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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

A major faith-based foster care and adoption contractor for the state of Michigan said Monday it will place children in LGBT homes, reversing course following a recent legal settlement.

Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services is responsible for about 8% of Michigan’s more than 13,000 foster care and adoption cases involving children from troubled households.

“We are disappointed with how this settlement agreement has been implemented by the state government. Nonetheless, Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements,” the nonprofit said in a statement, confirming a policy change that was first reported by WGVU-FM.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, announced the settlement last month with same-sex couples who had sued in 2017. It prevents faith-based agencies from refusing to place children in LGBT households for religious reasons if it has accepted them for referral from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities challenged the deal in federal court last week, alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Of the faith-based agencies known to not serve LGBT couples or individuals in Michigan, Bethany does the most work for the state. The nonprofit was handling 1,159 cases as of February. Catholic Charities had 404 cases, or 3%, while St. Vincent had 80, or less than 1%.

State human services department spokesman Bob Wheaton said the agency was pleased it will “be able to continue its long-standing partnership with Bethany in providing services to children and families.”

Nessel tweeted over the weekend that having more adoption agencies not discriminate results in “more children adopted into loving, nurturing ‘forever’ homes. Thank you to Bethany Christian Services.”

As a private attorney, Nessel — who is a lesbian — successfully fought to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.

On April 11, Bethany’s national board of directors voted to change the policy. It applies only in Michigan, not to its operations in other states. The policy change also does not impact private adoptions, according to Bethany.

A 2015 Republican-enacted law says child-placement agencies are not required to provide any services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. But Nessel’s settlement says the law does not apply if agencies are under contract with the state.

In its lawsuit , St. Vincent said it fears the state will not renew its contract in October because of the local nonprofit’s religious beliefs and practices.

“If St. Vincent is unable to receive referrals from or contract with the State, it will be forced to close its foster care and adoption programs, ending a decades-old religious ministry and reducing the number of agencies available to serve families and children in need,” the agency said in the complaint.

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Source: Fox News National

A major faith-based foster care and adoption contractor for the state of Michigan is reversing its policy and will place children with same-sex couples to comply with a legal settlement.

Bethany Christian Services and the state confirmed the change Monday.

Bethany Christian Services says while it is “disappointed” with how the settlement has been implemented, it will nonetheless reverse its policy so it continues foster care and adoption work for the state.

As of February, Bethany Christian Services was responsible for 1,159 — or more than 8% — of cases of children under state supervision.

Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s recent settlement prevents faith-based agencies from refusing to put children in LGBT homes for religious reasons. St. Vincent Catholic Charities sued last week to challenge the deal.

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

The United Methodist Church may break up over differences on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT pastors.

The differences have been simmering for years, and came to a head in late February at a crucial conference in St. Louis. At the meeting, delegates approved a plan strengthening bans on LGBT-inclusive practices.

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.

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 said they 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,” said Bishop Dean M. Davies.

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 some 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.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said the project will likely bring more congestion downtown, but he’s hoping 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 minster 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.

In court filings, prosecutors had recommended a sentence between 57 and 71 months for Covington.

“The unemployment insurance system was his piggy bank, there for his convenience, and he raided it when he felt the need,” prosecutors wrote.

The development follows an 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, decided to lay 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.

U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger said that Covington had shown a “cynical disregard to the law” and he wanted to send a message to the community. The judge noted that the unemployment scheme happened at a time when the state had to borrow money during the recession.

The judge said Covington’s actions “undermine the entire unemployment security structure of the state. … It’s sort of like picking the pocket of a dying man.”

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.

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.”

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

The unemployment allegations were uncovered as part of the AP’s investigation into Word of Faith, which had about 750 congregants in rural North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 members in its branches in Brazil and Ghana and its affiliations in other countries.

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.

Most employees were members of the Word of Faith Fellowship. Prosecutors said Covington used his leadership position in the church to force them to comply.

Covington spent eight months in a North Carolina prison in 1974 for breaking and entering, as well as larceny, and later joined the church.

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 an effort to expel his “homosexual demons.”

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Read more of AP’s Broken Faith series here .

___

Mohr contributed from Jackson, Mississippi.

Source: Fox News National

As thousands of Stop & Shop workers remain on strike in New England, some Jewish families are preparing for Passover without the region’s largest supermarket chain, which has deep roots in the local Jewish community.

