Thursday, April 27, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Sex offender sets up new church

FORT ATKINSON WI - William J. Smith sparked the curiosity of his neighbors almost from the day he moved to Jefferson County last fall.

It had been years since anyone had tried to start a church in Fort Atkinson, and Smith's effort was particularly unusual.

He installed an altar in his apartment and invited people for daily morning Mass and evening prayers, calling his undertaking "A Vatican-Free Monastic Community."

There would be more surprises for neighbors.

Smith, 55, was convicted in 1989 of two counts of second- degree sexual assault in Door County for having sex with a 15-year-old boy. Smith was pastor of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Sturgeon Bay at the time. The victim was an altar boy with a learning disability.

For the rest of his life, Smith must notify the state of his whereabouts and activities so he can be listed on Wisconsin's sex offender registry (widocoffenders.org). State officials say Smith failed to do so, and it is this allegation that now finds Smith back in legal trouble and at odds with some of his neighbors.

There are currently 18,319 people on the state's sex offender registry, and charges against them for failing to keep their information updated are not uncommon.

Registry officials have referred charges against more than 1,500 offenders since 1998, said Grace Roberts, registry supervisor.

However, Smith's case is unusual because of the number of items he allegedly failed to notify the registry about and because he is attempting to re- establish himself in the same position of community authority that led to his convictions, Roberts said.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections say Smith moved from Milwaukee to Fort Atkinson without notifying them, used the alias "Father Abbot Joseph" in interactions with others and failed to inform them of his church-related volunteer and work activities. All are violations of the registry law, Roberts said.

The alleged violations led Smith to be charged March 14 in Jefferson County Circuit Court with one count of breaching the state's sex offender registry statute, a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.

"Sex offenders thrive on secrecy," Roberts said. "Making sure they're not anonymous is obviously a useful crime prevention tool."

Smith, who declined to be interviewed, is free on a $500 signature bond. A pretrial conference is set for June 7.

Smith's attorney, Michael Witt, said the allegations against his client are "less than clear" in the criminal complaint and that Smith is currently in compliance with the state's sex registry law.

That law, enacted in 1993, allows the state to track sex offenders and disseminate information about them. Smith - like others who have served their prison time and are no longer under state supervision - is required to provide updated information within 10 days whenever he changes his residence, school enrollment or employment.

The state sends out an annual verification form on the offender's birthday, but registrants also are subject to random verification checks. The latter is what tripped up Smith, according to court records. His address was correct on his birthday last May, but a call by a registry official in December turned up a disconnected phone number in Milwaukee.

The registry official then sought unsuccessfully to find him through various means, including searches of court records, death files and license plate numbers. An anonymous tipster alerted the state on Feb. 13 of Smith's mid-November move to Fort Atkinson.

During the time registry officials were searching for him, Smith was employed by a different state agency - the Department of Workforce Development. Since June 21, 2004, Smith has been an employment and training specialist at the Jefferson County Job Center in Jefferson.

He continues to work at the job center, earning an annual salary of $32,718. Rose Lynch, a department spokeswoman, said Smith is to have no contact with youth in his state job.

Asked why the Department of Corrections wasn't able to locate Smith through his job, Roberts said registry officials call employers only as a last resort because they don't want to jeopardize an offender's job stability, which often is a key to successful reintegration.

Roberts said registry officials were particularly concerned by Smith's church activities.

"Anytime a person who is required to register assumes a position of power or authority in the community, it brings our attention," she said. "In that regard, this case sticks out."

Smith operates the church, which he calls "The Abbey of the Incarnation, The Order of Saint Benedict," out of his home at 115 E. Sherman Ave. near downtown Fort Atkinson. The large house is divided into three apartments, of which Smith rents one.

On his Web site (www.incarnationabbey.org), Smith describes the abbey as "a welcoming Christian monastic community in which everyone who professes and believes in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is welcome."

The abbey is part of the Independent Catholic Christian Church, based in Philadelphia. Bishop Tim Cravens did not respond to an e-mail inquiry as to Smith's status within the denomination.

When a Fort Atkinson police investigator asked Smith how he got the title "Father Joseph Abbot," Smith told him he gave it to himself, according to a police report.

