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

Church sex abuse survivors seek more than an apology from Pope Francis

Francis met with a small group of abuse survivors Monday, which was appreciated but no substitute for a true process of justice, advocates say.
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Pope Francis looks on during a meeting with youth of the diocese on July 5, 2014 in Castelpetroso, southern Italy, as part of his one-day visit in the Molise region. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis said the clergy abuse crisis was “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained” Monday in Rome.

He also used some of his most emotional language yet in a Vatican-distributed video of his sermon at a private Mass for six adults victimized by priests as children.

The survivors, two each from Ireland, Germany and the UK, spent the weekend at Santa Marta, the Vatican residential hotel where the pope lives. It typically houses visiting churchmen.

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As Egypt targets Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia follows suit

The Saudi government now considers the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a sharp break with past policy.
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Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement shout slogans during a rally to mark the first anniversary of the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2014 in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptian police swiftly quashed Islamist protests firing tear gas and arresting dozens of demonstrators, as the protests are seen as a test of the Islamists' strength, with the Muslim Brotherhood-led Anti Coup Alliance having issued an aggressive rallying cry demanding a 'day of anger' to mark Morsi's overthrow. (Khaled Kamel/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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Hobby Lobby ruling inspired 100 more cases in less than a week

The Supreme Court said it is "highly unlikely" that more corporations will go after religious freedom claims, but already groups taking up suits and looking to get out of a pending LGBT discrimination order.
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Sister Caroline (L) attends a rally with other supporters of religious freedom to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, which operates a chain of arts-and-craft stores, challenged the provision and the high court ruled 5-4 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It’s been just days since the Supreme Court granted religious exemption to Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations, ruling that the insurance they provide their employees does not have to cover contraception, as stipulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and already Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s prophetic dissent is manifest.

Following a blistering and sometimes-sarcastic 35 pages of opposition, Ginsburg, perhaps now somewhat famously, concluded: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Indeed, it seems as though it has.

While President Obama vowed to restore the lost coverage to women, a host of other religious groups and institutions have decided not to wait around and see what kinds of new regulations might come into play.

According to the Becket Fund, the religious law firm that represented Hobby Lobby, there are already 49 pending federal cases in which for-profit companies have claimed “religious objections to the ACA and another 51 that involve nonprofit organizations.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court has ordered three appeals courts to reevaluate challenges made by companies that also objected to the contraception stipulation, but which objected to all contraceptive methods and not just the four addressed in the Hobby Lobby case.

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Pope Francis and the language of hope

Pope Francis excommunicated a mafia group that controls 8-10 percent of Italian GDP. But without a formal document, it's up to parish priests to deny communion to known mobsters – at their own risk.
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Pope Francis delivers his homily as he celebrates mass in Sibari, in the southern Italian region of Calabria at the end of his one-day visit in the city, on June 21, 2014. Pope Francis launched a scathing attack on the mafia Sunday during a trip to the heartland of one of the most feared syndicates, and said no more children should die at the hands of organized crime. (VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

In the mafia-infested, southern Italian region of Calabria, Pope Francis’s moral rhetoric took another long stride the weekend before last. Vatican TV footage showed the pope in white, reading his text, while 250,000 people standing in the heat at Piana di Sibari raised applause as his gently rhythmic voice went stern, singling out the ‘Ndrangheta, a regional crime syndicate:

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Young Saudis embrace internet satire, rejecting ultraconservative Islam

Part Four: Saudi's web-savvy youth, still highly devout, are reconsidering what Islam means in their social lives.
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The "No Woman, No Drive” video by Telfaz11 starts with Hisham Fageeh telling viewers that he’ll perform his version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” song “with words relevant to my culture but without musical instruments.” The parody of Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers has had more than 11 million views. (Screen Shot/YouTube)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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On World Refugee Day, Israel's asylum-seekers claim religious discrimination

Some 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans hope for refugee status in Israel. Many of them believe that because they are not Jewish, they don’t stand a chance.
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African asylum seekers, who entered Israel illegally via Egypt, lean at the fence of the Holot detention centre in Israel's southern Negev Desert, on February 17, 2014 as they join other migrants who came to protest outside the detention facility. Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese, have been staging mass demonstrations in the country against moves by the Israeli authorities to track them down and deport them, or throw them into detention facilities without trial. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

HOLOT, Israel — Deep into Israel’s Negev Desert, surrounded by miles of arid land, lays the Holot Detention Center for asylum-seekers. Maawiya Mohammed Adam, a 28-year-old from Sudan, who fled his war-torn homeland and entered Israel in 2008, has been detained in Holot for the past six months. For non-Jews, Adam said, seeking asylum in the Jewish state is a bad idea.