A number of rabbis in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been advising their congregations not to cross picket lines to buy Jewish holiday essentials at the store that one analyst says has the highest sales of kosher products among New England grocery stores. More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers walked off the job April 11 over what they say is an unfair contract offer, a claim the company disputes.

“The food that you’re buying is the product of oppressed labor and that’s not kosher,” said Rabbi Barbara Penzner, of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, a reconstructionist synagogue in Boston. “Especially during Passover, when we’re celebrating freedom from slavery, that’s particularly egregious.”

Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, a conservative synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, cited ancient Jewish law prohibiting artisans from taking the livelihood of fellow artisans.

Tilsen said that ban is akin to the use of replacement workers by companies during labor strikes, which Stop & Shop has employed. “I am not making any judgment about the current strike,” he stressed. “I am stating that we, local Jews, must respect the workers’ action.”

But at Temple Shalom, a reform synagogue in the Boston suburb of Newton, Rabbis Allison Berry and Laura Abrasley said it’s ultimately a personal decision, though one they suggest should be framed within the American Jewish community’s long history of supporting organized labor.

“Jewish law is interpreted in different ways,” they said via email. “We encourage our members to celebrate the upcoming holiday in a manner that honors both the Jewish value of freedom and workers’ dignity.”

Penzner and other rabbis acknowledge their call to avoid the ubiquitous grocer can be challenging for some, especially in more remote communities where Stop & Shop is the most affordable — and sometime the only — place Jews can get matzo meal, for making matzo balls, gefilte fish, coconut macaroons and more for Passover Seder.

New Haven resident Rachel Bashevkin said she stocked up on Passover essentials before the strike. And for anything else, she won’t be turning to Stop & Shop, which she said stocks harder to find items that make the meal extra special, like specialty baked goods, desserts, sweets and teas.

“The message of Passover is to me totally (that) you don’t celebrate your holiday at the expense of other people,” she told the New Haven Register earlier this week.

The dilemma isn’t unique to Jews, either.

Rev. Laura Goodwin, of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, in Sutton, Massachusetts, said she had ordered the church’s Easter flower arrangements from the nearby Stop & Shop weeks ago. But when it became clear the strike wasn’t going to end before the holiday, she scrambled to purchase enough tulips, hyacinths and daffodils from other stores.

“I just personally wasn’t comfortable crossing the picket line,” Goodwin said. “Flowers are nice, but they’re not as important as people’s livelihood.”

The religious protests could have significant consequences for the bottom line of the Quincy, Massachusetts-based chain, said Burt Flickinger, a grocery industry analyst for the Strategic Research Group, a New York-based retail consulting firm.

Stop & Shop, which operates about 400 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey, is owned by the Dutch supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize but was founded in the 1900s by a Boston Jewish family whose descendants remain major philanthropists and civic leaders in New England.

Flickinger estimates the company has been losing about $2 million a day since the strike started, a financial hit that will only magnify in the coming days. Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter typically represent about 3% of the company’s annual sales.

“They’ll see big inventory loses, especially on profitable products like produce, flowers, meat and seafood that will go unsold,” he said, projecting the losses for the company could be as much as $20 million for the time period.

Flickinger said competitors are already reaping the windfall, as can be seen in packed parking lots and long lines at many of Stop & Shop’s regional rivals, including Shaw’s and Market Basket, in recent days. He estimates competitors could see as much as a 20 percent bump in sales during the holiday season with the market leader largely sidelined.

Stop & Shop declined to comment on Flickinger’s projections but apologized to customers for the inconvenience. The company has kept most of its 240 stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut open, but bakery, deli and seafood counters have been shuttered. The company’s New York and New Jersey locations aren’t affected by the strikes.

“We are grateful for members of the Jewish community who rely on our stores for kosher and Passover products,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We’re doing everything we can to minimize disruptions ahead of the holiday.”

Source: Fox News National

As thousands of Stop & Shop workers remain on strike in New England, some Jewish families are preparing for Passover without the region’s largest supermarket chain, which has deep roots in the local Jewish community.

A number of rabbis in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been advising their congregations not to cross picket lines to buy Jewish holiday essentials at the store that one analyst says has the highest sales of kosher products among New England grocery stores. More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers walked off the job April 11 over what they say is an unfair contract offer, a claim the company disputes.

“The food that you’re buying is the product of oppressed labor and that’s not kosher,” said Rabbi Barbara Penzner, of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, a reconstructionist synagogue in Boston. “Especially during Passover, when we’re celebrating freedom from slavery, that’s particularly egregious.”

Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, a conservative synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, cited ancient Jewish law prohibiting artisans from taking the livelihood of fellow artisans.

Tilsen said that ban is akin to the use of replacement workers by companies during labor strikes, which Stop & Shop has employed. “I am not making any judgment about the current strike,” he stressed. “I am stating that we, local Jews, must respect the workers’ action.”

But at Temple Shalom, a reform synagogue in the Boston suburb of Newton, Rabbis Allison Berry and Laura Abrasley said it’s ultimately a personal decision, though one they suggest should be framed within the American Jewish community’s long history of supporting organized labor.

“Jewish law is interpreted in different ways,” they said via email. “We encourage our members to celebrate the upcoming holiday in a manner that honors both the Jewish value of freedom and workers’ dignity.”

Penzner and other rabbis acknowledge their call to avoid the ubiquitous grocer can be challenging for some, especially in more remote communities where Stop & Shop is the most affordable — and sometime the only — kosher food supplier for miles.

New haven resident Rachel Bashevkin said she stocked up on Passover essentials before the strike. And for anything else, she won’t be turning to Stop & Shop, which she said stocks harder to find items that make the Passover Seder extra special, like specialty baked goods, desserts, sweets and teas.

“The message of Passover is to me totally (that) you don’t celebrate your holiday at the expense of other people,” she told the New Haven Register earlier this week.

The dilemma isn’t unique to Jews, either.

Rev. Laura Goodwin, of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, in Sutton, Massachusetts, said she had ordered the church’s Easter flower arrangements from the nearby Stop & Shop weeks ago. But when it became clear the strike wasn’t going to end before the holiday, she scrambled to purchase enough tulips, hyacinths and daffodils from other stores.

“I just personally wasn’t comfortable crossing the picket line,” Goodwin said. “Flowers are nice, but they’re not as important as people’s livelihood.”

The religious protests could have significant consequences for the bottom line of the Quincy, Massachusetts-based chain, said Burt Flickinger, a grocery industry analyst for the Strategic Research Group, a New York-based retail consulting firm.

Stop & Shop, which operates about 400 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey, is owned by the Dutch supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize but was founded in the 1900s by a Boston Jewish family whose descendants remain major philanthropists and civic leaders in New England.

Flickinger estimates the company has been losing about $2 million a day since the strike started, a financial hit that will only magnify in the coming days. Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter typically represent about 3% of the company’s annual sales.

“They’ll see big inventory loses, especially on profitable products like produce, flowers, meat and seafood that will go unsold,” he said, projecting the losses for the company could be as much as $20 million for the time period.

Flickinger said competitors are already reaping the windfall, as can be seen in packed parking lots and long lines at many of Stop & Shop’s regional rivals, including Shaw’s and Market Basket, in recent days. He estimates competitors could see as much as a 20 percent bump in sales during the holiday season with the market leader largely sidelined.

Stop & Shop declined to comment on Flickinger’s projections but apologized to customers for the inconvenience. The company has kept most of its 240 stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut open, but bakery, deli and seafood counters have been shuttered. The company’s New York and New Jersey locations aren’t affected by the strikes.

“We are grateful for members of the Jewish community who rely on our stores for kosher and Passover products,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We’re doing everything we can to minimize disruptions ahead of the holiday.”

Source: Fox News National

A crowdfunding drive to help rebuild three African American churches gutted by arson fires in Louisiana has surpassed its original $1.8 million goal.

A spokeswoman for GoFundMe says in a Thursday email that people in all 50 states and around the world have made more than 35,000 donations. Donations totaled more than $1.97 million as of Thursday afternoon.

The money is to be distributed equally among the three century-old St. Landry Parish churches: St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

Fundraising surged after Monday’s Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, as social media commenters urged people not to forget the plight of the black churches.

A 21-year-old white man, Holden Matthews, was arrested in connection with the fires.

Source: Fox News National


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