Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Study Calls On Obama to Withdraw Legal Memo That Allows Faith-based Charities to Discriminate

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Wow. This gets it out in the open.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2016 at 1:01 pm

Islam, the jihadists, and Muslim countries

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Jonathan Guyer interviews Adonis, “the Paris-based Syrian exile who invented the Arabic prose poem and who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature,” in the NY Review of Books:

In the Arab world, they say, everyone is a poet. And everyone knows Adonis, the Paris-based Syrian exile who invented the Arabic prose poem and who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Since 2011, he has also been a controversial figure in the debate about the war in Syria. As the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, Arab intellectuals awaited Adonis’s comment, not only because of his stature as a poet but also because he is Alawite, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs. In June of that year, Adonis wrote an open letter to al-Assad, calling for a democratic transition. Yet the Assad regime had already killed some 1,400 civilians, and many criticized Adonis’s response as too little, too late.

Now eighty-six, Adonis has elaborated his views about the failure of the Arab Spring in a regular column in verse for the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, and in a recent book,Violence et Islam. It was released in France in November, the same month as ISIS’s rampage in Paris that killed 130 people.

I met Adonis at a cafe on the Champs-Élysées.

Jonathan Guyer: At the beginning of the Syrian war you wrote a letter to President Bashar al-Assad. What would you say to him now?

Adonis: Nothing has changed. On the contrary, the problems are bigger. How can forty countries ally against ISIS for two years and not be able to do a thing? Nothing will change unless there is a separation between religion and the state. If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.

When was the last time you visited Syria?

In 2010.

Before the war. Can you talk about the atmosphere then?

I don’t know—I hear the news, just like you. I know that Syria was destroyed, but for what? What is the project? Look, the revolutionary must protect his country. He fights the regime, but defends institutions. I heard that Aleppo’s markets were totally destroyed. This wealth was like no other, how do they destroy it? The revolutionary does not loot museums. The revolutionary does not kill a human because he is Christian, Alawite, or Druze. The revolutionary does not deport a whole population, like the Yazidis. Is this a revolution? Why does the West support it?

Your views on the Syrian conflict have drawn criticism in the Arab world.

You know, there are many Arabs who are employed by the revolutionaries and they always criticize me. They say that I am not with the revolution—[the revolution] that destroyed the museums.

What is the revolution and who is with it?

Something that cannot be said…A writer can never be on the side of killing. It is not possible, you know. But some people love killing and violence. How can a poet or a painter be on the [same] side as a person with an explosive belt who goes into a school and detonates himself? How? Those are children. How, how do you kill them? It is an unimaginable monstrosity. My brother, if the regime is tyrannical then fight the regime. Do not fight children and schools. Do not destroy the country. Do not kill innocent people. Fight the regime. It is humiliating. To belong to this world is humiliating. I have not seen anything like this in history, to destroy a country entirely—like Yemen—just to put in place an imbecile as president…

You see people supporting it. Intellectuals. How can you fight them? They criticize you for not being on their side. You have to become a monster like them.

Like the jihadists—

Not only the jihadists, because the jihadists are part of the people. The people who do not want this should announce their refusal publicly. Have you ever read a single official statement against this? There are individuals who say what we are saying now. But have you read an official statement from [an Arab] country, from a prominent political party, or a big group against what is being done by the jihadist groups? There is a kind of acceptance. Patience is a kind of acceptance. There was not one single protest in any Arab country against what is happening. What is the meaning of this? They kill humans and sell women in markets. They are destroying museums, the greatest human achievements, and there has not been a single protest, not a single statement [against it].  [emphasis added – LG]

In your new book, Violence et Islam, you wrote that ISIS represents the end of Islam. Will there be a new beginning?

You know, we have to remain believers. How so? If people, if humanity, comes to an end, then the world ends. As long as there are individuals—what I am saying now is that I am not alone. There are many individuals, in Egypt and other countries, who say what I am saying. This is why we have to remain confident that the human will reach a stage where he will find better solutions. But when and how will be determined in time. But I can say that the Arabs will never advance as long as they think and operate in this old, jihadist, religious context. It is not possible. This is what is extinct, what has ended. ISIS is the last shout. Like a candle about to go out, it ends with strength.

The renaissance needs time. Our society, during the fifteen centuries since the foundation of the first Islamic state, has not been able to establish a society of citizens. With a citizen’s duties come rights. Until now, Arab societies are formed of individuals who carry out the same duties but have different rights: the Christian does not have the same rights as the Muslim, for instance. Fifteen centuries. How can we solve fifteen centuries in a week or two, a month or two? But I trust that the time will come, but outside this context.