“If I was a Jew, by now I would have very good conditions and Israel would recognize me and give me the status that I deserve, but because I am Muslim and black — my fate is suffering,” said Adam, standing outside Holot, under the scorching summer sun. “Israel is concerned about not having Muslims and black people in its community, and that's the main reason I am not very optimistic about being in Israel.”

Ninety-two percent of the estimated 50,000 asylum-seekers in Israel are Muslims or Christians from Sudan and Eritrea. They entered the country illegally between 2006 and 2012 through the then porous, now barricaded border with Egypt.

These asylum-seekers — though numbered in the thousands — are just a fragment of the growing issue of displaced people worldwide.

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In Pope Francis' church of the streets, elitism doesn't work

US bishops reportedly "unsettled" as men like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone become targets.
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Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin (L) speaks with former Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone before the arrival of Pope Francis for a visit at the 'Bambino Gesu' Children's Hospital on December 21, 2013 in Rome. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

In the latest installment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s bad luck blues, the former Vatican secretary of state, 79, has responded to critical news coverage by defending the renovation of his 6,500-square-foot apartment and denying anything was amiss in a $20 million Vatican Bank loan he helped steer to Lux Vide, an Italian TV production company.

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Myanmar's military accused of torture as it reasserts political power

Q&A: The military is acting to preserve its hold on parliament as a new report shows that the army has "systematically" tortured ethnic Kachin civilians over the last three years with impunity.
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A man prepares dinner in the communal kitchen at the Jan Mai Kawng Internal Displacement Camp in which is sponsored by the Kachin Baptist Church in Myitkyina, Myanmar on June 6, 2014. The fighting between the Burmese Military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been going on for three years. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Myanmar opposition leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday shot down a warning against using language in rallies that “challenges the army” leading up to the country’s 2015 parliamentary elections.

Since becoming a lawmaker, Suu Kyi has been working to amend the military-drafted constitution that, in its current state, blocks her from attaining the presidency while also giving the military great influence over the governing body. A parliamentary committee voted last week against changing the constitution.

"It is not the work of (the) elections commission to warn me or other leaders of what we should say or what we should not say," she said.

Her condemnation of the warning came on the same day that the government issued another warning against free speech, threatening “to expel students from technological colleges and institutes who participate in political activities that lead to ‘unrest.’"

Some are seeing the coming elections as a test of whether the army — for whom a quarter of seats in parliament are reserved, unelected — will loosen its grasp over the government.

Just last week, however, Bangkok-based human rights group Fortify Rights released a report that shows the military may not be so willing to let go of power, especially as it continues to wage war against ethnic groups.

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How ISIS is tearing up the century-old map of the Middle East

As it captures key Iraqi territory, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is undoing the WWI-era Sykes-Picot Agreement.
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People have their passports processed at a checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp on June 13, 2014 in Kalak, Iraq. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. (Dan Kitwood/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — Nearly 100 years ago, when the world was in the throes of war, a secret Anglo-French document called the Sykes-Picot Agreement casually and carelessly divided up the Middle East among colonial powers.

It might sound like one of those obscure historical references you’ve long forgotten from a high school history class lesson on World War I.

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The collapse of Iraq would open a new front in the Sunni-Shia war

Commentary: In a twist of irony, Iraq may invite Iranian troops to fill the role of the US before its withdrawal.
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Families arrive at a checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp on June 13, 2014 in Kalak, Iraq. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by ISAS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. Many have been temporarily housed at various IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around the region including the area close to Erbil, as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

DENVER — Iraq is collapsing. The Middle Eastern nation, where nearly 4,500 American lives were lost and nearly one billion dollars were spent from 2003-2011 to oust a dictator and rebuild a nation, is approaching chaos, perhaps even “failed state” status.

The deterioration in Syria and the invasion and spread of extremism in northern and western Iraq is putting the “cradle of civilization” under the control of the Middle East’s most militant, ruthless and vile Islamic extremists.

They proffer no future for the region’s inhabitants other than oppression under the guise of rigid adherence to Sharia law.

Extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — expelled from Al Qaida because of its extreme militancy — have seized Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul and took possession of Ninewah Province, after taking Fallujah and Ramadi just west of Baghdad late last year. They quickly moved south to Samarra and Tikrit, capturing both cities with little government resistance. They also seized Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji. The militants have made no secret of their objective: Baghdad.

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