Thursday, December 20, 2007

Legal, Financial and Real Estate Industries Dominate Presidential Fundraising, Study Shows

Report by Public Citizen and Campaign Finance Institute Details Campaign Bundling

WASHINGTON - December 20 - More than half the major fundraisers for the presidential campaigns hail from just three segments of the U.S. economy: lawyers and law firms, representing both corporate and consumer interests; the financial sector; and real estate, according to a joint study released Thursday by Public Citizen and the Campaign Finance Institute.

These industries account for more than 1,100 of the major fundraisers for the presidential candidates. In contrast, most of the 70 major industries represented in the study furnished 15 or fewer major fundraisers, often called “bundlers.”

“Bundlers are a highly concentrated bunch. The paltry number of people who bankroll campaigns shows this private fundraising system is broken,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Congress must require far more transparency in disclosing bundling activity if it wants to fix the presidential public financing system.”

The study tallies the number of major fundraisers furnished by each industry and breaks down each industry’s fundraisers by party and candidate.

The two candidates who provide the most details about their bundlers, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, appear to have received more than half their money from these fundraisers. Though other candidates have been less forthcoming about the details of their fundraising operations, there is no indication that they rely any less on major fundraisers than Clinton and Obama.

The study points to the need to modernize the presidential public financing system so candidates need not rely on deep-pocketed, special-interest donors to run competitive campaigns.

Debt is Haunting the American Consumer and Harming the Economy

The Center for American Progress Reports that:

WASHINGTON - December 20 - “Duh,” the defining word in an ever-present car ad this holiday season, also summarizes what is happening to holiday shoppers. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention and paying credit card bills that American consumers have amassed record amounts of debt and have less disposable income than ever before.

But what may not be clear to everyone except those trying to pay for holiday presents while failing to balance all their other debts payments is that consumers only have two choices: borrow less or go broke. Either way, more and more families will be joining those who are already slowing their spending as income growth slows and other means of borrowing shrink. If this does not happen during the 2007 holiday shopping season, it most likely will happen when debt bills come due early next year.

The facts tell a grim story:

· Income growth is slowing. In October 2007, income growth (adjusted for inflation) was 3.0 percent higher than a year ago, down from 4.0 percent year-on-year growth in September and 4.6 percent growth year-on-year in August.

· So, too, is wage growth. Between October 2007 and October 2005 real wage growth fell by 51 percent.

· Debt rates are rising. In the third quarter of 2007, total debt stood at 133.0 percent of disposable income—the highest level on record..

· Americans are spending less. Census data show a deceleration in the retail sales growth over the past several years.

· The housing crisis is getting worse. The third quarter of 2007 found the highest foreclosure rate on record—0.8 percent of all mortgages foreclosed—after six consecutive quarters of rising foreclosure rates.

· Bankruptcies are rising alarmingly. In less than two years the bankruptcy rate grew by 85.2 percent, with 2.8 bankruptcy cases per 1,000 people in the third quarter of 2007.

The basic economic arithmetic is clear. Without faster income growth, which will likely not occur in a slowing economy, consumers will ultimately max out on their debt. And with less access to home equity loans or other lines of credit, the implications are dire. A quick look at the data on income growth, family indebtedness, consumer spending, and bankruptcy filings tell the story.

You may visit the Center for American Progress at:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christians share gift of faith with their friends this Christmas as thousands invited to congregate at nation’s cathedrals

17 December 2007

More than 140,000 people are expected to attend a Church of England cathedral for a service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year, following a 7.5 per cent rise in worshippers between 2005 and 2006.

Last year, with many cathedrals close to capacity, worshipper numbers reached more than 130,000 in the 24-hour Christmas period - a 37 per cent increase since 2000. Across all Church of England parish services, it is expected that the total topped the 2.8 million seen over the same period in 2005.

In addition to the attendance statistics for last Christmas, other figures released today from a survey of three cathedrals conducted last year suggest that Christians are using these ‘flagship’ church buildings to encourage their friends to attend church, with more than a third of respondents saying they heard about the cathedral service from a friend, and a quarter of those surveyed saying they actually attended the service with friends or neighbours.

