Outreach & Events
Upcoming Events & Appearances
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Squaring Off at Temple Square An "UnHoly Trinity": Steve Clark, who heads the Salamander Society; cartoonist and former Mormon Steve Benson; and Foundation staffer Dan Barker, in front of the aptly named Temple "Square" during the April General Conference weekend in Salt Lake City. Entertaining at Ex-Mo's Expo Taking Mormonism by storm: Steve Benson and Dan Barker, seated by a "disclaimer" at the Salt Lake City Public Library, where the two performed their inimitable cartoon-music revue, "Tunes 'n 'Toons," on April 6 and 7--blasphemously coinciding with the Mormon General Conference. But no disclaimer was needed for this crowd--the program was sponsored by the Salamander Society, made up of irreverent ex-Mormons. Steve, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily editorial cartoonist, is the grandson of the late Ezra Taft Benson, the former Mormon president. Dan, a piano-player and songwriter who used to be an evangelical minister, is public relations director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Rubbing salt into Salt Lake City, the two included several new parodies of Mormon-style hymns. The two performances before "Latter-Day 'Aints" give new meaning to the term "Mormon missionaries." Pardners in Crime, Dallas-Style Dan and Steve entertained the Atheist Alliance annual convention in Dallas over Easter "Unholy Weekend" in late March, with their fusion of cartoons and musical commentary on religion and state/church relations. The Dallas program spotlighted commentary on former Texas Gov. George Bush, and the discriminatory Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in nearby Irving, Texas. That "yellow rose of Texas between two thorns" is Foundation officer Catherine Fahringer, of Texas.
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April 5 marked a year's anniversary since a Judge in Adams County ordered the acquittal of Rodney Scott for allegedly removing a roadside memorial. The memorial consisted of a Christian cross and related paraphernalia placed by private citizens on the median strip at the intersection of Interstate 70 and East Colfax Avenue. Shortly after Scott allegedly removed the memorial, it was replaced. In ordering Rodney Scott's acquittal, the judge ruled that roadside memorials erected by private citizens are litter, unlawful advertising, and an unauthorized taking of public property for private use. The Judge also ruled that they are a distraction and present a hazard to the motoring public. Therefore, at the conclusion of Scott's case, the Colorado Department of Transportation was asked to remove the roadside memorial at issue and similar memorials. CDOT has refused to do so. A request was also made to the Adams County Sheriff to ticket those who brazenly clutter the public landscape with these objectionable displays. That request was refused. Bob Grant, the Adams County District Attorney who brought the Scott case, has also refused to file charges against these lawbreakers. Instead, he has appealed the Judge's ruling. However, he did not ask for a stay, meaning that the ruling has all the force and effect of law and that CDOT should be removing these memorials and law enforcement should be prosecuting citizens who erect them. To make matters worse, not only does the memorial Scott was charged with removing remain standing, new memorials have been popping up all over the State. In fact, such a memorial which contains a large figure of an angel was placed on the front lawn of CDOT's Region 1 headquarters and it has been allowed to remain there. Time and time again we hear our public officials say that the law is the law and that we must obey the law, like it or not. It's obvious that the public officials responsible for implementing the ruling in the Rodney Scott case have decided that this principle does not apply to them. They'll simply refuse to apply the law if it doesn't happen to suit their fancy.
