Archive for July, 2017

Dom RegensburgSeveral years ago, word came out that children had been abused as part of a Catholic choir in Germany, run for a time by the brother of Pope Benedict XVI. It took some time, and a long investigation, but according to Deutsche Welle, the final report reveals more abuse than most had guessed (WebCite cached article):

A total of 547 young boys from the famous Regensburger Domspatzen (“cathedral sparrows”) choir were subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of priests and teachers, according to the attorney tasked with investigating the alleged abuse.

Presenting his 450-page report into the findings, attorney Ulrich Weber, said he found 500 cases of physical abuse and 67 instances of sexual abuse spanning over six decades.

Of the 49 church officials and teachers implicated in the report, nine were found to have been sexually abusive. Church officials had fostered a “culture of silence,” which allowed them to carry out such abuses for decades, Weber said.

Victims described their schooling and choir experience as like “a prison, hell and a concentration camp,” Weber said, adding that many had described those years as “the worst time of their lives, characterized by fear, violence and hopelessness.”

Note that the “culture of silence” is similar to what has been uncovered elsewhere within the Catholic Church. It’s what permitted “priestly pedophilia” to go on, all around the world, for decades.

In this case, for some 30 years (1964 to 1994), Fr Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict (aka Joseph Ratzinger), had run the Regensburger Domspatzen. He’s insisted he was unaware of any abuse, although the investigator doesn’t find this plausible. Also, the abuse certainly didn’t begin with Fr Ratzinger; the investigation dates it as far back as 1945.

This report is only part of a larger process, which will include compensation to victims. That’s the least that could be provided. I’d prefer to have seen some contrition on the part of the Regensburg diocese, and an apology at the very least by Fr Ratzinger. Given the most recent abuse uncovered happened in the 1990s, criminal prosecutions may not be possible, but some acknowledgement by Catholic officials is needed.

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Minirock (Lack) Photo Model 1We all know that many Muslims don’t think much of women. In Saudi Arabia, they ramp their contempt for women up to another level, for instance by making it against the law for them to drive. A high-ranking Saudi jurist even lied about this, claiming — laughably — this is because driving harms women. But they also don’t think too much of men, either. I say that because one of the (many) burdens imposed on Saudi women is that they must wear elaborate clothing, intended to rob them of anything resembling a feminine shape, because Saudis don’t think men can handle seeing a woman who’s obviously a woman. They think men have no self-control, or something. I guess.

Recently, one Saudi woman tested her country’s misogynistic legal system, as CNN reports, and will very likely pay a high price for it (WebCite cached version):

Police in Saudi Arabia have detained a woman who featured in a social media video wearing a miniskirt and a crop-top as she strolled through a Saudi city, according to a Saudi police statement.

The woman, who has been questioned by Riyadh police, told them that “the viral videos were published by an account attributed to her without her knowledge,” according to the statement. The statement adds that the woman’s case has been referred to the general prosecution department in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

On Sunday, the spokesperson for the Presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — also known as the religious police — said the group was monitoring the issue and taking the “necessary steps” to address a viral video depicting a “girl in offensive clothing.”

Here’s the video of that “girl in offensive clothing”:

It’s long past time for Muslims, especially those in Saudi Arabia, to grow the fuck up already, get over their ridiculous hangups about the female body, and act like grown adults who’re capable of controlling themselves around women who actually look like women. It very literally cannot hurt people to see women as women. Fear of the female form is irrational and childish.

By the way, the official name for Saudi Arabia’s religious police, “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” is precious … don’t you think? Almost straight out of 1984, no?

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Evangelical supporters place hands on and pray with President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore / via Religion News ServiceSigh. It was inevitable, I suppose. I mean, given the amount of trouble the Groper-in-Chief is now in — since his son single-handedly lifted the “Trump/Russia” scandal undeniably out of “fake news” territory (Archive.Is cached article) — you just knew he’d have to do something like this. The Groper-in-Chief obviously needed to make himself and his administration look respectable, at least to the folk who matter to him.

The way he did so, was equally obvious: As the Religion News Service explains, the Apricot Wonder invited a crowd of evangelical preachers to the Oval Office, to pray over him (cached):

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with evangelical supporters this week as news was breaking about the president’s son’s connections with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

The supporters, including some who had been on Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the campaign, attended a daylong meeting Monday (July 10) scheduled by the Office of Public Liaison at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, said Johnnie Moore, who served as one of the campaign’s evangelical advisers.

