A group of Roman Catholics asked Pope Benedict XVI to reverse the decision by the Archdiocese of Boston to close their parishes, which sparked a six-year fight and several round-the-clock parishioner vigils.
Peter Borre, of the Council of Parishes, said he walked through the bronze gate at Vatican City on Tuesday and delivered the long-shot appeal to a Vatican guard on behalf of nine closed parishes.
Borre all but dismissed chances for "a miraculous Hollywood ending," but said the appeal was important as a final recourse within the church and to perhaps make space for negotiations that could prevent protesting parishioners from forming breakaway groups.
In 2004, the archdiocese began a reconfiguration that reduced the number of parishes from 357 to 291 as it struggled with shrinking membership, declining numbers of priests and financial problems.
Five churches have since been occupied by protesting parishioners. The archdiocese has not moved to take the buildings because Cardinal Sean O'Malley said he would not act until all the appeals were exhausted.
The archdiocese said that happened earlier this year, with a ruling from the Vatican's highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Terry Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the parishioners can't appeal to the pope because, under church law, the Vatican high court rulings are made in the pope's name.
But Borre said the papal appeal was within parishioners' rights and was written by two experts in church law. The appeal will likely never be read by the pope himself, but was addressed to a top Vatican official, Monsignor Peter Wells.
Jewish history museum in Philly adopts unique compromise on Sabbath opening
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The National Museum of American Jewish History set to open next month has adopted a unique compromise on an issue that pits religious law against economics: whether to open on the Sabbath.
The five-story museum next to Independence Mall, scheduled to open Nov. 26, is dedicated to chronicling 350 years of Jewish life in America and establishing a base for scholarly meetings and community discussions.
But officials had to decide whether to open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Jewish law forbids work and commercial transactions on Shabbat, but closing that day would mean turning away thousands of visitors.
This month, the museum board decided it will be open Saturdays, but tickets will not be sold on the premises that day; they can be bought online or in advance, or at other locations to be determined. The gift shop will also be open Saturdays but will handle no cash; any credit card transactions will be processed after sundown.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York closes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, while the Jewish Museum in New York is open Saturdays, although its gift shop is closed. The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and their gift shops are open on the Sabbath.
And the museum will be closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the first two days of Passover.
Northern Indiana school board votes to end Bible class that triggered ACLU lawsuit
NEW PARIS, Ind. (AP) _ Officials at a northern Indiana school district voted to end an elementary school Bible class after their lawyer told them they were bound to lose a lawsuit over its constitutionality.
"The law is quite clear: Religious instruction for elementary school students on school grounds during the school day is not constitutionally permitted," said Fairfield Community Schools attorney Tim Shelly.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the district in federal court on behalf of a New Paris Elementary School first-grader and his mother. The suit alleged the boy was left unsupervised in the hallway when his mother opted him out of the weekly 20-minute Bible class. He later was sent to the school library.
The suit said the boy was being deprived of educational instruction during the Bible class and that the class violated the First Amendment.
Shelly warned board members that the district could be forced to pay $100,000 to $800,000 when it inevitably lost. Board members voted 6-0 last week to immediately end the Bible class, drawing boos from a crowd of students, parents and community members who had shown up to speak in support of the program.
Shelly did explain to officials that there were ways to hold a Bible class legally, such as allowing release time during the day where students travel off school grounds, or to have the class at the school but after school hours. But he said the district would have to offer the same opportunity to various religious organizations.
Idaho senate candidate denies sending religious mailers, voters told they're on 'path to hell'
MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) _ Republican State Senate candidate Gresham Bouma denied sending religious-leaning mailers in Latah County that urged voters to become true believers or be "struck down."
Bouma's campaign is offering a $1,000 reward for information on the fliers, which were made to look as if they carried his endorsement and told voters: "You are not a true Christian and you are on the path to hell."
The Latah County prosecutor's office is also investigating the mailer, which said a vote for Bouma was not enough and urged voters to join Freeze Community Church, which Bouma's family attends.
Pastor Lloyd Knerr says his church has never prayed to "strike down" anyone.
Bouma beat nine-term Republican senator Gary Schroeder during the primary and faces Democrat Dan Schmidt in November.