Religion Roundup: Big News For Popes & A Sex Jihad

This Week in Religion

ICYMI, here's the short version: Pope Francis excommunicated an Australian priest who was supportive of homosexuality and the ordination of women, while his predecessor Pope Benedict denied that he tried to cover up child abuse within the church. Al-Monitor got word that the two Orthodox Bishops kidnapped from Aleppo are still alive, and that Turkish officials are working to secure their release. There's also no evidence that Tunisian women are waging "sex jihad" in Syria. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani turned a new leaf when he condemned the Holocaust, and a transgender theology professor at Azusa Pacific University was asked to step down from his position after coming out. In New York, a Sikh Columbia University professor was attacked in what is being considered a hate crime. The attackers yelled "get Osama" and "terrorist" at Prabhjot Singh, who wears a turban in accordance with Sikh tradition.

That was a wafer-full. Let's get to the main course news, shall we?

Canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII

The Catholic Church announced Monday that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be made named saints on April 27. The two popes appeal to different wings of the church, with John Paul being a conservative favorite and John often seen as an advocate for the church's progressive wing.

Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963, was a reformer who called the Second Vatican Council, a move that modernized the church. Pope Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle — usually needed for canonization — just for him.

The announcement comes after more than eight years of a concentrated push by supporters of Pope John Paul II to expedite his canonization. Pope Benedict XVI waived the customary five-year waiting period after his death to begin the process — a fitting move, perhaps, since the pope overhauled the canonization process, naming more saints than any other pope.

But not everyone was a cheerleader for John Paul II's canonization, citing his lack of action on the church's multinational child sex abuse scandals. "Santo non subito!" wrote Maureen Dowd in an April 2011 column for the New York Times , playing on a popular pro-canonization chant after his death. "How can you be a saint if you fail to protect innocent children?...Not beatifying or canonizing John Paul would be hugely symbolic, a message far more powerful than the ad hoc apologies and payoffs to victims," she wrote.

In most cases, the canonization process involves four steps over a number of years: A person who is accepted for consideration is named a "servant of God," at least five years after their death (this requirement was waived for Pope John Paul II). Then the candidate must be shown to have lived a life of heroic virtue, after which he or she is called "venerable." The next step, beatification, involves proof that the person made a miracle happen, and the final step — canonization — calls for another miracle and approval by the Pope.

Modern canonizations often took place over decades before Pope John Paul II expedited the process, but his nine-year wait is by no means the shortest. In the early centuries of the Catholic Church, saints were canonized within a few years.

Religion Longreads

Want to catch up on some good religion longreads? We've got you covered:

Sally Morrow at the Religion News Service spent a day with two young women serving as Mormon missionaries. Her photo essay looks at an average day during Sister Moody and Sister Ray’s mission in Independence, Mo.

At one Southern California mosque, Mustafa Umar is an imam who talks to teenagers about weed, porn, and pop culture. Umar grew up in the United States and is one of just the 15 percent of full-time imams who aren’t foreign-born. The Washington Post explores how leaders like Umar are now in high demand in Muslim communities, who are worried that older Imams won’t connect with the youth.

Moody Bible College — a conservative evangelical school — lifted its decades-old ban on alcohol to become more attractive to prospective faculty and staff. Students are still prohibited from imbibing, though. Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times reports on the culture shift.

The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins reports on Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian military commander who might be the most important general in the Middle East today. Suleimani is at the center of a sectarian battle for Syria: “If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran," Filkins reports a shiite cleric said.