30 Dec 2007

Jeffs trial witness getting help in custody case

Deseret Morning News - December 30, 2007

by Ben Winslow

An organization that helps people leaving polygamy is raising money to help pay the legal bills of a witness in the trial of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs.

The southern Utah-based HOPE Organization is soliciting funds to pay for attorneys in Teressa Wall's child custody case in Canada.

"Because Teressa's ex-husband is still a member of the FLDS, she is now facing a legal battle for custody of her children in retaliation for her testimony against Warren Jeffs," HOPE director Elaine Tyler wrote in a plea posted on the Web site, thehopeorg.org.

Teressa Wall is the sister of Elissa Wall, who was the Washington County attorney's star witness in the case against Jeffs. She bolstered her sister's claims that Jeffs performed a child-bride marriage between then-14-year-old Elissa and her 19-year-old cousin.

"Two weeks after I got back from testifying, I got the papers," Teressa Wall said in an interview Friday night with the Deseret Morning News. "I'm positive that's what it's all about."

Jeffs, 52, is now serving two five-to-life sentences in the Utah State Prison after being convicted of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He recently resigned as president of the FLDS Church, but it is unclear if he is still prophet of the polygamous sect.

Wall left the FLDS community of Bountiful, in British Columbia, and separated from her husband in June. She now lives in Idaho with her three children, ages 8, 7 and 5. Shortly after Jeffs' trial, advocates claim, Wall's ex-husband sought full custody of her children.

In a ruling issued earlier this month, the Supreme Court in British Columbia granted Teressa (Wall) Blackmore temporary custody, noting Joseph Blackmore's membership in the FLDS Church.

"Suffice it to say that, whatever Mr. Blackmore may argue about the FLDS Church being irrelevant to this application, it is an elephant in the corner of the room of this proceeding that inevitably casts a shadow over it," Justice Thomas Melnick wrote.

Blackmore said in court papers his ex-wife's concerns about the FLDS faith was a "convenient red herring" to justify what would otherwise be considered wrongful conduct by a parent denying custody and access to the children. He has not said if he will appeal. Wall said her custody dispute is not over and it's not cheap.

"I'm looking at a $10,000 bill," she said. "Right now I am struggling to keep a roof over my kids' heads. I'm kind of at a point right now where I have no pride left. I really need some help."

The Diversity Foundation, another group that helps those ousted from the FLDS communities, has been "a great help," she said. The Vancouver Sun newspaper reports a defense fund has also been launched at a credit union in Canada.


Lessons to be learned when cults make news

LA Daily News - December 29, 2007

By Tina Dupuy, Columnist

I was born into the group the Children of God - or as they are called now, the Family International - a Christian cult that started in the late '60s made up of dropout hippies in Huntington Beach. They went international after the leader was sought for kidnapping and tax evasion. I'm in denial that anyone has heard of them. I pretend like they're obscure. Many will remember the 2005 suicide of their heir apparent, Ricky Rodriguez, right after he killed his childhood nanny, Angela Smith. That was sensational enough to make headlines and inspire a "Law and Order" episode. Recently author Don Lattin released a book about the cult's history titled "Jesus Freaks."

My parents left the sect when I was 5, while my uncle and cousins remained members for the next 20 years. I obsessively follow any press that the group gets. While watching CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" report detailing Rodriguez's death and the group's well-known child sex practices, Cooper said, "Well, that has nothing to do with Jesus!"

This is how the public has always reacted to the COG. It's upsetting and so it's dismissed outright as not actually Christian. It's a quick effort to make sense of it.

That is how we deal with things we don't like in religion. We reject all unpleasant elements as being frauds. Calling for the death of a teacher because she agreed to name a teddy bear Muhammad? That isn't actually Islam. The widespread molestation of boys by priests? That isn't actually Catholicism. The institutionalized and systematic abuse of lower and lowest classes? That isn't actually Hinduism. We even go so far as to tout pre-Columbian religions as being peaceful and passive. If we sidestep all the human sacrificing and war-making, they were.

So if the COG has "nothing to do with Jesus," then what does? The Crusades? The Inquisition? The Conquistadors? The witch hunts? The slave trade? Manifest destiny? The Holocaust? Miscegenation laws? Fred Phelps? Crimes against women of questionable virtue? The entire presidency of George W. Bush?

All have to do with Jesus because they were all justified by Christianity. Just like the COG's prostitution and child abuse was justified.

When you say you are a Christian, you become everything that is or was Christianity. Good, bad or indifferent - it's all Christianity. A drop of water doesn't get to claim autonomy while swimming in the ocean, even if that drop of water happens to be Mormon and running for president.

The alternative is a skewed and inaccurate, albeit a more comfortable, belief in one's faith. It's the new iTestament, where you can customize your beliefs so you can stand out among your friends.

And why is that so bad? What could go wrong if we forget history under the guise of glossing over what's objectionable?

The first answer is that we can repeat it. We can have another pre-emptive invasion in the Middle East just like in the First Crusade. Shudder. If we wear rose-colored glasses and refuse to see the problems, then we will never solve them.

When the faithful aren't aware of the true, unflatteringly lit, warts-and-all history of their religion, its past follies and its vulnerability to mistakes, it leads to the insistence that America is and should be a Christian nation. Our Constitution is a product of the era of The Enlightenment, where the foundation was reason. But we are told that our Constitution "rests on a foundation of faith."

This type of revisionist history causes the line of church and state to be blurred, which is precisely what our Constitution tries to guard against. And there is plenty of evidence that when that happens, it isn't beneficial to the church or to the state.

So when stories of cults and abuse in the name of religion make national news, let's look at the similarities instead of dismissing them because they don't apply to us. See what they can teach us. And be open to the answers.

Tina Dupuy is a stand-up comic and a writer living in Los Angeles. She blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire and sardonicsideshow.com.


27 Dec 2007

Faith, medicine collide in life-threatening case

The Tennessean - December 27, 2007

VU gets court order to use blood for baby of Jehovah's Witnesses

Staff Writer

When doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center rushed to operate on a baby born last week with a life-threatening heart condition, they faced one giant hurdle: the child's parents.

They refused to consent to the surgery, saying it would involve the use of blood products — a violation of their religious beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses.

The hospital went to court and a Nashville judge ordered the surgery, along with the use of blood products deemed necessary to save the child's life, in spite of the parents' belief.

Hospitals and Jehovah's Witnesses say great strides have been made to understand and accommodate each other, but this case shows that the conflict between medicine and religion remains.

"It's a scriptural command to abstain from blood," said Fred Haston, a Jehovah's Witness.

"The reason is that the life of a person is in that blood. We believe that blood is life. There's no question about it. But we wouldn't use that life … in a way that would be in conflict with God's laws."

Haston is chairman of the faith's Hospital Liaison Committee, which works with doctors to promote surgery that doesn't require blood transfusions.

There is much more cooperation between hospitals and Jehovah's Witnesses about that than there used to be, he says.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Bible forbids them from getting blood or any of its major components, such as plasma and white or red blood cells.

But when the girl was born Dec. 18 at the children's hospital, doctors knew they couldn't get around the blood issue.

The child, identified in court documents as Baby Girl Doe, was born with a life-threatening congenital heart condition. Doctors wanted to perform a cardiac catheterization within 48 hours and promised to make their best effort to avoid using blood products.

But to perform the cardiac surgery, the baby had to be put on a cardiac bypass pump primed with blood and blood products, an affidavit signed by Dr. David Parra said. "There are no other alternatives to priming the by-pass pump in order to perform this surgery," the doctor's statement said.

Without the surgery, there was an 80% chance the baby would die, Parra said.

Facing the probability that their little girl might die, the parents kept their faith, refusing to allow the operation. Davidson County Chancellor Richard Dinkins ordered doctors to go ahead with surgery.

Medical center officials said federal privacy laws forbid them from saying how the child is doing and whether she received blood.

The hospital typically has to go to court two or three times a year to force parents, most of them Jehovah's Witnesses, to allow blood-related treatment for their children, Vanderbilt spokesman John Howser said. Sometimes it's a pre-emptive move on the hospital's part in case complications during a medical procedure require im mediate use of blood products.

Adults can refuse

Doctors respect religious beliefs that may conflict with medical care, an ethical adviser to two local hospitals said.

Adults can refuse blood products, and hospitals will honor that, said Dr. James Sullivan, chairman of the ethical committees for Nashville General Hospital at Meharry and Centennial Medical Center.

"I know that there have been Jehovah's Witnesses who have been on the operating table who have died" after their refusal, Sullivan said. But a child is not old enough to make a decision on her own behalf, he said, so courts are called on to step in. Sullivan said he would advise doctors at his hospitals to go to court if faced with such a dilemma.

Despite the court battle, both Vanderbilt officials and Haston, the liaison committee chairman, said they would continue to work together to resolve such issues. Jehovah's Witnesses "have no problem with medical treatment," Haston said. "That's why we take our kids to the doctor."


