Jesus WeptA man working for a church who committed a long serious of sexual assaults. His supervisors who found out about it and got him out of the way. Those same supervisors never reported the assaults to police, and what’s more, tried to block an investigation. One would think I was talking about the Roman Catholic Church — but I’m not. I’m talking, instead, about the VineLife Church in Longmont, CO. It’s some sort of Protestant evangelical church; I haven’t been able to find out which exact denomination, if any, it belongs to. In any event, KMGH-TV in Denver tells the sorry tale of abuse and cover-up (WebCite cached version):

Five officials at Vinelife Church in Longmont are accused of failing to report that a youth pastor had allegedly sexually assaulted a church member since she was 15 years old.

Boulder police said Wednesday detectives have served summonses on Vinelife Church executive pastor Robert Phillip “Bob” Young, pastor Luke Humbrecht, pastor Edward Bennell and church elder Warren Lloyd Williams. A fifth church official, who is currently out of the country, will be served a summons when he returns to Colorado, said police spokeswoman Kim Kobel. Police will identify the fifth after he’s been charged.

Each official faces one charge of duty to report child abuse, and is accused of failing to report the alleged child abuse to law enforcement or human services officials.

Boulder police arrested Vinelife youth pastor Jason Allen Roberson, 35, on Sept. 4 and charged him with one count of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust; one count of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of unlawful sexual contact. After reviewing the case, the Boulder County District Attorney added one count of stalking.

The alleged victim, who is now 24 years old, is also a former church staff member. She told police the “inappropriate” relationship with the youth pastor began when she was 15 years old and continued for seven years. She said she “trusted (Roberson) as an authority figure and spiritual guide, and felt uncomfortable disclosing the relationship to others,” police said.

VineLife insists it’s done nothing wrong. On its Web site, the church claims to have cooperated with police — which police say is not true — and contend they’re not subject to mandatory child-abuse reporting laws (cached). They even threw their own lawyers under the bus over that last point:

[T]he Church sought and obtained legal counsel, who indicated that the Church leadership would not violate Colorado law by not reporting the incident given the current age of the victim.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but it’s not difficult to look up the relevant law here (Colorado Revised Statutes 19-3-304, Persons Required to Report Child Abuse or Neglect) and see that it clearly states that “clergy” are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. So I’m not sure if VineLife’s excuse will fly.

At any rate, for you Catholic apologists out there who read my blog (yes, there are some of you!) and are incensed that I seem to “only” report child abuse cases when it’s R.C. clergy who’ve done it, this post constitutes a refutation of that tired whine. Not that it was true before today, in any event; I’ve certainly mentioned child abuse by other sects’ or religions’ personnel before. I’ve never said, nor even suggested, it was “only” a Catholic problem, even if you think I have. So stop lying already, and stop bellyaching about how I dare criticize your precious Church.

Photo credit: Jenner8675309, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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E.W. Kemble's 'Deaths Laboratory' in Collier's Magazine in 1906, via Wikimedia Commons.A big component of the pseudomedicine movement is the belief that pharmaceuticals are “bad,” whereas “natural” remedies, including herbal supplements, are “good.” What a lot of folks don’t understand, is that it’s all relative. Some pharmaceuticals are extracted from natural sources, and some “natural” things can, indeed, be very harmful. So the whole “artificial=bad, natural=good” correlation is, quite simply, bullshit.

I’ve blogged a couple times before about toxic substances that are found in some alternative remedies, but as the New York Times reports, a recent review of some common herbal supplements, confirms there are problems in that industry (WebCite cached article):

Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.

Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 companies. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice.…

Among their findings were bottles of echinacea supplements, used by millions of Americans to prevent and treat colds, that contained ground up bitter weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence.

Two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle — a health concern for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said the study’s lead author, Steven G. Newmaster, a biology professor and botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

The full text of this study is available online (cached).

