Crankmail (December 2020)

Please enjoy the following thoughts from non-FFRF members, printed as received.

You are deliberately recrucifying Jesus Christ: You need to turn that question internal, because it is INSANE ANTICHRIST FILTH as you that are destroying humanity and I hope and pray every single day that God makes you suffer horribly for it! — Beth Ann Morse

Get out of Dothan: Your article regarding a prayer request at a Dothan City School is absolute Bull$hit. First of all, it is none of your business. We, the citizens and parents of the Students didn’t ask for your opinion nor do we need it. We have urged our School board to ignore you asinine “requests” and if you choose to litigate, we will financially support our system and will raise funds as needed for whatever litigation might be necessary. You only exist to create havoc and chaos. You attempt to “FORCE” your views on others yet you try to thwart our views. Your organization is the epitome of hypocrisy. We don’t need you in Dothan and will continue to operate OUR school system as we see fit for OUR Children. — Roger Kirkland

Valdosta city schools: Tell who ever you need to including your attorney to stay out of Valdosta Ga. We will do what we want to and we are not gonna have a bunch of stupid ignorant Wisconsin Yankees tell us what we will do or not do. You are threatening us and we will not have it. We don’t take too kindly to threats in South Georgia so go away. — Brendon Hannon

You Are Going To Be Judged: I just wanted to warn you, that by deliberately misquoting the Bible and by misleading people you are is serious danger of God’s judgement. It is okay to have differing opinions but to blatantly and grotesquely misrepresent the intentions of the Bible is very dangerous to you living a life of eternal torment in a place of darkness and where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. — Gene Staley

Your ridiculousness: Dissolve your group and Pray you all can be forgiven. Each of your members have made a choice in order to remove God from schools. Because it’s so awful to have kids praying right? It’s so awful to have a symbolism of good faith and goodwill towards men right? You people are the right hand of the Devil and shame on you all for what you do every day it disgusts me and there should be a constitutional amendment that disbands your org. Or at least maybe you could rename your organization to some thing a little more honest, I don’t know like the devil seed or maybe replace God withhate.com, or maybe we hate anything good. We are all going to hell. Luckily for you there are people like that Jasper head coach out there because maybe they can pray for you to save your souls. — Shawn Kirby

Twisting Scripture: You guys are twisting scripture to promote abortion. The truth isn’t subjective. The truth is the truth and whether you believe it or not, you will stand before God one day. — Elizabeth Luyendyk

Dan Barker: Saying goodbye to God — ¡Adios a Dios!

Margaret Downey, director of the Freethought Society, coordinated, with Victoria de la Torre, the first online, international Secular Day of the Dead on Nov. 1. Margaret, who is a FFRF State Representative and Lifetime Member, co-hosted the event and is pictured with Secular Day of the Dead memorabilia. Participants included FFRF and other secular groups. Celebrities including actor John Huertas, Hollywood legend John Davidson (who sang Mexican folk songs) and author Sasha Sagan, daughter of Carl Sagan.
Dan Barker

This speech was given on Nov. 1 during the Secular Day of the Dead celebration.

By Dan Barker

On this Secular Day of the Dead, we honor those who are no longer with us. They have not “passed on.” They are not “resting in peace.” They have not “gone to their reward.” They are dead.

I was dead once. Really. And I came back to life.

Well, not physically. I was baptized. After accepting Jesus as my savior, I was dunked under the water and lifted back out. Baptism signifies — as you are lowered beneath the surface — that you have died, just like Christ was dead and buried. When you are brought back up, you are raised from the dead to a new life, just like Jesus was resurrected from the grave. You are literally “born again.” And by “literally,” I mean not “literally physically,” but “literally spiritually.” If you believe in the spirit world, then baptism is not just a metaphorical ritual drama — it is an actual occurrence in the supernatural world.

Of course, that was only possible because of a bloody human sacrifice: Jesus suffered an agonizing death on the cross so that you and I could be redeemed.

So I believed.

Of course, it’s not just the Christian religion that is obsessed with death. Long before the gospels — many thousands of years before the ancient Israelites, and the Mesopotamians before them who first started writing things down — long before that, humans had to face the reality of death. Since they could still dream about dead ancestors, many imagined a spirit world where their loved ones live on.

Prehistoric burial sites contain food, clothing, jewelry and tools buried with the person to accompany them on their journey to the afterworld.

Ritualistic burial happened all over the planet, in various forms. The Aztecs, in what is now Mexico, inherited an ancient tradition — going back at least 3,000 years — that a dead person’s soul would go up — either to the sun, or to a garden paradise — or down to the underworld, governed by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. But first, they had to endure a long journey through Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. This was not a hell of torment — it was the final resting place of the soul. That journey could take several years of arduous travel and difficult obstacles. Similar to the rituals in the Fertile Crescent and Europe, Nahua rituals in the Americas, traditionally held in August, involved family members providing food, water and tools to help their loved ones in their challenging odyssey beyond the grave.

