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CULTURE DIGEST: Top cardinal critiques evolution; megachurch moves into Rockets’ old arena; ‘meth orphans’ grow in prevalence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A prominent cardinal has created a stir within the Roman Catholic Church after expressing discontent over the way some Catholics have misrepresented the church’s position on evolution in order to support the idea of a random process.

Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna and a close friend to Pope Benedict XVI, wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times July 7, saying defenders of Darwinian evolution have often invoked Pope John Paul II’s 1996 statement that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis” when defending their theory as compatible with Christianity.

“But this is not true,” Schonborn wrote. “The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.”

While evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, he argued, evolution in the sense of an “unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection” is not.

Schonborn also defended John Paul’s stance on the issue, saying the late pope’s “rather vague and unimportant” remarks did not properly convey his position, which was to assume that a Creator must have overseen the complex organization of living things.

And Schonborn, as the lead editor of the official 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, noted that the profession of faith states: “Human intelligence is certainly capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason … We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance.”

Kenneth Miller, a professor at Brown University and a Catholic who wrote a book called “Finding Darwin’s God,” told The Times that Schonborn seemed to equate belief in evolution with disbelief in God, which is alarming.

“It may have the effect of convincing Catholics that evolution is something they should reject,” he said.

But Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which supports intelligent design, told The Times the cardinal’s essay “helps blunt the claims” that the church “has spoken on Darwinian evolution in a way that’s supportive.”

In response to the essay, three scientists — two of them Roman Catholic biologists — have requested that Pope Benedict XVI clarify the church’s position on evolution, but no answer has yet been given.

MEGACHURCH MOVES INTO ROCKETS’ OLD ARENA — A recent cultural phenomenon occurred in Houston when a fast-growing church moved its services to a 16,000-seat arena that the local NBA team once called home.

Lakewood Church, a 30,000-member nondenominational congregation led by Pastor Joel Osteen, signed a 30-year lease on Houston’s former Compaq Center and then spent $95 million renovating the structure — replacing locker rooms with nurseries and concession stands with a unified food court.

When the church held its first service in the new facility July 16, the place was packed. Pulsing music, swirling lights and thunderous applause kicked off the Saturday night event as Osteen, his family and Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the arena, The Houston Chronicle reported.

“I look out, and I almost don’t know what to say,” Osteen told the crowd. “I just want to say, ‘I love you.'”

The church started out with just 90 people in 1959, when Osteen’s father, John Osteen, planted it in a working-class neighborhood. Now it’s the largest church in America, and Joel Osteen is a widely watched televangelist with several best-selling motivational books.

Lakewood’s new 606,050 square foot arena features interactive areas for children and youth, a pulpit platform surrounded by two waterfalls using 200 gallons of water each, eight giant video screens and an orchestra pit that can be raised and lowered hydraulically, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The Houston Rockets vacated the building when they moved into the new Toyota Center, and the city wanted to bar whoever took over Compaq from competing with the new arena for events such as concerts, The Dallas Morning News said. Lakewood seemed like a good fit, so the church paid $11.8 million for the three-decade lease with an option to renew for another 30 years at $22 million. The church raised $45 million for the renovations and borrowed the rest.

Osteen is often criticized for preaching a prosperity gospel, where suffering and sin are minimalized and the focus is on how much God wants to bless Christians. He generally stays away from addressing political and doctrinal issues, causing some to characterize his approach as “Christianity lite.”

‘METH ORPHANS’ GROW IN PREVALENCE — Methamphetamine has become the No. 1 illegal drug problem in the nation, according to law enforcement officials, and now agencies that care for children from broken homes have seen a dramatic rise in the number of cases related to the widely used narcotic.

In Oklahoma, the number of foster children in the state is up 16 percent from a year ago. In Kentucky, the numbers are up 12 percent, which means 753 more children in the system, according to a New York Times feature on the subject July 11. Officials in Oregon reported an increase of 569 and said the caseload would be half that number if the methamphetamine problem was conquered. Tennessee saw 300 more children enter foster care in 2004 than 2003, largely because of meth.

The problem is being compared to the crack baby epidemic of the 1990s, though officials say methamphetamine’s potent and destructive nature coupled with the fact that it can be manufactured in a home around kids sets it apart from other drugs.

“It has become harder to attract and keep foster parents because the children of methamphetamine arrive with so many behavioral problems; they may not get into their beds at night because they are so used to sleeping on the floor, and they may resist toilet training because they are used to wearing dirty diapers,” The Times reported.

Often, parents will cook up the drug — which can be made from basic ingredients like cold medicine or fertilizer — in the kitchen while their children play nearby. Then they’ll smoke or inject the drug and eventually pass out for extended times following a rush, never taking care of the children. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that over the past five years, 15,000 children were found at meth labs, The Times said.

“People always ask, what can they do about meth? The important thing you can do is become a foster parent because we’re just seeing so many kids being taken from these homes,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told The Times.

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  • Erin Curry