Published Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of 2012: Contraception, women's roles among top religion stories

From Staff Reports

religion@newnan.com

Challenges to the role of women in the Catholic Church, a federal regulation regarding contraception and the non-issue of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith all touched on the lives of Cowetans – and made it into the top 10 religion stories of the year.

Religion Newswriters Association members vote on stories each year to select the top 10. This year, a December event was too late for voting but had wide impact.

“The No. 1 U.S. religion story in December 2012 was, without a doubt, the school attack and the mournful search for meaning that follows,” said Debra Mason of RNA. “However, before the shooting, professional journalists who cover religion voted on the year’s other significant religious events.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ opposition to national health care legislation mandating contraception coverage was ranked the No. 1 Religion Story of 2012 by members of the Religion Newswriters Association.

Related to the top story, the top religion newsmaker was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who became the point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning after drugs in Obamacare.

The Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year are below:

— 1. U.S. Catholic bishops led opposition to Obamacare requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backed down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory addressed the issue briefly during a meeting on immigration in College Park in early December. “Religious liberty is not threatened only by the actions of one government agency or one area of law,” he said.

— 2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey showed that “nones” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

— 3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” caused unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., called for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

— 4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turned out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain, in the U.S. presidential race.

The Republican presidential contender’s religion certainly appeared to have little impact on election results in Coweta County, which has a high concentration of evangelicals. Romney received 39,633 votes on Nov. 6 – 71.4 percent of the votes cast in Coweta.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is growing in number and visibility in Coweta. Just a few days after the election, a short program, “The Mormons Next Door,” was presented at the local LDS building on Old Atlanta Highway.

— 5. Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia became the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse. Later, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., became the first bishop to be found guilty of covering up abuse.

— 6. The Vatican criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. nuns, alleging they have not supported church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women’s ordination.

In Coweta County, the line was more sharply drawn as local resident Diane Dougherty took vows of ordination as a Roman Catholic woman priest on Oct. 20. Dougherty, a nun for 23 years, knew she was facing automatic excommunication.

She was ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

— 7. Voters approved same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota defeated a ban on same-sex marriage after North Carolina approved one.

— 8. The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopted a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. Earlier, the United Methodists failed to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) voted to study, rather than sanction same-sex marriage ceremonies.

— 9. Six people were killed and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The shooter, an Army veteran killed by police, was described as a neo-Nazi.

— 10. Southern Baptist Convention elected without opposition its first black president, Fred Luter, a pastor from New Orleans.

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Votes for the 2012 Religion Newsmaker of the Year ranked the five potential candidates in this order:

1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York became a point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning after drugs in Obamacare. But Dolan also took heat from the right when he invited the president to the traditional Al Smith Dinner in New York.

2. Fred Luter, first black president of the sprawling Southern Baptist Convention, is expected to help the SBC become more racially diverse.

3. Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egypt-born Christian whose work has been condemned by the Coptic Church, provoked rioting in the Muslim world with his film trailer “Innocence of Muslims.” He was jailed in California on probation violations.

4. Mormon voters, who enthusiastically backed one of their own for president, acted in ways that helped overcome suspicions of them by other faiths.

5. Pro football quarterback Tim Tebow, whose book about his faith was on the best-seller list, inspired the term “Tebowing” for kneeling in prayer. His actions and witness led to polarized discussions about the role of faith in sports.

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The Top 10 poll of Religion Newswriters Association members took place Dec. 11-15, 2012, in a confidential, online ballot. More than 100 members of the organization responded. RNA has conducted the poll for nearly 40 years.

The Religion Newswriters Association is the world’s oldest and largest professional association for journalists who write about religion. Through an annual convention, contests and the world’s most extensive list of resources, RNA remains the global leader in helping journalists cover religion with balance, accuracy and insight.

RNA is housed at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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