(We last updated the top of this post at 2 p.m. ET.)

Precisely on time, under dark skies but with the lights of cameras from news outlets around the world illuminating the scene, Swiss Guards on Thursday closed the doors of the palazzo at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome — marking the official end of Pope Benedict XVI's time as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

For the first time in about 600 years, a pope has voluntarily stepped down. His final moment as leader of the church came at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET).

When Pope Benedict XVI steps down at the end of the month, he will be remembered for his efforts to strengthen the Catholic Church's core beliefs and for his powerful and eloquent encyclicals, but also for a mixed record in handling the sexual abuse scandal.

(Most recent update: 2:50 p.m ET.)

For the first time in nearly 600 years, a pope is resigning from his post as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday morning that he is stepping down effective Feb. 28.

Boy Scout troops across the country could soon be able to decide for themselves whether to admit scout masters and troop members of all sexual orientations.

If the Boy Scouts of America leaves the decision up to individual troops, Austin could have troops with a variety of policies.

A search of troops in the Austin area shows many are sponsored by churches. A couple of the scout masters for those troops said they couldn’t talk about extending membership to boys and men of all sexual orientations until they got the okay from their sponsoring churches.

Kenny Braun

 Audio FileKUT's Jennifer Stayton talks with Austin author Lawrence Wright about his latest book "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief."Edit | Remove

What do Gloria Swanson and Tom Cruise have in common?

One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent U.S. history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of young Americans say they don't belong to any religion.


A Hardin County Judge is expected to rule today on whether to allow a group of high school cheerleaders to continue to display Bible verses at football games.

The Kountze High School cheerleaders are seeking a temporary injunction after Kountze Independent School District officials told the cheerleaders they could no longer use scripture on banners. An atheist group complained about the displays.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says he’ll defend the East Texas cheerleaders.

With a vote Tuesday evening by its House of Deputies, the Episcopal Church became the largest U.S. denomination so far "to officially sanction same-sex relationships," as CNN's Belief blog writes.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

In January, an atheist group will lobby the state Legislature to overturn an obscure clause in the Texas Constitution — one that says candidates for public office must believe in a higher power. The group is following in the litigious footsteps of the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who 30 years ago challenged the same provision as an attempt to establish a state religion.

In Article 1, Section 4, the Texas Constitution states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” 

In other words, the Constitution maintains freedom of religion, but appears to bar atheists from holding state office. 

Alex E. Proimos,

Northwest Austin’s orthodox Jewish community may soon be able to move a little more freely on the Sabbath.

This Thursday, the Austin City Council is calling on staff to study the feasibility of creating an eruv.

“It’s a Hebrew word, eruv, and what it means is to mix together,” says Rabbi Eliezer Langer at the Tiferet Israel Congregation in Northwest Austin, located inside the proposed eruv.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A small band of Austinites braved the rain this afternoon to rally in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, one of the largest organizations of Catholic nuns in the U.S.

Eight protesters assembled outside of St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Austin, holding signs reading "In solidarity with Women Religious" and "I stand with LCWR." Similar protests were scheduled in other cities today, including Dallas and New York.

On April 18, the Vatican issued a report chastising the LCWR for an insufficiently hardline stance on homosexuality that places it “outside the Church’s teaching,” and “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Clemed,

Known for his unorthodox quarterbacking and conservative Christian beliefs, Tim Tebow – who helped earn the Denver Broncos a divisional title last season, before going to the New York Jets – is appearing at Georgetown's Celebration Church this Easter Sunday, April 8. Gates open at 8 a.m., and the service begins at 10 a.m.

Celebration Church’s main campus is almost 8,000 square feet, but for an event this large – the church anticipates some 20,000 attendees – services will be held outdoors on Celebration’s 110-acre site. “We’re literally taking our service outdoors for the first time,” says Tara Wall, Celebration Church’s Media and Communications Director.

The estimate is a big bump from Celebration’s already-large numbers: Wall says Celebration hosts five to seven thousand attendees any given Sunday. Parking will not be allowed on site. Street closures will encompass a mile radius around the church, but nine off-site parking lots with shuttle service will deliver parishioners to Tebow.

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

You may have seen billboards like the one above on Highway 71 near the airport. You may have read the various Tweets, or the numerous stories in print and on-air.  The May 21 meme is ostensibly the product of Harold Camping, the 89-year-old founder of Family Radio, who says he calculated the exact date of the Rapture to be this Saturday. His organization and its supporters paid to install Judgment Day billboards across the country.

A caravan of three recreational vehicles drove through Austin in February to deliver the warning and hand out fliers at the University of Texas and outside a Longhorns basketball game, according to a travel log entry on the Family Radio website.

Atheist bus ad
Image courtesy the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason

An atheist group called the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason has purchased what they call "Godless Ads" on busses in Tarrant County.

The ads remind people that "Millions of Americans Are Good Without God." They appear on both sides of the bus. Similar billboard ads appeared in Austin this summer. The parent organization, the United Coalition of Reason, has also helped pay for ads in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington DC.