It’s a celebration

This tradition continues in the contemporary Day of the Dead festival, in which people leave offerings on the graves or on homemade altars (called ofrendas) in their homes. These acts are positive and optimistic. The Day of the Dead is a not a mourning, but a celebration. It is not a funeral, but a kind of cheerleading.

Since the Aztec rituals long preceded Christianity, the Day of the Dead is not a Mexican version of Halloween. Halloween came later, in Europe, where there was generally a darker attitude toward death.

Halloween is the evening of the Catholic Feast of All Saints. After the Spanish Christians invaded the Americas, the religious customs were merged and the Day of the Dead shifted to Nov. 1.

In 1755, Nov. 1 literally became a day of the dead in Europe.

That morning, the city of Lisbon, Portugal, was brimming with Catholics who packed dozens of churches for the Feast of All Saints.

Around 9:45 a.m., while worshippers were praying, the city was rocked by a massive earthquake, 10 times stronger than the one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906. Most of the stone churches were demolished, immediately killing thousands of believers who were trapped inside.

Some tried to escape by rushing to the sea. Around 10:20, the first tsunami arrived, drowning many. More earthquakes and tsunamis followed, battering the wounded city, causing great human tragedy.

But that wasn’t the worst. The fires that broke out grew into a roaring inferno that blazed for days through the rubble, incinerating trapped survivors, impeding rescue efforts and destroying structures that were still standing.

Convents and hospitals were ruined. So were prisons. Many of the criminals who were suddenly free began rampaging through the ruins, looting and raping. Some of them broke into homes that had survived the quakes, killing the inhabitants. In the days that followed, vermin and disease plagued the homeless and destitute survivors.

This “day of the dead” incited a huge debate across Europe about the problem of suffering. Voltaire wrote his famous “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” savagely attacking trite religious theodicies. Is death the “wages of sin,” he asked, or is it the result of natural forces? Some thinkers began to question the existence of a good god.

Mexico has also had its share of earthquakes, one of the largest of which hit Mexico City in 1985. That shows us that there is one thing that unites all people on the planet, all cultures throughout history.

Death is for all

Death belongs to all of us. How we deal with it varies, but the fact of death is inescapable.

Of course, as an evangelical Christian, I did not believe that. After I was baptized and called to the ministry, I preached that there is indeed a way to escape death. I spent many years as a pastor, evangelist and missionary, including two years in Mexico, preaching that “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I was a true believer. I warned that the world was going to end at any moment, “like a thief in the night.” I spent 19 years in ministry, waiting and hoping for the day Jesus would return to take us away from this depraved planet, away from death.

There was only one time in Mexico that I remember getting any pushback to my ministry. Around 1970, I was passing out Christian literature on a sidewalk in Mexico City when a well-dressed man came walking by. I approached him and started telling him that there are more important things in life than money, that Jesus offers true meaning and the hope of salvation. He seemed to be in a hurry, so I quoted Matthew 6:34, where Jesus said “Take no thought for tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “If I believed that, my company would go bankrupt.”

He quickly walked away, leaving me with nothing to say.

Decades later, when I returned to Mexico for the first time as a nonbeliever, I spoke to a group of atheists in Mexico City and confessed my sin of arrogance and condescension when I was a preacher. I asked them to forgive me — to absolve me of the sin of missionizing — and they did! I can hold my head high in Mexico now.

It’s a journey

The Day of the Dead is not about the end of anything. It is about a journey. A journey from one state of existence to another. I also made a journey — from preacher to atheist — and much of it happened in Mexico. I always felt at home in Mexico, maybe partly because one of my great-great-grandmothers was born in Chiapas, and the next three generations, including my mom, were born in Tucson, Ariz., in the middle of Mexican-American culture.

It was in Mexico, in fact, where I first admitted to myself that I was an atheist. I had just gone through a period of about four or five years of thinking and reading, gradually moving across the theological spectrum from fundamentalist at one end, through the moderate middle for a couple of years, to the more liberal thinking that does not hold the bible to be literally true. If the story of the Prodigal Son is a parable not intended to be taken historically, and if the tale of Adam and Eve is a metaphor, then what else in the bible might be symbolic rather than actually true? Perhaps Yahweh, God himself, is just a literary invention, a huge figure of speech. When I realized there is no way to know where to draw that line, God moved from concrete to abstract. I learned that there is no coherent definition of God, no agreement among believers as to the nature or moral principles of such a God, no good philosophical argument for the existence of such a creature, no good reply to the Problem of Suffering, no evidence for an afterlife, and no need for a god — because you can live a happy and moral life without such a belief. Combine that with the fact that Jesus stubbornly refused to return like he promised, and it looks very much like it is all myth and that the natural world is all there is.

