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(Updated) Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest John Sweeney Accused of Forcing Child to Give Him a Blow Job

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The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

John Sweeney, a Roman Catholic priest, stands accused of forcing a ten-year-old boy to give him a blow job.

CT reports:

A now-retired Roman Catholic priest is accused of forcing a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy to perform oral sex on him after counseling the 4th-grader about misbehaving on a school bus.

The state attorney general’s office said Monday that the Rev. John Thomas Sweeney committed felony involuntary deviate sexual intercourse against the boy at St. Margaret Mary Elementary School in Lower Burrell.

Prosecutors say the alleged assault occurred during the 1991-92 school year, and that the boy was given milk and cookies afterward.

The Greensburg Diocese says the 74-year-old Sweeney was removed as pastor of Holy Family Parish in West Newton in 2016 after church officials learned of the allegation.

Court and diocese officials were unable to identify a defense lawyer for Sweeney. Sweeney made no comment to reporters when he turned himself in.

Sweeney continued in ministry as a priest for approximately 16 years after abusing the victim and was in contact with children on a regular basis.


Action News-4 adds:

The alleged assault happened in a conference room next to Sweeney’s office after the fourth-grader was sent to Sweeney for discipline because he had been disruptive on a school bus, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

“After Sweeney finished sexually assaulting the 10-year-old boy, Sweeney’s parish secretary brought the boy milk and cookies,” Shapiro said.

The alleged victim now serves in the U.S. Coast Guard. Shapiro commended him for coming forward with his allegation.

“This courageous young man found his voice, and brought that voice before the grand jury. Now our job is to follow through,” Shapiro said.

Citing the ongoing investigation, the diocese declined to comment on Sweeney’s arrest.

In addition to Lower Burrell, Sweeney’s parish assignments between 1970 and 2008 included Holy Family in Latrobe, Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, Saint Hedwig in Smock, Saint Mary in Freeport, Saint James in Apollo and Holy Family in West Newton.

His arrest is part of “a broader investigation into sexual abuse by priests,” said Shapiro, who asked the public for more help to identify alleged abusers and their victims.


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on December 21, 2018:

A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to 11½ months to five years in prison Friday morning after pleading guilty in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the early 1990s.

The Rev. John T. Sweeney, a Roman Catholic priest with the Diocese of Greensburg, was given the maximum allowable sentence by Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.

“You perpetrated a horrific act on a 10-year-old boy,” Judge Bilik-DeFazio told the priest at the sentencing.


Sweeney, 76, had admitted to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy during the 1991-92 school year. He was a pastor at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell at the time.

He pleaded guilty in August to indecent assault on a minor under 14 years old. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, which was pleaded down from a previous felony charge.

After sentencing, Sweeney was handcuffed behind his back and escorted out of the courtroom by officers for immediate incarceration.

Lower Burrell police started the investigation of Sweeney after receiving an anonymous report and then one from a U.S. marshal who identified himself as a relative of the victim. The police referred the case to a statewide grand jury.

According to the criminal complaint, the school principal sent the boy to see Sweeney due to misbehavior on a school bus. The priest forced the victim to give him oral sex, warning the boy that he would be in trouble if he didn’t comply, according to the criminal complaint.

Judge Bilik-DeFazio issued her sentence after hearing the victim’s brother give statements on his own and his brother’s behalf, describing the devastation of the assault.


The judge was unmoved by Sweeney’s own apology and plea for leniency, and by similar appeals by two longtime friends, including a retired judge who said Sweeney had otherwise been a “perfect priest.”

“It certainly sounds to me, Mr. Sweeney, that you have had a very positive impact on many lives,” the judge said. But that didn’t mitigate his devastating impact on another life, she said.

“You, sir, abused your authority” and “your position of trust,” she said.  “A 10-year-old boy was punished for misbehaving in school in such a horrific way.”

“You have walked this earth the last 27 years in full liberty,” Judge Bilik-DeFazio said in bringing that freedom to an end for a while.

The fact that he got away with it for so long left the judge unmoved by Sweeney’s claims to be suffering from ailments of old age, including cataracts and digestive problems.

Engineering, Science, Depression, Deconversion

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Guest by Karen the Rock Whisperer

This is a personal story.

At nearly 62 years old, I’m an agnostic atheist (and a secular humanist). I don’t actually know that there are no deities. However, I don’t know of any real evidence for a deity. I can’t believe in someone(s) who supposedly affects the workings of the real world, and yet leaves no trail of evidence that meets the scientific standard. God, by whatever name(s), is so important to most of the human occupants of our planet, that I can’t believe such evidence wouldn’t make it into a paper in a top-tier journal like Science or Nature. I have specific problems with the Christian understanding of God, but those only become relevant when real evidence of that deity, or any deity, is established. This hasn’t happened.

What I can believe in, because modern psychology documents it and I’ve personally experienced it, is the ability of the human mind to acquire and persist in all kinds of beliefs that have no external justification. I spent the first three decades of my life being absolutely convinced that I am worthless, completely lacking in value to anyone, and a total waste of resources. I maintained this belief in the face of K-12 and university grades that said I was a good to very good student, the love and affection of a man who would become my husband, a sterling work record with regular promotions, and other evidence to the contrary. In my early thirties, my mental health finally deteriorated to the point of near non-functionality, and I had to get help. A prescription for an antidepressant calmed the tsunami waves of hopelessness that washed over me. Therapy, off and on over the last three decades, has helped me learn techniques for redirecting my mind away from the rumination that brings on those waves. The depression dragon that lives in my mind, and whispers to me about what a disgusting waste of good oxygen I am, is still there. I’ve simply learned how to coax her into sleeping most of the time.

