Christa Brown writes about the case of Robert Dando:
- Dando was very closely connected to the highest levels of Baptists’ worldwide leadership. He previously served as executive assistant to the president of the Baptist World Alliance. This was a guy who ran with the big dogs.
- Dando “was embroiled in another child sex abuse scandal when he was a minister at Orchard Baptist Fellowship” in the United Kingdom. In 2001, when the leader of the church, Dr. Anthony Gray, was convicted of serious sex offenses against a 14-year-old boy, Dando said this: “All our youth work is carried out within proper guidelines.” Yet, we now know that Dando too was sexually abusing kids, and had been since at least as far back as 1995. (Do these guys run in packs?)
- At the time of his arrest, Dando was the prominent senior minister of Worcester Park Baptist Church in suburban London.
- Dando pled guilty to repeatedly abusing 2 boys in Virginia, starting when they were 7 and 8 years old. Virginia prosecutors said that, under questioning, Dando also admitted to sexually abusing boys in the United Kingdom.
- Dando had plenty of access to kids. His wife was a national vice-president of the Boys’ Brigade, a Christian youth organization with more than 500,000 members in 60 countries. Dando also worked for a children’s charity in India.
- Dando previously worked as a magistrate on a family court panel, which dealt with child care and child access proceedings.
Update: Dando target of UK investigation
Claire Fox of the Guardian writes:
A Baptist minister who admitted abusing children in the US faces a British police investigation after confessing to similar offences.
Reverend Robert Dando, 46, a senior minister at Worcester Park Baptist Church, pleaded guilty in Fairfax, Virginia, to four counts of sexually molesting the two young sons of family friends.
Dando sexually abused the boys between 1995 and 1999, from the ages of seven and eight.
Officials told Fairfax County Circuit Court one of the victims said Dando molested him by touching his genitals on 50 to 60 different occasions.
Fairfax County prosecutors have also revealed Dando admitted under questioning to touching young boys in the United Kingdom in a similar way.
Oops is in a way how FBC Jax Watchdog was robbed of his anonymity.
Although some evidence pertaining to the involvement of State Attorney Angela Corey was somehow inadvertently destroyed.
Really, and that destruction is cited as part of an argument against deposing Corey as part of the proceedings.
A Florida federal district court refused this week to dismiss the claim by blogger Tom Rich (FBC Jax Watchdog) that Assistant Fla. State Attorney Stephen Siegel violated Rich’s right to speak anonymously, and trampled on the Establishment Clause because defendants had no secular purpose for their actions.
The lawsuit alleges Siegel issued subpoenas that helped Jacksonville police officer Robert Hinson — who was a member of First Baptist Church of Jacksonvilla, Fla. — identify Rich when there was no evidence of criminal activity.
Dismissed in the same action were civil claims against State Attorney Angela Corey for her office’s role.
Rich’s claims against the police officer and against First Baptist were unaffected because they weren’t involved in this motion to dismiss.
Emerging standards for unmasking anonymous bloggers were certainly not met in Rich’s case.
To prevail in this instance, Rich must now prove the violations he alleges. But even at this juncture, the case is a caution for those who would twist legal authority to unmask an anonymous blogger without compelling legal justification. Abuse of power has a price.
[H/T: Religion Clause]
Christa wants to sing sleeping Southern Baptist Convention consciences awake to their neglect of trusting Baptist Children.
The arbitrary disregard of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department for Thomas A. Rich’s right to anonymity as the FBC Jax Watchdog blogger could not meet the standards set by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals last Thursday, or of other lower courts which have ruled on similar matters.
FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was stripped away without prior notice in a still unsatisfactorily explained criminal investigation over which no charge was filed and which produced no court action. Although the DC case involved defamation[.pdf], the standards are nonetheless clear.
A subpoena associated with a well-pleaded claim and the opportunity to contest it are required to consider breach of online anonymity:
- Ensure that the plaintiff has adequately pleaded the elements of a defamation claim.
- Require reasonable efforts to notify the anonymous defendant that the complaint has been filed and the subpoena has been served.
- Delay further action for a reasonable time to allow the defendant an opportunity to file a motion to quash.
- Require the plaintiff to proffer evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact on each element of the claim that is within its control.
- Determine that the information sought is important to enable the plaintiff to proceed with his/her lawsuit.
The consensus of the lower courts is that disclosure of an anonymous blogger’s identity requires painstaking court consideration. Lack of that is not excused by the dismissive statement[.pdf] of the Jacksonville, Fla., Sheriff John Rutherford.
The court also perceived the danger of relying on procedural labels like “prima facie” and “summary judgment” and distilled the most important common feature of the competing tests in this area — that a plaintiff must make at least a substantial legal and factual showing that his/her claim has merit before a court will unmask an anonymous or pseudonymous Internet speaker.
