Former churches with better missions

Photos, cartoons, marquees (Jan/Feb 2020)

Crankmail (Jan/Feb 2020)

Yikes! Some of the mail we received in the past month or so was especially heinous. Caution: Some of these missives are not for the weak of heart (or minor children). Printed as received.

Who you are!: You all represent a cancerous tumor on the fabric of U.S. society. You all need chemotherapy and radiation ! What do you FEAR from religion ? Are you employees of Satan ? — Doc Haberstein

end of ffrf.org: I will go out of my way to get rid of you and you organization … you freethinkers upset me too much and on facebook too much if when I can… note get rid of the ffrf.org I will be working as well because I am a human being and you all are very dangerously wronging people… here in Canada psychiatrists are someor KNOWN openly to be athiets this mandates behavioral and attitudinal prioritize ing of no relion ever like ever I do not spell check I am unfortunate enough to have been posted by flunkies of those whoms value less for me and less for all people it is my right to facebook it is my right to take you out of the facebook because if I can I will and this may be a resourcefulness of course and perhaps you are really doing wrong because you are — Gail Baxter

Hey retards: Just wanted to make a suggestion. I’m all about that freedom. So here’s the deal. Why aren’t you about that freedom and freedom of thought? Why are you trying to be fascists and trying to tell other people that they’re not allowed to like religion?I’m not religious but I don’t see no religious people getting all up in my business. If the fucken police station wants to have a God damn in God we trust thing who gives a f***. Within your puny little f****** piece of trash brain just think that God is Satan or something who gives a f***. You give a f*** because you’re a Nazi piece of trash along with everyone of your f****** psychotic followers. Your little atheist movement is a extremist domestic terrorist movement. If you don’t like something just ignore it. Because guess what? That’s why we have the 2nd amendment so we can neutralize fascists when they encroach. — Jeff Masonrich

Missouri: Don’t you people have anything better to do then bother kids for saying a prey after a football game. You should go to another country and tell them to stop preying and see how you make out. A investigation? REALLY! — Peter McGarry 

Jesus blood: Jesus she’d his precious blood for everyone’s sins. Historians not religious historians tell us this man lived did miracles and died on a Roman cross . He died for your sins and mine. Do not fight against him anymore if you do that blood will become a curse against all of you. Your families first and your personal finances second and you’re organization lastly. It’s time to repent. Before you make a hasty decision I would suggest you google dying words of infidels — Michael Calkin

you: you can take your cock out and fuck your daughters in their asses until they bleed from their ears! Then you can suck the cancer out of my dead
grandmothers ass, and then I hope your wives get breast cancer, and have both their tits cut off so I can super glue them to my garage ceiling to be used as punching bags! LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! may God fuck you so badly, you get prostate cancer!!! LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mind your fucking business about Florida and Brevard county! “IN GOD THEY TUST” — Sonny Blackmon

Your mission: Why do you only criticize Christianity? If your going to be “that guy” Than at least have some consistency. I feel sorry for you! You must have very sad lives — Arthur Santorum

Get out of Texas: You may remove yourself from any further litigation in Texas, or I might just decide to sue you in small claims court and encourage every other christian to do the same. You are not welcome in my State, your not welcome in my country, you are scum, you are welcome to leave to Europe where your views are wanted. Do not make me repeat myself you fucking cunts. — Phillip Causey

Honesty: Your assignment: Study original documents in David Bartons books such as “Original Intent” and get back to me. If the Bible is true, you are in deep trouble. If it is false, I still want have anything to worry about. If you want to change the Constitution, then get it amended. Just dont lie about history. — Dan Cummings

Letterbox (Jan/Feb 2020)

Nan Nelson of Maryland shows off the painting she did of FFRF’s Bill of Rights “nativity” scene.

The painted lady

I painted a version of FFRF’s Bill of Rights “nativity” for the door of my apartment. I am 78 and an artist. It has the potential of 150-plus viewers (residents, friends, delivery people, health aides, etc.) here in Westminster, Md. Yes, the ACLU won settlement of a legislator’s prayer case here, so county commissioners cannot conduct personal prayers before meetings.

When I moved to Sunnybrook in 2005, I was unaware it was a virtual nest of fundamentalists. Since I was the founder of the local Unitarian Universalist congregation in 1983, when proselytizing ensued, I asked, “What does God actually do?” Thereafter, I encountered threats. “You’re an atheist and are gonna burn in hell.” I had to use Maryland Legal Aid two times to educate residents and management.

I recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Carroll County Times objecting to the portrayal of atheists in a previous letter and thanked the writer for mentioning FFRF and the Ron Reagan “Not afraid of burning in hell” ad.

When people say “Merry Christmas,” I kindly announce, “I am one of your neighborhood atheists. I just want to wish you a harmonious Winter Solstice because it is the genuine reason for the season. I hope you agree it’s human deeds, not creeds, that promote kindness.”

Nan Nelson
Maryland


I’m happy to become a Lifetime Member

It is with great pleasure that I send $1,000 for a Lifetime Membership.

I am so proud of the work that you do. I was gratified to see the FFRF ad on “60 Minutes” on Nov. 10. Thank you so much for your work in defense of the Constitution and the separation of church and state.

Thomas Johnson
California


Gift to myself is my membership renewal

I just wanted to say thank you I know you guys work hard every day and probably read a lot of insane email. My Christmas present to myself this year is renewal of my membership. What you do is so very important. Thank you.

