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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

How American nuns prevailed over the Vatican

After a bitter, six-year investigation of American nuns, the Vatican has offered the olive branch.
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Mother Mary Clare Millea, apostolic visitor for the Vatican, attends the presentation of the Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Apostolic Life of Women Religious in the US on December 16, 2014 at the Vatican. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Trailed by bitter controversy, a six-year investigation of American nuns ended Tuesday with the release of a Vatican report that praised the religious sisters “for all that they contribute to the church’s evangelizing mission.”


How far can a pope go?

Francis is a change agent rivaled by few other figures in power today. Does a reform-driven pope have the power to change doctrine?
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Jorge Mario Bergoglio attends his first private Mass as Pope Francis in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on March 14, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (L'Osservatore Romano/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has huge popularity with rank-and-file Catholics who have hungered for a figure to transcend an age of scandal. But the advancing story line of Francis’s papacy is this: how far can a pope go in making reforms against an embedded culture of cardinals and bishops, averse to change?

“Gay clergy many times feel that their gifts as ministers flow from the experience of a homosexual orientation,” is how Father Robert Nugent explained his advocacy for gay Catholics, when I first interviewed him in 1987. 


As religious leaders help in Ferguson, US churches remain mostly segregated

Just 13 percent of American churches are racially mixed, an increase since the late 1990s.
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Reverend Al Sharpton addresses churchgoers as he speaks about the shooting death of Michael Brown during a church service at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church Nov. 30, 2014 in St. Louis, Mo. (Joshua Lott /Getty Images)

For the vast majority of American Christians, attending church is a racially segregated experience.

Just 7 percent of all US congregations were racially mixed in 1998. By 2012 that number had climbed to 13 percent, according to Michael Emerson, professor of sociology at Rice University and author of three books on religion and race in America.

Yet Christian clergy of all backgrounds and denominations have been prominent voices within the public furor around race and police brutality sweeping the country, touched off by a St. Louis County grand jury decision not to indict the white officer who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — then further ignited this week by a Staten Island grand jury decision not to indict the white officer who was videotaped choking to death Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.


Why attacks on sacred spaces are 'always more vicious'

Last week's attack on a Jerusalem synagogue hit a particular nerve for many people of faith.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews look at bullet holes in the main window of a synagogue in Jerusalem which was attacked the previous day by two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

The attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last week, where two Palestinian assailants wielding guns and hatchets killed five Israeli men and wounded seven more, has left Jerusalem shocked and fearful that a cycle of religious violence is underway.

For many, that the attack happened in a synagogue, against four worshipers who were mid-prayer, has made it all the more horrifying. The fifth Israeli murdered was a policeman responding to the scene. Both of the Palestinian attackers were killed by police.


Priest exiled for supporting female clergy accuses Vatican of heresy

Father Roy Bourgeois is the founder of School of the Americas Watch and a leading advocate for allowing women into the Catholic priesthood.
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Members of the School of the Americas Watch including Roy Bourgeois (L) stage a demonstration in front of the US Embassy demanding action from the US government towards the restitution of ousted Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, in Tegucigalpa in July 2009 (Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Father Roy Bourgeois has spent the better part of his 76 years like a polemical Don Quixote, tilting against the powerful windmills of his time: the US military, Latin American dictatorships, the State Department, federal courts — and now the Vatican.

Bourgeois is the founder of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), whose annual demonstration began Friday outside Fort Benning, in Columbus, Ga. and runs through the weekend.


Tending to the graves of WWI dead, Gazan gardener weathers modern conflict

As a Palestinian gardener cares for the headstones of fallen soldiers in a World War I cemetery, he also works to protect his family from Hamas-Israel violence.
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At the Deir El-Balah Commonwealth Cemetery in Gaza, Palestinian Khalil al-Wajar washes the headstone of Australian Trooper Henry Albert Franklin Price, who served during WWl in the Australian Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron. Khalil's father Mohammed, the cemetery's official gardener, has raised his family not only in the shadow of World War l but the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (Heidi Levine/The GroundTruth Project/GlobalPost)

Editor’s note: This post is part of a Special Report called “The Eleventh Hour: Unlearned lessons of World War I” launching in full this week, nearly a century after the Armistice Day of Nov. 11, 1918 that ended the war.

DEIR AL BALAH, Gaza — For decades Palestinian Mohammed al-Wajar has raised his family in the shadow of World War I, while trying to protect them from the violence of the Israel-Palestine conflict.


Rabbi's death brings to life his message of renewal

Reb Zalman believed that the power of faith lies in its ability to be made new again.
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Reb Zalman explains the four worlds of kabbalah to his Holiness in Dharamsala during dialog. (Rodger Kamenetz/Courtesy)

In 1990, Rodger Kamenetz, a poet and LSU professor of English joined a small group of rabbis and Jewish religious thinkers in India for a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. They met in Dharamsala, the home-in-exile for the Buddhist leader of Tibet since the 1959 the occupation by Chinese Communists.

Kamenetz was on a journey of his own, and in Dharamsala he met a man who became his mentor, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi was a catalyst of the 1960s Jewish Renewal movement which sought spiritual depths in hasidic culture as a response to traumatic aftershocks of the Holocaust.

Reb Zalman, as he was known to those close to him, saw in the Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan Buddhist nation diaspora, a kindred spirit.


Synod leaves questions about Vatican stance on homosexuality

Church leaders moved away from an early draft of the synod's record, but some LGBT rights advocates and clergy say evolution is underway.
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Bishops attend a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, who died in 1978, and the end of Vatican's synod on the family at St. Peter's square on Sunday, Oct. 19. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE /AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — The closing of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family was celebrated in a Mass for thousands, led by Pope Francis in the Vatican City on Sunday.

It followed the release of the official record of the synod, or Relatio Synodi, which was approved paragraph by paragraph by the assembled bishops on Saturday, with three of the 62 paragraphs failing to get the necessary votes. Though most synods don't generate much news, a draft version of the report released last week ignited a firestorm when a section under the heading “Welcoming Homosexuals,” said, “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community,” and asked if the community was capable of welcoming people with such “tendencies.”

The new version “significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week,” according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministry.

“It's very disappointing that the synod's final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included,” DeBernardo wrote. “Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples.”


Australia is curtailing civil liberties in response to the Islamic State

IS has spooked Australia's government to push through a series of reforms reminiscent of post-9/11 America.
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Women greet eachother during Eid al-Adha celebrations at a festival at Paul Keating Park in Bankstown on October 4, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Eid al-Adha, also known as 'Festival of the Sacrifice' is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the prohit Ibrahim for his willingness to sacrifice his own son at the order of Allah. (Lisa Maree Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Shamaila Saeed sat in a circle with a dozen women and teenage girls, discussing passages from the Quran. It was a typical afternoon in the women’s section of the IEWAD mosque and community center in Narre Warren, a southeastern suburb of Melbourne.

The tranquil setting seemed a world apart from the police station parking lot in nearby Endeavor Hills, where five days earlier Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim from Narre Warren, had stabbed two counter-terrorism officers with a knife before they shot and killed him.


Vatican document fires up gay rights debate

As Catholic bishops from around the world discuss "family issues," friendlier language toward gays and lesbians is creating fireworks.
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Pope Francis (R) smiles as he arrives for his speech at the Synod on the Families, to cardinals and bishops gathering in the Synod Aula, at the Vatican, on Oct. 6. Pontiff on Sunday launched a major review of Catholic teaching on the family that could lead to change in the Church's attitude to marriage, cohabitation and divorce. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — “The drama continues!” laughed Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of the Philippines, opening the second week of press conferences on the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops taking place amid the buzz of wandering tourists around the Vatican.

Tagle began the usual media briefing Monday afternoon by summarizing some of the most noteworthy aspects of the previous meeting, part of a landmark gathering on Catholic families and social issues. He had on hand the freshly released Relatio Post Disceptationem, a synthesis of discussions from the first week of the synod. And that document has already created a firestorm.