Pope Benedict stunned the Roman Catholic Church on Monday when he announced he would stand down, the first pope to do so in 700 years, saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to carry on, Reuters reports. Church officials tried to relay a climate of calm confidence in the running of a 2,000-year-old institution, but the decision could lead to uncertainty in a Church already besieged by scandal for covering up sexual abuse of children by priests. The soft-spoken German, who always maintained that he never wanted to be pope, was an uncompromising conservative on social and theological issues, fighting what he regarded as the increasing secularization of society. It remains to be seen whether his successor will continue such battles or do more to bend with the times. Despite his firm opposition to tolerance of homosexual acts, his eight-year reign saw gay marriage accepted in many countries. He has staunchly resisted allowing women to be ordained as priests, and opposed embryonic stem cell research, although he retreated slightly from the position that condoms could never be used to fight AIDS. He repeatedly apologized for the Church’s failure to root out child abuse by priests, but critics said he did too little and the efforts failed to stop a rapid decline in Church attendance in the West, especially in his native Europe. In addition to child sexual abuse crises, his papacy saw the Church rocked by Muslim anger after he compared Islam to violence. Jews were upset over rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier. During a scandal over the Church’s business dealings, his butler was accused of leaking his private papers.

Other news:

  • In what critics are seeing as an ultimate power grab, state officials in Connecticut are pushing forward a bill to require state investigations of children like never before, calling for a “confidential behavioral health assessment” of every public school student in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, and every homeschool student at ages 12, 14 and 17, reports WorldNetDaily. The proposed Bill 374 is being described as the ultimate home invasion. “It’s outrageous that state officials could come into private homes and potentially remove children if they are assessed as a threat as a result of the investigation,” Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Dee Black told WND in an interview. “Regardless of what state officials claim, I don’t believe the results [of the investigations] will be held confidential.” Black, who provides legal assistance and advice for HSLDA members in what is ironically nicknamed the “Constitution State,” sees this proposed measure as anything but constitutional. And when asked if the psychological tests given by the social services hands the state too much unchecked power—enabling government officials to seize and tag children as mentally unfit or maladjusted—Black answered definitively. “No question about it,” asserted the law school graduate. “I don’t think people who live in a free society should be forced to give into mental evaluations of their children.”
  • President Obama last week nominated Justice Department attorney Todd M. Hughes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, reports The Christian Post. If confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hughes would be the first openly gay federal appeals court judge, a prospect that is being lauded by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups, such as the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute.
  • U.S. District Judge Neil Wake overturned a pro-life bill that, in part, allowed the state of Arizona to opt out of funding the Planned Parenthood abortion business with taxpayer dollars, reports lifenews.com. At issue before the judge was a new Arizona law barring public funding for abortion agencies like Planned Parenthood. The Obama Administration is siding with Planned Parenthood in arguing that the new state law allegedly violates federal Medicaid requirements. The Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act of Arizona (HB 2800) de-funded abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood of state family planning money. The bill prioritizes family planning funds away from abortion-centered businesses like Planned Parenthood to entities that provide women with comprehensive health care. The measure prohibits the state or any local government from using public money to contract with an organization that includes abortions. After Judge Wake’s ruling overturning the law, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser told LifeNews she was disappointed. “Judge Wake’s ruling thwarts the will of Arizona taxpayers to stop funding big abortion businesses such as Planned Parenthood. As a result, funds will be reduced for agencies that provide whole women’s health care. According to Planned Parenthood’s own annual report, its government subsidies have reached an all-time high, even as the number of cancer screenings and other prevention and contraceptive services they offer has dropped dramatically,” she said. “Planned Parenthood’s growing abortion toll, meanwhile, is evidence of their continued failure to show true concern for vulnerable women and girls.” But lifenews.com reports that the governor of Arkansas on Monday made his state the latest to cut abortion funding in the controversial Obamacare health care legislation that requires states to set up health insurance exchanges and Americans to purchase health insurance. Under the new health care law, states will be in charge of their own health care exchanges that are available for individuals and small businesses. The exchange doesn’t go into effect until 2014, and states are filing lawsuits seeking to stop the pro-abortion health care bill in its other pro-abortion provisions entirety, but states are moving now to exercise their right to opt out of some of the abortion funding. Gov. Mike Beebe has signed into law a ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchange. According to an AP report, the bill would “ban insurers participating in the exchange created under the federal health care law from covering most abortions. The measure, which legislators approved last week, includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.” With the new law, Arkansas joins Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia that have all opted out of having abortion covered in their federally mandated insurance plans.
