7 Apr 2016

A Snapshot of Religion Related Child Abuse From June 2007 to June 2011

A Snapshot of Religion Related Child Abuse From June 2007 to June 2011

Somewhere right now children are suffering because of religious superstition, tradition and dogma

by Perry Bulwer

The first news article in this archive is dated June 6, 2007, the last one June 10, 2011. Those coincidental dates encompassing four years almost to the day were not planned by me. I had no end date or goal in mind when I began this archive, and when I recently decided to stop updating it I had no idea the dates of the first and last article would coincide in that way. But they do, providing a sort of symmetry or framework for this snapshot of child abuse in religious environments.

I refer to this archive as a snapshot because it contains specific news articles within a specific time frame, but like a photographic snapshot it captures only those I had a quick opportunity to archive. Obviously, this is not a complete picture of religiously motivated child abuse, but just one small part of it. For each of the more than three thousand articles that appear in this archive there are many more from that same period that are not included. I only added articles I found in the various online newspapers I read everyday, the various email alerts I set up on the subject, or a few times by readers who submitted links to me. I did not otherwise go out of my way to find relevant articles, but just entered articles I easily found, much like the way I take photographs.

Not only were there other relevant articles during that four years that are not included in this archive, I did not add articles published prior to that period except in a few cases where those articles easily came to my attention. For example, Rolling Stone republished online an older article on Scientology in the wake of recent scandals.  Also not in this archive are the numerous, individual stories of religion related child abuse occurring daily around the world that never get reported. See the list below for ways in which millions of children every year are denied their human rights, cruelly mistreated, harmed or killed for religious reasons (for example: every year 3 million girls in Africa alone have their genitals mutilated).  As Carl Sagan wrote, it is a demon-haunted world we live in and somewhere right now children are suffering because of religious superstitions, traditions and dogmas.

Such child abuse is as old as religion itself (it is one of the main ways religion is propagated)  and will be a problem as long as believers and their institutions are afforded privileges and exemptions to indoctrinate and otherwise abuse children. Although a few of the articles here do discuss that ancient history of religious child abuse, and some consider the problem of how to end such abuse in the future, most deal with specific abuses and court cases that occurred during that four year period. So, as I said, this archive is a snapshot, but no less informative for being so. It contains a representative sample of child abuse in all the major religions and some smaller ones, some Judaic, Islamic and Christian denominations and sects, many cults and quasi-religious groups, as well as semi-secular institutions such as the Boy Scouts  and some delinquent teen boot-camps  that are not as overtly religious as most, but contain religious elements.

Although I won't be updating this archive, at least for the foreseeable future, the site will remain open. There is much valuable information here that can be useful in a variety of ways. You can find, for example, specific information on perpetrators and the groups they belong to, tactics and characteristics common to abusive individuals or groups, personal stories about and by abuse survivors and their recovery, information on court cases, contact information for advocacy groups and lawyers, and much more. That is one of the reasons I archived entire news articles rather than just excerpts and links. When I first started I discovered other bloggers and news aggregators focusing on religion, but very often links they provided were dead soon after they were posted, the excerpts they published left out crucial details or the articles quickly disappeared behind firewalls. So, I have archived articles in their entirety and include the link to where I found the article so that all of the information remains available to anyone.

Keeping this archive updated has not been easy. It can be quite depressing reading daily about innocent children who are indoctrinated, mistreated, exploited, assaulted, molested, raped, tortured or murdered, or are denied their human rights, either directly or indirectly because of religion. However, contrary to the popular misconception held by many believers, it is religiously motivated child abuse that depresses me, not the atheistic worldview I now hold, which provides more morality, meaning and purpose to my life than Christianity ever did because it is based on reality. So, that is one reason I'm ending this archive. I cry inside every time I read another story of children suffering because of the religious beliefs of adults. Sometimes I just can't bear to read another one. It's getting too hard on my heart.

Another reason is that it is time consuming. I did not simply skim read each article, I dwelt on them in detail to understand the underlying issues and make connections to similar stories of religious child abuse. But time is the most precious thing anyone has since this life is all we know. There is no second life. I have other projects I need to devote my time to now, but that does not mean I am turning my back on this issue. I will continue to expose religion related child abuse in my own writings on my blog Chain the Dogma when I have some insights or personal experience and knowledge in relation to particular news. It will be sporadic though, not on a daily or weekly basis, at least until I have finished some of those others projects I mentioned. The story of religion and child abuse is a never-ending one, so there will always be more articles that could be added to this archive. In fact, as I was writing the previous paragraph I received a news update on a Hindu Guru from Texas who fled to Mexico after being found guilty of sexually assaulting girls.  I was tempted to add this latest article to the others here on that same story,  but I need to stop somewhere, which means that some of the stories related in these articles have not yet been concluded.

Some stories archived here have concluded and you can find articles covering them from beginning to end. For example, the Elizabeth Smart case concluded with guilty verdicts for her abductors. But no one expects the Catholic clergy crimes scandals to end any time soon. While much abuse has been exposed in North America and Europe, and there are many different legal actions taking place,  it is likely just the tip of the iceberg as clergy abuse in Africa  and Latin America  has received little attention yet. So that is an obvious on-going story.

Other court cases are still continuing as well. Some notable ones are the Canadian constitutional case considering the validity of the law prohibiting polygamy,  which will likely take years to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. Related to that is the Warren Jeffs case  and other Mormon fundamentalist members of the FLDS  (evidence from Jeffs' case in Texas was submitted to the Canadian court hearing the constitutional case).  Like wise, I just read another update on the Tony Alamo case indicating that although he is now in prison and survivors have won civil suits against him, he has successfully hidden much of his ministries assets,  which means those survivors will be fighting legal battles for years to come to get their court-ordered compensation.

Other recent news that just missed my cut-off date for this archive includes reports that a cult leader from Australia, Agape Ministries pastor Rocco Leo Agape, was arrested in Fiji. Articles in this archive report that when he fled Australia several children went missing.  I have not found any reports indicating whether or not those children have been found, but the articles archived here  do provide basic information for anyone interested in doing follow-up research on this continuing story. And just as I was about to publish this article, news arrived that cult leader, Wayne Bent, imprisoned for sex abuse  of girls  has had his conviction overturned on a technicality and will be released from jail. So while this archive will not contain the ending to those and similar stories, it will provide much of the background and make it easier to find follow-up articles.

One way to find articles, besides the search tool, is to use the labels listed at the end of  the side-bar. Unfortunately, there are still several hundred articles in the middle of this archive that do not yet have any label associated with them. Still, the labels can be useful for finding specific groups or specific issues, just use the search tool to find any additional unlabelled articles. Also, for the last year and a half or so I added a Related Articles section at the end of each article. It contains links to other articles in the archive that are either earlier stories on the same subject or similar in some way, making your search much easier. I'll list here those labels dealing with the different ways children are abused and then set out some of the main themes you will find throughout this archive.

These are some of the ways children are abused as reported in the news articles here:

abandonment, abduction, assault, bigotry, child brides, child labour, child sacrifice, child soldiers, child trafficking, circumcision, confinement, corporal punishment, cruelty, discrimination, endangerment, exorcism, exploitation, extremism, forced fasting, forced marriage, hate, honour killing, incest, indoctrination, infanticide, institutional abuse, intellectual abuse, intimidation, isolation, lying, manipulation, manslaughter, medical neglect, molestation, murder, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, pornography, prostitution, psychological abuse, racism, rape, ritual abuse, seclusion, secrecy, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, shunning, sorcery, spiritual abuse, suicide, terrorism, torture, totalitarian, vaccination, witchcraft.

Here are a few of the general themes you will find in this archive, with links to a few examples. I'm sure you can find many others. Note that these categories are not exclusive. Much of the abuse reported in this archive fits into two or more of these themes, sometimes all of them.

Education, indoctrination and intellectual abuse:

One of the primary ways in which children's rights are violated in religious environments is by indoctrination. Instead of granting their children the same right to religious freedom that they want for themselves, many parents  indoctrinate  them before they are able to make their own informed decision on whether to believe or not. Young children are also targeted for indoctrination by religious institutions, especially by fundamentalists,  evangelicals,  Catholics  and Anglicans,  but also by cults  like Scientology. The beliefs and doctrines of those groups are so irrational that the best way to get new recruits is to manipulate the minds of children and teens who are unable to defend themselves from lies and superstitions with reason. In my opinion, that is immoral spiritual abuse. The educational rights of children  are also undermined when they are intellectually abused with biblical literalism,  anti-science creationism  or denied the right to attend university.

Physical abuse:

Of course, there is an awful lot of physical child abuse that is not related to religion. Children are easy targets. But it is more than just sad when religion is used to justify assaulting children,  it is immoral  and criminal.  Corporal punishment takes many forms ranging from slaps to torture.  In my opinion, even a slap is an affront to the dignity of a child, or any human for that matter. Spanking children is not necessary. There are better ways to train children than hitting them, so why do believers who claim to have superior morals to those of unbelievers think it is okay to assault vulnerable children? If a slap is ok, why not a punch,  or a beating,  or a whipping,  or water torture,  or other tortures?  Some believers don't know where to draw the line and children suffer or die.  I also include medical neglect  under this theme because it often leads to immense physical suffering   and many times death. Medical neglect includes the failure of parents to protect their children, and consequently other children, from deadly diseases by refusing to vaccinate them.

Sexual abuse:

Sadly, the majority of articles here deal with the sexual abuse of children and teenagers. It will surprise no one that Catholic clergy figure prominently here. Some of the vilest sex abuse you will read in these articles was committed by Catholic priests and nuns. A few examples: the priest who molested or raped around 200 deaf boys; the founder of the influential Legionaires order, Marcel Macial,  who sexually assaulted young seminarians and fathered several children who he also sexually abused; Mother Teresa's failure  to recognize despite many obvious warning signs that her spiritual adviser, an esteemed Jesuit priest,  was a notorious pedophile abusing teen boys in her retreats and nunneries; the priest who raped children in their own homes while their parents were in another room;  the priest who molested girls in the confessional booth and raped hypnotized boys;  priests  and nuns who sexually terrorized aboriginal children in North American  residential schools that were designed to assimilate them; the Belgian bishop who molested his two nephews and then went on TV to justify his actions; and much much more.

Of course, Catholic clergy are not the only ones who sexually abuse children. There are reports here on sexual crimes by clergy of various Protestant  denominations and sects, particularly Baptists, but also by AnglicansAmish,  Assemblies of GodPresbyteriansMennonites,  Mormons,  Jehovah's Witnesses  and others. There also numerous, smaller Christian sects and cults represented here where the leaders committed various sexual crimes against children and teens. Some examples of those include The Family International  previously known as the Children of GodTony Alamo MinistriesWayne Bent's cult; and the House of YahwehHindu gurus  and Buddhist monks are also among the clergy abusers reported here, though not to the extent of other groups. That may be partly because I did not scan newspapers from Asia as often as from other areas.

Much of the sex abuse that occurs in the various groups listed above takes the form of direct assaults in which an offender molests or rapes children. In some, however, the sexual crimes take the form of institutionalized abuse, such as the forced 'marriages' of child brides in groups practising polygamy like the Mormon fundamentalist group FLDS and Tony Alamo Ministries , or the sexualization of children in The Family International. Those three Christian sects practise polygamy and engaged, or still do, in child trafficking for sexual purposes, not unlike what happens in some Muslim  and Hindu  communities. Sometimes those communities are entire nations, which can lead to the bizarre situation in Saudi Arabia where adult women do not have the freedom to marry who they want, but adult males can 'marry' 10 year old girls. Child sex abusers, whether individuals or institutions, often turn to religion for justification. However, dogmas and rituals intended to provide religious respectability do not make forced marriages of children, or any other kind of child abuse, any less a crime.

Psychological and spiritual abuse:

The intellectual, physical and sexual abuses I've discussed so far can also fit into this theme of psychological and spiritual abuse. For example, when a priest or other religious leader rapes or molests a child, it is not just sexually abusive, it is also spiritually abusive because of their religious relationship with the child. And it is psychologically abusive because of the emotional pain and confusion a sexual assault by a trusted authority figure causes. Here is how one woman who was raised in a Mormon fundamentalist community describes it:

In addition to being physically abused, Jensen told the court that she had also been sexually abused as a child in Bountiful. But, voice thick with tears, Jensen said the emotional abuse was worse.
"The unworthiness, the never being good enough, the not having a parent who was accessible to talk to when things happened to you that you couldn't explain it. Even if you had the courage to bring it up, it was disclaimed as God's will. You must have done something wrong.

"It was the self-loathing. The hopelessness of thinking that you're never going to get out and it's never going to get any better so you might as well give up and let them do whatever they wanted to you."

Spiritual abuse also occurs when religious leaders neglect to protect children from abusers and then use denial,  deceit  and secrecy  to cover-up their failures in order to protect their position and institution. Catholic leaders have shuffled known pedophile priests around the globe, lied to or concealed information from congregations about reassigned priests, used the doctrine of mental reservation  to lie about abuse, blamed children for causing their own abuse, asked survivors to swear oaths of secrecy  or sign confidentiality agreements, refused to compensate survivors  unless forced to by courts, used bankruptcies  to hide assets from survivors, and continue to fight legal reforms that would end or extend time limits, which would allow many more survivors of clergy abuse to seek justice and compensation through the legal system. Here is a Catholic describing how she was betrayed by the Catholic hierarchy's neglect and cover-ups:

It is a true test of faith, to try to remain in the Catholic Church knowing all that has happened, not only in Philadelphia but throughout the world, with clergy sex-abuse scandals. It is like everything I once believed, has been turned upside down, inside out.
The trust that has been broken is almost too great, the betrayal runs so deep. As a child, I was taught to look toward the clergy as an example of what is good and holy, and now I find I have had to tell my children to look away.
I was taught from a young age that as a Catholic, I needed to be careful to not fall prey to the corruption and evil that exists in the secular world around us. But this time the threat comes from within the church. The problems of the outside world have never shaken my beliefs the way the church itself has done in recent years.
I was also taught to speak out against injustice and all that is wrong, and so I do; however it is against all that I have ever known and believed. So for now, I remain, wanting to walk away, but in doing so feeling like I would be abandoning all that the Catholic Church has destroyed.
I recently used the term “Catholic orphan” to describe my status in the church. I feel I have no leadership, no trust, the hierarchy continues to mislead and tries to put a spin on a vile situation.

It is not just the Catholic hierarchy that has spiritually abused their congregation by failing to protect children from abusers in their midst. MormonsBaptistsOrthodox Jewish groups,  Lutherans,  and many other religious groups have inadequate child protection policies and practices. And it is not just groups, but sometimes entire nations that are unable to protect children from religiously motivated child abuse. Indonesia  is one example, as are several countries in Africa.

There are other kinds of psychological and spiritual abuses that do not involve sexual assaults. For example, many fundamentalist and orthodox beliefs are highly detrimental to children's minds. Creationism,  which also falls under intellectual abuse,  can cause cognitive dissonance in children once they are confronted with scientific facts. Apocalypticism  can cause children to needlessly fear and make irrational decisions. Biblical bigotry can cause children to hate others with different beliefs or no beliefs, the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation. Or it can teach them to hate themselves if they were born homosexual but taught it is a sin  or that they have a demon that must be exorcisedChild custody disputes involving religion can cause emotional turmoil for children caught up in the conflicts of their parents. Religious exclusivity can isolate children from society.  The practice of shunning leads to the abandonment of children and separation of family members. In fact, all of the abuse covered in this archive has some element of psychological or spiritual abuse.

Ritual abuse:

I apply a very broad definition to the term ritual abuse. Certainly, there are many secular rituals, but they rarely become abusive. One obvious example is the hazing that occurs in college fraternities, military units, sports teams and other groups that initiate new recruits in that manner. Hazing is an inherently abusive ritual, just like some religious rituals, but it is harder to find examples of benign secular rituals used in abusive ways. On the other hand, I can think of many examples of religious ritual abuse.  Some religious rituals are inherently abusive, such as circumcision, while others can be both benign and abusive depending on how they are practiced.

Circumcision is one of the earliest forms of ritual abuse, and one of the most common.  It is similar to baptism in that it spiritually abuses little children who have it forced upon them, but unlike baptism it is also physically abusive. The ritual abuse of circumcision is an infringement of children's rights,  both the rights they hold as children, and their future rights as adults. Children have a right to religious freedom as set out in international human rights law. Religious freedom necessarily includes the right to be free from religion, otherwise it is an empty right, but when children are baptized or circumcised they are denied that right. Children also have an inherent right to an open future so that when they reach the appropriate age they are still free to make their own decisions regarding religion. Circumcision denies that right  even more than baptism, because a baptism can later be renounced whereas circumcision is a permanent mutilation of children's genitals for the sake of their parents' religious beliefs. Where circumcision is not performed as a religious ritual, it is still physically abusive since it is not medically necessary. In that case, it might be seen as another example of an abusive secular ritual. Unlike hazing, however, secular circumcision has deep religious roots.

Praying is a good example of a religious ritual that can be either benign or abusive. Even a seemingly benign ritual like praying can turn extremely abusive when it is used, for example, as a replacement for medical care. Picture a scenario where adults huddle around a child who is suffering immense pain  from an obvious medical problem. They pray fervently for days as the child's condition worsens, yet no one considers getting any kind of medical assistance. They just keep praying until the child dies or suffers irreparable harm. That is a clear case of ritual abuse.

Praying also becomes ritual abuse when it is used to promote hatred and violence. Here is an example of that as expressed by the leader of the bigoted family cult, Westboro Baptist Church, referring to the murder of an abortion provider. (This article is not in the archive)

Fred Phelps praised the shooter and said that he was doing God’s work. Phelps, who ran for political office several times as a Democrat in the 1990s, said, “Congresswoman Giffords, an avid supporter of sin and baby killing, was shot for that mischief…Westboro Baptist Church prays for more shooters...and more dead.”

Assassinating a member of Congress is not enough for another Baptist preacher who prays for the president's death:

Tempe, Arizona Independent Baptist preacher Steven Anderson has recently attracted national media attention after one of his parishioners showed up at an Arizona townhall meeting, that was attended by President Barack Obama, carrying a bullhorn and an AR15 semiautomatic assault rifle. One day before the event, Anderson gave a sermon entitled "Why I hate Barack Obama," in which the pastor declared he was praying for Obama's death and called on God to "melt" the president like a "[salted] snail."

It is not just the act of praying that can be abusive, but objecting to the ritual of prayer can be dangerous. Just ask the teenager in this report, who was demeaned by teachers and fellow students, and shunned by his own parents:

Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.
Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.

Praying can also be abusive when it is used in exorcisms, whether they are informal rituals  or formalized  ceremonies. Either way, exorcism and everything associated with it is ritual abuse. As with other types of abuses discussed here, ritual abuse can also be categorized under spiritual or physical abuse, both of which occur in faith healings and exorcisms.

Some religious rituals, such as those associated with superstitions like demon possession, Satanism  and witchcraft, can harm children either directly or indirectly. Some children accused of being witches or possessed  are subjected to exorcism rituals and injured or killed in the process, but other children are kidnapped, trafficked, mutilated and killed so their body parts can be used in occult rituals. Child trafficking is also associated with another type of religious ritual abuse in which underage girls, so called child brides,  are 'married' to older men for religious reasons. Corporal punishment can also be used in a ritualistic way, such as when religious authorities beat and humiliate children to make them feel worthless.

Not all religious ritual abuse takes the above forms, however. Sometimes religious rituals are used in sacrilegious ways. Here are a few examples of how priests used the religious ritual of confession to sexually abuse children. One of the Jesuit order's most notorious convicted pedophiles, Donald McGuire, used confession to groom his victims.

According to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors after McGuire's conviction, one of his primary means of "grooming" young abuse victims was the ritual of confession.

For example, when the primary victim in the case confessed to McGuire at the age of 13 that he masturbated, McGuire "seized on it" and said the boy had an "addiction" that could send him to hell, according to court documents. He then demanded to "inspect" the boy's penis using a magnifying glass and baby oil.

Brian Spillane, a notorious convicted Australian priest who still faces over 100 charges of child abuse, sexually abused girls in their own homes while their parents were there and raped boys at the school where he taught. Many of his victims said the abuse occurred during prayer sessions, and like McGuire, he also used the ritual of confession to groom his victims.

Molesting girls in the confessional box and raping hypnotised boys was part of a pattern of "rampant pedophilia" by a former priest accused of sexually assaulting youngsters, a Sydney court has been told.

During confession he would invite children as young as eight to sit on his lap. "It was my pastoral approach,'' he told the court, "to break down the barrier between the fearful God and the loving God." One former penitent gave evidence of him holding her tightly on his lap as he nuzzled into her neck. "What I felt was some little kisses."

Italian priest, Ruggero Conti, charged with sexual violence and prostitution involving seven boys, also used the ritual of confession in his crimes.

Earlier at the hearing, Marongiu told the court Conti frequently made advances to him when he was 13 years old in all sorts of places, including in a car and during confession. He said it did not happen in the confessional booth, and that Conti would hear confession anywhere at any time.

Residential Schools, boarding schools, teen detention centres:

Much of the religion related abuse of children reported in this archive occurred in residential or boarding schools maintained by religious institutions. Sometimes these abuses occurred as a result of neglectful oversight in boarding schools for children of missionaries, but most often the abuse was intentionally and systematically directed against institutionalized children. Abusive priestspastorsmonks and nuns had captive children that they not only committed all kinds of physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuses against with impunity, but also engaged in cultural assimilation  and class warfare. These institutions destroyed the cultural identities of Indian and Aborigine children or enslaved orphans or the children of the poor. This institutional abuse of innocent, indigenous or indigent children is a national shame for Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and any other country where this extremely abusive form of evangelism occurred.

Related to this is the troubled teen industry, where so called delinquent teens are sent to detention centres, boot-camps or other tough love programs that almost always are religious in nature or have some religious elements. As with boarding schools, captive children with no way to escape are hypocritically subjected to cruel abuse in order to indoctrinate them against their will.


This category could be considered a sub-category of spiritual abuse. There is something particularly vile about religious leaders making excuses and justifications for child abuse. Catholic leaders are very good at that, coming up with all kinds of excuses including blaming victims or society, but rarely taking the blame  themselves for neglecting to protect children. It is never the PopeCardinalsBishops  or Catholic doctrines   that are at fault, but just a few bad apples. That is an excuse common to other religious groups , as are the inadequate apologies that are often offered without corresponding action such as compensating survivors  or ensuring effective child protection policies are in place to prevent future abuse. Those apologies are often expressed in a passive form  such as “mistakes were made”, which deflects accountability away from the abusers and their enablers.

Another despicable type of apologetics is when believers argue for their religious right to discriminate  or abuse children. When they are denied that right they are quick to claim religious persecution. A few examples in this archive include: faith healers  who claim religious freedom to let children die,  fundamentalists who claim religious freedom  to sexually and spiritually abuse little girls in so called marriages, parents who claim religious freedom to beat or mutilate their children, fundamentalists who claim religious freedom to intellectually abuse children, evangelicals who claim religious freedom to convert and indoctrinate children, and so on. Believers who make those claims do not understand the concept of religious freedom, which includes the right to be free from religion,  otherwise it is an empty right.  It means absolute freedom to believe or not believe, but it does not mean absolute freedom to act on those beliefs. Religious freedom does not give anyone the right, including parents, to harm children or deny them their own rights  and religious freedom. And when those same believers claim religious persecution they are blind to the fact that they are religiously persecuting children by denying them their own internationally recognized rights (by all countries except the U.S.  and Somalia). So, claims of religious persecution should be considered skeptically. When fundamentalist Christians, for example, claim religious persecution it is often self serving because the Bible tells them in 2 Timothy 3:12 that if they live godly they will be persecuted. It is a badge of honour, so when they claim to be religiously persecuted they see it as a sign that they must doing something good. However, often the so-called persecuted are in fact the persecutors.


