Christian group lists the world's worst persecutors

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - North Korea continues to be the worst

country in the world to be a Christian, according to the new World

Watch List released by Open Doors USA.

It ranks North Korea as the world's worst persecutor of

Christians for the 10th year in a row, followed by five Muslim

nations -- Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran and Maldives.

The president of Open Doors USA, the Rev. Carl Moeller

(MUL'-ur), notes that Americans have died to defend an Afghan

regime that ranks as the world's second worst persecutor of

Christians, while third-ranked Saudi Arabia remains a U.S. ally.

Moeller says he's saddened that the Obama administration appears

to place a higher priority on promoting gay rights around the world

than defending Christians' religious rights.


Christian youth conference gives $100K to fight human


ATLANTA (AP) - The 45,000 Christian students attending this

week's Passion 2012 conference have given $100,000 to the host city

of Atlanta to fight child exploitation and sex trafficking.

The Rev. Louie Giglio presented the donation

Wednesday to Mayor Kasim Reed, who said, "The Lord is being lifted

up in the Georgia Dome, and Pastor Louie and the Passion movement

is really taking hold in the city of Atlanta."

Reed said the money would be used to help Atlanta police combat

sex crimes.

He and Giglio were joined onstage by Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey

Cagle, who saluted the students as fellow believers. Cagle said,

"For all of us, it's about knowing Christ and not only having a

deep relationship with him but making him known to others."

Passion 2012 started Monday and wraps up this afternoon.


Bachmann quits race, says she'll fight for issues

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Michele Bachmann says her failed quest

for the GOP presidential nomination hasn't made her lose faith.

The Minnesota congresswoman ended her campaign Wednesday after

placing sixth in the Iowa caucuses. But she said, "My faith in the

Lord God Almighty, this country and our republic is unshakeable."

She said that's because America's principles are based on the

beliefs of the nation's founders, which she maintains "were rooted

in the immutable truths of the holy Scripture, the Bible."

Bachmann added that she's confident God can still use her to

promote the causes she emphasized on the campaign trail. She told

reporters, "I look forward to the next chapter in God's plan."


Family dogs celebrated with Jewish coming of age ceremonies

STANHOPE, N.J. (AP) - Some Jewish pet owners are holding "Bark

Mitzvahs" when their dogs come of age.

It's one of the latest crazes in dog-lover circles and part of a

booming multi-million dollar industry that includes catered party

packages costing almost $100.

The Bar Mitzvah is an ancient Jewish religious ceremony. It

marks the coming of age of Jewish boys and recognizes them as

adults, responsible for their moral and religious duties.

But Lee Day, who performs Bark Mitzvahs in New Jersey, says she

believes "animals have a right to have a party and a religion."

Connecticut Rabbi Daniel Satlow disagrees, calling the

ceremonies "kind of insulting" to a sacred Jewish tradition.


LA auxiliary bishop resigns, admits fathering kids

LOS ANGELES (AP) - An auxiliary bishop for the Roman Catholic

Archdiocese of Los Angeles has resigned after admitting that he

fathered two children who are now teenagers.

Pope Benedict on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Bishop

Gabino Zavala. He was in charge of the San Gabriel Region in the

nation's most populous archdiocese.

In a letter to the faithful, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez

says Zavala told him in December that he had two children who live

with their mother in a different state. Gomez says the archdiocese

has offered to help with the children's college costs.

Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg says it appears Zavala had a

consensual affair with an adult but he has no other details.

The Vatican will choose a replacement.


Boston cardinal marks 10th anniversary of crisis

BOSTON (AP) - Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley is marking the 10th

anniversary of the start of the clergy sex abuse crisis with

reflections on an event he says "forever changed" the Roman

Catholic church worldwide.

O'Malley released a letter and his reflections on Wednesday.

That's two days before the anniversary of a 2002 Boston Globe

story that sparked a wave of revelations about dozens of pedophile

priests and the church leaders who transferred them between

parishes while hiding their crimes.

O'Malley said Wednesday that while the church can never cease to

"beg forgiveness" from those who were harmed, it has since

enacted reforms that protect children.

And he asked Catholics who have left the church to return to

make it stronger and safer for all people.


Wash. Gov. Gregoire supports gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Chris Gregoire (GREG'-wahr) says she

now supports legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state,

although it's been a personal battle for her because she's


Gregoire, a Democrat, says she now believes that "religions can

decide what they want to do, but it's not OK for the state to


A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle

responded that "the position of the Catholic Church is clear,"

and the Legislature should "uphold the current legal definition of

marriage as between a man and a woman."

The state's first domestic partnership law, which the

Legislature passed in 2007, provided hospital visitation rights,

the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and

inheritance rights when there is no will.

In 2009, the Legislature passed, and voters upheld, what was

known as the "everything-but-marriage" bill, expanding those



RI religious leaders urge lawmakers to help poor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island religious leaders are

pressing state lawmakers to remember homeless and poor residents as

they begin their work for the year.

The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition held a vigil Wednesday at

the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to "govern with wisdom and

compassion." The event brought together leaders from the

Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths.

The Rev. Donald Anderson says the vigil was intended not to

criticize lawmakers but to encourage them to vote with the state's

most vulnerable citizens in mind.

Rhode Island's unemployment rate is among the highest in the

nation, at 10.5 percent.

Federal census figures show some 12 percent of the state's

residents live in poverty.


Source: Toilet denial, then NY Islam center attack

NEW YORK (AP) - A law enforcement official says a man hurled

firebombs at an Islamic cultural center in part because he wasn't

allowed to use its bathrooms and targeted four other New York-area

sites on New Year's Day over personal grievances.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on

condition of anonymity because the case is still being

investigated. He says the man made anti-Muslim statements and could

be charged with a hate crime in the Islamic center attack.

Police say the man was taken into custody Tuesday after he was

tracked through a stolen car believed to be at the scene of at

least two of the attacks Sunday evening on a convenience store,

three homes and the cultural center.

Police say he made statements implicating himself in the

attacks, which didn't injure anyone.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-05-12 0334EST