Church officials and apologists have come out of the woodwork insisting the image of "pedophile priests" is a "myth." Leading academic proponent of this notion is Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian, professor and author of Pedophiles and Priests (Oxford University Press, 1996), who writes: "having sex with a 16 or 17 year old boy or girl may be phenomenally stupid and wrong in many ways--immoral, sinful, an abuse of authority--but it's very different from pedophilia, which is the exploitation of prepubescent children. In most of these cases with older teenagers, there's some degree of consent, and in most jurisdictions, they're legal."
Catholic writer Garry Wills lambasts Jenkins' book as a "handy guide to evasion," dignifying Catholic rationalization of a corrupt hierarchy. The church, and Jenkins, promote the term "ephebophile," someone with an interest in "post-pubescent boys or girls."
This distinction was lost on All-Star Pro-Baseball player Tom Paciorek, now 55 and silver-haired, who made a tearful public statement in March about being molested in his teens for 4 years by Rev. Gerald Shirilla. Shirilla was removed by the Archdiocese of Detroit only in March.
Paciorek and his three brothers, unbeknownst to each other, were all molested one by one during the 1960s by Shirilla, who taught at St. Ladislaus Catholic school.
"When you're a kid and you're not able to articulate, who's going to believe you? The church back then was so powerful, there's nothing that a kid could do," recalled Tom's brother, John.
Tom's lowest point, at age 16, was when the priest asked his parents if the boy could spend the weekend at his home. "When I heard my parents say yes, I thought, 'Oh, my god, what is going to happen to me?' " He told the Free-Press that at one point during those 72 hours, he wanted to die: "It was relentless. I mean, I felt like I was a prisoner at his house. . . . I remember saying . . . 'God, is this ever doing to end?' "
Brother Mike "first became a victim of his when I was 8, 9 or 10 years old." Shirilla would lock the door, remove Mike's clothes and say "Your brothers used to love this."
Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, infamously declared in the Catholic Herald, May 1988: "We must not imply that the abuser is not guilty of serious crime, but we could easily give a false impression that any adolescent who becomes sexually involved with an older person does so without any degree of personal responsibility. Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so 'innocent'; some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise."
In an interview with WTMJ-TV in late March, Weakland said that sexual activity with a prepubescent child is very serious and the perpetrator "incurable." But once again he distinguished between children and older minors.
Rebutted Peter Isley, a Milwaukee man abused as a child by a priest:
"Each act of sexual abuse--whether forced upon a child or a minor--creates devastating and lifelong consequences. The laws of our society reflect the belief that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime. The archdiocese needs to fully support this position and remove all men from the priesthood who have committed criminal acts against youngsters, whether that youngster is prepubescent or post-pubescent." Sources: New York Times, March 22, 2002; Detroit Free Press, March 22, 2002, Boston Globe, March 24, 2002; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 24, 2002
Seventy cases a week of child-abuse allegations against American churches come to the attention of the Christian Ministry Resources, a tax and legal-advice publisher serving about 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies.
CMR's annual surveys of about 1,000 churches nationwide have sought information on sexual abuse since 1993. Surveys for the last decade have averaged 70 cases a week.
"The Catholics have gotten all the attention from the media, but this problem is even greater with the Protestant churches simply because of their far larger numbers," said James Cobble, executive director of CMR.
"I think the CMR numbers are striking, yet quite reasonable," commented Anson Shupe, an Indiana University professor and author of books on church abuse. "To me it says Protestants are less reluctant to come forward because they don't put their clergy on as high a pedestal as Catholics do with their priests."
Shupes believes the 70-cases-a-week number is likely low. In a door-to-door survey in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area in 1998, he found that 4% of 1,607 families reported sexual abuse by clergy.
The CMR statistics show most abuse is at Protestant churches, 42% of abusers are church volunteers, and 25% of perpetrators are minors accused of molesting other children at church. About 21% of allegations reported in the 2000 survey resulted in lawsuits or out-of-court settlements.
Church reforms have been largely at the behest of insurance companies, which began dropping coverage of churches without screening policies.
"What drove leaders to begin to respond to this issue was not the welfare of children. It was fear of large, costly lawsuits," said Cobble. Source: Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002
Why doesn't the Roman Catholic church reform? Because, according to A.W. Sipe, author and researcher into priestly sexuality, "It's systemic: it goes all the way to the top."
