Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Altoona, PAOnce again the world is treated to yet another revelation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s Mafia-like morals. It turns out that a campaign to let abusive priests prey on children lasted for decades in central Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the release of a grand jury’s finding outlining the “staggering” depravity (WebCite cached version):

Hundreds of children were molested, raped and destined to lasting psychological trauma by at least 50 priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown across half a century, a state grand jury has found in denouncing coverups orchestrated by two bishops and enabled by the law enforcement officials they controlled.

The conspiracy amounted to “soul murder,” said the report by the 37th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, released today nearly two years after the grand jury was impaneled.…

The two previous bishops leading the diocese — James Hogan, who served from 1966 to 1986 and died in 2005, and Joseph Adamec, who served from 1987 to 2011 and is now retired — “took actions that further endangered children as they placed their desire to avoid public scandal over the wellbeing of innocent children,” the report said. “Priests were returned to ministry with full knowledge they were child predators.”

Making this case much worse than a lot of others, was the active involvement of secular officials, who apparently were more concerned with pleasing the R.C. Church than in doing their jobs and prosecuting crimes against children:

The report includes extensive testimony from a key aide to Bishop Hogan, Monsignor Philip Saylor, who said a Blair County president judge, sheriff and other law-enforcement officers deferred to the diocese to let it handle investigations of abusive priests, rather than prosecuting them. And Monsignor Saylor said a mayor of Johnstown sent candidates for police and fire chief to him for interviews, and he would tell the mayor whom to pick. “That happened in Johnstown and Altoona,” he said.

The grand jury report quoted former Altoona Police Chief Peter Starr as crediting his own appointment to such arrangements and saying that the “politicians of Blair County were afraid of Monsignor Saylor” given his role as editor of the diocesan newspaper.

With such influence, “Hogan saw no obligation of faith or law to the children of his parishioners,” the grand jury report said.

The report added that even a diocesan review board, impaneled amid growing public outrage over sexual abuse by priests, often turned into a travesty, with investigations focusing not on the accused but on those reporting abuse by priests. In one case, the review board sought gynecological records of a survivor, the report said.

You can read the entire report for yourself, if you wish (cached).

This is one of the few investigative reports in which secular officials’ complicity and obeisance to the Church were revealed in plain language. The unfortunate problem is that, despite this pervasive child abuse and extensive efforts to obstruct justice, no one is going to be prosecuted, due to the deaths of many perpetrators, statutes of limitations, and an unwillingness to force victims to testify. If not for those, a lot of people might be going to jail. More’s the pity.

Now, I’m sure the fact that this report was released by Pennsylvania’s embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane will make Catholic apologists leap for joy. “How can anyone believe this report?” they’ll protest. “Ms Kane is up to her eyeballs in a scandal!” Yes, it’s true, Ms Kane is in deep trouble (cached). So yes, this grand jury report was offered up by tainted hands. But that’s not actually relevant here, and it doesn’t affect the report’s credibility. She wasn’t on the grand jury. What’s more, that she presented the report doesn’t mean its conclusions aren’t valid. After all, even a broken clock is right, twice a day.

So, too bad so sad, Catholic apologists. You still lose. And you always will, because your loser Church is run by a cadre of amoral and cowardly old men.

Photo credit: Joseph, via Flickr.

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Protests such as this one in Lahore took place in several major cities / AFP/Getty photo, via BBC NewsSome five years ago I blogged about something that, I suppose, could only have happened in Pakistan, which is home to millions of howling barbaric Islamist fundamentalists. One Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri had killed Punjab’s provincial governor, Salman Taseer, because the latter had supported repealing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

To give you an idea of what sort of lowlife Qadri is, he’d been Taseer’s bodyguard! And to give you an idea of what sorts of primitive religionist savages Pakistanis are, a bunch of their lawyers showered Qadri with flowers when he arrived to a court appearance, back then.

I bring this up because the machinery of Pakistani justice eventually held Qadri accountable for his crime, and he was executed. But as Religion News Service reports, Pakistanis showed their true colors, by protesting (WebCite cached article):

Pakistan on Monday executed a man who killed the governor of Punjab province over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws that carry a death sentence for insulting Islam.

Street protests broke out within hours by supporters of the killer, who consider him a hero for defending the faith. The head of the Islamabad Bar Council called for a day-long strike of lawyers in protest against the hanging.…

Protesters briefly blocked the main road between Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Monday after news of the hanging broke. Police later dispersed them and closed off the road to prevent more demonstrations.

Chaudhry predicted larger demonstrations coinciding with Qadri’s funeral, which his legal group said would be held on Tuesday.

“From what we are seeing, this protest movement is only going to increase,” he said.

As is usually the case when such things happen, I will simply point out that blasphemy laws are ridiculous and childish. Blasphemy harms nothing and no one, ever. If a religion has any veracity, no amount of “blasphemy” can change that. If a deity has power, no amount of “insults” can take it away. Blasphemy laws only serve to infantilize people and prevent them from hearing something they might not like. Boo fucking hoo.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty photo, via BBC News.

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'FBI raids FLDS businesses' / KSTU-TVI’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.

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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