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CONSERVATIVE SWEEP IS VOTED THE NO. 1 RELIGIOUS STORY OF YEAR

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The electoral success of religious conservatives, expanded roles for Catholic women and the debate over feminist images in Christian churches were the top religion stories in 1994.

In a poll of members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the top religion story of the year was the role conservative religious groups such as the Christian Coalition played in getting out voters to contribute to the GOP election landslide. Issues such as abortion and school prayer are expected to be on the agenda of the new Congress.Ranking No. 2 was the Catholic Church's attempt to define the role of women in the sanctuary. Pope John Paul II ruled out any further discussion of opening the priesthood to women, but the Vatican gave its approval for female altar girls. Meanwhile, the U.S. Catholic bishops in November said women should be encouraged to move into the top ranks of church theologians and administrators.

The fallout over a "Re-Imagining Conference" in 1993 in Minneapolis was the third most important religion story of 1994. Organizers of the feminist conference attended by more than 2,000 people said it was an attempt to challenge women to find new ways to view God and spirituality. But critics said it was marked by heresy and goddess worship, and numerous protests and threats to withhold contributions were received at the headquarters of some Protestant denominations.

The story of Paul Hill, a former minister condemned to die for killing an abortion doctor and escort outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic July 29, was ranked fourth. Hill, who contended he committed a justifiable homicide, also was the first person convicted under a new federal law protecting clinics.

Rounding out the top five was the forward progress of the historic peace accord between Israel and the PLO. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. In June, Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations.

The Church of England's historic ordination of 32 women priests at Bristol Cathedral on March 12 ranked sixth on the list of the top religion stories. The decision to ordain women priests won wide acceptance, but also drew protests. In the United States, Episcopal Bishop Clarence C. Pope Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas, announced he is planning to move to the Roman Catholic Church after he retires Jan. 1.

The murder-suicide of 53 disciples of a doomsday sect, the Order of the Solar Temple, ranked seventh. Forty-eight bodies were discovered Oct. 5 in two burned-out Alpine chalets and a farmhouse in two remote Swiss villages. Five other bodies were discovered shortly before in an apartment in Canada belonging to the cult leaders.

Sexual abuse issues in the Catholic Church ranked eighth. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago said he was "totally vindicated" after he was dropped from a sexual abuse lawsuit. In November, a com-mit-tee of bishops issued a report saying the church should put victims first in policies on sex abuse. Faced with dozens of lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., expressed concern about the possibility of bankruptcy.

In ninth place was two Catholic publishing success stories: Pope John Paul II's best-selling "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" and the new English-language version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Religious involvement in the United Nations population conference in Cairo was No. 10. Catholic and Muslim delegates expressed concerns about language on abortion and sexual morality. The plan developed in Cairo referred to unsafe abortion as a major public health concern, but said reproductive health should conform to the laws and religious, ethical and cultural values of a country.

In other voting, the pope was judged to be the religion news-maker of the year, and the Episcopal House of Bishops was the top vote-getter for the Into the Darkness Award for attempting to keep secret drafts of its sexuality statement.

Thirty-seven religion writers picked the top 10 stories from a list of 50 choices compiled by Bill Thorkelson, a free-lance religion writer from Minneapolis and a former RNA president.