Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Pope Francis invites leaders of Eastern churches to summit in Bari, Italy

The ecumenical movement of the end times continues, with the Bishop of Rome as its leader. The reader will notice the "go along to get along" attitude of some of these churches. This is "cultural Christianity," not Biblical Christianity, and is part of the deception that characterizes the last days before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. As reported by Gianni Valente of La Stampa, July 4, 2018 (bold in original):

Rome - The Bishop of the Church of Rome, the one "who presides in charity" (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), summoned the Patriarchs and the heads of the Eastern Churches to Bari, inviting them to pray together for peace in that region. Almost everyone will come, from the Coptic Pope Tawadros to the Armenian Catholicos Aram I, from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Hilarion, High Representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow. It will be an unprecedented event, never happened in history. But the occasion does not call for grandstand tones or triumphalism. The heads of the Churches, in some parts of the East, will talk about how they see the Christian presence thinning out in lands from where the proclamation of Christ has spread throughout the world, and where now Christianity seems to be on the verge of extinction.

The Bari meeting does not appear to be a strategic summit conceived to mimick the summit meetings of political leaders. It shouldn’t even be reduced to a parade of clerical jet-set. No "final document" will be drawn up. There will be no elaborate plans of resistance and counteroffensive. After the prayer, the the heads of the Churches will pray and dialogue behind closed doors, softening whatever limelight might there be. It will be an opportunity to speak and listen, and to help each other - above all - to look through the eyes of faith at what is happening in the Middle East.

What makes the meeting in Bari so precious is above all the presence of almost all the heads of the Churches who have lived through the convulsions of the Middle East over the last few decades. They do not represent a compact phalanx: among some of them there are differences which can’t be considered secondary in judging the facts and phenomena of the present time. In recent years many of them have suggested criteria and provided valuable details to grasp what is happening in the Middle East and to Christians in living in that area, yet they have almost always been ignored. Out of commonplaces and political operations that in the West continue to be sewn on the skin of Middle Eastern Christian communities.

Everybody is Suffering

The heads of the Churches present in the Middle East tend not to isolate the sufferings of Christians from those of the rest of the Middle Eastern peoples. "In recent years," Chaldean Patriarch (and now Cardinal) Louis Raphael Sako said, "Christians have suffered injustice, violence and terrorism. But this also happened to their other Iraqi Muslim brothers, and to those of other religious faiths. There is no need to separate Christians from others, because in this way the sectarian mentality is nourished". Those who hold in high regard the baptized killed in the Arab and Middle Eastern countries recognize that in recent times Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted massacres, along with murders, kidnappings, assaults and destruction of churches, deportations and mass escapes. But as the Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï reiterated, when there is chaos in the Middle East "Christians get caught in the middle, it always happens so. But we cannot speak of real and systematic persecution, let alone genocide... Christians are victims like everyone else, and the 12 million Syrians who have had to flee their homes are not Christians". The atrocities perpetrated by the Jihadists have persecuted "more the Moslems than the Christians". "It worries me", once said Antoine Audo, Chaldean bishop of Aleppo and responsible for Caritas in Syria, "the use of cases of persecution as a propaganda tool to raise money. As Christians, we desire justice for all, and when Christians are persecuted, we report the stories. But let us not use the suffering of Christians to accuse others or to feed our own interests. These phenomena represent a real danger, even for the Churches of the Middle East".

The "enemy" is not Islam

Even in recent years, with rare exceptions, those responsible for Christian communities in the Middle East have always avoided attributing to Islam the violence and abuses of which they were victims. Jihadist barbarity is a religious disease that has developed among Islamic communities. The power struggles, as Orthodox Syrian Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, who has his seat in Damascus, said, have used "also an aberrant religious ideology that claims to refer to the Koran. And it can do so because in Islam there is no authority structure with enough strength to provide an authentic interpretation of the Koran and to disavow these preachers of hatred with authority". But the Christian leaders of the Middle East have never denied the common destiny that binds them to the major Islamic communities: "We - said Patriarch Raï - want to remain in our land, along with the Muslims, where we have lived together for 1400 years, and we want to remain in the name of the Gospel. We have created a culture together, a civilization together.

Suspicion over the wannabe "protectors"

The Eastern Christian communities repeat like a mantra that they are not a foreign body exported into those lands by other civilizations. They obstinately continue to reaffirm their character as Churches born from the preaching of the apostles and therefore their indelible autochthonous character, which in some cases - such as that of the Copts or Assyrians - in the early centuries of Christianity even exposed them to the abuse of power by soldiers and officials of the Byzantine Christian Empire. Middle Eastern Christians remain an uncomfortable presence for all those who want to divide the world along the ethnic-religious faults of real or presumed "clashes of civilizations". For this reason, too, the Bari gathering does not deserve to be reduced to an expression of a political alliance between ecclesiastical apparatuses to make a "common front" against someone, and even less to think of it as an appeal to invoke geo-political protections and sponsorships from the outside.

In August 2016, the Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II publicly distanced himself from the demonstrations promoted in the USA by Coptic diaspora groups in protest against the sectarian violence suffered by the Coptic Christian communities in various areas of Egyptian territory. The Coptic Orthodox Pope disavowed the vast program of demonstration initiatives set forth especially in the United States under the banner of the "defense" of Christians in the Middle East, stating that: "We in Egypt know how to deal better with our problems and setbacks”. While the Maronite Patriarch recalled that also in the past the forms of "protectorate" exercised by Western powers against the Christians of the East "did more harm than good", seeing that "the States do only their interests, and the Christians were identified as a foreign body, to be expelled. While we were born in our lands, and we were able to live even under the most dictatorial regimes”.

Martyrdom minus the propaganda of "persecution"

In Bari, some patriarchs and heads of the Eastern Churches will have the opportunity to propose anew the gaze of faith that they usually bear witness to in the face of the experiences of martyrdom lived by their communities. "Our martyrs, and the act of martyrdom in itself," said Coptic Pope Tawadros in December 2016, celebrating the funeral of the massacre perpetrated in the church of Botrosiya, "unite us to Heaven and make our hearts rise to those who are already there, and from there intercede for us ...". "We bid farewell to our loved ones with a spirit of praise", added the Primate of the Coptic Orthodox Church, "because we believe that there is no death for those who love God: they will be raised in joy to eternal life".

For many Eastern Christians, possible martyrdom is not seen as an anomaly to be erased or as an incidental situation against which to mobilize, protest and raise one's voice. Their very existence represents a ridge to the counterfeits that place the sufferings of the baptized under the stigma of fear, of revenge against any enemy. And it is precisely the objective factors of helplessness entrusted to grace, which characterize the experience of many Middle Eastern Christians, that make their communities a sign and a prefiguration of the proper and real condition of the faith and of the Church throughout history, beyond any victimisation and any pathetic clerical triumphalism.

For this reason - once said Aram I, Armenian Apostolic Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia - it is always convenient "to find Christian ways to express closeness to the Christians of the Middle East. We must avoid the two extremes. The extreme of those who frantically say that something must be done and go to the Middle East to protect Christians. And the opposite extreme, of immobility that becomes indifference. Everyone must see that Christians in the Middle East are not left alone. They are part of one Church of Christ, they are part of the one Body of Christ".

80 years ago: Artifacts of King Darius the Great are discovered in Persepolis

On July 31, 1938, archaeologists discovered engraved gold and silver plates from King Darius the Great in Persepolis. Darius I, popularly known as Darius the Great, ruled Persia for 36 years from 522 B.C.-486 B.C. He was the king who issued the decree to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, as recorded in Ezra 6:1-15:

Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.
And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written:
In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king's house:
And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
Darius the Great is also mentioned in Ezra 4:5, 24, 5:5-7; Haggai 1:1, 15: and Zechariah 1:1, 7, 7:1.

Orthodox Judaism in the U.S.A. now has a handful of female rabbis

The following item is a small indication, but an indication nonetheless, that even such a traditionally masculine religion as Orthodox Judaism is beginning to be infected by feminism. If this continues, Orthodox Judaism will end up in the same place as the more liberal branches of Judaism, and in formerly Christian churches that have trod the path before them. It will come as no surprise to this blogger to read of a decline in membership--especially male membership--in Orthodox synagogues led by women. As reported by Julie Zauzmer of The Washington Post, July 28, 2018 (link in original):

Taking on positions as clergy in a tradition where women have never been clergy before, they have adopted a variety of titles. Some call themselves rosh kehilah, meaning “head of the community.” Some go by maharat. Rabbanit. Rabba. And even rabbi.

That’s right. There are female rabbis now in Orthodox Judaism.

Not many, to be sure. Since Rabbi Avi Weiss privately ordained Rabba Sara Hurwitz in 2009 and declared her the first female Orthodox clergywoman — then founded a school, Yeshivat Maharat, to train more — his school has ordained 21 women. A handful of other women have been ordained privately, before and after.

That’s tiny compared with the 1,000 Orthodox rabbis in the global Rabbinical Council of America, which refuses admission to women.

But this small group of women is becoming far more significant in Orthodox Jewish life. Women lead synagogues now in New York and in Massachusetts.

On Saturday, Rabbanit Hadas “Dasi” Fruchter, who has been an assistant clergy member on the staff of Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, announced she would move to Philadelphia to found her own Orthodox synagogue there. She is opening the new congregation with a grant from a new nonprofit established to seed female-friendly Orthodox synagogues, a sign of the rapidly growing institutional support for women in Orthodox leadership.

“I am blessed and so excited to be able to do what I was made to do. It used to be not an option for me,” Fruchter said this week. Once she dreamed as a teenager of marrying a rabbi, because she didn’t think she could ever be one. Now, in her office, she has two certificates of rabbinic ordination, hanging across from each other: her own, and her grandfather’s, from when he became an Orthodox rabbi in 1940. “I think about this amazing thing, that I am able to do what he did.”

The Orthodox movement, which preaches strict adherence to the age-old Jewish laws such as kosher food, Sabbath observance and separation between genders, is a small but significant denomination, representing about 10 percent of American Jews. The far larger and more liberal denominations have ordained women as clergy for decades.

Orthodoxy is divided into various movements with different levels of tolerance for female leadership; these female clergy tend to belong to those such as Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Union, a major umbrella organization for U.S. synagogues, has taken a strong stance against female clergy. A committee of seven male rabbis appointed to consider the subject concluded this year, in a densely footnoted 17-page argument, that women should not hold any clergy roles.

The detailed opinion gave numerous reasons, including the importance of adhering to tradition; a prohibition in the Talmud, the commentary on the Torah that elucidates Jewish law, that forbids a woman from being a kosher butcher, which the rabbis now believe should be extended to all religious authority; and concern for the modesty of a woman preaching to men.

The Orthodox Union did not respond to requests for comment on Friday; nor did any of the seven rabbis who wrote the opinion.

But Judaism has no hierarchical leader, such as a pope or an archbishop, so despite the organization’s opinion, female-led synagogues are springing up. And Orthodox Jews are attending them.

Rabbi Lila Kagedan leads Walnut Street Synagogue in Chelsea, Mass. Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz founded Kol HaNeshamah in New York with a male cantor. And Fruchter is now opening a shul in Philadelphia.

A 28-year-old Washington-area native, Fruchter said she chose Philadelphia because the local Orthodox community is growing. She plans to open her new synagogue, for which she’s still finding a location, in time for the fall holidays in 2019.

As she has started pitching the idea, prospective congregants have asked how she will lead services without breaking Orthodox prohibitions. As a woman, she will give her sermon from the female side of the gender-divided sanctuary. She won’t count as one of the 10 participants necessary for a quorum for certain prayers. She won’t lead most prayers, though in Orthodox services, congregants, not rabbis, typically lead prayers anyway. (The rabbi’s primary roles — teaching, providing pastoral care and answering questions about the rigors of observing Jewish law — are all conceivably open to women, advocates say.)

“I assure them it’s going to be traditional, halachic: fully in line with Jewish law in terms of Modern Orthodox understanding,” Fruchter said.

Her synagogue is funded by Start-Up Shul, a new organization aiming to create gender-inclusive Orthodox synagogues. In the model of Christian church-planting efforts, said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld (the leader of Washington’s Ohev Sholom and a co-founder of Start-Up Shul), the organization will fund two synagogues this year and hopes to increase to four or five new synagogues per year in the future.

“We want to support entrepreneurial rabbis — maharats, rabbanits, whatever they call themselves — who are going to create a synagogue supportive of women in leadership positions in the clergy. . . . This will inspire more women and more men who are believers in this type of Orthodoxy to go into the rabbinate,” Herzfeld said.

While synagogues like Fruchter’s might not be permitted in the Orthodox Union — the organization questioned, but decided not to sanction, Herzfeld’s synagogue and several others that already employed female clergy before the organization’s opinion against it this year — Herzfeld believes most Orthodox Jews don’t care.

“Without question, most Orthodox Jews are absolutely ready. Her synagogue is going to be bursting through the roof within five years,” he predicted. “She’s such a talent. People are going to be coming from all over Philadelphia, just to be taught by her.”

Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman said that when she became the spiritual leader of New York’s Kehilat Orach Eliezer — which chose to hire her in 2006 after considering male rabbis for the position — people asked members of her synagogue if they were willing to attend a shul with a female leader. But once these skeptics attended a service themselves, they were often persuaded.

“When I initially did some weddings, people said, ‘What is going on here?’ When people saw, ‘Hey, this is halachic,’ they had to see it for themselves. . . . They saw this is a halachic service. ‘So she speaks. So she gives advice. So she gives the leadership. Now I understand. This is something that doesn’t hurt my sensibilities,’ ” said Najman. Now the leader of the Kehilah in Riverdale, Najman says the number of male Orthodox rabbis who accept her as a peer has gone from a “handful” to “hundreds.”

Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, a leading Orthodox feminist, has observed the same accelerating acceptance of this still-nascent and ostracized group. “Time is a big deal. I think change takes time,” she said. “The more that you meet these women, you hear their Torah, you see them responding to crisis and simply being there, you realize what we could be losing out on.”

She described female Orthodox clergy who ministered to victims’ families in Las Vegas after the mass shooting there and who joined in Black Lives Matter marches. Young children, she said, will grow up knowing only this model of Orthodox Judaism. “That’s exciting. In general, the notion of all this being normalized is extremely heartening,” she said. “I did not think the landscape would be what it is today, 20 years ago.”

Female Orthodox leadership is so new that nearly every rabba or maharat can claim to be a first in one way or another. But Fruchter isn’t looking just to break barriers; she’s looking to become the norm. “The second, I think, sometimes is cooler than the first,” she said. “It shows that there’s a trend starting.”

Monday, 30 July 2018

Seven members of Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo are hanged for 1995 Tokyo subway murders

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matthew 24:24

I missed this item when it was reported a few weeks ago. The reader will notice the influence of the Hindu god Shiva--known as "The Destroyer"--as well as yoga and Eastern meditation. As reported by Daniel Oberhaus in Motherboard, July 6, 2018 (bold, links in original):

On March 20, 1995, two physicists, an artificial intelligence researcher, an engineer, and a heart doctor entered the Tokyo subway system at the peak of morning rush hour. Each of the men carried two small plastic bags wrapped in newspaper and an umbrella with a sharpened tip. After boarding five different trains, the scientists dropped the plastic bags at preordained stations and punctured them with the tips of their umbrellas before exiting the subway to rendezvous with their getaway drivers. As these scientists were whisked away to a hideout, the deadly sarin gas contained in their packages began to permeate the air in the subway tunnels.

By the time the air had cleared, 12 subway commuters were dead and over 1,000 others were injured through exposure to the potent nerve gas. It remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in Japanese history.

On Friday, seven leaders of Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult formed in the late 80s that was responsible for the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack were executed by hanging. Among the seven were Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum cult, Yoshihiro Inoue, the mastermind of the subway attack, Seiichi Endo, the cult’s lead scientist, and Masami Tsuchiya, the group’s chief chemist. The actual perpetrators of the chemical attack are still on death row in Japan.

Although human rights groups like Amnesty International condemned the executions, which are carried out without advance warning in Japan, some attack victims only wish they had been notified about the executions ahead of time.

“When I think of those who died because of them, it was a pity (my husband’s) parents and my parents could not hear the news of this execution,” Shizue Takahashi, the widow of a Tokyo Metro employee who died in the 1995 attacks told CNN. “I wanted (cult members) to confess more about the incident, so it’s a pity that we cannot hear their account anymore.”

Aum Shinrikyo was a religious cult for the internet age. Its members blended yoga, terrorism, murder, chemical weapon production, arms manufacturing, and software development to create a multinational LSD-fueled monster. This is the story of Aum’s creation, the role of science in its terrorist activities, and why the cult’s vision never really died.

Bioterrorists and Software Developers

Formed in 1984 by the pharmacist Chizuo Matumoto, who would later assume the name Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo was originally dedicated to yoga and meditation. Shortly after its founding, however, Asahara believed he had been selected by the Hindu god Shiva to create a utopian society and set about trying to elect members of his ascetic cult to the Japanese government. When Aum members only managed to secure a few hundred votes in the 1990 elections, Ashara told his reclusive followers that the group should instead focus on the violent overthrow of the Japanese government.

Ashara’s plan began with an attempt to create large reserves of botulinum, a neurotoxic chemical produced by bacteria. To produce the neurotoxin, Seiichi Endo collected soil from the Ishikari River and allowed the bacteria to ferment in large containers at a compound run by the group. Endo managed to produce nearly 50,000 liters of fermented sludge, but since the sludge hadn’t been purified, initial tests showed it induced no toxic effects. Nevertheless, in April 1990 members of Aum loaded the sludge into three spray trucks. They drove by two US naval bases, Narita airport, a Japanese government building and the Imperial Palace while spraying the sludge from the trucks, but the ‘attack’ didn’t induce any negative effects in the people near those areas.

The early years of Aum Shinrikyo were defined by failed chemical attacks. In 1992, Ashara, who now believed he was Jesus, and some of his followers traveled to Zaire in an attempt to acquire Ebola samples, but returned empty handed. The following year, the group again tried to launch an botulinum attack at Prince Naruhito’s wedding using a spray truck, but like the first attack attempt the neurotoxin hadn’t been activated. Shortly thereafter, Aum members tried to launch an anthrax attack by spraying the bacteria from the roof of its headquarters using a fan and in drive-by attacks with spray vehicles. In both instances, the attacks failed due to using unusable strains of the anthrax bacteria.

At the same time, however, Aum carried out a string of murders against those it considered to be enemies or members of the cult that tried to defect. Although the mysterious circumstances of these murders brought increasing public scrutiny to the group, police couldn’t tie the murders to Aum and the negative attention didn’t dampen its popularity. By 1992, Aum Shinrikyo had a net worth of more than $1 billion raised from charging exorbitant fees from its roughly 20,000 members in several countries, including the US, Australia and Russia.

Many of these members were highly educated students and wealthy businessmen. According to a 1996 Wired feature on Aum, many of the cult's recruits were “the otaku—Japan's version of computer nerds—technofreaks who spent their free time logged on to electronic networks and amassing data of every type.” As such, Aum relied heavily on science fiction imagery and grandeur to pedal its vision of nuclear armageddon and techno-redemption to attract new members.Indeed, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy served as a sort of “bible” for the sect, which also aspired to build a utopian community of scientists.

In 1994, Aum orchestrated its first successful bioterrorism attack by releasing clouds of sarin gas near the homes of judges who were presiding over a real estate lawsuit brought against the cult in Matsumoto. These attacks resulted in eight deaths and injured several hundred others. After years of failures, the chemists working at the cult’s Ministry of Science and Technology demonstrated they could produce large quantities of active nerve agents. As it would turn out, however, this was just the beginning.

Shortly after the Matsumoto attack, Aum’s chief chemist Masami Tsuchiya produced around 200 grams of VX gas, a militarized nerve agent that is more potent than sarin—exposure to only a few dozen milligrams is enough to kill a human adult. In September of 1994, the initial batch of VX created by Tsuchiya was used to kill 20 Aum members that had left the cult as an experiment to demonstrate that the VX gas had been successfully synthesized. In the months leading up to the Tokyo subway attack, Aum stepped up its VX attacks, spreading it on car door handles, injecting it into keyholes and spraying it from syringes onto lawyers, members of Aum victims groups, rival religious leaders and other dissident cult members.

As the members of Aum Shinrikyo made preparations for a large-scale subway attack using sarin gas it had manufactured at a massive facility at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japanese police were building a case against the religious group and preparing for a raid. When word of the impending raid reached Asahara, he ordered the Tokyo attack to be carried out ahead of schedule on March 20. Two days after the attack, Japanese police arrested Ashara and hundreds of Aum cult members and raided the cult’s headquarters at the base of Mt. Fuji. There police found the entrance to a massive sarin production facility hidden behind an alter, a stockpile of sarin precursors that could produce enough of the neurotoxin to kill 4 million people, a Russian military helicopter, explosives, labs equipped to manufacture LSD and meth, millions of dollars in US cash and gold, and several prisoners being held in cells.

The Future of Aum

By 2004, 13 members of Aum Shinrikyo had been sentenced to death and five members given life sentences for their roles in the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway and various individual murders perpetrated by the group. 80 other members of the cult were given prison sentences of varying lengths. Asahara’s execution was postponed in 2012 after two wanted members of Aum were apprehended in Japan. After years of delays due to repeated appeals for re-trials, on Friday morning, seven of the senior members of Aum were executed by hanging with no advance notice given to the public.

Despite the sordid legacy of the Aum Shinrikyo, the group continues to exist, albeit in a nominally different form. Since 2000, the organization has gone by the name Aleph and renounced the violent program of Aum. Still, in 1999, the Japanese government authorized the Public Security Investigation Agency to carry out investigations of the group’s activities across the country as it saw fit. Despite the scrutiny and public protest, however, Aleph members still follow Asahara’s teachings and appear to have deep ties in the Japanese science and technology sectors.

In 2000, it was revealed that Aum-affiliated computer companies had developed software for at least 10 Japanese government agencies and over 80 major Japanese corporations. According to the New York Times, this raised concerns that Aleph may have had access to sensitive government information and computer systems. Following the report, many Japanese companies immediately suspended use of software developed by Aum-affiliated companies out of fear that it would be used for cyberterrorism. In 2002, The Guardian reported that Aum also “enjoys a huge following within Japan's nuclear establishment, which is riddled with believers from millennialist sects.”

Today, Aleph is seen as less of a threat than Aum once was, but it is still an active religious organization that has seen a resurgence of interest in Japan and Russia. In 2016, authorities in Montenegro broke up a conference organized by Aleph in the country after the hotel that was hosting them reported that some of the attendees, most of whom were Russian, showed “signs of ritualistic injury.” In Japan, the organization continues to recruit young people through yoga sessions. Last year, Aleph was raided by Japanese police over illegal recruiting practices, including taking thousands of dollars in membership fees without requiring members to fill out requisite paperwork and failing to disclose the organization’s links to Aum.

In the lead up to Friday’s execution of top Aum members, Japanese police searched 16 facilities related to Aum, including some run by Aleph. Following the execution, a “senior official” at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department said the agency was stepping up security at some locations out of fear that some of Asahara’s followers may try to retaliate for his death.

The story of Aum is as strange as it is tragic, but it serves as an important reminder about the ambiguity of scientific advancement and the democratization of high technology. Although scientists pride themselves on their objectivity and ability to stick to evidence, Asahara demonstrated that they are just as susceptible to being lead astray as anyone else. Moreover, as the cost of sophisticated technologies continues to decrease, it becomes easier for bad actors to get their hands on these same technologies and use them for destructive ends. In the age of deep fakes, gun-toting drones, and freely available militarized malware, the next incarnation of Aum might not be so easy to stop.

Pope Francis accepts Cardinal McCarrick's resignation

The scandals keep on coming; as reported by Hannah Brockhaus of Catholic News Service, July 28, 2018 (first link in original, second inserted by blogger):

Vatican City - Saturday Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, and suspended him from the exercise of any public ministry.

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the cardinalate July 28 and applied a suspension a divinis, which according to canon 1333 in the Code of Canon Law, prohibits him from acts of the power of order and governance and from the exercise of the rights or functions attached to his office.

The pope also directed McCarrick to observe “a life of prayer and penance in seclusion” until the end of the canonical process against him, stated a July 28 press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, responded to the Pope’s actions in a Saturday morning statement.

“I thank the Holy Father for his leadership in taking this important step. It reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States,” he said.

According to a statement from the Vatican, McCarrick submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis Friday evening.

Only a pope can approve the resignation of a cardinal from his official status, and it is a measure which, historically, the Church has used very rarely – though this is the second time Pope Francis will have employed similar measures.

The first was in March 2015 when the pope accepted the resignation of now-deceased Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Cardinal O’Brien lived in similar conditions to those now imposed on McCarrick, until his death in March of this year; though while he resigned the “rights and privileges” of a cardinal, he was allowed to keep the title.

O’Brien stepped down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland following the February 2014 revelation of allegations that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.

Because of the scandal, O’Brien recused himself from participating in the March 2013 conclave that elected Francis. In May 2013, after meeting with the newly-elected pope, O’Brien left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection. Almost two years later Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate.

The Vatican’s decision to suspend McCarrick follows more than a month of unfolding allegations concerning the prelate.

On June 20, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that McCarrick had sexually abused a teenager, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”

The Vatican was informed of that accusation, and as a result, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, by order of Pope Francis, prohibited McCarrick, 88, from public ministry.

Since that announcement, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. The Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that they had received reports that McCarrick engaged in sexual misconduct with adults, and reached legal and financial settlements in two cases.

The New York Times reported July 19 a Virginia man’s allegation that McCarrick began sexually abusing him in 1969, when the priest was 39 and the man, “James,” whose full name has not been reported, was 11 years old. McCarrick was reportedly a friend to the alleged victim’s family.

The man says that he continued to be sexually abused by McCarrick for almost two decades, the Times reported.

The man claims the abuse contributed to alcohol and drug habits that plagued him for years. He also says he attempted to disclose the abuse to his father several years after it began, but was disbelieved, according to the Times.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Roman Catholic "saint's" bone, found in the garbage, is returned to the Church

More evidence that Roman Catholicism is a religion of idolatry; as reported by Judith Burns of BBC News, June 19, 2018 (bold, links in original):

A drama that spans a continent and 2,000 years, includes the execution of a Pope by drowning and a central London car break-in, has culminated in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

A case, containing a fragment of bone, purported to belong to St Clement who was ordained by St Peter and was Pope in the early years of the Christian Church, has been presented to the cathedral in a formal ceremony.

Some time after it was stolen from its owner's car, it turned up in a rubbish haul from house and office clearances.

It fell to James Rubin, owner of Enviro Waste, to hand the relic over to Archbishop George Stack, representing the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Where has this come from?
In February last year Mr Rubin spotted the unusual-looking object on a desk in the company's warehouse in Leyton, east London, where staff had been sorting waste to see what could be recycled or refurbished.

He asked: "Where has this come from?" but no one knew.

He says it's very hard to pinpoint exactly where it was found as the company's trucks clear up to 30 premises a day.

He took it back to his office and hit Google.

"It's got Latin on the front. It says 'EX OSS ST CLEMENTIS' and that's what gave me the idea that it was from the bone of a saint."

He thought of giving it to a museum or university hoping they would be able to work out "if it was what we thought it was".

"I really didn't know what to do with it."

So Mr Rubin appealed to the public for suggestions on the firm's blog.

There were hundreds of messages, including from institutions as far away as Hungary and the United States, keen to take the relic.

But Westminster Cathedral also responded and he decided it should go there.

"It just felt like the right thing to do."

The relic's owner - who has decided to remain anonymous - came forward, saying it had been stolen during a car break-in, but agreed it should go to the cathedral on permanent loan as part of its Treasures Exhibition.

"It's a really happy outcome to this particular extraordinary story," says historian and Catholic cultural expert Sophie Andreae, who brokered the deal for the cathedral.

"These objects are of very great significance. Catholics feel that they have not just a link with a very holy person from the past, but also a link with the divine."

What of its deeper past?
St Clement was Pope for just over a decade until the Emperor Trajan ordered him to be banished and then executed in about AD100.

Legend has it that he was thrown off a boat off the coast of what is now Crimea, tied to an anchor.

He is recognised as a saint by both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and because of his watery martyrdom is also the patron saint of mariners.

The story goes that a miraculous ebbing of the sea revealed a shrine containing his bones.

Almost 800 years later some of the bones are said to have been brought to Rome and enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente.

A monastery in Ukraine is said to have his head and other relics.

So is this fragment really from one of his bones?
"How can we be sure?" says Dr Tessa Murdoch, Deputy Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at London's Victoria & Albert Museum

"It purports to be and it has been treasured as that."

She says the inscription on the red wax seal on the case which includes a cardinal's hat and tassels could give clues about when the relic was endorsed by the Catholic Church.

Dr Murdoch says altars in early Christian churches would have relics placed inside them to enhance their sacred properties.

"A part of a relic was representative of the whole. So even though this is a tiny piece, purporting to be the bone of St Clement, it represents the whole saint and martyr.

"Because these things are cherished and kept in sacred places and sacred spaces, sometimes under altars, the general public is not perhaps aware of their potency and so it's very rare that something like this comes into the public domain in such extraordinary circumstances, and it kind of reminds us all of the extraordinary power and association of such a small object."

She says the best way to comprehend their significance is to think of gifts between loved ones, for example locks of hair.

"We can relate to things like that but if you actually translate those sort of special gifts between loved ones into the life of faith and sacred gifts, I think it helps understand the depth of power that these objects have."

How did it come to the UK?
"We can't possibly know," says Ms Andreae.

She points out that in the 16th Century under Henry VIII, the reformation saw huge destruction of relics in England, with the tombs of saints "completely smashed up".

Some Catholics were able to hide sacred objects in their homes but, more probably, Ms Andreae believes, this relic was brought to England in the early 19th Century once persecution eased and wealthier Catholics could travel abroad, some bringing artefacts from Italy back with them.

Mr Rubin says the find trumps all the other strange objects his firm has retrieved over the years, from personal financial details, stuffed pets and even someone's OBE medal.

"It's amazing. Crazy," he says.
See also my posts:

Brain of Roman Catholic "Saint" John Bosco stolen from Italian basilica (June 15, 2017)

Bones alleged to be those of Peter found in 1,000-year-old church in Rome (September 12, 2017)

U.S. cross-country exhibition of Padre Pio's relics shows that Roman Catholicism is still a religion of idolatry and superstition (May 31, 2018)

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Scottish university fires Roman Catholic chaplain for opposing sodomite pride

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

In accord with Vox Day's second law of Social Justice Warriors, homofascists continue to double down, as reported by Thomas D. Williams of Breitbart, July 20, 2018 (links in original):

A Scottish university fired its Catholic chaplain this week after the priest held a liturgical service in reparation for the sins of Gay Pride.

Fr. Mark Morris conducted a rosary, litany, and benediction at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Monday night to atone for the “gross offence to God” of Glasgow Pride and the next day Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) announced that his work as Catholic chaplain was terminated because his views conflicted with those of the educational institution.

“Following due consultation Father Mark Morris will not return to his chaplaincy role at the university in September,” said Professor Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor of GCU, a public university of some 16,000 students.

“The university will work with the Archdiocese of Glasgow to ensure the continued provision of chaplaincy support for staff and students at our Faith and Belief Centre when the new term starts,” Gillies said.

Ms. Gillies did not say whether opposition to homosexual sex was the only area of Catholic teaching that the university found to be intolerable.

Glasgow’s Gay Pride parade took place last Saturday and was attended by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who served as grand marshal of the event.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Glasgow Caledonian’s Catholic Community defended Father Morris, claiming that the priest’s actions were “completely in line” with Catholic Church teaching.

Saying it was “extremely disappointed” at the decision, the Catholic society called it “frankly abhorrent” for a Catholic Priest to be dismissed from his post as a Catholic chaplain for “merely reaffirming the teachings of the Catholic faith.”

Because of Catholic teaching on human sexuality it would “be expected that the Church would not align herself with a movement like ‘Pride,’ which promotes sexual promiscuity and celebrates extra-marital actions which are considered gravely sinful,” the group said.

The GCU Catholic community also took issue with the university’s skewed understanding of equality and diversity shown in its decision to openly oppose a Catholic presence that affirms church teaching on sexuality.

Principal Gilles justified sacking the chaplain on the grounds that GCU “is strongly inclusive and committed to supporting equality and diversity on campus,” an affirmation that the Catholic community found puzzling.

“It seems that Glasgow Caledonian University have a very warped understanding of ‘Equality and Diversity’, whereby they have permitted absolutely no diversity of opinion whatsoever,” the group said. “We are very sad to see that the opinions and beliefs of Catholics are not valued or respected at the university chaplaincy.”

On a personal level, the GCU Catholic society said that Father Morris has been a beloved member of the university community.

“Anyone who knows Fr. Morris will know he is a gentle giant, and is very careful to be truthful but also charitable,” the post stated. “He is well-loved by the students and spends a lot of time with the homeless, providing them with meals and a listening ear.”

“In all charity, we would urge the university to reconsider this unfair dismissal of our chaplain,” it said.

In its own brief statement, the Archdiocese of Glasgow said it was “aware of the University’s decision” and will “address the provision of chaplaincy support in due course.”

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Evidence of lake detected beneath southern polar ice cap of Mars

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

As reported by Ashley Strickland of Cable News Network, July 25, 2018 (links in original):

A lake of liquid water has been detected by radar beneath the southern polar ice cap of Mars, according to a new study by Italian researchers from the Italian Space Agency, published Wednesday in the journal Science.

Evidence was gathered by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, also known as MARSIS, on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

Between May 2012 and December 2015, MARSIS was used to survey the Planum Australe region, which is in the southern ice cap of Mars. It sent radar pulses through the surface and polar ice caps and measured how the radio waves reflected back to Mars Express.

Those pulses reflected 29 sets of radar samples that created a map of drastic change in signal almost a mile below the surface. It stretched about 12.5 miles across and looked very similar to lakes that are found beneath Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets on Earth. The radar reflected the feature's brightness, signaling that it's water.

"We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars," the authors wrote in the study.

The study authors ruled out any other causes for this brightness, apart from water-rich sediments.

"This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered," said Roberto Orosei in a statement. Orosei is the lead study author and principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment.

Previously, there has been some suggestions about water on Mars, like droplets of water condensing on the Phoenix lander or as the possible cause of recurring slope lineae, which are seasonal dark streaks on Martian slopes. But there hasn't been evidence of stable bodies of water until now, the researchers said. However, the presence of liquid water at the base of Martian polar caps was first hypothesized in a study 31 years ago.

Given its location beneath the polar ice cap, the water is expected to be below the freezing point of water. But salts like magnesium, calcium and sodium already found on Mars could help the water to form a brine, which would lower the melting point to allow the lake to remain liquid.

On Earth, lakes exist below the Antarctic ice sheet even though the mean annual temperature is around negative 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Brine lakes on Earth can remain liquid at 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study. In comparison, salty ocean water freezes at 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Much like our own ice sheets, the polar ice caps change depending on the climate and act as archives for what has happened in the past. Learning more about these caps can reveal Mars' climate history.

"The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential," said Dmitri Titov in a statement, Mars Express project scientist. "This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability."

But how reliable are these detections?

Outside experts have not been able to confirm these findings with other radar detections, like SHARAD, the Shallow Radar sounder onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

"We don't see the same reflector with SHARAD, not even when we recently summed together [thousands] of observations to create CATSCAN-like 3-D views of both polar caps," Nathaniel Putzig, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter SHARAD deputy team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an email.

"We're hoping to carry out that same imaging process with the MARSIS data next. I'm excited to see how the 3-D imaging will clarify the view of this detection and whether we will find similar ones elsewhere beneath the polar caps."

Crash of heavy stone from Jerusalem's Western Wall prompts speculation of divine intervention

And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. Zechariah 12:3

It comes as no surprise to this blogger that the stupidest comment, even if facetious, comes from the Reformed female rabbi SJW; as reported by Marcy Oster of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 25, 2018 (links in original):

The heavy stone that fell out of the Western Wall and came crashing down on a platform set aside for egalitarian prayer has been removed for examination and restoration, but the conversation about the reason for its sudden sky dive — including hints of divine intervention — keeps on going.

The stone fell on Monday morning, hours after the area had been full of worshippers visiting the wall for Tisha b’Av, 25 hours of intense mourning for the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The Western Wall was an external retaining wall for the Second Temple, which was razed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

A lone worshipper was praying at the site, known as the Ezrat Yisrael near Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the wall, when the stone fell. Daniella Goldberg, 79, was not injured, though she was shaken up a bit. And she seemed to be dressed in the garb of an Orthodox worshipper: Every strand of hair covered, long sleeves, a long skirt and stockings in the summer heat. She said she prays regularly at the site — set at a remove from the iconic plaza that fronts the Wall — and told Israeli television that she would try not to let the incident “distract” from her prayers.

Israeli archaeologist Zachi Dvira almost immediately said the 2,000-year-old wall was badly in need of restoration, and that its massive limestone blocks had to be reinforced.

But some saw theology, not erosion, at play in the near disaster. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, called for public “soul searching” in the wake of an incident he saw as “unusual and most rare.”

“The fact that this powerful incident happened a day after the 9th of Av fast, in which we mourned the destruction of our temples, raises questions which the human soul is too small to contain, and requires soul-searching,” he said.

Rabinovitch did not point fingers — unlike the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Dov Kalmanovich. At first, Kalmanovich said, “We must not explain and interpret natural phenomena as signs from heaven, as the ways of the Creator are hidden.” Then he did a 180, blaming the activists who want women and non-Orthodox Jews to be able to pray as they wish at the Orthodox-controlled Wall.

“The falling of one of the Western Wall stones, so close to Tisha b’Av, and exactly at the location of the controversial prayer area, should be a red light for us all,” he said. “I suggest that Reform leaders, Women of the Wall and the other quarrel-mongers examine themselves, and not the Wall.”

Kalmanovich, who – interesting side point – was the first person attacked in the first intifada in 1987, is not the only person to feel this way. A quick perusal of several religious and mainstream news websites showed similar sentiments from rabbis and laypeople.

Alden Solovy, an author and teacher who supports efforts by Reform Jews to pray as they wish at the Western Wall, took a different tack.

“On Tisha b’Av, God revealed a deep love of Reform Jews,” he wrote in a blog post. “With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God held back a stone from falling from the southern Western Wall onto liberal Jews worshipping below. The stone was, indeed, destined to fall — as it did on Monday — but God held the stone back until no one would be hurt.”

Solovy noted that had the stone fallen on Saturday night, when hundreds of worshippers and visitors were standing near that part of the Wall, “the results could have been catastrophic.”

“Clearly, God held back the stone to save some beloved Children of Israel,” he wrote.

A facetious tweet by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, an author in Brookline, Massachusetts, subtly suggested that the Israeli government and the people that put them there could be at fault. The stone fell after a week in which Israeli lawmakers passed a controversial nation-state bill, as well as a law that denies surrogacy rights to same-sex couples.

“They say the Temple was destroyed by free-flowing hatred,” Ruttenberg wrote. “The day after (or day of? Not sure when this happened) Tisha b’Av during a time when Israel’s been passing bills that are racist, homophobic, and anti-democratic, the Western Wall spit out a stone.”

She immediately clarified: “OK, all, my theology doesn’t actually include a God who finds parking spaces or gives cancer or makes the right team win. Pretty sure it’s up to us to do the work to care for one another down here. I am officially labeling this a facetious tweet bc some people can’t get subtlety.”

The entire expanse of the wall will now be inspected for other loose rocks, as archaeologists discuss the best way to prevent another such incident. Religious leaders reportedly also will be consulted — not on the causes of the falling stones but on the spiritual sensibilities that must be taken into account during preservation work.

The award for the best response should probably go to the archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov, one of the original excavators of the Robinson’s Arch area. In an interview with The Times of Israel, he made it clear how little significance he attached to the stone’s plummet to earth.

“So a rock fell — so what!” Ben-Dov said. “The State of Israel hasn’t ended, the Messiah won’t come because of this.”

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Former Archbishop of Canterbury admits "fobbing off" victims of pedophile bishop

The Roman Catholic Church isn't alone in its shame when it comes to sex crimes committed by the clergy; as reported by Olivia Rudgard of the London Daily Telegraph, July 24, 2018 (links in original):

A former Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted "fobbing off" victims of sex abuse who complained about a paedophile bishop.

Lord Carey of Clifton said Lambeth Palace failed to deal properly with letters sent by victims and their families after the arrest of Peter Ball in December 1992.

Ball, then the bishop of Gloucester, was arrested following disclosures by Neil Todd, who had been a pupil on his scheme for young men considering a monastic life, that Ball had sexually abused him.

Young men and their parents told the Archbishop's office that Ball had behaved inappropriately, including asking a 17-year-old schoolboy to masturbate in front of him during a counselling session at a boarding school, and asking another 17-year-old to share his bedroom.

In an extraordinary day at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Lord Carey was by turn contrite, apologising to Ball's victims and admitting that he had not dealt with the case properly, and defiant, arguing repeatedly that it was not the church's role to investigate his crimes.

Asked by Fiona Scolding, the lead counsel to the investigation into the Anglican church, why he did not disclose the letters to the police, he said: "No-one came to see me and said 'hand the letters over'."

He added: "At the time we assumed the police were investigating this thoroughly, and interviewing people. There was no awareness at the time that one had to pass these letters on, that one might have assumed today."

Following his arrest Ball received a caution and resigned from his role but over the next five years was allowed to return to influence in the Church, eventually performing 25 confirmations and gaining the same status as a retired bishop.

He was convicted and jailed in 2015 for misconduct in public office after admitting abusing 18 young men. Neil Todd killed himself in 2012.

Lord Carey also admitted that the church had "mishandled" the case, after the inquiry heard evidence that many of the letters had received holding responses and victims had been forced to follow up to gain a proper reply.

"We have been fobbing people off. They should have had direct replies. We should have carried on our enquiries and dealt with it in a much more serious and adult manner than we did," he admitted.

The inquiry also heard that a "personal message" from the former Archbishop had been sent to the diocese of Gloucester in January 1993, several weeks after the allegations had been received, expressing a hope that the ongoing police enquiry would "clear his [Ball's] name".

He also wrote to the chief constable of Gloucestershire and the director of public prosecutions in 1993 on Ball's behalf after the bishop's psychiatrist told him that he was suicidal, and wrote to Ball himself telling him "you are in my prayers".

Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002, oversaw Ball's return to ministry and the payment of thousands of pounds to the bishop, including money for holidays, which came from his own discretionary funds, used to support church leaders in need.

He claimed he had been manipulated by Ball, describing him as a "consummate actor" who may have faked illness to gain more sympathy, and said the Church had not regarded his crimes as serious enough at the time.

"All of us were saying at the time - 'well he wasn't raping anyone, it wasn't penetrative sex'", he said.

However, he also said his own aides had "missed the point" in a 2000 memo which set out Ball's guilt.

"They should have recognised that Peter Ball has also lost a great deal - he's lost everything, in fact, and to this day a man of such gifts will alway be remembered in the Church as a man who failed and who destroyed others," he said.

The inquiry also heard that Ball was given the role as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993 after then-appointments secretary to the Prime Minister Sir Robin Catford wrote a glowing letter recommending him, including mentioning that he was a "squash blue" at Cambridge and that he had a "quite extraordinary sparkling personality" and was "loved and revered by everyone who crossed his path".

Lord Carey, who told the hearing that the Church's panel had favoured Ball's rival for the job, described the letter as "quite appalling".

"The secretary was influencing the mind of the prime minister and going beyond his responsibilities," he said.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London calls the cops to complain about a man on its property--who was preaching from the Bible

Yet more evidence of the apostasy of the Church of England, as reported by Jamie Phillips of the London Daily Telegraph, July 22, 2018 (link in original):

A preacher has claimed St Paul's Cathedral would not let him read aloud from the Gospel for fear of breaching the peace.

Alan Coote, 55, said he was reading scriptures aloud outside St Paul's Cathedral on Saturday when he was arrested for “breaching the peace” after security staff complained to the police.

Having initially been asked to move on by the cathedral's security staff and then police officers, the preacher refused and was subsequently arrested before being released "just round the corner".

Coote, a bus driver from East London, said: "Nobody was complaining about me. People are quite happy for me to do it, in fact, they waited for me to finish and came up to me asking me questions about it.

"The security staff were not happy for me to read it as they claimed I was on private property. I quoted to them that there is a constitutional position, the Epistle Dedicatory, that encourages The Bible to be read in the Church of England and on its land.”

While many people do preach in the area, they normally do so on the public land which surrounds the Cathedral.

Mr Coote added: "They called the police and I was arrested and driven away, but they just drove down the road and released me just round the corner."

Coote has had a long-running battle with the Cathedral's security staff since he began preaching there back in January. He said that staff have tried to move him on 10 out of the 11 times that he has tried to preach there this weekend alone - but he has remained steadfast in his view that he is not doing anything wrong.

St Paul's Cathedral staff have relented now, but only to the extent that they will allow him to preach on the site for half an hour each week, an offer Coote refuses to be satisfied with.

"They have allowed me to have half an hour a week to preach there but there should not be a limit,” he said. “If I want to go all week, I should be allowed to do this without interruption.”

"If I want to read from Genesis, which would take me all week as it contains around 50 chapters, then I should be allowed to that.

"I may go and do that. I may want to go there and read for three days a week at least."

On a later occasion, police refused to arrest the preacher.

Sergeant Marcus Allen said he told security that "he was "not causing a breach of the peace" and that “it would be remiss of me to move him on in a place of worship”.

The treatment is very different to when, in 2011, St Paul's Cathedral hosted anti-capitalism protesters as they set up camp outside for over three months.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Thousands of Israelis protest passage of surrogacy law that excludes sodomite/lesbian couples

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

With the godlessness and immorality that so characterizes Israeli society, it's a wonder the law as it is got passed; as reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 22, 2018:

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Protesters marched through Tel Aviv and blocked the main Ayalon highway as day-long demonstrations kicked off across the country to protest a new surrogacy law that does not include gay couples.

