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Monday, January 28, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastors among those charged in $1.6 million fraud

CHICAGO | Cook County prosecutors on Friday announced a variety of felony indictments against eight people -- including three county employees and three ministers -- in a series of alleged fraud schemes against government agencies that reportedly cost more than $1.6 million.

"This is particularly shocking because much of this money was intended to help impoverished individuals looking to better themselves," Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine said in a news release.

"As if that were not bad enough, three of the defendants were county employees in positions of trust and three others were trusted by their communities as ministers," he said.

Indicted were:

-- Charles Koen, the managing director of the nonprofit United Front Inc. and pastor of Christian Hope Church, 8849-59 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago

-- Alex Brooks, vice president of United Front and a minister at Christian Hope Church
-- Ronnie Marshall, an United Front employee and a minister at Christian Hope Church

-- Joyce Norfleet, a United Front employee

-- Dorothy Taylor, a United Front employee

Three employees of (Cook County Board) President's Office of Employment Training, or POET, also were indicted. They are Rudolph Sanchez, Roberto Rivera and Ronald Harper.

POET and two other governmental agencies were solicited to retain United Front to provide training to displaced or disadvantaged workers. The other agencies were the mayor's office of Workforce Development, or MOWD, the Housing Authority of Cook County, or HACC.

Prosecutors said United Front contracted with the government agencies to provide training in the building trades, but little or no training took place. Various other crimes -- including official misconduct, intimidation and money laundering -- took place along the way as the schemes progressed, prosecutors said.

United Front and United Front Training School also are charged as corporate entities. However, the organizations are virtually bankrupt and fines are not likely, prosecutors said.

The indictments were returned last year and unsealed Friday.

The defendants:
-- Charles Koen, 62, of the 200 block of East 24th Street, Cairo. Bond set $500,000. Next court date is Feb. 2.
-- Joyce Norfleet, 61, of the 5600 block of North Artesian, Chicago. Bond set $75,000. Next court date is Feb. 2
-- Alex Brooks, 78, of the 1500 block of Commercial, Cairo. Bond set $25,000. Next court date is Feb. 2.
-- Dorothy Taylor, 49, of the 6600 block of North Ashland Avenue, Chicago. Bond set $65,000. Next court date is Feb. 2.
-- Roberto Rivera, 56, of the 1300 block of Wenonah, Berwyn. Bond set at $100,000. Next court date is Feb. 2.
-- Ronald Harper, 56, of the 17600 block of Balmoral, Hazel Crest. Bond set at $100,000. Next court date is Feb. 2.
-- Rudolph Sanchez, 64, of the 5200 block of Fence Lake NE Drive, Rio Rancho, N.M. He is awaiting an extradition hearing.
-- Ronnie Marshall, 42, of the 5700 block of West Birch, Milwaukee, Wis. He was not in custody Friday.


Friday, January 25, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Florida churches just love Snipes

At about 7 a.m. Monday, before heading for the federal courthouse, actor Wesley Snipes joined black ministers from churches in Orlando, Gainesville and Ocala for a prayer service.

Several ministers then came for the beginning of Snipes' trial on tax evasion charges. In front of the Golden-Collum Memorial Federal Building, they talked with reporters, saying they prayed for fairness, deliverance and God's favor.

The Rev. Frank E. Thompson, of The Worship Center Orlando, had organized the service at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala.

"All the pastors came because, No. 1, Wes' from Orlando and we came to pray on his behalf," Thompson said.

"It's important not only to show support for him - but any person," said the Rev. Fred Maeweathers Sr., pastor of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala.

Snipes' lawyers had raised the issue of whether Snipes, as a black man, can get a fair jury in the Ocala Division of the Middle District of Florida.

"Can a person get a fair trial here or every county, everywhere in the state of Florida?" Maeweathers said. "That will be judged by history. And I don't know if there will be a difference. ... I believe that, if we trust in God, fairness comes through him."

Pastor Rozella Brown, of Tabernacle of Deliverance Outreach Ministries in Ocala, wanted to show her support for Snipes.

"He is our brother, and, as the Word of God says, we are our brother's keeper," Brown said.

"Basically, the purpose of the prayer was that God would grant favor and that God would give deliverance for Brother Snipes and that he would also have a fair trial."

Pastor Glenda Sesler of Ocala's Everlasting Light of God Outreach Ministry said she attended the service to lend the strength that comes with unity.

