Nel's New Day

February 24, 2019

More Need for Wall on Religion

At the beginning of a four-day conference regarding clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis called for “concrete and effective measures” to solve the behavior of the Church’s leadership. After four days of speeches about the need for action and the “outrage of the people,” Francis closed the summit by calling for an “all-out battle” but few concrete remedies. Sometimes avoiding the purpose of the meeting, Francis larded his speech with data regarding abuse in schools, at athletic facilities, and within families, talking about the dangers of the digital world.

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, writes about the problems of Christians who claims to be superior to all others:

When a journalist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper reported in 2002 on a Baptist pastor who had sexually assaulted two teenage girls in his church, one apparently just 13 years old, he received a furious reprimand.

Glenn L. Akins, then running the Illinois Baptist State Association, offered a bizarre objection: that writing about one pastor who committed sex crimes was unfair because that “ignores many others who have done the same thing.” Akins cited “several other prominent churches where the same sort of sexual misconduct has occurred recently in our state.”

In the end, the Baptists ousted the journalist, Michael W. Leathers, while the pastor who had committed the crimes, Leslie Mason, received a seven-year prison sentence and then, as a registered sex offender, returned to the pulpit at a series of Baptist churches nearby. So Leathers is no longer a journalist, and Mason remained a pastor.

That saga was cited in a searing investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News that found that the Southern Baptist Convention repeatedly tolerated sexual assaults by clergymen and church volunteers. The Chronicle found 380 credible cases of church leaders and volunteers engaging in sexual misconduct, with the victims sometimes shunned by churches, urged to forgive abusers or advised to get abortions.

“Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms,” The Chronicle reported.

Leathers told me he is glad he wrote the 2002 article, even if it cost him his career. He expressed frustration at Southern Baptist priorities: The church leadership would expel a church that appointed a woman as senior pastor, even as it accepted sexual predators.

The indifference to criminal behavior is an echo of what has been unearthed in the Roman Catholic Church over the decades. The latest sickening revelations are of priests getting away with raping nuns and with assaulting deaf students.

These new scandals provoke fresh nausea at the hypocrisy of religious blowhards like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who thundered at the immorality of gay people even as their own Southern Baptist network tolerated child rape.

I suspect it’s no accident that these crimes emerged in denominations that do not ordain women and that relegate them to second-class status.

“If God is male,” Mary Daly, the feminist theologian, wrote, “then the male is God.”

The result may be threefold: an entitled male clergy, women and girls taught to be submissive in church, and a lack of accountability and oversight. It’s complicated, of course, for many of the Catholic victims were boys, but there does seem to have been an element of elevating male clergy members on a pedestal in a way that made them omnipotent and unaccountable.

“Underneath it all is this patriarchy that goes back millennia,” Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, told me, noting the commonality of the Catholic and Southern Baptist Churches: “They both have very masculine understandings of God, and have a structure where men are considered the closest representatives of God.”

The paradox is that Jesus and the early Christian church seem to have been very open to women. The only person in the New Testament who wins an argument with Jesus is an unnamed woman who begs him to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28).

The Gospel of Mary, a Gnostic text from the early second century, suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to provide religious instruction to his disciples.

But then conventional hierarchies asserted themselves, and women were mostly barred from religious leadership.

After The Chronicle’s investigation, the Southern Baptists have promised greater training and more background checks, but what’s needed above all is accountability and equality.

“Prohibiting women from the highest ranks of formal leadership fosters a fundamentally toxic masculinity,” Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer professor of Christian morals at Harvard, told me.

Baptist women have been ready to be heard for a century. I know because my great-grandfather John Howard Shakespeare was the leader of Baptists in Britain from 1898 to 1924 and practiced his sermons on his wife. When she once insisted that she had something else to do, he locked her in an upstairs room.

My great-grandmother Amy, wearing a long dress, then climbed out an upper window and onto a tree branch, and finally clambered down the tree to the ground.

Perhaps inspired by such a strong woman, Shakespeare favored the ordination of women. “That women are not yet permitted to take their proper share in the life and work of our churches is, to our thinking, a relic of barbarism,” he wrote in 1901.

So much has changed for women since then, yet even today a majority of religious women still belong to denominations that do not ordain women. And as long as inequality is baked into faith, as long as “men of God” are unaccountable, then sexual assaults will continue.

The problem is not just wayward pastors and priests. Rather it is structural, an inequality and masculine conception of God that empowers rapists.

And, perhaps, embarrasses God.

September 16, 2018

Sexual Abuse: Religion Wants Silence

Pope Francis wants silence about the Catholic Church’s leaders sexually abusing members, but more information about the epidemic is pouring into the media. New York has issued subpoenas against the state’s eight dioceses, and New Jersey created a task force to investigate allegations of clergy sexually abusing minors and any attempts of the church to hide the abuse. In charge of the New York investigation, the state’s AG Barbara Dale Underwood also encouraged the state legislature to pass the Child Victims Act that would permit civil suits until victims are 50 years old and seek criminal charges against abusers until age 28. Pennsylvania prosecutors who recently concluded that 300 priests in the state had sexually abused over 1,000 children during the past 70 years. New York, New Mexico, Illinois, Nebraska, and Missouri have already started investigations or inquiries.

In West Virginia, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, whose diocese covers the entire state, resigned after allegations of sexually harassing adults. Bransfield is a close associate of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick who left his position after allegedly molesting an altar boy and coercing seminary students to sleep in his bed. McCarrick was elevated to cardinal despite warnings over many years.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington since 2006, told his parishioners that he is leaving because of poor judgment when he was bishop of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania investigators named Wuerl over 200 times in its report about the systemic abuse of more than 1,000 children by over 300 priests when bishops and other church officials concealed crimes and protected predatory priests. Wuerl allowed an accused abuser to stay in his ministry and banned victims from speaking during a settlement agreement.

The bishop of Buffalo, Richard J. Malone, has thus far ignored calls for his resignation after an investigation from a local radio station revealed he kept priests in ministry who might be threats to children. When Malone pretended transparency and released the names of priests accused of abuse, he omitted dozens of names.

Four U.S. cardinals went to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the problems of Catholic leaders’ sexual assault. One, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, has been accused of knowing about a priest’s sexual abuse and allowed him to remain in his ministry. DiNardo had appointed the priest, arrested last week on charges of indecency with children, to a leadership role as episcopal vicar for Hispanics after he met with accusers at two separate times.

Knowledge about sex abuse by Catholic Church leaders has erupted around the world with revelations of abuse and cover-ups in Australia, Ireland, Belgium, France, Chile and other countries. A leaked report from Germany included information about 1,670 church workers—over four percent of the clergy—were involved in the abuse of 3,677 children over seven decades. Researchers said that many more cases probably existed because they were not allowed access to confidential records.

