Brent Michael Davids at FFRF convention

“I was going through old photos my grandmother had, and I found one of me at age 4,” Brent Michael Davids writes. “And amazingly, in the background, is the very field I could not reach, across the very road I was prohibited from crossing, though it’s not visible in this photo. Someone took a photo of me at the time I still had my imaginary cornstalk friend.”
Brent Michael Davids is a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Brent Michael Davids (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
In his speech to the FFRF convention audience, Brent Michael Davids said, “I came to realize that the church was being run by old white men in the back of the sanctuary, basically making things up as they went along.” (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Convention speech: Brent Michael Davids — Do you know an American Indian atheist?

Here is an edited version of the speech given by Brent Michael Davids at FFRF’s 40th annual convention in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 16, 2017.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker introduced him:

I’ve known Brent Michael Davids for quite a while. If I can use the word in a nonreligious sense, we’re kind of like brothers. He is a member of the Mohican tribe of Indians, and I’m a member because of my great-grandmother of the Delaware Lenape tribe. They are somewhat related tribes. 

Brent Michael Davids is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning composer. He’s composed orchestral pieces, done a lot of film composing and composed for the Kronos Quartet and the Chanticleers. He was named by the Kennedy Center as one of 25 top American genius composers, he’s toured internationally, the Rockefeller Foundation gave him an award and the National Endowment for the Arts has named him among the most-celebrated choral composers. He integrates his vast knowledge of American Indian culture and traditions, including his ability to play flute, with Eurocentric orchestration.

Welcome, Brent Michael Davids.

By Brent Michael Davids

Brent Michael Davids is a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

I’m slightly intimidated because I’m sure the audience is brilliant, and I don’t usually speak in front of people. I’m usually behind the scenes writing the music, and someone else is doing the performing. Yes, I’m a composer of concert music and film scores. And I’m a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. I live on my reservation here in Wisconsin, but we’re not originally from here.

We’ve had our own “trail of tears” several times, removed from our original territory in New York and Massachusetts, from what’s now called the Hudson River. The original name of the river is “Mahheconnituck.” “Mohican” means the “People of the ever-moving waters” and refers to the Mahheconnituck, which rises and falls with the ocean tides. Our population in the 1600s was 22,000, and our current population is 1,500.

If you’re familiar with the fictional book by James Fenimore Cooper, I often say I’m the “next to the last of the Mohicans”! Our tribe is younger than Dan Barker’s tribe, the Lenni Lenape; we refer to his people as the “grandfather” nation, but we belong to the same Algonquian language family.

Cornstalk girl

My first self-awareness of nonbelief came by way of a recurrent daydream about a cornstalk girl across a road that I was prohibited from ever crossing as a 4-year-old boy. At that time, as a child, I felt that this cornstalk girl and I had a mental connection, so we could speak together without saying anything out loud. She was way across the road at sunset, in a corn field I could never visit, her tassel hair ablaze in gold and orange as the light went low over the horizon. Sometimes the field looked like it was set on fire, and we mentally talked till sundown.

But one day I wondered, “How is this possible?” There are no wires, and thoughts carried by the wind don’t make sense. The wind is flowing in only one direction, and our communication is two ways. And, we’re talking much faster than the air would allow (the reasoning of my 4-year-old self).

What was interesting is that I had a fleeting intuition that the cornstalk girl’s thoughts were actually my own, “Ah, she’s me!” I’d invented an imaginary friend.

Later, I was baptized into a church, grew up in it, and forgot my former daydream completely. I accepted all the beliefs and practices of Christianity as normal, without questioning them, and tried my best to be good.

One summer, I went to a church camp and had a great time. Of all the church activities, summer camp was my all-time favorite. After a wonderful time at camp, I came back to normal church life in Chicago.

Our priest asked me if I might organize others to collect the offertory, as they were making an effort to include young people in church activities. I was 15. I agreed, and asked another person to help me collect the donations. Our job was to walk up and down the aisle and pass a bowl around to everyone.

A few days later, my parents got a call from the church, and they had a concerned look on their faces. The priest had phoned to schedule what was called a “priesthood visit” with me. These “visits” had two purposes, either to admonish someone for doing wrong, or to talk about advancing one’s service into the priesthood. My folks and I thought perhaps the church was grooming me to become a deacon, after my successful coordination of the offertory.

Two priests came one evening and whisked me off to a nearby restaurant for a talk. They admonished me for doing something against the church, and threatened to revoke my membership if I didn’t repent. Apparently, I was not supposed to ask a girl to assist in the offertory. I simply nodded, giving assurances that I did not know I had done anything wrong.

The girl I had asked to assist me was a friend from camp. At camp, friends would always ask others to help out with everything. I was shocked that I had done anything wrong. It was also shaming, because word spread and rumors started about my possible transgressions.

I was treated as a sinner who had wronged God, and I had no idea why. I felt the opposite, in fact. If I had done something so evil, why didn’t I feel bad about it? I was imagining that people who are truly bad must really enjoy their evil acts, so in my own lack of remorse, I thought I must be really evil!

But then, I started to realize there’s a difference between what church people think versus their religious claims. And I further reasoned, if that were true, than there’s no single Christianity, because there must be as many different Christianities as there are Christians. I reasoned that a singular Christianity doesn’t exit, and therefore the claims to knowing the “one true religion” are a falsehood. I came to realize that the church was being run by old white men in the back of the sanctuary, basically making things up as they went along. The cornstalk girl dream returned.

Around that time, I started composing music. I also eventually went on to study religion, and worked toward both music and religion degrees simultaneously. I finished the master of music degree, but not the master of religious studies. My music career took off, but I had gained what I wanted from the religious studies. I wanted to get the same training as those two priests. I suppose one could say I lost my faith, but for me it was more like remembering my nonbelief. In the end, I recaptured the memory of my inquisitive, creative, little boy self who had confidence in his own intuition.

Invisible Indians

Today there are 567 federally recognized Indian nations. The current Indian population in America stands at 0.9 percent, where it was once closer to 100 percent. America was founded on a systemic genocide to obtain rich land and resources. But, America moreover identifies itself with Gov. John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who paraphrased from the Sermon on the Mount, saying that the colonists would create “a city upon a hill.”

Seeing America as a beacon for the rest of the world is a more palatable alternative to the darker truth. Today, America’s genocide is ignored — effectively rendered invisible.

Equally so, America’s living reminders also are ignored. The indigenous history of America is not far from the minds of the tribes, however, and it also shapes Indian attitudes toward belief and nonbelief.

The first colonial encounters led to murderous land grabs, in what I think of as the “Extermination” period. The idea was to satiate the hunger for land and resources by compelling the signing of exploitative treaties and killing the inhabitants.

The myth of Christopher Columbus in 1492 stains our textbooks because he was really a murderous slave trader who didn’t even set foot in America. He funded his trips with the promise of a return in gold and spices, which he would take from whomever he conquered.