"I was there," Sesler said, "to show my brotherly love and just to show him that we love him."


Related stories:

In letter to IRS, Snipes denies US residency 01/25/2008
IRS agents continue to testify in Wesley Snipes' tax trial 01/24/2008
Snipes warned IRS agents: Back off or face 'increased collateral risk' 01/24/2008
Trial notebook: A good reason to quit early 01/24/2008
Wesley Snipes trial becomes battle of paperwork 01/23/2008
Prosecution continues pressing its case in Snipes trial 01/23/2008
Trial notebook: Courts don't buy the '861 argument' 01/23/2008
Snipes trial resumes; testimony focuses on residency 01/22/2008
Trial notebook: Try not to fall asleep 01/22/2008
Trial notebook: 'Funny box' no laughing matter 01/22/2008
Snipes trial breaks for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 01/21/2008
Ex-employee: Snipes told me to keep quiet, or pay the consequences 01/19/2008
Snipes' ex-advisers testify in tax evasion trial 01/18/2008
Former employee testifies against Snipes 01/18/2008
Snipes trial: Attorneys debate part actor played 01/17/2008
Snipes defense team complains about prosecutors 01/17/2008
All-white jury seated for Snipes 01/16/2008
Lawyers: Snipes schemer or victim in tax case 01/16/2008
Snipes described as conspirator, victim of bad advice 01/16/2008
Legal team snipes at trial's jury pool 01/15/2008
Jury selected in Snipes case 01/15/2008
Prospective jurors all knew about Snipes case 01/15/2008
Snipes enters federal courthouse for tax evasion trial 01/14/2008
Area ministers gather to pray for Snipes, show support 01/14/2008
Jury selection off to a slow start in Snipes trial 01/14/2008
Ali, Spike Lee listed as possible character witnesses for Snipes 01/14/2008
Snipes trial sure to draw large crowd 01/13/2008
Prosecutors: Snipes sought tax refunds totalling $11.3 million 01/10/2008
Snipes trial delay axed by judge 01/08/2008
Snipes appeals judges ruling; tax trial could be delayed 01/05/2008

Pastor pleads guilty

NEW CASTLE - A former pastor of a Slippery Rock Township church pleaded guilty this week to two counts of possession of child pornography.

No sentencing date has been set for Robert D. Schmidtberger, 52, but prosecutors recommended a sentence of 12 months minus two days to 24 months minus four days with 15 years' probation.

Lawrence County Judge Thomas Piccione, who oversaw the guilty plea, ordered a psychological assessment to determine whether Schmidtberger might be a violent sexual predator.

After his release, Schmidtberger will be required to register with the state police under the provisions of Megan's Law.

State police filed the charges based on information provided by the America Online Internet service, which periodically reviews subscribers' e-mails. A review on March 12, 2005, detected three e-mails that included images that depicted child pornography.

AOL personnel matched the sender's screen name to Schmidtberger and notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which contacted the state police.

The address on Schmidtberger's online account, 468 Rose Point Road, was that of Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian Church. That was also listed with the office of Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo as Schmidtberger's home address.

The district attorney's office reported that, at the time charges were filed in 2005, Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian Church's Web site listed Schmidtberger as its pastor. The church's Web site now lists no pastor and says weekly sermons are given by guest pastors.

A call Thursday afternoon to the church was not returned.

Police searched Schmidtberger's residence and seized computers and other electronic devices. An examination of those devices turned up the images of child pornography on 15 CD-ROMs.


Also see: Former Pastor Charged

Thursday, January 24, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Banned From Church

Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won't repent.

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."


Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. (Listen to the 911 call)

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

Dave Krieger/Getty Images
Hear an interview with Doug Laycock, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan, about the legal implications of church discipline.
Hear the 911 call made by Pastor Burrick.
* * *

The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.

Causing Disharmony

Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the "care and correction" of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church's financial records.

First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for "blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin," which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says.

The process can be messy, says Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., which began disciplining members in the 1990s. Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.


Karolyn Caskey was expelled from Allen Baptist Church after clashing with the pastor.

Amy Hitt, 43, a mortgage officer in Amissville, Va., was voted out of her Baptist congregation in 2004 for gossiping about her pastor's plans to buy a bigger house. Her ouster was especially hard on her twin sons, now 12 years old, who had made friends in the church, she says. "Some people have looked past it, but then there are others who haven't," says Ms. Hitt, who believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes.

Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline -- about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.

In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database. Peggy Penley, a Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose pastor revealed her extramarital affair to the congregation after she confessed it in confidence, waged a six-year battle against the pastor, charging him with negligence. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the pastor was exercising his religious beliefs by publicizing the affair.


Allen Baptist Church

Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of "spreading the spirit of Satan" because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman's appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.

Advocates of shunning say it rarely leads to the public disclosure of a member's sin. "We're not the FBI; we're not sniffing around people's homes trying to find out some secret sin," says Don Singleton, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Talladega, Ala., who says the 50-member church has disciplined six members in his 2½ years as pastor. "Ninety-nine percent of these cases never go that far."

When they do, it can be humiliating. A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

Gossip and Slander

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."


Karolyn Caskey reads her Bible.

In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey's case, calling it a "private ecclesiastical matter." He did say that while the church does not "blacklist" anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. "A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God," he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. "If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership."

In Christianity's early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.

Little Consensus

Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.

Since Mrs. Caskey's second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.

Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.

"I don't intend to abandon that church," Mrs. Caskey says. "I feel like I have every right to be there."


Saturday, January 19, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Archdiocese warns of sex claim against priest

OMAHA, Neb.: A priest who once worked in Nebraska is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct before he was ordained, the Omaha archdiocese announced today.

The Rev. Patrick Henry, 66, had been serving as pastor of St. Christine Parish in Euclid, Ohio, until June, when he was placed on administrative leave because of a complaint filed with the Omaha archdiocese.

The archdiocese said in a news release that Henry was accused of ''sexual misconduct with a minor'' in the mid-1970s, before he was ordained as a priest. Details of where that alleged abuse occurred were not available today.

The case has been referred to police. It was also under review by the Vatican. The Diocese of Cleveland said Henry was cooperating with the investigation.

A message left Friday for Henry at St. Christine was not immediately returned. No other number for him was listed.

Henry, who is originally from Cleveland, served as a seminarian intern at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk in fall 1980, according to church officials. He later served as pastor at St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion and then St. Michael Parish in South Sioux City before transferring to Ohio in 1994.

The archdiocese said it has decided to alert the public of the ''credible'' allegations against Henry because he once served as one of its priests.


Update: Baptist pastor Gilyard arrested for sex messages to teens

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) -- Once touted by Southern Baptist leaders as the nation's next great African-American preacher, Darrell Gilyard was arrested Jan. 14 for sending lewd text messages to underage girls.

Dogged for 20 years by dozens of allegations of extramarital sex with parishioners, Gilyard, 45, resigned Jan. 4 as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a 7,000-member megachurch in Jacksonville, Fla., that he has served for 15 years. It is the fifth church position that Gilyard has been forced to resign from over charges of sexual misconduct.

Gilyard was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct. He will be arraigned Feb. 5. Police have been investigating a Nov. 29 complaint filed by a member of the congregation claiming Gilyard sent sexually explicit text messages to her daughter. At least one other girl allegedly received similar text messages. One of the mothers produced a journal detailing her daughter's sexual relationship with the pastor, the police said. The girls are 14 and 16 years old, according to media reports.

Gilyard was not available for comment after his arrest.

A native of Palatka, Fla., Gilyard rose to sudden fame in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980s under the mentorship of former SBC presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. The attention catapulted him to several pastorates as well as appearances on Jerry Falwell's nationally broadcast TV program.

His story of growing up a homeless orphan living under a bridge in Jacksonville, which Falwell promoted with a video biography, was later discredited.

But Patterson, once Gilyard's teacher at Criswell College in Dallas, continued to promote the charismatic young preacher’s career -- even, according to the Dallas Morning News, after several women confronted Patterson with charges of sexual abuse and misconduct. He said at the time the women lacked evidence and witnesses.

Patterson, in a statement released to a sympathetic news outlet Jan. 9, said Criswell College expelled Gilyard after some allegations were substantiated. He noted that he even moderated the congregational meeting in which Gilyard resigned -- at Patterson’s insistence -- from the church he served while a Criswell student.

