Men of the Cloth: Special Rape Edition

Note: All headlines and news snippets from the past 48 hours. It’s by no means a complete roundup.

Joliet, Ill.:

The Diocese of Joliet has expanded its public list of priests facing “credible” accusations of sexual abuse on Tuesday — some of whom are being named for the first time, including a former chaplain at Driscoll High School in Addison. After releasing hundreds of documents in response to a court order Tuesday, the diocese separately added a dozen names to a list of priests facing credible or substantiated allegations of abuse. The list, which is available on the diocese website, now stands at 34.


New Orleans, LA:

A former associate pastor at Greater Works CME Church in Kansas City, Mo., has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with child molestation and forcible sodomy of a child. George Spencer, 48, was arrested without incident in New Orleans, the FBI said. He was charged by Jackson County prosecutors on Tuesday with statutory sodomy, forcible sodomy, three counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual misconduct involving a child.

Ipswich, Mass.:

There are more abuse allegations against a Roman Catholic priest who is already accused of abusing a young boy in Ipswich. The Salem News says Rev. Richard McCormack has been indicted on additional counts of child sex abuse.

Vacaville, Calif.:

A former Eastern Orthodox pastor has been sentenced to 18 years in a California prison for molesting five children from his Fairfield parish. A Solano County judge also ordered the Rev. Robert “Silas” Ruark of St. Timothy’s Orthodox Church to pay $10,000 in restitution and to register as a sex offender.

Jerusalem, Israel:

Army Radio reported Monday that a 70-year-old rabbi, who was not named but was identified as being from a “very well-known hasidic movement,” agreed to return to Israel in the coming days and face his accusers. … One man told Army Radio that his 15-year-old daughter told him the rabbi grabbed her breasts from behind as he kissed her. The girl’s older sister said the rabbi committed similar acts on her three years earlier, when she was 17.

St. Joseph, SC:

A former St. Joseph-area youth minister has pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal sexual conduct. Matthew David Feeney, 44, pleaded guilty in Washington County last week to second-degree and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, the Washington County prosecutor’s office confirmed. … Feeney was accused of sexually assaulting two brothers, who were 9 and 14 years old when the assaults started, according to court documents.

Dublin, Ireland:

Former priest Patrick McCabe (77) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to three counts of indecently assaulting a 13-year-old boy on two locations in Dublin between January 1 and September 31, 1979.

Moria, South Africa:

A Zion Christian Church (ZCC) prophet has been arrested for allegedly raping a 27-year-old woman at the church’s headquarters in Moria. The woman alleges that the prophet put a knife to her throat as he raped her on Saturday morning during an all-night prayer session at the church premises, east of Polokwane. The suspect is said to be a full-time prophet who lives at the church’s official residence.

(The story’s reporter, without apparent sarcasm, describes the church in question as “a known beacon of morality.”)

Yuba City, Calif.:

The Rev. Julio Guarin-Sosa was arrested on suspicion of child molestation in Yuba City, Calif. The priest, who is visiting the United States from Colombia, is being held at Sutter County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. He will also be charged with sexual battery.

Greenville, SC:

A Catholic priest with ties to the Upstate is on administrative leave following an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor, according to the state’s diocese. Father Hayden Vaverek had “his priestly faculties withdrawn” after someone reported the misconduct.

Queensland, Australia:

A retired priest charged with more than 50 child-sex offences dating to the 1970s is “not well” in hospital, his lawyer says. The man, 77, was charged yesterday in a magistrates court with 57 counts of indecent dealing and one count of common assault.

 [image via Gospel According to Hate]

Does Jesus Cause Crime?

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ostensible Christians among the prison population, one answer is that Jesus Saves. If no one forgives you for the terrible things you’ve done, He will.

Even the most godless of criminals will often turn (quasi-)devout behind bars. It’s perfectly understandable. For starters, religion gives prisoners something to do. It also lets them become part of a righteous tribe. And no doubt, prayer and Bible study look good in the eyes of the warden and the parole board.

But most of all, religion can wash away evildoers’ guilt, if they feel any, and offer them a shot at salvation.

Christians think of redemption as a feature of their faith. But what if it’s a bug?

Too far?

Too far?

