NASHVILLE (BP) -- As Roman Catholic leaders gather to elect a successor to Pope Benedict, a key American cardinal said two priorities the next pope will have to address are the growing irrelevance of the church and the rising threat to religious liberty in First World nations.
In an interview with Reuters in Rome, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose name has circulated as a candidate for pope, said Roman Catholicism faces a serious challenge from an increasing number of people who believe in God but desire no connection to the church.
"We hear that more and more people have absolutely no problem with faith, but they do with religion," Dolan said. "... More and more people don't see the need for the church."
The Catholic Church in recent years has been plagued by sex abuse scandals, and in many ways Western culture has forsaken formality, evidence of which includes many churches, Catholic and otherwise. The emphasis on rituals in the Catholic Church is less appealing than for previous generations, reports have indicated.
Dolan also told Reuters the Catholic Church should become more active in fighting religious persecution against people of all faiths internationally. At a recent gathering of bishops, the creation of a Vatican office to monitor religious liberty violations was suggested.
"If people are persecuted anywhere for their religious belief, they should be able to look to the Catholic Church as a major defender," Dolan said. The Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion members, is by far the world's largest church, Reuters noted.
Dolan has led opposition to the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate, the news service said, and he believes the proposed religious liberty office at the Vatican should monitor violations that "take place not in Third World countries but in First World countries."
"There seems to be a pretty well-oiled choreography to reduce religion and faith to the excessively private and where religion may have absolutely no public witness and voice in the public square," Dolan said. "That's another subtle form of religious persecution."
FLA. COLLEGE FORBIDS INTERVARSITY BIBLE STUDY -- Rollins College in Florida shut down an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Bible study in the common area of a dorm suite, saying the study violated rules, Fox News reported March 1.
Four students affiliated with InterVarsity were holding an informal Bible study when a resident hall assistant took the leader aside and told him such studies were no longer allowed in the dorm, since InterVarsity was no longer registered on campus, Fox reported.
The incident occurred in the midst of a battle over religious freedom at Rollins, which decided in February that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship violates the school's nondiscrimination policy by limiting group leadership to Christians.
"The principles of the nondiscrimination policy, which are at the heart of the educational process, are inconsistent with allowing exceptions for student organizations," the college said in a statement excluding the group. "Such exemptions would be inconsistent with the processes of learning and growth that the College seeks to foster."
InterVarsity is no longer recognized as an official campus group and no longer receives university funding because it refused to comply with the policy.
A Rollins spokesperson, however, said the dorm incident was simply a miscommunication.
"No group is allowed to hold meetings in the common space of residence halls. A fraternity was recently in violation of this as well, and they were asked to meet elsewhere -- so it was not just InterVarsity," the Rollins spokesperson said, according to Fox.
Greg Jao, InterVarsity's national field director, took the matter to the college's student affairs office.
"We pointed out that Christian students holding a Bible study is a little bit different than a fraternity sponsoring a kegger in a dorm," Jao told Fox. "If students want to have a Bible study they should be free to do so."
Earlier this year, the University of Michigan banned InterVarsity's Asian chapter over the same issue but changed its decision in response to alumni outrage, according to news reports.
Last year, 14 Christian groups including the Baptist Collegiate Ministry left Vanderbilt University in Nashville rather than comply with demands to change their bylaws to allow non-Christian leaders.
SURROGATE MOTHER REFUSES $10,000 FOR ABORTION -- A surrogate mother refused to abort the baby she was carrying despite a $10,000 offer from the girl's parents, according to CNN.
Crystal Kelley, a single mother who lived in a suburb of Hartford, Conn., agreed to have a baby for a couple who wanted a fourth child but could no longer have one. She desired to help someone with fertility problems, but she also needed the $22,000 payment, CNN reported March 5.
Kelley became pregnant with a girl after two frozen embryos conceived by in vitro fertilization were transferred to her uterus in October 2011.
Her pregnancy and her relationship with the parents went well until an ultrasound in February 2012, when she was 21 weeks pregnant, showed the child had a cleft lip and palate, a brain cyst and a complicated heart condition that would require several surgeries after birth. The baby's opportunity for a "normal life" was only about 25 percent, doctors said.
The parents, who were not identified by CNN, wanted Kelley to have an abortion, but she refused. The couple met with Kelley and sought to persuade her to change her mind.
"I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do," Kelley told CNN. "I told them it wasn't their decision to play God."
After the couple offered her $10,000 to have an abortion, Kelley's longtime opposition to abortion almost collapsed. She had lost her job as a nanny shortly before becoming a surrogate and could have used the money. After wavering, she rejected the offer, however.
