Posts Tagged “children”

Pope Francis Photo 1Pope Francis has been making headlines continually since his election nearly two years ago. And I’ve blogged about a lot of them. Some of his remarks have been reasonable — remarkably so, given the institution he heads — but others border on, or are, irrational and weird. An example of the latter, as the (UK) Guardian reports, is a statement he made just a few days ago (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis has chided couples who choose not to have children, saying the decision is a “selfish” act. The statement, made in his general audience in St Peter’s Square, will be seen as especially controversial in Italy, which has recorded a steady drop in its birth rate for decades.

“A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope said. “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”

As is usual for religious figures, the Pope seems to think his own subjective notions apply to everyone on the planet. He compounds this by making subjective judgements about people who don’t do what he thinks they should. The premise that everyone on the planet is obligated to live in the way he personally prescribes, is of course laughable and absurd. Couples do not, in fact, have to have children. They’re free to decide to do so, or not, whatever they wish. Yes, even Catholic couples. And contrary to what Francis said, there are many reasons couples might choose not to have children; they might, for example, not wish to pass on some genetic problem; they might not think they have the economic wherewithal to raise a family; and, of course, they simply may not wish to have any children. Those choices aren’t necessarily predicated on the childless couple being “selfish” or part of “a greedy generation.” So the Pope has no reason to assume so.

What’s also remarkable about this statement is that it appears to contradict something he’d said a few weeks ago, as the National Catholic Reporter explained at the time (cached):

The pontiff has also made what appears to be an unprecedented statement that Catholics may have a moral responsibility to limit the number of their children, while reaffirming Pope Paul VI’s ban on artificial means of birth control.…

… Francis made a statement that seems without precedent for a pope, suggesting that parents may have a responsibility to limit the number of their children, saying: “This does not signify that the Christian must make children in series.”

Telling the story of a woman he met in a parish in Rome several months ago who had given birth to seven children via Cesarean section and was pregnant with an eighth, Francis asked: “Does she want to leave the seven orphans?”

“This is to tempt God,” he said, adding later: “That is an irresponsibility.” Catholics, the pope said, should speak of “responsible parenthood.”

One wonders, then, exactly what it is that Pope Francis thinks about couples having children? Maybe he thinks each couple must have one or two kids each, but no more. I can’t really say, but that sort of thing seems to be what he was veering toward, taking both statements together.

I suppose this weird shuffle is a natural product of the fact that Roman Catholicism encourages couples to have children — due to its doctrinal presumption that sex is solely for procreation and its prohibition on contraception — in light of the fact that children are an economic and societal burden, so that having too many can create a lot of problems (both within families and societies at large). The result of this is that Catholic leaders like the Pope can’t help but swerve back and forth on the topic, because there’s no logical way to resolve the paradox (which, I note, they have constructed for themselves).

I won’t even touch the inherent ridiculousness of a celibate man doling out life-instructions to normal couples. It goes without saying that — by definition as well as by choice — they haven’t a fucking clue what they’re talking about … and that’s all one needs to say about it.

Hat tip: RationalWiki.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Cocke-county-tennessee-courthouseSome parents have been known to give their kids really odd names. We hear about this mostly in the celebrity world; e.g. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West naming their daughter North (so she’ll be “North West”). There are, however, countless other stupid child names given to much-less-famous people, including some so bad that they end up becoming famous for them (e.g. neo-Nazi Heath Campbell naming his son Adolf Hitler).

Even so, I’ve never heard of family-court judges intervening and altering a child’s lousy name … until now. As WBIR-TV in Knoxville TN reports, a judge there took it upon herself to change a boy’s name from “Messiah” (WebCite cached article):

A Newport mother is appealing a court’s decision after a judge ordered her son’s name be changed from “Messiah.”

Jaleesa Martin and the father of Messiah could not agree on a last name, which is how they ended up at a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Thursday.

