American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who North Korea convicted of leading a plot to overthrow its government in 2012. Image courtesy of

American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who North Korea convicted of leading a plot to overthrow its government in 2012. Image courtesy of (Image source)

Kenneth Bae speaks

In a video, the devout American Christian missionary says he has sinned against North Korea, the nation holding him captive after convicting him of masterminding a Christian plot to overthrow the government. North Korea has a history of exacting and publicizing confessions. Reuters reports that the U.S. has offered to send a special envoy to NK to help free Bae, but said meaningful talks are contingent on the North Koreans’ willingness to stop threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Obama to chat with Francis

President Obama will meet with Pope Francis in Vatican City on March 27. The two are slated to talk about their shared interest in reducing poverty and inequality, according to the White House. In other Francis news . . .  Visiting a Roman parish this weekend that is especially welcoming to immigrants, Uncle Frank called for greater compassion for those who live far from where they were born. Wrote John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter: The pope called on wealthy nations to be “welcoming” of immigrants and to “preserve their values.”

Girls permitted to lay tefillin

This is a big deal in modern Orthodox Judaism. Jewish law requires teenage boys and men to lay tefillin, or wrap their arms with leather strips attached to a box containing the words of Judaism’s central prayer — as a way of reminding them of their connection to God. You hardly ever see a woman doing this, and many Orthodox rabbis say they shouldn’t. But at SARS, a modern Orthodox high school in New York City, two girls have been given permission. Said one of them, sophomore Yael Marans:

I’m not going to say that every time I lay tefillin I feel a renewed awe of God, but sometimes it really makes me think. It’s just something in my day that makes me really conscious and concentrated.

Exorcism 911 tapes released

Police outside Washington,D.C. have released the 911 tapes related to a the death of two children, and the injuring of their two siblings — violence their mother says she needed to inflict to exorcise the devil. She is charged with murder and attempted murder.


Vatican Bank arrest

A former Vatican monsignor, already charged with a plot to smuggle 20 million euros into Italy, was further charged today with laundering millions through the Vatican bank, according to Reuters. These new charges against Monsignor Nunzio Scarano had been expected, but they further tarnish the image of the beleaguered bank, which Pope Francis has vowed to reform or close. 

Pope’s man to top prelate: loosen up

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the head of the pope’s “kitchen cabinet,” told the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog Monday to be more open to reform in the Roman Catholic Church. Reuters’ Tom Heneghan writes about the rare public chiding, in which Maradiaga calls out Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, picked by the previous pope to lead the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. 

30 Chicago priests under sex abuse spotlight

More than 6,000 pages of documents detailing how the Archdiocese of Chicago handled the sexual abuse of children by 30 priests will be made public today, according to the AP, which calls it “the broadest look yet into the details of what the church knew and did — or didn’t do — about the scandal. Attorneys for the victims said they expect to find evidence of priest shuffling, where perpetrators were moved to different parishes, where they often abused other young people.

MLK speech unearthed

An intern at the New York State Museum has found a long lost speech that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered in 1962 at a centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation. Then. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller wanted King to give the speech at the event, which he was hosting, but King had a conflict. Then Rockefeller offered to make a sizable donation to rebuild black churches burned by arsonists in the South. And King changed his mind.

UN challenges Malawi anti-gay laws

In an unusual move, the UN AIDS taskforce and human rights groups will launch a court battle against Malawi’s laws criminalizing homosexuality, where a homosexual relationship can lead to a 14-year jail sentence. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and donors have been pressuring the nation to relax its anti-gay laws since a gay couple who met at church married in a traditional ceremony in 2009. They were then arrested.

More worthwhile reading

Mark Galli writes about Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson, and why he is a model of inauthenticity and holiness.

From the Friendly Atheist, how to have a friendly religious debate.

– Lauren Markoe

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Categories: Beliefs

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011. She previously was Washington correspondent for The State (Columbia, S.C.)


  1. Thank you Ms. Marcoe for your columns and posts! I hope to write more later as I have a appointment very soon but wanted to write this much to thank you for your coverage of religion news that is without bias or spin. Refreshing! Especially to this now near atheist!

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