News and Views


News and Views

When the coronavirus forced churches to close their doors and give up Sunday collections, the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Charlotte turned to the federal government’s signature small business relief program for more than $8 million. The diocese’s headquarters, churches and schools landed the help even though they had roughly $100 million of their own cash and short-term investments available. Overall, the nation’s nearly 200 dioceses, where bishops and cardinals govern, and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion. That makes the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the paycheck program. — AP, 2/4/2021

A Vatican court found former president of the Vatican bank Angelo Caloia guilty of embezzlement and money laundering during the pontificates of St. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI. The court said that Caloia and his lawyer had manipulated sales of the scandal-plagued bank’s real estate assets for their own profit from 2001 to 2008. — Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2021

A female Jehovah’s Witness has been sentenced to two years in a Russian prison for practicing her faith, marking the first time the country has imprisoned a woman under the 2017 ruling that declared the
faith group “extremist.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses report that more than 1,100 homes have been raided since the 2017 ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court and more than 380 people have been charged under the article of the Russian Criminal Code about extremist crimes.— RNS, 2/21/2021, 10/28/2020

Delegates of the United Methodist Church to the General Conference are expected to take up a proposal to split the denomination with adoption of “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” Calls to split one of the largest denominations in the United States have grown since the 2019 special session of the United Methodist General Conference approved the so-called Traditional Plan strengthening the church’s bans on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists. — RNS, 2/25/2021


A hacker’s botched attempt to poison the water of a small Florida city is raising alarms about just how vulnerable such systems may be to attacks by more sophisticated intruders. Treatment plants are typically cash-strapped and lack the cybersecurity depth of the power grid and nuclear plants. Suspicious incidents are usually chalked up to mechanical or procedural errors. But experts say they occur more often than the public is told and many go unreported to protect reputations, customer trust and revenues. — AP, 2/11/2021

Gunmen kidnapped 317 girls from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, the latest in a rising tide of
high-school abductions across Africa’s most populous nation. Dozens of schoolboys and staff were
kidnapped just a week earlier. Jihadist group Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for kidnapping them. Kidnapping for ransom has become a multimillion-dollar business across the north according
to one school official, “It’s a disaster, the rural areas are virtually under the control of these bandits.”
Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2021 and 2/26/2021

Beijing Genomics Institute, a major global player in the world of genomics research, reportedly set
up labs in 18 other countries in 2020, and provided COVID testing kits to 180 nations. Human rights
groups say the Chinese government uses DNA testing for security purposes — such as identifying and
tracking Uighur Muslims, the ethnic and religious minority held in detention camps in huge numbers.
Chinese police gather DNA samples from the country’s 700-million male population to help keep tabs
on the half of the population deemed most likely to commit crimes. — NPR, 2/24/2021


Governments world-wide are looking at ways for people to prove they have been inoculated against the coronavirus. The UK government will consider whether Britons need proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to return to the office or attend events. In Israel, a vaccine passport was launched allowing the inoculated to go to hotels and gyms. Saudi Arabia issues an app-based health passport for those inoculated. Iceland’s government doles out vaccine passports to facilitate foreign travel. President Biden has asked government agencies to assess the feasibility of creating digital Covid-19 vaccine certificates. — Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2021

France’s National Assembly approved a bill to strengthen government oversight of mosques and
religious schools and crack down on other practices from online hate speech to forced marriage, that
President Macron says are rooted in Islamist separatism — described as an ideology to build a parallel society in France where religious rules override civil laws. Besides stiff fines, the bill makes it easier
for the government to shut down mosques, associations, and schools found criticizing the republic’s
values. — Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2021

A German court has rendered its first verdict in a historic trial of two former Syrian military officials
implicated in crimes against humanity after almost a decade of war in Syria. During the trial, the brutality of the Syrian government has been meticulously documented, with state prosecutors describing the killing and torture in a Syrian prison on an “almost industrial scale.” — NPR, 2/26/2021


Citi analysts said bitcoin was at a “tipping point” between mainstream acceptance or a “speculative
implosion.” The cryptocurrency could become “the currency of choice for international trade,” due to
its global reach, neutrality, and lack of foreign exchange exposure. If backed by central banks, individuals and businesses would have digital wallets holding cryptocurrencies in checking, savings, and treasury accounts. “In this scenario bitcoin may be optimally positioned to become the preferred currency for global trade.” Obstacles ahead include the potential for the oversight and rules of traditional financial regulators. — MarketWatch, from a Citi analyst report, 3/1/2021

The European Central Bank warns that bad loans in the eurozone could soar to €1.4 trillion — more than
in the aftermath of the financial crisis — if the economy contracts more than expected. The overexposure of banks to small business is part of Europe’s economic fabric. Companies with fewer than 250 employees account for 99.8% of all firms and 2/3 of private sector jobs, according to the European Commission. Half work for firms with fewer than 50 people. — Wall Street Journal, 1/20/2021


A stone engraved in Greek with “Jesus, son of Mary,” was found at el-Taiyiba in the Jezreel Valley. It had been part of the lintel of a Byzantine (5th century CE) church, part of the religious authority of the metropolis of Bet She’an. The discovery was announced on January 20, 2021 by the Israel Antiquities Authority. — Bible History Daily, 1/25/2021

Through its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, China has invested in a port near the Persian Gulf
in Gwadar, Pakistan, and a military base by the entrance to the Red Sea at Djibouti. They also envision a military base at Port Sudan, further north on the Red Sea, and a naval facility at Jiwani, Pakistan,
on the Iranian border. China is investing billions of dollars in Egypt and more billions as part of a strategic pact with Iran. — Wall Street Journal, 2/20/2021

Israeli researchers found three textile scraps near the southern tip of Israel colored with the biblically
described “argaman” royal purple dye, and dated them to the era of King David. The vibrant cloths
add tangible weight, in particular, to the Bible’s account of an Edomite kingdom in the area at that
time. Colored with the most precious dye of the ancient world, the textile scraps were excavated in the
Timna Valley near Eilat. The tiny, vibrantly colored Iron Age cloth pieces are the earliest evidence of
this precious dye in the entire Southern Levant and shed new light on the early Edomite kingdom and
Israelite kingdoms 3,000 years ago — a period when the Bible details the conquering of the Edomites by
King David. — The Times of Israel, 1/29/2021

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