Nel's New Day

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.

July 15, 2012

Fundamentalists Woo Mormon Romney

While Mitt Romney battles the issue of what year he left Bain, risking either a felony charge or the discovery that he ran a company that disposed of aborted fetuses and outsourced jobs to China, he is secretly trying to woo the fundamentalist religious leaders. David Brody reported on the Christian Broadcasting Network that Romney’s campaign is working behind the scenes to schedule weekly meetings, personal phone calls, faith-based events, and serious dialog about a gathering this fall with national evangelical leaders. Thus far he has talked with Rick Warren and tried to meet with Dr. James Dobson.

Warren, as you may remember, is the California pastor who was in staunch opposition to marriage equality.  According to Warren, “The Hebrew-Christian God is characterized by love. The Islamic god is characterized by war and vengeance.” Warren has also stated that Mormons are not Christians because they don’t believe in the Trinity–one God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also maintained that any group that baptizes a person after they have died is a cult; ergo, Mormonism is a cult.

Peter Flaherty, a senior advisor for the Romney campaign, has met with Jim Daly, Tim Goeglin, and Tom Minnery from Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; President Ralph Reed with the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Dr. Richard Land with The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Rev. Sammy Rodriguez with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Gary Bauer with American Values; Bob Reccord with the Council for National Policy; and Mark Rodgers, a former senior advisor to Rick Santorum. In late June, 70 conservative Christian leaders met to talk about how to get the conservative Christian base energized.

A recently released book The Teavangelicals details how Romney has been courting evangelical leaders for years, for example holding a private meeting at his home in 2006 with more than a dozen evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham, the late Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Jay Sekulow, Frank Wright, and Gary Bauer. After the meeting, Romney sent each of those who attended a chair with a brass plate inscribed with the words, “There will always be a seat for you at our table.” He held another meeting in 2009 although the book doesn’t mention any chairs.

Evangelical leaders have informed Romney that acceptable vice-presidential candidates would be Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio. Also crucial to these fundamentalists in order to support Romney is more pro-family language as part of Romney’s stump speech and a defense of Judeo-Christian principles. They also want an explanation of the nation’s fiscal crisis in moral terms. (The article didn’t explain what this is.)

Romney’s concentration on coaxing votes out of the fundamentalists comes at a time when confidence in religious institutions has hit an all-time low. Only 44 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll expressed a “great deal” of confidence in organized religion compared with 52 percent a little over two years ago.

Meanwhile the Mormon church got all riled at last week’s issue of Businessweek that describes the vast financial holdings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including a $2 billion mall in Salt Lake City and a $1 billion ranch in Florida. The cover illustration satirizes John the Baptist bestowing the priesthood on Joseph Smith, the Mormon’s founding prophet. On the cover, John the Baptist tells Smith, “and thou shalt build a shopping mall, own stock in Burger King, and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax …” Smith answers, “Hallelujah.” Bloomberg spokeswoman Rachel Nagler said that the cover image comes from an 1898 lithograph “recording a pivotal moment in the birth of Mormonism.”

The article itself is far more serious than the cover, delineating the church’s holdings: a large number of media companies, a hospitality business, an insurance firm with assets of $3 billion, an agricultural company with 1 million acres in the U.S., and an ample real estate portfolio as well as an investment fund and trust company. The LDS church is probably worth about $40 billion and takes in $8 billion each year in tithes although no one knows for sure because they are not required to reveal any of their financial information. This from a group that comprises 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, about 45 million people.

The church donates less than one percent of its annual income to charity, compared to other churches which donate almost 30 percent. “Today, the Church’s business assets support the Church’s mission and principles by serving as a rainy day fund,” the church said. They maintain that they give to their own members, but young people who have gone on missions assert that they had to pay their own way, even buying the Bibles they give away as part of their two-year missionary activities in the world.