I ask because a new study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology suggests that, instead of causing offenders to repent of their sins, religious programs might actually encourage crime. Slate reported on the interesting research the other day.

The authors of the study surveyed “hardcore street offenders” in and around Atlanta, and tried to gauge the effect that religion may have on the offenders’ behavior. Of the 48 subjects (admittedly a small sample), 45 claimed to be religious, and the researchers found that those followers

…seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.

It should come as no surprise that street hoodlums who cloak themselves in religion don’t have much of a grasp of their professed faith’s basics. Take, for example, an 18-year-old robber whose nom de crime is Que:

Que: I believe in God and the Bible and stuff. I believe in Christmas, and uh, you know the commitments and what not.
Interviewer: You mean the Commandments?
Que: Yeah that. I believe in that.
Interviewer: Can you name any of them?
Que: Uhhh … well, I don’t know … like don’t steal, and uh, don’t cheat and shit like that. Uhmm … I can’t remember the rest.

This lack of knowledge is often a deliberate (if possibly subconscious) mental construct, a simple psychological crutch. Ignorance is bliss. As one enforcer for a drug gang asserted,

God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him.

He had committed several murders, and obviously felt better knowing that salvation was potentially just a few prayers away. In fact, he believed that he was due God’s forgiveness even without penance or prayer.

A 23-year-old robber called Young Stunna thought that the circumstances of his upbringing, coupled with an appeal to Jesus, would pretty much justify his crimes:

Jesus know I ain’t have no choice, you know? He know I got a decent heart. He know I’m stuck in the hood and just doing what I gotta do to survive.

Young Stunna was typical. The 45 religious interviewees tended to shape their interpretation of their faith to make their criminal behavior seem less odious, less condemnable. Slate quotes a 25-year-old drug dealer called Cool, who believes that God not only doesn’t mind when you do bad things to bad people; the Almighty actually dispatches avengers like Cool to do His bidding:

If you doing some wrong to another bad person, like if I go rob a dope dealer or a molester or something, then it don’t count against me because it’s like I’m giving punishment to them for Jesus. That’s God’s will. Oh you molested some kids? Well now I’m [God] sending Cool over your house to get your ass.

Maybe Cool is right. The Lord (we are always told) works in mysterious ways.

But seriously: Atheists may see the study as an endorsement of their view that believing in God doesn’t equip people with a superior set of morals — the notion that’s the exact point of this site. However, the stars don’t all line up in our favor.

If what I wrote in the first couple of paragraphs is correct, then convicted prisoners will disproportionately and post-factum slather themselves in religious sauce. That being the case, the number that many atheists gleefully love to cite — that less than one percent of the prison population consists of atheists — does become almost meaningless. After all, hoodlums who never gave a fig about religion probably have a tendency to “get right with God” once they’re locked up. They were perhaps — and may still be, appearances to the contrary  — atheists, even if they never self-identified as such. That alone debunks the idea that there’s something more moral and law-abiding about atheists than about religionists. Fair’s fair.

Back to the study: The authors conclude that

There is reason to believe that these [criminals’ religion-based] rationalizations and justifications may play a criminogenic [crime-producing, TF] role in their decision-making.

Religion’s good intentions notwithstanding, that finding is another unpleasant reality that theists will have to come to terms with. The study doesn’t prove that, in Christopher Hitchens’ words, God is Not Great; but its conclusion does seem to support his maxim that “religion spoils everything.”

[image via memegenerator]

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Willfully Blind: Haredim Cover Up For God

When ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews, especially those of the Haredi sect, make the pilgrimage to the tomb of their revered Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, they wish not to be subjected to the “evils and temptations” of the modern world.

So the most pious bring pieces of cardboard that they use to cover the movie screens in the airplane seats in front of them.

When this didn’t keep out all the possible bad influences, they resorted to using dark-colored scarves that they drape around their faces to block their peripheral vision — and sometimes a little bit more. Like so:


I looked into the Haredim a little bit after encountering the photo below on Facebook the other day:


Those are two Haredi Jewish women and their kids. The children are decked out in costumes especially for Purim, but the adults — the ladies, at least — dress like this whenever they show themselves in public. Modesty, they call it.

Naturally, when they take a bus, the Haredi men make them sit in the back. Sometimes the men try to force non-Haredi women into the rear section too.