I grew up Roman Catholic, in a very conservative, authoritarian household, dogged by undiagnosed depression. I attended Catholic elementary and high schools run by an order of very liberal nuns. If my parents had learned about the feminist environment of my schools or the nearly humanist liberalism of my nuns, there would have been explosions of volcanic proportions, but I wasn’t telling. (Those nuns planted the seeds of my current secular humanism.) My doubts about the veracity of my church’s teachings began in high school. One issue was that, although I prayed often and intently, I never felt any connection to a god in my prayers. It really felt like I was talking to the ceiling. Another was that Catholic theology was starting to not make rational sense, and having things make sense was becoming more and more important to me.

I went off to college to study engineering, and then married a classmate who came from an Evangelical background. Together we attended an Evangelical church for a few years before abandoning churchgoing entirely. Overall, that church was a painful experience for me, because the Evangelical emphasis on the worthlessness of humans fed my depression. It also baffled me as I gradually realized that my fellow church members actually believed in Biblical inerrancy. I knew enough science to realize that it couldn’t possibly be so.

So, many experiences, many indicators that Christianity was a hodgepodge of questionable beliefs, and I was ready for deconversion, right? Well, no. Depression kept me tied to the theology of human worthlessness. Engineering did the same. The mindset of an engineer is that there is an established body of knowledge, well-codified, and the engineer must design a solution to a technical problem by drawing on that established knowledge. All problems have solutions, though it might take a great deal of creativity to develop some solutions. Engineers live in a world of facts and (hopefully) reasonable extrapolations from those facts. Christianity (like other religions) offers what it declares is an established body of knowledge about God, his relationship with humans, and his demands and expectations. I was having issues with that supposedly established body of knowledge, but for several years I approached the problem as an engineer: clearly, if I was confused, I simply didn’t understand the established body of knowledge well enough.

Then came the WOW experience of the first antidepressant, and the questioning. The dragon in my mind had been telling me all these lies about myself. What other lies were hiding up there? Were my doubts and questions about religion actually justified? I soldiered on, questioning many things I’d considered as intractably true as the laws of physics. It was hard work, I stalled out many times, and struggled to shake the depression and improve my opinion of myself.

Middle age came around. (We never had children.) I’d gotten into the habit of being laid off, because my engineering expertise was in a fiercely contracting subfield. I’d find what seemed like a promising company, to have it miss a market window or not qualify for the last infusion of venture capital, and go bankrupt. It got very tiresome after a while. Then my parents needed extended support, which took me out of the workforce for a few years. I needed to retrain, and my heart wasn’t in it. Meanwhile, a casual interest in geology was becoming an obsession. With support from my wonderful husband, instead of going back to engineering school, I entered a master’s program in geology at our local university.

My geology education was another WOW experience, an extended one, because I discovered the scientific outlook. All knowledge is provisional, and everything is questionable. Scientific theories are established by not only their ability to explain real-world phenomena, but their ability to predict future phenomena. I acquired the ability to question everything I thought I knew. I lost the engineering mindset of seeing life as full of problems to be solved using a body of codified knowledge. Instead, I embraced the scientific mindset of seeing life as an adventure of discovery, where I was required to keep challenging my own understanding.

I became disabled and have never been able to work as a geologist (long story, not germane here). But the gift of that scientific education is the ability to truly examine my beliefs, disconnect them from all the oppressive ‘shoulds’ of my upbringing and the depression dragon in the back of my mind, and decide on their validity based on what I know about reality. And so, today, I can stand up and call myself an agnostic atheist, free of residual fears and doubts, because I have a good (and improving!) toolkit for evaluating the stuff in my own mind. Not that I’ve reached some pinnacle of self-knowledge, or that the depression dragon doesn’t still have some good days. I’m a work in progress. But instead of a default mental state of struggling and stalling, my default state is now up and flying.

I have discovered true freedom.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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The Ministry I Didn’t Pursue

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A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In my youth, I didn’t make many good decisions. Two of the good ones, though, came during my service as an Army Reservist.   

The first came after my first session on the shooting range. I managed, somehow, not to miss the target.  The instructor called me aside. I expected a reprimand, or worse.  

“Have you ever handled a weapon before?”

“No, sir!”

He said he was going to recommend me to someone whose name I didn’t catch. Turns out, he was involved with sniper training. Would I be interested?

In the Army, and in most of the world’s armed forces, snipers are given, if not privileges, then at least a wider berth than other soldiers. Seen, rightly, as eccentrics–most are more introverted,and many have more artistic impulses than others in uniform—snipers are treated with a combination of fear and awe.  

I declined, with a combination of my limited social skills and the little military etiquette I’d learned up to that point.  I feared that the man who made the offer and my unit commander could make me miserable, but I feared more the fate of too many snipers: they die at the hands of other snipers. Much to my relief, my refusal didn’t seem to have any effect on my experience in uniform.

The second good decision came regarding something not as potentially life-altering or -ending. When I mentioned that I was interested in returning to school, my commander said he could recommend me for the chaplaincy. Years later, I realized he was basing his offer on, ironically, the same qualities (aside from my ability to shoot) that might’ve made me a good sniper: my introversion and intuition, or at least the fact that I was (and am) quieter and less exuberant than the other young recruits.