Roman Catholic bishops who have been forced to resign over allegations of cover-ups of sexual abuse scandals or for being accused themselves include:
21. U.S. - Bishop Thomas Dupre, 70, Springfield, Mass., resigned a day after newspapers published allegations that he sexually abused 2 altar boys in the 1970s. (Resigned Feb. 11, 2004)
20. U.S. - Archbishop Bernard Law, 71, Boston, Mass., finally resigned after the protracted scandal over his cover-up of criminal pedophile priests, after hundreds of victims came forward, the Massachusetts attorney general accused the archdiocese of an "elaborate scheme" to shield abusive priests, court subpoenas, etc. Retained his position as cardinal. (Resigned Dec. 13, 2002)
19. Argentina - Archbishop Edgardo Storni, Santa Fe. He resigned after mounting pressure from judicial probes after being accused of sexually abusing teenaged seminary students. (Resigned September 25, 2002)
18. U.S. - Auxiliary Bishop James McCarthy, Archdiocese of New York, stepped down after admitting to several affairs with adult women. (Resigned June 11, 2002)
17. U.S. - Bishop J. Kendrick Williams, 65, Lexington, Ky., resigned after being named in civil lawsuits by three plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse, including a former altar boy, then age 12. (Resigned June 11, 2002)
16. U.S. - Archbishop Rembert Weakland, 75, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis., requested an "expedited" acceptance of his retirement, after he was publicly exposed for paying $450,000 of archdiocese funds as hush money in 1998 to a man who accused him of a 1979 "date rate." (Resigned May 24, 2002)
15. Germany - Franziskus Eisenbach, Diocese of Mainz, 58. Although denying charges, he was accused by a woman of sexual abuse and injuring her during an exorcism. (Resigned mid-April 2002)
14. Ireland - Bishop Brendan Comiskey, Diocese of Ferns. He quit after a BBC documentary aired in March showing his role in covering up for pedophile priest Rev. Sean Fortune. (Resigned April 1, 2002)
13. Poland - Archbishop Juliusz Paetz. Accused of molesting seminarians, he averred, "Not everyone understood my genuine openness and spontaneity toward people." (Resigned March 28, 2002)
12. U.S. - Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, Palm Beach, Fla. He admitted to making a secret settlement with a minor whom he abused in Missouri. The victim had sought counseling from O'Connell after being molested by 2 other priests. (Resigned March 8, 2002)
11. U.K. - Archbishop John Aloysius Ward, Cardiff, Wales, for ordaining a man accused of assaulting a boy, among other accusations he denied. (Resigned October 2001)
10. U.S. - Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, Santa Rosa, Calif. He admitted to a sexual relationship with a priest who said Ziemann extorted sexual favors. (Resigned July 1999)
9. U.S. - Bishop Joseph Keith Symons, Palm Springs, Fla. He sexually abused 5 teenage boys while a parish priest. (Resigned 1998)
8. Austria - Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, Archbishop of Vienna. Fellow bishops substantiated molestation charges. (Resigned 1998)
7. Australia - Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, Bullarat. He retired amid accusations he failed to protect altar boys from a pederast priest, who pleaded guilty to 46 offenses against 20 boys and one girl. (Resigned June 1997)
6. U.S. - Archbishop Roberto Sanchez, Santa Fe, N.M. He admitted to "relationships" with 3 teenage girls; others alleged abuse. (Resigned 1993)
5. U.S. - Bishop Joseph Ferrario, Honolulu, Ha. Molestation charges, which he denied, were made against him. (Retired 1993)
4. Ireland - Bishop Eamonn Casey. He fathered a child and used church funds to pay off the mother. (Resigned 1992)
3. Canada - Bishop Hubert O'Connor. He was accused and later convicted of molesting teens at boarding schools. (Resigned 1992)
2. U.S. - Archbishop Eugene Marino, Atlanta, Ga. He was involved in scandal involving a young woman, who said the "relationship" began by rape. (Resigned 1990)
1. Canada - Archbishop Alphonsus Liguori Penney, Newfoundland. Knew about sexual and physical abuse of boys at Mt. Cashel orphanage for 10 years but did nothing (20 priests and layworkers were arrested and convicted). (Resigned 1990)
It's two down . . . and at least one more to go in Wisconsin.
The City of Milwaukee on March 27 removed a Ten Commandments monument that has been displayed outside its Municipal Building since the mid-1950s--the culmination of a long-standing complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
That action was followed by an April 3 vote of the city council in Monroe, Wis., to move its nearly identical Ten Commandments monument from Lincoln Public Park, also at the urging of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The city of Monroe will donate the bible edicts to the Green County Family YMCA in June.
Milwaukee returned the tombstone-like monolith to the Fraternal Order of Eagles which, in donating it in 1955, kicked off a campaign to place the religious monument on public property around the country.
"It's satisfying to see government officials who 'Honor Thy First Amendment,' instead of misusing government resources to promote the intolerant First Commandment," noted Foundation spokesperson Dan Barker, who was present during the removal. Barker congratulated city officials for having the courage to do the right thing, and avoid a costly losing lawsuit.
Several Milwaukee alderpersons were present and made speeches at the removal, including Jeff Pawlinski, who said: "I regrettably sponsored the resolution to return the Ten Commandments to the Eagles . . . because the City of Milwaukee faced a lawsuit by the notorious Freedom From Religion Foundation."
Pawlinski, who said the monument honored the "values and tenants [sic] that the Ten Commandments so properly represent," called it "unfortunate" that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court agree with the Foundation that it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse and promote one "holy book's" teachings.
A representative of the Eagles club was spotted crying as the 1-ton monument was loaded onto a truck transporting it to its new resting place, St. Joseph's Hospital, Milwaukee.
The Eagles gave Milwaukee the monolith in 1955 during an Eagles national conference there, the debut donation of the granite bible markers in a campaign waged by the Eagles and "Ten Commandments" director Cecil B. DeMille. "Ten Commandments" actor Yul Brynner spoke at the Milwaukee dedication.
On behalf of its several members in Monroe, Wis., the Freedom From Religion Foundation persuaded Monroe to also divest itself of the biblical marker, which was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles 30 years ago. The decalog, the only monument in the park, stands directly by the official city park sign.
"This will put the matter at rest because the monument will be on private property and not city property," said Monroe Mayor Bill Ross.
The U.S. Supreme Court in February let stand a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago barring placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the statehouse grounds in Indiana. Last May, the high court similarly let stand a decision by the same appeals court against a Ten Commandments marker in front of a public building in Indiana.
The 7th Circuit ruling is controlling in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, although it has created nationwide interest.
Still pending is the Foundation's longest-standing complaint over a Ten Commandments monument in Wisconsin--an Eagles monument standing in Cameron Public Park, La Crosse. Last summer, the Foundation advised La Crosse it would go back to court if the city did not divest itself of the religious marker. The La Crosse city council voted on April 17 to table a resolution by the mayor to divest the city of the monument. After three hours of debate, the council voted 14-4 to investigate all resources for a legal fight with the Foundation over the monument, placed in the 1960s.
Council member David Morrison, one of the four voting against the resolution, said: "I believe the federal courts, not the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are forcing us to take [the monument] up. This has been fought, and it is incumbent on us to do what the federal courts have said."
"This is God's country, and we should keep it that way," said pro-Commandments council member John Satory. A representative of the Liberty Counsel flew up from Florida, vowing: "We will fight all the way to the Supreme Court at no cost."
The Foundation was represented at the hearing by attorney Robert Dreps, who said: "This is not about religion or who is in the majority. No objective observer of the courts will tell you that you will win this fight if you pick it." Several La Crosse residents also urged the council to remove the decalog.
La Crosse Mayor John Medinger, who originally opposed the Foundation's request, wrote a column appearing in the La Crosse Tribune on Feb. 28 ("Commandment marker violates Constitution") urging the city council to move the bible monument to private property:
"As most people know, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group, has threatened to sue the city if we don't voluntarily remove this monument. They charge that it violates the Constitution of the United States. And surely, as they have other places, they will follow through on their threat. And, with the help of the highest courts in this country, they usually have been successful," wrote Mayor Medinger.
"In this great country we do indeed have freedom 'of' religion but we also have freedom 'from' religion. . . . The Ten Commandments can be publicly displayed anywhere in this city as long as it is on private property."
Medinger continued: "I have become convinced that the continued presence of this monument in a public park violates the Constitution of the United States and should be removed. . . . If you ask some local elected officials if they think the monument is unconstitutional they will whisper, 'Yes, but the people will crucify me if I vote to remove it.' Then we must ask them about their sworn oath of office. Does it mean nothing?
". . . Finally, at this time in our country's history, it is important that we fight extra hard to preserve what has now lasted more than 200 years. Our precious freedoms must not be lost or the terrorists will have won!" He sponsored the tabled resolution calling for the removal of the decalog.
La Crosse resident Jeff Fluekiger, who presented the council with 4,000 signatures in favor of keeping the monument on government property, urged La Crosse to unite with religious-right groups who have offered to help defend the entanglement.
"They have long agendas," Medinger told the Tribune. "They want to establish the U.S. as a Christian nation; they are against homosexuals, against abortion. I am not even saying I disagree with some of their stuff, but there is no free lunch. These are people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. I do not want them representing La Crosse. If this is a Christian nation, how can Wisconsin have two Jewish senators?" he asked.
Adding another wrinkle to the controversy was the parsimonious offer by the Onalaska Masonic Lodge No. 214 to pay $10 for a section of Cameron Park on which the monument stands.
"We consider it to be a good deed for the community," said Mason Ronald Espe. "It bothers us that an atheist organization would think they would have the power to force the majority of the people to get rid of something they want."
That offer resulted in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor printed by the Tribune in March suggesting the city "sell small parcels of the park to private individuals":
"There might be some small, easily resolved problems. No nude or partially nude statues would be permitted. Some Washington prudes might feel obligated to protect the morals of the citizenry. And the last thing we want is more government interference. Atheists would not be permitted to own a parcel. Because they have no religion, they've have nothing to display anyway."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation originally sued for removal of the La Crosse monument in federal court in the 1980s, and lost on a technicality, not the merits. In June 1988, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1987 ruling by a federal court that La Crosse resident Phyllis Grams, the plaintiff and a Foundation member, was not injured by the presence of the marker and therefore lacked legal standing. This should not affect the outcome of a new challenge.