Does change require a new engagement with the West? I read your poem, “Desire Moving Through Maps of Matter” (1987), about the Eiffel Tower floating in the Mediterranean Sea, and a conversation you wrote between Abu Nawas and Victor Hugo. The bridge between Arabs and the West— . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2016 at 3:47 pm

Another bad consequence of religious-exemption laws: Religious day cares get freedom from oversight, with tragic results

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Amy Julia Harris reports in Reveal:

The God Loophole: Thousands of religious day cares across America legally are allowed to run their facilities with little government oversight. But freedom from regulation can come at a high price for children. And when things go wrong, parents have little recourse.

Like many parents, when Juan Cardenas began looking for a day care for his 1-year-old son, Carlos, he relied on word-of-mouth. A friend recommended Praise Fellowship Assembly of God in Indianapolis.

Cardenas never had planned to put his baby in day care, so he didn’t know the questions to ask. He just knew Praise Fellowship was a church. He is devoutly Catholic, so he trusted that.

“I thought they were going to do a good job because they served God,” he said.

Almost immediately, Cardenas noticed things were amiss. One day, he arrived to pick up Carlos and found the children waiting in the dark. When he asked why, someone at the day care threw the question back at him: “Do you want to pay for the lights?”

That’s when Cardenas decided Praise Fellowship wasn’t going to work out after all. He found another day care in the area, and Carlos was set to start the next week.

He never made it.

What happened next wasn’t an inexplicable tragedy. An investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found it might have been an avoidable disaster.

On Feb. 22, 2012, as Cardenas sat at his desk at a medical lab, his cellphone rang. It was his girlfriend, Maricela Serna, with disturbing news: The church had called. Their son was missing.

“Is that even possible?” Cardenas thought as he called the day care. A worker told him to calm down. They were looking for Carlos.

The day care was understaffed that day – with only four or five workers caring for at least 50 children – and somehow, the women in charge lost track of Carlos. A supervisor later admitted that “there was no system to know where each child was supposed to be and which staff member they were supposed to be with.”

At most day cares across the country, workers are required to always be within sight and sound of the children. But Praise Fellowship wasn’t like most day cares. Because it’s attached to a church, it is absolved from most of the rules designed to keep kids safe.

Sixteen states have carved out exceptions for some faith-based day cares. Freedoms vary from state to state, ranging from the minor, such as waiving a registration fee, to the extreme, where religious day cares aren’t licensed and follow virtually no rules.

Six states are particularly hands off: Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia offer religious day cares the most leeway.

Religious groups in these states have argued successfully that regulating their day cares violates the separation of church and state. The religious exemption has become increasingly popular in places where churches most adamantly reject government interference: In Alabama and Indiana, records show almost every other day care is exempt.

Religious advocates suggest parents need not worry about the lack of oversight because day cares are guided by a moral authority that eclipses any regulatory agency.

“We feel like our responsibility for the well-being of those kids is to God,” said Robin Mears, executive director of the Alabama Christian Education Association, which pushed for that state’s religious exemption in the 1980s. “We’re going to answer to him.”

Horrible accidents can and do happen in licensed day cares. But unlicensed religious facilities are off limits to most government regulators, and when problems do arise, parents may have little recourse. Without rules, none have been broken.

Religious day cares get freedoms that are unthinkable at their secular counterparts. At some, workers don’t have to know CPR or have any child safety training. At others, they can whip and spank children. Still others, like Carlos’ day care, do not require workers to be able to see and hear the children they are paid to watch.

The religious exemption baffles child care experts. Gail Piggott with the Alabama Partnership for Children has been fighting to regulate religious day cares for years.

“This isn’t about religion and people’s faith,” she said. “It’s about common sense and protecting children.”

Many faith-based day cares choose to be licensed, following the same standards as secular facilities. But day cares have a financial incentive to seek the religious exemption: Less regulation means lower costs because they can hire fewer workers, offer little or no staff training, and rarely face the upgrades that government inspectors require.

Often, Reveal found, religious day cares cater to low-income parents who are desperate to save money and trust any institution associated with the church.

But freedom from government regulation does not stop thousands of religious day cares from collecting millions of dollars a year in government funding to care for poor children. In the states with the broadest exemptions, these day cares amassed almost $323 million in government child care subsidies from 2011 to 2014, according to available data from five states.