The study - conducted by the Church of England in York Minster, Southwark Cathedral and Derby Cathedral over nine Christmas services last year - demonstrates the magnetic draw of cathedrals at Christmas time for those who rarely attend church, with as many as half of those surveyed in the congregations saying they attend church less than once every three months.

One in four had been to a cathedral over the year to attend a service, but more than half of these Christmas congregations had visited a cathedral for another reason, such as sightseeing or quiet reflection.

Today’s statistics will be the star on top of the tree for cathedral deans and their congregations, who have seen attendance throughout the year rise by 17 per cent since the turn of the millennium – a rate of three per cent each year. In an average week in 2006, 24,800 adults and 6,800 children and young people attended cathedral worship. All services across the Church of England parishes attract about 1.2 million a week.

Figures released earlier this year showed that attendance at cathedrals on Easter Eve and Easter Sunday increased to 52,400 in 2006 – an increase of nine per cent since 2000.

The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, comments: “Rumours of the demise of Christmas as a Christian celebration are baseless. It won’t be the experience of the thousands upon thousands who will be attending Christmas services this week. There will be standing-room only at many cathedrals and churches, as the dormant desire to recapture a sense of the wonder of the Nativity, to share with others in singing and praying, and to glimpse something of the spiritual meaning of the Christmas story draws people from across communities towards churches across the country.

“The significant attraction of special occasions and major festivals is a welcome sign of the wider success of the year-round ministry of cathedrals. Many people feel an innate connection with their local cathedral as a symbol of the spiritual life of their community. The anonymity that can be maintained when worshipping with hundreds of other people within these historic buildings can act as a further pull for some people in deciding how to mark this special season of the year.”

The cathedrals of Canterbury, London, Norwich, St Albans and York each expect more than 5,000 adults, children and young people to join them for worship on Christmas Eve or Day this year. Across the country, the Christmas menu of events and services prepared by cathedrals is set to attract a wide range of worshippers, as deans and chapters lay on extra services and put out even more seats to meet demand:

* At Chelmsford Cathedral, Essex, the Dean and Chapter have found that the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols is so popular that they are holding it twice this year - one on Sunday 23rd December and one on Christmas Eve. In addition, the cathedral hosts a total of nineteen carol services during Advent, including one for Essex County Fire and Rescue service and a service for the deaf.

* This year at Wakefield Cathedral, situated in the centre of the town’s historic market cross, the Dean and Chapter have begun holding lunchtime shoppers’ carols on Tuesdays in Advent, with up to 100 people attending. The Cathedral also holds two ‘Tree of Lights’ services and a related concert with Wakefield Hospice, which a total of 2,500 people have attended.

* At Chichester Cathedral, Sussex, as many as 400 people come to the Advent Procession on Advent Sunday each year to hear the Cathedral Choir as they process by candlelight through the building in full voice. Throughout the first half of this December, around fifteen different organisations held carol services in the Cathedral - including a special one where visitors arrive by steam train at Chichester Station. The Cathedral’s own carol services are hugely popular, with as many as 900 people expected at each of the three events, two of which have already ‘sold out’, leaving just one unticketed service on Sunday 23rd December, for which the Cathedral’s doors will open one hour before the 3pm start.

* Durham Cathedral has organised two ‘Carols for All’ events in association with the city’s Christmas Festival, attracting around 600 people to each service. The Cathedral also launched a Midnight Eucharist service for Christmas Eve just four years ago, and has seen congregations at that service rise from around 400 to 900 people in 2006.

* In Truro, Cornwall, the Christmas Services and Concerts at Truro Cathedral are so popular that a system of free ticketing has been introduced for the first time this year. A recent review of the fire regulations means that the capacity seating is now limited to 900, and so the service of Nine Lessons and Carols, always one of the most popular events in the Christmas Calendar, is this year being performed twice. Even with that provision, all tickets had been taken up by the end of November. After the joy of 19 separate carol services, the Midnight Mass and Christmas Day Service, Sunday 30th December brings the Children and Pets Carol Service - which always attracts huge numbers of both - and is followed by Evensong and Carols around the Crib.

* At York Minster, two Festivals of Nine Lessons and Carols are now arranged to meet demand – one on the 23rd December and one on Christmas Eve - with almost 3,000 people expected at each. A special Crib Service on Christmas Eve, where younger members of the congregation are invited to dress as shepherds and angels, sees approximately 1,000 parents and children enjoying being part of a ‘living Nativity scene’.

An Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey conducted earlier this year suggested that four in 10 people went to church at some point during Advent or Christmas last year, broadly in line with figures seen in each of 2005 and 2003. The most recent figure (39 per cent) is significantly above that seen just after the turn of the millennium when, in 2001, ORB recorded a figure of 33 per cent.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advertisements for Medical Devices, Implants Should Carry Warnings of Dangerous Side Effects, Infections

Consumers Union petitions FDA to require clearer warnings on DTC device ads

WASHINGTON, DC - December 17 -- Consumers Union has filed a petition with the FDA requesting it require all advertisements for implantable devices – such as knee, hip and heart valve replacements, cosmetic implants and heart stents – carry a warning about the possibility of dangerous infections or failures of the devices once they are in the body.

Implantable device makers recently have launched a wave of direct-to-consumer advertisements for their products, and Consumers Union said a review of these ads show that most lack basic information about the possibility of severe or fatal side effects.

“There is no question that many of these devices can restore high quality-of-life in patients, but we are concerned that serious and possibly deadly side effects like infections are consistently understated in these device ads,” said Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

“We’re asking the FDA to require clear warnings about the dangers of infection during and following such surgery, and information about how long the devices are likely to last once they are in the body,” Vaughan said.

Click here to read the full petition to the FDA.

In light of the rising rate of MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections for surgical patients, CU is requesting device advertisements disclose the potential risk of infection and urge patients to ask their doctor and hospital about infection rates at the facility where the surgery will be performed. Nearly 100,000 people die each year from hospital-acquired infections, and CU is supporting national infection-reporting and prevention legislation (HR 1174, HR 4214 and S 2278).

The Centers for Disease Control infection surveillance report shows hip and knee prosthesis surgery to be a serious source of infection, in some cases a high-risk source, and in some of the reporting hospitals, the infection rate may run as high as 5 percent or more.

Another recent study of 2003 nationwide data for primary total, partial, and revision hip replacements found the rates of readmission for any cause within 90 days of surgery ran between 9 percent for total replacement to 21 percent for partial.

“We do not want to discourage those in pain and facing loss of mobility from seeking out medical advice on implants. But we do believe that unintended side effects, which can include death, can be minimized if the public is better educated to avoid facilities which are not practicing the highest level of anti-infection practices,” Vaughan said.

“Placing information about the danger of infection from surgery in device advertisements will speed the day that America’s surgical centers and hospitals address this life-and-death problem,” he added.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Indiana University discovers 1699 Captain Kidd Shipwreck

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Resting in less than 10 feet of Caribbean seawater, the wreckage of Quedagh Merchant, the ship abandoned by the scandalous 17th century pirate Captain William Kidd as he raced to New York in an ill-fated attempt to clear his name, has escaped discovery -- until now.

An underwater archaeology team from Indiana University announced today (Dec. 13) the discovery of the remnants. IU marine protection authority Charles Beeker said his team has been licensed to study the wreckage and to convert the site into an underwater preserve, where it will be accessible to the public.

Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said it is remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years given its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, and because it has been sought actively by treasure hunters.

"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," Beeker said. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."

The find is valuable because of the potential to reveal important information about piracy in the Caribbean and about the legendary Capt. Kidd, said John Foster, California's state underwater archaeologist, who is participating in the research.

"I look forward to a meticulous study of the ship, its age, its armament, its construction, its use, its contents and the reconstructed wrecking process that resulted in the site we see today," Foster said. "Because there is extensive, written documentation, this is an opportunity we rarely have to test historic information against the archaeological record."

Historians differ on whether Kidd was actually a pirate or a privateer -- someone who captured pirates. After his conviction of piracy and murder charges in a sensational London trial, he was left to hang over the River Thames for two years.

Historians write that Kidd captured the Quedagh Merchant, loaded with valuable satins and silks, gold, silver and other East Indian merchandise, but left the ship in the Caribbean as he sailed to New York on a less conspicuous sloop to clear his name of the criminal charges.

Anthropologist Geoffrey Conrad, director of IU Bloomington's Mathers Museum of World Cultures, said the men Kidd entrusted with his ship reportedly looted it, and then set it ablaze and adrift down the Rio Dulce. Conrad said the location of the wreckage and the formation and size of the canons, which had been used as ballast, are consistent with historical records of the ship. They also found pieces of several anchors under the cannons.

