Religion in Brief


BEIRUT — The Islamic State group has collected millions of dollars in ransom for a group of Assyrian Christians it kidnapped in Syria a year ago.

That’s according to Christian officials and an opposition group. The last of the 230 hostages are just being freed. The release ended a yearlong saga for the Christians, many of them women and children, during which families had no news from their loved ones.

Younan Talia, of the Assyrian Democratic Organization, told The Associated Press that about 40 remaining captives were released early Monday and arrived in the northeastern town of Tal Tamr.

He said the release came after mediation led by a top Assyrian priest in northern Syria.

The extremists captured the Assyrians, members of an ancient Christian sect, last February after overrunning several communities.

— Victims of clergy abuse have won permission to be present next week when Pope Francis’s finance minister testifies from Rome to an Australian inquiry into child sex offenses within the Roman Catholic Church.

Child abuse victims angry that Cardinal George Pell will not return to Australia to testify at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had requested that they be allowed to hear in person Pell’s testimony by video conference. The head of the inquiry says the request was reasonable.

A crowd funding website set up to raise $39,000 to send 15 abuse victims and supporters to Rome had raised more than $144,000 so far.

Pell, whom the pope placed in charge of the Vatican’s finances in 2014, was to testify Monday for a third time at the royal commission. He is accused of creating a victims’ compensation program mainly to protect the church’s assets and of using aggressive tactics to discourage victims’ lawsuits, all while he was a bishop in Australia. He has denied any wrongdoing.

SALT LAKE CITY —Several top leaders from Warren Jeffs’ polygamous sect have been arrested on federal accusations of food stamp fraud and money laundering, marking one of the biggest blows to the group in years.

Prosecutors say the sect based on the Utah-Arizona border diverted funds from Utah’s nutrition assistance program for inappropriate use by its leaders.

A total of 11 people were charged in the scheme, including Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs, top-ranking leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and brothers of imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs.

A federal prosecutor says the case has nothing to do with religion, but fraud.

University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora, who has studied the church, says the government is sending a message that it “will not tolerate crimes committed in the name of religion.”

ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor says changes are coming to a bill allowing faith-based organizations to refuse service to gay couples without repercussion.

Supporters say it’s intended to prevent religious adoption agencies, schools and other organizations from losing licenses, state grants, or other government benefits for their religious beliefs about same-sex marriage.

The state’s business community continued to marshal opposition to the proposal, wary of the type of economic backlash Indiana experienced following 2015 passage of a broader “religious freedom” law.

At an event touting the state’s booming film and television industry, Gov. Nathan Deal said his office is working with legislative leaders and declined to say whether he supports the Senate-approved version.

Associated Press