High Court rules premature baby must be given blood

Belfast Telegraph - December 24, 2007

The High Court has ruled that a premature baby must be given a life-saving blood transfusion, despite the objections of its parents who are Jehovah's witnesses.

Mr Justice George Birmingham has directed that the transfusion be carried out only as a last resort and when no alternative treatment is regarded as viable.

The court heard that the baby boy, who is being called Baby B, was premature at 30 weeks and has developed a condition causing internal bleeding.

It heard that there is no immediate need for a transfusion but an emergency might develop over the Christmas period.

The matter has been adjourned until this Friday at the High Court.


22 Dec 2007

Judge: Law requires clergy to report sex abuse

The Courier News - Illinois

December 22, 2007

By David gialanella Staff Writer

ELGIN -- A judge decided Friday that an Elgin pastor's status as a clergyman would not legally excuse him from failing to report the suspected sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl, which authorities have charged him with.

The Rev. Daryl P. Bujak, 30, of the First Missionary Baptist Church, 385 Silver St., also is accused of spanking the girl on several occasions because he believed she was lying about being abused by her stepfather. The stepfather since has been charged in connection with the alleged assaults.

In Elgin Branch Court Friday, Judge Susan Clancy Boles denied a defense motion to dismiss one misdemeanor charge of failing to report a suspected sexual abuse, ruling that Bujak had not met his burden of proof to establish the legally recognized principle of confidentiality between a clergy member and an individual member of the congregation. His lawyer argued that clergyman's privilege -- which cannot be waived, he said -- precluded him from telling anyone what the girl had told him. Prosecutors argued clergy members are "mandatory reporters" under a state law when it comes to suspected sex abuse, and therefore could not have been bound by clergyman's privilege. Bujak also is charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery.

Boles explained that the one-on-one confidentiality already had been broken, because the girl's mother and stepfather were present with her during a March 2005 session, which was followed by several others.

According to authorities, between then and May 2005, Bujak used a large piece of wood molding to repeatedly spank the 12-year-old, leaving marks on her legs and buttocks. The girl's mother had brought the child to Bujak for counseling, because she didn't believe the girl's claims about being abused.

Her stepfather, Matthew Resh, 33, of Ingleside, eventually was charged in May 2006 with assaulting the girl, and faces five felony counts of predatory criminal sexual assault in McHenry County.

Bujak is scheduled to appear in court at the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles for a trial set for January. Attorneys are expecting the trial to last several days, they said.


'I shared my husband with 12 other wives'

You Magazine - UK
December 21, 2007


Brought up in a closed sect that believes in polygamy as the key to paradise, Carolyn Jessop endured an arranged marriage to a 50-year-old man and had eight children before she found the courage to flee, taking her family with her

The moment had come. I had been watching and waiting for months. Now the time was right and I could not afford to fail.

The two things that had to happen before I could escape were in place: my husband had gone away on a business trip and my eight children were all at home. The choice was freedom or a life of fear.

I called my brother Arthur. 'If I do it tonight, will you help me?'

'Carolyn,' he said, 'I'll do everything I can, but even if I leave right now, the soonest I can be there is five in the morning.' He lived 300 miles away and would have to drive through the night.

'Will you do it?' I tried not to sound as desperate as I felt.

'I'll be there,' he said.

I came from a family of polygamists. We belonged to a sect known as the Church of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Ten thousand of us lived in a community along the Utah-Arizona border. Polygamy defined us and was the reason we split from the mainstream Mormon church.

Scroll down for more ...

Carolyn endured an arranged marriage to a 50-year-old man and had eight children before she found the courage to flee

At 18, I had been coerced into an arranged marriage with a 50-year-old man I barely knew. I became the fourth of Merril Jessop's eventual 13 wives and bore him eight children in 15 years.

My family had raised me to believe in the beauty of polygamy – that it was a natural lifestyle and also a privileged one because it meant living a higher law of God, which always brought more happiness. I grew up believing the myth; my life had proved it a lie.

My brother Arthur had fled four years earlier to marry the one woman he loved. Now I was desperate to escape, too. But first I needed to figure out what to tell my children. They ranged in age from 18 months to 15 years.

The older ones would never leave if they knew we were fleeing the community – they were terrified of the outside world.

In the FLDS, we were taught that everyone on the outside was evil and that only those who'd proved their worth would be preserved in the celestial kingdom. I too had once believed I was among God's elite.

My grandmother had explained to me that plural marriage was sacred and that, as the sixth generation in her polygamist bloodline, I was FLDS royalty.

According to the sect's doctrine, a man must have multiple wives if he wants to become a god in heaven and end up with his own planet. And if I lived by the rules, I could become a goddess.

Scroll down for more ...

Merril and his first six wives, from left, Cathleen, Ruth, Faunita, Tammy, Barbara and Carolyn

Most men waited between ten and 15 years before taking on a new wife, and those with the most wives had the most power.

My father had one wife until I was ten. I remember the day my sister Linda told me he had been assigned to marry Rosie, our cousin and favourite babysitter. We were surprised but happy, although Mama seemed subdued.

Rosie became pregnant shortly after the wedding but my mother's sixth child, a boy, was born a few months before Rosie's daughter. The dynamic in our family shifted. The two babies were compared to each other all the time and my mother had to compete for Dad's attention.

Rosie was pretty and popular and earned more money because she had a nursing degree. I saw what a contrast she was to the FLDS women who worked in the community sewing plant. I vowed then that I was never going to end up behind one of those sewing machines. I was going to get an education like Rosie's.

By the time I was 18, my dream was to become a paediatrician. My father said he would speak to our prophet Leroy Johnson.

'Uncle Roy' had led our community since 1954. His decision, passed on to my father, was that I could become a teacher. My heart sank. But it got worse.

'Uncle Roy says that before you go to college, you should marry Merril Jessop.' I knew that name. I'd gone to school with his daughters, and was now going to be one of their mothers.

I looked at my father in horror, but he told me sternly, 'It's critical that you accept. This is a tremendous blessing.'

Scroll down for more ...

Carolyn (back row, third from right) with her father and his two wives: Rosie on his left and Nurylon, Carolyn's mother, on his right

It was only later that I learned that my father, who ran his own real estate business, had threatened to sue Merril over a business deal and Merril, owner of a large construction company, stood to lose millions of dollars.

His pitch to Uncle Roy had been that if he married one of my father's daughters, he'd be family and the lawsuit would be dropped.

Our wedding took place two days later in the prophet's office. Merril took my hand. It was the first time he had ever touched me. We sealed our wedding vows with a kiss and Uncle Roy instructed us in the importance of replenishing the earth with children as a way of fulfilling our covenant with God.

Later, in a motel room, Merril turned off the lights and got into bed with me. I was paralysed. We didn't even know each other. There was no way I was going to consummate the marriage. But I didn't have the choice.

Scroll down for more ...

With brother Arthur, aged four. Years later he was to help her escape her marriage

Merril's first two marriages, to Faunita and Ruth, were disasters, but he was captivated by his third wife Barbara, Ruth's half-sister.

He and Barbara had a perverse chemistry. Both loved power and domination and Barbara's tyranny had ruled the family for 14 years. The wives, and all their children – each had four or five – lived with Merril.

To begin with, I was allowed to stay at college during the week to do my teacher training, but at weekends, I joined a household where tensions ran high. Within months, Merril had taken on two more wives, Cathleen and Tammy. Life was complicated and strange.

To protect myself, I had to remain of value. Sex is the only currency – every polygamist wife knows that. A woman who possesses high sexual status with her husband has more power than his other wives.

She also has more children, and children are an insurance policy. Even if her husband takes a new and younger wife, a woman who produces a bevy of beautiful babies will earn respect.

Eleven months after my wedding, I became pregnant.

I was ill for nine months with morning sickness. But within the FLDS, any emotional or physical problems were seen as the direct result of sin.

Arthur was born on 20 December, 1987, after six hours of labour, which impressed the other wives. I loved him the moment I saw him.

He gave my life a purpose. My future was important because he was now part of it. When he was seven months old, Merril put pressure on me to get pregnant again. I felt sickened because I was still so exhausted. But I knew most of Merril's wives became pregnant three months after giving birth.

Scroll down for more ...

Carolyn is relishing her freedom with new partner Brian, pictured with six of her children

In FLDS culture, a man is supposed to treat each of his wives equally. One of the reasons Merril tried to keep us all pregnant was that it created the illusion that he was having a relationship with each of us.

Merril was a polygamist in body but a monogamist in soul. He enjoyed the power polygamy gave him, but Barbara was the only one he loved.

As strange as it might sound, I adapted to my bizarre environment. By the time I was 25, my world revolved around children: the second-graders I taught at one of the community schools and my own four at home – Arthur, Betty, LuAnne and Patrick.

