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Tom Gjelten

Over many thousands of years, our understanding of the world has advanced exponentially. But our sense of mystery remains, and we still seek assurances that science and reason cannot provide.

Elaine Pagels opens her new book with the question, "Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century?" As a distinguished scholar of Christianity, she obviously knows some academic explanations, but in Why Religion? A Personal Story she suggests a simpler, more poignant answer: It's because we suffer and need help.

Only about 200 people typically worship each Sunday at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., but as many as 40,000 others follow the service via Facebook livestream.

Anti-Semitism in its rawest form motivated the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The detectives who investigated the killing reported that the gunman, once in custody, told officers that he "wanted all Jews to die."

In his initial reaction to the shooting, President Trump said, "It looks definitely like it's an anti-Semitic crime." But the president seemed surprised it had happened, saying it was "something you wouldn't believe could still be going on."

Updated 1:40 p.m. ET

Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally killed on a chilly night in Wyoming 20 years ago this month, was finally laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral on Friday. A reflective, music-filled service offered stark contrast to the anti-gay protests that marred his funeral two decades ago.

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Pope Francis, whose humility and warmth made him highly popular among U.S. Catholics and non-Catholics alike, is now rated no more favorably than his somewhat aloof predecessor, Pope Benedict.

The uproar over clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church is no longer just about sex abuse. It now touches on Catholic teaching about sexuality in general and even on Pope Francis himself, his agenda, and the future of his papacy.

When a Pennsylvania grand jury last month reported that more than 300 priests had molested more than a thousand children across six dioceses under investigation, it became clear that the cases were not isolated incidents. The problem of abusive priests and the bishops who cover up for them is systemic across the whole church.

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Updated at 9 p.m. ET

After weeks of relative silence, Pope Francis has agreed to meet a delegation of U.S. bishops and cardinals to discuss the Vatican response to the clergy abuse crisis.

Among the potential victims of the Catholic clergy abuse crisis is one whose roots date to the early years of Christianity: the Catholic canon law system.

Each new revelation that a priest has molested a child and gone unpunished by his bishop has brought charges that part of the problem may be canonical procedures that fail to ensure justice for the victim.

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A group of Catholics empowered to advise U.S. bishops on their handling of clergy sex abuse is accusing the bishops of "a loss of moral leadership" and recommending that lay Catholics like themselves should henceforth be responsible for investigating clergy misconduct.

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Sixteen years after an investigation in Boston highlighted the dimensions of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic priesthood, the financial and reputational cost to the Catholic church continues to grow.

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A two-year grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania resulted in what the state's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, called "the largest, most comprehensive report into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States."

A papal encyclical issued 50 years ago this summer marked a turning point in the way Roman Catholics view the teachings of their church.

On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI stunned Catholics around the world with his announcement of Humanae Vitae, "Of Human Life," a document in which he forcefully reaffirmed the church's previously stated position on the use of artificial birth control, calling it "intrinsically wrong."

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, wrapped up its annual meeting Wednesday on a partisan tone. The featured speaker was Vice President Pence, who spoke of the day he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and of the importance of prayer, but mostly delivered a speech fit for a campaign rally.

Roman Catholics and evangelicals, two Christian groups that have had overlapping political priorities in the past, find their agendas diverging in the era of President Trump and Pope Francis.

Tensions between the two faith traditions are hardly new. As fierce adversaries, they once cast doubt on each other's legitimacy as heirs to the church of Jesus Christ.

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The religious leader invited to give the opening prayer at the dedication of the American Embassy in Jerusalem is an evangelical Christian who once said that Judaism, along with Mormonism, Islam and Hinduism, is one of the religions "that lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell."

A prominent Southern Baptist leader faces demands for his dismissal after women from his own denomination reacted angrily to the news that he once advised abused women to pray for their husbands and gave a sermon in which he defended a lewd remark about a teenage girl as "biblical."

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Pope Francis is calling on Catholics to give special attention to the poor and the abandoned. He does so in a pronouncement called "Rejoice And Be Glad." Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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