"All the evidence that we find underwater is consistent with what we know from historical documentation, which is extensive," Conrad said. "Through rigorous archeological investigations, we will conclusively prove that this is the Capt. Kidd shipwreck."

The IU team examined the shipwreck at the request of the Dominican Republic's Oficina Nacional De Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático.

"The site was initially discovered by a local prominent resident of Casa De Campo, who recognized the significance of the numerous cannons and requested the site be properly investigated," said ONPCS Technical Director Francis Soto. "So, I contacted IU."

Beeker and Conrad have worked closely with ONPCS for 11 years since they began conducting underwater and land-based archaeological research related to the era when the Old World and New World first met.

"It continues our work down there from the age of discovery to the golden age of piracy, the transformation of both the native and introduced cultures of the Caribbean," Conrad said.

Much of their work is focused in the area of La Isabela Bay, the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement established by Christopher Columbus. The Taino were the first indigenous people to interact with Europeans. Beeker said much of the history of this period is based on speculation, something he and Conrad are trying to change.

The IU research in the Dominican Republic typically involves professors and graduate students from various IU Bloomington schools and departments, including the School of HPER, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and the departments of anthropology, biology, geology and mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Anthropology doctorate student Fritz Hanselmann, who teaches underwater archaeology techniques in HPER, said there have only been a few pirate ships ever discovered in the Americas, and that IU's multi-disciplinary research will make a significant contribution to the field.

HPER Dean Robert M. Goodman accompanied the most recent expedition to learn more about this successful interdisciplinary and international research collaboration. He also went to explore potential public health linkages between the School of HPER and the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, founded in 1538. It is the largest university in the country and the oldest in the Americas.

"Indiana University is working to increase its international presence," Goodman said. "Earlier this month, the IU Board of Trustees was presented a strategic plan that calls for increased student and faculty participation in study abroad and international service learning programs, as well as the development of strategic international partnerships that support overseas study, global research and the recruitment of international students.

"The archeological work being done by IU in the Dominican Republic affords us tremendous entrée for wider areas of collaboration," he said. "Because of the network that Mr. Beeker and Dr. Conrad have established, the Universidad Autonóma de Santo Domingo is eager to establish a formal agreement with IU. We met with the secretary of state for environment and national resources, the dean of faculties of health sciences at the university, representatives from USAID, and the president of the hotel association, all of whom are eager to foster relationships between IU and agencies of the Dominican Republic. This was an incredibly productive trip for IU."

Beeker and his students have conducted underwater research projects on submerged ships, cargo and other cultural and biological resources throughout the United States and the Caribbean for more than 20 years. Many of his research projects have resulted in the establishment of state or federal underwater parks and preserves, and have led to a number of site nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury Announces Appointment of New Representative to Holy See

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome are delighted to announce the appointment of the Very Revd David Richardson (Pictured Left) as the Archbishop’s Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Centre. David Richardson is Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne Australia and was previously Dean of St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide. David Richardson succeeds the Right Reverend John Flack, former Suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon, as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative in the Holy See. Bishop John retires in February. David Richardson will take up his appointment after Easter.

Dr Williams congratulated David Richardson on his appointment: "I am delighted that someone of David Richardson's stature will be carrying forward the much-valued work of his predecessor, Bishop John Flack. His role at this important time builds on four decades of dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. It will be exercised in the context of the ‘many area of witness and service" which call for "closer co-operation between us’, as Pope Benedict and I affirmed in our Common Declaration last year."

David Richardson responded saying "I am delighted to accept this appointment and honoured that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Governors of the Anglican Centre have placed this trust in me.

I am also very pleased that this means the Anglican Church of Australia is able to be represented at this key level of the vitally important area of ecumenism.

Archbishop Rowan and Pope Benedict are two of the great spiritual and intellectual visionaries of our time - men of profound intelligence, learning and holiness - and I am looking forward very much to doing whatever I can in this position to work with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Lambeth Palace in the cause of the Gospel and our shared ecumenical endeavour. I am also looking forward to promoting through the work of the Anglican Centre mutual understanding at every level, particularly in areas of divergent views, and to strengthening the bonds of affection and trust between our two communions.

