 3, 1864.

John Hughes is also the one man most responsible for the building of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
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Catholics have made a very long and indelible contribution to the history of North, South and Central America.  It is appropriate at the time of Pope Benedict’s visit to recall Archbishop John Hughes.
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Mr. Carey is president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.  He writes for the Washington Times.

Pope Benedict XVI waves before leaving Saint Joseph Seminary ... .
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI holds a Mass at Nationals Park in Washington ... 
From

REUTERS/Jim Bourg 

Pope Benedict XVI passes St. Patrick's Cathedral in New ... 
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Pope Benedict XVI passes St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York while riding up 5th Avenue in the Popemobile following a Mass at the Catherdral April 19, 2008.REUTERS/Mike Segar 
  

 
 
 

 

 

Pope Critical of American Culture

April 18, 2008

 By E. J. Dionne, Jr.
The Washington Post
Friday, April 18, 2008; Page A27 
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The most jarring word that Pope Benedict XVI is using during his visit to the United States is “countercultural.” The American sense of that term is shaped by the 1960s: free love, drugs, hippies, rock music and rebellion. Needless to say, that’s not what Benedict is preaching.
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That word is the key to understanding how Benedict’s message runs crosswise to conventional liberalism and conservatism. Benedict came to the United States as a quiet but forceful critic of “an increasingly secular and materialistic culture,” as he put it during yesterday’s Mass. Almost any American who paid attention to his sermon had to be uncomfortable because all of us are shaped by the very forces he was criticizing.
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Benedict directly challenged an assumption so many Americans make about religion: that it is a matter of private devotion with few public implications.
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Not true, said the pope. “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,” he told the country’s Catholic bishops on Wednesday. “Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
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That is a demanding and unsettling standard for the right and the left alike. Benedict asked a pointed question: “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”
Pope Benedict XVI holds a Mass at Nationals Park in Washington ... 
From REUTERS/Jim Bourg
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Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/17/AR2008041703168.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

Pro-life groups slam Obama

April 2, 2008

By S. A. Miller
The Washington Times
April 2, 2008

Pro-life activists say Sen. Barack Obama’s abysmal record on abortion issues is reflected by his remark that he would not want his daughters to be “punished with a baby” if they were to make a “mistake” as teenagers.
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“He would want his own grandchild aborted. It shows a real callous disregard for human life,” said David Osteen, executive director of National Right to Life. “This is a window into his soul.”
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The criticism follows continued scrutiny of Mr. Obama’s longtime relationship with a pastor known for racially incendiary sermons, as national polls show him in a neck-and-neck race with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
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Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said the candidate’s comment should not be interpreted as condoning abortions.
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“What Senator Obama said and what he believes is clear: Children are ‘miracles,’ but we have a problem when so many children are having children,” he said.
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“Parents have a responsibility to teach their children about values and morals to help make sure they are not treating sex casually. And while he understands the passions on both sides of this difficult issue, Senator Obama believes we can all agree that we should be taking steps to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and abortions in this country.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080402/NATION/461194136/1001

Religion Not Dead In America

March 10, 2008

By Stephen Prothero
USA Today

Numbers lie, but they also tell tales, untrustworthy and otherwise. So the key question stirring around the much discussed U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released in late February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is what tale does it tell about the religious state of the union.

For some, the story of this survey, based on interviews in multiple languages with more than 35,000 U.S. adults, is the strength of American religion.

Not too long ago, I wrote that American atheism was going the way of the freak show. As books by Christopher Hitchens and other “new atheists” climbed the best-seller lists, I caught a lot of flak for that prophecy. But atheists make up only 1.6% of respondents to this survey. And 82% of respondents report that religion is either somewhat or very important in their lives.

Others find in this new data a nation of religious shoppers: 44% of the Americans surveyed have traded in their original religious home for another. Apparently, the grass is also greener at the church, synagogue or mosque next door.

Still others, noting that only 51% of Americans describe themselves as Protestants, see Protestantism teetering on the verge of becoming a minority.

Catholicism is at least by some readers of the tea leaves in trouble, too, now that ex-Catholics constitute 10% of the population.

Diminished safeguards

The tale I take away from this study is that shifts in the political and moral winds are transforming American religion. Many believe that the Founders separated church and state in order to save the federal government from the interference of overzealous ministers. Not so. The purpose of the First Amendment‘s establishment clause — which prohibits the federal government from passing laws that favor any one religion (atheism included) — was to safeguard religion against the encroachment of politics. And this new survey suggests that those safeguards are, well, going the way of the freak show.

