A Roman Catholic nun with a gambling addiction has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $130,000 from two rural western New York parishes.
The Daily News of Batavia reports that 68-year-old Sister Mary Anne Rapp pleaded guilty Monday in Orleans County Court to grand larceny. She admits she stole the money from St. Mary’s Church in Holley and St. Mark’s Church in Kendall from March 2006 to April 2011.
A two-year police investigation has ended with the arrest of a Windsor priest who allegedly spent almost a decade stealing more than $180,000 from his own church. Father Robert Couture, 49, who was the priest of St. Anne’s Parish in Tecumseh, is charged with one count of theft over $5,000.
The diocese realized something was wrong in 2010, when Couture was granted a personal leave of absence and left the parish. Diocese policy dictates that when a church has a change of pastors, there is an audit of the parish’s finances. Diocese auditors raised a number of questions, including a number of expenses charged to the church and a previously unknown bank account in the parish’s name.
[A] statue of Our Lady of Fatima, made of porcelain, started weeping tears of “blood” on Monday night, said resident Joy Rayla. She told Sun.Star that her 14-year-old son was the one who first noticed the blood coming out of the statue’s eyes. Her son said the statue also wept blood last Good Friday, March 29.
Joy believes the incident has something to do with her husband’s losing faith in God, adding that her 41-year-old husband was once an active member of the church, but lost faith due to personal problems.
In 1995, a Madonna statue appeared to weep blood in the town of Civitavecchia in Italy. About 60 witnesses testified to witnessing the miracle. The local bishop said that he himself had seen it weep. The blood on the statue was later found to be male. The statue’s owner, Fabio Gregori, refused to take a DNA test. After the Civitavecchia case, dozens of reputedly miraculous statues were reported. Almost all were shown to be hoaxes, where blood, red paint, or water was splashed on the faces of the statues.
In 2008, church custodian Vincenzo Di Costanzo went on trial in northern Italy for faking blood on a statue of the Virgin Mary when his own DNA was matched to the blood.
In some countries, though, it’s not the hoaxers who face legal consequences, but the skeptics who oppose them.
Late last year, an Indian rationalist and atheist, Sanal Edamaruku, disproved claims that a Jesus statue had spontaneously begun to produce tears. He traced the source of the liquid to a leaky sewage pipe, and demonstrated that the water-producing feat of the statue was easily explained by capillary action.
After India’s Catholic Christian Secular Forum filed a complaint, Indian prosecutors charged Edamaruku with blasphemy, claiming he deserved jailtime for “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments.” Edamaruku went into hiding for two months and eventually fled to Finland.
Here’s a CNN video about the affair:
India’s prosecutors should probably consider putting Catholic clergy on trial too; after all, surprisingly enough, the Vatican is rather skeptical about these so-called miracles. According to Wikipedia,
Authorities of the Catholic Church … set very high barriers for their acceptance. … Even at the local level, Catholic priests have expelled people who claim weeping statues from their local church.
Blogger Elie Fares gets all up in some clothing store’s grill about a T-shirt the store sells. This one:
He’s terribly upset, because he claims that “not even with the most out-of-the-box approaches [can it] not be considered as a distortion of many Christian icons of Mary.” He says this “demonizes religious holy figures” and that it is “unacceptable,” “revolting,” and “offensive.”
If you’d been in St. Augustine, Florida, on Saturday, you could have glimpsed Catholic priest Father Gilbert Medina peacock-strutting through the pretty streets, dressed as the Spanish invader Juan Ponce de León.
Father Medina was proud to do his part to celebrate the discovery of Florida by Ponce de León five hundred years ago, a feat that the priest and his posse re-enacted by planting a flag in a seemingly random flower bed in a local park. His pride, he said, was bolstered by his Catholic faith, just as the 16th-century explorer had found spiritual satisfaction in bringing his Catholic faith to the New World.
As Father Medina told the local news team — watch the video, below — he viewed his re-enactment of the conquistador’s supposed triumphs as “an opportunity to connect myself to Catholic history.” But when he donned the replica Spanish helmet, his vision was grander than that. He also hoped, he said, to inspire people, to whet their appetites for history, to make them delve into books and look up historical events on the Internet, and thus “explore the world.”
So I did that, as it seemed to me that Father Medina’s assessment of Ponce de León was a bit rosary rosy.
That’s not uncommon among followers of the faith. When you check out the Catholic Encyclopedia, the entry on Ponce de León uses the most wonderful euphemisms. During his conquests of the Caribbean and beyond, Ponce didn’t slaughter the natives; he “reduced” them. He didn’t wage war on indigenous tribes or brutalize uppity slaves; he had “encounters” with them.
Other sources, which I read thanks to Father Medina’s kind encouragement, provide perhaps a fuller account of Ponce’s record.
Back on his island [Puerto Rico], Ponce de León parceled out the native Taínos amongst himself and other settlers using a system of forced labor known as encomienda. The Indians were put to work growing food crops and mining for gold. Many of the Spaniards treated the Taínos very harshly and newly introduced diseases like smallpox and measles took a severe toll on the local population. By June 1511 the Taínos were pushed to a short-lived rebellion, which was forcibly put down by Ponce de León and a small force of troops armed with crossbows and arquebuses [early firearms].
