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Methodist Panel Hears Appeal Over Gay Wedding
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A Methodist pastor who was disciplined for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding will soon find out whether he can remain an ordained minister.
     The Rev. Frank Schaefer was suspended and then defrocked last year after refusing to promise to refrain from conducting same-sex marriages. The action against Schaefer - who officiated at his son's same-sex wedding in Massachusetts - was taken after a church trial in Pennsylvania.
     An appeals panel restored Schaefer's pastoral credentials in June, but that decision is being challenged. The United Methodist Church's Judicial Council, the denomination's highest judicial body, heard arguments in the case Wednesday and could issue its ruling next week. Its decisions are final.
     The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching." Methodist clergy who perform same-sex unions risk punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to defrocking.
Notre Dame to Hold 'Gay in Christ' Conference
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame is holding a two-day conference to explore appropriate pastoral strategies for parishioners who regard themselves as non-heterosexual but accept Catholic Church teaching on marriage and sexuality.
     The conference begins Oct. 31 and is dubbed "Gay in Christ: Dimensions of Fidelity." It's co-sponsored by the university's Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center. Institute Director John Cavadini says the conference should resonate with much of the discussion of the Catholic bishops who assembled last week in Rome.
     The bishops failed to reach consensus on the two most divisive issues at the synod: on welcoming gays and welcoming divorced and civilly remarried couples. The issues remain up for discussion ahead of another meeting of bishops next year.
Former Missionary Pleads Guilty in Virginia
RICHMOND, Va. - A former Baptist missionary has pleaded guilty in Virginia to submitting fraudulent expense claims to his employer.
     Federal authorities say 38-year-old Brady Nurse of Bothell, Washington, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 21 in U.S. District Court in Richmond. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud Tuesday.
     In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Nurse admitted fraudulently collecting more than $285,000 in expense reimbursements from the International Mission Board while working in Portugal from 2008 to 2013.
     The Richmond-based IMB is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It has about 4,800 missionaries worldwide.

Deal, Carter Discuss Gun Laws, Reforms at Forum
ATLANTA - Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic candidate Jason Carter say faith will guide their leadership decisions but maintain very different answers to problems facing the state of Georgia.
     The two leading candidates for governor separately answered questions from clergy of various faiths during a forum in Atlanta on Wednesday.
     The state's approach to gun sales was among the issues Carter and Deal addressed. Both approved of a new law that broadly expanded where people can carry guns but said they insisted on exceptions for places of worship.
     Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, pledged to increase education funding, saying it's the best way to give people control over their future.
     Deal touted his administration's work on criminal justice and urged faith leaders to help released prisoners re-integrate into their communities.
     Both expressed reluctance to mix religion with politics, but said their Christian faith guides their decision-making.
Gun Buyback Program Set for Union County
ELIZABETH, N.J. - Two New Jersey churches will be the collection sites for a gun buyback program this weekend.
     Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park says residents can anonymously turn in weapons during the event being staged Saturday. Collection sites will be at the Morning Star Community Christian Center in Linden and the Vision of God Family Worship Church in Plainfield.
     The amount of cash paid out will depend on the weapon being surrendered, with a maximum payout of $250.
     All firearms collected during the event will eventually be destroyed.
     County authorities staged a similar buyback program in July 2013. More than 1,000 guns were collected during that event.

Church Official Pleads Guilty in Looting Case
BOSTON - A former Boston church official who said in an autobiography he was an enforcer for gangster James "Whitey" Bulger has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he looted the church's assets.
     Edward MacKenzie Jr. is the former director of operations at the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem Church, whose members belong to the Swedenborgian denomination.
     The U.S. attorney's office says MacKenzie pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 13 counts including racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. MacKenzie is to be sentenced Jan. 23.
     Prosecutors say he joined the church in 2002 and became its director of operations in 2003. They say he gradually gained control of the church's assets and cost it millions of dollars. The church fired MacKenzie when he was arrested last year.
Ketchikan Assembly Rejects Meeting Prayer Proposal
KETCHIKAN, Alaska - In Alaska, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly has rejected a proposal to begin regular meetings with prayer after hearing public testimony on both sides of the issue.
     The Ketchikan Daily News reports that the proposal failed Monday on a vote of 5 to 2. The assembly also rejected a proposed amendment to put the issue on the 2015 ballot.
     Some of those speaking in favor of meeting prayers talked about the long-standing practice of legislative prayers in the nation. Some opponents said they would feel alienated by prayer at meetings, while others said such a policy would discourage people from attending.
     Gary Souza, who heads the Ketchikan Ministerial Association, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the assembly could benefit from God's wisdom.
     One opponent, Donita O'Dell, said she is a Christian who values prayer. But she doesn't believe religious sides should be taken by government.

Rhode Island Bishop: Pope Likes 'Creating a Mess'
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The leader of Rhode Island's Catholics, reacting to a Vatican meeting of bishops debating hot-button family issues, says that Pope Francis likes "creating a mess."
     Bishop Thomas Tobin said Tuesday in a post on the diocese's website that "Pope Francis is fond of 'creating a mess.' Mission accomplished."
     Carolyn Cronin, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said Wednesday that Tobin was playing off the pope's comments last year at World Youth Day in Brazil, where he urged them to shake up the church and "make a mess."
     Catholic bishops scrapped what would have been a historic welcome to gays and displayed deep divisions at the close of the two-week meeting. They also didn't reach consensus on whether divorced Catholics and those that have civilly remarried may receive Communion.

Incoming Chicago Archbishop Won't Live in Mansion
CHICAGO - The next archbishop of Chicago will live in the more modest rectory at Holy Name Cathedral instead of the archdiocese's mansion.
     The Archdiocese of Chicago also said Wednesday that Bishop Blase Cupich will create a committee to study best uses for the historic mansion. The archdiocese says Cupich made the decision in consultation with Cardinal Francis George and several Chicago priests.
     The mansion has been home to Chicago archbishops since it was built in 1885. The residence also has hosted Pope John Paul II and President Franklin Roosevelt.
     Cupich is following the example of Pope Francis, who chooses to live in the Vatican hotel instead of the papal apartments.
     The Vatican announced last month that Cupich would succeed Cardinal George, who is battling cancer, on Nov. 18.

Pope Praises Bayern Munich After Roma Rout
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has welcomed the victorious Bayern Munich soccer team to the Vatican after its 7-1 Champions League rout of Roma, telling the players they "played a wonderful game" and receiving a signed jersey in return.
     CEO Karl Heinz Rummenigge said it was "a great honor" for the German club and announced Bayern would donate one million euros in proceeds from a future match to the pope for charitable purposes. The team's website says Rummenigge told Francis it would be up to him to use the money "to help people in need wherever they are in the world and regardless of their faith."
     Francis, a soccer fan, has received several visiting teams and has a collection of signed jerseys.
     The private audience occurred before Wednesday's general audience.

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