  • Texas lawmakers have decided they want to rein in a controversial public school curriculum content and management system that at one point taught “Allah is God,” reports WorldNetDaily. Most of the state’s classrooms, some 80 percent, are using the CSCOPE program that also has raised eyebrows because educators had refused to allow parents and others to see what was being taught. Twenty-five state representatives now have signed onto a proposed oversight statute that would target CSCOPE, the online system that set up firewalls and passwords so that parents would not be able to see the curriculum. Bill author State Rep. Steve Toth said, “It’s imperative that we bring CSCOPE under the direction and oversight of the locally elected members of the State Board of Education. Repeated instances of impropriety along with a decidedly liberal leaning agenda makes this move of the utmost importance. ISDs all over the State of Texas have been misled as to what CSCOPE is and what it contains. We’ve got to get this right.” The action followed a recent hearing by the Texas State Senate Committee on Education, where lawmakers expressed alarm and more.
  • According to International Christian Concern, parents of a number of Christian children were led to believe that their kids were being taken to a Christian boarding school in Dhaka, reports Political Outcast. The Christian families were part of the Tripura Tribe who lived in a remote hilly region of the capital area. The parents paid Binoy Tripura 15,000 Taka (approximately $183) for each of the kids to pay for their schooling at the missionary school in Dahka. However, on the long bus journey to the city, some of the kids had the feeling that things were not as they had been led to believe, so 12 of them managed to escape at a rest stop. They phoned their parents, who then phoned some college students from their village who were attending university in Dahka. The college students were able to meet the bus, rescue the other seven kids, and detain Binoy until the police arrived. Once in police custody, Binoy admitted that he planned to sell the kids to some of the madrassas (Islamic schools) in the area. Once at the schools, the Christian kids are forced to legally change their names to Islamic names, making it much harder to track them down later on. The kids are also forced to convert to Islam learn the Quran and Arabic and pray five times a day. If they don’t, they are tortured via starvation, locked in small closets, verbally abused, and even beaten with live electric wires. One rescued boy told authorities that he was repeatedly beaten for not wanting to pray. Some people who have helped to rescue some of these kids also believe that they are brainwashed and trained to become future suicide bombers for the Jihad. Other Christian children who have gone missing have been rescued from some of the madrassas in Dahka and the International Christian Concern has been working with police to track down and rescue as many as possible. On Jan. 2, police rescued 21 kids from 5 different madrassas. So far this year, 55 Christian kids have been rescued, but there are still more than 200 missing and believed to have suffered the same human trafficking and Islamic brainwashing fate. This is not just isolated to Bangladesh, said the report, but similar reports have been heard from a number of other predominately Muslim countries and areas. Yet no one connected with the U.S. government has said a word about the kidnapping of Christian children. Dave Jolly in Political Outcast remarked, “Once again I will remind you that Islam claims to be the religion of peace, yet everywhere I turn and look, they are anything but peaceful. Islam is not even peaceful to their own people, especially females. It is a religion of hate, violence and intimidation. Christ said to love your enemies, Islam says to kill them. I rest my case.”
  • A combination of high crude prices, refinery shutdowns, and early speculation has sent gas prices soaring to seasonal highs earlier than usual this year, with no signs of prices at the pump falling until spring, according to recent estimates, csmonitor.com reports. Gas prices have climbed every day for the past 25 days, reaching a national average of $3.59 per gallon Monday, the most expensive national average ever for Feb. 11, according to AAA. The rally is said to have been driven by earlier-than-usual speculation that demand for oil will rise, further inflating prices. Americans are feeling the pinch. The amount of money they’re spending on gas as a percentage of household income is at nearly 30-year highs. What can consumers expect in the coming months? The bad news, says Green, is that gas prices will continue to rise for the next couple of months. “Gas prices will continue to rise through April until the seasonal transition process comes to an end,” said a spokesman for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But there’s potential for some good news: “The snowstorm that swept across the northeast Feb. 9 and 10 didn’t damage any pipelines or refineries and kept people off the roads, softening demand and potentially dampening gas prices.”
  • Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he will ask his colleagues to hold off on the confirmation of John Brennan for CIA director and Chuck Hagel for defense secretary until the White House coughs up more information about the 9/11 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, reports conservativebyte.com. “I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed to secretary of defense, until the White House gives us an accounting,” Graham said on Face the Nation. “Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks? What did the president do?” Meanwhile, conservativebyte.com reports that President Obama is considering a series of new executive actions, working around Congress, including providing new protections for gays and lesbians.
  • The costs of Obamacare are not just hitting businesses this year—they are also hitting the government, and public employees as well, reports bighealthreport.com. Virginia, for example, is about to limit part-time employees to 29 hours per week in order to avoid triggering Obamacare’s requirement that employers provide health insurance to those working 30 hours per week or more. The state cannot afford the $110 million annual cost of insurance. Elsewhere, public institutions are taking similar steps to limit part-time work. In Ohio, Youngstown State University recently announced a 29-hour-per-week part-time limit, and placed employees on notice that they would be fired if they worked more than the maximum. Other public universities are doing the same across the nation, just as their private-sector counterparts are limiting part-time hours to avoid the Obamacare rule. In addition to limiting part-time hours, many institutions—public and private—are moving employees from full-time to part-time status to avoid Obamacare requirements.