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Pakistani court grants bail to girl, 11, accused of blasphemy

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VATICAN CITY -- The Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy was granted bail Friday after three weeks in police custody.

The judge, who ordered the girl's release on a bail of about $5,282, said there was insufficient evidence to justify continuing to hold Rimsha Masih in jail. However, the case against her was not dismissed.

Investigations continue both into accusations that Rimsha burned pages of the Quran -- a violation of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws -- as well as into the actions of Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a Muslim cleric, who was taken into police custody Sept. 2 after being accused of planting the pages of the Quran and burned pieces of paper in the girl's bag.

Rimsha had been in police custody since Aug. 18. Her parents said she is 11 years old and has Down syndrome; a court-appointed physician reported she was about 14 and is developmentally delayed.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Pakistani bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, told Vatican Radio the bail was high for Pakistan and certainly beyond the means of Rimsha's family, but donations were expected to cover it. The girl was released Sunday.

Church part of uneasy alliance combating HIV/AIDS in Zambia

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LUSAKA, ZAMBIA -- In a week's time, it is possible to hear the church both criticized and praised for its response to Zambia's HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The critics include gay rights and AIDS activists who acknowledge that the church -- the wider church, both Catholic and Protestant -- should be praised for its health work in many areas but is a major obstacle to what they argue is a needed nonjudgmental and realistic conversation about the extent of male-to-male sexual contact, which is still taboo in Zambia.

Report highlights Islam's global diversity

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Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God's prophet, and Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Roman Catholic Church in Scotland campaigns to stop gay marriage

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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."

Ukrainian Catholic leader hopes to mend ties with Russian Orthodox

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KOLOMYYA, Ukraine -- The major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said he hopes to follow up a Polish-Russian joint message by pursuing a similar reconciliation process with Russian Orthodox leaders.

"We should also take such a path of reconciliation -- without this, it will be impossible to stop Russification in Ukraine and Ukrainophobia in Russia," said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

"If we somehow try to settle painful questions of the past as Christians in light of the Gospel and to heal our memory solely by means of reconciliation, then we can build something constructive," he said at a mid-August news conference in Kolomyya.

On Aug. 17, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the president of the Polish Catholic bishops' conference signed a joint message urging Poles and Russians to set aside centuries of anger and prejudice and work together to maintain their countries' Christian identities.

In Britain, ongoing struggles over laws regulating euthanasia

MANCHESTER, England -- Tony Nicklinson, a man paralyzed from the neck down following a stroke seven years ago, wept before television cameras after he was told that he had lost a two-year legal battle to change the law on euthanasia.

Three High Court judges rejected the claim brought by Nicklinson, 58, and another stroke victim named only as Martin, 47, that doctors should be able to end the men's lives at a time of their choosing under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to private and family life.

But the judges said in their Aug. 16 ruling that Nicklinson wanted "to be able to choose to end his life by voluntary euthanasia," and such a change would have consequences far beyond the two cases.

"It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted suicide dying should be changed," the judges said. "Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases."

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