Oz Priest: ‘I Saw Church Evidence Tampering’

Insert joke here about priests who blow something other than the whistle. But to Victor Buhagiar, church child abuse is no laughing matter. He has recently quit his post as a Catholic priest over what he sees as an institutional inclination to bury the truth, abandoning the church after a dozen years of leading parishes across Victoria, Australia. The country is in the midst of a huge and unprecedented government inquiry into church-based child abuse.

Buhagiar says he personally saw unethical attempts by church authorities to prevent damaging information from coming out.

Buhagiar claims it has became impossible to continue after he found out the Church was deleting records relating to child sexual abuse.

“I saw the Archbishop and I heard the Archbishop telling the secretary to turn off the recorder,” Buhagiar said.


Alarm bells first began to ring for Buhagiar at a council meeting of the state’s most powerful priests last April. “As soon as the recording was turned off, the Archbishop started talking about the sex abuse situation,” Buhagiar said. …

“After that meeting I made enquiries as to why the recorder was turned off at that particular moment. Again, whoever I asked said to me, I do not remember, when I pushed, they said so that no names are mentioned,” Buhagiar said.

“I suspect the recorder was turned off to minimise the possibility of investigators finding evidence that can be useful to the inquiry, or to the Royal Commission; to create like a black hole, an empty space that when the investigators try to see how the situation evolved during the last 10 years or so, they seem to find nothing.”

It’s too late for that. The cat is already out of the bag, and the church will have a lot of explaining to do:

The Royal Commission estimates there are 5000 people waiting for their chance to give evidence against the Catholic Church and other institutions.

[image via Today Tonight]

Martin Luther King Jr., Thief

Earlier this month, France’s top rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigned, brought down by a plagiarism scandal of his own making (see here and here and here). Geoffrey Alderman, in the Jewish Chronicle online, makes a very good point when, after roundly condemning Bernheim for his thievery, he asks

why one serial plagiarist has been exposed and disgraced, while another has been canonized.

Alderman says he knows a famous theologian who never repented and got away with repeated acts of plagiarism — and so do you.

That theologian is Martin Luther King Jr, the celebrated civil rights activist who was infamously assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, 45 years ago this month.

King … was not just a plagiarist. He was an habitual plagiarist. His Boston University PhD, awarded in 1955, contained numerous plagiarized passages — a conclusion endorsed by a board of inquiry established by that university some years later. To those of you interested in learning more about this, I recommend Plagiarism & The Culture War, a meticulous exposé of King by Theodore Pappas from 1994. Pappas reproduces, side-by-side, passages from King’s PhD and from the work of a fellow Boston University student, whose doctoral dissertation had been approved in 1952.


King went on to publish articles and books that incorporated — without attribution — passages lifted from the works of others.

I knew of King’s well-deserved reputation as a serial adulterer, but the plagiarism allegations were new to me. They shouldn’t have been, I suppose, because as it turns out, King’s thievery is a well-established fact. Wikipedia delicately refers to “authorship issues” surrounding the civil-rights hero — but stripped of euphemisms, King’s behavior was clearly pretty disgusting:

During the late 1980s, as [King’s personal] papers were being organized and catalogued, the staff of the project discovered that King’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, titled A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, included large sections from a dissertation written by another student (Jack Boozer) three years earlier at Boston University.

As Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project at Stanford University, has written, “instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career.”

Boston University, where King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology, conducted an investigation that found he plagiarized major portions of his doctoral thesis from various other authors who wrote about the topic.

According to civil rights historian Ralph E. Luker, who worked on the King Papers Project directing the research on King’s early life, King’s paper The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism was taken almost entirely from secondary sources. [Luker] writes: “Moreover, the farther King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long-established practice.”

Even after the extent of King’s academic fraud came to light, Boston University never revoked his doctorate. All the school did was append a letter to his dissertation in the university library, noting the plagiarism.

This old Stranglers song sums it up for me.

[photo of Martin Luther King via Charisma News]

Is Church ‘Good For You’? Jury Still Out.

Quite the statement by an op-ed contributor to the New York Times:

One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you.

That’s a line from a short essay the Times published yesterday, called “The Benefits of Church.”

The term “scientific discovery” conjures up hard science — the ones and zeros of digital data, rock-solid math, the incontrovertible observations of physics — and that’s not at all what we’re looking at here. What author T.M. Luhrmann (photo) claims as the scientific truth is in fact a squishy, shapeshifting approximation of it, that can change completely depending on whom you ask, what religion they adhere to, what type of god they believe in, and even where they live. More on that in a minute.


Religious attendance — at least, religiosity — boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.

But Luhrmann gamely gives it a go:

Regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others.

Exactly. And those behaviors have nothing to do with church (or religion) per se. Refraining from promiscuity, booze, and drugs bestows likely health benefits that are also enjoyed by people who choose these things without ever setting foot inside a church.

Luhrmann also believes in the life-lengthening religious power of what she calls “absorption,” which she describes as

the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.

Fine, but I’d wager that non-believers who meditate, or who frequently immerse themselves in the comfort of a quiet forest spot or a beautiful night sky, will experience the same effect. Absorption can even come from losing yourself in poetry, art, or music.