William Tumbrink
Missouri


How I stopped unwanted mail: I donated to FFRF

Some time ago, I found myself on the mailing list for Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan. Among the items sent were numerous fundraising appeals, often featuring Sean Hannity. I wrote them twice explaining that I would never be sending them money and that their mailings all went unread into the recycling. But that didn’t work. Then, my daughter gave me the answer. I sent a $50 check in the school’s name to FFRF, and also let them know that every time I got mail from them, I would send another $50 so they could continue to help the foundation with its important work. I have not heard from them since.

Thanks for helping. Keep up the great work.

Rex Gunderson
Nevada


Justices were derelict in Bladensburg case

Letter-writer Douglas Hawes (from November issue) is right to be disturbed by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bladensburg cross case.

A Latin cross is the primary symbol of Christianity, first, last and always. The court’s majority was just making excuses when it let this one stay on public land by finding that it’s a “war memorial” and “historical.”

Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution privilege sentiment or history of principles. By making such excuses, the majority is derelict in its duty to apply constitutional principles to legal issues. Those justices need to be impeached and removed.

Lee Helms
Michigan 


Anne Gaylor’s visionary work lives on at FFRF

I am so proud of all of you at FFRF for your steadfast work and commitment.

We are gaining and we are growing in number. The dedicated legal team is doing an excellent job, and due to FFRF’s ongoing outreach to the youth, these students receive encouragement to follow their convictions, which takes courage. Their intelligence and energy give us much-needed hope for the future.

I often think about Anne Gaylor, who was a true hero and visionary with her timeless quest to free us humans (especially women) from the oppression of religious control. It was an honor for me to have met her. She was strong, wise and gracious. And now you continue the work, which some days must seem overwhelming. But because of FFRF’s staff and volunteers, we will overcome and win the battle of reason.

Thank you for all you do.

Joanie Barker Nichols
Nebraska 


I boycott Amazon because it harms nonprofit groups

When I saw the letter from one of our members praising the partnership with Amazon Smile, I had to write. Of course, not every FFRF member will boycott, as do I, Amazon and Facebook and Apple and Nestlé and Nike and so many others, but I urge other readers to do the tiniest bit of research about Amazon. It actually harms nonprofits, while making “monkeys” of them. We are skeptics, aren’t we? It’s borderline immoral to abet Amazon’s evil crusade.

The gentleman who wrote that letter manifested exactly the mindset that Amazon is using for its own ends — that “feel good” thing that people have when they “donate,” even if what they donate is merely the nickel and penny found beneath the couch cushions, and even if that donation comes from an oh-so-cagey corporation that is destroying habitat, honest work, ethical businesses, prudent consumerism, corporate transparency, and the best efforts toward conservation. FFRF members should realize they are not really giving “anything” except more billions to Jeff Bezos, whose corporation pays not a dime in federal income taxes — and no, Bezos has not signed the billionaire pledge.

Please publish data about exactly how much Amazon has given to FFRF, I want to see it.

Anyway, the other member wrote so I decided I could, too.

I am so proud of what FFRF does.

Lane Browning
Oregon

Editor’s note: Since AmazonSmile began this program, it has donated a total of $124,764.16 to FFRF.


FFRF’s ad in New York Times was perfect

I loved your New York Times full-page ad (see page 20). The stormy artwork was perfect and arresting. I hope you receive a fortune in donations as a result.

I think there’s a fast-moving freight train heading for the United States and the world. The load it is carrying patriarchal, evangelical Christian theocracy. Your ad dramatically warns of theocracy and I’m so glad you published it.

Donna White
Georgia 


Using facts got me banned from some sites

After having faithfully contributed to a number of right-wing and religiously infested web sites for years, I am now banned from them all! Forever! All I did was introduce some facts, some logic, some common sense and reasonable understanding of current affairs. However, what had me ostracized, I believe, was my response to someone who thanked God for President Trump, to which I wrote that it was very appropriate to blame a made-up fantasy figure that only lurks around in superstitious people’s alleged minds. Some gratitude, I’d say! However, I have to admit I take it as a badge of honor to be banned from sites like those, amusing as it sounds.

Jorg Aadahl
California


Regard hotel room bible as an inoffensive brick

I remember someone telling me, during my childhood, that a closed book is as helpful (or harmful) to one’s mind as a brick. Thus, it baffles me that some of my fellow atheists voice antipathy towards the Gideon bibles they find in their hotel rooms.

As for myself, I’m glad to have read the bible several times because its stories of violence, injustices and disgusting “holy” men provide effective ammunition whenever I need to bolster my claim that the “good book” has nothing to do with goodness.

To those who object to finding a bible in their hotel room, why not just regard it as an inoffensive brick? I promise you, it won’t bite you in the middle of the night.

David Quintero
California


Freedom from religion part of freedom of religion

When reading Crankmail in the November issue, one entry caught my attention. It was the second time I had heard or read of someone splitting hairs on the First Amendment, saying that it means “freedom OF religion,” not “freedom FROM religion.”

The first time I heard it was during a policy meeting at our condo club, presided over by a retired law professor. A woman at the meeting made the same comment. I didn’t think fast enough to tell her about Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

In other words, like in a multiple-choice quiz, one can pick A, B, C or D — none of the above, which is the most likely choice of the readers of Freethought Today.

John Oman
Florida


Student essayists give us hope for the future

When I look at the future of secular humanism or atheism, I have “faith” when I read the essays from the high school and college students. They have courage and guts! We will survive the showdowns of the future.