Although the Army listed my religious preference as “Roman Catholic,” mainly because it usually classified its members according to the religion in which they were born or raised, I hadn’t attended mass in a long time. I had become an Evangelical Christian but the flame of my faith—and of any belief in a supreme being—was flickering by that time. For that reason, I passed on the suggestion that I become a military chaplain.

Turns out, although I ultimately made the right choice for me—in part because I had no plans to remain in the military any longer than I needed in order to attain my goals—I’d based my decision on a flawed perception of what chaplains (and, by extension, other clergy members) do, and what makes it effective to the extent that it is. 

What got me thinking about all of that was an interview NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon conducted with David Sparks, who is retiring after more than 40 years of “comforting” service members at Dover Air Force Base as the flag-draped caskets of their loved ones arrive. Interestingly, this retirement will be his second: after retiring as a uniformed chaplain, he returned to that role as a civilian who is a Church of the Nazarene pastor.

He talked about what a “privilege” it was to try to “support” families on what is “ostensibly the worst day of their lives.” He got that last part right: what can be worse than losing a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a friend in a random and possibly senseless incident? But men and women who’ve been in combat—and their loved ones—rarely use words like “privilege” to describe their experience. Some—officers, usually—might talk about “duty” or “honor.” One thing Hemingway, whatever else you might want to say about him, understood very well is that it’s all but impossible to convey the experience of battle to people who haven’t experienced it because when you describe it, you’re speaking an essentially different language from what most people are accustomed to hearing. I will be the first to admit that, as someone who never experienced battle, I will never fully understand someone who has, or who has borne the loss of someone who has.

Reverend Sparks, at least, seems honest enough to make such an admission. That is why, during his interview, he confessed, “there isn’t anything you can say” that “can be of much help.” Truth is, all he or any man or woman of the cloth can offer is to affirm whatever belief or hope the grieving family member may have. He told the story of a woman who wanted to know whether her husband was in heaven.  “What does your faith tell you?” he responded. “She answered her own question,” he recalled.

That story reminded me of why I chose not to become a chaplain: the job is premised on a notion that, I suspect, most people have when they join or are conscripted into the military: God is on our side. While I still had some semblance of belief in something like the God of the Abrahamic religions, I didn’t feel certain that God would always look with favor on everything we, as a fighting unit or nation, did, let alone that what we did would be moral or just. Much later, I would come to see that nations and empires, with few exceptions (most notably Communist countries like the Soviet Union and China, which officially espoused atheism) have always gone to war with the belief that “God (whatever they call him/her/it) is on our side.”  

Of course, today, as an atheist, I do not believe any such thing. It seems to me, though, that it’s all but impossible to send young people off to take the risk of getting maimed or killed—or to convince their parents that it’s a “good” and “honorable” thing to do, let alone a “privilege,” without a belief that they’re doing it for, if not a being, then at least a force or institution, greater than themselves or anything they have imagined—and, the more vague their conception of it, the better Or, at least, whatever they believe in will understand when they do the things they’ve been trained to do, or fall victim to someone who’s trained in the “arts of war.” 

(I am not a fan of Star Wars. I will concede, however, that its writers understand what I’ve described in my previous paragraph.)

One of John Milton’s purposes in writing Paradise Lost was to “justify the ways of God to Man.” William Blake and others said, in essence, that he failed, if spectacularly and beautifully, in that endeavor. What people—like the woman Reverend Sparks mentioned—want from pastors and chaplains is, I believe, the inverse: to justify the ways of people, and those who conscript them into such endeavors, to God or Yahweh or Allah or whatever they call whatever they believe in. How else can they convince themselves that their sacrifices, or those of their loved ones, had purpose and meaning?

What I found most interesting, though, about Scott Simon’s interview with Reverend Sparks is the latter’s tacit admission that what he accomplishes is not achieved through faith or his knowledge of his scripture or theology.  Rather, it is through some basic psychology. For example, he says that he got the woman in his story “to answer her own question.” And, he says, sometimes all he can do is let people tell their stories and those of the loved ones they’ve lost.  

It’s no wonder, then, that today, in all but the most extreme or fundamentalist churches, aspiring clergy members are encouraged to undergo training in psychology, social work, and related fields. Members of church hierarchies might believe that such training makes for a more effective ministry. They are right, if one defines an “effective ministry” as one that serves people in their time of need.  While I don’t know whether Reverend Sparks has an MSW or a degree in clinical psychology, his story illustrates that the techniques one learns from training in such areas—or from life experience—do more to meet the needs of someone who is grieving or otherwise in distress than knowledge of the Bible or theology. (Editor’s note: Chaplain David Sparks holds a Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary.)

Oh, and that’s another reason why I didn’t become a chaplain: I realized, especially after volunteering on a suicide hotline, that if I really wanted to comfort or help someone, there could be absolutely no other agenda—especially a geopolitical or religious one—involved. You might say that an organization that trains people to kill helped me to make at least one good decision in my youth.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Quote of the Day: Was Hitler a Christian?

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Historian Tim O’Neill has published a comprehensive, enlightening article on whether Adolph Hitler was an atheist, Christian, or pagan. Evangelical apologists and atheists alike love to tar the other with claims that Hitler was an atheist or a Christian. As O’Neill makes clear, Hitler was neither. What follows is the conclusion of O’Neill’s article. I hope you will take the time to read the entire article.

