Thieving Priest Is No Saint

When spiritual riches isn’t enough:

A Roman Catholic priest in central Pennsylvania will serve 11½ to 23 months behind bars for stealing more than $380,000 from his parish.


Authorities say 52-year-old former pastor Caesar Belchez transferred more than $190,000 from various accounts at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Bonneauville to an online stock account and more than $120,000 to a personal account.

Belchez is accused of taking the money between 2006 and 2011 while he was pastor at Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Bonneauville.

On Religion: Frik Vermeulen, Unsung Genius

Finally, someone sorts through the world’s major faiths and helps us figure out “which Religion is right.”


We applaud South Africa’s Frik Vermeulen and his fearless decision to “way in and hopefully bring some sanity to the tables.”

Good Old Facebook

Via imgur.



Boston Bombs ‘Have Nothing To Do With Islam’

The Boston bombers’ religion is wholly immaterial, Muslims insist. Of course. Nothing to see here, move along.

“Unfortunately, there’s a double standard in the public’s view when an atrocity like this hits,” said Qasim Rashid, national spokesman for the national Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

“Who asked what religion Adam Lanza was?” asked Rashid, referring to the young man who mowed down 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., last year.

“If a non-Muslim commits an act of terrorism, they are thought of as responsible only for themselves. But when [it’s] a Muslim, the entire Muslim community is brought in.”

They could've been killed by anyone

Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Sean Collier: Could’ve been killed by anyone

Rashid’s was a view echoed Friday by local and national Muslim leaders.

“A terrorist is a terrorist. A killer is a killer,” said Quresh Dahodwala, a nuclear physicist who lives in Cherry Hill. “To identify them with their religion is not fair.”

Except when the murderers act under perceived orders or inspiration from their god, their religious texts, and their resulting ideology. Then, I would say, it’s more than “fair” to mention that fact — then it’s motive, then it’s essential to the story, in order to understand who and what we’re dealing with.

People like Rashid and Dahodwala, who I’m sure are nice guys, are either delusional or dishonest when they say they can’t see the difference.

The same is true for Twitter users such as Nervana Mahmoud, who wrote: “Fact: Terrorism has no religion, race, or nationality.”

We can agree on the “race” and “nationality” part, my friend. As for religion, with Bill Maher, I’m going to have to beg to differ.


P.S. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to separate the crazy-violent ones from the kind and peaceable ones on their own say-so?

In the Wall Street Journal, an acquaintance of Tamerlan Tsarnaev recalls how he discussed Islamic violence with the would-be bomber earlier this year, saying “bombing civilians and justifying it under the Quran was wrong.” The future butcher agreed with him, responding, “Not all Muslims are like that.”

[photos via NBC News and]

Pastor In Workman’s Comp Fraud Gets Off Easy

In Troy, NY, a part-time child-care worker for the Troy Housing Authority, Willie Bacote, said he hurt his back on the job two years ago. Bacote began drawing worker’s comp insurance.

But the State Insurance Fund thought there might be something fishy about Bacote’s claim, and had investigators keep an eye on him.

They monitored Bacote at his other job; he is also a pastor of Missing Link AME Zion Church, and runs a flea market at the church to support its operations. There, the insurance team repeatedly observed and video-recorded Bacote lifting and schlepping objects like couches, chairs, and heavy boxes.


The state reviewed his case and ruled that the pilfering pastor has to pay back the workman’s comp money.

While lesser men would have been given additional fines (most thieves don’t claim the mantle of godly goodness), the state of New York decided to let Bacote off lightly.

It appears from the video evidence that he is making valuable efforts on behalf of his community,

the ruling noted.

Two Down, Six to Go

Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Philadelphia had eight children. Four years ago, they refused to take their then-two-year-old son to the doctor when he contracted bacterial pneumonia. Instead, they decided to prove their faith in God by praying for their son to get better.

And prove it they did. The boy died.

The Schaibles only got probation, and the court ordered the parents to immediately consult with a doctor if any of their other children became sick, and to follow the doctor’s recommendations.


So they went home and multiplied some more, and somehow the fruit of their loins got unwell again — this time, it was an eight-month-old baby boy — and lo and behold, the other day, Jesus called him home too. For some odd reason, the Schaibles’ prayer had failed again.

A couple that was sentenced to probation after their 2-year-old died in 2009 from pneumonia have had another child die.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, fundamentalist Christians who believe in the power of prayer ahead of modern medicine, recently had their 8-month-old son die, according to Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Jillian Russell.