I was lying on a cot one night in the Sunday School room of a Baptist church in a little ejido south of Mexicali where I was spending the night in the summer of 1983. I was looking out the open window at the night sky. Those stars are gathering material and burning it up, shining brightly for a while in the darkness before they burn out and cough their atoms and energy back into the void. For the first time in my life, it dawned on me that I was completely alone in that room.

There was no watchful eye judging my thoughts and actions. There were no spiritual beings competing for my soul. I realized that I, like those stars, am a part of the natural universe. I am a little low-wattage sun, ingesting material, burning it up at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and will one day sputter out and disperse my atoms and energy back into the universe. I finally met my true self — I am an animal, and that is all, and that is good enough. At that moment, I truly became a “born again” creature of which the scriptures so ignorantly speak. I completed my journey from supernatural to natural, from “life after death” to “life before death.” A life that will end.

My arduous odyssey complete, I looked out that window and said, “Adios a Dios.”

Dan Barker is co-president of FFRF and author of the books Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, Losing Faith in Faith and GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.

Black Collar Crime (December 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Daniel Chalmers, Raleigh, NC: Misdemeanor assault. Chalmers, co-founder with his wife of Love Wins Ministry, is charged with urinating on a sleeping woman in the rear seat of a Delta Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Chalmers is also on staff at Catch the Fire, a church in Durham.

Alicia Beverly said she awoke to a warm feeling: “By that time I actually looked at him and I see him shake himself off and I’m like this man just peed on me. I looked and there was a puddle of pee in the seats.”

Chalmers allegedly told flight attendants he thought he was going to the bathroom. Sources told Fox 2 he had an apparent reaction to the sleep aid Ambien. According to a police report, his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 after the flight, twice the legal limit, and he said he had 2 drinks before boarding.

Beverly is suing Chalmers and his church for over $2 million. He was suspended, then resigned from Catch the Fire. Source: Charlotte Observer/Detroit News, 10-30-20

Jeremy Thompson, 33, Memphis, TN: Soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor and attempted statutory rape by an authority figure. It’s alleged that Thompson, a youth pastor at New Life of Memphis, used electronic communication to engage a child between 13 and 18 years old in sexual activity and used his position of trust to attempt to have sex with the child. Source: Commercial Appeal, 10-23-20

Michael Zacharias, 53, Cleveland: Sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult and minor by force, fraud or coercion. Zacharias, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, allegedly engaged in criminal acts from 1999 when he was a seminarian to July 2020.

The alleged offenses involve 2 former Catholic school students in Toledo, OH. Zacharias is alleged to have preyed upon them as minors and as adults, trading sex for money so that they could continue their drug addictions. Source: Findlay Courier, 10-23-20

Patrick Wattigny, 53, Slidell, LA: 4 counts of child molestation. Wattigny, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church, had resigned earlier this year as chaplain at Pope John Paul II High School after church officials were shown a series of text messages from him to a student.

The charges stem from allegations he sexually abused the student in 2013, who was 15 at the time, on at least 4 different occasions, sometimes in the church rectory. Source: WDSU, 10-23-20

Abner A. Rolon, 46, Davenport, FL: Scheming to defraud in the amount of more than $20,000 and presenting himself as a contractor without a license. Rolon, senior pastor at Calvary First Assembly, allegedly attempted to bilk an 85-year-old woman with visual, hearing and mobility impairments out of $36,440, according to a Haines City Police Department press release.

Rolon allegedly gave the woman “A Servant’s Hand” business card in June and presented himself as a licensed contractor capable of multiple services. Building inspectors later found a water heater, ceiling fans, windows, electrical work and light fixtures incorrectly installed. He allegedly also billed her for roof and porch repairs that were not done.

“To take advantage of an elderly woman trying to sell her home and to this extent, is simply unconscionable,” said Police Chief Jim Elensky. “We should be able to rely on our local pastors to serve as community leaders — not lying, stealing and taking advantage of people.” Source: The Ledger, 10-21-20

Brandon Tovar, 35, Decatur, IL: Grooming. Tovar, a volunteer youth leader at Heartland Community Church who lives alone but has visitation rights with his 12-year-old daughter every other weekend, allegedly engaged in inappropriate conduct with his daughter’s 12-year-old girlfriend.

The daughter told police Tovar was sleeping with the 12-year-old in his bed and that they were cuddling on the couch Sept. 19. She gave police a photo she took of them on the couch and copies of Snapchat messages between them.

Tovar allegedly told police he was lonely and weak and knew it was wrong to send sexually explicit messages to the girl. Source: WICS, 10-21-20

Robert L. Gilmore Sr., Casper, WY:  6 counts of 2nd-degree sexual assault and 7 counts of indecent liberties with a minor. Gilmore, pastor at New Life Tabernacle Church, is accused of assaults on several victims, including a girl who alleged to police that in 2003, when she was 5, Gilmore told her that having sex was part of preparing to be baptized.

Another alleged victim described an incident in the spring of 2004 or 2005 when she was taken into the church basement after Sunday school to change into a baptismal gown. Gilmore allegedly took off all her clothes and molested her, telling her it was God’s will. Source: KTWO, 10-15-20

John S. Hackmann Jr., 45, Marion, IL: Child pornography and felony intimidation. Hackmann has been relieved as pastor at Marion First United Methodist Church, according to a statement from Bishop Frank Beard.

He’s accused of soliciting a teen to get lewd photos of female friends who are her age and of threatening to show her mother a private video of her and her boyfriend. Source: KFVS, 10-14-20

Kenneth R. Sullivan Jr., 36, Lexington, NC: 3 counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, obtaining property by false pretenses of over $100,000, 3 counts of securities fraud and exploiting a disabled or elderly person while in a position of trust. Sullivan was clerk of sessions at Grace Presbyterian Church, a position which gave him control of its financial accounts.

He was initially charged in 2019 with 3 other counts alleging he stole $340,384 from the church and church members through fraud, including his own parents and other relatives. It’s also alleged he tried to obtain another $429,000 by applying for credit cards and personal loans using other people’s names. Source: Winston-Salem Journal, 10-13-20

Richard A. Kelton, 37, Holly Springs, NC: 3 counts of indecent liberties with a child. Kelton, who volunteered at Hope Community Church while working as a realtor, is charged with assaults on 2 girls. Two of the charges stem from alleged incidents in April 2012. The third allegedly took place from May 2019 until October 2020.

Kelton, a married father of 3, formerly worked for the YMCA but left in 2012. Source: WRAL, 10-12-20

Jeff Taylor, 46, Strafford, MO: 7 felony counts of statutory sodomy and statutory rape. Taylor, a now-fired student pastor at First Baptist Church, is accused of assaults on a girl starting when she was 11.

The probable cause statement said law enforcement was made aware of the case when a woman told them that her employee, now 19, told her about her alleged sexual relationship with Taylor and that she had decided to go public after hearing he was involved with an adult woman at the church.

The statement said Taylor admitted to the relationship: “To me, it was the way that I could love her. … Whatever picture of love she has now, I put it there. It’s my fault.” Source: KY3, 10-11-20

Travis Clark, 37, Pearl River, LA: Obscenity. Clark, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and chaplain at Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, was arrested after police were called to the church and viewed a video recorded by a passerby. Police allege the person “observed and had video of Ms. Cheng and Ms. Dixon” using plastic sex toys while engaging in intercourse on the altar with Clark, who was still partially wearing his priestly attire. A mobile phone mounted on a tripod was recording the scene under stage lighting.

Mindy Dixon, 41, Kent, WA, and Melissa Cheng, 23, Alpharetta, GA, were also arrested for violating a law prohibiting people from having sex within public view. Dixon works in the adult film industry, often as a dominatrix.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans later told parishioners that the desecrated altar had been removed and burned. “The church is a very holy place,” Aymond said.

Clark had succeeded Patrick Wattigny [see 10-23 item above] as chaplain at Pope John Paul II High School. Source: Times-Picayune, 10-8-20

Frank A. Noe Jr., 56, Speedwell, TN: Incest and 5 counts of child rape. Noe is pastor at Bennett’s Fork Baptist Church in Middlesboro, KY. It’s alleged Noe assaulted a male victim between 30 and 40 times when he was between the ages of 4 and 8.

The affidavit says the alleged victim’s mother corroborated his statements. There are also allegations of abuse involving a younger female family member. Source: WRIL, 10-6-20

Roger C. McLaney II, 47, DeFuniak Springs, FL: Organized fraud over $50,000. McLaney, a communications officer at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, is charged with embezzling over $100,000 from Friendship Baptist Church while serving as its treasurer since 2016. Source: WEAR, 10-6-20

Salvatore DiStefano, 61, New Providence, NJ: 5 counts of use of a juvenile to commit a crime and 6 counts of endangering the welfare of a child. DiStefano, chaplain since at least 2012 at Oratory Prep, an all-boys school in Summit, is accused of threatening the welfare of 6 students while leading a school club named the “Knights of Malta.”

According to the prosecutor, he “would frequently attempt to speak with the students about sex and instructed a student to masturbate in order to relieve stress. He also allegedly made repeated attempts to entice a student to accompany him away from the school alone and took steps to conceal that activity, for instance telling the student to leave his cell phone at school so that his true location would be hidden from his parents when he met with him off-campus.”

It’s also alleged that he routinely texted and called club members and at various times in late 2019 let them consume cannabis edibles in his office and allegedly bought THC cartridges for them as well as providing them money to do so. Source: Catholic News Agency, 10-5-20

Pleaded / Convicted

Levi S. Esh Sr., 63, Pequea, PA: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of failure to report child sexual abuse while he was an Amish bishop in Lancaster County. A plea bargain calls for him to serve 2 years’ probation and 25 hours of community service aimed at informing others in the Amish community of the legal requirements of mandated reporting.

Church member John G. Beiler allegedly confessed to Esh that he sexually abused 3 girls in 2012 or 2013. Beiler faces 9 pending charges. Court documents state that 2 other people in the church allegedly raised abuse concerns in 2019 with Esh and other church leaders but were told it was “none of your business.” Source: Post-Gazette 10-26-20

Lorenzo R. Washington, 49, Lexington, SC: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of 1st-degree assault and battery. Washington, senior pastor at Mt. Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Aiken, was arrested after a Dorman High School student reported she was assaulted in January 2019 in a school concession stand during an after-hours event.

Washington, a member of the school booster club, allegedly touched the girl over her clothes and kissed her on the neck and mouth. He was initially charged with sexual conduct with a minor and attempted criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 16. Source: WSPA, 10-21-20

Sentenced

James Russell, 50, Las Vegas, NV: 20 to 95 years in prison on Michigan convictions for creation, possession, transportation and distribution of child pornography. He was accused of taking nude photos of a boy at his home in Norton Shores between 2009–12. The person in the photos, his now-adult son, alleged Russell took thousands of photos of him naked.

Russell worked for 22 years as a teacher and elementary school principal and at various times has been a camp counselor and youth ministry volunteer at several churches. Another teacher found Russell’s interest in students unusual and filed a complaint in 2018. He was suspended and then resigned.

In 2019 he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he caught the attention of the FBI after dozens of child porn images were uploaded online. Russell confessed to uploading those photos. Source: WOOD/KTNV, 10-22-20

Bryan Broughton, 39, Eau Claire, WI: 48 years in prison on convictions for repeated sexual assault of a child and causing mental harm to a child. Broughton, a resident adviser at Hope Gospel Mission who also worked with children’s ministries at 2 Eau Claire churches and had been a church camp counselor, admitted assaulting a girl repeatedly when she was between the ages of 6 and 13.

He also admitted assaulting another 6-year-old girl about a dozen times and allegedly told detectives that part of the thrill was to not get caught. One girl told investigators Broughton touched her sexually at her home and at Chaos Waterpark and that she couldn’t think of a time when he came over that he didn’t touch her. Source: WQOW, 10-20-20

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Archbishop John Michael Miller of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, BC, Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver, John Kilty and Raymond Clavin are defendants in a suit filed by “John Doe,” who alleges sexual abuse by Kilty and Clavin in the mid-1970s. Kilty, now deceased, was a priest and Clavin was a teacher and former student of the Christian Brothers. It’s not clear from the suit if he’s alive. The archdiocese is also a defendant in a separate class-action suit.

“I cannot find the right words to explain how the sexual abuse I endured at age six has impacted my life,” the plaintiff said in a statement. “When the most intimate moment of one’s young life is simultaneously the most horrifying and disgusting, there is a suffocation of every authentic experience from that moment onward.” Source: Vancouver Sun, 10-24-20

Skyway Community Chapel and its pastor Jason B. Lane are being sued by a former high school student in Palmetto, FL, who alleges fake pornographic photos created in Lane’s home caused her “unbearable shame and embarrassment.” According to the suit, detectives were unable to determine what user at Lane’s IP address posted the photos and thus haven’t charged anyone criminally.

It’s alleged that a Snapchat user named “Eli” sent images taken from clothed photos of the plaintiff that she posted on Instagram and altered them by adding realistic, bare female breasts. “Eli” tried to blackmail the girl into sending actual nude photos by threatening to send the doctored images to the entire student body at the school if she didn’t comply,  which she didn’t, the complaint says.

Detectives determined Lane’s son’s name was identical to the one used on the first threatening texts and photos sent to the girl, the complaint says, and further alleges that investigators did not seek a search warrant for the son’s cellphone. He was brought in for questioning but denied guilt. His parents demanded that the questioning stop and the interview ended. Source: Herald-Tribune, 10-23-20

The Order of St. Benedict New Jersey — the Catholic order that runs Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ — now faces 16 sexual abuse suits in state court after 4 more were filed naming Timothy Brennan, a priest and former teacher, who has been the focus of at least 20 complaints since the 1980s. Brennan died in December 2019 in Missouri, where he was living in a treatment center for clergy.

The order and St. Mary’s Abbey have settled at least 10 suits involving Brennan over the years. At least 9 order clerics and a Delbarton lay teacher have been accused of abuse in 30 suits over the past 20 years. Source: northjersey.com, 10-22-20

The New Jersey Catholic Conference, Newark Archdiocese and Paramus Catholic High School are defendants in a suit alleging they did nothing to stop the abuse of 2 male students that now-deceased hockey coach Bernard Garris is accused of molesting between 1985–88.