That is when the first name came into question.…

The name change was part of Judge Ballew’s case; however, the parents did not think the first name would be changed.

Judge Ballew ordered the 7-month-old’s name be “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” It includes both parent’s last names but leaves out Messiah.

Ballew explained her reason for making this unasked-for change, and it was solely religious:

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Judge Ballew said.

WBIR-TV’s video report is right here:

I can think of lots of people who would disagree with Ballew, including (and perhaps especially) Jews, who some two and a half millennia ago invented the notion and title of “messiah” and who think no one, not even Jesus Christ, has yet earned that moniker. (I admit it’s possible they might be offended by naming a child “Messiah,” but for their own reasons. But I don’t know that for sure.)

I don’t think it’s wise to name a child “Messiah,” myself, mostly because so many other people in his life are going to get their knickers in knots over it — just as Ballew clearly did. Which, of course, would only be the result of their own irrational metaphysics; but it’s still not something a boy ought to pay the price for, his whole life.

Note: See two salient comments below for clarification of Jewish views of the Messiah and on people with that name. It turns out my half-hearted conjecture was incorrect. My thanks to both commenters.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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I Don't Know ... and Neither Do You! | No Gnosis (PsiCop original)If anyone thinks non-believers can’t be legally discriminated against in the US, guess again. An Indiana father recently lost custody of his children, apparently because he’s an Agnostic. WRTV-6 reports on this decision (WebCite cached article):

An Anderson father is upset after he claims he lost custody of his three children due to his religious beliefs.

Madison County Superior Court, Division 3 Commissioner George G. Pancol Sr. gave Craig Scarberry’s ex-wife, Christine Porcaro, full custody of the couple’s children in a Nov. 1 ruling.

“Further evidence indicated that the Petitioner/Father did not participate in the same religious training that the Respondent/Mother exercises and that the Petitioner/Father was agnostic,” the ruling said.

An apologist for Commissioner Pancol … his own son … claims this is necessitated by Indiana state law:

Judge G. George Pancol, Commissioner Pancol’s son, told 6News he could not comment on any specifics of the case, but did say that according to Indiana statute, religion is an issue that should be considered by the court in custody cases.

“The court is required, under Indiana code 31-9-2-67, when considering joint legal custody, to consider whether or not the parties can share authority for major decisions concerning education, health care and religious training, so religious training is one of the things we are required to consider,” he said.

This doesn’t mean it’s right to deny custody to non-believing parents, or even permissible; not all state laws that relate to religion are enforceable. Take for example a North Carolina state constitutional provision forbidding atheists from holding office. While some North Carolinians have agitated that it be obeyed, it’s not likely any court in the country — except maybe a state court in the Bible Belt — would dare enforce this provision (for reasons I describe in my blog post on NC’s anti-atheism). Let’s hope Scarberry appeals, that his appeal isn’t heard by Christofascist judges, and that this decision is overturned.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith blog.

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rodin gates of hell with thinker detail 05In a story I don’t know what to make of, a Vatican official has declared that abusive priests are damned to hellfire. CBS News reports on this declaration (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican prosecutor of clerical sex abuse warned perpetrators on Saturday that they would suffer damnation in hell that would be worse than the death penalty.

The Rev. Charles Scicluna, a Maltese priest who is a top official at the Vatican’s morality office, led a special “make amends” prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. …

“It would be really better” for priests who sexually abuse minors that their crimes “cause them death” because for them, “damnation will be more terrible” in hell, Il Sole 24 Ore online news reported. …

Scicluna, who could not immediately be reached for comment, began with a meditation from St. Mark’s Gospel saying those who harm children would be better off tying a millstone to their neck and throwing themselves into the sea.

