Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Black collar crime (March 2020)

Vol. 37 No. 02 March 2020
What cover up?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Rodney D. Luffman, 58, State Road, NC: 80 counts of indecent liberties and 35 counts of sexual offenses. Luffman, pastor of Open Arms Outreach Ministries, is charged with alleged incidents involving a female and 2 males, including a 4-year-old, mostly between 2000–15. He has also been a Methodist minister. Source: WXII, 1-21-20

Gary A. Jacobs, 74, Albuquerque, NM: 8 counts of criminal sexual conduct alleged to have been committed in 1981–84 when he was a Catholic priest in Michigan. One involves a child under age 13.

Prosecutors from state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, which has fielded a clergy abuse investigation team, also charged Roy Joseph, 52, who lives in India, with 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 2006 incident in Marquette County, where Joseph served as a priest. Source: AP, 1-18-20

George R. Scott, 64, Marietta, GA: Child molestation. Scott, a Sunday school teacher at Covenant United Methodist Church in Smyrna, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl at the church in November. It’s alleged he grabbed the girl’s breast and that the incident was observed by an adult who was present. Source: Daily Journal, 1-17-20

Paul Michaelson, 79, San Mateo, CA: Suspicion of terrorist threats and violation of civil rights by threat of force. Michaelson, a part-time outreach pastor at Hope Lutheran Church, is accused of delivering letters between Jan. 7–16 threatening to shoot members of Holy Trinity Church in San Carlos, where he was a former member.

The letters chronicled “deeply rooted” anger against Holy Trinity, said Detective Rosemerry Blankswade, who didn’t provide the alleged reason(s). Source: Pacifica Tribune, 1-17-20

Robert McWilliams, 39, Strongsville, OH: Possessing criminal tools and 20 counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor. McWilliams, a pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church, allegedly assumed a false identity and extorted minors to send him nude images. Source: Plain Dealer, 1-17-20

Obniel González Viro and Mario González Blanco, leaders of a Panamanian religious sect called “Nueva Luz de Dios” (New Light of God), and 8 sect members are charged with the murders of 7 persons in a bizarre exorcism ritual. Mario González, 60, the sect’s self-described “messiah,” is the grandfather of 5 of the 6 slain children, whose pregnant mother was also killed.

Bellín Valdés Flores, 33, was beaten in the abdomen with sticks, machetes and bibles until she died. Her children witnessed the beating before they were killed, chief prosecutor Rafael Baloyes alleged. The captives, as young as 1 year old, were going to be killed “if they did not repent their sins,” he said.

Burning sticks were allegedly inserted into the mouths of some victims. Fifteen people were rescued from captivity, officials said. Source: NY Times/Daily Beast, 1-16-20

Jaime Marin-Cardona, 51, Bridgeport, CT: 3 counts each of illegal sexual contact, sexual assault and risk of injury to child. Marin-Cardona was removed as pastor at St. Mary Catholic Parish in September when the Diocese of Bridgeport received a letter from parents concerned by the priest’s “contact with a family member who is a minor,” said a statement by Bishop Frank Caggiano.

Court documents say he is being charged for incidents in 2014 and 2016 while he was pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Danbury. Source: Danbury Patch, 1-15-20

Aharon Ramati, 60, Jerusalem, was arrested on suspicion of running a cult in which dozens of women and children lived in slave-like conditions. Rabbi Ramati, who runs the Be’er Miryam seminary, is also suspected of sexually exploiting the women. Nine women, including his wife, were also arrested for aiding him.

Sect recruits “were taught to disassociate themselves from their parents, their families and their friends,” police said. To reinforce “multiple lessons of modesty,” their fingers were thrust into a fire “to make them understand what hell is.” Source: Jerusalem Post, 1-14-20

Gershon Kranczer, 67, an Orthodox rabbi who fled from New York to Israel in 2010 after being accused of sexually abusing female relatives, was arrested in Israel and awaits extradition. Kranczer, former principal of a Brooklyn yeshiva, allegedly molested underage relatives in his home from 1996 to 2004.

Kranczer’s arrest came amid news that an Israeli psychiatric panel found Malka Leifer, a yeshiva principal wanted in Australia on sex abuse charges, is fit to stand trial. Leifer’s claims of mental illness had delayed her extradition. Source: The Forward, 1-10-20

Clarence Smith Jr., 45, Chicago: 4 counts of fraud related to charges he stole nearly $1 million by fraudulently billing a federal program in 2015–16 for meals for needy children while he was pastor of New Life Impact Church. It’s alleged he spent the money on a $142,000 Bentley luxury sedan and other personal expenses.

Smith pleaded guilty in 2011 to using forged signatures to swindle an elderly man’s estate out of more than $100,000 and was sentenced to 6 months in jail and restitution, which he still owes. He has been sued by at least 2 food supply companies for defaulting on contracts and owes over $8,000 in overdue property taxes on his church. Source: Chicago Tribune, 1-10-20

John D. Spaulding, 74, Phoenix: Child molestation and 6 counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in 2003–07 while he was a pastor at 2 Catholic parishes. He was removed from ministry in 2011 and defrocked in 2014 but is appealing his laicization. Incidents allegedly involved 2 boys under age 15.

Spaulding also had at least four allegations against him in 2011 involving abuse of boys under age 13 in the 1970s and 1980s. Source: Arizona Republic, 1-9-20

Lacey Jo Cunningham, 32, Conroe, TX: Felony improper relationship between educator/student. Cunningham, an anatomy teacher and basketball coach at Woodlands Christian Academy, allegedly had over 20 sexual encounters with a female high school student before the girl told her mother. The relationship started in August 2019 with text messages from Cunningham asking the girl to meet her outside of school for coffee and inviting her to her church.

Cunningham admitted sleeping in the same bed with the student but claimed there was “never any physical contact” and that the overnight stays were initiated by the girl, the arrest affidavit said. Source: Houston Chronicle, 1-8-20

Richard A. Logsdon, 52, Ocala, FL: Using a computer to seduce or solicit a child. Logsdon was caught up in a sting in 2018 around the same time he stopped working as an associate pastor at an unidentified church in Tampa. Until January he had evaded a warrant for his arrest issued after he had talked to police in November 2018.

In the sting, a deputy posing as a 14-year-old girl chatted with Logsdon, who spoke graphically about wanting to have sex with her. Source: Ocala.com, 1-8-20

Nathan S. Clinkscales, 29, Trenton, TX: Theft. Clinkscales is charged with stealing an undetermined amount as pastor at First Baptist Church. It’s believed to total tens of thousands of dollars. He resigned as pastor last fall after being confronted.

A church website says “Nathan is married to his wonderful wife Jordan, and they have four children. Trace, Lillian, Titus, and Judah are being raised as arrows to be shot for the mission of God.” Source: KXII, 1-7-20

Helio S. Ferreira, 41, Valdosta, GA: Identity theft, 1st-degree sexual abuse, 2 counts each of sodomy and kidnapping and 3 counts of rape. Ferreira, senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Seventh-day Adventist Church, was indicted in Oregon for assaulting 3 women in 2012, 2016 and 2018. He worked part-time for the Seventh-day Adventists Oregon Conference from 2014 to March 2019. Source: Journal-Constitution, 1-1-20

Juan A. Cruz, 41, Houston: Indecency with a child. He is accused of fondling a girl at least 4 times in his church office at Iglesia Pentecostes Templo Adonai, starting when she was 8 or 9 in 2016.

Cruz denied the charges and told investigators he thought the girl was “in love with him because she would always sniff him and tell him he smelled good,” court documents said. Source: KHOU, 12-27-19

Abdullah Al Hadi, 32, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Sexual abuse. Hadi, imam at Shahid Park Central Jame Mosque, is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old male at a madrasa, where he had gone to seek financial help for his mother’s medical treatment. Source: Dhaka Tribune, 12-25-19

Bramwell Bernardo Retana, 44, Las Vegas, NV: Sexual assault of a child under 14, luring a child with a computer to engage in a sexual act, sexually motivated 1st-degree kidnapping and child abuse and 7 counts of lewdness with a child under 14. (In January, 24 additional felony counts were added.) It’s alleged the abuse occurred “over several years” and involved more than 1 victim.

Retana, a native Costa Rican, and his wife are pastors at Iglesia Cristiana Oasis de Paz, which they founded in 2004 in their living room. Source: Review-Journal, 12-20-19

Douglas Hammond, 67, Olivet, MI: Embezzlement of $100,000 or more between January 2014 and November 2019 while he was pastor at First Assembly of God Church. At his arraignment, Hammond’s attorney entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf but Hammond told the court otherwise: “I’m sorry I did it. I’m guilty, I’m guilty, I’m guilty.” Source: WILX, 12-17-19

Pleaded / Convicted

Lawrence M. Ventline, 70, Port Austin, MI: Pleaded no contest to misdemeanor indecent exposure. Surveillance video showed him exposing his genitals to a female employee in Murphy’s Bakery in Bad Axe in August, prosecutors said. Ventline, a Catholic priest, refused to give a statement to police.

The Archdiocese of Detroit restricted him from public ministry in 2016 due to abuse allegations. He hasn’t been assigned to full-time parish ministry for nearly 20 years. State Attorney General Dana Nessel has suspended his counselor’s license, alleging he molested an 11-year-old boy during the 1989–90 school year when he was assigned to a parish and its school. Source: mlive.com, 1-23-20

Ken Harvell, 60, Colorado Springs, CO: Guilty in a federal jury trial of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and making false statements regarding that fraud to the government. Harvell, senior pastor of Southeast Baptist Church, and 3 others were convicted of a scheme to obtain immigration benefits for Rajesh and Diann Ramcharan and their minor child.

The Ramcharans, who were also found guilty, came to the U.S. from Trinidad & Tobago on visitor visas in 2007 but overstayed their visas and settled in Colorado. The scheme had several steps. Harvell signed a marriage certificate for the Ramcharans in 2010 and after they divorced, signed one for Diann Ramcharan and Army Sgt. Galima Murry, who was stationed at Ft. Carson. Murry was also convicted.

Several months later, Rajesh Ramcharan married U.S. citizen Angelica Guevara and Harvell signed the certificate. Source: ice.gov, 1-17-20

Brian Cassidy, 35, Park Hills, MO: Pleaded guilty to 1st-degree child molestation involving 2 minor girls. A charge of statutory rape was dropped in a plea agreement. A 2017 probable cause statement detailed an interview with a girl who alleged Cassidy started touching her sexually when she was 13 and he was a youth pastor at First Baptist Church in E. Bonne Terre.

She alleged they had intercourse twice, once inside the church and later in a field near her home. The other girl involved was 15 at the time. Source: Daily Journal, 1-16-20

Michael Oluronbi, 60, Birmingham, UK: Convicted by a jury of 15 rape charges, 7 indecent assaults and 2 sexual assaults. Juliana Oluronbi, 58, his wife, was found guilty of 3 counts of aiding and abetting rape.

Michael Oluronbi, originally from Nigeria, headed a splinter group of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church and allegedly targeted at least 7 victims over about 20 years. Four girls became pregnant and had abortions; some had several. “Spiritual baths” took place in a bathroom, a pretext for abuse ranging from indecent assault to rape. Children were often made to wear red sashes during the abuse. Source: BBC, 1-14-20

David J. Croyle, 61, Kittanning, PA: Guilty by a jury of statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and related charges. At the time of the alleged assaults on a 14-year-old boy about 4 years ago, Croyle was senior pastor at Family-Life Church, publisher of the Kittanning newspaper and Kittanning Council vice president. Source: Tribune-Review, 1-10-20

John E. Harris, 41, Prattville, AL: Pleaded guilty to felony assault. Harris resigned as student pastor at Glynnwood Baptist Church a month before he was arrested in 2017 and charged with sexual abuse, facilitation of travel of a child for a sex act and enticing a child for immoral purposes.