The key subplot here is the rise of “nones,” a category growing faster than any other religious group. Of all adults in the USA, 16% say they are religiously unaffiliated, while 7% were raised that way. Moreover, 25% of younger Americans (ages 18-29) report no religious affiliation at all.

It is important to emphasize that this march of the “nones” is by no means beating the drums for the old secularization thesis, which posited that as societies embraced modernization they would shun God. This is because many “nones” are quite religious. In fact, many Americans refuse to affiliate with any religious organization not because they do not believe in God but because they believe in God so fervently that they cannot imagine any human institution capturing the mysteries of the divine. In this study, only about a quarter of all “nones” call themselves atheists or agnostics. In other surveys, about half the unaffiliated typically affirm the Christian God.

What does the rise of the “nones,” particularly in Western states and northern New England, demonstrate? Not the sickness of religion in general but the health of a new kind of religion — a more personal and less institutional form often parading under the banner of “spiritual but not religious,” an option that, among my Boston University students at least, seems as popular as the smoothie stand in the student union.

Two related factors seem to be at play in the rise of the “nones”: a decline in the stigma of being a religious free agent, and an increase in the stigma of being a church member. According to Darren Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University who has written widely on religious demographics, Americans have long “overconsumed religion because of social constraints.” It used to be that you were considered a bad citizen, a bad marriage prospect and a bad employee if you didn’t show a little faith in faith. And plainly it is still imperative for presidential candidates to pledge their allegiance to God as well as flag. But in recent years, the moral failings of Ted Haggard, John Geoghan and other men of the cloth have been broadcast from National Public Radio to YouTube. As the almighty have fallen, atheists have felt empowered to stand up and ask whether religion really is any sort of guarantor of moral behavior. What is so moral about affiliating with gay-bashing gay evangelists or pedophilic priests?

As Sherkat explains, more parents are deciding to raise their kids without any religion. And more of those children are staying unaffiliated as adults. All this is happening because the status gap between “nones” and believers has never been narrower.

Plainly, the Republican Party gained ground over the past quarter-century by attaching itself to family, morality and God, even as the Democratic Party lost ground by focusing on such matters as rights and reason. In the process, the Republicans became the party of God and the Democrats the party of secularism — not a good strategy for the Democratic Party in a country where 96% of voters believe in God. So Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both taking pains to pitch their party as a party of prayer and piety.

Even so, for much of the past generation, “Christian” and “conservative” have seemed to be interchangeable terms. It should not be surprising if at least some on the left who once upon a time might have described themselves as “Christians” have decided to jettison that affiliation for political reasons. Such reasons, it should be emphasized, are basically the same ones why so many Europeans have divorced themselves from their country’s established churches: because the marriage of a given church with a particular political regime is never eternal, and when it ends it leaves a lot of angry children in its wake.

Customized religion

Another story buried in the data of this new survey is the power of evangelical Protestantism, and particularly non-denominational churches. Of those surveyed, 44% called themselves “born again” or “evangelical” Christians, and among religious options non-denominational Protestantism is one of the fastest growing.

This story of the revenge of the evangelicals might seem at odds with the tale of the rise of the “nones,” but the impulse underlying them is the same. The USA is rapidly becoming a culture of customization. People want to write their own marriage vows and have tailor-made funerals. They gravitate toward religious options that are more personal and less institutional. In this respect, the “unaffiliated” and the “non-denominational” Protestant are cut from the same cloth.

The story behind the numbers of this latest survey is not that religion is in trouble. It is that religion is morphing into something new. Faith is becoming more political. But it is becoming more personal at the same time.

Stephen Prothero is the Chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University. He’s also the author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t.

Strippers Are People Too

March 5, 2008

I have known my share of strippers (whatever that means) in my time and my assessment is that strippers are people too.  Often times, it seems to me, strippers are no better and no worse that a lot of the permanently clothed population.

I make this observation, with more than a little of what the Brits call “cheeky humor.”  This because the American media has now revealed that “American Idol” singing sensation David Hernandez is a former male stripper — complete with lap dances for men and women.

This last fact, it seems to me, is particularly grating to a segment of the U.S. population such as Christian Conservatives.  While you might find some of these folks sneaking into a “girls entertaining guys” strip club, they wouldn’t (normally) be caught dead in a “guys entertaining everyone” strip club.