A Dutch newspaper found that 20 of 39 Dutch cardinals, bishops, and their auxiliaries are accused of covering up the sexual assault of children between 1945 and 2010, four of them accused of sexually abusing children. The report stated that the church destroyed files of accused clergy.

As states ponder dealing with Catholics abusing children, the evangelicals have decided that AG Jeff Sessions’ virulent anti-LGBTQ policies and “religious liberty” discrimination aren’t enough for their approval. Fundamentalist Christians are throwing him under the ever-growing bus because he recused himself from investigation into the Russian scandal after meeting with Russians during the campaign of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Jerry Falwell Jr., is calling on DDT to fire Sessions because Sessions “really is not on the president’s team, never was.” Never mind that Sessions was the first senator to endorse DDT when he looked like a loser, agreeing with DDT’s hardline immigration policies. To Falwell and other evangelicals, the only real leader is the serial liar who attacks women.

At the “state dinner” with evangelicals, DDT told them that Democrats will “overturn everything that we’ve done … quickly and violently” if they get elected and called the election “a referendum on your religion.” To evangelicals, VP Mike Pence, the real believer, is invisible because they want power, not religion.

Evangelicals are also calling for parents to shun their LGBTQ children. “Ex-lesbian” Assemblies of God pastor Janet Boynes published an article on Charisma News, a Christian website, urging parents to refuse to meet their children’s partners and cut the children out of their life. Her solution:

“As pastors, people look to us to take the lead on showing love and hospitality, embracing those who do not know Christ…. You are willing to throw God under the bus because this is your child or loved one. What does that say to God about where your heart is?”

Last November, Ralph Shortey, an anti-LGBTQ former state senator in Oklahoma who served as DDT’s state GOP chair, was charged with felony child prostitution, child sex trafficking, and possession of child pornography. The 35-year-old father of four girls resigned from the state legislature last March after he was found in a hotel room with a 17-year-old male. Both were naked. Shortey cited his Christian beliefs as the reason that he voted against a transgender “bathroom bill” and for other anti-LGBTQ bills including a measure allowing business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ people. He pled guilty to child sex trafficking and appeared in court last week, seeking leniency. In his 14 Craigslist ads, he sought a “boy,” offered sex with his wife, and requested group sex with strangers. On the message app Kik, some with usernames referencing child pornography, Shortey wanted interaction with children, listing his background as work as church bus driver and activities with the state YMCA Youth and Government programs and the state American Legion leadership week Boys State.

In Ohio, Wesley Goodman, a GOP first-term representative and proponent of “natural behavior,” resigned the week before Shortey’s fall after Goodman engaged in sexual activity with a male visitor in his legislative office. During his campaign years earlier, a father had gone to Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, to complain after Goodman sexually fondled his son. Perkins promised action but did nothing, and Goodman won his next election because evangelicals protected the sexual predator.

Another anti-LGBTQ “Christian” minister has resigned because of sexual misconduct and “undesired physical displays of affection.” Father Eric Dudley, married and father of three, left the Tallahassee St. Peter’s Anglican Church after complaints followed by an inquiry by senior priests. Dudley had left St. John’s Episcopal Church after ten years because of the Episcopalians’ pro-LGBTQ position and founded a church associated with the Anglican Church of Uganda. He called marriage equality a “well-oiled political scheme involving the media and Hollywood” that caused people to accept bisexuality, polyamory, and identification as “any gender.”

The Mormons also failed to refer cases of sex abuse allegations after investigating missionaries and a stake president. The leaked document read, “The missionary department is reluctant to send this elder home where he may face prosecution for a felony.” When a missionary accused of sexually abusing a child in a foreign country was sent back to the U.S., the Mormon leadership “determined no action would be taken.”

These sexual predators are only a few of the people who take the moral high ground in their war to make the United States a theocracy while abusing others.

Dylan Charles writes:

“Of the world’s two major religions, one is engaged in a generations long campaign of torture and murder of non-believers, and the other is always mired in sex scandals involving child rape, pedophilia, molestation and high level cover ups.”

These authoritarian religions control behavior from fear, forcing people to follow the leaders without doubt, without evidence. These rigid patterns eliminate the opportunity for open minds and education because dogmatic religious leaders don’t permit questioning. The superiority of conservative religious leaders—usually males—is rapidly taking over the United States. The leadership in the federal government, consumed by making more money, will do anything to get their own way—cheat, lie, abuse, cover up wrong doings. The result is a class society of haves and have nots in which people constantly experience more and more abuse—physical, sexual, and emotional.

August 26, 2018

Religious Leadership, Abusive and in Control of the U.S.

The Nuns on the Bus are traveling again in October, this time from Los Angeles through 21 states with 54 events during their 27 days and aimed directly at Mar-a-Lago, where they finish with a “Fiesta for the Common Good.” For the sixth time since Sister Simone Campbell, leader of a Catholic social justice lobby, fired up her followers, the nuns plan to protest, this time the GOP tax plan just in time for people to pick their candidates at the 2018 general election. Critics of the $1.2 trillion tax cut, mostly going to the richest people and biggest corporations, point out that it increases the budget deficit and income inequality. Even worse, Republicans plan to use the tax cut’s deficit from giving money to the wealthiest Republicans to eliminate or at least reduce Social Security and Medicare.

After Pope Francis addressed a letter to the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, lamenting the horrific sexual abuse by church leaders in Pennsylvania, Sister Simone spoke with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. The sister called on the pope to go beyond writing a letter and take action.

Goodman pointed out that she and the nuns, who fought for social justice, “were investigated more than any of these priests, who preyed on children and adults, seminarians as well.” “When attacked, let’s deflect it,” Sister Simone said to explain the Catholic approach toward the abuse. “We certainly see that in politics right now in our nation,” she added. Sister Simone called on “serious change” in the leadership in a church that ignores women in leadership positions.

“We have all this pious talk about how men and women are created in complementarity and all that, but then we leave women out entirely….”

Sister Simone and her small network was criticized by the Catholic church for “being a bad influence on Catholic sisters in the United States, because we worked too much on the issues of poverty.” The leadership’s focus on abortion and sexual orientation focuses its perspective on sex, “and they become the righteous judgers. And this is wrong. This is wrong.”

Asked if women should be priests, Sister Simone described the “priestly functions” that she performs and “should be acknowledged.” She also thinks that priests should be able to marry, the way that they could before 1200. At that time, a wife might be able to inherit a cathedral if she were married to a bishop. The solution was mandating celibacy.

Pope Francis’ letter promised that “no effort” will be spared to change a church culture that allows both the abuse and the conspiracy to hide it. In Ireland, where the pope is visiting, he may have trouble convincing people after his recent appointment of Philip Boyce as bishop. With only 160,000 residents, County Donegal has the worst record of sexual abuse in Ireland. Four of the 14 accused priests were convicted, including the Rev. Eugene Greene who was imprisoned for nine years after raping and molesting at least 26 boys between 1965 and 1982. Boyce refused to defrock Green in the late 1990s. Residents said that the pope’s appointment of Boyce belies his words, as Francis continues to shuffle along those who protect abusers.

