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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney isn’t the only one with a bus tour passing through Michigan this week.

A group of Catholic nuns will be touring the state to criticize Republican plans to cut federal spending.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Several hundred people gathered at the state capitol today to protest the Obama Administration’s push to make all employer-provided health care plans carry contraception coverage.    Similar rallies took place in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor and other Michigan cities.

The Catholic Church is a main opponent of the contraception mandate. Church leaders held rallies across the country today.

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The Roman Catholic church says a newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should open itself to officials of "any faith." About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sang "God Bless America" and prayed at Wednesday's launch.

The caucus says in its founding statement that it's "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles."

The statement has drawn criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations based on what the group's state director Dawud Walid says is its "exclusionary language."

 The Michigan Catholic Conference has weighed in as well, saying it hopes that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome." Caucus co-founder Rep. Ken Kurtz says anyone may join.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids has released plans to merge and close some of its churches. The diocese includes 99 churches in 11 West Michigan counties.

“Every Parish is in one way or the other affected," said Bishop Walter Hurley. He approved the restructuring plan that's been three years in the making. It’s supposed to help the diocese face future challenges, like changing populations, a growing Hispanic community, and fewer clergy.

“Right now we’re not at a crisis point but what we do need to know as we look to the future, now what happens if we don’t have a pastor assigned to this Parrish or this Parrish," Hurley said. 

Hurley says a few churches in more rural areas up north have already closed. Another handful will close as priests retire. Others will merge together. Hurley says the plan is a living document and subject to change. The Diocese of Grand Rapids isn’t the only one grappling with fewer priests.

There's no set timeline for when many changes will take place, but they're expected over several years.

You can find the full approved "Our Faith, Our Future" plan here. 

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck-and-neck in the polls in the run-up to the Michigan Republican primary on Tuesday.

One group that Romney appears to have an advantage with is Roman Catholic voters despite the fact that he is Mormon and Santorum Catholic.

The disconnect between faith and politics highlights differences among Catholics and shows that some religious voters are focusing more on other issues.

Declaring Faith

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Michigan and six other states are asking a federal judge to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated organizations.

The lawsuit filed at a U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Nebraska alleges that the new rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups such as the Roman Catholic church that object to the use of contraceptives.

The rule announced as part of the federal health care law has come under fire not only from Catholic bishops but also the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. In response to this criticism, Obama administration officials have said they will shift the requirement from the employers to health insurers themselves.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning says the proposed change still fails to address their concerns.

Joining the lawsuit are Nebraska, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and South Carolina.

Archdiocese of Detroit

The Detroit Archdiocese has officially released streamlining plans reduce the number of parishes, in order to accommodate what its leaders call “demographic changes.”

This second phase of the “Together in Faith” plan is years in the making. Over the next four years, Archdiocese will close, merge, or cluster dozens of its 267 current parishes over the next four years.

 

·        2 parishes will close.

·        8 parishes will merge into 4 by the end of 2012.

·        30 parishes will merge into 14 by 2016.

Archbishop says he'll discuss parish closing plan

The leader of 1.3 million Roman Catholics in southeastern Michigan says he's releasing the results of a review of a proposal to merge or close dozens of parishes in the face of population shifts within the Archdiocese of Detroit.     

The archdiocese says that Archbishop Allen Vigneron will talk at 4 p.m. today about the plans for the realignment of the 267 parishes. 

On Dec. 1, Vigneron said the archdiocese would review a plan to close nine parishes and merge 60 others into 21. A committee of lay leaders helped draft that plan. The archdiocese says Vigneron  completed the plan earlier this month, and its results were mailed out this week to priests and lay members.

Santorum to speak at Kent County Republican dinner 

Rick Santorum is scheduled to bring his presidential campaign to West Michigan on Monday with a speech to Kent County Republicans. Santorum's staff said Sunday that the ex-Pennsylvania U.S. senator will address the Kent County Lincoln Day Dinner. It's set for 7 p.m. at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. 

Santorum has been surging in the Republican presidential polls nationwide and in Michigan, which holds its primary Feb. 28. A Feb. 11-13 poll of 500 likely Michigan GOP primary voters found 34 percent backing Santorum and 30 percent backing Michigan native and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mott Romney. The 4 percentage point difference is within the 4.4 point margin of sampling error. Glengariff Group Inc. did the polling for The Detroit News, WDIV-TV and WZZM-TV.

