Monday, July 06, 2015

Priest defends priest, throws victim under the bus

(Boston Atheists Past President Zachary Bos, State Director of American Atheists, writes:)

So: I just found out that the priest who ran the parish my family was involved in when I was a teen, has been accused of the abuse of a male child at an archdiocese-run children's home. The abuse is alleged to have happened at just the time I was participating in teen programs at church: Bible study weekends, the Christmas passion play, youth group night, confirmation classes.*

Who is surprised? There have been many reports about child abuse in the Catholic church -- not to mention in Hare Krishna residential schools, and in the Orthodox Jewish community, and so on and so on. It's sad, and beyond sad it's maddening, that this kind of uncomfortable news comes as just more of the same.

Now: I have no personal knowledge of any abuse, and had no real rapport with the priest when I was involved in the church. The reason I thought to share this news item is not because of its (non-)connection with me, but because of what I found when I did a search for the church's response.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's homily at the church I attended as a teen, and where the accused priest was stationed during the time is is alleged he abused a boy:
Father Jeremiah Murasso, Pastor of Saint Vincent Ferrer Church from 1989-2003 has been accused of the abuse of a minor male child at Saint Francis Home in New Haven, CT. The abuse allegedly took place while Father Murasso was pastor here and was at the same time on the staff of Saint Francis Home. The alleged abuse would therefore have taken place during the mid-to-late 1990’s. According to established procedures he has been removed from all his duties as a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford. In short, right now he is in need of a friend. Former bookkeeper Barbara Mule has asked: If you were a parishioner of Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish during his years here and are in a position to attest to his good character, please take the time to write a letter to Archbishop Blair. The closer you were to Father Murasso the better. For instance, if you were in our parish during the late 1990’s and had a child who was in the CCD Program or was an Altar Server or was receiving the Sacraments, you are in an excellent position to comment on Father Murasso’s character. Please address your comments to: Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, 134 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105.
That's the priest speaking to the congregation from the pulpit during Mass. Not with words of sympathy for the alleged victim and his family, or for all victims of childhood and sexual abuse; not with any commitment to transparency to see the process of investigation, stock-taking, and potential legal action through. Instead, he's focused only on helping the alleged abuser. Not a kind word for victims anywhere. Instead, he's asking for character endorsements for the accuser. Protect our own: that's his first priority. Is the child, potentially a victim of sexual abuse, not also a member of the community?

There's a real confusion of priorities here. But it doesn't stop there: the homily goes on cast doubt on the accuser's claims:
So what do I believe?  I believe this is about money.  Why?  Let me say this as nicely as I can.  People talk.  You are people; you talk.  In the past 12 years, many of you have spoken to me about this parish, its’ history and the priests who have served here.  You’ve told me what you’ve liked and what you haven’t liked.  . . . [But] in the 12 years I’ve served you, no one -- not one person -- has ever said anything bad about Fr. Murasso’s behavior around children.  No one -- not one person -- has ever said anything about having a suspicion about Fr. Murasso.  No one!  That’s why I believe this accusation is completely baseless and just about money.  This is what I will write to the Archbishop.  Let us pray that this one line from today’s Gospel spoken by Jesus enters Fr. Murasso’s ears and lands directly in his heart: "Do not be afraid; just have faith."
(Emphasis mine.) Lord knows that prayer is cheap -- but you couldn't spare even a little prayer for the boy? Even at the very end, after you'd prayed for your colleague, and asked your parishioners to write letters polishing his reputation? Shame on you, priest. You're supposed to do better than that: not because you are the special representation of a holy power, but because you're a congregational leader committed to the values of charity and community that define your role.

* * *
In the intellectual was one learns about such things, from the media and through second-hand sources, I was aware of how the Catholic Church closed ranks and defended its own when accused of misconduct. Now I have a more immediate connection to that detestable practice.

I sat through numerous homilies delivered by Murasso. My family's neighbors sat beside us. I am indignant, on their behalf, that the community leader tasked with ministering to their needs is defending his institution instead of his community. I hope that those community members don't stand for such hypocrisy. No community worth its salt would.

Some sources:

  1. "Priest who has served in New Haven, East Haven suspended over sex abuse claim at Waterbury school" (New Haven Register,  7/2/15)
  2. "Waterbury priest on leave after allegations of sex abuse" (, 7/2/15)
  3. "Priest accused of abuse" (Waterbury Republic-American, 7/2/15)

* Footnote: = Lest my atheist credentials be called into question, I'll share the unnecessary caveat that while I was eager for belonging and society during those years, at no point did I find myself experiencing anything corresponding to religious belief. It was only when I got to college that I encountered the word "atheist", and realized that I'd been harboring secret nonbelief! In the late 90s, though, there wasn't anything like the SSA for me to get involved with as a student, so I did the good Catholic thing, not knowing any better. I met a lot of good people there; and considered moral questions, and matters of myth, that were interesting, and which I wouldn't have had reason to grapple with otherwise; and there were opportunities for community service I couldn't find elsewhere. The theological education was worthless. Evidence: how else did I escape that training to become the ass-kicking atheist agitator I am today? Thanks for that, at least, Sister Susan, wherever you are.

Monday, June 01, 2015

On the feeling that life is meaningful

Time for Monday morning philosophizing!

Here's Sarah Perry (that is, the antinatalist* Sarah Perry, not the novelist Sarah Perry), writing in Every Cradle Is a Grave, making a point worth consideration about the role one's concept of "the meaning of life" plays in providing existential stability beyond the sum of its intellectual parts:
Subjectively, the feeling that life is meaningful - that there are ultimate values, that life has a purpose - tends to point to a source of meaning, something higher than and external to the mere feeling or intuition of meaning. While sources of meaning vary greatly (and often contradict each other), the sense and expectation of meaning itself is surprisingly universal - so universal that the intuition is almost never challenged. This very universality should motivate us to be cautious about taking meaning’s claims at face value. One should be suspicious of any claim that is defended for contradictory reasons, and most people who agree that life is meaningful disagree as to what makes it so. The belief that life is meaningful tends to take the form of a strong feeling rather than a reasoned conclusion; indeed, one of the functions of meaning is to shield a person from the harmful effects of reasoning by providing a value that is justified for its own sake, a foundational rock for cognition below which no “whys” need be answered. (p.31)

* * *

I rather appreciate that she begins with the acknowledgment that the feeling there is a meaning to life waiting to be discovered or articulated is just that: a feeling, rather than an empirically observable fact about the universe. It's a widespread feeling, to be sure, but even so I suspect no one here** or anywhere else has ever come across that big eff-off stone tablet, ten hundred feet tall, covered with big eff-off graven letters, spelling out the text of the cosmic meaning of life Mad Libs? "The meaning of life is __________ (insert noun) and to live one's life __________ (adverb). The best tips for this meaning of life can be found in __________ (book title)."

The publisher of Every Cradle Is a Grave has made a PDF of the entire book available for free download, here.
* * *

* The antinatalist is sometimes referred to as 'the wisdom of Silenus': "For he lives with the least worry who knows not his misfortune; but for humans, the best for them is not to be born at all, not to partake of nature’s excellence; not to be is best, for both sexes."

** If you HAVE found such a tablet, feel free to spill the details. We may be skeptics, but in view of such evidence, I don't think we're so proud that we wouldn't revise our worldview as needed to admit the existence of some great eff-off cosmic Mad Libs publisher out there somewhere, leaving tablets around willy-nilly to remind us that there is a meaning to life waiting for us to fill in the right answer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

An atheist's thoughts about MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr, who preached nonviolence as an instrument to repudiate injustice, who helped initiate the civil rights movement in this country, who was assassinated in 1968, would have turned 86 this month. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Christian Science: Spiritual Stealing?

The Boston Atheists don't often 'shop up hoax photos, but when they do, they do it to put the screws to churches that kill kids:

(We're cross-posting this from Twitter; follow us there, why don't ya?)