In another case, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who served as apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. from 2011 to 2016, wrote that Pope Francis ignored his information about Theodore Carrick by removing sanctions that Pope Benedict XVI placed on McCarrick in 2013. McCarrick, a long-time successful fundraiser for the Vatican, had been aged out of his position of Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Benedict’s sanctions limited him from leaving his residence at a seminary and performing public Mass. Francis repealed the sanctions and “continued to cover” for McCarrick, making him “his trusted counselor” who advised Francis on several bishop appointments in the United States. The Catholic Church made several settlements to McCarrick’s sexual abuse traced back 47 years, but the Church always covered for his activities until he was blocked from public ministry on June 20, 2018.

Viganò calls for Pope Francis and others involved in the coverup of McCarrick’s abuse to resign, adding that complicity of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s respective Secretary of States, Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Tarcisio Bertone had led to the delay of the sanctions.  Benedict had ignored both of Viganò’s memos about McCarrick from 2006 and 2008 until Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and specialist in clerical sexual abuse, sent Benedict a statement about McCarrick’s abuse. Viganò also reinforced the record of cover-up in Honduras by Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga and his record of cover-up in Honduras, saying the Pope “defends his man” to the “bitter end,” despite the allegations against him.

In the past three decades, the Catholic Church has paid out over $3.6 billion to settle abuse case.

During his visit to Ireland, Pope Francis largely addressed the “family” with no specifics about stopping the sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and Colm O’Gorman, a clerical abuse survivor, called the pope’s remarks an “extraordinary deflection.” Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar spoke about actually doing something rather than merely express regret and sadness. Colm O’Gorman, a clerical abuse survivor and the director of Amnesty International Ireland, called the pope’s remarks on Saturday morning an “extraordinary deflection.” He also said that the pope’s statement that Catholics should share the shame were an “insult to faithful Catholics, who have no reason to feel shame because of the crimes of the Vatican and the institution church.”

Francis received a far more lukewarm greeting than the one for John Paul II in 1979, and thousands of protesters gathered in Dublin.

More deflection came from Cardinal Raymond Burke who blamed homosexuality for the child abuse, ignoring the science that this abuse is a sexual disorder, more common in men,that has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Men have more access to boys than girls, especially in the Catholic Church where women have few leadership responsibilities.

High profile U.S. Catholics such as Cardinals Sean O’Malley of Boston and Donald Wuerl of Washington, canceled their trips to be with Francis in Ireland. O’Malley has been accused of concealing sexual abuse among clerics, including a 2015 report about McCarrick, and Wuerl, bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, granted reassignment and retirement requests to priests accused of sexual abuse without reporting their behavior. Current bishop of Pittsburgh, David Zubik, claims that there are no confidentiality agreements about sexual abuse, but he offered a victim money for his children’s college tuition and some counseling in return for his silence.

A letter calling for the resignation of all U.S. bishops is gaining traction since massive reports of sexual abuse coverup; last May, Chile’s 34 bishops all resigned after a sexual abuse scandal. The letter declares:

“The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of ‘a few bad apples,’ but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church. Systemic sin cannot be ended through individual goodwill.”

The Irish Catholic Church has a long history of abusing children and women. In a Catholic program that finally ended in 1996, at least 10,000 unmarried mothers or “morally wayward” women were enslaved against their wishes in Magdalene laundries where they worked for no pay, no pension, and no social protection—sometimes for their entire lives—to wash clothes and linens for major hotel groups and the Irish armed forces. The report begins only in 1922; they may have a much longer history.

Many of the women were sent to these laundries after they gave birth in homes run by nuns, one of the most infamous in the small town of Tuam. An investigation found a number of tiny skeletons on the grounds after an historian raised an alarm, who reported that almost 800 children, mistreated at the home are buried there. Her evidence comes from 800 death certificates found at the home, some of them with malnutrition as the cause, but records of only four burials. Conservative Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, ranted against any accusations against Catholic abuse, but Ireland has failed to continue its investigations after discovering the first 35 skeletons. Children who lived were all sent off to foster families.

If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as Supreme Court justice, Catholicism will continue to dominate the high court with two-thirds constituency. Meanwhile, DDT is packing the other courts and the government agencies with radical fundamental Christians—almost all male and many of them also abusers. Running the U.S. House are a Catholic and a fundamentalist Christian—both male. Over 45 percent of Congress is Catholic—twice as many as the Catholic percentage in the U.S. Over half the U.S. population is female, but only 20 percent of Congress are women.

Most conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians don’t object to DDT’s sexual misconduct, cruelty, lies, and illegal activity. Until the conservative religious and male control of the United States changes, the nation will continue to be run by people who are obsessed with sex and have no interest in social justice.

August 19, 2018

DOJ Protects Discrimination, Sexual Assault by Christians

Hypocritical evangelist Franklin Graham brought his religion that supports sexual assault and serial lying to Oregon in an attack on Gov. Kate Brown in an address to 12,000 people in Canby (OR). Because Brown practices yoga, an exercise used for health and relaxation, Graham accused her of not being a Christian and called on the crowd to pray for her to “come to know your son Jesus Christ as her lord and savior.” Graham’s speech, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” claimed that “secularism and communism are one and the same.”

[According to Christian thought, the sins of Sodom are gang rape, violence, inhospitality, pride, arrogance, inhospitality, and failure to help the poor and needy—not exercise. Note Matthew 6:1 – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”]

Following Graham’s determination to make the United States a mandated Christian nation, AG Jeff Sessions has created a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to enforce his mandate that federal agencies take the broadest possible interpretation of Christian “liberty,” which he calls “religious liberty.” Sessions’ action prevents the IRS from removing the tax-exempt status of churches that actively promote political candidates, prohibited by law. Grants from any agency for sex education and reproductive care will require an abstinence-only approach, workers can be denied insurance for contraception, and employers can hire only Christians.

As the number of Christians in the United States shrinks, their rights increase through their Supreme Court wins in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) and Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017), the latter forcing taxpayers to give funds to Christian churches. Last May, Sessions created a new office to watch for “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law.” In July, he tried to use the bible, Romans 13, as justification for his cruelty in separating immigrant children from their families. Sessions personal religious group, the United Methodist Church, formally censured him, including his misrepresentation of the Christian faith.

Sessions’ speech announcing his new task force emphasized the need to eradicate secularism, calling it a “dangerous movement.” He claimed that “courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law” and people can label religious groups as a “hate group,” possibly referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center designation of the Christian Family Research Council that constantly lies about and attacks LGBTQ people and Muslims while it supports white nationalists. Sessions also reassured the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) that he believes that they are not a hate group for their hate attacks against LGBTQ people and claimed that the DOJ does not “partner with any groups that discriminate.”