Limited oversight means problems are hard to track. But in the available records, Reveal found that freedom from regulation can come at a high price for children. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the entire article, which goes on to tell what happened to Carlos Cardenas, as well as giving more information.

This situation is not about religion. It’s about maximizing profit by cutting the quality of service.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 April 2016 at 11:04 am

As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act

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I continue to find it ironic that American bishops presume to instruct us in moral matters. They seem to unaware of the passage (Matthew 7:5) in which Jesus says,

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

American bishops are fully charged up about the motes in the public eye but have for decades concealed the beam in their own.

Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times:

LORETTO, Pa. — By the age of 12, Maureen Powers, the daughter of a professor at the local Roman Catholic university, played the organ in the magnificent hilltop Catholic basilica here and volunteered in the parish office. But, she said, she was hiding a secret: Her priest sexually abused her for two years, telling her it was for the purpose of “research.”

By her high school years, she felt so tied up in knots of betrayal and shame that she confided in a succession of priests. She said the first tried to take advantage of her sexually, the second suggested she comfort herself with a daily candy bar and the third told her to see a counselor. None of them reported the abuse to the authorities or mentioned that she could take that step.

So when a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed in a report in March that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes Loretto, engaged in an extensive cover-up of abuse by as many as 50 church officials, Ms. Powers, now 67, decided to finally report her case. She called the office of the Pennsylvania attorney general and recounted her story, including the name of her abuser, a prominent monsignor who was not listed in the grand jury report.

“I just felt like now, someone will believe me,” said Ms. Powers, who retired after 30 years in leadership positions at the Y.W.C.A. in Lancaster, Pa.

She was not alone. Ms. Powers was among more than 250 abuse survivors and tipsters who called a hotline set up by the Pennsylvania attorney general, Kathleen G. Kane. Twenty agents were needed to answer the phones, and a voice mailbox was set up to handle the overflow.

Nearly 15 years after Boston suffered through a clergy abuse scandal dramatized in the recent movie “Spotlight,” Pennsylvania is going through its own painful reckoning. From the State Capitol in Harrisburg to kitchens in railroad towns, people say they have been stunned to read evidence that priests they knew as pastors, teachers and confessors were secretly abusing children — findings the grand jury report called “staggering and sobering.” Victims are coming forward for the first time to family and friends, and alumni of parochial schools are pulling out their yearbooks, marveling at how smiling faces hid such pain.

Multiplying the outrage, the grand jury report supplied evidence that the police, district attorneys and judges in the Altoona and Johnstown area colluded with bishops in the cover-up, quashing the pleas of parents who tried to blow the whistle on priests who sexually abused children. Some of those officials are named in the report, and some still hold public office.

“It really hit home for me when I realized that these victims are my friends, my classmates,” said State Representative Frank Burns, a Democrat, whose district includes part of Johnstown and who attended Bishop McCort High School, where the grand jury found that the abuse was rampant. “Our region is devastated by drugs, suicide, alcoholism, and then you wonder — is this abuse tied into all of this?”

Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown, who cooperated with the grand jury’s investigation but did not see the report until it was released, tried to control the damage. He urged victims to call the attorney general’s hotline.

Bishop Bartchak declined to give an interview. But he said in a letter to his diocese last month: “There is no mistaking that what has been made public this past week is filled with the darkness of sin,” adding, “We will pass through this darkness.”

In Altoona’s massive cathedral, its dome looming over the nearby churches of other denominations, Bishop Bartchak ordered the removal of all banners and portraits honoring all the diocese’s bishops. His two most recent predecessors were depicted in the grand jury report as deeply culpable in having allowed known abusers to continue to have access to children. Bishop Bartchak removed five accused priests from ministry in the last year, while the grand jury was investigating, said Tony DeGol, the secretary for communications.

Nevertheless, in the state capital, calls for full disclosure and accountability suddenly have new momentum. State Representative Mike Vereb, a Republican and a former police officer from Philadelphia,wrote a letter recently to the United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania calling for an investigation under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

“This failure was colossal. It was nothing less than organized crime,” Mr. Vereb said in an interview in his office, where he keeps his old nightstick on his desk. “There was no chance, if you were a victim, that you were going to get justice.”

A flurry of negotiations has begun over bills that had been stalled for years to extend the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal cases of child sexual abuse. Abuse victims and their advocates have long argued that just as there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should be none on the sexual abuse of children.

The legislator leading the charge to extend the statute of limitations isState Representative Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County. Still boyish at 44, he is haunted by memories of being raped by a priest in middle school — a priest he later learned went on to sexually abuse some of his friends. He said he decided to run for office in 2013 after the second of those friends committed suicide. On Good Friday a year ago, a third friend also took his own life.