Garris was fired in 1986 or 1987 for physically abusing students, the suit asserts. Source: nj.com, 10-11-20

Kelli A. Black, John B. Black Sr., St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento, CA, and former pastor Ephraim Williams are defendants in a suit filed by Giana Lee, who alleges John Black, her stepfather, started molesting her when she was 11 in 1994 when he was a pastor at St. Paul. Kelli Black is her mother.

The night after it first happened, “Giana shut her door and lined up all of her stuffed animals against it,” court papers say. “That way, in the morning, she could tell if someone had entered her room. … When she woke up the next morning, her animals had been thrown about the room, but she could not figure out what happened. Subsequently, Giana would wake up and notice her shorts or underwear gone or rolled up in her blanket.”

The suit alleges that when Lee was taken to Williams for counseling at the church, he responded, “We don’t lie on good pastors!”

Lee, now 37, alleges John Black put her on birth control when she was 12 or 13 and that instead of taking her virginity, he arranged for a boy she was friends with to do it.

Black also took her with him to adult stores, where he bought her “sex books, crotch-less underwear and small vibrators,” Lee alleges, adding that after her grandmother took her to talk to police, her mother pressured her to recant. Source: Sacramento Bee, 10-7-20

Finances

Colorado’s 3 Catholic dioceses have paid $6.68 million to 73 survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program fielded claims from alleged abuse survivors to determine their credibility and eligibility for compensation. Eight claims were rejected.

At least 166 children were abused by at least 43 priests in Colorado dating back to 1950.

The investigation found that on average it took nearly 20 years for the church to stop an abusive priest after receiving an allegation. More than half of child victims were abused after the diocese was made aware that priests were abusers.

The most-recent cases uncovered by the review were in 1990 and 1998 and 2 instances since 2000 of priests “grooming” a child.

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.” Nearly 10 assaults by a priest just out of the seminary were documented as “boy troubles.” Source: Colorado Sun, 10-16-20

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, VA, has paid a total of $6.3 million to victims who were sexually abused as minors by clergy. The diocese announced 51 claims were approved for payments through the Independent Reconciliation Program administered by a Richmond law firm.

The diocese released the results of the program: total claims, 68; total ineligible, withdrawn or never completed, 8; denied by administrator, 9. Source: WWBT, 10-16-20

Legal Developments

Aaron C.M. Schwartz, 22, and Petie C.M. Schwartz, 18, Seymour, MO, were ordered to prison after a judge determined they failed to abide by the terms of their 15-year suspended sentence. The Amish brothers were sentenced in September for molesting their 13-year-old sister, who is pregnant.

Under a plea agreement, the brothers had been ordered to complete 5 years’ probation with no prison time, have no contact with the victim and write letters of apology to the Amish community.

Prosecutor Ben Berkstresser cited a probation officer’s report that the men had contact with the girl within 3 days of signing the agreement. Berkstresser had previously defended the agreement by saying the men “would’ve been eaten alive in the state prison system.”

Demonstrators confronted several people accompanying the brothers as they entered and left the courthouse for resentencing, chanting “The Amish are not above our laws.” Source: News-Leader, 10-22-20

Stricjavvar “Strick” Strickland, 37, a Kalamazoo, MI, Baptist pastor charged with sexually assaulting 4 teen boys, turned down a plea deal, details of which were not available. A probable cause conference was rescheduled for December. Strickland is charged with 11 felonies.

It’s alleged he and his wife Jazmonique used their positions in the church and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to coerce the boys into having sex. Strickland, a father of 8, has been working at a horse farm in his native Mississippi while out on bond. Jazmonique, 28, who is pregnant with their sixth child together, has not been charged. Source: WWMT, 10-22-20

The rape case against actor Danny Masterson, 44, can go forward, a Los Angeles judge ruled in rejecting a defense argument that the allegations are too old to be prosecuted. Masterson, best known for playing sarcastic teen Steven Hyde on “That ’70s Show,” is accused of raping 3 women at his home between 2001–03.

Four women also sued Masterson, the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige in August 2019, alleging they were stalked and intimidated after going to the police. Masterson, a Scientology church member, is identified in the suit as the ex-boyfriend of all the plaintiffs, 3 of whom were church members. Source: Variety, 10-16-20

William Wasmus, 64, a Grove City, OH, evangelical pastor who conducted services on public access television and was sentenced to 220 years in prison for child rape in 1994, is petitioning the Ohio Parole Board to be released.

Former church member Dave Wexler is opposing release. He and his ex-wife, who married Wasmus, discovered pornographic images and videos of children Wasmus had allegedly been molesting and turned them over to police.

“Five years ago, this four-member parole board was split 50/50 on whether or not to release [him],” Wexler said. “It was close and I think he is likely to be released if we don’t overwhelmingly protest this.” Source: WCMH, 10-12-20

Five Orthodox Jewish institutions in New York City were fined $15,000 for health code violations amid the coronavirus pandemic for having more than 10 people inside their facilities. Six coronavirus clusters have cropped up in Brooklyn and Queens and in Broome, Orange and Rockland counties.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis denied a motion by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn seeking a preliminary injunction to reopen dozens of churches across Queens and Brooklyn. The Diocese of Brooklyn has 26 churches in the state’s “red” and “orange” zones. Source: CNN, 10-12-20

Catholic priests Gabriele Martinelli and Enrico Radice went on trial before the Vatican’s criminal tribunal. It’s the first known time the Vatican has prosecuted sexual abuse that allegedly occurred within its walls, in this case inside the St. Pius X youth seminary, which houses about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve as altar boys at papal Masses.

Martinelli is accused of repeatedly molesting a younger seminarian when he himself was a senior altar boy at St. Pius X. Radice was the rector of the seminary at the time and is accused of aiding and abetting the crime. Source: AP, 10-12-20

Jun Kwang-hoon, whose Sarang Jeil Presbyterian Church in S. Korea has been at the center of a renewed COVID-19 outbreak, had a $3.9 million claim filed against him by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Sarang Jeil means “love comes first.”

Jun is accused of impeding epidemiological investigations by providing false information on the church’s gatherings and giving inaccurate membership lists to officials. Health officials also allege congregants hampered virus-tracing efforts by lying and evading investigators. Source: UPI, 9-18-20

Allegations

Jonathan Freirich, Temple Beth Zion rabbi in Buffalo, NY, was censured by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, part of the Reform movement, for 5 ethics code violations over the past 4 years. The synagogue also announced it’s ending his contract 6 months early, on Dec. 31.

Cantor Penny Myers filed a complaint in December 2019 about Freirich allegedly referring to her as “Fifty Shades of Cantor” after she returned from an overnight anniversary celebration with her husband at a winery. He also allegedly referred during the first dinner out with the synagogue’s new executive director to “popping his cherry” in front of Myers and the temple’s sound engineer.

A separate June 2019 complaint filed by a family alleged Freirich sought cellphone numbers of teen bat mitzvah students, tried to arrange study sessions with girls away from the synagogue and asked their 12-year-old daughter out for coffee to talk about her upcoming ceremony.

Temple board president David Goldberg wrote in a September email sent to 16 people and obtained by a newspaper: “We have done an admirable job, up to now, of trying to run the temple, protect the Rabbi, shield our congregants, pacify our Cantor, put on our happy faces, and hide our dirty little secrets.” Source: Buffalo News, 10-29-20

Jeffrey Maher, a monitor appointed to oversee the handling of sexual abuse claims at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NY, has resigned, accusing campus officials of thwarting his efforts. St. Paul’s is a college-prep school affiliated with the Episcopal Church.

An investigation found credible evidence of abuse involving 20 former faculty members over several decades and 31 allegations during the last 6 months of 2019. Maher, a former college safety director and police captain, cited “an intolerable working environment,” including limiting access to information and a “seemingly orchestrated threat” of a civil suit by an administrator. Source: The Republic, 10-22-20

A state attorney general’s probe into sexual abuse in 7 of Michigan’s Catholic dioceses has identified 454 accused clergy and 811 victims, which led to charges against 11 persons. Of the 11, only 2 have been convicted so far. Their sentences were for 60 and 45 days in jail. Allegations in the Diocese of Saginaw and the Archdiocese of Detroit have yet to be reviewed.

Investigators had reviewed 64% of the digital documents as of late September. Document review will continue into 2021. With court operations slowed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the last case resolved was in November 2019. Source: mlive.com, 10-21-20

Theodore L. Richling Jr., a priest who served Catholic parishes in northeast Nebraska before dying in 2019, was added to the list of those credibly accused of sexual misconduct with multiple minors by the Archdiocese of Omaha. He was ordained in 1971. Source: World-Herald, 10-16-20

At least a dozen priests belonging to the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, a Catholic teaching order in Canada, have been accused of sexually abusing children, according to an investigation by CityNews of Toronto, which has compiled a list from mostly public sources.

Brenda Brunelle, a Canadian leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called for the Basilians to release their own list of credibly accused priests.

“He taught me how to give him a blow job,” Peter Luci alleged about Leo Campbell, a priest he met when he was 15 in the early 1980s and Campbell was teaching at St. Mary’s College, a high school run by the Basilians.

“He’s a monster. He’s a predator. He really, really is. And he’s wearing the cloth of God,” Luci said. “I didn’t know anything about this, I was a child. When I think about it, you know, smells come back to me, and textures.”

Campbell, who spent 3 months at a treatment center for priests with addictions, would remain at St. Mary’s until 1988, when he was named principal at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. He was in that job until he was suspended in 1992, when another historic abuse allegation came to light. Source: CityNews, 10-13-20

Since the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in February, about 35,000 alleged victims have filed claims, with “thousands” more emerging ahead of the Nov. 16 deadline. “People are just coming forward in droves,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Andrew Van Arsdale, who expects the number to top 50,000.

“It’s three to four times the claims filed in all the Catholic bankruptcies combined,” said Jason Amala, who is also representing plaintiffs. All BSA units are owned and operated by chartered organizations. Of the 3.62 million BSA members in 2010, 65% were in units chartered to faith-based groups.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints units, which all withdrew from scouting in 2019, had 37,933 units and 437,160 members in 2010. The United Methodist Church sponsored 10,703 units with 349,614 members. The Catholic Church sponsored 8,131 units with 259,297 members.

The Boy Scouts model is “doomed to fail” in terms of protecting children but has become the “go-to model for organizations with large numbers of victims” like the Catholic Church, said Child USA founder Marci Hamilton.

“It’s a potent message to the victims,” said Hamilton. “They had better come forward immediately because they might be shut out. So they come forward whether they’re ready or not.” Source: NY Post/USA Today, 10-10-20

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, based in Alpharetta, GA, has opened an investigation into allegations that its late founder and namesake sexually harassed multiple massage therapists who worked at 2 day spas he co-owned.

Three women who worked at the businesses in a strip mall in Johns Creek, an Atlanta suburb, told Christianity Today that Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about 5 years.

During his ministry career, Zacharias, a renowned apologist who died last May at age 74 from cancer in his sacrum, often spoke of managing pain with massage and physiotherapy.

Zacharias masturbated in front of one woman over 50 times, she alleged, telling her he was burdened by the demands of his ministry and needed this “therapy.” Another said he showed her his erection at least 15 times in a few months. Source: Christianity Today, 9-29-20

Terry Kelly, a former health teacher and athletic director at Canterbury School in Ft. Myers, FL, a co-ed prep school founded “to promote Christian education” in 1964, is accused of sexual abuse by 3 women who attended the school. Kelly worked there from 1991–2000 and later at Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, GA, where he was fired in 2016 for sending inappropriate messages to students, according to police records and news reports.

One woman, now 37, alleged Kelly started grooming her as an 8th grader: “I gave him oral sex when I was 16” in his red SUV but didn’t have intercourse with him until after she graduated.

Alumna Christina Anderson chastised the staff who never reported Kelly’s behavior. “Terry Kelly’s interaction with female students was an open secret. It was the worst-kept open secret at Canterbury,” she said. Source: Ft. Myers News-Press, 9-25-20

Removed / Resigned

William H. Love, 63, agreed to leave his position as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY, on Feb. 1 after a disciplinary panel found he violated church rules by ordering clergy in the diocese not to perform same-sex marriages. A Texas native, he has been bishop since 2007.

New York’s Marriage Equality Act was signed into law in 2011. Love is the only Episcopal bishop in New York to issue such an order to clergy. Source: AP/WNYT, 10-26-20

Ananias Buccicone, 58, pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Patton, PA, was placed on leave in response to what the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown described as an accusation of recent inappropriate conduct involving minors. A Benedictine priest, he has served the parish since 2002.

Thirteen other priests have been put on leave by the diocese pending investigations of allegations of sexual abuse of minors, according to its website. Source: Tribune-Democrat, 10-22-20

Edward Janiak resigned as bishop of the Polish Diocese of Kalisz in the wake of allegations he shielded at least 2 priests known to have sexually abused children. At 68 he is well below the normal retirement age of 75.

Pope Francis in June ordered Janiak to leave Kalisz and forbade him from having any influence on diocesan affairs, pending an investigation. Two documentary films — “Playing Hide and Seek” and “Tell No One” — by brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski played key roles in exposing the cover-ups. Source: AP, 10-17-20

William E. Dean, 70, was removed from ministry by the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia due to a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the late 1970s. Dean had been serving for 8 years as chaplain at Camilla Hall, a home for retired and ill nuns belonging to the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Malvern.

He is legally blind. His case will be forwarded to the Vatican to determine if he should be defrocked. Source: Catholic Philly, 10-9-20

Other

William Faucher, 75, a retired Boise Catholic priest sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2018 for child sexual abuse, died of apparent natural causes in the medical unit of the Idaho State Correctional Institution. When arrested he had over 2,500 computer files that were sexually exploitative or pornographic. A search also found marijuana, LSD and Ecstasy/MDMA in his home. He had online conversations about wanting to rape and murder children, but in his defense claimed he never acted on those desires.

Prosecutors said the material included “many, many infant children.” Some of the images and videos also included torture of adults and torture and killing of animals. Source: Idaho Statesman 10-30-20

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