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Mega Church mega scandal

The boy was watching people sing at a sweaty Pentecostal tent service one Sunday morning when a prophet onstage scanned the congregation and fixed her eyes on him.

“You need to come up here,” the prophet told the wide-eyed 9-year-old, D.E. Paulk. “The Lord has a word for you that you need to speak to the church today.”

As he was led to the stage, D.E.’s heart raced and his legs went numb. He grabbed the microphone with clammy hands and stammered the only words he could find: “Uh.. God… uh… loves you.”

From that moment on, D.E. hid behind furniture in his family’s church in Atlanta whenever pastors prophesied. But someone would steer him to the pulpit, and D.E.’s family would join the prophet in laying hands on him while predicting mighty signs and wonders for the boy they called “The Promised Seed.”

No prophet, though, came close to predicting what really happened to D.E. in the years ahead.

No one predicted that his family would build one of the most racially groundbreaking megachurches in America only to see it collapse from a series of bizarre sex scandals covered by “A Current Affair” and other tabloid magazines and TV shows.

No one predicted that D.E. would discover that the man he believed to be his uncle, Archbishop Earl Paulk Jr., was really his biological father. The bishop had slept with his brother’s wife while sharing the pulpit with both.

And no one predicted that after years spent extricating his family from assorted scandals, D.E. would do something in church that was, for many of his parishioners, far more outrageous than anything his notorious uncle did.

“And because it had nothing to do with sex or money,” D.E. says, “I never saw it coming.”

‘Raised by wolves’

The boy who was dragged onstage is now 42 and doesn’t look like he can be pushed easily in any direction. D.E. is 6-foot-1, with broad shoulders and beefy “I’ve been working out” arms. He greets a visitor with a boyish smile and a mellow voice that sounds more suited for a late-night talk show than a pulpit.

He is still in the church business, and so is his family. D.E. is co-founder and senior pastor of the Spirit and Truth Sanctuary, a quaint brick church in suburban Atlanta.

The headlines also don’t explain what happened to D.E.’s mother, Clariece. How did she explain her actions to her son and husband? Did the marriage survive? Clariece Paulk, 76, recently told me that she prayed for over 20 years that no one would discover her secret. At times, Bishop Paulk would apprise D.E. from a distance and say to her, “He kind of looks like me in the shoulders.”

“I’d be so afraid that somebody would see a picture of him and Donnie Earl at the same age, and I tried to hide the pictures,” she said. “I lived in fear, just misery.”

D.E.’s story is not just about a scandal. It’s about fate. Are we all captive to the arc of our family history, no matter what we do?

D.E. tells people the scandal was not of his making. He is not the bishop. Yet some things about D.E. remind others of Bishop Paulk. Is D.E. bound to make some of the same mistakes?

“He fights that,” says his 76-year-old dad, Don Paulk. “He’s made statements like, “I don’t want to do that. That’s what my Uncle Earl would do.'”

It’s a battle D.E. is already losing, says Jan Royston, a former Chapel Hill member who knew the bishop. She is part of a community of ex-Chapel Hill members who still feel betrayed by the Paulk family.

Royston started an online support group for former Chapel Hill members wounded by their experiences. She says D.E. isn’t contrite; he’s conniving.

The bishop twisted scripture to prey on people for riches, glory and lust. D.E., in Royston’s view, is just another manipulative, pulpit predator.

“He was raised by wolves,” she says. “Donnie Earl can’t help who and what he is.”

As tough as the critics are on D.E., no one was more so than the man who left him such a complicated legacy.

Before D.E. could find normalcy, he had to learn to deal with the strange. He had to take on the bishop.

Becoming the bishop’s spiritual son

He punctuated his sermons with “darling” and “honey,” but there was little tenderness in the bishop’s public persona. He was the anti-Joel Osteen, a stout, craggy-faced man who scowled more than he smiled and preached with a raspy, hectoring voice.

Once, the bishop drove away a church member who challenged his authority by implying that she was a lesbian. He warned another critic that he might come after him with his .38 revolver. He hid his television set in a closet because he didn’t want his congregation to discover he could succumb to worldly temptations.

Some leaders have Type A personalities. “He was Triple A,” says Don Paulk, who is 11 years younger than his brother. “He would rather preach than eat when he was hungry.”

The bishop’s wrath could fall on his family as well as his congregation.

LaDonna Diaz, D.E.’s older sister, was the bishop’s secretary.

“I would leave work some days crying,” she says.

But D.E. was treated special from the start. Prophets began calling him “The Chosen One” when he was just a child. Boys, it seemed, were the only ones chosen by God in the patriarchal, Pentecostal culture that D.E. grew up in.

The bishop had three daughters. D.E. was the only male offspring with the Paulk surname. He was expected to become the family’s fourth generation preacher and succeed the bishop one day.

The bishop encouraged that dream. He became D.E.’s spiritual mentor.

“I still have notebooks and notebooks from when he would preach,” D.E. says. “There would be moments of revelations. I almost couldn’t keep up. I was just writing as fast as I could.”

The bishop returned D.E.’s devotion.

He placed him front and center at church events. And when D.E. became a standout high school basketball player — good enough to land a college scholarship as a point guard — the bishop was a familiar figure in the stands.

D.E.’s wife, Brandi Paulk, says her husband and the bishop drew energy from one another. Now 35, she grew up in Chapel Hill watching that relationship evolve.

