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

Pope Francis appoints clouded figure as financial reformer

The Vatican's finances have a new watchdog, Cardinal George Pell. But Pell is considered to be more of an obstructionist than a reformer.
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The headquarters of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican Bank, on February 18, 2012. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vatican's announcement Monday that Pope Francis has created a new Secretariat of the Economy, with broad oversight of Vatican finances, might be titled the "Vindication of Viganò."

The new office is tasked with picking up the reform job that, in effect, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò began in 2009 as Secretary-General of the Governorate of Vatican City-State. That long title means “governor” and his welcoming committee was a financial sinkhole. The Holy See was $10 million in the red when Viganò took over.


How a Catholic missionary helped make California cool

Junípero Serra is known as the founding father of California. A new book explores his concept of "radical mercy," his role in the Inquisition and his influence on West Coast culture.
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A sunset is seen above the two steeples of Good Shepherd Catholic Church on December 11, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Kevork Djansezian/AFP/Getty Images)

The profound demographic shift of the Catholic Church in the last century has pushed members of the Western church – Europe, North America, Canada and Australia – into the minority. Today, three-quarters of the world’s Catholics come from the global south, notably Latin America and Africa, while the Western church accounts for roughly 25 percent. 


Mexican Catholics find God in Islam

Islam has increased its appeal among Catholics seeking spiritual salvation elsewhere.
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Leslie Camarillo (left) and Martha Alamilla, both from Mexico City, at the Centro Educativo de la Comunidad Musulmana in Mexico City, following Friday prayers. (Bill Schaefer/GlobalPost)

MEXICO CITY — For almost five centuries Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Mexico.


Homophobia unites Muslims and Christians in Nigeria

In a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn LGBT communities, homophobia has become a way to unite the population.
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A picture taken on January 22, 2014 shows two suspected homosexuals in green prison uniforms (L) sitting before Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu during court proceedings at Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi. Two Islamic courts in northern Nigeria have been forced to suspend the trials of 10 men accused of homosexuality because of fears of mob violence, judges and officials have said on January 29. An angry crowd last week pelted stones at seven men suspected of breaking Islamic law banning homosexuality after their hearing was adjourned at the Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in Bauchi. (AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

ABUJA, Nigeria — In a country contentiously split among Muslims and Christians, leaders of Nigeria’s mosques and churches are united in their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

So, too, are lawmakers, who’ve criminalized sodomy, civil unions and gay marriages, with a 14-year prison sentence as punishment. In some northern regions, flogging and the death penalty come into play.

The Same-Sex Prohibition Act, signed into law on Jan. 7 by President Goodluck Jonathan, criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and restricts the work of organizations defending gay people and their rights.

“This law criminalizes the lives of gay and lesbian people, but the damage it would cause extends to every single Nigerian,” LGBT activists said. “It undermines basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have long fought to defend and is a throwback to past decades under military rule when civil rights were treated with contempt.”

This new legislation could lead to imprisonment solely for a person’s actual or imputed sexual orientation.


Why India's leading political party believes Hinduism 'must prevail'

Analysis: Predictions that the Bharatiya Janata Party will win India's elections in May are "flashing warning lights for India's Muslim minority."
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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and India's Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi delivers his speech during a mass rally in Kolkata on February 5, 2014. Modi, tipped in opinion polls to be India's next premier, remains a polarizing figure accused by critics of turning a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — If polls are correct — and no one in the press is contradicting them — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, will win the elections to the Lok Sabha, India's parliament, in May.

BJP firebrand Narendra Modi is expected to become India’s next prime minister. 


Why a French comedian's arm gesture is anti-Semitic, not a joke

Analysis: The "quenelle" controversy continues to engulf a soccer star and popular entertainer on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
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Two men perform a 'quenelle' during a demonstration called the 'Day of Anger' supported by the conservative 'French Spring' movement and the fundamentalist Christian group Civitas, to protest against French policy, on January 26, 2014 in Paris. The quenelle, which involves holding the right arm straight while pointing it towards the ground and touching the right bicep with the left hand, has been described as a sort of disguised Nazi salute. (Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — What is the quenelle? When two prominent French athletes — soccer player Nicolas Anelka and basketball player Tony Parker — made the gesture in front of their fans, they came in for a shower of criticism.