Thousands of marchers waving rainbow flags blocked the Ayalon in central Tel Aviv. At the same time, hundreds of protesters in support of the LGBT community launched a demonstration near the official prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Major demonstrations also were held in Haifa in the north and Beersheba in the south. Protests also were planned in smaller Israeli cities.

The day’s main protest was a rally Sunday night in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Some 60,000 demonstrators reportedly packed the square for the rally.

The strike was announced shortly after the Knesset vote by the Aguda, the umbrella organization for the LGBT community in Israel.

The surrogacy law, which expands those eligible to hire surrogates in Israel to include single women, but excludes single men and gay couples, passed early Thursday morning in the Knesset by a vote of 59 to 52, part of a flood of votes before the lawmakers recessed at the end of the summer session.

Following the vote, the local divisions of several international companies, including Microsoft and Apple, announced they would support financially any employees who want to start a family though surrogacy.

Dozens of companies also offered a paid day off to employees who want to join the Sunday demonstrations. Many of those companies, and others throughout Israel, already were offering Sunday as an optional day off for employees in order to observe the solemn fast day of Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Indian government orders inspection of all child care homes operated by Missionaries of Charity

As reported by Catholic News Service, July 19, 2018 (first link inserted by blogger, second link in original):

BHOPAL, India – A federal ministry in India has ordered inspections of all child care homes run by the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa, after a lay employee reportedly confessed to selling babies for adoption, reported ucanews.com.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said in a statement July 16 that its move followed the recent case of alleged illegal adoptions carried out by Nirmal Hriday (Tender Hearts) home for unmarried mothers run by Missionaries of Charity in Ranchi, in Jharkhand state.

Minister Maneka Gandhi asked all states to get homes run by the congregation inspected immediately, ucanews.com reported.

Sister Concelia Balsa and social worker Anima Indwar were arrested July 4 after a childless couple complained to the state's Child Welfare Committee that Indwar took money to provide a baby but failed to keep the promise. They were accused of having already sold three babies from the home.

Indwar reportedly confessed to police that she took money for the baby. Sister Prema said the Missionaries of Charity were not involved.

"We are fully cooperating with the investigations and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry," Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in a July 17 statement.

She said Indwar, who had worked at the home for six years, enjoyed the trust of Sister Concelia, who oversaw the unmarried mothers section.

The nuns, when busy with other work, allowed Indwar to escort unwed mothers to take their babies to the Child Welfare Committee's office. The nuns had no facility to verify if a baby had been surrendered because "as a matter of practice" the government office would not acknowledge taking custody of a baby from an unwed mother, Sister Prema said.

Media reports said Indwar, the baby's mother and a guard at the home jointly took money to sell the baby in question.

"We have full faith in the courts of law and the investigating authorities and are confident that justice shall prevail," said Sister Prema's statement.

Father Peter Minj, a lawyer who is helping Missionaries of Charity, said the federal move to inspect all the congregation's homes was the "latest in a series of probes we are facing."

D.K. Pandey, Jharkhand state police chief, wrote to the federal home secretary July 11 urging him to freeze the congregation's bank account to facilitate an investigation into whether there were violations of regulations covering acceptance of foreign funding.

Church leaders say the government headed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party is using the case to tarnish the image of Missionaries of Charity and the entire Christian community.

"Many myths are being spread, information distorted and false news being diffused, and baseless innuendos being thrown about regarding the Mother Teresa sisters," Sister Prema said.

The congregation that Mother Teresa founded in 1950 has 244 homes in India.

The congregation "vows to continue its wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor" even in the "middle of the unprecedented and unfounded criticism that it faces today," Sister Prema said in her statement.
There are accusations that the investigations may be politically and/or religiously motivated; as reported by Giorgio Bernardelli in La Stampa, July 16, 2018 (link in original):

MILAN--An ugly local affair, which in Hindu nationalistic India risks turning into a general accusation against the nuns of Mother Teresa. For about ten days the Missionaries of Charity have been in the eye of the storm for a judicial affair that in Ranchi saw one of them end up behind bars, together with a lay collaborator, accused of trafficking in illegal adoptions.

The events are said to have taken place in a house for single mothers that the nuns run in the capital of the State of Jharkhand, one of the 243 structures serving the poorest and the poor that the white-and-blue-sari sisters keep open every day throughout India. The judicial authorities have collected a complaint from an Indian couple who allegedly paid 120 thousand rupees (about 1500 euros) for having in adoption one of the single mothers’ children. According to the investigations, this was not an isolated incident in that structure. It should also be added that since 2015 the Missionaries of Charity - as a general policy - had stopped giving children for adoption in India because they do not accept of the New Delhi government’s guidelines that make it possible also for singles and couples of the same sex.

On July 5, when news broke over the center of Ranchi and Sister Concilia, the mother house of the Missionaries of Charity, immediately released a very clear statement: “We are absolutely shocked by what has happened in one of our homes - the Superior Sister Mary Prema wrote - It should never have happened: it goes against our moral convictions. We are carefully looking into this matter. We will take all the necessary precautions to ensure that such an incident never happens again”.

In the meantime, however, the Missionaries of Charity also have to deal with a series of actions implemented by the local government of Jharkhand which - from the specific case - seem to want to broaden the accusations to the work of the entire religious family founded by Mother Teresa. The Chief of Police has in fact asked the Central Government of New Delhi to freeze all the bank accounts of the Missionaries of Charity, in order to check the existence of violations in foreign financing. All this while the old theses of the English journalist Christopher Hitchens, who accused Mother Teresa of exploiting poverty in India, are back in vogue in Indian public opinion. While the RSS - the movement of Hindu nationalists, very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi - has been asked to withdraw the Bharat Ratna, the most prestigious Indian honor from the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. It was awarded in 1980.

The auxiliary bishop of Ranchi, Telesphore Bilung, pointed his finger at the local government, which, under the guidance of Hindu nationalists, last year also introduced the controversial anti-conversion laws in Jharkhand. “We have news of searches in different districts of the state - told the agency UcaNews - They are trying to prove that Christians are linked to illegal activities. Even the spokesperson of the Missionaries of Charity, Sunita Kumar, speaks of an attempt to “threaten and stifle financially” the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, “whose work in India since 1950 is before everyone’s eyes”.

The approaching general elections in India in May 2019 are also playing a part in this story: the Hindu nationalists of the BJP, which governs with Modi, have been repeatedly accused in recent years of building their consensus through acts of hostility against minorities, which are becoming increasingly serious. And in this context, it is significant that Mamata Banerjee, governor of West Bengal, the State of Calcutta, has taken sides in defense of the Missionaries of Charity in these days: “Malicious attempts to malign their name. The sisters are being targeted. BJP want to spare no one. Highly condemnable. Let MOC continue to do their work for the poorest and the poor”.

Mother Teresa herself set up Missionaries of Charity. And now they are also not being spared. Malicious attempts to malign their name. The Sisters are being targeted. #BJP want to spare no one. Highly condemnable. Let MOC continue to do their work for the poorest of the poor

Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) July 12, 2018

Friday, 20 July 2018

German church membership continues to decline

It comes as no surprise to this blogger to find that church membership and attendance in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, continue to decline, in no small part due to the existence of state churches, where the pastors are civil servants, and the Bible is no longer authoritative. As reported by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 20, 2018:

The number of German church-goers dropped by 660,000 last year, according to figures released on Friday.

The biggest hit was suffered by protestant congregations, which shed 390,000 members to 21.5 million in 2017, a decrease of 1.8 percent said the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

Meanwhile the number of Catholic church-goers fell by 270,000 to 23.3 million people, according to the German Bishops' Conference (DBK).

Overall, 54 percent of the German population now belongs to one of the two churches, a drop of ten percent since 2005.

The number of church withdrawals increased slightly for both denominations. Around 200,000 people actively left the Protestant Church in 2017, compared with 190,000 the year before. For Catholics, the number of people leaving stood at 167,000 in 2017 and 162,000 in 2016.

Part of the drop is simply due to demographic decline in Germany: last year alone, 350,000 members of the Protestant Church passed away. And although new members partly made up for that shortfall, fewer children are being brought into congregations by their parents.

"The decline in membership is less demographic than due to the fact that the tradition of faith in families, communities and schools does not function sufficiently," journalist Andreas Püttmann, author of "Society without God" told German newswire DPA.

From the point of view of religious sociologists, this is not due to the church itself, but rather due to developments in society such as increased prosperity, educational opportunities, and expansion of education.

“Self identification as being a religious person has been on the decline for decades,” says Püttmann. “Now only one in three people say that they are interested in religious topics.”

Just one in every ten church members actually attends services, says Püttmann. “In this sense, the question is not why every year ‘so many’ people leave the church, but why there are so few.”

Many people remain a member of a church in order to get married in one, even if they do not attend regular services. At the same time, people in Germany also leave the church in order to avoid paying a church tax for members.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the website Kirchenaustritt (church exit), about 45 percent of people who officially left the church did so to avoid paying the church tax, which also applies to members of Jewish congregations as well.

United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska debate sodomite/lesbian relationships and clergy

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

As reported by Katherine Burgess of the Wichita Eagle, June 15, 2018 (updated June 20, 2018):

Roughly a month after bishops announced proposals for how same-sex weddings and gay clergy should be handled, Methodists gathered in Wichita said they were hopeful their church will find a resolution to conflicts over sexuality.

“We’re discerning the shape of how we will live out our Christian faith in the future,” said Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. at a listening session that began the Wichita conference for Kansas and Nebraska Methodists.

Later he joked, “Someone once said wherever there are two Methodists there are three opinions.”

The debate over sexuality has consumed energy and resources for decades, said the Rev. Andrew Conard, preacher at First United Methodist Church of El Dorado. He hopes the church will come to a resolution in February, choosing from three plans created by the Commission on a Way Forward.

“It’s important work and I’m glad we’re having the conversation that we are, but I’m hopeful that we can go on to whatever’s next,” Conard said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move the conversation forward across our denomination and within our local churches in such a way that we can get back to sharing God’s love with people that don’t know Jesus.”

The One Church Plan, which a majority of bishops recommended, would allow individual churches, conferences and pastors to decide whether to ordain gay and lesbian clergy and offer same-sex marriages. It would remove language in the Book of Discipline (the denomination’s governing document) that says the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” but would also protect pastors and conferences who “due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

The Traditional Plan would maintain the current ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and performing same-sex weddings. This plan would also strengthen enforcement for violations of those laws.

The Connectional-Conference Plan would create three conferences, abolishing the five existing U.S. jurisdictions. Each conference would decide its own adaptations of the Book of Discipline. If they disagree with their conference, churches could vote to join another.

The Rev. Amy Lippoldt, pastor at Basehor United Methodist Church, passed out buttons in the conference supporting the One Church Plan.

“I really believe it’s the best way forward for the United Methodist Church as a whole in the United States and globally. I feel like it’s the one viable option for our intractable conflict over the rights of LGBTQ people,” Lippoldt said. “We’ve been fighting in a really overt way about the rights of LGBTQ people for 40 years. Keeping things status quo is not going to help us thrive as a church.”

Lippoldt said she had many good conversations about the plans during the week. Some people are uncertain, others have their minds made up. She will be a general conference delegate voting at the February meeting in St. Louis.

For some of the Methodists gathered in Wichita, the conference was their first detailed exposure to the plans. For others, it was a chance to grapple with issues they’ve considered for years.

Saenz said many Methodists have questions about the plans and want to know what happens next — a question he can’t answer.

At the same time, waiting isn’t hard, he said.

“I’m glad we’ve had this time to pause and think deeply about what our next step would be,” Saenz said. “It’s a gift. We can all discern who we are as Christians and as United Methodists and then figure out how we are being faithful moving into the future.”

Saenz has formed a Forward in Unity Process Team to compile resources and lead discussions about sexuality. He has plans to visit each of the Great Plains’ 17 districts in the fall to discuss the Way Forward plans.

“Admittedly, there is great anxiety across the church and in the world,” Saenz wrote in May, after the plans were announced. “Still, I am profoundly hopeful about the future of The United Methodist Church at such a time as this amid swirling uncertainties and rapid change.”

Oliver Green, a member of a Methodist church in Topeka, will lead the team from the Great Plains Conference to the February meeting in St. Louis where the denomination is expected to make decisions on the plans.

It’s going to be a “very complicated” conference, Green said, with many different opinions. He supports the bishops' recommendation of the One Church Plan, although he also points out that full details haven't been released.

Full details of the plans are expected by July 8.

Green said he hopes people won’t focus only on these controversial issues, but rather on how to do ministry.

“Whatever happens in February in St. Louis, we’ll still be ministering here in Kansas and Nebraska, so how do we do that?” Green said. “How do we live out the Wesleyan way in Kansas and Nebraska?”
The fact that the United Methodist Church is even debating an issue on which the Bible is clear speaks volumes as to the denomination's apostasy. The comment about "two Methodists...three opinions" is an old line usually used in reference to Jews. The fact that a woman in the United Methodist Church has the title Reverend in front of her name is more evidence of UMC apostasy. There are still real Christians in the United Methodist Church, but they should obey the Lord's command in II Corinthians 6:17, and "come out from among them, and be ye separate."

August 6, 2018 update: A Methodist church in Mississippi has taken the proper step of obedience, as reported by Sarah Fowler of the Jackson Clarion Ledger, March 28, 2018 (links in original):

A Mississippi church has chosen to leave the United Methodist Church over conflicting views on homosexuality, abortion and the teaching of Islam.

The First United Methodist Church of Louisville decided to leave the denomination Sunday morning during a "membership affirmation," said the Rev. Mike Childs. The vote was 175-6 with one member abstaining.

Going forward, the church will be known as First Methodist Church of Louisville.

"While our church will no longer be a member of the United Methodist denomination, it will continue to be a Christ-centered church that is faithful to the Scriptures and the theology of (Methodism founder) John Wesley," Childs said. "It will forever be a Methodist church but not a United Methodist church."

Childs said he believes it is in the "best interest of the church and the Mississippi United Methodist Conference" to reach a property settlement out of court.

"We expect both sides to act in good faith and Christian charity," he said.

A spokesperson with the Mississippi United Methodist Conference was not immediatey availble for comment.

Several factors played into the Louisville church's decision to leave, Childs said, but congregants largely felt the denomination had strayed from the teachings of the Bible and the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

In recent years, the United Methodist Church has allowed a gay bishop to preach after voting that it violated church law, and has equally affirmed "the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child" when it comes to abortion.

In addition, the United Methodist-rooted Claremont School of Theology opened up clerical training to Muslim and Jewish clergy. (However, the seminary later created separate graduate schools for Muslim and Jewish students, and only the Christian school receives money from the United Methodist Church.)

With those events in mind, the decision was one "our consciences forced us to make," Childs said.

Visitors to the Louisville church would find a "very loving and welcoming congregation" who believe no sin is greater than another, he said. The church felt the need to separate themselves, however, because they believed the denomination was not "accepting the authority of the Scripture."

Wednesday night, Bishop James Swanson Sr., Bishop in Residence of the Mississippi Episcopal Area, sent an email to members of the Mississippi Uniter Methodist Conference, asking for prayers for the congregation as they begin the process of separating from the conference.

Childs said that, just as before the vote, all are welcome at his church.

The Louisville church isn't the first in Mississippi to leave the United Methodist Church. The Orchard in Tupelo and Getwell Road United Methodist Church in Southaven left last year over the denomination's "intensifying homosexuality debate," according to the United Methodist Church.
See also my posts 50 years ago: Two denominations merge to form the United Methodist Church (April 23, 2018)

Methodist church in Bermuda holds sodomite "pride service" (July 4, 2018)