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Priest helps run CUNY. The New York Senate in mid-April confirmed a priest and top church administrator as a City of University New York trustee, despite opposition to his stands against abortion, contraception and gay rights. Gov. George Pataki nominated Rev. John Bonnici, who directs the Archdiocese of New York's Family Life/Respect Life Office. Just what Afghans need--more religion. The U.S. Agency for International Development will spend $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to produce textbooks, including Islamic teachings and verses from the Koran, for Afghanistan's schools. The USAID is giving a grant to the University of Nebraska at Omaha to provide textbooks and teacher-training kits to the schools. Oh, we got trouble. A pastor should be present at all city cabinet-level meetings, according to Rev. Carlton N. Pressley, the new senior religious adviser of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Washington, D.C. Pressley and the rest of the mayor's 65-member Interfaith Council were "installed" at an evening service at Metropolitan Baptist Church in late February, with a keynote by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Christians, teens, NRA. The Christian Coalition, a group of teenagers with Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the antiabortion Christian Defense Coalition, and the National Rifle Association have all filed separate lawsuits challenging restrictions on campaign spending signed into law by President Bush this spring. One-upping Judge Moore? Rather than being given the right to marry, "gays and lesbians should be put in some type of mental institution," wrote George County Justice Court Judge Connie Wilkerson, of Mississippi, in a published letter to the George County Times on March 28. He added: "You need to know, as I know, that God in heaven is not pleased with this and I am sounding the alarm." Ohio Department's intelligent decision. After a hairy two-month push by creationists for inclusion of "intelligent design" in school textbooks, the Ohio Education Department issued a new draft in April with no changes in its position that students will be taught evolution. The State Board of Education--infiltrated by "intelligent design" supporters--has a Dec. 31 deadline to vote on the standards. Publicly funded religious diatribes. Florida state Rep. Randy Ball, R-Brevard County, sent a letter on House stationery to Florida newspapers in late March, which the St. Petersburg Times characterized as a "religious diatribe," condemning "homosexuality as an abomination" and speaking of a "transcendent God." Earlier in March, Ball sent out emails on his state computer invoking Jesus Christ and condemning gay adoption. Ball defended his use of state equipment and stationery: "This country runs and operates on the Judeo-Christian ethic that comes out of the bible." One Nigerian mother saved. After an international outcry, a Nigerian mother of five sentenced to die by stoning for "adultery" after a rape, was freed on March 25--but another woman has received the same sentence under Islamic shariah rules. Amina Lawal Kurami, charged with having a baby out of wedlock, is now appealing her death sentence. Ireland says "no" to Catholic Church. The Irish electorate in March narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment further restricting abortion, promoted by the Catholic Church in opposition to a Supreme Court judgment allowing abortions for suicidal women. Legislators walk out. Six lawmakers walked out during a March 5 morning prayer in the Colorado Senate by a Greeley pastor, who prayed to Jesus for lawmakers to accept Jesus and to reverse Roe vs. Wade. Charter profiteering. A California state panel said in March it found "mind-boggling" mismanagement and profiteering at 40 out of 87 public charter schools serving home-study students in California at a cost of $4,800 per pupil. More than 20 charters were unevaluated due to missing deadlines. A licensed atheist. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sent a February notice to Steven Miles of Gainesville, revoking his "ATHEIST" license plate as "obscene or objectionable." After a public outcry, the Department reneged the order in March. "Permeated with fraud." The Federal Trade Commission has gone to court to shut down "Miss Cleo's psychic hotline," with Florida authorities joining the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in filing separate suits. Florida code pushes religion. By a 9-4 vote on April 4, a negotiating team approved a compromise to a 1,800-page rewrite of Florida's school code, pushed by Gov. Jeb Bush, which includes provisions allowing students to pray, preach and distribute religious literature. Many senators warned it comes with a million-dollar price tag in expected lawsuits. Florida voucher scandal. The St. Petersburg Times published an April expose about Florida's $25-million-a-year voucher program, revealing that entrepreneur educators Art and Angel Rocker, who stand to collect $1.5 million in school voucher money this year, are quitting. The rightwing couple is leaving church leaders in charge of the church schools, dogged by complaints of