In 1609, Hendrick Hudson first sailed into the Mahheconnituck on a ship called the Half Moon, and met two Mohicans on the shore. A retelling of the encounter in 1881 by John Heckewelder, an American missionary, describes Hudson’s lust for land.

“[Hudson’s men] asked only for so much ground for a garden spot as, they said, the hide of a bullock would cover or encompass, which hide was spread before them. The Indians readily granted this apparently reasonable request; but the whites then took a knife, and beginning at one end of the hide, cut it up to a long rope, not thicker than a child’s finger, … they then took the rope at one end, and drew it gently along, carefully avoiding its breaking. It was drawn out into a circular form, and being closed at its ends, encompassed a large piece of ground. The Indians were surprised at the superior wit of the whites, but did not wish to contend with them about a little land, as they had still enough themselves.”

Reservations

The first official Indian reservations were established under President Grant in the 1870s, mostly in response to the discovery of gold in Indian territory (though removal to lands later designated as reservations were set up under the 1830 Indian Removal Act, and the 1851 Indian Appropriations Act). The desire for Indian land was at a fever pitch, and Indians were being forcibly removed all across the country.

However, in 1879, a Ponca chief named Standing Bear faced the extinction of his people in a forced removal. A third of his tribe had already died from it. With the help of a newspaper man, Standing Bear sued Gen. Crook and the U.S. Army for violating his civil rights. He won the case, and the court ruled that Indians are “persons within the meaning of the law” and could not be forced onto reservations.

So, in 1879, Indians were finally considered people, and Standing Bear’s case effectively ended the reservation roundup period.

Well, Indians could now sue the government, so the next idea was to indoctrinate the children. The first boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard Henry Pratt. Pratt got the idea for Carlisle from his work at Hampton, a school for freed black slaves. Pratt’s motto was “Kill the Indian within him to save the man,” and the boarding school was a forced assimilation factory.

Very young children were sent alone by train to Carlisle for periods of five years, prohibited from contacting their families. Not speaking English, they often didn’t know where they were going or why. When they arrived, they were placed three to a room, from differing tribes, so they would be forced to speak English as a common language. Their hair was chopped short, which to them was a signifier of death. They were prohibited from their own cultures and forced into Christianity, including daily mealtime hymns.

They were malnourished, frightened, abused, and some even died at the school. In 1914, the school came under federal investigation for alleged misconduct. In 1918, the school was closed. But many more schools, modeled on Carlisle, appeared in the West.

Through all of these periods, and several others not mentioned, American Indians have suffered from abusive stereotyping. In Gov. Winthrop’s time, from writings in his journal, we know that Indians were viewed as “devils” who lived in a nature that was considered heinously “evil.”

The first colonists faced harsh conditions and they viewed nature as malevolent. Indians were viewed as wild savages. Jump ahead to a later century, and writers like Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman exemplified a modern change, with the idea of nature being inherently good. At this point, Indians had a benevolent nature, but, still plagued by the primitive stereotype, became “noble savages.”

Even today, Christian Indians, traditional Indians, city Indians, reservation Indians and nontheistic Indians all live under the shadow of pervasive stereotypes and abusive history. And unlike the beacon of the United States of Amnesia, we see it face-to-face.

Indian atheists

So, do you know an American Indian atheist? If you know Dan Barker and perhaps come to know me, then the answer is yes. And maybe you know others, too. Of course, all Indians are not alike. The cultures are different, and so are the languages and modern realities. The 0.9 percent indigenous population suffers the greatest hardships per capita, the highest rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, fetal-alcohol syndrome, incarceration, unemployment — you name it. But American Indians have a unique view of the world, one that values extended kinship ties not only for humans, but for animals and Earth, as well.

Not to call what Indians do “religion,” perhaps “life-way” is better, but whatever we call this, it’s not proselytizing, and it’s not hierarchical. Indian life-ways exist in systems of cause-and-effect and of reciprocity, where the definition of personhood may extend outside the human species, and Indian life-ways don’t traditionally seek dominion over the Earth. They are life-and-death systems of reciprocity where the nonhuman “others” are seen as extended kin — family.

So, where a Western view might advocate saving an exotic species from extinction (man vs. nature), an Indian view might wish to form a kinship relationship with a nonhuman “relative” and find a balance for mutual benefit. It’s not a dominionist view, like time inching its way along a ruler. It’s cyclic and relational thinking.

I personally think it’s at this level of Indian reciprocity — the life-and-death, barter-and-exchange, cause-and-effect world of extended kinship ties that extend beyond humans to the Earth and everywhere — where I see potential intersections with those of us who are the “Nones.”

Yes, there are magical stories in Indian life, a continent formed on the back of a giant turtle, animals changing into people changing back into animals again, cannibal giants like Bigfoot and Sasquatch, abominable snow beasts roaming the land eating people, giant thunderbirds swooping down to snack on your children, or hungry witches that live inside the rocks.

There are Indians who take these magical stories as actual history, and some who see them as cultural or allegorical stories. Some American Indians deny the fact of evolution by natural selection, preferring that the first Indians were formed from clay, or Christian Indians who believe they descended from Adam and Eve.

But some Indians are also scientists, like Fred Begay, a distinguished nuclear scientist who worked at the Los Alamos labs.

He had an interesting idea to use the Navajo stories about “light” to help inspire his research on lasers to heat plasma. We also have Indian atheists such as writer Sherman Alexie, who tweeted, “Being atheist means you’ll argue with grown-ass adults who essentially believe in Santa,” and Jimi Hendrix, who said, “Music is my religion.”

I wonder if the current 24 percent statistic of the number of Nones in America holds true for American Indian populations, too. I can’t find any studies about that. But some of the Indian stories already leave a door open, if we wanted to troll the Christian God story.

The Yaqui creation story, for example, describes a time before God. The Indians were already there, prior to God, challenging the notion of an all-powerful creator of the universe. One day, the Indians heard a tree start singing. No one understood. After a special person arrived to translate, they learned the singing tree is God speaking about his coming arrival. Some Indians chose to accept God and become Yaqui, while others decided not to accept him and became ants who live underground.

So, God wasn’t around at the beginning, and didn’t create the universe or the Indians or the trees!

But, for example, the scientific method is cause-and-effect, and — minus the magical stories — the American Indian life-ways are, as well. What I’m suggesting is that there may exist, at a basic level, a ready-made meet-up for Indians and atheists. It would require more interaction, more understanding, and the formation of genuine relationships.

The arts may be another way for Indians and atheists to meet. Writer Heid E. Erdrich is an atheist and a poet. She writes, “As an Ojibwe tribal member, I come from deeply faithful people whose spiritual beliefs and practices infuse culture, language, governance, medicine — everything. And yet, as I open my life to my inherited culture, I find . . . my belief or lack thereof does not matter to my engagement of Ojibwe ways.