Hitler was not an atheist. Exactly how he conceived of the God he believed in is unclear thanks to his often incoherent and contradictory statements on the subject, but he did believe in a God and rejected atheism. Hitler was not a pagan or an occultist. He held some strange ideas, but they tended to be more pseudo scientific than mystical and he was something of sceptic about such things and prided himself on his rationalism. Hitler was not a Christian. He clearly had a conception of Jesus that he admired, but it was based on dubious and often crackpot ideas of Jesus as a man and it was not based on any of the key doctrines of Christianity. Despite Richard Carrier’s tangled attempts, there is no coherent and reasonable way to define Hitler as a Christian in any sense.

The Nazi attitude to Christianity was complex and evolved over time. In the Party’s early years it could not afford to alienate the majority Christian population and so worked hard to make Nazism as compatible with Christianity as possible and to present Hitler as, if not a believer, then not an enemy of Christianity. Once in power this general approach was maintained, though some elements in the Nazi leadership became far more overtly anti-Christian. Himmler, Goebbels and, especially, Bormann were clearly anti-Christian but were restrained for the sake of morale during the War. Most historians agree that Hitler too was largely anti-church, though Steigmann-Gall believes this was a later development. A great deal of evidence indicates that the Nazi elite intended to suppress Christianity as a major threat to Nazi ideology and objectives in the long term

No-one wants Hitler on their team and many want him to belong to “the other side”. As it happens, Hitler’s beliefs on religion as on many things are not neatly categorised. But on the question of “atheist, pagan or Christian?” the only accurate answer is “none of the above.”

— Tim O’Neill, History for Atheists, Hitler: Atheist, Pagan, or Christian? July 14, 2021


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.


Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

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There was once a Catholic priest with an inquiring mind. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was a Jesuit. He also believed that Christian teachings are just part of the answer to the question of what we came from and why — and where we could go. Science is another piece of that puzzle, and it could be joined with faith in philosophy, classical and current. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was French.

The Church authorities weren’t always pleased with his work and, while his books weren’t placed on the Index, some weren’t published during his lifetime. In the meantime, though, the prelates, in France and the Vatican, did whatever they could to detour his scholarly and scientific work. (Perhaps it had something to do with his use of the “E word” to describe human development, intellectually and spiritually as well as physically.) So, he went to China, where he joined a scientific expedition that included a fellow Jesuit.

This French priest would have a hand in what was considered one of the most important scientific discoveries of the time:  Peking Man, the oldest set of remains that were recognizably human found up to that time. Among other things, it indicated that the human race was about a quarter of a million years older than previously thought.

During the last three decades of his life, he would return to France only for visits with family and friends.  He devoted his time to research, which took him to Africa and the United States as well as China.  

So, what got me thinking about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? The discovery of remains of Native Canadian children buried on the grounds of Catholic boarding schools funded by the government — and the priest sex-abuse scandals.

I’ll admit that it’s difficult for me not to think about the latter when I hear about the Roman Catholic Church:  I am one of many who suffered and survived that terrible history.  Although thousands of former altar boys and others who grew up in the Church have come forward during the past few years, we are still only a very small minority of those who endured exploitation by those who were seen as God’s proxies:  Many, many more didn’t live to tell their stories.  

Nor did those Native children who, although they died far too young, endured more and greater indignities than most people.  Those kids were taken away from their families and communities, and the schools’ curricula were aimed to, among other things, deracinate them: Their language, customs, spiritual beliefs, and everything else that formed their identities were taken from them. In doing so, the schools made the young people dependent on a church and culture that never would treat them as equals: In many Native cultures, teachings secular as well as spiritual have, as a purpose, making young people able to live off, and in harmony with, the Earth. But, even in its most benevolent forms, Christianity teaches the exact opposite: that humans have dominion over the mountains, rivers, seas, and the flora and fauna that grow, roam, swim, and fly in them.

I have read many reports about the discovery of those boarding school burial grounds. I also made what some would consider a mistake: I read comments that readers left in response. Some condemned the Canadian government and the Church. A few had ideas about what could or should be done. Then there were those who believed the reputation of the Church was being unfairly besmirched. One commenter wondered, “Why do they have to dig up the past?”

I wonder whether the person who made that comment consciously chose that phrase: “Dig up.” I saw it again on the Facebook page for alumni of my old Catholic school. They heard about the priest who abused me and, probably, other kids — and another priest (whom I knew) who took advantage of other kids. Some said, in effect, that those of us who told our stories were lying, which didn’t surprise me. They didn’t want their rosy memories of those “simpler times” beclouded by dark intrusions. In that sense, they were like another alumnus who asked the same question as the commenter on the story about boarding schools.

“Why do they have to dig up the past?” Church officials probably asked the same question about Pere Teilhard de Chardin and his fellow researchers. And, like some of my old classmates and people who heard the news about the boarding schools, they are doing what they can to deny what “digging” has uncovered — and to vilify us for daring to tell, not only our own stories, but those who didn’t live to tell theirs, whether they died twenty or two hundred years or millennia ago.  


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Thirteen Ways Catholic Christianity Influences Daily American Life


#1. Christianity is the basis of Western culture. “Christianity has, for more than seventeen centuries … has been a major determinant of Western culture….”

#2. Christian values inform all aspects of life. “Nothing is unaffected by Christian hegemony (whether we are Christian or not)….”

#3. Christianity infuses even secular culture despite all efforts to the contrary. “Christian dominance has become … invisible … the phrase “secular Christian dominance” might be most appropriate….”

#4 Catholicism is the basis of all forms of American Christianity. “One [example] of institutionalized power … is the dominant Western form of Christianity that came to power when the Romans made Christianity the official religion….”

