Beliefnet News

United Press International
Dorset, England, July 16 – The Wessex, Britain, Pagan Federation chapter has said they will do “rain magic” to wash away a giant chalk drawing of cartoon character Homer Simpson.
The 180-foot publicity stunt for the new Simpsons film was drawn next to the Pagans’ famous fertility symbol, the Cerne Abbas giant, Britain’s The Sun reported Monday.
The Cerne Abbas giant was originally chalked during the 17th century and is re-chalked every 25-years in order to keep the detailed drawing eye appealing. It is also believed that the giant, which is carved in the hillside above Cerne Abbas, Dorset, is an aid to fertility.
Now, he shares the hillside with an equally large Homer Simpson holding a doughnut. The cartoon was painted with water-based biodegradable paint that will wash away with rain, said the Sun.
But, Ann Bryn-Evans, district manager for The Pagan Federation, said, “It’s very disrespectful and not at all aesthetically pleasing.
“We were hoping for some dry weather but I think I have changed my mind. We’ll be doing some rain magic to bring the rain and wash it away,” she told The Sun.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International

Associated Press
LOS ANGELES, July 16 – After a whirlwind weekend, the negotiations that produced a landmark $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse are heading toward a conclusion.
Attorneys from both sides, as well as Cardinal Roger Mahony, are expected in court Monday to enter a formal settlement agreement with Judge Haley Fromholtz. The deal marks the end of more than five years of negotiations and is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002.
Mahony, leader of the nation’s largest archdiocese, apologized Sunday to the hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims who will receive a share of the settlement.
“There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims … I cannot,” he said.
“Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again.”
Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to what he called a “terrible sin and crime.”
The cardinal said the settlement will not have an impact on the archdiocese’s core ministry, but said the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds, and borrow money. He said the archdiocese will not sell any parish properties or parish schools.
“We gather today because this long journey has now come to an end and a new chapter of that journey is beginning,” Mahony told reporters.
The settlement also calls for the release of priests’ confidential personnel files after review by a judge.
“I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it’s a huge relief,” said Michael Hennigan, archdiocese attorney. “But it’s a disappointment, too, that we didn’t get it done much earlier than this.”
Parishioners reacted with a mix of disappointment and relief.
Vivian Viscarra, 50, who attends Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels three times a month, said the victims deserve the payout even though it could hurt the church’s ability to deliver important services. The amount would average a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, although individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse.
“I am disappointed,” Viscarra said. “And it’s making me reevaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs.”
The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren’t covered by sexual abuse insurance.
The archdiocese will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million. The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said. The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys can expect to receive up to 40 percent of the settlement money – or $264 million – for their work.
The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese. A judge must sign off on the agreement.
Previously, the Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders had paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims. Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS AP) – The key international Mideast mediators will confer with former British prime minister Tony Blair for the first time next week in his new role promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.N. said Friday.
Top officials from the Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia – will meet on July 19 in Lisbon, Portugal, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
“The meeting comes at a crucial moment and will be an opportunity to assess the recent events and discuss the way forward to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East,” she said.
“In particular, the Quartet principals will confer with the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, on how best to assist the Palestinian Authority in building its institutions and economy, which are vital for the creation of a viable Palestinian state,” Okabe said.
Hours after Blair stepped down as prime minister on June 27, the Quartet appointed him with a mandate to focus on mobilizing international support and assistance for the Palestinians, a job that will be even tougher now because of the sharp divide between Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip in early June, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will attend next week’s Quartet meeting, is increasingly concerned about the economic impact for Gaza and called for the opening of all crossings to allow humanitarian supplies and workers and commercial goods to enter the territory, Okabe said.
She said new World Bank figures showed that last month 3,190 businesses closed down, forcing 65,000 people into unemployment.
“If what is left of Gaza’s economy is allowed to collapse, poverty levels, already affecting an estimated two-thirds of households, will rise further and the people of Gaza will become near totally aid dependent,” Okabe said.

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

Asociated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s nominee for surgeon general insisted Thursday that he harbors no bias against homosexuals in spite of his 1991 writings viewed by some as anti-gay.
Dr. James Holsinger faced tough questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing over his views on homosexuality and how he would react if he were pressured to put politics ahead of science in his role as the nation’s doctor.
“I would resign,” Holsinger said emphatically.
Concerns about his independence were spurred by former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s testimony two days earlier that the Bush administration muzzled him on issues such as abstinence education and stem-cell research because of politics.
A vote on the nomination of Holsinger, a Kentucky doctor, wasn’t expected for several weeks.
At Thursday’s hearing, he distanced himself from a paper he wrote 16 years ago that has been attacked by gay rights organizations and public health experts as inaccurate and inflammatory. The paper cited data showing elevated rates of disease among gay men, but some medical experts say he completely ignored other data that would contradict the paper’s point that homosexuality is an abnormal function.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asked Holsinger on several occasions to address various aspects of his paper on homosexuality for a study committee of the United Methodist Church.
“Dr. Holsinger’s paper cherry picks and misuses data to support his thesis that homosexuality is unhealthy and unnatural,” Kennedy, D-Mass., said.
Holsinger said it was not intended to be a scientific paper and that he relied on the information available to him at the time.
“First of all, the paper does not represent where I am today. It does not represent who I am today,” Holsinger said.
Holsinger emphasized that the data he relied on came from the mid-1980s. He also said it represents a literature search that was done for him through a library.
“The issues that appeared in the review would not even be the major issues in front of our gay and lesbian community today,” he said.
Holsinger told the committee that he fought to ensure that a conference on women’s health include segments on the health needs of lesbians. At the time, he was chancellor of the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
“I fought fiercely for that even though I had a huge political pushback. In fact, our budget was being threatened in the state legislature,” Holsinger said.
Kennedy also raised the issue of Carmona’s allegations.
“His testimony showed that the office of the surgeon general has become a morass of shameful political manipulation and distortion of science,” Kennedy said. “Dr. Holsinger has a responsibility to provide strong assurances and a clear plan for seeing that these abuses are not repeated during his tenure, if he is confirmed.”
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said there was little doubt that Holsinger would be a strong administrator given his experience as undersecretary for the Veterans Affairs Department. He said some of the comments made about Holsinger make him wonder why anyone would allow their name to be submitted to the Senate for a position requiring confirmation.
“I’m deeply troubled, personally, as you might guess, by these allegations. Because I don’t feel that they represent who I am, what I believe, or how I have practiced medicine for the past 40 years,” Holsinger said.
“I can only say that I have a deep, deep appreciation for the essential humanity of everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances or their sexual orientation,” he said.
Holsinger said if confirmed, one of his first priorities would be to tackle the issue of childhood obesity. He talked about how in Kentucky, where he was secretary of the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, he made an effort to put healthier foods in school vending machines and cafeterias.
Before the Senate hearing, gay rights groups, the American Public Health Association and 35 members of the House lined up in opposition to Holsinger’s nomination. The Kentucky doctor garnered the support of a prominent former surgeon general, Dr. C. Everett Koop, as well as the American College of Physicians.
Kennedy introduced a bill on Thursday that would require a surgeon general nominee to be drawn from a list prepared by the Institute of Medicine. The legislation would let the surgeon general submit budget requests publicly and hire his or her own staff.
Holsinger is a professor from the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health. He worked for 26 years in a variety of positions at the Veterans Affairs Department, including stints as chief of staff or director at several VA medical centers.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.