“It’s almost as if they fed off of each other,” she says. “There was a connection there spiritually. He considered him his spiritual father.”

When he was in high school, D.E. saw something that made him wonder if that connection went deeper.

Hearing ugly rumors

On the bishop’s 60th birthday, Chapel Hill celebrated with a video tribute. As D.E. watched images of his uncle flash onscreen, he was stunned by a black-and-white college graduation photo.

“My hair, my face, my body – I was like, that looks like me in black and white,” D.E. recalls.

He kept the realization to himself. “I pushed it way down inside of me.”

Others didn’t bury their suspicions. Every now and then, D.E. overheard church members joking about the bishop being his father. He ignored the whispers. But the salacious rumor spread.

“What I heard many times was that Donnie Earl is called Donnie Earl because they didn’t know if he’s Earl’s or Don’s,” says Scott Thumma, a sociology of religion professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. He spent five years at Chapel Hill gathering material for his dissertation on the church. “Everybody kind of chuckled about that.”

D.E. focused on his future instead of dwelling on the past. He experienced a series of dreams in college that convinced him to become a minister. He enrolled in a Bible college, the Earl Paulk Institute, and became a youth minister at Chapel Hill.

His timing could not have been better. D.E. had the right name at the right place at the right time. Chapel Hill was taking off.

The bishop had co-founded Chapel Hill in 1960 with his brother and sister-in-law. Pentecostals had been dismissed as country bumpkins, vulgar, lower-class whites who talked in tongues while getting “slain in the spirit.” But the Paulks were different.

The bishop preached a “kingdom theology” that added a progressive edge to the traditional Pentecostal message. The theology urged Pentecostals to transform the world here and now and not focus so much on waiting for Christ’s return. The bishop championed civil rights when many white Southern churches refused to admit African-Americans. Chapel Hill eventually became one of the nation’s first integrated megachurches. White pastors criticized the bishop for his stance on civil rights but he kept reaching out to black parishioners.

The Paulks identified with African-Americans because they themselves felt like outsiders as poor Pentecostals in rural Georgia.

“We always felt like we were the underdogs. We were not accepted; we were the minority,” Don Paulk says.

The underdogs became top dogs in the church world. They were riding a wave: the rise of evangelical Christians in America.

Conservative Christians helped elect Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. They seized control of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985 at a raucous meeting in Dallas, Texas. And televangelists such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart drew global audiences to their broadcasts. Chapel Hill, whose services were broadcast in Africa and Latin America, was part of that mix.

It eventually became the fourth-largest church in America, with 12,000 members. People didn’t flock there just to hear the bishop preach. They turned out for the pageantry, a show enlivened by Clariece Paulk.

Clariece changed the way megachurches worshipped. She was a classically trained pianist who introduced dramatic skits, modern dance, “Bach and rock” music – stylistic flourishes now common in megachurches.

“A hundred people would join the church a week,” she says. “I would just sit there and weep. I couldn’t believe it. I knew it wouldn’t last forever.”

It didn’t. And D.E. started to notice that behind the scenes, a megachurch was a lot like a basketball court: competitive and filled with games.

Mega-egos in the megachurch

D.E. was immersed in a world of signs and wonders. People testified to mighty acts of God: miraculous healings, revelations, divining evil spirits. And he saw his share of wonders – broken people born again; incandescent moments when it seemed like the finger of God touched people’s lives.

But he also saw the pettiness. He was the church emissary dispatched to pick up visiting preachers at the airport and tend to their needs. Their egos were as big as their entourages.

He met pastors who demanded a fueled private jet and $7,500 up front before they would deign to visit. When they arrived, they were surrounded by pastor groupies: “armor bearers,” “adjutants” and “servant spirits” who did everything from pick up their dry cleaning to pump their gas and carry their Bibles.

These pastors shared trade secrets with D.E.: How to extract a fat offering from a congregation, how to fake prophesizing and how to perform the all-important “courtesy drop” – crumpling to the ground when a man of God presses your shoulder during a “healing.”

D.E. remembers one pastor’s behavior after he delivered a sermon.

“He can’t even carry his own handkerchief. Somebody has to wipe the sweat off of him. He can’t dress himself after the sermon because he is still ‘under the anointing.'”

D.E. shakes his head in disgust.

“It’s just a bunch of bull really,” he says.

That’s the sentiment that seemed etched on D.E.’s father’s face in some of the photos taken during Chapel Hill’s rise.

Don Paulk looked like the bemused outsider as he stood in the pulpit with his charismatic brother and his celebrated wife. They loved the stage; he preferred the background. They were effusive; he was a stoic who didn’t like getting “mushy.” They reveled in the titles and rituals of church; he openly rolled his eyes if he disagreed with a sermon.

His brother’s ego grew along with the church. The bishop loved getting recognized at the airport. He surrounded himself with people who wouldn’t question his authority. And he treasured letters from folks who read his books, listened to his tapes or watched him on TV.

“He began to read too much of his fan mail,” Don Paulk said.

Don Paulk, though, had questions about God that the traditional church couldn’t answer.

As a boy, D.E. stumbled across a book by his father’s bed. It was called “The Christian Agnostic,” and it was written to reassure skeptics who couldn’t accept certain central Christian beliefs. D.E. felt like he had caught his father with a dirty magazine. He took the book to his mother. She reacted with shock.

“Let’s pray for your daddy,” she said as she grabbed her son’s hands.