#5. Schools are Christian institutions. “Christian institutions have also played a deep, founding, and shaping role in U.S. school systems.”

#6. Prayer in public schools and the knowledge of the Ten commandments are important to Christian education. ”[P]ermitting prayer in schools and … posting of the Ten Commandments … lay the groundwork for more oppressive laws….”

#7. Christianity teaches that there is no compromise between good and evil. “A major Christian belief … is that everything not associated with good and Godliness is connected to the devil (Satan)….”

#8. The word Crusade still resonates with the notion of noble goals. “The word “crusade” … resonates with images of good white Christian knights fighting against evil.”

#9. The Blessed Mother still prevails as the model for all Christian womanhood. “Mary … exhibits as much transcendence as a woman can achieve as a passive and virginal (therefore perfect) receptacle for God.”

#10. The hierarchical model of Creation in which humanity rules over nature is still in place today.  “[W]e must free ourselves from the restraints [Christianity] has imposed … so that we can establish … mutuality, cooperation, sustainability, and interdependence with all life.”

#11. Most modern holidays have Christian inspirations, even the “secular” ones. “Most of our national holidays are seen as secular, even though their underpinnings are deeply Christian.”

#12. The “capitalist” or free market system is a product of Christianity. “[C]apitalism [came from a] Christian culture whose prime focus was individual salvation….”

#13. Christian morality still informs the present economic system that is opposed to socialism. “Our challenge is to reject … Christian morals by … building an economic system … based on mutual support, cooperation and a commitment to meet people’s basic needs.”

— Edwin Benson, Return to Order, 13 Ways Christianity Influences Daily Life that Secularists Hate, June 23, 2021

Quotes, I believe, were excerpted from the Christian Hegemony website.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

“Freedom of Religion” According to Evangelicals


I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Bible college in the 1970s. Most of my Christian life was spent either attending or pastoring Baptist churches. As a young aspiring pastor, I was taught that there was a strict separation between church and state; that freedom of religion was absolutely crucial to the life of the American Republic and to the status of religion. Church and state were on equal planes, each having its sphere of influence. Churches and preachers didn’t meddle in matters of state, and the government was expected to keep its nose out of church business. In the late 1970s, things began to change with the establishment of the Moral Majority by Paul Weyrich, Ed McAteer, and Jerry Falwell. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scores of parachurch groups were started for the express purpose of reclaiming America for God. These promoters of American nationalism and exceptionalism flexed their muscles during the 2016 presidential election, delivering to Americans their next president, Donald Trump.

The last thirty-plus years have brought a radical change in Evangelical thinking concerning the freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The impenetrable barrier between church and state that President John F. Kennedy spoke of in the 1960s is now considered a fabrication of libtards who are hellbent on destroying Evangelical, conservative Catholic, and Mormon Christianity. One former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, even went so far as to say that the separation of church and state is a myth; that the founding fathers never meant to exclude Christians and their religion from influencing and controlling government. These deniers of separation of church and state believe, to the man, that the United States has been uniquely chosen by God — a special nation above all others. Believing that the United States is a Christian nation, these theocrats spend their waking hours attempting to take over government at every level. Having trampled over the wall of separation of church and state, these warriors for God intend on returning America to what they consider its Christian roots.

While Evangelicals have discarded the notion of the separation between church and state, considering it a myth, they continue to say that they support the First Amendment and the idea of freedom of religion. However, their idea of freedom of religion is far different from what has generally been understood in the past. Freedom of religion and separation of church and state go hand in hand. Can we have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please if the government gives preference to Christianity? No! As history clearly shows, any time religion and state are joined at the hip, freedoms and liberty are lost and people die. Who is it that is clamoring for the national registration of Muslims and the banning of immigrants from non-Christian countries? Who is it that is demanding that teacher-led prayer and Bible study be permitted in public schools?  Who is it that wants creationism taught as science and the Ten Commandments posted on public school classroom walls? Who is it that is tirelessly working to overturn societal progress on same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and abortion? Who is it that is clamoring for the government to adopt a nationwide voucher program that will pay for students to attend private Christian schools? Evangelicals and their conservative compatriots in other sects, that’s who.

So, when Evangelicals talk about the freedom of religion, remember what they really mean is freedom for THEIR religion, and their religion alone. While they with their lips say that they support the freedom of all religions, what they really mean is that they support your right to worship your God freely as long as it doesn’t interfere with or influence the American religion, Christianity, and its control of government. Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian religions will be tolerated only so far as they stay out of the way. According to theocratic Evangelicals, their God alone is the one true ruler over all, and the Bible is the standard by which we should govern our lives socially and politically. And those atheists who have tirelessly worked to make sure the wall of separation of church and state is absolute? They will be expected to stop harassing fine Christian school officials and government leaders who only want to follow the dictates of God and the Bible. People who spent their lives working to change the legal system and its brutal punishment of the poor and people of color will likely see a return to the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Again, appeals will be made to the Bible and its code of justice. It should not surprise anyone when Evangelicals call for re-criminalizing homosexuality, adultery, fornication, abortion, and marijuana use.

Remember these things the next time your Evangelical friends, family members, or coworkers say they support the freedom of religion. You might want to ask them what they mean by “freedom of religion.” Do they mean freedom equally for all religions? Do they mean freedom to not believe in any gods at all?  Do they support the separation of church and state? If not, do they believe America is a Christian nation? Would they be okay with a Muslim president or building a mosque next door to their Baptist church?  If Christian prayers and Bible readings are permitted in public schools, would they be okay with Muslim prayers and Buddhist teachings being given the same level of support? As you ask these types of questions, you will likely find out that what your Evangelical acquaintances really mean when they say “freedom of religion” is freedom for the Christian religion, for “Biblical” Christianity. Believing that secularism equals socialism and communism, these worshipers of the Christian God want a culture that is dominated and controlled by Christian beliefs and philosophies.

