Church reformers have second thoughts on pope

To many advocates of reform in the Catholic church, the election of conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope in April 2005 was a blow to hopes the Vatican would change positions on gender, sexuality, divorce, and the church hierarchy.

Yet the result encouraged three prominent reformers who were appointed to a U.S. bishops' National Review Board. The three American Catholics -- a judge, an attorney and a newspaper publisher -- were concerned mainly with the clergy sex scandal.

They had met with Ratzinger in his Vatican office in 2004 for an extensive discussion on the cover-ups of clergy sex abuse of children, and came to view Ratzinger as the best churchman anywhere on the issue. A year later, when he became Pope Benedict XVI, they were often quoted praising him in American news articles.

But that was then.

The recent clamor over media revelations about two priests whose abuse cases were adjudicated under Ratzinger's watch have led two of the three panel members who met with Ratzinger to reconsider their views.

Bishops' views don't always find favor among laity

NEWARK, N.J. -- With their high-priority issues prominent on national agendas, Catholic clergy have been unusually active in politics. Bishops in New Jersey and elsewhere have been especially vocal on matters such as same-sex marriage, national health care and illegal immigration.

Yet polls show that when Catholic bishops press their positions with politicians on such issues, they often do so without the support of large segments of the lay people in their dioceses.

Regarding same-sex marriage -- which the bishops oppose and which the New Jersey Legislature rejected in January after intense debate -- American Catholics are divided, polls have shown. On health care reform, a majority appear to disagree with the bishops' position that no health care bill is acceptable if federal money can be used to pay for abortions. On immigration reform, a third disagree with bishops' call to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, according to a recent Zogby poll.

Critics of religious influence on politics point to the disparities and argue religious leaders are speaking for themselves and for their faith's official teachings, not for those in their pews.

Priest says he had permission to allow Maher to film in church

The pastor of a Catholic church, facing criticism from his archbishop for letting comedian Bill Maher film part of his movie "Religulous" there, said he actually had been given advance permission by the archdiocese to do so.

The contention by the Rev. Charles Grandstrand came after reports that Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark was upset that the priest let Maher shoot the scene on church property at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.

The controversial movie derides organized religion of all kinds. Myers' spokesman, James Goodness, had said he had told Grandstrand not to let Maher film there because the archdiocese forbids commercial filming on its property.

Grandstrand had not responded to requests for an interview.

But on Thursday (Oct. 16), in a letter to the editor of The Star-Ledger, Grandstrand wrote that Goodness had told the church's administrative assistant that it would be all right to let Maher talk to his mother in the church, which the Maher family attended decades ago. He said Goodness told the church to reject the production company's request to film a Mass.

Top archbishop suggests ways to deal with abusive priests

NEWARK, N.J. -- A top U.S. archbishop, recently named to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said the panel of cardinals and bishops could help resolve a key issue in the clergy sex abuse scandal: how to remove priests from ministry who abused children decades ago.

Under the church's Code of Canon Law, the statute of limitation for clergy sex abuse of minors expires 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday. In older cases, a bishop can ask the Vatican to bypass that rule, but Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., said he wants to explore ways for bishops to act in such matters without asking Rome.

One possibility for these older cases, Myers said, would be a canon law change that treats molestation and sexual abuse of minors more as an illness than as a violation requiring a penalty. That would allow a bishop to more easily deem these priests unfit for ministry, he said.