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In the News (April 2019)

Cardinal Pell sentenced to 6 years in prison

Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, was sentenced to six years in prison in March for molesting two 13-year-old choir boys while he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. A jury found him guilty in December of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child. He will be eligible for parole after serving three years and eight months.

Pell, who headed the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy — the third-highest Vatican post — is the most-senior Catholic cleric ever to be convicted of child sex abuse.

Pell didn’t testify at his five-week trial and continues to deny he assaulted the boys after he caught them drinking sacramental wine in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The victim identified as “J” gave video testimony seen only by the jury about how Pell forced him to perform oral sex. The second alleged victim died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at age 31.

Michael Advocate, who’s an abuse survivor, told reporters “may Pell rot in his cell” and said the sentence was too lenient. “Less than four years’ jail time for destroying the lives of two innocent young boys? Is their life only worth two years each?”

Trial details were suppressed in the press until February because Pell faced a second trial in April on charges he assaulted two other boys as a young priest in the late 1970s in a public pool in his hometown of Ballarat.

Those charges were dismissed after a judge ruled out two key prosecution witnesses.

45% of GOP: God wanted Trump to be president

A recent Fox News poll shows 45 percent of Republicans believe God wanted Donald Trump to be president. Another 18 percent indicated that they weren’t sure.

In addition, according to the poll, a majority of white evangelical Christians, 55 percent, believe that God endorsed Trump for president. Only three in 10 evangelicals said categorically that they didn’t think Trump had God’s explicit support in the election.

West Virginia sues bishop, diocese

The West Virginia attorney general filed a lawsuit against a retired top bishop and the state’s only Catholic diocese on March 19, saying that they “knowingly employed pedophiles.”

The civil suit also alleges that the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael J. Bransfield “failed to conduct adequate background checks” for employees of Catholic camps and schools, and that they did not disclose “the inherent danger to parents who purchased its services for their children.”

The lawsuit claims that the diocese and the bishop violated the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act. Criminal prosecutions of individual abuse cases have often been hampered by statutes of limitation, but the West Virginia lawsuit is a civil action, and is directed at the church’s handling of the problem, according to The New York Times.

Six charged in murder of atheist blogger Avijit Roy

Six people have been charged with the gruesome murder four years ago of atheist blogger Avijit Roy in Bangladesh.

Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. national, was hacked to death on a busy road outside Dhaka University in February 2015. His wife, Bonya Ahmed, was critically injured in the attack.

Police investigators said 11 of the 12 militants from the outlawed Ansar al Islam group implicated in the murder took part in the street killing.

Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman said of the six, two are currently on the run.

Calif. bill would force priests to report abuse

On Feb. 20, California state Sen. Jerry Hill said he would file a bill to remove clergy members from a list of those exempt from reporting child abuse.

As it stands, if someone walks into a confessional booth and admits to molesting a child, the priest doesn’t have to do anything with that information.  Compare that to public school teachers, who are required by law to tell a social worker if they learn about (or suspect) a child being abused.

The Church, of course, doesn’t want to play by those rules. Vatican officials claim the “seal of confession” is sacrosanct. Anything said in a confessional booth must be kept secret no matter what.

Boy dies after punishment for not knowing verses

A 7-year-old boy in Manitowoc, Wis., was beaten, forced to carry around a 44-pound log and was buried in the snow before he died last year. A 15-year-old boy and two adults have been charged with the murder of Ethan Hauschultz.

The boy was being punished for not knowing 13 bible verses

Damian Hauschultz, 15, is charged with first-degree reckless homicide and six other charges.

Damian’s father, Timothy Hauschultz, 48, is charged with felony murder and five other charges.

Tina McKeever-Hauschultz, 35, is charged with failing to prevent bodily harm, and intentionally contributing to the delinquency of a child.

Abstinence sex education on the rise in schools

From 2000 until 2014, the percentage of schools that required education in human sexuality fell to 48 percent from 67 percent. By 2014, half of middle schools and more than three-quarters of high schools were focusing on abstinence. Only a quarter of middle schools and three-fifths of high schools taught about birth control. By contrast, in 1995, 81 percent of boys and 87 percent of girls reported learning of birth control in school.

South Dakota requires ‘IGWT’ in all schools

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law a bill requiring public schools to prominently display “In God We Trust.”

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, every public school will be required to prominently display the national motto. The bill requires the display to be easily readable and no smaller than 12 inches tall and 12 inches wide. A prominent location is defined as a school entryway, cafeteria or other common area where students are likely to see it.

More Catholics thinking about leaving the church

A growing number of Catholics are reconsidering their loyalty to the church as more and more cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups become known.

A Gallup poll published March 13 shows that 37 percent of Catholics in the United States have questioned whether they will remain part of the church this year amid recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests. This is up from 22 percent who said the same in 2002, the last time Gallup conducted polling on this question.

Over the past year, the Roman Catholic Church has experienced a renewed reckoning, as lay Catholics questioned whether the church’s secretive, self-protective culture has really changed since 2002 (when the Boston Globe’s investigation into clerical abuse and the church’s cover-up in the Boston area helped expose the scandal nationwide).

Michigan AG: Hiding sex misconduct is over

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel delivered a strong message to Catholic churches in Michigan: The era of hiding sexual misconduct is over.

Since Michigan launched an investigation into Catholic abuse in August 2018 under her predecessor, Bill Schuette, Nessel said law enforcement received more than 300 tips of alleged sexual abuse.

Michigan is among 44 states that have opened investigations into alleged misconduct in the Catholic Church after Pennsylvania’s landmark state grand jury probe uncovered more than 300 “predator” priests accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 victims. In October, law enforcement raided all seven Michigan dioceses, becoming one of the first states to execute statewide warrants.

Democrats reintroduce RFRA Do No Harm Act

Congressional Democrats reintroduced on Feb. 28 an amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that aims to ensure the 1993 legislation is not used to permit discrimination in the name of religion.

The Do No Harm Act states that RFRA “should not be interpreted to authorize an exemption from generally applicable law that imposes the religious views, habits, or practices of one party upon another.”

Reintroduced by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass.; Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.; and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — it was first introduced in 2017 in response to the Supreme Court’s 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision.

Poll: Trump signing bibles is inappropriate

A poll released March 18 shows nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Christians in the United States found it inappropriate when President Trump signed the covers of at least two bibles earlier in March at a Southern Baptist church in Alabama while visiting a community recovering from a deadly tornado outbreak.

Videos show people holding out their bibles to the president and first lady Melania Trump to sign. Photos show the president’s signature scrawled in large writing across the covers of a pair of bibles.

Trump voters were the least likely to report they found the current president signing bible covers to be inappropriate, almost evenly split between 43 percent who approved the action and 42 percent who disapproved, the Morning Consult poll showed.