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Chickcomics.com welcomes all opinions from any religion or viewpoint in the common appreciation of Chick tracts. This blog, however, will highlight religious events and controversies that would be of special interest to regular Chick readers. You don't have to agree with them or each other, but if you read Chick tracts or Battlecry, you might expect these type stories to be addressed. (Sorry, no personal attacks allowed.) All main postings are from ChickComics.com writers and any responses are from the public

Monday, March 29, 2010

Church Leaders Can't Resist Gay Urge

Another controversial candidate for bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church has received the necessary approval, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Following her December election, the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool of Baltimore needed to obtain consent from a majority of bishops and diocesan standing committees. Glasspool will become the first partnered openly lesbian bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion if she is installed as scheduled on May 15.

After the partnered openly homosexual Gene Robinson was installed as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, bodies of the worldwide Anglican Communion warned the Episcopal Church not to repeat the action. It observed a moratorium on consecration of non-celibate homosexual bishops for a time, but lifted the moratorium at last year's General Convention. The new move is expected to cause more controversy in an already troubled church. See Chick's SIN CITY.

Passover Begins

It's the first day of passover, the Jewish holy holiday celebrating the escape from Egypt by Jewish slaves led by Moses. It leads into Easter, one of the Christians most holy holidays. See Chick's THE PASSOVER PLOT

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pope Accused of Gay Pedifile Cover-Up

Just days after Pope Benedict XVI chastised Irish bishops for covering up clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, new documents suggest he did nothing to discipline a Wisconsin priest he knew had molested scores of deaf boys -- and may have blocked a church trial in the case.

In 1996, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was serving in one of the Vatican's most important positions, he received written warnings from several bishops about the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., The New York Times reported. The Times obtained the internal church documents from lawyers of five victims of Murphy, who are suing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

"This shows a direct line from the victims through the bishops and directly to the man who is now pope," Jeff Anderson, one of the lawyers, told AOL News reporter Lisa Holewa in Milwaukee. "The only difference [from the 1950s] is now we have the documents that are open to secular eyes."

Milwaukee's then-archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland, wrote Ratzinger two letters in 1996 about Murphy's behavior and got no response, the Times reported. His case was only one of thousands forwarded to Ratzinger from 1981 to 2005, when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which decides whether priests will be defrocked.

Eight months after receiving the letters, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican's secretary of state, told Wisconsin bishops to start a secret canonical trial that might have ended with Murphy's dismissal.

However, Bertone called off the trial after Murphy appealed to Ratzinger directly. The priest claimed poor health and said the abuse no longer fell within the church's statute of limitations.

"I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood," Murphy wrote. "I ask your kind assistance in this matter." The Times reported that there are no responses from Ratzinger in the files.

Church observers say that for the pope, these allegations could be the most damaging yet in a string of allegations about official inaction and cover-ups regarding clerical sexual abuse.

"What's coming out now has just never happened before on this scale and with links to the pope," said Terry McKiernan, head of Bishops Accountability, a Catholic sexual abuse watchdog group. "This is a very scary time for the Vatican. There's never been this level of craziness to deal with in Rome. They are a very closed shop; [that] used to work for them, but may now be isolating them."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Health Care Tax Sparks Death Threats

As more details of the new Health Care mandate surface, the public reaction intensifies. Some House Democrats claim they have received death threats after changing their votes in favor of the bill. One of the more controversial details that emerged is that the "Executive Order" that prohibited health care taxes from being used for abortions expires the moment Obama leaves the White House. Meanwhile, the list of states who plan to sue against the unfunded mandate grows to 14 with 17 more considering the move. All this despite a media blitz declaring the legislation as "historic" and "transformative". See Chick's WHO MURDERED CLARICE?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dems Pass Historic Health Care Tax

Despite polls showing 35% public support and 55% opposition, Democrats pass a sweeping Health Care bill. The new bill will force all citizens to buy Health Insurance, although 11 states plan to sue the government over that provision. Another controversial aspect allowing government funding of abortions is currently removed, but supporters were promised those provisions will be phased in during future revisions. Experts predict the promised "savings" will actually result in a 1/2 trillion dollar tax increase during the next ten years. The bill also hires 16,500 new IRS agents to collect the additional taxes, all of which start four years before any of the benefits begin. Supporters promise the next sweeping bill will provide comprehensive immigration reform (amnesty) for illegal immigrants. Tens of thousands of illegal aliens converged on Washington during the weekend to push support for that bill as well. Up to 20 million current live in the USA, most of which take US jobs or benefits. See Chick's WHY NO REVIVAL?