David was born in 1955 in Queensland but spent most of his childhood in North Devon and then the Midlands where his father worked as a priest. David finished his schooling in Brisbane.

After studying English literature at the University of Queensland, David trained in theology at St Barnabas’ College in Adelaide, Melbourne College of Divinity and then received his postgraduate diploma in Pastoral Theology at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

David remained in the UK and served his curacy at Great St Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge whilst also becoming a chaplain at Girton College in the university from 1976-1979. He then returned to St Barnabas’ theological college as Sub-Warden where he taught New Testament Studies, Liturgy and Pastoral Care & Spirituality until 1982.

For the next five years, David was the Rector of St Lucia’s in Brisbane. In 1988 David was invited to become the Dean of St Peter’s cathedral in Adelaide at which he served for eleven years before becoming the Dean of St Paul’s in 1999. Being responsible for two major cathedrals, David has worked with local and national civic leaders and with leaders of other Christian and faith traditions as well as nurturing the life of two major centres of Christian worship.

David’s early interest in the world-wide church has been fostered by his experience of being for ten years the clerical representative for Australia on the Anglican Consultative Council (1992-2002). For the last twenty-five years he has also served on the Australian National Liturgical Commission and was its Executive Secretary for fifteen years. David also served for fifteen years on the ecumenical body, the Australian Consultation on Liturgy.

David is married to Margie, a clinical psychologist. They have two grown up children, Emma and Tom.

The Anglican Centre in Rome

The Anglican Centre in Rome was founded in 1966 with the encouragement of Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI. The Centre enables Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue at every level and encourages the formation of lasting friendships between leading Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The Centre gives opportunities for Roman Catholics to learn more about the Anglican tradition and Anglicans to learn about the Roman Church. A place of study, for groups and individuals, the Centre offers hospitality, dialogue and prayer in the search for unity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Citing Destruction of Torture Tapes, ACLU Asks Court to Hold CIA in Contempt

WASHINGTON - December 12 -The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion asking a federal judge to hold the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in contempt, charging that the agency flouted a court order when it destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of prisoners in its custody. In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the ACLU and other organizations in October 2003 and May 2004, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody. Despite the court’s ruling, the CIA never produced the tapes or even acknowledged their existence. Last week, in anticipation of media reports concerning the tapes, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly acknowledged that the CIA had made the tapes in 2002 but destroyed them in 2005.

“The CIA’s secret destruction of these tapes displays a flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It must be sanctioned for violating the court’s order and the obligation to preserve records that fell within the scope of our Freedom of Information Act requests.”

The tapes, which showed CIA operatives subjecting suspects to extremely harsh interrogation methods, should have been identified and processed for the ACLU in response to its FOIA request demanding information on the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. The tapes were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, appointed by President Bush and Congress, which had formally requested that the CIA hand over transcripts and recordings documenting the interrogation of CIA prisoners.

“These tapes were clearly responsive to the Freedom of Information Act requests that we filed in 2003 and 2004, and accordingly the CIA was under a legal obligation to produce the tapes to us or to provide a legal justification for withholding them,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “By destroying these tapes, the CIA violated the statute as well as an order of the court. In the circumstances, it would be entirely appropriate for the court to hold the agency in contempt.”

The motion filed today relates to a lawsuit that was filed in 2004 to enforce a FOIA request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. The ACLU brought the FOIA lawsuit with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.

The motion filed today asks the court to hold the CIA in contempt; to require the CIA to produce a complete list of all records that fall within the scope of the FOIA requests that have been destroyed (including tapes); and to require the CIA to file with the court a detailed written description of the substance of the destroyed tapes.

“The interrogation techniques employed by our government raise fundamental questions of human rights and decency,” said Arthur Eisenberg, New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director. “The CIA cannot avoid those questions by simply destroying the evidence.”

The ACLU brief and related legal documents are available online at:

Many of these documents are also contained and summarized in Administration of Torture, a recently published book by Jaffer and Singh. More information is available online at:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

San Joaquin votes to leave Episcopal Church, realign with Southern Cone

Some delegates vow to 'Remain Episcopal'; Presiding Bishop comments on action

By Pat McCaughan, December 08, 2007

[Episcopal News Service, Fresno, California] Delegates attending the 48th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin on Saturday, December 8, overwhelmingly voted to leave the Episcopal Church and to align with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield asked for a moment of silence in deference to those who opposed the change, reminding the gathering that he "knows what it feels like to be a minority" before the vote tallies were read. The results, by orders were: 70-12 clergy and 103-10 vote in the lay order to effectively remove all references to the Episcopal Church from its constitution and describe the diocese as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury."

