Review: how religion made headline news in 2012
Religious issues were in the news more last year than in many years before. Here is a mainly US-focused review of the major stories.
From the nuns to the "nones," religion dominated the headlines throughout 2012. Faith was a persistent theme in the presidential race, and moral and ethical questions surrounded budget debates, mass killings and an unexpected focus on "religious freedom."
Here are 10 ways religion made news in 2012:
Gun violence as a new "pro-life" issue
A hail of bullets inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- which took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults -- was able to mobilize religious activists on gun control after years of failing to gain traction.
"Those who consider themselves religious or pro-life must be invited to see that the desire to prevent gun-related deaths is part of the religious defense of the dignity of all life," wrote Jesuit Fr. James Martin.
America's fast-growing nonreligious community
One in five Americans (19 percent) now claim no religious affiliation, up from 6 percent in 1990. The so-called "nones" include unbelieving atheists who staged a massive "Reason Rally" in Washington, but two-thirds of the unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Almost nine in 10 say they're just not looking for a faith to call home.
Nuns on the bus and in the spotlight
The other big newsmaker of 2012: the nuns, who found themselves facing a Vatican crackdown and accusations that the umbrella group of most U.S. sisters was embracing "radical feminist themes" and not working strongly enough against abortion and same-sex marriage. The reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was seen as a hostile takeover by many rank-and-file Catholics, who rallied to the sisters' defense.
A separate group of sisters, meanwhile, dubbed themselves the Nuns on the Bus and embarked on a 2,700-mile tour to advocate for the poor. Sr. Simone Campbell, whose group NETWORK organized the tour, landed a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention.
The "Mormon moment"
Even though he lost his White House bid, Republican Mitt Romney nonetheless made history as the first Mormon to win a major party's presidential nomination.
Unprecedented strides for gay rights
Gay rights made unprecedented strides in 2012 when voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine approved gay marriage and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment to ban it. But a series of events in May showed Americans' mixed feelings on the issue: North Carolina approved a constitutional ban while Obama endorsed same-sex marriage. The United Methodist Church upheld its teaching that homosexuality activity is "incompatible with Christian teaching," while a Gallup Poll found that a majority (54 percent) of Americans now see homosexual relations as "morally acceptable."
Rallying against contraception in the name of "religious freedom"
One of the more unexpected entrants into the 2012 campaign was a fierce debate over birth control, centered around Catholic and evangelical resistance to the Obama administration's mandate for free employee coverage of contraception. Catholic bishops and evangelical colleges launched a full-throated assault on the mandate as a threat to "religious freedom." So far, more than 30 lawsuits have been filed to stop the mandate.
But a LifeWay Research showed that almost two-thirds of Americans believe businesses should be required to provide the coverage for free, even if contraception conflicts with the owner's religious ethics.
The long shadow of sexual abuse
As U.S. Catholics marked the 10th anniversary of the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in Boston, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was confronted with two landmark criminal convictions: Msgr. William Lynn, found guilty of child endangerment for shuffling abusive priests around the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Kansas City, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, convicted of failing to tell police about a priest suspected of sexually exploiting children.
New threads in America's diverse religious tapestry
The 2012 campaign marked the first time that neither major party ticket included a white Protestant, but there were other signs of America's growing racial and ethnic diversity.
The number of mosques in America has jumped 74 percent since 2000, up to 2,106. "Islam," said David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, "is one of the few growth spots in America's religious mosaic."
Among the big names topping the religion headlines in 2012:
Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller left his California megachurch and lost a bid to recover assets as part of the church's bankruptcy. The iconic glass building is now scheduled to become a Roman Catholic cathedral.
The Dalai Lama won the prestigious $1.7 million Templeton Prize for his efforts to bridge the divide between science and religion.
Jesus may or may not have had a wife, at least according to a 4th-century papyrus fragment that includes the cryptic line, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..." The Vatican dismissed it as a "clumsy fake."
Paolo Gabriele, the trusted butler to Pope Benedict XVI, was sentenced to 18 months in a Vatican jail for leaking private papal documents in an attempt to rid the Vatican of corruption out of his "visceral love" for the church and the pope.
The U.S. got its first Native American saint, Kateri Tekawitha, a 17th-century Mohawk woman who practiced extreme acts of religious devotion despite torment for her baptism and conversion.
Justin Welby will be the next archbishop of Canterbury, and the first task of the former oil executive will be finding a way for the Church of England to reconsider its vote this year not to allow women to become bishops.
2012 saw the passing of several leading religious figures, including: William Hamilton, the theologian behind Time magazine's famed "Is God Dead?" cover story in 1966, at age 87; Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, at age 88; Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon at age 92.
Source: National Catholic Reporter
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