Gregory Baskin
Minnesota


I now give to groups that oppose church dogma

Cartoonist Steve Benson once listed the benefits of leaving the Mormon church as “an extra holiday every week and a 10 percent pay raise.” I have been absent from church some 50 years now and have enjoyed alternate activities (bike rides, matinees at the opera, ballet and theater) on those guilt-free Sundays. However, no excess monetary benefits have accrued to me. Funds that I once gave to religion I now give to organizations which actively oppose regressive church dogma, conflict and violence, such as Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United, and, of course, FFRF.

Howard Bostock
Texas


FFRF made a nonbeliever out of her and her dad

This holiday season was my first as an atheist! Thank you so much for getting your message and truth out into the world. Dan Barker, you opened my eyes and made me rethink things I did not know I could question. I shared your books and the FFRF YouTube channel with my dad and he has also made his way out of Christianity, although he cannot currently be as open/public about it yet.

I absolutely love FFRF and the YouTube channel. Thanks to everyone at FFRF for your hard work and for fighting the good fight to keep church and state separate.

Lindsay Benton
Idaho


FFRF’s work is essential and pays huge dividends

I just want to let the entire FFRF team know just how much I appreciate everything you do for us freethinkers across the country and around the world. We’ve never had more difficult challenges in my lifetime and your continued work is absolutely essential. A million thanks, everyone. Your hard work pays huge dividends.

Dick Jordan
Idaho


We need FFRF to fight against Gilead society

Keep up the great work! We need it. I do not want to live in a Gilead society, but seems we are heading down that path.

Kris Walderbach
Arkansas


Members should leave behind copies of paper

Just a thought: In addition to referring new subscriber friends, you might want to recommend that after members have read Freethought Today, they leave their copy at their dentist’s or doctor’s office or car dealership, or anywhere that magazines are available for the public to read.

Lynn Hagedorn
Florida

Black Collar Crime (Jan/Feb 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Cornelius Tilton, 65, New Orleans: Abusive sexual contact. Tilton, pastor of Irish Channel Christian Fellowship and president of the Christian Bible College of Louisiana, is accused of assaulting a male student in November on a flight from Israel to Newark, NJ. It’s alleged he fondled a 19-year-old male student’s genitals in the seat next to him and then placed the student’s hand on Tilton’s erect penis. He allegedly resumed the fondling after the student went to the bathroom and returned.

The charge has a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000 or both. Source: justice.gov, 12-2-19

Scott Christner, 44, Goshen, IN: Felony child molesting. Christner is a volunteer youth ministry leader at First Baptist Church. A boy younger than age 14 alleged to police he was touched inappropriately under his clothing by Christner on 3 occasions, once at a movie theater and twice at Christner’s home last July.

An affidavit said Christner described to police a touching incident at his home but said it only lasted for “maybe a minute,” and that since the boy didn’t push him away he thought it was something he didn’t mind. Source: Goshen News, 11-26-19

Steven Arey, 48, city unavailable, and Kevin Sandoval, 56, Rancho Cordova, CA: 15 counts and 5 counts of child molesting, respectively. Arey is a California Department of Corrections officer and Sandoval is a retired officer. They are accused of multiple assaults in the mid-1990s at Valley Bible Church in Visalia, where Arey was a youth pastor and Sandoval was his “associate” at the church, police said.

The alleged victim told officers about being molested between the ages of 8 and 9. Other alleged victims have since come forward. Source: Times-Delta, 11-26-19

Logan Wesley III, 56, Texarkana, AR: Continuous sexual abuse of a child. Wesley, pastor of an unidentified Texarkana church, allegedly started molesting a girl when she was 12 and continued for several years on a regular basis.

“Since these allegations came to light earlier this month, we have received word that others are now ready to come forward with their own stories about how they were also molested by Wesley,” police said in a statement. Source: Banner-Press, 11-25-19

Charmarie Colon, 33, Allentown, PA: Theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and credit card fraud. Colon, treasurer at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, is charged with making unauthorized cash withdrawals and retail purchases between July 2016 and February 2019 that totaled over $100,000. Source: Morning Call, 11-25-19

Patrick J. Kuffner, 72, Middlesex, NY: 3 counts of sexual assault of a minor between the ages of 13 and 16. He is accused of assaulting 3 teens in the early 1980s in Massachusetts before he was ordained a Catholic priest.

The Diocese of Metuchen dismissed him as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex in February 2018. Source: Asbury Park Press, 11-22-19

Joe Floyd Steverson, Pearl, MS: Rape. Steverson, who founded Metro Grace Community Church in 2014, was indicted for forcible intercourse with a woman in August 2018. Ed Rainer, his attorney, said the incident was consensual sex involving a previous relationship and claimed the woman tried to entice Steverson to come back to her by sending him nude photos. She denied the incident was consensual. Source: Clarion-Ledger, 11-21-19

Robert Lopez Jr., 44, Poteet, TX: Terroristic threats causing fear of imminent bodily injury and 2 counts of deadly conduct, all misdemeanor counts. Lopez, pastor at Community Christian Church, was arrested after the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a man with a gun.

Lopez claimed he was the victim. “I was going to help a neighbor. I went out there to check some hog traps and I was attacked” by the property owner’s grandson-in-law, who yelled racial slurs at him, Lopez alleged. Source: KSAT, 11-19-19

Randy D. Brooks, 46, West Plains, MO: 1st-degree sodomy or attempt, incest, 1st-degree endangering the welfare of a child creating a substantial risk/sexual and 2 counts each of 1st-degree statutory rape or attempt involving a child younger than 14 and 1st-degree child molestation. Brooks, pastor at 6th Street Church of God, was arrested after a child contacted police Nov. 9 to allege that an adult family member was trying to have sex with her at their home.