Friday, March 19, 2010

South Africa Supports President's Multi Wives & Bastards

Polygamous politicians don't come cheap, South Africans are discovering. Taxpayers there are coughing up more than $2 million a year to support President Jacob Zuma's three wives and 20 children. And that hefty bill doesn't include the African National Congress head's own annual salary of $308,000.

Opposition parties have condemned the spousal budget -- revealed on Wednesday following a parliamentary request by the Democratic Alliance (DA) party -- as "exorbitant." They point out that the president's family receives more than double the amount claimed by his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. (Individually, though, Zuma's wives are a better deal than Mbeki's sole spouse, Zanele, who cost South Africans $1 million a year.)

"It is quite shocking that the taxpayers have to fund the lifestyle of the president," Phillip Dexter, spokesman for the Congress of the People party, told the Eye Witness News Web site.

The travel and accommodations bills for all of the wives are covered by the state, according to Collins Chabane, a minister in the presidency. They're also handed laptops and cell phones, and they all have access to their own private secretary and researcher. These government employees help the women "pursue their own careers and interests," Chabane told the South African Times.

He noted that Zuma's first wife, Sizakele Zuma, is engaged in community work "relating to agriculture and food security," and that Thobeka Zuma, the president's third wife, takes part in community health projects.

Zuma's ever-growing brood also receives a glut of benefits. They're entitled to 60 domestic economy-class flights a year. Children under 8 are provided with child minders. And these perks apply to all of the president's kids, including those born out of wedlock, such as the baby he recently admitted to fathering with 39-year-old Sonono Khoza. See Chick's GOING HOME.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Job Stimulus Vs. Health Care Plans Announced

In an odd juxtaposition of news stories, the networks announced a new Jobs Stimulus Plan that will increase jobs by cutting business taxes $18 billion dollars for companies who hire unemployed workers. Yet in the same news cycle, the passage of the new Health Care bill was also predicted by Democrats who plan to change the rules in order to force the bill through on Sunday. That bill is expected to raise business taxes hundreds of billions of dollars on business in the next ten years (based on the Congressional Business Office estimates released today). So while promising to create jobs by reducing business taxes by $18 billion, Congress and the White House will reduce even more jobs by raising taxes ten to twenty times that same amount. (This figure does not include the additional personal income taxes that will also be increased to pay for the program.)

Meanwhile, 59,000 Catholic nuns announced support to the new government expansion into health care, despite language that could allow tax money to pay for abortions. In contrast, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched repeated attacks against the bill. See Chick's WHO KILLED CLARICE?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vatican Member Confirms Vatican Demons At Work

Father Gabriele Amorth: The Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years says the recent sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church confirm that "the Devil is at work" inside the Vatican.

The Times newspaper of London reports that Amorth, 85, has handled some 70,000 cases of demonic possession, and says the Vatican is now dealing with "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon." See Chick's MEN IN BLACK.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Yet Another Converted American Arrest for Terrororist Plot

Sharif Mobley, a 26-year-old New Jersey black man suspected of being an al-Qaida member, reportedly shot his way out of a Yemeni hospital Sunday and into American headlines.

Mobley is the latest in a line of suspected "American jihadists" -- disgruntled American citizens, including Colleen LaRose aka Jihad Jane, who have allegedly been radicalized and recruited as foot soldiers by Islamic extremists. Their American citizenship, which allows them to both travel freely and hold sensitive positions of employment without raising suspicion, makes them potentially invaluable contributors to al-Qaida plots on American soil, U.S. intelligence reports have said.

A January U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report said as many as 36 American ex-convicts had arrived in Yemen in 2009, "ostensibly to study Arabic," but that many "had disappeared and are suspected on having gone to al-Qaida training camps in ungoverned portions of the impoverished country."

Mobley was arrested last week along with 10 other alleged al-Qaida members during a sweep in Yemen's capital, said Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for Yemen's embassy in D.C. Several days later, he was transported to Republican Hospital in Sana'a, where he stole one of his guard's guns, killed him and attempted to shoot his way out of the hospital, Albasha said.

Some witnesses at the hospital said Mobley was being treated for a broken leg, which they said he had sustained after he tried to jump off the roof of a building before his arrest. Others said he didn't appear injured. "There are a lot of stories going around right now," Albasha said. "I have not been able to substantiate a lot of it."

The 11 alleged al-Qaida members arrested were staying on the outskirts of Sana'a in the Mathbah neighborhood, which is characterized by empty lots and unfinished buildings with bouquets of rebar sprouting from their roofs. Al-Iman University, a religious institute that some have suspected of promoting extremism, is nearby.

"He isn't from here, he didn't live here," said Mohammed Abdul Al-Kuraimi, who lives in Mathbah and said he knew of Mobley. Mobley was known as "the Somali" because of his African heritage, he said. He also said Mobley studied at Dar al-Hadith Dammaj institute in Saada, a well-known Salafist school in Yemen's northern province, which was decried as a "known terrorist training center" during tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees. See Chick's WHO IS HE?

2nd US Muslim Convert Woman Arrested in Terror Plot

Last Easter, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a 31-year-old mom with a $30,000-a-year job as a medical assistant, announced to her family that she had converted to Islam. A few months later, she began posting to Facebook forums whose headings included "STOP caLLing MUSLIMS TERRORISTS!"

On Sept. 11, she suddenly left Leadville, Colo., a small town in the Rocky Mountains, with her 6-year-old son for Denver, then for New York, to meet and marry an Algerian man she connected with online, her family says. Paulin-Ramirez, who is 5-foot-11 and blonde, phoned her mother and stepfather in Leadville, providing them with an address in Waterford, Ireland, they say.

Now, she is in the custody of the Irish police, along with three other individuals, arrested as part of an investigation into a conspiracy to commit murder, according to officials familiar with the case.

Irish authorities this week announced the arrest of seven Muslims in the alleged plot, only identifying them as three Algerians, a Libyan, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerians.

Irish police said Saturday three Muslims arrested in the case were freed without charge, but three men and an American woman remain in custody.

Paulin-Ramirez's interest in Islam "came out of left field," said her mother, Christine Holcomb, in an interview at her home Friday, wearing a blue sweatsuit with a silver cross around her neck.

"I'm angry with her right now," Holcomb said. "I'd like to just choke her. But I'm worried about her, too. I love my daughter."

Holcom said Paulin-Ramirez announced to her family last spring that she was converting to Islam and began wearing headscarves, and later a hajib.

"It came out of left field," Christine Mott said. "I knew she was talking to these people online... What caused her to turn her back on her country, on her family and become this person? I don't know how or why. All I know is she was in contact with this Jihad Jane."

"The only thing I could think of is that they brainwashed her."

Paulin-Ramirez is the second American woman to be linked to an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who made fun of the Prophet Mohammed. An indictment was unsealed this week against Colleen R. LaRose, 46, a suburban Philadelphia woman who authorities said used the Web alias "JihadJane."

LaRose was accused of plotting to kill the cartoonist and attempting to recruit jihadis via the Internet. She was arrested in October and later charged with providing material support to terrorists. See Chick's THE SKYLIGHTER.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pediphile Scandal Touches Pope

The fallout from the growing Catholic sex abuse scandals finally reached as far as the pope Friday when it was revealed that Benedict XVI knew a priest was a pedophile in 1980 but approved a stint in therapy that allowed him to continue in the ministry, where he remains today.

The pope's participation in a case involving a priest in Essen, Germany, took place in 1980, when Benedict was a cardinal in Germany. The priest was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him, the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday night.

Benedict approved a decision moving the priest, identified only as "H," to a rectory in Munich where he was to undergo therapy. After about a month, according to a statement issued Friday by the Munich-Freising archdiocese, Monsignor Gerhard Gruber decided to return the priest to a Munich parish.

But by 1985, new allegations surfaced. In 1986, the priest was convicted of sexually abusing other minors after he had been moved to the town of Grafing to do pastoral work. He received a fine, a suspended prison sentence and more therapy before again returning to pastoral work.

In May 2008, "H" was once again removed from his parish work, this time in the town of Garching, according to the diocesan statement. He works in the archdiocese's tourism operations but is not allowed to conduct any work involving children, the statement said.

The pope, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982. He then moved to Rome where he became the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until he was elected pope in 2005 after the death of John Paul II.

The German archdiocese issued a statement Friday saying Gruber, now 81, takes "full responsibility" for the decision to return "H" to pastoral work. Gruber said in a statement released by the archdiocese that he had not made the pope aware of his decision because it was the kind of call that was often left to his underlings.

