Religion Roundup

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Missionary Thanks God and Prayerful Supporters for "Miraculous" Ebola Recovery
ATLANTA - An American missionary infected with Ebola while serving in Liberia has left his isolation unit at an Atlanta hospital and says his recovery is "miraculous."
     Officials at Emory University Hospital say Dr. Kent Brantly poses no public health threat. Fellow medical missionary Nancy Writebol was quietly discharged two days ago.
     Brantly used his discharge to thank the medical staff, those who prayed for him and to express the role of his faith in his recovery. Ebola is often fatal.
     Brantly says he didn't realize that so many people had prayed for him while he was in isolation. He said he started praying after he was first diagnosed a month ago that God would give him the strength to maintain his faith.
     Brantly and Writebol were infected while working with Ebola victims in Liberia. Their charity organizations, Samaritan's Purse and SIM, reached out to top infectious disease experts for help. They were given the experimental drug known as Zmapp.


Son of Medical Missionary who Contracted Ebola Says his Mother is Steadily Improving
WICHITA, Kan. - The son of American medical missionary Nancy Writebol says his mother's condition is getting "better and better."  Writebol was quietly released on Tuesday from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she was treated after contracting Ebola while working in Liberia.
     Jeremy Writebol says his mother is recuperating at an "undisclosed location" and wants time to gain strength and to be with her husband.
     Writebol says the medical staff, medicine and science contributed to what God is doing in his mother's body.
     He says it's too early for her to make plans but that she remains open to what God wants.


Faith Leaders Speak Against Abuse Police Practices in Ferguson, Missouri
WASHINGTON -  More than 300 faith leaders from across the country have issued an open letter that is critical of city officials and police in Ferguson, Missouri, where there have been continued protests over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen.
     The letter, organized by Faith in Public Life, is supported by Catholic, mainline protestant and evangelical leaders.
     It condemns abusive police practices in general, mourns the loss of life, and praises local clergy in Ferguson for helping restore peace. It also says deeper problems need to be addressed including overcoming racism and the militarization of law enforcement. The signers also said they are praying for the officer involved, those working the protests, demonstrators and journalists.
     Among those endorsing the letter is the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Rev. Harkins says the church must engage in the conversation on race and other issues related to the case.


Minister Critical of Reported Police Raid on Church Facility
WASHINGTON - The head of a national organization of religious leaders is expressing concerns about reports of a police raid of a church in St. Louis.
     Rev. Dr. C. Weldon Gaddy heads Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, which represents Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic and other faith traditions. The group has written an open letter to the chief of St. Louis County Police saying that the raid raises concerns about a potential violation of constitutional rights. Gaddy wrote that religious institutions "hold a special status."
     Some news outlets and protesters say police closed a building belonging to Greater St. Mark Family Church, which was being used to provide first-aid for injured protesters. They said officers said protesters were being allowed to stay overnight, a zoning ordinance violation. The allegation was disputed. The church is located near the scene of protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teen.


Married Michigan Same-Sex Couples Seek Recognition
DETROIT - A lawyer has urged a federal judge in Detroit to order Michigan to recognize same-sex marriages performed in March, saying the unions are valid even if a higher court reinstates the state's gay marriage ban.
     More than 300 couples were married before an appeals court suspended a decision that had overturned the ban. The American Civil Liberties Union insists those marriages are legitimate. But Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, unlike the federal government, won't recognize them while the legality of gay marriage remains contested in court.


German Arbitration Panel Rejects Looted Art Claim
BERLIN - A German expert panel says the heirs of a Jewish woman persecuted by the Nazis aren't entitled to reclaim a valuable painting she once owned.
     The government-funded Advisory Commission concluded there was no evidence that the painting "The Three Graces" by German artist Lovis Corinth was looted by the Nazis. It acknowledged that the painting's one-time owner, Jewish industrialist Clara Levy, was persecuted by the Nazis.
     But the panel found that the painting was legally shipped to New York by Levy's daughter-in-law in early 1940, where it changed ownership several times before being sold back to Germany after the war.
     The painting's current owner, the Bavarian State Painting Collections, and Levy's heirs sought arbitration from the panel after failing to reach an agreement on its return.


Puerto Rico Priest Pleads Guilty in Abuse Case
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A Roman Catholic priest in Puerto Rico has pleaded guilty to transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct.
     Israel Berrios had been arrested in May amid accusations that he sexually abused an altar boy from the time he was about 8 years old until he turned 17.
     Authorities accused Berrios of giving the boy money, a computer and a camera and taking him on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas with his mother's permission in July 2008. The boy was 15 at the time.
     Berrios is the first priest to face federal sex charges of that kind in the U.S. territory. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday that Berrios could face up to 12 years in prison.


Settlement Reached in Clergy Abuse Case
MINNEAPOLIS - A man who was molested by a priest in the 1970s has become the first plaintiff to settle under a new Minnesota law that opened a three-year window for people to sue over older abuse cases.    
     Fifty-two-year-old Jon Jaker sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis last year, saying he was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. Leo's Church in St. Paul when the Rev. Thomas Stitts sexually abused him. Stitts died in 1985.
     Jaker, who now lives in California, told reporters he's ready to go public and is no longer afraid. He says he wants to encourage other victims to come forward.
     Terms of the settlement weren't disclosed. But Bishop Andrew Cozzens issued an apology and expressed regret that the archdiocese didn't heed his pleas for help.


Former Vatican City Governor, Cardinal Edmund Szoka Dies
DETROIT  - An American cardinal who served as governor and financial administrator of the Vatican and was a confidant of St. John Paul II, has died. Edmund Szoka was 86. The Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement that he died of natural causes on Wednesday night at a hospital in Novi, Michigan.
     Szoka received his first assignment as a priest in 1954, as associate pastor of a parish in Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula. By the early 1990s, he was the Vatican's point man for finance. And by the end of that decade, he was running Vatican City.
     In between, Szoka honed his administrative skills as the first bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord and, later, archbishop of Detroit.


Ohio Diocese Discourages ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
CINCINNATI - A Roman Catholic diocese in Ohio is throwing a damper on the popular ice bucket challenge that benefits the ALS Association.
     The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is discouraging its 113 schools from participating in the challenge. It says the group's use of funds in embryonic stem cell research is "in direct conflict with Catholic teaching."
     The church's superintendent has told schools in a letter that students may still do ice bucket challenges but that the donations have to be made to another organization that combats ALS. The neurodegenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, causes paralysis and almost certain death.
     The Catholic Church relates the use of embryonic stem cells in research to abortion and says it violates the sanctity of human life. The use of adult stem cells in research is not forbidden by Catholic teaching.
     The ALS Association says it has heard of no other archdiocese raising such objections.


Student Disciplined for Saying 'Bless You'
DYERSBURG, Tenn. - A Tennessee high school student has been sent to the principal's office after saying "bless you" to another student who sneezed.
     Seventeen-year-old Kendra Turner told the State Gazette the phrase was on a list of things students were not allowed to say in that class at Dyer County High School. The list includes "my bad," ''hang out," ''dumb," ''stupid" and "stuff."
     Assistant Principal Lynn Garner said he could not discuss the specifics of what happened in the Monday incident, but he said there are "two sides to every story."
     Garner also said teachers can set their own classroom rules as long as they are reasonable.
     According to Turner, after she said "bless you," the teacher stood up and asked who had spoken. Turner says she explained that she was being courteous and that her parents and pastor taught her to say it.  She was placed in in-school suspension for the remainder of the period.

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