9/11 terrorists died for "white raisins"? Christoph Luxemberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, contends that, due to a mistranslation, the paradisiacal rewards supposedly awaiting Islamic martyrs are actually "white raisins," not "virgins." Luxemberg, using a pseudonym, wrote The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran detailing Koranic misinterpretations. Source: New York Times, March 3, 2002
"God Bless America." A Jan. 24 Green Beret raid in Oruzgan, Afghanistan, decried by locals as an error, left 21 local soldiers dead (two with their hands tied behind their backs) and 27 others captured. Afterward a villager reported finding a piece of paper on the windshield of a destroyed truck, with an American flag and the words: "God Bless America. Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc." Source: Reporter Craig S. Smith, New York Times, Jan. 26, 2002
Christian Coalition eats Jim Crow. The Christian Coalition secretly settled a federal racial discrimination lawsuit in which 15 black employees alleged being forced to enter the D.C. headquarters by the back door, to eat in a segregated area, and being excluded from events, healthcare coverage and overtime pay. Source: Virginian-Pilot, Dec. 29, 2001
700 bodies and counting. A proposed Hindu temple to Ram at the site of a 16th-century mosque destroyed in 1992 by Hindus in Ayodhya, India, has set off violence so far claiming more than 700 people, mostly Muslims, and resulting in tens of thousands of arrests. Rioting over the mosque's destruction in 1992 killed 1,000-2,000 Indians. Source: New York Times, March 1, 2002; BBC News, March 15, 2002
McGospel: would you like to fry with that? For the past three years, the McDonald's in god-fearing Dayton, Tenn., has hosted a weekly Thursday night 2-hour gospel program attracting as many as 100 people, who imbibe the gospel along with high-fat fast food. Source: Chattanooga AP, Feb. 7, 2002
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, already keen interest in prayer has increased as part of the frenzied upsurge in religion in general. Topping The New York Times' bestseller list is a small book called The Prayer of Jabez, with "its message that lives can be profoundly changed by the power of prayer." Images bombard us on television regularly of masses of humanity kneeling in supplication, praying to some all-powerful deity. These images only increase the perception that prayer is a potent force in dealing with the world's problems that is endorsed by almost all of humanity.
Many religious people want to cling to the ancient belief in the supernatural, including prayer, and yet accept the conclusions and benefits of modern science. They can't have it both ways. To study the natural world, scientists must have an implicit assumption that it operates only by natural, predictable processes, which cannot be affected arbitrarily by an all-powerful deity.
One of the major ways that scientists provide proof of theories is through well-designed studies, of which the "gold standard" is the large, randomized, prospective, controlled, double-blind type. If such a study could be influenced by a personal god who responded to prayers to change the results, science would be in shambles. There would be no way ever to do a valid experiment since investigators couldn't be sure that someone, somewhere, hadn't uttered a specific or generic prayer that would affect the study. In short, science by its very nature, rejects any influence of prayer on the physical world.
Even though prayer is an irrational concept, could it nevertheless be tested scientifically? Francis Galton, the brilliant and eccentric cousin of Charles Darwin, thought so and gave the idea scientific legitimacy. Galton was the father of biometry and a central figure in the founding of modern statistical analysis. He argued that regardless of how the prayers "may be supposed to operate," the efficacy of prayer . . . is a perfectly appropriate and legitimate subject of scientific inquiry" because it can be tested statistically. He then proceeded to set up such studies.
In one statistical study, Galton examined the longevity of clergy. He reasoned that clergy should be the longest lived of all since they were the most "prayerful class" of all and among the most prayed for. When Galton compared the longevity of eminent clergy with eminent doctors and lawyers, the clergy were the shortest lived of the three groups. In this study of the clergy, he cited a previous study by Guy (Galton wasn't the first to think of analyzing prayer statistically but usually gets the credit) where Guy found prayer did not protect royalty, who were much prayed for, when compared to other members of the aristocracy. In analyzing the data on royalty, Galton concluded: "Sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence."
Galton looked for other statistical data. He examined the insurance rates for ships. He reasoned that ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims should have lower rates since frequent praying by the occupants should decrease the number of accidents. He found that the rates were the same; ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims sank just as often as other ships.
Following up on Galton's statistical studies on prayer, Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge-trained plant biologist, did one of his own, examining the effects of prayer in India. Most people there prefer having a son, and a tremendous amount of praying goes into the effort to produce one. Sheldrake examined statistics of live male births in India and used data from England as a control where the preference for sons was less strong. He found that in both England and India there were 106 males to 100 females, just as in every other country. He stated, "if this enormous amount of psychic effort and praying of holy men were working, you would expect on average the percentage of live male births to be higher."
Although these statistical studies from the nineteenth century strongly suggest that prayer is not effective, they do not meet the "gold standard" of a completely valid scientific study. The media regularly mention a large number of contemporary studies that supposedly scientifically validate the beneficial effects of prayer on human health. So what is the truth in this matter? Actually, there are only three that meet the "gold standard." Happily, the fact that there are only three studies considerably reduces the amount of information freethinkers need to acquire to refute frequent and erroneous claims.
