- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chicago officials OK cross for Easter

CHICAGO — A 19-foot cedar cross commemorating the Crucifixion was set up in the city’s downtown for Easter, just months after city officials said they didn’t want to offend non-Christians at a holiday fair held in the same location.

City officials approved a permit for the cross, which was erected in Daley Plaza on Good Friday and left in place for a sunrise prayer service on Easter Sunday.

Attorney Thomas Brejcha, one of the planners of the cross display, said there is legal precedent for allowing religious expression in the plaza.

“The idea we want to get across is that Daley Plaza is a public forum where people can express ideas, and if they can do that for political ideas, they should be able to do it for religion, too,” Mr. Brejcha said. “People are free to speak and express their faith.”

In November, city officials caused an uproar when they declined to allow advertising for the film “The Nativity Story” to be shown during the annual German Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza.

Officials initially said they didn’t want to appear to endorse one religion over another and potentially offend non-Christians. Then they explained that the film display would be too commercial for the market because the movie studio sponsored it. The studio’s sponsorship deal was later dropped, and the film’s trailer was shown with city approval.

Methodist church allows gay man

SOUTH HILL, Va.— The new pastor at a Methodist church that had barred a homosexual man from membership two years ago has reversed that decision and allowed the man to join.

The Rev. Barry Burkholder, the new leader of South Hill United Methodist Church, told the congregation to accept the man’s transfer from a Baptist church. The denomination has not released the name of the homosexual congregant.

The former pastor, the Rev. Edward H. Johnson, said in 2005 that he could not accept the man as a member because he would neither repent nor seek to change. Mr. Johnson has since been appointed pastor at another Virginia church, Dahlgren United Methodist.

The case led to a showdown in church courts between Mr. Johnson and the denomination’s Virginia Conference, which oversees congregations and pastors in the region. The conference tried to bar him from ministry for a year for his decision.

The Methodist Book of Discipline declares homosexual relationships “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and bars sexually active homosexuals from ordination. However, the denomination has no rules on church membership for such congregants.

Brazilian rabbi charged in shoplifting

SAO PAULO, Brazil — A prominent Brazilian rabbi who was charged with shoplifting last month in Florida says he still plans to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting of all of Latin America’s Roman Catholic bishops.

In an interview with Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper published April 6, Rabbi Henry I. Sobel said he would “ask for God’s forgiveness, if I am given the opportunity” during his time with the pontiff in May.

“I am not Catholic, so I cannot ask for the pope’s forgiveness,” he said. “But I will ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel to forgive me.”

“Perhaps in the pope’s presence I could feel his humility and have some of it enter my soul.”

Mr. Sobel, 63, championed human rights during Brazil’s dictatorship in the 1960s and is well-known in the nation for improving relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims. He temporarily resigned last month as head of South America’s largest Jewish synagogue, the Sao Paulo Jewish Congregation, which he led for more than 30 years.

Mr. Sobel was charged in March with three counts of theft for reputedly stealing ties worth a total of $680 from several upscale stores in Palm Beach, Fla. He was released after posting $3,000 bail. He has since been hospitalized at Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital, where doctors said he was admitted after taking large quantities of sleeping drugs.

“I’ve never had the intention in my life of stealing anything,” the rabbi said in a statement, when news of his arrest surfaced in Brazil last month. “I’m used to facing crises and accusations, and I can defend myself.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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