Speaking of buses: Israeli transportation companies recently stopped running bus ads, because the billboards were always being vandalized by protesting Haredim, opposed as they are to photos of insufficiently-covered womenfolk.

Secular Israeli women and Western tourists are often yelled at when they enter Haredi neighborhoods, for not dressing modestly enough.

This culture war has been going on for decades — in the 1980s, ultra-Orthodox Jews bombed Tel Aviv-area newsstands that sold secular magazines and newspapers — but the Haredim have been getting stronger in number, and tensions have grown.

A big part of that is demographics: Haredi couples have an average of eight children, versus two kids for secular Israeli families. Of the country’s 5.4 million Jews, one million are already of the ultra-orthodox variety.

Most are shomer negiah (“observant of touch”), meaning they do not tolerate any physical contact with someone of the opposite sex, except immediate family. The men are especially wary of a woman’s cooties touch, including a handshake, as they consider a menstruating woman (a niddah) to be unclean. Unmarried women are regarded as being niddah by definition — always bleeding, always impure.

The Haredim are so offended by bare skin that they successfully campaigned for the removal of photos from the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, on the grounds that the nakedness of concentration-camp corpses was an intolerable affront to the religious eye.

It’s all perfectly perfectly quaint, or perfectly ludicrous — take your pick.

I’ll leave you with this dual image.


Considering how much these tribes have in common (including their misogyny), isn’t it mindboggling that fundamentalist Muslims have no greater desire than to see Jews massacred, and that fundamentalist Jews wish death and destruction upon their neighbors across the Israeli border?

If a clearer demonstration of the random and noxious nature of religious faith is needed, I’m having a hard time providing one just now.

Covering Christ in Dead Skin Cells

…and other news from the wondrous world of religion.

• David Hooker, an associate art professor at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal-arts school near Chicago, has been sprinkling layer after layer of fine debris from the school’s vacuum cleaners over a 5-foot ceramic likeness of a crucified Christ. The resulting sculpture symbolizes death and resurrection. Says Hooker, “Literally, this dirt contains skin cells from the community. The idea is that our bodies are now connected to the body of Christ.” Wheaton President Philip Ryken is an admirer. He believes that Hooker’s work stands for the things that are “disappointing and even dirty about us” — but he finds the sculpture reassuring because “God loves us in spite of our sins.” Well, sir, if you say so, we won’t argue. Let us just note that religion in art sure has its vagaries. Taking a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine: decades of Christian hissy fits. Covering Christ in dead skin cells: applause and reverence.


• Every 12 years, up to 80 million Hindus travel to Allahabad, India, for the months-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival. According to National Geographic, “some take advantage of the swirling crowds to abandon elderly relatives.” Says one human-rights activist who has helped the forlorn and abandoned, and who wishes to remain anonymous: “Old people have become useless, [relatives] don’t want to look after them, so they leave them and go.” A local social worker added that it happens mostly to elderly widows. She estimates that dozens of old people are deliberately abandoned during the holy gathering. They are often untraveled and illiterate, and consequently don’t know exactly where they’re from, making reunions unlikely.

• A Muslim barber in Lahore, Pakistan, accused a Christian young man of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed. Soon, a bloodthirsty mob assembled, and 150 families had to abandon their homes to save their skins. Police investigated and found the barber had made up the blasphemy allegation. [UPDATE: The mob torched upwards of 100 houses and everything in them. Photos here.]

• A religious school in Israel fired a female teacher for becoming pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, claiming that such a pregnancy is an affront to Torah family values. The judiciary, however, told the school to stuff it. Tel Aviv Labor Court (ha — labor!) ordered school authorities to compensate the young mother for the loss of her job. The judges ruled that “the right to be a parent, the freedom to work, and human dignity and liberty” trumped the religious concerns of the school.

• Another faith-related labor dispute recently occurred in England. A British residential-care worker whose contract stipulated she would occasionally have to work on Sundays refused to do so on religious grounds, and was ultimately fired. She promptly filed against her former employer for religious discrimination. The Employment Appeal Tribunal that heard the case argued that lots of her co-religionists work on Sunday without complaining; and that even so, the employer had made every reasonable accommodation to allow the worker to practice her faith. Consequently, the complaint was dismissed.