Encomienda, which comes from the Spanish verb for “to entrust,” has a nice ring to it, but that didn’t keep the natives from being treated worse than dogs.
The difference between encomienda and slavery could be minimal. Many natives were forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme punishment and death if they resisted.
Ponce de León carried a contract from his king “to settle the Islands of Bimini and the lands discovered.” This contract stated that the native people must be given the option of becoming serfs or, when they didn’t comply, they could be taken as slaves.
It’s good to have options.
The Spanish conquistadors carried with them a religion whose defining symbol is an image of intolerance and torture — the cross. … Their method of gaining control of their lives was through the accumulation of personal wealth and by the subjugation of others.
Sure, but that still does not get to the heart of the Ponce de León legacy. The explorer’s enthusiasm for spreading Catholicism and his callous treatment of his enslaved inferiors were as legendary as evidence of his vaunted accomplishments is flimsy and even fake. Most notably, by 1513, the year he “discovered” Florida, the peninsula had in fact seen so many Europeans that some native Americans greeted him in Spanish.
I’ll quote from the recent New York Timesarticle “Ponce de León, Exposed”:
Contrary to what our school books taught us, Ponce did not discover Florida. He never did much of anything here except get himself killed. …
Ponce never went anywhere near St. Augustine, the city where he is said to have discovered the Fountain of Youth. … Ponce was after gold, but Florida had none to be found. He left and might never have returned but for the news that Cortés had found gold in Mexico. In 1521 Ponce — envious, vigorous, avaricious — made the fatal mistake of trying his Florida luck again.
After sustaining an arrow wound to his leg, which led to an infection,
…he died of fever in Havana, having discovered nothing, founded nothing and achieved nothing.
The Spanish never named anything after Ponce de León.
In America, we often enjoy myth-making more than truth-telling — a bit like Chicagoans invented deep-dish pizza (which, I hasten to add, is tasty enough) and pretend it’s Italian food. We treat history as some cheap fake of an imitation of a facsimile, a theme-park-ready cubic zirconium version of truth that lets us substitute slavery for bravery and plunder for pluck.
Pay no mind to the bodies, make way for the Walt Disney Company. Stuff those skeletons into the closet, here comes the Catholic Church. It’s perfectly understandable, and perfectly depressing, all at once.
Catherine Deveney, in the Guardian, neatly identifies two key factors that explain how the Catholic sex-abuse scandals could become so widespread, endemic, and lasting:
The first is “scandalising the faithful”. Traditionally, the hierarchy believed the greatest sin was shaking the faith of Catholic congregations. Protecting them meant concealing scandal. Adopting that as your moral standpoint means anything goes. You can cover up sexual misconduct from those you demand sexual morality from. You can conceal financial corruption from those who put their pounds in the collection plate. You can silence the abused and protect the abuser. Guilt about sacrificing individuals is soothed by protecting something bigger and more significant – the institution.
The second concept is “clericalism”, a word used to describe priests’ sense of entitlement, their demand for deference and their apparent conformity to rules and regulations in public, while privately behaving in a way that suggests the rules don’t apply to them personally. (O’Brien was, in that sense, a classic example.) The Vatican is an independent state; the Holy See a sovereign entity recognised in international law and governed by the Pope. The Nunciature operates like government embassies in different countries worldwide. It is even governed by its own rules: Canon Law. All this contributes to the notion that the church can conduct its own affairs without interference or outside scrutiny. It demands a voice in society without being fully accountable to it.
Eleven years ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted “zero tolerance” guidelines for dealing with sexually abusive clergy members. The guidelines were issued to help restore faith in the Church’s tattered image.
Many priests and their protectors and enablers seem not to have gotten the memo. The Chicago Tribuneexamines a few local cases of priests who, despite a record of inappropriate touching and worse, never came close to being disciplined, much less terminated, much less turned over to the police. Here is the opening section of the article:
When Will County sheriff’s deputies found the Rev. William Virtue sneaking into a private quarry in 1986, police records state that the Roman Catholic priest had blankets, two six packs of beer and a 10-year-old boy with him. He fled on foot when officers arrived, leaving the child behind.
Dammit, why couldn’t the Rev. Virtue’s first name have been Richard? Dick Virtue would have been perfect.
Authorities took Virtue into custody after he returned to his car but later released him without charges because the boy’s mother said she had given her son permission to go swimming with the priest. Still, a deputy forwarded the report to Joliet Diocese officials who put it into Virtue’s personnel file — which already contained several accusations involving inappropriate behavior with underage boys.
The arrest report would remain tucked away for 20 years as Virtue continued to have contact with youths, and even after a seemingly repentant Joliet Diocese pledged in 2002 to improve its handling of sex abuse cases and held up guidelines approved by American bishops as proof of its commitment to transparency and victims’ needs.
