Religion News in Brief for July 19

Published 12:20 pm Friday, July 18, 2008

Case of stolen Torah scrolls confuses authorities

ST. LOUIS (AP) – A Torah scroll valued at about $30,000 that was reported stolen from a St. Louis-area synagogue is one of a handful of Torah scrolls stolen in the past year in the United States, mystifying police and the Jewish community.

No one seems certain of a motive, but speculation includes a hate crime or selling the sacred documents on the black market.

The scroll taken in May from a synagogue in suburban University City had last been seen a week before. Police Capt. Mike Ransom said police had no leads and found no sign of forced entry into the building, which was locked.

In April, two Torah scrolls and a laptop computer were stolen from a synagogue in Kenosha, Wis. Another Torah and an overheard projector were taken from a high school in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb in September.

In Miami Beach, Fla., a Chabad house burned down in April. Police suspect that a Torah was taken before the fire started because investigators found no remnants of the scroll inside the ark and a rabbi found a piece of the Torah’s wooden post outside the next day.

Torah scrolls, entirely handwritten in Hebrew by a scribe, contain the five books of Moses. New scrolls cost between $30,000 and $50,000 to produce.

Torah theft was common 20 or 30 years ago, said David Pollock, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Back then, security was minimal and a few hundred scrolls disappeared each year.

But in 1982, Jewish organizations stepped up security. Pollock and others founded the Universal Torah Registry, which uses a superfine needle to give the sacred scrolls unique serial numbers.

None of the scrolls reported missing this year has been recovered.



ACLU to defend Amish on buggy light charges

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union will defend a group of Amish men in Kentucky charged with not displaying slow-moving vehicle emblems on their horse-drawn buggies.

The trial scheduled in Graves County has been delayed to September to give ACLU attorney William Sharp of Louisville time to prepare.

Sharp will defend seven Amish men who were charged with not displaying state-mandated flashing lights and an orange triangular symbol.

The men contend using the emblems and lights would violate their religious beliefs that prohibit possessions that are too worldly.

“We’re interested in the case from the context of the Kentucky constitutional right to the free exercise of religion,” Sharp said. “We believe the Kentucky Constitution actually provides greater protections than the federal constitution to exercise his or her religion.”

Kentucky statutes have required symbols on slow-moving vehicles since 1971. The requirements for lights and flashers were added in 2005.

In February, three Amish men from western Kentucky were convicted and fined for failing to display the lights and emblem, but they are appealing.



Church hopes to build museum to priest who served lepers

HONOLULU (AP) — Renewed interest in the story of a Roman Catholic priest who ministered to leprosy patients in 19th century Hawaii has prompted a parish to lay plans for a museum in his honor.

The pending canonization that will transform the Rev. Damien de Veuster from “blessed” to “saint” has revived interest in artifacts connected to the priest.

The items — currently stored in an air-conditioned room out of public view — include a lock of hair, carpenter tools and reading glasses.

A Waikiki church, St. Augustine Catholic Church, has received approval to build a museum but has yet to purchase a neighboring store for the project. The ABC Store isn’t on the market.

“We’re hoping and praying there might be a compassionate heart where they would be open to at least looking to the possibility of selling,” said the Rev. Lane Akiona, the pastor at St. Augustine. “If that doesn’t work out, we’ll have to go to Plan B and do a new construction … on the church property.”

Pope Benedict XVI recently approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Damien, a 19th century Belgian priest, opening the way for him to be declared a saint.

Benedict declared that a Honolulu woman’s recovery in 1999 from terminal lung cancer was the miracle needed for Father Damien’s canonization. The miracle was attributed to the intercession of the late priest, to whom the woman, Audrey Toguchi, had prayed.



Boston Archdiocese says finances improving

BOSTON (AP) — Boston’s Roman Catholic archdiocese says it is still two years from balancing its budget but is recovering from the financial effects of the clergy sex abuse crisis that rocked the church in 2002.

In its annual financial report, the archdiocese said it has increased contributions to parishes by 5 percent. Its annual fund-raising campaign is still down compared with the years before the abuse crisis, but is steadily increasing.

Church officials said they are giving lay members a bigger role in overseeing archdiocese finances.

The archdiocese paid off a $26 million line of credit from the Knights of Columbus after selling its Brighton headquarters to Boston College and moving to a donated office building in Braintree.

Church officials said $110 million is still needed to fully fund clergy pensions.

The archdiocese has reported spending $136 million as of last summer in settlements with 1,015 alleged clergy abuse victims. A spokeswoman told The Boston Globe the archdiocese faces about 70 remaining abuse claims.