Rev. Dr. Barber said:

“The rationale that is used to say businesses ought to be able to deny an LGBT person, is the same rationale that segregationists used.”

In his announcement speech for his task force, at the DOJ “Religious Liberty Summit,” Sessions said, among other falsehoods,“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives.” Nuns had been required to sign a form refusing to include contraceptives in insurance for employees. Other accusations concerned a confirmation question to HUD Secretary Ben Carson about supporting LGBTQ rights and questions to judicial nominee Wendy Vitter about her anti-reproductive rights activism. Sessions also referred to “the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” whose case refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple was decided by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission this past June. (Phillips may be back; he has now refused to serve a transgender woman.)

Another speaker at the announcement, Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to promote discrimination against LGBTQ workers and same-gender couples who want to legally marry. Kurtz advocated for state-funded adoption agencies’ permission to reject prospective LGBTQ parents.

Sessions and Kurtz want to put everyone in the United States under control of Christian religion including the Catholic Church that protected over 300 leaders sexually abusing over 1,000 victims during the past 70 years— just in one state. If a secular institution were in charge, the sexual abusers “would have been arrested under the RICO federal laws [and] considered organized crime,” according to Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi. Instead, the Catholic Conference spent millions of dollars to block any legislation to protect future victims and still continues to fight laws to prevent further victimization. Sessions’ actions in his leadership of the DOJ helps protect the sexual abusers in any church.

How the Church and law officials protected sexual abusers, according to the grand jury:

  • Those with information about sexual abusers were told, “Never say ‘rape’; say ‘inappropriate contact’ or ‘boundary issues.'”
  • Fellow clergy members who investigated were ordered  to “ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations” about their colleagues, with whom they lived and worked.
  • Clergy members were sent to church-run psychiatric treatment facilities “for an appearance of integrity.”
  • A priest’s removal was explained as his being “sick” or having “nervous exhaustion.”
  • Priests who raped children were still provided with housing and living expenses.
  • If communities learned about the priests’ abuses, the clergy stayed in the priesthood but were moved new to locations where no one knew about their crimes.
  • Child sex abuse was not treated as a crime.
  • Law enforcement who learned about the abuses “simply deferred to church officials.”

Stories about protected crimes committed by Catholic priests that came out from the grand jury are horrifying:  

  • “A priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter—[to the priest]: ‘This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.’” The priest remained in his position.
  • The bishop in the Diocese of Erie heard a priest confess to anal and oral rape “of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old” before he called the priest “a person of candor and sincerity,” and congratulated him on “the progress he has made” in handling his “addiction.”
  • In the Diocese of Harrisburg, a priest abusing five sisters in one family “collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood,” but the diocese “remained unwilling” to confront the priest after finding his “collection.
  • The Diocese of Pittsburgh dismissed a priest’s abuse because he said he was “literally seduced” by a 15-year-old boy despite his admitting to “sado-masochistic” activities with several boys; the diocese said that the sado-masochism was only “mild” and at least the priest was not “psychotic.”
  • A boy was forced to stand naked, posing like Christ on the cross, while priests took pictures and added them to a collection of child pornography that they produced and distributed on the church campus.

As horrific as these revelations are, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been known for decades—perhaps even centuries. And Catholics are not alone: the evangelical Christian churches, those now running the United States, also conceal their sexual abuse, largely with impunity. High-profile leaders such as Paige Patterson and Bill Hybels fell from their pedestals, but a decentralized church structure ignores sexual abuse. Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson said, “Sexual abuse is the most underreported thing—both in and outside the church—that exists.” A former Florida assistant state attorney, he saw dozens of sexual assault victims unprotected by church leadership and church constituents who abused members of their flock.

Tchividjian said that sexual abuse in evangelical churches is worse than that in the Catholic Church, adding that the Christian mission field is a “magnet” for sexual abusers. Columnist Dan Savage found over 100 instances of youth pastors who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for, or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting. The tip of the iceberg, these cases are just those publicized. Wade Mullen, director of the M.Div. program at Capital Seminary & Graduate School, found 192 cases in 2016 and 2017 of leaders in an influential church or evangelical institution charged with sex crimes involving a minor, including rape, molestation, battery and child pornography —and these didn’t include those committed by other than leaders or against adults and those who weren’t charged.

Of 166 people at Bob Jones University who reported being victims of sexual abuse, the school discouraged half of them from going to the police, and one BJU official told a victim who reporting sexual abuse by his grandfather that he “tore your family apart” and “you love yourself more than you love God.”

Those who claim that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is in the past refuse to see how religious leaders block any laws against sexual abuse in Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant. While Sessions promotes discrimination by Christians against all others, he fails to protect victims of sexual assault,many in the name of Christianity. Evangelicals who rant against consenting same-gender relationships and same-gender couples trying to adopt unwanted children should clean their own house before attacking others–but they won’t. It’s all a matter of power over others.

November 16, 2014

Pope Francis Flips the Church’s Attitude

Who knew when a mild-manner cardinal from Argentina became the leader 1.2 billion and renamed himself Francis that he would throw his followers—and the conservatives in the United States—into such a turmoil?! His attacks on climate-change deniers, unfettered capitalism, and bigotry against LGBT people have become legendary. While committee Senate leaders such as James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will take the country back to the 19th century in environment, public works, commerce, science, and transportation, the pope continues his speeches about how science, rational thought, and data are important parts of present and future human goals.

Last month, the pope said to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that the Catholic Church evolution and the Big Bang theory of the universe fit with biblical teachings. “God was [not] a magician, complete with an all-powerful magic wand.” At the same time, Congress will be controlled by people who link Darwinism with eternal damnation. Inhofe, who wrote The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, said:

“God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”

During the times of the Founding Fathers, people revered intellectual achievement. It was the Age of Enlightenment that used the scientific method of independent inquiry and the study of objective data to reach conclusions after repeated experiments that were carefully analyzed. Even presidents in the 20th century sought advice from people in the opposing parties. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Vannevar Bush, an opponent of the New Deal, to head up of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and Democrat Jerome Wiesner sat on the Science Advisory Committee to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The pope moves ahead; the Congress has gone into reverse.

Last week, the pope officially demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the U.S. cardinal who attacked Francis on his progressive expressions. In 2004, Burke said that voting for a pro-choice candidate is a “serious sin” and said last year the Church “can never talk enough” about the “massacre of the unborn.” After Francis said about gay priests, “who am I to judge?” Burke told said that homosexual acts are “always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Burke to the head of the Apostolic Signatura—the Vatican’s highest court. Benedict resigned, and Francis sent Burke to a ceremonial role as the Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta. The tipping point leading to the reassignment may have been Burke’s participation with conservative bishops who protested the pope’s discussion of “family issues” such as homosexuality. In his attack, Burke said that the pope did “a lot of harm” and compared his leadership to “a ship without a rudder.” Last month, Burke called homosexuality “profoundly disordered and harmful” and told people that they should keep their children away from LGBT people and cut ties with LGBT relatives. This is the pope’s second demotion of Burke: in 2013, Burke was removed from the Congregation for Bishops.

