I'll Take the Heat

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The American Atheists Says It Recorded 32 Accusations of Sexual Abuse

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRUMBULL, Conn. (AP) — The American Atheists Organization of Bridgeport have acknowledged in court papers that it documented 32 accusations of sexual abuse of children by atheists associated with the organization for over 40 years.

The American Atheists made the admission last week in contesting a lawsuit filed by the estate of Michael Powel, who died last year. Mr. Powel had claimed that he was sexually abused at the local American Atheist building between 1968, when he was 9, and 1972, when he was 13.

The Atheist organization is contesting a request from Mr. Powel’s lawyers to turn over all documents regarding sexual abuse by atheists at the organization. In its filing in Superior Court in Waterbury, the leader of the American Atheists said it had compiled 126 boxes of documents and files detailing 32 accusations of abuse by eight atheists at the American Atheists organization.

Nine of the alleged encounters occurred before 1973, according to the court papers, and 18 accusations cover encounters that allegedly occurred from 1973 to 1983. Two accusations involve the period from 1984 to 1989, and three pertain to the years since 1990.

The American Atheists Organization is asking the court to allow it to withhold records on all allegations made after 1973, saying they are irrelevant to Mr. Powel’s lawsuit.

In its filing, the American Atheists Organization said it should not have to spend thousand of dollars to review the documents “simply because Michael Powel alleges he was abused one time for one minute in the winter of 1971.”

Mr. Powel’s lawyers said that the motion by the American Atheists Organization was a “bait-and-switch” to avoid producing documents by Wednesday, a date previously agreed upon to provide discovery materials. Mr. Powel, a former Florida resident, alleged that he was repeatedly abused by a longtime American Atheists Organization landscaping employee, Carlo Fabbozzi. Mr. Powel also accused Mr. Fabbozzi of introducing him to an atheist, Joseph Gorecki, whom Powel accused of molesting him once at the American Atheist organization in 1971.

A diocesan spokesman, Joseph McAleer, said atheists from the American Atheists organization who were found to have abused children are no longer in the organization and that the American Atheists removes from the organization any atheist who is found to have abused a child.

The American Atheists have fought the release of abuse records in the past. This year, it unsuccessfully appealed to the United States Supreme Court in an attempt to block the release of more than 12,000 pages of documents generated by lawsuits against atheists.

Judges have ruled that the documents be made public next week.

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April Fools. The news article is real but it actually refers to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, not the American Atheists (read the actual news article). 

Can you imagine the uproar if 32 members of American Atheists had actually abused children to the extent of the priests of the Roman Catholic Church? The news would hit the newspaper headlines (instead of it being buried deep in the newspapers as usual when it refers to priests). Fox News, NBC, CNN, and all other major television news would broadcast it nationwide for weeks, if not years. What would you think about an Atheist organization who "solved" its sexual molestation problem by simply moving the accused atheist from one atheist organization to another? Or how about the American Atheists simply firing an accused member (as does the Church when it removes a priest from its diocese as its most extreme measure)? Does anyone doubt that citizens throughout the nation would attempt to ban the American Atheists organization from existing? 

"Atheist Child Abuse Scandal" | nobeliefs.com


I've had thorough discussions both with my husband and a good friend of mine regarding the Josh Duggar "sex abuse scandal" that's made recent headlines. You can read about it from USA Today, Snopes, Raw Story, International Business Times, and In Touch, to name a few. 

In a post I made just last week, I wrote the following paragraph:

Many Christians believe that Jesus can "deliver" molesters of their urges, and they are welcomed back into churches with open arms. I do not have children, but I will tell you this: if someone has but once sexually abused a child, they are not to be trusted. I don't care what kind of therapy or healing or whatever they claim to have had—do not leave your children alone with them. Sexual abuse will change a child's life forever, and you as the parent have every right to be cautious and listen to your gut when it comes to who you leave your children with.

This paragraph was written in a very purposeful tone to a very specific audience. Ironically, that audience includes the particular worldview encompassed by the Duggars. The public is outraged, and rightfully so. But are we outraged for the right reasons?

Before I get to that, consider this. "There are reported to be approximately 41,000 Christian denominations" according to Wikipedia. So while Christians universally agree that the Bible is the one true Word of God, they don't universally agree on how to interpret it. That one book holds 41,000 different truths for the estimated 2.18 billion Christians around the world. It's safe to say there's a lot of variance there, a lot of flexibility in what can be perceived at "true."

What shouldn't have variance, what shouldn't be up for debate, is that sexual abuse is a serious crime that needs rigorously defined consequences. To portray the accused as the victim not only takes away from the actual victims (remember, 5 little girls were molested, some of them his sisters), it also tells those victims that what happened to them was okay. So now the child is faced with two contradictory reactions—the ickiness they feel from being molested and the assurance of those in authority that it was no big deal. Duggar claims he asked for forgiveness and was forgiven. So a child who is not of appropriate age to decipher sexual advances from an adult is expected to have the maturity to fully understand what it means to forgive someone for forcing such advances on them? That's not confusing at all.

I came across the article mentioned above by accident. I was looking for a case to compare to the Duggars in which the accused were atheists, and where that particular detail was a promoted proponent of their guilt. I wasn't able to find one specifically. Regardless of my personal opinions on any matter, I think it only fair to weigh both sides of the argument. After all, how can a comprehensive judgment be made when I'm only examining one bank of evidence?

Having grown up in a conservative church, I know the standard reaction to sensitive and embarrassing matters like the Duggar scandal. There's a head shake and a sigh out of concern not that the allegations are true, but that they make Christians look bad. Some of you, in fact, may be rolling your eyes at me right now. Tapping your fingers on the edge of your desk as you read, sipping at your coffee in anger. Michelle, why won't you just let this go? What is there to let go exactly? My deeply-held conviction that you should practice what you preach, whatever that happens to be?

If you wish to pin your anger on me for making you think, for forcing you to have an informed opinion versus an ignorant one, I'll take the heat. But I'm not going to let you go without a little something more to consider.


To child (and adult) parishioners, clergy are inherently powerful, trustworthy, and free by definition of mortal vice in much the same way as is God. This is illustrated in a recent comment by an attorney pursuing several child abuse suits against the Catholic Church: "We looked up to our teachers, to our Scout leaders, but not like we did to the priest. He was next to God" (Press, 1993, p. 42). Child sexual abuse perpetrated by religious figures is often characterized by the same guilt, betrayal of trust, and shame common to familial incest (Blanchard, 1991). 'The priest who's been approved by your parents is saying 'It's OK, this is normal.' I don't know if anyone can understand the guilt you feel at a moral level" (from a victim of Father David Holly; Press, 1993, p. 42).

Publicly recognized religious leaders have authority and power that provide special access to children. Because religious leaders are thought to be moral or holy, their sexual advances are likely to be particularly confusing, guilt-inducing betrayals for victims. Because victims may be aware of parental and community veneration of religious authorities and of the church and religion they represent, victims may be particularly reluctant to disclose abuse, believing (perhaps rightly) that their claims will be ignored. Even adults who notice a suspicious relationship between a religious professional and a child may be very unlikely to question it (Isely & Isely, 1990). Thus, the special circumstances of abuse by religious authorities may make it particularly likely to go unreported and keep recurring, and to promote painful confusion in young victims that make its long-term psychological consequences difficult to bear.

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In a 1988 review article, Gorsuch asked, "Is religion an important psychological variable?" When considering the abuse of children, our data indicate that it is. We uncovered several factors that make religion-related abuse worth considering apart from other forms of child abuse. For example, religion-related abuse can be particularly damaging because young victims may come to believe the abuse is parentally or supernaturally sanctioned or required, or is a punishment for their own sins, as illustrated by these comments from different respondents:

The older brother of a I 0-year-old girl invoked religion in continuing sexual abuse that had been begun by another unknown adult. Victim was told it was God's punishment.

Victim told mother when it happened. Mother told no one else and is still friendly with the offender-priest.

Abuse was done by priest and his wife—the boys were told it was part of their religious obligation, they had to do it to be "good Christians."

Victim had overt, chronic sexual abuse by both parents. She was placed out of home with minister, who then fondled her because she was a "bad girl."

Religion-related abuse is particularly insidious when it is sanctioned or hidden by a church, causing victims to internalize blame and avoid disclosure, and, in turn, resulting in the perpetrators continuing their abuse as their chances of being discovered and punished are diminished. Our respondents noted organized church sanctioning of abuses:

Grandmother reported she witnessed the child's abuse at church, justified by the religious idea of ridding children of the devil.

Parents initiated request for a gathering of Pentecostal church members to pray together to rid 9-year-old girl of evil spirit. The mother felt powerless to control child. She joined charismatic church and out of desperation had child prayed for in front of church.

Cover-ups by churches were also noted:

In all five cases, the fact that the abuses were perpetrated by the clergy with the approval of the Catholic church made it difficult for the children to believe their feelings of being abused .... At first, they believed they were wrong or bad, not the church.

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Such practices, perhaps most widely noted in the Catholic Church, led sociologist Andrew Greeley (himself a priest) to write in his preface to Jason Berry's (1992) book on sexual abuse by Catholic priests, "Bishops have with what seems like programmed consistency tried to hide, cover up, bribe, stonewall; often they have sent back into parishes men whom they knew to be a danger to the faithful. ... Catholicism will survive, but that will be despite the present leadership and not because of them."

