Categotry Archives: Religious Leaders


George M. Docherty

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Categories: Religious Leaders

George MacPherson Docherty, a Presbyterian pastor who used the pulpit to get the phrase “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance, died on Nov. 27. He was 97.
Born in Scotland, Docherty graduated from Glasgow University and completed a three-year pastorate at Aberdeen’s North Kirk before immigrating to the United States in 1950. He spent the next 26 years working as a pastor at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C.
In 1952, Docherty’s 7-year-old son came home from school and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. Although Docherty wasn’t a U.S. citizen, he took offense that God was not acknowledged in the pledge and vowed to do something about it. That year, he gave a sermon at his church, which was located just blocks from the White House, and used the fear of “godless communists” to encourage a change in the pledge’s phrasing.
“I could hear little Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity,” Docherty once said.
Docherty repeated the sermon on Feb. 7, 1954, after learning President Dwight D. Eisenhower planned to attend his service. The next day, Rep. Charles G. Oakman, R-Mich., introduced a bill to add the phrase “under God” to the pledge. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Homer Ferguson, R-Mich. In the midst of the McCarthy era, both pieces of legislation passed and Eisenhower signed the bill on June 14. In the five decades since the religious update, numerous lawsuits have claimed the altered pledge violates the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.
Docherty hosted a religious TV program in Washington, D.C., for 22 years, and penned a book of sermons entitled “One Way of Living.” His autobiography, “I’ve Seen the Day,” was published in 1984. Docherty also used his position at the church to rail against the Vietnam War and to promote racial equality. He invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to preach from his pulpit and even joined King on the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala., in 1965.
Docherty and his family moved back to Scotland in 1976, but returned to America 13 years later. In his final years, he gave guest sermons in Huntington, Pa., and enjoyed playing golf and the violin.


Yahweh Ben Yahweh


Categories: Religious Leaders

yby.jpgYahweh Ben Yahweh, the infamous founder of a violent black-supremacist sect in South Florida, died on May 7 of prostate cancer. He was 71.

Born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Kingfisher, Okla., he was the eldest of 15 children and the son of a Pentecostal minister. Mitchell spent much of his childhood studying religion and singing in the church choir, and claimed he knew he was divine when he was only three years old. He served a stint in the U.S. Air Force and earned a psychology degree from Phillips College in Oklahoma.

During the civil rights era, Mitchell helped organize sit-ins in the South, but he became disillusioned with the movement, calling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “that dead dog preacher.” He returned to school to study law at the University of Oklahoma, and economics at Atlanta University, and joined the Nation of Islam, adopting the name “Hulon X.” He then preached as “Father Michael” and “Brother Love” before moving to Miami in 1976. There the self-proclaimed “Black Messiah” changed his name yet again, this time to “Yahweh Ben Yahweh,” the Hebrew words for “God, son of God,” and became the founder and spiritual leader of the Nation of Yahweh.

Unlike leaders of other religious sects, Yahweh didn’t believe in celibacy. Twice married and the father of four children, he frequently slept with many of his female followers, some as young as 10 years old. The charismatic leader, who was known for wearing jeweled turbans and flowing white robes, often called himself the “Original Jew,” and said his disciples were the true descendants of a long-lost tribe of Israel. He was always guarded by a group of men called the Circle of 10, each of whom were armed with a six-foot wooden staff. Many of Yahweh’s teachings were laid out in his book, “You Are Not A Nigger! The Original Black Bible (Our True History, The World’s Best Kept Secret).”

Formed in 1979, the Nation of Yahweh is a cult of Christianity. Although based on teachings of the Bible, the group believes Yahweh was the son of God, and that God, Jesus and the apostles were all black. Followers were urged to break from the “immoral world” and publicly state that they would die and/or kill for God/Yahweh. Each male member was also required to drop their “slave name” and adopt “Israel” as a surname.
Also known as the Church of Love, the Nation of Yahweh promoted Christian teachings, family values and urged kids to stay away from drugs. At its height in the 1980s, the cult claimed thousands of members and built an empire of businesses worth approximately $100 million. Community leaders praised the organization for helping to rejuvenate several blighted Miami neighborhoods. In 1987, the Miami Urban League presented Yahweh with its highest humanitarian award. Three years later, Miami Mayor Xavier L. Suarez declared Oct. 7 to be Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day and gave him the keys to the city.

The Nation of Yahweh also preached hatred and religious separatism for blacks. The group was linked to nearly two dozen brutal murders and the fire bombing of a Delray Beach, Fla., neighborhood. Yahweh was accused of sending followers to kill “white devils” as part of an initiation rite, and ordered victims’ ears or heads cut off as proof they were slain. In Nov. 1990, he and 15 followers were indicted on three counts of federal racketeering and extortion charges. The indictment mentioned 18 instances of racketeering that included 14 killings, two attempted killings, extortion and arson. Although he was defended by former federal judge and current U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), Yahweh was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, but not racketeering, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He served 11 years before being released on parole in 2001.

The Nation of Yahweh is still active, with chapters in the United States and Canada. While members continue to view Yahweh as the “Grand Master of All, the God of the Universe, the Grand Potentate, the Everlasting Father and the persecuted Messiah,” many have since abandoned the cult’s racist tenets. Yahweh’s final years were spent landscaping, reading and writing.


Rev. Walter H. Halloran


Categories: Hollywood, Religious Leaders

Rev. Walter H. Halloran, the last surviving Jesuit participant of an exorcism that inspired a bestselling book and numerous films, died on March 1. Cause of death was not released. He was 83.
In 1949, the 27-year-old Minnesota native was working on his master’s degree in history at St. Louis University when he was summoned to the psychiatric wing of Alexian Brothers Hospital. There he met with Rev. William S. Bowdern and Rev. William Van Roo, two priests who needed his religious support and strong arms to exorcise a demonic presence from a 14-year-old boy.
The boy came from a Lutheran family in Cottage City, Md. Witnesses said the boy became extraordinarily strong after an experience with a ouija board, and spoke in a voice not his own. His body would twist and form a loop, with his heels touching the back of his head. At night, furnishings in his room allegedly levitated off the ground and moved across the room without any visible assistance. His bed also shook violently and the sounds of footsteps and scratchings emanated from the walls and ceilings of his house.
Unable to stop these occurrences or control the boy’s behavior, his parents brought him to St. Louis for a religious intervention. The boy underwent extensive medical and psychological evaluations as well as an examination from Bowdern, who determined the boy was possessed. Over the next 12 weeks, several priests endeavored to save his soul.
Bowdern performed the rites of exorcism as Roo and Halloran prayed and forcibly restrained the boy. Halloran later told the press that he observed the boy shout obscenities during these ministrations, and spit at people four feet away with unerring accuracy. He saw raised symbols and words appear on the boy’s body in the form of painful, red welts. During one particularly violent seizure, the boy even broke Halloran’s nose.
The exorcism was successful, however, and the boy reportedly went on to lead a normal life.
A three-paragraph article about the incident published in The Washington Post served as the inspiration for William Peter Blatty’s 1971 bestselling horror novel, “The Exorcist.” Blatty’s fictionalized version of events, which featured a girl possessed by the Devil, was adapted two years later into a hit film starring Linda Blair. The movie received 10 Oscar nominations and won for best adapted screenplay and best sound. Hollywood also produced several sequels and one prequel.
After the exorcism, Halloran worked for parishes in Minnesota, California and Wisconsin, and taught history at Marquette University and St. Louis University. At 48, he enlisted in the U.S. Army for chaplain duty during the Vietnam War. The oldest paratrooping chaplain at that time, Halloran received two Bronze Stars for his service.
“I saw more evil in Vietnam than I saw in that hospital bed,” Halloran once said.


James Porter

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Categories: Criminals, Religious Leaders

James R. Porter, a former priest and convicted child molester, died on Feb. 11. Cause of death was not released. He was 70.
Born in Revere, Mass., Porter was the second son of an oil company chemist. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in mathematics and entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Although the seminary recommended Porter as a young man of “excellent character,” allegations of abuse surfaced only a few weeks after the church gave him his first post in North Attleborough, Mass., in 1960. He molested children, often brazenly, even as parents shared their suspicions with church authorities. Instead of turning Porter over to the police, however, the church transferred him to a parish in Fall River, Mass.
Over the next few years, the church responded to numerous complaints about Porter’s inappropriate behavior with children by transferring him to two more towns. In 1965, Porter was ordered to seek spiritual counseling at the Jemez Springs Foundation House, a Catholic rest center in New Mexico that helps priests overcome problems with alcoholism and sexual misconduct. Upon his release, Porter resumed his criminal activities and the church continued to protect him. Before he left the priesthood in 1974, Porter abused children in Texas, Minnesota and New Mexico.
Porter married, fathered four children and lived a quiet life until 1987 when he served four months in jail for molesting his children’s baby-sitter. Three years later, Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who had been an altar boy under Porter, contacted the former priest. During taped telephone conversations, Porter admitted to sexually abusing dozens of children but couldn’t remember any of their names. In response, Fitzpatrick took out advertisements in New England newspapers to find Porter’s victims and seek justice.
Porter returned to face trial in Massachusetts in 1993, and was convicted of molesting 28 children and sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison. In a television interview, he confessed to abusing as many as 100 children. The high-profile case foreshadowed the clergy sex abuse scandal that swept through the Roman Catholic Church in 2002.
Porter completed his prison sentence last year, but was being held pending the completion of a civil commitment hearing to determine if he should be committed indefinitely as a sexual predator. The hearing, which was postponed last month when Porter became ill, featured testimony from several of his victims. Porter’s ex-wife also came forward and testified that she once caught him touching a neighborhood boy.
“Father Porter came to symbolize the start of an era when people could talk about priest abuse. The irony is James Porter caused a lot of laws to be changed, caused a lot of people to come forward,” said attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represented 101 Porter victims in lawsuits.
Last May, Porter married Anne Milner, a former nun he knew from seminary. The couple became reacquainted in 2002 when Milner wrote Porter in prison.
Complete Coverage of Abuse in the Catholic Church From The Boston Globe

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