In case you’re not familiar with the passage in question, here it is, including as much of its context as I can reasonably provide in this space:

Sitting down, He [Jesus] called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:35-50)

Scicluna’s rhetoric, therefore, is a bit harsh, especially given the Church has only recently — as in, just over the past couple of months — begun the slow process of acknowledging that its clergy have actually done something wrong and that this scandal is not merely the invention of “masonic secularists” or “Jews” or “great newspapers” or any of the rest of the denials they’ve offered.

Photo credit: Jon Himoff via Flickr.

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st vitus in hdrThe scandal of child abuse (including, but not limited to, sexual abuse) at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy has flashed around the globe since becoming an issue in the United States in the early 00s. Among the more recent countries where credible allegations are emerging, is Austria. At various points the complaint has been made that the Church’s celibacy requirement may be wholly or partially to blame for what has happened. To date the Church has generally denied that celibacy is an issue, although it has promised to do a better job of reviewing candidates for the priesthood to be sure they don’t have “problems” that might manifest after they are ordained. The New York Times Lede blog writes about some Austrian clergy suggesting that it might be more of a problem than the Church will admit (WebCite cached article):

Austrian Priests Suggest Celibacy May Be a Problem

On Thursday two senior Catholics in Austria, where reports of the sexual abuse of children by priests and nuns have been in the news, suggested that the role of priestly celibacy may need to be discussed as Catholics seek to understand and end scandals that have erupted across Europe and in the United States in recent years.

The Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, wrote in an article for a Catholic magazine that it was time for the Church to undertake an “unflinching examination” of what might be at the root of the problem of celibate clerics sexually abusing children.

As The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Riazat Butt, explained on Thursday, Archbishop Schönborn wrote that the discussion should “include the issue of priest training, as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution,” as well as “the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole.”

Note the attempt at deflection here; the Archbishop is suggesting it’s not merely celibacy that’s the problem, but celibacy within the context of “the sexual revolution.” He’s indirectly saying that even if celibacy contributes to the problem, it’s not the Catholic Church nor even the celibacy requirement that are at fault, it’s society as a whole, and the “sexual revolution” that are to blame. He’s not going as far as saying celibacy of Catholic clergy should be ended:

In fact Archbishop Schönborn said on Friday that he was not saying that celibacy caused pedophilia. “If celibacy were the reason for sexual abuse,” he said, “there wouldn’t be any abuse in the rest of society.”

Needless to say, since at least some of the allegations — such as in Ireland — date back to before the “sexual revolution,” it can safely be ruled out as either a cause of the problem or a contributor to it. So Archbishop Schönborn is wrong on that count.

That said, at the risk of appearing to defend the R.C. Church (which I am not actually doing, as you will see), I also do not think celibacy has much, if anything, to do with this problem. Allow me to explain.

First, the Archbishop is correct that, if celibacy were the only cause of sexual abuse, one would never find it outside the celibate … and this is not the case at all. Sex crimes of all sorts are committed by the non-celibate as well as the celibate.

Second, many people in the occidental world think of celibacy as “unusual” or “strange,” especially since there are a lot of churches and religious traditions which don’t require celibacy from their own clergy, leaving Catholicism as one of the few remaining holdouts on that score. The truth is that celibacy as a spiritual ideal, is not at all “strange.” It existed in the pre-Christian Hellenic world e.g. among the Pythagoreans; it existed in the Roman institution of the Vestal virgins; it existed in the Judaic world of Jesus’ own time among the Essenes; it was an ideal that at least some Christians aspired to right from the start of Christianity, persisted through the Middle Ages, and continues today; and it also existed — and still does — in other, non-occidental religious traditions (e.g. among Buddhist monks and many others). If celibacy caused people to be sexual abusers, we’d find it rampant in all of those traditions as well … and we would find it much more often in celibate organizations than we would from non-celibate groups within the same tradition. I’m not sure this is the case either.

Third, not all of the allegations being made about Catholic clerical abuse are sexual in nature; some of the reports are of beatings and other kinds of abuse, where sexual motives appear not to come into play. It’s the sexual allegations that seem to get the most press attention, but they’re not all there is to this scandal.