As The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained, the D.C. court “noted that states vary widely in what test a defamation plaintiff must meet before it can compel a third party to turn over the identity of an anonymous speaker. Virginia, for example, ‘requires only that the court be convinced that the party seeking the subpoena has a legitimate, good faith basis’ for its claims. But the D.C. court ruled that this lax test
‘may needlessly strip defendants of anonymity in situations where there is no substantial evidence of wrongdoing, effectively giving little or no First Amendment protection to that anonymity.’ “
When anyone’s First Amendment protection is trampled, we are all harmed.
FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was silently demolished by an unsatisfactorily explained and, from the point of view of the blogger, secret criminal investigation.
Anonymous blogs permit the relatively powerless to speak what they believe is truth, to power. Sometimes the power is a church, as we see in the confrontation between First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. and FBC Jax Watchdog, and risk still attends attempting to say to power things it would prefer not to hear.
The unmasking of Thomas A. Rich as Watchdog, detailed in Florida Times-Union, closely resembles the July attempt by the Bronx (N.Y.) District Attorney to use a grand jury subpoena to unmask and silence critical anonymous bloggers and commenters on the NYC political blog site called Room 8. With the help of Public Citizen, Room 8 successfully resisted disclosure.
We do not know how Google responded to the subpoena it received. Not only does Google have an official policy of not commenting on subpoenas or other legal processes, but also, subpoenas associated with criminal investigations are typically attended by gag orders (Room 8 responded by threatening the Bronx DA’s office with a countersuit). Nor has Watchdog thus far been able to obtain a copy of a subpoena he believes Comcast honored.
We do know that no wrongdoing was found, yet the investigating Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department officer apparently chose to breach the blogger’s anonymity by disclosing his identity to FBC Jax. We also know that Thomas A. Rich’s life was disrupted as a result. He was denied access to his (now) former church, publicly excoriated in an official church action and this week was described as a “sociopath” by the pastor who has been the principal subject of his blogging.
We don’t know in persuasive detail what criminal allegations were believed to justify that intrusion of police power into Rich’s life and the lives of two other bloggers. As a result, whether those allegations can withstand the light of day is an open question. Serious issues of conflict of interest (the investigating officer is an FBC Jacksonville member and apparently among those who provide security there) and as a result abuse of power, have been raised by the association of the detective’s investigation with attempts to silence the then anonymous blogger.
Such issues are typically best resolved by full disclosure, for this has become in considerable part a debate over public policy, and specifically over whether the force of law was properly applied. Given the issue’s visibility, the local and state public officials involved must tell truth and trust the people, or absent a thoroughly compelling explanation for silence, find themselves indicted by the appearance of concealment.
If the purpose of the investigation and disclosure was to end Watchdog’s commentary on matters of general interest to his audience, it failed and those who applied the pressure have put themselves in the fire.
Holocaust deniers like Williamson will find no sympathetic ear or place of refuge in the Catholic Church, of which he is not — and may never become — a member.
Mark Silk at SpiritualPolitics observes:
Without criticizing the pope, [Mahony has] seized on Williamson’s Holocaust foot-dragging to take the next step and send him back into outer darkness. It will be interesting to see if any of his peers follow his lead.
Most importantly, what plans does the Pope Benedict XVI have now?
A rapidly growing percentage of churches are sliding into economic difficulty, say the results of a February survey by the National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA).
Church mission activity cutbacks have more than doubled in the past six months, keeping pace with other economy-related financial difficulties, found the NACBA survey of 800 churches in the U.S. and Canada.
The percent curtailing mission activities more than doubled from 10% in August, 2008, to 24% in February, 2009. So did the percent who said “their church was definitely having economy-related financial difficulties,” which more than doubled from 14% in August to 32% in February.
Fully 47% said staff benefits had been frozen or cut at their church, which was more than double the 18% reported in August.
Similarly, “20 percent said they had staff layoffs, and 26 percent reported postponing a major capital project.”
Despite those cautionary numbers, most churches are apparently still is good shape. In response to questions on the same survey, 63 percent “said their church saw giving stay the same or climb in 2008 over the previous year. “
“I think we are starting to see more pain felt — although nothing like in the private sector,” NACBA deputy chief executive and a veteran Baptist church administrator Phil Martin told the Associated Baptist Press. He noted that regional economic differences are having an impact on how churches fare from region to region.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced last week that starting March 1, it would cut spending by 20 percent, cut partner funding by 30 percent, cut staff salaries by one percent and implement other cutbacks in anticipation of “worst-case” economic outcomes.
In Sioux City, Iowa, the economy forced 120-year-old Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to close its doors. The church held its final service Sunday, with a special luncheon afterward.
Sundaythe Rev. Deb Kociban’s at First United Methodist Church in McKeesport, Penn., prayed, “We are anxious, Lord. Help us to set aside the things that are bothering us.”
The Pittsburg Tribune-Review wrote:
One by one, congregants raised their hands when she asked if they knew someone in need of individual prayer because of illness, family struggles, lost jobs or other difficulties.
Tony Cartledge found in it all, as those of Christian faith often do, hope:
Successful dieters rejoice when they can tighten their belts and exercise longer. Perhaps some serious revisiting of vision and resources can lead churches and organizations to develop leaner, broader based, and more effective ministries.
Perhaps many of us who survive will do that personally as well.