Archive for February, 2016

'FBI raids FLDS businesses' / KSTU-TVNote: I have a little good news to report on this; please see below.

I’ve blogged occasionally about the antics of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka FLDS. They’re a sect of Mormonism that broke away from the main LDS church when it banned polygamy. Since this split took place, the FLDS church has become even stranger than the predominant LDS church (which is already pretty strange, if you know anything about Mormonism). They’re also reclusive, living in communities they come to dominate, which is necessary since their polygamy is illegal and they need some way to fend off Johnny Law if they want to practice their religion. The current chief FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, is currently in prison, convicted of statute rape of underage girls who were part of his harem back in 2011.

Since then, the FLDS has effectively been run by Warren’s brother Lyle, but it seems he also has trouble operating within the bounds of the law. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Lyle and a number of other FLDS leaders have been indicted for a food-stamp con (WebCite cached article):

In a case that some say could destroy Utah’s largest polygamous sect, federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced indictments against leaders and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on charges related to food stamp fraud.

Lyle Jeffs, who has been running the FLDS for his imprisoned brother, is one of nearly a dozen people named in an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday while FBI agents and sheriffs deputies searched businesses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., that are owned by members of the FLDS.

Also indicted was Seth Jeffs, full brother to both Lyle and FLDS President Warren Jeffs, the religion’s prophet, who is serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.…

Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, are home to the FLDS church. Isaac Wyler, a former member of the church, said Tuesday’s action appears to be the largest law enforcement raid in the towns since 1953, when Arizona authorities arrived to arrest polygamists.

“There are officers all over town,” Wyler said.

Lyle Jeffs and 10 other FLDS church leaders and members were indicted Tuesday in Utah and South Dakota, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

The article explains various ways this scheme worked; among them:

The prosecutors’ indictment says the alleged fraud is rooted in the FLDS church’s “United Order,” instituted in 2011, which instructs all adherents to donate their lives and all their material substance to their church.

Members were told to divert their food stamp benefits to the church by purchasing food from church-owned businesses like the Meadowayne Dairy Store and Vermillion Cliffs Produce and then bring those items to the FLDS Storehouse for “donation,” according to the indictment.

“These leaders also provided instruction on how to avoid suspicion and detection by the government,” the indictment alleges.

FLDS leaders also told members to transfer their SNAP benefits to the church-owned stores without receiving any food products, according to the indictment.

On one occasion, [indicted John Clifton] Wayman [the former bishop of Short Creek] is accused of taking an Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card — which operates similar to a debit card and is linked to a SNAP account — from a qualifying person and giving it to an unauthorized person to buy food and goods.

There’s more there, but this is enough to give one a taste of the machinations the FLDS engaged in for years. Overall, this racket accumulated multiple millions of dollars in fraudulent SNAP benefits. According to another article by KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City, which provides details from court filings (cached), this amount was over $12 million. It also includes details of Lyle’s and Seth’s operations, which naturally included crimes on the side such as “Failed to report incidents of underage sex abuse.” Sigh. I guess Warren’s conviction never taught them anything.

A lot of articles I’ve read on this case assert that, with these indictments and arrests, the FLDS church is finished. That, however, would be wishful thinking. Various states had gone after Warren Jeffs and others in the FLDS for a decade before he was finally jailed for his pedophilia*, unsuccessfully until the state of Texas finally got a case they could prosecute. The FLDS has been up to no good for a very long time, and has managed to continue being up to no good for an even longer time. I truly doubt this will finish them.

* As I’ve blogged so many times before: Yes, it’s really not just a Catholic problem.

Update: Lyle Jeffs has finally been captured (cached). His idiotic attempt at passing himself off as someone else — namely, as “Jeffs Lyle Steed” instead of “Lyle Steed Jeffs” — failed miserably. What a fucking perverted moron! Someone that catastrophically stupid could only have been on the run as long as he was, with the help of others. Hopefully they, too, will be prosecuted … but I’m not betting it will happen. More’s the pity.

Photo credit: KSTU-TV.

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Madonna's Re-Invention in Paris 2As though Catholic hierarchs didn’t already have enough things to blather on about, a Philippine bishop — as reported by Religion News Service — has told his congregants not to attend a Madonna concert there (WebCite cached article):

A Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines urged the faithful to stay away from American pop singer Madonna’s two-night concert in Manila, calling her music “suggestive” and her clothes “vulgar”.…

“Why is the Catholic Philippines the favorite venue for blasphemy against God and the Holy Mother?” asked Ramon Arguelles, archbishop of Lipa City, south of the capital.