The San Antonio Spurs’ Parker immediately apologized, saying he didn't realize the "negative concerns" surrounding the quenelle. English Premier League star Nicolas Anelka refuses to apologize, arguing the gesture isn't anti-Semitic, just "anti-establishment."


Religion and politics, joined at the hip from the very beginning

Analysis: From Buddhism to Confucianism and Christianity, most religious movements throughout history have 'played politics' to survive.
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An elderly Buddhist monk smiles after his arrival outside the Cambodian National Assembly on December 10, 2013 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Various groups of activists, political parties, monks and humanitarian organisations are holding events for International Human Rights Day in the Cambodian capital. Six groups of monks and activists have walked from different parts of the country to deliver petitions collected en route, detailing human rights abuse cases. (Omar Havana/Getty Images)

LONDON — Belief is a blog about the intersection of religion and politics. Over the last few decades this has become a very bloody crossroads.

Today in the Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria, Darfur and Sudan it is Muslims versus Christians and animists.

In Syria and Iraq, it is Sunni versus Shi'a versus Christians versus secularists.

In Sri Lanka's civil war, the Tamil minority fighting for a separate state was overwhelmingly Hindu. The government forces that crushed them and allegedly committed one of the under-reported war crimes of this century were Buddhist.

In the Balkans, it was Catholic versus Orthodox versus Muslim.

People in the developed world are shocked by the savagery of these conflicts since our wars of religion ended 350 years ago and religion has been more or less separate from politics for the last two hundred.

But that's the historical exception rather than the rule.


Finding its policies less popular, Israel grows a bit quieter

Analysis: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not shown his usual vociferousness on the world stage lately, though the Jewish right-wing in America hasn't necessarily followed suit.
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem December 15, 2013. (Baz Ratner/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — There has been a strange sound coming out of Israel recently: silence.

Is it the sound of change?

The latest revelations from the Snowden Files released over the weekend showed the NSA hacked the e-mail account of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defense minister, Ehud Barak back in 2009.


Young Sikh basketballers find support at Los Angeles camp

Followers of Sikhism in the United States regularly experience harsh discrimination. One sports workshop aims to help young Sikhs rediscover pride in their identity.

LOS ANGELES — Prateek Singh could not wait to get out onto the court.

With his friends and family packed tightly into a small high school gym, the basketball-obsessed, turban-wearing Prateek took the floor to warm up for his first high school game. It was 1992 and Singh was a sophomore at Burbank High School, a public school in north Los Angeles.

But his first taste of high school sport was interrupted by a brand of bigotry all too familiar to adherents of the Sikh religion living in the United States, including the diasporic hub of Southern California.

“One of the referees came up to our coach and said, ‘That kid over there — with that thing on his head — can’t play in the game,’” said Prateek, now in his mid-30s. “I still hold that to heart.”

That “thing” was Prateek’s dastar, or turban, a staple amongst devout male Sikhs that represents piety and self-respect. For the rest of the season, Prateek had to present a letter from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) each game that allowed him to play in his turban.

Today Prateek is the treasurer of a top-tier mortgage company and a coach at the Singh Sensations Basketball Camp, a free, annual workshop for young Southern California Sikhs.


New Catholic sex abuse commission to contend with 'medieval organization'

Catholic bishops have a history of defying regulation of their 'fiefdoms' — will Pope Francis' efforts protect children and punish abusive priests?
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The body of Dutch former Roman Catholic bishop of Roermond and of the Diocese of Reykjavik, Jo Gijsen, placed up on a bier in a monastery in Sittard on June 26, 2013. Gijsen died on June 24, aged 80. (Marcel Van Hoorn/Getty Images)

News that the Vatican will create a commission to address its  global sex abuse crisis comes 11 years after American bishops, amid devastating media coverage from the Boston scandal, met for their summer conference in Dallas, trailed by 700 journalists.