Presbyterians Fire Two

Two officials of the Presbyterian Church (USA) who were part of a controversial delegation that met with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon have been fired.

Church officials, however, would not say whether the firings of Kathy Lueckert and the Rev. Peter Sulyok were related to last month's Middle East visit. After angry criticism from Jewish groups, church leaders called the visit "misguided at best" and said statements by the alleged terrorist group were "reprehensible."

The firings were announced Nov. 11 by John Detterick, executive director of the church's General Assembly Council, which acts as the church's board of directors. Detterick said legal restrictions kept him from disclosing details.

Lueckert was Detterick's deputy and essentially the church's No. 3 official. Sulyok coordinated the church's Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, which arranged the visit.

"I know these decisions raise many questions for staff, but please realize that all staff have the right to confidentiality regarding their employment," Detterick said in a memo to church headquarters in Louisville. "Therefore, this is all I can say. I am keeping Kathy and Peter in my prayers, and I hope you will also."

The visit, which included a stop at a Hezbollah-run camp in southern Lebanon, came on the heels of the church's controversial decision to consider financial divestment in companies doing business in Israel.

Jewish groups were angered that church officials said "relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders."

-- Religion News Service

U.S. House Faith Survey

A religious survey of the incoming U.S. Congress shows an all-time high of 67 Roman Catholic Republicans, including six of the nine new Catholics in the House. There are 86 Catholics from the Democratic Party, Catholics' longtime political home.

The biennial survey is conducted by Albert Menendez of the Silver Spring-based Americans for Religious Liberty and posted on the group's Web site, www.arlinc.org.

Catholics have reached their highest total ever, 153, and remain the largest denominational group, followed by Baptists (72), Methodists (61), Presbyterians (50), Episcopalians (41) and Jews (37). Six members listed no religious affiliation.

Most totals changed little from 2002. The largest declines were of three seats each for Lutherans and Episcopalians.

The 38 new House members include one clergyman, United Methodist Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.). Jess Fortenberry (R-Neb.) holds a divinity degree from Catholic Franciscan University, and Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.) spent a year at a Church of the Nazarene seminary.

The data cover 533 members because two Louisiana races for House seats await Dec. 4 runoffs.

-- Associated Press

Homelessness Trends

The nation's rescue missions have seen an increase in female clients and are finding that older people need their services more, according to a survey by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.

This year, 23 percent of clients were women, up from 18 percent in 1994.

"Rescue missions responded to the extreme needs of homeless women and children and opened new shelters to care for families," said the Rev. Stephen E. Burger, executive director of the association, based in Kansas City, Mo. "We could be serving more females today, but most women's facilities are usually at capacity."

The 15th annual Snapshot Survey of the Homeless, involving 20,500 individuals, also found that mission clients are generally older than in the past.

"In 1994, half were under age 35, and in 2004, nearly two-thirds are age 36 or older," Burger said in a statement.

Other findings in the survey were similar to those in previous years. For example, 62 percent of those responding said they have been homeless less than one year, compared with 65 percent in 2003 and 56 percent in 1994.

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed in this year said they had never been homeless before, compared with 37 percent in 2003.

The survey was conducted at 154 missions across North America.

-- Religion News Service