teacher turnover, low pay, and even using food banks to feed students. Arizona charter revoked over religion. The Arizona Board of Education voted in late March to revoke the state's first charter school, with a Glendale school accused of illegally promoting religion with its $1.1 million in tax support. Saving clergy tax breaks. The House of Representatives voted 408-0 in mid-April to approve H.R. 4156, clarifying the "parsonage" exemption that ministers, priests and rabbis have received for housing since 1921. The legislation, which moved into the Senate, codifies the IRS' most restrictive practice of permitting clergy to deduct the "fair rental value" of their homes. Ashcroft's Folly Justice Department staff complained in March that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has added singalongs of his own song to the routine at his daily prayer meetings. When asked by the Guardian why she objected, a department lawyer replied: "Have you heard the song? It really sucks." Ashcroft launched into a lusty 4-minute rendition of "Let the Eagle Soar" following a recent speech to a seminary. Excerpts of the tape repeatedly have run on CBS' David Letterman Show, but Ashcroft declined to reprise his "hit" during an April appearance there. The Guardian reported the AG even asked for Hispanic volunteers to translate his song into Spanish. An excerpt: "Soar with healing in her wings, As the land beneath her sings. Only God, no other kings. Let the mighty eagle soar." A clip of Ashcroft's unusual performance, showcasing a Pentecostal-style vibrato, which must be seen to be believed, is at: http://cnn.com/video/us/2002/02/025/ashcroft.sings.wbtv.med.html (download RealPlayer at real.com to play). "Should the Praying Mantis Be Our State Insect?" The following letter, written by a Foundation member, was published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press [March 28]: The Legislature has passed and the governor approved the image of a praying male figure as an official "state photograph." Can we next expect a state religious watercolor or oil painting? Will we need a state weed or state cloud formation? Should the praying mantis be our state insect? In addition to making Minnesota appear silly, there is a serious aspect. The insinuation of religious themes in governmental affairs is an insult to the 14 percent of Americans who do not have a god belief. And it weakens the constitutional separation of church and state. Shame on the Legislature for passing this bill. --William Van Druten, Minnesota
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A small crowd gathered in downtown Milwaukee on March 27 to witness the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments from city property where it had stood since 1957. The ceremony began with remarks by Ald. Jeff Pawlinski serving as spokesman for the Milwaukee Common Council. The events of this day came about because the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declaring such monuments to be violations of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Disagreeing with the Court but bowing to it, Pawlinski nevertheless lamented the necessary removal of the monument and its return to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which donated the monument in 1955 in a ceremony with actor Yul Brynner to promote the movie "The Ten Commandments." Making an apparently obligatory "nod to god," both politicians and Eagles officials, understanding neither the Ten Commandments nor the First Amendment, mourned this "sad" day and pointed the finger of blame at the "notorious Freedom From Religion Foundation," which brought the lawsuit resulting in its removal. Don Runnells, a spokesman for the Eagles, insisted, "This has nothing to do with religion. It's about morals." Every Christian and Jew in the country ought to cringe at such nonsense. According to Exodus 20 and Deut. 5, the Decalogue was given as a covenant between God and Israel, the equivalent of a treaty between a King and a lesser lord who owed him loyalty. The Ten Commandments begin with the statement "I am the LORD [YAHWEH] your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Whatever else the commandments are, they are a profound statement of faith, with each precept a stipulation of a covenant. They were never intended as mere "universal principles" acceptable to all people everywhere, as Stan Thompson of the Fraternal Order of Eagles asserted. Ald. Pawlinski declared that the commandments are "the foundation of our nation's laws and the very structure of our society." Yet, only three of the commandments (on murder, theft and perjury) deal with modern law. It is not, after all, illegal to "have any other gods," to "misuse the name of the LORD," or work on the Sabbath (Saturday)--unless "blue laws" dictate otherwise. It's not even illegal, in spite of personal moral scruples, to dishonor your parents, commit adultery or "covet your neighbor's house." In a free state, the government has no right to make rules on those matters. This monument contains not only the Decalogue, but also two stars of David and a Chi Rho symbol, the liturgical symbol of Christ using the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. In