Fourth, scandals of abuse of children at the hands of clergy and religious institutions who were to care for them, are not even unique to the R.C. Church and its celibate clergy … the Canadian residential-school scandal, which involved Catholic as well as non-Catholic institutions, demonstrate this conclusively.

No, the real cause of this long-running scandal — which again is borne out by comparison to the Canadian residential schools scandal — is not celibacy. It’s something else entirely: Impunity. The sad truth is that the perpetrators of the crimes did what they did, because they knew they would be able to get away with it.

Within the Catholic Church itself, the chief culprit here is the secrecy with which it operates, as well as the principle, long held by the R.C. Church, that it generally does not allow its priesthood to be prosecuted by secular authorities. Yes, there have been times where abuser-priests were prosecuted; in the US one of the most famous examples is that of the late defrocked Fr John Geoghan. But these prosecutions usually happen in spite of the Church and its hierarchy, not because of them. In fact, the various dioceses involved in individual cases usually spend a great deal of legal effort in attempting to block and/or derail such prosecutions. (The order of Christian Brothers in Ireland, for example, sued in court to shut down that government’s lengthy and extensive investigation, and almost succeeded.) Generally speaking, the Catholic Church does not believe its clergy should be subject to secular criminal prosecution, no matter the priest’s crime.

But the impunity also exists independently of the Church’s own secrecy policy and assumption of clerical privilege. In the examples of both Canada and Ireland, one of the discoveries has been that the abuses were actually known by secular officials — and in some cases by society at large — but were allowed to happen anyway. In other words, secular authorities generally looked the other way, without regard to the Church’s efforts to prevent prosecutions.

The cold truth of all this is that celibacy is the least of the worries here. Even if the Church were to repeal its celibacy policy, its secrecy and demand of immunity to prosecution still would get in the way of secular authorities holding priests accountable for anything they do. This means priests would still have incentive to commit crimes — of whatever type, whether sexual or not, or abuse of children or other things — because they know the Church will at least attempt to shield them from prosecution. That is what must change … celibacy is largely insignificant by comparison.

Photo credit: james_clear.

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The plot thickens concerning the Idaho Baptists who were caught in Haiti trying to sneak some children out of the country (about whom I’ve blogged several times already). First, we hear (from the New York Times) that their leader, Laura Silsby, is no stranger to law enforcement, not in Idaho anyway (WebCite cached article):

The leader of the group of Americans charged on Thursday with abducting children in Haiti is an Idaho businesswoman with a complicated financial history that involves complaints from employees over unpaid wages, state liens on a company bank account and lawsuits in small claims court.

The leader, Laura Silsby, defaulted last July on the mortgage on a house in an unfinished subdivision here in Meridian, a suburb of Boise, according to the Ada County Tax Assessor’s Office. Yet in November, Ms. Silsby registered a new nonprofit, the New Life Children’s Refuge, at the address of the house, which she bought in 2008 for $358,000. …

Ms. Silsby and her business, Personal Shopper, which provides shopping services for Internet customers, have faced multiple legal claims.

According to state records and officials, Personal Shopper has been named 14 times in complaints from employees over unpaid wages. Among the reasons cited by the employees for having not been paid were “no money for payroll” and “fully investor funded and investors have been hit hard by the economy.”

Employees won nine of the cases, forcing Personal Shopper to pay nearly $31,000 in wages and $4,000 in fines. The Idaho Department of Labor initially put liens on a company bank account to get the money.

Nevertheless, despite her questionable business history, Ms Silsby has some very loyal and very religious supporters:

Clint Henry, pastor of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, where five of the Americans charged in Haiti attend services, said Ms. Silsby had attended his church for about two years.

“You wouldn’t find any finer Christian people than these people,” Mr. Henry said in an interview earlier this week.

Uh, OK, pastor. Whatever you say.