Now, these sorts of group Oval Office visits are usually planned well in advance. This visit, however, was not:

The evangelicals did not know they would be meeting with the president ahead of time, he said. Nor did they discuss the unfolding Russian meddling story with him.

“At a certain point in the day we visited with the President and Vice President,” Moore told RNS in an email. “They just heard we were on the property and took time to say ‘hello.’”

So this nifty little visit was almost certainly a response to all the recent bad news. Of course, they disavowed any possible relationship between this visit and the raging scandal:

Asked if evangelical leaders are worried that people would consider their presence in the Oval Office an indication that they’re not concerned about the Russia-related controversies, Moore said: “Evangelicals consider it a responsibility and an honor to advise and pray for the administration.”

He said their prayers Monday and the meeting in general were “not at all” related to Russia.

“It was a normal meeting, like many other meetings we’ve had before,” he said.

Like nearly all of America’s Rightists, these pastors are fully in the Groper’s corner and aren’t concerned about anything:

At least one of the leaders in attendance later opined about connections between the Trump administration and Russia.

“Garbage,” tweeted Rodney Howard-Browne in response to a Washington Post tweet that said “White House thrust into chaos by revelations about meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer.”

Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., said the only mention of Russia he recalled during the meeting next door to the White House was “in a fashion dismissive of the mainline media.” He added: “I don’t think there was anybody in that room who has any remote suspicion that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

Gee, how wonderful to see these supposed “men of God” so blithely unconcerned with immoral, unethical, and possibly illegal behavior on the part of their Dear Leader and his minions.

To be clear: These religious folk are after power, and have latched onto the president as their means to keep the power they have and acquire more. No wonder they swarmed him to “lay on hands” and pray for him. He’s their political meal-ticket.

Photo credit: Johnnie Moore, via Religion News Service.

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Cuneiform tablet BM62788Until now the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores was known mainly for two things: A Supreme Court decision that says corporations have religious beliefs, and for never being open on Sundays, because God, or something. But now, they’re known for something else: Having operated an antiquities-smuggling ring.

Yes, that’s right. You see, Hobby Lobby — being a devout Christian corporation — wanted to prove the Bible is God’s literal truth, and show that, in the form of a colossal “Museum of the Bible” in Washington, DC (Archive.Is cached article).

In an effort to stock this massive edifice with material, Hobby Lobby has been vacuuming up every Middle Eastern artifact — especially cuneiform tablets — it can find. The trouble is, a lot of this vacuuming wasn’t done legally, because artifacts like that aren’t legally available to private buyers. As CNN reports, this devout Christian corporation has admitted its criminality, all done in Jesus’ name, of course (cached):

It wasn’t Hobby Lobby’s scrapbook supplies, their seasonal decorations or their generous selection of fabrics that got the attention of the Department of Justice. It was the ancient clay artifacts from modern-day Iraq.

The DOJ said the company smuggled the artifacts into the United States, and the arts and crafts chain on Wednesday agreed to a settlement with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

According to court documents, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit thousands of Iraqi artifacts and pay a $3 million fine to resolve the civil action the Justice Department brought against the company.

This devout Christian corporation, of course, sugar-coated what it had done:

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said in [a] statement. “Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”

A consultant had warned Hobby Lobby away from one particular deal to acquire a large stash of artifacts back in 2010, but they ignored that advice and went ahead with it. For Jesus, of course.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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St Peter's Square, Vatican City - April 2007Unfortunately, this latest story is all too predictable. Moralizers being amoral is … well, let’s just say there’s nothing new about it. According to US News & World Report, Vatican police busted an orgy in the capitol of Roman Catholicism (Archive.Is cached article):

Vatican police have reportedly raided a Vatican-owned apartment and arrested an aide to one of Pope Francis’ key advisers.

Police in late June found widespread drug-use and men engaged in homosexual activity during the bust at the home owned by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian newspaper that first reported the incident. Among its duties, the congregation guides the Church’s response to clerical sexual abuse cases.

Authorities reportedly arrested the secretary of Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who was an occupant of the apartment, but official charges in connection with the incident have not been reported. Coccopalmerio, who serves as president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and leads interpretations of the laws of the Church, is said to have recommended his secretary for a promotion to bishop.

I believe Il Fatto Quotidiano‘s story on this raid can be found here. On reading about this, I wondered if this arrest might explain something the Pope did recently, and so too does USN&WR:

Days after granting [Cardinal George] Pell a release [to answer sexual assault charges], Pope Francis also removed German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller [cached] as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to The Associated Press. It is unclear if the reported drug arrest played any part in the pope’s decision.