When we say that a finding in a scientific study is statistically significant, "significant" has a specific statistical meaning. To be considered significant, a finding must be (.05) or less, which means the probability that it could be due to chance is 5 in 100. The main point to appreciate is that this figure, although reasonable, is strictly arbitrary. Therefore, the figure of (.05) is borderline significant, .04 (a probability of 4 in a 100 of being due to chance) is considered significant, and .06 (6 in 100) is considered not significant.
The figure (.05) is the one accepted for "ordinary" scientific studies. But what criterion should be applied in proving a supernatural finding? After all, as the old saw goes, extraordinary claims should require extraordinary proof, and this requirement should especially apply to claims of the supernatural.
The James Randi Educational Foundation has a standing offer of one million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate any supernatural event under carefully controlled scientific conditions. The foundation has never had a single person who even got past the preliminary testing. Its members think that a study that would prove a claim of the supernatural should eliminate the possibility that the result could be by chance, in the range of 1 in 10,000,000, a far cry from 5 in 100.
Robert Park, in his excellent book, Voodoo Science, observes that a characteristic of voodoo science is that there are always very small differences in studies, just barely detectable, and that can't be amplified in further investigations. These barely detectable positive results usually indicate flaws in the studies themselves rather than real findings.
Let's examine in some detail the three studies on intercessory prayer that were large, prospective, randomized, double-blind ones--the only three that pass muster as valid scientific investigations of the effects of prayer on human health. Intercessory prayer (prayer at a distance) was chosen so that the placebo effect of direct prayer would be eliminated. All of these studies were done on coronary care unit (CCU) patients.
The first study was entitled "Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population" by Randolph Byrd, M.D., published in the Southern Medical Journal, July 1988. Dr. Byrd stated:
"My study concerning prayer and patients in a general hospital coronary care unit was designed to answer two questions: (1) Does intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God have any effect on the patient's medical condition and recovery while in the hospital? (2) How are these effects characterized, if present?"
Over ten months, 393 patients admitted to the CCU at San Francisco General Hospital were randomized to an intercessory prayer group (192 patients) or to a control group (201 patients). After randomization, each patient in the prayer group was assigned to three to seven intercessors, who were all "born-again Christians (according to the Gospel of John 3:3)" of various denominations.
Dr. Byrd wrote: "The patients' first name, diagnosis, and general condition, along with pertinent updates on their condition, were given to the intercessors. The intercessory prayer was done outside the hospital daily until the patient was discharged from the hospital. Under the direction of a coordinator, each intercessor was asked to pray daily for a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to the patient."
The results were summarized in "Table 2" of the Byrd study entitled "Results of intercessory Prayer." There was no statistically significant difference between the prayer and control group in these measurements: days in CCU after entry; days in hospital after entry; number of discharge medications. Only when a list of 26 "New Problems, Diagnoses, and Therapeutic Events After Entry" was compiled was any statistically differences found and then only in 6 of the items: congestive heart failure (.03); diuretics (.05); cardiopulmonary arrest (.02); pneumonia (.03); antibiotics (.005); intubation/ ventilation (.002). When Dr. Byrd subjected these items to multivariate analysis (a statistical method of analyzing the overall significance when multiple factors are positive), he found the prayer group to better the control group at the statistically significant level of (.0001).
In "Table 3," "Results of Scoring the Postentry Hospital Course," he constructed three categories, "Good, Intermediate, and Bad," using a self-designed and previously not scientifically validated method. The prayer group bettered the control group at a level of (.01).
Although this study appears to meet the "gold standard" of a large, prospective, randomized, double-blind investigation, scientists have pointed out a number of flaws:
The study was not "blinded' in two respects: 1) Janet Greene, the coordinator of the study, on whom Dr. Byrd depended for the collection of data, knew exactly who was being prayed for, and interacted regularly with the patients in the study. 2) "Table 3" was formulated by Dr. Byrd at the request of editors who initially evaluated his paper after the "blinding" had been removed.
There was no difference in clear-cut end points such as days in the CCU, days in the hospital, or mortality between the two groups. Only when complicated statistical analyses were done on a long list of items do any data emerge that favor the prayed-for group--hardly evidence of an all-powerful deity. Also, if prayer had any effect, an overall improvement would be expected. Of the six items where the prayer group did better, four were of borderline statistical significance and only two were clearly significant. Are we to conclude that the deity is only concerned with reducing antibiotic use and ventilating patients in the CCU? This study provides no information on the physicians involved in this study. This information could be important since certain physicians use antibiotics and intubate patients much more readily than others.
The method that Dr. Byrd used in his scoring in "Table 3" had not been validated by any previous studies.
When Irwin Tessman, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences at Purdue University, requested of Dr. Byrd that Dr. Tessman be allowed to review the raw data that went into the study, he was refused. Since Dr. Byrd's claim is one of the supernatural, it would seem appropriate that all aspects of the study be reviewed by independent investigators.