It wasn’t clear when the child died, or the cause of death, but the death hasn’t been ruled suspicious, Russell said. The child was taken to a funeral home by an as yet unknown individual and the undertaker alerted police, Russell said. An official cause of death is pending an autopsy, according to police.

In 2010, a jury convicted the Schaibles, who [then had] seven other children, of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the death of their 2-year-old son Kent. The Schaibles were each sentenced to 10 years of probation — they could have faced prison time.

Whatever medical afflictions may yet befall the Schaibles or their remaining kids, I’m sure it’s nothing that more and better praying won’t take care of.

[image via eurweb]

Are Muslims Being Treated With Suspicion? Probably. Unfairly So? Probably Not.

Conor Friedersdorf asked yesterday morning, in the Atlantic:

What is it like to be a Muslim, or a person frequently mistaken for a Muslim, in the aftermath of an apparent terrorist attack? Americans who don’t fit that description can’t really know for sure, but three news items from the last few days show that knee-jerk prejudice is inexcusably common. If your ethnic group were treated this way, you’d be walking around paranoid and anxious.

I like Friedersdorf, and share his concern for America’s civil liberties. And he has a point here, as usual. It must be annoying as hell to be a peaceful Muslim, forever struggling under the oppressive miasma of low-level public distrust. But here’s the thing:

If I were a Muslim, and in possession of a modicum of intellectual honesty, I’d understand why I and my brethren fall under swift suspicion almost every time a bomb goes off.

I’d understand that violent fundies, claiming to do Allah’s work, had spoiled it for the majority of peaceful believers.


As a hypothetical Muslim, I’d probably be upset by what I might well perceive as prejudicial wariness from non-Muslims; and I’d think, no doubt rather often, “Screw this, I didn’t do anything.” But I’d be more upset with the coldhearted sons of bitches who hijacked my religion by bombing innocents while shouting that God is Great.

If I were a Muslim — not one who works for CAIR or the UN as a professional accuser of Islam’s critics, but one with a capacity for balanced reflection — I’d face the fact, despite my anger and pain, that people of my religious tribe did this:

• Flew airliners into Manhattan office towers.
• Blew up subway cars (and the innocent passengers in them) in London.
• Bombed a night club in Bali, killing hundreds.
• Created a huge bloodbath by setting off ten bombs aboard trains in Madrid.
• Kidnapped and beheaded the journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
• Laid siege to the heart of Mumbai with bombs and guns for three days, piling up the corpses.
• Murdered hundreds of children and teachers in a school in Beslan, Russia.
• Bombed the Paris metro.
• Took and executed foreign hostages at an oil refinery in Algeria.
• Attempted to detonate a car full of explosives in Times Square, New York.
• Stabbed and shot several of Salman Rushdie’s translators and publishers in Italy, Norway, and Japan.
• Set fire to a hotel in Turkey to protest Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, killing dozens.
• Firebombed a British publishing house for publishing a historical novel about Mohammad.
• Firebombed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for putting Mohammad on its cover.
• Tried to blow up cargo planes and their crews in England and Dubai, with explosives packed in printer cartridges.
• Shot and killed people on the Fort Hood military base.
• Slaughtered the filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam.
• Made multiple attempts on the lives of Scandinavian cartoonists who’d drawn pictures of Mohammad.


Not quite done yet:

• Shot and killed innocent people in the Washington DC area with a sniper rifle.
• Tried to bring down a passenger plane with explosives hidden in the heel of a shoe.
• Tried to bring down another passenger plane with an incendiary device hidden in the bomber’s underwear.
• Shot little Jewish kids through the head in a schoolyard in Toulouse, France.

Oh — and, we learned yesterday, hours after Friedersdorf posted his piece, that Islam-loving youths

• indiscriminately killed and maimed with bombs and guns in Boston this week.

Boston Marathon Explosions

That’s all off the top of my head. The litany above covers just the last decade or two, and isn’t nearly a complete list.

People who don’t like hearing this have a tendency to go on the counter-offensive by pointing to terrorists like Tim McVeigh and Anders Breivik. But those mass-murdering swine notwithstanding, rightwing extremists of their ilk don’t represent a worldwide violent movement.

Wish I could say the same for Muslims.

In the United States alone, since 9/11, there have been more than 50 Muslim terrorist plots and attempts and attacks. What other religion comes close? What other faith has even one-tenth of this horrible record, gained in the span of just the last 20 or 25 years?