Despite a quiet controversy, “American Idol” producers say Mr. Hernandez can stay in the competition despite his past as a stripper.

According to the Associated Press, executive producer Ken Warwick said, “We’ve had strippers on the show before. We’re never judgmental about people who do things like that.  If it were some sort of heavy porn, then maybe we’d have to take action. But certainly not on this.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post sent reporter Jose Antonio Vargas to a place called Gun Barrel City, Texas to get a story on gay men who support Hillary Clinton.

I assume “Gun Barrel” was named a long time ago and has something to do with firearms, but who knows?

Mr. Vargas writes in today’s editions, “She’s been picked on, ridiculed, bullied. Those haircuts, that laugh, the clothes. Oh, and Monica. But she never gives up. She’s got good policy positions. She bullies when she needs to. She’s ‘a diva.'”

“And that about sums up why gays — not all, of course, but many — are such ardent, longtime and downright defensive backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton.”

“This historic primary race has turned the American electorate into a demographic pizza pie. Alongside white women and Hispanics, blue-collar folks and Catholics who currently form Clinton’s core constituency, count gays and lesbians, too.”

So putting together a winning coalition of voters has gotten a lot tougher in America since say about 1960.

I’ll just say this about that: strippers are people too.

Vietnam may return church land, Vatican wants rallies to stop

February 1, 2008

TODAYonline
Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 2-Feb-2008 02:57 hrs 

The Vatican has asked Vietnamese Catholics to end mass prayer vigils for the return of seized church land, with the communist government signalling it would return the property, a priest said Friday.
 

Vietnamese Catholic Christians sing and pray for the return ...
Vietnamese Catholics sing and pray for the return of church land in Hanoi, taken by communist authorities half a century ago, in the latest of a string of such meetings, on January 5.(AFP/Frank Zeller)

Catholic followers have held daily vigils since mid-December demanding back the property that was the Vatican’s.

Vietnamese Demand Return of Seized property

January 6, 2008
by Frank Zeller

HANOI (AFP) – Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholic Christians held prayer vigils in the capital at the weekend, the latest in a series asking for the return of church land seized by the communists half a century ago.

Vietnamese Catholic Christians sing and pray for the return ...
Vietnamese Catholics sing and pray for the return of church land in Hanoi, taken by communist authorities half a century ago, in the latest of a string of such meetings, on January 5.(AFP/Frank Zeller)

Priests and Catholic followers lit candles, placed flowers and sang at the iron fence around a property near Hanoi‘s central St Joseph’s Cathedral after Saturday prayers and Sunday masses.

They say the large French-colonial villa and the 1.1 hectares (2.7 acre) it sits on are the former office of the Vatican‘s delegate to Hanoi, confiscated by the state when he was expelled in the late 1950s.

Hanoi authorities have kept the building intact but used it as a sometime discotheque while local officials have also used the garden area, shaded by an enormous banyan tree, as a motorcycle carpark, the Christians say.

“It’s the land and the property of the church. We have the certificate of ownership of the property since 1933,” one priest from the Hanoi archdiocese told AFP, speaking on condition he not be named.

Catholics are now hopeful the dispute will be resolved after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet during a prayer meeting with thousands of followers in late December, pledging to consider the issue.

Vietnam, a former French colony and a unified, communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines — about six million out of a population of 84 million.

Its officially atheist communist rulers have long worried that religious groups, both Christian and Buddhist, could undermine their authority, but conditions have improved, especially for Catholics, in recent years.

While all religious activity remains under state control, the government started a dialogue with Catholics in the 1990s which led to a milestone visit to the Vatican almost a year ago by Prime Minister Dung.

Hanoi had tense relations with pope John Paul II, deemed a contributor to the defeat of Soviet communism, but congratulated his successor Benedict XVI soon after he became pontiff in 2005, saying it wanted closer relations.

Christian festivals such as Christmas have become popular, with thousands of followers and curious now crowding Vietnam’s cathedrals and churches.

Still, religious issues remain sensitive, and the state-controlled media has refrained from covering the mass prayer meetings.

Undercover police have milled in the crowds, taking video and photographs, the priest said.

“Some Catholic followers were questioned by security officials, and some say they were pressured not to attend the prayers,” said the priest, who stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the Catholic church.

Asked how he rated religious freedom in Vietnam, the priest said Catholics still cannot study to become diplomats or police officers, and that the church remains barred from operating its own newspapers, schools and hospitals.