Snyder to sign Michigan road commission bills

Legislation that will allow county boards of commissioners to take over duties of county road commissions is expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder is scheduled to sign the legislation Tuesday at the state
Capitol. 

The bills were approved by the Michigan Legislature earlier this month. Supporters say the measures would save money by eliminating duplicative administrative costs. Appointed county road commissions could be dissolved by a majority vote of a county's board of commissioners.

Voters would have the final decision on whether to dissolve road commissions in counties where road commissioners are elected. Some critics say a vote of the people should be required in all counties because each road commission was created by such a vote,
not just those with elected commissioners.

Last week, the Detroit Archdiocese said it will likely close nine churches and consolidate dozens more starting next year.

The six-county Detroit Archdiocese, like many across the country, is dealing with a priest shortage and declining membership in many churches.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit says it has placed a 66-year-old priest on leave after finding "sufficient substance" behind a complaint that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor early in his ministry.

The 1.3 million-member archdiocese announced Sunday that the Rev. Gary Schulte went on administrative leave Friday from St. Sylvester Parish in Warren. The Associated Press left a phone message Sunday for Schulte.

The archdiocese says its victim assistance coordinator received a complaint in September. The archdiocese says it "found the complaint to be of sufficient substance" to require restrictions on Schulte's work as a priest, including barring him from celebrating Mass.

Schulte was ordained in 1972 and also has worked at parishes in the Detroit suburbs of Clawson, Beverly Hills, Royal Oak and Madison Heights.

Angela Anderson-Cobb / flickr

The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit has launched a campaign to raise $135 million in five years.

The bulk of the money will go directly to the parishes to address their needs, says archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul:

"Those priorities may range from fixing a roof or repaving a parking lot, or doing some painting, you know maintenance and construction-type work, or it may be adding ministries, it may be adding some outreach programs, maybe adding food pantries."

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Subpoena's for Detroit International bridge hearings?

State Senate hearings are scheduled to being this week over the controversial Detroit River international crossing. It's a bridge Governor Snyder and many others want built, but there have been many charges and counter-charges over the costs and the need for a second bridge crossing into Canada.

State Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) is the chair of the Economic Development Committee.

Kowall says he will ask the state Senate for subpoena power, if he suspects anyone is not being truthful during the hearings.

From the Detroit Free Press:

If approved, Kowall would be empowered to compel sworn testimony -- meaning someone who lied could be charged with perjury -- about the various and contradictory claims being made about the proposed bridge and the Ambassador Bridge.

Kowall counts himself as a skeptic of the need for a second bridge crossing, but promises fair hearings.

Catholic Church to review liberal Sunday Mass for "liturgical abuses"

A retired Catholic priest presided over a mass held yesterday in Cobo Center for around 1,500 to 2,000 progressive people who are seeking to reform the church (attendees want to give women and married men the ability to be ordained as priests, among other reforms).

From the Detroit News:

The Archdiocese of Detroit is seeking a review of a Sunday Mass at a progressive Catholics' group's conference to determine if there were "serious liturgical abuses," church officials said Sunday.

"Those abuses, along with several other concerns, will now be — and must be — reviewed by the Detroit archdiocese and, potentially, by the Vatican," spokesman Ned McGrath said.

The Rev. Robert Wurm, who presided over the Mass on Sunday at the American Catholic Conference at Cobo Center, had said he didn't believe the archdiocese would take action against him.

"I felt good about this," said Wurm, 78, who conducted the nearly two-hour service.

Anuzis won't run for U.S. Senate

Former state Republican Party chair Saul Anuzis is the latest potential Republican challenger to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) to announce they will not run for the seat in 2012. Former U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land both declined to run.

Anuzis announced his decision on his blog That's Saul Folks:

After talking to hundreds if not over a thousand donors, activists and friends around the state I have decided NOT to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012...

Mine was a more personal decision. Unfortunately I have to work for a living:) I do not have the financial wherewithal to take a year off from working and run an aggressive, fulltime campaign.

Anuzis said he's confident a strong Republican contender will step forward, saying he has "personally encourage [sic] Frank Beckmann, Clark Durant and John McCulloch to run."

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