As Moral Compass readers know, I have a fair amount of contempt for the Catholic Church (in fact, I like to think I’m an equal-opportunity offender of all religions). But I’m not the slightest bit worried that cells of scheming Catholics are going to want to blow marathon spectators to smithereens, or butcher atheists and gay people, or fly Boeings into office buildings.

No other religion on earth boasts such a massive contingent of aspiring terrorists, and I can back up the assertion. In 2008, the Gallup polling firm released the result of a survey among the world’s Muslims. Over six years and across three continents, Gallup had asked 50,000 adherents of Islam whether they supported violent jihad. The vast majority of respondents — 93 percent — said no.

May we assume that percentage to be correct? It’s likely to be considerably lower, of course, as not all backers of jihad will readily reveal their true sympathies when pressed on the subject by a U.S.-dispatched stranger with a clipboard. Not many radicals who support murder if it advances their cause will say so openly. Well, maybe these guys (Londoners, no less):


Anyway, Gallup and the mainstream media played the poll results as a victory for reason and international peace. Dalia Mogahed, director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, intoned at the time that there was no “widespread support for terrorism” among Muslims. Her poll showed that only seven percent are politically radical, she enthused.

Only seven percent of 1.3 billion Muslims is 91 million.

Only 91 million Bin Laden aficionados who cackle at the murders of Jews, Christians, atheists, apostates, artists, and authors.

Only 91 million devotees of stoning adulterers and lynching gay people.

Only 91 million Allah worshippers ready to either kill satirists and apostates, or condone such slayings.

Only 91 million would-be warriors so steeped in spirituality that they cheer when bombs built and placed by their co-religionists literally rip the limbs off of clubgoers in Indonesia and train commuters in Spain.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but as long as the number of Muslim terrorism supporters is that high, and extreme violence by Muslims is as common as rain showers, fans of Allah are going to be met with more than their fair share of suspicion.


P.S. Friedersdorf refers to Muslims as “an ethnic group.” He suggests that we’re racists for letting our thoughts wander in their direction whenever an act of terrorism is reported in the media.

As has been pointed out countless times, including by YouTubers with robot voices, Muslims form neither a race nor an ethnically homogenous tribe. Just as there are black Christians, white Christians, Asian Christians, etc., so are there black Muslims, white Muslims, Asian Muslims, and so on. The point should be unmissable, but continues to whoosh right over Friedersdorf’s and others’ heads.

Boston Suspect: ‘There is No God But Allah.’

From Yahoo News:

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted links to Islamic websites and others calling for Chechen independence on what appears to be his page on a Russian-language social-networking site.


Police launched a massive manhunt for Tsarnaev, 19, after killing his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a shootout overnight. On the site, the younger Tsarnaev identifies himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It says he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders Chechnya, and lists his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” is listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” is “career and money”.

He has posted links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles like “Salam world, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts”.

Who Said It?

Who is on the record with these three statements?

• “I’m very religious.”
• ‘There are no values anymore.”
• “People can’t control themselves.”

Click and drag in this space here –>   Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan, Tamerlane: What’s in a Name? An Islamic Warrior’s ‘Systematic Use of Terror’

We learned today that the older of the two brothers suspected of bombing the Boston marathon was called Tamerlan Tsarnaev.


That means he was named after the 14th-century Turkic ruler Tamerlane (also spelled Tamburlaine, but more commonly Temur or Timur) who called himself “the Sword of Islam.” Tamerlane/Timur, says Wikipedia, was known for his butchery and his “systematic use of terror.” His empire stretched thousands of miles, encompassing parts of (among other countries) Turkey, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and also Kyrgyzstan, where the Boston suspects were born.

Timur was a devout Muslim who referred to himself as the Sword of Islam, converting nearly all the Borjigin leaders to Islam during his lifetime. His armies were inclusively multi-ethnic. During his lifetime Timur would emerge as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire and the declining Sultanate of Delhi. Timur had also decisively defeated the Christian Knights Hospitaller at Smyrna. …

Timur’s armies were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid to ruin by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about five percent of the world population.

Taking advantage of his Turco-Mongolia heritage, Timur frequently used either the Islamic religion or the law and traditions of the Mongol Empire to achieve his military goals or domestic political aims.


He not only consolidated his rule at home by the subjugation of his foes, but sought extension of territory by encroachments upon the lands of foreign potentates. His conquests to the west and northwest led him to the lands near the Caspian Sea and to the banks of the Ural and the Volga. Conquests in the south and south-West encompassed almost every province in Persia, including Baghdad, Karbala and Northern Iraq.

