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Jan 21, 12:10 PM EST

Religion news in brief

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AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

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Mass. Catholics hold vigil in endangered churches
Convent shuts after helping generations 'overcome'
Inside a Voodoo Gede ceremony
Religion News
Pope warns of 'absentee fathers' in new chapter on family

Mormon leaders call for measures protecting gay rights

Pope: Christian unity means no competing for faithful

Swiss Guard's cookbook reveals Vatican culinary treats

After dove debacle, Vatican makes balloons new peace symbol

Pope: Ridding stereotypes key to Christian-Muslim relations

Pope to new cardinals: No flashy parties

Pope to families: Learn to talk to one another again

France sees as many anti-Muslim acts in Jan as all of 2014

Belgium looking at new lead in Jewish Museum attack

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Religious rights advocates offer to endure Saudi's lashes

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Seven members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have offered to personally endure most of the whippings that a liberal Saudi blogger has been sentenced to endure for "insulting Islam."

USCIRF (YOO'-surf) Chair Katrina Lantos Swett says she and her fellow commissioners made their offer to Saudi officials as individual followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism rather than as representatives of the government agency.

Raif Badawi was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes and was fined $266,000. He received the first 50 lashes in a public square earlier this month.

In a letter, the seven signatories, including former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, call Badawi's sentence a "grave injustice" and say they would rather present themselves to each suffer 100 of his lashes "than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured."

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Jindal: Muslims establish `no-go zones' outside civic control

WASHINGTON (AP) - Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is standing by refuted claims that some European countries have allowed Muslims to establish autonomous neighborhoods where they govern by a harsh version of Islamic law and where police decline to patrol.

The Republican delivered his remarks Monday about "no-go zones" during a speech to a London think tank. Jindal, who is considering a presidential campaign in 2016, later defended the statements after facing questions about his facts.

The claims about "no-go zones" are similar to those a Fox News guest author made last week about places where non-Muslims were not welcome in the United Kingdom.

The author and Fox News later apologized for issuing the comments after British Prime Minister David Cameron called author Steven Emerson a "complete idiot."

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Church electrician: Can't remember Codex stealing confession

MADRID (AP) - The former electrician for Spain's famed cathedral in Santiago de Compostela has denied having ever seen the priceless 12th-century Codex Calixtinus that authorities found in his garage and has insisted he doesn't remember confessing that he stole it.

The richly-decorated Codex, which went missing in 2011, is considered the first guide for Christians making the pilgrimage to venerate St. James.

Jose Manuel Fernandez Castineiras, who is in his 60s, made the declarations a day after his lawyer argued that the confession should be thrown out. The lawyer, Carmen Ventoso, also said judges should throw out the security video that appeared to show her client in a cathedral office stuffing money into his pockets.

Authorities who searched the electrician's home in 2012 also found other valuable religious works and recovered more than $1.2 million.

Fernandez Castineiras faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

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Springfield bishop objects to hospital's same-sex benefits

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has expressed deep concern at the decision of a Catholic-based hospital group to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees.

The Mercy Health System, which has about 9,000 employees in Springfield, Missouri, said last week that it plans to offer benefits to legally married same-sex spouses beginning this spring. The benefits will not be extended to domestic partners.

The hospital said it made the decision because of recent changes in government regulations for same-sex couples, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

But in a statement, Bishop James Johnston said Catholics should reject the view that "marriage is whatever the government says it is." He added, "No believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God's law because of `regulations.'"

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Best-seller about journey to heaven is pulled

NEW YORK (AP) - A best-selling account of a 6-year-old boy's journey to heaven and back has been pulled after the boy retracted his story.

A spokesman for Tyndale House, a leading Christian publisher, says Alex Malarkey's "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven" is being withdrawn.

Last week, Malarkey acknowledged in an open letter that he had lied to get attention. He added that "people should read the Bible" instead.

"The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" told of a 2004 auto accident which left Malarkey in a coma. According to the book, co-written by Alex's father, Kevin Malarkey, he had visions of angels and of meeting Jesus.

Many Christians have challenged the claims in Malarkey's book and other best-sellers such as "Heaven is for Real." Last June, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution declaring "the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one's understanding of the truth about heaven and hell."

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