"The cardinal could not deal with everything," Gruber said. "The repeated employment of 'H' in pastoral duties was a serious mistake. I deeply regret that this decision led to offenses against youths. I apologize to all who were harmed."

Neither the Vatican nor Gruber commented on whether or not "H" would continue working in the church at his current post in Garching in Upper Bavaria.

Friday's revelations are just the latest bad news for the Vatican, which has been mired in intensifying sexual abuse scandals in Germany, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands as well allegations that the Mexican founder of one of the church's most favored orders sexually molested his illegitimate sons.

The new information about the pope came less than a month after Irish bishops were summoned to the Vatican to discuss decades of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland and on the very same day that a delegation of German bishops met with the pontiff.

The crisis has been growing in Germany, where more than 170 students have alleged they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools.

On Friday, the head of Germany's Catholic bishops apologized to victims after the meeting with the pope. He said Benedict had said he felt "great dismay" over the scandal.

On Wednesday, the pope's older brother, Georg Ratzinger, was also drawn into the furor. Some of most explosive clerical sex abuse claims in Germany center on a prestigious choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen, that Georg Ratzinger led for 30 years.

Several former singers in the choir have come forward with claims that at least two priests attached to the elementary boarding school allied to the choir sexually abused and brutally mistreated their charges.

Ratzinger denied any knowledge of sexual abuse but admitted he slapped some of the boys in the choir and knew of violence on the part of a headmaster associated with a school where choir members attended.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

1-900 # Competes With Catholic Confessional

A pay telephone line for French Roman Catholics to
confess their sins drew criticism from bishops on Monday.

"For advice on confessing, press one. To confess, press two. To
listen to some confessions, press three," says a soothing male
voice, welcoming the caller to "Le Fil du Seigneur", or "The Line
of the Lord" service.

"In case of serious or mortal sins -- that is, sins that have cut
you off from Christ our Lord, it is indispensable to confide in a
priest," warns the 0.34 euros a minute service.

The Conference of French Bishops, which groups the country's
Catholic leaders, warned in a statement that the line had "no
approval from the Catholic Church in France."

The site was set up this month at the beginning of the Christian
fasting period of Lent by a group of Catholics working for AABAS,
a small Paris company that provides telephone messaging services,
its creator told AFP.

It does not offer absolution for sins, which only a priest can
provide, said the creator, Camille, who asked for her second name
not be cited because she had received threats about the service.

"The idea is to confess sins which are not capital sins, but
minor sins, directly to God," she said, adding that the line
received about 300 calls in its first week.

Callers do not talk to a person but are offered an "atmosphere of
piety and reflection," where they can listen to prayers, music
and other people's confessions and can opt to record their own.

The bishops said telephone services had a role to play in lending
an ear to the aged, isolated or those with disabilities, but "it
is unacceptable to allow confusion over the notion of
confession," they added.

"For the Catholic faithful, confession has a sacramental meaning
and requires the real presence of a priest."

Camille said part of the money received for the calls goes to
charity. The service costs 0.34 euros (0.46 dollars) a minute
plus a connection charge for mobile phones, though a cheaper non-
charity line costs 0.12 euros.

The line says on its website that it aims to encourage youngsters
to confess at a time when church attendance is "in free-fall."

More Catholic Priests Implicated in Sex Abuse

Sexual abuse scandals mired the Catholic Church on Tuesday as inquiries in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands intensified and the Vatican digested allegations that the Mexican founder of one of the church's most favored sects sexually molested his illegitimate sons.

The new revelations come less than a month after Irish bishops were summoned to the Vatican to discuss decades of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland.

A delegation of German bishops is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday about the growing crisis in Germany, where more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools.

Diether Endlicher, AP
Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Georg Ratzinger, who led a prestigious German choir, told a Catholic newspaper he often slapped choirboys, but denied knowing about alleged sexual abuse within the choir. Here, Pope Benedict, right, walks with his brother in Regensburg, Germany.
The most explosive claims center on a prestigious choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen, that was led for 30 years by Pope Benedict's brother, Georg Ratzinger. Several former singers in the choir have come forward with claims that at least two priests attached to the elementary boarding school allied to the choir sexually abused and brutally mistreated their charges.

Ratzinger, 86, gave an unusually frank interview to the Catholic newspaper, Passauer Neue Presse, about his habit of slapping choirboys, but he denied any knowledge of sexual abuse.

"I myself handed out slaps repeatedly, although I always had a bad conscience about it," he told the newspaper. Ratzinger, the pope's older brother by four years, said the choir was a "joy" to conduct but admitted that he resorted to hitting boys around the ears as part of the "discipline and rigor" needed to achieve a high artistic level.

Ratzinger called the corporal punishment "a standard response to failure or misbehavior."

He said the school's headmaster, identified in the German press as the late Johann Meier, was "very violent." Former students have said the headmaster was a "sadist" who imposed a "reign of terror" on the school. Some have also said they found it implausible that Ratzinger did not know about the sexual abuse of some students.

"These things were never discussed," Ratzinger told the newspaper. "The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of."

Accusations of clerical sexual abuse in Germany surfaced in January when a Jesuit school in Berlin said that two of its priests had sexually abused pupils in the 1970s and 1980s. More victims have since come forward alleging abuse by priests in other German schools. The scandal is front-page news in German newspapers, fed continually by new allegations and political reaction.

To make matters worse for the Vatican, the Austrian head of a Benedictine monastery has resigned after admitting to sexually abusing a child decades ago, and Dutch Catholic bishops on Tuesday said they were conducting an investigation into widespread reports of sexual abuse by priests.

The Dutch probe will be headed up by a Protestant who is a former government minister and former mayor of the Hague. More than 200 reports of sexual abuse have been filed with a church victims' support group in the wake of allegations first reported last month of clerical sexual abuse in a single Dutch cloister.

"It is a painful conclusion and a sin that must be confessed that a number of priests and church workers have failed to carefully associate with children and youths, particularly halfway through the last century," the Dutch Priests' Conference said in a statement.

While the crisis grew this week in Europe, the church was rocked by new allegations involving the already-tarnished founder of the Legionaries of Christ, an ultraconservative and controversial sect that is among the most lucrative Roman Catholic orders in the world.

The late Rev. Marcial Maciel, who founded the order in 1941 and died in 2008, had already been disciplined by Pope Benedict prior to his death and told to renounce public ministry.

The Vatican has been investigating allegations by seminarians that Maciel sexually abused them in past decades. Church officials also were forced to acknowledge last year that Maciel fathered a daughter who lives in Spain.

AFP / Getty Images
A woman, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, has recently accused the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, here in 2005, of fathering two children with her and adopting a third.
The most recent accusations against Maciel involve a woman, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, who told officials she had a long relationship with a man she knew as an "employee of an international oil company, a private investigator and a CIA agent" before she found out his true identity.

She said Maciel fathered two sons with her and adopted a third. Two of the sons said Maciel molested them as children. The case grew more complicated Tuesday when the attorney representing the family resigned when it became known that one of the sons had asked the Legionaries of Christ for $26 million in return for his silence.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ in North America, said Tuesday that the order is still reeling from the allegations against the founder.

"We are still in those five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross," Fair told AOL News. "It's as if Father Maciel lived in two different universes, like some old science fiction movie. And now it's all blowing up."

Fair said that Legionaries priests and lay members "have a tough row to hoe" with their faith but added that that the priests are "first and foremost Roman Catholic priests and they are part of a church that has survived 2,000 years with some flaws and will no doubt continue."

Fair said Maciel was clearly a "very flawed man" who nevertheless did "a lot of good."

According to Fair, the order has more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide, along with 50,000 members of the associated lay group Regnum Christi.

Church critics have pointed out that after years of turning what many call "a blind eye" toward clerical sexual abuse, the Vatican is now in what can only be described as crisis management mode. See Chick's MEN IN BLACK.

Scientologists Take PR Hit

New accusations from two Scientology defectors are the latest in a growing list of abuse allegations that have been leveled against the church in the past year -- possibly its most difficult in the 50-odd years since it was created by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

On Saturday, The New York Times weighed in with a long article focusing on a couple in Sea Organization -- a group of the religion's elite staff members -- who said they worked long hours for a pittance. Once they decided to leave they were forced to "sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them," according to the Times.

Scientologists believe that human beings are inhibited by their past lives and can only reach self-actualization through a series of formal studies, including one-on-one "auditing" sessions, a long and expensive process. The church also renounces many of the claims of medical health professionals and offers up its own purification rituals involving vitamins and saunas. And while Scientology has long been criticized by outsiders, the past year's allegations have come largely from former members.