One might wonder how and why, in the 21st century, this sort of thing could be happening on such a scale. But there’s a very good reason for it: In the U.S. at least, the herbal supplement industry is more or less unregulated. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA) enacted in 1994, as long as no explicit health claims are made about an herbal remedy, the FDA can do nothing at all about them. Not a damned thing. That’s right, it often is perfectly legal to sell “snake oil.”

Photo credit: Collier’s, via Wikimedia Commons.

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In 2011, Rev. Gerald Robinson tried to get his conviction overturned. He failed. He is eligible for parole in 2016. / Madalyn Ruggiero/AP, via (NY) Daily NewsPope Francis has named Leonard Paul Blair, the incumbent bishop of Toledo, OH, to replace the retiring Henry Mansell as the archbishop of Hartford. As appointments go, this one might seem unremarkable. Making a midwestern bishop into a northeastern archbishop is a normal promotion process within the Catholic hierarchy in the US, and an expected feather-in-the-cap of a man who declared ecclesiastical war on America’s Catholic nuns.

But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story than might appear at first glance. The Hartford Courant‘s Belief blog reports that Blair might have helped interfere with an investigation into a murder (locally-cached article):

The morning after Toledo Bishop Leonard P. Blair was named to take over the Hartford Archdiocese, a Connecticut representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests was on the front steps of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford to air the organization’s concerns about the appointment.

The SNAP member, Gail Howard of Redding, said she was there with her husband Wednesday in part to draw attention to Blair’s behavior regarding the nationally publicized case of the Rev. Gerald Robinson, a Toledo diocesan priest, who ultimately was convicted in 2006 of killing a nun 26 years earlier.

SNAP has asked why Blair, bishop at the time of the trial, wasn’t more forthcoming with documents that the group says might have helped prosecute the case. The organization has also argued that Blair should have worked harder to get the priest, the Rev. Gerald Robinson, defrocked. The organization has called on Blair to explain his actions.

I looked into the the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, 71 years old at the time. You can, too; articles on it are available from sources such as the (NY) Daily News and in a series of articles in TruTV’s Crime Library.

Sr Pahl’s murder went unsolved for over 2 decades, until prompted by another woman’s allegation in 2003, detectives re-examined the cold case. The following year, Fr Robinson was finally charged with murder. As the Daily News explained:

What changed? In a book about the case, the Blade’s David Yonke wrote that the Catholic Church had Toledo “wrapped around its little finger” in 1980. Officer Dave Davison told Yonke that all five detectives who investigated the homicide were Catholics.

“They sat on it as a courtesy to the church,” Davison said.

Fr Robinson had killed her, it turns out, because she’d repeatedly complained about his conduct as a priest.

As for where Blair comes into this … SNAP reports on their own Web site with references included (cached), Blair worked diligently to prevent the release of documents police had needed when they were prosecuting Fr Robinson. This resistant behavior is entirely consistent with how Roman Catholic hierarchs have dealt with other allegations against clergy, so it’s not surprising nor out-of-character for a bishop.

You see, the R.C. Church still believes it’s entitled to the medieval notion of privilege of clergy — that is, the idea that clergy are immune to secular criminal authorities — and never willingly allows its priests to be prosecuted; cooperation always has to be dragged out of them.

Of course, they have no objection to priests being prosecuted when the Church itself is the victim. But, like most Christians, the R.C. hierarchy has elevated hypocrisy into an artform, in spite of Jesus’ clear and unambiguous injunction against it. It would be nice if they’d obey their own Jesus for once, but that’s asking too much of the poor little things, I guess. (Yes, I know: How horrible of me to expect that avowed Christians actually live according to Christ’s teachings!)

Photo credit: Madalyn Ruggiero/AP, via (NY) Daily News.

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05354 Palm Sunday in SanokThe litany of bogeymen whom the Roman Catholic hierarchy blames for the priestly-pedophilia scandal continues to grow. Earlier this month, a Polish hierarch identified a sequence of villains whom he thinks forced a bunch of otherwise-totally-innocent priests to abuse children. It all started, as Polskie Radio reports, when the archbishop of Przemysl wandered stupidly into “victim-blaming” territory (WebCite cached article):

The archbishop of Przemysl made the controversial remarks after being asked about the problem of paedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church. “Many of these instances of abuse could have been avoided if the relations between parents had been healthy,” the archbishop said. “We often hear that this wrong behaviour, or abuse, occurs when the child is searching for love,” he added. The archbishop suggested that children from broken homes can “cling on” to priests, hence creating the problems.

The idea that victims are to blame for abusive clerics’ action is not new at all, as I’ve blogged before. It’s actually a rather old notion that trickles far beneath everything the R.C. Church has said and done about the scandal. So I don’t consider this unusual, nor do I buy that there aren’t more hierarchs (possibly many more!) who think this way.

Michalik ostensibly apologized for these comments, as the article states. However, he wasn’t sincere about his “apology.” As Polskie Radio again reports, Michalik later doubled down with his blame-game (cached):

Head of the Polish Episcopate Archbishop Jozef Michalik has claimed that abuse of children is caused by pornography, feminism and a “selfish love” undermining the family.

“The shameful abuse by adults towards children results from the acceptance of pornography […] and the promotion of a false, selfish love between people,” Archbishop Michalik has told a Mass in Wroclaw Cathedral, south west Poland.…

During the Mass in Wroclaw on Wednesday, however, Archbishop Michalik said that though the family has always enjoyed respect as an institution in Poland, larger family units “have become stigmatised”.

“You have heard of adults abusing children and this kind of evil is not to be tolerated, but no one asks about the causes of this,” he said, blaming TV networks broadcasting “pornography and a selfish love”

“Nobody stands up for children suffering from a lack of love from divorcing parents, which leaves painful and permanent injuries”.

The archbishop also mentioned the “new ideology of gender” with universities offering gender study courses and “the most aggressive Polish feminists who scoff at the Church and years of traditional ethics, who promote abortion and struggle against the traditional model of the family and marital fidelity”.

“The ideology of gender raises legitimate concerns, because it goes against the laws of nature, promotes marriage between persons of the same sex and fights for the right to legalize adoption of children by these couples,” the archbishop said.

Michalik’s complaint about a “new ideology of gender” forcing priests to abuse children mirrors the Church’s assertion a couple of years ago that “society” caused priestly pedophilia.

Oh, and don’t assume Michalik is just some fringe lunatic lurking at the edge of the Catholic hierarchy who has no influence elsewhere. He’s not merely the archbishop of Przemyśl; he’s the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the collective of hierarchs in Poland (that country’s cognate of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). An equivalent situation would be if Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the USCCB, had made such comments. Michalik is that authoritative. His remarks — which he very clearly stands by, in spite of his supposed “apology” — are neither trivial nor meaningless.

If it’s not clear to anyone by now, let me lay bare the fact here: There’s a nasty psychopathology festering deep within the R.C. hierarchy. It’s not going to go away on its own, because that same hierarchy grooms its own membership and shapes those who are initiated into it. The sooner lay Catholics admit their Church is criminally dysfunctional, and not going to reform itself, the sooner they can get off their sorry, cowardly, sniveling little asses and repair it, fercryinoutloud.

But of course, we know they never will, so why do I even bother saying it any more … ?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Words not found in any Bible: 'Thou shalt be a complete asshole.' / PsiCop original graphicWhat is it about the practice of tipping that seems to bother Christians so much? Is it a true religious objection to it? Or are they just using their religion to rationalize saving a few bucks?

Back in January I blogged about a “pastor” who refused to tip a waiter because she objected to paying the waiter an 18% auto-gratuity when the Bible mandates tithing (or 10%). But this latest example of stingy Christian behavior is even more rude and insulting than that. KMBC-TV in Kansas City reports that a group of Christians refused to tip a waiter, because he’s gay (WebCite cached article):

A local server was thanked for good service during a recent meal at an Overland Park restaurant, and also received an anti-gay message with no tip.…

Here’s what happened: A server went to pick up a check from a meal, and found a message on the back of the bill. It read: “Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God. May God have mercy on you.”