effect, therefore, the monument promotes ("establishes") two religions. Those of other religions or of none at all are pointedly ignored. It is also significant that the commandments are listed by the Catholic/Lutheran numbering, incorporating the stipulation about idols or graven images (the second commandment to most Protestants) into the first and makes two coveting commandments. A monument containing the Ten Commandments in Dallas, Memphis or Charlotte would likely have the Protestant numbering, listing a separate commandment on "graven images" and only one on coveting. Therefore the monument not only endorses the Judeo-Christian tradition, but a particular form of the Christian religion. The best statement of the day was by Ald. Don Richards, who said that American liberty is exemplified in the freedom of the group gathered there to speak their minds on the issues involved. On the other hand, Common Council President Marvin Pratt rubbed salt in the wounds of those upholding the constitutional separation of church and state by declaring that from now on the Milwaukee Common Council will begin with prayer. In his official remarks, Ald. Pawlinski stated that this monument "inspired those who passed by City Hall in the past half century" and that it will continue to "comfort" visitors at its new location at St. Joseph's Hospital. As one trained in Lutheran theology, I winced at the notion that this monument was meant to comfort and inspire people. A Lutheran axiom asserts the "law always accuses" (lex semper accusat). Paul in Romans says the "law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression" (4:15) and in 3:20, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin." The fundamental theological purpose of the law in the New Testament, especially in Paul's theology, is to condemn sinners and to drive them to Christ. To find comfort and inspiration in the Ten Commandments, therefore, on the bible's own terms, is to find comfort in God's condemnation of humankind for violating the commandments. Far from being an inspiration or comfort to all those who pass by, they condemn to hell all those who do not live up to the commandments by thought, word and deed! Those who reduce the Decalogue to a statement of governing principles insult the original purpose of those commandments. Every Jew and every Christian, let alone every unbeliever, ought to protest against such a misuse. In Luther's catechetical explanation of the Ten Commandments, each command began with the expression "We should fear and love God . . ." as in the (Lutheran/Catholic) fifth commandment, where Luther says "We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life." The Decalogue is essentially a religious document. The courts of the land, therefore, have it absolutely right: To post the Ten Commandments or to endorse them is to establish a religion. The First Amendment speaks precisely to this when it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Curtis A. Peterson holds a B.A. from Concordia Senior College, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and a M.Div and STM (l966 and l983 respectively) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. In almost 30 years in the ministry in both the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, he was an activist with many published articles supporting the orthodox Lutheran cause in the "Battle for the Bible" in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and author of several articles in the Wisconsin Synod between l987 and l995. He also delivered several essays at pastoral conferences during those years. He served congregations in Burlington, N.C., Rock Falls, Ill., Garland, Tex. and Gretna, La., in the LCMS and in Milwaukee, Wis. in the WELS. A Foundation member, he is now retired, resides in Wisconsin and calls himself a humanist and a freethinker.
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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: 22. Austria - Bishop Kurt Krenn, St. Poelten, resigned after authorities found up to 40,000 lurid pornographic images, including child pornography, on computers at the seminary located in his diocese. (Resigned September 30, 2004) 21. U.S. - Bishop Thomas Dupre, 70, Springfield, Mass., resigned a day after newspapers published allegations that he sexually abused 2 young altar boys in the 1970s over an extended period of time. In September 2004, the district attorney announced he would not prosecute Dupre due to the expired statute of limitations. Both victims are suing him and the diocese. (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)