The victim’s age was key in the plea agreement, said prosecutor C.J. Robinson. Harris and the teen boy had developed a relationship through the church. “We are confident the abuse occurred,” Robinson said. “But as we prepped for trial, there was some question on when the act occurred, if it occurred when the victim was not of age. The relationship continued after the victim became of age.” Source: Montgomery Advertiser, 12-10-19

Sentenced

Jackie D. Woodburn, 64, Burtchville, MI: 17 years in prison for sexually exploiting preteen and teen girls by posing online as a 15-year-old boy. Woodburn, associate pastor at Colonial Woods Missionary Church and director of its counseling center, is a married father of 3.

Woodburn used the screen name jdwindwalker while coercing girls into undressing and engaging in sex acts on camera. Victims included a 12-year-old girl from Texas, a 13-year-old from Kansas and a 9-year-old from Virginia. Steven D’Antuono, head of the Detroit FBI, called him “a wolf in sheep’s clothing, looking to prey on the most vulnerable members of our society.” Source: Deadline Detroit, 1-16-20

Anthony Brooks, 49, Florence, KY: 6 years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal abuse for acts between July 2016 and July 2019 when he was pastor at Jesus House of Believers Worship Center.

The victim told Brooks before he was led away: “Unfortunately it just isn’t in my heart to hate you. I wish you the best and I wish that you can overcome this. But make no mistake, if this action is repeated with my siblings, I will find you.”

He was ordered to return a car to the victim and her family, which she apparently helped him buy. Source: Fox 19, 1-9-20

Kelly Shannon, 48, Warwick, RI: 5 years in prison with 18 months’ home confinement and 3½ years suspended with probation. She pleaded no contest to 2 counts of knowingly making or causing to be made 2 false police reports: That a 13-year-old boy had raped his girlfriend and, 6 months later, that he violated an order barring him from contacting the girl.

Shannon is a graduate of Zion Bible College and an evangelist with the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. She also records Christian music.

In exchange for her plea, prosecutors amended a count of possessing child pornography to fraudulently using a computer to send and receive photographs. According to an affidavit, she possessed images of a teen boy’s erect penis and took nude photos of a teen girl, identified as a relative, that she shared with boys. Source: Providence Journal, 1-9-20

Philip Grandine, 33, Toronto: 15 years in prison after jurors found him guilty of manslaughter for the 2011 drowning death of his wife when he was a part-time pastor at Ennerdale Baptist Church. Anna Grandine, 29, was 20 weeks pregnant when she drowned in the couple’s bathtub.

Tests showed she had lorazepam (Ativan) in her blood despite not having been prescribed it. Grandine had access to the drug through his other job as a retirement home nurse.

He had resigned as pastor after it came to light he was having an affair with a parishioner who was Anna’s friend. Another pastor agreed to give them marriage counseling if he stopped cheating and gave up pornography, conditions they accepted. Prosecutors alleged he uninstalled a computer pornography blocker 40 minutes before he called 911. Source: AP, 1-7-20

James R. Gillette, a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Boston, was sentenced to 5 years’ probation, GPS monitoring and sex offender registration after pleading guilty to 2 counts of unnatural acts with a minor. Charges of child rape and indecent assault and battery on a minor were dismissed in a plea agreement.

Anthony Sgherza, one of Gillette’s 2 accusers, filed a civil complaint against him in 2014, alleging he was abused for about 4 years starting when he was 9 in the 1970s. The diocese settled the suit before trial.

Gillette is still an ordained priest. Records show he has not been assigned to a church since 1999 and has lived at Catholic residences. Sgherza’s attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Gillette started abusing boys in 1971, the year he was ordained, alleging he “was shuffled from town to town, from city to city to city and then country to country. The blueprint is there.” Source: Boston Herald, 1-6-20

Cameron Giovanelli, 42, Orange Park, FL: 90 days in jail and 5 years’ probation and pleading guilty to misdemeanor sex offense and assault in Maryland. He was accused of coercing a girl who was his babysitter into having sex in 2007 when he was pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk. She was 17 and he was 29. Source: WBAL, 1-6-20

Acton Bowen, 39, Gadsden, AL: 1,008 years in prison and $840,000 in fines after pleading guilty to 28 counts of criminal sexual conduct — including enticing a child for a sexual act, sodomy and traveling to meet a child for a sexual act — perpetrated on 6 boys between ages 13 and 16. He is the founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries.