“Pinoys and all God-loving people should avoid sin and occasions of sin,” he said in a statement on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, referring to Filipinos.

This is certainly not the first time a Catholic official has pitched a fit over Madonna. Just a few years ago some Polish Catholic exorcists convened a special meeting just to deal with the threat she posed. (Yes, exorcists!) That was in addition to the Catholic outrage kicked up back in 1989 by her “Like a Prayer” video (cached). Still, it’s ridiculous that Catholic officials are carrying on their vendetta against her for this long. At some point one would think they’d grow up and just deal with it already. But … they haven’t. I guess they’re too busy blaming the worldwide priestly-pedophile scandal on anything and everything other than themselves.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (color) / St Louis, MOEvery once in a while, it seems, one or another of the Catholic hierarchs decides to go after some charitable target. They do this for two reasons: First, for the attention; and second, as a way of bewailing Catholicism’s lack of influence over society.

A year and a half ago, the archdiocese of Cincinnati condemned the “Ice Bucket Challenge” which raised boatloads of cash for ALS research. Their complaint was that the ALS Association used embryonic stem cells in its research, and the Catholic Church has taught that this is an unholy abomination which can’t be permitted. Yes, they would actually prefer that people live with the horror of ALS, rather than use embryonic stem cells to treat and/or cure it (maybe, someday, hopefully). This is, of course, fully consistent with their doctrine that pregnant women’s lives are by definition forfeit.

The latest example of this “getting attention by targeting something everyone likes which actually has nothing to do with Catholicism or Christianity” trope comes from the archbishop of St Louis. As the St Louis Post-Dispatch explains, he’s come out against — of all things! — Girl Scout Cookies (WebCite cached article):

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has issued a letter calling on parishes to seek alternatives to Girl Scouts, arguing that the program and related organizations conflict with Roman Catholic teaching.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis isn’t directly kicking Girl Scout troops and activities off church properties, but is suggesting they and their cookies may no longer be welcome in the fold.

“Girl Scouts is exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior and it is clear to me that as they move in the ways of the world it is becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values,” Carlson wrote in a letter dated Thursday. “We must stop and ask ourselves — is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?”

The letter said issues such as reproductive rights and abortion separate the church from Girl Scouts and related organizations.

The archdiocese tried to guilt its parishioners into not buying the cookies:

A question-and-answer page [cached] on an Archdiocesan website also asks parents to question whether they should condone a child joining the Girl Scouts as it conflicts with Catholic teaching.

“Can I still buy Girl Scout Cookies?” is also among the questions posted on the Archdiocesan website.

“Each person must act in accord with their conscience,” is the response. “It is also our duty to form our consciences and learn the issues.”

You can read the Archbishop’s letter for yourself (cached). Aw, the poor little thing! How dare groups like the Girl Scouts actually look out for girls’ health, and teach them anything other than that they should grow up to be perpetually barefoot and pregnant! Boo hoo hoo. Note, this is not the first time an American Catholic hierarch has pitched a fit over the Girl Scouts.

Clearly these young ladies annoy the bishops. I urge everyone to tell Archbishop Carlson what he can do with his anti-Girl Scout sanctimonious outrage, and buy lots of Girl Scout Cookies. I plan to get plenty of them!

Hat tip: Wikimedia Commons.

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Donald TrumpSince entering the presidential primary, Donald “it’s my own orange hair” Trump has railed against a lot of people. These range from John McCain to Mexico (and Mexicans and generally) to Megyn Kelly to NBC Universal to Fox News to Jorge Ramos to Jeb Bush to Megyn Kelly (again) to Ted Cruz to Fox News (again) … and on and on and on and on. Hardly a night goes by when Trumpie isn’t on Twitter ranting furiously about something or someone. At any given moment he’s engaged in some kind of tiff with at least 4 people.

Well, today he found a new enemy to trade harsh words with … a person one wouldn’t have expected to mix with anyone, let alone the angry, perpetually-lying real estate magnate. It was, as CNN reports, none other than the Jesuit Pope Francis (Webcite cached article)

The Pope, who was traveling back to Rome from Mexico, where he urged the United States to address the “humanitarian crisis” on its southern border, did not tell American Catholics not to vote for Trump.

But Francis left little doubt where he stood on the polarizing issue of immigration reform.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told journalists who asked his opinion on Trump’s proposals to halt illegal immigration.

The infantile little boy Trumpie, of course, would have none of it:

Trump immediately fired back, calling Francis’ comments “disgraceful.”

“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” he said in statement.…

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said.

