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In the News (August 2022)

196 clerics abused minors in German diocese

A report released June 13 found that at least 196 clerics in the German Catholic diocese of Muenster sexually abused minors between 1945 and 2020, adding to findings from other dioceses that have shaken the church in the country, according to the Associated Press.

The study, commissioned by the diocese in western Germany and carried out over 2½ years by a team from the University of Muenster, pointed to a “massive leadership failure” during the tenures of the diocese’s bishops between 1947 and 2008, with officials covering up scandals or making only superficial interventions, according to a statement from the university summarizing the findings.

“The bishops and other officials in the diocesan leadership were in some cases extensively in the know” about the abuse, co-author Thomas Grossboelting said.

The 196 allegedly abusive clerics account for about 4 percent of all priests in the diocese between 1945 and 2020. About 5 percent of those were “serial” abusers, responsible for more than 10 acts each, the authors found. They said there were at least 610 victims, but the real figure is likely eight to 10 times higher.

Most of the priests suspected of abuse were merely moved rather than having their pastoral duties curtailed, the study found.

New N.Y. laws protect abortion providers

New York has expanded legal protections for people seeking and providing abortions in the state under legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 13, as reported by the Associated Press.

The Democratic governor pushed for the laws in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court potentially overruling its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Abortion providers are worried New York will see a surge in out-of-state residents.

Out-of-state residents accounted for nearly 9 percent — or 7,000 out of roughly 79,000 abortions — performed in New York in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 5 percent — or roughly 4,700 out of 93,000 — in 2015.

One new law protects abortion providers from arrest, extradition and legal proceedings in other states by forbidding New York state and local courts and law enforcement agencies from cooperating in most scenarios.

The laws protecting abortion providers and care take effect immediately.

Officers: Covid test violates our religion

Some San Diego police officers who obtained religious exemptions from taking a Covid-19 vaccine also claim their religion forbids them from putting a cotton swab in their nose to take the test, according to a report by KBPS News.

About 10 percent of police staff, who were exempted on religious grounds, insist their Christian beliefs also instruct them not to use the swabs because they contain ethylene oxide. The chemical is a known carcinogen, but is not actually present on the swabs — it’s used as a gas to sterilize them.

The phrase “I trust in God’s perfect design of my body” was used 19 times by officers seeking the religious exemption, according to records reviewed by KPBS.

A previous KPBS investigation found officers repeatedly used identical answers on their religious exemption forms, and those answers were often copied from form letters on the internet.

Medical and religious experts say the employees’ claims are groundless.

“I can’t really understand the idea that you cannot be tested because the swabs that are being used are going to cause you cancer,” said Dr. David Pride, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego. “Realistically, there just is no evidence indicating that that would occur.”

Humanist youth authors get books translated

Bailey and Elle Harris, 16 and 12 years old, respectively, have authored four books with a humanist angle that have now been translated into four additional languages.

Through the Center For Inquiry and the Translations Project, all four of their books are available for free in Urdu, Arabic, Farsi and Bahasa Indonesia — languages chosen by the Translation Project to help make scientific and humanist literature more available in Muslim-majority countries, where such literature can be more challenging (and sometimes dangerous) to access.

Bailey has written the three-bookseries, My Name is Stardust, while Elle has written Elle the Humanist.

Bailey spoke at FFRF’s 2018 convention in San Francisco when she was 12 years old. Elle will be speaking at this year’s convention in San Antonio.

Poll: Americans’ belief in God at all-time low

The vast majority of U.S. adults still believe in God, but a record 17 percent of Americans say they don’t believe, according to a new Gallup poll.

The 81 percent who do believe in God is down six percentage points from 2017 and is the lowest in Gallup’s trend. Between 1944 and 2011, more than 90 percent of Americans believed in God.

Gallup first asked this question in 1944, repeating it again in 1947 and twice each in the 1950s and 1960s. In those latter four surveys, a consistent 98 percent said they believed in God. When Gallup asked the question nearly five decades later, in 2011, 92 percent of Americans said they believed in God.

#ChurchToo revelations growing

Survivors of sexual assault in church settings and their advocates have been calling on churches for years to admit the extent of abuse in their midst and to implement reforms, the Associated Press reports. In 2017, that movement acquired the hashtag #ChurchToo, based off the #MeToo movement, which called out sexual predators in many sectors of society.

Recently, #ChurchToo has seen a set of revelations across denominations and ministries, reaching vast audiences in headlines and on screen with a message that activists have long struggled to get across.

“For us it’s just confirmation of what we’ve been saying all these years,” said Jimmy Hinton, an advocate for abuse survivors and a Church of Christ minister in Somerset, Pa. “There is an absolute epidemic of abuse in the church, in religious spaces.”

Some advocates hope the front-burner focus on abuse could lead to lasting reforms — if not in churches, then in the law.

Louisiana governor vetoes religious bill

On June 18, Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill that would have allowed churches to be treated the same as secular businesses during a public health emergency, and broadly expanded on the state’s RFRA, saying that any law or executive order must treat churches at least as well as it treats any secular entity.

HB 953 was written to allow churches to hold in-person gatherings during a public health emergency as long as stores like Walmart and Home Depot are allowed to remain open, even if at a limited capacity.

As written, the bill stated “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, the government shall provide protections of the highest order to every church, synagogue, temple, or other place of worship and shall not discriminate against any church, synagogue, temple, or other place of worship by requiring restrictions that are greater than the least severe restrictions that are imposed upon or enforced against any secular business, service, or assembly.”

Edwards noted after his veto that the bill “purports to provide further protection for the free exercise of religion but could create a circumstance that puts churches and congregation in harm’s way in times of an emergency.” 

Nonreligious now make up 40 percent of Australians 

The 2021 census in Australia showed that more people than ever consider themselves nonreligious, and, if the trend continues, there soon will be as many nonreligious Australians as there are Christians.

Almost 40 percent of Australia’s population reported having no religion in the 2021 census, an increase from 30 percent in 2016 and 22 percent in 2011.

Christianity is still the most common religion in Australia, with nearly 44 percent identifying as Christian, but that number was at 50 percent in 2016 and more than 60 percent in 2011.

Sex abuse allegations against religious group  

Court documents from the 1990s allege that People of Praise, a religious group in which Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett once served in a leadership capacity, took part in child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, according to The Guardian. 

The documents shared on June 6 also described alleged instances of a sexualized atmosphere in the home of the founder, Kevin Ranaghan, and his wife, Dorothy Ranaghan.

Cynthia Carnick stated in the documents that she had witnessed Dorothy Ranaghan tie the arms and legs of two of the Ranaghans’ daughters — who were 3 and 5 at the time the incidents were allegedly witnessed — to their crib with a necktie. She also said that the Ranaghans allegedly practiced “sexual displays” in front of their children and other adults, such as Dorothy Ranaghan lying with her clothes on and “rocking” on top of Kevin Ranaghan in their TV room.