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A prosecutor says a college philosophy teacher accused of entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with gasoline cans, lighter fluid and butane lighters had also booked a hotel just 20 minutes from the Vatican.

Police said previously that Marc Lamparello had booked a flight to Rome for the next day.

Assistant District Attorney David Stuart said Wednesday that Lamparello was “planning to burn down St. Patrick’s Cathedral” when he was arrested last week. The prosecutor made no further remarks about the Rome plans.

Lamparello made his initial court appearance from a hospital. The judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The New York incident happened just days after flames ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Source: Fox News National

The lawyers’ ads on the internet aggressively seeking clients to file sexual abuse lawsuits give a taste of what lies ahead this year for the Boy Scouts of America: potentially the most fateful chapter in its 109-year history.

Sexual abuse settlements have already strained the Boy Scouts’ finances to the point where the organization is exploring “all available options,” including Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But now the financial threats have intensified.

The reason: States have been moving in recent months to adjust their statute-of-limitations laws so that victims of long-ago sexual abuse can sue for damages. New York state has passed a law that will allow such lawsuits starting in August. A similar bill in New Jersey has reached the governor’s desk. Bills also are pending in Pennsylvania and California.

In New York and elsewhere, lawyers are hard at work recruiting clients to sue the Boy Scouts, alleging they were molested as youths by scoutmasters or other volunteers.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers “recognize that this is a very unique and lucrative opportunity,” said attorney Karen Bitar, who formerly handled sex-crime cases as a prosecutor in Brooklyn before going into private practice.

Attorney Tim Kosnoff, a veteran of major sexual abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church, said Tuesday that he and his team have signed up 186 clients from dozens of states in just the past few weeks who want to be part of litigation against the Boy Scouts. Kosnoff said 166 of them identified alleged abusers who have not been named in any of the Boy Scout files made public in past years.

Boy Scouts spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said the organization continues to evaluate its financial situation, and she defended its current abuse-prevention policies. The organization serves more than 2.2 million youths.

A bankruptcy by the Boy Scouts could be unprecedented in its complexity, potentially involving plaintiffs in virtually every state, according to several lawyers. It would be national in scope, unlike the various Catholic Church bankruptcy cases in the U.S., which have unfolded diocese by diocese.

“A Boy Scout bankruptcy would be bigger in scale than any other sex abuse bankruptcy,” said Seattle-based attorney Mike Pfau, whose firm is representing more than 300 victims in New York state.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a New York-based bankruptcy expert with the firm McKool Smith, said the Boy Scouts don’t have a particularly large flow of cash and might be forced to sell off property in bankruptcy. The Boy Scouts have extensive land holdings, including camping and hiking terrain.

“They’ll play for time,” Schwartz said. “If their defense costs and settlement costs are greater than their membership fees, it could be a death spiral.”

However, Dallas-based trial attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, part of a team representing numerous sex abuse survivors, said bankruptcy might benefit the Boy Scouts and reduce any payouts to plaintiffs.

“It can be a tool that these institutions use to shield assets and avoid having to reveal some information,” she said. “In many ways, it’s a disservice to victims.”

Illustrating the depth of its problems, the Boy Scouts filed lawsuits last year against six of its own insurers, saying they have improperly refused to cover some of the sex abuse liabilities incurred by the organization. The insurers say the coverage obligation is voided because the Boy Scouts failed to take effective preventive measures such as warning parents that scouts might be abused. The suits are still pending.

The intensifying pressures on the Boy Scouts coincide with the mounting threats to the U.S. Catholic Church in regard to its own long-running sex abuse scandal. Catholic bishops will be meeting in Baltimore in June to discuss the next steps.

Both the church and the Boy Scouts are iconic, historically well-respected institutions now known as having been magnets for pedophiles trying to exploit the trust of boys and their parents.

“When you cloak people in badges of respect, you create the perfect opportunity for bad people to get access to children,” said Chris Hurley, whose Chicago law firm is representing 11 former scouts in sex abuse trials scheduled on a monthly basis this year.

Another common denominator for the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts: Both kept voluminous secret files with names of suspected abusers, yet balked at sharing the information with the public.

Since the 1920s, the Boy Scouts have been compiling “ineligible files,” which list adult volunteers considered to pose a risk of child molestation. About 5,000 of these files have been made public as a result of court action; others remain confidential.

Delimarkos said when any BSA volunteer is added to the database for suspected abuse, “they are reported to law enforcement, removed entirely from any Scouting program and prohibited from re-joining anywhere.”

Minnesota-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who had led many lawsuits against the Catholic Church, released a court deposition in New York on Tuesday in which an expert hired by the Boy Scouts said she tallied 7,819 individuals in the “ineligible files” as of January, as well as 12,254 victims.

Anderson expressed hope that litigation triggered by New York’s new Child Victims Act would increase pressure on the Boy Scouts to make public more of the still-confidential files.

Some of the files were ordered released after a 2010 sexual abuse case in Portland, Oregon, that led to a nearly $20 million judgment against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a man molested by a Scout leader in the 1980s.

Paul Mones, the plaintiff’s lawyer in that case, said there are no overall figures on Boy Scout abuse settlements because the details are kept confidential.

Both the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church say they now have policies in place to sharply curtail abuse that abounded in past decades. In the Boy Scouts ‘ case, the steps included requiring criminal background checks for all staff and volunteers, and requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during scouting activities.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Effie Delimarkos is a spokeswoman, not a spokesman.

Source: Fox News National

The lawyers’ ads on the internet aggressively seeking clients to file sexual abuse lawsuits give a taste of what lies ahead this year for the Boy Scouts of America: potentially the most fateful chapter in its 109-year history.

Sexual abuse settlements have already strained the Boy Scouts’ finances to the point where the organization is exploring “all available options,” including Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But now the financial threats have intensified.

The reason: States have been moving in recent months to adjust their statute-of-limitations laws so that victims of long-ago sexual abuse can sue for damages. New York state has passed a law that will allow such lawsuits starting in August. A similar bill in New Jersey has reached the governor’s desk. Bills also are pending in Pennsylvania and California.

In New York and elsewhere, lawyers are hard at work recruiting clients to sue the Boy Scouts, alleging they were molested as youths by scoutmasters or other volunteers.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers “recognize that this is a very unique and lucrative opportunity,” said attorney Karen Bitar, who formerly handled sex-crime cases as a prosecutor in Brooklyn before going into private practice.

Attorney Tim Kosnoff, a veteran of major sexual abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church, said Tuesday that he and his team have signed up 186 clients from dozens of states in just the past few weeks who want to be part of litigation against the Boy Scouts. Kosnoff said 166 of them identified alleged abusers who have not been named in any of the Boy Scout files made public in past years.

Boy Scouts spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said the organization continues to evaluate its financial situation, and she defended its current abuse-prevention policies. The organization serves more than 2.2 million youths.

A bankruptcy by the Boy Scouts could be unprecedented in its complexity, potentially involving plaintiffs in virtually every state, according to several lawyers. It would be national in scope, unlike the various Catholic Church bankruptcy cases in the U.S., which have unfolded diocese by diocese.

“A Boy Scout bankruptcy would be bigger in scale than any other sex abuse bankruptcy,” said Seattle-based attorney Mike Pfau, whose firm is representing more than 300 victims in New York state.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a New York-based bankruptcy expert with the firm McKool Smith, said the Boy Scouts don’t have a particularly large flow of cash and might be forced to sell off property in bankruptcy. The Boy Scouts have extensive land holdings, including camping and hiking terrain.

“They’ll play for time,” Schwartz said. “If their defense costs and settlement costs are greater than their membership fees, it could be a death spiral.”

However, Dallas-based trial attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, part of a team representing numerous sex abuse survivors, said bankruptcy might benefit the Boy Scouts and reduce any payouts to plaintiffs.

“It can be a tool that these institutions use to shield assets and avoid having to reveal some information,” she said. “In many ways, it’s a disservice to victims.”

