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Associated Press
Vatican City – July 17, Catholic clergy in China have named a new bishop for Beijing, reports said Wednesday – the first appointment since Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to Chinese Catholics urging them to unite under his authority.
The Vatican had no comment on the reports, which said Bishop Joseph Li Shan was selected by a group of Chinese priests, nuns and lay people. While the pope did not name him, Li Shan was apparently on a list of names that the Vatican had indicated it would not object to, the Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews agency reported.
Still, the appointment contravenes the traditional practice in which the pope names bishops. Benedict did not explicitly insist on that right in his June 30 letter to the Catholic faithful in China, taking a more conciliatory approach by saying merely that the Vatican “would desire to be completely free to appoint bishops.”
“I trust that an accord can be reached with the government,” he added.
The Vatican would like to have a formula similar to the one it has with Vietnam, another communist country, where the Vatican proposes a few names and the government selects one.
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in the government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.
Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations that are not registered with the authorities.
Benedict has been trying to reconcile the divisions, and sent the letter to all Catholics in China – which the Vatican estimates at between 8 million to 12 million – in a bid to unite them. In it, he praised the underground faithful but urged them to reconcile with followers in the official church.
At the same time, he called the government-sanctioned China Patriotic Catholic Association “incompatible” with Catholic doctrine.
The Beijing appointment had been closely watched as an early indication of the government’s reaction to Benedict’s letter. The appointment of bishops has been the main stumbling block in resuming relations; China views papal appointments as interference in its internal affairs.
The ANSA news agency quoted the deputy chairman of the Patriotic Association as saying the nomination was not formalized yet, since China’s bishops had yet to approve it.
“It’s too early to speak about contacts with the Vatican,” ANSA quoted him as saying.
AsiaNews said Li Shan had shown independence in his dealings with the Patriotic Association, and was admired by the faithful as a result.
Li Shan replaces Bishop Fu Tieshan, the hard-line chairman of the Patriotic Association who died in April.
In other news Wednesday, AsiaNews reported that Zhao Zhendong, bishop of Xuanhua, had died after a long illness.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

RNS
Adelle Banks
An interfaith coalition of religious leaders is congratulating
the Bush administration for reaching an agreement with North Korea to
shutdown its nuclear weapons facilities.
“The agreement with North Korea demonstrates the value of diplomacy
in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,” the leaders said in a
statement released Tuesday. The statement was signed by Catholic and
Episcopal bishops as well as Presbyterian, evangelical and Muslim
leaders.
“It validates the preferential use of words, rather than war, as a
response to conflict. Our religious traditions teach that efforts should
be made to explore every alternative in resolving a conflict before
going to war,” the faith leaders said.
The State Department announced Saturday that it had been informed
that North Korea had shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex. The
International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Wednesday that five
facilities, four at Yongbyon and one at Taechon, have been shut down.
The interfaith statement, developed by Faithful Security: The
National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger, was signed
by a dozen leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
The signatories included Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine
Jefferts Schori; Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic
Society of North America; the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of
the Presbyterian Church (USA); Rabbi Gerald Serotta of Temple Shalom in
Chevy Chase, Md.; Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Policy; and
Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action.
They asked the administration to consider a similar strategy with
Iran.
“The United States should engage Iran in direct negotiations without
preconditions to achieve the goal of preventing the spread of nuclear
weapons and enhancing regional security,” they wrote.
Faithful Security, based in Goshen, Ind., developed after the late
Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a Protestant social activist, convened a
meeting of religious leaders in 2005 to discuss how faith leaders could
address the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

