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With Pence in audience, Maryland pastor denounces vulgarity attributed to Trump

During Sunday’s service attended by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, a pastor at a predominantly black church in Maryland denounced racially charged comments that were allegedly made in reference to Haiti and African nations last week by President Donald Trump, WUSA reported Monday.

>> Read more trending news

Dr. Maurice Watson is pastor at the predominantly black Metropolitan Baptist Church in Prince George’s County, a congregation that was founded in 1864.  On Sunday, during his sermon, Watson criticized “a hurtful, dehumanizing, visceral, guttural, ugly adjective, that I care not to repeat in church.”

“I stand today as your pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of the nations of Africa and of our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” Watson said. “And I further say: Whoever made such a statement, and whoever used such a visceral, disrespectful, dehumanizing adjective to characterize the nations of Africa … whoever said it, is wrong. And they ought to be held accountable.”

Members of the congregation stood and cheered, WUSA reported.

Pence did not comment about the sermon. Trump has denied using an expletive during his discussions with members of Congress.

Watson, who has been at Metropolitan since 2014, earned his doctorate in ministry from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, according to the pastor’s biography on the church’s website.

Pope to moms during baptisms: ‘Feel free’ to breastfeed at Sistine Chapel

Pope Francis baptized 34 infants during a ceremony in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday, telling their mothers that if the babies became hungry during the two-hour-long ceremony, it was OK to breastfeed them, Reuters reported.

>> Read more trending news

“If they start performing a concert (by crying), or if they are uncomfortable or too warm or don’t feel at ease or are hungry ... breastfeed them, don’t be afraid, feed them, because this too is the language of love,” the pontiff said while baptizing 18 girls and 16 boys.

Women still face harassment for breastfeeding in public in some countries even though attitudes are changing.

The pope has made similar comments in past ceremonies, Reuters reported. Television pictures showed at least one mother bottle-feeding her child.

The papal baptism is a yearly event restricted to children of employees of the Vatican or the diocese of Rome, Reuters reported. 

Tennessee megachurch pastor accused of sexual assault

A pastor of a Memphis, Tennessee, megachurch has been accused of sexual assault.

>> Watch the news report here

Andy Savage, of Highpoint Church, released a response to the accusations on social media platforms. Savage said he “had a sexual incident with a female high school senior" 20 years ago when he was a college student on staff at a Texas church.

>> From Weinstein to Lauer: A timeline of 2017’s sexual harassment scandals

He said he apologized immediately and asked for forgiveness from the victim, who was 17 at the time. Savage is coming forward after the woman shared her story on a blog, which is graphically detailed.

>> Read more trending news 

In the blog, the alleged victim detailed what happened and said she felt manipulated and used. She claimed she took her accusations to the church's leaders, but police were never called.

The blog also states she has recently filed a report with law enforcement, saying what happened to her was sexual assault.

>> Here's what to do if you are sexually harassed at work

Savage, who helped found Highpoint Church, said in his statement that he informed current church leaders of the incident before he was hired. 

The lead pastor of Highpoint, Chris Conlee, also released a statement saying the church did know about the incident in 1997 and the church is 100 percent committed to Savage and his family.

Topless protester tries to steal baby Jesus figure at Vatican

A topless protester who attempted to steal the baby Jesus doll from the Vatican’s Nativity scene was detained Monday, CNN reported.

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The incident occurred as thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis’ Christmas Day message.

The woman, who was wearing pants and shoes, was a member of the international feminist organization Femen, CNN reported. She was identified as Ukrainian “sextremist” Alisa Vinogradova and had “God is Woman” written on her torso.

Vinogradova was stopped by Vatican police before she could flee with the doll.

Femen said the act was a protest against the Vatican’s “infringement of the rights of women to their own bodies,” CNN reported. Those alleged infringements included the pope’s “promotion of the ban on abortion” and “sacred condemnation” of contraception.

This is not the first time Femen has tried to steal the baby Jesus from the Vatican Nativity scene. An attempt in 2014 also failed. CNN reported.

Pope Francis criticizes journalists for reporting old scandals

Pope Francis rebuked journalists that report old scandals and sensationalize the news, calling it “a very serious sin” that hurts the involved parties, CBS News reported, citing an Associated Press story.

>> Read more trending news

On the eve of his 81st birthday Saturday, the pontiff said journalists should remember to provide precise, complete and correct information while avoiding one-sided reports.

Francis told Catholic media on Saturday that journalists perform a mission that is among the most “fundamental” to democratic societies. 