The degree of obvious religiosity communicated by Dr. Byrd raises doubts that he could be completely objective on a scientific investigation of prayer, something that he deeply believes is effective. Under "Acknowledgments" at the end of the paper, he writes: "I thank God for responding to the many prayers made on behalf of the patients."
The second study that appears to meet the "gold standard" for scientific studies is "A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit" published in the October 25, 1999 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The investigators were William S. Harris, Ph.D., plus eight others of the Mid America Heart Institute. The study was conducted at Saint Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, a private, university-associated hospital.
"The purpose of the present study was to attempt to replicate Byrd's findings by testing the hypothesis that patients who are unknowingly and remotely prayed for by blinded intercessors will experience fewer complications and have a shorter hospital stay than patients not receiving such prayer," admitted the investigators.
The intercessors (five to pray for each patient compared to three to seven in Byrd's study), were to pray for "a speedy recovery with no complications" plus "anything else that seemed appropriate to them." 1013 patients were randomized, 484 to the prayer group and 529 to the usual care group. After removal of those patients who spent less than 24 hours in the CCU (prayer was not started until 24 hours after admission), 524 remained in the usual care group and 466 in the prayer group (a high drop-out rate).
A list of events after entry into the study was compiled, much like the one in the Byrd study, but with 34 events instead of the 26 in the Byrd Study. Again, a scheme was devised to evaluate the overall hospital course, a totally new and untested system, but different from the also new and untested one devised by Byrd. The Harris study scheme was called the Mid America Heart Institute Cardiac Care Unit (MAHI-CCU) Scoring System, and its criteria are presented in "Table 1" of his paper.
The only finding in the Harris study that indicated the prayer group outperformed the control group was in using the MAHI-CCU Scoring System and then only at a probability level of (.04), a figure very close to the cut-off level of (.05).
The Harris study is a much better study than the Byrd study because the number of patients is larger, it appears to be completely blinded, and the degree of religiosity of the investigators appears to be lower (although Dr. Harris supposedly supports the idea of "intelligent design"). Nevertheless, scientific investigators have noted flaws:
1) As already noted, the MAHI-CCU Scoring System has never been previously scientifically validated. Without such validation, any result produced by it is subject to question.
2) The much higher dropout rate in the first 24 hours in the prayer group is a very serious criticism of the study. The statistical probability that this finding would appear by chance is (.001), or 1 chance in a 1000, a statistically very significant finding. This higher dropout rate, since the mortality rate in the two groups was the same, suggests that the prayer group, for unknown reasons, was not quite as ill as the control group since patients discharged within a day often turn out not to have serious problems. If they were a little less ill at the start, we would expect them to have a more favorable course.
3) The conclusions stated in this investigation, as I'll describe shortly, are not justified by the data.
Positive findings in a scientific study are not considered valid until replicated by independent investigators. So did the Harris study replicate the positive findings of the Byrd study? The answer is a resounding no! Of the 6 items in the list of 26 items previously described in the Byrd study where the prayed-for group did better, not one was statistically significant in the Harris study. When the Harris study subjected its data to the same scheme that Byrd had used in his evaluation of the hospital course of the patients (Table 3 in the Byrd study), the Harris study found the difference between the two groups of (.29) was not even close to being statistically significant. The Harris study did replicate the negative findings from the Byrd Study. There was no statistical difference in days in the CCU, days in the hospital, or mortality.
In remarks at the end of the Harris study, the investigators stated: "Our findings support Byrd's conclusions despite the fact that we could not document an effect of prayer using his scoring system." This statement is erroneous. Not only do these findings not support Byrd's conclusions, they directly refute them.
The most recent study and, I believe, the best designed one, was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in December 2001, entitled "Intercessory Prayer and Cardiovascular Disease Progression in a Coronary Care Unit Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial." This third "gold standard" study should settle the matter once and for all scientifically. The investigators were Jennifer M. Aviles, M.D., and six others. This trial was done on patients immediately after discharge from the Coronary Care Unit, a time when the intensity of extraneous intercessory praying by family and friends would generally be waning.
Here is their summary of the findings:
"Patients and Methods: In this randomized, controlled trial conducted between 1997 and 1999, a total of 799 coronary care unit patients were randomized at hospital discharge to the intercessory prayer group or to the control group. . . . The primary end point after 26 weeks was any of the following: death, cardiac arrest, rehospitalization for cardiovascular disease, coronary revascularization, or an emergency department visit for cardiovascular disease. Patients were divided into a high-group based on the presence of any of 5 risk factors (age > or = 70 years, diabetes mellitus, prior myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular disease, or peripheral vascular disease) or a low-risk group (absence of risk factors) for subsequent primary events."
The investigators summarized their findings as follows:
"Conclusions: As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit." Not even one difference showed up between the control group and the prayed-for group.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century, and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn't work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.