His incursion into Persia was notable in part for what Tamerlane ordered his troops to do after the brief siege of the city of Isfahan.

When Isfahan surrendered to Timur in 1387, he treated it with relative mercy as he normally did with cities that surrendered. However, after the city revolted against Timur’s taxes by killing the tax collectors and some of Timur’s soldiers, Timur ordered the massacre of the city’s citizens with the death toll reckoned at between 100,000 and 200,000. An eye-witness counted more than 28 towers constructed of about 1,500 heads each. This has been described as a “systematic use of terror against towns…an integral element of Tamerlane’s strategic element” which he viewed as preventing bloodshed by discouraging resistance. …

He justified his campaign towards Delhi as a religious war against the Hindu religion practiced in the city and also as a chance for to gain more riches in a city that was lacking control. By all accounts, Timur’s campaigns in India were marked by systematic slaughter and other atrocities on a truly massive scale inflicted mainly on the subcontinent’s Hindu population.

He massacred 100,000 captives at Delhi, and at least 20,000 more at Baghdad. The Baghdad death toll came after

Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him. (Many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur.)

Then he turned his attention to Ankara and Anatolia (present-day Turkey).

Timur’s army ravaged Western Anatolia, with Muslim writers complaining that the Timurid army acted more like a horde of savages than that of a civilized conqueror. But Timur did take the city of Smyrna, a stronghold of the Christian Knights Hospitalers, thus he referred to himself as ghazi or “Warrior of Islam”.


In all,

The conquests of Timur are claimed to have caused the deaths of up to 17 million people; an assertion impossible to verify. Timur’s campaigns sometimes caused large and permanent demographic changes. Northern Iraq remained predominantly Assyrian Christian until attacked, looted, plundered and destroyed by Timur, leaving its population decimated by systematic mass slaughter.

Timur’s devotion to Islam, especially in his waning years, was never in question, but in his earlier adulthood he seems to have been more of a religious opportunist who just loved to subjugate and plunder. Notes one reviewer of Justin Marozzi’s biography Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World:

Temur rationalised his conquests by appeal to Islam, but he rates as one of the greatest butchers of Muslims of all time. His forces were hired and kept loyal with generous shares of the spoils of conquest, and the cynical deal was, “No jewels, no jihad.” If a city were rich enough to merit plundering, it would qualify as a city of bad Muslims to be blessed with Temur’s corrections and a pretext found. If it happened to be filled with Crusaders or Hindus, all the better. The Ottomans themselves, fresh from annihilating the flower of Christian knighthood at Nicopolis, were swept aside almost without effort. Clearly, Temur’s blessings to his religion were equivocal. Campaigns against Delhi and Christian enclaves in Asia Minor allowed a slightly more convincing pretext of religious war, and in his later years he directed his energies more consistently against non-Muslims as he felt immortality approach, but his campaigning character seems to have been defined by the lust for conquest.

Of course, that one of the apparent Boston bombers was named after the Sword of Islam may mean nothing. The Tsarnaev boys’ aunt claims they were unfailingly good and kind:

My nephews cannot be part of this terrible, horrible act that was committed in the streets of Boston. I know these two nephews, smart boys, good boys, they have no motive for that, they have no ideas to be going to this kind of act. It’s just not the case, it cannot be true.

We‘ll see.

[top photo via Business Insider; middle photo via National Geographic; bottom image via Aapna Punjab]

Ash Wednesday, Ash Every Day

From the Toledo Blade:

Pam Kest was leaving Way Public Library in Perrysburg [Ohio] Tuesday when she saw a flash of lightning and heard a loud boom, drove around a corner, and saw the cross atop the St. Rose Catholic Church steeple go up in flames. “Then five minutes later, I saw the cross fall,” Ms. Kest, 48, of Maumee, said.


Authorities said lightning struck a rod on the cross about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, setting the cross ablaze.

That news story got me wondering about other churches that the all-powerful Creator decided to set on fire.

There are no reliable numbers that I’m aware of, but here’s a tantalizing fact:

• Google “church fire lightning” and you get 13.7 million hits.
• “Accidental church fire,” which would include references to mostly non-arson, non-weather-related church fires, yields 5.6 million hits.
• “Church fire arson” (which, in addition to arson stories, also brings up links to church-fire reports where arson was suspected but later ruled out) delivers almost 5 million hits.

