Is the Bethlehem standoff closer to resolution?
Twenty-six Palestinian civilians and police left the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. This was the first release of people inside the church since nine children left last week. Seventy-five in all people have now exited. While media accounts vary, there are between 140 and 240 Palestinian gunmen, policemen, civilians, and Christian clerics still inside.

Those released say conditions inside the Church of the Nativity are not good. One said people are eating the leaves of lemon trees for nourishment. Some have lost the strength to walk.

After questioning, 24 of the 26 were free to go from a Beit Jalla hospital and a senior Palestinian officer was released later in the day. One is still being treated at the hospital. According to the Israeli military, which surrounded the church April 2, none of the 20 to 40 gunmen wanted for terrorism were among those released.

The release of the 26 Palestinians may not be a sign of resolution in Bethlehem. The Palestinians have said that talks to end the siege have not resumed and yesterday's release was the result of low-level negotiations.

The Boston Globe reports this morning that Palestinian negotiators are proposing to use the same formula for resolution in Bethlehem that was agreed upon last night to end the standoff at Yasser Arafat's headquarters. If successful, the compromise would send men wanted by Israel in both standoffs to prison on Palestinian territory under U.S. and British supervision.

What would the managing editor of Newsweek do?
The cover story of the current Newsweek contains scant news and twelve pages of opinion. In "What Would Jesus Do?" managing editor Jon Meacham offers tired and familiar arguments why the Catholic Church should rethink its positions on sexuality. Specifically, Meacham suggests the church ordain homosexuals, women, and married persons. But in his explanations, it is clear Meacham is an outsider looking in. (He writes that he is a "believing, middle-of-the-road, churchgoing Episcopalian.") There is an unmistakable note of condescension in the non-Catholic Meacham's telling Catholics how to change.

A sidebar by religion editor Kenneth L. Woodward looks at the issues realistically and practically. Woodward writes: "In all of these issues, the question is what arrangement would best serve the mission of the church." New solutions always create new problems, he points out. Woodward concludes his rebuttal by shifting the focus from the ministry of the priesthood to the ministry of the laity, "who are supposed to lead in making Christ present to the world, with the priests and bishops in roles of support." Woodward knows that this is the real issue and challenges the next pope to make the church's theory about the laity a reality.

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National Day of Prayer tomorrow
On March 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer." In his signed resolution, he said: "I do hereby request all the people to abstain from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion."

In 1952, President Harry Truman declared an annual day of prayer. Tomorrow is this year's National Day of Prayer. President Bush said this week in his proclamation, "I encourage Americans to remember the words of St. Paul: 'Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.'"

Online resources for the day include the 2002 National Day of Prayer Task Force site, which has a history and a list of what to pray for. The Christianity Today International special events page lists articles such as "Why Participate in the National Day of Prayer?"

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Church abuse scandal:

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  • Catholics launch donation boycott | Archdiocese urged to adopt reforms (Chicago Tribune)

  • Nuns Hope Abuse Scandal Brings Extensive Reform | Along with thousands of lay Catholics and some in the clergy itself, nuns are calling for a greater and more egalitarian role for women in the church. (Los Angeles Times)

  • Report of Church troubles proved prophetic | The title of the confidential report is: "The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy." It is a 92-page document extraordinary not only for its blunt review of "the problem," but also because it was written nearly 17 years ago. (Insight magazine)

Cardinal Bernard Law:

Church abuse opinion:

  • Blame Church Arrogance, Not Oversexed Society | The Catholic clergy might be best served by reciting the wisdom of Pogo: 'We have met the enemy and he is us.' (Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times)

  • Teaching on sex still church role | Despite the church's reputation and its official teachings that sex is permissible only with marriage--I can't remember the last time I heard anything about personal sexual morality from the pulpit on Sunday morning. (Chicago Sun-Times)

  • The church and its critics | Anti-Catholic opportunitists seize on a sex scandal. (The Wall Street Journal)

  • Lies of the cardinals | Rather than lie even for a good cause, even for the church, Augustine asked himself what Jesus would do. (The New York Times)


Other stories of interest:

  • For 17-foot Jesus statue, it's all about location | Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation say the 83-year-old woman's 17-foot statue of Jesus is violating state right-of-way laws with its location on State Highway 150 East. (Dallas Morning News)

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