"The Episcopal Church receives with sadness the news that some members of this church have made a decision to leave this church," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the Diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership."

"This is a historic moment...a vote for freedom," Schofield had told the gathering of about 88 clergy and 113 lay delegates meeting at St. James Cathedral in Fresno. He reminded the gathering that the diocese as a whole was realigning and said that clergy who rejected the move had time to discern whether or not to accept the invitation to join the Southern Cone.

The vote was taken after about 30 minutes of emotional debate, often interrupted by applause.

Samantha Bland, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Riverbank called upon delegates to focus on teen pregnancy, soaring foreclosure rates, methamphetamine addiction and dwindling resources plaguing Central Valley congregations "instead of this distraction."

"I have yet to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury say the Episcopal Church is not part of the Anglican Communion. I have not heard that we as an Episcopal Church have not reported back" about the Windsor Report. "I ask for us to look into our hearts and take care of our communities and remember the parishioners we're here to represent."

Another congregant, who asked not to be named, said the vote was ironically "a good thing. We can get on with our ministry, now that this diocese is free of this poison," she said, referring to the rancor surrounding the issue of leaving.

To vote otherwise, Schofield told delegates in his convention address a day earlier, would effectively signal his retirement within two years, by General Convention 2009 "with no reasonable hope for an orthodox successor" and a return to "where we were before last December's convention. Canon laws will be introduced to make it impossible for dioceses and persons to leave."

Although the move makes San Joaquin the first diocese in the nation to complete a legislative process seeking separation from the Episcopal Church, Schofield predicted that more dioceses will follow. Flanked by Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and Bolivia Bishop Frank Lyons from the Southern Cone province, Schofield told a gathering of reporters December 7 that the consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003 was merely a "flashpoint" for those who had had "enough because of the liberal theology of the Episcopal Church."

"Those who want to remain Episcopalians but reject the biblical standards of morality, the ultimate authority of the Bible, and the biblical revelation of God to us in His Son the only savior of mankind, will in the end be left solely with a name and a bureaucratic structure," he said.

The central California-based diocese represents about 8,500 Episcopalians in 47 congregations, at least five of whom Schofield predicted will opt to remain with the Episcopal Church.

Nancy Key, a co-founder of 'Remain Episcopal,' said those who wished to remain in the Episcopal Church have felt marginalized and maligned.

"It feels like spiritual violence," said Key, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Fresno, which has chosen to remain within the Episcopal Church. "All we want to do is be in the Episcopal Church that actively ordains women and is inclusive," she said. San Joaquin is among three dioceses that refuse to ordain or deploy women priests. The others are Fort Worth and the Peoria, Illinois-based Diocese of Quincy.

Schofield characterized Venables' invitation to align with the Province of the Southern Cone as a "Godsend" for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, allowing for disagreeing factions to still remain within the Anglican Communion. The Province of the Southern Cone has about 22,000 members and encompasses Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

Lyons also told reporters that Williams approved of the new affiliation and described it as "a sensible way forward."

But, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion secretary general, disagreed. "I would be surprised to hear that the Archbishop would formally support such a development which is contrary to the Windsor Report," he said in a November 27, 2007 letter to a Fort Worth delegate who had asked for verification of similar assertions Lyons made during the Texas diocese's November 17 convention.

Delegates to the Fort Worth diocese's 25th convention also gave the first of two approvals to dissociate from the Episcopal Church. Similarly, Pittsburgh delegates on November 2 voted for realignment. Delegates at Quincy's October 20-21 annual synod, however, chose to remain with the Episcopal Church, at least for the immediate future.

Schofield said San Joaquin congregations wishing to remain with the national church may retain their property, as long as they don't owe the diocese money. "I just wish the Episcopal Church was as generous in the other direction," he said.

He said that nothing will change immediately as the diocese waits to see what, if any, action the Presiding Bishop will take. "On Monday, the doors won't be locked."

