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Washington – In a rare reversal of roles, 14 Catholic members of Congress are lobbying U.S. Catholic bishops to step up efforts to end the war in Iraq.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asking for a meeting to discuss how Congress “and the clergy can work together to mobilize public action to end the war,” according to a statement released Tuesday (July 3).
“As Catholic members of Congress we stand in unison with the Catholic Church in opposition to the war in Iraq,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement. “Yet to attain the ideal of peace, we must not only speak the words, we must take action.”
Other Catholic politicians lobbying the bishops include Reps. Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan, Charlie Wilson and Marcy Kaptur, all of Ohio.
“Throughout our nation’s history Catholics have been at the forefront of the fight for social justice,” the lawmakers’ statement said. “Now, at another critical moment, we respectfully urge the (bishops) to join with us in mobilizing support for Congress’ efforts to end the Iraq war.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the USCCB, said the bishops were considering the letter and that they have already made repeated statements about the war. “Certainly the bishops have made no secret about their concerns over the war in Iraq,” Walsh said.
Last fall, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the bishops’ conference, said: “In statements, letters and meetings, we have expressed grave moral concern regarding `preventive war’ and noted the moral responsibilities that our nation has in Iraq.”
In May, 18 Catholic U.S. representatives, including some who are now lobbying the bishops, criticized Pope Benedict XVI for suggesting that pro-abortion rights politicians can be considered excommunicated from the church.
” … Religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America,” the Catholic lawmakers said then.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) With the state’s weather forecasters not delivering much-needed rain, Gov. Bob Riley has turned to a higher power, issuing a proclamation calling for a week of prayer for rain.
Riley encouraged Alabamians to pray, starting Saturday (June 30), “individually and in their houses of worship.”
“Throughout our history, Alabamians have turned in prayer to God to humbly ask for his blessings and to hold us steady during times of difficulty,” Riley said. “This drought is without question a time of great difficulty.”
On Sunday, a series of strong thunderstorms brought torrential rain, flash floods and lightning to the area, but apparently not enough to bring much relief to the drought-stricken area.
“I don’t think it made a big dent,” said Patrick Gatlin with the National Weather Service’s Huntsville office. “… This is the most rain we’ve seen in quite some time but it definitely won’t get us back to normal.”
State proclamations for the national day of prayer and other broad, nondenominational religious observances are fairly common, said the Rev.
Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. But government calls for intercessory-type prayer are rare, he said.
“He shouldn’t do these things that raise the specter of government promoting a particular religion,” Lynn said. “It’s just a bad idea.”

Jun. 29–At first glance, it seems logical to assume Utah’s high bankruptcy rate is connected to the large number of Mormons living in the state.
After all, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages members to pay 10 percent of their incomes in tithing, to marry young and to have a lot of kids — factors that suggest LDS families face extra challenges to make ends meet.
Yet a new study by two recent Harvard Law School graduates — both LDS Church members — indicates that theory may need to be abandoned.
Ezekial Johnson, who wrote the study “Are Mormons Bankrupting Utah? Evidence From the Bankruptcy Courts” with co-researcher James Wright, said the authors found that non-Mormons were slightly more likely than LDS Church members to go bankrupt.
“Frankly, we were stunned when we first ran the data and saw the results,” Johnson said. “To be honest, those results went against all our initial thoughts.”
The study was based on 281 surveys Johnson and Wright collected in Utah in August 2004, when the state led the nation in bankruptcies per household. Utahns filing for bankruptcy were asked to fill out voluntary questionnaires after their mandatory first meeting of creditors. The survey included questions about debtors’ religious affiliations and charitable donations.
Wright and Johnson became interested in the topic studying under Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and authority on consumer bankruptcies.
“We had seen accounts that suggested a tie between the LDS Church and the rate of bankruptcies in Utah and this gave us the opportunity to ask some questions,” said Wright, now a Salt Lake City real estate attorney.
One question they wrestled with was how to determine if those who pay tithing to the LDS Church are filing bankruptcy in a greater percentages than those who don’t.
A 2005 bankruptcy study by The Salt Lake Tribune found that about 13 percent of Utah bankruptcy filers reported tithing in the year prior to going broke, with 12 percent paying tithes to the LDS Church.
Wright and Johnson approached the numbers from a different angle. Their methodology concluded that if the overall percentage of Mormons in Utah who paid tithing exceeded 35.5 percent, then Mormon tithe payers are actually less likely to file for bankruptcy than non-tithe payers. When the data came in, it showed 36.2 percent of Mormons paid tithing of $1,000 or more a year.
Still, they conceded, determining the rate of bankruptcies filed by tithe payers is difficult since the LDS Church doesn’t publish its data. Also, it is difficult to know what tithe payers would have contributed if they were not under economic distress, Wright said.
Another finding: While children typically increase the likelihood of families filing bankruptcy, in Utah that pressure was less severe. Johnson and Wright knew from Warren’s studies that, nationally, households with children are 300 percent more likely to file for bankruptcy than households without children. But in Utah, that percentage dropped to 191 percent.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s analysis found nearly two-thirds of bankruptcy filers in Utah had one or more dependent children, making them twice as likely to be supporting children under 18 as the average household nationally.
Jeff Thredgold, president of Salt Lake City-based Thredgold Economic Associations and a consultant to Zions Bank, said large families invariably will put Utah among the top 15 states in bankruptcy filings.
“When you have 50 percent more children per adult in a household there is going to be increased financial pressure. But the fact that there are more children per household [in Utah than nationally] is probably more of a cultural issue than a religious one,” he said, contending other faiths in the state also have larger families, recognizing Utah is a good place to raise children.
Although Thredgold would have liked to see a larger survey sample, he said the study will be worthwhile if it helps counter some myths about why bankruptcies are higher in Utah.
Utah State University Professor Jean Lown, who has done extensive research on Utah bankruptcy rates, said the Harvard study’s findings that slightly fewer Mormons file for bankruptcy in Utah than non-Mormons is in line with her own research.
“It is a fascinating study and a good start,” she said. “And it does address some issues that need to be considered.”
Johnson and Wright conceded their study doesn’t answer the question of why Utah’s bankruptcies-per-household rates is higher than the national average, but speculated that the reasons were the same as The Salt Lake Tribune’s study.
It painted a picture of families living paycheck to paycheck when they were suddenly stymied financially by unexpected job loss, a medical crisis, business failure or divorce — forces or events that typically contribute to bankruptcy everywhere.

San Diego, Jul 2, 2007 (UPI via COMTEX) — A San Diego elementary school is embroiled in controversy over a policy allowing Muslim students to pray during a school break.
Critics told the San Diego Union-Tribune the policy at Carver Elementary either endorses a religion or crosses the line separating church and state. The policy has become a hot topic on conservative talk radio shows, the newspaper reported.
The school district says since Islam requires Muslim students to pray at a specific time, the school isn’t breaking any laws by accommodating them.
“The district’s legal obligation in response to a request that a prayer must be performed at a particular time is to treat that request the same as it would treat a student’s request to receive an insulin shot at a particular time,” lawyer Brent North told the Union-Tribune.
More than 100 Muslim students enrolled at Carver in the fall when a charter school that served mostly Somali Muslims closed.