Now that you have the scientific information, don't let the statement that the efficacy of prayer has been proven by scientific studies go unchallenged. It's simply untrue.
The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia and plaintiff Sally Flynn won their federal lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments plaque at the entrance to the Chester County courthouse, in a ruling handed down on March 6.
The society, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was represented by Stefan Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, following a two-day trial in Philadelphia, issued a 25-page decision ordering removal of the 82-year-old bronze plaque engraved with the King James version of the Ten Commandments.
"We cannot pretend that the tablet's words do not mean what they say, or forget the sincere religious impulse of both the donors and the donees in 1920," wrote Dalwell. The 50"x39" tablet advances and endorses "mainline Protestantism," he added.
"Disestablishment is not a lonely First Amendment redoubt occupied only by some federal judges and a few malcontents. It is in historical fact as American as the free exercise of religion."
Principal plaintiff Sally Flynn, 72, of Pocopson, told media she was "elated" over the victory.
Presser commented: "I am convinced that this nation has been spared the kind of sectarian violence we've seen in Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan because of the Establishment Clause, which was vindicated today."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Margaret Downey, chapter director, received a threatening phone call the day after the decision, from a man who laced his remarks with obscenities, and warned: "You're going to get it."
"It was a pretty horrible phone call," Downey said. She retrieved the phone number from Caller ID and reported the threat to police. County officials condemned the threat.
"I really do think this gives the lie to the commissioners' position that this is not a religious issue," Presser told the Inquirer. "People don't threaten to hurt other people over secular documents."
Flynn testified she had been the target of harassment since the lawsuit was filed in October 2001, purchasing Caller ID devices and removing her name from her house and mailbox.
Also testifying: Downey; Kalid Yahya Blankinship, chair of Temple University's religion department, a practising Muslim, and Rabbi Leonard Gordon, a former professor of comparative religion, who said the decalog carries less weight with Jews than the Talmud, and considers that the Commandments plaque shows a Christian orientation.
During the trial, Presser pointed out that of 71 letters received by the Commission about the lawsuit, only one favored removing the plaque, while many supporters employed religious language, such as: "It is time for a Christian nation to stand up for its God-given rights."
Presser said: "You would concede that these people don't see this as a secular issue."
The Chester County Commissioners almost immediately voted to appeal the decision. While most similar lawsuits are challenging monoliths erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this violation significantly predates the religious campaign by the Eagles.
A group called the Council of Religious Education in West Chester, a coalition of churches, installed the plaque in 1920.
It is not Yates who is on trial here, but our system of justice. It seems the oppression of women by religious fundamentalists has found a home in Christianity as well as Islam and Judaism.
"Yates had many accomplices"
San Antonio Express-News, March 3, 2002
Between fear and political correctness, it's not possible to say anything other than sugary nonsense about Islam. --Unnamed scholar at American University New York Times, March 2, 2002
Just a month ago, the Pope led 200 religious leaders from round the world in prayers for peace. . . . And yet a month on, peace seems as elusive as ever. --Giles Wilson "Does Prayer Work?" BBC News Online, March 1, 2002
Can the attorney general be trusted to protect the rights of those whose spiritual life rests outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition when he has excluded them from the ranks of civilized people? Not to split angels on the head of a pin here--or to restrict Ashcroft's hearty expressions of his Pentecostal faith as manifested in his daily prayer meetings at Justice--but it is alarming when he defines his job in religious terms: "The guarding of freedom that God grants is the noble charge of the Department of Justice." What hooey! --Robert Sheer "What's God Got to Do with it?" Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 2002
How will we protect civil liberties in a war without end? --Anthony Lewis "Taking Our Liberties" New York Times, March 9, 2002
I know Cardinal Law to be a man of integrity. I respect him a lot. --George W. Bush Press conference, March 13, 2002
We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors. --Ann Coulter Conservative Political Action Conference Atlanta Journal Constitution, Feb. 14, 2002
Islam Creates Saudi Tragedy
Fifteen school girls were killed on March 11 when Saudi Arabia's much-feared religious police reportedly forced them back into a blazing school because they were not wearing Islamic headscarves and black robes. Saudi media reported a scuffle between firefighters and officials with the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who tried to keep girls inside the burning building in Mecca.
The police stopped bystanders trying to help the girls, warning, "It is sinful to approach them."
A witness was quoted saying he saw the religious police beat young girls to prevent them from leaving the school for not wearing the abaya. A father of a dead girl claimed the school watchman refused to open the gate of the locked school to let the girls out. Students are routinely locked in schools to ensure segregation of the sexes. Most of the dead schoolgirls were killed during a stampede. An additional 50 girls were injured in the school of 800.
"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," editorialized the Saudi Gazette.
British press called the public criticism of the mutaween highly unusual.
Yates & the Religion Connection
Letters sent by notorious street preacher Michael Peter Woroniecki and his wife to Andrea Yates, 37, contributed to her downward spiral, according to Suzy Spencer, Texas author of Breaking Point.