As I said, this sort of thing is all too common. Many people are unable, or unwilling, actually to live up to the morals they happily demand others follow. This tendency is something the founder of Christianity himself condemned, and he explicitly ordered his followers never to engage in any kind of hypocritical behavior. It would be nice if the Cardinal’s secretary would stick a crowbar into the Bible he long ago slammed shut, open it up just a crack, actually read the damn thing, then just obey the instructions it contains, for once. But no, like most Christians throughout history, he refuses to do so.

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stop signI’ll have to ask you, Dear Reader, for another indulgence. I find I must address, for a second time, something that’s off-topic. But it’s something that urgently needs to be said.

A couple months ago, I said it was time for the mass media to enact a moratorium on reporting our Groper-in-Chief’s tweets. At that point, he’d already tweeted something that had triggered something of a crisis in the federal government, and sent people running to deal with it — even though what he’d tweeted was not based on any evidence, and turns out to have been untrue. It’s one thing for the insane and infantile GiC to tweet stuff; it’s another for the media to treat his drivel as though it’s worthy of being reported. Most of his tweets are not, and it was clear to me, then, that the media needed to act that way.

Well, they didn’t take my advice. Instead, they continue indulging the Apricot Wonder, treating his every utterance as worthy of being repeated, relayed, analyzed, and otherwise worthy of being read by Americans. The GiC, naturally — having been given so much deference by the media — managed to outdo himself in imbecility and immaturity. On Thursday he fired off a crude, childish tweet about a pair of cable-news hosts (WebCite cached article), and earlier today he tweeted a childish, manipulated video of him attacking “CNN,” the cable-news channel personified (cached).

The Groper’s deputy spokeswoman defended his nasty Thursday tweet as a natural, expected, “tit-for-tat” thing (cached):

“The president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program, and I think he’s been very clear that when he gets attacked, he’s going to hit back,” [she] told reporters during the afternoon briefing.

The deputy spokeswoman lied. No one — and I do mean absolutely no one — “attacked” the Apricot Wonder. Have people criticized him? Sure they have. Of course! Why would they not? And why should they not? No one in the US, not even the president, is above critique! But even with that said, no one has “attacked” him … “mercilessly” or not. An “attack” would be if someone had punched him in the face, or held him up at gunpoint. Nothing of the sort has ever happened to the Groper. And it won’t — because the Secret Service would never stand for it. (And they shouldn’t.)

The “attacks” the GiC and his minion are complaining about, are simply the natural, expected consequences of his own immature words and actions. The Groper is not entitled to flattering press coverage. He is not entitled to never have his insanity or folly commented on. He is not entitled to never have to see or hear news reports, or commentary, he dislikes. No such entitlement exists — not even for the president of the US. It simply doesn’t.

Quite the opposite: As a public servant, the Groper’s job is to take criticism in stride, and react to it like a grown adult. That’s just how life is. He doesn’t have to like it, or be happy about it … nevertheless, he has to just take it, and walk away. That’s his fucking job!

The Groper himself laughably contends the media are actually trying to silence him (cached). Nothing, however, could be further from the truth! In reality the mass media actively comply with his wishes, by reporting on his every tweet instantly. They couldn’t do a better job of relaying and propagating his ridiculous, juvenile bullshit if he were paying them to do so.

The problem with the media relaying the GiC’s numerous tantrums, is that his fanbois in Flyover Country feed on them. They like that he tweeted a vile comment about two cable-news hosts (whom most of them have never seen or heard, but who somehow know — because they’ve been told so by their talk-radio and alt-right overlords — are dastardly commie Leftists deserving only of condemnation). They also thrive on the reactions they engender; they love seeing Democrats and “the Lame Stream Media” aka the “Bicoastal Media Elite” condemn the Groper’s childish bilge. They love seeing their ideological foes are outraged. They’re fueled by such things, which is why the GiC keeps spewing them. It makes them happy, which for him is the most important thing in the world.

The media could, if they wanted to, break this feeding cycle. By not reporting the Apricot Wonder’s juvenile tweets, his fanbois may not hear about them, but even if they do, there won’t be any reaction to them, so they’ll be deprived of the joy of watching that. A moratorium would starve the Groper for the attention he pathologically craves, and would starve his fanbois of the sanctimonious outrage they love to sense.

The time for a moratorium on the GiC’s tweets has come. It’s time for the mass media to grow some cojones, stop indulging the Groper-in-Chief, and get off his fucking payroll already.