There were others, too, who thought Don Paulk needed their prayers. They saw him as the weak link in the Paulk trio that built Chapel Hill.

“He was a patsy,” says Jan Royston, the ex-Chapel Hill member. “He would do whatever Earl Paulk would tell him to do.”

Thumma, the Chapel Hill expert, said Clariece Paulk was “clearly the authority in the family.” Her husband was “fragile” and “weak-willed.”

“He was utterly jealous of Earl,” Thumma says, referring to the bishop. Don Paulk “was back-biting, snippy and vindictive. You could read that into his body language every single meeting.”

Like his father, D.E. started to roll his eyes at some church traditions as he became a young man.

One Sunday when a pastor placed a microphone in front of D.E.’s face and told him the Lord had something for him to say, D.E. looked at the expectant congregation and said, “The Lord hasn’t told me anything today.” He handed the microphone back to the astonished prophet and sat down.

D.E. was becoming his own man, and there was one man who didn’t like it – the bishop.

Taking on the bishop

By 1991, Chapel Hill’s popularity peaked. President George H.W. Bush had honored the church with a “Point of Light” award for outstanding community service. The church grabbed national headlines for dispatching volunteers into a violent housing project in Atlanta and turning it around. People bragged about attending Chapel Hill. Some installed specialty license plates on their cars inscribed with the “K” church crest, a symbol of the bishop’s kingdom theology.

The church celebrated its newfound status by completing construction of a $12 million, 7,000-seat neogothic cathedral. The church’s spire soared majestically 245 feet, and the sanctuary featured stadium seating. One news account compared the church’s splendor to Solomon’s temple.

And just as Solomon was undone by his desire for other women, so was the bishop.

In 1992, six Chapel Hill women publicly accused the bishop, his brother, Don, and two Paulk nephews who were ministers of manipulating them into sexual relationships. They portrayed the Paulk ministers as diabolical manipulators, saying they used their spiritual authority and their “kingdom theology” to justify extra-marital relationships.

The bishop denied the allegations. Later that year, Don Paulk publicly confessed to an extramarital affair. The bishop said one nephew admitted to inappropriate contact with a woman and was disciplined; the other nephew did not speak to reporters. The women’s accusations were covered by the television program “A Current Affair.”

In 2001, a church member filed suit against Earl Paulk Jr., saying he started molesting her when she was seven. He denied the allegations, and the suit was settled out of court.

D.E. was at college in the early 1990s when the first wave of sex scandals hit. His father called him and apologized for his indiscretion. D.E. was bewildered, however, by the accusations.

“I didn’t know how to process it,” he says of the wave of scandals. “I couldn’t navigate it. I wondered why are they attacking my family so viciously.”

Yet he also knew that power can corrupt both pastors and their followers.

“I wasn’t naive enough to believe that there was no truth to it; I wasn’t naive enough to believe that all of it was true.”

He was seeing another side of his family as well as the church. His first instinct, though, was to stick by them when he saw news crews chase his father and uncle into their homes. The church’s public image was taking a hit. Chapel Hill needed something new to help draw people back to the pews.

D.E. became the Hot New Thing.

The bishop elevated his status. He allowed him to preach every other Sunday and beamed with pride when D.E called him his spiritual mentor. He stenciled D.E.’s name alongside his own on the brick entrance to Chapel Hill.

D.E. brought energy and a clean past to the church – he even break-danced during service.

Yet as he grew into this new role, his preaching riled the bishop. D.E. suggested in his sermons that God affirmed gays and lesbians. The bishop didn’t tell him he was wrong but ordered him to wait to preach that message until people were ready.

D.E. responded with a question: How long had the bishop waited when God ordered him to preach acceptance of African-Americans in the 1960s?

“We had that first moment of I’m a man of God now, too,” D.E. said. “I have God telling me things to do, too. How can I deny it any more than you denied it?”

As D.E.’s confidence rose, though, the church’s fortunes continued to plummet. The scandals drove thousands of members away. Tabloid television shows joined the fray, and the Internet was eventually filled with lurid details about the bishop’s sex habits.

The amount of money in the weekly offerings fell, but the bills kept coming. People saw the cathedral’s glamour but not the financial grind. Sitting on 100 acres filled with church office buildings and a Bible college, the upkeep for the cathedral alone could make an accountant weep: a $45,000 weekly mortgage payment; a $30,000 monthly power bill; an annual $200,000 property insurance payment.

The church’s staff had grown to around 300, including 26 full-time pastors. The bishop had hired many down-on-their luck pastors to prop them up until they could find work and support their families again.

“The government had welfare,” Don Paulk says. “We had staff.”

D.E. told the bishop that the church couldn’t function like a charity. In a four-month period, D.E. didn’t get a paycheck on eight occasions. With a wife in college and two kids, he told the bishop he had to make a decision for his family.

“Do what you need to do,” the bishop said.

D.E. left the church in 2003 and started his own congregation. He had $600 to his name. He struggled just to rent a hotel room and a microphone for the Sunday services. But he didn’t have to answer to anyone anymore.

In 2005, the bishop’s fortune took another bad turn. He was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to have parts of his bladder, colon and prostrate removed.

Though his body and his church were failing, the bishop remained defiant. He told what was left of his congregation that God was not finished with him.

“We may be old, but we’ve still got a lot of fire left in us,” he thundered, “Honey, you don’t talk about retiring. We talk about re-firing.”