The LDS Church is able to make even more money because it is exempt from paying taxes on the real estate properties it leases out, even commercial entities, and doesn’t pay taxes on donated funds and holdings. Mitt Romney and others at Bain Capital have given the Mormon Church millions’ worth of stock holdings obtained through Bain deals. Between 1997 and 2009, these included $2 million in Burger King and $1 million in Domino’s Pizza shares, shares which the church can then sell without paying capital-gains taxes.

The fixation of the Mormon church to make money is in keeping with other religious groups in the country, but it differs the Mormon’s belief that that any money-making project is spiritual. Historian D. Michael Quinn said, “Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction. In the Mormon [leadership’s] worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars.”

The Mormon beliefs raise some questions about Romney as a political leader. According to his acceptance in the Mormon temple, he has promised to focus all his talents to the advancement of the Mormon church and hold the church’s prophet to be the highest authority on Earth. Joseph Smith had a supposed vision that one day a Mormon would become President of the United States, so that the Mormon Church can take over the U.S. government. Smith’s prophecy was revenge for perceived wrongs done to Joseph Smith by the government.

During Romney’s entire campaign, people have questioned the lies that the “etch a sketch” nominee have told. Another philosophy of Mormons is that telling lies is acceptable as long as these statements are not to another Mormon.

Therefore, believing that he has no compunction against lying, Romney works to become the president of the United States so that his religion can control the government. Would fundamentalists prefer subservience to the Mormon church over having President Obama continue for another four years?

If you didn’t know that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, you’re in good company. According to a recent poll, only 43 percent of the people in the United States are aware of his religion. The people who don’t know may be the same people who are convinced–in error–that President Obama is a Muslim.

July 8, 2012

Bigoted Christianity Rampant in the U.S.

The “Nuns on the Bus” have finished their 15-day tour with Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Susan Collins (R-MA) introducing a resolution honoring nuns. The senators said that the resolution “recognizes the Catholic Sisters’ fulfillment of their vital missions to teach our children, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, lead major institutions, demand corporate responsibility and fight for policies that promote human dignity.” These brave women are opposing Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who ignore the Christian belief in aiding the poor and avoid the nuns.

Republicans are not only busy keeping the poor in poverty but also industriously using religion to destroy the credibility of Democrats. Preening themselves on their fiscal responsibility, the conservatives accuse Democrats of having a way on faith. Fiscal responsibility seems to be a problem at the Vatican, however; they have a $19 million deficit. The Rev. Federico Lombardi said that they need to get savings from somewhere although probably not from the layoff of any of the 2,832 Holy See personnel.

Meanwhile Republicans make it very clear that their definition of faith is only Christian. Colorado state Sen. Kevin Grantham wants a law to ban building new mosques: “Mosques are not churches like we would think of churches. They think of mosques more as a foothold into a society, as a foothold into a community, more in the cultural and in the nationalistic sense. Our churches–we don’t feel that way, they’re places of worship, and mosques are simply not that, and we need to take that into account when approving construction of those.”

Even the government suffers from serious religious prejudice. The military found it appropriate to use the depiction of a Muslim woman for target training for the Navy SEALs until they received complaints. Hanging on the wall behind the woman were verses of the Quran, a holy book to the second largest religion in the world with almost as many members as Christianity.

Some Christian leaders clearly show bigotry toward those of their same faith. The Rev. Mel Lewis, organizer and keynote speaker of last week’s Christian Identity Ministries’ three-day conference in Alabama, invited “all white Christians.” Asked about the discrimination, he said, “We don’t have the facilities to accommodate” those who are not “part of the chosen race.” The event, surrounded by Ku Klux Klan flags and supremacy slogans, culminated Friday night by what they call a “Christian cross lighting” as they hold a cross-burning. Some of those who attended also wore KKK garb.

