American religious leaders mourn Mandela
American Christians, Jews and Muslims are mourning the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Rev. Gary Hall, says that by overcoming apartheid, Mandela "enabled the advance of freedom in South Africa and throughout the world."
The Rev. Al Sharpton says Mandela led a non-violent struggle with "dignity and determination" and forgave his oppressors.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, says Muhammad taught that there is a reward "for the one who establishes justice among people."
Rabbi David Saperstein says Mandela embodied the Jewish teaching that "One man's candle may serve as a light for many."
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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC-VIOLENCE
98 dead in Central African Republic after clashes
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Witnesses and aid workers say more than 100 people are dead in the capital of the Central African Republic after a day of clashes between the Muslim armed fighters who rule the country and a Christian militia that opposes them.
An Associated Press journalist counted 48 bodies at a mosque in a northern neighborhood of Bangui (bahng-GEE') late Thursday.
Armed Christian fighters who have opposed the Muslim-led regime attacked the capital before dawn, the most serious violence to hit Bangui since a March coup. The former rebels who now control Central African Republic are accused of committing scores of human rights abuses. However, the Christian militias are now also implicated in massacres on Muslim communities.
Catholic Charities CEO urges Congress to extend jobless benefits
WASHINGTON (AP) — The president of Catholic Charities USA is urging Congress to extend jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed.
At a hearing organized by House Democrats, the Rev. Larry Snyder said Catholic Charities will continue to assist Americans looking for work, but can't come close to meeting all the needs of struggling families.
Democrats are pressing for legislation continuing a program that gives federally paid benefits to jobless people after their 26 weeks of state benefits run out. Majority Republicans in the House have not ruled out extending the benefits that are due to begin expiring on Dec. 28, but say they have no plans to pursue legislation on their own.
Snyder said, "Our Catholic tradition teaches us that society acting through the government has a special obligation to consider first the needs of the poor and the vulnerable." He said it would be tragic to cut off unemployment benefits a few days after Christmas.
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Obama celebrates end of Hanukkah at White House
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has marked the end of Hanukkah with receptions at the White House.
The family of an American serving in Afghanistan helped Obama light all of the menorah's candles at the first of two gatherings Thursday.
The president said, "As the festival of lights draws to a close, let's take one last chance to think about all the miracles we've been lucky enough to experience in our own lives."
This afternoon, Obama and his family will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse.
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Gov. joins rabbi in Statehouse Hanukkah festival
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas rabbi has urged people to "put aside the darkness" and bring light to the world, starting with the eight candles on a menorah lit during a Hanukkah festival at the Statehouse in Topeka.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel was referring to a recent quadruple homicide in Topeka and other tragic events that have occurred around the world. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Gov. Sam Brownback joined Tiechtel and dozens of others Wednesday at the celebration, saying Jewish beliefs are welcome in Kansas.
Lt. Col. Moran Omer of the Israel Defense Forces, who is attending command classes at Leavenworth, was at the celebration with his young son, with whom he lit one of the candles.
CAPITOL CHRISTMAS TREE
Walker presides over tree lighting ceremony
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Capitol Christmas tree is now lit.
Gov. Scott Walker presided over a low-key ceremony Thursday during which the lights of the 30-foot balsam fir were turned on. The tree features ornaments made by school children across Wisconsin.
Joining Walker at the event were Christmas tree growers from across the state as well as women who quilted a new skirt to go around the base of the Capitol tree.
The tree stands in the middle of the Capitol rotunda, surrounded by other displays including two nativity scenes, a sign and a "Winter Solstice Nativity" disavowing Christmas by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and a "Seinfeld"-inspired Festivus pole.
Nativity scene in western Md. stirs discussion
HANCOCK, Md. (AP) — Officials in the western Maryland town of Hancock are disassociating themselves from a Nativity scene in a public park that has raised concerns from an atheist group.
The crèche at Joseph Hancock Park was approved by the Town Council and erected by Hancock-area churches. It first went up last year.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation contacted the town about it earlier this year.
Town Manager David Smith told the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown that the Nativity scene is not state-sponsored and that the Council of Churches met the requirements for displaying it.
A sign that will be posted next to the Nativity scene says the area is set aside for people exercising First Amendment rights and that town leaders take no position on the activities.