His body would not listen. Nor would the bill collectors. The church needed new leadership.

Don Paulk would not take his brother’s place. He turned to D.E.

“I need you to come back and take over,” he told his son, who had left three years earlier. “I can’t do it, and I don’t want to do it.”

It was a call D.E. expected and dreaded. He would be returning to the scene of a crime, a place where there was constant talk of lawsuits and depositions and reporters taking notes in the pews.

“I don’t want to go back,” his wife, Brandi, told him.

D.E. had found a sense of normalcy at their new church. It had grown to 300 members. He said he didn’t want the drama or the challenge of preaching every Sunday to an almost empty 7,000-seat sanctuary.

But he couldn’t say no.

“I stuck by my family,” he says. “It doesn’t mean I condone everything that happened. But what am I supposed to do, leave my elderly parents alone and let my uncle die? He’s old and sick. What am I supposed to do? Take him by the side of the road and drop him off?”

He agreed to return only if the bishop signed documents empowering him to make financial decisions for the church. He cut staff to save money. He began preaching more.

“From the moment we stepped back in there, the bishop was allowed to preach if D.E. allowed him,” Brandi says.

The bishop didn’t cotton to the demotion. He openly pouted. He sarcastically thanked D.E. when called upon to deliver a public prayer — after all, it was his church. He sat offstage most of the time because of his medical needs, but he resented seeing D.E. take the spotlight.

“They got me sitting on the front row like a little puppy,” the bishop grumbled to a fellow pastor.

The bishop would find a way back onstage. But he wouldn’t like the role he had to play.

Source: CNN.com

americanpastor

Brazil: Hunt for American pastor accused of sexual assault took months

(CNN)Brazilian police worked for five months to track down a fugitive American pastor accused of dozens of sexual assaults in Minnesota.

Victor Arden Barnard, 53, was arrested Friday at a home in a gated community, said the Public Security Secretariat of Rio Grande do Norte state. A 33-year-old woman was detained, police said.

Both were transported to a federal jail in Lagoa Nova in Natal, awaiting extradition to the United States, authorities said.

Barnard is suspected of 59 counts of sexual assault in Minnesota. He is accused of sexually abusing two young girls who were members of his church, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

The last U.S. sighting of Barnard was last year in Raymond, Washington. The fugitive was featured on CNN’s “The Hunt With John Walsh” last year and again last week.

Barnard was featured on the U.S. Marshal’s 15 Most Wanted List along with a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. In addition to the sexual assault allegations, he was also wanted for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Charismatic leader
As a pastor, Barnard inspired his congregants with his charisma and apparent devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“I had never met anybody that I thought loved the word of God as much as Victor Barnard did,” said Ruth Johnson, a former member of Barnard’s River Road Fellowship.

Barnard set up a so-called “shepherd’s camp” in the mid-1990s in Pine County. Several congregants moved to the rural area about 100 miles north of Minneapolis to be a part of the camp.

In June 2000, the pastor allegedly convinced some members of his congregation to hand over their firstborn daughters to live with him in a secluded campsite.

Lindsay Tornambe’s name was called, and her parents allowed their 13-year-old daughter to join the group of girls at the camp, called “The Maidens,” under Barnard’s supervision. She and other congregants said the girls got up early, sewed, cooked and cleaned.

“Everything that a wife would do, they did for him,” Johnson said.

Barnard proclaimed he was Christ on Earth.

“He taught that in the Bible, the church was the bride of Christ and because he was Christ in the flesh, the church was supposed to be married to him,” Tornambe said. “At that time, I didn’t really understand the fullness of what it meant.”

The complaint filed in Minnesota says Tornambe alleges she was sexually abused by Barnard from the ages of 13 to 22 while she and her parents were members of River Road Fellowship. She told investigators the group of 10 young girls and women were known as Alamoths, or maidens. Her group was sent to what she thought was a summer camp, the document says.

Tornambe told investigators Barnard sexually assaulted her one to three times a month until she left in 2010 to be with her parents, who had moved to Pennsylvania.

In fall 2011, Tornambe was contacted by another former maiden who shared a similar story: She said she was molested by Barnard from the time she was 12 until she was 20, although she said the number of sexual acts varied each month.

Tornambe and the other woman went to the police in Minnesota. Barnard had moved to Washington state after an admission to affairs with married women caused the religious group to split, the complaint says.

The ministry operated in a secluded area of Pine County from about 2000 until 2011 or 2012, Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell of the county sheriff’s office told CNN last year.

The fellowship left the property shortly after a new sheriff was elected and began investigating the ministry, Blackwell said. Afterward, The Salvation Army started running a family camp there.

Source: CNN

Dad Cares for Quadruplets After Wife’s Tragic Death in Childbirth

It was supposed to be the happiest moment of their lives. Carlos Morales kissed his wife Erica and told her he loved her just minutes before she delivered their quadruplets.

Tragically, it would be the last time he would ever see her alive, Morales tells PEOPLE.

Pregnant with four babies conceived through IVF, Erica, 36, went into labor at seven months on Jan. 15. Doctors prepared to deliver the babies by C-section.

Carlos Morales and his Quadruplets: Photo curtesy Carlos Morales
Carlos Morales and his Quadruplets: Photo courtesy Carlos Morales

“We were so excited to start our family,” Carlos, 29, who works in manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona, says. “And then it all came crashing down.”

