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Religion News in Brief

A former chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, who has been accused of longtime financial wrongdoing, has been ousted from the priesthood.

The verdict by an OCA spiritual court against Robert Kondratick took effect July 31. Kondratick has said he's innocent. He held the second-highest job in the denomination.

Financial controls in the church had been "circumvented" at least since 1998, according to church leaders, and auditors uncovered a "pattern of personal use of church money" for years. No dollar amount has been given.

The issue became public last year after a former OCA treasurer alleged widespread financial misconduct involving millions of dollars. The treasurer had said Metropolitan Theodosius, the retired head of the church, was involved. But a church investigation concluded that Kondratick was solely responsible, said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, an OCA spokesman.

Among the problems auditors discovered:

_ "Hundreds of thousands of dollars" in charges were made to church and employee credit cards that had been submitted for reimbursement, but no original receipts or documentation had been provided for most of the expenses.

_ The chancellor had taken nearly $10,000 in cash from church accounts, partly to pay unauthorized year-end employee bonuses. Auditors found no proof that the employees received the money.

_ The church had loaned money to employees _ in some cases interest-free _ and some of the loans weren't repaid.

_ Cash was being stored in unlocked drawers or cabinets.

_ The church had used some money donated for a specific purpose to instead cover operating costs.

Jarmus said Tuesday that he didn't know whether a criminal investigation was under way. He said the IRS hasn't contacted the church about its nonprofit status.

The 400,000-member church, based in Syosset, N.Y., is now overhauling its accounting and hiring practices. The Holy Synod of Bishops recently decided that all candidates for the priesthood must undergo national legal and psychological background tests.

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http://www.oca.org/

http://ocanews.org/

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Co-pastors of Florida megachurch divorcing amid financial questions

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Randy and Paula White, co-pastors of a fast-growing megachurch that has come under financial scrutiny in recent months, have told their congregation they plan to divorce.

The Whites, who've been married nearly 18 years and lead the 23,000-member Without Walls International Church, described the split as amicable and blamed two lives going in different directions.

Of the two, Paula White's profile is much larger. While Randy White, 48, said he would remain at the church as senior pastor, Paula White, 41, said she would concentrate on her ministry. Her work includes a TV show broadcast on Black Entertainment Television and other national networks, conferences, and book and video sales.

The Tampa Tribune has published a series of reports about the Whites' financial dealings. Those included the couple's failure to repay a $170,000 loan from an elderly widow, money borrowed in 1995 as a down payment on a house. The couple sold the house in 2006, but still had not repaid the loan to Ruth McGinnis by May.

McGinnis said recently that "everything's been settled financially between Pastor Randy and me."

The Whites founded Without Walls in 1991 as the South Tampa Christian Center. Since then, the church has become one of the nation's biggest and fastest-growing churches, boasting nearly $40 million in revenues last year.

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http://www.withoutwalls.org/

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Troubled Colorado megachurch selects new pastor from Texas

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ A pastor from a suburban Dallas megachurch has been chosen as the senior pastor at New Life Church, which has battled declining attendance since disgraced church founder Ted Haggard was fired.

More than 95 percent of New Life members backed Brady Boyd, 40, in an up-or-down vote by secret ballot. He will begin serving immediately, associate pastor Rob Brendle said.

Boyd had been an associate senior pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas.

Haggard, 51, left New Life and resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals last year, after a former male prostitute alleged a three-year cash-for-sex relationship. The man also said he saw Haggard use methamphetamine. Haggard confessed to undisclosed "sexual immorality" and said he bought meth but never used it.

Now living in the Phoenix area, Haggard has come under further scrutiny for urging supporters to financially support his family through a nonprofit group, Families With a Mission, with ties to a registered sex offender.

At New Life, Boyd will oversee a church of about 10,000 members _ down from 14,000 since the Haggard scandal _ a $12 million budget and a staff of 150. Besides a drop in its attendance, New Life has seen its revenues drop by 10 percent since Haggard left.

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http:/http://www.newlifechurch.org

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D. James Kennedy, influential Christian broadcaster, retires

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ The Rev. D. James Kennedy, a megachurch pastor who became one of the nation's top Christian broadcasters, has resigned from the pulpit of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after 48 years.

The 76-year-old senior pastor preached his last sermon there on Dec. 24. He suffered cardiac arrest four days later, and has been unable to return to the pulpit.

Kennedy took the small church of 45 members in 1959 to a megachurch of nearly 10,000 members today.

In 1974, he started Coral Ridge Ministries, his radio and TV outreach arm, which now claims a weekly audience of 3.5 million people for all of its broadcasts. Kennedy's TV show "The Coral Ridge Hour," airs on more than 400 stations and four cable networks, and is broadcast to more than 150 countries on the Armed Forces Network, his ministry says.

The congregation will have the final voice in determining Kennedy's successor, a process that could take as long as two years. The Rev. Ronald L. Siegenthaler, executive minister of the church, will administer the church following policy set by a governing body of elders.

A tribute worship service for Kennedy is set Sept. 23.

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http:/http://www.djameskennedy.org

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Court holds up ban on Bible distribution at schools

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that prohibited the distribution of Bibles to grade school students in a southern Missouri school district.

At issue was a long-held practice at South Iron Elementary School in Annapolis, 120 miles southwest of St. Louis, in which Gideons International representatives came to fifth-grade classrooms and gave away Bibles. A U.S. district judge issued a temporary injunction, and a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis agreed the classroom distribution should be prohibited.

Parents of some students first raised concerns about the Bible distribution in 2005. That fall, the school board voted 4-3 to allow the distribution to continue against the advice of the district's insurance carrier and attorney. A day after the vote, the Gideons came to the school and distributed Bibles.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in February 2006 on behalf of four sets of parents.

Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a law group based in Florida that represented the school district, said the appeals court ruling concerned a practice no longer in place.

Staver said the district's current policy allows people or groups to distribute literature _ with approval from the district _ before or after school or during lunch break, but not in the classrooms. The new policy is open to religious groups beyond the Gideons, he said, and is the subject of a pending court ruling at the district court level.

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http://www.aclu-em.org

http://www.lc.org

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