KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The National Catholic Reporter, a small, independent newsweekly more than three decades old, prides itself on being ''a place where the forbidden conversations can occur.''
In the 1980s, its investigative work on pedophile Roman Catholic priests drew national attention to the issue for the first time.
In March, the publication used documents compiled by senior members of religious orders to report that priests in search of safe sex in AIDS-ravaged Africa were preying on nuns. The article prompted the Vatican to acknowledge the problem, while asserting the abuse was limited.
The newsweekly has also revealed clergy misuse of parish funds and chronicled the Vatican's refusal to investigate those and other offenses.
''We seek to be a haven for Catholics and to speak for the people who can't speak for themselves,'' publisher Tom Fox said.
In the process, the National Catholic Reporter has won both praise and condemnation within the Catholic community.
''It's a love-'em or hate-'em publication in some sense,'' says Karen Franz, president of the Catholic Press Association, which has awarded NCR top honors for excellence the last two years. ''It has its role. There always needs to be a maverick to challenge the institution.''
Asked to comment on the liberal newsweekly, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls would say only that it was one of ''hundreds of publications that we receive from around the world.''
The National Catholic Reporter was founded in 1964 in the excitement that followed the Second Vatican Council, which launched modernizing changes for the church that included the use of local languages instead of Latin for Mass and focused attention on religious freedom.
The publication now employs more than 30 people in its Kansas City headquarters, keeps correspondencies in Los Angeles and Rome and draws on the contributions of a half-dozen stringers.
Fox worked at Time magazine, The New York Times and other publications before joining NCR about 20 years ago.
The newsweekly's investigative work is conducted under conditions more challenging than those for reporters covering government or corporations.
''There is no police blotter you can go to, no regular press releases or Sunshine Laws,'' editor Tom Roberts said. ''And there are very few people who are in the position we are to hold the Vatican responsible.''
NCR supports itself through advertising and subscriptions. The publication's readership, which has held steady at about 50,000 for years, consists largely of lay church professionals, nuns and priests. Editor Tom Roberts believes there are also many bishops who ''wouldn't admit to reading it,'' yet do so regularly.
Bishop Joseph Galante of Dallas, head of the communications committee for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is not among them. He feels the Catholic press should help unify the church and he stopped reading the National Catholic Reporter several years ago.
''I don't think muckraking has a place in any Catholic journalism,'' Galante said, ''because I think it can violate principles of charity and respect for human beings and can often be too heavily weighted with innuendo.''
Fox says dialogue is more important to him than unity, even with the risks that come with the publication's investigative journalism.
''We do have a libel lawyer who we talk to on a regular basis,'' Fox said.
Manufacturer Briggs & Stratton filed a $30 million libel suit against the paper after a December 1994 story accused the company's Catholic executives of ''moral blindness'' and other failings when they decided to move about 2,000 jobs out of Wisconsin.
The case was eventually thrown out of court.
This fall, NCR followed up on a story originally published in The Hartford Courant that alleged the priest who founded the Legionaries of Christ abused children under his care decades ago. Through a Legionaries spokesman, the clergyman, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, denied any misconduct. The theologically conservative religious order has U.S. offices in Orange, Conn.
''I was surprised that NCR would stake its reputation on a story so rife with problems,'' Legionaries communications director Jay Dunlap said. ''The fellows who have written it have introduced these lies to attack different members of the church hierarchy at different times.''
NCR stands by the story.
The newsweekly also has written extensively on priests and nuns who challenge church teachings on homosexuality. International issues, in heavily Roman Catholic Latin America and other regions, are also among the topics addressed.
Roberts said he doesn't see his publication as a threat to Catholicism or the Vatican, even though his critics might. He pointed out that most of the stories in the newsweekly are about Catholics ''on the walk of faith'' involved with the everyday work of the church.
''The church has survived the denial of Jesus by Peter,'' Roberts said. ''It can survive a little light on some of the human foibles of a human institution.''
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End Adv for Dec. 28
HEAD:Mormons sue New York suburb over zoning rules prohibiting new temple construction
HARRISON, N.Y. (AP) -- The Mormon Church has filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Harrison over zoning rules that would restrict the size and height of a proposed temple.
The suit is the latest fight in years of wrangling between the church and residents, who fear the regional temple will cause congestion and environmental damage. The building is meant to attract members from Hartford, Conn., to Philadelphia.
The lawsuit accuses the town of infringing on the church's freedom of religion and assembly.