All four babies – three girls, one boy – were safely delivered. But Erica went into hypovolemic shock, an emergency condition where one experiences a severe amount of blood loss. She died at 1:50 a.m. on Jan. 16, before she even had a chance to hold her newborns in her arms.

Their Love Story

Carlos and Erica met at a nightclub in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2006.

“I didn’t speak any English and she didn’t speak any Spanish,” Carlos tells PEOPLE, laughing. “But I asked her to dance and she said yes”

He only found out later that Erica, a real estate agent, ended up throwing out a piece of paper he gave her that night with his number scribbled on it.

But through mutual friends, they saw each other again, and this time, they didn’t part ways.

He knew right away he wanted to marry her. Erica learned Spanish, Carlos learned English, and in 2007 they got married in Las Vegas.

Carlos and Erica Morales
Carlos and Erica Morales, photo courtesy: Carlos Morales

“We also really wanted to have a baby,” says Carlos. “So we started to try right away.”

After experiencing a miscarriage, which Carlos says “was beyond devastating,” they found out Erica was pregnant last June after undergoing fertility treatment.

“We couldn’t have been more excited to finally have a baby,” he says. “Erica was taking such good care of herself.”

When she went for her first sonogram, she found out she wasn’t just having one baby, but four.

“Her doctor told her she had to just relax,” Carlos says. “So that’s exactly what she did.”

Carlos cooked, cleaned and made sure Erica stayed off her feet. Erica’s mother move into their house to help them.

Doctors closely monitored Erica, who was healthy throughout her pregnancy.

On Jan. 12, Erica was checked into the hospital because she was experiencing high blood pressure.

It was on Jan. 15 that she texted Carlos when he was at work saying the doctors wanted to deliver the babies.

“The doctor said she was having too many contractions so it was time to deliver the babies,” Carlos says. “We took pictures before she went into the delivery room, made some videos, and she was surrounded by family and friends. I said to her, ‘Let’s get these babies out.’ ”

The couple also discussed names. They settled on Carlos Jr. for the boy and Tracey and Paisley for the two girls. Erica couldn’t decide on the other girl’s name. They thought they had plenty of time to figure it out.

“‘We can decide after she’s born,’ ” Carlos recalls Erica telling him.

Some 24 people – doctors, nurses, family and friends – were in the delivery room when the babies were born. Each weighed from two to three lbs. For Carlos, it was the moment of a lifetime.

“I forgot about how expensive it was going to be to raise four kids or how hard it might be,” he says. “Seeing Erica and the babies healthy is all I could think about. I was just so excited for our future.”

Erica, who was coming out of an anesthesia-induced sleep, squeezed her husband’s hand. She couldn’t yet speak. Carlos sat by her bedside, with their newborn babies in the nursery one floor away.

Code Blue

Suddenly, around 1 a.m., Carlos heard equipment alarms going off and saw nurses rushing into the room. The medical team asked him to leave while they worked on Erica.

An hour later, they told him she was gone. He heard their words but couldn’t understand.

“How could this have happened?” he asked, something that still haunts him today. “She was fine, and then she wasn’t. She was alive and then she was just gone.”

He still asks himself every day if there is something he could have done to keep his wife alive.

“I went from having the best day of my life to the next morning experiencing the worst day of my life,” Carlos says. “My four babies came into the world and then my wife died.”

When he was sitting by his babies in the middle of the night after she passed away, the nurse asked him what the babies’ names were.

Carlos gave the nurse the three names they had agreed upon. The other girl’s name he chose himself: Erica.

Living for His Children

Carlos continues to grieve for Erica every waking minute. She lives in his dreams. The one thing that keeps him going: The babies.

Carlos Jr. and Tracey are already home; Paisley and Erica are still in the hospital. Carlos goes to visit them every day while his mother-in-law cares for the babies at home. At the hospital, Carlos is also a student, paying close attention in the free baby-care classes it offers.

“I’m learning everything from how to give them a bath, CPR, feeding, and how to manage their sleep schedule,” he says. “I need to be prepared.”

“Everything I do now is for my children,” Carlos, who will return to work, tells PEOPLE. “Our family and friends have been very supportive too.”

One friend, Nicole Todman, created a GoFundMe page where people can donate.

Erica Morales, Photo Courtesy: Carlos Morales
Erica Morales, Photo Courtesy: Carlos Morales

It’s hard for Carlos to think of the future when he still can’t understand the past.

“When I’m alone at home I still tell myself that I hope I’m dreaming,” he says. “Erica was the most special person in the world and she should be here to love her babies.”

Just recently he found a note that she had written on her iPad.

She had jotted down her dreams for her children to go to college, speak both English and Spanish and to have good jobs.

“I will try my hardest to make sure that happens,” he says.

And he draws comfort from his Catholic faith. He knows when he held all four babies for the first time after they were born, Erica was looking down on her family from heaven.

“She always used to do this happy dance and I know that right then and there she was doing it next to me,” he says.

Source: People.com

marijuana

Alaska becomes latest state to legalize marijuana use

(CNN) Marijuana smokers now have a new place to put on their bucket lists: Alaska, which on Tuesday became the third state to officially OK marijuana use.

Following Colorado’s lead, voters passed the Alaska Marijuana Legalization ballot measure in November. Legalization became official on Tuesday, which means that now “the use of marijuana (is) legal for persons 21 years of age or older.”

