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PA grand jury sex abuse report named No. 1 religion story of 2018; Bishop Michael Curry is newsmaker

Friday, December 14, 2018  
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Pennsylvania grand jury sex abuse report named No. 1 religion story of 2018; Bishop Michael Curry named newsmaker of the year

(Columbia, MO //  Dec. 14, 2018) — An explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused 301 priests of sexually abusing at least 1,000 minors was named the No. 1 religion story of the year by members of the Religion News Association in its annual Top 10 Religion Stories and Newsmaker of the Year poll.

Another Pennsylvania headline grabbed the No. 2 spot — the tragic Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh this October that marked the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Religion Newsmaker of the Year honors went to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, whose sermon at this year’s royal wedding "stole the show," according to the British press, and raised his profile as a progressive religious voice. Following Curry in a close race for second and third place were famed evangelist Billy Graham, who died this year at age 99, and Pittsburgh Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who emerged as a voice of lament and peace after the Tree of Life shooting.

Religion News Association members have voted in the annual poll for decades. RNA is an international journalism association for journalists who write about religion in the news media. It offers training and tools to help reporters cover religion with balance, accuracy and insight.

Complete rankings for religion headlines and religion newsmakers appear below.


1. Pennsylvania grand jury reports 301 Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing at least 1,000 minors. Other state & U.S. probes begin. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, faulted for past role as bishop of Pittsburgh, resigns as Washington archbishop.

2. In the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S history, a gunman kills 11 worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, home to three congregations. Attack comes amid surveys showing growing anti-Semitism in West and decreasing awareness of Holocaust.

3. The Rev. Billy Graham, the globe-trotting evangelist who preached to hundreds of millions, shaped modern evangelicalism and served as unofficial chaplain to presidents and the nation, dies at 99.

4. Religious leaders oppose Trump administration on immigrant family-separation policies and decision to turn away asylum seekers at the border. Catholic bishops rebuke Trump policies during a June meeting.

5. After years of legal battles, the Supreme Court rules in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused—on religious grounds—to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. A new legal case against Phillips is pending.

6. President Trump announces move of U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial decision lauded by evangelical supporters. Deadly clashes flare up along Gaza border.

7. The Supreme Court upholds the so-called “Muslim ban,” the Trump administration’s restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority and other countries.

8. Retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick is barred from ministry, resigns as cardinal over alleged sexual abuse of teen and harassment of seminarians. Criticisms fly over how he rose through hierarchy despite rumored misconduct.

9. Religious minorities make political strides, including first-ever victories by two Muslim women congressional candidates and the appointment of the first Sikh state attorney general, in New Jersey.

10. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Vatican ambassador in the United States, releases bombshell accusations that Pope Francis covered up sexual misconduct by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and calls for his resignation. Vatican, others dispute his claims.


11. Megachurch pioneer Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Community Church, retires early after being accused of alleged sexual misconduct. Hybels’ successors and church elders eventually resign for mishandling the allegations.

12. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, widely supported by religious conservatives, turns into a national referendum on #MeToo after he is accused of attempted rape as a teenager. He is ultimately confirmed.

13. China faces international criticism over internment of up to a million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in secretive camps it calls “vocational training centers.”

14. In the wake of a sex abuse scandal and cover-up, all Catholic bishops in Chile submit their resignations to Pope Francis. Criticized for initially labeled accusations as "calumny,” Francis then launched investigation that faulted bishops.

15. John Allen Chau, a 29-year-old American missionary, is killed while trying to contact an indigenous people group on a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

16. Paige Patterson, an architect of the “conservative resurgence” in Southern Baptist Convention, fired as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president over his alleged harsh treatment of victims of domestic & sexual assault.

17. Humanitarian catastrophe looms in Yemen amid a proxy war between Sunni power Saudi Arabia, backed by U.S. weaponry, and Shia power Iran.

18. Pope Francis reaches agreement with China on appointments of bishops, recognizing those already appointed by the government in a bid to end a decades-long impasse. He also canonizes Salvadoran martyr Oscar Romero and predecessor Paul VI.

19. Asia Bibi, a Pakistani women sentenced to death for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad, is freed by a Pakistani court. She remains in hiding after massive crowds protested her acquittal.

20. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor living in Turkey, is freed two years after his arrest on spying & terrorism charges following a failed coup. He was also caught up in a dispute over the U.S. refusal to extradite Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.

21. The 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads to a new effort by religious groups to address racism and social justice. Southern Baptists expel an all-white church for racism.

22. Russian Orthodox Church declares Eucharistic communion broken with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople after he recognizes three rival churches in Ukraine and urges them to unite into one church, independent from Moscow Patriarchate.

23. A Tennessee megachurch gives pastor Andy Savage a standing ovation after he confesses to “sexual incident” with teen girl while he was a youth pastor years earlier. The downplaying of the assault helps fuel #ChurchToo movement. Savage later resigns.

24. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decides to abandon the word “Mormon” as a name for believers after President Russell M. Nelson says its use could be a sin, leading the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir to change its name.

25. Notable deaths include James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, at 79; American Zen master Roshi Bernie Glassman, at 79; and Eugene Peterson, whose Bible paraphrase known as “The Message” sold millions of copies, at 85.

26. American Atheists, a leading secular organization, fires former president, David Silverman, over allegations of financial and sexual misconduct.

27. Baltimore black megachurch leader Jamal Bryant named pastor of Atlanta-area black megachurch, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church—once led by the late Bishop Eddie Long.


Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, whose riveting sermon at the royal wedding "stole the show," according to the British press, and raised his profile as a progressive religious voice.


  • Evangelist Billy Graham, whose death at 99 caps the most influential ministry in modern evangelical history.

  • Pittsburgh Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who emerged as a voice of lament and peace after an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 at his Tree of Life / Or L'Simcha synagogue.

  • Rachael Denhollander, who emerged as an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual misconduct in churches and whose victim-impact statement — balancing justice with forgiveness — at the sentencing of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar went viral.

  • Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who rocked the Catholic Church with hotly disputed contentions that Pope Francis covered up sexual abuse and should resign.

  • Brett Kavanaugh, who drew strong support from religious conservatives in a Supreme Court confirmation dominated by an explosive allegation of attempted rape as a teen, making it a signature case in the #MeToo movement.

  • Megachurch pioneer Bill Hybels, who retired early from Willow Creek Community Church amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

Notable write-in votes included retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (4 votes), President Donald Trump (2 votes) and Pope Francis (2 votes).




Tiffany McCallen

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