I was feeling more grounded than I had in years, but the reality was that I was walking a tightrope.

Barbara felt that I was the only one of Merril's wives who had never completely bowed to her authority, which was true. In late 1993 she and Merril tried to make me surrender to her one-woman rule. Their weapon was money.

I was still teaching and handing over my entire salary, which, after taxes, was about $500 every two weeks. In the past this had not been a problem as I could ask for anything I needed. Now Merril seemed to think that if he denied basic necessities for me and my children, I'd capitulate.

Merril told me he was having financial problems. I believed him at first until I told him I needed $5 to buy Arthur a pair of shoes.

He refused. 'Surely there must be money for shoes for your son?' I said. His face turned crimson. 'There is money for those who do the things I want.'

I knew he held all the cards. But I determined to never again ask him for a dime. Quietly I devised a survival strategy.

I began selling cosmetics. There were months when I sold $5,000-worth in a community where make-up was forbidden. There was so much rivalry among wives that when one went on a trip with the husband, the others would blow a few hundred bucks on cosmetics.

Merril knew about my venture but had no idea how successful I was. It was one of the most empowering experiences I'd ever had. By hiding money, I went against the teachings of the prophet for the first time. I felt no guilt, no shame. This was the tentative beginning of mentally breaking free from my 'religion'.

By 1996, life was changing, and not in good ways. Uncle Roy had died and a new prophet, Rulon Jeffs, had succeeded him.

'Uncle Rulon' and his son Warren were exerting more control on the community. We were prohibited from going to the cinema. Television and the internet were off-limits, except for business purposes.

Even our clothes changed. Long underwear, which had been optional, became mandatory. Large prints and plaids for outerwear were banned.

One Sunday in church, Warren announced that it was no longer appropriate to wear red because it was the colour reserved for our Saviour. That evening I watched the sunset – a blaze of orange and red. If God wanted red preserved for Jesus Christ alone, why did he spread it across the sky?

In May 1999, I gave birth to Harrison – my seventh, and Merril's 53rd, child. A year later, Harrison was diagnosed with spinal cancer. Surgery removed his tumour but left him severely disabled with nerve damage.

I was exhausted and depleted by caring for him, but I found myself pregnant yet again. Bryson, my eighth and last child, was born into a world I was determined to escape.

Harrison may have been profoundly handicapped, but he helped save us. Merril thought I would never be able to flee as long as Harrison needed constant care. But I had been hoarding his drugs for five months. I worried about taking him off the oxygen he needed to sleep, but it was a risk I had to take.

So, that fateful morning, Tuesday 22 April 2003, I woke my children at 4am and told them Harrison was sick and needed to go to the doctor. It was a false, but plausible, story.

The older ones didn't want to come, but I insisted. My brother met me at a convenience store three miles out of town and we got into his trailer. Five hours later we arrived in Salt Lake City and went into hiding.

For the first time in 35 years, I was free. But within hours, Merril was hunting me down like prey. He eventually fought me for custody, his lawyer presenting him as the good, steady all-American dad, caring for all his children. But Merril cared only about making an example of me.

My turning point came when Utah's attorney general Mark Shurtleff agreed to support my case. State officials had always warned him that if he went after polygamists, it would cost him his career.

But after listening to my story, he said there was no turning back. A year after my escape, I became the first woman to flee the FLDS and win custody of all her children. It was a proud day.

In the time it took to divorce him, Merril married seven new wives – to prove that he could still have any woman he wanted. He now has more than 100 children, including many stepchildren.

Seven of my children are thriving. Harrison is on the verge of walking. But FLDS brainwashing runs deep and for my eldest daughter, Betty, the adjustment has been too great.

This year, two days after her 18th birthday, she left us to return to the cult. She promised to call, but none of us has been able to contact her since her departure. Her decision breaks my heart. I have great fears about her living in a culture of abuse and degradation, but she knows I will always be here for her.

The rest of us are living what probably seem to be ordinary lives. But my new life will never be ordinary to me.

Three years ago, having decided there was no way I could support my family on a teacher's salary, I enrolled on an accountancy course.

My teacher was Brian, a man who has become a steadfast and joyful presence in my life. I had never before been loved by a man. With him I have experienced a kind of intimacy and tenderness I might never have otherwise known.

He has taught me how to dance and introduced me to the world beyond polygamy. Freedom is extraordinary, and love a miracle.

Adapted from Escape by Carolyn Jessop, published on 3 January (Penguin, £6.99).


Islamic scholar opposes ban on female circumcision

Mail & Guardian - South Africa

December 14, 2007

Marwa Al-A'Sar | Cairo, Egypt

In an act that has sparked outrage among Egyptian women's rights activists, a controversial Islamic scholar filed a lawsuit against the minister of health protesting against a recent ban on female circumcision, a practice referred to by rights groups as female genital mutilation (FGM).

Egyptian Sheikh Youssif al-Badri claims the ministerial decree violates the Egyptian Constitution as well as Islamic principles.

Conservative Muslim and Christian Egyptian families have their daughters circumcised as a means to preserve their chastity. Recent studies revealed that about 90% of Egyptian women have been subjected to the practice.

In June, the Health Ministry banned doctors and nurses from carrying out the procedure. The announcement followed the death of an 11-year-old girl in Upper Egypt as a result of the procedure. Medics who carry out circumcisions may face imprisonment and being stripped of their medical licences.

While al-Badri argues that the practice is necessary in curbing women's sexual inclinations, women's rights activists and physicians disapprove of his view.

"Many of the circumcised women who seek our help were traumatised, having no ability to lead a normal sex life, which affects their relationships with their husbands," said Nihad Abul-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights.

She accused Muslim sheikhs in the Arab world of being distracted from the vital issues. "No one of the sheikhs coming up with such arguments has ever considered in his agenda the deteriorating socio-economic conditions we are undergoing," she noted. "Instead they try to play the role of the Islam advocates."

Egypt's top Islamic and Christian authorities were quick to voice support for the ban, saying the practice had no basis either in the Qur'an or in the Bible.

"The Constitution is based on the Islamic sharia law, which does not stipulate FGM, giving a wife the right to enjoy sex with her husband," Khalil Mustafa Khalil, who holds a master's degree in FGM legislation, told the independent al-Badeel newspaper.

In the 1950s, the Egyptian government tried to stop midwives from performing the procedure, while allowing doctors to do so, in a bid to minimise the risk of families who insist on circumcising their daughters doing so in unsafe conditions.

Public outcry followed the 1994 CNN television broadcast of the procedure being performed on a nine-year-old girl by a barber.

The minister of health at the time decreed that female circumcisions should be performed only one day a week at government facilities, and by trained medical practitioners, only in the event that they failed to persuade the parents from going through with it.

According to the World Health Organisation, FGM comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons.

A more minor form of the procedure is also undertaken in some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. -- Sapa-dpa


Diocese faces new abuse suit

The Record - Stockton, California

December 20, 2007

Woman says she also was victim of ex-Lodi priest

by Anna Kaplan - Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON - A new lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Stockton alleges that former priest Oliver O'Grady sexually abused another child while serving in Lodi in the 1970s.

A 43-year-old female plaintiff filed the suit anonymously, claiming she was a student of O'Grady's at St. Anne's parish school in the early to mid-'70s when the abuse took place.

It is one of many such suits against O'Grady, who served prison time for child molestation and then became the subject of an award-winning documentary about his crimes.

O'Grady was convicted in 1993 of molesting two boys, served seven years in Ione's Mule Creek State Prison and was deported to Ireland in 2000. He disappeared after the documentary, "Deliver Us from Evil," came out in theaters, according to reports by U.S. and Irish newspapers.

A year ago, a 42-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman each filed lawsuits alleging abuse by the defrocked priest. Both suits were dismissed and are being appealed, said attorney M. Ryan DiMaria of Newport Beach law firm Manly, McGuire and Stewart, which has represented many plaintiffs in clergy abuse cases, including the one that sent O'Grady to prison.

Manly, McGuire and Stewart is not representing this new case, but DiMaria said the Diocese of Stockton can expect more victims to press charges.

"They've known that O'Grady was a prolific molester since the beginning of his priesthood, so it doesn't surprise me that there's another victim coming forward," he said.

The suits brought against the diocese regarding O'Grady have been "too many to even count," said diocese spokeswoman Sister Terry Davis.

In 2004, Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire issued an apology for the actions of 10 priests who had brought 29 counts of sexual abuse to the diocese since its founding in 1962.

Last month, a 21-year-old female plaintiff dropped her case against the diocese that claimed the late Lodi priest Murty Fahy abused her for three years beginning when she was in the second grade at St. Anne's in Lodi.

In October, The Record reported the diocese placed Lockeford priest Michael Kelly on administrative leave after allegations surfaced that he'd sexually abused a boy in a Stockton parish in the 1980s.


19 Dec 2007

Child-bride suit set for '09

Deseret Morning News

December 19, 2007

by Ben Winslow

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by a former child bride against polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs may finally go to trial in 2009.

A judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court signed a proposed scheduling order on Friday in Elissa Wall's personal injury lawsuit against Jeffs, the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its real estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust. The order lays out a timetable for the lawsuit, setting a potential trial date for March 2009.

"The estimated length of trial is four days," said the order.

Attorneys for the court-controlled UEP Trust have filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed against them. They are asking the judge to rule on their motion before the court process commences.

The order includes a cap of 20 depositions, each taking no more than seven hours, but an unlimited number of document requests.

Wall is suing Jeffs, the FLDS Church and the UEP Trust stemming from her marriage at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin. She was the prosecution's star witness in the criminal case against Jeffs. The 52-year-old polygamist leader is now serving two 5-to-life sentences in the Utah State Prison for rape as an accomplice, for performing the marriage. During Jeffs' trial, his defense attorneys noted that Wall filed her lawsuit against Jeffs before going to police to report a rape.

Wall's attorneys recently sought to expand her lawsuit to include claims of negligence on behalf of the UEP Trust, alleging that under Jeffs' leadership there was no separation between the FLDS Church and the trust.

The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS enclaves of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia in Canada. It came under court control in 2005, after allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders mismanaged it. Its assets were frozen, and a court-appointed fiduciary was placed in charge.



Source: pr-inside.com

Posted on: December 16, 2007

Rap star JA RULE blames his family’s Jehovah’s Witness roots for ruining his childhood.

The I’m Real hitmaker reveals he was never allowed to celebrate birthdays or Christmases growing up - and even playing with other children was a problem for his strict grandparents, who helped raise him.

As a result, the rapper, real name Jeffrey Atkins, goes overboard when his children celebrate birthdays and special occasions.

He tells Sister 2 Sister magazine, "I had a difficult childhood. My grandparents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, so, as a child I had to deal with no birthdays and no Christmases.

"People don’t understand… It’s no Christmas, and it’s no being outside with other children that are not in your congregation. It’s a lot of rules that are hard on children." The rapper was "disfellowshipped" when he went to live with his mother and had been kicked out of the church for socialising with "worldly people", when he was 12.

He explains, "When you get disfellowshipped, nobody’s allowed to talk to you… They all treated my mom like this f**king outcast because she had some drinks with her co-workers on occasion… That f**ked with me as a child."


OSG contests Mormon priest’s acquittal in child abuse case

Inquirer - Philippines

December 17, 2007

By Leila Salaverria

MANILA, Philippines -- The Office of the Solicitor General is contesting before the Court of Appeals a regional trial court’s acquittal of a Mormon priest who had sexual relations with a 17-year-old in 2001 and 2002.

The OSG said a minor influenced by an elder cannot validly consent to sexual relations.

The OSG asked the Court of Appeals to convict Gil Anthony Calianga of child abuse and sought to annul the Muntinlupa regional trial court's finding that the 17-year-old and the accused, Gil Anthony Calianga, were sweethearts and their sexual relations were consensual.

The August 27, 2007, RTC decision, penned by Judge Philip Aguinaldo, pointed to evidence showing that the complainant and Calianga had a relationship and were lovers before, during and after the dates when the sexual acts took place.

The RTC also cited the lack of evidence showing that Calianga used his power over the complainant. The court noted that even if he was a Mormon priest, he did not exercise influence in his church.

But according to the OSG, all the elements of child abuse were present: the sexual relations between the 17-year-old complainant and the Mormon priest were established and that Calianga was an elder in his church where the girl used to belong.

"Thus, private complainant was deemed to be a 'child subjected to other sexual abuse' as a result of the private respondent Mormon priest/elder's influence and moral ascendancy," the OSG said in its petition.

The OSG added that Calianga threatened or coerced the girl into having sex with him.

"That the private respondent is a Mormom priest/elder puts him in a situation of moral ascendancy -- an aggravating circumstance in crimes committed against persons. The fact that the private respondent coerced and threatened private complainant is another aggravating circumstance," it said.

The OSG also pointed to a September 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding the child abuse conviction of a former Assumption College professor for having sexual relations with his minor student.

In that decision, the high court ruled that the sweetheart theory could not be invoked in cases of child prostitution and sexual abuse under the anti-child abuse law or Republic Act 7610.

"A child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other (forms of) sexual abuse cannot validly give consent to sexual intercourse with another person," the high court said.

The OSG also said RA 7610 did not make a child guilty or culpable if he or she had sex under the influence or coercion of an adult.

It noted that the regional trial court, as well as the girl, described her sexual abuse as rape, but the court did not upgrade the sexual abuse charge to rape as it should have done.

"Therefore, it is an error, so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law, when respondent judge concluded that the prosecution failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt even if the facts and evidence, on its face, say otherwise," it said.

The OSG contended that while acquittals were generally final and unappealable, rulings could be questioned if the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion, went beyond its jurisdiction or denied parties due process.

In this case, it said, the regional trial court allowed Calianga to present "perjured testimonies and evidence" in violation of the complainant's right to due process.

It said the Muntinlupa court should not have accepted evidence used in relation to the subsequent case of forcible abduction with rape that the girl filed against Calianga, his uncle and father. It added that the RTC allegedly "blatantly and maliciously" disregarded relevant and competent prosecution evidence.

According to the OSG, the lower court disregarded the testimonies of a member of the Mormon Church, as well as that of the girl's and Calianga's, when it ruled that the suspect had no moral ascendancy or influence over the girl.

It said that both the girl and prosecution witness Vilma Clerigo, a member of the Mormon Church for 24 years and the vice principal of a reputable Catholic School, testified that Mormon elders were deemed to have been bestowed with power and authority of God.

They also testified that the elders or priests were esteemed and respected, and were thought to be God's spokespersons by those in the Mormon faith.

The OSG also said that Calianga affirmed, during his testimony, the moral ascendancy and influence, power and authority of Mormon priesthood bearers like him. It pointed out that Calianga blessed the sacrament during Sundays, baptized new converts and visited members at their homes to teach them about the gospel.

"Certainly, moral ascendancy and influence of the priesthood manifests in all their duties and performances, which all the members, especially the women, observe, see, respect, esteem and sustain the whole year through," it said.


Secretive Sect Planning to Extend its School

The Chronicle - Australia

December 17, 2007

By Susan Searle

PLANS for future expansion at the exclusive Agnew School, in Gerard Street, do not translate to an influx of Exclusive Brethren followers descending upon Toowoomba.

The group, dubbed the most secretive Christian sect, has had a bad reputation in the national spotlight, according to Exclusive Brethren spokesman Tony McCorkell.

"They are very peaceable group of people who mind their own business and keep to themselves and as a general rule they don't attract media attention in everyday lives," he said.

Toowoomba City Council approved the extensions so the school could grow from 20 secondary school students with two teachers to 60, including primary schoolers, next year.

Ultimately, the applicants Southridge Education Trust expect numbers to rise to 180 students by 2018.

Mr McCorkell goes to great lengths to stress group members aren't that different.

But members of the 200-plus strong Toowoomba congregation weren't that convincing.

The spokespeople were evasive, did not want to be quoted, and opposed to the exclusive school being linked to the church.

The Chronicle's enquiries were directed to Mr McCorkell, the Brisbane-based inaugural media face for the 40,000 member, 187-year-old group.

Secret or media shy, he translates, to private.

"They value their anonymity," he said.

They are cautious about "reflections on the church".

"If you do something in the community, your religion shouldn't be part of that," Mr McCorkell said.

"Brethren do business with non-Brethren, they interact with society like anyone else except they don't share a meal with people they don't share communion with on a Sunday," he said.

The Brethren have a busy social calendar with each other.

Mr McCorkell admits the Brethren are exceptionally protective of their children.

So "morally questionable influences" like television, radio, cinemas and even university campuses are banned.

The Brethren, he says, seek to live simple lives.

And, Mr McCorkell proffers, no windows in the church is a matter of better acoustics.

"It's simply a design feature, nothing sinister."

And there will be no-one from the Bethren running for the Toowoomba Regional Council because they don't hold office.

In fact, most don't vote.


British children targeted with terror sing-along DVD for would-be suicide bombers

Daily Mail - UK

December 18, 2007

A shocking sing-along children's DVD which glorifies suicide bombing is being investigated by anti-terrorist police after being found on sale in one of Britain's terrorist hotbeds.

The disc - part of an Egyptian-made series - is on sale in West Yorkshire, where three of the July 7 bombers lived, and is aimed at youngsters from the local Muslim community.

Introduced by a cute cartoon chicken, it contains three songs in Arabic which are illustrated with a video story. But any impression of its being an innocent music DVD is immediately dispelled by a song with English subtitles about two children who lose their mother when she blows herself up in a suicide bomb attack.

