Roman Catholic Church in Scotland campaigns to stop gay marriage

The Roman Catholic Church has sent a letter to its parishes across Scotland protesting a political race to legalize same-sex marriage.

The letter was read Sunday by priests in 500 Catholic parishes urging Scotland's political leaders to "sustain rather than subvert marriage" and to reaffirm that "marriage is a unique, lifelong union between a man and a woman."

Scotland is caught up in a debate over whether it should become the first segment of Britain to legalize gay marriage, ahead of England and Wales.

After the letter was read out in churches Sunday, the Scottish government insisted it intends to legalize same-sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships because "it is the right thing to do."

The issue is still in the consultation stage in England and Wales.

The letter from the Scottish Catholic leadership was part of its latest drive to keep marriage in the province on a traditional path. It called on congregations "to pray for our elected leaders ... that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society."

Vicar sentenced for conducting sham marriages

LONDON -- A Church of England vicar has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for conducting hundreds of bogus weddings and illegally pocketing more than 30,000 pounds ($48,000) in fees.

The Rev. Brian Shipsides was convicted and sentenced Tuesday for carrying out a "meticulously planned and orchestrated" immigration fraud over a 2 1/2 period at All Saints Church in east London.

Authorities said the vicar conducted the fake marriages of non-Europeans, mostly Nigerians, to European partners to try to obtain immigration rights to stay in Britain.

Shipsides' conviction comes about 18 months after a similar marriage fraud case, in which another Anglican vicar, the Rev. Alex Brown, was sentenced to four years for conducting 360 sham weddings in southern England.

Shipsides was tried and convicted at the Inner London Crown Court, where Judge Peter Grobel described his actions as "a disgraceful abuse of your calling as an ordained minister of the church."

"There really is no mitigation in respect of this type of offending," Grobel added.

Richard Dawkins says he's not entirely sure God doesn't exist

LONDON -- A controversial Oxford University professor billed by many as the world's "most famous atheist" now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn't exist -- but just barely.

In a 100-minute debate with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Thursday, Richard Dawkins surprised his online and theater audiences by conceding a personal chink of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator.

But, to the amusement of the archbishop and others, the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was "6.9 out of seven" certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.

Replying to moderator Anthony Kenny, a noted English philosopher, Dawkins said, "I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing (is) very, very low."

Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion" and other best-sellers, is a leader of the "New Atheist" movement that aggressively challenges belief in God and criticizes harm done in the name of religion.

Same-sex couples can use British churches for ceremonies starting in December

LONDON -- The British government said Wednesday that same-sex couples will be allowed for the first time to use churches to seal their civil partnership vows, starting in December.

But the directive added that no religious group will be forced to conduct or host such a ceremony, and the Church of England quickly announced it would permit no such rites on its premises.

In a statement, the church said it "has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered" in its churches.

The government's equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, used a written statement to Parliament to announce that same-sex couples will be allowed to seal their vows in churches and other places of worship in England and Wales starting Dec. 5.

Civil partnership registrations have been entirely secular in Britain.

"The government is advancing equality for LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths," Featherstone said. But she added that "no religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration."