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

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.


The international community must not consent to 'new Burmese apartheid'

Opinion: Muslims are suffering at the hands of Myanmar's government, which is now planning an awful new program.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks alongside Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Myanmar, prior to meetings at the US State Department in Washington, DC on Sept. 30. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar  Myanmar's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin took to the podium at the United Nations building in New York late last month and told the international community that “all major concerns related to human rights” in the former police state had “been addressed to a larger extent.” Given the government's efforts in this field, he asserted, his country “had now reached the middle tier of the human rights ladder” and should no longer be subjected to the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council.

While the minister's speech drew polite applause, his claims could hardly have been taken seriously. 


The influential Iraqi cleric rallying Muslims against the Islamic State

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has emerged as an important voice of moderation at a critical time.
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Iraqi volunteers, loyal to Shia Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, attend a combat training session at a military camp in the mainly Shia southern city of Basra on Sept. 27, 2014. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

As the new Iraqi government grows more dependent on US air strikes and military aid to defeat Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the country’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has emerged as an important voice of moderation. 

Sistani called on the Shia-led government to keep Iraq united and reconcile with Sunnis. But he has also forcefully declared that foreign powers should not interfere in Iraq’s political affairs. 


Synod in Rome: Pope Francis and the antinomians

Frank talk is making this year's synod far less boring than in years past and revealing some truth about the Catholic Church.
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Pope Francis holds his skullcap in front of a Swiss guard as he leaves at the end of the morning session of the Synod on the Family, at the Vatican, on October 6, 2014. The meeting of nearly 200 bishops from around the world is addressing the huge gulf between church teachings on moral issues and what believers actually do. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2002, on a sunny fall day in Rome, I asked a canon lawyer why the Vatican derailed a 1989 request by American bishops for a free hand to defrock sex abusers. Only the pope held that power — if bishops had more flexibility to dismiss abusers it might have preempted scandals to come.

The priest told me that US diocesan tribunals “violated grandly – terribly – the annulments of marriage.” What, I asked, did marriage annulments have to do with pedophilia?


To move forward, Jerusalem must steer its own fate

Analysis: Unless citizens of all faiths find a way to work together, weak leadership and old hatreds will keep the city from a potentially bright future.
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A Ferrari Formula One racing car in action during the 2014 edition of the Formula 1 Peace Road Show on Oct. 6 in Jerusalem, Israel. The two-day event returns for its second year, showcasing stunt performers and exotic vehicles, racing past historic monuments on the ancient city's streets. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM – Behold the new Jerusalem.

Here I was, stuck in ungodly traffic on the outskirts of the ancient walls of the Old City, that sacred quarry of stone that holds traditions dear to all three Abrahamic faiths. And through a crowd lined up along the ramparts and the sidewalks nearby, I suddenly heard the thunder of powerful engines and the screeching of tires.


On 'Eid Kippur' in Jerusalem, no news was good news

The rare convergence of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and Muslim holiday Eid el-Adha was refreshingly quiet.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews returning from Yom Kippur prayers near the Western Wall walk past Palestinian Muslims (back-L) celebrating Eid al-Adha on October 4, 2014 in Jerusalem's old city. The concurrence of the holy days has not occurred for 33 years because the two faiths use different lunar calendars. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Once every 33 years the stars align and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and Eid el-Adha, the Muslim and Druze Feast of the Sacrifice, occur on the same day.

This was the case on Saturday, and initial reports of the unusual confluence were ominous: Al-Monitor, the Middle East news site, announced "Israel braces for conflict as Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha coincide." 


In British town, influx of migrants creates conflict

Analysis: The arrival of Eastern Europeans in a traditionally Pakistani area strains neighborly relations.
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HENDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 13, 2013: Makeshift shelters constructed by homeless Romanians on the former site of Hendon Football Club. Britain is home to more than 190,000 Romanian migrants, one of the largest Roma populations in western Europe. (Oli Scarff /Getty Images)

SHEFFIELD, England — I take a stroll down Page Hall Road in Sheffield, a typical working class area of the industrial north. The houses are narrow, cramped, identically structured, all rusty red brick and battered front doors.

Children play in the streets, tagging each other and running to the shops to buy sweets and soda. It’s an unremarkable scene except that this one small area has lately become a major focus of immigration conflict in the United Kingdom.


Remembering why Sinead O'Connor tore up the pope's picture on national TV

Her tactics made her a target and a pariah. Today we know she was right.
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Irish singer Sinead O'Connor sings at a concert in aid of the Chernobyl Children's Project in The Tivoli Theatre on March 6, 2003 in Dublin, Ireland. (AFP/Getty Images)

Sinead O'Connor performed an a cappella cover of Bob Marley's "War" on Saturday Night Live on October 3, 1992, rewriting a few of the lyrics to address child abuse, in addition to the song's initial topics of racism and the horrors of war.

As she finished the song, she produced and tore to shreds a photograph of Pope John Paul II, shouting, "Fight the real enemy!"