Religion in Brief

A poster showing French writer Voltaire is stuck on the statue of Place de la Republique, in Paris.

PARK — “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a packed house, and with police protection.

Director Alex Gibney’s film claims that the church routinely intimidates, manipulates and even tortures its members.

Before last week’s premiere, the Church of Scientology took out full-page ads in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times claiming the documentary is full of falsehoods.

But Gibney interviewed former Scientology believers, including Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis, who left the church in 2009 after decades of membership.

As Haggis climbed to the highest levels of Scientology, he finally learned its founder’s ultimate theory: That a tyrannical galactic overlord named Xenu dropped frozen bodies from millions of years ago into volcanoes, and those spirits attach themselves to people today. Scientology claims to “clear” the body and mind of those spirits.

PARIS — A 250-year-old book by the Enlightenment anti-establishment writer Voltaire is climbing best-seller lists in France weeks after attacks by French-born Islamic extremists that left 20 people dead, including the gunmen.

The “Treatise on Tolerance” is a cry against religious fanaticism and stemmed from Voltaire’s conviction that religious differences were at the heart of world strife. He wrote at a time of bloody tension between French Protestants and Catholics.

The Jan. 7-9 attacks started when two gunmen stormed Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that had received death threats for caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, decimating the paper’s staff.

Also attacked was a kosher supermarket, where four hostages died. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was widely seen in France as an attack on freedom of expression and the secular state, and in the days after Voltaire’s writings were frequently invoked. Several bookstores in Paris are giving the Enlightenment philosopher prominent display space.

Voltaire’s book came out in 1763 and now has a place among the best-sellers for Amazon, FNAC and French bookseller Gibert Joseph.

SAN FRANCISCO — A Roman Catholic church in San Francisco has become one of a handful around the country to prohibit girls from being altar servers, a decision that has disturbed some parishioners.

The Rev. Joseph Illo told KPIX-TV that he decided to train only boys to assist him at Mass when he was assigned to Star of the Sea Church last year because he thinks the primary purpose of altar service is preparation for the priesthood, which women are ineligible to join.

In a statement posted on the church’s website, Illo says boys often lose interest in altar service when the programs are co-ed because “girls generally do a better job.”

Girls and women have been permitted to serve Mass alongside priests since Pope John Paul II approved the practice in 1994. But a mixed-gender altar service is not a requirement, and the decision is usually left up to local bishops.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone authorized Star of the Sea’s move to only having altar boys.

PHILADELPHIA — The nonprofit American Bible Society is moving its headquarters to Philadelphia after almost two centuries in New York City.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the move announced last week by Mayor Michael Nutter will bring more than 200 jobs to the city.

Society chief executive officer Roy Peterson tells the newspaper the decision to leave New York was “heart-wrenching.”

But he says it’s the right thing for his staff because living in New York on a nonprofit salary is difficult and Philadelphia is more affordable.

The society runs a worldwide Christian ministry and has a goal of translating the Bible into every language. It was headquartered in New York for 199 years.

It now will be located steps away from Independence Mall, where the Liberty Bell is located.

SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon church leaders are calling for a “balanced approach” in the clash between gay rights and religious freedom.

The church is promising to support some housing and job protections for gays and lesbians in exchange for legal protections for believers who object to the behavior of others.

It’s not clear how much common ground Mormons will find with this new campaign.

The church insists it still opposes gay marriage and believes that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman violates God’s law.

But Mormon leaders who held a rare news conference Tuesday said “we must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values.”

Associated Press