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Chaplain talks about conflict and his unusual congregation

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PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) -- After almost a year as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, which The New York Times called "one of the most reviled congregations in the country," the Rev. Patrick Conroy was back in Portland, Ore., for a few days to meet with his Jesuit counterparts.

Conroy, 61, was a theology teacher at Jesuit High School here when the opportunity to be House chaplain arose. He was sworn in May 25 as the chamber's 60th chaplain. In a recent interview, he talked about the challenges of his job and issued a challenge of his own to American citizens. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Churches helped North Carolina ban same-sex marriage

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RALEIGH – North Carolina became the 31st state and final Southern state to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Campaigns by religious groups supporting the ban were instrumental in the victory, organizers said.

With about 2.1 million votes cast, about 34 percent of the state's registered voters, the amendment , which reads "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized," was a approved by a 61percent to 39 percent margin.

Conservative Catholics blast upcoming appearance by Kathleen Sebelius at Georgetown University

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Last month liberal Catholics were upset over House Republican budget chief Paul Ryan using a Georgetown University platform to defend his hard-line fiscal plan as a natural outgrowth of his Catholic faith. Dozens of Georgetown faculty and administrators wrote a letter welcoming Ryan but blasting his understanding of Catholic teaching and asking him to explain his views during his talk at the university's Public Policy Institute.

Now it is the conservatives' turn: The flagship Jesuit university has announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who has angered conservatives and bishops for overseeing the Obama administration's contraception insurance mandate and other controversial policies, will address the policy institute's graduating class at commencement on May 18.

Bishops are picking a fight this election year

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Analysis

Few would have wagered a year ago that this presidential election season would be marked by a call to arms for Catholics to fend off the impending death of religious liberty in the United States. Or that one of the hot-button cultural issues in the presidential campaign would be distribution of contraceptives under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Most pundits may see the election as a referendum on the economy, but the Catholic bishops of the United States seem determined to focus on what they insist are dire threats to religious liberty and the claim by some in their ranks that President Barack Obama has a pronounced anti-religious and anti-Catholic bias.

N. Carolina dioceses mail postcards supporting 'traditional marriage'

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a final push to pass an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, the bishops of the Raleigh and Charlotte Catholic dioceses have mailed postcards to registered Catholics in the state urging them to vote in favor of what they're calling the "marriage amendment."

North Carolina will vote on the amendment Tuesday May 8.

The post card campaign has prompted a complaint to the N.C. State Board of Elections, according a story in Raleigh’s The News & Observer.

Religious leaders endorse California tax increase

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California Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed initiative to raise income taxes on residents who make more than $250,000 a year got a boost last week with the endorsement of religious leaders who met with him in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in the state capital of Sacramento.

About 200 leaders of PICO California, a network of faith-based community organizations, told Brown they believe those who are blessed with riches should share them with the less fortunate. They said they will work to register voters within their congregations and will urge their members to support Brown's proposal, which is expected to qualify for the ballot in the next couple of weeks.

The proposal would raise income taxes by 1 percent to 3 percent over seven years on people with an annual income of more than $250,000. It would also raise the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent for four years, starting in January. Both proposed taxes are part of the governor's effort to deal with the state's budget crisis. Without it, Brown has said, there will be more budget cuts to public education and other services.

Opposition to gay marriage lower in 2012 campaign

Opposition to gay marriage is significantly lower in 2012 compared to the previous two presidential campaigns, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows.

For the first time, the level of strong support for gay marriage is equal to the level of strong opposition, researchers report. In the April 4-15 survey, 22 percent of Americans say they strongly favor permitting legal marriage for gays and lesbians; an identical percentage said they strongly oppose it.

In 2008, strong opposition was twice as high as support -- 30 percent vs. 14 percent.

In 2004, when a host of anti-gay marriage ballot measures helped propel social conservatives to the polls, opposition was more than three times higher than support, 36 percent to 11 percent.

In comparison to the changes in views on gay marriage, not much has changed concerning support for legal abortion. In 2009, less than 50 percent of Americans favored legal abortion but that support rebounded to more than half of the U.S. population and has generally fit trends dating to 1995.

Growing divestment campaign among churches targets biggest U.S. banks

WASHINGTON -- When Fr. Robert Rien, flanked by the staff of St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish, showed up at the Bank of America branch in Antioch, Calif., in 2009 to close out the church's account -- all of $135,000 -- the only thing on his mind was the plight of two dozen families in his flock struggling with their mortgages against the $2.3-trillion behemoth.

"We know it wasn't much," he said of the parish's savings. "But it sent a message and it started a movement."

Paul Ryan to get another earful on his 'Catholic' budget

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has been enmeshed in an intense debate about his claims that the Republican budget plan he designed reflects Catholic social justice teaching, an assertion rejected by political liberals and Catholic bishops alike.

Ryan is unlikely to get a break from the back-and-forth as he heads to Georgetown University to deliver a lecture on Thursday that might well escalate the conflict rather than ease it.

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September 12-25, 2014

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