When interviewed by police Cpl. Brandon Stephens, Brooks allegedly admitted he had been touching the girl sexually for about 2 years and that she had been enticing him by walking around the house in her underwear when they were home alone. Source: Daily Quill, 11-14-19

Amal Samy, 37, Mount Vernon, AL: Sexual abuse. Samy, parochial administrator at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Chastang, is accused in an alleged Aug. 21 incident on the Carnival Cruise ship Fantasy, based in Mobile.

Samy “attempted to touch a masseuse several times, exposed himself by removing the sheet and asked her to touch his genitals while touching himself,” an affidavit said. He denies the allegation. Source: WKRG, 11-11-19

Sean Ortiz, 51, Jurupa Valley, CA: 2 counts of felony sexual battery. Ortiz, lead pastor at New Beginnings Community Church and a married father of 3, is accused of assaulting a minor female parishioner on at least 2 occasions at the church. Source: KABC, 11-10-19

David J. Perrett, 82, New South Wales, Australia: 139 sexual abuse counts related to alleged child sexual assault when he was a Catholic priest in 8 parishes between the 1960s and mid-1990s. Three complainants are women and 37 are men. Offenses are alleged when they were between age 3 and their mid-teens. Source: abc.net/au, 11-1-19

David J. Marcotte, 32, Indianapolis: Child solicitation, vicarious sexual gratification and dissemination of matter harmful to a minor. Marcotte, most recently a chaplain at Roncalli Catholic High School and the University of Indianapolis, was suspended from priestly duties last February after an abuse complaint was lodged.

An affidavit alleged he worked at St. Malachy Church and School and St. Martin of Tours Parish when he abused a boy, now 17, in 2017 and 2018, including exposing himself during video chats on Facetime, Instagram and Snapchat. Source: Indianapolis Star, 10-29-19

Pleaded / Convicted

Cameron S. Giovanelli, 42, Florida: Pleaded guilty to 4th-degree sex offense and 2nd-degree assault for incidents between January and August 2007 when he was pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, MD. A plea agreement calls for other charges to be dismissed and for Giovanelli to serve 90 days in jail and 5 years’ probation.

Prosecutors said he coerced a 17-year-old girl at the church school into a sexual relationship by using his position of authority. Source: Baltimore Sun, 12-3-19

Acton Bowen, 39, Gadsden, AL: Pleaded guilty to 28 counts related to alleged criminal sexual conduct perpetrated on 6 boys between ages 12 and 16. The youth evangelist is the founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries and has served several churches. Offenses alleged include genital touching, oral and anal sex and plying victims with alcohol.

A 15-year-old youth group member at Whorton Bend Baptist Church alleged Bowen offered him “$200 for 10 minutes” and said he wouldn’t have to do anything but lay there. Source: Gadsden Times, 12-2-19

Anthony Oelrich, 53, St. Cloud, MN: Pleaded guilty to 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct for crimes alleged when he was rector of Cathedral Catholic Church of St. Mary. Prosecutors said Oelrich had a sexual relationship with a woman who went to him for counseling and had disclosed her past sexual abuse.

Oelrich exposed himself and told the woman she “needed something for her hands,” the complaint said. She told police that intercourse occurred multiple times between January and April 2014. He was sent later that year to St. Luke Institute, a treatment center for abusive priests. Source: St. Cloud Times, 11-25-19

Brian Stanley, 57, Coloma, MI: Pleaded guilty to attempted false imprisonment. “Stanley is accused of secreting away a teenage boy and holding him against his will in the janitor’s room of St. Margaret’s Church in 2013,” said a news release from state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Stanley, pastor at the Otsego church, then allegedly immobilized the boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and covering his mouth and eyes with masking tape for over an hour before letting him go.

The incident was reported to the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo in 2013 and Stanley was put on leave but was reinstated after law enforcement didn’t file criminal charges. A similar allegation was made in 2017 to the diocese about Stanley’s activities at St. Charles Parish in Coldwater.

The alleged victim said it first happened while making “mummy mannequins” for the church’s haunted house, but on later occasions became more disturbing with Stanley adding more and more layers. According to Nessel’s office, while there may not have been sexual touching, “this type of conduct is a sexually motivated crime.” Source: Fox 17, 11-20-19

Kevin Lonergan, 31, Pottsville, PA: Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent assault just before a jury was to be seated for his trial. A Catholic priest, he admitted grabbing the buttocks of a 17-year-old girl in a St. Francis of Assisi Church hallway after a confirmation service in 2018 and sending her nude photos on Snapchat. Source: Morning Call, 11-18-19

Gary J. Ray, 57, Camano Island, WA: Pleaded guilty to 3 counts of 1st-degree theft with aggravating circumstances a week before his trial was to start. Theft allegations were raised in 2017 while he was pastor at Restoration Church, where $6,000 intended for new carpeting was missing.

At Oso Community Chapel, where Ray was pastor during the 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people, he was accused of stealing $40,000 in donations for the chapel and affected families. He was also accused of stealing over $40,000 from City Church in an unidentified California city.

The plea agreement said Ray must pay $152,000 in restitution by the end of January. Source: Stanwood Camano News, 11-14-19

Gerald R. Hechenberger, 55, Mascoutah, IL: Pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine and 3 counts of possessing pornographic photos of children. He was arrested at Holy Childhood Catholic Church in January 2018 after police got a tip from the group Internet Crimes Against Children. He was stripped of his associate pastor duties the same day.