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Wisconsin: Victims Without Recourse "The legal climate in Wisconsin right now is the most hostile to the protection of the rights of victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the USA," says attorney Jeffrey Anderson, of St. Paul, Minn., an expert in civil lawsuits for clergy abuse. That unenviable status is the result of a 1995 decision by the state Supreme Court, then and now dominated by Roman Catholic judges. Although hundreds of plaintiffs against churches for sexual abuse surfaced in the early 1990s, they have all but vanished. In a 4-2 ruling in Pritzlaff v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee, June 27, 1995, the Supreme Court ruled against the right of a woman to sue the archdiocese over a marriage-wrecking relationship with a priest. In the sweeping decision, the state Supreme Court said the First Amendment prohibited it from taking a case ruling on whether the Catholic Church or any other religious denomination had improperly hired, supervised or trained its professional workers. The decision killed a lawsuit brought by "Susan Smith," alleging she was raped by Father William Effinger at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Kenosha when she was 8 or 9 years old. The church pursued a judgment against her, assessing her $10,199.39 for the church's legal costs. Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 2002; April 17, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Killed Stories While news media deserve credit for breaking stories on the cover-up of ministers preying on minors, in the mid-1990s, the Milwaukee Journal became part of the cover-up. Freelance Milwaukee journalist Joel McNally reports that Bishop Rembert Weakland and an "entourage of church officials" met with editor Mary Jo Meisner demanding that she kill a reporter's investigative stories. The series would have detailed how the archdiocese had paid millions of dollars of hush money to silence victims of pedophile priests who were being moved from parish to parish. Meisner stood firm. But, McNally reports, when Weakland went to "higher-ups" at the newspaper, he prevailed and the stories never ran. When the Journal and Sentinel merged, McNally noted, the reporter was pulled off the religion beat and was "exiled to covering suburban village board meetings." "Who knows how many children could have been spared" if the series had run, McNally wonders. Source: Capital Times [Madison, WI], April 6, 2002 Female Victims Overlooked "Of the priests we've evaluated, more abuse girls than abuse boys," says Gary Schoener, a psychologist who, with his staff at the Minneapolis Walk-in Counseling Center, has counseled more than 2,000 victims of clergy since 1974. Schoener says he sees six times more females (adolescent and adult) than male victims of priests. He estimates that 98% of all priest sex cases are settled out of court. "The sexual abuse of a boy is treated far more seriously, and is considered a far worse offense than girls or women." A.W. Richard Sipe, who has conducted studies and written books on the sex lives of priests, said he agrees with Schoener--a majority of priest victims are female, most of them adult. "Everything's always about the altar boys. It's like nothing ever happened to the girls," says Terrie Light, West Coast regional director of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). Light was 8 when, looking for her mother in the rectory in the Oakland diocese, she was reportedly raped by a priest. Sources: Sacramento Bee, March 21, 2002; Salon, March 27, 2002 Wedded to the Right President Bush, unveiling his welfare overhaul at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C., included a proposal to commit hundreds of millions of tax dollars for welfare to the promotion of marriage. In addition to up to $135 million for "abstinence education," Bush wants to funnel $22 million in public money, approved by Congress for child support collection, to pro-marriage experiments in about 15 communities. Bush and "fatherhood" czar Wade Horn, of the Administration for Children and Families, also want to incorporate "marriage and fatherhood" messages into Head Start, childcare, welfare, and programs for runaway and homeless youth. Bush will be asking Congress to allocate up to $300 million in federal and state money to "pro-marriage experiments" when it renews the welfare law this year. Sacramento Chaplaincy Backed Sacramento County supervisors voted 4-0 in late March to continue to fund a chaplaincy program which had required participants to be Christian. Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento, formed in 1977, now has about 70 volunteer chaplains who provide "pastoral care" to law enforcement officers, their families and crime victims. The chaplaincy receives most of its funds from payroll deductions, as well as $32,000 from the county, and $15,000 from the city. In November it was revealed the bylaws require chaplains to sign a statement of faith professing to be followers of Jesus Christ. Chaplains also signed an "ethics code" agreeing not to preside over marriages of "improper persons"--such as gays and nonbelievers. The chaplaincy, finally capitulating after a public outcry, recently agreed to accept participants of all faiths and to drop its "ethics" requirement. Officials will not renew a Probation Department agreement, in which the group received a 10% fee for administering a contract for chaplain services at juvenile detention facilities. "First Amendment Not a Shield" The Florida Supreme Court ruled in March that the Constitution does not protect churches from lawsuits charging clergy sexual abuse. Said the court: "The First Amendment does not provide a shield behind which a church may avoid liability" for negligent hiring and supervision of its clergy members.