Phil McCarten, AP
The Church of Scientology, long criticized by outsiders, now faces accusations from two Scientology defectors. Here, the church's Celebrity Centre International in Los Angeles is shown.
The first and most damning shot came from the St. Petersburg Times, which in June began publishing an investigative series on the church, which is based in nearby Clearwater, Fla., and its leader, David Miscavige. According to top Scientology executives who have since broken with the church, Miscavige routinely hits Scientology staff members. Also, the newspaper alleged the church's purification rituals have led to at least one death, and that church officials harass and intimidate defectors.

Meanwhile, Scientology officials have responded as they have to previous allegations -- they've denied everything and said that the disgruntled ex-members are apostates who can't be trusted. There are signs, however, that some members are becoming disillusioned.

Scientology leaders have long sought out and coddled celebrities -- Tom Cruise is the church's most famous member, and John Travolta is not far behind. But in October, Paul Haggis, director of the Oscar-winning movie "Crash," penned a withering resignation letter to the church that was leaked to the press.

A 35-year member, Haggis said he objected to the San Diego church branch's support of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, and he also referenced the allegations of the St. Petersburg Times. Haggis said he was shocked at some of the denials by church executives about policies he knew to exist. "I was left feeling outraged, and frankly, more than a little stupid," he wrote.

Haggis is not alone. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, 45,000 Americans identified themselves as Scientologists in 1990, and 55,000 did in 2001. But in 2008, that number plummeted to 25,000. It's well short of the millions of followers Scientology leaders claim, both in the United States and abroad, where the church often is not officially recognized alongside other religions. (In comparison, in 2008 there were 342,000 self-identified Wiccans.)

If that trend continues, Scientology isn't likely to survive many of our lifetimes -- let alone the billions of years the church promises its "immortal" adherents. See Chick's THE CHOICE.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

New Crusaders Released

The long awaited "Unwanted" comic was finally released this month. It's a full color crusaders comic about the life of "Cowboy" Caplain Dann, and how he came to Christ. Dann is better know to Chick fans as "the human tract dispenser", having personally passed out over a million Chick tracts. Dann also appears in THE LETTER and REVERAND WONDERFUL tracts. See UNWANTED.

Vatican Caught In New Gay Sex Scandal

The Vatican is at the center of a gay sex scandal involving a young chorister who allegedly procured men, including at least one seminarian, for a lay member of one of Pope Benedict's inner circles.

Angelo Balducci, a civil engineer and honorary Vatican usher, was quoted in police wiretaps allegedly negotiating with Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 29-year-old Vatican choir member, about the kind of men he wanted brought to him. Some of the wiretap transcripts were published Wednesday in the Italian daily La Repubblica.

Balducci has been a member since 1995 of "Gentlemen of His Holiness," an exclusive fraternity of ushers within the papal household who serve during state and special occasions. Members of the group bore Pope John Paul II's coffin in 2005.

This latest Vatican embarrassment, coming not long after Irish priests were summoned to Rome to discuss decades of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, surfaced inadvertently as a result of a probe into corruption involving public works contracts.

Balducci, who sits on the board of Italy's public works council and is a construction consultant to the Vatican, was one of four people arrested in February in connection with the corruption probe. He has not yet been charged in that case, which remains open.

On Wednesday, La Repubblica published excerpts from the wiretaps and other police documents from the probe, which indicated Balducci was in regular contact with Ehiem, a member of the Vatican's Giulia Choir. Police identified him as part "of an organized network ... to abet male prostitution."

Among the men allegedly procured for Balducci, according to the transcripts, were "two black Cuban boys," a former male model from Naples and a rugby player from Rome.

Ehiem told Panorama magazine in an interview set to run Friday that he had been introduced to Balducci 10 years ago. The Guardian quoted Ehiem as saying: "He asked me if I could procure other men for him. He told me he was married and that I had to do it in great secrecy."

Ehiem was fired Wednesday from his job in the choir, according to news reports.

Some of the more sensational excerpts from Italian police transcripts obtained by the Guardian quote conversations recorded in January between Balducci and Ehiem about a young seminarian. Balducci inquires about the seminarian and Ehiem says he is "probably at Mass or something."

When it turns out that seminarian is not available, Ehiem calls another time recommending one of the student priest's colleagues or friends. Ehiem says the substitute is "better, taller, a bit taller than you."

Still later, Ehiem is quoted in the transcript asking: "Can I send [him] around right away?" and asks where Balducci is. Ehiem is told that he is "up at the seminary ... where the cardinal lives." Ehiem then says the man "could get there within half an hour ... the time it takes to catch a taxi and get there."

See Chick's SIN CITY.