Judge Debra Jones gave Bowen the maximum on each count and ordered the sentences to be served consecutively, not concurrently. His trial is set for April on 3 similar counts in another county. Source: al.com, 12-20-19

Ahmed Moussa Ahmed, Pazardzhik, Bulgaria: 8½ years in prison for spreading hatred on religious grounds and propagating war. Moussa, imam at a mosque in Pazardzhik, is already serving a 4-year sentence on a previous conviction for encouraging would-be jihadists.

Thirteen followers, 12 men and a woman, were also found guilty and sentenced to terms from 1 to 3½ years. The woman received a 2½-year suspended sentence. Bulgaria is 13% Muslim. Source: AFP, 12-13-19

Allegations

At least 25 priests who served in the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, WI, over the past several decades sexually assaulted children. The disclosure, posted on the diocese website at diolc.org, brings the number of priests with substantiated accusations in Wisconsin to nearly 160.

Most are now dead, and the diocese said none are serving in active ministry. Source: Wausau Daily Herald, 1-19-20

David Mitchell, a Reform rabbi and head of the education department of the West London Synagogue in the UK, is accused by multiple persons of bullying staff and behaving inappropriately in front of young people. After 5 people filed complaints initially, several more came forward.

A former synagogue member alleged that on a trip to New York that included youth, she heard him make comments during a restaurant meal to a girl about rape: “The young person was raising the fact she didn’t feel safe getting home to the shared hotel alone. Rabbi David said to her, ‘Who would want to rape you?’ ”

A former staffer alleged “I left because of the bullying,” adding, “A lot of what happened to me was him making faces in meetings and making up rumors about my family and talking about me behind my back.” Source: Jewish Chronicle, 1-16-20

Disgraced Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in church money to powerful clerics over nearly 2 decades, according to records obtained by a newspaper, while the Vatican failed to act on claims he had sexually harassed young men.

Starting in 2001, McCarrick sent checks totaling more than $600,000 to clerics in Rome and elsewhere, including Vatican bureaucrats, papal advisers and two popes. In 2018 he was removed from public ministry amid allegations of misconduct decades earlier with a 16-year-old altar boy. In 2019 he became the first cardinal to be defrocked for sexual abuse.

The checks were drawn from an account at the Archdiocese of Washington. The “Archbishop’s Special Fund” enabled him to raise money from wealthy donors and spend it with little oversight. It took in more than $6 million over 17 years.

Among the biggest contributors was Maryanne Trump Barry, the sister of President Trump and a former federal appellate judge. She gave McCarrick at least $450,000 over 4 years. Source: Washington Post, 12-27-19

Civil Lawsuits Filed

The Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, is being sued by 2 men who allege molestation in 1966–68 and 1976 by Catholic priest David Ernst, who died in 1998. Ernst was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Rutherford and taught at Our Lady Help of Christians School in East Orange. One of the plaintiffs is now an Orthodox priest.

An abuse suit against Ernst and 9 other priests in 2004 was settled for $1 million. Source: Daily Voice, 1-23-20

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers are being sued in New York by a plaintiff alleging abuse as a child in Ossining by Ronald Boccieri, a Catholic priest who died in 2015. The plaintiff, whose parents were lay missionaries, alleges he was groomed on the nearby Maryknoll campus and assaulted at a cabin in the Catskills.

Boccieri convinced him to shower with him in order to save water and afterward drugged him, according to the suit.

The suit was among the last filed in 2019 under the Child Victims Act that removes the statute of limitations. The window remains open until August. Over 1,300 filings have been made. Source: Times Herald-Record, 1-14-20

Paul Burak, 73, Palos Heights, IL, faces a wrongful death suit for fatally striking 61-year-old Margaret Leja in the parking lot of an Orland Park restaurant with his vehicle Dec. 4. Burak, retired pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and Leja, technology teacher at the parish school, had attended a Christmas party.

Burak drove off after hitting Leja and another teacher but was followed by a restaurant patron. He has pleaded not guilty to causing and leaving the scene of a deadly accident. Prosecutors dropped an an aggravated DUI charge.