Yates, convicted of first-degree murder in March and sentenced to life imprisonment after drowning her children in the family bathtub last June, suffered from extreme post-partum depression and schizophrenia. The prayerful couple had five children in eight years.
Russell Yates encouraged Andrea to have "enough boys for a basketball team" and to homeschool the children--ages 7, 5, 3, 2 and a baby--even after hospitalizations for severe mental illness. He told Time magazine (Jan. 28) that the "devil prowls around looking for someone to devour . . . Andrea was weak, and he attacked her."
A psychiatrist who interviewed Andrea in jail testified the defendant herself believed she had been marked by Satan, and that killing her children while they were young was the only way to save them from hell.
"Rusty" Yates, who met Woroniecki while a student at Auburn University, considered the preacher a "spiritual adviser" and sent money to support his ministry.
Spencer said some of the letters written by the Woronieckis to Andrea told her "all women are descendants of Eve, and Eve was a witch," calling women who worked outside the home "wicked."
In 1998, Rusty bought a GMC 350-foot bus from Woroniecki, living in it with Andrea and their two children until her parents insisted Rusty buy a house following a suicide attempt by Andrea.
Defense attorney George Parnham put into evidence Woroniecki's newsletter "The Perilous Times," lamenting worldly mothers and asking, "What becomes of the children of such a Jezebel?" Houston psychiatrist Lucy Puryear told the jury this idea was what Andrea Yates' "delusions are built around."
Puryear and forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz contend that when the Yateses copied the Woroniecki family lifestyle of homeschooling children and living in a bus, it precipitated Andrea Yates' suicide attempts.
Happiness . . . Is No God?
Researchers into happiness announced in January their findings that happiness is not linked to behaviors some researchers have assumed created general well-being. In their study involving about 100 college students, Dr. Ed Diener, of the University of Illinois, and Dr. Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, found that the happiest among them did not attend church services more frequently, exercise more or get more sleep than unhappier counterparts.
Madison Scouts Pull Out of United Way
The Four Lakes Council of Boy Scouts of America pulled out of United Way of Dane County, Wis., following continued turmoil over its bigotry against gays and atheists.
The council will forego its annual $75,000 in funding, but will still be eligible to receive donations earmarked specifically for BSA. Last year, such donations totaled more than $60,000.
his issue of Freethought Today debuts a new column. You will meet some people in uniform who allegedly do not exist--the atheists, agnostics and freethinkers among the men and women who serve in our armed forces and work for our fire and police departments throughout the country. We hope this column will put to rest the polemical claim frequently heard in times of national strife, that: "There are no atheists in foxholes!"
It was on a Sunday around 11 a.m. when my fire department engine company responded to a teenage female having difficulty breathing. When we arrived, there were about fifteen people, mostly teenagers, crowded around a girl who was sitting on the porch hyperventilating. I was able to determine, from her presentation and history, that she was not having an asthma attack or other serious respiratory compromise, but an anxiety attack. For the next 20 minutes I sat with this girl, coaching her breathing, speaking calmly, holding her hand--just basic TLC.
Success! Her breathing returned to normal, after which she felt a little tired, so we had her lie down on a sofa inside. As she lay down, the girl suddenly told me, "You know, you should come to my church with me!"
Now, as a person in a position of trust, I have to be careful about what I say to people while on duty. I also knew it wouldn't take much to rekindle this girl's anxiety attack, so, smiling, I replied, "Uh, I don't think that would be a very good idea." I then attempted to change the subject back to her breathing, but she persisted, adding, "No, really, you should come to my church with me! It's a wonderful church, it's New Life . . ."
I had to call in a report to my base hospital, so I took this moment to do so. While I was in the next room on the telephone another girl said to me, "Yeah, we really would like to have you at our church!"
After this second invitation it dawned on me that we had walked into a Christian group meeting! This wasn't to be the end of it, however. When I returned to the first girl to give her some final instructions about "controlling her breathing," she continued with her mission: "You know, you really do need to come to my church." And then, putting her hand on my arm, she added, "It's OK, I used to be a bad person too!"
I was stunned by this insult and asked her if I was a bad person because I don't go to her church? She immediately responded that she "hadn't meant it that way." Maybe. In either case, I told her that I have already been where she is, and have no desire to go back; and that she has much to learn and I hope one day she comes to understand that.
What disturbs me most about this event is not what the girl said about me, but what she said about herself--that she "used to be a bad person," but now that she accepts Jesus, she's suddenly "good." Nonsense! She was undoubtedly a "good person" to begin with, and she would be so regardless of the religion she professed, if any at all. While the particular religious beliefs of these young people may be a great source of happiness for them, it is a shame that their church leaders teach them that anyone not believing as they do is "bad" or in need of "saving."
We should also ask why, in accordance with Mark 16:17-18, the "laying-on of hands" by her Christian friends didn't help this girl, but the care provided by a heathen humanitarian did resolve the problem--no miracles required.