Religion News in Brief

Philippine Catholic leaders apologize for alleged illegal donations received by some bishops

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Roman Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines have apologized to their followers for a scandal involving allegedly inappropriate donations to bishops.

Philippine lawmakers began investigating allegations last week that the government's lotto operator made illegal donations in exchange for political favors from influential church leaders friendly to ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

A pastoral letter issued Monday by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines assured followers that the bishops concerned "are ready to accept responsibility for their actions and to face the consequences if it would be proven unlawful, anomalous and unconstitutional."

The statement issued at the end of the bishops' biannual assembly also said the CBCP would "re-examine the manner of our collaboration with government agencies for purposes of helping the poor, making sure that pastoral sensibilities are respected and the highest ethical standards are observed."

The chairman of the state-run Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Margie Juico, told senators last week that an audit showed that at least $158,600 in charity funds were used to buy five vehicles upon the request of several bishops.

Juico said one bishop asked Arroyo for a brand new car on his 66th birthday in 2009 and received a sport utility vehicle worth $39,000.

Such donations would violate a law prohibiting the use of state funds for religious purposes.

The lotto operator raises funds for health care and other social services. The agency routinely donates ambulances to poor municipalities around the country.


Upstate NY town clerk resigns, citing religious opposition to gay marriage now legal in state

BARKER, N.Y. (AP) — A town clerk in a rural upstate New York community has submitted her resignation, citing her religious opposition to gay marriage.

Laura Fotusky wrote to the town board in Barker that her religious beliefs prevent her from signing a marriage certificate for a gay couple, as she'd be required to do as a municipal clerk. The letter was published Tuesday on the website of the Christian lobbying group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

The 56-year-old Republican has served in the job since 2007. The town has fewer than 3,000 residents and is located 10 miles north of Binghamton. She plans to step down July 21, three days before New York's law allowing same-sex marriage takes effect.

"I believe that there is a higher law than the law of the land. It is the law of God in the Bible," Fotusky wrote. "In Acts 5:29, it states, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'"

Volney Town Clerk Barbara MacEwen said last month that she opposed gay marriage on religious grounds but would follow the law.

Jim Koury, secretary of the New York State Association of City and Village Clerks, said he hadn't heard from any clerks who would refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses and said he was surprised and dismayed to hear of Fotusky's decision.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said elected officials must abide by the rules of the state.

"The law is the law," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. "When you enforce the laws of the state, you don't get to pick and choose."


Ohio bishop bars support for Susan B. Komen breast cancer group

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A Roman Catholic bishop told parishes and schools in his diocese to stop raising money for a national breast cancer charity out of concern it might one day decide to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair's sent the directive to priests and parishes last week regarding the group Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Cincinnati's archbishop earlier this year decided that schools and parishes in his archdiocese could not raise funds for Komen for the same reason. Schools in both dioceses have raised money previously for Komen.

Scientists believe that research on embryonic stem cells, which are usually taken from discarded embryos at fertility clinics, may lead to cures for diseases. The Catholic Church maintains that destruction of embryos amounts to the killing of human life.

A spokeswoman for the national Komen group says it has never funded stem cell research, though its policies don't prohibit that.

If the group received a request to fund such research, it "would weigh it very carefully, as we do all research proposals," said Andrea Rader, spokeswoman for the Dallas-based organization. Research proposals are considered for their likelihood to have a positive impact on breast cancer research and treatment, she said.

A statement from the Toledo diocese Tuesday stressed that Blair did not ban individual Catholics from contributing locally to Komen with the charity's "assurance that no local funds go to Planned Parenthood or to embryonic stem cell research."


Four-alarm fire ravages high-profile Manhattan synagogue

NEW YORK (AP) — Firefighters battled a four alarm fire at a synagogue in Manhattan that covered a large swath of the Upper East Side in smoke.

About 170 firefighters responded to the blaze which began at about 8:30 p.m. Monday at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue on East 85th Street between Lexington and Park avenues, according to a fire department spokesman.

The fire was declared under control just over an hour later. Fire Chief Robert Sweeney said about five firefighters suffered minor injuries. The synagogue's roof collapsed and there are concerns about the building's stability, said Sweeney, who added that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The fire appears to have started on the top floor and roof, said police spokesman Paul Browne. He said the synagogue had been under renovation since May 2 and was due to be completed in September. All religious articles had been removed prior to renovation, Browne said.

Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said the synagogue dates back to 1901.

"We thank God that nobody was hurt," said Lookstein, adding that the congregation plans to rebuild.

The prominent rabbi married Donald Trump heiress Ivanka Trump and New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner. He also participated in President Barack Obama's inaugural interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Miriam Feldstein, 50, a member of the congregation since 1984, said the modern Orthodox synagogue counts 1,100 families as members.