After chancellor Kenneth VanRozeboom's lengthy report to convention detailing the legal implications of the move, Schofield said the diocese is monitoring the decision in the property disputes between the Diocese of Los Angeles and four breakaway churches, awaiting a hearing before the California Supreme Court.

He characterized such litigation as being "like cannibalism, like Christians eating each other. Christians should not be taking Christians to court," he said. Regardless of the outcome in Los Angeles, the future remains murky because that decision involves "churches, not dioceses." Schofield concluded that any litigation "will be a fairly long, drawn-out process."

In June, the Executive Council, the governing body of the Episcopal Church between meetings of General Convention, warned that actions by Episcopal Church dioceses that change their constitutions in an attempt to bypass the Church's Constitution and Canons are "null and void."

During an exchange of letters prior to convention, Jefferts Schori had advised Schofield that approval of the constitutional changes would "implicitly reject the Church's property and other canons."

Regarding the diocese's intention to affiliate with the Southern Cone, she said: "If you continue along this path…it will be necessary to ascertain whether you have in fact abandoned the communion of this church, and violated your own vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church."

If Schofield is considered to have abandoned the communion of the church, he would have two months to recant his position. Failing to do so, the matter would be referred to the full House of Bishops. If the House were to concur, the Presiding Bishop would depose the bishops and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. Those remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary.

An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

And that's how Nancy Key and other "loyalists" intend to proceed, she said. The group, "Remain Episcopal" will convene immediately after the close of San Joaquin's convention to strategize.

"We are prepared to work with the Episcopal Church to reconstitute our diocese," she said. "I feel this is what we are called to do. I am so convinced of this."

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan, a correspondent for Episcopal News Service, is associate for parish life at St. George's Church and Academy in Laguna Hills, California.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Episcopal Church Diocese of San Joaquin Threatens Breakaway

The AP reported today that:

FRESNO, Calif. - Headed into a critical vote, an Episcopal diocese in central California is poised to split with the national denomination over what its bishop sees as the threat of moral decay in the church.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is expected to vote by Saturday to secede from the U.S. church, becoming the first full diocese to do so because of a conservative-liberal rift that began decades ago and is now focused on whether the Bible condemns gay relationships.

An affirmative vote would place San Joaquin under the leadership of a like-minded, conservative Anglican diocese in Argentina. It is almost certain to spark a court fight over control of the diocese's multimillion-dollar real estate holdings and other assets.

In a letter to parishioners, Bishop John-David Schofield said "those who claim they want to remain Episcopalians but reject the biblical standards of morality ... will — in the end — be left solely with a name and a bureaucratic structure."

The head of the U.S. denomination has warned Schofield against secession.

"I do not need to remind you as well of the potential consequences of the direction in which you appear to be leading the Diocese of San Joaquin," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the U.S. denomination, wrote in a letter Monday to him. "I do not intend to threaten you, only to urge you to reconsider and draw back from this trajectory."

Schofield responded that the diocese would go forward with the vote during its annual convention, which starts Friday. He all but predicted that delegates would choose to break with the Episcopal Church, the U.S. member of the global Anglican Communion.

The complete story may be found here:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Federal Court Ruling Upholds Separation of Church and State

WASHINGTON - December 3 - A federal appeals court today ruled that tax funding of an evangelical Christian rehabilitation program at an Iowa state prison violates the separation of church and state and must end.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that government support for the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at Newton Correctional Facility -- a program operated by Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries -- advances religious indoctrination at state expense. Americans United brought the litigation against InnerChange on behalf of inmates, their families and taxpayers.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, hailed the ruling.

"This is an extremely important decision," said Lynn. "Government officials have no business paying for religious indoctrination and awarding special treatment and benefits to those willing to embrace one religious perspective.

"Government should not single out a particular religion for special treatment," Lynn continued. "You simply cannot give government funds to a religious group for its evangelism program."

Added AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, "This ruling is a major setback for the White House’s ‘Faith-Based Initiative.’ It reaffirms that the government must ensure that public funds are not used for religious instruction, and that the government must not aid programs that discriminate based on religion.”

Americans United presented evidence that inmates who took part in InnerChange were given better treatment and perks that were not available to others, including better housing and expedited access to classes required for parole. During its investigation of the program, AU discovered that InnerChange was saturated with evangelical Christianity and that staff members were frequently hostile to other faiths.