Francis had already irritated cardinals by elevating many bishops from countries outside the West to cardinal. Before removing Burke, the pope replaced Cardinal Francis George, the conservative who compared organizers of the Chicago Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan, with moderate Bishop Blasé Cupich, who condemns anti-LGBT bullying and asked priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as a protest.

The pope also diverges from U.S. conservatives in the excesses of capitalism. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have both called him a Marxist, and other pundits have called him a Communist and Socialist. At the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a three day conference attended by farmers, fishermen, miners, and Argentine “cartoneros,” who sift through garbage for recyclable goods, Francis said:

“Let’s say together with our heart: no family without a roof, no peasant farmer without land, no worker without rights, no person without dignified labour!”

He explained this statement:

“Land, housing and work are increasingly unavailable to the majority of the world’s population. If I talk about this, some will think that the Pope is communist. They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. Demanding this isn’t unusual, it’s the social doctrine of the church.”

Ken Ham, infamous for his religious museum that puts humans and dinosaurs in the same time period, said, “Pope Francis has compromised biblical authority in favor of man’s ideas in the area of origins.” Ham was offended by the pope’s statements that “God is not afraid of new things.” This declaration fails to defer to the bible, according to Ham, which was literally written by God. Ham protested:

“If God and His Word are open to change, then God’s Word is not an authority on anything—man becomes the authority because he gets to decide when and how God’s Word applies.”

Ham asked his followers to pray for the pope. “I encourage you to pray that church leaders like these will realize that they are placing man’s opinions above God’s Word and that they will repent and trust God’s Word, beginning in Genesis.” Unfortunately for Ham, his god failed to translate his words into other languages; therefore his bible is written by human beings.

Conservatives such as Catholic John Ransom are going so far as to say the pope claimed that “God is not a divine being.” It’s another problem of mistranslating because the pope did not speak in English. Ransom’s column about the pope is titled “Can the pope shut up too?” which lacks a sense of reverence for his Church’s leader.

Creationist Ray Comfort didn’t attack the pope but approached the him in a patronizing manner. Comfort said that any self-described Christian might “think that they are siding with science, [but] they don’t realize that the theory has no scientific basis—that it’s unproven, and that it has to be received on blind faith.” People who believe in evolution “don’t believe in Jesus.”

It is possible that The pope’s comments could lead to a schism in the Catholic Church. Australian Cardinal George Pell wrote that Pope Francis was the 266th pope “and history has seen 37 false or antipopes.” The insinuation is that Francis may be the 38th, possibly sent by the devil.

Conservative American journalist Ross Douthat wrote that “[Conservative Catholics] might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” He also argued that the pope is “stacking the synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change”—as if this were unusual.

U.S. bishops may have decided their approach to Pope Francis last week at the annual General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Part of the business was to pick four representatives to send to the October 2015 synod on marriage and the family. The first synod on the subject was last month when the Vatican riled up conservatives by seeming to recognize loving and committed same-sex partnerships. Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl will also attend the synod because they are the highest-ranking Catholic clergy in the country.

The highly conservative website, Breitbart.com, describes the selection as a “conservative ‘dream team.’ “  Those chosen were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Archbishop Jose Gomez. Alternates are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archibishop-designate Blasé Cupich. Of the six, only Cupich is moderate; the rest are solidly right-wing.  For example, Chaput argued against giving communion to Catholic politicians who support pro-choice and condemned Notre Dame for giving President Obama an honorary degree. Gomez is his protégé.

Times are going to be rocky for the Catholic Church, and this will reflect on the Church’s influence in the United States.

October 19, 2014

Vatican Shifts Left, Backtracks to Right

Pope Francis  seemed to lead the Catholic Church away from the former narrow bigotry last week when an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops called for the church to welcome and accept LGBT people, unmarried couples and divorced individuals as well as the children of these families. In past interviews, the pope has criticized his own church for putting moral doctrines above serving the poor and marginalized and said that the church is “obsessed” with gays, abortion, and birth control. His move was a moved to the Second Vatican Council convened over a half-century ago which brought great changes in church liturgy, relations with other faiths, and the roles of priests and laypeople.

A Vatican official said the church should “respect the dignity” of every person, and a 12-page report stated that pastors should recognize that there are “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.” LGBT people have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” and some gay and lesbian couples provide each other “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” and “precious support in the life of the partners,” according to the report.

The report led to discussion and modification by bishops within the next week with a final report issued for worldwide discussion. Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert with the Italian newsmagazine L’espresso, said that the “progressives” who want change in the church “are in positions of strength, put there by Pope Francis.” The Rev. James Martin, editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America, that “even though this is an interim document, it represents a revolution in the way the church speaks about our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That was all last week. Now the Vatican has released another statement that removed welcoming language toward LGBT people from the message after Timothy Dolan, New York City’s homophobic archbishop cardinal, vowed that he would fight with fellow conservative Catholics against the language until it was taken out of the document. On CBS This Morning, Dolan gave this message:

“All of this is almost like antipasto to help the holy father arrive at a fresh new way to teach the timeless teaching on marriage and family…I know there is remarkable unanimity and enthusiasm in backing the holy father’s attempt to present the teachings of the church in fresh, exciting and engaging new ways, but there might be some good, deep discussion on the way that is being expressed.”

Instead of the subtitle “Welcoming homosexual persons,” the document, formally known as the Relatio of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, uses these words, “The pastoral care of people with homosexual orientation.” The new language:

“55. Some families live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation. In this regard, questions have been raised on pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: ‘There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to draw even remote analogies between same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and the family.’ Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. ‘In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons , 4).

“56. It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church pressures in this matter and that international bodies condition financial aid to poor countries, on the institution of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”

All the following has disappeared:

“50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

“51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

“52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

Gone is any respect. No “mutual aid” among couples. And certainly no indication of accepting “civil unions.”

The elders of the Catholic Church, a description aptly fitting the older men who lead the religion, are in direct contrast to 85 percent of young Catholics in the U.S. who express support for gays and lesbians.

Acceptance of those who have divorced and remarried also got knocked out of the report because of lack of votes.

Despite the loss of acceptance for the pope’s report, he managed to demote U.S. anti-LGBT Cardinal Raymond Burke to a figurehead position as the Patron of the Knights of Malta which works among the sick. Almost a year ago, the pope dropped Burke from an important Vatican bureau. As the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s version of the U.S. Supreme Court, he had been the second most-powerful man in the Vatican.