Christians are sinking lower and lower on the scale of belief in the Constitution’s statement “for the general welfare.” Only 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” This number has gone down 18 points in the past five years; in 2007 58% of the Republicans thought that people who cannot take care of themselves deserve help. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

One example of right-wing selfishness comes from many Republican governors’ refusal to accept billions of dollars in Medicaid funds to insure millions of people. According to those whose incomes are below 133 percent of the poverty level may receive federal Medicaid but cannot receive the subsidies that are provided for others of lower income.  If governors accept the federal money, everyone can be insured. Without this acceptance, between 3.5 million and 9.2 million people will have no health safety net. Ten Republican governors have stated that they will refuse the funds, and another 19 are considering it. Even three Democrat governors are questioning whether they will take the federal funding in Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Republican austerity is only for the poor and middle-class, however. Corporate taxes are at a 40-year low, with an effective tax rate paid of 12.1 percent. They’ve fallen from about 6 percent of GDP to less than 2 percent.

Radio host Jan Mickelson shows the conservatives’ lack of respect for others in his comment about the nuns on tour to Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA). “Do you guys, do you have any power to pull the nuns on the bus over and pistol whip them? They say [Paul Ryan] is evil, they say he is fake Catholic. They’re the ones that threw the first punch.”

Several years ago leadership of the Mormon church used its political clout to defeat California Proposition 8’s ban on marriage equality; now it is providing its resources, against church rules, to elect Mitt Romney. One action is giving away LDS Tools that provide full directories of church members including that of stake and district presidencies. The app also offers event calendar listings and a “birthday list,” and the Mormons are reaching out through Facebook and Twitter.

Cheers for the nuns! According to sister Simone Campbell, bus tour organizer and executive director of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, “Congressman Ryan [is making] an outrageous claim … that the Catholic faith, that is all about serving the poor, validates his budget—which does nothing but decimate services to the poor and provide further tax cuts for the wealthy. By lifting up the work of Catholic sisters, we will demonstrate the very programs and services that will be decimated by the House budget.”

The country needs to look back at another Ryan—John Ryan, a prominent theologian who published A Living Wage in 1906. He claimed that economics must be shaped by and rooted in morality as he advocated fair and equal pay that started the living wage movement. His “Program for Social Reconstruction” (1919) was considered a blueprint not only for President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal including Social Security but also for collective bargaining rights, the right to organize, and the prevention of child labor—all aspects of the Labor Relations Act in 1935; comprehensive insurance—realized in the Social Security Act of 1935; and a minimum wage—that fueled the movement toward the Fair Labor Standards act of 1938

A century after the first publication of A Living Wage, we have similar economic conditions with rampant economic inequality and wealth in the hands of a few. The top one percent took over 40 percent of the national wealth last year. I prefer the philosophy of John Ryan over Paul Ryan when he declared the three guides to equality: Laws should promoting the general welfare; every individual has inherent dignity; and individuals are stronger through community.

On the eve of the nun’s bus tour, Sister Simone Campbell avowed, “This is a fight for the soul of our nation. Catholic social teaching says that the positive role of government is to counter the excesses of each culture. Our excess at this point is individualism, so the work of government is to counter that by emphasizing our responsibilities to each other.”

Paul Ryan needs to learn that.

May 27, 2012

Churches Should be Taxed for Their Political Positions

Today is Sunday, and in the United States thousands of pastors, many of them in fundamentalist churches, are telling people how they vote. The most recent egregious display of hate and ignorance came from Pastor Charles L. Worley who was videotaped telling his Providence Road Baptist Church congregation in Maiden (NC):

“I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it past the Congress. Build a great big, large fence–50 or a 100 miles long–and put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed them. And you know in a few years, they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.”

Within two days, the video got 250,000 hits. It’s since been taken off the church’s website, but nothing ever escapes the web once it’s out there.

A follower of Pastor Worley has since appeared on Anderson Cooper to say that she supports what her religious leader has said. The wonderful thing about this country is the freedom to say what you mean. But the bad thing about this country is that taxpayers have to pay for where they are exhorting people to keep all the people in the nation from having equal rights.

Because of the separation of church and state, local, state, and federal governments have decided not to tax institutions of faith although the Constitution does not give any guidance in this area. The basic premise behind the tradition of not taxing churches is the their profits go to the public good, caring for the poor and sick, projects that help the community.