RNS
MICHELLE RINDELS
When planning Vacation Bible School activities, Nicole
Carmines decided it wasn’t enough to require background checks on
volunteers and to inspect photo IDs at child pickup time.
So she decided to hire two uniformed police officers to stay on
church premises for the entire week. Excessive? Carmines doesn’t think
so.
“We constantly hear comments about extra measures that we go
through,” said Carmines, Vacation Bible School director at Concordia
Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.
She says parents are grateful for the precautions — which include
everything from ID tags to a walkie-talkie network. Seven years ago, 650
elementary school-aged students signed up for Concordia’s Vacation Bible
School. VBS enrollment this June broke the 1,300 mark, and she believes
the staff’s diligent security is one of the biggest reasons.
In light of well-publicized sexual abuse scandals at churches,
background checks aren’t just for paid staff anymore — they’re
virtually standard fare for any children’s ministry worker. Likely,
that’s because child abuse allegations surface at the rate of 70 per
week in America’s churches, according to national surveys conducted from
1993-2002 by Christian Ministry Resources, a tax and legal advice
publisher.
VBS programs pose an acute set of security challenges for churches,
especially since they attract throngs of unfamiliar children and a small
army of volunteers.
“One of the problems is we need a lot more (children’s) workers than
we do on Sunday,” said Jerry Wooley, VBS ministry specialist at Lifeway
Christian Resources, which provides VBS curriculum to most of the
Southern Baptist Convention’s more than 42,000 churches and many outside
the denomination. “Sometimes we become desperate for workers and take
them even if we don’t know who they are.”
Lifeway has long used printed “leader guides” to coach teachers on
child safety.
The company added a new item this year — ID wristbands.
Wooley says it’s just one more way to ensure that at the end of the
day, kids end up in the arms of parents, not predators.
“Unfortunately, pedophiles hang out in churches,” said Richard Odom,
pastor of Summerfield First Baptist Church in Summerfield, N.C. With a
background in law enforcement, Odom is adamant that his church screen
all VBS volunteers, from teachers to “the kitchen helpers preparing
Kool-Aid.”
“Pedophiles think twice about a church that takes a step (to perform
checks),” he said.
Research from Christian Ministry Resources suggests that most abuse
in churches involves volunteers, not staff. Abusers typically seek to
build a relationship of trust before preying on their victims, and a
week-long VBS doesn’t provide enough “alone time” for most criminals.
Still, a careless church has a lot to lose. Even if an incident does
not occur, a child abuse accusation can be just as destructive.
“It can be devastating for the church and the accused,” said
attorney Charlotte Cover, a member of the Christian Law Association,
which offers free legal counsel to churches. Even if they are false, she
said, accusations can be a tool of manipulation.
“Some of the kids are pretty street-wise and know if they get mad at
a worker, if they allege abuse … (the worker) will get in trouble.”
That’s why the Christian Law Association is encouraging churches not
just to be above reproach, but to have documents to prove they’re above
reproach. Keeping detailed attendance records comes in handy when an
accusation arises. In one case, Cover recalled, an individual claimed a
church worker committed misconduct on a specific date. Since the church
kept detailed attendance records, it proved the accuser wasn’t even at
church on the alleged date. The charges were dropped, Cover said.
“Taking measures does work,” she said. “It’s not 100 percent
foolproof. But courts require due diligence.”
The Christian Law Association encourages workers to avoid any
situation that might suggest compromise. If a male worker is involved
with children, the association advises, the worker should always be in
the company of another adult and avoid hugging a child or letting them
sit on their lap.
There are down sides to such policies. Rules like these bar the kind
of affection that a fatherless child might need, said Christian Law
Association attorney Barbara Weller. And the cost of background checks
— especially when volunteers are checked annually — can add up.
But, Weller said, “Churches really want to protect children.” And
many “are in the vanguard of enacting and enforcing policies that
protect children from abuse.”
Pastor Odom is one of them.
“Personally as a pastor and a father — I would hate to sit in
someone’s living room and explain that harm came to one of their
children,” Odom said, “and that we did not do everything humanly
possible to prevent it.”

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

Associated Press
Albuquerque, New Mexico – July 17, School leaders in a New Mexico district will not face federal sanctions for allowing a high school project on racism in which students posted signs reading “Whites Only” and “People of Color” above water faucets, federal officials said.
But the school district will have to implement procedures for addressing racial harassment claims and offer lessons about racial harassment to students and staff, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said.
Students at Hot Springs High School launched the project last year for an English class focusing on social justice. The students hoped to secretly monitor the reactions of people when they viewed the signs. Other students tore down the signs within minutes.
Student Gabriel Reynolds, who is black, said the signs shocked and angered him. He complained that he was humiliated, and his family filed complaints with both the federal and state education departments.
School officials described the project as an attempt to explore America’s history of racism. The school, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Albuquerque, had 426 students at the time, only seven of them black.
The district and the Office of Civil Rights signed a resolution agreement earlier this month that requires the district to develop and implement the new rules. The federal office found no violations of law, however, and said the educators would not be sanctioned.
Superintendent James Nesbitt said the district agreed with the federal agency that it needs a clear procedure for reporting problems.
“The development of a reporting plan is in keeping with the purpose of the student project that resulted in the Reynolds’ complaints, which was to address the issue of racial harassment with students,” he said.
Nesbitt and other educators reached a settlement with state officials in March. The state settlement said the student-initiated project created at least the appearance of discrimination and should not have been approved.
At the time, Nesbitt said he and others made a mistake in judgment.
Nesbitt and the Hot Springs principal sent Reynolds’ family an apology and publicly apologized. However, Susan Reynolds, the student’s mother, said she did not consider the apology sincere because the educators never acknowledged the project was inappropriate.
The educators agreed to take racial sensitivity training and had letters of reprimand placed in their files for 18 months.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.