“Still, it pains me that my poems, and most Native American writers’ poems, are inevitably read as spiritual, which means religious.

“The idea of an American Indian atheist is unusual at best, unthinkable at worst. . . And now I shall make a profession of faithlessness. It seems required. As an atheist, I am not sure I can satisfy.

“I engage many Ojibwe practices as part of my way of living a good life, yet in my core understanding of the way of creation, I do not believe one all-powerful deity exists. To put it more directly, I have faith in and relation to creation itself rather than faith in a creator.”

Julia Sweeney at FFRF convention

FFRF Honorary President Steven Pinker bends over to give Julia Sweeney a hug following Pinker’s speech at the convention on Sept. 16. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, left, stands with Julia Sweeney and Julia’s daughter, Mulan, for a quick photo during the convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Julia Sweeney has been a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” and has authored several books and written and performed several one-woman monologues. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Julia Sweeney hams it up for the camera at FFRF’s convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Comedian and actress Julia Sweeney, an FFRF honorary director, regaled the FFRF convention audience with humorous takes on religious movies.
(Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Photos and cartoons from December 2017 issue

This photo ran on the cover of the December 2017 issue of Freethought Today, showing Freethought Hall in Madison, Wis., in a holiday card format.

This sign was spotted by FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert in the small town of Rosendale, Wis. If you see an unintentionally humorous church marquee, please take a photo and send it to [email protected] We may publish it in Freethought Today!
FFRF Lifetime Member Rolf Carlsten recently visited the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., where the newly installed statue of Clarence Darrow stands. The courthouse was the site of the 1925 Scopes trial, where Darrow faced off with William Jennings Bryan over the teaching of evolution in a public school. FFRF commissioned sculptor Zenos Frudakis create the bronze statue to balance the statue of Bryan on the courthouse lawn.
Nonbelief Relief gave $2,500 to Atheists of Puerto Rico. Ricardo Santiago, left, stands with an unidentified freethinker among the many bags of food and water that were delivered directly to needy families. Santiago writes, “Thanks to your foundation and others, we were able to distribute food and water to an area in the countryside of Puerto Rico in much need of help after the hurricane.”

Standing outside the Everett McKinley Dirks Courthouse in Chicago are the FFRF (and ACLU) lawyers who were there for the oral arguments in FFRF’s case against the Concord High School live nativity pageant in Elkhart, Ind. Pictured, from left, are FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line, ACLU of Indiana’s Gavin Rose, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne, FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara and FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover.
This church marquee from the Bella Vista Baptist Church in Edgewater, Fla., made some jaws drop for its seemingly overt sexual connotation. Representatives of the church told WKMG in Orlando that the sign was “completely innocent” and was “intended as encouragement to forgive.” Church officials apologized for potentially offending anyone and the message was changed shortly thereafter.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor participated in a panel discussion about religion and politics at the French Embassy’s annual Festival Albertine in New York City on Nov. 4, held in the embassy’s Albertine Bookstore. This year’s event was curated by legendary feminists Gloria Steinem (pictured above, signing a copy of her book My Life on the Road for Annie Laurie) and Robin Morgan, an atheist and honorary director of FFRF. The festival took place over five days, including a panel with Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards. Annie Laurie’s panel was chaired by Clemence Bouloque, who teaches at Columbia. Other panelists were: Algerian-born feminist, writer and lawyer Wassyla Tamzali, French rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, and Daisy Khan, founder of WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality). Annie Laurie thanks Gloria, Robin, the French Embassy and its staff, including Benedicte de Montlaur, for gracious hospitality, a scrumptious post-panel dinner, and for ensuring that a feminist atheist perspective was included. (By the way, Julianne Moore will star as Steinem in a feature film version of My Life on the Road.)

Alec Loftus: Atheists sound off in Secular Town Hall

Cara Santa Maria, center, stands among the 12 participants prior to the start of the Secular Town Hall. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Emmy-award-winning journalist Cara Santa Maria prepares to host the Secular Town Hall at the Monona Terrace Convention Center on Sept. 16. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

During the lunch break at FFRF’s 40th annual convention on Sept. 16 in Madison, Wis., a dozen freethinkers gathered in a side room at the Monona Terrace Convention Center to participate in a town hall-style discussion.

By Alec Loftus

“Are there secret atheists in Congress?”

“Is Google replacing God?”

You won’t hear these questions in the sleepy political town halls aired on CNN. But participants teed off on the topics without hesitation at the first-ever Secular Town Hall.

The event was produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which works to elevate the voices of America’s fastest-growing religious demographic: nonbelievers.

Moderated by Emmy-awarded journalist Cara Santa Maria, the forum was held at the Monona Terrace in Madison this fall, featuring a dozen participants from a variety of states and professions.

The group included Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and students representing the Millennial generation. Ten of the dozen participants identified as atheists, with the others identifying as agnostic or secular.

According to Pew Research, nearly a quarter of Americans nationwide identify as nonreligious, representing a huge increase over the past decade. However, 91 percent of the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate are Christians, and no member has publicly stated his or her disbelief in God.

Santa Maria asked participants if they think atheists are secretly serving in Congress.

“It’s statistically inevitable that some of the people in elected office are atheists,” responded Chris Calvey, a microbiologist from the Midwest. “But they are too afraid to be honest about it because they want to get re-elected.”

Added Calvey, “It’s currently political suicide to be open about your nonreligious views, but I think that’s changing as the demographics are changing.”

New groups like Run for Something and Our Revolution, born of the failed campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are recruiting thousands of young candidates to run for office, with an emphasis on supporting LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color.

If these organizations want to break the hegemony of the Religious Right, they could also issue a call for candidates who are open atheists.

According to Pew Research, Millennials are leading the exodus from organized religion in America. A full 35 percent of Millennials now identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” while three-quarters say they don’t attend church on any regular basis.

Participant Molly Hanson, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who also is an editorial assistant at FFRF, said Millennials are turned off by organized religion because of its historically negative views of LGBT rights and marriage equality. She said that for Millennials, the technology in their pocket is their new religion.

“Technology is answering a lot of the mysterious questions that people needed religion for in the past. Now you can just ask Google,” said Hanson. “God isn’t as necessary anymore.”

When asked if atheists face discrimination, Marie Schaub, a mom from Pennsylvania, said that sometimes people confuse atheists with Satanists: “If we don’t believe in God, we certainly don’t believe in his enemy.”

Schaub told a story about her campaign to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument outside of her daughter’s middle school, which was successful with support from FFRF’s attorneys.

Another UW-Madison student, Micayla Batchlor, spoke about coming out of the closet as an African-American atheist and facing tension from her family and others in the predominantly Christian black community.

“With the stereotypes that go along with (being black), who would we be if we gave into those same stereotypes?” said Batchlor. “It’s hard for people to put me into a box, which I think shouldn’t happen in the first place.”