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Now that God’s Only Party (GOP) controls most state governments, and will likely regain control of Congress in 2022, we can expect to see attempts to derail and destroy the social progress of the last sixty years. I suspect that savvy Evangelical parachurch groups will use state and federal courts to bulldoze the wall of separation of church and state, leaving its rubble as a monument to the days when social progressives thought they could challenge the authority of the Christian God. And it is for this reason that those of us who value religious freedom must not idly stand by while Evangelicals attempt to remake America into a new version of the 1950s. Don’t think for a moment that such monumental societal change cannot happen. It can and it will if we stand by and do nothing. One need only watch what is happening with abortion rights and transgender rights to see how quickly things can change. Just because Joe Biden and the Democrats currently control the government doesn’t mean the culture war is over. It’s not, and if we don’t fight, we are sure to wake up one morning and see the Christian Flag flying over the White House.


If you do not support the following groups, I encourage you to do so.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Freedom from Religion Foundation

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

American Civil Liberties Union

People For the American Way


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Catholic “Dominoes” Falling?

dominos falling

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In 1968, I served at the funeral mass for someone who was killed in Vietnam. I knew him fairly well: He was the older brother of a classmate in the Catholic school I attended.

Though people said I was a “smart” kid I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand what my classmate’s brother was doing in a country none of us would have heard of had young men like him not been sent there. I tried to understand the explanations I heard from adults in my family, school and church, and in the media. The word “domino” often came up: supposedly, Vietnam was one. According to that narrative, if the country fell to the Communists, others would follow.

I don’t have the expertise, or the inclination, to debate such a theory. What I am willing to say is that another “domino” phenomenon may be at work today, half a century later. And I must say that I am glad to see the fall of the “tiles” I’m about to describe.

For a millennium after Roman Empire disintegrated, the Roman Catholic Church exercised power that’s hard to imagine today if you’re not living in a theocracy. The monarchs of Europe “reported,” if you will, to the Pope, so a challenge to royal authority was, in essence, an attack on the Church. That is why Henry VIII’s “divorce” from the Church and the French Revolution were such cataclysmic events. Henry, in breaking away from the church and starting his own when the Pope wouldn’t grant him an annulment, effectively declared himself the Pope of England (to this day, the Queen or King is the Head of the Church of England, a.k.a. Anglican Church); when French revolutionaries lopped off the heads of their monarchs and nobles, they were effectively cutting themselves off from ecclesiastical authority, which was intertwined with their class system.

From there, the Church’s influenced weakened, however gradually: France and other countries passed laws that eliminated or limited religion from politics and other public discourse. In a few countries, however, the Church continued to exert its authority. Among those countries were Spain, Ireland and Poland, all of which were known, until recently, for their staunch Catholicism.

One could argue that in Spain, the unhooking of the Church from the nation’s culture and politics began in the late 1970s, after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who maintained nacionalcatolicismo as part of his dictatorial system. Today, while most Spaniards are at least nominally affiliated with the Church (it doesn’t let go of you easily!), they—especially the young—attend mass at rates on par with their peers in the Netherlands and Norway, which aren’t exactly known as ramparts of religiosity. (But, hey, they’re ahead of the UK, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Estonia!)

Ione Belarra is the Spanish Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda. Three weeks ago, she made her debut in Parliament. She wasted no time in expressing what too many of us have known and borne in silence. “It must be said that the Catholic Church has been and accomplice too many times in this country,” she pronounced. The Church has been “covering up sexual violence against children,” she elaborated. Such a denunciation of the Church would have been unthinkable a generation ago and possibly fatal a generation before that. Where it will lead, I don’t know, but I don’t think Spain will return to being the sort of country that got a special dispensation from the Pope Urban II for its role in the Crusades, or even the one whose “neutrality” in World War II was protected by Franco playing nice with Hitler and Mussolini.

In Ireland and Poland, Catholic domination of culture and politics endured a bit longer, in part because Catholicism served as a touchstone of identity as those countries were subsumed by colonial powers (England in Ireland and Prussia, Germany and the Soviet Union, among others, in Poland) that tried to erase all vestiges of their culture, including their language.

It’s been said that the first crack in the Berlin Wall opened when a shipyard electrician in Gdansk—guided, he claimed, by his Catholic faith—organized a strike that challenged the Communist regime in Poland.

Lech Walesa would later serve as the first President of his newly-independent country. In that post, and in his life afterward, he fought to liberalize the economy and protect human rights—of some humans, that is. While presiding over his country, he signed a law that sharply restricted abortion rights and said, of LGBT people, that he didn’t “wish for this minority,” which he “tolerates and understands” to “impose itself on the majority.” That’s the sort of language you hear from conservatives who don’t want to sound like bigots but who see equality as “special treatment.” Also under his presidency, publicly-funded catechism classes were introduced in the country’s state-run schools.

His expressed views on LGBT rights have moderated, which may reflect another change underway in Polish society, particularly among the young. In the most recent census, 96 percent of Poles were identified as Roman Catholics. While they attend church at higher rates than in other countries such as neighboring Czech Republic (which has one of the world’s lowest church attendance rates), if pressed, many—especially the young—find other things to do with their Sunday mornings and say they were “raised” Catholics but hedge, or give negative answers when asked about their current church affiliation. And, as in other countries, some claim to attend church more often than they actually do.

Activists contend that many people are counted as “Catholic” because they tick the box without thinking or because other people, such as their parents, fill out the forms for them. Now the “Chce sie liczyc” (“I Want To Count”) campaign seeks to encourage Polish people to think about their identity and, if they are so inclined, choose other answers such as “Christian,” “Deist,” or “Atheist.” That previous census counts presented a “very monolithic and homogenous Poland,” in the words of campaign leader Oskar Zyndul. That gave governments since Walesa’s the rationale—however unjustified—for passing and enforcing laws that restrict abortion access, in vitro fertilization, and LGBT rights, in contrast to the wishes of increasing numbers of Poles.

Could Poland join other former Catholic bastions like France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, which have legalized same-sex marriage and removed most or all restrictions against abortion? If we look at the Irish Republic, such a scenario in Poland may not seem so far-fetched. In 2015, the country James Joyce described as a “sow that eats its young” became the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. (Other countries and US states had mandated marriage equality through executive decrees or votes by legislative chambers.) Three years later, it finally lifted its ban on abortions. That same year, Pope Francis’s visit wasn’t greeted with anything like John Paul’s visit some four decades earlier. And pundits, Catholic and secular alike, talk about the “waning influence” or even “demise” of the Church in Ireland.

Ireland, like Spain and Poland, has been convulsed by revelations of decades, or even centuries, of priests sexually abusing children and all sorts of other horrors in Catholic monasteries, orphanages and hospitals. And the young, with more formal education and access to information and contacts with people who look, speak, dress, eat and worship—or not—differently from themselves—simply have less use for the Church than their parents or grandparents had. Those countries might be the next Catholic “dominoes,” and any attempt to stop their “fall” will be as futile as the efforts—and lives, like that of my classmate’s brother— expended to keep Vietnam from becoming a “domino” in another game.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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If the Snow Doesn’t Melt

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Years ago, I did a solo bicycle tour from France into Spain and back. Along the way, I stopped in Lourdes. I didn’t expect its waters to heal any of my psychological wounds (of which I had many) or even physical ones (of which I was, at the time, almost entirely free). Rather, I was simply curious.

Having attended Catholic school, I’d heard and read about the supposed Marian apparition. I didn’t expect to see anything of the sort or, really, anything fit for an X Files script. To tell you the truth, even when I was a believing, observant Catholic—or, later, when I conflated something I now realize as a psychological near-breakdown with “accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour” and threw myself into an Evangelical Church and organization—I didn’t believe in divine or Marian apparitions, or anything else that could be called “miraculous” or “supernatural.” Some might argue that on that basis, I never was a “true” Christian, and I won’t argue with that assessment mainly because today, as an atheist, it really doesn’t matter to me. I guess that, if anything, I wondered whether there was some rock formation or something that might’ve looked like the figure of Mary, just as some mirage in the desert might’ve caused someone to think that Jesus or somebody was turning stones into bread or water into wine.

I did have two other reasons for stopping in Lourdes. One, it was along my way and, being a fairly large town in a rural area, I figured I could get something to eat and refill my water bottles, if not with the “holy” stuff. Second, I wanted to get a gift for my mother. I accomplished both: She was happy to receive the Sainte Bernadette medal I bought.

Even if my mother had been indifferent to it, I would have been happy I went to Lourdes. It’s actually a lovely place, in part because of its location in the Pyrenees foothills. (But I must warn any potential traveler: “It ain’t Paris.” When I was there, the cafes and everything else in the town slammed shut at 9pm.) And I continued a correspondence with the man from whom I bought the medal until he passed away. Turns out, he had no more religious belief than I had!

Ironically, my brief stay among thousands of pilgrims, some of whom had saved up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, may have been a nail in the coffin of whatever belief I still may have had. I wasn’t quite a full-blown atheist, but by that time I had dissociated myself from organized religion and knew that I didn’t—trending toward couldn’t—harbor any faith in a supernatural being. Still, I kept my eyes open for someone who might hobble up to the grotto, take of the water, throw off his or her crutches and skip away, singing praises to the Lord. I’m not sure that such a spectacle would have ignited any kind of faith in me, but I didn’t see anything of the sort.

I am sure other people hoped, or even expected, to see a “cure” or “miracle”—or to be the beneficiary of one themselves. They probably would have had a greater chance of winning the jackpot in the Francaise des Jeuxeven the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that only 69 miraculous cures have occurred at the site since Bernadette Soubrious had her vision in 1858.

What brought all of this back to mind? A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a news item that, even after the Trump Presidency, makes an episode of The X Files seem like The Financial Times.

It happened in the wake of the Texas snowstorm, which itself seems almost surreal. Some folks picked up balls of the white stuff, lit a cigarette lighter or match—or turned on a blow dryer–and, upon seeing that the snow “didn’t melt,” decided that it was fake. Oh, but it gets even better: The “fake” snow is, they believe, part of a “government conspiracy” initiated by, depending on whom you listen to, Bill Gates or Joe Biden himself.

The science behind the “snow that doesn’t melt” is so simple that I—who last took a science class when Jimmy Carter was President—could understand it. You don’t even need my outdated, rudimentary knowledge: If you’ve ever ordered a snow cone on a boardwalk or at a state fair, you’ve seen it: The snow cone remains, well, a snow cone because the water from snow that melts on the surface is absorbed by the remaining snow. (If you’ve ever watched piles of snow disappear over a period of days after a storm, you’ll notice that the snow ever-so-gradually collapses inward and the water seeps out from underneath.) That is how snow cones hold onto their sugary flavor (and why they taste so good)—and why “fake” snow “doesn’t melt.” And the black marks you see in some of the videos are chemical burns from the butane lighters.

The folks who believe in “fake snow” sent by “government conspiracies” are certifiably mentally ill—or they also believe that the “stolen election” was a way “God is testing us” in preparation for Donald Trump inheriting the mantle of the Kingdom of God on Earth. (Did I repeat myself?) Such irrational beliefs are the only possible foundation for a faith or philosophy based on little more than, well, one’s belief in the divinely inherent superiority of one’s race, gender, country, way of life—or beliefs. I grew up in a church that taught us that in putting a wafer in our mouths, we were “partaking” of the “flesh” of Christ, and the sweet wine in the priest’s chalice was Christ’s blood. The Evangelical Church of which I would later be a part told us that “allowing the Lord to speak through you” (Frankly, even then, I thought it was gibberish!) would “save” or “transform” you and, according to some, would cure you of your ills and bring you prosperity. If you were poor or unwell, well, it meant that you needed to pray and believe more.

In brief, the news about “fake snow” and the other lunatic ideas promulgated by the likes of Paula White, Marjorie Scott Taylor, Franklin Graham, Ravi Zacharias, and their ilk are magical thinking, as are the hopes and wishes that motivated the pilgrims I saw in Lourdes. The main difference is that those folks, making what might be their one and only major trip, paid for the experience. So, probably, did the ones who tithed to the churches whose preachers and pastors told them to vote for Trump. On the other hand, Trump, White, Scott Taylor, Graham, Zacharias, et al. are making rather nice bank from the conspiracy theories, dogmas, and flat-out lies.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Findlay Catholic Priest Michael Zacharias Accused of Sexually Assaulting Minors

Michael Zacharias

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Michael Zacharias, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay Ohio, stands accused of grooming and sexually assaulting minors for years. (I attended high school in Findlay in the 1970s. Several of my friends attended St. Michael’s.)

The Toledo Blade reports:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday arrested the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, alleging that he groomed and sexually assaulted minors for years, beginning in Toledo.

Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith said the Rev. Michael Zacharias, 53, is believed to have groomed and sexually assaulted minors since the late 1990s.

The Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force took the priest into custody after he presided at a 7 a.m. Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish. Father Zacharias faces charges of coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion, according to court documents.


Agent Smith addressed the media at a morning news conference outside the priest’s residence on Greendale Avenue in Findlay, which abuts the parking lot of the parish grounds. He said the criminal complaint filed against the priest includes accounts from two victims, but his department believes there have been others.


“It’s imperative that those other individuals out there come forward,” he said on Tuesday. “Your contact with us will remain strictly confidential.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo announced that Father Zacharias was put on administrative leave effective immediately upon hearing word of his arrest. This means he cannot exercise public ministry, administer sacraments, or present himself as a priest. Administrative leave is a precautionary measure while an allegation is being investigated.

Bishop Daniel Thomas responded in a statement:

“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” he said. “The Church cannot and will not tolerate any such behavior and takes any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of a cleric with the utmost seriousness. As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”

The diocese indicated that these are the first allegations raised against Father Zacharias.

Father Zacharias was ordained in 2002, according to the diocese.

He is most recently the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017. The parish serves about 3,300 households, and is affiliated with St. Michael the Archangel School, which covers preschool through eighth grade.

The diocese identified his previous assignments as St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo as a seminarian between 1999 and 2000; St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, Ohio as an associate pastor between 2002 and 2007; St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert as pastor between 2007 and 2011; St. Joseph and St. Ann Parishes in Fremont as pastor between 2011 and 2017; and St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017.

Investigators allege in court records that he began to groom two male victims, currently ages 32 and 26, while he was a seminarian and they were students at St. Catherine of Siena. One met Father Zacharias in the sixth grade, the other in the first grade, according to the complaint.

Each described to agents drug addictions that began in their teen years, and alleged that the priest would help fund their drug habits by paying them for oral sex. This began while they were underage and, in the case of one of the victims, continued until as recently as July.

The complaint indicates that these exchanges occurred at times in parish rectories, including Father Zacharias’ diocese-owned residence in Findlay.

The complaint also indicates that in the case of the victim with whom he was in touch as recently as July, Father Zacharias would request and at times pay for videos in which he performed sex acts on the victim and in which he confessed to grooming the victim. The complaint references multiple text messages between the victim and the priest.


Father Zacharias was one of several ordinands who spoke with The Blade in 2002, reflecting on their vocations amid seismic revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as reported by the Boston Globe.

Then-Deacon Zacharias said that his cohort of priests would bring with them an understanding of sexuality as a part of who they are.

“In the past I don’t want to say they denied it, but it seems as though they were told, ‘You’re going to be a priest, you’re going to be celibate,’” he told The Blade then. By contrast, he said contemporary seminarians were taught to have healthy and appropriate relationships.

Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn responded to the news in a statement on Tuesday.

“I am distraught by the news of the arrest of Father Michael Zacharias,” she said. “These allegations are not taken lightly, and the Findlay Police Department and our community at large will support the full and thorough investigation by the FBI. Such abuse of power, and perversion of sexuality is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any organization, individual, or society.”


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser