Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Evangelical Fellowship of Canada continues dialogue with Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? Amos 3:3

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
II Corinthians 6:14-17

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which claims to represent four million Evangelicals, continues its downward and Romeward ecumenical course, as reported by the EFC on January 22, 2018:

The national Roman Catholic–Evangelical Dialogue met for its semi-annual meeting on 13 December 2017 in Mississauga, Ont. Dialogue participants discussed questions relating to evangelization, vocation, and mission based on a variety of readings provided by both the Evangelical and Catholic participants.

A primary focus of the meeting was dialogue surrounding the roles of lay and clerical vocations in relation to mission. The readings recommended by both caucuses contributed significantly to the depth and richness of the conversation. Catholics and Evangelicals affirmed the fostering of vocations within the Church by living the message of Jesus Christ in their lives, both individually and as communities.

The Catholic–Evangelical Dialogue is jointly sponsored by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Dialogue was officially launched in 2010, following recommendations from a working group that was established in 2008-2009.

The goal of the Dialogue is to seek mutual understanding and learning from one another, to dispel harmful stereotypes and to seek ways and means to foster Christian unity. Members of the Dialogue pray together and seek to gather together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to witness to their common faith in Jesus Christ.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 8 May 2018, and will focus on reflections from both caucuses related to tradition, Scripture, salvation and the Church.

Backlog: World Wildlife Fund calls on leaders of various religions to unite to save African wildlife from poachers

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
II Corinthians 6:14-17

Christians are not to unite with unbelievers even in good causes--and I think saving endangered wildlife from poachers is a good cause. If Christians want to speak or act on this issue, they should do so as Christians, not as members of an inter-religious body. As reported by Jason Straziuso of Associated Press, September 21, 2012:

NAIROBI, Kenya — Standing before a pile of charred elephant ivory as dusk covered the surrounding savannah, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders grasped hands and prayed. Let religion, they asked, help "God's creatures" to survive.

Poachers are escalating their assault on Africa's elephants and rhinos, and conservationists warn that the animals cannot survive Asia's high-dollar demand for ivory tusks and rhino horn powder. Some wildlife agents, customs officials and government leaders are being paid off by what is viewed as a well-organized mafia moving animal parts from Africa to Asia, charge the conservationists.

Seeing a dire situation grow worse, the animal conservation group WWF is enlisting religious leaders to take up the cause in the hopes that religion can help save some of the world's most majestic animals.

"We are the ones who are driving God's creatures to extinction," said Martin Palmer, secretary-general of the Britain-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

Palmer spoke during Thursday evening's prayer at a site in Nairobi National Park where Kenyan officials burned hundreds of ivory tusks in 1989 to draw attention to the slaughter of elephants. Although the park has no elephants, it hosts 221 rhinos.

"We are the ones who can change the way Africa works," Palmer said.

Dekila Chungyalpa, the director of WWF's Sacred Earth program, argues that the killing of elephants, rhinos and Asian tigers — the three animals WWF is most concerned about — is a moral issue. She said that conservationists are not doing well enough getting the anti-poaching message across, and that new strategies — such as religion — must be tried.

"Faith leaders are the heart and backbone of local communities. They guide and direct the way we think, behave and live our lives," she said, adding later: "I think this is the missing piece in conservation strategies. ... WWF can yell us much as we want and no one will listen to us, but a religious leader can say 'This is not a part of our values. This is immoral.'"

Three dozen religious leaders from nine African countries toured Nairobi National Park on Thursday, where they saw rhinos, zebras, buffalo and ostriches all within site of the skyline of Kenya's capital city.

One of the safari vans held a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Buddhist, which spawned efforts to create some sort of wildlife-themed religious joke. During a more serious conversation, Hamza Mutunu, a Muslim leader from Tanzania, argued for the animals.

"The general message is that taking care of the wildlife is part and parcel with our religion," he said. "We have a duty from the Prophet Mohammed. ... Taking care of wildlife is within our religion."

Preetika Bhanderi, who is with the Hindu Council of Africa, said: "Hindu's backbone is non-violence toward everything that has life. That means animals, and people, of course."

Charles Odira, a Catholic priest from Kenya, said religious leaders can help spread the message effectively given the moral authority and standing they have in African communities.

"Just as when we talk about Jesus Christ, when we say (from the pulpit) that animals are part of God's community, an impact will be made," he said.

Odira acknowledged the uphill fight even religious leaders have. Poachers can earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a rhino horn or elephant tusk. That money represents far more than they could earn after years of labor in the typical village job.

Mutunu, though, said that religious leaders of all faiths came together in Loliondo, Tanzania last year to fight against poaching. He said the effort has yielded dividends.

The poaching numbers are grim. The number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa has risen from 13 in 2007 to 448 last year, WWF says. Last year saw more large-scale ivory seizures than any year in the last two decades, it said. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed by poachers each year.

It's not known what kind of impact religious leaders may be able to make, but Mike Watson, the chief executive of the Kenya's Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, said he and other conservationists will take any help they can get. Lewa saw one of its rhinos killed by poachers last week. The park had never suffered a rhino poaching death before 2009; it's had five of its rhinos killed since then.

"We know for a fact that one of the demands for ivory is religious icons in the Far East, and if pressure can be brought to bear to reduce that demand both locally here in Kenya through assistance by religious leaders, and overseas, it can only be a good step," he said. "It might take generations. If religious leaders can some way speed that process up, all well and good, but all efforts need to be on the table."

Africa is the supply side of the poaching equation, but the demand comes from Asia. Chungyalpa said WWF is working with Buddhists in Southeast Asia to try to educate Asian consumers about ivory and rhino horn powder. Yao Ming, the oversized basketball star from China, visited Kenya last month to raise awareness and make a film called "The End of the Wild."

Chungyalpa compared the effort to enlist religious leaders in the anti-poaching fight to how religious pressure helped end the era of apartheid in South Africa.

"There has to be a rising up of moral outrage," she said. "This is the spirit we're after."

Backlog: Amish sect leader and followers receive prison sentences for beard- and hair-cutting attacks against other Amish

As reported by Erik Eckholm in The New York Times, September 20, 2012 (links in original):

Samuel Mullet Sr., the domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect, and 15 of his followers were convicted on Thursday in Cleveland of federal conspiracy and hate crimes for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall that spread fear through the Amish of eastern Ohio.

The convictions of Mr. Mullet, along with several relatives and others from his settlement who carried out the assaults, could bring lengthy prison terms. The verdicts were a vindication for federal prosecutors, who made a risky decision to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect’s violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals.

Defense lawyers in the case and an independent legal expert had argued that the government was overreaching by turning a personal vendetta within the Amish community, and related attacks, into a federal hate-crimes case. But the jury accepted the prosecutors’ description of the attacks as an effort to suppress the victims’ practice of religion, finding Mr. Mullet and the other defendants guilty on nearly all the charges they faced of conspiracy, hate crimes and obstruction of justice.

The victims “simply wanted to be left to practice their own religion in their own way in peace,” Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a news conference after the verdicts were announced. “The defendants invaded their homes, physically attacked these people and sheared them almost like animals,” Mr. Dettelbach said.

Mr. Mullet, 66, the founder of a community near Bergholz, Ohio, and 15 followers, including six women, were tried for their roles in five separate attacks last fall, involving assaults on nine people whom Mr. Mullet had described as enemies. The jury, which had no Amish members, heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated more than four days before reaching a verdict at midday on Thursday.

Although Mr. Mullet did not directly participate, prosecutors labeled him the mastermind of the assaults, in which groups of his followers invaded the homes of victims, threw them down and sheared their beards and hair. Among the traditional Amish, men’s long beards and women’s uncut hair are central to religious identity.

Prosecutors argued that the attacks were intended to humiliate those who questioned Mr. Mullet’s cultlike methods, which included forcing errant followers to sleep in chicken coops and pressing married women — including his own daughter-in-law — to accept his intimate sexual “counseling.”

Some of the victims had angered Mr. Mullet by refusing to honor his shunning decrees against his foes, calling them an improper use of his power as a bishop and accepting those he sought to banish into their own churches. Other victims had moved out of his settlement and attacked him as a cult leader.

The peculiar attacks first drew national attention last fall when several men from the Bergholz settlement were arrested on state kidnapping and burglary charges. The assaults, and then the public trial, were a searing experience for the region’s Amish, who normally lead placid and intensely private lives, without electricity or cars, and try to settle disputes peacefully without involving law enforcement.

The testimony included an elderly woman’s account of her terror as six of her children and their spouses made a surprise late-night visit, with the men holding down her sobbing husband as they hacked off his beard and hair and the women cut her waist-length hair to above the ears as she prayed aloud.

During the testimony, the 16 defendants, in traditional attire, and their lawyers sat around four tables that took up half the courtroom. In the gallery sat dozens of Amish supporters of the victims, including several of Mr. Mullet’s elderly siblings, who shook their heads as witnesses described his unorthodox methods. Also in the gallery was Mr. Mullet’s wife, who sat impassively as a woman who used to live in Bergholz spoke of how Mr. Mullet pressured her to come to his bed.

The stakes for the defendants were raised when federal prosecutors stepped in to charge Mr. Mullet and 15 others, including several of his children and other relatives, with federal conspiracy and hate-crime charges that carry potential sentences of several decades. Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.

The defendants did not deny their roles in the attacks, which were carried out with battery-powered clippers, scissors and razor-sharp shears that are designed to trim horse manes. Rather, the case turned on the motives for the attacks and whether it was appropriate to make them into a major federal case under a 2009 hate-crimes law.

To prove the most serious charges, the jurors had to be convinced that the defendants had caused “bodily injury,” which could mean “disfigurement,” and that the attacks were based mainly on religious differences. Lawyers for the defense argued that cutting hair was not disfigurement and that the attacks resulted from family and personal differences, including a bitter custody battle involving a daughter of Mr. Mullet’s, as well as disputes over the “true” Amish way.

During the trial, Edward G. Bryan, Mr. Mullet’s lawyer, said that his client might have known about the attacks but did not order them. According to testimony, Mr. Mullet stayed up late to greet attackers when they returned to the compound after one of the assaults, accepting a bag of shorn hair as well as disposable cameras used to record the victims’ humiliation. The prosecutors argued that his followers would not have acted without Mr. Mullet’s approval, citing what one of his sisters called the zombielike obedience of Bergholz residents.

Mr. Bryan said Thursday that Mr. Mullet planned to appeal, in part on the grounds that the federal law had been misapplied.
As reported by Trip Gabriel in The New York Times, February 8, 2013 (link in original):

The leader of a dissident Amish sect was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Ohio Amish that drew national attention.

Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, the leader, was sentenced in Federal District Court in Cleveland for coordinating assaults that prosecutors argued were motivated by religious intolerance. Fifteen of his followers, including six women, were given lesser sentences, ranging from one year and one day to seven years.

The breakaway Amish were convicted last year of multiple counts of conspiracy and hate crimes, which carry harsher punishment than simple assault.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Mr. Mullet. Defense lawyers claimed the government was blowing out of proportion personal vendettas that Mr. Mullet harbored against former followers and other critics, and thus did not deserve a long sentence.

But in passing sentence Judge Dan Aaron Polster told Mr. Mullet and his co-defendants that they were being punished for depriving victims of a constitutional right, religious freedom, whose fruits they enjoyed themselves as Amish through exemptions from jury service and other laws.

“Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment,” Judge Polster said...

...Prosecutors argued that because of the religious symbolism of the attacks, they were hate crimes. Mr. Mullet was convicted of coordinating four attacks on a total of eight victims, though by all accounts he did not directly participate.

Speaking in court Friday before the sentencing, his ankles in chains and a white beard reaching his chest, Mr. Mullet said he was being labeled a cult leader, which he denied. He asked to be given the punishment for all the defendants, who included four married couples. “Let these moms and dads go home to their families, raise their children, I’ll take the punishment for everybody,” Mr. Mullet said, according to WKYC-TV in Cleveland.

Although Mr. Mullet is an Amish bishop, his strict interpretation of his faith and an abrasive personality had caused individuals to leave his fold and other Amish leaders to isolate him. He presided over a settlement of about 18 families reached by a dirt track near the town of Bergholz.

The trial of the 16 defendants, including three of Mr. Mullet’s sons, unveiled a tiny sect in thrall to its leader, who in the name of purity abolished Sunday church services and punished men for ogling non-Amish women by confining them to chicken coops. Testimony also detailed how Mr. Mullet pressured married female followers to have sex with him, including a daughter-in-law.

Another defendant, Lester Miller, apologized before the sentencing to his parents, whom he and others, including his wife, Elizabeth Miller, had attacked. He asked the judge to spare his wife, “to put her sentence on me,” so she could care for their 11 children, according to WKYC-TV.

Many of the defendants also asked the judge to give them all or part of Mr. Mullet’s sentence and to lighten his burden.

Ms. Miller and four other women received the shortest sentence, a year and a day, and the sixth woman, Linda Schrock, was given two years.

Mr. Mullet’s lawyer, Edward G. Bryan, had argued that his client had not directly ordered the attacks and asked for a short sentence. All the defendants have two weeks to file appeals.

In handing Mr. Mullet 15 years, Judge Polster said he oversaw his flock with “an iron hand” and that he was “a danger to the community.”

Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, argued in a sentencing memo that Mr. Mullet was responsible for the crimes because he preached to followers that “Amish hypocrites” should be punished.

Mr. Dettelbach said in an interview that he was satisfied that all of the defendants were given prison time.

“In court today, sitting there and watching defendant after defendant after defendant stand and say they would yet again sacrifice years of their lives so Mr. Mullet would not have to be punished, proved the court judge was absolutely right in characterizing Mr. Mullet’s control over these people,” Mr. Dettelbach said. “Whether or not you call that a cult is none of my business.”

Throughout the ordeal, Mr. Mullet’s community of about 135 has stood by him, vowing to continue living in isolation from other Amish, whom they condemn for drinking, smoking and playing musical instruments.
As reported by Mr. Eckholm, August 27, 2014:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned the hate-crimes convictions of the leader of a breakaway Amish sect and his followers who sowed fear in the Amish of eastern Ohio in 2011 for a bizarre series of attacks in which they cut the hair and beards of rivals.

But the sect’s leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., who is serving a 15-year sentence, will not immediately be freed, and nor will eight followers who are still in prison with lesser sentences.

While their hate-crimes convictions were voided, the defendants remain under indictment for those crimes and could be retried. Federal prosecutors have weeks to decide whether to appeal Wednesday’s decision, call for a new trial or drop the case. The convictions of Mr. Mullet and his followers for the lesser crime of obstruction of justice remain in place.

In voiding the convictions, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled that the judge in the 2012 trial that convicted Mr. Mullet and 15 followers had given the jury an overly expansive definition of a hate crime. (Seven followers have completed their prison terms.)

At the urging of federal prosecutors, who were pressing for an unusual application of the 2009 federal hate-crimes law, the judge told the jury that the religion of the victims must be only one “significant factor” among others in motivating the assaults. But the appeals panel ruled that the judge should have told jurors that, for the attacks to be a hate crime, the religion of the victim must be the predominant motivating factor, and said the evidence did not support that conclusion.

“When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intrafamily disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks,” the appeals court ruled...

...“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” said Wendi L. Overmyer, a federal public defender from Akron who argued the appeal.

While “it only addresses one of many issues we raised,” she said, the rejection of the jury instructions was an important step. “Now, all the defendants will be given a chance to have the charges considered under the correct standard of law.”

Defense lawyers had sought a more sweeping repudiation of the government’s decision to invoke the federal hate-crimes statute, with its stringent penalties, in a dispute among feuding members of the same religion. But the circuit judges confined their decision to the jury instructions and what they called a lack of evidence that religion was the primary motivating factor.

One member of the three-judge panel dissented, arguing that the convictions should stand and that Mr. Mullet in particular had acted “because of the victims’ religious beliefs.”

The United States attorney in Cleveland, Steven M. Dettelbach, said in a statement that federal prosecutors were “reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”

If they decide to pursue a new trial, the defendants could apply to be released on bond, said Edward G. Bryan, a federal public defender in Cleveland who represents Mr. Mullet.

“I hope this decision today takes us one step closer to returning Mr. Mullet to his home and community,” Mr. Bryan said, “but we’re not out of the woods.”

Mr. Bryan said he had spoken by phone with Wilma Mullet, one of Mr. Mullet’s daughters, who remains in Bergholz and was not involved in the assaults. “She was happy but cautious,” he said, and promised to spread the word of Wednesday’s court decision among the community.
As reported by Mr. Eckholm, March 2, 2015:

A federal judge on Monday reduced the prison sentences for the leader of a breakaway Amish sect and seven followers who were convicted in a series of beard-cutting attacks on rival Amish in 2011.

But the judge, Dan Aaron Polster of Federal District Court in Cleveland, rejected the call by defense lawyers for the leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., and other defendants to be freed immediately, with their sentences reduced to the more than three years they have already served.

Monday’s resentencing became necessary after a federal appeals court voided the men’s convictions on the most serious charges, of violating federal hate crime laws, ruling that the jury had been given an overly broad definition of a religious hate crime.

Defense lawyers argued that the men had already more than paid the price for their remaining convictions, for obstructing justice. But federal prosecutors argued that the sentences should not be reduced because the defendants committed violent and premeditated attacks that terrorized the Amish of eastern Ohio.

Judge Polster, who gave out the sentences in 2013, seemed largely to agree with the prosecutors on Monday, reiterating that the attacks were intended to inflict religious humiliation.

Mr. Mullet’s sentence was scaled back to 10 years and 9 months, from 15 years. The seven-year sentences given to four other men were reduced to five years, while three other followers saw sentences cut to three years, seven months from five years.

Six women and two men were sentenced to one or two years each and have already been released.

Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney in Cleveland, said, “We’re gratified that there are significant terms of incarceration for what we feel was repeated and violent conduct.”

But Mr. Mullet’s defense lawyers said the new sentences, particularly that for Mr. Mullet, who is 69, were clearly excessive and vowed to appeal...

...Whenever Mr. Mullet is freed he will return to a community “forever changed,” as his defense lawyers put it. In November his wife of 49 years, Martha Mullet, died from cardiac arrest. Mr. Mullet was not permitted to attend her funeral.

One of Mr. Mullet’s daughters, Linda Schrock, took her younger children and left the close-knit settlement after finishing her two-year prison term. Several young men also left, in part because of a shortage of unrelated young women to marry.

As to whether the Amish are actually Christians, I recommend the radio broadcasts of The Berean Call, with Tom McMahon interviewing Joe Keim: Part 1 (September 16, 2016); Part 2 (September 23, 2016).

Backlog: Big law firm uses fingerprint-scanning to track employees

As reported by Niamh Scallan of The Toronto Star, November 1, 2012:

The days of sneaking out for three-hour lunch breaks will soon be over at a Bay Street law firm after it decided to install fingerprint-scanning technology to monitor its employees’ whereabouts.

Last month, McCague Borlack LLP announced plans for a revamped security system that will require staff (except lawyers who spend much of their time with clients) to clock in and out of the office with a finger swipe, keeping track of morning late-comers or those who try to jump-start their weekends by slipping out early on a Friday.

“Some people were abusing the system,” said founding partner Howard Borlack, 58. “We had people taking two to three hours for lunch and we had no way of knowing. . . . Some people were complaining.”

Other Toronto firms use security passes and honour systems to keep track of time worked. McCague Borlack, which focuses mostly on insurance law and employs about 200 people, has gone a step further with a system that not only provides office access via fingerprint, but also records employees as they enter and leave.

Come mid-November, when the system is expected to go live, the office will be equipped with finger-scanning machines supplied by Utah-based Qqest, Inc. that will keep a rolling record of the time spent in the office.

It’s mostly about improved building security, said Borlack, a way to keep track of people coming in and out of the office and streamlining administrative tasks. But with concern within the firm that some people are working less than 40 hours a week, the monitoring feature is “a huge bonus.”

“I know we have people who probably work less than 35 hours a week and if I listen to all the griping about certain people, I’m sure it’s well less than that,” Borlack said.

A boon for productivity-conscious managers, the plan has drawn outrage among a group of bloggers who identify themselves as McCague Borlack secretaries.

On their “Finger Campaign” website, the group has accused the firm of singling out secretaries and copy-room staff (by exempting some lawyers from the program), and called the system an “insult to our human dignity” that has had a “very chilling effect on the secretaries’ psyche.”

“The indignant fingerprinting program does not seek to address any security concerns at all,” one post read. “It’s for the ‘mark ’em and track ’em’ purpose exclusively.”

Borlack admitted he “knew it would be uncomfortable” for some employees, but said he was careful to ensure the fingerprint technology would not violate privacy issues. He denounced the “Finger Campaign” as false, noting the new measure was intended mostly for security purposes and most staff seemed to be on board.

Rosa DeFrenza, a receptionist at the firm for five years, said she had not yet seen the “Finger Campaign” website, but said she thought the program could help to standardize work hours among her colleagues.

She added that diligent workers, herself included, had no reason to be concerned about the program. “No one should be working more than anyone else, no one should be working less than anyone else,” DeFrenza said.

But where to draw the line?

Carleton University law professor Michael MacNeil, who specializes in legal issues surrounding privacy and surveillance, said the fingerprinting system is just one example of the way workplaces are using technology to monitor and maximize productivity.

But legislation has lagged behind the trend, he said, leaving more questions than answers over what constitutes an invasion of privacy in the workplace.

“There’s a lot of it going on,” he said. “It’s an area where the law is underdeveloped.”
If a religious group used methods such as those described above, it would be considered evidence of the group's cultic character. Indeed, that comparison has already been made. Mary Otvos, a young woman who was quitting the practice of law after 10 years wrote an article titled Why I'm Leaving Law, which appeared on pages 12-17 of the February 1992 issue of Canadian Lawyer. Unfortunately, the magazine's online archives don't go back that far, and that article doesn't seem to be available online. One of the observations that Ms. Otvos made was that big law firms are like religious cults in their efforts to control their people. That article appeared 20 years before McCague Borlack began using fingerprint technology to monitor their employees' whereabouts; the use of surveillance technology has enabled the cult leaders to be even more controlling.

Backlog: Fossil of spider attacking wasp is preserved in amber

As reported by Cassie Ryan of The Epoch Times, October 9, 2012 (updated October 1, 2015):

A unique Early Cretaceous fossil found in Myanmar contains a spider poised to attack a wasp around 100 million years ago.

The orb weaver spider, the parasitic wasp, and at least 15 intact strands of spider silk, are all captured inside the Burmese piece of amber.

“This juvenile spider was going to make a meal out of a tiny parasitic wasp, but never quite got to it,” said George Poinar Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University, in a press release.

“This was a male wasp that suddenly found itself trapped in a spider web.”

Interestingly, part of an adult spider is present in the fossil on the same web, which is the oldest known evidence of sociality in spiders.

Nowadays, social behavior in spiders is quite unusual with most species being solitary and even cannibalistic.

The resin engulfed the creatures in the split-second just before the juvenile spider was about to catch the wasp.

“This was the wasp’s worst nightmare, and it never ended,” said Poinar.

“The wasp was watching the spider just as it was about to be attacked, when tree resin flowed over and captured both of them.”

The research was published in Historical Biology.
Click on the link to see the abstract of the original article Predatory behaviour of the social orb-weaver spider, Geratonephila burmanica n. gen., n. sp. (Araneae: Nephilidae) with its wasp prey, Cascoscelio incassus n. gen., n. sp. (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) in Early Cretaceous Burmese amber by George Poinar and Ron Buckley in Historical Biology, Volume 24, Number 5, October 1, 2012 (pp. 519-525).

The photograph that accompanied the original print article--which, for some reason, doesn't appear in the online version--showed creatures that any modern person would recognize as a spider and a wasp. Just one question, Chief: If these creatures had evolved to such a state 100 million years ago, why haven't they evolved beyond that in the 100 million years since?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Self-driving Uber car runs down and kills pedestrian in Arizona

As Paul Harvey used to say, "If you don't have enough to worry about..." As reported by Gabrielle Olivera and Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic, March 19, 2018 (links in original):

In what is believed to be the nation's first pedestrian death involving an autonomous vehicle, a 49-year-old woman was hit and killed by a self-driving Volvo operated by Uber while crossing a street in Tempe on Sunday night.

The woman was crossing Mill Avenue outside the crosswalk near the Marque Theatre at about 10 p.m. when she was hit, police said.

Sgt. Ronald Elcock, a Tempe police spokesman, said the car was on autonomous mode with a driver behind the wheel when it hit the pedestrian.

The woman, identified as Elaine Herzberg of Mesa, died at a hospital.

Uber said that its operations of self-driving cars have been "paused." The company did not dispute the police report of the vehicle operating in autonomous mode.

Uber has been carrying customers in the self-driving cars in limited parts of Tempe and Scottsdale.

"Our hearts go out to the victim’s family," Uber said. "We’re fully cooperating with local authorities as they investigate this incident."

The Phoenix area is among several sites where Uber, Waymo and other companies are testing autonomous vehicles. Nearly every accident involving autonomous cars so far has been the fault of other drivers. Sunday's fatality was the first.

In 2016, a man driving a Tesla car with partial automation was killed in Florida when he hit a truck. However, that vehicle was not intended to operate without an attentive driver, in contrast with the Uber and Waymo vehicles.

Uber and Waymo have drivers in their test cars in the Phoenix area to take control only when the cars encounter a traffic situation they can't negotiate, or if they are driving outside of areas the companies have mapped sufficiently enough to allow the cars to run on their own. Waymo has even taken operators out of the driver seat for some tests.

As of Monday afternoon, police were investigating what caused the collision and said that Uber was assisting.
Hollywood predicted this decades ago:

HT: Vox Popoli

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Roman Catholic priest in Michigan embezzled $5 million in church offerings to build himself a mansion

As reported by Francis X. Donnelly of The Detroit News, March 14, 2018 (bold in original):

Williamston — The Rev. Jon Wehrle, who is proud of his prowess as a builder, constructed his masterpiece on the rural outskirts of this central Michigan town.

The two-story, stone-façade house has eight bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, a library, wine cellar, indoor swimming pool and wood-paneled elevator. The 11,300-square-foot home boasts granite counter tops, limestone fireplaces, walnut hardwood floors, crystal chandeliers and stained-glass windows.

Wehrle, 67, who was pastor of St. Martha Church in Okemos, lived in the mansion, which a contractor said was worth $3 million to $4 million.

How could a Catholic priest who earned $42,000 a year afford such opulence?

Police officials argue the clergyman had stolen from the Sunday collection plate for at least 19 years. An audit found $5 million missing from church coffers, they said.

Wehrle was charged with six counts of embezzlement last year and forced to resign. His trial is scheduled for April 9 in Ingham County Circuit Court.

“It’s shocking, the whole thing,” said church member Reba Dean. “We’re all kind of upset about it.”

Wehrle declined comment. His attorneys didn’t respond to emails or phone calls.

The Catholic Diocese of Lansing may have missed several chances to stop the alleged pilfering, according to interviews, depositions, police reports, court records and trial testimony reviewed by The Detroit News.

During construction of the home in 2007, Wehrle was embroiled in a contentious lawsuit over his failure to pay one of the building contractors. The contractor, Russ Martin, told The News he had contacted the diocese back then and said Wehrle was using church money to pay for the construction.

During a 2007 deposition in the lawsuit, Wehrle said he used church checks to pay for the home. He said he switched money from his personal bank account to the church account and paid contractors from the church account, according to the deposition. He said he did so for “convenience” but didn’t elaborate.

Also, a church secretary recently told police she had been aware of Wehrle using church money for personal expenses, but it wasn’t clear whether she ever told anyone, according to investigative reports by the Michigan State Police.

“The home wasn’t a secret,” Martin said. “It was too big to be a secret. A priest building a $3 million-$4 million home is fishy.”

Diocese officials declined to discuss the matter.

As for the cleric, Wehrle, who goes by Father Jon, could be inscrutable, acquaintances said. He was a self-described curmudgeon who seemed to prefer his own company.

Between his gruff demeanor and bulky 6-foot-5 frame, he intimidated some church members, they said.

But, if you got to know him, he was quite likable, said friends. The bear of a man became a teddy bear. He was smart, kind, funny.

“He’s a decent wonderful man who built a beautiful parish for us,” said church member Patty McPhee.

Wehrle was a foster parent who adopted three boys in their early teens in 1986, 1993 and 1998, according to court records.

A drive for construction

One of the first things anyone who got close to Wehrle learned was his passion for building, friends said. He inherited it from his late dad, whom he revered.

Harold Wehrle was an electrical contractor in Adrian who was always looking for vacant lots where he could build a house, Jon Wehrle said in the 2007 deposition.

No sooner would the family move into a home than Harold would be finishing the next one, Jon said. The Wehrles moved 12 times in 15 years.

“The joke was, when the windows needed to be washed, it was time to move,” Jon said in the deposition.

As a child, he accompanied his father to work sites, drilling holes and pulling wire as they set up the house’s electrical system. an adult, he repeated his dad’s pattern of serial home building, he said in the deposition. It continued after he was ordained as a priest in 1978 and worked in three parishes in Hudson, Burton and Jackson.

By the time he arrived at St. Martha in 1988, he had built and lived in six homes.

Jon Wehrle said he would lie awake at night imagining the design of the next house. He sketched his ideas, gave them to an architect, bought a lot, hired subcontractors and oversaw their work, visiting the work site every day.

Wehrle knew his stuff, acquaintances said.

Retiree Ted Beekman, one of the founding members of St. Martha, said he was playing golf when he overheard several builders discuss the construction of St. Martha. Wehrle had apparently caught one of the contractors using substandard wiring and forced him to reinstall it.

“They said, don’t go to St. Martha and try to pull something over the priest. He knew what he was doing,” said Beekman.

Okemos building supervisor

Wehrle believed it was his acumen as a builder that got him tabbed to start a new church in Okemos, he said in the 2007 deposition. When he was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Hudson, he supervised the renovation of its church.

In Okemos, he was involved in every phase of building the new church, from design through construction. It was built on the site of a former drive-in porn theater.

While the church was being built, the diocese allowed Wehrle to use parish money to pay the mortgage of a home he was building, the diocese told police. Once the church was done, he would sell the home and move into the rectory.

Werhle built a 6,000-square-foot home in Okemos, according to property records. He told the local paper he had built such a large house to prove to himself that he could. He said he had taken the best parts of his six earlier homes and combined them in this one.

“I don’t have to live in a house of this stature,” he said in the 1989 Lansing State Journal article.

He sold the home for $370,000 in 1990, according to property records. He sent the diocese a check for $25,000, saying it was reimbursement to the parish, according to a copy of the 1990 letter in diocese files, which was described in a state police report.

Then Bishop Ken Povish wrote back, asking Wehrle to describe all parish spending on the home to show how he had determined it was $25,000. The mortgage had been $190,000.

No other letters were in the diocese file, according to the police report.

Rural rectories

Wehrle never moved into the rectory.

Instead, after selling the 6,000-square-foot home, he bought a 3,600-square-foot home on 25 acres in Williamston, according to property records.

He said he had an agreement with Povish to continue living in private homes at church expense, but three bishops told police they weren’t aware of such a deal, according to the police report. Povish died in 2003.

One of the bishops, the Rev. Mike Murray, who was Povish’s chief of staff, flatly denied such an agreement existed. He said Wehrle was supposed to stop using church money after selling his Okemos home in 1990.

“I can say with certainty that neither I nor Bishop Povish knew of, or approved, payments from St. Martha’s Parish,” Murray said in an affidavit.

Wehrle was returning from Mass in 2000 when he spied a sale sign on an old farm house across the street from his Williamston home.

He pulled into the driveway and was instantly smitten, he said in the 2007 deposition. The 10-acre lot had a large pond that made it an ideal place to build a home.

And not just any home. Wehrle, who plays the organ, said he wanted to build a house big enough to hold three theater pipe organs he had bought from around the country. The living room had to be large enough to allow the sound from 32 sets of pipes to unfurl, he said.

He said the home needed just two bedrooms, but he built eight “to attain balance and scale,” according to his deposition.

Controlling church coffers

Wehrle had sole access to St. Martha’s finances, staffers told police. He was the only person allowed to open the mail, pay bills and handle payroll.

Members donated $1 million a year, based on weekly contributions described in church bulletins.

Christine Korpela, church secretary for 22 years, told police last year she wasn’t surprised they were looking into church finances.

She described Wehrle as a controlling micromanager who did everything by himself. Korpela said she knew he had used church checks to pay for personal expenses.

“Korpela stated there are many red flags including the fact Father Jon does everything alone,” said the police report.

Korpela declined to talk to The News.

Diocese officials told police they had little oversight over parish finances. The church was required to file a financial report every year, but the figures weren’t independently verified.

Audits were done whenever there was a change of leadership at a parish, but Wehrle was the only pastor at St. Martha during its first 29 years, according to the police report.

In fact, it was a tightening of financial controls that led to the discovery of the questionable spending at St. Martha.

When George Landolt became chief financial officer of the diocese in 2012, one the first things he did was hire an auditor to review spending by all of its parishes, he told police.

The auditor, Plante Moran, visited St. Martha the next year and recommended it hire a bookkeeper, spread financial duties among several people and use a software program that allowed the diocese to overview the spending.

But Wehrle balked at the changes over the next few years, Landolt said.

Relations between Wehrle and Landolt became so contentious Wehrle told Bishop Earl Boyea in 2015 he would deal only with Tom Pastula, a former chief financial officer who was still with the diocese.

But even with Pastula, Wehrle refused to allow anyone to see parish financial records or its general ledger, Landolt told police. At that point the diocese decided to do a full audit of St. Martha’s books.

What the audit found

The audit discovered Wehrle had written checks from St. Martha to pay for furnishings, work and materials at his home and his mother’s former home near Jackson. He also had written checks to himself and three family members, who weren’t identified.

In the number column of invoices, Wehrle attributed the spending to the rectory, parking lot, maintenance-parish and fringe benefits-parish, according to the police report.

His mansion seemed to be in a perpetual state of improvement, police said. In 2016 alone, $140,500 was spent on the home.

“It’s big and it’s beautiful,” said neighbor Marian Jurkowski. “We could never figure how a priest could afford it.”

An incomplete audit of 70 boxes of financial records seized from the church showed $4 million in expenditures stretching back to 1998, prosecutors said. Another $1 million is unaccounted for, they said.

Most of the money went for a home whose opulence begins at the entrance to the property, police said. A gate is bordered by two 15-foot stone pillars with statues of lions on them.

A stroll along the 10-acre property takes one past a four-tier fountain, three barns, a pond ringed by a stone balustrade and a Victorian-style gazebo with a cupola in a garden filled with statues, according to photos taken by police.

“(It’s) such a massive estate on a massive piece of land with massive barns and outbuildings,” said Andrew Stevens, assistant Ingham County prosecutor.

Inside the mansion, everything seems to be in duplicate: double stove, double fridge, double shower heads, two pianos, a two-floor library.

The house also has bidets, canopy beds, leather couches, hot tubs, 10 fireplaces, 12 flat-screen TVs and a doorway with 20 panels of stained glass, the photos show.

But not all the trimmings are secular. The throw pillows on one couch show the face of Jesus.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Paraguay and Honduras are reported to be ready "in principle" to move their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem

As reported by Jewish News Service, March 12, 2018 (links in original):

Following on the heels of the United States and Guatemala, Paraguay and Honduras have announced that they are ready “in principle” to relocate their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to Israel’s Army Radio.

The countries have conditioned their moves on an official visit to their countries by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu visited Latin America in September, but did not stop in Paraguay. During Netanyahu’s trip, Paraguay’s President Horacio Cartes traveled to Buenos Aires to meet with Netanyahu.

At the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, President Jimmy Morales announced that Guatemala would move its embassy to Jerusalem “two days after the United States moves its embassy,” tentatively scheduled for May 14.

In December, following the announcement that the United States would move its embassy and officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn America’s announcement.

The nine countries to vote against were Israel, the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo. Paraguay was one of 35 countries to abstain, while another 21 countries did not participate in the vote.

President Milos Zeman has also expressed his desire to move the Czech Republic’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Backlog: Plastinated fetuses for sale in China

This item is very bizarre, and I can't verify its truth, but as reported by Lu Chen and Matthew Robertson of The Epoch Times, October 16, 2013 (bold, links in original):

A screenshot from the website of the Beijing Overseas Star Science & Technology Development Co. shows a variety of plastinated fetus specimens for order.

In the annals of all strange things to emerge from China, the wares for sale — but not really for sale — on the website of the Beijing Overseas Star Science & Technology Development Co. must rank among the strangest.

That is, plastinated fetuses. Or more simply: dead unborn babies that have been pumped full of plastic, which preserves them for medical research.

They’re available for sale from between $10,000 and $12,000, according to an English-language advertisement on Alibaba.com, the equivalent of Ebay in China. The company can supply 5,000 of them per year, the ad says.

According to Chen Guoxin, the director of the company reached by telephone, the plastic babies are not actually for sale. On his own website, the price next to them is 0 yuan. This is because, he said, “it’s illegal to traffic human bodies in China.”

Instead, Chen said, “We donate the fetus to medical institutes for research, and they can donate money to us in return. We can negotiate a price for compensation or support to us to avoid legal risk.”

When asked by a reporter how much would be expected as donation, he said “around $10,000.”

Multiple strands of very China-specific developments were required to make way for this possibility. These include an abundance of aborted, dead fetuses as a result of the one-child policy, and secondly, the technical ability to plastinate human specimens, brought to China in the 1990s by the German impresario Gunther von Hagens, who built a multimillion dollar empire by charging people to view his works.

Fetuses are available in sets of 5, from 12 to 20 weeks old; those who need to can also purchase an embryo set (running from 4 to 8 weeks of gestation) complete with placenta and umbilical cord.

Fetus Source
Mr. Chen was coy on the conditions of how the fetuses are obtained. He said they came from hospitals, but could not explain why so many were available, and repeatedly cautioned that no money changed hands. Buying and selling fetuses would be illegal in China, he said several times.

He said that his company works with a third party — whose name he would not disclose — that performs the plastination and works with the hospital to obtain fetuses.

Aside from Mr. Chen’s cautions, the rate of abortions and forced abortions in China is known to be extremely high, due to the Chinese Communist Party’s birth control policies, which typically restrict families to one child. The result is a documented, enormous number of abortions, forced and otherwise: an average of 7 million a year, according to official data.

Hospitals have been known to drown or strangle babies in front of their parents, and in one case that stirred public outrage in 2012, a killed fetus at seven months of development was simply placed on a hospital bed next to its distraught mother. It is likely that fetuses of this sort make their way into the ranks of the plastinated.

A Legal Question
Mr. Chen was adamant in his discussion with a reporter that the company followed all applicable laws in its processing of plastinated fetuses and other human specimens. He did not explain why they were advertised for sale on Alibaba, where that was supposed to be illegal, however.

The company lists an impressive number of registration certificates and licenses on its website, but phone calls to several of the groups referred to did not clarify matters.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ), and the China Quality Certification Centre, both of whom are listed on Beijing Overseas Star Science & Technology’s website, said that human specimens are not in their bailiwick.

GAQSIQ recommended a reporter call the Ministry of Health’s consultation hotline. A staff member there, after being apprised of the situation, was surprised and said: “A medical device company like that shouldn’t have the qualification to do research on human specimens. Of course it’s illegal.”

She added: “Doing research on human specimens needs to go through organ donation institutes via legal procedures. A medical device company has nothing to do with human specimens.”

Plastination and its Abuses
The technique of plastination has a checkered history in China. It was pioneered by Gunther von Hagens, who found that China — the city of Dalian, in particular, when it was the stomping ground of disgraced Chinese official Bo Xilai in the 1990s — was particularly accommodating to his line of work.

Von Hagens and, later, a former employee who took von Hagen’s techniques to establish his own plastination empire, were able to obtain bodies with relative ease. Von Hagen’s former partner, Sui Hongjin, is suspected of having used executed prisoners, including the bodies of killed Falun Gong practitioners, among his plastinations, given that the area in which he operated was a key center for the persecution of the practice and the suspected organ harvesting of adherents.

Chen Guoxin’s company sells adult specimens, too — not just babies. One can purchase plastinated thymuses, bisected brains, urinary tracts, and even sliced-open faces.

A whole specimen of the human body is around $30,000 to $40,000 — donated, not purchased, of course, Chen said. He assured the reporter proudly: “The quality won’t change in 1,000 years.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New head of European Roman Catholic bishops' commission opposes European nationalism

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth.

And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth...

...And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
Revelation 17:1-9, 18

It comes as no surprise to this blogger that those who suspected that the European Union would be dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and would be used to serve her interests are increasingly being proven right. It's God Himself who split people into nations (see, for example, Acts 17:26), and nowhere in the Bible do you see Him bringing the world together. I can think of only three places in the Bible where the world comes together as one, and in all three instances it's the world coming together in rebellion against God: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9); at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 19:19); and at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-9). In all three cases, the rebellion is unsuccessful. The Roman Catholic Church has decided to put herself on the side that's opposing God--while claiming to represent Him.

As reported by Catholic News Service, March 10, 2018 (link in original):

BRUSSELS – The new head of a commission representing Europe's Catholic bishops pledged to combat populism and promote European unity.

"The European Union is a gain for the common good, and this is why the church should be in constant dialogue with it," said Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, elected president of the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community March 8.

"But certain citizens have their own preoccupations, and there's now a growing populism. Combating this needn't mean adopting populism's adages, but engaging in a true dialogue of depth and friendship, where everything can be said," he said.

Archbishop Hollerich said he was ready to work with everyone "dedicated to respecting and protecting human dignity" and believed COMECE, as the commission is known, played a vital role in placing people at the center of EU policies.

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, outgoing president of the commission, also urged church leaders to "get the forces of dialogue going," rather than thinking they had "an answer to everything."

"We need this more than ever in Europe – not to talk about each other, but with each other," Cardinal Marx told Germany's Catholic news agency, KNA, March 8.

"There are different perceptions now of what the EU is, what a free society and open democracy are – and we have to talk about this," he said.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Former Archdruidbishop of Canterbury sides with atheist leader against religious schools in Britain

Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it:
That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged...
...And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 6-7

When the former Archbishop of Canterbury (who also happens to be an ordained Druid) sides with the leader of the secular humanists, that alone should be enough to tell you that there's something wrong with this position. The United Kingdom didn't have to worry about "social cohesion" before it adopted the suicidal policies of multiculturalism and mass immigration, particularly of Muslims. As reported by Olivia Rudgard of the London Daily Telegraph, March 5, 2018 (link in original):

Faith schools must not be allowed to admit more children on the basis of religion, leaders have warned.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph a group of 70 faith leaders, politicians and academics warned that lifting a cap which stops new faith schools admitting more than 50 per cent of children on the basis of religion would be "deleterious to social cohesion and respect".

The signatories, led by former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, warn that the policy, promised in the Conservative manifesto, "allows schools to label children at the start of their lives with certain beliefs and then divide them up on that basis".

"The Government rightly identifies the promotion of mutual understanding and tolerance for those of different religions and beliefs as one of the most important roles for schools. As we are all aware, children are blind to the differences and immune to the prejudices that so often divide society.

"The duty of the education system, therefore, should not be to highlight and entrench such differences in the eyes and minds of young people, but to emphasise instead the common values that we all share.

"Removing the 50 per cent cap on religious selection at faith-based free schools runs entirely counter to this ambition," the letter, also signed by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, Professor Richard Dawkins and Baroness Joan Bakewell says.

It adds that opinion polls showed that 80 per cent of the public opposed a change in policy.

The rule, introduced in 2010, requires oversubscribed, newly-established religious schools to keep at least half of their places open for applicants who are admitted without reference to their faith.

The policy, first announced in November 2016, has not yet been implemented.

Last month new Education Secretary Damien Hinds said he would follow through on the manifesto commitment to abolish the ban on schools taking more than 50 per cent of pupils on the basis of religion.

The Catholic Church has supported the removal of the cap, choosing not to establish any new schools as long as it was in place.

In the past the Catholic Education Service has argued that it goes against the church's rules to turn away Catholics as it has a duty to educate them.

This is despite significant demand for new places in the schools.

At the end of last year it encouraged parents to write to the Government asking it to lift the cap.

However, the Church of England has said that the cap does not affect its work.

Earlier this year its chief education officer Nigel Genders said: “Neither the removal nor the retention of the faith cap will impact on our existing schools or any new ones we open.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Education Service said: “Existing Catholic schools, which can allocate all places on the grounds of faith, are the most socially and ethnically diverse schools in the country. They also educate more than 300,000 non-Catholics including 27,000 Muslims.

“All credible evidence, including the Government’s own analysis, points to the fact that the 50 per cent cap hasn’t created diversity. This is because minority faith schools are only popular with their respective community. Catholic schools on the other hand are extremely popular with parents of all faiths and none.

“All the cap achieves is that it prevents Catholic parents from having the same choice of schools enjoyed by other parents.”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Former Israelite House of David member launches lawsuit over the sect's remaining assets

As reported by Mike Martindale of the Detroit News, March 6, 2018 (bold in original):

Pontiac — An excommunicated member of a century-old west Michigan religious group is alleging a few “interlopers” have conspired to loot more than $50 million in assets from the organization.

Charles W. Ferrel, 59, who lives in Hawaii, claims in his 27-page Oakland Circuit Court lawsuit that a few members of the Benton Harbor-based Israelite House of David have diverted funds from the organization’s purpose, endangered its favored federal tax status as a nonprofit and exposed it to potential tax liabilities.

Ferrel, a former trustee and director of IHOD, said he was wrongfully excommunicated five years ago but is still faithful to the church’s doctrines and wants to prevent its destruction. Ferrel seeks reinstatement and control of assets he alleges have been diverted to at least 10 limited liability companies.

Short of that, he believes the organization’s sizeable assets should be turned over to the state of Michigan.

“It is the most bizarre lawsuit I have seen in my entire career,” said Ferrel’s attorney, David M. Black, who has been practicing law for 43 years. “The group itself is a very interesting chapter in Michigan’s history involving communal life, even an entombed leader. There was the purchase of Australian real estate, and a way station in Hawaii.

“And now persons here who have had little to do with the church are now attempting to enrich themselves with its assets.”

Ferrel names Gregory Eversole of Bridgewater and Brian Ziebart of St. Joseph as part of the alleged conspiracy.

Eversole, 66, could not be reached for comment. A social media posting described him as a retired accountant from St. Joseph who had taught college-level accounting classes.

When reached for comment, Ziebart, 55, described himself as an “employee of the House of David” but declined to elaborate. Ziebart, who on a personal website listed his work history as a “scooper” at an ice cream business, is now described as an IHOD archivist and historian.

He referred questions to his attorney, Eric Nemeth, a Novi tax attorney and resident agent for the IHOD companies.

“No one has even been served with this (lawsuit) yet but from what I know Ferrel is making some exaggerated, fabricated, inaccurate accusations and we will be vigorously defending our clients, including Eversole and Ziebart,” Nemeth said.

“It baffles me why (Ferrel) is doing this,” Nemeth said. “He signed an agreement several years ago in which he irrevocably surrendered his membership and interests. Irrevocable is irrevocable.”

Nemeth declined to detail the 2013 agreement or confidential settlement made out of court to Ferrel, whose attorney, Black, described it only as a “large check.”

Ferrel was living on the island of Maui in Hawaii, which had been envisioned as a “way station” between Benton Harbor and Australia, a country that figured prominently in IHOD’s formation and present-day finances.

Ferrel was partly responsible for managing the church’s Hawaiian center and overseeing assets in Australia between 2010 and 2013, when he, his mother and Ferrel’s male partner were excommunicated by IHOD.

How it began

To help understand complex matters with the IHOD group, it is helpful to review its colorful history. A thriving Christian communal colony, the Israelite House of David was started in southwestern Michigan in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell, two Ohio preachers who joined the “Visitation Movement.”

According to court and historical records, by 1906, the IHOD colony owned about 1,000 acres where members harvested fruit and grain. By 1916, the group numbered around 1,000 members who lived communally, shared property, practiced vegetarianism and abstained from tobacco and alcohol.

The colony had its own carpentry shop, cannery and orchestras. It created a miniature railroad, zoo, amusement park and traveling baseball team with players who sported long hair and beards.

Because of such nonreligious activities, the IHOD drew the attention of the Michigan attorney general, who in 1907 determined it was holding and using real estate in excess of its charter.

This led to the original corporation being dissolved and a new group being formed under the leadership of Brother Benjamin Purnell.

According to the Ferrel lawsuit, in 1904, Brother Benjamin had traveled to Australia to recruit IHOD members and obtain property.

An Australian colony was envisioned, where IHOD members would “ingather” as the world collapsed as predicted in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. The faithful would live on vast tracts of Australian property outside Sydney before returning to Benton Harbor and repopulating the world.

According to court records, after allegations of financial impropriety were made against Brother Benjamin, IHOD split into two factions in the 1930s — one led by Purnell, another by his wife, Mary — and property was set aside in a trust for the benefit of members.

The membership of the Australian group was largely forgotten and by the early 2000s, according to the lawsuit, only one member survived: a trustee named Joyce Jones who kept the financial affairs of the colony confidential.

Jones died in 2010 and according to the lawsuit, the Australian financial assets amounted to a fortune. The land acquired in Australia had appreciated in value over generations and accountants there had sold off the property and reinvested the proceeds.

While membership back in the U.S. had also shrunk, a few members remained in the Benton Harbor area, including Wilma Estes, who had befriended Ferrel and his mother, according to the lawsuit. Both of the Ferrels became IHOD members in 2010.

‘They are almost all gone’

Chris Siriano is the founder and owner of the House of David Museum on Main Street in St. Joseph, and has spent 30 years collecting, preserving and displaying the history of the group. The museum contains more than 10,000 photographs of residents of the commune and thousands of pieces of historical memorabilia – from musical instruments to amusement rides.

Siriano, a local historian, has written two books on IHOD and produced a documentary, “The History of the House of David, A Compelling Curiosity.”

Siriano also has taught classes on IHOD, which built more than 100 structures on church property, including a 32,000-square-foot, 102-room mansion where only one member lives today. Church members had interests in gold and diamond mines, Siriano said.

“They were a fascinating, creative, very intelligent group,” said Siriano, who has also reopened the IHOD amusement park, complete with a miniature train, which was closed for decades.

“They had a semi-pro baseball team that was the only white team to play in the Negro league. ... They had a female pitcher who struck Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig out in the same game.

“What I could never understand is with all their knowledge and vision, how they couldn’t see they were killing themselves off — I call it race suicide.”

The IHOD congregants were celibate, he explained. And in time, members died off.

“They felt that if they followed their own rules, they would live forever,” he said. “But they didn’t believe in procreating their families.”

Siriano said he has talked with several IHOD members over the past five years and local banks that received fund transfers from Australia. He speculates assets exceed $217 million.

“Sad that they (members) are almost all gone now,” he said. “There is only one member who has been here since the ’40s and he is nearly 100 years old and in very poor health.”

The last ‘true believer’?

According to the lawsuit, Eversole was part of a group that “conspired and hatched a plan” under which Eversole, who taught accounting at a local college, ingratiated himself with Estes.

An IHOD tenet called for each incoming member to transfer his worldly goods to the community.

“Mr. Eversole did no such thing,” the lawsuit alleges. “Rather, he transferred his property and business to his family to keep it from IHOD, the very antithesis of the communal community that defines IHOD.” The lawsuit said Eversole does not live communally, refrain from alcohol or practice vegetarianism.

According to the lawsuit, Estes died in May 2016 and just three members of the sect remain: Eversole, Ziebart and an elderly man who possibly suffers from dementia.