He used an email address with the prefix “subpigboy4u” to exchange images. One message stated: “Hello u gorgeous hot stud! Here are some pix u will enjoy i hope … oink!” Source: AP, 11-13-19

Hugh Lang, 88, Munhall, PA: Guilty in a bench trial of felony unlawful contact with a minor, 3 misdemeanor counts of indecent assault and misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and corruption of minors. Lang was pastor at St. Therese Catholic Parish in June 2001, when the crimes are alleged to have occurred.

The victim, now 30, returned from Southeast Asia to testify that Lang took him to the church basement when he was 11, forced him to strip naked and took a Polaroid photo before molesting him.

Prosecutor Greg Stein said the victim first told a friend of the assault when he was 14 and has been consistent since coming forward in 2018, adding that Lang threatened to show others the naked photo if he talked. Lang took the stand to deny all charges. Source: WTAE, 11-8-19

Sentenced

Daniel Greer, 79, New Haven, CT: 20 years in prison on convictions for sexual assaults on a student at Yeshiva of New Haven, where Greer was founding rabbi. Eliyahu Mirlis, 31, accused Greer of molesting him hundreds of times from 2001-05.

Judge Jon Alander ordered him to begin serving his sentence immediately instead of remaining free on bond during the appeals process, saying he is a substantial flight risk due to his age.

A federal jury in a 2017 civil suit ordered Greer and the yeshiva to pay Mirlis $15 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Source: JTA, 12-3-19

An Argentine court sentenced 2 Catholic priests and the gardener of a church-run school for deaf students to prison on 28 counts of sexual abuse and corruption of minors. The priests — Nicola Corradi, 83, and Horacio Corbacho, 59 — were sentenced to 42 and 45 years, respectively, while the gardener, Armando Gomez, got 18 years.

They worked at the Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Mendoza province between 2004 and 2016. The victims are 10 former students.

A prosecutor has also called for the arrest of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta on allegations of sexual abuse. Zanchetta has been living in Vatican City while working in a church financial department. Source: Reuters, 11-25-19

Urbano Vazquez, 47, Washington, DC: 15 years in prison. He was found guilty of child sexual abuse of 13- and 9-year-old girls between 2015 and 2017 while he was an assistant pastor at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. He was convicted of groping the 13-year-old and kissing and groping the 9-year-old.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Williams told the judge that Vazquez’s affability was his most effective weapon and that he was a “wolf in priest’s clothing.” A woman also testified that Vazquez kissed her when she was a teen. He still faces charges in that case. Source: WTOP, 11-21-19

Patrick Casey, 55, Detroit: 45 days in jail and 1 year of probation after pleading guilty to aggravated assault in a plea bargain in which a felony charge of criminal sexual conduct was dropped. He was originally accused of performing oral sex on a man during confession in 2013 while he was pastor at St. Theodore of Canterbury Catholic Parish in Westland. A jury was unable to render a verdict at his October trial.

Prosecutors alleged the man had attempted suicide just weeks before seeing Casey for the first time and that Casey told him after performing oral sex that he could “have a gay relationship but still go to heaven.” The archdiocese removed Casey after a complaint was made in 2015.

Defense attorney Stephen Rabaut argued the sex was consensual. “The evidence shows that as the sexual conduct was taking place, it was [the victim] who kept pushing it to the next level.” Source: Fox 2 Detroit, 11-20-19

Jason Pittman, 26, Jackson, MS: 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended after pleading guilty to 2 counts of sexual battery. He was charged in November 2018 while working as a music minister at an unidentified church in Terry. The victim was a 15-year-old he met at the church. Source: Clarion-Ledger, 11-7-19

Steven Murdock, 55, Salt Lake City: 1 year probation, 48 hours’ community service, forfeit cellphone, pay court costs, undergo counseling and stay away from his victim and the Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, TN. Murdock, high councilor at the Mormon stake in Holladay, UT, pleaded guilty to unlawfully taking a photo of a woman inside a dressing room in an H&M clothing store where he was shopping with his wife in August.

Prosecutors said as the victim approached the dressing rooms, Murdock guided her to an empty one. While inside she noticed a phone on the upper edge of the stall. After she dressed and left the room, she saw Murdock coming from the adjoining one with the phone and called police.

When police arrived, an affidavit said, she told an officer that Murdock’s wife had “approached her and asked her to settle this peacefully without getting police involved.” Source: The Tennessean, 11-5-19

Charles Sweet, 85, Austin, TX: 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to 2 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact. He must serve 5 years before he is eligible for parole. He was a deacon at Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda and with his wife tutored young church members off campus.

Sweet was charged with inappropriately touching his granddaughter and another girl from the church on multiple occasions in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “You damaged me and forced me to grow up so fast,” his granddaughter, now 22, told Sweet in court.

He admitted to his family in 2012 he had molested her when she was 8 but charges were never filed. Police reopened the investigation in January 2019 when they learned of other potential victims. One alleged Sweet repeatedly touched her genitals when she was between 4 and 6 years old while she attended youth ministries or visited his home, where she would go after church.The abuse occurred more than 100 times, she said. Source: American-Statesman, 11-4-19

Jeriah Mast, 38, Millersburg, OH: 9 years in prison after pleading guilty to 2 counts of gross sexual imposition for molesting 2 underage males between 1999 and 2008. A plea agreement dismissed 12 counts involving several other victims. Mast has admitted to molesting 30 to 31 boys in Haiti and Ohio.

Mast worked for Christian Aid Ministries of Berlin, OH, a missionary group supported by Anabaptist sects like the Amish and Mennonites. A Haitian court is seeking his return.

He would fondle the boys’ penises and put his own between their legs and masturbate, according to his confession, but claimed he did not penetrate them.

