nun died after being bound to a cross, gagged and left alone for
don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this" -- Father Daniel
Members of the convent in
north-west Romania claim Maricica Irina Cornici was possessed and
that the crucifixion had been part of an exorcism ritual.
Cornici was found dead on the cross on Wednesday after fellow nuns
called an ambulance, according to police.
On Saturday a former priest, Daniel Corogeanu, and four nuns were charged in connection with
Police say the 23-year-old nun, who was denied food and drink
throughout her ordeal, had been tied and chained to the cross and
a towel pushed into her mouth to smother any sounds.
A post-mortem is to be carried out, although initial reports say
that Cornici died from asphyxiation.
a Miracle; she is delivered from evi!
media reports that the young woman had arrived at the remote
convent three months before, having initially gone there to
visit a friend and opted to stay.
She grew up in an
orphanage in Arad, in the west of
Mediafax news agency said Cornici suffered
from schizophrenia and the symptoms of her condition caused
the priest at the convent and other nuns to believe she was
possessed by the devil.
"They all said she was possessed
and they were trying to cast out the evil spirits," police
spokeswoman Michaela Straub said.
Father Daniel (pictured here) who is accused of
orchestrating the crime is said to be unrepentant.
"God has performed a miracle for
her, finally Irina is delivered from evil," AFP quoted the priest
"I don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss about
this. Exorcism is a common practice in the heart of the Romanian
Orthodox church and my methods are not at all unknown to other
priests," Father Daniel added.
If found guilty of killing Cornici, Father Daniel and the accused
nuns could face 20 years in jail.
During the trial, Daniel Corogeanu started to construct an image
of himself as a martyr. He did not speak in his or the nuns
defence, he gave his blessing to the court at the beginning of
each session, he only spoke about his will to undermine the
power of evil in this world. He had no word of comfort for the
relatives of the nun killed by crucifixion, starvation and
deprivation of water, who were present in the court.
On February 10, 2007 Daniel Corogeanu and the four nouns were
sentenced to 17 years of prison. More...
Priest defiant on
nun's crucifixion By L a u r a C h i r i a c in Tanacu, Romania 19 June
happening particularly in the isolated monasteries, where
the superiors have difficulty understanding the current
realities and adapting themselves to modern life"
-- Alred Bulai, Sociologist
storm is proof that the will of God has been done....You
...Father Daniel, gesturing at the body still showing
the marks of the gag.
A ROMANIAN Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the
crucifixion of a young nun because she was "possessed by the
devil", was unrepentant as he celebrated a funeral ceremony
for his alleged victim.
"God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is
delivered from evil," said Father Daniel, 29, the superior of
the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania.
precision and pig-iron wit, this compact volume lays
bare all the sex, gore, and lunacy that the Bible has to
He then celebrated a short liturgy "for the soul of the
deceased", in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible
He insisted that from the religious point of view, the
crucifixion of Maricica Irina Cornici, 23, was "entirely
justified", but admitted he faced excommunication as well as
prosecution, and was seeking a "good lawyer".
Prosecutors said they had charged the priest and four nuns
with imprisonment leading to death, while religious
authorities said the priest would be barred from celebrating
liturgy until the investigation was completed.
The monastery would be shut if
the accused were found guilty, Father Daniel's superiors said.
The alleged victim was found dead midweek, gagged and chained
to a cross, after fellow nuns called an ambulance, according
Mihaela Straub, spokeswoman for the police in the province of
Vaslui, said Father Daniel and four other nuns had claimed she
was possessed and should be exorcised.
Before being crucified she had been kept shut up for several
days, her hands and feet tied and without food or drink, he
She had entered the monastery just three months before, after
visiting a friend who was a nun there, police said.
As her coffin entered the church of the monastery no church
bells were sounded, and nuns cast distrustful glances at the
strangers, including reporters, present at the ceremony.
Claps of thunder from an approaching storm were sometimes the
only sounds to break the silence.
"This storm is proof that the will of God has been done,"
Father Daniel said.
"You see it?" said the priest, gesturing at the body, lying in
an annexe and still showing the marks of the gag.
Father Daniel has lived for the past four years in the
isolated monastery in the hills of one of the poorest regions
of Romania, without running water or electricity.
"Over there, in your world, the people must know that the
devil exists. Personally I can find his work in the gestures
and speech of possessed people, because man is often weak and
lets himself be easily manipulated by the forces of evil,"
said the bearded young priest.
"I don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss
about this. Exorcism is a common practice in the heart of the
Romanian Orthodox church and my methods are not at all unknown
to other priests."
Sociologist Alred Bulai said corporal punishment was still
commonly used in certain Romanian monasteries.
"It's happening particularly in the isolated monasteries,
where the superiors have difficulty understanding the current
realities and adapting themselves to modern life," he said.
It was not clear why Father Daniel believed the nun was
possessed. One parishioner, Dora, said the nun "had to be
punished, she had an argument with the Father during a Sunday
mass and insulted him in front of the congregation".
The Mediafax news agency reported that the dead woman had
recently been treated for "schizophrenia" at the local
hospital, but the chief of the local child welfare office,
Ionel Bratianu, said the nun was "in good health and did not
suffer from any psychiatric trouble".
Mediafax news agency
reported Saturday that the Cornici had recently been
treated for "schizophrenia" at the local hospital, but the
chief of the local child welfare office, Ionel Bratianu,
said the nun was "in good health and did not suffer from
any psychiatric trouble."
Cornici was raised in an
orphanage until the age of 19, when she traveled to
Germany to work as a nanny for a family of German doctors.
After in-depth psychological and psychiatric tests, the
German embassy had declared her apt to take care of
children, said Bratianu.
Since the fall of the
communist regime in December 1989, the Orthodox Church,
which represents 85% of Romania's 22 million inhabitants,
is rated in many opinion polls as the most trusted
institution in the country.
Vitalie Danciu, the
superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the
crucifixion "inexcusable," but a spokesman for the
Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.
"I don't know what this
young woman did," Bogdan Teleanu said
Former priest jailed for seven years for murdering a
young nun during an exorcism
Nun was bound, chained to a cross and denied food and
water for days during ritual
Irina Cornici, 23, died from dehydration, exhaustion and
suffocation during an ordeal
Cornici, once treated for schizophrenia, believed she
had heard the devil talk to her
(AP) -- A former priest began a seven-year jail term
Wednesday for murdering a young nun during an
exorcism ritual when she was bound, chained to a
cross and denied food and water for days.
priest Daniel Corogeanu, center, listens to a court
ruling as he is sentenced.
Irina Cornici, 23, died from dehydration, exhaustion
and suffocation during an ordeal that stunned
Romania and prompted the Orthodox Church to promise
reforms and psychological tests to screen potential
The former priest, Daniel Corogeanu, and four nuns
were all convicted and sentenced in September but
Corogeanu was freed pending an appeal, which he lost
Tuesday. He was picked up by police in the remote
northeast Wednesday and sent to jail.
Cornici, who had previously been treated for
schizophrenia, had believed she heard the devil
talking to her. Corogeanu and the four nuns decided
to try an exorcism ritual in June 2005 using
techniques that the Romanian Orthodox Church
condemned as "abominable".
The church, which has benefited from a religious
revival in recent years, defrocked Corogeanu and
excommunicated the four nuns, who in September were
handed five- and six-year jail terms.
When arrested Wednesday, Corogeanu said he would
serve his term if that was God's will, the national
news agency Rompres reported.
Corogeanu, a Romanian, dropped out halfway through
training for the priesthood, but still served as a
priest for the secluded Holy Trinity convent in
northeast Romania because of a shortage of suitable
candidates for convents and monasteries.
don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this" -- Father Daniel
Romanian Town Gets Rich
Through Scams Wednesday, February 06, 2008
By N i c o l a S m i t h
DRAGASANI, Romania — Hundreds of people in the poor Romanian town of
Dragasani have grown rich by conning eBay online auction customers with
deals that seem too good to be true — and often are.
The scammers have even put the new town hall up for sale on eBay, the mayor
admitted last week.
"I mean, who would want it?" he asked.
Despite growing concern about online frauds, the European Union has poured
$300,000 into computer training courses in Dragasani over the past three
years in "special recognition" of its information-technology skills.
"I heard about another offer on eBay selling a MiG fighter jet. There was a
photo and a very good price as the customer was only being asked to pay for
the fuel to fly it. One guy paid $2,000!" the mayor, Gheorghe Iordache,
"The victims are mainly Americans because they are on the Internet most
often and they're naive," he added. "I've heard about local guys who have
suddenly bought apartments in Bucharest, Germany, Holland, but haven't a
job. Others have BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches and they don't work. So where do
they get the money from?"
With few local jobs available in this industrial town in Romania's Valcea
wine-growing region, defrauding eBay customers has became a popular career
path for many of Dragasani's young people.
A classic scam is the "second chance auction," in which fraudsters contact
an eBay user who has just missed out on an item, offering them another
chance to buy it outside eBay rules. The scammers persuade their victims to
purchase the fictitious items using payment methods that do not allow them
to recover the money.
Other frauds include hacking into eBay accounts and stealing an identity to
make fake offers. Local police say thousands of victims have been defrauded
by the scammers. The biggest case involved the sum of $300,000.
Mihai Popescu, 29, is serving a three-year jail sentence for his link to one
such scam. He was lured into online fraud when he was unemployed.
Last week his parents protested that he had been made a scapegoat after
playing a minor role in the crime, in which his identity card was used to
pick up a cash payment from a victim.
"He is only 5 percent guilty. He doesn't even speak English," said his
According to Virgil Spiridon, chief of the national cyber-crime unit, there
were 752 arrests and 84 convictions last year, many of them in cases where
Romanians posed as Britons.
A spokesman for eBay said it had "invested millions" in fighting fraud in
A reporter looks at how the stories he covered affected him and his
WHEN Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God
had answered my prayers.
As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the
mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a
I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief
shapes people's lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would
grow deeper and sturdier.
But during the eight years I covered religion, something very
In 1989, a friend took me to Mariners Church, then in Newport Beach,
after saying: "You need God. That's what's missing in your life." At
the time, I was 28 and my first son was less than a year old. I had
managed to nearly ruin my marriage (the second one) and didn't think
I'd do much better as a father. I was profoundly lost.
The mega-church's pastor, Kenton Beshore, had a knack for making
Scripture accessible and relevant. For someone who hadn't studied
the Bible much, these talks fed a hunger in my soul. The secrets to
living well had been there all along — in "Life's Instruction
Manual," as some Christians nicknamed the Bible.
Some friends in a Bible study class encouraged me to attend a men's
religious weekend in the San Bernardino Mountains. The three-day
retreats are designed to grind down your defenses and leave you
emotionally raw — an easier state in which to connect with God.
After 36 hours of prayer, singing, Bible study, intimate sharing and
little sleep, I felt filled with the Holy Spirit.
At the climactic service Sunday, Mike Barris, a pastor-to-be,
delivered an old-fashioned altar call. He said we needed to let
Jesus into our hearts.
With my eyes closed in prayer, I saw my heart slowly opening in two
and then being infused with a warm, glowing light. A tingle spread
across my chest. This, I thought, was what it was to be born again.
The pastor asked those who wanted to accept Jesus to raise their
hands. My hand pretty much levitated on its own. My new friends in
Christ, many of whom I had first met Friday, gave me hugs and slaps
on the back.
I began praying each morning and night. During those quiet times, I
mostly listened for God's voice. And I thought I sensed a plan he
had for me: To write about religion for The Times and bring light
into the newsroom, if only by my stories and example.
My desire to be a religion reporter grew as I read stories about
faith in the mainstream media. Spiritual people often appeared as
nuts or simpletons.
In one of the most famous examples, the Washington Post ran a news
story in 1993 that referred to evangelical Christians as "largely
poor, uneducated and easy to command."
Another maddening trend was that homosexuality and abortion debates
dominated media coverage, as if those where the only topics that
mattered to Christians.
I didn't just pray for a religion writing job; I lobbied hard. In
one meeting with editors, my pitch went something like this:
"What if I told you that you have an institution in Orange County
that draws more than 15,000 people a weekend and that you haven't
written much about?"
They said they couldn't imagine such a thing.
"Saddleback Church in Lake Forest draws that type of crowd."
It took several years and numerous memos and e-mails, but editors
finally agreed in 1998 to let me write "Getting Religion," a weekly
column about faith in Orange County.
I felt like all the tumblers of my life had clicked. I had a strong
marriage, great kids and a new column. I attributed it all to God's
First as a columnist and then as a reporter, I never had a shortage
of topics. I wrote about an elderly church organist who became a
spiritual mentor to the man who tried to rape, rob and kill her.
About the Orthodox Jewish mother who developed a line of modest
clothing for Barbie dolls. About the hardy group of Mormons who rode
covered wagons 800 miles from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino,
replicating their ancestors' journey to Southern California.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism, with its low-key evangelism and deep
ritual, increasingly appealed to me. I loved its long history and
loving embrace of liberals and conservatives, immigrants and the
established, the rich and poor.
My wife was raised in the Catholic Church and had wanted me to join
for years. I signed up for yearlong conversion classes at a Newport
Beach parish that would end with an Easter eve ceremony ushering
newcomers into the church.
By then I had been on the religion beat for three years. I couldn't
wait to get to work each day or, on Sunday, to church.
IN 2001, about six months before the Catholic clergy sex scandal
broke nationwide, the dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles paid a
record $5.2 million to a law student who said he had been molested,
as a student at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa
Margarita, by his principal, Msgr. Michael Harris.
Without admitting guilt, Harris agreed to leave the priesthood. As
part of the settlement, the dioceses also were forced to radically
change how they handled sexual abuse allegations, including a
promise to kick out any priest with a credible molestation
allegation in his past. It emerged that both dioceses had many known
molesters on duty. Los Angeles had two convicted pedophiles still
working as priests.
While reporting the Harris story, I learned — from court records and
interviews — the lengths to which the church went to protect the
priest. When Harris took an abrupt leave of absence as principal at
Santa Margarita in January 1994, he issued a statement saying it was
because of "stress." He resigned a month later.
His superiors didn't tell parents or students the real reason for
his absence: Harris had been accused of molesting a student while he
was principal at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana from 1977 to
1979; church officials possessed a note from Harris that appeared to
be a confession; and they were sending him to a treatment center.
In September 1994, a second former student stepped forward, this
time publicly, and filed a lawsuit. In response, parents and
students held a rally for Harris at the school, singing, "For He's a
Jolly Good Fellow." An airplane towed a banner overhead that read
"We Love Father Harris."
By this time, church leaders possessed a psychological report in
which Catholic psychiatrists diagnosed Harris as having an
attraction to adolescents and concluded that he likely had molested
multiple boys. (Harris, who has denied the allegations, now stands
accused of molesting 12 boys, according to church records.) But they
didn't step forward to set the record straight. Instead, a diocesan
spokesman called Harris an "icon of the priesthood."
Harris' top defense attorney, John Barnett, lashed out at the
priest's accusers in the media, calling them "sick individuals."
Again, church leaders remained silent as the alleged victims were
savaged. Some of the diocese's top priests — including the cleric in
charge of investigating the accusations — threw a going-away party
At the time, I never imagined Catholic leaders would engage in a
widespread practice that protected alleged child molesters and
belittled the victims. I latched onto the explanation that was least
damaging to my belief in the Catholic Church — that this was an
isolated case of a morally corrupt administration.
And I was comforted by the advice of a Catholic friend: "Keep your
eyes on the person nailed to the cross, not the priests behind the
IN late 2001, I traveled to Salt Lake City to attend a conference of
former Mormons. These people lived mostly in the Mormon Jell-O belt
— Utah, Idaho, Arizona — so-named because of the plates of Jell-O
that inevitably appear at Mormon gatherings.
They found themselves ostracized in their neighborhoods, schools and
careers. Often, they were dead to their own families.
"If Mormons associate with you, they think they will somehow become
contaminated and lose their faith too," Suzy Colver told me. "It's
almost as if people who leave the church don't exist."
The people at the conference were an eclectic bunch: novelists and
stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs and cartoonists, sex addicts and
alcoholics. Some were depressed, others angry, and a few had
successfully moved on. But they shared a common thread: They wanted
to be honest about their lack of faith and still be loved.
In most pockets of Mormon culture, that wasn't going to happen.
Part of what drew me to Christianity were the radical teachings of
Jesus — to love your enemy, to protect the vulnerable and to
lovingly bring lost sheep back into the fold.
As I reported the story, I wondered how faithful Mormons — many of
whom rigorously follow other biblical commands such as giving 10% of
their income to the church — could miss so badly on one of Jesus'
As part of the Christian family, I felt shame for my religion. But I
still compartmentalized it as an aberration — the result of sinful
behavior that infects even the church.
IN early 2002, I was assigned to work on the Catholic sex scandal
story as it erupted across the nation. I also continued to attend
Sunday Mass and conversion classes on Sunday mornings and Tuesday
Father Vincent Gilmore — the young, intellectually sharp priest
teaching the class — spoke about the sex scandal and warned us
Catholics-to-be not to be poisoned by a relatively few bad clerics.
Otherwise, we'd be committing "spiritual suicide."
As I began my reporting, I kept that in mind. I also thought that
the victims — people usually in their 30s, 40s and up — should have
just gotten over what had happened to them decades before. To me,
many of them were needlessly stuck in the past.
But then I began going over the documents. And interviewing the
victims, scores of them. I discovered that the term "sexual abuse"
is a euphemism. Most of these children were raped and sodomized by
someone they and their family believed was Christ's representative
on Earth. That's not something an 8-year-old's mind can process; it
forever warps a person's sexuality and spirituality.
Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of
abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to
another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families
into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few
instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country
to escape prosecution.
I couldn't get the victims' stories or the bishops' lies — many of
them right there on their own stationery — out of my head. I had
been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders,
rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different —
the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the
priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.
The lifeline Father Vincent had tried to give me began to slip from
I sought solace in another belief: that a church's heart is in the
pews, not the pulpits. Certainly the people who were reading my
stories would recoil and, in the end, recapture God's house.
Instead, I saw parishioners reflexively support priests who had
molested children by writing glowing letters to bishops and judges,
offering them jobs or even raising their bail while cursing the
victims, often to their faces.
On a Sunday morning at a parish in Rancho Santa Margarita, I watched
congregants lobby to name their new parish hall after their longtime
pastor, who had admitted to molesting a boy and who had been barred
that day from the ministry. I felt sick to my stomach that the
people of God wanted to honor an admitted child molester. Only one
person in the crowd, an Orange County sheriff's deputy, spoke out
for the victim.
On Good Friday 2002, I decided I couldn't belong to the Catholic
Church. Though I had spent a year preparing for it, I didn't go
through with the rite of conversion.
I understood that I was witnessing the failure of humans, not God.
But in a way, that was the point. I didn't see these institutions
drenched in God's spirit. Shouldn't religious organizations, if they
were God-inspired and -driven, reflect higher standards than
government, corporations and other groups in society?
I found an excuse to skip services that Easter. For the next few
months, I attended church only sporadically. Then I stopped going
SOME of the nation's most powerful pastors — including Billy Graham,
Robert H. Schuller and Greg Laurie — appear on the Trinity
Broadcasting Network, benefiting from TBN's worldwide reach while
looking past the network's reliance on the "prosperity gospel" to
fuel its growth.
TBN's creed is that if viewers send money to the network, God will
repay them with great riches and good health. Even people deeply in
debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards.
"If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN and have
not contributed � you are robbing God and will lose your reward in
heaven," Paul Crouch, co-founder of the Orange County-based network,
once told viewers. Meanwhile, Crouch and his wife, Jan, live like
I began looking into TBN after receiving some e-mails from former
devotees of the network. Those people had given money to the network
in hopes of getting a financial windfall from God. That didn't work.
By then, I started to believe that God was calling me, as he did St.
Francis of Assisi, to "rebuild his church" — not in some grand way
that would lead to sainthood but by simply reporting on corruption
within the church body.
I spent several years investigating TBN and pored through stacks of
documents — some made available by appalled employees — showing the
Crouches eating $180-per-person meals; flying in a $21-million
corporate jet; having access to 30 TBN-owned homes across the
country, among them a pair of Newport Beach mansions and a ranch in
Texas. All paid for with tax-free donor money.
One of the stars of TBN and a major fundraiser is the
self-proclaimed faith healer Benny Hinn. I attended one of his
two-day "Miracle Crusades" at what was then the Pond of Anaheim. The
arena was packed with sick people looking for a cure.
My heart broke for the hundreds of people around me in wheelchairs
or in the final stages of terminal diseases, believing that if God
deemed their faith strong enough, they would be healed that night.
Hinn tells his audiences that a generous cash gift to his ministry
will be seen by God as a sign of true faith. This has worked well
for the televangelist, who lives in an oceanfront mansion in Dana
Point, drives luxury cars, flies in private jets and stays in the
At the crusade, I met Jordie Gibson, 21, who had flown from Calgary,
Canada, to Anaheim because he believed that God, through Hinn, could
get his kidneys to work again.
He was thrilled to tell me that he had stopped getting dialysis
because Hinn had said people are cured only when they "step out in
faith." The decision enraged his doctors, but made perfect sense to
Gibson. Despite risking his life as a show of faith, he wasn't cured
in Anaheim. He returned to Canada and went back on dialysis. The
crowd was filled with desperate believers like Gibson.
I tried unsuccessfully to get several prominent mainstream pastors
who appeared on TBN to comment on the prosperity gospel, Hinn's
"faith healing" or the Crouches' lifestyle.
Like the Catholic bishops, I assumed, they didn't want to risk what
AS the stories piled up, I began to pray with renewed vigor, but it
felt like I wasn't connecting to God. I started to feel silly even
I read accounts of St. John of the Cross and his "dark night of the
soul," a time he believed God was testing him by seemingly
withdrawing from his life. Maybe this was my test.
I met with my former Presbyterian pastor, John Huffman, and told him
what I was feeling. I asked him if I could e-mail him some tough
questions about Christianity and faith and get his answers. He
agreed without hesitation.
The questions that I thought I had come to peace with started to
bubble up again. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does
God get credit for answered prayers but no blame for unanswered
ones? Why do we believe in the miraculous healing power of God when
he's never been able to regenerate a limb or heal a severed spinal
In one e-mail, I asked John, who had lost a daughter to cancer, why
an atheist businessman prospers and the child of devout Christian
parents dies. Why would a loving God make this impossible for us to
He sent back a long reply that concluded:
"My ultimate affirmation is let God be God and acknowledge that He
is in charge. He knows what I don't know. And frankly, if I'm
totally honest with you, a life of gratitude is one that bows before
the Sovereign God arguing with Him on those things that trouble me,
lamenting the losses of life, but ultimately saying, 'You, God, are
infinite; I'm human and finite.' "
John is an excellent pastor, but he couldn't reach me. For some
time, I had tried to push away doubts and reconcile an all-powerful
and infinitely loving God with what I saw, but I was losing ground.
I wondered if my born-again experience at the mountain retreat was
more about fatigue, spiritual longing and emotional vulnerability
than being touched by Jesus.
And I considered another possibility: Maybe God didn't exist.
TOWARD the end of my tenure as a religion reporter, I traveled to
Nome, Alaska. Sitting in a tiny visitor's room, I studied the sad,
round face of the Eskimo in front of me and tried to imagine how
much he hated being confined to jail.
Peter "Packy" Kobuk was from a remote village on St. Michael Island
in western Alaska. There natives lived, in many ways, just as their
ancestors did 10,000 years ago. Smells of the outdoor life hung
heavy in his village: the salt air, the strips of salmon drying on
racks, the seaweed washed up on the beach.
But for now, Packy could smell only the disinfectants used to scrub
the concrete floors at the Anvil Mountain Correction Center.
Unfortunately, alcohol and a violent temper had put Packy there many
times in his 46 years. For his latest assault, he was serving three
The short, powerfully built man folded his calloused hands on the
table. I was surprised to see a homemade rosary hanging from his
neck, the blue beads held together by string from a fishing net.
I had come from Southern California to report on a generation of
Eskimo boys who had been molested by a Catholic missionary. All of
the now-grown Eskimos I had interviewed over the past week had lost
their faith. In fact, several of them confessed that they fantasized
daily about burning down the village church, where the unspeakable
acts took place.
But there was Packy with his rosary.
"Why do you still believe?" I asked.
"It's not God's work what happened to me," he said softly, running
his fingers along the beads. "They were breaking God's commandments
— even the people who didn't help. They weren't loving their
neighbors as themselves."
He said he regularly got down on his knees in his jail cell to pray.
"A lot of people make fun of me, asking if the Virgin Mary is going
to rescue me," Packy said. "Well, I've gotten helped more times from
the Virgin Mary through intercession than from anyone else. I won't
stop. My children need my prayers."
Tears spilled from his eyes. Packy's faith, though severely tested,
I looked at him with envy. Where he found comfort, I was finding
IN the summer of 2005, I reported from a Multnomah County, Ore.,
courtroom on the story of an unemployed mother — impregnated by a
seminary student 13 years earlier — who was trying to get increased
child support for her sickly 12-year-old son.
The boy's father, Father Arturo Uribe, took the witness stand. The
priest had never seen or talked with his son. He even had trouble
properly pronouncing the kid's name. Uribe confidently offered the
court a simple reason as to why he couldn't pay more than $323 a
month in child support.
"The only thing I own are my clothes," he told the judge.
His defense — orchestrated by a razor-sharp attorney paid for by his
religious order — boiled down to this: I'm a Roman Catholic priest,
I've taken a vow of poverty, and child-support laws can't touch me.
The boy's mother, Stephanie Collopy, couldn't afford a lawyer. She
stumbled badly acting as her own attorney. It went on for three
"It didn't look that great," Stephanie said afterward, wiping tears
from her eyes. "It didn't sound that great but at least I stood up
The judge ruled in the favor of Uribe, then pastor of a large parish
in Whittier. After the hearing, when the priest's attorney
discovered I had been there, she ran back into the courtroom and
unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to seal the case. I could see
why the priest's lawyer would try to cover it up. People would be
shocked at how callously the church dealt with a priest's
illegitimate son who needed money for food and medicine.
My problem was that none of that surprised me anymore.
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I
felt used up and numb.
My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago —
probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which
had been in denial, had finally caught up.
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded,
requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of
faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into
existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state
of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my
wife on a cell phone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at
Dear Mr. Lobdell,
That was a touching story, Religion beat became a test of
faith, and it seems
that you came to the right conclusion, but for not-so-good
If you had researched biology, anthropology, cosmology and
physics instead of religion -- If you had had a regular
subscription to magazines like Scientific American, for
example, ones that popularise these and other fields, or if you
had taken to heart your high school biology education, then
you'd have a much stronger foundation and ammunition to refute
this god-crap, and sooner! That's what I think. I'm sorry to
speak to you like this but I mean it in a nice way :). Science
is actually fun!
As it is now, your well written and touching story allows the
existence of an evil god -- and if there can be one god, then why not three or 12 or a
12 zillion, as the Mormons believe? If something as
complex as One who can create a universe can spring from nothing
or always exist, then certainly something simpler, universes,
can come from a Big Bangs, yes?
What does it mean to lose one's faith? It seems to imply that
faith is a good thing. Nobody says oh, I lost my cancer but one
is well understood if he/she says I lost my vision or my purse.
History-research shows that Nazareth didn't exist until 40 years
after the alleged birth of your savior there. No historian form
that time ever heard of Him. There was no Jesus, no Moses...
there were never any captive Jews in Egypt, for example; any
Egyptologist will freely tell you that. The book of Mormon is
made up... I could go on. My point is that knowing this stuff
saves one like you, one with a brain, a lot of unnecessary
Tens of thousands of children, some as young as four years old, are being
accused of “crimes” of witchcraft in Africa, according to a new report,
which examines the consequences for the societies they live in.
Unicef’s Children Accused of Witchcraft report which was released last week
looks at a number of case studies across the East African region and in
particular the recent killing of albino children in Tanzania.
In western regions of
Kenya 15 women accused of witchcraft were recently burnt
to death by angry villagers.
The media, and more recently
Internet sites in various regions of Africa regularly report
shocking figures on the number of violent acts against children,
that are related to witchcraft.
Unicef acknowledges that executions of alleged witches have
reached alarming levels in a number of African countries
including Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria and
There has been no comprehensive study to suggest how widespread
child witchcraft allegations are, or the number of children who
have been beaten or killed, but experts believe the numbers are
in their thousands or tens of thousands.
Unicef’s regional child protection officer for West and Central
Africa Joaquim Theis said more than 20,000 street children had
been accused of witchcraft in the DR Congo capital Kinshasa
The report says thousands of elderly people, especially women,
have been accused of witchcraft and then beaten and/or killed in
In western regions of Kenya 15 women accused of witchcraft were
recently burnt to death by angry villagers.
The report says the existence of such violence requires that a
number of distinctions be made.
“First, that there is a difference between belief in witchcraft
and accusations of witchcraft. The fact of believing in
witchcraft, that is, in the extraordinary power of certain
people, does not pose any particular problems.”
According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change
his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to manifest his
religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and
The report also notes that, witchcraft accusations that end in
extreme violence require a different response.
“Not only do such acts pose serious problems for civil society
and African state institutions, but also for those who defend
The report says the most common age for witchcraft accusations
is between four and 14 years old.
Unlike in medieval times in Europe or in the 19th and early 20th
century in Africa, the studies indicate that witchcraft
accusations target mostly boys.
Several news articles published recently on the Internet reveal
the extreme discrimination and violence against people with
albinism, (who are believed to posses magic powers supposedly
contained in parts of their bodies) especially in Burundi and
Tanzania, but also in Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Kenya, Senegal and
In Cameroon, Jean Jacques Ndoudoumou, President of the World
Association for the Defence and Solidarity of Albinos (Asmodisa),
explains: “People think we are magical creatures, that we’ve
come back from the dead as a punishment by God for something we
did in our previous life.”
In contrast with the “child witches,” albino children are
attacked and killed in order to make people more powerful, rich
Certain body parts, such as the skin, tongue, hands, ears,
skull, heart and genital organs are believed to have magical
powers and are used to make potions and charms.
These body parts are sometimes called “spare parts” and are
Albinos are especially prized on the occult market, the report
Multiple anthropological studies have reported this trade in
Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
Most authors believe the phenomenon is directly related to
globalisation, the arrival of capitalism and the market,
production, consumerism, as well as development policies.
It integrates the mysteries of economic growth, the accumulation
of wealth and of the general impoverishment of populations
The Unicef report questions those who say that a belief in
witches is part of “African tradition”.
“While it is true that certain ancient practices have been
maintained, then adapted to contemporary contexts, other
practices that appear to be ancient or claim to be are often of
very recent origin,” the report says. “Such is the case of the
sale of body parts or the mainly urban phenomenon of children
accused of witchcraft. According to the most recent
anthropological studies, witchcraft and the sacrifice of people
with albinism cannot be interpreted solely in terms of “African
tradition.” It is a “new” tradition or an “invented tradition.”
The spread of democracy, capitalism and the free market have
also democratised the occult.
Today, everything is for sale: charms, talismans, magic powders
and potions, some apparently made from body parts.
In some countries, such as Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania, albino
body parts appear to be particularly highly prized, because they
can be used to make potions and magic charms that enhance
But why is the belief in witchcraft growing even as Africa
modernises and becomes a much more integral part of the world
Unicef says that life in the city, paid employment, consumerism,
financial pressure and an emerging individualism “have all led
to profound transformations in family structures.
“The result is a dysfunctional family and a disruption of
relations between age groups – in particular the legitimacy of
parental authority – and between men and women. The changes that
have been introduced through development are therefore a
challenge to African solidarity.
“Accusations of witchcraft against children can also be a direct
consequence of this inability of families to meet their basic
needs. In addition to these economic and political crises, and
general impoverishment, there are also institutional crises to
consider, such as inadequate health services, weak legal system,
and the role of civil society.”
The study aims to clarify the basis for certain social practices
that are wholly or partially misunderstood by western observers.
Behaviours commonly associated with accusations of witchcraft
include violence, mistreatment, abuse, infanticide and the
abandonment of children.
From a western perspective, such practices are violations of the
rights of children.
Unicef says that the objective of its report is to understand
both the complexity and the variety of the phenomena described,
as well as the causes, which are not only cultural and social,
but also economic and political.
The study targets child protection agencies and aims to promote
better understanding of local representations and beliefs, as
well as to provide guidance on effective child protection
Children accused of witchcraft are subject to psychological and
physical violence, first by family members and their circle of
friends, then by church pastors or traditional healers.
They are stigmatised and discriminated for life. Increasingly
vulnerable and caught in a cycle of accusation, they risk
further accusations of witchcraft.
Children accused of witchcraft may be killed, although more
often they are abandoned by their parents and live on the
A large number of street children have been accused of
witchcraft within the family circle.
These children are more vulnerable to physical and sexual
violence and to abuse by the authorities.
In order to survive and to escape appalling living conditions,
they use drugs and alcohol.
Often victims of sexual exploitation, they are at increased risk
of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infection.
‘Holy Ghost’ Religious leader charged with raping teen - Salt Lake City, Utah March 20, 2012, by A a r o n
V a u g h n
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who founded a Christian church over a decade ago is
now being accused of raping a 15-year-old girl.
Terrill Dalton, 45, founded the Holy Ghost Church of the First Born of Heaven.
He later moved his church across three states before being arrested in Montana.
Prosecutors say the alleged victim claims Dalton told her he received a
revelation from God telling him to have sex with her so she would be “blessed.”
She also says Dalton claims to be the Holy Ghost and forced her to have sex with
the first counsel of the church to “seal” the blessing.
“She certainly believed that and was led into a sexual relationship not only
with the president of this church but also their first counsel who was part of
this organization,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
The Holy Ghost of the Church of the First Born of the General Assembly of Heaven
was founded by Dalton in 2004. The small group started in Magna and grew to
about 100 members. They moved to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho where they
wore out their welcome and left for greener pastures in Montana. That is where
U.S. Marshalls arrested Dalton and his first counsel Geody Harman in 2010.
“These are very serious offenses and rightfully so and the potential on this is
up to life in prison,” says Gill.
Dalton was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for two counts of first degree
felony rape. Harman is also charged with rape, but was released after he posted
bail. Prosecutors have struck a plea deal with him in exchange for his testimony
Harman claims he was the “Oracle” of the church and dalton would transcribe and
interpret the revelations.
“He [Dalton] had an impression from God, which directed him to have sexual
intercourse and relations with this 15-year-old minor and therefore, this child
would be blessed as a result of that,” said Gill.
Harman not only testified against Dalton, but admitted to having sex with the
same teen. However, Harmon’s faith within the church had him lie to police
because “the act of giving seed of the physical body was only to be shared to
those sealed under celestial light.”;
“He’s talking about celestial and terrestrial … it seemed a little delusional,”
said Dalton’s defense attorney Rudy Bautista.
Bautista says his client is innocent and the alleged victim, who is now 22, is
not telling the truth.
“We plan to introduce evidence tomorrow [Wednesday] that she told her sister
that the reason why she’s doing this is to get Terrill’s money so she can use it
to buy drugs and other things,” said Bautista.
The alleged victim will be testifying Wednesday. The trial is expected to last
If convicted, Dalton could spend up to life in prison for the two felony rape
Harman is expected to plead guilty to the charge of unlawful sex with a minor as
part of his plea deal. The third-degree felony carries a maximum of five years
burns man accused of desecrating Koran alive
By H a m i d S h e i k h
Sat, Dec 22
HYDERABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - A mob broke into a Pakistani police
station and burnt a man accused of desecrating the Koran alive, police
said Saturday, in the latest violence focusing attention on the
country's blasphemy laws.
The man was a traveler and had spent Thursday night at the mosque, said
Maulvi Memon, the imam in the southern village of Seeta in Sindh
province. The charred remains of the Koran were found the next morning.
"He was alone in the mosque during the night," Memon said. "There was no
one else there to do this terrible thing."
Villagers beat the man then handed him over to police. A few hours
later, a crowd of around 200 stormed the police station, dragged the man
out and set him on fire, said Usman Ghani, the senior superintendent of
police in Dadu district.
Ghani said around 30 people had been arrested for the murder and seven
police detained for negligence.
At least 53 people have been killed in Pakistan since 1990 after being
accused of blasphemy, according to the Center for Research and Security
Studies, and accusations are becoming more frequent.
Blasphemy in Pakistan is punishable by death but it is not specifically
defined by law. During court cases, lawyers often do not wish to repeat
evidence against the accused for fear of being blasphemous themselves.
People have been arrested for just discussing or writing about Islam,
making mistakes in homework or not joining protests against a film
insulting Islam. In some cases, the accusers have had financial disputes
with those who are accused.
Most recently, international attention focused on the case of Rimsha
Masih, a Christian teenager accused of having some burnt pages of a
child's exercise book quoting the Koran in a bag of rubbish she was
The case was dismissed last month after a neighbor came forward to say
she was framed, possibly to chase Christians out of her neighborhood.
In the past two years, two senior Pakistani officials who suggested
reforming the laws have been shot dead, one by his own bodyguard.
Lawyers threw rose petals at the killer and the judge who convicted him
was forced to flee the country.
(Additional reporting by M e h r e e n Z a h r a - M a
l i k; Writing by K a t h a r i n e H o u r e l
d; Editing by N i c k M a c f i e)
Islamic punishment: Amputation
By K r i s t a L a r s o n
Mali — The Islamic extremists in Mali came to Issa Alzouma's cell and
brought him out to the public square they had renamed Place de Shariah.
They laid him out, tying down his arms and legs before amputating his
right hand and forearm with a knife.
"I passed out from the pain," the 39-year-old father of three recalled,
the stump, just below his elbow, still wrapped in gauze more than a
month later. "The next thing I knew I was in the hospital."
The Islamic extremists in Mali
came to Issa Alzouma's cell and brought him out to the
public square they had renamed Place de Shariah. They laid
him out, tying down his arms and legs before amputating his
right hand and forearm with a knife.
Alzouma still carries the worn, folded piece of paper he was given
upon his discharge from the hospital in December after five days there.
Diagnosis: Amputation, it says.
The northern Malian town of Gao has been celebrating the departure of
the Islamic radicals after nearly 10 months in power. But the French
military intervention that caused the armed jihadists to flee came too
late for Alzouma and the other men who lost their hands and probably
their livelihoods, too, when the militants carried out amputations as
punishments for theft and other alleged crimes under their strict
interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law.
Alzouma, the last prisoner in Gao whose hand was chopped off, doesn't
know how he will support his wife and three children. He used to dig for
gravel for a living.
"Even for men with two hands, there is no work to be found," he said.
When the Islamic extremists first took over Gao last April, Alzouma says
they talked about Islam and the importance of being a good Muslim. Only
later, he says, did they start imposing their strict rule. In total,
they carried out nine amputations in Gao, residents say, and several
others in the nearby town of Ansongo.
In November, Alzouma was traveling by motorcycle between his home
village and Gao when the jihadists arrested him and accused him of
espionage. Alzouma denied it, and said he had been lingering on the road
only because he was changing a faulty plug on his motorcycle's engine.
Later, the extremists said witnesses had seen him breaking into a nearby
A neighbor later came by their home to tell his wife Fatimata that his
hand had been cut off. How would she explain to their 7-year-old son
Ousmane why his father had no hand, she wanted to know. When they went
to visit him in the hospital, Ousmane cried at the sight of his father's
Tiny but resilient, Fatimata now bears the weight of responsibility for
their family's future, packaging charcoal in plastic bags to sell for
income. The jihadists wanted to keep women in the home but ironically
the amputation has changed the dynamic of gender roles, with Fatimata
now going out to work while he stays home recuperating and helping watch
over the children.
Alzouma cannot afford pain medication. He returns every 10 days to the
hospital to have his dressing changed. He hopes that one day he can get
a prosthesis that will give him back some functionality. He knows,
though, he will not be able to dig gravel as he did before.
"Each day when I pray I ask God 'What can I do to survive? How can I
support my family?' " he says.
The militants said they cut off his hand in accordance with Islamic law.
Alzouma, though, says to subject him and his children to a life of
poverty is not in accordance with his faith.
"They said they were Muslims, but they are not," he said. "They are
"She was a demon. We had to destroy her"
Two Chinese cult members to be executed for McDonald’s murder
T e r r e n c e M c C o y,
W a s h i n g t o n P o s t | October, 2014
It was at the back of the restaurant – beyond the fry stand, the
grease-slicked counter, the droves of gawking patrons — where the murder
happened. The restaurant was a McDonald’s. It was a Wednesday evening.
The murderers, who bludgeoned the woman to death with chairs and a mop,
belonged to a cult described as China’s “most radical.”;
Called the Church of the Almighty God, it claims to have a million
followers, aggressively promotes Doomsday scenarios, wants to destroy
the Chinese Communist Party and believes that Jesus Christ has returned
— as a Chinese woman.
“I beat her with all my might
and stamped on her, too,” Zhang told state television, the
BBC reported. “She was a demon. We had to destroy her.”
But it was the McDonald’s murder that has consumed a Chinese court’s
attention over the last two months. Days ago, two church members were
convicted and sentenced to death for a killing that, even by the
standards of the Church of the Almighty God, was peculiar and brutal.
According to prosecutors, five members tried to recruit a woman
patronizing the McDonald’s in question, asked for her phone number and
beat her to death when she refused. Defendant Zhang Lidong, who arrived
that night in luxury Porsche Cayenne car, never offered much
“You could just tell she was not a good person,” he said in a state
television interview, describing the 35-year-old mother. “She was a
demon, the evil spirit. We had to beat her to death.”;
The trial, which brought greater attention to the Christian cult without
elucidating its murkier aspects, marked another clash in a decades-long
feud between the Chinese authorities and the church. The Chinese have
long been suspicious of religious organizations and have been known to
crack down, imprison or even execute dissidents with little provocation.
In late 2012, the state arrested more than 1,300 members after the
church fretted over an impending doomsday following the release of the
disaster film, “2012.” Then this year, following the the McDonald’s
murder, state media reported that Chinese authorities had arrested 1,000
more cult members.
“The suspects, all seized since June, are allegedly involved in more
than 500 cases,” Xinhua said in a brief report. “Among them are nearly a
hundred ‘high-level organizers and backbone members.’”;
Adding more confusion is the cult’s convoluted Web site. It speaks of
life’s three stages — ploughing, sowing and harvesting — and offers a
series of books, including one depicting a viola floating over a lake
amid a flurry of doves. “Follow the lamb,” says the church, which also
goes by the name Eastern Lightning. “And sing new songs.” Its Facebook
page describes the group thusly: “The Lord Jesus has already Come. God’s
sheep hear the voice of God.”;
Much of the church’s teaching hinges on Jesus, who to them is now a
woman named Yang Xiangbin. Little is known of the woman beyond this: she
reportedly suffered some sort of mental breakdown after failing a
national exam and “has a history of mental illness,” according to
China’s People’s Daily. In the early 1990s, the 30-year-old woman came
into the orbit of a square-jawed man named Zhao Weishan in Zhengzhou,
Henan province, according to the Christian Research Institute. Zhao
claimed that God had told him she was the “female Christ,” and he began
attracting followers to her.
Defendant Zhang Hang cries during her trial for the murder of a woman at
a McDonald’s restaurant, in Yantai City, Shandong province October 11,
2014 in this still image taken from video. (REUTERS/CCTV)
The ethos of the group, however, is as much about dissent as it is
religion. On its Web site, it castigates the ruling politburo for its
“evil deeds,” labeling it the “Great Red Dragon.” It produces movies
telling members what to do if the government captures them: “Even if
they beat me to death, my soul is still in God’s hands.”;
“It’s about as illegal and politically sensitive as religion gets in
China,” Emily Dunn, of the University of Melbourne, told CNN. “As the
government has cracked down more, Eastern Lightning’s rhetoric has
escalated against the government.”;
As is the nature of many churches accused of being a cult, the only
members who comment on it are those who have extricated themselves under
acrimonious conditions. “The strategy is to slowly draw you in,” one
31-year-old former member told the Telegraph. “It is like taking classes
in school. They told us there are three steps to believing in God. First
you believe in Joseph, then in Christ, then in the female reincarnation
of Christ. They asked us to convert more people or God would be upset….
At night I would always feel scared when I was alone.”;
Which is exactly what prosecutors say the church had in mind in May when
members approached their victim in the McDonald’s. And when she denied
their attempts at recruitment?
“I beat her with all my might and stamped on her, too,” Zhang told state
television, the BBC reported. “She was a demon. We had to destroy her.”;
Raised in the Muslim faith, Warraq came to reject religion and
now spends his time lecturing and writing. He recently authored a piece "Islam,
The Middle East and Fascism" which critiques the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an.