Virtue’s personnel file, which contains 500 pages of letters, memos and reports, reflects the struggles the church faced since its public vow to better protect children after a bruising, national sex abuse scandal. Records obtained by the Tribune reveal several instancesin which the diocese’s handling of abuse allegations contradicted those promises, adding to concerns about the overall efficacy of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that U.S. bishops signed amid fanfare.
There can be little doubt that this story has repeated itself, and is repeating itself today, all over the Catholic world. See also here, and here, and here.
The wonderful part for the abusers is not only that they keep their jobs and keep getting paid (essentially by the very parishioners whose children they assault with their saintly cocks). It is not even that they keep getting access to molestable boys and girls, though I’m sure the padres appreciate that very much. No: the sweetest advantage of being a Christian abuser is that you get to enjoy the fruits of your redemptive faith, which holds that you will sit at the feet of the Heavenly Father for eternity if only you mutter a few apologetic prayers about your child-fucking ways.
Say “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned”… and before too long, your slate is wiped clean.
The Catholic doctrine of forgiveness, as warm and fuzzy as that word sounds, is the very article of faith that makes unending child abuse possible. If there’s no misdeed that can’t be erased by prayerfully showing penitence to Jesus, who already blotted away your sins by dying for them, then no heavenly consequences will likely ensue. Real contrition and self-improvement are, evidently, for suckers.
Clergy crime roundup. All stories from April 5 (today) only.
• A former dean of a Roman Catholic cathedral in the UK has been charged by the police with three counts of indecent assault against an individual. [link]
• A retired Church of England priest and a former organist and choirmaster have been found guilty of a string of child sex abuse offenses dating back more than 25 years. Prosecutors said the priest used the respectability of the cassock to groom and abuse two boys over an 18-month period from when they were aged around 13. [link]
• A former Roman Catholic priest convicted of raping two altar boys in the 1980s has been denied a new trial by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The priest was convicted in February 2011 of rape of a child by force and indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14, and sentenced to up to 25 years in prison. He claims he didn’t get a fair trial. [link]
• A suspended California priest charged with seven felony counts of child molestation was brought into court today, in preparation for the trial against him that will start on Tuesday. He is accused of seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a teenage girl during a two-year span, starting when she was 14. [link]
• A New York priest who’d already been charged with five counts of child rape was arraigned Friday in Salem, Mass., Superior Court, on an additional count. The new indictment alleges that, in the early eighties, he raped a seven-year-old child. [link]
• A new Michigan lawsuit against a priest and the Catholic church says they failed to protect a 14-year-old girl from sexual abuse by a 19-year-old man. The suit says the priest and church were negligent and failed to act after getting reports of the sexual misconduct. [link]
• Australia’s long-awaited clergy-child-abuse investigation kicked off this week. The Winnipeg Free Press says the years-long probe looks set to dwarf even the Irish investigation by the Ryan Commission, which revealed that police had colluded with the Catholic Church in covering up clerical child abuse in Dublin and beyond. At least 5,000 people are expected to give evidence during the Australian inquiry, compared with just 1,500 in the Irish one. [link]
Irrational beliefs are alive and well in the United States. For instance,
One in five Republican voters believes Barack Obama is the ‘antichrist’ and nearly a third of all Americans think a secret power elite controls the world, according to new research on conspiracy theories.
A survey by the Public Policy Polling group aimed to shed light on the link between political leanings and belief in conspiracy theories. The poll found that:
• 34 percent of Republicans polled believe a New World Order controls the world, compared with 35 percent of independent voters and 15 percent of Democrats.
• 29 percent of US voters believe aliens exist.
• 13 percent of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22 percent of Romney voters.
I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want — no skin off my backside. All the same, it can be dispiriting to live in a country whose populace takes to nonsense and disinformation as a fish takes to water.
How could you not trust a religious order that is run by men of the cloth and named “the Congregation for the Children of the Immaculate Conception”? Any suspicions would be especially foolish when the padres in question are in the business of healing — that is, running a hospital.
Italian police on Thursday arrested a priest accused of pocketing €4m ($5.2 million) from a Catholic hospital he ran, and helping run up €600m ($776 million) in debts that forced it into bankruptcy.
The Rev. Franco Decaminada [photo], who until 2011 was the chief executive of the IDI dermatological hospital in Rome, was placed under house arrest by Italy’s financial police. They also detained two other people while seizing a Tuscan villa that police say Decaminada built with stolen money.
…had found daily operations in which the priest took money from the hospital as “reimbursement of costs” without justification. The hospital has not paid its 1,500 employees, including 300 doctors, for several months.
You might have expected the combination of the Vatican’s fabulous wealth and its professed insistence on helping the poor and downtrodden to result in a bailout of some sort — a Godly rescue mission if you will. No dice.
The plight of 1,500 IDI workers who haven’t received paychecks for months had prompted Benedict XVI in one of his last acts as pope to name a delegate in February to take over the religious order that owns the hospital to try to bring it back to financial health. But in the end the Vatican refused to provide any financial assistance [emphasis added] and last week a Rome court certified the hospital as insolvent.