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It was a Sunday around 10 a.m. when our engine company was dispatched to a possible seizure at a Baptist church in our district. We arrived to find several frantic people in the church lobby crowded around the patient--a moderately retarded woman in her 40s with a history of epilepsy and diabetes. Her skin color was blue (cyanosis) and she was still actively seizing. Much to my amazement two people on each side of her were physically holding her upright in a chair as she convulsed (not recommended)! I soon learned that she had been seizing for about 10 minutes. The seizure started during church services (which were still in progress even now) and they had carried her out into the lobby while she was still seizing . . . hey, the sermon must go on! Our first action was to place her on the floor and assist her breathing with oxygen and a bag-valve mask. A lot of other things were being done simultaneously such as airway suctioning, IVs, checking glucose levels (she's diabetic so she may require sugar), and getting med orders for Valium (to stop the convulsions). No sooner had I drawn the proper dose of Valium into the syringe and was preparing to inject it into the IV when this man walks up to us and identifies himself as "a church deacon," after which he says, and I quote: "Excuse me, but services are about to conclude and I need to clear this area so people can exit. Can you move her [the patient] somewhere else?" For a moment I just looked at him in stunned silence, not really believing what I had just heard. I looked him in the eye and he just glared back with a smug expression, almost as if to say, "Well, are you going to move her or not?" I only had time to respond, "I think this [situation] is a little more important, don't you? The people can wait!" Fortunately, once I gave the medication the seizure broke and the patient ultimately recovered. Well, perhaps our actions were of no use after all and Jesus simply chose this precise moment to answer the "healing prayers" from the congregation? Yeah, right! In any event, the good outcome in this case isn't the issue. The issue is the insensitivity displayed by this deacon, and how his Christian beliefs apparently did not inspire him to any sort of special "Christian compassion" for a person in need. No matter where you go in the world you are going to find some people who are compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others, and other people who are not; and what religion they happen to profess, if any at all, makes no difference whatsoever. The story could end here and my point would be sufficiently made, but there is another issue to address--a scriptural issue that, if true, would probably put me out of a job! Jesus on Epilepsy As was related in my account, the woman suffered from epilepsy. And according to the bible, what is the cause of epilepsy? Why "demon possession," of course! Matthew 17:14-18: When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, because he is epileptic and suffers terribly. . . ." Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him; and the child was healed from that moment. Many Christian commentaries, embarrassed by Jesus' obvious lack of medical knowledge, attempt to save face. They contend that Jesus did know that there was no such thing as demon possession, but in appearing to expel demons from afflicted persons he was really just curing them of a disease and relating it to the people in a symbolic language they could understand. The problem is that other passages, such as Mark 5:11-13, tell us that Jesus not only expels literal "demons" from people, but even forces them to possess a herd of 2,000 swine. After which, he shows his legendary compassion by forcing the entire herd to drown in a nearby lake! Jesus wasn't too fond of pigs and dogs, and he apparently had some personal issues with fig trees as well. . . . Other passages also demonstrate literal "demons" as being the cause of sickness and disability (Matthew 8:28-33; Matthew 12:22; Mark 16:17; Acts 19:12, 15-16). Indeed, Jesus himself was accused of being "possessed by Beelzebul" (Mark 3:22; John 8:48). Funny, though, I don't recall "demon possession" ever being discussed as a pathological explanation for seizure disorders in the paramedic school I attended. And for some reason "casting out demons" is frowned upon by my physician advisor. Maybe I should bring this up at the next paramedic meeting? Maybe not. Colorado Foundation member Bruce Monson is a professional firefighter-paramedic and former Baptist turned freethinker. He promotes religious tolerance, rational thinking, and the separation of church and state. For more information see his website at www.freethoughtfirefighters.org.
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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. See additional article, "'Nod to God' Politicians and the Ten Commadments."
