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Same-sex couples can use British churches for ceremonies starting in December

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LONDON -- The British government said Wednesday that same-sex couples will be allowed for the first time to use churches to seal their civil partnership vows, starting in December.

But the directive added that no religious group will be forced to conduct or host such a ceremony, and the Church of England quickly announced it would permit no such rites on its premises.

In a statement, the church said it "has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered" in its churches.

The government's equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, used a written statement to Parliament to announce that same-sex couples will be allowed to seal their vows in churches and other places of worship in England and Wales starting Dec. 5.

Civil partnership registrations have been entirely secular in Britain.

"The government is advancing equality for LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths," Featherstone said. But she added that "no religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration."

Milwaukee Archdiocese says pension recipients being paid on time

MILWAUKEE -- All employee benefits have been paid on a timely basis and pension plans will continue to pay all benefits in the immediate future, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee assured pension recipients and contributors in a "media clarification" issued Oct. 26.

The archdiocese issued the clarification in response to an Oct. 25 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stating that pension funds operated by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee "have unfunded liabilities totaling $41.8 million, according to documents filed as part of the archdiocese's bankruptcy proceedings."

"As has been historically the case, all employee benefits have been paid on a timely basis and it is clear that the plans will continue to pay all benefits payable in the immediate future," said Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, in an email to pension investors, which also was posted on the archdiocesan website, www.archmil.org.

"The archdiocese intends to continue the retirement plans and continue making payments in the years to come," it said. "Thus, we believe that there is no current cause for concern for employees."

Religion is part of holistic education of children, pope says

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VATICAN CITY -- A holistic education of children and young people must include religious education in accordance with the wishes of the children's parents, Pope Benedict XVI told Brazil's new ambassador to the Vatican.

The teaching of religion in public schools, "far from signifying that the state assumes or imposes a specific religious creed, indicates a recognition of religion as a necessary value for the holistic formation of the person," the pope said Oct. 31.

Welcoming Almir Franco de Sa Barbuda as Brazil's new ambassador, the pope said that when the Holy See and Brazil signed an agreement in 2008 on allowing religious education in public schools, the motivation was not to give Catholicism a special privilege, but to respond to the rights of parents to choose how their children should be educated and to give Brazil a new generation of citizens formed with a sense of morality and ethics.

The pope said offering students a "generic sociology of religions" class instead of a Catholic religious education course isn't good enough, because "there is no such thing as a generic, non-confessional religion," the pope said.

Catholic health care grapples with identity in a complex ministry

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BALTIMORE -- Last May, St. Agnes Hospital opened its first new building in more than 50 years, a 200,000-square-foot addition to the existing campus, with 120 newly designed patient rooms, five operating rooms, a spacious main lobby and a seven-story-high, lighted cross that faces traffic on Caton Avenue. William Greskovich, the hospital’s vice president of operations and capital projects, said the new building -- part of a $200 million plan to expand the campus -- will take the 150-year-old, 314-bed hospital into its next 50 years.

Poverty fight called 'out of fashion,' but Catholics urged to persist

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JAMAICA, N.Y. -- Catholics have a responsibility to impel business, government and civil society to eradicate poverty by adopting policies that respect human dignity, promote the common good, protect human rights and address systemic ills, said speakers at an Oct. 22 program at St. John's University.

The conference on "Poverty Eradication and Intergenerational Justice: Stewardship, Solidarity and Subsidiarity" drew about 300 people and was sponsored by the university's Vincentian Center for Church and Society.

"Eradicating poverty has gone out of fashion" as politicians appeal to the broader middle class, said Michael A. Benjamin, who represented portions of the Bronx in the New York State Assembly from 2003 to 2010. It's easy to focus time and programs on photogenic children, he said, but the reality is "there is no child living in poverty without an adult."

"When Jesus said the poor would always be with us, he didn't mean to let them languish in poverty," Benjamin said. Welfare should be used as a bridge to employment and government money spent on job-training programs will prepare people for private-sector employment, he said.

Colorado field of crosses shows abortion's impact

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BOULDER, Colo. -- A pro-life project to build and display 3,300 crosses in memory of the number of babies aborted daily drew more than 80 willing participants at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Boulder.

"I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged about the many people in the parish who helped and might not otherwise be comfortable in pro-life activity," said Charlie Danaher, who co-chairs the parish's Respect Life Committee. "We had fantastic participation."

From the initial idea for the project in February to the mass painting and staging sessions done at the church before October, parishioners had the opportunity to engage in a loving and noncontroversial pro-life activity, said Danaher.

The project, designed to relay the impact of abortion while encouraging healing for parents and support for prevention, was moving for parishioner Andrew Wolfe, who worked up to eight hours a day over four weeks assembling the thousands of crosses, and could not keep up with the rate of abortions.

"It was sometimes overwhelming to me, as fairly simple as are they are to assemble, that I couldn't do it as fast as abortions were happening," he said.

Jesus would laugh at a lot, says Colbert's 'chaplain'

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WASHINGTON -- Three priests -- a Dominican, a Franciscan and a Jesuit -- walk into a bar.

According to the Rev. James Martin, it's not only the opening to a good joke, but quite possibly the saving grace of religion.

Martin's new book, "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life," says religious people would be a lot happier -- and holier -- if they lightened up and took themselves a little less seriously.

"Joy, as a number of spiritual writers have said, is the surest sign of the Holy Spirit," the Jesuit priest said at a recent gig at Georgetown University.

But, he continued, "there are certain Roman Catholics who seem to think that being religious means being deadly serious all the time."

Martin, culture editor of the Jesuit magazine America and the unofficial chaplain to Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," is, well, wickedly funny.

India provides perspective and grace

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I spent most of August traveling through northern India with my youngest son, my brother and his family, the trip made possible by a donation from a generous friend who, like me, is an Indiaphile. My father, a cultural affairs officer with the United States Information Agency, was first assigned to India in 1962 and my family lived there for a total of seven years, in the absurdly privileged existence then available to American diplomats. I have returned three times since and remain addicted to the place of my early childhood.

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