Friends of the server and customers took to social media to spread the word about what happened, and have vowed to go to the restaurant on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. as a sign of support.

It’s true these no-tipping-asshats didn’t identify themselves specifically as “Christians,” but one must concede that any group of God-mentioning gay-haters in Overland Park, KS is almost certain to be Christian, not members of some other faith. I suppose it’s possible they’re something else … like Jewish or Muslim … but honestly, that’s not very likely.

And that leads me to wonder what it is about Christianity that encourages people to use it to justify their bad behavior? I ask this in all seriousness. Why do Christians view their Christianity as a cosmic permission-slip allowing them to say and do the worst sorts of things, without remorse? Christians love to say their religion makes people moral; but it’s examples like this that demonstrate the opposite is true. Had their religion not taught these cretins to hate gay people, odds are they’d have just tipped their waiter the way people normally do. It took Christianity … and more specifically, the hatred of gays that a lot of Christians view as a component of it … to get these assholes for Jesus to stiff their waiter.

Photo credit: PsiCop original.

Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire, and Friendly Atheist.

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Baby crying and upset / Darren Beck, via Open Clip Art LibraryYou’ve just gotta love Rightists who infest the federal government. They’ve spent the last few years raging, fuming, screaming, and whining about the horrors of Washington, yet hypocritically, they’ve built careers in that city, make their livings on it, and have taken up residence there. They shut down the federal government with the expectation that doing so would coerce the administration into canceling implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and then, hypocritically, they staged a protest of said shutdown, as CNN reports (WebCite cached article). During that protest, the ferociously angry Christofascist Larry Klayman called for a revolution and ordered President Obama to surrender to him:

One speaker went as far as saying the president was a Muslim and separately urged the crowd of hundreds to initiate a peaceful uprising.

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group.

The whiney crybaby Larry is repeating his call for a revolution, which I’ve blogged about already. The problem with his yammering isn’t that he’s expecting Obama to do something he’s never going to do (i.e. resign). Of course juvenile Rightist cretins like Larry-boy are going to make demands of the president which he’s never going to comply with. Of course he’s going to caterwaul sanctimoniously about how awful it is that the insolent president — who was first elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 — has dared remain in office.

No, the problem is Larry-boy’s implication that Obama is a Muslim. As I’ve blogged several times already, Obama is a Christian, and not a Muslim at all. He just isn’t. Maybe crybaby Larry and his Christofascist pals disagree with that, but too bad for them, they don’t have a vote in the matter. Obama is, in fact, a Christian. Multiple fact-checkers have explained this, but the Right more or less refuses to accept it.

(There’s a reason for this refusal: Rightists insist those fact-checking sites are “biased” to the Left, are “in the tank” for Obama, and knowingly lie in order to help him. These Rightists don’t know these sites have also called out Leftists — and Obama specifically — on their falsehoods, too. Their paranoid conviction that these sites are insidiously “biased” against them, of course, is a result of the hostile media effect, and is something that all ideologues fall prey to. As it turns out, the more fact-checkers explain these idiots’ errors to them, the harder they dig their heels in against conceding they’ve been lying. Yes, it’s a very childish game, but ideologues love to play it.)

Klayman’s hypocrisy exists at several levels: As noted, he protested the shutdown of the federal government that his own ideology worked toward; he built his career on a federal government he despises; and he opposes what he calls “judicial activism,” except when Rightists are doing it, in which case he cheers them on.

Like most Christians, little Larry hasn’t read his Bible. If he had, he’d have known that his own Jesus clearly and explicitly forbid him ever to engage in hypocrisy of any kind:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:5)

Or how can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Lk 6:42)

As I said at the start of this post, you’ve just got to love these guys. They’re so proud of their brazen hypocrisy, and so courageous in their refusal to accept any facts contrary to what they believe, they’re trumpeting it to the heavens.