Illustrating the depth of its problems, the Boy Scouts filed lawsuits last year against six of its own insurers, saying they have improperly refused to cover some of the sex abuse liabilities incurred by the organization. The insurers say the coverage obligation is voided because the Boy Scouts failed to take effective preventive measures such as warning parents that scouts might be abused. The suits are still pending.

The intensifying pressures on the Boy Scouts coincide with the mounting threats to the U.S. Catholic Church in regard to its own long-running sex abuse scandal. Catholic bishops will be meeting in Baltimore in June to discuss the next steps.

Both the church and the Boy Scouts are iconic, historically well-respected institutions now known as having been magnets for pedophiles trying to exploit the trust of boys and their parents.

“When you cloak people in badges of respect, you create the perfect opportunity for bad people to get access to children,” said Chris Hurley, whose Chicago law firm is representing 11 former scouts in sex abuse trials scheduled on a monthly basis this year.

Another common denominator for the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts: Both kept voluminous secret files with names of suspected abusers, yet balked at sharing the information with the public.

Since the 1920s, the Boy Scouts have been compiling “ineligible files,” which list adult volunteers considered to pose a risk of child molestation. About 5,000 of these files have been made public as a result of court action; others remain confidential.

Delimarkos said when any BSA volunteer is added to the database for suspected abuse, “they are reported to law enforcement, removed entirely from any Scouting program and prohibited from re-joining anywhere.”

Minnesota-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who had led many lawsuits against the Catholic Church, released a court deposition in New York on Tuesday in which an expert hired by the Boy Scouts said she tallied 7,819 individuals in the “ineligible files” as of January, as well as 12,254 victims.

Anderson expressed hope that litigation triggered by New York’s new Child Victims Act would increase pressure on the Boy Scouts to make public more of the still-confidential files.

Some of the files were ordered released after a 2010 sexual abuse case in Portland, Oregon, that led to a nearly $20 million judgment against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a man molested by a Scout leader in the 1980s.

Paul Mones, the plaintiff’s lawyer in that case, said there are no overall figures on Boy Scout abuse settlements because the details are kept confidential.

Both the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church say they now have policies in place to sharply curtail abuse that abounded in past decades. In the Boy Scouts ‘ case, the steps included requiring criminal background checks for all staff and volunteers, and requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during scouting activities.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Effie Delimarkos is a spokeswoman, not a spokesman.

Source: Fox News National

A St. Louis County judge has refused to lower bail for a former Catholic priest who was previously imprisoned and labeled sexually violent.

Fred Lenczycki of suburban Chicago was charged in February with two counts of sodomy for allegedly abusing two boys in the early 1990s at a north St. Louis County parish. He is jailed on $500,000 cash-only bond and sought an unspecified reduction.

Circuit Judge Gloria Glark Reno declined the request at a hearing Monday.

Lenczycki is 74. He was removed from the ministry in 2002, when he was charged with sexually abusing three boys in Hinsdale, Illinois, in the 1980s. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Court and church files say Lenczycki admitted abusing up to 30 boys in Illinois, Missouri and California over 25 years.

Source: Fox News National

At an Easter vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis on Saturday encouraged people to resist cynicism or pursuing the “glitter of wealth,” and to avoid seeking life’s meaning in “things that pass away.”

“Do not bury hope!” Francis exclaimed, after noting that when things go badly, “we lose heart and come to believe that death is stronger than life.”

“We become cynical, negative and despondent,” Francis added.

TRUMP SAYS HE HAD WONDERFUL CONVERSATION WITH POPE FRANCIS, OFFERED HELP AFTER NOTRE DAME FIRE

For Christians, Easter is a day of joy and hope, as they mark their belief that Jesus triumphed over death by resurrection following the crucifixion.

“Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but leaves behind only solitude and death,” the pope said. “Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away.”

Encouraging the faithful, Francis said, “Why not prefer Jesus, the true light, to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure?”

At the start of the ceremony on Easter’s eve, Francis, dressed in white robes, slowly carried a lit candle up the aisle of a darkened St. Peter’s Basilica. At the chant in Latin for “light of Christ, the basilica’s lights were suddenly switched on in a dramatic tradition.