“If I had spoken up when I was 13 or 14, I probably could have saved a lot of my friends. I feel a lot of guilt,” Mr. Rozzi said. “I came here to do this.”

He did not speak about his abuse until he was 39, and since then he has not stopped. He ran for office campaigning to change the statute of limitations, which imposes deadlines on when victims can bring civil suits or prosecutors can press charges. Victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania can file civil suits until they turn 30, and criminal cases until they are 50.

But Mr. Rozzi says that it can take even longer than that for abuse victims to come forward. Shame, confusion, fear and denial are all factors that can inhibit them from speaking out, so Mr. Rozzi and his allies are pushing for several bills to address this problem: One bill, scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would remove all time limits for filing civil or criminal suits relating to child sexual abuse — but this would apply only to people abused after the law is passed. Mr. Rozzi also wants to pass a temporary “window” in which adults victimized years ago could file suits no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Other states have already passed similar window laws, including California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii and Minnesota.

These window laws can leave the church and other institutions open to legions of suits. Lobbyists with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance industry have pressed lawmakers to hold the line, and they were working the Capitol’s corridors last week. . .

Continue reading.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance industry have absolutely zero interest in helping the victims. They are interested only in protecting the perpetrators. The scandal continues unabated, with powerful forces working to crush the hopes of victims.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2016 at 2:54 pm

Be careful what you wish for: Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia

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Ben Hubbard reports in the NY Times:

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.

They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.

And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.

Then they fled into the desert. The video spread rapidly across the kingdom, shocking a nation struggling to contain a terrorist movement seen as especially dangerous not just because it promotes violence, but also because it has adopted elements of Saudi Arabia’s conservative version of Islam — a Sunni creed known as Wahhabism — and used them to delegitimize the monarchy.

“Wahhabism is fundamental to the Islamic State’s ideology,” said Cole Bunzel, a scholar of Wahhabi history at Princeton University and the author of a recent paper on Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. “It informs the character of their religion and is the most on-display feature, in my opinion, of their entire ideology.”

Among 20 terrorist episodes in Saudi Arabia since late 2014, the killing of Sergeant Rashidi was the third in which citizens had secretly joined the Islamic State and killed relatives in the security services. In each case, they justified their acts by saying Saudi Arabia practiced a corrupted version of the faith, a charge aimed at a kingdom that holds itself up as the only true Islamic state.

The Islamic State, however, has been able to infiltrate the kingdom through digital recruiting, and it has found devotees willing to kill fellow Sunnis, as well as Shiites, to destabilize the monarchy.

In July, a 19-year-old man murdered his uncle, a police colonel, before carrying out a suicide attack near a prison, wounding two guards.

In an audio message released by the Islamic State after his death, he addressed his own mother.

“Your apostate brother was a loyalist to the tyrants,” he said. “Were it not for him, the tyrants would not exist.”

Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, said that terrorist attacks over the past two years had killed scores of people, along with about two dozen militants.

In addition, about 3,000 Saudis have joined militant groups abroad, and more than 5,000 have been incarcerated at home on terrorism charges, a large increase in recent years.

Saudi Arabia has a tangled history with Islamic militant groups. For a long time, it backed them as proxy forces to push its agenda in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan (where it worked with the United States). But that largely ended in 2003, when Al Qaeda turned its focus on the kingdom and staged a series of deadly attacks.

Now the Islamic State poses a new challenge, by turning aspects of Saudi Arabia’s conservative creed against it. Wahhabism has been molded over the years to serve the interests of the monarchy, emphasizing obedience to the rulers and condemning terrorist attacks, even against those seen as apostates.

Still, among the Islamic State’s many enemies, Saudi Arabia is the only one that considers the Quran and other religious texts its constitution, criminalizes apostasy and bans all forms of unsanctioned public religion.

The country was founded on an alliance between the Saud family, whose members became the monarchs, and a cleric named Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, whose teachings were used to justify military conquest by labeling it jihad against those deemed to be infidels, most of whom were other Muslims. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 7:16 pm

Did humans evolve to believe in God?

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Certainly humans (and other predators) find hope a survival advantage. I’ve watched my cats check certain spots for prey, day after day, despite prey never being present. But predators that lose hope—that give up looking—would not survive so well as those that always continue looking, despite many failures. So hope certainly would seem to convey a survival advantage and thus be favored by natural selection.