  1. Please Please don't stop writing,



    I am currently fighting hell, like fear and all, deconverting Christian, sort of, with long history of dealing with ritual child abuse by my mother,

    what I didnt' know till I came back to the faith after years of rebellion [I got into leftism and all of that] was when I read the OT for first time, I got so triggered, and I didn't know why, then I began to have dreams

    well, so piecing it together and fighting with God, so to speak,

    all the time I thought I was Christian [years 80s to 93] the effects of mind control via Sorcery were working through out my life, then found out,

    how that was all tied into Catholic church, Masons and other pagan beliefs, Gambling-Mafia [my mother's side] and government-military my father's side, I was born in Washington D.C. in 60s,

    anyway...when I first began to connect the dots, of my physical life including all the men I had been involved with [all ties to occult or gambling and all ties to gold somehow] there was no way I could just chalk it up to coincidence, I then had to research things in my dreams

    they all came up with same thing, ritual abuse, satanic abuse, sorcery, etc.,

    and the horrid thing is, we moved from my family [my mother was the abuse handler from six years one to adult along with my Nana] and I didn't know them--but yet, my life along with my brothers and cousin [who was murdered at 21] was all cursed and screwed up because of this...

    and then I find the town I grew up in, huge religious town with huge Masonic Ritual Abuse ties,

    now you talk creepy. I had memories of strange things back in D.C., I always thought they were 'dreams' but oh no,

    they weren't dreams...and how much the Church was in on it, not sure but my dad was VERY religious, a Shriner and who knows what else.

    And all his family, work for Government, lower to mid key offices

    but you know, they sacrifice children--abuse them, ritually, and RELIGION is yes, in on it...I think, they run by the same forces, be they human or spiritual,

    not sure, but Reading here and I stumbled onto your blog, HELPED ME SO MUCH, when I was in mental torment and hell, wanting to commit suicide,

    because I know I am not alone.

    I know it's horrific to write about these things--but many of us, who remember but don't quite understand, especially how our lives have been totally ruined by, and we are taught to Trust in the very religions that abuse us


    because so many just don't see or refuse to see. This blog,

    is a life saver--

    it saved mine. I still struggle, but at least, I can come here, and read, and I know, I am NOT CRAZY

    and there is, just a shred of hope.

    No words can explain,

    in sincerity,


  2. Very important and essential information. The victims should not become forgotten.

    One of the most serious case recently has been published in Finland. In April 2011 the leaders of Conservative Laestadian revival movement (which is a part of the Lutheran Church of Finland) confessed, that as many as 100 abusers within the Conservative Laestadian revival movement have violated the sexual integrity of children over a period of forty decades. The figures came out when the leaders of the movement reported on results of an internal investigation in the press release.

    These cases are just those whicha are known so far, some of them have been in law court, some not. About 30 cases have gone to court in the past decade. Nobody knows how many victims like Minna there still are, and how many perpetrators live in peace hidding thier evil deeds, as free members in the local Laestadian communities.


    Instead of reporting cases to the police, the focus of Laestadians’ reactions has been on forgiveness of sins, and keeping the victims quiet.

    After the published media release the The National Bureau of Investigation of Finland (NBI, the central criminal police) started to investigate on cases happened in the past and had come now in the daylight.

    There are unknown amount of crimes never been in law court.

    With kind regards
    - Xsa

  3. Miracle vs. medicine: When faith puts care at risk

    By ALICIA GALLEGOS, amednews staff.
    Sept. 19, 2011.

    Salem, Ore., pediatrician James Lace, MD, will never forget the severely asthmatic patient who could scarcely speak a sentence without gasping for air.

    The 15-year-old girl had endured asthma for years, but her parents refused treatment for her because their religion forbids medical intervention. They believe that only prayer should be used to heal.

    For weeks, Dr. Lace met with the parents at his office and in their home, trying to persuade them to accept medical care. He discussed Bible passages about healing and even prayed with them.

    "I wanted to show them I'm not opposed to their beliefs. ... I wanted to show them that [doctors] are not negating the power of prayer; we're part of that," he said.

    After social workers threatened to place the girl in foster care, the parents relented. Their daughter was prescribed medication, and she gained weight and developed new lung tissue. But once she turned 18, she stopped treatment.

    "She wrote me a letter saying, 'I'm free now. I don't have to see you anymore,' " Dr. Lace said. She wrote, "God wants me to suffer."

    At least 10 child deaths a year in the U.S. are related to faith-based medical neglect.

    read the full article at:


  4. Thats how christians protect life. In another case in Minn, the same thing happened.

    An Autopsy showed the girl died of acute diabetic shock. A blood test and a candy bar would have saved her.

    Religion is just superstition on steroids

  5. Sexual abuse survivors often begin the healing process during college years

    By Naresh Vissa September 21, 2011

    Recent attention has surrounded sexual assaults on college campuses. In April, Yale University came under scrutiny for failing to respond appropriately to sexual violence and harassment claims.

    Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech last April, “No means no, if you’re drunk or you’re sober. No means no if you’re in bed, in a dorm or on the street. No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind. No means no.”

    Earlier this year, the Obama Administration sent out guidelines to help colleges deal with assaults. The government, however, failed to address actions some victims face long before their college years.

    A study funded by the Justice Department found that one in four women will be assaulted during their college years, and 95 percent of sexual assaults on campuses aren’t reported. If legal adults aren’t reporting such illegal activity, then why would a child?

    Personal injury attorney Joseph Klest has represented more than 500 victims of sexual abuse over his 29-year career. Just like sexual assault cases in college, Klest thinks less than five percent of child molestation cases are reported, so he encourages survivors to come forward.

    “There are very few false allegations of abuse because it’s a very embarrassing issue for the victim,” Klest said. “Victims will be surprised at how society will rally behind them. It’s never too late to share the truth.”


    “It’s very common for survivors not to talk about it until they’re in their later years of college,” Dr. Walter Afield, Founder and President of the Neuropsychiatric Institute and former head of John Hopkins’ child psychiatry department, said. “They still have problems relating to the opposite sex and maintaining relationships. They feel very embarrassed, so it’s important that society continues to talk about the issue.”


    “It’s in every religious and social order,” Dr. Afield said. “It’s in every place you can think of: boys and girls in schools, homes, prisons, places of worship. It’s happening today, and it happened in the prehistoric times. Some cultures feel this is a normal way of growing and relating. Areas such as Uganda, Rwanda and the Middle East – some guys are busy raping people to show their control and power. In our culture, sicker people will abuse a bunch of kids, but it’s still seen as out of context. The bottom line is, it’s a bad thing to happen because it causes scars and major problems for perpetrators and victims. Getting help is important, and college could provide resources and support to facilitate a recovery.”

    read the full article at:


  6. Here are excerpts from a news report that demonstrates how charismatic theology leads to the abuse of children.
    Legal cases involving minister's naked ritual reopens cult debate

    By Joe Mahr Chicago Tribune September 27, 2011

    CHICAGO — In a small house overlooking a lake in Wauconda, Ill., a minister directed his female followers to go into a back room and take off their clothes.

    In one-on-one sessions, he got naked, touched their bodies and told them to touch his.

    He called them prayer sessions.

    What allegedly happened in that room over a series of months would spur a criminal probe in one county, spark civil litigation in two others, and reopen the age-old debate on what’s a cult.

    Calling it “light therapy,” the minister, Philip Livingston, testified in a Kane County case that he repeatedly performed the naked ritual — claiming it helped cure everything from drug addictions to yeast infections. He said it was done only with consenting adults who were members of his donor-funded Light of the World Ministries. But one participant testified that a teenage girl was involved too.

    The case offers a window not only into the evolution of a fringe church, but also the struggles of authorities to know when such a group warrants their attention.


    She told the Tribune she ardently believed Livingston’s teachings that he spoke directly with God. She believed in the church’s latest mission: to prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ by, according to its website, “getting to know Jesus inside of us and being in perfect harmony with Him as His body.”

    Then Livingston introduced a new way to achieve that harmony — a technique that would become the focus of a criminal investigation.

    Livingston called it “light therapy.”

    To traditional doctors, light therapy is a way to treat some forms of depression and disease by shining light on the afflicted.

    For Livingston, it meant praying for followers by touching them.

    Testimony and affidavits filed in court indicate he developed the practice about two years ago.

    Sessions were offered outside church, at the homes in Elgin and Wauconda where Livingston was living. It was only offered to a select group of church members deemed ready, about five or six.

    At first, the participant laid on a couch. Clothes stayed on. Private areas were not touched. Livingston’s wife helped, according to the Kane County testimony.

    Then Livingston increasingly went in alone with each participant. Both got naked. Livingston touched her private parts, even inserted his fingers into them. The women touched his penis while they prayed, according to testimony.

    Livingston testified the therapy was separate from his church, used merely as a “spiritual guidance” to benefit some followers. He said light therapy had shown “miraculous” results, that he reduced anxiety in a victim of molestation and turned homosexuals and sexual addicts into “virtuous people.” His new wife not only was “healed” of spiritual and emotional issues, but rid herself of chronic yeast infections, he testified.

    Livingston said the ritual wasn’t sexual. He said he was never aroused, something Ericksen disputed.

    Ericksen also disputed the ritual’s healing power. She told the Tribune it was coupled with constant demands she tell Livingston everything she was thinking. When she told Livingston she was uncomfortable with the ritual, he told her she was really feeling the sin in her needing to be expelled from her body by more intense therapy.

    read the full article at:


  7. Imagine my surprised delight to discover that an article by an angry Christian fundamentalist connected me, a relatively unknown blogger, with some of the most famous atheists in the world today. What an honour it was to read my name along side Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, who all have made the list of the 50 Top Atheists in the World Today; see


    All of us, and other atheists mentioned in the article want to protect children from religious harm, but the author, Don Hays, insists on the right to violate the rights of children because of his religious delusions. You can read Don Hays' ridiculous rant rife with lies and personal attacks, in which he includes a quotation from my article above, at


    He does not link to any of the atheists he cites and he does not allow any comments unless you first register. Apparently he does not want any of his readers to be confused with facts. But if Don Hays had done a little bit more research he would have discovered my recent blog article, Respecting a Child's Point of View.


    If Hays had read that with an open, honest mind (I realize that's asking a lot of a fundamentalist) he would realize I believe in religious freedom for everyone, especially children. Hays' problem, like so many other dangerous dogmatists is that he does not understand the simple concept of religious freedom, which necessarily includes the right to be free from religion. The real enemies of religious freedom are fundamentalists, not atheists.

  8. Vatican summit sees abuse victim speak out


    VATICAN CITY - Shunned by the Catholic Church for decades after being violated by a priest when she was just 13 years old, Irish victim Marie Collins described her traumatic experience at a Vatican summit.

    "I had just turned 13 and was at my most vulnerable, a sick child in hospital, when a priest sexually assaulted me," Collins said on Tuesday.

    She had just been confirmed a Catholic when the young priest - a couple of years out of the seminary but "already a skilled child molester" - began visiting her in the evenings while she lay in a hospital bed in Dublin.

    "When he began to sexually interfere with me, pretending at first, he was being playful, I was shocked and resisted, telling him to stop. He did not stop," she said in front of the conference of bishops and cardinals.

    "While assaulting me he would respond to my resistance by telling me 'he was a priest, he could do no wrong,'" she said.

    "He took photographs of the most private parts of my body and told me I was stupid if I thought it was wrong. He had power over me. I did not know how to tell anyone. I just prayed he would not do it again, but he did.

    "Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before were the next morning holding and offering me the sacred host. The hands that held the camera to photograph my exposed body, in the light of day were holding a prayer book when he came to hear my confession.

    "I had been taught that priests were above normal men. I did not turn against my religion, I turned against myself," she said.

    "When I left the hospital I was not the same child who had entered."

    Now an anti-abuse campaigner, the 64-year-old Collins told Catholic leaders that it was not enough for the Church to apologize for the abuse itself, they also had to recognize the harm done to victims in years of denial and cover-up.

    Her own experience revealed a deeply-entrenched belief in the hierarchy of the Church that sex abuse was best hushed up by relocating problematic priests.

    After years of treatment for mental illness brought on by feelings of guilt, Collins finally told a doctor about the abuse when she was 47.

    He persuaded her to go to the Church about the priest, but when Collins met with her parish priest, she says he refused to listen and blamed her.

    "He said he saw no need to report the chaplain. He told me what happened was probably my fault. This response shattered me. I could not face talking of it again so I stopped seeing my doctor," she said.

    A decade later while reading news about a serial paedophile priest she realised that other children might have been damaged by the same priest who hurt her and Collins wrote to her archbishop and a canon lawyer.

    But she was shocked by their reaction.

    "The priest who sexually assaulted me was protected by his superiors from prosecution. I was treated as someone with an agenda against the Church, the police investigation was obstructed. I was distraught," she said.

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    Like many others who have spoken out about their abuse at the hands of priests, Collins said her anguish was greatly exasperated by the failure of Church leaders to stop those accused of assault from working with children.

    "The archbishop considered my abuse historical so felt in would be unfair to tarnish the priest's 'good name' now," she said.

    "I have heard this argument from others in leadership in the Catholic Church and always there is blindness to the current risk to children from these men. Why?" she asked.

    The priest was eventually brought to justice and jailed and Collins has since become a leading voice in Ireland pushing for justice for victims.

    She said she struggled with the decision to attend the Vatican's symposium after years of conflict with the Church.

    "The final death of any respect that might have survived in me towards my religious leaders came after my abuser's conviction," she said.

    "I learned that the diocese had discovered, just months after my abuse, that this priest was abusing children in the hospital, but did nothing about it except move him to a new parish," she added.

    "How do I regain my respect for the leadership of my Church?"


  10. Vatican body has dealt with 4,000 child sex abuse cases in past decade

    The Irish Times February 8, 2012

    PADDY AGNEW in Rome

    THE HOLY See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had to deal with more than 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors in the past decade, according to its prefect, US Cardinal William Levada.

    He was speaking at a symposium in Rome, “Towards Healing and Renewal”, which opened yesterday and was addressed by Irish clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins.

    Cardinal Levada told the symposium, being held over three days in the Pontifical Gregorian University, that the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors reported to the CDF in the past decade had revealed, on the one hand, the inadequacy of “an exclusively canonical response to this tragedy and, on the other, the necessity of a truly multifaceted response ...”

    Bishops from more than 100 countries as well as 32 heads of religious orders have gathered for the event, which is intended to help churchmen understand the need for and then develop that “truly multifaceted response”.

    In Rome, where until recently it was not uncommon to hear senior Vatican figures dismiss the clerical sex abuse crisis as “an Anglo-Saxon problem”, this may well be a ground-breaking event.

    Cardinal Levada indicated something of the spirit of the week when addressing the victims of clerical sex abuse, saying: “For many if not most victims a first need is to be heard, to know that the church listens to their story of abuse, that the church understands the gravity of what they have suffered, that she wants to accompany them on the often long path of healing ...”.

    While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, Cardinal Levada did however defend the church’s response, pointing out that John Paul II’s 2001 Motu Proprio “ Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela ” instigated a “co-ordinated response” by instructing all abuse cases be reported to the CDF.

    Cardinal Levada praised Pope Benedict not only for his role as prefect of the CDF in 2001 in framing that Motu Proprio but also for supporting the approval of “Essential Norms” on child protection in the US church, adding: “But the Pope has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world, when he should rather have received the gratitude of us all, in the church and outside it ...”

    In an address entitled, “Listening, Understanding and Acting To Heal and Empower Victims”, Ms Collins outlined the pain and trauma of having been abused by a priest as a 13-year-old but also of having been blamed when she finally found the courage to tell her story, more than 30 years later.

    “I was treated as someone with an agenda against the church, the police investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. I was distraught,” she said.

    The best of her life began 15 years ago, she said, when her abuser was finally brought to justice. Since then, she has worked with the church to help improve itss child protection policies while working for justice for survivors.


  11. 8,000 instances of abuse alleged in Archdiocese bankruptcy hearing

    By Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel February 9, 2012

    Sealed documents filed in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy identify at least 8,000 instances of child sexual abuse and 100 alleged offenders - 75 of them priests - who have not previously been named by the archdiocese, a victims' attorney said Thursday.

    Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said she did not have enough information to respond to the assertion, made by attorney Jeffrey Anderson during a pivotal hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley. Anderson represents about 350 of the 570 victim-survivors who have filed claims in the case.

    But Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests speculated that some are likely members of religious orders, such as Capuchins or Franciscans. Order officials do not typically make public the names of their accused members, and the archdiocese claims it is not responsible for them, though they have historically helped to staff its parishes and schools.

    "This is a public safety crisis, a child safety crisis that needs to be investigated," Isely said at a news conference on the federal courthouse steps, surrounded by fellow survivors and reporters.

    "We need to know who they are and where they are. How can there be 8,000 crimes committed by over 100 offenders and there be no accountability?" he said.

    Kelley let stand, at least for now, two survivors' claims that the church had sought to bar, arguing they were beyond the statute of limitations.

    In the split decision, Kelley also granted the church's motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing a third claim in which a victim had signed a prior settlement agreement with the church.

    In an emotional preamble to her ruling, before a packed courtroom, Kelley expressed a reverence for the Catholic Church and compassion for the victims, saying she was "brought to tears more than once" reading the accounts of the men and women who allege they were sexually abused as children by priests, deacons, nuns, teachers and others over the past 60 years.

    "But I cannot let compassion be the basis for my decision. It must be governed by law," Kelley said.

    Archdiocese attorney Frank LoCoco acknowledged the gravity of the allegations at the outset of the hearing.

    "This will be the most difficult professional decision you will ever make," LoCoco told Kelley.

    Kelley made it clear that her rulings applied to the three individual cases at hand, not broad classes of claims they may represent. Allowing the two claims to stand doesn't guarantee they will be paid in the bankruptcy, only that the legal debate over when the statute of limitations begins ticking must be decided at trial.

    The archdiocese had sought the dismissal of three claims involving two priests and a parish choir director who were accused of molesting boys in the 1970s and '80s. Church lawyers argued that the cases were beyond the statute of limitations and involved a victim who signed a previous settlement agreement and a perpetrator - the choir director - who was not a direct employee.

    Victims' attorneys had characterized the church's objections as a test case that, if successful, would have eliminated 95% of the claims in the bankruptcy.

    Kelly disallowed the claim involving the prior settlement because the victim didn't meet all of the criteria for voiding a signed agreement.

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    Much of the debate Thursday centered on how to apply the state's six-year statute of limitations on fraud allegations. LoCoco argued that the clock began ticking at the latest in 2004, when the archdiocese posted its online list of 44 priests with substantiated allegations of abuse.

    Anderson said the victims didn't know they were defrauded until 2006 and 2009, when they learned, in some cases through documents released as part of a California settlement, that the archdiocese had lied to them about their abusers' histories.

    "When a few did go forward and asked questions, what were they told? Lies," Anderson said.

    Anderson raised the issue of the 100 additional accused offenders, culled from his own clients' claims, as part of his defense of the claims.

    The archdiocese has said that it turns over all new claims of allegations involving living priests to the appropriate district attorney's office, though it is not clear whether that includes religious order priests and others it doesn't consider its employees.

    The victims were not identified in court or in the documents filed on the issues raised Thursday. The claims of all but about 30 victim-survivors are filed under seal as part of a court order intended to protect the identities of any victim seeking anonymity.

    The three cases at issue Thursday involved:

    The now-defrocked Father Franklyn Becker, who had served as pastor at Holy Family Parish in Whitefish Bay. The victim alleges Becker abused him between 1972 and '74, when the victim was 13 to 16 years old.

    Father David Hanser, also since laicized, who is accused of molesting a 7-year-old boy in 1977-'78 when he was associate pastor at St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield.

    Robert Schaefer, then-choir director at St. Catherine Parish in Milwaukee. Schaefer is accused of repeatedly molesting a boy from 1976 to 1982, beginning when the boy was about 10 years old.

    Becker and Hanser have well-established histories as serial sex offenders; both were laicized by the archdiocese and appear on its list of offender priests. At least one other man has accused Schaefer of abusing him as a teenager. Schaefer is not listed on the archdiocese's website.


  13. Childhood abuse may stunt growth of part of brain involved in emotions

    Alok Jha, The Guardian UK February 13, 2012

    Being sexually or emotionally abused as a child can affect the development of a part of the brain that controls memory and the regulation of emotions, a study suggests.

    The results add to the growing body of evidence that childhood maltreatment or abuse raises the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, personality disorders and anxiety well into adulthood.

    Martin Teicher of the department of psychiatry at Harvard University scanned the brains of almost 200 people who had been questioned about any instances of abuse or stress during childhood. He found that the volumes of three important areas of the hippocampus were reduced by up to 6.5% in people exposed to several instances of maltreatment – such as physical or verbal abuse from parents – in their early years.

    "The exquisite vulnerability of the hippocampus to the ravages of stress is one of the key translational neuroscience discoveries of the 20th century," wrote Teicher on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Early clues of the relationship came when scientists found that raising stress hormones for extended periods in rats reduced the number of neurons in the hippocampal areas, a result that has since been replicated in many non-human primates.

    Other work has shown that people with a history of abuse or maltreatment during childhood are twice as likely to have recurrent episodes of depression in adulthood. These individuals are also less likely to respond well to psychological or drug-based treatments.

    In the new study, Teicher's team scanned the brains of 73 men and 120 women aged between 18 and 25. The volunteers filled in a standard questionnaire used by psychiatrists to assess the number of "adverse childhood experiences".

    Overall, 46% of the group reported no exposure to childhood adversity and 16% reported three or more forms of maltreatment, the most common being physical and verbal abuse from parents. Other factors included corporal punishment, sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence.

    The sample did not include people on psychiatric medication or anyone who had been exposed to other stressful events such as near-drownings or car accidents.

    Andrea Danese, a clinical lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, who was not involved in the study, said Teicher's results took scientists a step closer to understanding the complex relationship between childhood maltreatment and brain development. "The large sample size allows for reliable detection of even comparatively small effects of maltreatment on the brain, whereas the recruitment from the general population allows for a less biased interpretation of the study, which builds on previous research often carried out in psychiatric patients."

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    The high-resolution brain imaging analysis allowed Teicher to home in on minute areas of the hippocampus and explore the association between maltreatment and this brain region in finer detail than ever before. "This is important because not all areas in the hippocampus are equally sensitive to the effect of stress mediators, such as cortisol and inflammatory biomarkers," said Danese. "Thus, the authors took advantage of this gradient to indirectly test the mechanisms through which childhood maltreatment could affect the brain."

    One limitation of the study might be that it required the volunteers to recall their childhood experiences, added Danese. "The findings are based on the perceptions and memories that participants have of their childhood rather than on objective events. This may be problematic because some groups of individuals could be more or less prone than others to report experiences of maltreatment. This 'recall' bias has been described in individuals with a history of depression, who may be more likely to report abuse."