POPE FRANCIS TAKES THINLY VEILED SWIPE AT TRUMP, CALLS OUT LEADERS WHO WANT WALLS

Among those in the basilica were eight adults who were baptized by the pope during the Mass. The Vatican said these new faithful are from Italy, Albania, Ecuador, Indonesia and Peru. From a shell-shaped silver dish, Francis poured holy water over the bowed heads of the three men and five women, after they walked up to him, one by one, and listened to him calling their first names.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News World

There’s at least one area of agreement among conservative, centrist and liberal leaders in the United Methodist Church: America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination is on a path toward likely breakup over differences on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT pastors.

The differences have simmered for years, and came to a head in February at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthens bans on LGBT-inclusive practices. A majority of U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored LGBT-friendly options, but they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

Many believe the vote will prompt an exodus from the church by liberal congregations that are already expressing their dissatisfaction over the move.

Some churches have raised rainbow flags in a show of LGBT solidarity. Some pastors have vowed to defy the strict rules and continue to allow gay weddings in Methodist churches. Churches are withholding dues payments to the main office in protest, and the UMC’s receipts were down 20 percent in March, according to financial reports posted online.

“It’s time for some kind of separation, some kind of amicable divorce,” said James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, who posted a video assailing the proposal for its “real meanness.”

The UMC’s nine-member Judicial Council convenes a four-day meeting in Evanston, Illinois, on Tuesday to consider legal challenges to the Traditional Plan. If the plan is upheld, it would take effect for U.S. churches on Jan. 1. If parts of it are struck down, that would likely trigger new debate at the UMC’s next general conference in May 2020.

The UMC’s largest church — the 22,000-member Church of the Resurrection with four locations in the Kansas City area — is among those applying financial pressure. Its lead pastor, Adam Hamilton, says his church is temporarily withholding half of the $2.5 million that it normally would have paid to the UMC’s head office at this stage of the year.

“We’ll ultimately pay it,” Hamilton said. “But we want to show that this is the impact if our churches leave.”

Hamilton is among the opponents of the Traditional Plan leading an initiative dubbed UMC-Next that seeks the best path forward for those who share their views. Clergy and activists in the alliance have met in Texas and Georgia, and a bigger meeting is planned for May 20-22 at Hamilton’s megachurch.

Hamilton, in a telephone interview, said two main options are under consideration.

Under one scenario, many centrists and liberals would leave en masse to form a new denomination — a potentially complex endeavor given likely disputes over the dissolution process.

Under the other option, opponents of the Traditional Plan would stay in the UMC and resist from within, insisting on LGBT-inclusive policies and eventually convincing the conservatives that they should be the faction that leaves under what’s envisioned as a financially smooth “gracious exit.”

“There’s a sense that some conservatives have been wanting to leave for a long time,” Hamilton said. “They’re tired of fighting about it.”

Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.

While other mainline Protestant denominations have embraced gay-friendly practices, the UMC still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit.

Enforcement of the bans has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against those engaged in defiance.

Traditional Plan supporter Mark Tooley, who heads a conservative Christian think tank, predicts that the UMC will split into three denominations — one for centrists, another oriented toward liberal activists and a third representing the global alliance of U.S. conservatives and their allies overseas.

“It’s a question of how long it takes for that to unfold — and of who and how many go into each denomination,” Tooley said. “A lot of churches will be irreparably harmed as they divide.”

Scott Jones, bishop of the UMC’s Houston-based Texas conference, says churchgoers in his region are divided in their views, but a majority supports the Traditional Plan’s concepts.

“I have urged all of us to love each other, listen to each other and respect each other, even if we disagree,” said Jones, who holds out hope that the UMC’s disparate factions can preserve some form of unity.

Ann Craig of Newburgh, New York — a lesbian activist who has advocated for greater LGBT inclusion in the UMC — thinks a breakup can be avoided, though she’s unsure what lies ahead.

