Germany’s governing Christian Democrats call for gay couple tax equality


Members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have called on parliament to grant gay couples the same tax benefits as married heterosexuals, a shift for the conservative party that has fuelled anger among their Bavarian coalition partners.

Family Minister Kristina Schroeder has backed a call from a group of 13 CDU lawmakers who are appealing for a change in the law to put gay couples on an equal footing in terms of tax breaks, saying now was the right time for a change.

“In lesbian and gay life partnerships, people take long-term responsibility for each another and live according to conservative values,” said Schroeder.

Same sex partnerships have been legal in Germany since 2001, but gay couples do not enjoy the same tax benefits as heterosexuals.

The move, which comes about three months after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to back same-sex marriage, drew swift support from Merkel’s Free Democrat (FDP) coalition partners and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD).

However, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the predominantly Catholic Christian Social Union (CSU), railed against the idea.

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Religiosity slides worldwide but plummets in scandal-hit Ireland


Traditionally Catholic Ireland has registered almost the steepest drop worldwide in people calling themselves religious in a new survey tracking international trends in faith and atheism in recent years. Only 47 percent of Irish polled said they were religious people, a 22-point drop from the 69 percent recorded in the last similar poll in 2005, according to the WIN-Gallup International network of opinion pollsters.

Average religiosity in the 57 countries included in the poll was 59 percent, a decline of 9 points since 2005, it said.

At the same time, the number of people declaring themselves to be convinced atheists rose from 4 percent worldwide in 2005 to 7 percent this year. The biggest growth was in France.

Sinead Mooney, deputy managing director of the RED C Research company in Dublin that conducted the Irish poll, cited two factors that put Ireland just behind Vietnam as the country where religious feeling fell off most steeply.

“Obviously, there were all the scandals in the Church over that period — that was massive,” she said, referring to the repeated revelations of child sexual abuse by priests that have gravely damaged the image of Roman Catholicism there. “Also, as countries get richer, they tend to lose some sense of religion,” she said. “We did become richer — at least at the beginning of that period.”

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For godsake, isn’t anyone going to do something about this? I love religion with all my heart and soul and mind. If it dies my life, and the life of many other people will be poorer.

But now people perceive religion as nothing more than a pushback against modernity, an attempt to preserve “traditional values”–i.e. sexual taboos and sex roles.

Please, won’t anyone make some effort to disassociate religion from this garbage, and to promote it–as “spirituality” as a way to make contact with the supernatural, as metaphysical thills, as a source of pleasure?

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Catholic charities open doors as economic crisis tests Italian family ties


In happier times, ice-cream seller Antonio Siracusa would have considered turning to relatives for help when he lost his job in a cinema in Rome. But these are not happy times.

So Siracusa chooses to go to a free canteen run by Christians in the district of Trastevere for dinner, and picks up free food parcels for other meals.

“I have siblings, but I don’t want anything from them,” said Siracusa, as he stood in line at the Sant’Egidio charity’s diner, adding that he didn’t feel comfortable bothering them in such tough economic times. “The community here are my family.”

A deep recession and rising unemployment has piled pressure on all Italians and may even be undermining Italy’s most reliable social safety net in periods of financial difficulty – the family.

Christian charities say many Italians appear to be ashamed of turning to relatives already struggling in the economic crisis or are coping with the effects of divorce, the incidence of which has doubled in Italy since 1995.

Youth unemployment, at about 35 percent, is keeping sons and daughters at home even into their 30s and causing them to delay starting families of their own, while pension cuts have increased the additional support needed by the elderly.

“Social security in Italy has traditionally been the family. The problem is that families have become overloaded in the present crisis,” said Augusto D’Angelo, who works at the Sant’Egidio diner. Read the full story here. . Follow all posts on Twitter @ RTRFaithWorld

Jordan king fears Alawite enclave if Syria breaks up


President Bashar al-Assad could seek to establish an enclave for his Alawite sect if he cannot keep control of the whole of war-torn Syria, an outcome that would be the “worst case scenario” for its neighbors, King Abdullah of Jordan has said.

