The Vatican has denied claims that Pope Francis performed an exorcism, after TV 2000 images showed a man apparently reacting to the pontiff putting his hands on his head.
The encounter – during last Sunday Mass – was shown on a TV channel owned by the Italian bishops’ conference.
The station quoted exorcists as saying there was “no doubt” Pope Francis had either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.
Its director later apologized for “having altered the truth”.
The Pope’s spokesman said he “did not intend to perform any exorcism”.
“Rather as he frequently does with the sick or suffering who come his way, he simply intended to pray for a suffering person,” said Federico Lombardi in a statement.
The footage shows a young man, who is in a wheelchair, opening his mouth and either screaming or breathing deeply as Pope Francis puts his hands on his head and prays for him during the Mass in St Peter’s Square.
TV 2000 images show a man apparently reacting to Pope Francis putting his hands on his head
The man then convulses and slumps in his chair.
On Tuesday, the director of the TV station which broadcast the pictures, TV 2000, apologized for the report, saying: “I don’t want to attribute to him a gesture that he didn’t intend to perform.”
“I apologize for having altered the truth of the facts and for the people who are involved, in particular I apologize to the Holy Father,” said Dino Boffo.
Religious figures in Rome had insisted the act had been an exorcism.
They included the Vatican’s former chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, who was quoted by Italian media as saying the act “was an exorcism alright” and that he had since performed his own exorcism on the young man, who he said was called Angelo.
Exorcism is the ancient practice of driving out demons or evil spirits from a person or place they are thought to possess. It is practiced by some Roman Catholics but treated with deep skepticism by others.
According to a new study, for the first time in its history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority.
The rising numbers of Americans with no religious affiliation is on the rise, which led to the percentage of Protestant adults in the U.S. reaching a new low of 48%.
This is the first time that Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has reported with certainty that the number has fallen below 50%.
The drop has long been anticipated and comes at a time when there no Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Republicans have their first presidential ticket with no Protestant nominees.
Among the reasons for the change are the growth in nondenominational Christians who can no longer be categorized as Protestant, and a spike in the number of American adults who say they have no religion.
The Pew study, released Tuesday, found that about 20% of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15% in the last five years.
Scholars have long debated whether people who say they no longer belong to a religious group should be considered secular.
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has reported with certainty that the number of Protestants in US has fallen below 50 percent
While the category as defined by Pew researchers includes atheists, it also encompasses majorities of people who say they believe in God, and a notable minority who pray daily or consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious”.
Still, Pew found overall that most of the unaffiliated aren’t actively seeking another religious home, indicating that their ties with organized religion are permanently broken.
Growth among those with no religion has been a major preoccupation of American faith leaders who worry that the United States, a highly religious country, would go the way of Western Europe, where church attendance has plummeted.
Pope Benedict XVI has partly dedicated his pontificate to combating secularism in the West. This week in Rome, he is convening a three-week synod, or assembly, of bishops from around the world aimed at bringing back Roman Catholics who have left the church.
The trend also has political implications.
American voters who describe themselves as having no religion vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Pew found Americans with no religion support abortion rights and gay marriage at a much higher-rate than the U.S. public at large.
These “nones” are an increasing segment of voters who are registered as Democrats or lean toward the party, growing from 17% to 24% over the last five years.
The religiously unaffiliated are becoming as important a constituency to Democrats as evangelicals are to Republicans, Pew said.
The Pew analysis, conducted with PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly”, is based on several surveys, including a poll of nearly 3,000 adults conducted June 28-July 9, 2012.
The finding on the Protestant majority is based on responses from a larger group of more than 17,000 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.9 percentage points, Pew researchers said.
Pew said it had also previously calculated a drop slightly below 50% among U.S. Protestants, but those findings had fallen within the margin of error.
The General Social Survey, which is conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, reported for 2010 that the percentage of U.S. Protestants was around 46.7%.
Researchers have been struggling for decades to find a definitive reason for the steady rise in those with no religion.
The spread of secularism in Western Europe was often viewed as a byproduct of growing wealth in the region. Yet among industrialized nations, the United States stood out for its deep religiosity in the face of increasing wealth.
Now, religion scholars say the decreased religiosity in the United States could reflect a change in how Americans describe their religious lives.
In 2007, 60% of people who said they seldom or never attend religious services still identified themselves as part of a particular religious tradition. In 2012, that statistic fell to 50%, according to the Pew report.
“Part of what’s going on here is that the stigma associated with not being part of any religious community has declined,” said John Green, a specialist in religion and politics at the University of Akron, who advised Pew on the survey.
“In some parts of the country, there is still a stigma. But overall, it’s not the way it used to be.”
The Pew study has found the growth in unaffiliated Americans spans a broad range of groups: men and women, college graduates and those without a college degree, people earning less than $30,000 annually and those earning $75,000 or more.
However, along ethnic lines, the largest jump in “nones” has been among whites. One-fifth of whites describe themselves as having no religion.
More growth in “nones” is expected. One-third of adults under age 30 have no religious affiliation, compared to nine per cent of people 65 and older.
Pew researchers wrote that “young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives”, and aren’t expected to become more religiously active as they age.
German Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.
A German bishops’ decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax – an extra 8% of their income tax bill – will no longer be considered a Catholic.
The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church.
They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community.
German Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax
All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalization of religious property.
“If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros,” said Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger.
Catholics make up around 30% of Germany’s population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.
Alarmed by their declining congregations, the bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith.
The Freiburg University academic said he wanted to continue praying and receiving Holy Communion and a lengthy legal case between Prof.Hartmut Zapp and the church will reach the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court on Wednesday.
“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” Germany’s bishops’ conference said last week, in a decision endorsed by the Vatican.
Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer be allowed receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals.
Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.
“This decree at this moment of time is really the wrong signal by the German bishops who know that the Catholic church is in a deep crisis,” said Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church.
But a priest from Mannheim in south-western Germany, Father Lukas Glocker, said the tax was used to do essential good works.
“With kindergarten, with homes for elderly or unemployed, we’ve got really good things so I know we need the tax to help the German country to do good things.”
While the decree severely limits active participation in the German Catholic Church, it does hold out some hope for anyone considering a return to the fold.
Until now, any German Catholic who stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.
Tax on Germany’s Christians:
• 25 million Catholics
• Tax worth 5 billion euros (2010)
• 24 million Protestants
• Tax worth 4.3 billion euros
• German population 82 million