Pope warns church must find balance between rules and mercy or "fall like a house of cards"
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has warned that the Catholic Church's moral structure might "fall like a house of cards" if it doesn't balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make it a merciful, more welcoming place for all.
Six months into his papacy, Francis set out his vision for the church and his priorities as pope in a lengthy and remarkably blunt interview with La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine. It was published simultaneously Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, including America magazine in the U.S.
In the 12,000-word article, Francis expands on his ground-breaking comments over the summer about gays and acknowledges some of his own faults. He sheds light on his favorite composers, artists, authors and films (Mozart, Caravaggio, Dostoevsky and Fellini's "La Strada") and says he prays even while at the dentist's office.
But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe.
Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.
Showdown: House to vote on stopgap funding bill that seeks to derail Obama's health care law
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans struggled to tamp down a family feud Thursday as they approached a politically charged showdown with the White House that combines the threat of a government shutdown, a possible first-ever federal default and the GOP's bid to repeal the nation's three-year-old health care law.
One day after conceding that the Democratic-controlled Senate probably would prevail on the last part, Sen. Ted Cruz still vowed to do "everything and anything possible to defund Obamacare." That includes a possible filibuster of legislation to prevent a partial government shutdown, added the Texas Republican.
That was a step further than Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — Cruz's partner in a summertime run of "Defund Obamacare" television commercials — was willing to go. President Barack Obama's health care law "is not worth causing a shutdown over," he said.
The two men spoke at a news conference with several House Republicans where lawmakers stressed they were unified and thanked Speaker John Boehner for agreeing to tie the anti-shutdown and anti-Obamacare provisions into one bill.
That bill is on track for House passage on Friday, with a Senate showdown to follow.
UN report tries to explain seeming lull in warming: Statistical mirage or heat stuck in ocean?
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Scientists working on a landmark U.N. report on climate change are struggling over how to address a wrinkle in the meteorological data that has given ammunition to global-warming skeptics: The heating of Earth's surface appears to have slowed in the past 15 years even though greenhouse gas emissions keep rising.
For years, skeptics have touted what looks like a slowdown in surface warming since 1998 to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that humans are cooking the planet by burning coal, oil and natural gas.
Scientists and statisticians have dismissed the purported slowdown as a statistical mirage, arguing among other things that it reflects random climate fluctuations and an unusually hot year picked as the starting point for charting temperatures. They also say the data suggests the "missing" heat is simply settling — temporarily — in the ocean.
But as scientists study the issue, the notion of a slowdown has gained more mainstream attention, putting pressure on the authors of the new U.N. report to deal with it.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is expected to assert that global warming is continuing. It is also expected to affirm with greater certainty than ever before the link between global warming and human activity.
Al-Qaida militants expel moderate rebels from Syrian town in some of the worst infighting
BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida militants seized a town near the Turkish border Thursday after expelling Western-backed rebels from the area, demonstrating the growing power of jihadis as they seek to expand their influence across opposition-held Syrian territory.
The infighting — now engulfing many parts of northern Syria — threatened to further split opposition forces outgunned by President Bashar Assad's troops and strengthen his hand as he engages with world powers on relinquishing his chemical weapons.
Opposition forces who had been hoping that U.S.-led military strikes would help tip the balance in the civil war are growing increasingly desperate after the Obama administration shelved those plans in favor of a diplomatic solution.
Many rebels blame jihadis in their ranks for the West's reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria or give them the advanced weapons they need. There is also growing concern that the dominant role the extremists are playing is discrediting the rebellion.
Yet the jihadis, including members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida offshoot, have been some of the most effective forces on the battlefield, fighting alongside the Western-backed Free Syrian Army to capture military facilities, strategic installations and key neighborhoods in cities such as Aleppo and Homs.
How red flags got missed in Navy Yard shooter's history, giving him clean background checks
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government's sprawling system of background checks and security clearances is so unreliable it's virtually impossible to adequately investigate the nearly 5 million Americans who have them and make sure they can be trusted with access to military and sensitive civilian buildings, an Associated Press review found.
Case after case has exposed problems for years, including recent instances when workers the government approved have been implicated in mass shootings, espionage and damaging disclosures of national secrets. In the latest violence, the Navy Yard gunman passed at least two background checks and kept his military security clearance despite serious red flags about violent incidents and psychological problems.
The AP's review — based on interviews, documents and other data — found the government overwhelmed with the task of investigating the lives of so many prospective employees and federal contractors and then periodically re-examining them.
The system focuses on identifying applicants who could be blackmailed or persuaded to sell national secrets, not commit acts of violence. And it relies on incomplete databases and a network of private vetting companies that earn hundreds of millions of dollars to perform checks but whose investigators are sometimes criminally prosecuted themselves for lying about background interviews that never occurred.