To elevate these voices, FFRF has been pushing public broadcasting networks to air the Secular Town Hall as educational programming to balance out their many hours of dusty, religious-themed shows like “Ancient Roads: From Christ to Constantine.”

“The secular demographic is the fastest-growing in America, yet the Religious Right controls all three branches of government,” said Santa Maria. “This town hall is designed to help people learn what secular Americans are passionate about.”

FFRF Member Alec Loftus is a Boston-based media consultant who helped produce the Secular Town Hall. He is a graduate of UW-Madison.

A trip to Honduras and Guatemala

The Guatemala Humanists include, from left, political scientist Carlos Mendoza, Ana Raquel (no last name given), founder Oscar Pineda, Dan Barker, president David Pineda (no relation to Oscar), psychologist Natalia Marsicovetere, and Daniela (no last name given).
Barker chats with Susanna, host of “Hoy Mismo,” a popular morning talk show in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Barker stands with the editor of El Libertador, Johnny Lagos, who has been persecuted for publishing a liberal monthly newspaper in Honduras. Lagos survived an assassination attempt; when the gunmen entered his office (where this photo was taken), they did not recognize him because he was unshaven and wearing a casual shirt. He refused tens of thousands of dollars from the government that wanted to control three months of his newspaper during election time. “Integrity is not cheap,” he said.
Barker did a 90-minute interview on live national television on CHTV in Honduras. The host on the left is Armando Villanuevos, and on the right is Carlos Portillo, former minister of religion for the Honduran government.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is fluent in Spanish, was a guest on a popular national morning talk show in Honduras called “Nos Vemos!”
Barker appeared on National Radio Globo, a liberal station in Honduras.
Barker was interviewed by “Chano” on SiTV, which has been called the “Fox News” of Honduras, very right-wing and religious.

Dan Barker: Freethought alive and well in Central America

By Dan Barker

Central America has been battered by religion for centuries. Today, the evangelical invasion is challenging the Catholic Church in numbers and power. Even though Honduras and Guatemala are officially secular, their governments are entangled with religion.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is fluent in Spanish, was a guest on a popular national morning talk show in Honduras called “¡Nos Vemos!”

But there is hope!

On Nov. 8, I flew to Tegucigalpa to participate in a number of events at the invitation of a vibrant new group of freethinkers, Librepensamiento Honduras (Honduras Freethought). As soon as I got off the plane, I was taken to the national Radio Globo for a lengthy live interview about atheism and secularism, and to promote our public events the next day. I was then interviewed by the famous Johnny Lagos, editor and publisher of El Libertador. Because of his work to expose corruption in government, Lagos was a target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

The next day, I appeared on two popular national morning television shows, for more than 30 minutes each, and recorded another national TV show on the right-wing SITV (which has been compared to Fox News), hosted by the famous “Chano,” which aired later in the week. They were all interested in my preacher-to-atheist story, and in the fact that there are active nonbelievers in the country.

I also spoke to a group of about 100 enthusiastic atheists, humanists and feminists at the Hotel Excelsior, and later to a similar-sized group, accompanied by a local comedy troupe.

On Nov. 10, before sightseeing in mountain towns outside of Tegucigalpa, I was invited to debate Carlos Portillo, a Christian pastor who is the former minister of religion for the Honduran government, on national CHTV, hosted by the well-known Armando Villanueva. That show (see bit.ly/2z70Bu3) lasted about 90 minutes. I pointed out that the biblical God is bloodthirsty and then asked, “Is genocide good?” Portillo responded that genocide is parcialmente bueno — partially good.

I was extremely impressed with the efforts, connections and successes of the young professional freethinkers working for a secular government in Honduras.

The following day, I flew to Guatemala City to participate in a conference put on by the Guatemalan Humanists. The event took place in a chapel in a former Jesuit seminary that has been converted by the Spanish government into a cultural arts center in the city of Antigua, the former colonial capital. Political scientist Carlos Mendoza and psychologist Natalia Marsicovetere joined me as we discussed “The politics of religion.” (See the event at bit.ly/2BaFJ2G)

The churches wield enormous power in Central America. They can marshal the vote, and the government knows it. When Portillo asked me on the air why the church, which is trusted by the people, should not try to clean up political corruption, I responded that you can’t cure one corruption with another corruption. The best hope for the world is a completely secular government.

Obituary: Clem Wiechecki (1941-2017)

FFRF Member Clem Wiechecki, 75, died from complications due to pulmonary fibrosis on July 1 with his wife Debbie by his side. The last words they said to one another were, “I love you.”

Clem was born July 20, 1941, in Hammond, Ind., to Clem and Mary (Stankovich) Wiechecki. He was a veteran of the United States Air Force, retiring in 1980 after 20 years of service. In 1983, he began work at for the U.S. Postal Service, which is where he met Debbie. They married in June 1996 and worked together until Clem’s retirement in 2004. The couple, along with their dogs and cat, enjoyed traveling and visited 42 states.

In September 2011, Clem was diagnosed with IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), a terminal lung disease. Clem and Debbie became advocates to spread awareness about pulmonary fibrosis and participated in lung walks and climbs in Las Vegas as Team Clem vs. Pulmonary Fibrosis. Clem even climbed the Las Vegas Stratosphere, all 1,455 stairs, in February 2016.

Clem is survived by his wife Debbie, his sister Loretta Hamilton, four sons and their wives, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Clem donated his body to science with the hope of teaching more people about pulmonary fibrosis. He will be cremated at a later date. A celebration of life was held on July 29 at his home in Las Vegas. A military burial was held in San Antonio, Texas. Debbie will spread some of his ashes in the last eight states they needed to visit.

Donations can be made toward Debbie’s walks and climbs to help raise money to find a cure for lung diseases. Go to bit.ly/2hojrll to donate.

Clem Wiechecki

They Said What? (December 2017)

You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.

Bill O’Reilly, discussing the sexual harassment allegations that drove him out of Fox News earlier this year.

CNN, 10-23-17

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Reporters don’t understand religious liberty, where it comes from. It comes from God, not from the Constitution.

Senate candidate Roy Moore, after he was asked if he stood behind his previous comments that Rep. Keith Ellison shouldn’t be in Congress because he’s Muslim.

CBS News, 10-31-17

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I hope the president and the GOP will put an end to the bull and baloney we Christians have been getting from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That organization is more a threat to our freedom than North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State group.

Bill Mattern, in a letter to the editor.

Lancaster (Pa.) Online, 11-18-17

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Work together for love to overcome evil, and do that by working with God. . . You work with God.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, pushing back against gun restrictions the day after a gunman killed 26 people in a Texas church.

Washington Times, 11-6-17

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It’s disappointing, it’s sad, and this is what you’ll get from the far secular left. People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say. And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what? Prayer works. And I know you believe that, and I believe that and when you hear the secular left doing this thing, it’s no wonder you have so much polarization and disunity in this country when people think like that.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, standing behind his claim to pray for the victims of the mass shooting in Texas.