Earlier this year, the zoning appeals board refused to waive the town's 30-foot height limit for the temple, which would be 53 feet tall not counting a steeple. A state Supreme Court justice overruled the board, but the town is appealing.
In November, the town authorized a fourth traffic study after eight months of public hearings. Jim Staudt, a lawyer for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in December that the church had made numerous changes at the town's request, to no avail.
''Having exhausted all administrative options, the church was left with no alternative but to file suit,'' he said.
Town attorney Jonathan Kraut refused to comment.
HEAD:Complaint filed against openly gay Seattle Methodist pastor; first step toward possible removal
SEATTLE (AP) -- A complaint has been filed against the openly gay pastor of Woodland Park United Methodist Church, the first step toward his possible removal.
The complaint, announced Dec. 18, was made by Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle at the direction of a high court of the church.
The Rev. Mark Edward Williams disclosed his sexual orientation at the denomination's Pacific Northwest Annual Conference in June. The United Methodist Church bars the appointment of openly gay clergy, but Williams' parishioners have fought to keep him.
The United Methodist Judicial Council affirmed in October that the denomination's Book of Discipline forbids the appointment of homosexual pastors but added that due-process rules must be followed before Williams could be disciplined or removed.
The council directed Galvan to file a complaint to begin the process.
''I was expecting it for many months, but at the same time it sort of felt like being hit in the stomach when it actually happened,'' Williams said.
The bishop and an investigation committee will determine whether there are grounds for a church trial in which a jury could impose penalties ranging from suspension to expulsion from the church.
Galvan also filed a complaint against the Rev. Karen Dammann, an openly lesbian Methodist minister who previously served at Woodland Park and is now on family leave.
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HEAD:Church council criticizes Bush administration on domestic fight against terrorism
NEW YORK (AP) -- The National Council of Churches criticized the Bush administration's prolonged detention of hundreds of mostly Middle Eastern men as part of the terrorism investigation.
The council, which represents 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations, said in a Dec. 20 statement that it supports a civil rights suit demanding the federal government release names of those arrested and the charges they face.
The council condemned the use of military tribunals, saying they ''have the potential to undermine legal rights under our Constitution.''
Attorney General John Ashcroft has defended the administration's approach as necessary to fight terrorism. He has accused his critics of giving ''ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends.''
The NCC contends, ''Our nation should model the rights and behaviors that we would hope to see throughout the world. If it does not, we should speak up loudly and clearly and say so.''
HEAD:Conservative Episcopal priest, accused of preaching without license, faces church charges in Texas
LANHAM, Md. (AP) -- An Episcopal priest who has clashed with church leaders over his conservative views will be tried in a church court for preaching at a suburban Washington parish without the approval of his bishop.
The Rev. Samuel Edwards was charged Dec. 19 with breaking church laws when he ignored an order from Jane Holmes Dixon, acting bishop of Washington, to leave Christ Episcopal Church in Accokeek in May. He was later forced out of the parish by a federal order.
Edwards is among a group of conservatives who believe the current practice of ordaining women and a growing acceptance of gays is a break with traditional Episcopal teachings.
If found guilty of holding services without a license from the bishop, Edwards could be disciplined or, at worst, defrocked. The trial will be held in Fort Worth, the seat of the diocese that brought the charges and the area where Edwards last served before moving to Maryland. No date has been set.
Edwards' attorney, Charles H. Nalls, said the charge against him has no merit, and ''we're prepared to vigorously defend ourselves.''
The Maryland church hired Edwards, but Dixon rejected his appointment, saying his writings that refer to the 2.2 million-member denomination as ''hell-bound'' and ''the unchurch'' made him unfit to hold the job.
HEAD:U.S. Catholics asked to pray for peace on New Year's Day, a response to terrorism
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking Roman Catholics to pray for peace on New Year's Day in response to Sept. 11.
The Vatican traditionally designates Jan. 1 as the World Day of Peace. The U.S. bishops at their November meeting issued a special request for prayer on that day, in light of the war on terrorism.
The bishops approved a document acknowledging the United States' moral right to a military defense against terrorism. But church leaders also said the response must be part of a broader foreign policy that battles poverty, human rights abuses and violence.
On Dec. 19, 68 Catholic leaders of missionary, political, peace and other organizations, issued a statement making the opposite argument -- that the U.S. war on terrorism was not morally justifiable according to church teachings.
The group said too many innocent civilians had been harmed in the air strikes on Afghanistan and the U.S. government had failed to explore all diplomatic options.
The group also called on the United States to set up a commission to study the roots of injustice that terrorists exploit to justify their acts.