“Nearly two decades ago, I was neither an investigator nor a judge but the president of a small Bible college. I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case, yet I did all that I could within my means to discover the truth when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention,” Patterson told the Southern Baptist Texan. “Once I had investigated the matter and was able to substantiate that Mr. Gilyard was guilty, I got him to confess that guilt publicly.”

Beginning in 1985, Gilyard was hired and then forced out of positions at three Dallas-area churches: Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, and Shiloh Baptist Church in Garland. He was similarly hired and forced to resign at Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. At least 25 women in the Dallas church publicly accused him of sexual misconduct, according to a church spokesperson. Some of the women alleged he raped them, the Morning News said in 1991.

The public allegations subsided after Gilyard, who is now divorced, moved to the Florida church in 1993, but new allegations resurfaced last year. Church leaders confronted him after the most recent police complaint was filed, according to several Jacksonville media reports.

In a news release about his Jan. 4 resignation from Shiloh Metropolitan, Gilyard said: "My commitment to the church and its congregation has been one of the most rewarding of my life. In life, there comes a time when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of one, and the church and its ministry are larger than just me."

A support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse said Jan. 9 that Patterson, now president of the SBC's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, should be suspended from the seminary while its trustees investigate his "profound failure of moral judgment" in promoting Gilyard and ignoring the allegations two decades ago.

"Surely an institution dedicated to the development of spiritual leaders should consider the sort of spiritual leadership exemplified by its own president, who reportedly exhibited an extraordinarily blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"We ask you to demonstrate this institution’s commitment to treating clergy sex abuse and cover-ups seriously by suspending Paige Patterson, fully investigating and publicly reporting your findings," Clohessy said in a letter to Southwestern trustees, which was posted on one of SNAP's websites,

Noting Gilyard is now charged with abusing teenagers, not just adults, Clohessy said, "This often happens when a pastor’s predatory conduct goes unchecked: the hurtful and abusive conduct escalates."


Related stories: Pastor accused of hitting on minor child... again | SNAP fingers Baptist leader

Pastor arrested for burning church

An Albany Church Pastor is arrested Friday, and charged with having his own church burned.

45 year old Dr. Joseph Howard is charged with first degree arson. He is being held in the Dougherty County Jail without bond, along with 46 year old Curtis Jones. Investigators say Howard hired Jones to set the fire in the South Albany church.

Arson Investigators say the burning of the Metropolitan Baptist Church on December 31st was not a hate crime, but a crime for money. They charge that Reverend Howard had his church torched to collect the insurance money.

Formerly known as Trinity Baptist, Metropolitan Baptist Church on West Gordon Avenue was vandalized and set on fire. Furniture was found turned over in the church and school offices, but only the sanctuary was burned.

Investigators charge that Reverend Howard sat down with 46 year old Curtis Jones and planned the arson, to make sure the entire church building burned. But the fire department put out the fire in the sanctuary.

Witnesses saw men leaving the area that morning, giving Investigators clues that lead them to make these arrests. Howard told WALB News Ten that he thought the fire was a hate crime, but Investigators say it was for the insurance money. The Metropolitan Baptist Church was being foreclosed on for missing payments to two mortgages, and church property was scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps that week.

The Church and Reverend Howard were using federal grants to build low cost housing in a very controversial project in that neighborhood. Investigators say they continue to look into allegations that some of that money was misappropriated.

Albany Fire Chief James Carswell and State Fire Commissioner John Oxendine said that more arrests in the church arson are expected, and they continue to look into the possibility of other crimes that could be connected to the church and it's Pastor.


Friday, January 18, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor and wife split

In divorce court: Megachurch pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant and his wife of 5 1/2 years, Gizelle Bryant.

She filed in Montgomery County on Jan. 9, alleging adultery. She states in court papers that the pastor makes more than $350,000 a year.

He filed in Baltimore City the same day. His complaint says nothing about cheating. It does state that "there is no hope of reconciliation."

"This is a private matter between Dr. Bryant and his wife, and we'd like to keep this matter private," said Jimmy A. Bell, lawyer for the Empowerment Temple pastor.

The couple have three children, 1-year-old twins and a 3-year-old.

The big question: Who gets the Bentley?


Thursday, January 17, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Religious Irony on Dallas Top 40

Posted by Dr. Zach

"Kidd Kraddick in the Morning" is the morning show for KHKS 106.1 "KISS" FM, a popular Top-40 station here in Dallas that's also popular with my wife for their support of her favorite musician, Elliot Yamin. As such, it graces our clock radio and tends to wake me on a regular basis.

Although there's usually some ridiculous conversation in progress when the alarm trips, this morning's was especially interesting and ironic. The group was discussing the recent viral video of Tom Cruise blathering on about Scientology, which they had placed on their website. Show member "Kellie Rasberry" [sic] was defending his comments in the video, with the argument that all religious people think that they have the Answer, so she didn't think he should be criticized.

That alone tickled me awake, but then she offered the following case in point, which I'll paraphrase:
"Everyone thinks Tom Cruise is crazy for thinking that aliens live inside each of us, but as Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside us, so is he really so crazy after all?"
Oh, the irony, it is so delicious...

Ex-pastor preaches evolution

Michael Dowd speaks in tongues, and when he's not doing that, he's talking almost nonstop about why Christians should embrace evolution.

As a Pentecostal-background pastor who finds salvation in accepting that the universe is 14 billion years old, and who believes our behavior can be accounted for by not only the apes but also the lizards in our ancestry, he's a popular oddity on the lecture circuit.

This week and next, the author of Thank God for Evolution! will be giving several talks in the area.

"I come out of the Pentecostal, charismatic style," he said. "I'm all over the place. Nobody gets bored at these meetings."

Mr. Dowd grew up Catholic but later converted to spirit-filled Pentecostalism and began to speak in tongues. Early on, he also believed the biblical accounts of creation to be literally true and fervently rejected evolution.

But through the years, he encountered Christians who believed that evolution and faith could be reconciled.

In February 1988, he recalled, he attended a seminar and wept at coming to understand the scientific explanation of the universe as a "sacred epic." He said he knew then that his life's mission was to be an evangelist for evolution.

Mr. Dowd employs such terms as the "nested emergent nature of divine creativity" in arguing that evolution does not suggest a godless universe. He also says evolutionary theology offers hope for those who struggle with addiction and other problems.

"The way forward begins with this simple truth: Your greatest difficulties ... while your responsibility, are ultimately not your fault," he writes. "Such challenges spring from inherited proclivities that served the survival and reproductive interests of our human and pre-human ancestors."

Later in the book, he's more specific: "Inclinations toward excess with regard to food, sex, and feel-good substances are deeply rooted in our reptilian brain."

In his book he seeks to demonstrate how evolutionary theology can accommodate such Christian beliefs as original sin, resurrection and the devil.

"We talk about the warfare between religion and science, but what he's doing is basically showing that there is no conflict between them," said John Swanson, who has used DVDs of Mr. Dowd's talks in teaching a class at Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Plano.

But Barry Creamer, who teaches at the theologically conservative Criswell College in Dallas, sees Mr. Dowd as engaging in a lot of fancy footwork.

"He's willing to say almost anything that gets the audience to believe he's in agreement with them, but ultimately science is his authority for truth," Dr. Creamer said.


Westboro Baptists come to Camp Lejeune

This just sent in from a member of the U.S. Marine Corps stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

These idiots are coming to the front gate at Camp Lejeune to protest the Marine Corps. They are also going to our Beruit Memorial Cemetery to celebrate the deaths of all Marines who have been killed in action. All Marines and Sailors on base have been ordered not to go to the protests or interact with them for any reason.

That's probably a smart order, because I have a mind to go there with a platoon of Marines, all carrying baseball bats. That would probably just invigorate them all the more, though. These are the same ass-clowns that protested the funeral of a Marine a couple years ago who died in an I.E.D. blast. They were carrying signs saying "God loves IED's."

Stupidity never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Bishop Paulk pleads guilty

Bishop Earl Paulk pleaded guilty to felony perjury in Cobb Superior Court Wednesday.

Judge Frank R. Cox, chief judge of Magistrate Court, sitting in as assisting Superior Court judge, said he fined Paulk $1,000 and put him on probation for 10 years. He ordered Paulk to pay $32 a month in probation fees.

Cobb County Sheriff's Office
Earl Paulk
Photos: Scandal surrounds Earl Paulk
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Paulk, formerly a prominent minister, was charged with perjury for lying during a deposition last year in a sexual misconduct lawsuit against him. He turned himself into Cobb County authorities at 8 p.m. Tuesday and was sentenced about 18 hours later.

Cox said District Attorney Pat Head and Paulk's attorney arranged the sequence of legal events.