ACLU complains HS choirs to sing in church concert
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — High school choirs from Kalispell and Whitefish, Mont., plan to participate in a Christmas concert at the Mormon church in Kalispell despite protests from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Officials from Flathead and Glacier high schools in Kalispell and Whitefish High School say the choirs were invited to participate in this week's "Peace on Earth Community Christmas Celebration" and plan to do so.
The ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to the schools saying participation in the religious event gives the appearance the schools are endorsing or advancing a specific religious message or denomination.
School officials have said student participation in the Christmas event is voluntary. The Whitefish choir is an extracurricular program.
Pastor's son electrocuted at Long Beach church
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The son of a Southern California pastor has been electrocuted at their Long Beach church.
Thirty-six-year-old Jose Mejias (Meh-HEE'-yahs) was found dead Wednesday night at the Ministerios Bautista Logos church. Police say it appears to be an accidental death.
His stepmother, Cendy Mejias, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram that Mejias was helping set up some monitors when he was electrocuted. She says parishioners arriving for a nighttime prayer service saw his leg dangling from the attic and called 911.
Mejias was the son of the pastor, the Rev. Jose Mejias Sr.
RITUAL ABUSE-CONVICTION CHALLENGED
Man released amid questions about child abuse case
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A man convicted 21 years ago of child abuse involving satanic rituals at a day care he ran with his wife has been freed amid questions about the case's evidence.
Dan Keller was released on bond Thursday, about a week after the release of his now ex-wife, Fran, who was imprisoned on similar charges. The district attorney's office in Travis County, which includes Austin, says the physical evidence against the couple is faulty.
Both were convicted in 1992, after therapists testified that they helped three children recover memories of satanic rituals and sexual abuse at a preschool the Kellers operated out of their home.
A doctor originally testified that lacerations on one child were evidence of abuse. He now says they were actually normal physiology.
Minn. archdiocese reveals accused priests' names
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has disclosed the names of 34 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors.
The names were made public Thursday following months of criticism that church leaders mishandled allegations of abuse. Archbishop John Nienstedt says he hopes the move will restore trust.
The archdiocese says it has substantiated claims against 30 priests on the list. The remaining four have claims against them that could not be substantiated, but the archdiocese released them after a court order.
The information includes the clerics' names, parishes where they served, and other details. It does not include details of the allegations.
Most of the names being released already have been in the media. All of the men have been permanently removed from ministry.
VATICAN-LEGION OF CHRIST
Disgraced priest to wed pope adviser's daughter
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Associated Press has learned that a former top official at the Legion of Christ, who left the priesthood after admitting he fathered a son, is marrying the child's mother this weekend. The bride is the daughter of the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, one of Pope Francis' top advisers.
Thomas Williams, a moral theologian and U.S. television personality, is marrying Elizabeth Lev, a Rome-based art historian and columnist for a religious news agency that Williams published.
Lev's mother is Mary Ann Glendon, one of the highest-ranking women at the Vatican.
The wedding raises uncomfortable questions about who in the church knew about the child, and whether Glendon's ties to Williams influenced her defense of the Legion despite credible reports that its founder was a pedophile.
Pope forms commission to advise on sex abuse
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is assembling a panel of experts to advise him on protecting children from sexually abusive priests and helping victims who have already been harmed.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, announced the creation of the commission Thursday at the conclusion of a meeting between Francis and his eight cardinal advisers who are helping him govern the church and reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Boston was the epicenter of the 2002 clerical sexual abuse scandal in the U.S.
O'Malley told reporters that the commission will study current programs to protect children, to better screen priests, to train church personnel and to suggest further initiatives.
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Byzantine Catholics welcome new bishop
PASSAIC, N.J. (AP) — Byzantine Catholics in 84 parishes from Maine to Florida have a new bishop.
The Most Rev. Kurt Burnette was ordained the fifth bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic on Wednesday.
Pope Francis appointed Burnette to the post on Oct. 29. Byzantine Catholics in America are the spiritual descendants of Christians in central and eastern Europe and the Middle East.
The ordination took place at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic, N.J.
The church, which is the symbolic center of the Byzantine Church on the East Coast, is in a neighborhood that once was home to mainly eastern Europeans. Today the area is largely Latino.
Burnette told The Record newspaper that his vision for the church is "a place of mercy" rather than judgment.