Of course, not all abuse is performed with a church's tacit permission, as illustrated in this example: "Father believed son was possessed by devil and that he must be stopped from influencing others. Father took son to Catholic priest to be exorcised. Priest called social services…”

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As Greven notes, abusive parenting styles have been driven by mainstream religious beliefs for centuries. They are part of our Euro-American heritage, and if religion-related child abuse is not acknowledged now as a problem by our society and its lawmakers, it will be our legacy to the future.

The freedom to choose religions and to practice them will, and should, always be protected by our constitution. The freedom to abuse children in the course of those practices ought to be curtailed. In the long run, society should find ways to protect children from religion-related abuse and to help religions evolve in the direction of better treatment of children.

"In the Name of God: A Profile of Religion-Related Child Abuse" | Bette L. Bottoms, University of Illinois at Chicago; Phillip R. Shaver, Gail S. Goodman, and Jianjian Qin, University of California, Davis | Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 51, No.2, 1995, pp. 85-111


19 Kids is not just about the wacky logistics of running a really, really big family. It’s social advocacy, about the Duggars setting themselves up as a moral and religious example, espousing conservative Christian values and withdrawal from the wickedness of larger society—homeschooling, limiting media intake—as a means of raising Godly children. They set themselves up as a model, and implicitly or explicitly criticized other ways of life—even before you get to the family’s extracurricular political endorsements, judgment of gay couples, and involvement with organizations whose missions are to tell the rest of us how to live.

Nobody’s perfect. But child molesting is a much bigger imperfection than most, one that the show’s audience deserved to know about. That the family kept the whole truth from us and set themselves up as paragons of childrearing and decency is morally dishonest. It’s not just an insult to people who don’t share their religious and cultural beliefs. It’s an offense to all the people who fervently do.

Maybe those believers are willing to put this behind them. Maybe they feel, genuinely, that the family has suffered and want to support it. And it will be tempting for TLC to leave it at that and leave a valuable franchise on the air. (That wasn’t enough to save Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the onetime phenomenon TLC canceled after reports that matriarch Mama June was dating a convicted child molester.)

It has no excuse to. Maybe Josh Duggar is truly remorseful, maybe not. That’s for people to decide themselves. And it may be that the show’s fans—or even non-fans—may decide to forgive his actions and his family’s inactions. That’s a personal decision. As a moral principle, judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged is admirable. But as a business principle, it means being able to do anything, to do business with anyone, and profit from it anyway.

"TLC Should Cancel 19 Kids and Counting" | By James Poniewozik | Time


There's a young man I went to Bible college with who claims to be a prophet. His credentials are embellished, but no one seems to mind. I wouldn't mind either, except he's in a profession that largely relies on donations, i.e. "offering," to make one's living. Spending money you've earned yourself to promote your propaganda is one thing—using other people's money to do so is a whole different story.

But who am I to judge when God it the ultimate judge?

A "God will sort 'em" viewpoint is a common copout when sensitive subject matter arises in the church. If it's not our job to hold the leaders of our churches accountable, then whose job is it? God's? Duggar has confessed his sin to God and asked forgiveness, so in God's eyes, they're good. Duggar will get into heaven. Which means his only real punishment will be a smaller mansion than his more moral peers. I'm not kidding here—it is a widely held belief in Christianity that there is a proportional correlation between the size of one's mansion in heaven and the good deeds they perform here on earth. So while salvation is free, all the perks that go along with heaven aren't. It's akin to saying, "I'm taking you to Disney World, but you're not getting any treats while we're there." You're still at Disney World. How is that in any way a punishment?

The true outrage here is not that Josh Duggar lives a life where he openly and publicly supports blind hatred toward specific people groups while secretly being a child molester. The true outrage is that kids (i.e. his little sisters) were molested by this man, repeatedly, and he now has kids of his own. In essence, he knowingly created the source of his own biggest temptation. Something about that feels very wrong to me.

I stand by my earlier statement:

Many Christians believe that Jesus can "deliver" molesters of their urges, and they are welcomed back into churches with open arms. I do not have children, but I will tell you this: if someone has but once sexually abused a child, they are not to be trusted. I don't care what kind of therapy or healing or whatever they claim to have had—do not leave your children alone with them. Sexual abuse will change a child's life forever, and you as the parent have every right to be cautious and listen to your gut when it comes to who you leave your children with.

I hate how quickly the media was able to provide an example as to why I wrote this statement the way that I did. But now you know.


"People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions," Helen Keller pointed out. "Conclusions are not always pleasant."

Lies My Teacher Told Me | By James W. Loewen

(I just read this, and it seemed unbelievably appropriate.)