Any such move could prompt decades of further problems for the region, King Abdullah told U.S. broadcaster CBS.

“I have a feeling that if he can’t rule greater Syria then maybe an Alawi enclave is plan B,” King Abdullah said in an interview published on the channel’s website on Tuesday.

“That would be, I think for us, the worst case scenario because that means then the breakup of greater Syria, and that means that everybody starts land grabbing, which makes no sense to me. If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take us decades to come back from,” he said.

The rebellion against Assad’s rule is predominantly made up of Sunni Muslims who form the majority of Syria’s population. The Alawites are a minority sect whose beliefs are an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

King Abdullah, whose mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom borders Syria to the south, forecast that Assad would not give ground. His administration has deployed military force in an effort to crush the uprising, drawing on air power and heavy artillery.

“I think that in his mentality he is going to stick to his guns. He believes that he is in the right. I think that the regime feels that it has no alternative but to continue,” Abdullah said.

Church of England loses faith in shares of Murdoch’s News Corp


The Church of England has sold all shares in News Corporation held in its investment portfolios on ethical grounds, after a phone hacking scandal at the media empire’s UK operations.

The Church, which has three national investing bodies, sold the shares worth 1.9 million pounds ($2.97 million) after its Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) was not satisfied with the level of corporate governance reform at Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate following a year of dialogue.

“Last year’s phone hacking allegations raised some serious concerns amongst the Church’s investing bodies about our holding in News Corporation,” Andrew Brown, Secretary of the Church Commissioners said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The EIAG put forward a number of recommendations around how corporate governance structures at News Corporation could be improved. However the EIAG does not feel that the company has brought about sufficient change and we have accepted its advice to disinvest.”

The EIAG, established in 1994, has made several recommendations on investments that should be excluded, including companies involved in military products and services, pornography, alcoholic drinks, gambling, tobacco, human embryonic cloning and high interest rate lending.

It also seeks to engage with companies the Church holds equity stakes in on ethical and corporate governance issues, and held meetings with 40 companies, including News Corporation, between April 2011 and March 2012, it said.

The Church manages more than 8 billion pounds of assets across three national investment bodies: the Church Commissioners for England; the Church of England Pensions Board; and the CBF Church of England Funds.

French Catholic Church prayer against gay marriage and euthanasia reforms


The French Catholic Church will revive a centuries-old custom next week with an updated national “prayer for France” opposing the same-sex marriage and euthanasia reforms planned by the new Socialist government.

The prayer, to be read in all churches on Aug 15, echoes the defense of traditional marriage by Pope Benedict and Catholic leaders around the world as gay nuptials gain acceptance, especially in Europe and North America.

King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.

In the text, Catholics will pray for newly elected officials “so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands.” This would include support for traditional families “throughout their lives, especially in painful moments.”

Opposing gay adoption, it says children should “cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother.”

The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”

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Small, tight-knit Wisconsin Sikh community shocked by shooting


Dozens of shocked members of a tight-knit community of suburban Milwaukee Sikhs waited for hours in the basement of a neighborhood bowling alley on Sunday to hear whether their loved ones and friends were among the six gunned down at a temple nearby.

Outside, dozens more Sikhs, many men wearing the colorful turbans of their faith, came and went from the site where police said a lone white, male gunman shot dead six people before a police officer killed him. Two other Sikhs were wounded, along with a police officer, who was one of the first to arrive on the scene.

“They’re grieving,” said Zorina Lopac, a woman raised as a Sikh who was allowed into the basement to comfort some of the family. “They’re hurt. And they’re angry.”

Authorities were tight-lipped about the identities of the victims, upsetting some of the Sikhs who were still waiting for the names of the dead hours after the shooting. The gunman began shooting before the start of a Sunday morning service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the suburb of Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee.

The gathering of friends and family to comfort others was typical of the small Sikh community in southern Wisconsin, where members said everyone either knows other Sikhs directly or indirectly through friends.

“It is like a big family,” said Satwant Rehal, 62, who has lived in the area since 1974.

There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 families of the Sikh religion in the Milwaukee area and two temples. The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where the attack took place on Sunday, was founded in October 1997 with a community of 20 to 25 families, according to its website. It has 350 to 400 people in its congregation and has grown rapidly, the group says.

U.S. rule highlights Catholic tensions over contraception


New rules requiring free access to prescription birth control for women with health insurance have gone into effect but controversy lingers at some Catholic institutions struggling to balance the requirement with their opposition to contraception.

At Georgetown University, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, students and administration officials are still wrestling with the requirement to cover contraceptives as part of larger effort to expand no-cost preventive care for women.

The requirement exempts churches and gives religious groups a one-year reprieve. Georgetown leaders, now preparing for returning students, have said they will not allow student health plans to include birth control this year.

Other religious groups are pushing back further by filing lawsuits or dropping health insurance coverage altogether.

President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul also calls for more no-cost screenings, check-ups and other services starting in 2014. The services are aimed at holding down spiralling health care costs by catching illnesses early, curbing complications or preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Catholic Church officials, Republicans and other conservatives have blasted the inclusion of artificial birth control, which is against church doctrine. Opponents said the rule, as it stands, does not go far enough to allow an opt-out for religious-affiliated groups such as charities or schools.

Obama, a Democrat, has softened the rule to allow more time for a compromise with religious groups over how to implement it without trampling their beliefs, but also without denying contraception to those with different views.


As if married Catholics don’t use birth control. This is only an issue for the church’s dogma it isn’t an issue in reality.

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Hijab no longer a hurdle for Muslim sportswomen as Olympic bans eased


Headscarf-wearing Muslim women are making strides at the Olympic Games, a year after the Iranian women’s soccer team broke down in tears at having to withdraw from a qualifying match because they wore hijabs.

Worn under a fencing mask, wrapped tightly in an elasticated bun for weightlifting or styled into a cap for shooting, the controversial headgear is finally winning acceptance from sporting associations.

This week judo sports authorities and the Saudi Olympic Committee confirmed they had reached an agreement allowing a Saudi judoka to compete with her hair covered, and last month soccer’s rule makers also lifted their ban on the hijab.

The International Judo Federation had initially said Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani could not compete in a headscarf, which would have been a huge blow to aspiring Saudi sportswomen: she and runner Sarah Attar are the country’s first women to compete at any Olympics.

“This agreement shows that being a modest Muslim woman is no barrier to taking part in sport. It shows the inclusiveness of the Olympic spirit,” said Razan Baker, spokeswoman for the Saudi Olympic Committee.

Islamic states Brunei and Qatar have also sent female athletes to the Games for the first time.

The modest forms of dress demanded by more conservative societies or chosen by more pious women have long been a brake on female participation in sport, not only for Muslims but also for women of other faiths.

French mayor retreats after suspending fasting Muslim camp counselors


A French mayor has revoked the suspension of four Muslim camp counselors following an uproar after he said they could not work properly because they might be weakened by their all-day fasting for Ramadan.

Muslim groups threatened to sue the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers for discrimination for recalling the four after an inspector found on July 20 – the first day of the Muslim holy month – that they were not eating or drinking during the day.

Lawyers for the counselors, who had accompanied children from the suburb on a town-sponsored stay at a summer camp in southwestern France, said they might also take the issue to a labor court.

Potential weakness due to Ramadan is also an issue at the London Olympics, where more than 3,000 Muslim athletes are competing. Some have delayed their fast until after the Games while others are fasting as they would any other year.

Muslim leaders presented the case as an issue of religious liberty, while the town’s Communist mayor Jacques Bourgoin insisted his concern was only for the safety of the campers.

“This is a discriminatory act,” said Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council told BFM TV. “France has religious liberty, it is a fundamental freedom and it must be respected.”

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