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Trading card maker adds religious icons

A California firm specializing in trading cards that reach for the bizarre has conferred dubious honors on 36 religious figures alive and dead. Mother Productions of Anaheim previously featured mafiosos, Nazis and serial killers in its collections. The new series, "Perverted Priests," was motivated by recent reports about sexual misconduct of clergy, said Roger Worsham, president of Mother Productions. Misdeeds are recounted on the back of each card in language that mimics the style of the King James Bible. On the front are computer-generated likenesses framed by simulated burnt edges. Among those selected for the collection's "hall of shame" are David Koresh, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Walker Railey, a defrocked Methodist minister in Dallas accused of trying to kill his wife to aid his affair.

Translated tablet displayed in Israel

JERUSALEM _ A translated fragment of a stone monument containing the first non-biblical reference to the dynasty of King David is on display at the Israel Museum. The 1-square-foot fragment with 13 lines of Aramaic script apparently refers to a 9th century B.C. battle involving David's great-great-grandson Asa, king of Judah, said Michal Mendels, a curator at the museum. Asa paid Aram King Ben-Hadad I to fight his enemy, Israeli King Baasha, as related in I Kings 15:18-19. The words "King of Israel," "House of David" and "Hadad" appear on the monument, or stele, which was discovered last summer at Tel Dan in northern Israel.

Pentacostals reorganize to heal rift

LOS ANGELES _ In hopes of undoing an 80-year-old racial rift, the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America plans to disband and replace itself with a body that will put 25 black and white denominations on equal footing. The association of 21 church bodies was founded in 1948 to increase contacts among denominations that share the belief in speaking in tongues, healing and other "gifts of the Holy Spirit." But, with the growth of African-American Pentecostal churches, their absence has become an increasing embarrassment. A 40-member task force, composed of equal numbers of black and white members, established guidelines in January for the new body. The changeover could be accomplished at the group's annual meeting in October.

Council backs justice's view on death

NEW YORK _ The executive coordinating committee of the National Council of Churches has decided to send a message of support to Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who renounced his support of the death penalty. Meeting last week, the council's Executive Coordinating Committee asked the Rev. Joan Campbell, the council's general secretary, to write the letter. In an unusually personal and emotional dissenting opinion issued Feb. 22, Blackmun, 85, condemned the death penalty and said it was time for the court to abandon the "delusion" that capital punishment could be consistent with the Constitution.

Mormons in Utah report high satisfaction

SALT LAKE CITY _ Active members of the Mormon Church report a higher quality of life than members of other faiths in Utah, according to a survey by researchers at the University of Utah. The university's Survey Research Center talked to 600 residents last summer, asking them 59 questions dealing with the quality of life. Active participants in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported higher satisfaction than other residents in every category except job security and transportation. The survey defined active Mormons as those who attended a church function at least once a week.

Priests' road to top goes through South

COLUMBIA, S.C. _ The state's Roman Catholic diocese is attracting an increasing number of men for priestly vocations. The Diocese of Charleston has 20 men studying in seminaries in the United States and Rome _ a sharp increase from the average eight to 12 just three years ago, said the Rev. Henry Barron, the diocese's vicar for vocations. One of the main attractions is the relatively quick path to the top post at a church, Barron said. "In some northern dioceses, it could take 25 years for a priest to become a pastor. Here, it's about three years."