October 20th, 2014
02:50 PM ET
(CNN) - As Catholic bishops in Rome began a major meeting on modern family life two weeks ago, Pope Francis encouraged them to speak candidly and "without timidness."
He certainly got what he asked for.
Bishops bickered. Conservatives contemplated conspiracy theories. Liberals lamented their colleagues' rigidity.
Through it all, the Pope stayed silent.
Even when a report emerged from the bishops' meeting that welcomed gays and lesbians in strikingly open terms, Francis didn't say a word.
By the midpoint of the meeting - officially called the Synod of the Bishops on Pastoral Challenges to the Family - conservatives were complaining that Francis had "done a lot of harm" by not making his own views known.
But if Francis had spoken, it would have shut down the very debate he wanted to spark, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a close ally of the Pope's, told reporters.
"Roma locuta, causa finita," Ravasi said. That's Latin for, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed." (The Pope is the bishop of Rome.)
Finally, as the meeting closed on Saturday afternoon, the Pope addressed the nearly 200 bishops he had summoned to Rome.
In a widely praised speech, he told them the church must find a middle path between showing mercy toward people on the margins and holding tight to church teachings.
What's more, he said, church leaders still have a year to find "concrete solutions" to the problems plaguing modern families - from war and poverty to hostility toward nontraditional unions. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for next October in Rome.
All of this may raise a few questions in people's minds. If the Pope is the head of the church, why can't he just make changes on his own? Why are so many Catholics resistant to revising church teaching? And what does all of this have to do with Jesus?
Here are some things to keep in mind.
October 14th, 2014
12:46 PM ET
Rome (CNN) - Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.
In a report Monday, the Vatican had said that gays and lesbians have "gifts to offer" the Christian community and acknowledged that same-sex couples can give "precious support" to one other.
The statement, an interim report from a closely watched meeting of Catholic clergy here, was widely praised by liberals. It is believed to be the first time the Vatican has said anything positive about gay relationships.
One longtime Vatican journalist called the statement a "pastoral earthquake."
But many conservatives complained that the statement watered down church teaching and did not accurately reflect their discussions here, where nearly 200 Catholic leaders are meeting to debate pastoral approaches to modern family life.FULL STORY
October 6th, 2014
05:25 PM ET
Opinion by Emily Hardman, special to CNN
(CNN) – I’m not a Muslim. I’ve never been imprisoned. And I don’t want to grow a beard. But I’m defending the rights of someone who is and does.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Holt v. Hobbs, a landmark case cutting to the heart of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
At issue is whether refusing to allow a prisoner to peacefully practice his religion violates a federal civil rights law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, known as RLUIPA .
In this case, Abdul Muhammad (formerly named Gregory Holt) is an Arkansas inmate who wants to observe the Muslim command to grow a beard, in his case a half-inch in length.
Arkansas already allows inmates to grow beards for medical reasons and Muhammad’s beard would be permissible in 43 state and federal prison systems across the country.
The remaining outliers, including Arkansas, attempt to justify their bans in the name of security. However, Arkansas has not identified a single confirmed security problems resulting from beards.
August 12th, 2014
12:27 PM ET
CNN's Ivan Watson describes a dramatic rescue by the Iraqi military as desperate Yazidi civilians flee ISIS fighters.
August 1st, 2014
08:48 AM ET
(CNN) - A Sudanese Christian woman once sentenced to death in her native country because of her faith arrived in her new home, the United States, on Thursday.
Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, her husband and two young children were greeted by a large crowd of supporters at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire. Ibrahim, whose sentence was overturned a few weeks ago, didn't speak with the media.
Her brother-in-law, Gabriel Wani, said there was "a lot of happiness right now."
New Hampshire's senators, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, sent staff members to the terminal and sent out a news release welcoming Ibrahim to the state.FULL STORY
June 28th, 2014
08:12 AM ET
(CNN) - For 1.6 billion people, the holiest month of the year began this past Saturday.
The exact starting date sometimes depends on the locale, but most Muslims across the globe will be fasting, praying and abstaining from sex and smoking during daylight hours. Many call it a time of spiritual purity and rededication to God.
Here's everything you need to know about the observance.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri, or Islamic calendar. The word derives from the Arabic ramida or ar-ramad meaning a fierce, burning heat.
June 20th, 2014
10:18 AM ET
(CNN) - The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted Thursday to allow pastors to marry same-sex couples in states where it is legal.
The church also voted, by an overwhelming majority, to change the language about marriage in the church constitution to "two persons" from a "man and a woman," according to More Light Presbyterians, a group that supports gay rights.
To take effect, that change would need to be approved by a majority of 172 local presbyteries, which have a year to vote, the church said in a statement.
However, starting Saturday, pastors can go ahead and begin marrying same-sex couples in the states that allow it, according to Toya Richards Jackson, a church spokeswoman.
"The church affirmed all its faithful members today. This vote is an answer to many prayers for the Church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples," said Alex McNeill, executive director at More Light Presbyterians.FULL STORY
June 19th, 2014
11:17 AM ET
(CNN) - An alleged former Nazi camp guard who has lived in the United States since the 1950s is facing possible extradition to Germany following his arrest in Philadelphia, authorities said Wednesday.
Federal authorities are moving to extradite Johann (John) Breyer, an 89-year-old U.S. citizen, who is wanted in Germany for war crimes committed during World War II.
Breyer was arrested in Philadelphia, where he has long lived, on Tuesday. Federal Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice on Wednesday ordered him held without bail, pending an extradition hearing in late August.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, German authorities have charged Breyer with complicity in the murder of over 216,000 European Jews from Hungary, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, who were forcibly deported to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp on 158 trains between May and October 1944.FULL STORY
June 17th, 2014
02:36 PM ET
"Creationist Cosmos" has an answer for all the mysteries of the Universe: God did it.
Sharp satire or offensive stereotyping? Weigh in below.
June 1st, 2014
07:02 PM ET
(CNN) - When she was 12, Jennifer Traig's hands were red and raw from washing them so much. She'd start scrubbing a half an hour before dinner; when she was done, she'd hold her hands up like a surgeon until her family sat down to eat.
Her handwashing compulsions began at the time she was studying for her Bat Mitzvah. She was so worried about being exposed to pork fumes that she cleaned her shoes and barrettes in a washing machine.
"Like a lot of people with OCD, I tended to obsess about cleanliness," said Traig, now 42. "But because I was reading various Torah portions, I was obsessed with a biblical definition of cleanliness."
Family dinners were awkward for Tina Fariss Barbour, too, as an adolescent. She would concentrate so hard on praying for forgiveness that if anyone tried to interrupt her thoughts, she wouldn't respond.
"First I had to get rid of all my sins, ask forgiveness, do it in the right way, and then I had to pray for protection," said Barbour, now 50. "Or, if something bad happened to my family, it would be my fault because I had not prayed good enough."
The women come from different faith backgrounds: Barbour is Methodist and Traig is Jewish. But as children they believed fervently that they needed to conduct their own rituals and prayers, or else disaster would befall their families.
Both women say they suffered from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as scrupulosity. A fear of sin or punishment from deities characterizes this condition, saidJonathan Abramowitz, professor and associate chairman of the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, involves unwanted thoughts ("obsessions") and accompanying behaviors called compulsions that patients use to reduce anxiety. In scrupulosity, the obsessions have a religious or moral underpinning.FULL STORY
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.