“We expect something new to happen, but what that change should be or will be has not jelled yet,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to break up — it’s so cumbersome to figure out a way to divorce.”

The crisis is being followed closely at Methodist-affiliated theology schools based at universities with LGBT-inclusive policies. There are 13 UMC-connected theology schools around the country.

“There’s a lot of turmoil and distress,” said Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of Boston University School of Theology. “We’re trying to find a future that will be less destructive than where we are now.”

Source: Fox News National

An iconic temple central to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith will close for four years for a major renovation to help it withstand earthquakes and be more welcoming to visitors, leaders said Friday.

Authorities are also keeping a careful eye on construction plans after a devastating fire this week at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

The Salt Lake Temple will close Dec. 29 to update the stately granite building and surrounding square, including elements that emphasize the life of Jesus Christ, church President Russell M. Nelson said. “We promise that you will love the results,” he said.

The building and square at the heart of Utah’s capital city is one of the state’s top tourist destinations, though only church members in good standing can go inside the building used for marriages and other religious ceremonies.

When the project is done in 2024, the faith widely known as the Mormon church will host an open house to give outsiders the first glimpse of the temple’s interior in more than a century.

A new visitors’ center and removal of a wall around the square in favor of a fence will also visually open up the flower-lined space to visitors walking by.

“We want to them to think of Salt Lake just as easily as they think of Jerusalem or The Vatican as a place where Christianity really has its heart,” Bishop Dean M. Davies said.

The work that will bring scaffolding, cranes and occasional road closures to downtown Salt Lake City also carries increased fire risk. Authorities are taking extra caution in light of the damage to Norte Dame by crafting a plan that includes a 24-hour fire watch, limiting welding and grinding to certain areas, and plenty of fire extinguishers.

Investigators are still determining the exact cause of the fire at Notre Dame, which was under renovation when the blaze started on Monday.

The Salt Lake Temple’s earthquake-mitigation project will be a major undertaking, and involve excavating underneath the temple to install a base-isolation system that will prevent damage by largely decoupling the building from the earth.

The area sees seismic activity, including a series of small quakes that have occurred in recent months. Plans for this project, though, stretch back more than a decade.

Much of the square will remain open during the construction, including the building where the faith’s famed Tabernacle Choir sings.

In a nod to the 16-million-member church’s increasingly global membership, the project will also allow the temple to serve people in over 86 languages, rather than only English.

Leaders declined to say how much the project will cost.

Temples aren’t used for regular Sunday services, but thousands of church members visit every year. It is one of the most popular destinations for weddings. While it’s closed, local members will go to a number of other nearby Utah temples.

After it reopens, changes will include a return to a more colorful Victorian-era palette rather than the mostly white style adopted during another extensive renovation in the 1960s.

The faith’s temples have rooms where couples are “sealed” in marriage, chambers for ceremonies on theology and morality and celestial rooms used for prayer and reflection.

They also have ornate baptismal fonts designed for use in ceremonies to baptize dead relatives, though there’s been occasional controversy over members posthumously baptizing public figures against church policy. The faith teaches proxy baptisms give the deceased the choice to join the faith in the afterlife.

New temples are typically open to the public for a brief time before being dedicated, after which they’re reserved for members only.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said the renovation will likely bring more congestion downtown, but he’s hoping curious tourists will keep visiting during construction.

“People think of The Church of Jesus Latter-day Saints and most people think of this temple,” said Herbert, who is a member of the faith. The renovation “shows the vitality of Salt Lake City. We’re not closing things down. We’re expanding and growing.”

Source: Fox News National

A minister at a secretive church in North Carolina has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ordered to pay $466,960 in restitution for his role in an unemployment fraud scheme involving businesses owned by members of the congregation.

Kent Covington, a minister at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Asheville in June 2018. He pleaded guilty to the charge in September. The conspiracy charge carried a possible maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

“I’ve come here to admit what I’ve done is wrong,” Covington told U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger before he was sentenced.

But U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger said Covington showed a “cynical disregard for the law.” He noted that the scheme happened at a time when the state agency that handles unemployment had to borrow money during the recession.

“It undermined the entire employment security structure of the state. It was sort of like picking the pocket of a dying man,” Reidinger said.

The sentencing is the latest development in the investigation by The Associated Press that, beginning in 2017, documented claims of physical and emotional abuse at the church. AP also reported that authorities were looking into the unemployment claims of congregants and their businesses.

Prosecutors say Covington and his employee, Dianne McKinny, laid off employees at one of Covington’s businesses so they could collect unemployment benefits in 2008 when the company was struggling financially. But the employees continued to work at the company, Diverse Corporate Technologies, with the unemployment checks replacing their salaries. They later put the scheme into place at Covington’s other business, Integrity Marble & Granite. Covington then implemented a variation of the scheme at Sky Catcher Communications Inc., a company he managed, prosecutors say.

McKinny has pleaded not guilty. She is scheduled for trial May 6. In addition to conspiracy, McKinny is charged in a subsequent indictment with lying to federal agents.

Besides Covington and McKinny, two others were charged in the federal investigation. Dr. Jerry Gross, a podiatrist, and his son, Jason Gross, were sentenced last week to three years on probation and jointly ordered to pay restitution of $162,276 after admitting to fraud at a podiatry clinic in Forest City, North Carolina. Both are listed as ministers on the church website.

Jane Whaley, the church’s leader, has not been charged, but she was named in a court document as someone who “promoted” the scheme. The church has hundreds of members in Spindale, North Carolina, and a few thousand in churches in Brazil and Ghana.

Former members said Whaley called it “God’s plan” to help the businesses survive the economic downturn and keep money coming into the church.

Covington’s lawyer, Stephen Cash, has said that while Covington pleaded guilty, it was not an “admission that Jane Whaley instructed him to act.”

Whaley’s attorney, Noell Tin, has said Whaley “strongly denies any insinuation that she was somehow involved in Mr. Covington’s offense, as does Mr. Covington.”

Nearly 100 Word of Faith members packed Reidinger’s courtroom. The judge said many members of the community sent letters supporting Covington. Between the letters and the crowd of well-dressed church members filling the rows in court, the judge wondered what happened to Covington.

“This is a case that just baffles me. I’ve seen hundreds of cases and I think I have a pretty good grasp of the psychological pathology that underpins these cases. This one I don’t understand,” he said. But he said one thing was clear: He “needed to send a message to the community as a whole: You can’t do things like that. You can’t use any kind of government program as a personal piggy bank.”

The scheme resulted in more than $250,000 in fraudulent claims between November 2008 and March 2013, according to the original indictment.

In February 2017, the AP cited 43 former members who said congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to beat out devils. The AP also revealed how, over the course of two decades, followers were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.

AP later outlined how the church created a pipeline of young laborers from its two Brazilian congregations who say they were brought to the U.S. and forced to work for little or no pay at businesses owned by church leaders.

Covington is described by former congregants as the highest-ranking member of the church to be charged in the unemployment case. His wife, Brooke Covington, is one of Whaley’s most trusted confidants.

Brooke Covington is facing unrelated state charges that she and other members of the church assaulted a congregant in 2013 in an effort to expel his “homosexual demons.”

___

Read more of AP’s Broken Faith series here .

___

Mohr contributed from Jackson, Mississippi.

Source: Fox News National

A social media effort has propelled a GoFundMe campaign toward an ambitious goal to rebuild three historically black churches in Louisiana that suffered devastating fires that investigators have since concluded were hate crimes.

On April 10, the Seventh District Baptist Association set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1.8 million for St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church after they were set on fire allegedly by suspect Holden Matthews.

Inspired by the grand fundraising that took place for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the world watched the iconic house of worship burn, journalist Yashar Ali put a spotlight on the Seventh District Baptist Association’s crowdsourcing effort and urged his followers to donate and match his $1,000 pledge.

Throughout the day, Ali kept updating his followers as thousands of donations poured in to the GoFundMe page. Ali noted that when he first urged his followers to donate, the association had raised roughly $159,000. Since then, they’ve raised over $1.5 million. Ali later updated that over $1.3 million was raised in a 31-hour period.