Wow, gotta love Trumpie’s “appeal to ISIS/ISIL/IS” as some sort of “proof” of his own righteousness and veracity. That’s just laughable. Note, too, an additional little plaintive whine:

Trump added that the government in Mexico, where Francis spent the past five days, has “made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope.”

Oh, the poor little thing! Why, people actually complained about him to each other! What a fucking little crybaby. I mean, come on, little Trumpie. Act your age, fercryinoutloud!

Now, the Pope’s declaration that Trumpie is un-Christian wasn’t unprovoked, as CNN explains:

The tussle between Trump and Francis — two outsized personalities who seldom shy from speaking their minds — seems to have been building for some time. Before the Pope traveled to Mexico, Trump cast the pontiff as a political naif who “doesn’t understand the dangers” at the U.S.-Mexican border.

By calling the childish little Trumpie un-Christian, then, the Pope was giving as good as he’d gotten. It’s also interesting to see him playing a role in the US presidential election. It’s not as though he could make it worse than it already is, and at least he seems to have thought out what he said, unlike others — in the race — who just spout off angrily all the time like juvenile little twits, spewing a steady stream of outrageous lies in the process (cached).

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

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Ben CarsonOne thing I’ve learned about Republicans over the years is that, when they say stupid, untrue, or asinine things, they generally refuse to back down from them or admit error. Yes, even when if they’ve had to issue an apology (or, more likely, a non-apology apology). After having dug themselves into a hole, rather than drop the shovel and climb out, they just keep right on digging.

Why do they do this? It’s because they’re playing to the dysfunctional and irrational psychopathology of the Republican “base.” The “base” is never happy with a candidate who appears to change his/her mind on something. They’re quick to condemn with the label “flip-flopper,” and will accuse the person of “caving in” to the Left or the mass media. Especially in the case of Republicans running in any kind of primary election, this is something they’ll never risk doing.

Which leads me to this week’s example of a bone-headed Republican who’s engaged in this time-honored Rightist tactic of digging himself deeper. As Politico reports, that would be GOP presidential candidate and Religious Right darling Ben Carson, who keeps talking like a Neocrusader (WebCite cached article):

American Muslims who adhere to Islamic sharia law while also embracing the American values of democracy, including the separation of church and state, must be “schizophrenic,” Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Tuesday.

“Only if they’re schizophrenic. I don’t see how they can do it otherwise, because you have two different philosophies” in conflict with each other, he explained to Breitbart News Daily host Stephen Bannon, who had posed the question to the retired neurosurgeon.

Right from the start I have to point out that Carson misuses the word “schizophrenic.” Rather than schizophrenia — which is a cognitive disorder — he’s alluding, instead, to dissociative identity disorder, which used to be known as “multiple personalities.” As a retired neurosurgeon, Carson certainly knows better than to make this bush-league mistake.

But the substance of his remark is similar to the reasoning he gave back in September when he declared all Muslims inelegible to be president. His reasoning, then, was something about Muslims being incapable of upholding the Constitution. The real irony of that, of course, is that such an idea is, itself, inherently unconstitutional, since the Constitution contains a provision known as the “no religious test” clause. Yes, it’s true. The Constitution explicitly forbids such a prohibition. Article VI section 3 ends as follows:

… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

So in the name of preserving the Constitution by preventing Muslims from ever being President, Carson would have us break it. Well done, sir, well done! Hypocrite much? I wonder what your Jesus would say about that? Oh wait … he already ordered you never to be hypocritical! Woops.

Carson also evidently subscribes to the notion — popular on the Right and especially among Neocrusaders — that Islam isn’t just a religion, it’s a philosophy and a set of laws as well, that all Muslims everywhere subscribe to. This belief ignores the fact that there’s a wide range of thinking among Muslims, leading to the many Islamic sects and schools of thought that exist. There’s no more unity among Muslims than there is among Christians (something which evidently goes back to Christianity’s first years). Carson, as a member of a Christian sect that many other Christians (falsely) reject as un-Christian, Carson can’t fail to be aware this kind of variation is possible.

At any rate, it’s clear that Bennie is doubling down as a Neocrusader. I assume this is a last-ditch effort to appeal to South Carolina evangelicals and keep his campaign alive. In other words, he’s using the Great Neocrusade as a king of “life support.” Pitiful.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

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SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL, OOTY, via Diocese of Ootacamund Web siteFor a while now, I’ve blogged about the Roman Catholic Church’s assertion that priestly pedophilia is a “historical phenomenon” (i.e. a relic of the past). Five years ago the American bishops commissioned a report which reached this conclusion, and used those very words. But that’s not the case. Even at that time — and now — it remains a continuing problem.