As this article points out, attributing events to a conscious agent that has a purpose also offers a survival advantage, even though the result is many false positives (since most events are random and lacking in purpose—e.g., the tree that topples onto your car in a windstorm: it’s not doing that for a purpose, it just happened. It’s not because (for example) you overdrew your account at the bank or were mean to your kids, but it might feel that way—particularly if you already harbor beliefs in a conscious controlling superpower.

Sarah Emerson writes at Motherboard:

More than eight in ten people worldwide have some sort of religious belief, according to a Pew Research Center study. Approximately one third of those people are Christian.

Even though the percentage of people who identify as atheist is on the rise, the world is an overwhelmingly devout place.

And while science versus religion has been debated since classical antiquity, we’re still a long ways off from definitively knowing how and why the human species came to attribute its existence—and the creation of everything in the universe—to spiritual entities we cannot see, and cannot prove to be real.

One theory, as illustrated in this short video from New Scientist’s Explanimator series,presents the possibility that religion emerged a long time ago as an evolutionary adaptation. According to this argument, early forms of organized religion were necessary for the building of clans that helped to ensure the long-term survival of large groups of people. Religion encouraged clans to unite around a shared belief or ritual, and allowed for the cultivation of community practices like foraging for food, hunting, and sharing childcare duties. These things would have given religious groups a key advantage over their competitors.

So as these clans continued to thrive and survive, their genes were passed on, and religion was selected for by evolution, according to the video. Clans, over time, grew into large communities that supposedly benefited from the stability that a shared faith provided, until religion eventually appeared in some form throughout every human society.

No matter how we ended up like this, our brains do seem biologically wired for religion, the video adds. “Many think our brains evolved to assume that things that happen in the world have a purpose, and if that purpose is mysterious, perhaps an unseen supernatural agent is at work.”

The argument here is that humans are “strongly attracted to explanations of events in terms of agent action—particularly events that are not readily explained in terms of ordinary causation.” Existential threats scare us, and we desire tools that help us reason with them.

Religion is therefore much like language. Humans aren’t born with an innate knowledge of French, English, Chinese, or whatever. But we are born with the ability to learn those languages based on the societies into which we are born or raised, the video adds. They help us to make sense of the world around us. Likewise, none of us are born believers, but we can pick up our faiths depending on whether or not we’re raised to believe.

It’s pointed out that religion came to be so diverse because of the different needs of different types of societies. Agrarian tribes, for example, believed in gods that represented the things they found important such as crops, water, or fire. While larger, sedentary civilizations often worshiped entities responsible for protecting elements like human affairs [e.g., a god of war – LG].

But the larger these communities grew, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:27 am

Posted in Evolution, Religion, Science

At long last: Church officials prosecuted for helping pedophiles prey on children

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Dave Phillips reports in the NY Times:

Three former leaders of a Franciscan religious order in Pennsylvania were charged with felonies on Tuesday for allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to repeatedly work with children, including as a high school athletic trainer who massaged students naked, and pull some out of class for what a grand jury report called “private physical therapy sessions.”

Tuesday’s complaint was the first time members of a Roman Catholic religious order have been charged with aiding an abuser. While the churchhas faced thousands of lawsuits over sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the past decade, criminal prosecutions of the supervisors accused of covering up for abusers have been rare.

The complaint, filed by the state’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, charged three leaders of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — with conspiracy to endanger children.

The three are accused of knowing about accusations of abuse against the friar, Brother Stephen Baker, but of not reporting him to the police or removing him from positions where he had access to children. In one, he was an athletic trainer for nearly a decade at a school where he regularly told students to undress for massages.

“They were more concerned with protecting the image of the order and more concerned with being in touch with lawyers than with the flock that they served,” Ms. Kane said at a news conference Tuesday.

Lawyers and victims groups said the prosecutions were a stark warning to the church that covering up abuse could lead to jail time.

“This is the missing piece,” said David Clohessy, the director of theSurvivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “For years, there have been pledges of reform, but we still see the same deceitful practices because those who stay silent or lie to cover up have not been held accountable.”

Brother Baker, who is accused of assaulting more than 100 children,stabbed himself to death in 2013, leaving a note apologizing for his actions.

The charges against his supervisors came two weeks after the attorney general released a scathing report by a grand jury, which found at least 50 priests and other church employees molested hundreds of children in a small Roman Catholic diocese in central Pennsylvania over four decades. In many cases, the report said, their superiors, prosecutors and the police knew of the abuses but did not act. . .

Continue reading.

Finally some basic, fundamental justice is being done.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2016 at 5:53 pm


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