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National Council of Churches head leaves


The outgoing leader of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. Bob Edgar, has been named head of Common Cause, a national advocacy group based in Washington. Edgar, 63, had said in October that he would not seek a third term as general secretary of the ecumenical and humanitarian group, which represents mainline Protestants, Orthodox and Anglican churches with millions of members.

The national governing board of Common Cause announced Tuesday it had elected Edgar president and chief executive officer, to succeed Chellie Pingree, who stepped down in February. Edgar is a former Democratic congressman who represented the 7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania from 1975 to 1987.

He served for 10 years as president of the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California before taking the top post at the National Council of Churches in 2000, where he led a successful effort to resolve a financial crisis at the organization. Edgar has served on Common Cause's national governing board since 2005. As CEO of the group, he will oversee advocacy for campaign finance and election reform, among other activities.

Edgar is working with both groups to plan the transition to this new job. The church council's governing board has appointed a search committee to name Edgar's successor as general secretary.

Baptist agency softens prayer policy


The Southern Baptist International Mission Board has taken a small step back from its controversial ban on appointing missionaries who use a "private prayer language," or speak in tongues in private.

Mission board trustees, meeting May 7-9 in Kansas City, Mo., voted overwhelmingly to turn the policies into guidelines instead.

The board is still discouraging the use of private prayer language, but an attorney for the agency, Matt Bristol, said adopting the term "guideline" means that the provisions "will be applied with a degree of flexibility" considering the circumstances of each candidate.

The trustees had adopted the policy in November 2005 out of concern about the growing popularity of Pentecostal practices, including glossolalia, by Christians overseas and at home.

Baptists and other Christians disagree over whether "baptism in the Holy Spirit," accompanied by speaking in tongues, ended with the apostolic period or continues today.

Still, some Southern Baptist leaders had protested the mission board's policy, saying the use of private prayer language should not be a test for potential missionaries. Previously, missionaries had been barred from speaking in tongues publicly, but their private prayer was not monitored.

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U.N. allows Serb Orthodox church in Kosovo to build protective wall

PRISTINA, Serbia &

The United Nations mission in Kosovo has ruled that Serbian Orthodox officials can continue building a protective wall around a church that serves as its local seat.

The executive order, issued by Kosovo's top U.N. official Joachim Ruecker, overturned a decision by local officials in the western town of Pec. It will stay in force until the disputes are resolved, said U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko.

The Patriarchate of Pec claims it needs the wall to protect the church, as well as the nuns and monks inside, located in an ethnic Albanian area.

Kosovo was the seat of the medieval Serbian state and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbs cherish it as the cradle of their history and culture but the province's ethnic Albanians want it to be independent.

Most of the Serb Orthodox churches in the province are guarded by NATO peacekeepers after they were targeted in ethnic attacks when Kosovo was placed under U.N. rule following Serb forces' crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

A U.N. plan that recommends internationally supervised independence for Kosovo would also establish protective zones around more than 40 key religious and cultural sites.

Official for Italian bishops' group says church can't be blamed for priests' wrongdoing


The Roman Catholic Church is not responsible if individual priests commit sexual abuse, a senior official of the influential Italian bishops' conference said Tuesday.

In sharp contrast to the Catholic Church in the United States, the church in Italy has been largely unscathed by clergy sex abuse cases, although there have been some isolated allegations.

"The church cannot be guilty of a crime committed by an individual," Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, secretary-general of the Italian bishops' conference, told reporters during a meeting of the nation's bishops in Rome.

"It's not the diocese who reimburses the victim, it is the priest who pays damages for an act," Betori said.

A priest in Sicily was recently sentenced in a plea bargain to 2 1/2 years in prison for sexual abuse of a young former seminarian, according to Italian media.

The local diocese paid damages to the young man, but terms of the settlement were kept secret as part of an agreement between both sides, the Italian media said.

Originally, the diocese in Sicily had sought damages from the victim, claiming the victim had hurt the local church's image and prestige, the Italian news agency AGI reported.

Betori insisted, however, that the church "isn't distant from victims and their families, and does not stand still in terms of prevention of such grave crimes."

In the United States, settlements with victims and other abuse-related expenses have cost dioceses more than $1.5 billion since 1950, according to public reports and studies commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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