"It's too many people to keep track of with the resources that they have, and too many people have access to information," said Mark Riley, a Maryland lawyer who represents people who have been denied clearances or had them revoked.
Texas appeals court overturns 2010 money laundering conviction of ex-US House leader Tom DeLay
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas appeals court tossed the criminal conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday, saying there was insufficient evidence for a jury in 2010 to have found him guilty of illegally funneling money to Republican candidates.
The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals said prosecutors failed to prove that the money being laundered was illegally obtained, which the court said was required for a money laundering conviction. Prosecutors alleged that DeLay illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations though his political action committee and into Texas legislative races, where corporate money is barred.
"The fundamental problem with the State's case was its failure to prove proceeds of criminal activity," the court wrote in a 2-1 decision.
Justices on the appeals court suggested that even jurors appeared confused during deliberations, based on questions they asked about whether the charge required that the money be illegally obtained in the first place.
DeLay was meeting with religious conservatives in Washington when he learned of the court's ruling.
Manager of Minnesota Dairy Queen store praised for standing up for visually impaired customer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joey Prusak was appalled when he saw a customer at the suburban Minneapolis Dairy Queen store where he works pick up someone else's $20 bill and slip it into her purse.
So when the woman got up to the counter to order, Prusak refused to serve her unless she returned the money. When the woman refused, the 19-year-old store manager went a step further: He gave the visually impaired customer who hadn't realized he'd dropped the money $20 out of his own pocket.
"I was just doing what I thought was right," Prusak said Thursday as he recalled the incident from earlier this month. "I did it without even really thinking about it. ... Ninety-nine out of 100 people would've done the same thing as me."
Even so, Prusak has received loads of praise since a customer's email about him to Dairy Queen was posted online.
Now, people are calling the store, thanking Prusak and even offering him jobs. Customer traffic at the Hopkins Dairy Queen has doubled, and many people are leaving large tips — money that Prusak says he will donate to charity.
With Alzheimer's rising, study says dementia strongest predictor of need for nursing home care
WASHINGTON (AP) — David Hilfiker knows what's coming. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's so early that he's had time to tell his family what he wants to happen once forgetfulness turns incapacitating.
"When it's time to put me in an institution, don't have me at home and destroy your own life," said the retired physician, who is still well enough that he blogs about the insidious progress of the disease. "Watching the Lights Go Out," it's titled.
Nearly half of all seniors who need some form of long-term care — from help at home to full-time care in a facility — have dementia, the World Alzheimer Report said Thursday. It's a staggering problem as the global population ages, placing enormous strain on families who provide the bulk of that care at least early on, and on national economies alike.
Indeed, cognitive impairment is the strongest predictor of who will move into a care facility within the next two years, 7.5 times more likely than people with cancer, heart disease or other chronic ailments of older adults, the report found.
"It's astonishing," said Marc Wortmann, executive director of Alzheimer's Disease International, which commissioned the report and focused on the problems of caregiving. "What many countries try to do is keep people away from care homes because they say that's cheaper. Yes it's cheaper for the government or the health system, but it's not always the best solution."
NASA rover finds no hint of methane in Mars air; more experiments planned during road trip
LOS ANGELES (AP) — NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't discovered any signs of methane in the atmosphere of Mars, a finding that does not bode well for the possibility that microbes capable of producing the gas could be living below the planet's surface, scientists said Thursday.
Since landing in Gale Crater last year, the car-size rover has gulped Mars air and scanned it with a tiny laser in search of methane. On Earth, most of the gas is a byproduct of life, spewed when animals digest or plants decay.
Curiosity lacks the tools to directly hunt for simple life, past or present. But scientists had high hopes that the rover would inhale methane after orbiting spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes detected plumes of the gas several years ago.
"If you had microbial life somewhere on Mars that was really healthy and cranking away, you might see some of the signatures of that in the atmosphere," said mission scientist Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
During Curiosity's first eight months on the red planet, it sniffed the air during the day and at night as the season changed from spring to summer.
NJ Supreme Court rules judge can't stay on bench and moonlight as comedian, so he resigns
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Vince Sicari can tell all the lawyer jokes he wants — he just can't play a judge in real life.
The New Jersey municipal judge, who is also an established stand-up comedian and actor, resigned Thursday after the state Supreme Court ruled he can't moonlight as an entertainer.
Sicari told The Associated Press he tendered his resignation after the high court released a unanimous opinion that said his acting and comedy career is "incompatible" with judicial conduct codes and essentially gave him the choice of doing one or the other.
"I'm not surprised by the result, but I'm very disappointed," Sicari said. "I take great pride in being a judge and to give that up is disappointing."
The 44-year-old lawyer, whose stage name is Vince August, has carved out a career as a comic and actor, appearing on network television, in New York City comedy clubs and as a warm-up for Comedy Central audiences. He was also a part-time municipal judge in South Hackensack, where he handled things like traffic ticket cases and disorderly persons offenses.