    However, Teicher's team was able to test whether a history of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder might explain his observed effects of childhood maltreatment on the hippocampus, and showed that the results were independent of these factors.

    Danese said future studies would need to clarify further the direction of the effect. "Although the authors report that childhood maltreatment is associated with smaller hippocampus regions, it is possible that these abnormalities pre-dated and possibly facilitated maltreatment exposure. Longitudinal and twin studies will help to clarify this issue."


  15. How the Fundamentalist Mind Compels Conservative Christians to Force Their Beliefs on You

    By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet March 7, 2012

    Many evangelicals wear their religion on T-shirts and around their necks and on car bumpers and eye-blacks. They hand out tracts on college campuses and stage revival meetings on military bases. They use weddings and funerals to preach come-to-Jesus sermons. In their resolve to spread the good news that Jesus saves, some also do things that are more morally dubious.

    In Tucson, nice young couples cultivate relationships with lonely college students without disclosing that they are paid to engage in “friendship missions.” In Seattle, volunteers woo first- and second-graders to afterschool Good News Clubs that the children are incapable of distinguishing from school-sponsored activities. In Muslim countries, Christian missionaries skirt laws that ban proselytizing by pretending to be mere aid workers, putting genuinely secular aid workers at risk. In the U.S. military, soldiers bully other soldiers into prayer meetings or the Passion of the Christ and then send bizarrely profane emails to people who try to stop them.

    Perhaps the most devastating consequence of evangelical zeal in recent decades has been millions of unnecessary deaths in Africa. Many evangelicals saw the HIV epidemic as an opportunity.

    “AIDS has created an evangelism opportunity for the body of Christ unlike any in history,” said Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse. Another group that pursued HIV dollars has its mission built right into its name: Community Health Evangelism. Christian ideology ultimately redirected billions of U. S. aid dollars away from science-based results-oriented interventions such as contraceptive access and safe-sex education and into programs that espoused traditional Christian values: monogamy, evangelism, and compassionate after-the-fact care for the sick.

    I spend over 20 years of my life as an evangelical Christian, and during that time these behaviors seemed benign, even laudable to me. Today, as a psychologist who creates resources for former fundamentalists, I find them disturbing. Even so, I am sympathetic to the moral conundrum fundamentalism can cause for genuinely decent people. After I watched the documentary Jesus Camp, a friend commented, “Wasn’t that horrifying?” I had to confess that it seemed kind of, well, normal -- and that I could relate to the woman running the camp.

    To explain why Christians will sometimes violate their own commitment to compassion or truth in the search for converts, it helps to consider the psychology of fundamentalist religion.

    Religion has a set of superpowers—ways it shapes or controls human thinking and behavior. Chief among these is the fact that religions take charge of our moral reasoning and emotions, giving divine sanction to some behaviors and forbidding others. Because there are many kinds of “good,” all of us make moral decisions by weighing values against each other. For example, most parents place a value on not hurting their children and yet get them immunized because long-term health trumps short-term pain. Religion can alter the way we stack those competing values, adding emotional weight to some, removing it from others.

    The relationship between religion and morality is complicated. Religion claims credit for our moral instincts. It channels them via specific prescriptions and prohibitions. It offers explanations for why some things feel right and others feel so wrong and why we find the wrong ones tempting. It engages us in stories and rituals that bring moral questions to the fore in day-to-day life. It embeds us in a community that encourages moral conformity and increases altruism toward insiders. It creates the sense that someone is always watching over our shoulder.

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    When religious edicts align with the quest for love and truth, religion’s power can encourage us to be more compassionate, kind, humble or act with integrity. But religions also assert moral obligations that have little to do with love or truth, harm or wellbeing. Consider, for example, sacramental rituals, pilgrimages, circumcision, veiling, vows of silence or rituals of purity.

    Some demands of piety have little human or planetary cost. But other times, divine edict compels adherents to do harm in the service of a higher cause that to outsiders simply doesn’t exist. The Aztec and Inca practice of human sacrifice to appease gods was one of these. To outsiders it was a horrifying moral violation; to insiders more analogous to a community vaccination; the young men and women who were sacrificed gave their lives for a greater good—the wellbeing of the whole society.

    Since religions add to an adherent’s bucket of moral obligations, they can create moral dilemmas or tradeoffs where none would otherwise exist. Should I spend my days studying Torah or working to feed my children? Should I drive my daughter to the hospital even though it’s Friday? Should I give the little I can spare to the poor or to the nuns? Should I wander with a beggar bowl or help my father tend the fields so my sisters can go to school? Should I encourage my poor African parishioners to wear condoms to prevent HIV or tell them to entrust God with their family planning?

    Sometimes the tradeoffs are a matter of life or death, as when Saudi girls may have been forced to remain in their burning school rather than flee unveiled. Or consider the case of a young Arizona mother who had to choose between her own death and the abortion of a 12-week fetus her church deemed a person. She chose to live so she could continue raising the children who waited for her at home. But her bishop, who saw the abortion as premeditated murder, excommunicated a nun who helped her, claiming the more moral path was to allow the death of both woman and fetus as God’s will.

    Evangelical Protestants who believe the Bible is the literally perfect word of God take as one of their highest mandates a verse they call the Great Commission. I have seen it emblazoned in letters two feet high on the wall of a megachurch: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NIV). The word evangel means good news, and the name evangelical identifies Christians whose beliefs center on spreading what they think is the best news ever to reach the human race: that Jesus died for our sins and anyone who believes can be saved from hell. (One of my deep secrets as an evangelical teenager was how much I hated trying to sell other people on the Four Spiritual Laws that laid out the plan of salvation.)

    Follow me, says the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel, and I will make you fishers of men. For evangelical Christians, fishing for souls is an obligation that can trump all others. What good does it do to feed the hungry or tend the sick if you leave their souls to eternal torture? Catholic Christians typically believe that good works are of value in their own right. Universalist Christians believe that the death of Jesus on the cross ultimately redeemed all of creation. Modernist Christians believe the Bible is a human document and that the life of Jesus is more important than his death. Evangelical Christians believe they have a moral obligation to proselytize.

    Beliefs have consequences, and one consequence of evangelical belief is that decent people end up doing ugly things in order to recruit converts and save souls. It is because they care about being good that they do harm. In the much quoted words of Steven Weinberg, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

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    The mechanism by which this happens is that religion creates a narrative in which the evil serves a higher good.

    A new book by Mikey Weinstein, No Snowflake in an Avalanche, offers a window into how corrosive the Great Commission can be. It chronicles a harrowing decade in, what is to Weinstein, a fight to the death for religious freedom. You may be familiar with fragments of the story.

    When fundamentalist Christians at the Air Force Academy began goading and harassing Weinstein’s cadet son, Curtis, they awoke a grizzly bear.

    Weinstein assumed at first that the harassment was an anomaly and would be addressed quickly. Alas. The more pressure he applied using his own standing as an Academy graduate and former Reagan administration attorney, the more he uncovered an entrenched network of fundamentalist Christians that ranged from cadets to chaplaincy to brass, and that pressured all others to convert: Clubbish Bible-believing cadets bullied Catholics, Muslims, Jews, nontheists and even mainline Protestants (who, after all, weren’t real Christians to them). Evangelical chaplains brazenly told supporters they were missionaries on the public dime and the armed services was their mission field. Righteous officers pulled rank and pressured subordinates to participate in Bible studies and prayer meetings –and covered up abuses. Middle Easterners complained that America’s troops were Christian crusaders, and outside organizations fanned the flames by providing tracts and Bibles so that combat soldiers could work on converting Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

    Livid about violations against the U.S. Constitution and livid about the personal violations and added dangers being endured by America’s soldiers because of the crusade mentality, Weinstein formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Since then, thousands of phone calls, letters and emails have poured in from all arms of the services--not only from the academies but from men and women whose lives are on the line in war zones. The MRFF has fought like a cornered lion on their behalf—fierce, muscular and unpredictable—leaving fundamentalist perpetrators convinced that Weinstein and his colleagues are agents of Satan.

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    As exposure after exposure has demonstrated, the evangelizers are legally in the wrong. They also are in violation of well-established moral and ethical principles including, often, humanity’s most central moral principle, the Golden Rule. They would be outraged if adherents of other religions solicited their children or exploited their collegial relationships in the quest for converts. So why don’t they give it up? They can’t. Their beliefs require that they push as hard as they can to implement their understanding of God’s will.
    In recent years, evangelicals have expanded their outreach in the military, public grade schools, "faith-based” community services and international aid programs, leveraging existing structures and secular funding streams when possible to support their work. To qualify for grants or gain access to public facilities, they argue that they are social service providers, not missionaries. From a personnel standpoint they argue that they are churches, exempt from civil rights laws. America’s Supreme Court has been remarkably willing to let them speak out of both sides of their mouths, which means this trend will continue. Evangelical organizations like Officers Christian Fellowship, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries and World Vision will proselytize as much as they are allowed to, diverting as many public dollars as they can, because that is what their reading of the Bible demands.
    Inside and outside of Christianity, vigorous debate is challenging the pillars of fundamentalist belief, like the idea that the Bible is literally perfect or that Jesus was the ultimate human sacrifice. But the evangelical quest for converts will be constrained only by whatever moral limits the rest of us set.

    Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.


  19. Why instrusive evangelists should leave their beliefs at the door

    By Sebastian Murphy-Bates, The Independent Notebook - A selection of Independent views April 15, 2012

    During “Holy Week” of 2012, I found that a leaflet had been posted through my door inviting me to a commemoration of Jesus’ death the following day and a “Bible- based discourse” entitled “Is it later than you think?” a few days later. The leaflet was delivered by the infamously intrusive Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was left questioning the mentality of somebody who thought this intrusion into my secular life was appropriate.

    I briefly considered popping along to the meetings advertised in order to reply in kind just what I thought of this intrusion, however decided against it when I realised that the events were not discussions but rather religious services. I decided, instead, to write a piece concerned with religious intrusion, especially since in this instance the intruders did not have the consideration to leave their beliefs at the door. Instead, they posted them through and forced their theology and Christology into my home, not giving any consideration for potential offence caused.

    This article may seem a disproportionate response to a simple act of junk- mail. However, I found it to be an all too perfect microcosmic example of Christianity’s intrusion on secular affairs and it’s compulsion to evangelise. I consider it symptomatic of religion’s retardation of society just how inoffensive many readers may consider this act.

    I am, due to the content of the leaflet in question, primarily centring this discussion around followers of the Nazarene; however the sentiments expressed herein could certainly be applied to the Islamic campaigners that can be seen knocking on the doors of terraced houses in Manchester. The catalyst behind these brazen displays of arrogance is the simple notion that Monotheism cannot keep itself to itself. As a “theism”, it distinguishes itself from “Deism” by asserting that not only does a Deity exist, but that said Deity is concerned with everyday human mundanity. From sexual desire to dietary requirements, this Great Leader is entitled to instruct us in these matters and more.

    When a religion is born from such a hypothesis, and it goes on to assert that salvation is possible through the observance and endorsement of its Deity’s revealed behavioural codes, it becomes undesirable for followers to allow flouting of the codes, and also to keep the means of salvation from anybody who has not yet submitted. This is why Christianity cannot leave you and I alone, and the endorsement of evangelism is well attested in its foundational texts (for example in Mt 28:19).

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    Aside from the patronising and offensive act of posting this leaflet through the door of a house in which an Anti- Theist and Atheist resides, aside from reassuring me that if my life (and it most certainly is) in error, I can be corrected with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is something incredibly dangerous and downright creepy about the motivations that mobilise these distributors. It is the same conviction that arguably endorses acts of terrorism, jostles for nuclear power and imposes oppressive governmental regimes such as The Taliban.

    It is the arrogance of the faithful that knows its claims to be unalterably right that compels its followers to convert, evangelise and inform the rest of us. It is the belief that looks to death with a hungry eagerness. For, if sincere, this mortality is nothing more than a short lived warm up- an entrance exam to the school of eternity. The here and now does not matter, nor my right to live a life entirely separate from religious practise. These trivialities are dwarfed by the prime directive to “save” me – to correct me. Monotheistic commands will never lose their “unalterable” edge – for their rigidity is rooted in the belief that they represent the wishes of an eternal law-giver over whom nobody and nothing possesses authority.

    I say the religious are granted too many courtesies. I say that anybody who recognises the right to push this poison through my letter box and into my home or considers my anger thereafter disproportionate, is the product of a society forged by the State’s endorsement of the irrational. It’s disgraceful enough that the faithful retard the development of their own children and families with this utter drivel, but it is quite another thing when this courtesy is extended, without provocation, to my family home. I would be very interested to see what would happen were Atheists to reply in kind, though part of me suspects that the rules of our behaviour wouldn’t be quite the same.


  21. Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

    Racism and sexism are understood as ideological prejudices, why don't we have a similar understanding of the root of child abuse?


    When we read in the newspaper that a child in New Jersey has died from neglect from an untreated broken leg, or that a child in Florida’s protective services could just disappear without a trace, or that molestation of children has been covered up in yet another diocese of the Catholic Church, we do not say “there is prejudice against children at work in each of these instances.” Abuse, neglect, sanctioned pedophilia — we don’t put these all together in our minds with stories about child abductions and enslavements, trafficking, inadequate schooling, malnutrition and junk-food induced obesity, advertising cigarettes to minors, child pornography, or the rising numbers of child soldiers worldwide. But we should.

    April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Unfortunately, the messages about child abuse will not be grounded in an understanding that it arises out of prejudice against children — the way Black History Month in February reminds us of prejudice against people of color. Similarly, sexism is understood as an ideology and a prejudice, and all kinds of discrimination and violence specifically against women are united in our minds by the concept.

    Why don’t we have a similar understanding of the root of child abuse? In 1989, the United Nations issued a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which brought together in one document descriptions of many of the forms of maltreatment but does not make us think of children — all the world’s children — as a group. It is about “the Child,” an abstraction.

    Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate. Until they reach a stipulated age, they are the responsibility of their parents or guardians — those who have custody. But what does custody permit? What distinguishes it from ownership? One of the essential ingredients of childism is a claim by adults to the effect that “these children are ours to do with exactly as we see fit” or “children are here to serve, honor and obey adults.” These claims make a subordination doctrine out of natural dependency, out of the fact that children are born relatively helpless and need to be taken care of until they can take care of themselves. It seems normal to insist “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” without any reciprocal “Honor Thy Children.”

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    Childism takes many forms. In the half-a-century-old field called “Child Abuse and Neglect” (CAN) four main types of child maltreatment have been identified: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. But these categories do not reflect how frequently the four types are combined in a given case. Listening to my adult patients in psychoanalysis who were maltreated as children, I have heard basically three stories: they tell me that they were not wanted; or that they were controlled and manipulated; or that they were not allowed to be who they felt they were. So I have come to think in terms of childism that intends (1) to eliminate or destroy children; (2) to make them play roles no child should play; or (3) to dominate them totally, narcissistically erasing their identities. Survivors make it very clear that the worst part of their experience — the most difficult to heal from, the least forgivable — was that no one protected them from it. They often make it clear, as well, that they have internalized the prejudice and direct it toward themselves.

    Childism, sexism and racism share many arguments about natural subordination. Similarly, these prejudices share the ingredient that the targeted group is in some way labeled bad or defective. Like women and people of color, children are said to be born wild, sexually anarchic, in need of punishment to keep them in line (“Spare the rod, spoil the child”). Some who are prejudiced against children consider them a burden; they are too many mouths to feed, too big a drain on limited financial or emotional resources. Neglect often follows from this assumption, and poverty and neglect are highly correlated. In economically secure homes, neglect and parental depression are highly correlated, as they are in homes where unemployment has suddenly and disorientingly erased security.

    But unlike most of those who suffer from racism or sexism, children are not yet political thinkers and actors. They depend upon adults for the articulation and protection of their rights as they depend on adults for survival and for loving care. Every adult citizen is, in this sense, a representative for children. It’s a social and political responsibility for all adults — and it is childist to shirk that responsibility. It is time for us to stop being blind to the prejudice that fuels, justifies or even sanctions child abuse and neglect. Giving it a name is the first step.

    Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who died December 1, 2011, was a psychoanalyst and award-winning author, most recently of Childism.


  23. Elizabeth Smart, 10 Years After: Would Fighting Back Have Helped?

    By Kayla Webley, TIME June 05, 2012

    Ten years ago today, Brian David Mitchell came into 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart's room in the middle of the night, held a knife to her neck and told her that if she didn't go with him quietly, he would kill her and her family. Terrified that Mitchell would be true to his word, she went with him to a campsite not far from her home in Salt Lake City, where she was held prisoner and raped daily for nine months.

    We know how Smart's captivity ended. Two people who had seen a drawing of Mitchell on the TV show America's Most Wanted tipped off the authorities. But if she had resisted Mitchell that night, if she had fought back, would her story have been different? "The majority of those [kids] who fight back are able to get away — but I didn't know that," Smart tells TIME. "The only thing I was told by my school was, 'Don't get in a car with a stranger,' and that didn't really apply to what happens when someone breaks into your home and has a knife at your neck." Now a poised, tenacious young woman who has testified before Congress on the issue, Smart has started a foundation in her name dedicated to preventing crimes against children. She has concluded, "We're preparing children for the wrong thing."

    According to the Department of Justice, nearly 800,000 children go missing each year — an average of 2,185 per day. In the years since Smart's kidnapping, the U.S. nationalized the Amber Alert system, which is designed to quickly inform the public of abductions, and adopted the Adam Walsh Act, which created a national sex-offender registry and organized sex offenders into three tiers. The law requires the most serious offenders to update their whereabouts every three months.

    But even if those systems — which the Smart family advocates — had been in place in 2002, they may have done little to prevent the young woman's abduction. Amber Alerts are most effective when police can give the public specific details, such as a driver's license or a physical description of the abductor, but since Smart was stolen in the middle of the night without anyone seeing Mitchell's face, an alert would likely have been ineffective.
    Additionally, it's uncertain whether Mitchell would have been listed in the sex-offender registry had it existed then. He was convicted of a sexual offense as a teenager, but the record of that crime may not have followed him into adulthood.

    Because even the most well-intentioned laws and the most protective parents have limits, Smart and other advocates are placing more focus on what kids can do themselves. But unlike the fear-mongering, "stranger danger" campaigns of the 1980s — which told kids not to talk to strangers but did little else to help them learn how to escape potentially harmful situations — the focus now is on teaching kids to fight back. "Twenty years ago we would have told kids to do what the [abductor] says and wait for someone to come help you," says Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). "We now say fight, scream, kick, bite, use whatever tools you have to attract attention to yourself."

    The shift has proven effective. Of 7,000 attempted abductions analyzed by NCMEC between 2005 and 2012, 81% escaped either by fighting back or by recognizing the situation and running away. Only 19% of the children who escaped did so because of the intervention of an adult.

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    To help children escape her fate, Smart works with an educational nonprofit called radKIDS, which was founded by former police officer Steve Daley. "I was tired of showing up [after the fact of an abduction]," Daley says. "I knew we needed a different way to protect kids." Daley's method is a five-day training program that teaches three key principles: no one has the right to hurt you; you don't have the right to hurt anyone else (unless someone is hurting you and you can stop them); and if someone does hurt you, it's not your fault. "What radKIDS does is take the fate of the child out of the parents' hands and give control to the child so they know when something is O.K. and when something is not O.K.," Smart says. "It gives them the skills and ability to take care of themselves."

    The idea that a 5-year-old should take on an armed adult may sound absurd — but NCMEC has a rationale. "There are still some in law enforcement who teach children that if the offender has a weapon, they should comply in order to avoid being shot, stabbed, etc.," says Allen. "We understand, and that is not unreasonable." But, he adds, "the purpose of the offender is not to shoot the child. Otherwise, they would just do it. The purpose is to use the threat of force in order to get the child into the car and to whatever location the offender has in mind so that the offender can victimize the child in some way." So, Allen says, "the child is most often better off if he or she resists and does whatever is necessary to stay out of that car. Obviously, this is not going to work in every situation, and there is no 100% solution, but we believe that children are far better off if they fight back."

    Beyond offering self-defense lessons and role-playing, radKIDS, which has trained some 250,000 children since 2001, works to change a child's mind-set. "Children need to have permission to act," Daley says. "They have instinct, but they often ignore it because their whole lives they are taught to obey adults." Fear causes children to freeze, Daley says. It's likely what made Smart quietly follow Mitchell out the door, rather than scream and kick, and why many other children walk off, seemingly without protest, with the men who will later kill them. "We want to empower the child with an attitude and skill set that says, How dare you touch me, vs. the traditional mind-set of, Help me, help me," Daley says. "It's about teaching them they have a choice — if they meet the bad guy, they have the ability to respond with power instead of fear."

    It's a lesson Smart says might have helped her. "In the moment I was kidnapped I didn't think I had a choice — I thought either I go with this man, or I will be killed," she says. "Had I been trained with radKIDS, I would have known that I had more than just the choice of being killed in my bed or going with him. I could have made a plan in that moment. I could have realized that, No, this man is not all-powerful. I would have known I had a chance — that I had power. I may have been confident enough in my skills to fight back. I can't say for sure whether this training would have prevented me from being kidnapped or having everything that happened to me happen, but I know it would have made a difference."

    While we'll never know what might have been, the silver lining of Smart's experience is that she lived to tell the tale to future generations. "The legacy of Elizabeth Smart is a very powerful and important one," says Allen.
    "Because of Elizabeth, millions of kids are smarter, savvier and have greater self-esteem and self-confidence. Kids today are more able to recognize situations and deal with them in a positive and effective way — and she deserves enormous credit for that."


  25. I don't own my child's body

    By Katia Hetter, CNN June 21, 2012

    My daughter occasionally goes on a hugging and kissing strike.

    She's 4. Her parents could get a hug or a kiss, but many people who know her cannot, at least right now. And I won't make her.

    "I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it," I told her recently.

    "I don't have to?" she asked, cuddling up to me at bedtime, confirming the facts to be sure.

    No, she doesn't have to. And just to be clear, there is no passive-aggressive, conditional, manipulative nonsense behind my statement. I mean what I say. She doesn't have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me. I will not override my own child's currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch.

    I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.

    It doesn't belong to her parents, preschool teacher, dance teacher or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn't have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.

    The trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of sexually abusing young boys, has only strengthened my resolve to teach my kid that it's OK to say no to an adult who lays a hand on her -- even a seemingly friendly hand.

    "When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them," said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. "This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so 'he'll like me' and kids enduring bullying because everyone is 'having fun.' "

    Protection against predators

    Forcing children to touch people when they don't want to leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers, most of whom are people known to the children they abuse, according to Ursula Wagner, a mental health clinician with the FamilyWorks program at Heartland Alliance in Chicago. None of the child victims of sexual abuse or assault she's counseled was attacked by strangers, she said.

    Sometimes a child picks up on something odd about your brother-in-law that no one knows. It may not be that he's a sexual predator. He may just have no sense of boundaries or tickle too much, which can be torture for a person who doesn't like it. Or he may be a predator.

    "It sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it's not up to them what they do with their bodies," said Wagner. "If they are obligated to be affectionate even if they don't want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on."

    Why wait until there's trouble? Parenting coach Sharon Silver worked hard to cultivate her children's detector. Silver says her sons easily pick up on subtle clues that suggest something isn't quite right about particular people or situations.

    In your child's case, it may be that something's off about Aunt Linda or the music teacher down the street.