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How many parents, soothing their children to sleep with "Brahms's Lullaby," know they are singing a melody written by a freethinker? Johannes Brahms, the great German composer known as the "3rd B" (after Bach and Beethoven), did not believe in a god. Born in 1833--the same year as American freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll--Brahms shed his Christian upbringing early, though not without being fully informed. Jan Swafford, in Johannes Brahms: A Biography, writes of the young composer: "Though he was to be a freethinker in religion, Johannes pored over the Bible beyond the requirements for his Protestant confirmation." From then on, "Music was Brahms's religion." In his teens, Brahms would prop books of poetry on the piano to divert himself while playing for drunken sailors in a Hamburg bar. His favorite poet, from whom many of his lyrics sprang, was the anticlerical G. F. Daumer, described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as an "enemy of Christianity" who "strove to substitute a new religion 'of love and peace.' " (In later years, Daumer converted to Catholicism.) Brahms's works were also influenced by philosophy and literature, including Hoffman, Schiller, Robert Burns, Jean Paul, and Friedrich Hölderlin. He had a keen interest in science, and could hold his own debating politics, literature, religion and philosophy. An avid hiker who loved the outdoors, Brahms often turned to nature for ideas. "A great deal of his music," writes Swafford, "in its inspiration and spirit, rose from mountains and forests and open sky." The melody for the finale of the C-minor Symphony actually traces the shape of the Alps, as Brahms viewed them during a hike. Brahms occasionally used biblical texts, but only for artistic reasons. After the death of his mother, he wrote the popular Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem, 1867), but was careful to select only those biblical lyrics that relate to this life and to those who grieve. The Requiem starts with "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," and avoids talk of eternal salvation. Noticing this secular spin, conductor Karl Reinthaler, who had studied theology and was working closely with Brahms on the Easter Week premiere, wrote to Brahms: "Forgive me, but I wondered if it might not be possible to extend the work in some way that would bring it closer to a Good Friday service . . . what is lacking, at least for a Christian consciousness, is the pivotal point: the salvation in the death of our Lord. . . ." In other words, what about Jesus? "Brahms was not about to put up with that sort of thing," Swafford writes. "He was a humanist and an agnostic, and his requiem was going to express that, Reinthaler or no. . . . With the title A German Requiem he intended to convey that this is not the liturgical requiem mass in Latin, nor a German translation of it, but a personal testament, a requiem. Brahms avoided dogma in the piece for the same reason . . . even if the words come from the Bible, this was his response to death as a secular, skeptical, modern man." Brahms responded politely but firmly to Reinthaler: "As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with places like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors I can't delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much." He had already said enough! The verse Brahms explicitly discards is central to Christianity: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Swafford concludes: "Brahms means that he could do without that verse and that dogma, in Ein deutsches Requiem and in his life. If he was a North German Protestant by tradition and temperament, he was not in his faith, which like all his convictions Brahms held close to his chest. For himself he would not call Christ a particular son of God. Meanwhile, to Reinthaler he downplays the theology of some verses he does use, saying, 'I can't delete or dispute anything' from Scripture. With that he obliquely confesses that even the hints of resurrection lingering in his texts are not his own sentiments. At the end of his Requiem, the dead are not reborn but released: 'they rest from their labors.' It is that rest from his own lonely labors that Brahms yearned for someday, as his mother rested from her life of poverty and toil." When Brahms sometimes spoke of immortality, it was metaphorically, jokingly. To his publisher, he once wrote: "Done! What is done? The violin concerto? No. . . . One knows nothing definite; even the most credulous doesn't. . . . And I am credulous. Indeed, I believe in immortality--; I believe that when an immortal dies, people will keep on for 50,000 years and more, talking idiotically and badly about him--thus I believe in immortality, without which beautiful and agreeable attribute I have the honor to be--Your J. Br." To his friend Richard Heuberger, Brahms, who never married, said, "Apart from Frau Schumann I'm not attached to anybody with my whole soul! And truly that is terrible and one should neither think such a thing nor say it. Is that not a lonely life! Yet we can't believe in immortality on the other side. The only true immortality lies in one's children." Clara Schumann, by the way, the virtuoso pianist and composer who was a true life-long friend of Brahms, also had little use for the church. "Performing was her religion," Swafford observes. "The world saw Clara Schumann as a priestess, something like a saint. If there is such a thing as a secular saint, surely she was one." Brahms also used non-biblical gods for his own purposes. The text for Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates, 1882) is from Goethe's Iphigenia: "Let the race of man, Fear the gods! They hold the power, In eternal hands, And they use it, As they please. . . ." However, Swafford notes that Brahms's own "gods" were earthly, not supernatural: "When he said to George Henschel, 'As much as we men . . . are above the creeping things of the earth, so these gods are above us!' the gods he spoke of were his personal ones, his real religion: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and the others. Now he approached his age with the gods of the earth vanished, and the ones in the heavens silent and unapproachable." While working on Nänie, his commemoration of the death of his friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach, Brahms wrote another friend: "Won't you try to find me some words? . . . The ones in the Bible are not heathen enough for me. I've bought the Koran but can't find anything there either." Brahms was not just a nominal unbeliever. He often had well-thought opinions on religion. Pastor and playwright Josef Widmann, who once expressed to Brahms his support of the Theological Reform movement in Switzerland, was surprised to find Brahms "not only cognizant of the issue but with forceful and contrary opinions about it." Brahms pronounced it "a half-measure that would satisfy neither the pious nor the freethinkers," Swafford writes. Remarkable for that time and place, Brahms was never anti-Semitic. "Toward the end of his life," Swafford notes, "responding to the antisemitism that had become endemic in Austrian politics, Brahms was heard to growl, 'Next week I'm going to have myself circumcised!' . . . Brahms may have idolized Bismarck and the authoritarian Prussians, but he remained a liberal and a democrat at heart." When the Christian Socialists finally elected Karl Lueger vice-mayor of Vienna in 1895, ending the long liberal rule, turning Austria formally anti-Semitic from then until Hitler, Brahms remarked to his friends: "Didn't I tell you years ago that it was going to happen? You laughed at me then and everybody else did too. Now it's here, and with it the priests' economic system. If there was an 'Anticlerical Party'--that would make sense! But antisemitism is madness!" Brahms hated the music of Anton Bruckner, a devout believer whose works were later performed with gusto by the Nazis. "Everything is affectation with him, nothing is natural," Brahms said. "As to his piety--that's his business, it's nothing to me." (Bruckner himself cannot be accused of anti-Semitism.) But Brahms admired the music of Dvorák, whom he had helped financially when the young Bohemian was a struggling writer. In later years, they had occasion to become well acquainted. "As the two of them talked," Swafford writes about one of their long conversations, "Brahms rambled on about his agnosticism, his growing interest in Schopenhauer, the philosopher of pessimism (Wagner's favorite). On the way back to his hotel with violinist Josef Suk, Dvorák was thoughtful and silent. Suddenly he exclaimed with real anguish, 'Such a man, such a fine soul--and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!' " Dvorák's "fine soul" assessment was not hyperbole. Brahms the unbeliever was always generous and helpful, sharing his wealth liberally, living simply and humbly, giving of his time and energies to others. Swafford relates an exciting and illuminating event when Brahms was spending the summer of 1885 in Mürzzuschlag: "One day a carpenter's shop in his house erupted in flames. Brahms ran from his workroom in shirtsleeves to join the bucket brigade to fight the fire, shouting at well-dressed passersby to lend a hand. In the confusion someone pulled him aside and told him his papers were threatened by the blaze. Brahms thought it over for a second, then returned to the buckets. Richard Fellinger finally extracted from him the key to his room and ran to save the score of the Fourth Symphony. When the fire was out--his rooms were not touched--Brahms shrugged off the threat to his manuscript with 'Oh, the poor people needed help more than I did.' He followed that up by slipping the carpenter money for rebuilding. (He could, after all, have rewritten the symphony from memory.)" Not only was Brahms's Lullaby (Wiegenlied) written by a freethinker, but its story might be considered scandalous by some Christians. The song was written in honor of the birth of a child of Brahms's friends Bertha and Artur Faber in 1868. Years earlier, Brahms had briefly fallen in love with Bertha when she was a young visitor to his female choir in Hamburg, and during the playful courtship she used to sing him a lilting 3/4-time Viennese melody. The romance ended, but the friendship endured, and the melody that Brahms later composed for the private lullaby was a creative counterpoint to the earlier love song that the child's mother would remember singing to the composer. When he presented the gift to the Fabers, Brahms included this note to her husband: "Frau Bertha will realize that I wrote the 'Wiegenlied' for her little one. She will find it quite in order . . . that while she is singing Hans to sleep, a love song is being sung to her." Bertha was the first person to sing Brahms's Lullaby, both love melodies dancing flirtatiously in her head. Brahms enjoyed near perfect health until the last few months, not even reporting as much as a headache, rarely visiting a doctor. On the morning Brahms's life ended in Vienna in 1897--he was almost 64, felled by liver cancer long before he was ready to go--there was no death-bed conversion, no regret for living a godless life. Artur Faber (Bertha's husband), had come to the sick man's bed that morning to give him a glass of wine for his thirst. "Oh that tasted fine. You're a kind man," Brahms said, his last recorded words. Johannes Brahms did not seek immortality, but he got it anyway: not in children, not in heaven, but in the beauty he bequeathed to the world. Source: Johannes Brahms: A Biography, by Jan Swafford (1997, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.) Dan Barker, a professional piano player, is a staff member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
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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 It's OK to Molest Teens? 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