Judge Robert Rinfret quoted from a statement Mast made in the presentencing investigation: “I didn’t force them. It was consensual on their part.” Rinfret asked incredulously, “How can an 11-year-old consent to sex?”

Mast’s wife said she was “devastated,” adding he had taken responsibility and she had witnessed a “radical change” in his life. Mast’s pastor, Dwayne Stoltzfus of Shining Light Christian Fellowship, agreed: “I have witnessed a change in his life.” Source: Post-Gazette, 11-5-19

Christopher Cox, 41, Traverse City, MI: 10 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct, which involves penetration and the offender having “reason to know that the victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.” In a plea bargain, 8 counts of 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct, extortion, delivering/manufacturing meth and possession of child pornography were dropped.

The investigation started in March 2019 when a 19-year-old man told police Cox had drugged him before sexually assaulting him in March and October 2019 while Cox was pastor at Long Lake Church and worked at Traverse City Christian School. Source: Record-Eagle, 11-5-19

Charles N. Pelkey, 50, Avon, MN: 2 days in jail (already served) and 2 years’ probation after pleading guilty to 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct. Pelkey, Avon Community Church pastor, was accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman who had gone to him for marriage counseling in November 2017, which is illegal in Minnesota. Consent is not a defense. Another parishioner reported the alleged relationship to police. Source: KSTP, 11-1-19

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Catholic dioceses in Harrisburg, PA, and Newark, NJ, are being sued by 2 sisters who allege the dioceses failed to protect them as children from predator priest Augustine Giella, who died at age 72 while awaiting trial in 1993.

Patty Fortney-Julius and Lara Fortney-McKeever, the plaintiffs, and 3 of their sisters as young as age 2 were subjected to sexual abuse while Giella was pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church in Enhaut, PA, after being transferred from New Jersey in the 1980s, the suit asserts. “We want to know how a known predator priest like Giella landed on our Pennsylvania doorstep from New Jersey,” Lara said.

He soon became a close friend of the family of 11, even taking the girls to his New Jersey vacation home. In his home, police later found girls’ underwear, vials of urine and photos of naked children, including of Carolyn, the youngest sister.

Patty recalls Giella telling her to trim her pubic hair and set it on the sink so he could check her “development.” The girls remember him walking around wearing only white underwear with a blue band.

Patricia Fortney, the girls’ mother, alleges she told Msgr. Hugh Overbaugh of the Diocese of Harrisburg what Giella had done. According to a news story, she recalls him saying, “I wondered why you would let your girls go to the rectory.” Source: pennlive.com, 12-3-19

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Mount St. Michael Academy, the Society of African Missions and the Marist Brothers are defendants in a suit brought by “MR,” who alleges Bernard J. Lynch sexually assaulted him while he was a student at the Bronx academy in 1978-79 when he was 16.

Lynch, a gay Catholic priest renowned for his work among New York’s AIDS patients in the 1980s, was tried and acquitted in 1989 of abusing a different student from the high school. He then left New York.

Lynch “performed oral intercourse on plaintiff and digitally penetrated plaintiff after Christian Club meetings,” the complaint alleges. Lynch, now 72, was born in County Clare, Ireland. He was never laicized and remains a Catholic priest living with his husband in London. Source: NY Daily News, 11-20-19

The Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, Bishop David Zubik and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in McDonald, PA, are being sued by 2 men who allege sexual abuse in 1981 by Francis Pucci, pastor at St. Alphonsus. At the time they were 11 and 13 years old and were altar boys.

Criminal charges against Pucci in 1988 were dropped due to the statute of limitations. He died in 2002. The suit claims the diocese covered up the abuse by moving Pucci to 13 different locations over 30 years. Source: KDKA, 11-20-19

Jesuits USA Central and its Southern Province deny allegations in 2 suits claiming sexual abuse by 3 Jesuit priests who served at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Albuquerque, NM. One plaintiff contends he was molested 8 years ago at the church.

In the other suit, a woman alleges she was molested by 2 priests, now deceased, as a first-grader beginning in 1968. Source: AP, 11-18-19

The Archdiocese of Detroit, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Parish in Temperance, MI, and Don LaCuesta are being sued by Linda and Jeff Hullibarger for Fr. LaCuesta’s remarks during his funeral sermon for their son Maison, 18, who committed suicide in December.

The Hullibargers claim they met with LaCuesta to plan the funeral and asked him to deliver a positive message celebrating Maison’s life but didn’t mention how he died. Instead, he turned the homily into a message about suicide, questioning whether Maison would be admitted to heaven, it’s alleged.

Jeff Hullibarger, frustrated with the homily, went to the pulpit asking the priest to stop. Source: Toledo Blade, 11-14-19

The Archdiocese of New York, the Augustinian Order, the former Augustinian Academy and St. Sylvester’s Catholic Parish on Staten Island are defendants in a suit filed by “ARK63 DOE” alleging molestation by Thomas Burke, who died in 1984 at age 72.

“From approximately 1966 to 1969, when Plaintiff was approximately 11 to 14 years old, Fr. Burke engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with Plaintiff,” the filing alleges. Source: Staten Island Advance, 11-11-19

Rabbinical College Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion, Brooklyn, NY, Congregation Shaarei Zion in Brooklyn and Camp Shalva in South Fallsburg are being sued by Yonah Koh, 37, who alleges he was raped as a child by 2 Hasidic rabbis, now deceased.

