Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2012 1:27 PM
Religion news in brief

Annual tally finds drop in 2010 donation to churches

NEW YORK _ An annual report on North American congregations found that total donations to the churches declined by $1.2 billion in 2010, the second consecutive year denominations reported a drop in giving.

According to the latest Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, congregations reported $29 billion in contributions for 2010, or $763 per capita, for a dip of 2.2 percent. Between 2008 and 2009, as the impact of the Great Recession continued, reported donations had dropped by $431 million.

The yearbook, published by the National Council of Churches, also tracks reported membership numbers for denominations. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States remains the largest religious group by far, with 68.2 million members, a growth rate of less than 1 percent in 2010.

Mainline Protestant denominations continued their decades-long decline in membership. The largest reported drop was in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which was down 5.9 percent to 4.3 million members, the yearbook authors said.

The evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's second-largest religious group, reported a very small membership decline of less than 1 percent, but it was the fourth consecutive year the Southern Baptists reported a drop. Their 2010 membership stood at 16.1 million people.

Among the denominations that grew in 2010: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church, reported a 1.6 percent jump, to 6.2 million members. The Assemblies of God, one of the more established Pentecostal denominations, reported a nearly 4 percent increase to just over 3 million members.

The National Council of Churches, based in New York, is an ecumenical group that includes Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christian denominations.



Hungary's law to reduce number of churches criticized by faith leaders

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ The head of the Council of Europe on Wednesday criticized a new law in Hungary that sharply reduced the number of officially recognized churches and changed the procedure they need to follow to gain that status.

Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland was in Budapest to meet with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other leading government officials to discuss the church law and other recent ones regarding media and judicial reforms that have drawn international criticism.

Hungary's new church law, which requires parliamentary approval of churches by a two-thirds majority, sharply cut the number of officially recognized ones from more than 350 to 32.

Before the change, religious groups only had to register with the courts to gain official status and access to state subsidies and tax advantages.

"Our assessment is that overall it provides a generous framework for religious communities, but there are some problems," Jagland said of the law in an interview with The Associated Press. "We recognize that there was a need to avoid that some religious organizations or churches misuse the possibility to get public funding, but having said this, some of the provisions in the law are problematic."

The government has said the law was needed to filter out "business churches," for-profit organizations carrying out no religious activities. But the role of lawmakers in such decisions has raised suspicions that in some cases political considerations have outweighed applicants' religious and social merits.

There is now a list of qualifications churches must meet to be recognized, but lawmakers do not have to explain their decisions, leaving applicants in the dark about the reasons for their rejection.


SC man gets 7 years for defrauding church workers of $2.5M in health insurance premiums

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ A South Carolina man has been sentenced to seven years in prison on federal charges that he defrauded church workers out of $2.5 million in health insurance premiums.

William Madison Worthy was sentenced Tuesday in Greenville. A judge ordered him to undergo treatment for alcoholism and pay restitution, which will be calculated later.

Worthy pleaded guilty last year to insurance crimes affecting interstate commerce. Worthy and one of his companies collected more than $3.5 million in health premiums between 2004 and 2006. Prosecutors said $1 million in medical claims were paid, but the remaining $2.5 million was diverted to bank accounts that Worthy controlled.

The victim was Fellowship Services, a provider of employment benefits for pastors and church workers.


Methodist-built chapel likely to be razed after storm

ALEXANDRIA, Ky. (AP) _ A northern Kentucky chapel, built as a Methodist church 156 years ago, will likely be torn down after a storm wrecked it.

The building is known as Wesley Chapel and it belongs to a board that oversees a cemetery that is on the same property.

Kenny Fossitt, a board member, said the damage may prove too expensive to repair.

About 400 graves around the chapel in Campbell County date to the early 1800s. It was built with two front entrance doors _ one for men and the other for women.

The congregation that used the building closed it in 1993. It was badly damaged in a storm March 2.