Scroll down for more...

Appealing to children: The cartoon image appears at the beginning of the DVD
The song, sung as if told by the bomber's daughter, ends with the young Arabic girl vowing to follow in her mother's footsteps.

It is believed to have been inspired by Palestinian Reem-al-Reyashi, a 22-year-old mother of two who killed four Israelis when she blew herself up at a Gaza Strip checkpoint on January 14, 2004.

In the DVD an Arab woman is seen playing with her two children. She then makes a bomb out of sticks of dynamite in the bedroom as her young daughter enters. The woman leaves home with dynamite tucked into her dress and blows herself up after being challenged by soldiers leaving her children and husband to learn of her death on TV.

Scroll down for more...

Seemingly innocent: But the film develops an alarming theme

To the sounds of haunting music there are graveyard scenes, along with pictures of the dead bomber looking serene and dressed in white.

Her daughter finds a stick of dynamite in her mother's wardrobe. The girl, aged about five or six, turns to the camera with the subtitles: "My love will not be by words. I will follow my mother's steps."

Scroll down for more...

The second song, entitled Tear, has a catchy chorus of children chanting a song set to images of women and children crying and flames from explosions.

Over scenes of men fighting and throwing grenades, a young Arab girl sings: "Daddy return to us, We want you beside us, Fear occupied our hearts, And there is no one with us, Oh Allah! You are our Saviour..."

Scroll down for more...

In the third song, Flowers, a group of orphaned children chant a five-minute tribute to Islam and sing about the plight of the Palestinian people.

A copy of the DVD was bought in Bradford. It has been passed to counter-terrorism police who said they were investigating to see if any offences had been committed.

The DVD box lists the distributor as the Abrar Book Shop in Hyde Park, Leeds. The shop – less than half a mile from the flat where the 7/7 bombers assembled their explosives – was shut yesterday.

Scroll down for more...

Disturbing: A child holds a stick of dynamite in the sing-along DVD for would-be suicide bombers

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, who was given the DVD by a local resident, said: "My worry is how many people have had access to this kind of material and how many children may have already been influenced by it.

"It's outrageous that this kind of material is so readily available in parts of West Yorkshire and it beggars belief that somebody is prepared to proudly proclaim that they distribute this material.

The MP contacted police and was told that the disc had been sold at a mosque in the city. "I thought it was sick and totally and utterly unacceptable," he said. "It seems to be directed at children and I find it quite disturbing."

He added: "It strikes me as being incitement to terrorism. I hope that the people that distribute the material will be arrested and charged."

Mr Davies said he would be writing to the Home Secretary asking what support the Government was giving to the police to locate and eliminate this kind of material.

The head of West Yorkshire's counter terrorism unit, Detective Chief Superintendent John Parkinson, said: "The DVD has been initially reviewed and officers are carrying out further inquiries regarding its content to establish whether or not any offences have been committed."

Yorkshire Muslim peer and shadow communities secretary Sayeeda Warsi said the authorities should not be afraid to come down with the full force of the law on extremists.

"I find it deeply disturbing if this kind of material is available and aimed at children so young," she said.

"As well as winning over the hearts and minds of our own communities in order to deal with perverted terrorist organisations, we should always stamp down on anything that is nothing short of criminal, using the full force of the law."


14 Dec 2007

Their targets used to be university students, but today fringe religious groups are believed to be recruiting school-aged children.

TES Magazine - December 14, 2007

Cult Watch - Lynne Wallis reports

If one of your pupils became distant, distracted and antisocial, your first thought might be that they were experimenting with drink or drugs. But religious cults pose another danger to young people, and one from which it can be equally difficult to extricate them.

Although the notion of children being lured into fringe religious organisations might seem far-fetched, it does happen. In the past few years, there have been numerous scares with such groups attempting to gain a foothold in UK schools.

This year, it was discovered Narconon, the Scientology-linked group, has been invited into British schools to lecture pupils on drugs, and the organisation’s outpost in East Grinstead – known as the Effective Education centre – attempts to coach mainstream teachers in some of the precepts of Scientology, which advocates a form of self-help invented by its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Scientology reportedly teaches that mankind are the product of an explosion by an alien warlord called Xenu. It has won extra exposure with its support from Hollywood idols Tom Cruise and John Travolta, which critics believe give the organisation a bigger profile and added attraction to young people.

In 2000, schools in Birmingham were put on red alert after reports that groups linked to the International Church of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian organisation, had been contacting schools offering to perform songs and sketches.

And in 1994, three staff were fired from the Bridgewater School, an independent school in Salford, after they were recruited into a bizarre religious cult called Livewave, whose founder, John Yarr, kept a harem of 30 women (the son of footballer Eric Cantona was a pupil and there were fears children could be targeted too).

While there is a degree of debate about what exactly constitutes a cult – INFORM, the Home Office-funded charity, stresses that not all new religious movements are damaging to their members – cult-watchers warn families to watch out for aggressive recruiting techniques and attempts to part young people from their family, friends and ultimately their cash.

Read the full story in TES Magazine at   http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2559308

Hearing whispers of immorality

The Scotsman - December 13, 2007


WOODY Allen once wrote a short story in which the protagonist's soul left his body to paint the town red on its own. After sitting around at home for hours: "I knew that my soul had returned to me when I heard a voice say, 'Do you wanna pass me those raisins?'" I was reminded of this while watching **The End Of The World Cult in which a former sailor named Wayne Bent described the moment that God first spoke to him. He was idling in an armchair one afternoon when, he says: "God said to me, 'You are Messiah.' And I accepted." Well it would be rude not to.

Like all self-proclaimed Messiahs it's easy to dismiss Bent as a nut, because he is. But what is it that pushes these people to the point where they're not content to merely follow God's word, but actually proclaim themselves as His son? Simple: the chicks. It's the same old story: some opportunistic schlub convinces a bunch of easily manipulated souls to follow his word, they shack up together in the desert, and he's allowed to have sex with whichever woman he desires. Really, the lengths some guys will go to.

However, I do believe that Bent - who renamed himself Michael Trevesser - actually did believe he was the second coming, or at least that he'd managed to successfully delude himself in order to justify his behaviour. With his wooly beard and gentle manner he certainly looked the part. Unfortunately, it was the part of The Muppets' creator Jim Henson. Bent lived on a commune named Strong City in a remote corner of New Mexico with around 60 followers. He believed that the world would end on 31 October 2007, something he and his brethren anticipated with rapturous delight.

In order to prepare for this momentous event, God told Bent to gather seven virgins, one of whom was just 15. Director Ben Anthony - who gained unprecedented access to Strong City - filmed two girls happily recounting the moment when God told them to "stand naked" in front of Bent. How did this thought get into their heads? Perhaps it had something to do with the post Bent wrote which encouraged women to stand naked before Him. Bent claimed that it wasn't sexual. He did, however, admit to having sex with his son's wife. "God came down on Michael and forced him to consummate with Christiana," said the grandson of God calmly. "It was a terrible, strange act of God." It was a bit, yeah.

Inadvertent amusement aside, there was something terribly angering about all of this: Bent had systematically broken the spirits of vulnerable people to the point where they believed that the outside world was evil and that death was salvation. When Judgment Day came and went without any fanfare, Bent wouldn't grant Anthony a further interview. It wasn't surprising: false deities seldom have answers.


related story


Pastor forced sex on women, jury told

Toronto Star - December 11, 2007

Peter Small
Staff Reporter

The pastor of a Toronto church, who claimed to heal people by giving them spiritual baths and naked rubdowns, impregnated two young women he coerced into having sex, a prosecutor says.

Frank Seeko Lawrence, 58, ordained minister of Toronto Mount Zion Revival Church of the Apostles, fathered a child by each of the women then threatened them with death when they asked for child support, assistant Crown attorney Paul Zambonini said yesterday.

"Rev. Lawrence abused his position of power, trust or authority to have sex," he told a Superior Court jury as he opened the Crown's case.

Lawrence has pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault, four of threatening death and one of assault in incidents alleged to have occurred between 2000 and 2005.

"I hid under my bed with my newborn baby for three months and I didn't want to go outside because I thought this man was capable of killing me," testified a 29-year-old woman, who cannot be named.

At age 17, ill with constant vomiting and migraines, the complainant was taken to Lawrence by her mother.

He said a woman had cursed her and that he could heal her, she said.

First came spiritual baths, she said. He instructed her to buy liquor, fruit and other goods from the folk magic store he ran on St. Clair Ave. W. near Keele St. He put the ingredients into a spiritual bath, for which he charged $150.

While she bathed naked, he scrubbed her while she recited, "The Lord is my shepherd." He ordered her to stand and rubbed her with a brown ointment, she said.

She started to get better, she said, and believed he had great powers. "I saw him as a saviour," she said.

During the third bath, he decapitated a pigeon and poured its blood over her head, she said.

Then he gave her a foul-tasting medicine that made her vomit and have diarrhea for two days, she said.

He explained it was the evil coming out.

The prosecutor told the jury she will testify that in 2003, she asked to stay at his house after she left home following a fight with her mother.

He let her live there, but forced sex upon her. She complied, fearing his powers, Zambonini said.

When she had his child and asked him for child support he threatened to kill her, the prosecutor said.

A second woman is expected to testify that he had sex with her during healing.


related story in the Toronto Sun:


11 Dec 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses Cover Up Child Molestation

by Burt Noyes
Sunday, December 9, 2007

How about those nicely dressed Jehovah's Witness families going through your neighborhood passing out Watchtower magazines and urging you to "study the Bible" with them?

That family-friendly image they present is a tremendous facade behind which are tolerated some of the most vile acts of deviancy known to man.

I was raised a JW and left in 1998. One of issues that got me to start re-evaluating my faithfulness to the JW organization was their insistence on covering up the many instances of child molestation that occur in their organization.

Like many other religions and cults, the JW's rely on their squeaky clean image to attract new followers, and any publicity regarding their child molestation problem would make bringing new people into their cult very difficult.

From my personal experience, I would say that the hundreds of JW molestation cases that have been publicized are just the tip of the iceberg, and I will go further in saying that every single JW elder and every congregation of JW's has covered up at least one child molestation case for the sake of their image and reputation.

NBC publicized the JW child molestation problem in late November, 2007. The case centered on Frederick McLean [pictured above], a JW and fugitive from justice for at least 17 counts of child sexual abuse in califronis.

The JW's believe that as the only God-approved organization on earth, the pastoral/ministerial authority granted them by their false god is a higher authority than that of the State.

Hence, the JW's believed for years that child-molestation cases should be handled in-house, leaving the perpetrators free to find more victims. And believe it or not, to privately warn parents in the congregations of the potential danger to their children was highly discouraged, if not permitted at all.

A quick examination of the JW's would lead you to conclude that they are not a child-friendly religion:

*Blood transfusions for children are not permitted, even when the child's life is in grave danger

*Playing with non-JW children, wearing certain haircuts, and listening to modern secular music is highly discouraged

*Children are not allowed to celebrate their own birthdays, Christmas, Easter, or Halloween.

*Participating in school sports, clubs, proms, summer camps is highly discouraged.

*Until very recently, JW teenagers were highly discouraged from going to college or furthering their education beyond high school, in many cases not even being allowed by their parents to take the SAT's

*Patriotic activities like saluting the flag, singing the national anthem, participating in Scouts or other community volunteerism, and joining the military and voting is prohibited.

Not surprisingly, a cult as hostile to the outside world as the JW's are has a lot of home schoolers, which further isolates their kids from any contact with the real world. (This is not a reflection on the many fine Christian families that home school their children.)

The JW's are a very secretive cult that uses psychological and social isolation to keep it's members in line. That isolation is a protective layer of security that makes finding and prosecuting JW child molestors almost impossible, since the victims and their families believe that any disloyalty to the JW's will cost them their favor with God, their prospect for eternal life, and could result in them losing the only family and friends that they know.

So instead of admiring those nice families as they walk down the street in their suits and dresses distributing their Watchtower literature, feel sorry for these trapped people, especially the kids.


'Wife' balks at being in court with minister who claims he married girl, 10, legally

Montreal Gazette - December 8, 2007

by Sue Montgomery

A teenager delayed a court hearing for hours yesterday because she was afraid of facing a man three times her age who claims to have married her when she was 10.

When she finally appeared at the end of the day, the 18-year-old said Daniel Cormier, 56, won't leave her alone.

"He manipulates people and gets them to say what he wants to hear," said the girl, whose name cannot be published.

"I don't want to be in the same courtroom as him."

She is to be a crown witness in Cormier's trial on a series of morals charges. Yesterday's session was to hear arguments why the girl doesn't want to be cross-examined directly by the accused.

Cormier, self-proclaimed minister of the Church of Downtown Montreal, has been defending himself since he was charged four years ago with sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assault, and two counts of sexual exploitation of girls. He argues it's not a crime to have sex with one's wife.

Yesterday, he smiled as he watched the image of his "wife" on a television screen as the teenager testified via video from another courtroom.

The teen said Cormier had set up an account on Facebook, a social networking website, pretending to be her. On it, he wrote about their so-called marriage.

As he left the courthouse, Cormier said he still loved the girl. Asked if he thought she loved him, given what she said in court, he replied, "You'll have to ask her."

The trial continues Monday.


7 Dec 2007

Reconsidering L.A.'s most controversial un-synagogue, the Kabbalah Centre

By Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief
The Jewish Journal of greater L.A,

The first time I visited the Kabbalah Centre, I thought it was weird. The congregants all wore white; the man on the bimah called out letters of the Hebrew alphabet ("Alef to bet to taph!"); the letters themselves were displayed in massive typeface on posters around the sanctuary.

At certain moments in the Shabbat service, congregants circled their arms around their heads, like background dancers in a music video. And when the Torah came out, everybody held their hands out with their palms up, to, as the man standing next to me explained, "Receive the Light."

My wife was there, too, upstairs in the women's section. She whispered something to a friend during the rabbi's sermon, and someone on the other side of her hissed, "Shh!" It was comedian Sandra Bernhard.

Weird? It all seemed to me a cross between Scientology and Hebrew school -- full of glassy-eyed acolytes who knew more about multilevel marketing than Torah.

Two weeks ago, I went back. And what I found and what I felt shocked me: I liked it.

That's right, I liked it.

I had been reading Jody Myers' (photo, left) just-released book, "Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America" (Praeger, $49.95), and it is the book's great strength that it forces a second and third look at a group that the great majority of mainstream Jewry finds suspicious, aberrant, fraudulent -- even dangerous.

Myers is a professor of religious studies at Cal State Northridge. She is a scholar of orthodoxy and Zionism and a member of the Library Minyan at Temple Beth Am. In 1999, simply out of curiosity over the disdain her colleagues had leveled at the Centre, Myers walked for the first time into the Centre's attractive mission revival building on Robertson Boulevard, just south of Olympic Boulevard. This slim, diminutive and energetic academic decided then and there to use her sabbatical leave to research the Centre.

She dug into archival, academic and religious research, interviewed numerous adherents and leaders and attended two 10-week courses the Centre offers, along with numerous Centre services and events. She devoted seven years to this work.

The result is a rare example of open-minded, fair inquiry on a highly charged subject. She tracks the origin of the kabbalah movement, examines its main teachings, looks at the particular way Kabbalah Centre founder Rabbi Phillip Berg adapted those teachings to the American spiritual seeker, and she profiles Centre participants. She rarely lets the curious down -- though I suspect she will incense many readers who expect a mainstream indictment of this new form of Jewish expression.

Instead, what she offers is a dispassionate analysis of the Kabbalah Centre as one of many new religious communities that have sprung up to satisfy the spiritual needs of a new generation. While most Jews and their rabbis disparage it, the Centre has grown worldwide to attract tens of thousands of participants by appealing to a generation that is suspicious of religious authority but hungry for tangible spiritual benefits. At a time when mainstream Jewish life is struggling and often failing to reinvigorate itself, the Kabbalah Centre has successfully taken, in Myers words, "an elitist and highly complex religious tradition limited to Jews" and modified it to appeal to a large, universal audience.

It has done so without a dime of Jewish foundation grants or the benefit of focus groups, academic studies or any of the other hallmarks of 21st century institutional Jewish life, including membership dues or building campaigns.

What Myers teaches, and what my visit last month taught me, is that instead of shunning the Centre, we ought to at least be studying it.

The history of popular kabbalah in America doesn't begin with the Kabbalah Centre. It begins with a poor Polish Russian-born rabbi named Levi Krakovsky.

As Myers tells it, Krakovsky followed his teacher, Yehuda Ashlag, to Palestine in 1922. Ashlag considered himself a disciple of the 16th-century kabbalistic master Isaac Luria, whose esoteric system of understanding the deeper, divine meanings of Torah influenced all future generations of Jewish and non-Jewish mystics. (In the age of "The Da Vinci Code," it's easy to see the appeal of a system of images and symbols that claims the Bible's real, true essence is "a code that establishes correspondences between the divine realm and the earthly realm.")

On the death of his wife, Krakovsky placed his five children in a Jerusalem orphanage and came to New York to bring kabbalah to American Jewry. He failed. In post-war America, Jews wanted their religion staid, rational and practically Protestant. After two more marriages and an itinerant life spent carrying a satchel full of his English-language kabbalah book from Jewish community to community, Krakovsky -- a character in search of a Michael Chabon short story if ever there was one -- died in 1966.

"Kabbalah destroys families," his son, Shlomo, said by way of eulogy.