Burke recently said that legally-married gay and lesbian family members should be shunned from family celebrations during the upcoming holidays, asking “what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?” As a member of the Congregation of Bishops, Burke had led the group in such controversial positions as moving Salvatore Cordileone, the church’s leader in California’s Prop 8 movement that reversed marriage equality in the state, to San Francisco. Burke also wants the Latin Mass and prefers the clerical clothing popular before Vatican II in the 1960s modernized the Catholic Church.

Francis has also replaced outspoken Chicago Cardinal Francis George with Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane (WA). Although Cupich opposes same-sex marriage, he rejected attempts “to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.” In a pastoral letter that was read in all Catholic parishes in the diocese, he wrote, “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

The most telling parts of the changes in the Vatican report is that they are only in English. The other versions stay the same.

August 4, 2013

Religion Continues to Invade Lives

ew_jackson-620x412For a state that should be the cradle of religious freedom, Virginia looks pretty far off the mark as its Republican candidates are firing up for their election in three months. E.W. Jackson, candidate for lieutenant governor, has gone farther off the rails with his statement that people can’t both believe in God and vote Democratic. When pressed by WLEE host Jack Gravely, Jackson said, “I believe that the Democrat Party has become an anti-God party.” The GOP party is getting increasingly embarrassed by Jackson. Pat Mullins, Virginia Republican Party chair, said, “I do not agree with that statement. My parents were Democrats, and I’ve got a lot of Democratic friends in Christian churches all around Virginia.” I guess Jackson is even too extreme for far-right Republicans.

simonecampbellOn the other side  is Sister Simone Campbell. The executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, who gained disfavor with the Vatican because she only wants to help poor people, testified before a House Budget Committee hearing last week about the importance of government-subsidized welfare programs. She talked about the foundational nature of charity and economic justice to the Catholic Church and explained the difference that federal assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Head Start initiatives have made in the lives of America’s most vulnerable.

Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) understand that directly confronting a nun, even one who seems as gentle as Sister Simone, is not safe. But his colleague, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), decided to tackle her head on. The good Baptist accused both Campbell and the Catholic Church of not fixing poverty by themselves.  “What is the church doing wrong that they have to come to the government to get so much help?” he asked her.

Calmly and firmly, she responded, “Justice comes before charity… Everyone has a right to eat, and therefore there is a governmental responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat. Love and care makes a difference, but the issues are so big there isn’t sufficient charitable dollars there.” Ribble ignored the nation’s history of working with faith groups to provide assistance for the vulnerable, particularly since George W. Bush, of Ribble’s political party, started handing out great amounts of money to churches. He also ignored the fact that 80 percent of the people in the country are now struggling with joblessness, near-poverty, or relying on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

Ryan got in his licks earlier when he introduced the meeting when he said, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.” Ryan ignored the fact that 68 percent of children who receive SNAP benefits have working parents, and 8.9 million Americans who work full time still live below the poverty line. Both Ribble and Ryan also skipped over the fact that minimum wage is now three-fourths of what it was almost 50 years ago and that wages have shrunk for everyone except the top layer of people in the United States within the past decade. In addition, each one of them receives annual salaries of over $140,000 but work less than half the year.

Pope Francis caused a buzz in the media when he was quoted as saying “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Most of the reporters took this as a statement that the Catholic Church is softening toward LGBT people. But not true. He continued by paraphrasing the Catechism that homosexual orientation is not sinful but homosexual acts are against the Church. Bottom line in the pope’s statement: celibate gays are not to be judged or excluded from the church.

The media had less to say about the pope’s comments about another disenfranchised and marginalized population within the church—the women. Although “women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” there is no possibility that they can be a part of the ordained ministry.”That door is closed,” Francis told reporters. Diane Winston wrote about the media’s neglect of the pope’s comments about women in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

“In the current media ecology of religion and public life, sex sells and gender gets a nod. (Forget religious leaders opining on violence, materialism or climate change. Unless Jesus himself appeared in a ‘Remember Sandy Hook’ T-shirt to buy sunscreen at Wal-Mart, there’s no story.) … But [the pope] kept in place [the church’s] bar to women. And the import of that bar — its global reverberations in unwanted pregnancies, female poverty and sexual slavery — remains hidden in plain sight.”

The Catholic Church had one temporary victory this past week. Federal Judge Rudolph T Randa ruled that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can continue to shield $57 million of its assets so that it won’t be used for settlements in sexual abuse lawsuits. When Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then Archbishop of the diocese, realized that the sexual abuse was going public, he got permission from the Vatican to move the $57 million into a trust fund connected with the Milwaukee Catholic cemeteries. In his letter of request, he explained that the transfer would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” Dolan is also the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Forty-five individual priests within that one diocese sexually assaulted an estimated 570 people; one priest was accused of molesting almost 200 deaf boys. The abuse was well-known within diocese leadership, and Dolan informed the Vatican of the problem in the early 2000s before he transferred the funds. If the judge’s ruling holds, the cemetery graves will be safe even if the abused victims receive none of the help that the $57 million could give them.

While the acceptance of different religions is shrinking in the United States, other countries are expanding their tolerance. Lukas Novy has declared for years that he is a Pastaferian of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” his own satirical faith with the belief that a creature composed of pasta and meatballs “created the world much as it exists today.” The resident of the Czech Republic wanted to wear a pasta sieve on his head while being photographed for an official government ID, and officials agreed.

Pastafarian-ID-e1375378922671

People in the U.S. might ridicule this satire, but this U.S. allows people to escape responsibilities because they declare a false religious belief. For example, Eden Foods is one of several for-profit corporations that have gone to court to avoid providing health plans that cover birth control.  After owner Michael Potter claimed an exemption based on his religious objections to contraception, a judge ruled in his favor. But Potter gave the press a different story when he spoke with Salon’s Irin Carmon:

“I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills… Because I’m a man, number one and it’s really none of my business what women do …  I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.”

Potter probably won’t mind if the government in Washington state mandates GMO labeling so that he can sell more of his product. He fakes religion because he doesn’t care about women but wants government to help his sales.

The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association is arguing that government-sponsored religion in public schools will “boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection.” They can’t use Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church for proof in raising test scores. When four church members went to Rhode Island to protest the start of marriage equality in the state, they carried a flier with the following:

 “Is the United States population illerate? Can’t you read? The Lord Jesus Christ said marriage Is between 1 man and 1 woman for life.”

The four of them were outnumbered by the police and far outnumbered by people supporting same-sex weddings.

And so the craziness continues.

April 21, 2013

New Pope Also Censures Nuns for Work with Poor

Over 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII called a council of Catholic bishops from around the world to deliberate on the Church’s direction. The progressive Vatican II met for three years and made tremendous strides ahead in the Catholic guidelines. Mass could be celebrated in a language that people could understand instead of Latin, and the ecumenical bridges were built between Christians and other religions including Jews. Nuns came out of the convents to “live the Gospel” through service with the poor and in prisons and hospitals.