“You shouldn't fall into the ‘sins of communication’: disinformation, or giving just one side, calumny that is sensationalized, or defamation, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today,” he said.

He called those actions a "grave sin that hurts the heart of the journalist and hurts others."

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people, many of them children, serenaded the pope on his birthday, Reuters reported. Francis meanwhile, appealed for the release of Catholic nuns kidnapped last month in Nigeria.

The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” in Italian as Francis appeared at the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square for his weekly message and blessing.

The first Latin American pope was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. He was elected the 266th pope on March 13, 2013. He replaced Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned on Feb. 28, 2013.

Texas church shooting: Sutherland Springs sanctuary reopens as solemn memorial

One week after a gunman killed more than two dozen people at a Texas church, the sanctuary reopened to the public Sunday as a solemn tribute to the victims.

>> PHOTOS: Texas church where deadly mass shooting took place opens as memorial

>> Texas church where mass shooting took place will be demolished, pastor says

>> Texas church shooting: 8 relatives, pastor's daughter among victims of shooting

According to The Associated Press, the inside of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs was emptied and painted white. Roses were placed on 26 chairs that bore the name of each victim, including an unborn baby. A cross and Bible opened to the passage planned for last week also were on display as recordings of the victims played, CNN reported.

>> See photos from the memorial here

Photos: Texas church where deadly mass shooting took place opens as memorial

Hundreds of people gathered in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs for the first Sunday service since a gunman stormed the First Baptist Church and killed more than two dozen people in the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

Texas church where mass shooting took place will be demolished, pastor says

The Sutherland Springs, Texas, church where more than two dozen people were gunned down Sunday will be demolished, according to its pastor, Frank Pomeroy.

Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was killed in what is being considered the largest mass shooting in the state’s modern history, told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention that it would be too painful to continue using the building.

>> How to explain gun violence to children after the Texas church shooting

“There’s too many that do not want to go back in there,” Pomeroy told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday night. “We will probably turn it into a memorial for a while. We’re playing it day by day.”

Pomeroy also discussed his plans for the site with the denomination’s top executives who had traveled to the community in a show of support, according to convention spokesman Sing Oldham.

Pomeroy said a new church would be built on property the church owns, Oldham said.

>> On MyStatesman.com: State lawmakers demand action in wake of Sutherland Springs shooting

Charlene Uhl, mother of 16-year-old Haley Krueger, who died in the attack, agreed that the church should come down.

“There should still be a church but not here,” she said Thursday as she visited a row of white crosses commemorating the victims in front of the church. She said her daughter attended worship services and a weekly Thursday night youth group meeting held by another victim, Karla Holcombe.

Jeannie Brown, visiting from Indiana, stopped at the site with her daughter, who used to live in Sutherland Springs but left decades ago for San Antonio.

Asked whether the church should be destroyed, Brown said: “Yes. Who would want to go back in there? But then if it is destroyed, does that mean he (the gunman) won?”

>> Devin Patrick Kelley: What we know about Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter

Other sites of mass shootings have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built elsewhere.

A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after an assailant took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.

The previous site of the school is now a pasture. A nearly identical schoolhouse with a security fence was erected nearby and named New Hope School.

In Sutherland Springs, pastors from surrounding areas organized a service on Sunday at a community center next door to the church, and Pomeroy is slated to speak, according to CNN.

>> Read more trending news

Twenty-six people were killed Sunday after Devin Patrick Kelley unleashed a barrage of bullets on worshipers. He was shot and ultimately died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kelley’s father, Michael Kelley, told ABC News on Wednesday that his family is grieving.

“I don’t want our lives, our grandchildren’s lives, destroyed by this media circus,” Michael Kelley said from his home in New Braunfels.

Authorities have not released a motive for the shooting but believe the attack was linked to a dispute Devin Kelley had with his wife’s family. Additional answers might be contained in Devin Kelley’s cellphone, but investigators are having a difficult time cracking into it.

He bought four guns — one each year from 2014 to 2017 — despite convictions in 2012 after fracturing his baby stepson’s skull and assaulting his wife. He was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct and confined for one year.

But the convictions never were uploaded to an FBI database that would have prevented him from acquiring firearms legally. The Air Force released a statement Monday saying an investigation is underway. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking in Sutherland Springs on Wednesday, said the administration is working with Congress to ensure that the crime reporting lapse “never happens again.”

The eight male victims and 17 female victims ranged in age from 1 to 77. Eight members of the Holcombe family perished in the shooting.