He told police he takes medication for Parkinson’s and blacked out after having a Manhattan and glass of wine at the party. Source: Patch/Sun-Times, 1-13-20

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being sued for $9.54 million by a woman in Turner, OR, after her husband’s confession to church leaders led to a 15-year sentence on child sexual abuse charges.

The suit accuses church leaders of violating the “priest-penitent privilege.” Timothy Johnson, 47, and his wife Kristine were members of a Stayton ward when she learned he had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with a girl under age 16. The couple followed church doctrine by having Johnson confess and repent his sins to clergy and an official church court. But leaders failed to tell Johnson if he confessed to them that they would report him to law enforcement, the suit alleges. Source: Statesman Journal, 1-8-20

James “Sonny” Tucker, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Teddy Leon Hill Jr., Millcreek Baptist Church and the Diamond Lakes Baptist Association are defendants in a suit filed by “John Doe,” now 19, alleging Hill sexually abused him from 2014–18 as Millcreek senior pastor. Hill became the boy’s legal guardian in 2016 when he moved into the parsonage.

It’s alleged Tucker failed to report the suspected abuse after a February 2018 meeting with Hill’s ex-wife, Carolyn Latham, and the abuse of Doe “was allowed to continue on multiple occasions and for months after.” Source: Democrat-Gazette, 1-5-20

Catholic priest Richard Reina, 75, and the Diocese of Buffalo, NY, are defendants in a suit filed by an unnamed plaintiff alleging Reina molested him at age 15 in 1972 when Reina was pastor at Holy Cross Parish in Buffalo.

Reina will celebrate 50 years as a priest in May. “But this certainly takes the joy out of it,” he said, while denying the accusation. Source: Buffalo News, 1-2-20

Ann Peterson, a Catholic nun, is accused of molesting then-10-year-old Pamela Hayes at St. Joseph School in Middletown, NY, in the mid-1960s. Hayes’ lawsuit alleges Peterson asked her to stay after school and then kissed her and put her hands under her clothes.

Peterson’s order, the Ursulines, operates the Ursuline School in New Rochelle. Its website lists her as a board member. She has also served as an advisory board member for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Source: Times Herald-Record, 12-10-19

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Archdiocese of Seattle reached a $1.7 million settlement involving a priest accused of sexually abusing a child in the 1980s. Dennis Champagne served at St. Michael Catholic Parish in Snohomish from 1979–99. In 2006 he was placed on “permanent prayer and penance,” a penalty removing him from public ministry.

Where or how the alleged abuse took place was not specified, nor was the victim identified. Champagne was among 16 Snohomish County priests named on a list of abusers. Source: Daily Herald, 1-9-20

The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, TN, settled a suit filed by Michael Boyd. Terms weren’t disclosed. Boyd alleged he was repeatedly molested for about 2½ years in the early 1990s by Knoxville priest Xavier Mankel and that Bishop Anthony O’Connell abused him at least twice. Mankel and O’Connell are dead.

O’Connell was the diocese’s first bishop when it was formed in 1988. In 1998 he became bishop in Palm Beach, FL, but resigned in 2002 after admitting inappropriate conduct with minors in Missouri. Source: News Sentinel, 1-2-20

The Mormon Church settled for undisclosed terms a lawsuit in Hawaii filed by “Jane Roe,” alleging molestation by a missionary in his early 20s when she was about 6 in the early 1970s at a church get-together in a private home. She never learned his name.

Several days after her parents confronted church officials, her mother told Roe the missionary was going to be sent “far away.”

“How far?” Roe asked. “She said, ‘Over the ocean.’ And that didn’t make me feel better,” Roe said in her deposition. Source: The Garden Island, 12-16-19

Legal Developments

The New Orleans Saints pro football team has asked a court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails allegedly showing team executives doing public relations damage control related to the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans’ burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

Attorneys for about 2 dozen men suing the church allege the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the team, whose owner Gayle Marie Benson is devoutly Catholic, aided the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

Attorneys for the team said it has “no interest in concealing information from the press or public.” However, they argued in court papers in January that the 2018–19 emails were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.” Source: AP, 1-25-20

Harry Thomas, 76, Medford, OR, had his 18-year prison sentence upheld by a state appeals court, which denied his request to withdraw his guilty plea. The panel found Thomas, who must serve his full term, had reached the plea agreement “freely, knowingly and voluntarily.”