John Leonard, an associate professor of religious studies at Edgewood College in Madison, said the denomination is a very small movement that split from the Roman Catholic Church in Holland in the 1870s. The sect acts independently of papal authority and is much more liberal in its views than the Catholic Church, ordaining female and gay priests, for instance.

Debbie Tesch lives in one of the other apartments at 115 E. Sherman Ave. and immediately took to Smith. He seemed very caring, and she liked his Christian ideals, she said.

She talked to him daily and let her twin 7-year-old sons and her 11-year-old daughter attend prayer services on their own at his apartment.

When a Fort Atkinson police detective told her about Smith's past in March, she felt betrayed and confronted Smith about his 1989 conviction.

"He said, 'The kid was almost old enough to consent.' That's what really got me," Tesch said.

Tesch also learned that Smith posted a photo of himself and her three children on his church Web site without her knowledge or consent. She said he initially denied the photo existed, even though a copy of the Web site with the photo on it is now part of the criminal complaint.

Tesch said she no longer has any contact with Smith. While she supports the reintegration of offenders into society, she cannot condone his secrecy. "Part of rehabilitation is honesty, not denial," she said.

Other neighbors echoed the need for offenders to abide by the registry regulations.

"It's a very simple process to follow," said Becky Rice, who lives on the same block. "If he's not in compliance, he's clearly trying to fly under the radar, and I have a problem with that as a neighbor. People have a right to know this kind of information."

Deb Yoder, the third tenant at 115 E. Sherman Ave., said she was initially shocked early this year to learn of Smith's past but has not had any concerns about him since.

"We were all talking in the hallway, and he more or less said, 'If you have a problem with me, let me know.' "

Smith's Web site encourages others to consider joining his monastic community.

Among the application requirements: an autobiography, eight letters of recommendation and a sexual misconduct background check.

link

Monday, April 24, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Allegedly Becomes Predator

Former Pastor Lewis Lee met Elizabeth Thomsen when she was just 12-years old. Cops say that as a true predator, Lee singled her out from the beginning.

Elizabeth was the third of six children who worked on the family's dairy farm in Chenango County, in New York. The work load was demanding, so the Thomsen kids were home-schooled by their parents. Marsha and Michael Thomsen also wanted to instill Christian values in their children. So they looked to the Christian Baptist Church for spiritual guidance.

Lee was the leader of the small congregation of about 50 members for three years. He conducted the Sunday services with amazing charisma. Lee developed a reputation as a smooth talker, and was known for his dynamic personality, especially with women.

He provided spiritual guidance to the community and the members deeply trusted him. Cops say that no one would have guessed that he would eventually lead one their most beloved astray.

Cops say Lee manipulated Elizabeth by convincing her that her family was against her and that she had potential to be a famous singer.
Gaining Trust, Growing Discontent


For the three years Lee led the church, he gained the respect of his following, including the Thomsen family. However, over time Marsha and Mike became concerned with the attention he was giving their daughter.

Elizabeth, experiencing the normal growing pains of adolescence, was unhappy with household chores and cops say she was disconnecting from her family. The emotions were intensified by what cops say was Lee's brainwashing and manipulation. She had dreams of becoming a singer and had shown natural talent. Police say Lee fostered discontent by saying that she had the potential to be a star, but her family didn't support her.

The Thomsens were in a struggle between respecting their faith and religious leader, and protecting their daughter.

But then on January 31, 2006 Lee was caught peering in to Elizabeth's window. The Thomsens called the police and Lee was immediately arrested for stalking and trespassing. As part of his arrest, he was banned from communicating with Elizabeth.

Out of embarassment, Lee relocated his family to Maryland. Still, cops say regardless of the law and the distance between them, Lee continued to call Elizabeth a daily basis.

During these calls, cops say he and Elizabeth made a plan to run off together.

More Lies and Manipulation

On March 17, 2006, Lee took out a loan for $10,000, telling his wife he needed the money to go to truck driving school in North Carolina. Cops say that this was a brazen lie and that Lee was already in New York to pick up Elizabeth when he called her.

Because Elizabeth left a note, echoing what cops say were the same lines of manipulation Lee had used, that she was unloved, police initially believed that she had run away. After some quick investigating, all signs pointed to Lee.