    "It's something inside of you that tells you when something is wrong," said Silver. Training your child to pay attention to those instincts may protect him or her in the future.

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    Having sex to please someone else

    Would you want your daughter to have sex with her boyfriend simply to make him happy? Parents who justify ordering their children to kiss grandma might say, "It's different."

    No, it's not, according to author Jennifer Lehr, who blogs about her parenting style. Ordering children to kiss or hug an adult they don't want to touch teaches them to use their body to please you or someone else in authority or, really, anyone.

    "The message a child gets is that not only is another person's emotional state their responsibility but that they must also sacrifice their own bodies to buoy another's ego or satisfy their desire for love or affection," said Lehr.

    "Certainly no parent would wish for their teenager or adult child to feel pressure to reciprocate unwanted sexual advances, yet many teach their children at a young age that it's their job to use their bodies to make others happy," she said.

    We can't be rude

    You might think my daughter's shiftless parents are not teaching her manners, but that's not true. She will shake your hand in greeting or give you a high-five when we're saying goodbye. She knows how to set the table and place a napkin in her lap. She even has me saying a little all-inclusive blessing she brought home from school.

    We've trained her to say please and thank you so often that she'll say it back to me when I ask her anything. "What did you say?" I sometimes ask her when I didn't hear her. "Please?" she'll answer. No, I meant what did she actually say? (Maybe we're overdoing it.)

    She has to be polite when greeting people, whether she knows them or not. When family and friends greet us, I give her the option of "a hug or a high-five." Since she's been watching adults greet each other with a handshake, she sometimes offers that option. We talk about high-fives so often she's started using them to meet anyone, which can make the start of any social occasion look like a touchdown celebration.

    "When kids are really little and shy, parents can start to offer them choices for treating people with respect and care," said van der Zande. "By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody's hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners -- treating people with respect and care -- is different than demanding physical displays of affection."

    It creates more work

    Refusing to order her to hand out hugs or kisses on demand means there's more work to keep the relationships going and keep feelings from being hurt. Most of our extended family live far away, so it's my job to teach my kiddo about people she doesn't see on a daily basis.

    We make sure to keep in contact with calls and Skype and presents. In advance of loved ones' visits, which usually means an all-day plane ride, I talk a lot about how we're related to our guests, what they mean to me and what we're going to do when they arrive. I give them plenty of opportunity to interact with her so she can learn to trust them.

    I explain to relatives who want to know why we're letting her decide who she touches. And when she does hug them, the joy is palpable. Not from obligation or a direct order from Mom.

    And while I hope I'm teaching my child how to take care of herself in the future, there are benefits to allowing her to express affection in her own way and on her own timeline. When my child cuddled up to my mother on the sofa recently, happily talking to her about stories and socks and toes and other things, my mother's face lit up. She knew it was real.


  27. Child mental abuse as harmful as physical assaults

    CBC News July 30, 2012

    Child psychological abuse can be as damaging as physical assault, but it remains underreported and not easily recognized by health and welfare interests, even though it was first recorded in scientific literature in the late 1980s, Canadian and other researchers say in a new position paper.

    "Psychological or emotional maltreatment of children and adolescents may be the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect, but until recently, it has received relatively little attention," say the researchers in the paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper is an update to its 2000 report designed to guide pediatricians on ways to identify, prevent and treat child psychological abuse.

    The many forms of child psychological abuse include belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting and being emotionally unresponsive, notes Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry, and behaviour sciences and pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton.

    "We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behaviour that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted," says MacMillan, who gave the example of a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day, or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.

    In a release, MacMillan, one of three authors of the paper also involving U.K. and U.S. experts, gave insight into what is and isn't considered abusive behaviour on the part of a parent or caregiver.

    Raising your voice after asking children repeatedly to put on their running shoes is not psychological abuse, she says. "But, yelling at a child every day and giving the message that the child is a terrible person, and that the parent regrets bringing the child into this world, is an example of a potentially very harmful form of interaction."

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    Child psychological abuse in scientific literature dates back a quarter-century, but it remains under-recognized and underreported, MacMillan says, adding that its effects "can be as harmful as other types of maltreatment," and can lead to attachment, developmental and educational disorders, as well as socialization problems and disruptive behaviour.

    "The effects of psychological maltreatment during the first three years of life can be particularly profound," she says.

    For that reason, the Pediatrics report says, pediatricians, when seeing parents with young children, should "promote sensitive and attuned parenting, including using a range of approaches [such as leaflets, books and videos], and keep an eye out for any interactions between parents and their children that may signal youngsters are being psychologically abused.

    Few studies focus on the prevalence of child psychological abuse, but large population-based studies in Britain and the United States have found eight to nine per cent of women and four per cent of men reported exposure to severe psychological abuse during childhood.

    The Pediatrics report suggests that pediatric, psychiatric and child protective service professionals work together in specific cases to help children at risk for or experiencing psychological abuse — even if it means removing a child from a home.

    "Although efforts should focus on ways to assist the family with the child remaining in the home, it is important for the pediatrician to be alert to situations in which a child’s needs are better met outside the home, either on a temporary or permanent basis," write the researchers, who also include Indiana pediatrician Dr. Roberta Hibbard and Jane Barlow, professor of public health in the early years at the University of Warwick.

    The Family Violence Prevention Unit of the Public Health Agency of Canada helped fund the work.

    Psychological abuse of children includes:

    Spurning: Belittling, denigrating or other rejecting.

    Ridiculing for showing normal emotions.

    Singling out or humiliating in public.

    Terrorizing: Placing in unpredictable/chaotic circumstances, or dangerous situations.

    Having rigid/unrealistic expectations accompanied by threats if not met.

    Threatening/perpetrating violence against a child or child’s loved ones/objects.

    Isolating: Confining within environment. Restricting social interactions in community.

    Exploiting/corrupting: Modelling, permitting or encouraging antisocial or developmentally inappropriate behaviour.

    Restricting/interfering with cognitive development.

    Denying emotional responsiveness.

    Being detached or uninvolved; interacting only when necessary.

    Providing little or no warmth, nurturing, praise during any developmental period in childhood.

    Source: Pediatrics report


  29. In Sects, Children Have Few, If Any, Rights

    by Lois Kendall New York Times JANUARY 8, 2013

    Lois Kendall lives in England. She was raised in a sect that she left when she was 17. She is now writing a book, based on her Ph.D., which seeks to help others who grew up in sects. She runs special events for the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)http://www.icsahome.com/

    We all need other people. Belonging to a group is a great way for us to connect with others. Psychology researchers have found that religious groups can be very positive for people’s health. However, some religious groups are downright harmful for children, especially when they splinter off into more controlling sects. That said, any group can become oppressive and controlling and any belief system can be taken and used as a tool to control others. For example, therapy and political groups can become sect-like in such a way that they begin to resemble religious sects.

    The practices and structure of some sects mean that children are growing up in an environment where they may be at risk of medical, physical, emotional or educational neglect, psychological maltreatment, and sometimes abuse in every sense of that word, even death.

    All children, by reason of their physical size and developmental maturity, are vulnerable. The checks and balances that protect children and which we might expect to be present in most groups are usually absent from sects, as is compassion in general. However, every sect is different and the experiences of children in sects differ.

    Many, if not most children raised in sects eventually leave, either with their parents, on their own or they may be kicked out. Understandably, young people exiting sects are overwhelmed. They are moving into a culture that they are usually completely unprepared for. They may have educational gaps, or lack socialization experiences and support. They have often just experienced the loss of all they have known.

    Extended family can be pivotal in providing support to those raised in these groups, although this is often lacking, particularly if extended family still belong to the sect. A safe place to stay, a little financial assistance, or a listening accepting ear can make a great deal of difference in the life of a young person exiting a sect. For a child in a sect, even just knowing that he has relatives outside of his group who will help them can act as a psychological life-line. As Truman Oler, who grew up in Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints group, which he left at age 19, stated:

    “One of the biggest factors in my leaving was my Grandma Lorna," who had left the group years earlier. "Grandma Lorna told me no matter what I did I was always going to have a place to come back to. That meant so much to me because I just didn't know where I'd go if I left.”

    But many young people aren't so lucky.

    Perhaps the following words, written by a former sect member many years ago, might provide some inspiration: “Sometimes an ordinary life is an extraordinary achievement."


  30. Second annual day of protest against hereditary religion

    by Richard Collins End Hereditary Religion

    January 20, 2013 will be the date for the second annual international day of protest against hereditary religion. The protest will again be held in cyberspace, but the aim is to eventually have annual protests in the real world. Complete with marches, rallies, and public speeches. Not to mention music.

    The concept of children as the property of their parents comes from antiquity and is part of the legacy of patriarchy. Modern children are conceived as persons in their own right because the notion of one person owning another person amounts to slavery. Furthermore, children have internationally recognized rights, including the right to make their own decisions according to their ability to do so. The decision to join a religion is a decision best left until a child is a mature adult. But, institutionalized religion has been unwilling to acknowledge that children have religious freedom rights. The institutions depend upon a steady stream of new adherents to maintain their flocks as older members fall into sickness and death due to aging. Until recently no one has mounted any serious challenges to hereditary religion.

    Religious authorities deny any harm comes to children and insist a child is always free to make a choice later on in life. This claim simply does not stand up to the facts as observed. Indeed, there is nothing tentative about the religious indoctrination process. It is designed to produce a lifelong adherent and it usually succeeds admirably.

    The notion of ending hereditary religion is novel and can startle people upon first hearing the proposal. An immediate reaction is often instant rejection. Defenders of the status quo argue that children need religion in order to behave. Such arguments completely ignore the fact that children in the highly secular societies of Europe and elsewhere behave just fine without being subjected to religious superstition and dogma. Moreover, the evidence is mounting that early religious indoctrination is detrimental to a flourishing intellectual life and can even produce mental anxiety problems when there is a stress on obedience and fear.

    Millions of people throughout the world agree children deserve an open future. No group has ever had the temerity to march up to the Vatican and demand the Pope stop brainwashing non consenting vulnerable children. No group has ever strode to the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado and presented a list of demands that they desist. The rules of conflict place an obligation on the dissenters to lay out their demands in no uncertain terms. The religious grooming of children carries risks, violates their rights and fair minded people demand that it officially cease.

    Here is the link to the 2013 protest event page:



  31. Power Distance and Abuse (Or: I Kick Therefore I Am)

    by Lewis Blayse Commentary on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Australia)


    In management theory, there is an important concept termed “power distance”. By power distance, the academics do not just mean authority over another person. It relates more to unfair influence over another person. For example, most people will accept that a boss can tell you what work you should perform. However, it is not valid for the employer to tell you this in an abusive, offensive, or derogatory manner.

    The concept of power distance is well established in the workplace situation. Western countries such as Australia tend to favour a very low power distance factor. In practical terms, it means that we are very intolerant of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and on-the-job discrimination. Indeed, we go so far as to enshrine those attitudes in legislation.

    In some societies, a large power distance is quite acceptable. For example, in India, if one is born into a low caste, then one tolerates power abuses by those from higher castes. Indeed, in India again, and most probably in other countries as well, the fact that there is a large power distance between sons and daughters (that is, sons receive very favourable treatment over that given to daughters), has resulted in aberrant behaviours as highlighted in the recent gang rape controversy.

    Within the Western family context, there is some power distance between parents and their children. This means, normally, simple things such as "you have to eat your broccoli before you get your ice-cream," or "no, we can’t afford an X-Box and you’ll have to accept it." Given that there is an automatic power distance between parents and young children, in that the parents are bigger and control the finances, restraint must be shown in the use of these.

    Again, we would consider it an abuse of that power distance if the child was malnourished or physically beaten. Such abuse is sufficient for society to remove the child from the care of the parents. Many people who ended up in the old children’s homes were subject to such orders. Unfortunately for them, at the children’s homes, they were subjected to the same sorts of abuses by their societal carers.

    Besides the obvious factors of economic, physical, and social status differences, one of the other forms of power distance is the right to redress or to complain to an independent person. In today’s world, we put a lot of effort into advising both children and adults that there are avenues for them to express concerns about their situation; for example, police, ombudsmen, and other adults, for example teachers.

    One area where our society has totally failed to deal with the power distance problem has resulted in the current plethora of child sexual abuse cases. If one looks closely at the cases, it becomes very clear that the main reason the abuse could be hidden for so long was because there was an inherent power distance problem. A reason for the often 20-year or more delay in reporting abuse has been that as the person developed, the effects of that power distance reduced, at least marginally.

    Sometimes the abuse of power distance is not readily apparent. For example, when this author was running the support group, FICH, a lady was at a small meeting (as an adult) with other women who had been in the same children’s home with her, when a couple of them mentioned that they had been sexually abused by a priest while in care there. For the first time, the lady told these other women that she too had been abused by the same priest. At the time, the lady was dying of cancer.

    continued in next comment...

  32. The tragedy of the power abuse in this particular case was that the lady had been told by the abusive priest that if ever she told anybody, she would go to hell. Despite assurances from the other women, and indeed from her own family, the woman remained convinced that she would indeed go to hell when she died. Approaches were made to a nun that the lady had a positive view of to add her voice to the others. The nun agreed to this, even though she was quite elderly by that stage. The nun came to Brisbane but unfortunately afraid approximately 5 hours after the lady had passed away.

    Another less obvious example was the case of a young man who had continuously been told that his IQ tests indicated that he was a moron, resulting in significant loss of self-esteem. Eventually, under the Goss government’s freedom of information laws, his files from the old orphanage were obtained. Amongst the documents were the results of three IQ tests (Stanford-Binet) which, lo and behold, all indicated that he was above-average intelligence. Finding out this information removed his power distance block and he was able to pursue his claims against his former abusers.

    It can have unfortunate ramifications sometimes when the factor behind the power distance is eventually removed. It has been well established that in the Salvation Army boys’ homes, the physical difference in size was a great factor in the abuse. Even when the boys were grown men, in their minds, for many years, they were still smaller than their abusers. This problem is magnified for women, who tend to remain smaller than their male abusers even when fully grown women.

    In many cases, children were told they would be killed if they ever revealed the abuse.

    Power distance was not inadvertently used by abusers in children’s homes and elsewhere, it was consciously and deliberately used as a tool to facilitate the abuse and ensure that victims could not immediately report the abuse. In most cases, in fact, the abuse of power distance was so great and so effective, that in most cases, it takes many, many years for victims to overcome it. It is therefore the height of insensitivity for abusive organisations to hide behind the Statutes of Limitations, which, in Australia (in contrast to other countries with a more enlightened attitude where the time limit has been totally removed), generally impose a three-year or so limit on people making civil claims for redress for abuse.

    If there is one thing this author would like to see come out of the royal commission, it would be concrete, practical procedures to remove power distance blocks suffered by the victims. While most of the literature, as mentioned before, occurs in management and related fields, with application to the workplace, it would be useful if, for example, psychologists were to look at the abuse from this angle. This would reduce the Statute of Limitations problems, particularly if it were sufficiently effective in removing the power distance block such that a child could immediately report the abuse to a responsible adult. Concomitant with this, it would be useful if the disingenuous reliance upon things like the Statute of Limitations by abusing organisations was challenged for being, in fact, a perpetration of the initial abuse by being a defensive reliance upon a key aspect of the abuse.

    TOMORROW: We’re not as bad as others


  33. VIOLATING CHILDREN'S RIGHTS: Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition

    21/10/2012 | International NGO Council on Violence Against Children


    Document: http://www.crin.org/docs/InCo_Report_15Oct.pdf

    العربية / Español / Français / Русский

    All violations of children’s rights can legitimately be described as harmful practices, but the common characteristic of the violations highlighted in this report is that they are based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition and are perpetrated and actively condoned by the child’s parents or significant adults within the child’s community. Indeed, they often still enjoy majority support within communities or whole states.

    Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition are often perpetrated against very young children or infants, who are clearly lacking the capacity to consent or to refuse consent themselves. Assumptions of parental powers or rights over their children allow the perpetration of a wide range of these practices, many by parents directly, some by other individuals with parents’ assumed or actual consent. Yet the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by almost every state, favours the replacement of the concept of parental “rights” over children with parental “responsibilities,” ensuring that the child’s best interests are parents’ “basic concern” (Article 18).

    Many of the practices identified in this report involve gross and unlawful discrimination against groups of children, including gender discrimination, and in particular discrimination against children with disabilities. Some are based on tradition and/or superstition, some on religious belief, others on false information or beliefs about child development and health. Many involve extreme physical violence and pain leading, in some cases intentionally, to death or serious injury. Others involve mental violence. All are an assault on the child’s human dignity and violate universally agreed international human rights standards.

    The International NGO Council on Violence against Children believes the continued legality and social and cultural acceptance of a very wide range of these practices in many states illustrates a devastating failure of international and regional human rights mechanisms to provoke the necessary challenge, prohibition and elimination. Comprehensive, children’s rights-based analysis and action are needed now. Above all, there must be an assertion of every state’s immediate obligation to ensure all children their right to full respect for their human dignity and physical integrity.

    continued in next comment...

  34. This short report is designed to complement other current activities in the UN system that are focusing on harmful practices and children and will hopefully lead to more effective action. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, held an International Expert Consultation on the issue in June 2012 in Addis Ababa in which the International NGO Council was represented and prepared a submission. Two UN Treaty Bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), are collaborating in drafting a General Comment/General Recommendation on harmful practices.

    The International NGO Council believes that the continuing legal and social acceptance of these violations and the slow progress in identifying and effectively addressing them are symptomatic of children’s low status, as possessions rather than individuals and rights-holders, in societies across all regions. The oft-quoted mantra of the UN Study was “No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable.” Tragically, many adults are still justifying even extreme violence, both physical and mental, on spurious grounds of tradition, culture or religion.

    The report first looks at the definition and scope of harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices violating children’s rights. Section 3 outlines the human rights context for their prohibition and elimination. Section 4 lists practices identified through a call for evidence issued by the International NGO Council earlier in 2012 and additional desk research. It also provides some examples of legal and other measures already taken to challenge and eliminate them. Section 5 provides recommendations for action by states, UN and UN-related agencies, INGOs, NGOs, national human rights institutions and others.

    Further Information:

    More resources on children's rights and harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition

    More on the International NGO Council on Violence Against Children

    Organisation Contact Details:

    International NGO Council on Violence Against Children

    Email: adcoresearch@crin.org

    Website: www.crin.org/violence/NGOs

  35. Christians fail on abuse checks


    HUNDREDS of Christian groups and organisations in NSW have not conducted background checks on church leaders working with children, despite legislation requiring them to do so being in place for 15 years.

    Evidence tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shows almost half the 700 religious organisations surveyed were found not to have registered for the Working With Children Checks, as required by laws introduced in 1998.

    "Religious organisations came to attention following evidence that, in some cases, the WWCC obligations were not being met," the July 2013 report from the NSW Children's Guardian states.

    Overwhelmingly, those found to be not complying with the scheme were from the Baptist and other Christian churches, the report said.

    The true number of those not conducting the child safety checks could be even higher, as most of the roughly 4000 religious groups in NSW were not included in the audit.

    "Probably the major issue for organisations . . . was that appropriate governance arrangements were either not in place or given little attention," because of a lack of resources "as well as an expectation or perception that someone else did it".

    Giving evidence to the commission yesterday, the Children's Guardian, Kerryn Boland, said the system of checks, which assess an individual's history of reported inappropriate behaviour with children, recently had been overhauled.

    These reforms followed a number of failings in the legislation, the commission heard, including one case where a pedophile successfully applied for a teenage boy to live with him despite a finding that the man posed a risk to children.

    The man, Steven Larkins, was employed at the time as chief executive of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service, with court-appointed parental responsibility for some of the most vulnerable children in NSW.

    A 2003 Working With Children Check conducted by the state government suggested Larkins posed a "medium risk" but this finding was mistakenly sent confidentially to Larkins himself, who was subsequently able to continue in his position.

    In 2011, the commission heard, an assessment of the children's service carried out by Ms Boland's office found Larkins had arranged for a teenage boy to live with him at home.

    "There was no documentation as to why the decision was made," Ms Boland said.

    Ian Eggins, a caseworker with Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service at the time, told the commission he witnessed Larkins "grooming" the boy over several years. "Steven would attend school appointments . . . they would go tenpin bowling."

    The caseworker said: "(The teenager) stated that Mr Larkins was like a father figure to him, that he had been the only kind of role model in his life."

    Larkins was jailed last year for indecently assaulting two other boys, as well as possessing child abuse material.

    The hearing continues.


  36. Children of religious parents at ‘more risk’ of abuse

    By Joe Lepper, Children & Young People Now October 31, 2013

    Children with parents strongly committed to a faith are at greater risk of abuse than their peers, a victim support group has claimed

    The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has made the warning in response to a report by the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) that criticises the role of churches, schools, youth groups and care homes in protecting children from abuse.

    The report details how poor leadership and “inflexible hierarchies” among such institutions are leading to a culture of fear, causing abuse to be ignored.

    Based on abuse case files and interviews, the Ceop report found that junior members of staff and religious community members felt disempowered and unable to report abuse if it involved senior colleagues or religious leaders. Some said they feared being ostracised or punished themselves.

    The community work of religious groups also gave abusers an effective mask of “virtue” to groom children, said the report. In addition, reports of abuse being ignored led to a “normalization” of abuse in some organisations.

    CCPAS said hierarchies within the Christian religion are a particular concern because these can lead to parents being “more prone to obeying their church leaders without question”.

    Simon Bass, chief executive of CCPAS, said: “It sounds harsh to suggest that the children of strongly-committed parents are more at risk of being abused. However, this is not only true but it stems largely from the fact that they tend to buy in to the culture of their local church wholeheartedly.

    “Unscrupulous church leaders may be able to exploit the respect and, often, unquestioning obedience they receive from their more committed members as cover for their abusing, because they are less likely to believe their leaders could or would ever offend. If any do have concerns, the hierarchical, narrow pyramid structures of such churches prevents them from raising those worries in the most appropriate and effective ways.”

    Among Ceop’s recommendations is an expansion of the legal definition of ‘position of trust’ to include sports coaches and religious leaders. This definition carries a further deterrent to abusers of harsher sentencing in courts.

    All institutions including religious groups should also develop and regularly update safeguarding policies and tighten their recruitment procedure. Potential recruits should be asked in job interviews whether they would raise concerns about abuse, said Ceop.

    Bass added: “Any church that has no proper safeguarding policy, does not operate safer recruitment procedures and operates under a hierarchical structure that is closed to wider scrutiny creates the perfect environment within which, potentially, malign cultures of abuse may thrive.”


  37. UN Raises Alarm Over Child Beheadings in Central African Republic

    The level of violence against children is “unprecedented,” a UNICEF report says

    By Denver Nicks, TIME January 03, 2014

    Violence against children is on the rise in the Central African Republic — including two beheadings —in the fighting that has escalated in the capital city since last month, according to a UNICEF report out this week.

    “We are witnessing unprecedented levels of violence against children. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks,” a UNICEF representative in the country said.

    UNICEF says it has verified the killings of 16 children, and injuries to 60 others, resulting from the recent outbreak of violence in the Central African Republic, where predominantly Muslim rebels have been battling Christian vigilante groups since the rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March. Nearly half the population of the capital city Bangui — some 370,000 people — has been displaced by the chaos and, according to the UN, the number of child soldiers in the country has doubled to 6,000 as the Central African Republic teeters on the brink of genocide, CNN reports.

    “Targeted attacks against children are a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and must stop immediately. Concrete action is needed now to prevent violence against children,” a UNICEF representative said.


  38. Raised in a Christian Cult

    ‘Girl at the End of the World’ adds to an important line of ex-fundamentalist survivor stories.

    by Michelle Van Loon, Christianity Today March 2014

    If you've ever been stuck in traffic caused by drivers slowing down to get a glimpse of the accident scene, you know we humans are a nosy bunch.

    So it's no surprise that readers have devoured a steady stream of recent memoirs penned by people who grew up in abusive, controlling fundamentalist sects. We curiously peek into the barbed-wire edges of different faith traditions—Jewish, Mormon, and Christian—from the perspectives of their former members.

    While the theology may differ, the plotlines in this popular genre vary little: the author's childhood was a horror, leaving the group required great courage, and integrating into mainstream society afterwards remains a disorienting, difficult process. Popular blogger Elizabeth Esther's Girl at the End of the World: My Escape From Fundamentalism in Search of a Faith with a Future, set to release next Tuesday, March 18, is a recent addition to the genre.

    Are these stories (and similarly-themed blogs, films, and TV shows) the pulp nonfiction equivalent of gapers' block, giving us a chance to gaze at the wreckage? Or are they cautionary tales about the high cost of blind allegiance? The answer may be yes to both.

    Most importantly, though, these memoirs amplify the once-voiceless among us, and no matter how painful, unbelievable, or bitter the accounts, they require us to listen. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to both growing in wisdom and protecting "the least of these." Their candid, painful reflections remind us that sometimes the most vulnerable among us may be abused children now living inside adult bodies.

    Esther's Girl at the End of the World follows her upbringing in a network of about 50 or so fundamentalist fringe congregations once known as The Assembly, led by her grandfather, George Geftakys. She introduces her eight-year-old self to readers by telling them, "I'm classically trained in apocalypse stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor-sharp 'modesty-vision' that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away."

    While her cult-leader grandfather nurtured his double life of sexual immorality, and domestic violence ravaged her uncle's household, Elizabeth Esther's childhood home-turned-commune was characterized by the rancid fruits of her family's teaching. She recounts a childhood filled with unrelenting physical, spiritual, and emotional abuse.

    continued below

  39. When she and her husband exited the cult as young adults with three babies in tow, they entered broader society like refugees. "I used TV as my shortcut to understanding pop culture and assimilating into mainstream America," she said. "That made me prime bait for every putrid reality show, game show, cartoon, and newscast. I got emotionally involved in everything from Barney and Friends to The Bachelor. One night I went to bed crying because I couldn't believe Tony left Billie Jean at the altar on a trashy show called Married By America."

    She struggled to learn how to make even simple choices for the first time in her life. Decisions about everything from whom and when she could marry to how she was to discipline her children had been prescribed by her authorities (which, in her case, also often happened to be family members) in The Assembly.

    The stories in these memoirs contain details far more unsavory and titillating than a jilted bride's meltdown on a reality TV program. While the ex-fundamentalist genre may tap into our hunger for bits of juicy gossip, a thoughtful reader will imbibe these stories with the sobriety they require.

    No one ever wakes up one day and decides to join a cult. It happens bit by bit, as members surrender over time to the will of a "visionary" leader. They practice their special version of True Faith, in the single, all-or-nothing manner prescribed by the cult leader and his revelation. Children of members don't get to opt out of their parents' journey down a destructive path.

    The children who've grown up in fundamentalist cults are not just exiting a sour church situation, but the only lives they've ever known. They leave behind their families, their social networks, and their identities. Memoirs written by ex-fundamentalists show us in slow motion what courage can look like. These stories detail the excruciating emotional journey a cult member must make to work toward a decision to leave. These books allow us to hear the sound of a door handle turning for the last time as the author departs.

    And these stories allow us to follow them as they begin to build a life for the first time on the other side. Even the most acid-toned memoirs penned by ex-fundamentalists (and there are plenty of these books out there) are a reminder that abuse done in God's name affects all of us in the body of Christ.

    Leavers face the lonely task of jettisoning the rule-laden, fear-drenched version of "faith" they grew up with. Many never return to any form of organized religion. Elizabeth Esther reports that counseling, medication, time, and a mustard seed of faith in Christ that survived the dysfunction of her childhood has grown into a connection with Catholicism. "I once heard a story about a woman who asked God to move a mountain," she wrote. "God said okay, and then He handed her a shovel. I think that's a good analogy for how my story ends. I'm still shoveling. I'm still uncovering, sorting, reexamining."


  40. The protection of minors against excesses of sects

    Council of Europe - Resolution 1992 (2014) Provisional version

    Author(s): Parliamentary Assembly

    Origin - Assembly debate on 10 April 2014 (17th Sitting) (see Doc. 13441, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr Rudy Salles; and Doc. 13467, opinion of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, rapporteur: Mr André Bugnon). Text adopted by the Assembly on 10 April 2014 (17th Sitting).

    1. The Parliamentary Assembly underlines the commitment of the Council of Europe to a policy for the protection of minors, which has led to the adoption of a number of conventions in this area, including the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (CETS No. 201), the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS No. 197) and the European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights (ETS No. 160), and which may be relevant where the excesses of sects lead to exploitation and abuse of or trafficking in children or to disregard for their rights in the framework of judicial proceedings.

    2. The Assembly is particularly concerned about the protection of minors, in particular minors who belong to religious minorities including sects. It is committed to a policy for respect for freedom of religion or belief as stated in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and condemns intolerance and discrimination against children on grounds of religion or belief, in particular in the education system.

    3. The Assembly itself has adopted texts on child protection and welfare, including Recommendation 1551 (2002) “Building a 21st century society with and for children: follow-up to the European Strategy for children (Recommendation 1286 (1996))”, Resolution 1530 (2007) and Recommendation 1778 (2007) “Child victims: stamping out all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse” and Resolution 1952 (2013) and Recommendation 2023 (2013) on children’s right to physical integrity.

    4. The Assembly is concerned when any minors are abused in any way. It is vital that existing legislation be firmly applied and that this is done within the context of respecting the rights of children and their parents in line with Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

    continued below

  41. 5. The Council of Europe has always promoted a culture of “living together” and the Assembly has spoken out on several occasions in favour of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as in favour of minority religious groups, including those which have recently appeared in Europe, in particular in Recommendation 1396 (1999) on religion and democracy and Recommendation 1804 (2007) on State, religion, secularity and human rights and in Resolution 1846 (2011) and Recommendation 1987 (2011) on combating all forms of discrimination based on religion. The Assembly believes that any religious or quasi-religious organisation should be accountable in the public sphere for any contraventions of the criminal law and welcomes announcements by established religious organisations that reports of child abuse within those organisations should be reported for investigation to the police. The Assembly does not believe that there are any grounds for discriminating between established and other religions, including minority religions and faiths, in the application of these principles.

    6. The Assembly notes that, in conformity with Resolution 1530 (2007), the protection of minors, parental rights and freedom of religion or belief are to be promoted in any context, whether public (including public schools, hospitals, etc.) or private (including private education systems, the family, sport and other recreational activities, religious activities, etc.).

    7. The Assembly therefore calls on the member States to sign and/or ratify the relevant Council of Europe conventions on child protection and welfare if they have not already done so.

    8. The Assembly also calls on national parliaments to set up study groups on the protection of minors, in particular those belonging to religious minorities.

    9. The Assembly calls on member States to ensure that no discrimination is allowed on the basis of which movement is considered as a sect or not, that no distinction is made between traditional religions and non-traditional religious movements, new religious movements or “sects” when it comes to the application of civil and criminal law, and that each measure which is taken towards non-traditional religious movements, new religious movements or “sects” is aligned with human rights standards as laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights and other relevant instruments protecting the dignity inherent to all human beings and their equal and inalienable rights.


  42. YMCA chief resigns after child abuse royal commission, parents say culture change still needed

    by Emily Bourke, ABC News Australia May 20, 2014

    CHRIS UHLMANN: Six months after the child abuse royal commission exposed the institutional failures of the YMCA the head of the youth organisation in New South Wales, Phillip Hare, has resigned.

    It's the first senior scalp claimed as a result of the inquiry into how the association responded after revelations that one of its child care workers in Sydney, Jonathan Lord, had abused a dozen boys in his care.

    But the parents of children say the resignation isn't enough and the organisation must prove it's child safe.

    Emily Bourke has the story.

    EMILY BOURKE: The royal commission's rigorous examination of the YMCA's childcare centres in Sydney's south revealed a multitude of failures that allowed one of its workers, Jonathan Lord, to assault 12 children between 2009 and 2011.

    Last December more than 70 early stage findings were delivered to the inquiry, the most damning of which was that the YMCA in NSW is not a child-safe institution and may not have the capacity to become one; and that its chief executive, Phillip Hare, was not a fit and proper person to hold a position in the organisation.

    While Jonathan Lord is serving time in jail, the YMCA has been put on notice to improve its child protection policies around recruitment, training and supervision. And now Mr Hare has quit.

    SARAH: I think parents will be wanting to see that those involved in the hiring and management of Lord would follow the same path as Phillip Hare

    EMILY BOURKE: Sarah, not her real name, is the mother of one victim. She says the YMCA still has a case to answer.

    SARAH: At the time of the first offences YMCA consistently failed to acknowledge their lack of procedures and policies. They failed to acknowledge their role in the abuse of the children inside of outside-of-hours school care. During the royal commission they refused to accept responsibility for their failure to protect young children.

    Phillip Hare's removal is one small step towards an appropriate outcome, but it should have happened much early. The fact that it's taken so long I think shows the YMCA's attitude toward providing safe child care.

    HOLLY: I certainly don't trust my child to go there and lots of other parents don't either.

    EMILY BOURKE: Another mother, known as Holly, was among the parents who gave evidence at the inquiry.

    HOLLY: It's disappointing that it's taken Phillip Hare and the board to convince him to resign six months after those interim findings. From the beginning, I said my child will not return here until I see improvement in the practices, and I haven't seen that improvement there.

    EMILY BOURKE: Robyn Monro Miller is from the Network of Community Activities which represents 1200 outside school hours services across New South Wales, including the YMCA.

    ROBYN MONRO MILLER: We were actually surprised, as the peak body, to hear about his resignation. Phillip had been working hard to actually transform the culture of the YMCA.

    I suppose I don't know enough at the moment about the Y lifting its game, but I know that they are putting strategies in place and working towards ensuring that they're a child-safe organisation. And they're not alone.

    EMILY BOURKE: The YMCA's board of directors says there will be an extensive recruitment process to attract a field of quality candidates for the CEO role.

    CHRIS UHLMANN: Emily Bourke with that report.


  43. NOTE FROM PERRY BULWER: I use a famous painting of Abraham and Isaac on this archive and its twitter feed as a metaphor for religious abuse, to illustrate how a willingness to literally sacrifice one's own child is seen as the highest form of religious faith. There are a lot of horror stories in this archive of parents doing just that, making martyrs of their children, which they have no right to do. The following news report is what happens when biblical literalism is taken to the extreme,


    Bible Verse Investigated In Toddlers Murder, Suspects Attempted Suicide

    by Peter Schaller / CBS 12 NEWS Florida May 28, 2014
    JUPITER, Fla. - Right now police are investigating whether a bible verse drove a woman to allegedly kill her ex-partner's 2-year-old daughter and attempt to kill the girl's 10-year-old brother.

    The pastor at Metropolitan Community church stands with the heartbroken family, and she stands by that sermon talking about biblical sacrifice.

    Pastor Dr. Lea Brown, "It's what I was called to do, there's no way anyone could have predicted this."

    A local pastor is nearly speechless Tuesday night as Kymberley Dawn Lucas, a member of her congregation, is spending her first night inside the Palm Beach county jail.

    Lucas is accused of killing her ex-partner's 2-year-old daughter Elliana and attempting to kill the girl's brother 10-year-old Ethan.

    According to a newly released police report, inside the Jupiter home, police found a computer left on with a message for whoever found it.

    READ THE NOTE: http://www.cbs12.com/news/features/files/REDACTED.pdf

    The report does say that Lucas and Ethan were in church just 24 hours earlier listening to the sermon given by pastor Dr. Lea Brown.

    The report said, "Her sermon covered Genesis 22, in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at the last minute God stops him from doing so."

    Pastor Brown says the surviving members of this family are surrounded by love.

    She said, "I think right now they're doing their best to take one breath at a time, and put one foot in front of the other, that's all there is right now."

    Fund For Elliana Lucas-Jamason: http://www.gofundme.com/9kjr10


  44. Children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction: researchers

    By Scott Kaufman, The Raw Story July 18, 2014

    A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional — whereas children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”

    [see abstract of the study at the following link] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12138/abstract

    In “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”

    However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would “think of them as akin to fairy tales,” judging “the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend.”

    And yet, “this prediction is likely to be wrong,” because “with appropriate testimony from adults” in religious households, children “will conceive of the protagonist in such narratives as a real person — even if the narrative includes impossible events.”

    The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

    “Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

    This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,” i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”

    The researchers also determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”


  45. Ex-Christian radio host guilty in child rape case

    by John Hogan, WZZM USA Tody July 29, 2014

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Former Christian radio host John Richard Balyo said Tuesday that he and a second man handcuffed a 12-year-old boy to a motel bed, sexually abused him and took nine photos during the April encounter.

    "I did take images of a child and they were sexually explicit involving bondage and nudity,'' Balyo admitted Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. "I performed sex acts as described. I knew it was wrong.''

    Balyo and Ronald Lee Moser paid the boy for his involvement in the April 19 assault. His hands and feet were handcuffed and he was tied to the bed, according to courtroom statements today.

    While bound, Balyo took nine photos of the boy, first in his underwear and then naked.

    The boy's family wept in the back of the sixth floor courtroom as details of the assault were told to Magistrate Ellen Carmody during Tuesday's plea hearing.

    Balyo, 34, pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography.Under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Balyo will testify if needed at Moser's criminal trial.

    The 41-year-old Battle Creek man was indicted in June for the sexual exploitation of children. A federal trial for Moser is scheduled for Aug. 18 in Grand Rapids.

    In exchange for Balyo's guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office will not prosecute Balyo on additional violations coming out of the investigation. The government says it will not oppose Balyo's bid for a reduction in his sentence.

    Balyo is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6. He faces a minimum of 15 years in federal prison and up to 50 years on both counts. Sexual exploitation of a child is punishable by 15 to 30 years in prison, while possession of child pornography carries a maximum term of up to 20 years.

    Balyo appeared in court dressed in an orange jumpsuit from the Calhoun County Jail. He's being held there on state charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving an 11-year-old boy in Battle Creek. Balyo will appear in a Battle Creek courtroom Aug. 11 in that case, which is separate from the federal case. First-degree criminal sexual conduct carries a maximum term of life in prison.

    The Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office also has the option of charging Balyo in connection with April 19 assault at the motel, although no state charges have been filed in that case.

    "We are pleased that it did move so quickly,'' U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles said of the federal case.

    "He could be in prison for the rest of his life depending on what happens down there,'' Miles said, referring to the felony case pending in Calhoun County.

    Balyo, a WCSG radio host, was arrested in June at the Big Ticket Christian music festival in Gaylord, Michigan. Police say Balyo paid Moser to arrange sexual encounters with minors. When police searched Balyo's storage unit in Plainfield Township, they found a bondage kit complete with duct tape, handcuffs and chains.

    Investigators say Moser ran a website offering paying customers sex with underage boys.

    Moser had an online user name of JAYBOY33 and posted a message that read: "Looking for people in or around Michigan that r in to kids,'' federal court records show.

    His online profile contained seven albums; titles include "sweet body,'' "sexy boys,'' "very cute boy'' and "sweet young.''

    Investigators found images of a recently pubescent boy lying face down on a bed with his hands and feet bound and his buttocks exposed.

    Moser admitted taking sexually explicit images of the 12-year-old boy for approximately a month, according to federal court records.


  46. SNAPs clergy abuse victims mark 25 years and eye new targets

    by David Gibson | Religion News Service July 29, 2014

    (RNS) When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.

    But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago (Aug. 1-3), its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.

    And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.

    SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.

    Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.

    “We are continuing to grow, and more of the growth is coming overseas and in non-Catholic institutional abuse, mostly religious institutions but a surprising number of secular ones as well,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director.

    The appeals for help from SNAP have increased so much — from students abused by teachers to victims of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky — that SNAP has set up chapters specifically for victims from non-Catholic churches and for those who were abused in the Boy Scouts or on mission trips.

    “There’s no question that the response of Catholic victims has empowered victims in other denominations and other groups,” said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon lawyer who has been one of the most outspoken champions of the victims, and a vocal critic of the hierarchy.

    “They turn to SNAP because SNAP is internationally known,” he said. While advocacy groups for other communities — such as the Eastern Orthodox or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Baptists – have sprung up, “none of them are in SNAP’s league,” he said.

    Yet that success also brings new hurdles, such as figuring out the power dynamics and pressure points of religious and secular groups that are organized far differently from the Catholic Church.

    Indeed, even some of SNAP’s strongest supporters wonder whether the group needs to recalibrate an approach that they say is so uncompromising that it can be counterproductive.

    Clohessy, who was abused by a priest as a child and whose own brother was accused of abuse before leaving the priesthood, said outsiders find it hard to appreciate how much SNAP’s hard-line posture is driven by the experience of abuse, and the knowledge that abuse continues.

    “I’m sure we could be more effective, somehow,” said Clohessy, 58. But, he added, “we do an incredible disservice to kids when we repeatedly give church officials every possible benefit of the doubt.”

    For SNAP’s members, it is not strategy as much as money that remains the overriding concern.

    “It never feels (financially) stable enough by any stretch,” Clohessy said. “And it feels especially inadequate as we try to grow internationally. It’s always been a struggle, likely always will be a struggle.”

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  47. In fact SNAP has always had something of a roller-coaster existence.

    The group began life in the late 1980s, a few years after stories by the National Catholic Reporter and Jason Berry’s reporting on abusive clerics in Louisiana began to pull back the veil of secrecy on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy.

    As the reports came to light, Barbara Blaine, a lawyer and social worker who had been molested by a priest when she was growing up in Toledo, Ohio, started contacting as many other victims as she could find, posting ads and asking prosecutors and attorneys to put her in touch with other victims.

    SNAP soon developed a core membership of a few thousand people, mainly victims, who met in small support groups while also trying to push the issue onto the public agenda. It was a tough slog in the face of public indifference or outright hostility.

    Then in January 2002, The Boston Globe began its groundbreaking series of exposes on the widespread abuse of children by priests in the Boston archdiocese, and the cover-up by bishops. The story caught fire and led to similar revelations across the nation and to an unprecedented level of media coverage, prosecutions, lawsuits and billions in payouts by dioceses.

    “We went from an organization that couldn’t get its calls returned to one that couldn’t return its calls,” Clohessy said.

    SNAP’s membership took off, and now stands at more than 19,000, with 60 chapters around the U.S. and eight overseas. In mid-2002 Clohessy was hired as the group’s first paid staffer, and Blaine, the president, was the second; there is now another full-time staff person, as well as two part-time administrators and myriad volunteers.

    The problem is that SNAP’s annual revenue record looks like a bad fever chart.

    Starting in 2002, annual revenues spiked from next to nothing and then approached $1 million in 2006, much of it in the form of donations from victims who settled abuse lawsuits. But donations fluctuated widely after that, including a decade-low of about $350,000 in 2010 when SNAP was facing a series of costly legal challenges from Catholic bishops in Missouri.

    (Annual income now stands just over $700,000, with many small donations coming from lay Catholics, and larger sums from victims and plaintiff’s lawyers, Clohessy said.)

    Today SNAP is focused on trying to steady the donation stream so it can more effectively address the new demands from different venues.

    But not everyone is convinced that SNAP should be so quick to pivot away from its traditional Catholic focus.

    Berry, the muckraking journalist who will keynote SNAP’s conference this weekend, said the group is making a mistake by not taking taking up Pope Francis’ offer to engage the Vatican on serious structural reforms that could fulfill many of SNAP’s outstanding demands.

    “I think SNAP does itself a disservice by constantly criticizing (Francis) and saying nothing’s changed,” Berry said, noting that SNAP dismissed Francis’ meeting with abuse victims in June as “self-serving” and “public relations.”

    Berry said “there is a risk in becoming an ecumenical abuse survivors movement” because that can “dilute their focus” at a critical juncture.

    “The crossroads where they stand now has less to do with branching out in an ecumenical sense — laudable and important as that may be — than having a clearer sense of driving the change in the Catholic Church. That involves learning how to negotiate, and that’s not exactly part of their skill set.”


  48. I just came across your article and found it very interesting, Child abuse on every level and excused by using religion is awful. At http://www.thethreadalliance.org/ we are dedicated to help prevent abuse and use education and other programs to stop this. Hopefully, leaders will continue to pursue the truth of treating all humans with love and respect and discipline will not be an excuse for condemnation or cruelty.

  49. What is it like to grow up in a religious sect?

    A woman who grew up among revolutionary feminists, another a strict Jehovah’s Witness, another a Hare Krishna. Three women describe their very unconventional childhoods

    By Anna van Praagh, The Telegraph November 30, 2014

    Jahnavi Harrison 27 grew up in a Hare Krishna community in Hertfordshire where her father is the priest. A musician, she still lives at home

    I grew up in a Hare Krishna community called Bhaktivedanta Manor, an 80-acre estate that is the biggest Hare Krishna community in Europe. My parents and younger brother and sister all live in a house nearby, and growing up we spent all day, every day at the temple.

    I had an incredibly special childhood. We’d start every morning with worship and would dance and pray several times a day. Most meals were eaten communally with the 300 residents of the community. A lot of the produce for our meals came from our own farm.
    The estate is a very beautiful place and includes extensive woods and a lake, and there was a primary school on-site.

    We were raised communally with the philosophy of simple living and high thinking. Growing up, we didn’t watch TV or listen to pop music and were aware that popular culture was something that didn’t sit well with our value system. The Hare Krishna movement, based on a strand of Hinduism, was founded in 1965 by AC Bhaktivedanta. The ultimate goal of Hare Krishna devotion is to attain
    Krishna Consciousness through ethical living and spiritual devotion. Devotees do not gamble, ingest alcohol or drugs, including caffeine, and restrain from sex except within marriage for the purposes of procreation.

    I was a really happy child cocooned in this perfect world until my parents decided to send me to the local school when I was nine to prepare me for senior school. I found the experience intimidating and a huge culture shock. I was extremely worried that people would find out I was a Hare Krishna. This obsession continued throughout my teenage years. Even though most of the local people were kind to us, we did experience a lot of prejudice from some people, and I can only think this contributed to my sense of fear of people finding out I was a Hare Krishna.

    My dad used to ask me to come in for morning service at the temple in my school uniform and go straight on to school, and I had to explain to him that once I put the uniform on I had to become a completely different person and I couldn’t mix the two lives up. It really felt like I was living a double life.

    It got so bad that I had to be hospitalised a few times with extreme stomach pains brought on by anxiety. In the end my parents decided to home-school me with other children back at the temple. I tried mainstream education again about a year later but for the same reasons it didn’t work out. I did my A-levels in a year at evening college and got three As in a year and won a place at Middlesex University to study English.

    When I was 19 I went on a Hare Krishna youth tour of America with 50 young people who had grown up in the religion from around the world. Being with all these people my age who were so comfortable with their identity was a huge turning-point for me. I went on to spend four years touring America with a kirtan group, which is a type of devotional music inspired by religious chanting, and I now help run a project called Kirtan London, which helps to bring mantra music to different communities and make it accessible.

    My brother and sister and I still live at home and are involved in the Temple. It took me a long time to reconcile my life as a Hare Krishna with my identity in the outside world, and, although it was a difficult journey, I am now completely comfortable with who I am.

    Rachel Underhill, 39, a florist who lives in Peacehaven, East Sussex, was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness before leaving the religion in her twenties

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  50. My mother was pregnant with me when she was converted on the doorstep by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and within six months both my parents believed the whole thing. From the time I was born the religion dictated every single thing we could or couldn’t do.

    My mother was brought up a strict Roman Catholic, my father was brought up in the Salvation Army – and while they were both intelligent people, they were damaged and were both addicted to religion as something to fill a deep vacuum within them. But to me, my younger brother and older sister, it often felt like our childhoods were the price they paid for their conversion.

    It’s a very hard religion for children, with endless prayer meetings and lectures at the Kingdom Hall. Birthdays, Christmas and any celebrations were banned, and I quickly realised that all my friends’ lives had something mine was completely lacking: fun. Instead of going to assembly I’d have to sit on a bench outside the headmaster’s office reading my Bible Stories book, which all Jehovah’s Witness children have to read. The pictures in the book of Armageddon, which the elders claimed at all times was imminent – with bodies shot to the ground, cars upside-down and buildings on fire – were terrifying. Every day I lived in fear that Armageddon would come and the world would end and I wouldn’t be able to find my parents.

    We weren’t allowed to make friends with anyone “worldly”, which meant anyone who wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness, or do anything outside the religion, which they called “outside the truth”. It was incredibly isolating. We were brainwashed into thinking all worldly people wanted to abuse us, and this was confirmed every time we knocked on doors to try to convert people – you can’t imagine the damage it does to a child being constantly yelled at to go away.

    We weren’t encouraged to try at school, as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when Armageddon happens all people within the faith would go to paradise, so earthly scholarship is useless. Being told the world was always about to end wasn’t only very frightening, but completely demotivating. From my late teens I no longer believed any of it but knew I would be cut off from everyone I knew if I renounced the religion, so I felt I had no choice but to pretend I did.

    When I was 20 I married a Jehovah’s Witness 15 years older than me, knowing even before the marriage that it wouldn’t last. When I went into hospital to give birth to my twins I was told that I would need an emergency caesarean and that my babies or I might need blood. The elders made me sign a form that said in any situation I would refuse. My parents and my husband, Bob, were in the room and, looking back, that’s one of the saddest moments of my life. My parents would rather have let me and my children die than challenge the elders.

    A few years later, when I was 28, I finally found the courage to leave the religion. I didn’t think for a second that my parents would actually turn their back on me, but they cut all ties. I forgive them because I know they’ve been brainwashed, but I struggle not to feel angry and bitter. I know where they live but would never go to see them – it’s like they’re alive and dead to me. Bob and I divorced and in 2009 I married again.

    It took me a long time but I have at last found peace within myself, and am grateful every day to have escaped. My daughters are 15 now and I have devoted my life to giving them the childhood I was deprived of.

    Shelley Wild, 35, an RE teacher who lives in Paulton, Lancashire, was born in a commune in Leeds run by revolutionary feminists where all the children were given the same surname and she had four separate mothers

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  51. In the 1970s my mother was a key member of the women’s-lib movement and set up a commune in Leeds that explored new non-sexist ways of living. The aim was to subvert patriarchal systems of repression, and one way they did this was to get rid of the tradition of giving children the male surname.

    All the children in the commune were called Wild, and we each had several different mothers co-parenting us. Ours was one of several Wild communes across the country. The idea was that non-biological parents were as important as biological ones and no child had a single primary care-giver. My mother had two other non-biological children in the commune she co-parented, as well as me, and I had four mothers looking after me – my biological mother, Rosie, Tina and Dee. My father wasn’t in my life at this time.

    When I was five my mother sold the commune because it had become too difficult, with abuse from neighbours and problems from some women who had begun to use it like a refuge. We moved within Leeds but continued to keep an open house for various children and female lodgers, and I still saw my other mothers as regularly as I could.

    The fact my mother was a lesbian didn’t bother me at all – I was very proud of her – but we suffered a lot because of it. There were often eggs thrown at the window or dog excrement on the door handle, and she would have abuse shouted at her on the street. It made life hell but she didn’t let it deter her.

    I remember her taking me to Greenham Common peace camp to protest and she was the founder of the Reclaim The Night marches against male violence and rape, which began in Leeds and are still ongoing.

    Her own background, as the boarding-school-educated daughter of a brigadier general couldn’t have been more different from the life she chose to live. She was an intellectual who believed passionately that she should provide me with a balanced view of the world, not just drive home the received thinking that men are in the positions of power and women support them. I remember when I was eight she read The Hobbit to me and changed all the male characters to female. She always tried to give me positive female role models.

    As a teenager I was also very political, getting involved with everything from the Revolutionary Communist Party to the Criminal Justice Bill, but when I went to university I started to rebel and at 24 I did so in the most powerful way possible – I got married. My mother was very upset – she doesn’t see the point of marriage and was horrified that I was giving up my surname. She came to the wedding, but luckily two of my other mothers got to her speech and crossed most of it out, as it was basically a political treaty against marriage.
    I’m not nearly as political as my mother, but if something’s wrong then I’ll protest against it. When my daughter was seven weeks old I took her to march against the war in Iraq. We argue a bit. I get weary of the way my mother politicises everything, and she gets frustrated with me when I wear make-up or high heels. She doesn’t think they’re necessary.

    I took the name Wild back when I got divorced in 2010. It’s part of who I am and, if I married again, I would keep it. I still see my co-mothers, although unfortunately Rosie died in 2008, and still regard them as close family to me. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was incredibly lucky to have the upbringing I did. It was only when I left home that I realised that not everyone was as loved and cherished as I was.


  52. Ex Christian radio host gets 40 years for child sex crimes

    John Hogan, WZZM-TV, Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Michigan December 12, 2014

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Christian radio host John Balyo operated beneath the radar as a married family man, a wedding photographer, a volunteer with the Kent County Sheriff's Department, camp counselor and an overseas mission volunteer with children.

    Underneath the surface, the expectant father was "a wolf in sheep's clothing'' feeding a morbid and sadistic fascination with children, collecting pedophilic materials, rehearsing a sexual kidnapping fantasy with a child-sized mannequin and meeting clandestinely in hotel rooms with young boys in bondage.

    The secret life of the 36-year-old Caledonia man was laid bare Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids in an emotional sentencing hearing that all but assures Balyo will be an old man when he gets out of prison.

    He'll serve 40 years in federal prison — on top of a lengthy sentence handed down last month in Calhoun County for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. His wife of seven months was granted a divorce just three weeks ago. And Balyo's assets will go to support his unborn child, who is due in February or March.

    "I'm having a lot of trouble trying to reconcile two people in the orange jumpsuit before me,'' Judge Robert Holmes Bell told Balyo during the sentencing hearing. "There's the Christian man with a reputation as a value-driven individual. But there is something else going on that is troubling ... filthy, obscene. I don't get it. I don't get where you went off.''

    Bell ordered Balyo to serve 25 years for sexual exploitation of a child and 15 years for possession of child pornography, with the terms to run consecutive.

    He also asked Balyo to write him at least once a year. "Don't whitewash me,'' said Bell, father of bestselling Christian author and Pastor Rob Bell. "I want to know what books you're reading and what you're doing to help other people.''

    Balyo was sentenced in November to between 25 and 50 years in state prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting the same boy last May at a Battle Creek motel. The assault took place two weeks after Balyo's April 25 wedding.

    Bell urged Balyo to make the most of his new life in prison, now that his former life as a respected pillar of the community has slipped away.

    "Peel back layers of your own heart and your own soul,'' he advised.

    Department of Homeland Security Investigations Agent Marlon Miller said Balyo's lengthy prison sentence "marks an end to a case that tore at the very fabric of this community.''

    "While no amount of jail time can adequately punish individuals involved in this type of depraved activity, my sincere hope is that the conclusion of this case can begin the healing process for all of those affected,'' he said.

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  53. The lengthy prison terms were almost a foregone conclusion. More unnerving is the depths of depravity lurking beneath the surface of a man prosecutors say had the facade of a law-abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. According to court records:

    • Balyo kept a collection of children's obituaries and articles on the infamous BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer.

    • He kept news clippings relating to the kidnapping, death and sexual abuse of children.

    • He had notebook paper that contained numerous boys' names on it and phrases like "swimming,'' "photo shoot,'' "sleeping/napping,'' "strapped down,'' "boy/cub scout,'' "headlock,'' "abuse'' and "swim lessons.''

    • He kept photos of nude children in his storage unit, including images from a known child pornography series.

    • He had a bondage kit that held rolls of duct tape, four pairs of handcuffs, parachute cord, nylon rope, 107 zip ties, a set of rubber gloves, two lengths of 18-inch chain and a padlock.

    "No one ever reported any misgivings or indiscretions about Balyo. But he was a wolf in sheep's clothing,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa K. Hessmiller wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

    "On the outside, he was a law-abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. He was able to gain people's trust, leading no one to suspect anything was amiss,'' Hessmiller wrote.

    "But underneath the surface, he was feeding a morbid and sadistic fascination with children, creating and accumulating pedophilic materials, rehearsing a sexual kidnapping fantasy with a gun and a child-sized mannequin and meeting clandestinely in hotel rooms with young boys in bondage. Balyo's three meetings with (victim 1) resulted in sexual exploitation and degradation of a child in the most depraved ways.''

    Online exchanges catch attention of police

    A tip from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police last spring put Balyo on the radar of federal prosecutors. The agency received two tips from concerned citizens indicating that a computer user with the name JAYBOY33 appeared to have access to boys.

    The information was forwarded in June to the Grand Rapids office of DHS. The person behind the screen name JAYBOY33 was identified as 43-year-old Ronald Lee Moser of Battle Creek.

    Investigators accessed images in seven albums controlled by Moser with names like "sexy boys,'' "sweet body'' and "sweet young.''

    Police searched Moser's home on June 5, 2014, where they found Moser with the 12-year-old boy identified in several pornographic images. Investigators learned that Balyo and Moser met online in November 2013 after Moser posted child pornography to a website with the message, "Looking for people in and around Michigan that r in to kids.''

    Balyo responded: "I am that person. LOL!''

    Balyo told Moser he was into "boys 6-13ish. I like them wearing very little, but especially barefoot. Also into some bondage.''

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  54. Balyo arranged to meet Moser in person and Moser brought the 12-year-old victim to a hotel in Kalamazoo on April 19, 2014. The second meeting was at the same hotel in Kalamazoo on May 9, 2014. The third time was at a hotel in Battle Creek on May 17, 2014.

    All three times, Balyo paid for the room, took pornographic photos of the boy, engaged in sexual acts with the boy and watched Moser engage in sexual acts with the victim and paid the victim after each meeting.

    Moser was arrested on June 5, 2014. He pleaded guilty in August to possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child. Moser faces between 15 and 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 17 in Grand Rapids.

    After Moser's arrest, Balyo took several days off work. He took his Apple computer and a number of memory cards and thumb drives to a friend's house. Investigators discovered Balyo's involvement with Moser and worked to identify him.

    A secret life exposed

    Balyo was arrested June 20 while attending a Christian music concert in Gaylord. Police seized his home computer, finding images of child pornography he produced, including those of the 12-year-old boy from the hotels. On a memory card, investigators found a number of digital photographs depicting a teenage boy in bondage, but not nude. Homeland Security Investigations agents three weeks ago spoke with the person identified in the images.

    The boy, now 22, stated he met Balyo on a website in October 2008 when he was a 16-year-old high school student. They shared an interest in bondage and met once at a hotel. Balyo used rope, handcuffs, a blindfold, and a ball gag to tie him up in different positions inside the hotel and took pictures.

    In a storage unit near Rockford, investigators found photos of nude children and a bondage kit that held rolls of duct tape, four pairs of handcuffs, parachute cord, nylon rope, 107 zip ties, a set of rubber gloves, two lengths of 18-inch chain and a padlock.

    "This was the bondage kit he brought with him to the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek hotels to sexually assault and pornographically photograph the 12-year-old victim,'' Hessmiller, the assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote.

    Balyo was fired from his job as morning host at WCSG, a Christian station operated by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. His wife, Bethany Colleen Balyo, on July 11 filed for divorce in Kent County Circuit Court. The expedited divorce was approved Nov. 18 by Kent County Circuit Judge Kathleen Feeney.

    Under terms of the divorce, Bethany Balyo will have full custody of their unborn child, will get their home in Caledonia and collect proceeds from the sale of a home in Comstock Park.

    Balyo's statements of contrition ring hollow with the family of his 12-year-old victim. A letter written by the boy's mother and read in court Thursday talks about the nightmares and behavioral problems the boy has suffered because of Balyo.

    "He was molested and raped,'' the mother wrote. "We live with memories that haunt us and hurt us.''


  55. Glenn Close Returns to Stage, Reveals Remarkable Childhood in Cult

    by Stephen Galloway, The Hollywood Reporter October 15, 2014

    Back on Broadway in Edward Albee's 'A Delicate Balance,' the three-time Tony winner opens up her larger-than-life father, William Taliaferro Close, a doctor who spent years in the Congo, battling Ebola and serving as Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko's personal physician; his decision to join religious group/cult the Moral Re-Armament; and why she holds no resentment: "Forgiveness is probably the most revolutionary concept there is right now in our world."

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    There's a photo of her 26-year-old daughter, actress Annie Starke, with a beloved rescued Labrador (Close is fond of dogs and has blogged about them for the site FetchDog); multiple shots of one of her three homes, in Maine ("David's house," she calls it, referring to her husband, business and social entrepreneur David Shaw); pictures of Shaw beaming in Telluride, Colo., during a break from a 1,000-mile motorbike ride; and tons and tons of snapshots of flowers, spilling across gardens and sidewalks, over driveways and walls, filling every inch of Close's domain.

    "I love peonies," she says. "I'm not a gardener, so I try to keep it as simple as possible with perennials so there's not a phalanx of gardeners going through the house."

    I sit back in the corner of the subterranean Manhattan restaurant where we've been skating across an interview for the better part of an hour on this late September evening and try to figure her out. She's gracious and well-mannered but oh-so-hard to read — the type of book you ponder in your study rather than at the beach, E.L. Doctorow rather than E.L. James.

    With her no-nonsense black blouse and short-cropped hair, Close, 67, is refined and reserved, without a trace of the flamboyant characters she has played in movies like Fatal Attraction and the FX series Damages. She makes effortless chitchat — about her garden; the books she's been reading (Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard, Edward O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth); her concern for the environment ("I'm a lover of nature, and if my daughter ever has a child, that world is going to be so deeply different"); and her grandchildren on Shaw's side, one of whom interrupts us via Skype, eliciting an exquisite gurgle of delight.

    "She's like royalty," says actor John Lithgow, who appeared with Close in 1982's The World According to Garp and now is her co-star in the upcoming Broadway production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, which begins previews Oct. 20 at New York City's Golden Theatre. "There's something very regal to her, distinguished. She has a native blue-bloodedness. It seems to come from good breeding. There's a patrician elegance about her."

    The play brings Lithgow and Close together for the first time onstage in a much-anticipated 18-week run that will push each to the limit in one of the most intellectually and emotionally daunting works of the repertoire. Albee's 1966 drama of domestic disintegration centers on a suburban, upper-class couple, Agnes and Tobias (Close and Lithgow), and follows them across one night and day as they deal with the intrusion of family and friends as well as their own troubled past.

    Close has trouble believing it has been 20 years since her last theatrical production, when she won her third Tony, for playing silent screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

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  56. Producer Scott Rudin sent me piles of scripts — Noel Coward, everything," she says. "He thought rather than a 'star' vehicle, it would be best to come back in a really challenging ensemble. I liked that idea. We honed it down to A Delicate Balance because it's everything we wanted: an incredibly challenging play, where you have to have a seamless ensemble to pull it off. And it's about language. It's challenging and risky."

    All this discussion of her role is polite and proper and very much what one might expect of an actress as poised and polished as Close. But hints of another, more complex woman begin to seep through.

    They're there when she admits to being "kind of a recluse" who immerses herself in books, rarely watches television, and notes, "I wouldn't say I'm naturally social."

    They're there when she talks about her sister Jessie, who grew up with mental health issues and plunged into a series of disastrous marriages before being diagnosed as bipolar in her 50s, which Jessie will discuss in a forthcoming memoir, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness (Grand Central Publishing).

    They're there when she discusses the years she has spent in therapy herself. "I've had it over the years," she says. "And there's still somebody I talk to if I need to. It's very helpful."

    And, most extraordinarily, they're there when she tells me about her larger-than-life father, William Taliaferro Close, who spent years in Congo, at one point as Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko's personal physician, and who swept his daughter and family into a right-wing religious cult that gobbled up their lives.

    The cult's impact was so great, says Close, that for years "I wouldn't trust any of my instincts because [my beliefs] had all been dictated to me."

    Close was 7 years old when her dad, a Harvard-educated doctor from a long line of New England blue bloods, joined the religious group known as the Moral Re-Armament.

    Founded during the late 1930s, the MRA held firmly to what it called "the four absolutes": honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. But these benevolent principles masked the all-consuming, all-controlling traits of any other cult — this particular one led by Rev. Frank Buchman, a violently anti-intellectual and possibly homophobic evangelical fundamentalist from Pennsylvania, who argued that only those with special guidance from God were without sin, and that they had a duty to change others. What began as an anti-war movement gradually turned into a possessive and exclusionary force.

    It is unclear how many adherents the MRA had, though about 30,000 people gathered to hear Buchman speak at the Hollywood Bowl in the late 1930s, and the group was widely discussed in the press during and after World War II. Its post-war conferences were attended by several high-level diplomats and politicians — despite allegations that Buchman had been a Hitler supporter — and its cultlike nature appears to have emerged only slowly.

    "I haven't made a study of groups like these," says Close, "but in order to have something like this coalesce, you have to have a leader. You have to have a leader who has some sort of ability to bring people together, and that's interesting to me because my memory of the man who founded it was this wizened old man with little glasses and a hooked nose, in a wheelchair."

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  57. When her family joined the cult Close was removed from everything she held most dear — above all, life in the ivy-covered, stone cottage on her grandfather's Connecticut estate, where she ran wild over the rugged land with her Shetland pony, Brownie. While Dr. Close went to Congo as a surgeon, she lived with her brother and two sisters at the group's headquarters in Caux, Switzerland.

    "They had a big hotel, a very glamorous, exclusive hotel called Mountain House, which I think is in one of Fitzgerald's novels," she recalls. "[They] made it into one of their world headquarters, and we stayed there for two years. When the mutiny broke out [Congolese soldiers rebelled in 1960, shortly after the country declared independence from Belgium], we didn't see our father for a whole year."

    During the family's time in the MRA, "You basically weren't allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire," she says. "If you talk to anybody who was in a group that basically dictates how you're supposed to live and what you're supposed to say and how you're supposed to feel, from the time you're 7 till the time you're 22, it has a profound impact on you. It's something you have to [consciously overcome] because all of your trigger points are [wrong]."

    While Close was ensconced in Mountain House, her father was trying to bring modern health care to the Congo. "He went to the Congo, the former Belgian Congo, when he was 36 and stayed for 16 years," says his daughter, who rarely visited.

    Dr. Close was a natural leader whose skills proved vital in combating Congo's first major Ebola epidemic in 1976. The virus had its first known outbreak in a small village on the Ebola River; panic ensued as the disease spread, especially following the deaths of a dozen staff members at the local hospital. While Mobutu, a dictator who fleeced his country of billions, fled the Congo, Dr. Close, who had been a mentor to the health minister, persuaded the Congolese air force to fly supplies to the village at the heart of the epidemic and also to provide helicopters so that medics could reach the hundreds of other villages in the area, leading to a massive quarantine, which helped contain the epidemic, though nearly 300 people died.

    During his years in Congo, he grew in stature and influence and even adopted a Congolese son, Glenn's brother Tambu Kisoki, who today lives in Sacramento, Calif. (Close's other siblings, Jessie, Tinaand Alexander, reside in Montana and Wyoming, not too far from their 90-year-old mother, Bettine.)

    But Dr. Close increasingly became disillusioned with Mobutu, as the former military officer who had seized power in a military coup in 1965 succumbed to corruption. The actress remembers meeting him during one of her three long visits to the country.

    "He was very charming early on — he was remarkable — and then he got corrupt," she says. "My dad always felt it was when Mobutu's mother died that he really gave in to all the forces around him. There was no one to hold him to his conscience. My dad — who had renovated the huge hospitals, started the maternity hospital and the hospital ship on the Congo River — stood up to a lot. But it came to a point where he thought it was dangerous to step in."

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  58. The elder Close returned to the U.S. in 1977 and resettled in Big Piney, Wyo., choosing the least populated county in the least populated state, where he remained as a country doctor until his death in 2009. In time, he moved away from the MRA, as did his daughter, who had left Switzerland and returned to America at age 15 to study at the elite Connecticut boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall.

    It took her many years to reach the point where she could break free of the MRA, which began to founder in the 1970s and changed its name in 2001 to Initiatives of Change. For a while, she performed with an MRA offshoot, Up With People, an ultra-clean-cut singing group that was discreet about its links to the MRA and was almost omnipresent in the 1960s. She severed her ties in 1970. "Many things led me to leave," she says. "I had no toolbox to leave, but I did it."

    She won't go into detail about how she left. "I'm not going to go into all of that," she says. "You can't in an interview."

    At 22, Close enrolled at the College of William & Mary. But her youthful experiences haunted her. "I would have dreams because I didn't go to any psychiatrist or anything," she says. "I had these dreams, and they started with betrayal, a sense of betrayal, and then they developed into me being able to look at these people and say, 'You're wrong. You're wrong.' And then the final incarnation of those dreams was my being able to calmly get up and walk away. And then I didn't have them anymore."

    The MRA never tried to lure her back. "They knew that was it," she says. "I had nothing to do with them from that point. And I wouldn't have anything to do with them."

    Suddenly, she seems to regret having said so much. She levels her blue-green eyes on me, vulnerable and almost apologetic, and there's a warmth to her I haven't felt till now.

    "I'm very gullible," she says.

    I ask what she means.

    She doesn't fully explain.

    It has been five years since William Close died at age 84 and 45 years since his daughter left the MRA, years that have seen her go from being an admired stage actress to an Oscar nominee for her first screen role as Robin Williams' mother in Garp and on through such films as Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, Reversal of Fortune and Albert Nobbs.

    She has had victories and defeats, fallow times and fertile — she didn't appear in a film until she was 35 and still smarts at alterations made to the ending of Fatal. "Changing [Alex Forrest] into a psychopath was never fair to her," she says. "But they were right in giving the audience what they wanted."

    She has gone through two divorces and other significant romantic relationships; has had a daughter (with producer John Starke); and remains especially connected to her mother, "a remarkable woman. My mom would have made a great pioneer woman. She has an inner strength and this inquisitive mind: She's reading at least three books at once."

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  59. Close has come to terms with her sister's mental health issues. "We were ignorant or had no vocabulary for mental illness," she says, "so she was 'the irresponsible one,' the wild one: 'Pull up your socks, find a job.'" The two are tight, and were also tight growing up, at least "as much as one could be in the circumstance."

    Professionally, the actress has added producing and writing to her résumé and would like to direct, too: She still plans to helm an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, in which she would star opposite Meryl Streep.

    She has lost some beloved friends, including Williams, though she cherishes the ones she has, including her best friend, actress Mary Beth Hurt. She remembers hearing about Williams' death while on the phone with designer Ann Roth. "It was the kind of friendship that, whenever we saw each other, it was just complete love," she says. "I didn't know he had Parkinson's. But I knew he had issues with depression and substance abuse. Very sad."

    Amazingly, her career is still in the ascendant thanks to the afterglow of Damages and the buzz surrounding Balance. She regrets that Albee, 86, has not been at rehearsals, reportedly because he is somewhat frail. Will he come? "I hope so. It would be lovely."

    She is developing a follow-up to her two 101 Dalmatians movies and says, "There's a movie I'd like to write and direct, way down the road." She has been back on movie screens with Guardians of the Galaxy, playing the leader of the Nova Corps charged with keeping the peace, and would like to appear in a sequel. "I'm contracted to it. It had a wonderful sense of humor."

    She seems to enjoy the huge range of work she's tackled and says she loves acting as much as ever — the more difficult the material, the better.

    And it's hard to get more difficult than Balance, whose language is the verbal equivalent of a Rubik's cube, and whose intense emotions spill out at unexpected times. Memorizing the lines alone has taken Close months — "I still have lines to learn and things to figure out," she says — and yet she almost glows with delight at the prospect.

    "I'm compelled to do what I do," she says. "Just like my father was."

    Looking back, she wishes she had known him better. "He was never taught how to express himself emotionally or was never around anyone who let him know that was OK," she reflects. "As children, you don't love naturally. You have a natural sense of survival, but love has to be taught."

    In her 40s, she decided to write to him, putting everything she felt in a letter, "and I wrote him everything, everything I felt about our relationship, and it was extremely honest."

    If ever she felt anger toward her father for plunging her into the MRA and for any harm that did to her, the anger is long gone.

    "I always thought, the way life works, the burden of forgiveness is on the child," she says. "That's the way it goes. Forgiveness is probably the most revolutionary concept there is right now in our world. Because without forgiveness, you just perpetuate what has been before. You [have to] say, 'It's going to stop with me.'"


  60. New "Christian" extremist religious group in Wells, Texas continues to expand in the tiny town. Leaders believe they have "gifts of the Spirit" to resurrect a dead baby denied medical care in 2012. They attempt resurrection again when a local toddler is hit by a car. Sheriff's deputies have to escort them from the scene.
    In three years the group has tripled in size. With an objective to have as many babies as possible, it now has more children than adults. Mostly very young children and babies. These children are at tremendous risk.


    Origins of the group is unclear, but follows a sort of typical doctrine and patterns of behavior as Twelve Tribes. They have a 700-page manual/manifesto written by the group's prophet. Most recently, two of the three leaders posted public videos accounting for their "call to preach." The youngest leader explains that God speaks to him.

  61. Self-styled prophet whose cult-like church was linked to horrific killing of five-year-old Scott Chirashi is convicted of two sex offences

    By Chris Clements Scottish Daily Record April 28, 2015

    WALTER Masocha, who enjoyed a God-like status, was found guilty of groping a 14-year-old schoolgirl and molesting a 32-year-old deaconess.

    A SELF-STYLED prophet whose church was linked to a horrific child killing was convicted of sex attacks yesterday.

    Farai Chirashi, who killed her son Scott, five, and ripped out his heart, had attended perv preacher Walter Masocha’s cult-like church.

    Yesterday, Masocha, 51, was found guilty of groping a 14-year-old schoolgirl. He told her that he was trying to remove demons. The twisted churchman was also found guilty of molesting a 32-year-old deaconess, claiming he was healing her of a stomach ache.

    Masocha enjoyed God-like status in his money-spinning church Agape.

    But it was touched by scandal when mentally ill Chirashi killed Scott.

    Scott was stabbed to death and had his heart ripped out by his mother.

    She had descended into mental illness after breaking away from Agape and her husband Tichakunda Chiriseri, who remained devoted to the church.

    And yesterday, as Masocha, 51, was convicted of the sex attacks, insiders revealed the shocking truth behind the cult-like operation.

    Zimbabwean-born Masocha founded the Agape for All Nations International Ministries, which has brought in more than £3.3million of donations from its followers in the last four years.

    Today the Record can reveal:

    ●Bizarre ceremonies where former Stirling University lecturer Masocha walks across the jackets thrown down by his devout followers.

    ●Claims of “exorcisms” in his back garden and allegations of financial abuse.

    ●The terror and isolation felt by members who dared question his

    ●The church’s links with the tragic case of Scott Chiriseri.

    ● How Masocha encouraged the women of his congregation to call him “daddy”.

    After a six-day trial, a jury of seven men and seven women at Falkirk Sheriff Courtyesterday took less than 30 minutes to find Masocha guilty of sexually assaulting the deaconess and sexually touching the underage girl. The verdicts were by majority.

    The court heard he kissed and caressed the schoolgirl and “pinged” her underwear at his seven-bedroom home, Cosy Neuk, in Sauchieburn, near Stirling.

    He groped the deaconess, a married mother-of-four, who was told by her husband that the “prophet” had been trying to remove something from her genitals. The offences took place between January 2012 and January 2014.

    But Masocha was earlier found not guilty of two other charges, alleging that he engaged in sexual activity with another girl, then 13, by inducing her to massage his half-naked body with oils. He was cleared after she retracted her claims.

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  62. Allegations that he had acted in a similar way on various occasions towards her then 16-year-old sister had been dropped before the trial began.

    The court heard during evidence that the 13-year-old girl and her family have since rejoined the sect.

    Masocha, in a handmade suit with velvet collar, stood completely expressionless in the dock as the verdicts were announced.

    Sheriff Kenneth McGowan ordered that Masocha’s name should be entered on the sex offenders’ register and deferred sentence.

    He continued bail, until May 19 for reports, which will include an assessment of the risk Masocha poses to other women and girls.

    In court, Masocha’s adult victim wept as she told how “Archbishop” Masocha groped her private parts under the guise of praying for “every part of your body”.

    She said: “It was like he was feeling me. I was so shocked.

    “At that time I saw him as somebody who could never do any wrong, because that was what he used to teach us.

    “My husband told me, ‘The prophet is seeing something in your genitals that needs to be removed, so he was removing that.’

    “Outside, I had to believe that, but inside I didn’t.”

    The court also heard of Masocha’s claims to the woman that God had told him that “he was the one with the keys to her destiny”.

    And she described how she had to undergo an all-night “deliverance” after her husband told her she had to be freed from demons.

    She also told how she left the church when her family and fellow members called medics and tried to have her sectioned during one service.

    Paramedics agreed the effort had simply been a “public humiliation”.

    Speaking to the Record yesterday, the woman claimed she had had a number of other uncomfortable encounters with Masocha.

    And she portrayed him as a manipulative egomaniac fleecing his followers with promises of a better life, while running his organisation from the comfort of £500,000 Cosyneuk.

    She said Masocha – who she and other women followers called “my Dad” – claimed to have heard the “audible voice of God” and to have spoken with the Lord on Mount Sinai, Egypt.

    “His whole system is evil,” she said.

    “Masocha appears absolutely charming. If you were to meet him, you would think, ‘Oh my goodness, there is nothing wrong with this man.’

    “He is very likeable and is a sweet talker. He is a charismatic speaker and thinks well of himself – typical of any cult leader who controls the crowds. But he simply preys on the vulnerable.”

    Masocha – a former accountancy lecturer – set up the controversial church in 2007.

    Before then, he had already fallen foul of his neighbours in Sauchieburn, who alleged he had carried out an exorcism in garden. The church has denied the claim.

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  63. Agape are a registered charity describing their purpose as the “advancement of religion”.

    Since 2011, the church have brought in an income of £3,300,720 – most of it raised through donations from his flock.

    Over the same period, they spent £2,921,713, the bulk of which goes towards “charitable activities”.

    In 2014, more than £34,000 of their spending covered “governance costs”.

    Masocha has so-called satellite ministries in France, Ireland, Canada and the US, as well as Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and his native Zimbabwe.

    In the UK, dozens of these branches exist, including satellites in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.

    There are believed to be around 1000 members of the church in the UK alone, most of them hailing from Zimbabwe.

    Videos online show the colourful ceremonies tied to his preaching.

    In one scene, Masocha is shown walking across coats thrown down by his followers – an allusion to Palm Sunday.

    In another, he is seen preaching a sermon about pigs being possessed by demons.

    Such is Masocha’s notoriety, his arrest and trial has already been reported by news outlets in his African homeland.

    His 32-year-old victim – also from Zimbabwe – says the shamed preacher lures immigrant followers who have no support network on entering the UK.

    She explained: “The people who go to this church are already vulnerable adults.

    “They are immigrants who have come into this country and find it very hard.

    “They struggle with the way they are viewed by society, to get jobs and often have problems with their immigration papers.

    “You will find that the people who go to Agape have issues already. They are seeking something more.

    “So they look up to this self-proclaimed prophet who is saying to you, ‘Don’t worry, everything
    will be okay. You’re going to get your papers.’

    “He tells them, ‘You’re going to be rich.’”

    Agape have been attacked by a number of bloggers who were once part of the church, with claims of financial mismanagement and abuse levelled at the church leader.

    The former deaconess continued: “When I came out the church, my eyes were open. It is a cult and he is brainwashing people.

    “You couldn’t have friends outside the church. You couldn’t even go to other churches and hear what other ministers are saying.

    “You give everything to him. We used to take our wages and literally hand them over to him.

    “It got to the point where mortgages aren’t being paid because he tells you that the more you give
    to the Prophet, the more God will bless you.

    “Yes, it sounds stupid … but the level of brainwashing on adults is unbelievable.”

    A spokesman for Agape, now run by a board of trustees, said: “Dr Masocha’s engagement as an employee of Agape for All Nations Ministries International has been suspended.

    “Agape sincerely apologises for any harm done to those affected.”

    The spokesman also insisted: “Agape FANMI is not a cult. It does not fulfil the warning signs of a cult.”


  64. NOTE The following article illustrates the quotation I have at the top of this blog by Judith Herman describing the way in which perpetrators seek to control the disclosures and discourses of abuse:

    “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no-one listens... After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on.”

    Counter-documentaries: when subjects of investigation go on the attack

    There’s a new trend in film, as organisations targeted by documentary-makers – such as the Church of Scientology – produce films discrediting their accusers. But are they enriching or endangering the discussion?

    by Fred Wagner, The Guardian May 4, 2015

    Recently Louis Theroux revealed that the Church of Scientology is looking to neutralise his forthcoming documentary about them by producing their very own film about him. In the US there’s a saying that “the best defence is a good offence” and L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the religion, was a believer: “Don’t ever defend, always attack,” he once instructed his followers.

    It’s not surprising then, that such “counter-documentaries” are a staple of the Church. They’ve done one on John Sweeney, the Panorama presenter who memorably lost his cool while interviewing Scientology’s then chief spokesman; they’ve done one on CNN’s Anderson Cooper and they’re likely to do one on any public figure who comes even remotely close to criticising them in broad daylight.

    One imagines that somewhere in the belly of the Church’s “spiritual headquarters” in Florida, a rapid-response unit of counter-documentarians waits, ready to defend its honour. At the moment, it’s being kept on its toes: HBO recently released a hatchet-job Scientology documentary, Going Clear, and now Theroux, backed up by the producers of Man on Wire and Searching for Sugarman, is having a go at the subject as well.

    In the right hands, a film about Theroux would be fascinating. As a presenter, he’s uniquely skilled at getting people to bare their souls on camera and, despite the usually pally relationships he strikes up, you wonder whether they always thank him for it after seeing the TV version of themselves. He’s made so many films that most people are familiar with his style but, as he’s always the one asking the questions, you realise you don’t actually know that much about him.

    Judging by their past output, it’s unlikely the Church of Scientology will produce a nuanced or fair-minded investigation into Theroux’s methods. The 2007 counter-documentary about John Sweeney was an odd mixture of personal mudslinging and a more schoolmasterly tone that reprimanded the reporter for breaking the BBC’s code of conduct. Their piece on Anderson Cooper opened with a shameless dog-whistle: “Anderson Cooper pulled from his closet and dusted off a year-old media story.”

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  65. With such high-profile subjects, will the genre of the counter-documentary start to gather steam? With the possible exception of The Great Global Warming Swindle in 2007, which aimed to rebut An Inconvenient Truth, there have been very few comeback movies that have made as big a splash as the originals.

    Given the enormous financial and reputational damage documentaries can do, this is surprising. In recent years, major businesses have been scalped by exposé-style docs: in the wake of Blackfish, which revealed the danger of keeping killer whales in captivity, SeaWorld’s shares tanked and its CEO resigned; the unforgettable grotesquery of Super Size Me forced McDonald’s to alter its image as well as its menu. So there’s every motive for organisations that have been put in the spotlight to give their side of the story.

    Just as celebrities endorse products in adverts, one can imagine trustworthy presenters being hired to make documentaries by, say, a church or NGO. To work, these would need to avoid out-and-out spin (Church of Scientology take note). A crude propaganda film, along the lines of Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will, won’t appeal to a modern audience, but a more balanced piece, done by a well-known face, could make a compromised organisation look credible.

    Now that documentaries are able to bypass traditional broadcasting media, there is nothing stopping more counter-films from being made. They could reach large audiences without having to adhere to editorial guidelines. In which case, the genre may turn into a wild west of clashing points of view, with each investigatory film sparking a counter-film from the accused.

    JG Ballard made the point in his novel High Rise that a documentary can be used as a weapon. Playing with the idea of a knight storming a castle, he has a character, Richard Wilder, climb up a postwar point-block building to confront the villain at the top, but instead of wielding a sword, he carries a camera to shoot a documentary as he goes.

    In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a documentary about the Chinese artist-activist, you see him confronting local authorities in the aftermath of an earthquake in Sichuan; he is trying to gather the names of each young victim, which have been withheld by the state. As he squares up to the police, they film him while his supporters film them. It gets a bit meta: multiple stories are being recorded which will then do battle to present an official version of events.

    Although counter-documentaries are likely to sometimes come from unpalatable places, they may still be valuable, if only because they reveal what has been left out of a discussion. Documentaries can take years to shoot, but in the editing room they must eventually be whittled down to just an hour or two. Theroux was candid about this process in 2008, when he said: “In all journalism, you are taking an encounter and packaging it as something else.” The making of any film involves leaving out bits that don’t quite fit into the neatly parcelled story. For an audience, it’s useful to know what has been cut out and what has been chosen to be gift-wrapped. If and when counter-documentaries do take off, we should embrace them for the depth of coverage they’ll add to any given story.


  66. Is religion doing enough to root out abuse?

    by Caroline Wyatt, Religious affairs correspondent BBC News July 23, 2015

    From when Karen Morgan was 12, until she was well into her teens, she was sexually abused by her uncle - a ministerial servant with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    He would go upstairs, on the premise that he was saying a prayer with his niece, then sexually abuse her.

    Now in her 30s, Karen wasn't understood when she first told her parents what her uncle, Mark Sewell, was doing.

    Sewell was also the son of a trusted older member of the local Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, known as an elder.

    Christian churches, as well as other religions, have faced claims of child abuse.

    But what is striking about the Jehovah's Witnesses is their explicit policy of dealing with abuse in-house.

    Because of their practice of following the Bible literally, they insist there must be two witnesses to a crime, often not the case in child abuse cases.

    However, in Karen's case a second witness did come forward: Wendy, a family friend and fellow member of the Barry congregation in south Wales. She had been raped by the same man.

    When she reported the crime to elders, Wendy was made to describe it in minute detail to a group of older men.

    Later, she had to give her account again in the same room as Sewell.

    Afterwards, the elders told her that as it was only her account against that of Sewell, nothing more could be done.

    This bringing together of the accused and the accuser in a "judicial committee" is a common feature of Jehovah's Witnesses' justice.

    Karen, still a teenager at the time, was put through the process.

    Reluctance to co-operate

    The elders also ruled that their separate accusations didn't constitute the required two witnesses.

    Despite a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour, it took more than two decades to bring Wendy and Karen's abuser to justice.

    He is now serving a 14-year prison sentence.

    His punishment from the Jehovah's Witnesses? There wasn't one.

    Even when the case came to court, the organisation was reluctant to co-operate.

    Karen's father, John Viney, who was also an elder in the Barry congregation, says that elders who knew of Sewell's conduct and were asked to give statements or evidence in court did not want to get involved.

    In a programme for Radio 4's The Report, we have identified this lack of co-operation in several other similar cases.

    Confidential documents from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain - the official name for the Jehovah's Witnesses - that we have seen are explicit about the best way to deal with such matters being within the congregation.

    Nowhere in the hundreds of pages we have seen are elders told that they must go to the police, even if the perpetrator confesses, unless state or national law makes it mandatory to report such allegations.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses' UK leadership declined to talk to us for the programme.

    In a statement, they said they were appealing against a recent High Court ruling in the UK that awarded substantial damages against the organisation for failing to protect a child from sexual abuse by a paedophile.

    Their statement also insists that the organisation does take child abuse extremely seriously.

    Karen Morgan and Wendy are now pursuing a civil claim against the organisation, hoping that further financial penalty may force the leadership of the Jehovah's
    Witnesses to change its policies.

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  67. For both of them what made it even harder was the sense that belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses was part of an all-encompassing lifestyle, with members encouraged to socialise and marry within the group.

    The organisation has some eight million members around the world, but as Karen found to her cost, those who decide to have a boyfriend or girlfriend who is not a member may find themselves "disfellowshipped" or shunned.

    Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only religious organisation to try to deal with allegations of sexual abuse in-house.

    Growing awareness

    For many decades, that was the preferred method of the Roman Catholic Church, which has since reformed its child safeguarding policies following numerous court cases in the US and Europe against priests for the sexual abuse of children.

    Other churches have also tightened up their child safeguarding policies, with the Methodist Church conducting its own recent inquiry into abuse allegations dating back to 1950.

    That inquiry has led to calls for the Church of England to hold a fresh internal inquiry of its own, separately from the overarching national public inquiry that has just begun, and from the investigation it published in 2010, which critics termed inadequate.

    However, it is the more closed religious communities and new religious movements where it remains hardest for the victims of such abuse to speak out and gain access to secular justice, although awareness of the issue is growing.

    Only this month, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish scholar from Manchester - who fled to Israel after he was exposed as a paedophile - was jailed for 13 years.

    Todros Grynhaus was deported by the Israeli authorities to face justice in the UK, with his conviction for sex offences against girls leading to a change in attitudes in the Haredi Jewish community.

    The case prompted the UK's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, to urge members to report child sex abuse.

    The court had heard that both women who testified against Grynhaus in the case had been "ostracised" by their community as a result of speaking out about their ordeal.

    For young Muslim girls, the price of speaking out about child sexual abuse can also be high, with many reluctant to report such abuse because of the fear that it would bring shame on them and their family.

    Sexual and physical abuse at Islamic religious schools, known as madrassas, has also resulted in some prosecutions in recent years, although often victims still hesitate to come forward with such allegations.

    Many religious organisations will find themselves being closely scrutinised in the national independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, chaired by New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard.

    The survivors of such abuse hope that the inquiry will prove itself truly independent, and help ensure that abusers will not be able to rely on their own congregations or religious leaders to protect them - whatever their faith.

    Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse:

    The Inquiry will investigate a wide range of institutions including:

    Local authorities
    The police
    The Crown Prosecution Service
    The Immigration Service
    The BBC
    The armed forces
    Children's homes
    Churches, mosques and other religious organisations
    Charities and voluntary organizations

    Caroline Wyatt's investigation will be broadcast in Radio 4's The Report at 20:00 BST on Thursday, 23 July.


  68. When Religious Violence Cant Escape Exemption

    A recent case of violence in a small, closed church highlights the role of religious exemptions in the American legal system.

    by FRANCIE DIEP, Pacific Standard October 23, 2015

    Last week, police announced they're in the process of investigating the Word of Life Christian Church, a small, independent congregation in upstate New York, after several parishioners are alleged to have brutally beaten two younger members, one of whom—19-year-old Lucas Leonard—died of his injuries. The other victim, Lucas' 17-year-old brother Christopher, required hospitalization. Now facing manslaughter charges: the brothers' parents, who allegedly took part in the beatings.

    The case brings fresh attention to the operations of small, radical churches in the United States, which are often protected by special religious exemption laws. In the September/October issue of Pacific Standard, journalist Julia Scheeres reported on another independent church, the Twelve Tribes, which believes that frequent and hard corporal punishment is good for children's development. Former Twelve Tribes members who had grown up in the group talked to Scheeres about being beaten many times a day, for small infractions such as not raising their hands at the dinner table. In her piece, Scheeres argues that U.S. lawmakers' deference to religious groups' lobbying—to keep corporal punishment legal, and to allow them to pull their children out of school early—left children in the Twelve Tribes vulnerable to abuse for years. In 1984, authorities in Vermont raided a Twelve Tribes community, where they rounded up the children, to later ask a judge for permission to check for signs of excessive corporal punishment. But the judge rejected the prosecutors' request: "The Twelve Tribes hailed the decision as a victory for religious freedom," Scheeres writes. "God had delivered His people."

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  69. From what we know, the Word of Life case seems more clear-cut than the 1984 Twelve Tribes raid. Unlike some states, New York doesn't have state-level religious-exemption laws, which takes away one possible defense for the church members. In addition, because the case was much more violent, the defendants may have a hard time finding legal protection, despite religious exemption laws. "Their religious liberty is not violated in any way if they're subjected to criminal law after killing children," says Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Yeshiva University School of Law.

    For Leslie Griffin, a religion and law expert at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, the seeming strength of the prosectors' side only highlights how clear-cut the case against religious groups must be to stand a chance in court. "It's a reminder," Griffin says, "of all those laws out there that are protecting parents [who harm] their children." Griffin pointed us to a list of states' religious exemption laws—maintained by the advocacy group Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty—offering protection to parents against charges if their children suffer injury or death as a result of the parents' religious restrictions on medicine or health care.

    Since many of these laws specify that parents can't be prosecuted for withholding health care, they probably don't apply to the Word of Life case. Overall, however, the health-care laws are a part of a controversial aspect of the American legal system: how Americans allow religious folks to exempt themselves from certain laws, in the name of religious freedom. There's the clause in the Affordable Care Act allowing religious employers to decline contraceptive coverage, for example, and state laws that critics argue could by utilized by businesses to decline service to same-sex couples.

    For Scheeres, among those exemption laws that most urgently need to be repealed are ones involving children, like Christopher Leonard. "Children are defenseless against abuse. They don't vote. They don't organize," Scheeres writes. "They rely on adults for protection—and sometimes it's those same adults who violate their rights."


  70. Children also have the right to freedom of religion or belief, and that must be protected


    NEW YORK / GENEVA (23 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, on Thursday called on all Governments represented at the UN General Assembly “to respect religious practices by children and their families and support families in fulfilling their role in providing an enabling environment for the realisation of the rights of the child.”

    “Every individual child is a rights holder in his or her own capacity as recognised in Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Mr. Bielefeldt recalled during the presentation of his special report* on the rights of the child and his or her parents in the area of freedom of religion or belief.