Thomas was pastor at Come Alive New Testament Church and co-founder of the Creation Festival, billed as the country’s largest Christian music festival. He admitted sexually assaulting a 9-year-old, having sexual contact with 3 girls ages 7 to 9 and exposing himself to a girl. Source: AP, 12-23-19

Removed / Resigned

Salvatore DiStefano, chaplain at Oratory Catholic Preparatory School in Summit, NJ, was placed on administrative leave. “The Archdiocese of Newark takes very seriously any and all credible complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, religious, lay staff and volunteers of the Archdiocese,” spokeswoman Maria Margiotta said in a statement. Source: Summit Patch, 1-22-20

Joseph O’Meara, a retired priest-in-residence, was removed from active ministry by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and will no longer be allowed to live at St. Agnes/St. William of York Parish after being accused of touching 3 women inappropriately. Source: WJZ, 1-14-20

Thomas A. Derzack, 70, pastor of St. Nicholas Catholic Parish in Walnutport, PA, was removed from ministry after he was seen taking “disturbing” photos of wrestlers at a high school tournament, the Diocese of Allentown announced.

Derrick took the photos Dec. 27 at the Bethlehem Catholic High School gym from behind the wrestlers waiting to compete, leading to a complaint by a spectator. District Attorney Terence Houck said the photos included zoomed-in images of boys’ buttocks but were taken in a public place and did not capture nudity. As such, they did not amount to a criminal act, he said.

“Disturbing, I guess is the word you would use without it being criminal,” Houck said. Source: Morning Call, 1-6-20

Donald “Bud” Heckman, accused of sexual misconduct, reached a resolution with the West Ohio United Methodist Conference that called for him to retire as an ordained deacon and no longer perform ministerial activities.

He was accused in November 2018 by his ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend and 2 young women who alleged he harassed them at an interfaith conference. A total of 15 women have come forward with allegations but not all were willing to be part of the formal complaint.

Laura Heckman, who was divorcing him around the time of his guilty plea for stalking another complainant and chalking messages at her apartment in 2012, said she grew frightened due to his vehement threats not to pay support for their 2 children. Once, she alleged, he implied he would kill the children rather than pay for their care. She called the church. “I said, ‘Please, please help me. One of your ministers is threatening to kill my children,’ ” she recalled.

Megan Anderson, a Catholic college student, met Heckman in 2015 at an interfaith conference in Salt Lake City. He asked her to come to his hotel room after a tourist outing and tried to put his hand in her pants, according to the church’s charging document. She fled the room but the harassment didn’t end. For months, she said, Heckman sent her texts about his sexual thoughts about her.

Emily Farthing, who also got explicit texts, met Heckman in 2014 at a similar conference, where she received a student award. He offered to help her write grants and get into divinity school. In 2015 he paid for her room, separate from his, at another conference, where he came into her room in his underwear and sat on her bed.

She later learned he was telling other women, including Anderson, that they had dated and he had helped her through a dark time. “I felt like he was using me as a prop to gain the confidence of other women,” Farthing said. Source: UM News/Washington Post, 1-2-20

Other

Pedophile priest James J. Cunneen, 60, died of a heart attack before his scheduled Feb. 14 sentencing for molesting 6 Australian boys dating back to the 1980s. Cunneen joined the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in 1979 before leaving the priesthood. “To hear the lies spew out of his mouth is quite sickening,” one victim said after sitting through the 3-week trial. Source: Daily Mail, 1-9-20

Elijah Misiko, Mombasa, Kenya, assistant pastor at Ground for God’s Gospel Church, fatally stabbed his wife during a church service and then killed himself in a murder-suicide witnessed by the congregation. He left his front-row seat and approached his wife, senior pastor Ann Mughoi, at the pulpit and stabbed her twice with a knife. He then stabbed himself 3 times in the stomach and slit his throat.

The couple had been engaged in a long-running feud over church leadership and had 4 children. Source: CNN, 1-6-20

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