As for that psychiatric scale to which Luhrmann refers, maybe we can spare a thought for the fact that a belief in the classical, wrathful Christian god is substantially correlated with different types of mental illness, as a team of psychologists at Marymount Manhattan College found recently. I wrote about it here. Are those believers healthier, and will they live longer? I doubt it.

Further putting the kibosh on Luhrmann’s theory is that church, and religious faith in general, is often highly stressful for believers. For instance, the less flexible of religious faiths (such as Wahhabi Islam, hard-line Christian evangelism, and conservative Catholicism) tend to do a number on young people, gay or straight, who are intelligent and courageous enough to ask question. Those with probing attitudes are typically frowned upon by their elders and by many of their less-critical peers, which often leaves them socially unmoored and ‘lost’ for a number of years, while they work through religious issues. Surely such a state of mind is not a contributor to great health.

Neither, by the way, is living in any society, from the West Bank to Myanmar to Northern Ireland, where there is a lot of religious hatred, and where people must frequently fear for their safety. (In that same vein: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably sense, as do I, that the rapists, thieves, and murderers who populate it neither spread nor enjoy inner peace and calm.)

Even in the relatively strife-free parts of the West, it’s clear that outsized guilt over sexual and other matters is part and parcel of much of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Guilt cannot be conducive to overall health, I should think.

Finally, there’s the quality-of-life issue. I’d rather enjoy myself thoroughly, and live two or three or even ten years shorter, than spend my life on my knees praying to a figment of the collective imagination, and carefully hewing to the fingerwagging tenets of a buzzkill faith.

‘Glory,’ a Zombie Woman, Excites the Faithful

An apparent case of mistaken identity in Tanzania has caused horror and morbid curiosity among locals, who claim it is proof that people can rise from the dead.

A woman who many believe died and was buried five years ago was seen again the other day. (I guess we could say she resurfaced.)


She has been admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit to help keep out the spooked and the curious. Initially, the ex-corpse had been given standard hospital accommodations, but the medical facility soon found itself under siege from throngs of people trying to get a closer look to the ostensible zombie.

Though the woman, who formally remains unnamed as family members haven’t yet shown up to confirm her identity, is unable or unwilling to speak, she does sing and chant, but only at night, says physician Gasper Nduasinde, a member of the hospital’s medical team. After dark, he says, she bursts out in religious songs and prayers.

The one time she did manage to squawk a word in an attempted conversation, it was to say that her name is Utukufu  — “Glory.”

[T-shirt via Teenormous]

Pastor Nicks Church Member’s Knickers ‘To Pray’

A thieving pastor’s pure intentions became clear after he was caught with a congregant’s missing panties and bra: He explained that he needed them to pray for her.

The police in Lagos [Nigeria] on Monday arraigned a 25-year-old pastor, Tommy Issachar, over an alleged stealing of a female church  member’s underwear and N10,000 ($63) cash.


[The prosecutor] said that the accused stole two pants, one bra and a cash sum of N10,000 belonging to Mrs Gift Bassey.

“The accused, a pastor of All Nations Evangelical Church, Oshodi, was invited to a programme at the headquarters of the church which was the complainant’s church. The complainant and her husband accommodated him (pastor) in their house for three nights to conduct a special prayer session related to her husband’s business,” he said. …

“At first, the accused denied taking those underwears but later confessed that he actually took them. He said that he wanted to use them to pray for her, but denied taking the money,” the prosecutor said.

After the victim notified the police, the pastor allegedly sent her a series of text messages threatening to “eliminate” her.

[image via Sharenator]

Amusing Church Signs

A church just down the road from where I live frequently tries its hand at patriotism and clever aphorisms — and comes up short on both accounts.


Apparently god doesn’t believe in spelling either.

A Regular Find: Fetuses in Church Bathrooms

When you find three fetuses in a church’s women’s bathroom, as happened yesterday in the Philippines, it might be worth wondering whether the remains were left by a regular female churchgoer who could enter and exit the place without drawing suspicion. But that’s not really how this news story is presented:

Three fetuses were found inside the toilet of a church in Novaliches, Quezon City, Saturday morning.

Flora Duran, a maintenance worker, was cleaning the women’s room at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy on Quirino Highway around 8 a.m. when she discovered the fetuses stuffed in a green shopping bag.

Novaliches police station investigators said the discovery raised the possibility that an abortionist was operating just within the community.


I see. “An abortionist” who is “operating just within the community.” Very delicate language there, rich with the politics of distancing and prevaricating.

But fetuses show up in church bathrooms in the Philippines more often than you might think. So often, in fact, that Manila’s archbishop wrote a pastoral letter about it a few years ago.

Alarmed over the number of fetuses left in churches and other public places, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales Thursday issued a pastoral letter to remind Catholics about the “evils of abortion.”

On Tuesday night, two fetuses were found in Manila’s most prominent Catholic churches — the Manila Cathedral and Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.

The first, believed to be that of a six to seven month-old boy, was discovered by a churchgoer at Manila Cathedral in Intramuros at around 5 p.m. … At about 6:45 p.m., another fetus was found inside a box in Quiapo Church by a Black Nazarene devotee who thought it contained a bomb.

More Filipino church-fetus cases here and here and here.

[cartoon via sodahead]

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.



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]