Louis Levenson, the attorney for the couple suing Paulk, said the plea should serve as a warning.

"I hope that people will take a page out of this book and see that whatever their religious beliefs or philosophical beliefs that there is no excuse for speaking untruthfully in court," he said.

Levenson represents Bobby and Mona Brewer, former staff members at what was known as Chapel Hill Harvester Church, which Paulk built into a nationally known ministry. Their suit claims Paulk coerced Mona Brewer into a sexual relationship and used his influence to hide that and other improprieties.

"Earl Paulk was the architect of an entire scheme to protect the kingdom," Levenson said.

He defined 'kingdom' as the church and system of influence Paulk built.

In a deposition taken in the suit, Paulk said Mona Brewer was the only woman he had sex with outside of marriage. A DNA test last year showed Paulk fathered a child by the wife of his brother, the Rev. Don Paulk. That discovery led to the perjury charge.

Paulk claimed in the past that Brewer initiated the relationship.

A staff member at the church referred calls to Joel Pugh, Paulk's criminal defense attorney.

Pugh did not return calls.

Paulk's religious celebrity peaked in the 1980s and 1990s with TV appearances and more than 10,000 church members. He was nationally influential among independent charismatic churches.

His fame turned to infamy as he faced a series of allegations of sexual misconduct with many women. Though he no longer leads the church, now called the Cathedral at Chapel Hill. He still participates, speaking briefly. Attendance has dropped dramatically.

The Rev. D.E. Paulk, the Bishop's son by his sister in law, leads the congregation and speaks openly about his familial and church problems and about forgiveness.


Youth Pastor Accused Of Sex Crimes

"Think about getting hit in the stomach unexpectedly and getting the wind knocked out of you."

That's how Pastor John Anderson describes his congregations reaction after one of the East Tucson Baptist Church youth ministers was arrested for several sex crimes.

Anderson said, "Shock, anger, denial rationalization, all of those are taking place right now."

Taking place because Christopher Decaire was arrested on Friday and charged with nine felonies. He's accused of sexually molesting a 13-year-old girl from the church.

"We're still numb, we're speechless."

The alleged victim told a relative who then called police.

This is the search warrant officers served the church on Friday. It shows police got swabs of Christoper Decaire's mouth for DNA. Other evidence they looked for included pieces of flooring, couches, curtains and other furniture found to contain biological material when viewed with a forensic light source.

Police say those materials would indicate they suspect some of the acts of abuse occurred at the church.

Pastor anderson says Decaire served two years with student ministries at the church, but he'd been attending for eight years.

Anderson says a situation like this doesn't only effect the two families involved, it effects everyone.

"In order for us to do what God wants us to do we need to rally around them, walk beside them through this time, as we deal with the grief of all of this," Anderson explained.

Decaire is charged with two counts molestation of a child, four counts sexual conduct of a minor, two counts sexual abuse and one count sexual abuse of a child because police say the abuse may have gone on for a year.

Pastor Anderson says Christopher Decaire was immediately put on administrative leave following his arrest.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in 'God's standards'

This video is from MSNBC's Morning Joe, broadcast January 15, 2008.

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view." -- Mike Huckabee

Megachurch Leader Charged With Perjury

ATLANTA (AP) — An 80-year-old leader of a suburban megachurch who is at the center of a sex scandal has been charged with lying under oath for saying he had sex outside marriage with only one other woman, court documents show.

A warrant for the arrest of Archbishop Earl Paulk, co-founder of Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church, was issued Monday, according to court documents. Paulk was making arrangements Monday night to turn himself in, WAGA-TV reported.

His attorneys did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Former church employee Mona Brewer is suing Paulk, his brother and the church on allegations that Paulk manipulated her into an affair from 1989 to 2003 by telling her it was her only path to salvation. In a 2006 deposition stemming from the lawsuit, the archbishop said under oath that the only woman he had ever had sex with outside of his marriage was Brewer.

But the results of a court-ordered paternity test revealed in October that Paulk is the biological father of his brother's son, D.E. Paulk, who is now head pastor at the church. As part of Brewer's lawsuit, eight women have given sworn depositions that they were coerced into sexual relationships with Earl Paulk.

A judge ordered the paternity test at the request of the Cobb County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. District Attorney Pat Head declined to comment when reached at his home Monday night.