Cops say the two were on the run since March 18, 2006. They have been traced to Sevier County and also other rural areas of east Tennessee. The Saturday before Easter, police say that Lee was seen dropping off five Easter baskets at a female relative's house in Maryland, about 45 minutes drive from Interstate 95.

On April 17, 2006, the pair was taken into police custody in Western Maryland after Lee's truck had been identified at his workplace.

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Related article: link

Saturday, April 15, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Former youth ministry director sentenced

Roelke to spend 3 years in prison for child sex crimes

In a charged hearing, Russell Roelke, a 45-year-old former West Bend youth ministry director originally charged with four counts of child sex crimes, was sentenced Monday to a 14-year prison term by Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler.

Under sentencing guidelines, Roelke will serve three years in the state prison system and the remainder under extended supervision.

After the sentence was passed, with audible moans emanating from the large contingent of his supporters, Roelke’s mother collapsed inside the courtroom and was attended to by West Bend paramedics. She was able to walk out of the courtroom later with assistance.

Roelke had earlier entered guilty pleas to two counts, one of use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime and one of possession of child pornography. A former youth ministry director at Fifth Avenue Methodist Church in West Bend, Roelke had also been charged with child enticement and exposing a child to harmful material, but Washington County Assistant District Attorney Holly Bunch had agreed to dismiss those charges as part of a plea agreement.

Roelke was supposed to be sentenced in February, but his attorney, Gerald Boyle, said a computer disk containing alleged pornographic images downloaded from Roelke’s computer had just been made available to him. He said he needed to examine the disk to see how it may impact the sentencing. Bunch said she too had just received the evidence and did not object to the delay.

According to the criminal complaint, Roelke made contact with a Keene, N.H. detective assigned to the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Task Force who posed online as a 14-year-old boy.

Numerous online chats followed, the complaint stated, and "became very sexually graphic in nature." Roelke also "sent a link" to the detective that contained more than 400 images of child pornography.

Armed with this information, the West Bend Police Department obtained a search warrant and seized Roelke’s home computer, computer storage files and related items.

Following the search, Roelke told West Bend Police Det. Tim Dehring that he had become involved in "fantasy role playing" concerning sexual relationships between teenage boys and adult men.

Roelke had been a Scout leader from 1999-2003, according to court records, and, at the time of his arrest, was a Big Brother to an area boy whose age was not disclosed.

Prior to Monday’s sentencing, four people - including Roelke’s father and a lay pastor at his present church - urged Ziegler to show compassion. Roelke’s sister, a lieutenant in the Oshkosh Police Department, submitted a taped message that Boyle played. The sister is out of state on a work-related assignment.

"He is a kind and gentle person," she said on tape. "Even when we were kids, when I egged him on, he never did anything," she said.

She asked Ziegler to show compassion and sentence him to probation.

During closing arguments, Bunch debunked Roelke’s claim that he was engaged in fantasy role playing to help him understand his own molestation he claimed happened when he was younger.

"This was done for his sexual satisfaction, not as part of an extended fantasy," she said.

Bunch - along with a presentence report writer - both recommended three-year prison terms and a period of extended supervision.

Boyle said Roelke, who has no prior criminal record, was just an example of the wrong direction society is taking on the moral compass.

"We have a breakdown in society," he said, noting that it was impossible to go to a movie today and not get flooded with sexual messages.

The Internet, he said, is the prime culprit for the breakdown, he said, affording people easy access to previously unimaginable images and information.

"It’s that severe sickness in society," he said.

He also said there was no victim in the offenses with which Roelke was charged.

Ziegler, who said she was originally leaning toward a stiffer sentence, said while there was no sexual molestation, that was not the crime Roelke confessed to.

"These are charges of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime and possession of child pornography," she said.

"It’s not their (his family and supporters in court) fault you’re sitting in that chair," she said.

Roelke could have faced a maximum prison sentence of 28 years and more than $100,000 in fines.

link

Ex-minister gets 2 years in prison for sex with minor

Noblesville IN -- A former Noblesville minister has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Bradley Storer, 37, the former youth pastor at Faith Community Church, must serve a two-year prison term imposed by Hamilton Superior Court Judge William Hughes.