• This very website is most likely a purveyor of illegal anti-religious hate — at least according to Indian police. Cops have set their sights on Facebook blasphemers, noting that “While many of these posts are pictures that depict gods and religious figures in a bad light, there are even status updates that mock at the religious texts.”  Mocking religion is a crime in India. A police unit referred to as the “state hi-tech crime inquiry cell” is demanding that Facebook release the identities of the apparently pseudonymous critics.

• Police in Bangladesh arrested eight members of a radical Muslim student organization, after uncovering the group’s plot to assassinate 10 religious leaders. Those targeted are also Muslims, but of a slightly more liberal variety.

On This Day in 1948…

…the U.S. Supreme Court banned as unconstitutional the use of public school facilities by religious organizations as a venue for religious instruction to students. In an 8-to-1 ruling, the court held that such activities violate the First Amendment. Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion in the case, known as McCollum v. Board of Education.

The Supremes found that

neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will, or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’


We shall keep it intact.

[image via Little Victories]

10 Quickies To Get You Through Your Friday

• Danish imam says women must cover their heads or expect to be raped. Brilliantly proves his point by trying to rape a woman in a public park.

• Speaking of 10 quickies: In 2011 and 2012, youth pastor Aaron Edwin Springer had sex with a 16-year-old about 10 times at the First Assembly of God church in Manheim Township, PA, police say. The girl was a member of his youth group.

• Upset Vietnamese Buddhists are demanding the destruction or removal of all statues in which their Lord is seen copulating with a nude woman, but are not entirely sure that such statues exist.


• A new lawsuit implicates a Hawaiian priest, Father George DeCosta, in the sexual abuse of two boys in the 1960’s. The accusers claim that they were forced to perform various sexual acts when on camping trips and while praying with DeCosta.

• Mohammed Merah, the French-Algerian jihadist who gunned down a rabbi and three Jewish children at a school in Toulouse last year, was “a good and kind kid,” his mother told France 3 television.” His sister, not to be outdone, praised the “bravery” inherent in his crimes. To be brave means, apparently, to walk up to unsuspecting preteens and shoot them in the head.

• Buddhists in Thailand are said to be “enraged” over a single toilet seat cover in a small French hotel, as it bears a picture of their God. Thanks to the involvement of both the French Embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Foreign Ministry, Toiletseat-gate is now an international incident.

• Teenage Turkish Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands openly expressed their admiration for Nazism in an interview on Dutch television. They chuckled about the Holocaust and said Hitler “should have killed all Jews.”

• Brazil’s House of Representatives has picked a homophobic evangelical pastor, Marco Feliciano, to chair the House Committee on Human Rights and Minorities. Feliciano is on record as saying that being gay is “hateful” and “sick,” and believes that “salvation is available to them” in the form of a gay “cure.” He sounds like just the guy to lead a government human-rights group.

• An Edinburg priest has been charged with vandalism after police discovered he punctured the tires of a parishioner. Father Eusebio Martinez is also a person of interest in a series of arsons.

• To end on a positive note: Thumbs up to Indian peacemaker S. Tamil Selvan, the president of an artists and writers’ organization, who recently argued that parents should instil secular thoughts in the minds of their young children. “Home should be more secular and children should be taught to accept others’ ideas,” Selvan said. “There are a large number of religious minorities in our country, and their interests can be protected only when India follows secular principles.”

[image via Buddhism Magazine]

Is It OK to Indoctrinate Kids With Holy Books?

Take a look:

She’s unbelievably cute. And delightful. I mean that sincerely. I have two young daughters, now 8 and 10, so I’ve long been around a surfeit of off-the-scale adorableness. It never gets old.

So, yes, this lovely, lively little girl retelling the story of Jonah — it’s absolutely wonderful.

Except for the fact that she’s not recounting some yarn about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. We may assume that among the adults who taught her this fairy tale, there’s no shared understanding that she’ll grow out of it. They won’t have a good collective laugh about it, including her, when she reaches age 11 or 12 and realizes that everyone played a good-natured joke on her. Because to them, this is no laughing matter, and no flight of fancy. They neither expect nor want her to cast aside the tale (and the book it came from) when she matures. On the contrary. The people who teach their brood these stories will maintain that the tales are true — literally or metaphorically — because the source is their favorite holy book. And they want their kids to sign on to that … forever.

Though I could be wrong, I’d wager that most of these parents will have scarcely given a thought to the extreme improbability of a man living inside a whale’s belly for three days before being vomited, intact, onto dry land.

Speaking of waterworld adventures, what of Noah’s story? I doubt that most Christians will readily reflect on the extremely remote possibility that Noah’s home-built ark was able to accommodate the untold thousands or even millions of species. In neat boy-girl pairs, no less. Likewise, most prayerful parents will  probably dismiss skeptics who point out that animals like sloths and penguins, who can’t travel very well, couldn’t have made it to Noah’s place, thousands of miles from the creatures’ habitats. Et cetera.

Reason and open inquiry are, after all, often anathema1 to true faith.

At the risk of being a buzzkill, I ought to point out there are two vital differences between telling kids a fanciful Easter Bunny-type story, and indoctrinating them with the pretty and not-so-pretty stories from a holy book.

Firstly, I reiterate that the children of the faithful are expected to believe in, and live by, the latter — for life.

And secondly, there are serious social and psychological consequences if they don’t. The likelihood of ostracism, for one. The fear of causing deep parental disappointment, and of losing their moms’ and dads’ love and esteem, for another.

Even if you believe that the Bible isn’t literally true on every single page, I can’t say I understand why you would subject children to ‘sacred’ fairy tales and insist that they must ultimately believe in them until they die.

By extension, I don’t quite get why we wouldn’t simply let children make up their own minds, in due time, when they’re old enough to think for themselves.2


Meanwhile — sure, let them see how you live your faith. But also tell them about other religions, and about other creation stories — and about the fact that a billion people on this planet think that there are no gods at all.

Why wouldn’t you? Is it because forcing dogma on a five-year-old is easy as pie, and forcing dogma on a 20-year-old has every chance of failing?

The Oatmeal illustrates the point:

dogmaIn other words, for the love of _____ [fill in the blank], let’s please all stop doing this:



1I use the word advisedly. Anathema was originally used as a term for exile from the church, but evolved to mean set apart, banished, or denounced.

2This is what my wife and I do with our kids. They know that Mom’s a Christian and Dad’s an atheist, and we discuss it with them — when it comes up organically. But we also allow them to graze from other religions and world views. They’ve been to United Church of Christ summer camps and to friends’ Hannukah celebrations. They’re encouraged to learn about other faiths. We don’t tell them what to think. They’re smart, and kind, and they’ll figure out this religion stuff eventually.

Weekend Bonus

So that‘s how that works.


Rabbis Bless Children’s Orifices

It’s been a busy few weeks for the holy representatives of Yahweh. Aren’t you glad we have such upstanding men taking care of children’s spiritual needs?

Brooklyn, USA:

A rabbi from a prominent ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, was charged on Thursday with sexually abusing three teenage boys from a school he ran, in a case that is likely to shine yet another spotlight on a secretive community grappling with abuse allegations. The rabbi and leader of the school, Yoel Malik, 33, is accused of taking two of the boys to a local hotel for sexual encounters and rubbing another boy’s penis through his pants while masturbating in a parked car.

The Awareness Center, Inc._ Case of Rabbi Yoel Malik

Sydney, Australia:

A man under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing boys at a Sydney Jewish day school told police that senior rabbis knew of his actions but failed to report them to authorities, a newspaper reported. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that the man told New South Wales police, who are investigating allegations that two men associated with the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi sexually abused children during the 1970s and 1980s, that he confessed to Rabbi PInchus Feldman 25 years ago, and was told to “take steps to avoid it.”

A Jewish rabbi in Manchester who is facing child sex abuse charges has gone on the run, sparking a police alert. Rabbi Todros Gryhaus is wanted by police investigating claims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community in Manchester. He was charged with indecent assault and sexual assault against children in December.

Queens, USA:

A Brooklyn rabbi and travel guide exchanged sexually explicit online messages with an undercover cop he thought was a 14-year-old girl, then set up a date with her in Queens, prosecutors charged Thursday Nathan David Rabinowich, 59, was arrested Wednesday night when he showed up for the pervy rendezvous, police said. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted of attempted rape and other counts.