As if to underscore this, as well as to demonstrate, once again, that it doesn’t take this problem seriously, a diocese in India — at the Vatican’s urging — has reinstated a priest there who’d molested children while he was posted to a Minnesota church. CBS News reports on their reprehensible maneuver (WebCite cached article):

The Roman Catholic church in southern India has lifted the suspension of a priest convicted last year of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in the United States more than a decade ago, a spokesman said Saturday.

The suspension of the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul [cached] was lifted last month after the bishop of the Ootacamund Diocese in India’s Tamil Nadu state consulted with church authorities at the Vatican, said the Rev. Sebastian Selvanathan, a spokesman for the diocese.

Bishop Arulappan Amalraj of Ootacamund had referred Jeyapaul’s case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the suspension was lifted on the church body’s advice, Selvanathan said.

The article briefly describes the particulars of this case … but even this is enough to make one’s skin crawl:

Jeyapaul was sent to Minnesota in 2004 and served at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, near the Canadian border.

He was suspended in 2010 after being charged with sexually assaulting two girls who were both 14 at the time of the alleged abuse.

Jeyapaul fled the United States, but was arrested in India by Interpol in 2012 [cached] and extradited to the U.S. Jeyapaul pleaded guilty to molesting one of the teenagers who hasn’t been identified publicly. The charges involving sexual abuse of the second teenager, Megan Peterson, were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Peterson accused Jeyapaul of raping her in his office in a statement posted under her name on the website of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which has advocated for victims’ rights.

It’s clear the Vatican and the global hierarchy of the Church simply don’t take this seriously. As I’ve documented many times over the years, they consistently and repeatedly have blamed the worldwide priestly-pedophilia scandal on anything and everything other than themselves or the abusive priests. In some cases, they don’t even view the abuse as unacceptable or criminal in the first place. In others they view accusations of abuse by their clergy as fabrications woven by any number of bogeymen (ranging from “masonic secularists” to gays or homosexuality generally to Pope-haters to the Forces of Darkness to the Jews) intended to “bring down” God’s holy Church. In still others, they believe the victims somehow coerced clergy into abusing them.

The hierarchy staunchly and petulantly refuses to accept it’s done anything wrong by protecting and supporting abusive priests. No excuse is too ridiculous to offer, in their effort to justify this refusal.

Photo credit: Diocese of Ootacamund Web site.

Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire.

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General Audience with Pope FrancisAfter being tossed from the Vatican’s priestly-pedophilia review panel, abuse victim Peter Saunders has a bit to say about that project. And what he said, in his interview with AFP, isn’t good at all (WebCite cached article):

“Of course Pope Francis has established he is part of the problem,” Peter Saunders said in an interview with AFPTV, during which he insisted he had not resigned and that only the pontiff himself could force him to quit the Vatican commission.

“That breaks my heart because when I met him 18 months ago I thought there was a sincerity and a willingness to make things happen, and I am afraid that has been dashed now.”…

But Saunders now says he realises the commission was always going to be about “smoke and mirrors” and that he is convinced the Church will never act alone to cure the “cancer” in its midst.

Saunders confirmed my suspicion that his removal from the panel was caused by something more recent than his criticism of Cardinal George Pell some eight months ago:

Saunders said the move was triggered by tensions that arose after a fellow commission member told him about being approached by two priests from an Italian diocese who had discovered a colleague was a serial abuser of children.

He also tackled something I’ve been talking about for years:

Saunders said the notion that clerical sex abuse was a problem of past decades — an argument Vatican officials have assiduously promoted — had to be challenged.

“This is not in any sense a historical issue or problem,” he said. “It has to be tackled now. The Pope could do so much more and he is doing next to nothing.

“This is a societal problem — but if the Church, the so-called moral leadership of the world, does not take a lead in this area it would quite rightly be considered morally bankrupt in every other area.”

Saunders is 100% correct. The Church has, in fact, repeatedly insisted that priestly pedophilia is a “historical problem” (and using that very phrase), yet as we all know, it’s not “historical,” it’s “ongoing.” As long as the Church refuses to admit that, it will remain possible for abusive clergy to go on abusing kids.

So much for the notion that Pope Francis might deal with this scandal better than his predecessors. All he managed to do, by creating this commission, was to come up with yet another way of deflecting it. How disappointing. The little bit of respect I’d had for Pope Francis is now gone.

Photo credit: Catholic Church England & Wales, via Flickr.

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