Paulk and his brother, Don, have been hit with lawsuits from former members alleging they were coerced into sexual affairs, but this is the first time criminal charges have been filed against the archbishop.


Related: Before the next sex scandal | Megachurch leader in mega-sized sex scandal

Sunday, January 13, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Church of Christ pastor charged with indecency

A pastor at the Greggton Church of Christ on Marshall Avenue was jailed Thursday after admitting to molesting a relative, according to a report by the Longview Police Department.

Charles Thomas Hogland, 58, of Longview told police he inappropriately touched the girl at least six separate times, according to the report. He has been charged with indecency with a child by contact, a second-degree felony, and was released from jail about 2 p.m. Friday on $25,000 bond.

Hogland was interviewed by a Longview police detective Thursday after the relative he molested made an "outcry," according to the police report. Hogland told the detective that each incident happened in the church parsonage, where he and his wife reside, according to the report. Hogland is the only pastor at Greggton Church of Christ, which has a congregation of about 50, he said.

He has been there for about 10 years.

Churches of Christ operate under a board of elders.

Hogland said he and the elders will see what action the congregation wants to take.


Saturday, January 12, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with looting $300,000 from church

A Cleveland clergyman has been accused of stealing about $300,000 from the church, taking money from a fund for the poor and stealing parishioners' identities prior to his imprisonment last year on unrelated charges.

The Rev. Donald Ray Robinson, former pastor of Lane Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was named yesterday in a 27-count indictment on charges of theft, securing records by deception, identity fraud and money laundering. His arraignment is set for Jan. 22.

An investigation began after parishioners found that Robinson, 56, used church property as collateral to obtain loans and laundered money through bank accounts, said Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez.

He also drained the church's Benevolent Fund earmarked for the poor, stole the identities of church members to obtain illegal credit cards and pocketed a $5,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation for a computer training program, Gutierrez said.

Robinson became pastor of Lane Metropolitan in the summer of 2005. The criminal activity occurred for about two years, Gutierrez said.

A separate indictment accuses a worship leader at the church of co-signing one of Robinson's loans and of money laundering.

Robinson could not be reached for comment. His telephone number is private and unavailable. The Cuyahoga County court clerk's office today had not been notified of a lawyer representing him.

A recorded message was left with the church.

Early last year, Robinson abruptly told church members he would be going away for 10 months. He was in federal prison in Pennsylvania after being convicted of a real estate scam in Mississippi, Gutierrez said. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Robinson was released Dec. 14 after serving a sentence for wire fraud.

Church leaders said Monday they hoped the indictments would help the congregation to move forward.

"In some ways, it represents closure," said Lonnie Reid, president of the Steward Board.

But there are still wounds of betrayal.

"This is all new and traumatic for all of us," said Irene Crowell, a former Steward Board member who was part of a team conducting an internal church investigation. "As a Christian person, we understand everyone's human. Of course, I wouldn't expect anyone to do this. I wouldn't expect anyone to steal."

Church officials said active membership has held steady at about 150-200 people, with many longtime congregants committed to keeping the 105-year-old church going.

"We're going to stay in our church," said lay leader Sidney Cargle, a member since 1961.

"The old members are faithful members. They're going to be there," Reid said.

Story links: #1, #2.

Friday, January 11, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

SNAP fingers Baptist leader

FORT WORTH - The organization that took on the Catholic Church over sex abuse has accused a prominent North Texas Baptist leader of letting a predatory preacher move from church to church.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said they want Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to suspend its president, Dr. Paige Patterson.

Pastor Darrell Gilyard is the center of the controversy. In early January, he resigned from a large Baptist church in Jacksonville, Florida after he allegedly sent lewd text messages to a teenaged girl.

However, that isn't Gilyard's first time to meet with such accusations, which lead back to North Texas and Oklahoma.

Back in the '80s and '90s, Pastor Gilyard was forced to leave four churches after women complained of sexual abuse. Some of those women, and even some church leaders, said Gilyard was able to move from pulpit to pulpit because the claims against him were dismissed by Dr. Patterson.

"I never recommended Darrell anywhere," Dr. Patterson said.

In the past, Dr. Patterson served as Gilyard's mentor and was president of Criswell Bible College in Dallas. He now leads Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

"Not only did I not do anything to block any investigation, I was the one doing the investigation," Dr. Patterson said.