To learn more about how the problematic history of Christian Science, religiously-motivated medical negligence, and lobbying efforts to preserve loopholes that permit such negligence, visit the site of CHILD: "Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Godless love for Christmas

From "Christmas Is a Wonderful, Secular Holiday" by Rich Juzwiak:
Late in my teens, I stopped attending church. There were all kinds of reasons for this, but even the most politically righteous ones (where to begin: the Catholic church's inherent anti-gay stance, its allowance of child abuse, its institutionalized misogyny) didn't hold a votive candle to the simple fact that I left church because it was fucking boring. Whiling away the hour in church on Christmas was a metaphor for my general relationship to organized religion—I was really just waiting for it all to be over. 
I never stopped loving Christmas, though. To me it's a secular holiday, and its importance in my life is unwavering.
Read more on Gawker.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dahn Yoga: scamming folks in NYC, Boston, and beyond

Over at Gawker, writer Cat Ferguson has added a new installment to the Cult Rush Week series, titled "I Punched Myself at Dahn Yoga." A snippet:
On its face, Dahn yoga is not very scary. It is a vague combination of yoga and tai chi that promises practitioners they will "experience the transformative power of energy." But the cult is championed by shady "Grand Master" Ilchi Lee, who is described as "a global educator, mentor, and innovator devoted to teaching energy principles and developing the full capability of the human brain," but was also the target of a 2010 lawsuit that accused him of preying on young recruits, brainwashing members, and fraud.
Ferguson was dipping into Dahn down in NYC, but we've got our own Dahn locations here in the Boston area: Arlington, Cambridge, Brookline. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll see Dahn brochures occupying choice street-facing locations in store windows all over town.

Here's what I do when I see one of their stand-up brochure holders: I duck into the establishment -- nail salon, grocery store, what have you -- and breezily tell the clerk that I'm "here to pick these up." Then pick them up I do, leave, and then and, just like I do with Maum flyers, I throw them away in the first trash receptacle I see. Lest you think I'm on the dole for Scientology, let me set the record straight: I'm not favoring one scam cult over another. It's just that Scientology is more about palm-cards than brochures. I simply can't conscience the marketing of yet another pseudo-scientific, pseudo-spiritual extractive industry in our fair city, so, sorry Dahn yoga, they've got to go.

Read Ferguson's full post over at Gawker to learn more about the Dahn experience (tldr; they want your money), or check out these informative links:

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Boston Nonsense Watch: Maum flyers seen in the wild

I've just uploaded a new document to the Boston Atheists Meetup files section, accessible here. It's a PDF scan of a flyer I saw at Panera Bread at Alewife plaza where I was meeting other members of the Sunday Assembly Boston planning team. What caught my eye was the provocative slogan on the front panel: STOP THINKING. Whoa! Is thinking so dangerous? I've been doing it all this time... think of the damage I might have been doing to myself!

So I pick it up and, lo and behold, it turns out to be up a propaganda for Maum Meditation, a network of cultish storefront offices found across the globe. Maum links its gospel messages of "Calm your spirit!" (hmm, okay) and "Empty your mind!" (wait, what?) to the fashionable craze for gobbledygook neuro-nonsense. The Maum system may be nothing more than a heap of reheated philosophicalish New Age fluff married to scientific-sounding terminology, but it is very good at extracting money from members-cum-victims.

Now, I see these flyers all over town: cafes, bookstores, stacked on the inside counter at beauty salons and grocery stores. When I see them through the window, I go inside, and in businesslike fashion, pick up the whole stack, and leave. I throw them away in the first trash can I pass, ripping them in half first to ensure that they aren't put back into circulation by well-meaning parties who don't know the background about Maum.

There are a number of other dubious outfits in Boston, including Twelve Tribes, New Acropolis, and Eckankar. (And of course members likely already know about the fine brownstone on Beacon Street off Mass Ave near the south footing of the Harvard Bridge, the one that houses the Boston branch of the Church of Scientology.) Let's make a collective agreement to stay alert to these kinds of organizations. Some may be benign, or merely nonsensical, while others that seem just as nonthreatening may afflict members with coercive, disorienting, destructive teachings and pressures. Make sure to let us know here at Boston Nonsense Watch headquarters about anything you want us to know more about.

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Related reading: