Tolling of Bells Sought

Churches across the country are being asked to ring their bells tomorrow to extend the "profoundly spiritual tone" of antiwar protests outside President Bush's Texas ranch and to mourn U.S. troops who have died in Iraq.

Faithful America, an online advocacy group started by the National Council of Churches USA, is also requesting churches to toll a bell each Sunday for every soldier who died the previous week.

But the bells also are meant to show solidarity with Cindy Sheehan, Celeste Zappala and the mothers who founded Gold Star Families for Peace. Sheehan is camped outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, waiting for a meeting with him.

"Let us all pause to remember their sacrifice, to remember their families as we seek God's help in sharing the burden of Cindy Sheehan, Celeste Zappala and the other Gold Star families," said Vince Isner, the director of

The head of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. Bob Edgar, has participated in the protest with Sheehan and Zappala. Edgar, an opponent of the war, said he got the idea for tolling bells from former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Isner said the bells are meant to keep "attention focused on the well-being of our heroic men and women in uniform and the families who worry about them every day."

The council is an umbrella group for 35 mainline Protestant, Orthodox and historically black churches.

-- Religion News Service

Group Endorses Roberts

Judge John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's pick to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, has been deemed "qualified to serve" by a group representing the Conservative branch of Judaism.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the public policy committee of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism said Roberts passes guidelines crafted on the basis of Jewish laws and sacred texts.

Three Conservative leaders said Roberts appears to meet general criteria that a judge be "well trained, well educated and enjoy wide respect"; that he eschews an "ideologically defined approach to judicial interpretation"; and that he has had a "balanced respect" for the law in past decisions.

William Bresnick and Rabbi Jack Moline, co-chairmen of the public policy committee, and Mark Waldman, director of public policy, said their seal of approval reflects the position of the Conservative movement, which includes more than 1 million Jews in about 700 synagogues.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has not weighed in because it does not endorse or oppose specific judicial nominees, said its Washington director, Nathan Diament.

The Religious Action Center, which represents Reform Judaism, also has not endorsed or rejected Roberts. It is asking Jews to submit questions that they would like Roberts to answer before Specter's committee during confirmation hearings next month.

-- Religion News Service

Seminaries Reviewed

A Vatican review of U.S. Catholic seminaries will begin in September, with a special focus on how the schools prepare priests to "faithfully live chastely" under the shadow of the sexual abuse scandal.

Three- and four-member teams appointed by the Vatican will visit all 229 U.S. seminaries, Catholic News Service reported Monday. Most visits will be made this academic year, though smaller schools will be reviewed next year.

In 2004, there were 4,556 seminary students in the United States, including 1,248 in college-level programs. The last apostolic visitation to U.S. seminaries was 20 years ago.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, who leads the church's Military Archdiocese, will oversee the visits for the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education.

The review was proposed three years ago during a meeting of U.S. cardinals and Pope John Paul II after the scandal erupted in Boston. The U.S. bishops promised "complete cooperation" with the visits in reforms they adopted in June 2002.

Church officials will pay special attention to how seminarians are prepared to live a celibate life and how they are schooled in moral theology and church teaching on sexuality.

Gay Catholic groups are worried that the visits might become an inquisition for gay seminarians; Pope Benedict XVI reportedly is considering guidelines on whether the church should ban gay men -- celibate or otherwise -- from the priesthood.

-- Religion News Service