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   A Pennsylvania pastor charged under United Methodist law with officiating his son's same-sex marriage is scheduled to go on trial.

   The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 51, could be defrocked if a jury comprised of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking his pastoral vows by officiating the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. Schaefer's supporters argue that church teaching on homosexuality is outmoded.

   "Public opinion has changed very rapidly," said the pastor's son, Tim Schaefer, 29. "I hope this leads to a renewed conversation to revisit these policies to see if they are a little archaic."

   The nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching." Clergy who perform same-sex unions risk punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to losing their minister's credentials.

   The issue has split the church. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them face discipline for presiding over same-gender unions.

   Critics say those pastors are sowing division within the church and ignoring the church's democratic decision-making process. Indeed, the denomination's top legislative body, the 1,000-member General Conference, reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays at its last worldwide meeting in 2012.

   The Methodists have set aside three days for Schaefer's trial, to be held at a church retreat in Spring City, Pa., beginning on Monday.

   Tim Schaefer, of Hull, Mass., will testify on his father's behalf.

   "(The defense wants) to highlight how hurtful the policy of the church is toward the LGBT community," he said.

   Tim Schaefer struggled as a teenager, aware of Methodist doctrine on homosexuality. He said he prayed every night that "God would make me normal, take this away from me." He contemplated suicide but knew it would devastate his family. Schaefer finally told his parents at age 17, and he said they accepted him completely.

   Years later, Schaefer knew he wanted his dad to perform his wedding ceremony.

   "I remember thinking I have two choices: I can ask my dad and know I am putting him in a position ... where he would risk his career, or I could not ask my dad and really risk hurting his feelings. I think he would have been devastated if I hadn't asked him," he said.

   Frank Schaefer has said he informed his superiors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference that he planned to officiate his son's wedding, and again after the ceremony, which took place at a restaurant near Boston. He said he faced no discipline until April — about a month before the church's six-year statute of limitations was set to expire — when one of his congregants filed a complaint.

   Schaefer could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.

   A Methodist trial resembles a secular trial in many ways, with counsel representing each side, a judge and jury, opening statements and closing arguments, and testimony and evidence.

   The 13 member jury, called a "trial court," will be selected from a pool of 35. It takes at least nine votes to convict. If Schaefer is convicted, the trial moves to a penalty phase, with the same jury settling on a punishment. At least seven members of the jury must agree on the penalty.

   Schaefer can appeal a conviction, but neither the church nor the person who brought the charge may appeal an acquittal.

Read more...

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As the technology to print 3-D firearms advances, a federal law that banned such guns is about to expire.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer says he's seeking an extension of the law before it expires Dec. 9.

He says the technology of so-called 3-D printing has advanced to the point anyone with $1,000 and an Internet connection can access the plastic parts that can be fitted into a gun. That weapon can't be detected by metal detectors or X-ray machines.

Schumer says that means anyone can download a gun cheaply, then take the weapons anywhere, including high-security areas.

The Democrat is pushing the extension along with Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Read more...

CARMICHAEL, Calif. (AP) — The doctor isn't in, but he can still see you now.

Remote presence robots are allowing physicians to "beam" themselves into hospitals to diagnose patients and offer medical advice during emergencies.

A growing number of hospitals are using telemedicine robots to expand access to medical specialists, especially in rural areas where there's a shortage of doctors.

Dignity Health, which runs Arizona, California and Nevada hospitals, began using the telemedicine machines five years ago to quickly diagnose patients suspected of suffering strokes.

The San Francisco-based health care provider now uses telemedicine machines in emergency rooms and intensive-care units at 20 California hospitals.

Earlier this year, Santa Barbara-based InTouch Health launched the RP-VITA, a remote presence robot approved for hospital use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Read more...

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