When Kelley declined, the couple informed her they -- as the legal parents in Connecticut -- would take their daughter after her birth and give custody of her to the state. Kelley didn't want the baby in foster care, so she and her daughters moved in April to Michigan, a state where she would be the legal mother because the state does not recognize surrogacy agreements.
Kelley asked a couple with special needs children to adopt the baby girl, and they agreed. Baby S., as the little girl has come to be known, was born in June with even more health complications than expected. At eight months of age, she has undergone open heart surgery and faces other operations.
The couple who wanted Kelley to abort reached an agreement that enables them to be in contact with the adoptive parents and visit Baby S.
Kelley told CNN she believes she made the right choice.
"No one else was feeling this pregnancy the way that I was. No one else could feel her kicking and moving around inside," she said. "I knew from the beginning that this little girl had an amazing fighting spirit, and whatever challenges were thrown at her, she would go at them with every ounce of spirit that she could possibly have.
"No matter what anybody told me, I became her mother."
40 DAYS REPORTS 275 BABIES SPARED SO FAR -- The latest 40 Days for Life campaign has reported 275 unborn children spared from abortion just past its midway point.
The 40 Days website provided that total March 6 on the 22nd day of its spring effort, which began Feb. 13 and will conclude March 24. Each semi-annual campaign focuses on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. Volunteers in the latest effort are participating at 261 locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Poland, Spain and, for the first time, Russia, Nigeria, South Africa and Wales.
Recent reports to the 40 Days staff have included:
-- Vigil participants at a Glendale, Ariz., site witnessed 10 "turnarounds" -- women changing their minds -- in a week at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
-- Volunteers at a Columbus, Ga., vigil reported three unborn babies were spared in the same day -- the first time that has happened at that location.
-- A Eugene, Ore., abortion clinic, which has been the site of eight 40 Days vigils, closed. The 40 Days volunteers planned to move their vigil to a Planned Parenthood clinic to which the now-closed Bours Health Center is referring clients.
MURDER TRIAL OF ABORTION DOCTOR BEGINS IN PHILADELPHIA -- The murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 4 in Philadelphia.
Juror selection opened the trial, which is to decide the fate of Gosnell, 72, who has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman who died during a 2009 abortion. The trial is expected to take six to eight weeks, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia, a grand jury reported in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell -- or another staff member in his absence -- would jab scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cut the spinal cord, according to the grand jury. Gosnell called the killing of these children "snipping."
He destroyed most of the files, limiting prosecution to only seven cases, the grand jury reported.
Gosnell could receive a death sentence if he is found guilty of first-degree murder, according to The Inquirer.
A February 2010 raid of the clinic found deplorable conditions, which resulted in its closing and Gosnell's medical license being suspended.
BELGIUM LEGISLATURE CONSIDERS EUTHANASIA FOR MINORS -- Belgian lawmakers are considering whether to expand legalized euthanasia to include children 18 years of age or younger.
Euthanasia already is being practiced on minors, an expert told legislators, according to Agence France-Presse, which based its Feb. 20 article on reporting by the Belga news agency.
"We all know it," and physicians "need a legal framework," said Dominique Biarent, who oversees the intensive care unit at Queen Fabiola Children's University Hospital in Brussels.
Pro-life blogger Wesley Smith criticized Biarent's call for legal guidelines.
"Euthanasia guidelines are worse than meaningless, they are pretense," Smith wrote on his blog. "They exist to give the illusion of control. But once people come fully accept the premise of euthanasia -- killing as a remedy for suffering -- it's Katy bar the door."
Belgium became the second country to legalize euthanasia in 2002. The Netherlands preceded it.
FORMER CONGRESSMAN RENEWS SUIT AGAINST PRO-LIFE ORGANIZATION -- Former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus has appealed the dismissal of his defamation lawsuit against the pro-life Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List.
Driehaus made his appeal Feb. 21 to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, less than a month after federal judge Timothy Black threw out his suit.
In 2010 election campaign ads in Driehaus' Ohio district, SBA List said the Democrat congressman voted for taxpayer-funded abortion in supporting the health care legislation enacted earlier that year. Driehaus denied the measure, widely known as Obamacare, funded abortions and sued the organization for defamation.
The SBA List and the country's other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed with Driehaus, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. The National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops undergirded their positions in detailed documents.
"It is frustrating to see this ex-Congressman once again using the court system to drain valuable resources and staff time, especially knowing that he should never have started this legal battle in the first place," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said of Driehaus' appeal.
Driehaus, who described himself as pro-life, lost the 2010 election to Republican Steve Chabot, whom the Democrat had defeated in 2008.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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