Photo credit: Darren Beck, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Antonin Scalia 2010By now most of my regular readers have heard about Antonin Scalia’s New York Magazine interview. The main news out of it has been that Scalia believes Satan is a “real person.” I hadn’t commented on it, since I don’t find it very remarkable that a famous Christianist believes the Devil is real. I mean, seriously … that’s news to anyone? Come on! I initially regarded that interview as a “water is wet” or “sky is blue” story, unworthy of attention.

With that said, I recently noticed something he said which, after consideration, I find noteworthy. At least, I think the significance of it needs to be pointed out, if for no other reason than that to show that almost anyone can fall into illogic, if s/he isn’t careful — and that large amounts of irrationality and illogic can be expressed within one short statement.

The important part comes in page 4 of the article (WebCite cached version):

[Interviewer Jennifer Senior:] Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

[Justice Antonin Scalia:] You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

First, note the sanctimony of Scalia’s response. Sanctimony is the religionist’s stock-in-trade. How dare Ms Senior question belief in the Devil? Scalia’s outrage is palpable. But it also doesn’t mean anything — to anyone.

Next, Scalia cites as evidence of Satan’s existence, that “most of [America] believes in the Devil.” This is a fallacy known formally as argumentum ad populum, and by other names, such as appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to popularity, the democratic fallacy, appeal to the masses, etc. The error here should be obvious and summed up in this short statement: Veracity is not up for a vote. People — even many of them! — can be, and often are, very wrong sometimes. Just because something is widely believed, doesn’t make it true. For most of history, nearly all of humanity was utterly convinced the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets and stars all revolving around it. It turns out, that’s not true at all!

Another piece of evidence Scalia cites as proof that Satan is a real person, is that ‘Jesus Christ believed in the Devil.” Sorry, but this isn’t going to fly, because the reports we have of what Jesus did and didn’t believe come only from the gospels, which Scalia also cites, themselves, as evidence of Satan’s existence. The problem there, of course, is that this just means some late-first-century Christians who wrote those books, believed in the Devil. It’s not actually objective or verifiable evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.”

Third, Scalia lambastes his interviewer for being “so removed from mainstream America that” she’d dare imply belief in the Devil as “a real person” is a bad thing. This is his attempt to discredit his interviewer by saying she’s an elitist; and this, too, has been a common Religious Right tactic. Folks on the Right love to rage and fume about “the Elite” (aka “the Bicoastal Elite,” the “Mass Media Elite,” etc.) and how horrible they are for being insolent enough not to think, act and talk in ways unlike all the folks they call “normal Americans” (aka Flyover Country, the Deep South, the Bible Belt, etc.). The cold fact is that Justice Scalia is, himself, a bona fide card-carrying member of the country’s “elite:” He’s university-educated; a professional, no less (i.e. a lawyer and judge); and he’s one of just 9 people who comprise one of the most powerful bodies in the US. Scalia is one of the last people who ought ever to accuse anyone else of being out of touch with America!

After these little tidbits of illogic and irrationality, Scalia swerves back to the old argumentum ad populum, citing the beliefs of “most of mankind” and of people “more intelligent than” himself or his interviewer, as evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.” Unfortunately, as I’ve already explained, this is fallacious. What’s more, for Scalia to repeat a fallacy, in the (obvious) hope it will reinforce what he’s saying, is itself a fallacy, called argumentum ad nauseam, or argument by repetition. Saying something that’s not true more than once, can never make it suddenly, magically become true. Nonetheless, fierce religionists like Scalia love to think the universe works that way. They repeat tired old canards like, “Evolution is ‘just’ a theory,” and “It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer,” and so on. They truly think that repeating these things without cessation will make them so. But it can never work, any more than saying “2 + 2 = 5″ endlessly can never make that equation mathematically valid. It just can’t.

Once again, Justice Scalia has provided me with evidence that anyone, at any time, can engage in fallacious thinking, and probably not even be aware of it. It’s something we must all be on guard against, at all times.

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