Faith-based centers find an "unlevel playing field"
A new study as part of President Bush's faith-based initiative reveals that a "repressive and restrictive" federal grants process actually does more to discourage faith and community-based services from applying for funds than to encourage them. In fact, federal officials and needlessly burdensome regulations "actively undermine the established civil rights of these groups."

In the first month of his presidency, Bush created five Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within various federal departments—Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development—and charged each to conduct department-wide audits to identify barriers that prevent religious groups from taking part in government programs. This combined report, "Unlevel Playing Field" (Bush's statement | pdf), was released yesterday.

According to the report, a there is a widespread bias against faith and community-based organizations which:

· Restricts some religious groups from applying for funding

· Restricts religious organizations that are not prohibited by the constitution

· Does not honor the rights given to religious organizations under federal law

· Burdens small organizations with cumbersome regulations and requirements

The survey presents Bush with another weapon in the fight for his faith-based plans. Until now, efforts to push faith-based initiative legislation through Congress have traveled a bumpy road. Last month, the House passed a limited bill allowing charities to receive federal money while maintaining their religious character.

The survey found that agency officials and their rules—and not the law—cause most of the cited problems. Thus, faith-based initiative officials suggest action could be taken by September to remove the unneeded administrative barriers that exist and they are currently studying ways to make it happen. The recommendations are due early next month.

Meanwhile, John J. DiIulio Jr., Director of the Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, announced yesterday that he's stepping down from the position because he has accomplished the goals he set out to do seven months ago. He pointed out that he had agreed all along to take the job for six months.

Rebels with a cause, the Mount St. Benedict nuns
A Pennsylvanian nun who broke silence on the ordination of women is still making headlines and still speaking out in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Time this week profiles Joan Chittister, the Mount St. Benedict nun, who earlier this spring attended the Dublin conference of Women's Ordination Worldwide—in defiance of a standing order from the Vatican calling for silence on the issue.

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According to The Irish Times, the renowned feminist and author told conference attendees:

The church that preaches the equality of women but does nothing to demonstrate it in its own structures, which proclaims a theology of equality but insists on an ecclesiology of superiority, is out of synch with its own best self and dangerously close to repeating the theological errors that underlay centuries of church-sanctioned slavery.

But getting there was half the battle for the 65-year-old nun. Once word got to Rome of Chittister's plans, the Vatican's Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life notified the St. Benedict prioress, Sister Christine Vladimiroff, that she was to forbid attendance at the conference and threaten punishment.

After traveling to Rome in May to meet with Vatican officials, Vladimiroff sought advice from religious leaders and the Mount St. Benedict sisters who call Erie, Pennsylvania, home. After hours of prayer, she decided to decline the request of the Vatican.

In a letter supporting Chittister, she wrote:

I do not see [Chittister's] participation in this conference as a "source of scandal to the faithful" as the Vatican alleges. I think the faithful can be scandalized when honest attempts to discuss questions of import to the church are forbidden.

I am trying to remain faithful to the role of the 1500-year-old monastic tradition within the larger Church … Benedictine communities of men and women were never intended to be part of the hierarchical or clerical status of the Church, but to stand apart from this structure and offer a different voice. Only if we do this can we live the gift that we are for the Church. Only in this way can we be faithful to the gift that women have within the Church.

Time reports that 127 of Mount St. Benedict's 128 nuns signed the letter, with 35 even pledging to share Chittister's punishment. But there was no punishment.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Chittister, a nun for 50 years, feels her actions come from the Benedictine tradition of standing against blind obedience. "I was not trying to be defiant," she said. "I was honestly, genuinely committed to the notion that silence and silencing is not good for the church."

Diplomats, go home
After arriving in Kabul on Tuesday to meet with Afghanistan's Taliban leaders about the fate of detained aid workers, foreign diplomats have spent three frustrating days in Kabul only now to be told their work there is done.

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While diplomats were only given short meetings, made to wait extended periods of time, and denied higher-level discussions, Afghan rulers made it clear yesterday that they will not allow access to the eight foreign workers and that the diplomats should return to Pakistan to monitor the situation. According to the BBC, the director of the Taliban consular department said, "Our meetings are finished. There is no need for them to stay any longer."

The diplomats from Australia, Germany, and the United States were given meetings with Taliban authorities on Tuesday and Wednesday, but for little gain. All requests to see the eight Shelter Germany workers (four German, two Australian, and two American) arrested on August 5 have been unproductive. Taliban rulers did allow bags of food, letters, and other items to be passed on to the prisoners.

The diplomats aren't turning tail though. They say they will stay in Kabul as long as they can. Their visas expire on August 21.

Smile, you're on
The creator of The Nuremberg Files is making fresh headlines—and enemies—with a new site along the same anti-abortion lines. allows Web users to view stills and video of anybody going in and out of abortion clinics in multiple states.

The site is another brainchild of Neal Horsley, founder of The Christian Gallery News Service, an anti-abortion rights group based in Georgia. In March, Horsley's Nuremberg Files site had a $109 million lawsuit overturned thanks to First Amendment protection.

ABC News reports that Horsley believes his newest endeavor has journalistic merit. "If they make it illegal for me to report the abortion story then the idea of a free press will have been completely overturned by judicial tyranny," he told ABC. "All I'm doing is reporting the news."

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