Eversole made Ziebart, “who was or is a Baptist,” a trustee and member of IHOD, according to the complaint, which alleges Ziebart does not ascribe to the tenets of IHOD nor did he contribute his worldly goods.

“It’s our theory that (Eversole and Ziebart) learned of the assets while Ferrel was in Hawaii and convinced Estes to excommunicate him and his mother,” said Black.

Nemeth, who represents Eversole and Ziebart, disputes the suit’s contention that Ziebart is an IHOD member.

The lawsuit alleges IHOD does not conduct services nor do its remaining active members live communally. Both Eversole and Ziebart have separate addresses, neither at the group’s Benton Harbor headquarters.

According to the complaint, Eversole and others have created 10 limited liability companies “presumably to conduct secular business, or in an attempt to protect assets from forfeiture.”

Black said a copy of the complaint was just sent to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office for review.

“Our hope is that the AG will look into this matter as well,” said Black. “While no one has said any crimes have been committed, the state may take interest in funds that might rightfully belong to the taxpayers of Michigan.”

The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Black said Ferrel is concerned that “he is witnessing the destruction of a religion he believes in.” Ferrel may be the only living person who is a “true believer” to IHOD tenets and the only qualified person “with the capacity to manage its assets to advance its religious purposes.”

The lawsuit, assigned to Judge Shalina Kumar, seeks an injunction against any diversion of funds. It requests that Ferrel be returned to control of IHOD assets and property, or that a receiver be appointed to liquidate the church’s assets and turn over proceeds to the state for disposal as provided by law.

The lawsuit also seeks judgment in excess of $25,000 against the IHOD LLCs, Eversole and Ziebart.

Siriano said he was not surprised by the lawsuit because he has heard rumblings for years from different people that “something needed to be done to save the House of David.”

He’s hoping his museum can at least preserve the church’s heritage.

“Maybe this is it — I think the place is a treasure,” Siriano said. “My hope would be for someone to take it over and make it a Greenfield Village-like destination. It is a large piece of the state’s history.”
See my post See my post 90 years ago: The death of Israelite House of David leader Benjamin Purnell (December 16, 2017)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jerusalem suspends plan to tax church property

As reported by Nebi Qena of Associated Press, February 27, 2018:

Jerusalem – Jerusalem’s mayor on Tuesday suspended a plan to impose taxes on properties owned by Christian churches, backing away from a move that had enraged religious leaders and led to the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a professional team was being established to negotiate with church officials to “formulate a solution.”

“As a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks,” it said.

There was no immediate reaction from church leaders, and it was unclear whether the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would reopen.

Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and leaders of other Christian denominations closed the famed church on Sunday to protest an order by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to begin taxing their properties.

The church is revered as the site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and the decision closed one of Jerusalem’s most visited holy sites just ahead of the busy Easter season.

Barkat said his decision affected only commercial properties, such as hotels, restaurants and offices, and not houses of worship. He said other cities followed similar practices worldwide.

“As the mayor of the city of Jerusalem, my goal and role is to make sure people pay their taxes,” he said in an interview earlier Tuesday. “We have no negative or bad intentions here.”

The churches accused Barkat of acting in bad faith and undermining a longstanding status quo. They say their non-church properties still serve religious purposes by providing services to pilgrims and local flocks.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Netanyahu said Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi would head the new negotiating committee, which will include representatives from the city, and the finance, foreign and interior ministries.

“The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue,” it said.

In addition to suspending tax collection, Netanyahu’s office said that proposed legislation governing the sale of church lands in Jerusalem was also being suspended.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

70 years ago: U.S. Supreme Court rules against religious instruction in public schools

On March 8, 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 in McCollum v. Board of Education that public school involvement in religious instruction was unconstitutional. The case was brought by Vashti McCollum, an atheist, against the school board of Champaign, Illinois. Champaign, like some other cities, had a practice in its schools called "release time," in which class time was set aside for religious instruction--Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. Mrs. McCollum complained that her son James was being ostracized for not attending.

The Supreme Court's ruling in McCollum v. Board of Education was one of a series of such decisions that began in the 1940s and culminated with the rulings in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) against compulsory prayer and Bible reading, respectively, in American public schools. The Supreme Court hadn't moved in that direction before, so it's curious that from the 1940s through the '60s it acted in a consistently anti-Christian direction. A Roman Catholic writer, Paul A. Fisher, perceived a definite anti-Catholic bias in the Supreme Court's actions, and attempted to find why this was. His research, which included examination of judges' diaries and papers, comprised much of the content in his book Behind the Lodge Door (1988, 1989, 1994).

Mr. Fisher discovered that Supreme Court became composed disproportionately of Unitarians and Universalists, with considerable crossover between that and membership in Scottish Rite Freemasonry. From 1941-1971, at least five of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court were Freemasons, with the number rising to 7 from 1946-1949; 8 from 1949-1956; 7 from 1956-1957; and 6 from 1957-1969. Mr. Fisher was particularly outraged by the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in Everson v. Board of Education (February 10, 1947), where the Court ruled that it was a violation of the separation of church and state to have public financing of transportation of children to private religious schools.

In the case of McCollum v. Board of Education, Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion, joined by Fred Vinson, Frank Murphy, William O. Douglas, Wiley Rutledge, and Harold Burton. Felix Frankfurter wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Robert Jackson, and Justices Rutledge and Burton. Justice Jackson also wrote his own concurring opinion. Stanley Reed wrote a dissenting opinion. Justices Black, Vinson, Douglas, Rutledge, Burton, Jackson, and Reed were Freemasons. Justices Frankfurter and Murphy were not Masons, but Mr. Fisher argues that their thinking parallelled that of Freemasonry, and that the Court's rulings reflected a Masonic or unitarian/universalist point of view.

It's worth noting the groups that supported Mrs. McCollum's petition: American Unitarian Association; Synagogue Council of America; General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; and Baptist Joint Committee of Religious Liberty. The Baptist Joint Committee of Religious Liberty might strike the reader as an odd name to be part of this, but this is an organization of liberal Baptist denominations--the kind that produced people such as Tony Campolo and Ron Sider. The presence of the Synagogue Council of America is also worth noting; the Synagogue Council of America was also involved in the Engel v. Vitale case in 1962. It might come as a shock to those who talk about America's "Judeo-Christian" values to see the extent to which Jewish organizations have been at the forefront in trying to eradicate the public influence of Christianity in the United States.

The reader may conclude--especially in light of recent events--whether the Supreme Court's rulings against religious instruction in public schools has been good for the schools or for American society.

75 years ago: U.S. Supreme Court rules against Texas ordinances restricting propagation of religious materials on the street

On March 8, 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 9-0 in the case of Jamison v. Texas that a city ordinance in Dallas prohibiting the distribution of handbills on the street violated violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because the material being distributed was religious in its nature. In the similar case of Largent v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that a city ordinance in Paris, Texas that required a permit in order to solicit orders for books was unconstitutional as applied to the distribution of religious publications. The plaintiffs in both cases were Jehovah's Witnesses.

These two decisions in favour of religious freedom in light of subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but that's a subject for another post.

Pastor in Texas resigns after being arrested in prostitution investigation

and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23b

I have my criticisms of Billy Graham, but I've always been grateful for a message he delivered on the passage above when he was in Edmonton in August 1980. I hadn't read that before, but Mr. Graham's message made me aware of it, and that brief passage of scripture has both prevented sin and stopped sin in my life. If more people would heed this passage, there would be fewer occurrences such as the following, as reported by Kristin Hoppa of the Waco Tribune, March 1, 2018 (links in original):

A pastor resigned from a local church that has taken a vocal role in preventing human trafficking. The resignation came amid a prostitution investigation in December, and the pastor turned himself in to law enforcement on a prostitution charge Thursday.

Edward Ignacio Espinosa, 41, was arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge after he paid for sexual acts at a local massage parlor last year, according to an arrest affidavit.

Espinosa was a community outreach pastor at Antioch Community Church when he told his supervisor Dec. 7 he had visited the business in October, Senior Pastor Jimmy Seibert said.

"Once he confessed his sin, he was placed on administrative leave," Seibert said. "We were doing our own investigation about the incident, and he later turned in his resignation to us."

Espinosa was a pastor at Antioch for eight years and passed multiple background checks, Seibert said. He said he is praying for mercy and compassion for Espinosa, and his family will not be turned away by the congregation.

Espinosa's charge stems from a massage parlor targeted by undercover McLennan County Sheriff's Office investigators last year. Hundreds of men engaged in prostitution at two massage parlors in Waco between September and November, prompting investigators to raid the businesses in December.

Investigators found videos of men who paid for sex acts during massages, according to arrest affidavits for the business operator, Chun Yang Zhang, 47, of Austin. She was arrested Dec. 8 on a second-degree felony charge of human trafficking and arrested again Feb. 20, accused of running a third massage business where she forced women to engage in prostitution.

"Even now, it's surreal and I am heartbroken. We love Ed and we love his family," Seibert said.

Espinosa wrote a letter to church leaders asking for forgiveness after his resignation, he said.

“Ed’s conduct was not only inappropriate but directly against our values and policy as a church and as the people of God," he said. "We continue to be committed to helping heal whatever is broken, whether on behalf of the victim or the victimizer, we believe restoration is still possible through Jesus Christ.”

Daniel Henderson, the owner of Uncle Dan's Bar-B-Que & Catering and a former McLennan County Sheriff's Office deputy Stephen Johnson were arrested Wednesday on prostitution charges stemming from the videos found at the massage parlors. Authorities said additional arrests are forthcoming, including possible sexual assault charges based on actions observed in the videos.

Women who were rescued from the human trafficking ring were assisted by UnBound, a nonprofit mission of Antioch Community Church that raises public awareness and provides services to trafficking victims. Church officials said Espinosa had no direct involvement with UnBound.

UnBound director Susan Peters said the organization and church were shaken with Espinosa's arrest. She said the women who were working at the massage parlors were victims of human trafficking and were made to provide "commercial sex" for clients.

"All these women were Asian women who did not speak English, were flown in and brought to different massage parlors, moved every few weeks, because by their statements they believe American men want different women," Peters said. "They don't have access to (immigration) papers, they live on the premises, there are cameras inside, and are watched 24 hours by live feed.

"Everything about their lives are very controlled, so they are not consenting adults who can walk away. This is a criminal activity to harbor human trafficking."

She said UnBound will continue to help law enforcement combat human trafficking crimes.

Espinosa was booked into McLennan County Jail on Thursday afternoon and released on $1,000 bond by Thursday night.
Mr. Espinosa did the correct thing by resigning, and the church seems to be dealing with the situation correctly. He's no longer qualified for a position of leadership in the church, since an overseer must be, according to I Timothy 3:2, "blameless" (KJV) or "above reproach" (NIV). However, a Christian who has fallen can be restored to fellowship and a position of service in the body of Christ; let's pray that this will happen in the case of Mr. Espinosa.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Backlog: Roman Catholic bishops in Germany punish Catholics who refuse to pay religious taxes

This is the sort of thing that can happen when there isn't a separation between church and state. As reported by Associated Press, September 24, 2012:

The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany's 24m Catholics. If they don't pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

A decree issued last week by the country's bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions.

In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is up to 9pc on their income tax bills - or about €56 (£45) a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about €3,500, AP reported.

For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital.

The Catholic Church in Germany receives about €5bn annually from the surcharge. For Protestants, the total is just above €4bn. Donations, in turn, represent a far smaller share of the churches' income than in the US.

With rising prices and economic uncertainty, however, more and more Catholics and Protestants are opting to save their money and declare to tax authorities they are no longer church members, even if they still consider themselves believers.

"I quit the church already in 2007," Manfred Gonschor, a Munich-based IT-consultant, said. "It was when I got a bonus payment and realized that I could have paid myself a nice holiday alone on the amount of church tax that I was paying on it."

Gonschor added he was also "really fed up with the institution and its failures".

Such defections have hit the Catholic Church especially hard — it has lost about 181,000 tax-paying members in 2010 and 126,000 a year later, according to official figures. Protestants, who number about 24m nationwide, lost 145,000 registered members in Germany in 2010, the most recent year from which figures are available.

But the figures include some people who still want to baptize their children, take communion on major religious holidays, marry in a religious ceremony and receive Christian burials.

The group We are Church, which claims to represent tens of thousands of grassroots Catholics, said many Germans stop paying the tax because they disagree with the church's policies or simply want to save money - not because they have lost their faith.

"I haven't quit because I still think that I might want to get married in a church one day, even though I know that's absurd," said Anna Ainsley, a 31-old-year banker and a Protestant from Frankfurt. "But when I see my tax declaration, then I think every year that I should finally quit."

Those are the people who Germany's Catholic bishops had in mind when they decreed on September 20 that stopping the payment of religious taxes was "a serious lapse" and those who did so would then be excluded from a range of church activities.

"This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church," the bishops said in a statement. "It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church."

Wavering Catholics will now be sent letters reminding them of the consequences of avoiding the church tax, including losing access to all sacraments.

"Maybe you haven't considered the consequences of your decision and would like to reverse this step," a draft of the letter states.

Protestants have taken a less stern position, saying non-taxpayers are still welcome to attend services and take communion. But becoming a godparent, getting married in a church or taking a job in church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals or kindergartens are off-limits to those who stop paying their taxes.

Switzerland and Austria also tax Catholic and Protestant church members. In Denmark, the State Lutheran church collects a tax from its members. Members of Sweden's Lutheran Church pay around 1pc of their income, collected by the national tax authorities, just as in Finland.

In Italy, taxpayers have the choice of diverting a small part of their income taxes to religious institutions, including the Catholic Church and the country's Jewish community, but the contribution is voluntary.

So far German courts have stood by the bishops' decision. This week the country's top administrative court threw out a lawsuit against the archdiocese of Freiburg by retired theologian Hartmut Zapp, who has spent years fighting the Catholic church over the tax.

Zapp argued that a Catholic should be free to stop paying but remain a member of the spiritual community and that his religious beliefs could not possibly be tied to a tax payment.

The archdiocese responded in a statement that "those who lack solidarity bid farewell to the community of believers".

The tax issue presents moral and ethical dilemmas to millions of German believers, even dividing couples.

Sonja Trott, a 34-year-old teacher from Munich, said she quit the Catholic Church 15 years ago because she no longer believed in its teachings.

"Now I'd like to convince my husband that he also should quit, that would save us a lot of money," she said.

But her husband Christoph, a sales executive, says he cannot imagine refusing to pay on moral grounds because it would seem like a betrayal of his faith. "I don't like paying it, but I do because I fear the step of quitting the church."

He would prefer to donate part of the money to charities "but in Germany the payment determines whether I'm allowed to consider myself a Catholic or not".

For other Germans, it's unethical to stop paying the tax but continue to use the church when it suits them.

Christine Solf, a Munich-based consultant, says she doesn't attend services regularly but appreciates the church's charitable work. For her, church membership is also a family tradition.

"I know people who quit for financial reasons but then still want their children to be baptized. That's not OK in my opinion," she said.
As reported by Tom Heneghan of Reuters, September 26, 2012:

PARIS - Germany’s top administrative court agreed with Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday that German believers who refuse to pay a special church tax could be shut out of Catholic worship.

The verdict, based on German corporate law, upheld the system by which the state collects religious taxes from registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews with their monthly returns and distributes them to the religious communities.

Reformist Catholics have decried the tax, introduced in the 19th century to compensate for confiscated church properties, as a “pay to pray” system. Conservative critics have asked why tax opt-outs are shut out but dissenting theologians are not.

“Whoever wants to officially leave a religious community that is registered as a statutory corporation cannot limit this withdrawal to the statutory corporation and remain a member of the faith community,” said the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, the top appeals court in such issues.

The Church hailed the verdict as confirmation of its tax rule, which the bishops reconfirmed last week with a decree saying members who opted out of the tax could not receive sacraments, work in the Church or have a religious burial.

“The Church is a community of faith that exists in Germany in the form of a statutory corporation - they cannot be separated,” Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the bishops’ conference, said after the verdict was announced.

The legal challenge to the tax began in 2007 when a retired professor of canon law told his local tax authority that he wanted to quit the institutional Catholic Church and stop paying its tax, but continue to practice the religion.

If the Leipzig court had ruled against the Church, it could have prompted a wave of departures from the religions that charge the tax, which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of earnings.

Church taxes brought in about 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) for the Roman Catholic Church and 4.3 billion euros for the Protestant churches in 2010, according to official statistics.

Those funds have helped both churches to run large networks of schools, hospitals and charitable works in Germany and contribute to churches abroad, but an exodus of members has lowered total revenues in recent years.

The annual total of Catholic church leavers, usually around 120,000, jumped to 181,193 two years ago as news of decades of sexual abuse of children by priests shamed the hierarchy and prompted an apology from the German-born Pope Benedict.

Zollitsch defended the tax decree during a meeting of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Fulda this week.

“Our concern is to show that whoever wants to belong to the Church must contribute to what the Church needs to do its work,” he said on Tuesday. “There must be consequences.”

German media have dubbed the new tax decree “excommunication lite” because it bars those who refuse to pay from almost all church activities - including becoming godparents or joining a church-run club - without saying they have been excommunicated.

The Catholic reform movement We Are Church said the tax decree was questionable under Church law because it had not been approved by the proper Vatican department.

“The bishops still have to explain theologically and legally what status these sanctions have,” it said in a statement.