Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany, leaves a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican in this Oct. 19, 2012. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy CNS

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany, leaves a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican in this Oct. 19, 2012. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy CNS

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Welcome to the Wednesday roundup of religion news and the Weekly Facepalm Edition:

Girl too boyish for Christian school?

Yep, that’s what a Virginia Christian school is saying about eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. She likes sports, wears sneakers and short hair, and that’s too confusing for the folks who run Timberlake Christian according to “biblical standards.” So they told Sunnie’s grandparents the girl needs to be more girlie before she can come back to school:

“We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education,” the school writes.

They then go on to cite the famous verses where Mary Magdalene plays with Barbies and a giddy young Jesus gets a G.I. Joe for Christmas.

Is “Conscious Uncoupling” the new divorce?

Continuing with the headscratching theme, have you seen the announcement from movie star Gwyneth Paltrow and musician husband Chris Martin that the couple is separating? It’s titled “Conscious Uncoupling.” That’s a new one on me. Next up: my rant about “Unconscious Coupling.” That has a longer history.

The latest in pre-mortem obits

I am old-fashioned, I guess, and just need newfangled ways wrapped in a more traditional package. Perfect example: Actor James Rebhorn, one of my favorites, died last Friday. He was inspired by the last play he appeared in, in which a character hates the obituaries that appear after a person’s death and so wrote her own. Rebhorn, who had been battling cancer for years, did the same, and it’s an absolutely lovely piece that was posted on the website of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hoboken, NJ, where he was a longtime member. It’s all about gratitude, and about everyone except himself. A taste:

His mother, Ardell Frances Rebhorn, nee Hoch, loved him very much and supported all his dreams. She taught him the value of good manners and courtesy, and that hospitality is no small thing. His father, James Harry Rebhorn, was no less devoted to him. From him, Jim learned that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship. A job well done rarely takes more or less time than a job poorly done. They gave him his faith and wisely encouraged him to stay in touch with God.

“Bling Bishop” in Germany is fired

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg had sort of been in limbo since controversy over his luxe reno of his home and office exploded. Via the Pray Tell blog, news out of the Vatican this morning announces that Tebartz-van Elst is toast — despite high-profile support from Cardinal Mueller at the CDF and Archbishop Ganswein, the retired pope’s closest aide:

In view of the fact that it has come to a situation in the Diocese of Limburg which impedes a fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by His Excellency Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Holy See has accepted the resignation offered by the bishop on October 20, 2013, and named an apostolic administrator in the person of His Excellency Manfred Grothe.

The departing bishop, His Excellency Tebartz-van Elst, will be entrusted with another assignment within a given time.

The Holy Father implores the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to accept the decision of the Holy See willingly and to strive to find their way to a climate of mercy and reconciliation.

Headline of the Day

My nominee:

“British government bans burning of fetuses to heat hospitals “

Moving on…

Map of the Day

Andrew Sullivan flags it — a New Republic piece on the spread of different means of execution in the U.S.

“Hobby Lobby,” and Popes and Presidents…

Defenders of faith-based businesses are feeling good after yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments as to whether for-profit corporations are religious entities with conscience rights to deny contraception insurance to employees. (Yeah, but will they sing in the choir on Sunday morning?) SCOTUS Blog has a great recap. Cathy Grossman wonders about the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Next up: Will Pope Francis spike the ball when he and President Obama meet for the first time in the Vatican tomorrow? Or is that uncharitable? Here is Sister Mary Ann Walsh with some calibrated wisdom on “What Pope Francis can teach President Obama this week.”

Plus: For some historical reference points for how things might go, here are two links:

  • First, the USCCB blog has a list of all 28 previous Pope-POTUS meetings, and various historical details;
  • Then, CNN’s Belief Blog has “5 Surprising Moments Between Popes and Presidents”

Protestants missing the “Annunciation”?

Many noted the perhaps providential serendipity that the SCOTUS arguments over the birth control mandate coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation, which marks the date (nine months before Christmas — get it?) when the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. Ted Olsen has a fine explainer on why that hasn’t been a big focus for Protestants.

Can Israel save American Judaism?

The dynamic is usually viewed the other way round, but Israel is proposing a new plan to use the Jewish state to bolster the Jewish identity of young American Jews. The Forward has questions.

The Best of the Rest from RNS

Was Jesus divine? Publisher hedges bets with Bart Ehrman’s new book

World Vision to recognize employees’ same-sex marriages

American Bible Society to sell 12-story NYC building

Separated at birth?

Finally, check out the Journalist and the Jesuit at an RNA event last night, via Sarah Bailey’s Twitter feed. Can you figure out which is which?

Hint: Yes, some Jesuits wear clerics. Bonus: Some journalists don’t, despite our sacerdotal pretensions.

Thanks for reading, and consider making a donation to our nonprofit arm to support the best in religion newswriting. Or at least sign up yourself or friends and family and frenemies to receive this roundup via email every weekday, free.

David Gibson

Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He is a national reporter for RNS and has written two books on Catholic topics, the latest a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.


  1. There’s likely a whole lot more to the Sunnie story that can’t be discussed. That original news report is local TV news bonanza. Controversial topic, emotional grandparents, lop-sided “reporting” and one smiley, happy girl.

    Throw in a few gay Republican kittens on a closed bridge, and you have the story of the year.

    • I hate to take the bait, but did you read the actual letter that was posted on the article site? “This request does not in any way stem from Sunnie’s academic performance or general cooperation with school rules.”

      What I love are the texts they use to base their “Biblical Principles” on – the first is Leviticus 20:13a – yes, they use the designation “a” for the first half of the verse, which reads, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall have committed an abomination.” 20:13b (apparently excluded from their Biblical Principles): “They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Talk about your selective reading! Another is Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus’ pronouncement on marriage that includes the line from the creation story about God making humans from the beginning “male and female.” Fine, but then Jesus continues: “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” So much for clear gender boundaries!

      So yes, Paolo, there is more going on here than is being discussed – though it should be.

  2. On her deathbed my mother dictated her obituary to my brother. She feared he would make things up. She wanted only facts, no sentiment, and that’s what she wrote. She wanted – and got – the obit to be published the day after her funeral so her elderly friends would not be troubled by traveling to her one day wake, or troubled by feeling guilty because they didn’t go to the wake.

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