Under terms of a court order signed Tuesday, Hughes also sentenced Storer to six years of probation and four years of work-release supervision by Hamilton County Community Corrections.

Storer was accused of five counts of sexual misconduct with a minor for a sexual relationship he maintained with a teenager in his church youth group.

He pleaded guilty to two counts; three were dropped.

Evidence of the relationship emerged last year when Storer's wife found computer messages between Storer and his victim, now a 21-year-old woman.

She was 14 when the relationship began, authorities said. Noblesville police said the relationship ended when she was 19.

Storer was asked to resign from the church in March 2002 after church leaders suspected an inappropriate relationship with the girl.

link Related article: link

Wednesday, April 12, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Human evolution gap filled

WASHINGTON - The latest fossil unearthed from a human ancestral hot spot in Africa allows scientists to link together the most complete chain of human evolution so far.

The 4.2 million-year-old fossil discovered in northeastern Ethiopia helps scientists fill in the gaps of how human ancestors made the giant leap from one species to another. That’s because the newest fossil, the species Australopithecus anamensis, was found in the region of the Middle Awash — where seven other human-like species spanning nearly 6 million years and three major phases of human development were previously discovered.

“We just found the chain of evolution, the continuity through time,” study co-author and Ethiopian anthropologist Berhane Asfaw said in a phone interview from Addis Ababa. “One form evolved to another. This is evidence of evolution in one place through time.”

The findings were reported Thursday in the scientific journal Nature.

The species anamensis is not new, but its location is what helps explain the shift from one early phase of human-like development to the next, scientists say. All eight species were within an easy day’s walk of each other.

Until now, what scientists had were snapshots of human evolution scattered around the world. Finding everything all in one general area makes those snapshots more of a mini home movie of evolution.

“It’s like 12 frames of a home movie, but a home movie covering 6 million years,” said study lead author Tim White, co-director of Human Evolution Research Center at University of California at Berkeley.

“The key here is the sequences,” White said. “It’s about a mile thickness of rocks in the Middle Awash and in it we can see all three phases of human evolution.”


Modern man belongs to the genus Homo, which is a subgroup in the family of hominids. What evolved into Homo was likely the genus Australopithecus (once called “man-ape”), which includes the famed 3.2 million-year-old “Lucy” fossil found three decades ago. A key candidate for the genus that evolved into Australopithecus is called Ardipithecus. And Thursday’s finding is important in bridging — but not completely — the gap between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus.

In 1994, a 4.4 million-year-old partial skeleton of the species Ardipithecus ramidus — the most recent Ardipithecus species — was found about six miles from the latest discovery.

“This appears to be the link between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus as two different species,” White said. The major noticeable difference between the phases of man can be seen in Australopithecus’ bigger chewing teeth to eat harder food, he said.

While it’s looking more likely, it is not a sure thing that Ardipithecus evolved into Australopithecus, he said. The finding does not completely rule out Ardipithecus dying off as a genus and Australopithecus developing independently.

The connections between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus have been theorized since an anamensis fossil was first found in Kenya 11 years ago. This draws the lines better, said Alan Walker of Penn State University, who found the first anamensis and is not part of White’s team.

Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, agreed: “For those people who are tied up in doing the whole human family tree, being able to connect the branches is a very important thing to do.”

link

Saturday, April 08, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Dr. Dino Theme Park Shut Down

Original Article

Kent Hovind, erstwhile known as "Dr. Dino," has received a bit of bad news. A judge has ruled that he, and the other owners of the Pensacola creationism-themed park called "Dinosaur Adventure Land," are in contempt of court for refusing to recognize the necessity to file building permits for their park. The park has now been closed, and may be torn down if Hovind and his associates continue to refuse to comply with the law.

Hovind and associates protested this decision by citing their religious values, but the county commisioners weren't terribly sympathetic. "Scripture also says 'Render unto Caesar what Caesar demands.' And right now, Caesar demands a building permit," County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead said.

Related stories:
Did T-rex graze in the Garden of Eden?
My Visit to the Cabazon Dinosaurs
Second Visit to Cabazon Dinosaurs

Videos:
Dr. Ken Hovind of the Creation Science Institute vs. Dr. Matthew Rainbow, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Antelope Valley College.
Kent Hovind debates Mike Shermer

Offsite link: The Panda's Thumb

Friday, April 07, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Before the Next Sex Scandal

The following is an excerpt of a recent Christianity Today editorial
Lonnie Latham, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee and pastor of a large Tulsa, Oklahoma, church, resigned from both positions in January after police arrested him for allegedly attempting to solicit a male undercover officer for oral sex. Earl Paulk, pastor of an Atlanta-area mega-church, has dodged allegations of sexual impropriety for years. But in August 2005, a female employee sued him, alleging he arranged for his brother and visiting pastors to have sex with her. The International Communion of Charismatic Churches (ICCC)—an association Paulk developed—forced him to resign as archbishop in October.

...stories abound of pastors snared by sexual transgression. The problems transcend theology and ecclesiology. A pervasive culture of sensuality and disregard for communal accountability guarantees that some pastors will struggle with all sorts of sexual temptation. Toss into this mix the Internet's availability and anonymity, which have spread the reach of pornography and clandestine sexual encounters. The challenge to help our pastors resist temptation demands a wise church response. First, we must enact clear and enforceable standards that will guard against temptation. Then, our churches must implement plans for discipline and restoration when possible.

Leadership reports that up to 12 percent of pastors have admitted to "inappropriate physical involvement outside marriage." And 38 percent of pastors said Internet pornography tempts them.

"Even with extensive coverage of clergy misconduct over the past decade, congregations still make no plans for handling moral failure until it happens. Then it's too late," Leadership managing editor Eric Reed writes.

Whether and when the pastor returns to ministry needs to be handled with care and on an individual basis. But given the nature of sexual sin, pastors who return to public ministry should probably be the exception. In most instances, the transgression undermines the trust necessary to minister. Charles Spurgeon offered one criterion when he quoted pastor John Angell James in his lectures to students: "When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin."

For the entire article, click here.


What I find interesting about this article is that while it honestly admits to significant moral failure in Christian leadership, the tone is nearly one of inevitability, as in "you know it's going to happen," not to mention the excuse: "A pervasive culture of sensuality and disregard for communal accountability."

I wonder what ever happened to promise of a magical holy sprite of Gawd? I guess hormones are way more powerful than any old infilling of the holy spirte. Now it takes accountability partners, or something, to keep men of Gawd from slipping into bed with congregants, or whomever. I wonder how any of those early holy men of Gawd ever survived in old Pagan Rome, with all those temple prostitutes batting their eyelashes?

This is almost a blatant admission by Christianity Today that there is nothing supernatural about Christianity.

I guess I'd agree.

Thursday, April 06, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

The Gospel of Judas

An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today. In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so.

Though some theologians have hypothesized this, scholars who have studied the new-found text said, this is the first time an ancient document defends the idea.

The discovery in the desert of Egypt of the leather-bound papyrus manuscript, and now its translation, was announced by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington. The 26-page Judas text is said to be a copy in Coptic, made around A. D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before.

Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.

"The codex has been authenticated as a genuine work of ancient Christian apocryphal literature," Mr. Garcia said, citing extensive tests of radiocarbon dating, ink analysis and multispectral imaging and studies of the script and linguistic style. The ink, for example, was consistent with ink of that era, and there was no evidence of multiple rewriting.

"This is absolutely typical of ancient Coptic manuscripts," said Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at the University of Munster in Germany. "I am completely convinced."

The most revealing passages in the Judas manuscript begins, "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus.

Unlike the accounts in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the anonymous author of the Gospel of Judas believed that Judas Iscariot alone among the 12 disciples understood the meaning of Jesus' teachings and acceded to his will. In the diversity of early Christian thought, a group known as Gnostics believed in a secret knowledge of how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was."

The Gospel of Judas is only one of many texts discovered in the last 65 years, including the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Philip, believed to be written by Gnostics.

The Gnostics' beliefs were often viewed by bishops and early church leaders as unorthodox, and they were frequently denounced as heretics. The discoveries of Gnostic texts have shaken up Biblical scholarship by revealing the diversity of beliefs and practices among early followers of Jesus.

As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out.

