Boing Boing 

Catholic Mischief in Glasgow


Even those who agree with the great Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything might be surprised to learn that the toxin extends its reach even to football (soccer). Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, has two major football teams - indeed they are Scotland's two top teams - Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.

By long tradition, the fans of these two teams break down by religion: Celtic represents the Catholics and Rangers the Protestants. Historically, the reason is the long association between this region of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Belfast and Glasgow have more in common than their depressed ship-building industries. The large Catholic population of Glasgow is mostly of Irish origin, while Orange Parades such as this one through the centre of Glasgow are all-but indistinguishable from their counterparts in Belfast.

If, in a crucial match between Rangers and Celtic, a referee's decision is unpopular, there is a high chance that he will be accused of sectarian religious prejudice, something that, I imagine, is not often seen in baseball or American football.

_48245072_orangewalk466.jpg (photo courtesy BBC News)

This is the background to bitter storm that erupted recently, in which I seem to have become embroiled although I am neither Scottish nor a soccer fan. Hugh Dallas, czar of referees for the Scottish Football Association was fired because he passed on, in an eMail, a joke about Roman Catholic child rape. The pope is not, so far as we know, a pederast, but there is good evidence that he was deeply involved in covering up the crime and contributing to its repetition by priests moved to other dioceses and parishes. Anyway, this was the subject of the joke that was sent to Hugh Dallas, and he passed it on to somebody else.

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A trip to the Peruvian Andes

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(As part of his research for a book he's writing on microfinance, Bob Harris took a trip through the Peruvian Andes, including Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, where he studied the architecture, refused to try corn-and-human-saliva beer, imbibed in coca tea ("maybe the best damn thing I ever drank"), and visited with people who live on floating islands made out of reeds. His photos and comments are fascinating. -- Mark)

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"We did not know that child abuse was a crime," says retired Catholic archbishop


Retired Catholic Archbishop Rembert G Weakland, who has been accused of covering up widespread child rape by priests in Milwaukee, has a forthcoming memoir in which he wrote the following bits of wisdom:

"We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature."

Weakland, who retired in 2002 after it became known that he paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who had accused him of date rape years earlier, said he initially "accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’."

"We did not know that child abuse was a crime," says retired Catholic archbishop

LA Times religious reporter loses faith

My favorite news magazine, The Week, reprinted this fascinating personal account written the LA Times' former religious correspondent.

Nine years ago, William Lobdell was assigned to cover religion for the LA Times. He was a born-again Christian when he got the gig. In 2001 he started studying to convert to his wife's religion, Catholicism. That was when the trouble began for Lobdell. He began reporting on the molestation scandals in the Catholic church:

200708131123I discovered that the term "sexual abuse" is a euphemism. Most of these children were raped and sodomized by someone they and their family believed was Christ's representative on Earth. That's not something an 8-year-old's mind can process; it forever warps a person's sexuality and spirituality.

Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country to escape prosecution.

I couldn't get the victims' stories or the bishops' lies -– many of them right there on their own stationery -– out of my head. I had been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders, rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different -– the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.

In 2002, Lobdell decided not to go through the rite of conversion. He stopped going to church.

Next, he started looking into Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the TV network that feature Billy Graham, Robert H. Schuller and Greg Laurie and other famous televangelists. He didn't like what he saw there, either -- a bunch of fantastically rich preachers who claimed to have a God-given power to cure people with grave diseases.

TBN's creed is that if viewers send money to the network, God will repay them with great riches and good health. Even people deeply in debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards.

I spent several years investigating TBN and pored through stacks of documents – some made available by appalled employees – showing the Crouches eating $180-per-person meals; flying in a $21-million corporate jet; having access to 30 TBN-owned homes across the country, among them a pair of Newport Beach mansions and a ranch in Texas. All paid for with tax-free donor money.


At the crusade, I met Jordie Gibson, 21, who had flown from Calgary, Canada, to Anaheim because he believed that God, through Hinn, could get his kidneys to work again.

He was thrilled to tell me that he had stopped getting dialysis because Hinn had said people are cured only when they "step out in faith." The decision enraged his doctors, but made perfect sense to Gibson. Despite risking his life as a show of faith, he wasn't cured in Anaheim. He returned to Canada and went back on dialysis. The crowd was filled with desperate believers like Gibson.

At the end of the story, Lobdell realizes that his experiences destroyed his ability to believe in God.


Reader comment:

Troy says:

Interesting post on the LA Times reporter "losing" his faith. While I agree wholeheartedly with the recent lawsuits against the Catholic church and that the authorities haven't gone far enough in sticking it to the Bishops, Cardinals, et al. and I also agree that TBN is a den of bad taste -- and even worse theology -- I would exempt Billy Graham from all that.

Did he appear on TBN? Yes he did. Did he buy into their health/wealth/prosperity theology? Hardly. Did he use their airwaves to get his message out? Undoubtedly. Graham himself was never wealthy (he earns about $200K/yr while his Association brings in over $100M) and always took a salary from his Association. I don't think he earned dime one off of any of his books, films, etc. I won't cry for him materially -- "he's got enough to eat and then some," but he lacks the conspicuous wealth of many of the others -- including Greg Laurie's Harley collection. Also witness Rick Warren giving back to his church his entire salary for the past 25 years or so and living in the same house since the 1980s and he has a ginormous cash-cow in his books -- which he does not use to enrich himself. There's no sin or hypocrisy in professional ministry per se, but there should be limits I believe in compensation -- especially when the world is watching and cutting no slack.

Anyway -- I would argue that Lobdell put his faith in the wrong thing to begin with. Christ didn't call us to put our our faith in a church -- an organization of people after all -- but in Him. An e-mail is too short to get into all that. We love our church, but we still do background checks on child-care workers and our pastor lives in a 2 bedroom in a gnarly part of Riverside (some would say all of Riverside is gnarly I realize!). No one, but a fool believes in human perfectibility.

When PR flacks "take things seriously"

Dan Gillmor's PR Week editorial, "They Take it Seriously? Oh, Sure" centers on a nice little linguistic observation: when a PR head says, "We take ______ very seriously," they mean "We don't care at all about ________."
Privacy violations, a drumbeat these days, constantly get this treatment. On December 15, the AP reported charges against a New Hampshire teenager who allegedly stole credit-card numbers from McDonald’s customers, with this quote from the company: “We take these matters very seriously…”

On December 14, after it was revealed that patients’ medical data went missing from a data-management company in Ohio, the healthcare provider’s spokesman intoned, “(W)e take this sort of thing very seriously,” according to a Pennsylvania TV station.

Taking things seriously isn’t limited to privacy slip-ups. A Texas district attorney, reacting to a Dallas newspaper’s successful campaign to unseal Catholic Church documents about alleged sexual-abuse cover-ups, said, “We take these kinds of abuse scenarios very seriously” (The Dallas Morning News, December 15).


Update: For more, see the punchline to yesterday's Penny Arcade strip -- Thanks, Jamie!

Residents of Sadr City, Baghdad angry over "Buddy Christ" leaflets

Iraqi Shiite residents of Baghdad's Sadr City are upset about smiling Jesus posters that appeared on the streets after a joint US-Iraqi military operation:
Residents found a picture of "Buddy Jesus" from [Kevin Smith's] 1999 film "Dogma" posted in the streets, accompanied by a badly photocopied pamphlet bearing a crude approximation of a US military crest and outlining a US "plan" to subjugate the neighborhood.

"That picture abuses our Imam Mahdi and his holy character, and mocks our sacred figures," said resident Abu Riyam Sunday, apparently mistaking the satirical movie still of Jesus for one of Shiite Islam's historical imams, whose images adopt a Jesus-like iconography.

Link (thanks, Mitch Wagner)

Reader comment: ttrentham says,

Kevin Smith posted on his own blog about it today: Link.
Chris says,
This story is really unfair to Muslims -- thanks AFP. It makes them sound like morons, confusing obvious iconography of Jesus for that of one of their Imams. Anyone who knows anything about Islam knows that Jesus is also a sacred figure to Muslims (though in a different way than for Christians, clearly). Shoddy journalism on AFP's part -- shockingly insensitive and ignorant of the beliefs of 1 billion people. No wonder we have trouble understanding each other. See this Wikipedia link for a good explanation.
Nathaniel Thomas says,
Although I don't know what the residents of Sadr City thought the "Buddy Christ" picture to be besides what the AFP story says, I think Chris underestimates the number of people who realize the significance of Jesus in Islam. One man AFP interviewed "apparently" thought it was the Imam Mahdi. I can't find any imagery for the Imam Mahdi, but iconography for figures important to Shia Islam are actually similar to "Buddy Christ". For example, pictures of Imam Ali: JPEG LINK.

I'm not sure how much recognition there would be of the Sacred Heart motif in Sadr City. The muscular and rather alive (as opposed to crucified) Western image of Jesus in the Buddy Christ does suggest Imam Ali. Also, the beard has a certain thickness that is close to representations of Imam Ali, as for example here: JPEG LINK.

I admit that Imam Ali appears in green with a hood, so it's not a close match. I've also never seen pictures of the Imam Mahdi.

Since "Buddy Christ" is not a typical western representation of Jesus (albeit playing off Sacred Heart images), it is entirely possible that the residents of Sady City assumed it was some mockery of Imam Ali or the Imam Mahdi by the occupation forces.

Although Chris' concern is commendable, for a Shia Muslim in Sadr City that iconography of Jesus might not be "obvious". The AFP doesn't paint Muslims as "morons", but it does show that the very Catholic Sacred Heart imagery might not be immediately apparent to some Muslims in Sadr City.

Elías says,
I don't know where the guys commenting about islam live, but I've lived all my life - 31 years now - in a city that is half catholic, half muslim, and most muslims here doesn't realize that Jesus is a prophet in islam. It's even usual to make jokes about Christ, just as some people makes jokes about Muhammad.

And I've never seen a muslim complain about profanation of christian images. For example, some time ago the spanish songwriter Javier Krahe cooked a crucifix for a TV program and the only ones who got offended were a few too delicate christians, but nothing serious (Link to video).

It is true, anyway, that muslims -at least where I live, Melilla, Spain- are not very comfortable about making jokes about christianism, for they have more respect for that religion than, e. g., judaism, and some think there shouldn't be jokes about any religion, at least the monotheistic ones. But I don't think any muslim feels particularly offended by the jokes about Jesus.

Roba says,
Will we please stop philosophizing over other religions just because we "live in the neighborhood"? Take it from someone born Muslim but who isn't religious, ALL Muslims consider Jesus a prophet and holy. In fact, it is one of tenants of Islam. You cannot be Muslim UNLESS you believe in the following:

(1) believe in God,
(2) believe in His angels (Gabriel and the whole shabang),
(3) believe in His books (New Testament, Old Testament, Quran),
(4) believe in His messengers and, finally,
(5) they do not differentiate among the messengers whom they claim to believe in. Anyone who differentiates among the messengers is, ipso facto, not a believer.

So let's stop making up stuff because of neighbors and actually start reading, eh?

Update on SubGenius child custody case

Rev. MagdalenHere's the latest news about performance artist Rachel Bevilacqua (AKA Rev. Magdalen), a SubGenius reverend who lost custody of her 10-year-son after a pink judge saw photos of a SubGenius convention she participated in. (Disclosure: I have been a card-carrying SubGenius reverend for 22 years and take the word of JR "Bob" Dobbs to be the literal truth. I have also contributed to Rachel's legal fund.)

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Woman denied custody of son for participating in SubGenius holiday

As a card-carrying minister of the Church of the SubGenius since 1984, I am outraged that a judge has taken a mother's child from her because she participated in a sacred SubGenius ritual event.
200602210936 …On February 3, 2006, Judge Punch heard testimony in the case. Jeff entered into evidence 16 exhibits taken from the Internet, 12 of which are photographs of the SubGenius event, X-Day. Kohl has never attended X-Day and is not in any of the pictures. Rachel is depicted in many of these photos, often wearing skimpy costumes or completely nude, while participating in X-Day and Detroit Devival events.

The judge, allegedly a very strict Catholic, became outraged at the photos of the X-Day parody of Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ — especially the photo where Jesus [Steve Bevilacqua] is wearing clown makeup and carrying a crucifix with a pool-noodle dollar sign on it while being beaten by a crowd of SubGenii, including a topless woman with a “dildo”.

…Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a “pervert,” “mentally ill,” “lying,” and a participant in “sex orgies.” The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect “severe mental illness”…

Link (thanks, weev!)