Abbey monks may keep making, selling caskets

Benedictine monks may keep selling plain, low-cost caskets from their monastery outside New Orleans, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, finding that a regulation that only state-licensed funeral directors may sell coffins in Louisiana had no reasonable grounds.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in favor of St. Joseph Abbey and against the state board of funeral directors.

The three-dozen Catholic monks had long made plain wooden caskets for themselves. They set up St. Joseph Woodworks to sell coffins to outsiders in 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina flattened 60 percent of the forests they had been leasing to timber companies, Abbot Justin Brown said Wednesday.

— Associated Press

Ex-pastor sentenced for sex with a teenager

A former pastor of an Indiana megachurch was sentenced to 12 years in prison Wednesday on charges resulting from a sexual relationship he had with a teenager he was counseling.

Jack Schaap, 55, pastor for 11 years at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, a Chicago suburb, had pleaded guilty to a federal charge of transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana.

Schaap was employed by the church and the associated Hyles-Anderson College for about 30 years, according to a spokesman for the church.

The girl was 16 when the encounters began and turned 17 during the course of the activity, according to prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano gave Schaap two years’ more prison time than prosecutors had recommended and also ordered five years of supervised release.

— Reuters

Researchers note rise in autism diagnoses

As many as one in 50 U.S. school-age children have been diagnosed with autism, up from one in 86 in 2007, with much of the increase involving milder cases, suggesting the rise is linked to growing awareness and better testing methods, government researchers said Wednesday.

In line with previous estimates, boys in the study were four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, according to the study, which is based on parent reports of autism diagnoses in 2011-12 compared with 2007.

According to the study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, much of the increase in the estimates was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized autism.

— Reuters

School districts join forces on lunch: Urban school districts in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas announced Wednesday that they are joining forces to coordinate school lunch planning in an attempt to keep costs down while providing healthful food choices. To kick off the initiative, students in all six districts were being served the same lunch Wednesday featuring chicken, brown rice with seasoned black beans, steamed broccoli, fresh fruit and milk.

— From news services