Now, SNAP has asked seminary board members to suspend Dr. Patterson and investigate claims he turned a blind eye to abuse while promoting Gilyard's career.

"Patterson demonstrated a profound failure of moral judgment, a refusal to protect Criswell students who were under his charge and a failure to warn others at risk about a reported serial predator," read a statement from SNAP.


Devotees Throng in Thousands to Carmel Hill for Infant Jesus' Feast

Mangalore -- The Infant Jesus Shrine located at Carmel Hill at Bikarnatte, played host to large number of faithful, on its annual feast held on Thursday January 10. More than sixteen thousand devotees attended the mass, which was celebrated by the Bishop of Belgaum.

Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum celebrated the mass along with more than 40 priests. In his homily, he said that most of the faithful come here expecting miracles. "They expect Almighty God to grant their wishes as proposed by them. But, one should look upon Jesus Christ who has obeyed the will of His Father to the end. He has led us faithful to follow his example by going through trials and tribulations in our life, thereby, enjoy the eternal peace with Him," he said.

The Carmel Hill is not only a place of miracles, but its serenity should transform one to become a devout individual, he added.

Earlier, Holy Masses were also held in Konkani, Malayalam, English and in Kannada at Infant Jesus shrine. Devotees, irrespective of their caste and religion, paid visit to the shrine and offered prayers.


Saturday, January 05, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Church employee accused of having sex with girl

Police are looking for a man accused of sexually assaulting a young girl in an East Austin church.

The alleged assault took place at The Rock of Austin on East Martin Luther King Boulevard.

According to the police affidavit, Gene Young, 27, worked at the church, and knew the girl since she was 12.

Young is accused of starting a sexual relationship with her when she was 15, a relationship that went on for more than a year, ending last October.

The victim told police she had sex with young about 100 times in the recording studio of the church.

The victim, now 16 years old, recently told her pastor about the relationship.

“The pastor was shocked and disappointed because he had known this young man for a long time. His family was a member of the church, the suspect was a member of the church and he was definitely shocked and in disbelief that this would happen at his church,” Detective Gizette Gaslin with the APD Child Abuse Unit said.

Young was fired from the church. Police are looking for him and ask that he turn himself in.


Friday, January 04, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Bishop blames child abuse on children

The Bishop of Tenerife (foreground) during the reopening of the San Andrés Church in Garachico - Photo -

Bernando Álvarez said that there are 13-year-olds who are wanting to be abused, and 'if you are careless they will provoke you'

There is outrage in parts of Spanish society following declarations made over Christmas from the Bishop of Tenerife, Bernardo Álvarez.

His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it.

‘There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you’, he said.

Regarding homosexuals, the Bishop said that homosexuality was something prejudicial to the people and to society, and that we would pay the consequences in the long term.

The Bishop claimed that both abuse of children and homosexuality would lead to future problems in society ‘as has occurred in other civilisations’.

"There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you"

The statements were made by the Bishop to his flock on Christmas Eve, in an interview given to the La Opinión de Tenerife local newspaper.

A later statement from the Bishop's residence on Tenerife explained that the Bishop did not intend to imply that ‘an event as condemnable as the abuse of youngsters’ could be justified.

The Triángulo Canarias Foundation for the Social Equality of Gays and Lesbians commented that the Bishop’s statements on homosexuality were inadmissible, as were comments he made considering being gay an illness.


Thursday, January 03, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Youth pastor charged with performing sex acts on teenager

A youth pastor at Bible Way Church has been charged with performing sex acts on a 14-year old girl three separate times. Investigators say 36-year-old Falcon Davis worked at the Augusta church for 2 years.

They say Davis confessed to the crimes. He is now in jail awaiting a bond hearing.

Investigators took him into custody after the girls mother called the Sheriff's Department this weekend. During the investigation they found 37 pages of Yahoo! Messages between Davis and the teenager. Many of them were sexual in nature.

And investigators say the teen eventually told them that Davis came to her house to perform oral sex on her.

They say this case serves as a warning to parents.

"Monitor what your children do, because in all honesty you don't know who they're talking to. It could be a child, or an adult who is a predator of some sort," said Richmond County investigator Earnest Furgeison.

Young people from age five all the way up to 18 are involved in the youth program at Bible Way.

Right now they have no evidence that other children were molested, but they encourage anyone with information about other incidents to step forward.