In addition to this, it appears that Ms Silsby’s nine followers are no longer fans of hers, as the New York Times (again!) is reporting (WebCite cached article):

Divisions emerged within the group of 10 Americans jailed in Haiti on child abduction charges, with eight of them signing a note over the weekend saying that they had been misled by Laura Silsby, the leader of the group.

“Laura wants to control,” said the scribbled note handed to a producer for NBC News. “We believe lying. We’re afraid.”

The infighting came amid a shakeup in the legal representation of the Americans, who have been charged with trying to remove 33 Haitian children from the country without government permission. …

The note signed by the group, which is affiliated with a Baptist church in Twin Falls, Idaho, made clear that they were emotionally distraught and divided. “We fear for our lives here in Haiti,” said the letter, which was signed by everyone except Ms. Silsby and Charisa Coulter, Ms. Silsby’s former nanny and co-founder of the group.

“We only came as volunteers,” the note went on. “We had NOTHING to do with any documents and have been lied to.”

It’s too bad it took being jailed in Haiti before they figured out Ms Silsby is not to be trusted.

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Things are looking stranger and stranger in the case of the Baptists who tried to take some children out of Haiti, about whom I’ve blogged a couple times. Not only were these not orphaned or abandoned children, it seems that, in some cases, the parents gave the children to them, in order to give them a free education. The New York Times reports on how the Baptists’ story grows increasingly disingenuous (WebCite cached article):

Guerlaine Antoine pushed aside a tub full of laundry, wiped her soapy hands on her T-shirt and rushed barefoot to bring out photos of the 8-year-old boy she entrusted to 10 American Baptists.

“Do you think I would give this child away?” she said, opening a grade school yearbook to show her son, Carl Ramirez Antoine, in cap and gown, at his kindergarten graduation. “He is my only treasure.” …

Kisnel and Florence Antoine said they sent two of their children with the Baptist missionaries because they had offered educational opportunities for the children in the Dominican Republic. Ketlaine Valmont said she had sent a son.

They showed school photos and academic awards to demonstrate that they had not selfishly sent their children away to lighten their load.

In a country where more than half of all children come from families too poor to keep them in school, the parents said that the Americans’ offer of an education seemed like a gift from heaven.

They also wanted to give opportunities for something better to their children. They said that the missionaries had promised they would be able to visit their children in the Dominican Republic, and that the children would be free to come home for visits.

At least these parents, then, were not giving up their child for adoption, just entrusting them to people who would educate them but still allow family visits. It’s clear, however, that the Baptists had planned to place these children for adoption:

The Americans said that the children had been orphaned in the earthquake, and that they had authorization from the Dominican government to bring the children into the country.

But it became clear on Tuesday that at least some of the children had not lost their parents in the earthquake.

So not only were these kids not orphaned or abandoned — and the Baptists knew this, because they had spoken with at least some of the parents — their claim of not planning to adopt them out, is also demonstrably untrue:

And while the Americans said they did not intend to offer the children for adoption, the Web site for their orphanage [WebCite cached version] makes clear that they intended to do so.

In addition to providing a swimming pool, soccer field and access to the beach for the children, the group, known as the New Life Children’s Refuge, said it also planned to “provide opportunities for adoption,” and “seaside villas for adopting parents to stay while fulfilling the requirement for 60-90 day visit.”

The reason these Haitian families were willing to trust these strangers with their children, is because a local minister vouched for them:

They trusted the Americans, they said, because they arrived with the recommendation of a Baptist minister, Philippe Murphy, who runs an orphanage in the area. A woman who answered the door at Mr. Murphy’s house said he had gone to Miami. But she also said that he did not know anything about the Americans.

It’s interesting, don’t you think, that a person as pivotal in all of this as the Rev Murphy, is somehow not to be found? Hmm.

It’s clear, at any rate, that this Baptist organization has told more than one lie to more than one person. This places them squarely among my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

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