At trial, inmates testified that they were pressured to convert to evangelical Christianity, and that the beliefs of Roman Catholics and other faiths were ridiculed. The court record showed that non-Christians were frequently referred to as "unsaved," "lost," "pagan" and "sinful" by InnerChange staff. The program required staffers to abide by an evangelical statement of faith.

In a unanimous decision joined by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the appeals court upheld a lower court ruling issued on June 2, 2006, except that it reversed a portion of the lower court ruling that required InnerChange to return funds it received prior to June 2006. InnerChange will still need to return funds it received after the June 2006 ruling.

The decision states: "In the present case, plaintiffs demonstrated . . . that the InnerChange program resulted in inmate enrollment in a program dominated by Bible study, Christian classes, religious revivals, and church services."

The opinion concluded that the state’s “direct aid to InnerChange violated the Establishment clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions.”

Corrections officials in other states have considered adopting InnerChange. Lynn said today's ruling should bring those plans to a screeching halt.

The lead trial counsel in the case was Americans United’s Senior Litigation Counsel Luchenitser. The trial team also included AU Litigation Counsel Heather L. Weaver and Iowa constitutional law attorney Dean Stowers. Luchenitser also presented the oral argument to the appeals court on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

PHR Opposes Proposed US Travel Restrictions for People with AIDS on Human Rights Grounds, Calls for Complete Lifting of US HIV 'Travel Ban'

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS - November 30 - Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) opposes proposed regulations developed by the Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security that would increase the obstacles for people living with HIV who seek to visit the United States. Since the travel ban is a US law, PHR is calling on the White House and Congress to lift US HIV travel restrictions entirely. Organizations have until December 6, 2007 to register comments to the Department of Homeland Security about the proposed changes to regulations governing the law. Under pressure from public health experts, China has recently agreed to drop its own travel ban against people with HIV. The current US rules have been opposed by over 200 health groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the World Health Organization.. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would appoint a commission to examine public health aspects of the US travel restrictions against people with HIV, the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007.

Renowned AIDS physician, researcher, and PHR Health Action AIDS Campaign advisor Paul Volberding, MD, made the following statement regarding the proposed regulations:

"In 1990, I was the co-chair of the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco and President of the International AIDS Society. Because of this misguided US policy, the IAS decided to never again allow the US to host this important scientific meeting until the travel restrictions were changed. The proposed new rules, if anything, make the restrictions even more discriminatory. For the US, which has assumed a laudable leadership role in HIV science and global treatment, to impose such an uninformed, misguided and unnecessary policy on our visitors is more than unfortunate. While our citizens can and do travel to other countries for pleasure and business without restrictions, we erect discriminatory barriers against those from other countries for a chronic, treatable disease that is not casually spread. It's past time for political decisions to be informed by the very science our own government has so appropriately supported."

PHR Health Action AIDS Campaign Director Pat Daoust, MSN, RN said, "If we are ever to effectively address HIV/AIDS from a public health perspective, we must first abolish all discriminatory practices against those infected with HIV. The travel ban is nothing more than a continuation of misunderstood, and offensive, practices that violate human rights and contribute to the stigma that fuels this pandemic."

Under the current regulations, it is possible for HIV-positive visitors to seek a "waiver" to the HIV ban, allowing them to visit the US for no longer than 30 days. Such waivers right now are capriciously granted and difficult to obtain; the visitor's passport is permanently stamped to indicate that the bearer is HIV positive. New regulations would require the visitor to demonstrate that they have no HIV symptoms, can supply evidence that the danger they pose to public health is minimal, and that they have an adequate supply of medication for their trip. Under the current system and proposed regulations, they must also prove that they have been counseled about how HIV is transmitted, and show that they have adequate funding to pay for any medical care they may require. Such stipulations are not placed on visitors with heart conditions and other costly medical problems. PHR said that the current law, and the proposed regulations, violate the human rights to freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and privacy. "There are no valid public health grounds for the restrictions, which were originally established during the late 1980s by the Reagan administration," said Daoust.

If a person does become gravely ill while visiting the US with expenses that he or she can't cover, under the new regulations the person could be barred for life from entering the US again.