The government, however, has no idea where churches allocate their profits, gleaned from donations from usually well-meaning people.  Any non-church organization with tax-exempt status must file a 990 statement each year that itemizes where all the group’s money has gone. Yet the IRS automatically waives the 990 requirement for all churches.

“Televangelism” permits corrupt religious leaders to live in luxury, without paying taxes. Megachurches buy cheap land for buildings and then take advantage of all the services that other residents support, without paying taxes. Their businesses such as coffee shops and bookstores, all pour profits back into the church, without paying taxes. And it’s all legal. Wisconsin alone has at least $4.2 billion in tax-exempt religious property, including hotels, pay parking lots, farms, and communion wafer bakeries. Think Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry.

For over two centuries, those of us who think that the wealthy should pay taxes, to quote some conservative legislators, to “have some skin in this game,” just sighed and moved on. As churches become more and more involved in politics, usually with the acceptance of the parishioners, the concern is growing about letting politically associated organizations go untaxed. Fifty years ago, voters worried about the influence of the Catholic Church on a presidential candidate. Now many voters want the fundamentalist churches to control the government. Conservative political figures hold the Constitution in one hand and the Bible in the other, showing where they receive their leadership.

Moving beyond just advocating for social issues, “family values” religious organizations have developed 501c4s that let them advocate for candidates. Supposedly donations for these organizations are kept separate from those to the churches, but with no 990 requirement, the IRS—and the taxpayers—will never know. Pastors and priests invite candidates to “give testimony” during services and claim that this does not violate their tax-exempt status.  Some religious leaders actively endorse candidates, and the law does nothing about this.

The Mormon Church spent as much as $20 million to pass Proposition 8 in California, the law that prevents marriage equality. Initially, they reported spending less than $3,000, then said that they had really spent 99 percent more, and finally admitted spending even more, possibly up to half the funding for passing Prop 8. Last year on Father’s Day, as many as 150 to 200 Maine churches passed the collection plate twice, the second time to collect money to defeat the marriage equality measure.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has become a political force to be reckoned with, telling priests how they should preach to the congregations about the evils of the Affordable Care Act and other issues that benefit the Catholic leadership. The idea that the Catholic Church should be tax-exempt is totally hypocritical, especially because of its vendetta against the nuns for just helping the poor.

Church leaders demand nuns  fight marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, both political issues, instead of helping the poor as their tax-exempt status requires. While Catholic leaders sue the government for requiring birth control from these tax-exempt institutions, they shelter priests who have sexually abused children, going so far as to shred lists of “problem priests,” as Cardinal Anthony Beviilacqua did.

By 1971, U.S. churches owned approximately $110 billion in real and personal property. In just New York City, the amount was $3 billion in 1989. A 1986 estimate showed religious income for just that one year of about $100 billion, five times the income of the five largest corporations in the U.S.  All tax free, all using services that taxpayers pay for.

The writers of the Constitution saw how religion devastated countries and worried about the same tragedy with the new country. “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries,” wrote James Madison.

Religion is fundamentally unjust. LGBTQ people pay taxes to support institutions that want to put us behind fences with the only food dropped by planes. Women pay taxes to support institutions that restrict clergy to men or preach that women should be subservient to men. If churches really wanted to help the poor, they would willingly pay taxes that provide a safety net for the most vulnerable of people in this country.

“Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. We have no king but Jesus,” wrote former Attorney General John Ashcroft. “[I]ntentional governmental advancement of religion is sometimes required by the Free Exercise Clause,” said Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia.According to the Constitution, the United States should not be a theocracy. Yet many of the legislators, both federal and state, are religious zealots, and the Republican presidential candidates this year have followed suit.

Imagine how much better off you would be if you didn’t pay taxes. That’s where the churches are. At this time, Italy is thinking about requiring churches (that would be the Catholic Church) to pay taxes. It’s time that the United States considered this too. If churches are determined to control politics, they should pay the taxes.

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