There are limits to this law, as there are in similar ones in other states. People still can’t legally have more than 1 ounce of marijuana on them. Nor can they harvest more than 4 ounces in their home. And consuming marijuana in public and driving while high are no-nos.

Then there’s the fact that the law isn’t fully implemented yet. The regulatory structure allowing for entrepreneurs to set up shops like those found in Colorado is still in the works, so right now no one can legally make a living selling the drug.

Not to mention that, under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. That makes its use a federal crime.

Is weed legal in your state?

Still, as in many states, there seems to be movement in Washington on that front. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told CNN in October he is “cautiously optimistic” on the subject of marijuana legalization. Holder said the Justice Department is focused on marijuana distribution to minors, interstate trafficking and drug violence, not incarcerating “low level people who are simply there for possessory offenses.”

In the absence — some might say in defiance — of any sweeping federal change on marijuana, some states have taken the initiative.

Twenty-three states still prohibit cannabis outright. But the rest of them have either legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Colorado became the first to go one step further in legalizing pot, followed by Washington state. And now there’s one more in Alaska.

Source: CNN

hsbc

HSBC helped conceal $100 billion in Swiss accounts – report

Documents obtained and analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveal how HSBC (HSBC) used the secretive Swiss banking system to conceal the identities of accounts holders, and in many cases, help depositors avoid paying taxes.

ICIJ’s findings are based on data turned over to French authorities by former HSBC employee Hervé Falciani in 2008. The files were later obtained by the newspaper Le Monde and shared among other media outlets.

ICIJ said the leaked documents show that HSBC “repeatedly reassured clients that it would not disclose details of accounts to national authorities” and even “discussed with clients a range of measures that would ultimately allow clients to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.”
In a statement provided to ICIJ, HSBC said that its Swiss private bank has undergone a “radical transformation in recent years,” including reforms that will make it more difficult for clients to evade taxes or launder money.

“We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due diligence in HSBC’s Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today,” the statement said.

Shares in HSBC fell 1.5% in London on Monday.

According to ICIJ, HSBC “served those close” to regimes including that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Ben Ali and current Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad.
Other clients included former and current politicians from Britain, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Senegal, among others. (Explore the data here.)
HSBC, in its statement, said that it has drastically reduced the number of accounts at its Swiss private bank. In 2007, the bank had more than 30,000 accounts. It now has around 10,000.

Source: CNN

Granddaughter of TBN Founder Claims She was Threatened with a Gun to Keep Silent about Finances

The granddaughter of the late Trinity Broadcasting Network founder is suing her uncle, the now vice president of programming at the network, after she says he threatened her with a gun.

Brittany Koper, the granddaughter of founder Paul Crouch, was promoted to Chief Financial Officer of TBN in 2011. She became the corporate treasurer soon after, Christian News Network reports.

“Koper learned through specific instructions from Defendant Trinity Broadcasting, Defendant Jan Crouch, Defendant Matthew Crouch, and Defendant John Casoria that the requirements of Plaintiff Brittany Koper’s new job included active participation in numerous illegal schemes that were disclosed to Plaintiff Brittany Koper following her promotion,” her husband Michael wrote in a new lawsuit filed on Jan. 29.

Just two months after she was promoted, Koper, her husband and father were fired from the network.

Koper also claims that during a meeting about the issue, her uncle, Matthew Crouch, threatened her with a gun.

Koper first filed a legal complaint in 2012, saying that TBN officials were using donations for personal expenses and her job was to “find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses.” This new lawsuit claims that her confidential communications with officials had been disclosed without her consent.

TBN attorneys have claimed that Koper stole $1.3 million from the network, but returned $500,000. She has since admitted that she took loans from TBN with permission.

Publication date: February 6, 2015
Source: Christianheadlines.com

obamaprayerbreakfast

Obama Condemns ‘Distorted’ Faith at National Prayer Breakfast

President Obama on Thursday (Feb. 5) called for an emphasis on what is just about the world’s religions as a way to counter the ways faith has been distorted across the globe.

“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”

He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the golden rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.

“As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends,” Obama said. “Here at home and around the world we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion, the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”

Obama denounced the so-called Islamic State that is waging a bloody war across Syria and Iraq against fellow Muslims and religious minorities, labeling the group “a brutal, vicious death cult.”

The breakfast has often turned controversial, and this year was no exception with the inclusion of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who attended but did not speak and was not seated on the dais with other speakers.

Under pressure from China not to recognize the Nobel laureate, Obama nonetheless opened his remarks by welcoming the Dalai Lama, calling him “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion” and someone who “inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”

Chinese officials had criticized the Dalai Lama’s plans to appear at the event.

“We are against any country’s interference in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues, and are opposed to any foreign leader’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in any form,” said Hong Lei, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before the breakfast.

Obama and the Dalai Lama have met several times at the White House, but the White House usually keeps the meetings private and low-key so as not to anger China.

NASCAR commentator Darrell Waltrip, the keynoter of the breakfast, joked about his being invited two years after conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson raised eyebrows by directly confronting the president about Obama’s signature health care reform.

“I’m not a brain surgeon and I’m not running for office so I’m the perfect guy to be here this morning,” he said.

From a distance, Pope Francis joined Obama in calling for greater religious freedom.

“I ask you to pray for me and to join me in praying for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who experience persecution and death for their faith,” the pontiff wrote in a letter to attendees that was read in part by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who co-chaired the breakfast with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Following the recent deadly attacks on a French weekly that had published satirical cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, Obama also spoke of the need to support both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults,” he said, drawing applause, “and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities, who are the targets of such attacks.”