But before he died, Krakovsky met Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn. Gruberger, born in Brooklyn in 1929, was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi at yeshiva TorahVaDat. Already successful in real estate and insurance, Gruberger decided to devote his life to spreading the understanding of Jewish mysticism he had received via the chain of Ashlag, Krakovsky and his colleague, Yehuda Brandwein -- kabbalah means "that which is received."

It was the 1960s. Gruberger -- who by now went by the anglicized name of Phillip Berg -- promoted kabbalah as a way to keep young Jews out of the cults and away from non-Jewish religions that were sweeping them up. One study at the time found that Jews, just 2 percent to 3 percent of the American population, constituted between 6 and 20 percent of the membership of radical new religions. Berg, Myers writes, wanted to "show alienated and spiritually hungry Jews that their own religious heritage contained everything they needed for fulfillment."

Berg's genius was in making something that was dense and esoteric into something highly accessible. What Ashlag wanted to teach to all Orthodox Jews, what his disciple Krakovsky wanted to teach to all Jews, Berg wanted to teach to all -- period.

And his success is inarguable. Berg opened the first Centre in Toronto in 1988 (hence the spelling of Centre). There are now 26 Centres around the world and dozens of study groups. The Centre's Web site and marketing machine are arguably the most sophisticated of any Jewish organization, even one that denies it is Jewish. Go into any bookstore and books on kabbalah and mysticism dominate the new releases, just as kabbalah classes proliferate at synagogues and JCCs. How did Berg do this?

At root, he offered an easy-to-grasp mysticism, a mysticism with handles. Take God. The Kabbalah Centre God is not an angry old man on a throne. "The picture of God [presented by the Kabbalah Centre] is, for many people, quite unlike the conventional one," Myers writes, "and they welcome it." The Kabbalah Centre God is like light, "a sharing good power ... often called simply, 'the Light.'"

"The Light is warm, life giving, loving and completely and utterly devoted to fulfilling all the needs of the recipients of its glow. God desires only to share and never to withhold Light."

If the Light is yours for the receiving, that great bugaboo of organized religion -- compulsion -- falls away. As Myers points out, at the Kabbalah Centre, there is no compulsion.

In Berg's worldview, the Torah's directives -- mitzvot -- "are not mandates but suggestions." Kabbalah Centre adherents can -- and many do -- follow traditional mitzvot: keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath. The more you follow, the more you let "the Light" shine in. But no one is pushed or made to feel compelled to do more than he or she desires.

Where it gets weird is when Berg asserts that people's misdeeds in past lives, including their lack of kabbalah study, cause illness and misfortune in this lifetime. That explains how Berg could tell the mother of a young boy gravely ill with leukemia that the disease is a result of something from the boy's past life. And it explains how Berg could continue to teach that Sephardic Jews were not destroyed in the Holocaust because they hadn't abandoned kabbalah as the Ashkenazim had (in fact, Sephardic Jews were slaughtered). "Jewish persecution occurs when the Jews are receiving rather than giving," Myers writes in summarizing Berg's lesson. "This applies to the Holocaust, as well."

The theology continues to be, to my mind, loopy, or at least unsatisfying. But Myers does an entirely admirable job of laying it out clearly and dispassionately.

And, she points out, few religious thought systems have a lock on logic or consistency. The classes and teachings of the Centre resonate among boomer and post-boomer religious seekers not because they answer every big question with perfect sense (by the way, which Jewish movement can claim that?), but because they address central concerns about healing and self-fulfillment. The Centre teaches that our human desires or our reactions to life's challenges often block the Light. But when we shut down our reaction and let the Light in, when we "connect with the Light," we have the power to transform ourselves, those around us and the world.

If you sniff intimations of "The Secret" and EST and other self-actualization psychologies in this, you aren't far off. Myers actually has a nifty chart comparing how Kabbalah Centre beliefs match five fundamental New Age beliefs.

She also addresses head on the most visible and ridiculed aspects of the Centre:
  • The Products: The Centre created two "spiritual tools": a rather pricey bit of red string and "Kabbalah Water," both purported to have healing powers. Wearing red against the "evil eye" has ancient precedent, Myers said, and Berg extrapolates from a passage in the central kabbalistic text, the Zohar, to make this point. The Kabbalah Water, which The Jewish Journal had tested for any special chemical properties several years ago -- it has none -- is part of the Centre's emphasis on both spiritual and physical healing, a "central concern" of the Centre -- and of younger spiritual seekers.
  • Scanning: Adherents are taught that passing their eyes over the Hebrew text of the Zohar, even though they can't read Hebrew, confers spiritual benefits. Myers found precedent for this among 18th-century kabbalists. But more importantly, she sees it as an outreach strategy. Anti-intellectual to be sure, but a way to bring Hebrew-illiterate Jews and non-Jews into the fold.
  • Cult-like Behavior: Myers directly addresses whether the Centre is a cult. I came across these accusations frequently when I wrote what was the first in-depth article on the L.A. Kabbalah Centre in 1997. Young men and women I spoke with told of being strong-armed into donations. One wife described how her husband burned through their savings, donating and buying Centre reliquaries. Myers doesn't re-investigate such charges or unearth and examine new ones. She does assert that while early Centre techniques and adherents might have been overly strident, the organization, as it has grown, has softened its approach and reined in its zealots. The difference between a cult and a religion is, as the saying goes, about 100 years.
  • Celebrity: The pop goddess Madonna was reported to be taking Centre classes in 1997. Since then, a string of celebrities -- Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Roseanne Barr, Bernhard and others -- have been linked to the Centre and studied under Berg or his sons, Yehuda and Michael.
Readers who want a thorough explanation and detailed account of the Centre and these celebrities won't find it in Myers' book. She could have devoted a chapter to the powerful intersection of spirituality and celebrity and, at the very least, sold more books. But she does acknowledge the invaluable free publicity these affiliations have brought the Centre. Moreover, the involvement of Madonna raises one of the central and most controversial features of the Centre: its outreach to non-Jews.

In a 2004 interview on National Public Radio, Terry Gross asked Madonna if she planned to convert.

"Oh please, don't make me sick!" Madonna exclaimed. "I'm never going to be Jewish, and I hate that phrase."

The pop star was reflecting a Centre teaching that what it offers is not Jewish; it's not even religion. By not naming a Jewish thought system as Jewish, by abhorring the idea that adherents must convert, Berg repositions Kabbalah as universal wisdom, available to all.

"The term 'Jew' is not used" in Centre discourse, Myers writes. Jew and gentile are ethnic terms. Kabbalah is for all humanity."

(This grand distinction, Myers points out, didn't stop Centre co-director Karen Berg, Phillip Berg's wife, from asking Myers herself to write a letter to a government agency testifying that the Centre deserves status as a religious organization, when it served the Kabbalah Learning Center's purpose.)

But the experience of walking into the Centre on a Shabbat morning is recognizably, undeniably, like walking into a traditional Orthodox synagogue, albeit one on steroids and joy juice.

My second time at the Kabbalah Centre was oh so different. A woman I had met at a movie screening -- a professional woman from a wealthy and connected Persian Jewish family -- was one of two, perhaps not coincidentally, beautiful young women greeting people at the door.

Inside, almost every seat was taken, and the place, by 10 a.m., was filling up fast. Average age, I'd say, was 35. I didn't notice any celebrities, but there were plenty of men and woman who could have been on magazine covers. As is common at the Centre, Israelis were well represented.

The traditional prayers were projected in Hebrew, along with a transliteration, above the bimah, using a high-tech Shabbat-kosher projector. Men and women, separately seated, fully participated, the singing and chanting often reaching a crescendo. Men who led prayers or blessed the Torah went from person to person receiving hugs. The man next to me, a 20-something African American, said he had first picked up a copy of Michael Berg's book, "The Way," at Costco, and it led him to the Centre.

That was four years ago. Now he's studying Hebrew.

Rabbi Phillip Berg appeared on the bimah. The crowd leapt to its feet and began chanting and dancing. No one sat until he sat. The rabbi had been seriously ill lately, and his presence was a cause for celebration. Men approached him for his blessings. The relationship appeared not so much cultish as, perhaps, Sephardic or Chasidic -- the rebbe in the house. Another rabbi gave the sermon -- as lackluster as any number of sermons that probably were being given across the town that Saturday.

But the energy in the room never flagged. The davening, the praying, was intense, focused and, yes, uplifting. At the end, I realized something uncomfortable: As a Shabbat morning in shul goes, this was good. And it was familiar: the Centre had long ago done what any number of new Jewish communities and old-line synagogues have, over the past 10 years, been learning to do: embrace visitors, use music (in this case, noninstrumental), emphasize personal and world healing, stick to Hebrew liturgy.

Professor Shawn Landres, co-author of a just-released study on these "emergent communities," told me the Kabbalah Centre -- though it denies it is Jewish -- was a "predictor" of innovative forms of Jewish worship and outreach.

