Israel's President

Invited to Vatican

President Moshe Katsav of Israel will visit Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Nov. 17, marking the first official visit by an Israeli head of state to the seat of Roman Catholicism.

The pope, who as a boy was briefly forced to enlist in the Hitler Youth movement, appears to have invited Katsav to underscore dialogue between Catholicism and Judaism on the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Time."

Produced during the Second Vatican Council, the document denounces the notion that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus Christ -- a belief that fueled centuries of conflict between the faiths.

"The visit is of great symbolic value," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The Vatican has not yet commented on the visit, which has not been officially announced.

Katsav, Israel's ceremonial president, will make the visit 12 years after Jerusalem and the Holy See established diplomatic relations.

Relations took another step forward when John Paul II visited Israel in 2000 and placed a handwritten note at the Western Wall expressing remorse for Christian hostility toward Jews.

Tensions increased in August after Israeli officials accused Pope Benedict of omitting their country from a list of terrorist targets that included Britain, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

The rift appeared to heal, however, when the pope visited a Jewish synagogue in Cologne, West Germany, during his first trip outside Italy.

-- Religion News Service

Salvation Army's

Hiring Rules Upheld

Addressing a key aspect of President Bush's faith-based initiative, a federal judge has ruled that the Salvation Army has the right to hire employees according to its faith principles, even when the charity receives government funding.

"The notion that the Constitution would compel a religious organization contracting with the state to secularize its ranks is untenable in light of the Supreme Court's recognition that the government may contract with religious organizations for the provision of social services," U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein said in a Sept. 30 opinion issued in New York City.

The opinion dismisses parts of a case filed against the Salvation Army and New York officials in 2004 by current and former Salvation Army employees who said they were victims of religious discrimination.

George Washington University Law School professor Ira C. Lupu said Stein's ruling helps the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which has argued that acceptance of government funding should not change a religious group's hiring policies.

"This opinion very much reaffirms what people in the White House office have been saying," he said.

-- Religion News Service