Obama expressed thanks for the safe return of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who was held in North Korea for more than a year, and recounted his recent meeting in Boise, Idaho, with the family of U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini, who remains imprisoned in Iran and has become a cause celebre for many evangelicals.

“We’re going to keep up this work for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith,” the president said, noting that Rabbi David Saperstein, the new U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, would be heading soon to Iraq to work with religious leaders there.

The breakfast, in its 63rd year, is chaired each year by members of Congress who meet weekly for prayer when Congress is in session. It draws politicians, diplomats and prominent evangelical Christian leaders but often includes an interfaith roster of speakers.

Rabbi Greg Marx of Maple Glen, Pa., gave the invocation and former Ambassador Andrew Young, once an aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a president of the National Council of Churches, gave the benediction.

Wicker read from the Gospel of Luke in place of the scheduled speaker, King Abdullah II of Jordan, reciting the story of the good Samaritan. Abdullah had to return home after a hostage crisis involving the Islamic State turned deadly.

“We all know the heartbreaking circumstances his country is experiencing at this point,” Wicker said. “Our prayers are with the people of Jordan during this troubling time of crisis.”

Courtesy: christianheadlines.com/Religion News Service

Photo: President Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday (Feb. 5, 2015).

Photo courtesy: Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque

Publication date: February 6, 2015

APTOPIX France Attacks Rally

‘Largest ever’ rally in Paris as millions gather

PARIS Masses of people joined with world leaders to fill Paris streets Sunday in a rally for unity that officials said was the largest demonstration in French history. Hundreds of thousands more marched in cities around the country and the world to repudiate a three-day terror spree around the French capital that killed 17 people and left the three gunmen dead.

Their arms linked, more than 40 world leaders headed the somber procession — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — setting aside their differences for a demonstration that French President Francois Hollande said turned the city into “the capital of the world.”

Mass Unity Rally Held In Paris Following Recent Terrorist Attacks

Millions of people streamed through the streets behind them and across France to mourn the victims of deadly attacks on a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and police officers — violence that tore deep into the nation’s sense of wellbeing in a way some compared to Sept. 11 in the United States.

“Our entire country will rise up toward something better,” Hollande said.

Details of the attacks continued to emerge, with new video showing one of the gunmen pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and detailing how the attacks were going to unfold. That gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, was also linked to a new shooting, two days after he and the brothers behind a massacre at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed in nearly simultaneous police raids.

The attacks tested France’s proud commitment to its liberties — liberties that authorities may now curtail to ensure greater security. Marchers recognized this as a watershed moment.

“It’s a different world today,” said Michel Thiebault, 70.

Illustrating his point, crowds cheered police vans as they wove through the crowds Sunday — a rare sight at the many demonstrations that Parisians have staged throughout their rebellious history, when protesters and police are often at odds.
Many shed the aloof attitude Parisians are famous for, helping strangers with directions, cheering and crying together. Sad and angry but fiercely defending their freedom of expression, the marchers mourned the dead and brandished pens and flags from around the world.

Giant rallies were held throughout France and major cities around the world, including London, Madrid and New York — all attacked by al-Qaida-linked extremists — as well as Cairo, Sydney, Stockholm, Tokyo and elsewhere.
A general view shows hundreds of thousands of French citizens taking part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris
In Paris, the Interior Ministry said, “the size of this unprecedented demonstration makes it impossible to provide a specific count,” noting that the crowds were too big to fit on the official march route and spread out into other streets.

Later, the ministry said 3.7 million marched throughout France, including roughly between 1.2 and 1.6 million in Paris, but said a precise account is impossible given the enormity of the turnout.

French news media estimated up to 3 million people took part in the Paris march — more than the numbers who took to Paris streets when the Allies liberated the city from the Nazis in World War II.

“I hope that at the end of the day everyone is united. Everyone — Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists,” said marcher Zakaria Moumni. “We are humans first of all, and nobody deserves to be murdered like that. Nobody.”

On Paris’ Republic Square, deafening applause rang out as the world leaders walked past, amid tight security and an atmosphere of togetherness amid adversity. Families of the victims, holding each other for support, marched in the front along with the leaders and with journalists working for the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. Several wept openly.

“I Am Charlie,” read legions of posters and banners. Many waved editorial cartoons, the French tricolor and other national flags.

The leaders marched down Voltaire Boulevard — named after the Enlightenment-era figure who symbolizes France’s attachment to freedom of expression. One marcher bore a banner with Voltaire’s famed pledge: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.”

The French president joined Netanyahu in a visit to a synagogue Sunday night as French authorities sought to reassure the Jewish population — Europe’s largest — that it is safe to stay in France. Seven thousand of France’s half-million Jews emigrated to Israel last year amid concerns for their safety and the economy.

As night fell on the unusually unified city, some lit candles.

“It’s important to be here for freedom for tolerance and for all the victims. It’s sad we had to get to this point for people to react against intolerance, racism and fascism,” said Caroline Van Ruymbeke, 32.

At an international conference in India, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the world stood with the people of France “not just in anger and in outrage, but in solidarity and commitment to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause that extremists fear so much and that has always united our countries: freedom.”
Hundreds of thousands of people fill the streets of Paris
The three days of terror began Wednesday when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people including two police officers. Al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen said it directed the attack to avenge the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly’s satire. Charlie Hebdo assailed Christianity, Judaism as well as officialdom of all stripes with its brand of sometimes crude satire.