For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

Scholars say that they have long been on the lookout for the Gospel of Judas because of a reference to what was probably an early version of it in a text called Against Heresies, written by Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, about the year 180.

Irenaeus was a hunter of heretics, and no friend of the Gnostics. He wrote, "They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."

Karen L. King, a professor of the history of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, and an expert in Gnosticism who has not yet read the manuscript released today, said that the Gospel of Judas may well reflect the kinds of debates that arose in the second and third century among Christians.

"You can see how early Christians could say, if Jesus's death was all part of God's plan, then Judas's betrayal was part of God's plan," said Ms. King, the author of several books on the Gospel of Mary. "So what does that make Judas? Is he the betrayer, or the facilitator of salvation, the guy who makes the crucifixion possible?"

At least one scholar said the new manuscript does not contain anything dramatic that would change or undermine traditional understanding of the Bible. James M. Robinson, a retired professor of Coptic studies at Claremont Graduate University, was the general editor of the English edition of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic documents discovered in Egypt in 1945.

"Correctly understood, there's nothing undermining about the Gospel of Judas," Mr. Robinson said in a telephone interview. He said that the New Testament gospels of John and Mark both contain passages that suggest that Jesus not only picked Judas to betray him, but actually encouraged Judas to hand him over to those he knew would crucify him.

Mr. Robinson's book, "The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and his Lost Gospel" (Harper San Francisco, April 2006), predicts the contents of the Gospel of Judas based on his knowledge of Gnostic and Coptic texts, even though he was not part of the team of researchers working on the document.

The Egyptian copy of the gospel was written on 13 sheets of papyrus, both front and back, and found in a multitude of brittle fragments.

Rudolphe Kasser, a Swiss scholar of Coptic studies, directed the team that reconstructed and translated the script. The effort, organized by the National Geographic, was supported by Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, in Basel, Switzerland, and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, an American nonprofit organization for the application of technology in historical and scientific projects.

The entire 66-page codex also contains a text titled James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), a letter by Peter and a text of what scholars are provisionally calling Book of Allogenes.

Discovered in the 1970's in a cavern near El Minya, Egypt, the document circulated for years among antiquities dealers in Egypt, then Europe and finally in the United States. It moldered in a safe-deposit box at a bank in Hicksville, N. Y., for 16 years before being bought in 2000 by a Zurich dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos. The manuscript was given the name Codex Tchacos.

When attempts to resell the codex failed, Ms. Nussberger-Tchacos turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation for conservation and translation.

Mr. Robinson said that an Egyptian antiquities dealer offered to sell him the document in 1983 for $3 million, but that he could not raise the money. He criticized the scholars now associated with the project, some of whom are his former students, because he said they violated an agreement made years ago by Coptic scholars that new discoveries should be made accessible to all qualified scholars.

The manuscript will ultimately be returned to Egypt, where it was discovered, and housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

Ted Waitt, the founder and former chief executive of Gateway, said that his foundation, the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, gave the National Geographic Society a grant of more than $1 million to restore and preserve the manuscript and make it available to the public.

" I didn't know a whole lot until I got into this about the early days of Christianity. It was just extremely fascinating to me," Mr. Waitt said in a telephone interview. He said he had no motivation other than being fascinated by the finding. He said that after the document was carbon dated and the ink tested, procedures his foundation paid for, he had no question about its authenticity. "You can potentially question the translation and the interpretation, he said, but you can't fake something like this. It would be impossible."

story link | Explore the document | Download an expert from the document

Retired pastor charged with wife's 2005 murder

CENTREVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A retired Bibb County pastor charged with murdering his wife six months ago remained jailed on a $1 million bond Tuesday after a judge reduced the amount.

Earnie Stokes, 53, had told police that an intruder struck him in the head with a brick and doused him with gasoline before shooting his wife, Syble Stokes, 53, at their home on Sept. 20. Stokes had dialed 911 on a mobile phone while sitting in his truck outside his home.

He was arrested and charged with murder Friday and initially was held on a $2 million bond, but it was reduced to $1 million at a Tuesday hearing.

"It has been an ongoing investigation since September, and now we have enough evidence to arrest Mr. Stokes," said Cpl. Chris Ellis, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Neither Ellis nor Centreville police Chief Mike Nichols would discuss the evidence that led to the arrest. Nichols said investigators have not found the gun that was used in the shooting.

"We're happy with the outcome of the hearing today," said Stokes' attorney, Bryan Winter of Tuscaloosa. "We hope that he'll be able to make this bond."

Bibb County Assistant District Attorney Tracy Roberts said prosecutors wanted to keep the bond high, viewing Stokes as a flight risk.

Nichols said the Centreville community is relieved to have a suspect behind bars, and that he wasn't necessarily surprised it was the retired pastor.

"These days, I'm never surprised," he told The Tuscaloosa News.

For members of Thomas Mill Baptist Church, where Stokes retired as pastor just before his wife's death, the news of his arrest was difficult to take.

"I haven't been able to bring myself to talk about it," said Darlene Jenkins, chief clerk in the Bibb County Circuit Clerk's office and a member of the church. "It's too hard. We were all very close to Earnie and his wife."

link

Tuesday, April 04, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Christian 'Conception' Parties Raise Ire, Eyebrows

Thousands of Christian couples plan to celebrate the occasion of their savior's creation by attending 'conception parties' this weekend, intimate gatherings where the conception of the world's most famous baby is lovingly reenacted. Fans of the pro-life parties say that theirs is a way of livening up the culture of life. But some Christians say that they're uncomfortable celebrating the pregnancy of a teenage girl, even if the father was a heavenly one.

Let's party like it's 4 BC

By Cole Walters

FORT WORTH, TX—While the vast majority of Christians in the US will spend this weekend marking a tragedy—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ upon the cross on Easter Sunday—a small but determined minority plans to celebrate their savior with a bang. Against a backdrop of farmland, city streets, even mountain vistas, this merry band will spend tonight marking not Christ's death, but his conception.

They're called 'conception parties,' intimate gatherings where creation of the world's most famous baby is lovingly—and literally—recreated. And for a few lucky couples, the event will pay off in a big way. Since the biblical bashes burst onto the scene just five years ago, 13 couples have gotten pregnant as a result of attending the gatherings. Two of the lucky mothers went on to have children—both girls—who share Christ's December birthday.

A celebration of life
"It's just a lot of fun," says Fort Worth resident and party host Earl Silos. "We'll bake a ham, put out bowls of macaroni salad and potato salad. People can relax a little, take a load off." He says that he's expecting 25 married couples to attend tonight's festivities. Marriage is a condition of attendance, says Silos, who advertised the event at his church, on local Christian message boards and on telephone poles in his neighborhood.

Silos says that he got the idea from his brother-in-law, who has hosted a conception party in Pascagoula, MS, since 1999. Today, notes Silos, his brother-in-law's annual March 25th bash attracts upwards of 100 people, including many town notables. "He does it up with a deep-fried turkey, the whole she-bang. We're a little less fancy around here," notes Silos. "We keep most of the attention on the main event."

Christian critics
But not everyone is enamored of the idea of celebrating Christ's conception—especially in the form of physical reenactments that even participants admit can get out of hand. Some Christians say that they're reluctant to shine a spotlight on the event's surrounding Mary's pregnancy. Christ's mother was only a teenager, after all, and according to Matthew, a friend of the couple, was not actually married to Joseph. "When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost," Matthew wrote in a tell-all account.

If Matthew's version is correct, Mary's actions would contradict the teachings of many abstinence-only education programs, which encourage women to remain pure virgins until their wedding nights.

A down hill slide?
For critics, the new popularity of conception parties is a disturbing reminder of their faith's pagan past. Among social conservatives there is also mounting concern that their iron grip on cultural discipline is already beginning to loosen. This past year, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a practicing Mormon and a likely republican presidential candidate in 2008, raised eyebrows with his statement that "marriage should be between a man and a woman…and a woman, and a woman."

But for thousands of Christians who plan to don party dresses and suit jackets, tonight's parties represent nothing more than a chance to celebrate one of history's most magical moments. "Obviously none of us is going to be lucky enough to get pregnant by Him," says Earl Silos' wife Carol. "So this is the next best thing. We're celebrating what turned out to be the biggest night of Mary's life."

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