"American Judaism is no longer an Ashkenazic conversation with itself, which is what the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox schism was -- it was all an Ashkenazic conversation with itself," Landres said. "The Kabbalah Centre proves the total success of Judaism in America, as it has spun off heterodoxies at the fringes."

I can't help but think that part of what rubs establishment Judaism the wrong way is the very popularity of this heterodoxy. Berg, in trying to keep young Jews from cults, was accused by the Jewish establishment as promulgating a cult of his own. But Myers shows that the Centre, while far from flawless, has pioneered a way of reaching Jews and non-Jews.

Her book begs a serious, unanswered question: What if we were to see the Centre not as a threat but as a model?

What if every rabbi and synagogue president and executive director spent a Shabbat morning in the sanctuary on Robertson, experiencing the undeniable warmth of the congregation, its immersion in an experience that, if not normative, is certainly recognizably -- forgive me, Madonna -- Jewish. Perhaps this form of kabbalah is, as Myers calls it, "a singular type of Judaism." It is a hybrid religious culture that reflects not just the utter embrace of Judaism in America -- the assimilation by non-Jews of fundamental Jewish beliefs -- but also the pluralism and reach that all religious movements are capable of today.

Even ours.

You can hear Jody Myers discuss her book at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information call (323) 761-8644


Judge's custody ruling a warning

Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun
December 06, 2007

Politicians in British Columbia may be afraid to tackle the polygamous community of Bountiful, but a Supreme Court judge didn't shy away from repeating the obvious this week.

Polygamy is illegal and it may not be in childrens' best interests to be raised within a polygamous society.

And if anything Justice T.J. Melnick's ruling on the interim custody of three of Bountiful's children should raise alarm bells in several different B.C. ministries whose responsibilities include the care, protection, nurturing, and education of children.

The judge denied Roy Blackmore's request for sole interim custody and guardianship of his three children aged 8, 7 and 5. Blackmore is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest polygamous group in North America.

Instead, the judge said, until the custody case goes to trial, the two girls and a boy will be allowed to stay with their mother, Teressa Wall Blackmore, who fled the B.C. community 18 months ago and is now living in Payette, Idaho.

Even though the Blackmores' marriage was monogamous, the judge recognized that if the children were raised by their father, they would be constantly exposed to the FLDS belief that polygamy is essential to reach the highest realm of heaven whether within their extended family, in the community, at church, and at the government-funded Bountiful elementary-secondary school, which last year received nearly $640,000 in grants.

The judge's written ruling released Tuesday included Section 293 (1) of the Criminal Code, which states that anyone who "practises, enters into or in any manner agrees or consent to practise or enter into any form of polygamy" or anyone who "celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction" a polygamous relationship is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by up to five years in jail.

"Suffice it to say that, whatever Mr. Blackmore may argue about the FLDS Church being irrelevant to this application, it is an elephant in the corner of the room of this proceeding that inevitably casts a shadow over it," Justice Melnick wrote before concluding that "quite apart from the issue of the FLDS church, it is in the best interests of the children that Ms. Blackmore continue to have custody and guardianship of the three children of the marriage."

He also accepted Teressa's fears that as the children of an "apostate" -- a non-believer -- they would not be treated as well as others and that the FLDS would discourage her involvement with the children.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court justice also included information taken from an affidavit filed by Rebecca Musser, Teressa's sister about her experience in the FLDS and her concerns about the education children receive.

At 19, Musser was forced to marry the 83-year-old prophet Rulon Jeffs, who died in 2002 and was succeeded by his son, Warren.

"I personally saw and heard the directive of Warren Jeffs to 'clean up' the education system," Musser wrote. "By that, he meant that children could only be exposed to a very narrow education that was totally centred on the church's teachings. The majority of what is taught is fashioned around their priesthood history, its ideas and teachings."

She went on to say little, if any, world history or science is taught, while English and reading are taught only from stories written by FLDS followers.

Although there are government-funded schools in FLDS communities, Musser said Jeffs had ordered mothers to home-school their children even though mothers have little more than a Grade 8 education and scores of children to care for.

"The focus for the FLDS people, its children and education system is to prepare for the apocalypse, which they believe is coming any day," she wrote.

"They openly teach that nothing else matters but to obey and serve God, their prophet and their parents. To pursue a 'school' subject or sport or talent is only looked upon as a distraction and is useless to their 'salvation.'"

The Blackmore custody battle began this fall after Teressa testified at the Utah trial of Warren Jeffs, who was convicted on two counts of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

The rape victim is Teressa's sister, Elissa.

Without the testimony of the three Wall sisters -- Elissa, Teressa and Rebecca -- Jeffs would never have been sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

It's time for the B.C. government to listen to them as well for the sake of Bountiful's children.


A Teressa Blackmore Defence Fund has been established at the East Kootenay Community Credit Union, 920 Baker St., Cranbrook B.C. V1C 1A5. Cheques can be mailed directly there or c/o 100 Birch Dr., Cranbrook. V1C 5X9. Wire transfers can be sent to transit # 22310-809 and account # 200376020.


6 Dec 2007

Iowa Diocese Reaches $37M Sex Abuse Pact

Associated Press - December 3, 2007


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport agreed Monday to pay out $37 million to more than 150 sex abuse victims under a settlement that requires the bishop to personally apologize to any accusers or relatives who ask.

The deal, hammered out over four days of negotiations in Chicago, will address the claims of 156 victims of sex abuse who have come forward, with a portion of the money set aside in the event that more victims come forward.

The agreement completes a necessary step for the Davenport diocese, which filed for bankruptcy last year after allegations of abuse against former clergy members, some dating back nearly 70 years. The diocese is expected soon to file a formal plan for reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that will include the settlement agreement.

Martin J. Amos, the bishop of Davenport, said in a statement that the agreement offers "the best opportunity for healing" for victims of clergy abuse. He also said it would allay some uncertainty about the church's financial status and allow the diocese to continue its mission.

Lawyers for victims in the case likewise said they were satisfied with the amount of the settlement. Patrick Noaker said the agreement may offer closure, of sorts, though he cautioned that many larger issues still must be addressed and the settlement doesn't ensure that future perpetrators won't have access to children.

"I want to add a caveat," he said. "We are not there yet. The kids still need to be protected."

Church officials expect payments to victims to begin by July 2008. Funding will come from the sale of church properties and the diocese's insurance companies. Many of the diocese's properties have been sold or will go on the market as a result of the agreement.

The diocese also agreed to provide mental health counseling to any known or future abuse survivors and publish the names of all known abusers, and Amos will write personal letters of apology to any victim who wants one.

The Davenport diocese was the fourth in the country to file a bankruptcy claim under the weight of abuse claims. The others were Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz. In February, the Diocese of San Diego also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Davenport diocese serves about 105,000 parishioners in 22 counties in southeastern Iowa.

Also on Monday, the Los Angeles Archdiocese wired $500 million to plaintiffs as part of the $660 million it has agreed to settle cases with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse, and a former Catholic priest pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to sexually abusing two boys.

Michael Stephen Baker, 60, was sentenced to 10 years in prison as part of a plea deal. Authorities say Baker molested the boys on multiple occasions between 1994 and 1998, when he was a priest in the Los Angeles area. He was removed from the ministry in 2000.

Associated Press writers Keith St. Clair and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Mother wins custody of kids after fleeing Bountiful

National Post - December 5, 2007

Testified against convicted polygamist leader Warren Jeffs

Keith Fraser, CanWest NewsService

VANCOUVER -- Calling the polygamist-church issue "an elephant in the corner," a judge has granted sole interim custody and guardianship to an Idaho mother of three who fled the children's fundamentalist Mormon father in B.C.

Teressa Blackmore, who recently testified against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, took the children to Idaho. She said she was trying to get them out of the clutches of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon community linked to Bountiful, B.C.

Her husband, Joseph Roy Blackmore, filed suit and claimed that the church issue was a red herring to justify wrongful conduct and sought to have the children returned to him.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Melnick found that the religious issue was not irrelevant.

The judge noted that if the kids were to be raised by the dad, they would be raised within the church and their mother, having left the church, would discourage such involvement.

He said it's beyond the scope of the application to deal with the "wider legal and society implications" of the religious issues.

Then he added: "Suffice it to say that, whatever Mr. Blackmore may argue about the FLDS Church being irrelevant to this application, it is an elephant in the corner of the room of this proceeding that inevitably casts a shadow over it."

The judge said he accepted the mother's evidence that her decision to leave the church would result in herself and her kids facing ostracism within the church community, which may have a negative impact on the children.

"Maximum contact with both parents is inconsistent with the best interests of the children in this case."

He ruled that the mother may continue to live in Payette, Idaho, with the children pending the outcome of a final custody ruling in the case.

In November, Jeffs was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison for forcing a 14-year-old to marry her first cousin.

Vancouver Province