It’s alleged that in the early 1990s when Kohn was 10, Rabbi Berel Weiss began grooming him and eventually forced him into oral sex. After he reported Weiss’ actions to Rabbi Shlomo Dov Pfefferkorn, Kohn alleges Pfefferkorn started molesting him and anally raped him at a mikvah, a ritual bath. Source: NY Post, 11-9-19

The Catholic Diocese of Joliet, IL, Bishop Daniel Conlon and Richard Jacklin are being sued in connection with Jacklin’s alleged sexual assault of a 39-year-old man with a disability at a Kankakee development center while ministering there.

Jacklin, 67, was criminally charged in 2017 after a nurse reported walking in on him performing a sex act on the man. He is paralyzed and has an intellectual disability.

Charges of criminal sexual assault by force and sexual misconduct on a person with a disability remain pending. Source: Chicago Tribune, 10-31-19

Joseph Gutierrez, the Brothers of the Christian Schools and De La Salle High School in Concord, CA, are defendants in a suit filed by Jay Hoey, now 65, who alleges sexual abuse in 1969-70 by Gutierrez, a theology teacher and counselor at the school.

Gutierrez is currently listed as “credibly accused” by the Diocese of Oakland. Hoey alleges the religious order running the school knew of Gutierrez’s sexual misconduct as early as 1966. A 1968 letter stated: “[W]e changed Brother Joseph from Berkeley to Concord two years ago because he became emotionally involved with some students. This involvement had sexual overtones.”

The suit alleges he took Hoey and other boys to a sex club in San Francisco, gave them Quaaludes on the way and that Hoey was touched sexually “in places I had never been touched before.”

The order settled a 2003 suit filed by another high school student accusing Gutierrez years before for $4 million. Source: East Bay Times, 10-23-19

Finances

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh can’t use an $8 million-plus fund for needy children to pay compensation to victims of clergy sexual abuse, ruled Judge Lawrence J. O’Toole in denying the diocese’s petition. The century-old Toner Institute Trust Fund was set up to fund an industrial school for boys and later to provide for “the care, education, training, maintenance and treatment of neglected, emotionally disabled and needy children in order to assist them to make an adjustment to life and work in accordance with their abilities.”

The diocese is facing claims from 367 individuals alleging abuse by more than 90 priests over the past 70 years. Chancellor Ellen Mady said the diocese is reviewing its options in light of O’Toole’s ruling. Source: Post-Gazette, 11-18-19

French Catholic bishops approved plans to financially compensate people abused sexually by clergy, with the church appealing for donations to foot the bill. The 120 bishops didn’t decide on the fund’s size or how payments will be made but voted to allocate $5.5 million to an independent commission examining church sex abuse and to support prevention efforts.

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, archbishop of Reims, said in a statement that payments will recognize “the silence, negligence, indifference, lack of reaction or bad decisions or dysfunction within the Church.” Source: AP, 11-11-19

Legal Developments

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed bills to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue and to end time limits to file criminal charges. A landmark state grand jury report in 2018 found 300 Catholic clergy sexually abused children over 7 decades.

Wolf also signed a bill to invalidate secrecy agreements that prevent child sexual abuse victims from talking to investigators and to increase and clarify penalties for people who are required to report suspected abuse but don’t. Source: AP/KDKA, 11-26-19

Jacop Hazlett, 29, N. Charleston, SC, rejected a plea deal calling for 50 years in prison on multiple counts of child sexual assault. Hazlett, a NewSpring Church volunteer, was arrested after November 2018 surveillance video showed him taking a 3-year-old from the classroom to a bathroom. Hazlett looked around, then performed oral sex on the child as he sat on the toilet.

Church officials said when they reviewed security footage, they discovered repeated abuses and reported them. “It’s a shame Mr. Hazlett is prolonging the inevitable,” said Josh Slavin, an attorney representing 8 of the 15 alleged victims. Source: WCIV, 11-8-19

Allegations

Colorado Catholic priests sexually abused at least 166 children since 1950, according to a 263-page report by an independent investigator who found the church expunged files and covered up abuse for decades.

It took nearly 20 years on average for the church to stop an abusive priest after receiving an allegation. The report said there were 100 instances in which the church could have reported abuse to police but did so fewer than 10 times.

Before the 1990s, the Colorado dioceses “often intentionally did not document child sex abuse allegations or referred to them in such euphemistic terms that they were completely obscured,” investigators wrote. An anal rape of a 12-year-old boy was documented as a “boundary violation.”

Assaults by a priest straight out of the seminary were documented as “boy troubles.” One serial abuser was said to suffer from “nervousness.” Source: Colorado Sun, 10-23-19

Removed / Resigned

Richard J. Malone, 73, resigned as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo due to longstanding complaints he covered up abusive priests. One leaked recording showed he was reluctant to remove a parish priest whom he called a “sick puppy.”

Parishioners who had called for the resignation started calling their priests to see if Malone really had resigned, said Paul Dillon Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish Church in Orchard Park. “People are elated, finally, that something is going to happen,” Seil said. “This didn’t start with Malone, and won’t end with his departure,” he added.

Ironically, the prelate sent to investigate allegations against Malone was later accused of sexual abuse. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn is a defendant in a New Jersey suit alleging he molested a student multiple times in 1974-75 as a Jersey City parish priest.

Mark Matzek, 56, alleges DiMarzio and deceased priest Albert Mark assaulted him repeatedly when he was an altar boy at St. Nicholas Catholic Church. Source: NY Times, 12-4-19

Wesley L. Feltner, 41, Burnsville, MN, resigned as pastor at Berean Baptist Church following allegations he had inappropriate relationships with 2 teens when he was 23 and served as their youth pastor at a Southern Baptist Church in Evansville, IN.