Photo credit: Clover Autrey, via Flickr.

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Five members of the church Word of Faith Fellowship in North Carolina face kidnapping and assault charges. (WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily NewsFor several months now, the Associated Press has been digging into the abuse inflicted on congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC, including continuing criminal trials (one of which recently imploded in spectacular fashion). The crux of it all is this fiercely fundagelical church’s practice of assigning every problem a congregant has to diabolical or demonic infestation, which they “treat” by — literally! — beating the devils/demons out of people. (Because naturally, it makes total sense that incorporeal beings will flee from people who’ve been beaten to within an inch of their lives, and never come back. Right?)

The abuse at Word of Faith has been going on for decades, and had been sporadically reported on through that time. For instance, it was covered by Inside Edition in 1995. Despite this, Word of Faith had avoided prosecution, and the AP uncovered the reason why: Word of Faith insiders in the NC justice system had shielded them from being investigated at all, in many cases, and whenever Johnny Law did come poking around, coached witnesses in how to answer questions.

The AP recently published another article explaining how and why it took so long for charges to be filed in the case of one abused congregant who’d reported what happened (WebCite cached article):

For two years, Matthew Fenner said he pleaded with authorities to investigate his allegations that a group of fellow congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship church had punched, slapped and choked him to expel his “homosexual demons.”

An Associated Press investigation found that Rutherford County investigators and then-District Attorney Brad Greenway delayed investigating and told Fenner his only option was to pursue misdemeanor charges against the church members he said assaulted him for nearly two hours in the evangelical church’s sanctuary.

The AP’s conclusions are based on more than a dozen interviews and court documents, along with a series of secretly made recordings that were provided of Fenner’s meetings with law enforcement authorities, including Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.…

Fenner tried to get action, but there was resistance:

When Fenner fled to his grandparents two days later [after he was attacked by church personnel], they called authorities. But Fenner told the jury that law enforcement — ranging from the Rutherford County sheriff’s office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — didn’t take his allegations seriously.

The AP found that Fenner not only told law enforcement agencies about what happened to him, but also warned of ongoing abuse in the church.

“Over the last two decades, it appears that different politicians or leaders in the community have had a certain fear of the Word of Faith and for whatever reason that sort of encapsulated them and made them untouchable,” said Jerry Wease, chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party and a licensed counselor who has worked with people who left the church.

In Fenner’s case, it wasn’t even just the North Cackolackian justice system refused to budge; even the FBI wouldn’t pick up the case:

On Jan. 31, 2013, he met with FBI agent Fred Molina, who was investigating a complaint from another congregant who said he was beaten because he was gay. Fenner detailed what happened to him, along with the abuse of other congregants, six people told the AP.

A month later, Fenner called the FBI to check on the progress of the agency’s inquiry and was told a new agent was on the case because Molina was about to retire. That agent never called him back, Fenner said. When he received a letter months after that saying the FBI wasn’t going to investigate, he inquired why and said he was told it was because the other church member who reported being attacked had recanted.

Molina declined to talk to the AP, saying he was told by his former bosses not to discuss the case. But Nancy Burnette, who became familiar with the church through her court work with foster children and who helped some congregants flee, said Molina told her that he was pulled from the investigation. He urged her to “keep fighting” to get the “truth out,” she said.

So it seems even FBI management within NC was protecting Word of Faith. Nice, huh?

Fenner simultaneously pressed both state and federal law enforcement. Assistant US attorney Jill Rose declined to prosecuted because she said Fenner’s case didn’t meet federal hate-crime standards and didn’t cross state lines. At the state level he met with the DA (Brad Greenway) and sheriff (Chris Francis). Like Rose, Greenway refused to prosecute, and the sheriff told Fenner to file misdemeanor charges on his own.

It took Greenway being voted out, for the charges to be pressed. Indictments were handed down shortly after that. Hmm.

As I’ve noted previously, colossal deference to churches is certainly not unique to North Carolina, nor to fundagelical churches. The very same phenomenon helped the Roman Catholic Church avert charges against its own abusive clergy — and it happened all over the world for decades, if not centuries. It’s a tendency that must fucking stop. The idea that churches, and religious institutions generally, are not to be held accountable for their actions, is simply unacceptable. Folks within the criminal justice system are going to have to grow up, pull up their big-boy (or big-girl) pants, and just fucking deal with allegations against churches and religious personnel. They can no longer be allowed to skate just because they’re religious folks.

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily News.

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