Authorities said the 26 dead also included the fetus of Crystal Holcombe, who was killed. All the victims died at the scene, except for one child who died at a hospital.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jesse Jackson accused of sexual harassment by The Root journalist

The Root writer and producer Danielle Young has come forward with sexual harassment allegations against the Rev. Jesse Jackson that she says occurred at a prior employer, a “popular” media company.

In an article titled "Don't Let the Smile Fool You. I'm Cringing on the Inside," Young says a meeting at the previous employer's company on an unspecified date ended with a “keynote speech” by Jackson. After his speech, which she says was about the responsibility of black journalists, she joined her colleagues in line for a photo with Jackson.

>> On Rare.us: Jesse Jackson: President Trump would 'not qualify' to get into Heaven

“One by one, we stepped up, shared a few words and thank-yous with Jackson, snapped photos and went back to our desks,” she writes. “Simple enough, right?”

But Young alleges that when she went for a photo with Jackson, it wasn’t simple.

She says he gave her a look up and down and “reached out a hand and grabbed my thigh, saying, ‘I like all of that right there!’ and gave my thigh a tight squeeze.”

Young says the encounter was “something that was so casual, I almost didn’t even consider it sexual harassment, even though it was beyond my desire.” She includes a number of photographs of the encounter in her story that she says show how “visibly uncomfortable” she was.

>> Richard Dreyfuss’s son, Harry, accusing Kevin Spacey of groping him, too

When contacted for the story, Young says a former coworker noticed that Jackson had been “inappropriate with all the women.”

“And I also remember you telling me that he did something more with you,” the coworker reportedly continued. “And then we brushed the [expletive] off and chalked it up to him just being a dirty old man.”

Young says she is coming forward about the alleged thigh grab — something she admits was “barely a blip on anyone’s radar, even my own” — in the interest of speaking out “against men who simply can’t keep their hands to themselves. Because that’s where it starts.”

“My silence gave Jackson permission to continue grabbing at the next pair of thick thighs he liked,” Young says. “I’m hoping that my voice does the opposite.”

>> Read more trending news 

She is the second person to come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Jackson. In 2011, Tommy R. Bennett, a former employee of Jackson, filed a formal complaint with the city of Chicago Commission on Human Relations against Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition organization in Chicago.

Bennett, a gay man, alleged sexual harassment and discrimination because of his sexuality. 

Pope Francis makes holy call to space station, gets philosophical with astronauts

In a live streamed video call into the heavens Thursday, Pope Francis connected with astronauts aboard the International Space Agency and jumped right into the big question: What is our place in the universe?

>> Read more trending news

Francis, the first pope to call the space station and second to speak to astronauts orbiting the earth via video call, conversed with Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik, Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba.

During his 23-minute call from the Vatican Library in Rome, Italy, the pope spoke in Italian and Nespoli translated for his fellow crew members.

“Your little glass palace in totality is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is the example that you give us,” Francis said through a translator.

He asked Nespoli, “What are your thoughts regarding the place of man in the universe?" 

“Holy Father, this is a complex question," Nespoli replied in Italian as NASA TV displayed an English translation for viewers. “When we speak of these much more internal questions of where we come from, I remain rather perplexed. I think that our objective here is that of knowing our being and to fill our knowledge to understand what's around us. But on the other hand, an interesting thing is that the more we know, the more we realize how little we know.”

Francis also asked why they became astronauts and what they love about spending time at the ISS.

Ryazanskiy told the pope he was honored to continue his family’s legacy. Ryazanskiy’s grandfather had worked on the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, which launched in 1957.

Francis, who has long exalted the role of grandparents, marveled at his response. “That's our strength: Never forget roots. It does me good to hear this! Thank you,” he said.

Bresnik described the overwhelming joy of looking outside and seeing “God’s creation from his perspective.”

“As we see the peace and serenity of our planet … there's no borders, no conflict. It's just peaceful,” Breskin said. “We hope that an example of what we can achieve together [in space] sets an example for the rest of the world.”

Pope Francis’ conversation with the astronauts, particularly Russian cosmonauts Misurkin and Ryazanskiy, also marked a small step toward softening Vatican-Russian relations.

When he asked the astronauts what they thought about Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s verse that love is the force that moves the universe, Misurkin said he had been listening to the audiobook of Antoine de St. Exupery’s “The Little Prince” and was moved by the young boy’s understanding of love.

“Love is the force that gives you strength to give your life for someone else,” he told the pope.

Francis, overjoyed by Misurkin’s response, said, “It's clear you have understood the message that St. Exupery so poetically explained, and that you Russians have in your blood, in your humanistic and religious tradition.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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