Megan Frey alleges a “sexual relationship” started in 2002 when she was 18 in high school and sought counseling from Feltner. “The counseling soon transformed into him having a bubble bath waiting for me in his upstairs bathroom ‘so I could relax’ after coming from work and school.”

Feltner led the group through an abstinence ceremony one night in which he handed each student, including Frey, a rose to symbolize the promise of chastity, alleges Frey, who soon learned he was also romantically pursuing JoAnna Hendrickson, another 18-year-old from the group. Both are blogging about their experiences at broughttothelight.org.

He told Hendrickson he felt “God leading him to pursue” her while he was trying to end another relationship.

Feltner has also been suspended as an adjunct professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Source: Star Tribune/B

Priest robe

aptist Press, 11-26-19

Email: [email protected]

Celebrating the Winter Solstice season

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual Winter Solstice and Bill of Rights exhibits were displayed in December all across the country.

The signs, cutouts, banners and billboards were placed in at least 12 states during the holiday season, from California to New Hampshire.

The Winter Solstice sign features FFRF’s traditional message by its principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor. It was created as an equal-time challenge to combat religious dogmatism at the heart of state government and reads:

The Winter Solstice, which occurred on Dec. 21, is the shortest, darkest day of the year, signaling the rebirth of the sun and the natural new year. It’s been celebrated for millennia with festivals of light, feasts, gift exchanges and the display of evergreens, which symbolize enduring life, and, FFRF maintains, is the true “reason for the season.”

FFRF’s whimsical Bill of Rights “nativity” is an irreverent cutout by artist Jacob Fortin that depicts founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington gazing in adoration at a “baby” Bill of Rights, while the Statue of Liberty looks on.

A sign beside the wry nativity scene reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, join us in honoring the Bill of Rights, adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, which reminds us there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent. Keep religion and government separate!”

Here’s a roundup of those displays by state:

California

Sacramento: The Bill of Rights display was put up by the Greater Sacramento chapter of FFRF outside the state Capitol.

San Diego: Two of FFRF’s Solstice displays were put up to counter the religious messages placed on public property in Balboa Park. A large red Winter Solstice banner was placed next to FFRF’s Bill of Rights nativity display.


Connecticut

Shelton: FFRF’s Winter Solstice banner was put up by Jerry Bloom in Huntington Park.

Illinois

Arlington Heights: The Bill of Rights scene was displayed at North School Park, its seventh year there, thanks to FFRF’s Metropolitan Chicago chapter.

Chicago: A colorful banner invoking the Founding Fathers has again been unfurled in Daley Plaza by the Metropolitan Chicago chapter. Sitting atop the banner stand is a large lighted Richard Dawkins-inspired “A” (for atheism) sign. This is the seventh year of the display, intended to counter a life-size Christian creche and a massive Jewish menorah placed at the location by private organizations since the 1980s.

Glenview: The Metropolitan Chicago chapter also placed a Bill of Rights nativity display at the Village Hall for the first time.

Libertyville: The Metropolitan Chicago chapter put up the Bill of Rights cutout at Cook Memorial Park, the first year that a freethought exhibit has been displayed at this site. A life-size Christian creche and an 8-foot tall menorah have been placed in the park for several years.

Morris: The Bill of Rights display and Winter Solstice sign were placed on the ground of the Grundy County Courthouse by FFRF Member Will Meyer.

Springfield: The Winter Solstice sign was displayed at the Illinois state Capitol building for the 11th straight year. It was installed by FFRF member Kathryn Koldehoff.


Iowa

Des Moines: The Bill of Rights cutout was put up in the state Capitol for the third straight year.


Michigan

Warren: The Reason Station, staffed and organized by FFRF activist Douglas Marshall, was up for the fifth straight year at City Hall. The centerpiece was a “May Reason Prevail” sign.

Also in Warren, Scott Elliott and other members put up a “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” sign on Dec. 1 on the Mound Road median. Unfortunatley, within a couple days, it was stolen (poles and all) by vandals. Nevertheless, by getting the permit to place the sign on the right-of-way median, Elliott was able to keep the nativity creche from being placed there.


New Hampshire

Concord: FFRF Member Jack Shields put up FFRF’s Bill of Rights nativity cutout display outside New Hampshire’s Capitol building for the second year. (A photo appeared in the December issue.)


New Jersey

Maplewood: The Bill of Rights nativity display was put up in the business district of the city.


New York

Hastings-on-Hudson: The Freethinkers of Hastings-on-Hudson put up FFRF’s “Reason’s Greetings” banner in VFW Park. Next to it, the group has also displayed its own sign depicting Rodin’s “The Thinker” in contemplation of the village’s water tower. It is the fifth year in a row the local organization has created a public exhibition.


Ohio

Cleveland: The Northern Ohio Freethought Society, the local chapter of FFRF, obtained a spot at the Cleveland Public Square for the Bill of Right exhibit for the third year


Oregon

Eugene: A large banner that spans 30 feet by 4 feet and stretches across 8th Street contains the message: “Celebrate the Solstice. Tis the Season of Reason.” FFRF thanks Member Charles Jones for his activism in getting this banner up.


Washington

Olympia: FFRF’s “Let Reason Prevail” banner was erected on the grounds of the state Capitol by Darrell Barker and others from the “Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound,” a chapter of FFRF. The sign was vandalized days after being put up, but Barker and others returned it to its original state.


Wisconsin

Madison: For the 24th consecutive year, FFRF was able to place its solstice sign at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison. It also displayed its Bill of Rights cutout.

North Hudson: Ken Wolter was able to put up FFRF’s Bill of Rights display outside the North Hudson Village Hall.