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The campaign caught the attention of big-name donors, including conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, CNN anchor Jake Tapper, “Late Night” host Seth Meyers, former Obama official Valerie Jarrett, and actresses Patricia Arquette, Susan Sarandon, Mandy Moore and Busy Philipps. Former NFL player and Louisiana native Benjamin Watson previously had put a spotlight on the GoFundMe campaign and has renewed his efforts amid the massive social media push.

Matthews, 21, has been charged with arson and hate crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News National

The crowdfunding campaign to raise money for three African American churches gutted by arson in Louisiana began a week ago, but donations surged after flames engulfed the roof of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the outcry provoked a conversation about the disparate reactions to the tragedies.

Nearly $1 billion had been pledged to the Notre Dame rebuilding effort within hours of Monday’s blaze. The massive attention focused on the French landmark prompted Megan Romer to take note and tweet: “My heart is broken over the loss of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church is also one of the world’s wealthiest entities. If you are going to donate money to rebuild a church this week, I implore you to make it the black churches in St. Landry Parish.”

GoFundMe spokeswoman Aja Shepherd confirmed in an email that giving to the destroyed Louisiana churches increased Tuesday after Romer’s tweet and a challenge from freelance journalist Yashar Ali to his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers.

Other online reminders of the black churches’ plight followed, including this Tuesday tweet from Hillary Clinton: “As we hold Paris in our hearts today, let’s also send some love to our neighbors in Louisiana.”

Donations that totaled about $300,000 nearly a week into the campaign surged to $1.5 million by Wednesday night. The money is to be distributed equally among the three century-old churches to help them recover from the fires intentionally set from March 26 to April 4. White suspect Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged with arson and hate crimes.

Among the calls for more giving to the black churches, there was concern that they were already being forgotten as flames leapt from the roof of Notre Dame.

“It’s terrible what happened to Notre Dame. … But, 3 black churches in LA were purposely burnt down b/c of hate. Let’s not forget to be even more outraged about that,” Twitter user Joe Boyd wrote.

Native American Terrell Johnson, a 19-year-old Columbia University student and member of the Assiniboine Tribe, wondered: “Why are we not as worried about these sites being hurt that are historic to our minority groups, rather than majority groups?”

“It shows how little we are valued. These black churches, the mosque, Native American sites, they are not as valued as Catholicism or Christianity in that aspect, and it’s frustrating,” Johnson said in a Wednesday interview.

But journalist Thomas Chatterton Williams, in a series of tweets, took issue with the notion that concern about Notre Dame could be boiled down to a matter of race.

“It’s a tragedy when black churches + mosques are bombed, burned or vandalized, but of course the world pays more attention to an 800-year-old architectural masterpiece in the heart of a city everyone visits! That’s not white supremacy, and nonwhites who love Paris aren’t dupes,” he wrote.

The Rev. Roderick Greer of St. John’s Cathedral, an Episcopal place of worship in Denver, acknowledges that Notre Dame has higher visibility as a cultural, artistic and religious landmark than the three rural church buildings in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish.

Still, in a Wednesday interview, he questioned whether white Americans would pay as much attention even if the fire happened at high-profile black churches, such as Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta or Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church.

“Even if Mother Emmanuel or Ebenezer or 16th Street Baptist Church went up in flames, do white Americans, in particular, have the same emotional and visceral connections that they have to Notre Dame, which is on another continent?” said Greer. “That’s such a telling commentary on the white American imagination that support for black churches lost to arson surged only in the wake of a historic European cathedral fire.”

The Rev. Mason Jack, an officer with the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, which includes the burned churches, said Wednesday he was grateful for the surge in donations. He acknowledged that the Notre Dame fire raised consciousness about the Louisiana fires but downplayed any concerns that black churches were being overshadowed or forgotten.

He said publicity surrounding all of the fires helped increase awareness of the need in Louisiana. “Maybe, for some, it was an awakening for them to bring healing and restoration,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this story.

Source: Fox News National


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