A pope has died and the world’s cardinals gather for his funeral and the conclave to elect a successor to the throne of St. Peter. The voting begins and a nervous Italian television reporter is standing with the crowds watching the smoke rise from the Sistine Chapel. He has to check the television monitor to tell what color it is: black. Again.
At the behest of Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Mass., a small Catholic college in his diocese has rescinded its invitation to Victoria Reggie "Vicki" Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, to receive an honorary degree and to be its commencement speaker this May.
Anna Maria College in Paxton, a small town just northwest of Worcester, apologized to Kennedy in its March 30 announcement that her invitation to address this year's graduating class has been withdrawn.
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.
PRINCETON, N.J. -- The South is the most religious region of the United States, according to a yearlong poll by Gallup.
Mississippi qualified as the most religious state in the nation, with 59 percent of its residents claiming to be "very religious." Next on the list was the only non-Southern state among the top 12: Utah, where 57 percent of its people say they are very religious.
Placing third overall was Alabama, with 56 percent of its residents claiming to be very religious. The only state in the top 12 with a significant Catholic population was Louisiana, ranking fourth in Gallup's poll, with 54 percent in the state saying they are very religious.
Ranking fifth through 12th were Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Kentucky. The percentage of those who said they were very religious in these states ranged from 54 percent for Arkansas to 47 percent for Kentucky.
VATICAN CITY -- The church needs to address the alienation often surrounding those living with autism, especially children and young people, by coming to the aid of those affected, said Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.
The archbishop, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said those who draw near to people with autism can help break down the barriers of silence and join in them in solidarity and prayer.
The archbishop made his comments in the council's message for Monday, the Fifth World Autism Awareness Day.
"The church sees as impelling the task of placing herself at the side of these people -- children and young people in particular -- and their families, if not to break down these barriers of silence then at least to share in solidarity and prayer in their journey of suffering," the archbishop said.
Along with suffering often come frustration and resignation, especially from the families of those affected, said the archbishop. Families experience repercussions and are often "led to be closed up in an isolation that marginalizes and wounds," he said.
WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. -- The Dalai Lama was named Thursday as the winner of the 2012 Templeton Prize.
A statement from the John Templeton Foundation, which selects the winner, said his "long-standing engagement with multiple dimensions of science and with people far beyond his own religious traditions has made him an incomparable global voice for universal ethics."
The prize, which includes an award of about $1.7 million -- the monetary award must always be larger than those offered in the Nobel Prizes -- will be presented to the Dalai Lama in London May 14.
"With an increasing reliance on technological advances to solve the world's problems, humanity also seeks the reassurance that only a spiritual quest can answer," said a March 29 statement by John M. Templeton Jr., foundation president and chairman. "The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being."
WASHINGTON -- Francis J. Butler -- who usually worked quietly behind the scenes but may have been as influential as almost any other layperson in the U.S. Catholic church over the past 40 years -- retired Feb. 3 after 32 years as president of FADICA, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities.
The owner of a business who claimed he would provide atheist rescuers for Christians' pets left behind in the Rapture now says his service was an elaborate hoax and never had any clients.
Bart Centre, who lives in New Hampshire, came clean after the state Insurance Department delivered a subpoena because he appeared to be engaged in "unauthorized business of insurance" through his Eternal Earth-Bound Pets business.
"Eternal Earth-Bound Pets employs no paid rescuers," Bart Centre wrote in a blog post March 16. "It has no clients. It has never issued a service certificate. It has accepted no service contract applications nor received any payments -- not a single dollar -- in the almost three years of its existence."
Centre's business was reported widely by Religion News Service, NPR, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CBS News, the BBC, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Huffington Post and other media outlets in the last year.
WASHINGTON -- Each spring, the doors of the small church near Candler, close to Asheville in North Carolina, are flung open to let in the burgeoning number of congregants.
Seats fill fast on or around March 24, said Edith Segovia, a parishioner of St. Joan of Arc Church. Increasingly, she sees younger churchgoers arriving to celebrate the life of a man who died before many of them were born.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Ken Hackett, who retired in December after 18 years as president of Catholic Relief Services, will receive the University of Notre Dame's 2012 Laetare Medal.
Holy Cross Fr. John I. Jenkins, university president, announced the honor Sunday. Given annually since 1883 to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity," it will be presented at Notre Dame's 167th commencement ceremony May 20.
"Ken Hackett has responded to a Gospel imperative with his entire career," Jenkins said in a statement. "His direction of the Catholic Church's outreach to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and unsheltered of the world has blended administrative acumen with genuine compassion in a unique and exemplary way."