Religion news in brief

Feb. 23: Pope Benedict XVI delivers his speech during special audience he held for members of the Roman Curia, in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican.

Feb. 23: Pope Benedict XVI delivers his speech during special audience he held for members of the Roman Curia, in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican.  (AP2012)

Pope Benedict XVI urged infertile couples to shun artificial procreation

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Speaking at the end of a three-day Vatican conference on diagnosing and treating infertility, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated church teaching that children should be conceived only through sex between a husband and a wife.

"The human and Christian dignity of procreation, in fact, doesn't consist in a 'product,' but in its link to the conjugal act, an expression of the love of the spouses of their union, not only biological but also spiritual," Benedict said.

He told the science and fertility experts in his audience to resist "the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility. Benedict cautioned the experts against "easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator," an attitude he indicated underlies the field of artificial procreation.

Sperm or egg donation and methods such as in vitro fertilization are banned by the church.

The emphasis on science "and the logic of profit seem today to dominate the field of infertility and human procreation," the pope said. But he added that the Church encourages medical research into infertility.

The pope made the comments as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops presses for the repeal of President Barack Obama's mandate that most employers, including religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and universities, provide insurance that covers birth control costs. The Obama administration softened the rule following protests by the bishops and others, but church leaders say the compromise doesn't go far enough.


Ten Commandment displays would be allowed in Ga. gov't buildings under legislation

ATLANTA (AP) — A copy of the Ten Commandments could be posted in all Georgia government buildings and schools under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by House lawmakers.

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, is seeking to expand a 2006 law that already permits the Commandments to be displayed in judicial buildings and courthouses when accompanied by other historical documents deemed to have influenced the U.S. legal system. Georgia lawmakers passed that original law one year after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 struck down Commandment displays in two Kentucky courthouses, ruling they appeared to be a government endorsement of Christianity.

His latest bill passed by a vote of 161-0 and now heads to the state Senate. It has few vocal opponents and a strong chance of passing in a Bible Belt legislature.

"If you look at the law of the United States, we have a lot of laws that are based on the Christian and Jewish Ten Commandments, so I felt that was a very appropriate item to be put in there," Benton said.

His opponents argue the bill would allow the postings in school buildings, an area where courts typically draw a sharper line in favor of the secular in disputes over church and state.


Hungary's Parliament expands list of recognized churches, but rejects many applicants

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's coalition government has expanded the number of officially recognized churches from 14 to 32 amid complaints about restrictions on religious freedom.

Among the newly recognized religious communities are five Buddhist groups, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and two Islamic communities.

Opposition parties boycotted the vote Monday in Parliament, but the center-right Fidesz party and its ally, the Christian Democrats, mustered the required two-thirds majority. Requests from 66 other religious groups were rejected, including all those backed by opposition parties.

Formal recognition gives churches tax-free status, qualifies them for government support and allows them to collect donations during services and do pastoral work in jails and hospitals.

Churches losing their official status from March 1 will be allowed to function as associations and can reapply for recognition next year.

Hungary's church law is being analyzed by experts from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, including claims that its overly restrictive and violates religious freedom.

Earlier, religious groups in Hungary needed only to register with a court to gain official recognition. This led to abuses, including businesses registering as churches to take advantage of tax benefits, and there were nearly 370 churches recognized in Hungary.


Music teacher planning same-sex wedding fired from suburban St. Louis Catholic school

NORMANDY, Mo. (AP) — An openly gay music teacher at a Roman Catholic school in suburban St. Louis has been fired after church officials learned he was planning to marry his male partner.

Al Fischer was fired Feb. 17 from his job at St. Ann Catholic School in north St. Louis County.

Fisher declined to discuss the firing and referred to a letter emailed to parents. In the letter, Fischer encourages parents to talk to their children "about whether or not justice was served."

The St. Louis Archdiocese said in statement that it "fully supports the action taken at St. Ann Parish School" and that is in compliance with the Christian Witness Statement. It requires that educators "not take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church."


Vacant Lancaster college gets new mission from Seventh-day Adventists

LANCASTER, Mass. (AP) — The Seventh-day Adventist Church plans to turn the vacant Atlantic Union College campus in Lancaster into an evangelical and medical missionary training school.

Donald King, president of the Atlantic Union Conference, said the school would offer short-term courses for pastors and those who wish to help fellow churchgoers. There would also be six- and nine-month evangelistic missionary training courses for lay people who want instruction on "how to win souls."

King said the curriculum will include on the benefits of good nutrition, exercise, and basic health principles, which Seventh-day Adventist emphasize. The denomination believes the second coming of Christ is near and teaches that the Bible requires Sabbath be observed on the seventh day of the week, or Saturday, instead of the traditional Sunday observance.

The school is expected to open this fall in Lancaster, which is located about 45 miles west of Boston.

The college closed in July after losing its accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges because of financial problems.