    “Violations of freedom of religion or belief often affect the rights of children and their parents,” he said. “Children, typically girls, from religious minorities for example, are abducted and forcibly converted to another religion through forced early marriage.”

    The rights expert also urged religious communities across the world to ensure respect for the freedom of religion or belief of children within their teaching and community practices, bearing in mind the status of the child as a rights holder.

    “Religious community leaders should support the elimination of harmful practices inflicted on children, including by publicly challenging problematic religious justifications for such practices whenever they occur,” he said.

    With regard to possible conflicts, the Special Rapporteur stressed the need for due diligence by the State when dealing with conflicting human rights concerns, ensuring non-discriminatory family laws and the settlement of family-related conflicts, and combating harmful practices.

    “While in many situations of violations the rights of the child and the rights of his or her parents may be affected in conjunction, it is not always the case,” Mr. Bielefeldt noted. “The interests of parents and children are not necessarily identical, including in the area of freedom of religion or belief”.

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  71. The expert highlighted that parents or legal guardians have the right and duty to direct the child in the exercise of his or her freedom of religion or belief. “Such direction should be given in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child in order to facilitate a more and more active role of the child in exercising his or her freedom of religion or belief, thus paying respect to the child as a rights holder from early on,” he said.

    “Parents are also not obliged to provide a religiously ‘neutral’ upbringing in the name of the child’s right to an ‘open future,’” he added. “The rights of parents to freedom of religion or belief include their rights to educate their children according to their own conviction and to introduce their children to religious initiation rites.”

    In his report, the Special Rapporteur discusses issues related to religious socialization; religious instruction within the family; participation in religious community life; religious education in schools; the voluntary display of religious symbols in schools; respect for the evolving capacities of the maturing child; and non-discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

    (*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly (A/70/286): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=86

    Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) assumed his mandate in August 2010. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief.

    He was the first human rights expert that conducted an official country visit to Cyprus in the March/April 2012. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

    The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

    Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx


    - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16647&LangID=E#sthash.LEXpXwA5.dpuf


    The following is a Press Release for a new book, "The God Haters". This Press Release mentions me by name and refers to this archive of news articles. I was proud to be criticized on the same page as the so-called four horsemen of so-called new atheism, though there is nothing new about today's atheism. see: ‘Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World,’ by Tim Whitmarsh


    So, yesterday I tweeted the link to the Press Release. Today that link to the Press Release is dead, which is curious. Fortunately, I had saved the text of it and have posted it below. It is typical Christian apologetics, its illogical premise stated right in the title. After all, people cannot hate what does not exist. If the book is anything like the Press Release, then it is not so much a reasoned argument but an ad hominem diatribe.

    As far as his claim that I and other atheists who warn of the harms and dangers of religion are actually the dangerous people, he is simply 'shooting the messengers'. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. If the only thing Don Boys took away from visiting this archive of thousands of news articles detailing religion-related abuse of children is that I am a dangerous person, then he is willfully ignorant to reality and poses more dogmatic danger to children than any atheist could ever do.

    New Atheists Are Very Dangerous People!

    October 26, 2015 http://www.expertclick.com/NRWire/Releasedetails.aspx?id=74295

    Don Boys, Ph.D.

    New Atheists hate God and religion and are going to shocking extremes to change American and Canadian family life and our total culture as they promote their "God doesn't exist" heresy. Since they teach that the Bible is full of dangerous information, they consider it child abuse to expose children to biblical teaching. New Atheists are dangerous people not simply angry old men with stinking breath, sweaty hands, and showers of dandruff.

    Perry Bulwer is an atheist lawyer who declared, "The educational rights of children are also undermined when they are intellectually abused with biblical literalism, anti-science creationism or denied the right to attend university." He charges that "many fundamentalist and orthodox beliefs are highly detrimental to children's minds." (Religion and Child Abuse News website.) Note that he was not referring to physical abuse, but intellectual abuse because children are taught Bible truth and Creationism! But it gets worse, much worse.

    The American Atheists' website clearly proves my contention when the founder, Al Stefanelli, Georgia State Director, wrote of fundamentalist Christians, "They don't respond to lawsuits, letters, amicus briefs or other grass-roots campaigns and theymust, must, must be eradicated." Eradicated means "to wipe out, destroy, tear out by the roots." He continues to libel us when he lumps us with fanatics who fly planes into buildings and "people being burned for witchcraft." Al is so uninformed that he doesn't know that no "witch" was ever burned in America! (Check out my book, Pilgrims, Puritans, and Patriots: Our Christian Heritage!)

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  73. Nevertheless those of us who follow Christ (who commanded us to love our enemies) "must, must, must, be eradicated." That is one atheist who is not only a jerk, but a dangerous jerk.

    Another God hater wrote, "In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon." (Nicholas Humphrey, "What Shall We Tell the Children?" Amnesty Lecture, Oxford, 21st February 1997.) Where is all the outrage from liberals because of this major attack upon freedom of religion and freedom of speech?

    Daniel Dennett, one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism" wrote, "The message is clear: those who will not accommodate, who will not temper, who insist on keeping only the purest and wildest strain of their heritage alive, we will be obliged, reluctantly, to cage or disarm, and we will do our best to disable the memes they fight for." (Daniel Dennett,Darwin's Dangerous Idea, p. 515.) "Meme," as a term, didn't exist until Dawkins pulled it out of his confused brain and used it in a 1976 book to express the passing of cultural or religious teaching to others.

    Richard Dawkins is the leader of the New Atheists and wrote, "We should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them." (Dawkins' Religion's Real Child Abuse, website.)

    In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins claims that teaching children about religion (specifically, the doctrine of Hell) is a form of child abuse that scars children for life. Accordingly, Dawkins states, "Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds." Clearly he is saying that Bible truth is dangerous, detrimental, and destructive to children, more so than depravity! It is my opinion that the rabid blather of New Atheists is destructive to everyone and is as deadly as a noxious fog.

    Sam Harris, another of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism" is not only a rabid hater of Christians and our God but he foams at the mouth more than most. That was proved when he declared, "The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live." (The End of Faith, P. 52.) Note that Sam, like the others above, suggests that even believing Christian truths qualifies us to be killed! So it's not only our actions but thoughts that must be punished!

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  74. Sam even outraged some liberals and "old atheists" when he suggested a preemptive nuclear strike against Muslims! He posits the scenario of a Muslim state with nuclear weapons that is not deterred by the surety of U.S. retaliation, killing millions of Muslims. Wiping the foam from his lips he said, "In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe." (The End of Faith, p. 128.) And I am called an "extremist"!

    I have very strong opinions regarding Islam as expressed in my book, Islam: America's Trojan Horse! but to kill millions of innocent civilians (not just bomb nuclear production facilities) is incredible, insensitive, and insane. I should think that the most liberal media moguls would disavow such irrational, irresponsible, and illogical attacks upon innocent people. While Sam has received a cavalcade of criticism even from his allies, I should think he would be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. (I'm not sure they still do that but in Sam's case it could be restored.)

    Folk, the barbarians are not at the gates, they are within the gates and have launched a crusade to destroy our faith and remove our children from Christian influence. Not from this family! New Atheists can get all the state or Federal laws passed they want but they will never take my visiting grandchildren no matter how many warrants they have. Not without a literal fight!

    America is in deep trouble especially when you realize there is still a fool on every corner, a clown in every public office, and every village has not one, but several idiots plus numerous tyrants, terrorists, thugs, and totalitarians lounging down at the American Angry Atheist Association. They are dangerous, duped, dopey, and deluded people who might be helped if brains could be transplanted. Absent that, if they had a New Birth experience with Christ, they might become tolerable–with time.

    No, I do not hate any of the New Atheists. I simply accept their declaration of war. Those who criticize my "strong" language are a bunch of pantywaists who don't understand the seriousness of this war or have already capitulated to the enemy or are part of the enemy.

    We used to laugh at atheists; now we are in a life and death struggle with them. Our children are in their sights so that puts atheists in my sights. Remember, this is a war of their making. After all, there are some things worth fighting for and the First Amendment and my grandchildren are two of those.

    New Atheists are designing, deceptive, and dishonest people who are determined to control what all children are taught. Is the Bible dangerous for children? Has the First Amendment been repealed? Where is all the outrage at such a dangerous, disastrous, and deadly threat?

    Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, author of 15 books, frequent guest on television and radio talk shows, and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. His shocking books, ISLAM: America's Trojan Horse!; Christian Resistance: An Idea Whose Time Has Come–Again!; and The God Haters are all available at Amazon.com. The printed edition of The God Haters was published October 14 by Barbwire Books.


    In the study reported in the following article, psychological abuse or maltreatment of children is defined as care-giver inflicted bullying, terrorizing, coercive control, severe insults, debasement, threats, overwhelming demands, shunning and/or isolation.

    See the main article above and the section "Psychological and spiritual abuse" for a few examples of the hundreds of news articles in this archive that chronicle the psychological/spiritual abuse of children in religious settings, perpetrated most often not by strangers but by their caregivers and others who owe them a duty of care, such as parents, teachers, religious elders, leaders, pastors, priests, etc.

    Science Daily Press Release


    Childhood psychological abuse as harmful as sexual or physical abuse

    American Psychological Association (APA) October 8, 2014

    Children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems as children who are physically or sexually abused, yet psychological abuse is rarely addressed in prevention programs or in treating victims, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

    "Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health and social service training," said study lead author Joseph Spinazzola, PhD, of The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, Brookline, Massachusetts. The article appears in a special online issue of the APA journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

    Researchers used the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Core Data Set to analyze data from 5,616 youths with lifetime histories of one or more of three types of abuse: psychological maltreatment (emotional abuse or emotional neglect), physical abuse and sexual abuse. The majority (62 percent) had a history of psychological maltreatment, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all the cases were exclusively psychological maltreatment, which the study defined as care-giver inflicted bullying, terrorizing, coercive control, severe insults, debasement, threats, overwhelming demands, shunning and/or isolation.

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  76. Children who had been psychologically abused suffered from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidality at the same rate and, in some cases, at a greater rate than children who were physically or sexually abused. Among the three types of abuse, psychological maltreatment was most strongly associated with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems and substance abuse. Psychological maltreatment that occurred alongside physical or sexual abuse was associated with significantly more severe and far-ranging negative outcomes than when children were sexually and physically abused and not psychologically abused, the study found. Moreover, sexual and physical abuse had to occur at the same time to have the same effect as psychological abuse alone on behavioral issues at school, attachment problems and self-injurious behaviors, the research found.

    "Child protective service case workers may have a harder time recognizing and substantiating emotional neglect and abuse because there are no physical wounds," said Spinazzola. "Also, psychological abuse isn't considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse. We need public awareness initiatives to help people understand just how harmful psychological maltreatment is for children and adolescents."

    Nearly 3 million U.S. children experience some form of maltreatment annually, predominantly by a parent, family member or other adult caregiver, according to the U.S. Children's Bureau. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 identified psychological maltreatment as "the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect."

    For the current study, the sample was 42 percent boys and was 38 percent white; 21 percent African-American; 30 percent Hispanic; 7 percent other; and 4 percent unknown. The data were collected between 2004 and 2010 with the average age of the children at the beginning of the collection between 10 and 12 years. Clinicians interviewed the children, who also answered questionnaires to determine behavioral health symptoms and the traumatic events they had experienced. In addition, caregivers responded to a questionnaire with 113 items pertaining to the child's behavior. Various sources, including clinicians' reports, provided each child's trauma history involving psychological maltreatment, physical abuse or sexual abuse.

  77. Losing my religion - life after extreme belief

    Fleeing the grip of a sect can be a matter of life or death. Megan Phelps-Roper, and two other former believers, reveal how they lost

    by Shahesta Shaitly The Guardian April 10, 2016

    Megan Phelps-Roper, 30, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church:

    My first memories are of picketing ex-servicemen’s funerals and telling their families they were going to burn in hell. For us, it was a celebration. My gramps was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, so it wasn’t just our religion – it was our whole life. I don’t remember much before the picketing. I was allowed to mix with other kids early on, but over time my world shrank.

    We believed it was a Good vs Evil situation: that the WBC was right and everybody else was wrong, so there was no questioning. It was a very public war we were waging against the “sinners”. I asked a lot of questions as I got older, but there’s a big difference in asking for clarification and actually questioning the beliefs you’re taught. I spent so much time reading the Bible, trying to see the world through this very particular framework, that to have truly considered [it was wrong] was inconceivable.

    I’d seen members leave in the past, including my brother, and the thought of ever leaving the church was my worst nightmare.

    The WBC loves and thrives on publicity, so I joined Twitter in 2009 to run the church’s account. I was very zealous and adamant that my beliefs were the truth, but I began to realise that the 140-word limit meant I had to drop the throwaway insults or conversations would die. Over time, I found I was actually beginning to like people: to see them as human beings rather than people to condemn. For the first time, I started to care about what people outside the WBC thought of me. As my feelings towards my faith wavered I’d boomerang between thinking “none of this makes sense” to “God is testing me and I am failing”, but it was only in the four months before I left in 2012 that I actually started to make a plan. I cornered my sister in our room one evening and told her I was going to leave and asked her to come with me. She initially said no and told me I was being silly, but over time we’d have stolen conversations about it and she came round to the idea.

    My mom was so broken by the news – I’d never seen her face like that before

    Leaving was unbearably sad. Having dinner with my grandparents or bouncing on a trampoline with my brother for the last time; asking my parents about their history in detail because I knew I’d never be able to ask them about it again: I was consciously saying goodbye to my family while they had no idea. I was trying to keep as much of it as I could. On the day, my younger sister and I sat down with my parents after they’d heard that we had planned to leave. They were really upset and my mom was so broken by the news – I’d never seen her face like that before. We told them we didn’t believe anymore, then went to pack. The adrenaline pumping through me made my hands shake as I stuffed my things into bags. Word spread among the family and several of my aunts and uncles turned up to talk us out of it. It started with: “You know better than this” and spiralled into shouting as we left. I went back the next day to pick up the rest of my stuff and knocked on the front door of the house I grew up in for the first time. The cold was immediate. I knew straight-away that I was not a part of the church any more. I was out. I miss my family every single day.

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  78. I still momentarily flinch when I come across someone or something the WBC would disapprove of. Two men kissing on the street, a drag queen – anything that takes me back to what I believed for so long. I still encounter those old feelings and then I have to process it: “That’s what the old me would have felt” – it’s an ongoing process of deep deprogramming.

    I see the world in split screen now. I remember feeling like we at WBC were a persecuted minority, triumphant in the face of evil people “worshipping the dead” as we picketed funerals or rejoiced at the destruction of the Twin Towers. But beside that memory is the one where I weep thinking about how callous and unmerciful I was to so many people who’d just lost a son or a daughter. I’m ashamed of that now, and it’s still really difficult to think about the harm I caused. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

    Deborah Feldman, 29, ex-Satmar Hasidic Jew

    The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism I was born into was founded by Holocaust survivors who wanted to reinvent the Eastern European shtetl in America. Before I learned anything else, I learned the Holocaust had happened because Jews were bad and that the way we lived was different from the rest of the world because if we didn’t, the Holocaust would happen to us again.

    Growing up in such a strict community meant we had no contact with the outside world. It still amazes me to think that was and is possible in the Bronx. The only time I’d get a glimpse was if I were ill. Tonsillitis meant a car journey to the doctor, where I’d watch, from the window, people living their lives freely.

    I hit my teens and figured out what I needed to do to survive in the community. I’d drawn the wrong sort of attention to myself as a young girl. I’d been rebellious. Asking “why?” was forbidden and I’d be yelled at, ostracised; kids stopped talking to me at school. Women and girls belonged in the kitchen, my grandfather often reminded me. Soon I figured out how to live a double life: I had the version of me that fitted in with the community, and then I had my interior life that no one knew about. As soon as I pretended I was going along with it all, things got easier for me. I got married to someone from the sect when I was 17 and had my son. The most difficult thing was the constant lying. By denying who I really was, I was slowly killing myself.

    I lived a double life: I had the version of me that fitted in with the community, and then I had my interior life

    Leaving wasn’t about courage or strength for me. It was all much more practical than I thought it would be. Some of it was perhaps biological: as soon as my son was born I had this driving instinct to get him out. It took three years of planning and at the very end, when I had everything lined up – money in the bank, a small network of friends on the outside, a divorce lawyer working on the custody of my son – I still couldn’t quite cross the boundary. I was too scared.

    What happened next was fate. I was in a car accident I shouldn’t have survived and I walked away without a scratch. As I got out of the car, the Jewish girl in me thought: “God is punishing me and telling me I shouldn’t go”, but as I walked away from the wreck, I thought: “Hang on, if I can survive this, I can survive leaving.”

    I have no contact with my family now. The backlash was immense. My family wrote me threatening letters, and later on when I wrote a book about my experiences, the community said I was a hysteric, a liar. I don’t know that I’ll ever be fully deprogrammed. I didn’t just leave a religion, I left a sect that was based on inherited trauma and incorporated antisemitism. Many of the [antisemitic] ideas my grandparents heard in Europe got integrated into their beliefs about themselves and then passed on to their children.

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  79. I grew up believing we were genetically inferior. They didn’t see that as a bad thing – they’d sit me down and explain: “We’re special to God. Our souls are special, but our genes are inferior, just like they said about us.” How do you even begin to unstitch that?

    Imad Iddine Habib, 26, ex-Salafi Muslim

    I was born on a Friday at prayer time, which was seen as an auspicious sign in my community. Growing up in Morocco I was constantly told I was to become a religious scholar. My name is translated as “pillar of religion”. I was enrolled into a Salafi Koranic school at four, but I had trouble reading and reciting verses of the Koran, as I was so dyslexic. This was seen as a big disappointment in my family, so I learned most of the Koran by heart to save myself any grief. By the time I left the Koranic school at 13, I knew I didn’t believe.

    Our lives were based around a single version of a much bigger religion. Disagreements were frowned upon. We weren’t to voice questions. I couldn’t understand why no one debated or discussed the opinion of the scholars and imams – we were expected to blindly follow. Many of the students from my school went to Afghanistan and Syria – that had been their life’s purpose, and though I was interested in Islam as a religion from an academic viewpoint, I knew I wasn’t a Muslim.

    I was scared, but I also felt it was my duty

    My faith finally ruptured at 14. I told my parents I didn’t believe, and I also came out as pansexual. I felt, and still feel, that I was looking at the bigger picture, but they weren’t open to it. I couldn’t be a part of a faith that kept changing the rules depending on the situation. My family’s reaction was typical: a lot of violence and threats initially, and when that didn’t work, my mum got “sick” for 40 days, saying I was being banished from heaven and making her suffer. I was resolute, so they kicked me out. I became homeless and I’ve not seen or heard from them since. In a way I feel I may have shut the emotion of losing my family away somewhere. I try not to feel. There are vivid moments where I miss my mother: her face, her cooking, knowing what she is thinking about, but I can’t afford to get emotional about it.

    I moved from place to place and stayed with friends. I got an education: I have a baccalaureate in Islamic sciences and I then founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco. The resistance is small, but we have a voice. I have had to live in hiding and have received countless death threats. In Morocco, Islam is the state religion, and the state considers you a Muslim by default. You can be jailed for eating in public during Ramadan, so you can imagine what my future there looked like. There is a wide belief that all apostates should be killed.

    I attended a public conference in 2013 and spoke out about my beliefs. I was scared, but I also felt it was my duty. I called Islam a virus, which I knew would be inflammatory. Secret services began investigating me and I heard that they contacted my family and questioned my father. I was asked to attend court. My father would later testify against me on the count of an apostasy charge. When it all got too heavy, I knew I had to come to England as a refugee and start over. Not long after I arrived here, I was sentenced to seven years in prison in absentia. I gave up everything and everyone I know, but I’m free.


  80. Millions of children in religious groups in England and Wales vulnerable to abuse

    IICSA report finds victim blaming, abuse of power and mistrust of authority to be commonplace

    The inquiry found evidence of ‘egregious failings’.

    by Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian September 2, 2021

    Children involved in religious organisations, including Sunday schools and madrasas, are vulnerable to sexual abuse in cultures where victim blaming, abuse of power and mistrust of external authorities are common, a report says.

    The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said there was “no doubt that the sexual abuse of children takes place in a broad range of religious settings”. It found evidence of “egregious failings” and highlighted the hypocrisy of religions that purport to teach right from wrong, yet fail to protect children.

    IICSA’s investigation examined child protection in 38 religious organisations and settings in England and Wales, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and nonconformist Christian denominations.

    The organisations had “significant or even dominant influence on the lives of millions of children”, the inquiry’s report said. “What marks religious organisations out from other institutions is the explicit purpose they have in teaching right from wrong; the moral turpitude of any failing by them in the prevention of, or response to, child sexual abuse is therefore heightened.”

    It added: “Freedom of religion and belief can never justify or excuse the ill‐treatment of a child, or a failure to take adequate steps to protect them from harm.”

    The report, published on Thursday, followed earlier investigations into the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches that detailed widespread abuse and cover-ups.

    Among the cases cited in the report were those of three children abused by Todros Grynhaus, a prominent member of the Haredi Jewish community in Manchester, who was sent by his rabbi for counselling after allegations were made. Grynhaus was eventually convicted and jailed.

    Another case concerned a girl who was abused and raped at a madrasa in a “house mosque” between the ages of eight and 11. After disclosing the abuse, she was called a “slag” by others in the community.

    A girl abused by a volunteer at a Methodist church, who later pleaded guilty to sexual assault, was not provided with any support by her local Methodist minister following her disclosure. The perpetrator was described as a “valued member” of the church.

    A girl who was abused between the ages of four and nine by a “ministerial servant” with the Jehovah’s Witnesses after Bible study sessions later brought a civil claim against the religious organisation. It was defended by the Jehovah’s Witnesses despite a separate conviction agains the perpetrator.

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  81. The IICSA report based on 16 days of public hearings held last year, said there was likely to be a significant under-reporting of child sexual abuse in religious organisations and settings.

    Organisational and cultural barriers to reporting child sexual abuse within religious organisations and settings were common, said the report. They include blaming victims rather than perpetrators, reluctance to discuss issues around sex and sexuality, excessive deference and respect shown to religious leaders, and a mistrust of government and external bodies.

    The report recommends that all religious organisations have a child protection policy. It also calls for legislative changes to allow for the official scrutiny of child protection policies in unregistered educational institutions.

    Alexis Jay, the chair of the inquiry, said: “Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable. However, when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.

    “Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organisations prioritising their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome.”

    Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon, who acted for seven victim and survivor groups in the inquiry, said: “Today’s report confirms that some religious groups have catastrophically failed to protect children in their care…

    “It is clear from the report that too many religious organisations continue to prioritise the protection, reputation and authority of religious leaders above the rights of children. In the light of today’s report, the arguments for mandatory reporting and independent oversight of religious bodies are overwhelming.”

    Responding to the report, the Methodist church said it was “truly sorry” where it was failing children. “We will continue to review and improve our support to victims and survivors and we apologise where this has not happened as it should have done,” said the Rev Jonathan Hustler.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses said the organisation was “committed to protecting children and providing spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from the terrible sin and crime of child sexual abuse”.

    The Muslim Council of Britain said: “The protection of children is rooted in our religious traditions and should be at the centre of all Muslim institutions … Crucially, children must feel confident in reporting any concerns they have.”