HEAD:As church attendance drops, experts divided over long-term religious impact of terrorist attacks
BYLINE1:By RACHEL ZOLL
BYLINE2:AP Religion Writer
To the congregation at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., it must have seemed like their city had been born again.
Attendance at Sunday services swelled by 600 newcomers after the terrorist attacks (usually, about 2,000 believers filled the pews), a spiritual outpouring mirrored in houses of worship nationwide.
Some religious leaders predicted a spiritual revival across the country. Yet just six weeks later, attendance at Two Rivers and other congregations around the nation dropped back to near normal.
Clergy disagree over whether Americans experienced a permanent spiritual change in 2001, or just turned to religion in a moment of crisis. But as the war on terrorism continues, and the government remains on high alert for future attacks, many still see a chance to convince nonbelievers that faith should be part of their lives.
''There has been a great awareness of the whole concept of spirituality,'' said the Rev. Jerry Sutton, Two Rivers' pastor. ''People realize life is more fragile than they believed. That environment is here to stay for a while.''
The year began with religion playing a key role in the United States, as a new president professed his Christianity and sought to provide more federal funding for religious groups. Yet no one could have predicted the shift in America's spiritual life brought on by Sept. 11.
Members of Congress sang ''God Bless America'' on the Capitol steps. President Bush quoted the Bible and Quran and led a national day of prayer. Interfaith services were held in stadiums and public squares. In some areas, children were encouraged to pray at school.
In a Sept. 21-22 Gallup poll, 47 percent said they attended church or synagogue in the last seven days, a level rarely seen since the 1950s.
But by November, Gallup found church attendance had dropped back to 42 percent, roughly the same as it was for years before the attacks. A survey by Barna Research Group, which studies religion trends, found weekly Bible reading and prayer were unchanged since Sept. 11. A poll in November by the Pew Research Center found only 16 percent of Americans were attending worship services more frequently.
The reaction fits a pattern, according to a December report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Church and synagogue attendance increased after President Reagan was shot and during the Gulf War, and those jumps also were temporary.
''It's a tall order that people would go to church and find resolution, that the church really could provide answers to something that is so complex and may take time to sort through,'' said Duke University professor Kathleen Joyce, who researches American religious history. ''I suspect there was a lot of disappointment.''
Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles agreed it was naive to think clergy could transform Americans' view of religion in a few weeks. He saw attendance at Sabbath services increase by a few hundred immediately after Sept. 11, then return to the average 500 within weeks.
''When you go through trauma where do you turn? Religion. Once the trauma has been assimilated, you return to the regular level of denial that we all live with, and then we go back to our habits,'' Netter said.
Yet, there are some signs of a sustained interest in faith.
Since Sept. 11, Alpha North America, which develops Christian classes to attract newcomers and church dropouts, has seen a 35 percent increase in sales of its books on how to run their courses.
Mosques are reporting an increase in inquiries about conversion to Islam. Masjid Saad, a Toledo, Ohio, mosque, said prayers were so unusually crowded the Friday after Thanksgiving, the 650 worshippers could not bow to the ground as required, but instead had to lean on each other's backs.
At the Roman Catholic Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, the number of people enrolled in an education program for converts to Catholicism is about 55, compared with 42 last year.
''Three or four mentioned specifically that in light of Sept. 11, they were reordering their priorities,'' cathedral administrator Ann Klocke said.
Churches and synagogues in the cities that were attacked continue to see an increase in attendance.
Bill Knepper, 28, a New York Catholic who rarely went to church, said a friend persuaded him to attend a service at Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church three days after the attacks. He was so moved, he enrolled in an Alpha class and in December joined the church.
''I was just really impressed and taken by the spirit of warmth and welcome,'' Knepper said.
Americans are expressing spiritual concern in other ways, as well. The Bible and Christian book publisher Zondervan Corp. of Grand Rapids, Mich., said its customers are reporting weekly sales after Thanksgiving as much as 40 percent higher than last year.
The Gospel Music Association said sales of contemporary Christian and gospel music were on track to be significantly higher this year, partly due to a spike in sales after the attacks.
Some feel it's a mistake to use church attendance alone as a measure of religiosity.
Americans for decades have told pollsters faith was central to their lives, even as participation in organized religion declined. Clergy often lament that American individualism has made spiritual development a solitary, instead of communal, undertaking.
''The way that religion in America has been going in the last 20 to 30 years has not been toward increasing membership in the mainline traditions,
pt. 11, you'd expect to have more people tapping into these things.''
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