The progressive pope, however, was replaced with Paul VI who declared birth control to be an “intrinsic evil” even for married people, despite the majority report of his own theological commission. The dark curtain of Catholic control was further lowered when Paul II opposed “liberation theology” movements in Latin America where priests and nuns stood with the poor against oppressive right-wing movements. The defense of the all-male priesthood and Church’s official concealment of their sexual abuses continued.

Pope Benedict XVI carried the suppression of the nuns farther when he tried to stop the actions of 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. nuns who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) because they concentrated on their care of the poor. The Vatican’s explosive report accused the nuns of “promoting radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” because they didn’t march around opposing abortion and marriage equality.

LCWR, according to Benedict, was to be controlled by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. He and two other bishops were assigned to oversee a rewriting of LCWR’s statutes, review its plans and programs, approve speakers, and guarantee that the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

Last year Catholic leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.” U.S. bishops made positive statements about the value of unions, immigration reform, and safety nets for poor people. They described Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan as failing “a basic moral test.”

The new pope, Francis, offered a bit of hope for a  more progressive Catholic Church perception. Initially he showed the desire for a simpler and less formal life which included giving aid to the poor. This new attitude indicated the possibility that the nuns in the United States could move on with their vocation of helping the poor instead of fighting pressure from the Vatican. This is not to be.

Like his predecessor, Francis has now expressed concern that these nuns have “serious doctrinal problems.”  Nuns meeting last week with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, and Sartain were told that Pope Francis has already endorsed Pope Benedict’s criticisms. Muller told the sisters their job is to promote “cooperation” with local bishops and bishops’ conferences, according to Religion News Service.

Kenneth Briggs, the author of a book about the Vatican’s clash with U.S. nuns, said Francis’ backing of the Holy See’s unyielding line was “a major blow” to prospects for more dialogue. “It seems like the Vatican has put a more appealing salesman in charge of the same old product,” Briggs said.

Sister Simone Campbell of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group, said that she would wait to see if these orders change in the future. She added:

“The censure [of the LCWR] has always been about politics. And politics are shifting in the church right now. We know when politics shift, there are opportunities and there are risks. But we are concerned that Catholic sisters below the decision-making level are caught in the bigger picture of Vatican politics. We’re sort of the soccer ball here. My most optimistic self had hoped that CDF report would never be mentioned again, but in light of the broader politics, I think it was overly optimistic of me.”

John Allen, a Vatican specialist for The National Catholic Reporter and CNN, has described the tension between the sisters and the bishops as one that is really about “what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.” Other people are guessing that a major problem in changing the orders for the U.S. nuns comes from the immediate past pope still being alive, that he is casting a shadow over any changes that Francis might want to make.

The Vatican approved of the LCWR for decades until Cardinal Bernard Law started an investigation into its activities. Law resigned as Boston archbishop in 2002 because of his role in the clergy abuse scandal and moved to Rome in 2004 to become pastor of a basilica. He served on several influential Vatican boards until his recent retirement at age 80.

Research on goals and processes of ethical beliefs of men and women indicate a distinct difference between the two genders with the female caring component missing from male ethical conceptions. James Fieser suggests that the male “emphasizes rules: moral laws, abstract notions of justice, lists of dos and don’ts, ideal standards of right and wrong.”  According to Fieser, men have a “preoccupation with rules in general, and the need to postulate scientific laws, legal statutes, and social policies.”  In contrast, “women see morality as the need to care for people who are in situations of vulnerability and dependency.”

These opposing attitudes are reflected in Christian religion across the United States that is dominated by men. In all the conservative groups, women are subservient to the domination of men.

The emphasis on “rules” is reflected in these two news stories:

According to a woman’s lawsuit in Philadelphia, a priest sexually assaulted her after he asked to see her for “counseling” and then “smeared her menstrual blood on her face.” When detectives asked the priest for an interview, he said that he could not talk with the police because the events were under the seal of confession. The case was not pursued until the woman filed her suit, and the priest has been sent to Poland.

For almost a decade, openly gay parishioner at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church (Oceanside, NY) was an active member of his church. Nicholas Coppola visited the home-bound, taught fifth-graders in preparation for confirmation, and served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul.

Three months after he married David in a ceremony attended by some St. Anthony members, the pastor removed him from all parish activities. A letter complaining about Coppola’s sexual orientation had been sent to the diocese bishop. Two months later, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the Church must welcome the LGBT community and not be “anti-anybody.”

The ultimate of “rules” in the U.S. may be the law. Seven states bar atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The statutes are unconstitutional, based on a Supreme Court ruling in 1961, but they can always overturn that ruling.

Meanwhile, I hope that the nuns get back on the bus for another tour and continue to help people who have fallen through the safety net.

 

February 24, 2013

Aim for Freedom from Religion

All the scandals swirling about the Catholic Church and the pope may be shaking up the leadership. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland and the only cardinal invited to next month’s conclave, said that priests should be able to get married:

“For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry–Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church–in some branches of the Catholic church–priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.”

Celibacy has not always been a mandate in the Catholic Church. Most of Jesus’s apostles were married, and priests could be married until the eleventh century when Pope Gregory VII required that priests be celibate. Before then six popes had families with some of their sons then becoming popes.

The German Bishops Conference now says that Catholic hospitals can give emergency contraception to rape victims. After two Cologne Catholic hospitals turned away a rape victim, Cardinal Joachim Meisner said that the church was “deeply ashamed by this incident because it goes against our Christian mission.” Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary, Georg Gaenswein, told him that it was “justifiable” in rape cases to provide drugs to prevent conception. The Catholic Church, unlike many Evangelical fundamentalists, understands that “the ‘morning-after pill,’ …  has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”

At this time, however, the Catholic Church is confused about whether a fetus is a person. To some of the leaders, it may depend on whether denying the “personhood” of a fetus, as they are wont to do, will save them money. The decision goes back to a case in 2006 when a woman seven-months pregnant with twins went to the emergency room at St. Thomas More hospital in Canon City (CO) and suffered a massive heart attack. Her obstetrician, on call for emergencies that night, failed to answer a page, and the woman died. The fetuses did not survive.

The woman’s husband filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, maintaining that the doctor should have answered the page, told the hospital staff to perform a C-section, and possibly saved the fetuses. The hospital’s defense was to claim that this was not a wrongful-death case because the fetuses were not people.

Recent publicity surrounding the Catholic hospital’s defense of the lawsuit led them to declare that their original defense was “morally wrong,” but they blamed the lawyers for using this defense without the hospital’s approval.

This past week the National Organization of Marriage accused state Sen. Pat Steadman of being contemptuous of religion in response to Steadman’s speech on discrimination and marriage equality:

“Don’t claim religion as a reason the law should discriminate. We have laws against discrimination. Discrimination is banned in employment, and housing, and public accommodations, and so bakeries that serve the public aren’t supposed to look down their noses at one particular class of persons and say ‘we don’t sell cakes to you.’ It’s troubling, this discrimination. And it’s already illegal.

“So, what to say to those who claim that religion requires them to discriminate? I’ll tell you what I’d say: ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ And live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equals to yourself. Away from the stream of commerce where you may have to serve them or employ them or rent banquet halls to them.

“Go some place and be as judgmental as you like. Go inside your church, establish separate water fountains in there if you want, but don’t claim that free exercise of religion requires the state of Colorado to establish separate water fountains for her citizens. That’s not what we’re doing here.”

LGBT people aren’t the only ones who suffer from religious bigotry. After 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist sued a Rhode Island school because of its prayer mural dedicated to “Our Heavenly Father,” a florist refused to send a dozen red roses that the Freedom from Religion Foundation ordered for her, citing “religious reasons.” The FtF is now suing Marina Plowman, owner of Twins Florist in Cranston, on the basis that she violated state laws. Metaphorical roses have now been sent by Hemant Mehta: he started a scholarship fund for her which has reached almost $50,000.

Another Colorado organization is using a biblical passage for positive results. According to Isaiah 2:4,

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

That’s exactly what the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission did. Partnering with Mike Martin of RAWtools—“war” spelled backwards—the group promoting social justice and sustainability has launched the “Guns-to-Gardens Tools” project. Colorado Springs Mike Warren, kicked off the event by donating the AK-47 assault rifle that he bought after the 9/11 attacks.

“I always had it in the back of my mind, there might be something I needed it for,” Warren said. “Sounds stupid now.” He added, “This thing will turn a human being into rags. The fact of the matter is, upon reflection, I concluded that it would be stupid for me to keep thing.” Martin said the gun will be “a garden trowel, a cultivator and a weed puller,” donated to Ranch Community Garden, a non-profit project that provides plots to local residents who lack garden space.

Religion is losing its control over government. Barna Group found that 66 percent of Americans believe that no one set of religious values should dominate in the U.S. On the other hand, 23 percent believe “traditional Judeo-Christian values” should be given preference over competing faiths. Only among evangelical Christians does that percentage rise to 54 percent.

It gives hope to those of us who believe that constitutional separation of church and state means freedom from religion for all.

January 20, 2013

Good News for Separation of Church & State

During the last decade, the fundamentalist Christian religion has tried to control the entire legal process of the United States. Here is some hope that this process may have started failing.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias has ruled that names of church leaders who mishandled child sex abuse allegations will be made public in 30,000 pages of internal Archdiocese of Los Angeles records. The private mediator asked that the names be blacked out to save further embarrassment to the church and “guilt by association.” The judge disagreed, saying that parishioners who learn from the files of a priest accused of abuse in their local church “may want to talk to their adult children” about their own experiences. Lawyers for the church were upset because they had already blacked out the names and didn’t want to pay for redoing the work, a job that could take months.

Supporters of stem-cell research were pleased over a week ago when the Supreme Court failed to review a challenge to federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. Abortion-rights opponents, who equate research involving embryonic stem cells with murder, criticized the court’s decision. Appellate judges had acknowledged ambiguity in laws governing stem-cell research but ultimately deferred to the National Institutes of Health, which supports the studies. Scientists believe that stem-cell research, who believe it will yield treatments and cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Christian fundamentalists in Florida, pleased with a new law to allow prayer in school, may not be pleased with the outcome. The Inspirational Messages law allows students to write and read these messages. Overlord Lucien Graves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, has said that they promote many of the same ideas as major religions and should be included in the “inspirational messages.”  The bill dictates that school officials are not permitted to mediate, approve, or participate in these “inspirational messages,” which expand upon the two minutes of silence for quiet prayer or mediation previously observed in Florida public schools.

This coming Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal across the United States. Despite the huge spate of anti-abortion laws passed by states in the last two years on religious grounds, some religious people support the right of women to control their bodies.

Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion, clergy were among the staunchest supporters of women seeking an abortion. The Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, an underground network that counseled women and led them to compassionate, competent doctors who provided abortion care, grew to about 1,400 clergy operating on the East Coast during the 1960s to serve women from across the nation. Rev. Howard Moody—who was born in Texas, lived in New York, and died in 2012 at age 91—created the network and considered it one of his most important ministries.

Five years after the Roe decision, a number of religious organizations voiced support for the decision in a 1978 ecumenical study document. American Baptist Churches wrote, “Abortion should be a matter of personal decision.” The American Lutheran Church agreed, recognizing the “freedom and responsibility of individuals to make their own choices in light of the best information available to them and their understanding of God’s will for their lives.” The Church of the Brethren voiced support in the document for women who, “after prayer and counseling, believe abortion is the least destructive alternative available to them.”

The 1978 ecumenical study document articulated the inherent value of the fetus and the importance of reducing the need for abortion. It also held up values of humility, freedom, justice, balance, compassion, and responsibility. Since that time, a different translation of the Bible by pro-life advocates now determines that God is opposed to any abortion, wanting people to protect fertilized eggs from the time of conception. In fact, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is sponsoring a bill to that effect, the third of his career. (He has evidently abandoned the need to improve the economy and job market.)

Candidates who want to keep raising money from the issue of abortion need to move the “pro-life” movement to the fertilized egg. With advanced technology, over 60 percent of abortions are now completed before the ninth week and 90 percent before the 12th. Increased use of contraception has drastically decreased abortion rates because prevention of pregnancy is more accessible. The rate in 2008 was 19.6 per 1,000 women, two-thirds of the rate in 1981. In the past, women who would afford the cost of contraceptives rarely needed abortions; with its free contraceptives, Obamacare will shrink the rate of abortions for the poor.

Religious acceptance of reproductive rights for women is important. As the Southern Baptist Convention reasoned when it supported Roe v. Wade, if the government could tell a woman what to do with her body, it could also tell Baptists what they could—or couldn’t—do with their religion. That’s an important reason for separation of church and state.

An update on yesterday and GAD: There were actually five people injured at gun shows yesterday. In Indiana a 54-year-old man accidentally shot himself in the hand outside the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Shot while loading his .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun in the parking lot. In Medina (OH) a vendor at the Medina County gun show had to be transported to the hospital by EMS after accidentally shooting himself. In Raleigh (NC), site of the other three injuries, the Dixie Gun and Knife Show  closed down yesterday after the injuries and no longer allow people to bring personal guns to the show.

Today in Albuquerque (NM) 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego killed both his parents and three of his nine siblings with an assault rifle. All victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The father, Greg Griego, spent 13 years as volunteer pastor at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The killer did not have a criminal record.

If anyone tries to convince you that we don’t need gun laws because law-abiding gun owners are responsible, ask them to watch this video.

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