On Thursday, police said Coulibaly killed a policewoman and the next day he seized hostages at a kosher store in Paris while the Kouachi brothers were in a standoff with police at a printing plant near Charles de Gaulle airport.

It all ended at dusk Friday with raids that left all three gunmen dead. Four hostages at the market were also killed.

Five people held in connection with the attacks were freed late Saturday, leaving no one in custody, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. Coulibaly’s widow, last seen near the Turkish-Syrian border, is still being sought.

France remains on high alert while investigators determine whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network. More than 5,500 police and soldiers were deployed on Sunday across France, guarding marches, synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites.

“The terrorists want two things: they want to scare us and they want to divide us,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told TV channel iTele. “We must do the opposite: We must stand up and we must stay united.”

Source: NYPost

andraecrouch

Gospel music legend Andrae Crouch dies

(CNN) Andrae Crouch, a seven-time Grammy winner and gospel music legend, died Thursday at a Los Angeles-area hospital, his publicist said on his website.

Crouch was 72 and had been hospitalized at Northridge Hospital Medical Center since Saturday.

While Crouch was well-known for his gospel work with his choir, the Disciples, he also produced and arranged songs for pop artists such as Michael Jackson.

No cause of death was given.

Crouch revolutionized gospel music in the 1970s, giving it a power and verve that propelled him out of the church and into the mainstream, although he really never left the church either.

“Crouch was an innovator, a path-finder, a precursor in an industry noted for its conservative, often derivative approach to popular music,” Robert Darden wrote for Christianity Today. “He combined gospel and rock, flavored it with jazz and calypso as the mood struck him and the song called for it.”

Some of Crouch’s best-know songs are “My Tribute,” “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” and “Soon and Very Soon.”

Often called “the father of modern gospel music,” Crouch was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and his songs have been covered by artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Elton John, Barbara Mandrell, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

And if you needed to give your song a gospel feel, he was the go-to guy. Crouch directed the choirs that sang on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”

Crouch was no stranger to Hollywood either. His songs appeared in “The Color Purple” and “Once Upon a Forest.” He was also the arranger and choir director for “The Lion King.”

Crouch was only the third gospel artist to have a star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Crouch began to sing in his dad’s California church, forming his music group there, according his biography on the Gospel Music Hall of Fame website. He would later co-pastor the congregation with his twin sister.

Source: CNN
Picture: USAToday.com

kepler

Scientists find new Earth-like planets in space

WASHINGTON (AP) – Earth has a few more near-twin planets outside our solar system, tantalizing possibilities in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Astronomers announced Tuesday that depending on definitions, they have confirmed three or four more planets that are about the same size as Earth and are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold “Goldilocks Zone” for liquid water to form.

These planets are likely to be rocky like Earth, and not gas giants or ice worlds. They get about the same heat from their star as we get from the sun, according to the latest results from NASA’s planet hunting Kepler telescope.

But don’t book your flights yet.

They may be close to Earth in size and likely temperature in the gargantuan scale of the universe, but they aren’t quite close enough for comfort.

Consider two of the new planets, the nearest to Earth discovered to date. If they have atmospheres similar to Earth’s – a big if – one would be a toasty 140 some degrees and the other would hover around zero, said study lead author Guillermo Torres, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Life conceivably could evolve and adapt to those temperatures, he said.

Oh, and they aren’t actually within commuting distance of Earth. Those two are 500 and 1,100 light years away; a light year is 5.9 trillion miles.

What’s important, said SETI Institute astronomer Douglas Caldwell, a study co-author who presented the findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, is that astronomers are a bit closer to finding twins of Earth and answering the age-old question: Are we alone?

“These planets do exist; we didn’t know that before,” Torres said in a phone interview from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “What we’re really looking for is signs of life eventually. We’re not there yet. It will take many years but this is the first step.”

Torres’ team confirmed earlier discoveries and added new ones, bringing the total known number of planets that are no bigger than twice Earth’s size and in the habitable temperature zone to eight or nine. But that’s only from a short search of a small part of our galaxy, so Torres believes that Earth-like planets are common throughout the cosmos, though he cannot prove it yet.

Torres likes to include one planet that would bump the new findings from three to four, but Caldwell said that planet may or may not be habitable.

It doesn’t matter much. “We do not need to talk about the one or two exoplanets that could be like Earth, we are finding so many,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell University’s Pale Blue Dot Institute. She wasn’t part of the study.

Torres and Caldwell highlighted the two new planets that are closest in size to Earth. The closest, called Kepler 438-b, is only 12 percent larger than Earth and gets about 40 percent more energy from its star than we do from the sun, so it would probably be warmer, Torres said. It tightly circles a small cooler red star with its year lasting only 35 Earth days and the sun in its sky would be red, not yellow.

It may hot, but “there are bacteria on Earth that live very comfortably in those temperatures, no problem,” Torres said.

The other, Kepler 442-b, is about 34 percent bigger than Earth but gets only two-thirds of the energy from its sun as we do, Torres said.

NASA also announced that its planet-hunter telescope confirmed its 1,000th planet outside the solar system, most quite unlike Earth and not in the habitable zone. Added to those discovered by other telescopes, astronomers have now discovered more than 1,800 planets that are outside the solar system.

Source: AP
Picture: Sen.com