Huffington Post, 11-6-17

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All I really know is that Christians will always be attacked no matter what. It could be true, it could be false, but he’s led by God, and that’s all that matters.

Alabama resident Pamela Hicks, at a Dec. 14 campaign stop by Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of preying on them as teenagers.

New York Times, 11-16-17

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If Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, “Hold on a second. I need to check with the president if it’s true.”

Mark Lee, one of six Trump voters to appear on a CNN panel.

The Hill, 11-20-17

Black Collar Crime (December 2017)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Sayfullo Saipov, 29, Paterson, NJ: 1 count each of providing material support to terrorists and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle causing death. Saipov, a 2010 immigrant from Uzbekistan, killed 8 people on a New York City bike path on Halloween by running them over with a rental truck. As he jumped out of the truck, he yelled “Allahu akbar” (Arabic for “God is great”), the complaint said. Source: NY Times, 11-1-17

Harry Byrne, 96, Bronx, NY: 74 counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child. Byrne, a retired Catholic priest “had dozens of photographs on his computer of girls 8 to 14 years old performing sex acts with men or posing naked,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.

Visitors to his room at the St. John Vianney Center for Retired Priests saw the photos, Clark said.

Byrne has criticized the church for mishandling clergy sex abuse. In 2010 he wrote, “In the U.S., not one cover-up bishop has been arraigned before church authorities for his part in the scandal.” Source: NY Daily News, 10-31-17

Lent C. Carr, 43, Raeford, NC: Felony worthless check and uttering a forged instrument with false endorsements. Carr is charged with deception involving a property where he established Emmaus Greater Pentecostal Assembly earlier this year.

It’s alleged he wrote a check on Oct. 13 for $9,050 to the tax office using a check belonging to the previous property owner. Carr found it inside the building, which is also his residence, and signed the prior owner’s name on it, a press release said. Source: Fayetteville Observer, 10-30-17

A. Gideon Jacob, 62, Tiruchi, India: Multiple charges related to trafficking of juveniles. Jacob founded Mose Ministries Home for Children, which he started in 1989 and operated with the Christian Initiative for India, based in Hamburg, Germany, before being taken over by authorities in 2015 when it housed 89 girls.

Police arrested Jacob in Chennai as he returned from Germany. He’d been sought since 2016, when he claimed he’d rescued the children from infanticide. The home was unregistered. Source: The Hindu, 10-30-17

Ermonte Moliere, 41, Houston: Soliciting prostitution. Moliere, pastor at First Haitian Community Church, was among 139 men arrested during a police sting in which suspects paid an average $60 door fee and $120 for sex acts. Source: Houston Chronicle, 10-26-17

Chandrama Raj, Patna, India: Rape. Raj, pastor of Indian Mission Church, a Pentecostal denomination, is accused of assaults on 2 women. “The pastor invited a member of his sect to his residence under the pretense of performing special prayers to cure her of mental disease,” said a police report about an accusation. Source: Matters India, 10-25-17

Keith D. Haskell, 55, Owatonna, MN: Impersonating a peace officer, felony use of tear gas to immobilize and 5 counts of 5th-degree assault. Haskell, pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church, was charged after he saw 2 teen boys shoplifting snacks and followed them in his vehicle.

One of the teens, Abraam Rodriguez, admitted the thefts and told police “He’s like, ‘Put your hands up, put your hands up, I’m a cop. I need you to get out [of] the vehicle.’ ” Haskell told officers he was trying to make a citizen’s arrest. Source: WCCO, 10-25-17

Curtis Van Dam, 35, Sioux Center, IA: Felony lascivious acts with a child and lascivious contact with a minor, a serious misdemeanor. Van Dam, a teacher at Sioux Center Christian School, is accused of 2 alleged incidents in October. Source: KIWA, 10-23-17

Clinton Brackett, 32, Lindale, TX: Sexual assault. Brackett, director of student ministries at First United Methodist Church, was arrested due to information obtained from a state trooper’s traffic stop. Pastor Rick Ivey said although the alleged incident didn’t involve the church, Brackett has been fired.

He previously was youth and children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Ballinger. Source: Morning Telegraph, 10-20-17

Garry Evans, 72, Rushville, IN: 3 counts of child molestation, 4 counts of sexual battery and 5 counts of child solicitation. Evans, Rushville Baptist Temple pastor, is accused of incidents with girls ages 3, 5 and 7.

The 7-year-old alleged Evans touched her “nearly every time she went to church” and told police it happened when she was in his office to get candy from him. She said he touched her inside her pants and made her touch his penis. Source: Indianapolis Star, 10-19-17

Albert Lavador Jr., 48, Houston: Sexual assault of a child under 17. Lavador, youth pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, is accused of taking a 16-year-old girl from the congregation to a motel where they had sexual contact twice in June. Once he allegedly took her to McDonald’s afterward. He resigned in 2016 as a teacher at Houston Gateway Academy, a charter school next to the church. Source: KTRK, 10-18-17

Sunday Uko Akpan, Uyo, Nigeria: Murder. Akpan, an elder at Light of the World Mission Church, is accused of stabbing his 35-year-old wife to death in the presence of their 3 children, then later chopping up her remains and dumping them in a waste bin. Source: Daily Post, 10-18-17

Carl E. Stafford, 78, East Gosford, Australia: 13 counts of child sexual abuse. Stafford, a Marist priest removed from ministry by the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay in 2010, is accused of molesting 3 boys in the 1980s and 199Os. Source: Newcastle Herald, 10-18-17

Klint A. Bitter, 34, Omaha, NE: Sexual assault of a child. Bitter, executive pastor of next generation ministries at Christ Community Church, is accused of assaulting a 15-year-old girl in the parking lot of a vacant supermarket last February. Authorities said the arrest is part of a wider investigation into human trafficking. Two other men have already been charged. Source: World-Herald, 10-17-17

Jill S. Docherty, 38, Franklin, PA: Theft by deception. Docherty is charged with stealing $6,596.63 from Tower Presbyterian Church, where she worked as a part-time secretary. An audit allegedly revealed she had been writing checks to herself. Source: Allied News, 10-14-17

John E. Harris, 40, Prattville, AL: One count each of sexual abuse and facilitating the travel of a child for an unlawful sex act. Harris resigned Sept. 3 as student minister at Glynwood Baptist Church, the church confirmed.

A testimonial on his website says, “His teaching is always pertinent and effective, and he always strives to reach even the most distant youth.” Source: al.com, 10-13-17

Rodney McManus, 49, East Palestine, OH: Attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. McManus, New Life Outreach Center pastor, is accused of touching a girl’s genital area and placing her hand on his genitals multiple times between January 2014 and August 2017 when she was 14 and 15.

He met her at the Coffee Stop, which he owned with his wife and used for youth activities and church services. Source: WKBN, 10-13-17

Reid Buchanan, 63, Lexington, KY: 2 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Buchanan, associate pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church, is accused of multiple assaults on 2 girls. He’s on unpaid leave from the church.

One girl told police the abuse started when she was 12 and the other alleged it started when she was in the 3rd grade, including once on a mission trip. Source: WKYT, 10-12-17

Stephen M. Arellano, 30, Las Cruces, NM: Attempted production of child pornography, enticement of a child to engage in sexual activity and travel to meet a minor to engage in sexual conduct. Arellano, pastor of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus, is accused of crimes between May and August involving a 15-year-old girl at a youth convention in Las Cruces and in El Paso, TX.

The assembly is a Pentecostal denomination founded in 1925 in California to serve Hispanics. Arellano is president of its New Mexico youth initiative. It’s alleged he knew the girl’s age because he helped make a video for her Sweet 16 birthday party. Source: News-Sun, 10-10-17

Jared M. Thomas, 34, Ridge Manor, FL: 2 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Thomas, First Baptist Church youth pastor, is accused of furnishing alcohol to minor girls after a high school volleyball match in September and touching a girl’s buttocks while making sexual remarks.

He allegedly told deputies the girls used the alcohol to make drinks named “Sex on the Beach.” Thomas and his wife record Christian rap music and call themselves Beyond Skillz. He’s also accused of breaking a window in the home after the girl locked him out. Source: Tampa Bay Times, 10-9-17

[First name unavailable] Devaraj, 65, Kerala, India: Child sexual abuse. Devaraj, a Church of South India priest (India’s largest Protestant denomination), is accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl at the church. The girl’s father told police he witnessed it when he came to pick her up. Source: The Hindu, 10-9-17

Samuel Neipp, 34, Gilroy, CA: Suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under 14, oral copulation, extortion and possessing child pornography. Neipp is a public school music teacher. The school band’s website says he’s also choir director for an unidentified church. Neipp’s LinkedIn account says he served as a Mormon missionary in 2002-04 in Estonia.

It’s alleged he had a 3-year sexual relationship with a student, starting when she was 13, and tried to blackmail her with nude photos, said police Sgt. Brian Spears. “We’ve received nonstop phone calls since 9 a.m. this morning,” he said, adding that some calls were from other potential victims. Source: Mercury News/KGO, 10-7-17

Lys W. Vincent, 45, Lawrence, MA: Breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony and burning of a building. Vincent, a deacon at Christian Church Voice of Salvation, is allegedly seen on surveillance video leaving the church 1 minute before the fire started, state police said.

A motive was not mentioned at his arraignment but a prosecutor later said Vincent had become disgruntled with the church. Gasoline odor was also detected on his sandals, investigators alleged. Source: Eagle-Tribune, 10-5-17

James Rhodes, 57, Mesa, AZ: Disorderly conduct and 7 counts of child molestation. Rhodes, who volunteered at Arizona Avenue Baptist Church in Chandler from 2003-09, met the alleged victim, who was 7 and 8 in 2008-09, through the church.

It’s alleged he was known for giving candy to children and would frequently have them sit on his lap while working in the church sound booth. He was also involved in bible study at the church and in members’ homes. Source: Arizona Republic, 10-5-17

Pleaded / Convicted

Stephen J. Howard, 58, Muscoy, CA: Convicted by a jury of 32 counts of sexual abuse, including lewd acts on a child, oral copulation of a person under 16 and sodomy of a person under 18. Howard, pastor of Muscoy United Methodist Church, was accused of molesting boys as young as 9 going back to 1990. Source: San Bernadino Sun, 10-31-17

Robert Marsicek, 76, Milwaukee: Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor 4th-degree sexual assault after being originally charged with 1st-degree sexual assault, a felony. He’s accused of touching a girl sexually in 1st through 4th grades while he was pastor at St. Piux X Catholic Parish and School in 2007-11.

The complaint says Marsicek “was asked if he was aroused by boys and small girls and he stated ‘certainly I’m aroused — just the cuteness and beauty of them.’ He did admit to having erections while dealing with children and admitted that this did seem odd.” Source: WITI, 10-24-17

Joel Waltz, 48, Boone, IA: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist. Court documents say Waltz and the victim, now 20, first met at Grace Community Church while he was a youth pastor and she was 11 and in foster care.

The girl told officers that Waltz texted her in 2012 and said he was in love with her but not to tell anyone. They first kissed when she was a high school junior. She sent him nude photos when she turned 17 and they first had sex on a church trip to Chicago. He resigned as youth pastor in March 2016. Source: Des Moines Register, 10-13-17

David R. Diehl, 40, Kentwood, MI: Pleaded guilty to accosting a child for immoral purposes. Diehl, co-pastor with his wife at Church on Fire, was caught in an online sting in which an undercover officer posed as a man willing to prostitute his daughters.

“Diehl admitted there was a strong possibility he would have met with Daddy Dave for the purpose of having sex with the 11-year-old girl if there was zero chance of Diehl being arrested by police or having to go to jail,” police Det. Matthew McLanin wrote in court documents.

Defense attorney Matthew Borgula called Diehl’s online conversation “disgusting” but said he didn’t commit a crime, only considered it. Source: mlive.com, 10-9-17

Sentenced

Trevon Gross, 47, Jackson, NJ: 5 years in prison and $12,000 fine for conviction on a scheme to help an illegal bitcoin exchange escape scrutiny from banks and regulators. Prosecutors charged that Gross, pastor of HOPE Cathedral, took bribes from the exchange, including $150,000 in donations to his church.

The trial followed an investigation into the JPMorgan data breach, which led to charges against 9 people. Source: Reuters, 10-31-17

Robert D. Wyatt, 51, Thornton, CO: 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault on a child. Wyatt, assistant pastor at Agape Bible Church, started touching the victim inappropriately 3 years ago when she was 12 and he was home-schooling her at his residence. When she was 13, he offered to take her on a field trip but instead took her to a hotel and assaulted her.

At sentencing, District Judge Don Quick criticized the church and the girl’s father, saying they tried to shift blame to the victim and handle the matter internally without police involvement. “I’m still shocked at how certain adults responded to this,” Quick said. Source: KDVR, 10-31-17

Rhonda Kemp Shoffner, 41, Middletown, PA: 2½ to 5 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault of her preteen daughter for failure to properly recite bible verses in March. Prosecutors said the girl was forced to kneel on the bathroom floor and had her head slammed into the wall each time she made a mistake.

Shoffner had been on a 3-day drinking binge. Source: Fox 43, 10-26-17

William C. Pounds III, 49, Macon, GA: Life in prison with no parole after a jury found him guilty of malice murder. Pounds, pastor at King’s Chapel Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and an Air National Guard senior master sergeant, was convicted of the 2015 shooting death of his fiancée, Kendra Jackson, 46.

Pounds tried to make it look like Jackson killed herself after learning he was also engaged to another woman. During a 911 call, he can be heard telling the dispatcher “I was trying to take the gun away from her.” Source: Macon Telegraph, 10-24-17

James A. Johnson, 58, Martinsville, VA: 11 years in prison for convictions on distributing child pornography and 4 counts of aggravated sexual battery. Johnson, associate pastor at Mountain Valley Baptist Church, was a family friend of the victim, now 16, and touched her sexually when she visited his home in 2014-15.

According to testimony, Johnson also had neighborhood boys touch her and made a video of her touching herself and shared it. Source: Martinsville Bulletin, 10-21-17

Justin White, 38, Camby, IN: 7 years in prison with 4 years suspended after pleading guilty to 2 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. White, who resigned as senior pastor at First Christian Church in March, admitted staging a home burglary with a 16-year-old in order to scam his insurance company. The boy alleged White owed him $11,000 for supplying him with hydrocodone and oxycodone. Source: The Republic, 10-20-17

George Waddles Sr., 69, Chicago: 30 months’ probation after pleading guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Waddles, former president of the National Baptist Congress and ex-pastor of Zion Hill Missionary Church, was charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl during a counseling session.

“You called my mom every Sunday to see if you could meet with me again, see if I forgave you and not press charges,” the girl said in a victim impact statement. Source: WLS, 10-20-17

Robert T. Davis, 51, Henrietta, TX: 8 years’ deferred adjudication after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child younger than 14 the day before his trial was to start. Davis, former Henrietta Church of Christ pastor and a teacher/coach at Wichita Christian School, was accused of incidents, including sexual penetration, between May 2009 and May 2013. He resigned as pastor in 2016 when the warrant was served. Source: Times Record News, 10-18-17

Samuel Hiller, 59, Queens, NY: 1 to 3 years and prison and $4 million restitution after pleading guilty to grand larceny for stealing state and local funds meant for 3- to 5-year-olds with special needs in 2005-12. Hiller, an Orthodox rabbi, was assistant director of Island Child Development Center. Source: NY Post, 10-17-17

Erik Hughes, 51, Mapleton, UT: Concurrent 1-to-15-year terms on 2 counts of forcible sexual abuse and zero to 5 years for tampering with a witness. Hughes, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop, pleaded guilty to multiple assaults on 2 teen boys from his church ward over a period of years starting in 2012.

One victim alleged Hughes “touched and measured his penis” and gave him Viagra. Mormon bishops have duties similar to those of a pastor, priest or rabbi but are unpaid. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 10-11-17

Jeffrey Bondi, 48, Virginia Beach, VA: 10 years in prison after a judge found him guilty in June of felony sexual penetration in 2001 when he was youth minister at Galilee Episcopal Church. Margaret Ann Viola, now 34, testified she was babysitting Bondi’s 3 children when he fondled and penetrated her digitally on the sofa. His pregnant wife wasn’t home. Viola reported it the next day to the church and Bondi resigned but no one told police.

Bondi now suffers from Parkinson’s and shakes from tremors. Allegations by 2 other female teens about assaults in 1997 and 1992 were admitted at trial. “Back then you were pretty much a serial sexual abuser and no one did anything about it,” Judge Thomas Padrick said at sentencing. “It’s just amazing.” Source: Virginian-Pilot, 10-10-17

Richard R. Boyle, 70, Portland, OR: 2 years’ probation, 40 hours’ community service, $200 fine and fees and loss of driver’s license for 90 days after pleading guilty to reckless driving. Boyle, rector of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, was involved in a 2004 crash on Interstate 5 when he was a Catholic parish priest in Cottage Grove.

He wasn’t ticketed at the scene but an arrest warrant was issued in 2005 after he missed a court appearance. His attorney claimed that Boyle had no idea he’d been charged with reckless driving until recently when he returned to Oregon after serving parishes in California and learned he was wanted.

The accident report said he’d made a U-turn in front of an oncoming vehicle and told a trooper he’d fallen asleep. An empty Xanax container was found in his car, and tests showed the presence of Ambien and a prescription antidepressant. Source: Register-Guard, 10-10-17

Robbie Wilkerson, 50, Chicago: 37 months in prison and $440,964 restitution after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He’s founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center, which in 2008-10 operated a summer food program to provide meals to low-income students when schools were not in session. The program claimed to have provided about 267,000 meals but actually served fewer than 100,000.

Tasha Wilkerson, his wife, pleaded guilty to theft of government funds and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison and $40,001 restitution. Three other church officials pleaded guilty in May and were sentenced earlier. Source: Sun-Times, 10-7-17

Civil Lawsuits Filed

The Catholic Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, has now been sued by 142 plaintiffs who allege sex abuse by clergy. Capuchin priest Jack Niland allegedly raped plaintiff “J.C.” during several confessions around 1979 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy. Niland is the 12th priest to be accused.

“During one incident, while J.C. was on his knees with his eyes closed confessing, Niland pushed J.C. forward and pulled J.C.’s pants down. Niland then hunched over J.C. and began penetrating him,” the claim says. Source: Pacific Daily News, 10-31-17

The Catholic Diocese of Yakima, WA, is being sued by a man, now 21, who alleges he was molested in 2012 by Gustavo Gómez Santos, 52, when he was pastor at St. Juan Diego Parish in Cowiche. The diocese removed him from ministry in June and is seeking to have him defrocked. Source: AP, 10-26-17

The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon and Bishop Michael Hanley are being sued for $845,000 by Mary Macy, former diocesan finance officer who alleges she was fired in 2016 for whistle-blowing about Hanley’s assault on a female priest and misuse of money.

Macy claims Hanley sexually harassed Margaret McMurren in Salem in 2014 while he visited her congregation, Prince of Peace Episcopal Church. McMurren’s attorney, Harris Matarazzo, told The Oregonian that at least 6 people witnessed the incidents. McMurren reported them to the church hierarchy. After an investigation, Hanley was told to have a “facilitated conversation” with McMurren to apologize but that never happened, Matarazzo said. Source: Oregonian, 10-25-17

Robert Genevicz, 67, Stratford, CT, is being sued for reneging on a civil settlement. Genevicz, former pastor of Stratford Baptist Church, had agreed to sell a house he owns in Maine to settle a claim brought by Cathy Devack, the daughter of an alleged victim. He’s accused of stealing nearly $400,000 from 2 parishioners, both now deceased, and pleaded guilty in February to larceny but hasn’t been sentenced.

“Defendant Genevicz has breached the agreement in that he failed to immediately list for sale with a licensed realtor that property located in Thomaston, Maine,” states the suit, which seeks an order forcing him to sell the house and turn over the proceeds. Source: CT Post, 10-23-17

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is being sued for at least $100,000 by “John Doe,” who alleges he was sexually abused as a boy in 2000-06 by convicted child abuser and former priest Daniel McCormack. McCormack, 48, was recently declared by Cook County Judge Dennis Porter to be a sexually violent person, clearing the way for him to be incarcerated indefinitely even though he has served his entire sentence and was eligible for parole in 2009. Source: Sun-Times, 10-19-17

First Baptist Church, Columbia, SC, its pastor and 2 other staff members are defendants in a suit alleging that youth leader Andrew McCraw molested plaintiff “Joel Doe,” now 17, starting when he was 11 and continuing for several years.

To expose the church’s alleged pattern of concealing abuse, the suit seeks an order to unseal three sealed suits against First Baptist and an ex-deacon, John Hubner, 69, convicted in 2002 for lewd acts on a child and now serving a 36-year sentence. Source: The State, 10-13-17

Joe Bradley Petrey, Brookwood, AL, and 11 staff and board members of the Tuscaloosa County School System are being sued by Abigail Weissenbach, now 21, who alleges Petrey manipulated her into having sex when she was 17 and he was a 30-year-old teacher and coach.

Their relationship lasted about 18 months, it’s alleged, even though 2 other teachers first told administrators about it in late 2013. “He kind of coached me in Christianity and talked to me a lot about that and would ask me to sit behind his desk, and it really just grew from there really quickly and it turned into something before I really knew it was going down that path,” Weissenbach told a reporter.

The suit alleges Petrey told her that God told him in a dream to tell her she was beautiful and that he would “fondle her underneath a blanket” while he was showing movies in class. She’d earlier revealed to him she was sexually abused as a child. Source: al.com/NY Post, 10-12-17

Civil Lawsuits Settled

A $500,000 settlement from the Catholic Archdiocese of New York was awarded to former priest Stephen Ryan-Vuotto through the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. Ryan-Vuotto alleged he was assaulted more than 50 times starting at age 14 with sex acts that ranged from fondling to sodomy between 1975-85 by Robert V. Lott, a priest who worked in the Greenwich Village and Harlem communities until his death in 2002.

Ryan-Vuotto was ordained in 1995. In 2008, he asked for a leave of absence after disclosing his own sexual abuse to superiors and now has left the church. Source: West Village Patch, 10-30-17

John Mulubwa, 50, Mansa, Zambia, was ordered to pay 10,000 kwacha ($990) to Chishala Kalukwembe, 34, for committing adultery with Kalukwembe’s wife. Mulubwa is an elder for Christian Missions in Many Lands. Kalukwembe sued after allegedly catching Mulubwa having sex with his wife “in the bush.” They’ve been married for 18 years. Source: Daily Mail, 10-26-17

Two New York Catholic dioceses will pay $1.8 million to settle with 6 victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests. Victims’ attorney Michael Reck, in revealing the payouts, also named 2 previously unidentified Bronx priests as predators: Herbert D’Argenio and Casper Wolf, both deceased.

One woman and 5 men were part of the settlement through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. “They did nothing to tell parents. And they did nothing to reach out to the survivors for years. Cardinal Dolan should be ashamed of this,” said victim Joelle Casteix, who was not part of the settlement. Source: NY Daily News, 10-25-17

Legal Developments

Peter Miqueli, 54, a New York Catholic priest sued by parishioners in 2015 for alleged misconduct involving a gay “boy toy,” was ordered to reimburse St. Frances de Chantal Parish $22,450 but won’t be prosecuted for criminal misconduct, said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. “This investigation by the Economic Crimes Bureau found that Father Miqueli was improperly reimbursed for personal expenses,” Clark said.

“The Archdiocese has attempted to investigate the other, more sensational, accusations of morally abhorrent behavior, but, to date, nothing has been brought forward to substantiate them, and Father Miqueli continues to deny them,” Clark added. Source: NY Daily News, 10-30-17

Court records of Catholic priests Sabine Griego, Jason Sigler and Arthur Perrault were ordered unsealed by New Mexico Judge Alan Malott. The records include correspondence of 3 Santa Fe archbishops and “pleadings, deposition testimony, investigative reports and settlement proceedings.”

Records available for public viewing won’t include settlement amounts paid by the archdiocese or names of alleged victims. Records were obtained in the course of lawsuits filed by attorney Brad Hall, who has brought more than 70 suits for plaintiffs since 2011. Source: Albuquerque Journal, 10-12-17

Ibrahim Omerdic, 62, Melbourne, Australia, is appealing to the Supreme Court his conviction for marrying a 14-year-old girl to a 34-year-old man, claiming the Islamic ceremony in November 2016 was not recognized by the federal Marriage Act so he should not have been charged.

Prosecutor Wendy Abraham said Omerdic, a practicing imam since 1987, should know that Islamic marriages are recognized under Australian law. Source: The Australian, 10-9-17

Removed / Resigned

Kris Bauta, Port Aransas, TX, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish “for the pastoral good of the church,” according to a letter from Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. Bauta said in published reports that he was not given a specific reason for the removal.

Media reported that diocesan officials met with parishioners, who were told Bauta was removed because an audit allegedly showed substantial financial discrepancies over a period of years. Source: KZTV, 10-23-17

Hubertus Leteng, 58, resigned as Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Ruteng, Indonesia, after a Vatican probe of allegations he had a mistress and secretly borrowed $124,000 from church entities without accounting for it.

Leteng claimed the money was spent to educate poor children but declined to provide details. The Vatican didn’t explain why Leteng was leaving before the usual retirement age of 75. Source: Crux, 10-11-17

Oscar Turrion, 49, Rome, resigned as rector of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae, a Legionaries of Christ seminary. Turrion, a native of Spain, acknowledged he has fathered a son and a daughter with the same woman.

The conservative Catholic order said in a statement that Turrion would leave the priesthood. Marcial Maciel Degollado founded the order in Mexico in 1941. For decades, the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that he’d abused them sexually but concluded in 2006 that accusations were true.

After Maciel’s death in 2008, it was revealed he’d fathered several children with at least 2 women and used illegal drugs. Source: Reuters, 10-7-17

Michael Hodges, Birmingham, AL, was removed as pastor of the Greystone campus of Church of the Highlands, which has 15 branches attended by over 40,000 worshippers. Chris Hodges, his father and church founder, said the removal was due to an unspecified “moral failing.”

Michael Hodges had been on the church staff since 2015 with other titles, including director of ministry partnership and placement and as a member of the Highlands College Team. Source: al.com, 10-6-17

Other

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, NY, is creating a compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. It’s the 8th-largest U.S. Catholic diocese with an estimated 1.4 million members.

The compensation program will be modeled on ones established by the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn. Victims deemed eligible for compensation must agree not to pursue legal action against the church in the future.

Attorney Michael Dowd said he has at least 35 cases in Rockville Centre, 80 cases in Brooklyn and 20 in the New York archdiocese. Source: Newsday, 10-7-17    

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