God above, with his bolt-hurling prowess, seems to be firmly in the lead here. In 2010, he even smote a 62-foot-tall statue of his Son (below, center), again in Ohio, making the toppling of the Toledo cross at the top of this post an act of divine recidivism that should probably concern believers in the Buckeye State.

Why the Lord Almighty would destroy, incessantly and with such dedication, the very structures erected to honor him, is a question for theologians to answer.

I’m just fascinated to gaze at the results of all that celestial pyromania. Here’s a small sampling I put together.

churchfires_lowres[top photo by Dan Moses via The Blade]


What’s the Difference Between Pray and Prey? Pastor Crime Ring Involved In Petro Stock Fraud.

Opening statements are expected today in the trial of five people, including alleged ringleader Isreal Owen Hawkins, accused of selling unregistered worthless shares to more than 9,000 investors.

Petro America Corp, a Kansas-based oil company, had no oil, no evident plans for buying, transporting or storing large amounts of oil, no assets to speak of, and no employees beyond president and CEO Hawkins (photo).

Isreal: is fake

Isreal: is fake

Petro America did have revenue, however. Lots of it. Not from oil-market transactions, but from the thousands of people who were persuaded by their pastors to sink their savings into the shadowy company.

According to the U.S. Justice Department,

Investors lost from $100 to $100,000 each. Initially, many of the investors were drawn into the scheme with the promise that $100 would buy 100,000 shares of Petro America stock, the affidavit says, which Hawkins claimed was “book valued” at $2 per share. As the scheme progressed, conspirators raised the price to invest and claimed an ever-higher “book value” for the shares. The affidavit alleges that this allowed conspirators to unload shares to new investors at an increasing profit.

Which makes it a classic Ponzi scheme.

Hawkins allegedly promised “meteoric returns” on investments. At the height of the scheme, the affidavit says, up to $700,000 flooded into the company each month.

In the end, more than 9,000 gullible victims invested more than $7.2 million.

Where’d the money go? Hawkins and his co-conspirators went to pimp town and spent wads of cash on luxuries such as fancy cars, expensive jewelry, a $5,700 fur coat, a $37,000 boat, and a $5,200 piece of Louis Vuitton luggage.

The scheme probably wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if it hadn’t been for two holy men: the Rev. Edward D. Halliburton of Kansas City, Kan., and his colleague Joseph Harrell, of Waco, Texas.

Harrell, acting as the CFO of Petro America, told anyone who would listen that the company was worth as much as $284 billion (which would have made it bigger than Wal-Mart and the Coca-Cola Co.). When touting the “once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities” to his eager marks, the good reverend often wrapped those sales pitches in Bible talk, stressing that Petro was a blessing from God.

Oh, and while he was bilking believers out of their nest eggs and living the high life, Harrell also enjoyed the comfort of having a little revenue stream on the side: government handouts, including food stamps.

Meanwhile, Halliburton, a pastor of more than 20 years, was the president of the Ministers Alliance, a group of about 15 ministers (mostly from the Kansas City area) who aggressively sold the worthless Petro shares to their congregants and others. The faux-pious hoodlums informally called themselves the White Hat Guys, as each of the ministers received a white fedora. All participated in regular Thursday night conference calls with hundreds of investors in dozens of states. Following the calls, many of the White Hat Guys went to the Epicurean Lounge, a local night club for people looking to get it on.


Like Hawkins, the men of God spent investors’ money with abandon. The Reverend Halliburton paid off his mortgage and purchased a Mercedes S500. Through it all, educating himself about the word of God™ was never far from his mind: for the low low price of $1,794, he also bought a doctorate degree from Tabernacle Bible College, for which he did no actual course work.

In separate appearances before a magistrate judge, both Harrell and Halliburton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud.

The trial that’s scheduled to start today involves Hawkins (by all accounts the chief crook) and four other accused scammers charged in connection with Petro America. All have pleaded not guilty.

According to the Kansas City Star, whose early reporting on Hawkins and Petro America tipped off investors that something was amiss, among those expected to testify are:

• A 79-year-old California man who still hasn’t told his wife about investing in Petro for fear it would worsen her already serious health problems.

• A Louisiana lawyer who grilled Hawkins in Petro’s rented Kansas City office on behalf of a Petro investor and then had to chip in $20 for gas money when Hawkins and a secretary gave him a ride back to the airport.

• A legally blind Texas investor whom Hawkins took to fancy Kansas City restaurants, often sticking him with the bill, and who was hit up for bail money when Hawkins was arrested.

[Hawkins image via COGIC Abuse Watch]