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CULTURE DIGEST: Parents wary of teens’ involvement in social websites; homosexual bishop treated for alcoholism

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–MySpace.com and other social websites that allow anyone to post photos and personal information about themselves for all the world to see are increasingly becoming the focus of investigations related to the molestation, rape and murder of teenagers, and parents may be starting to catch on to the potential hazards of such sites.

A report by USA Today found that teens are regularly posting their cell phone numbers, school names and other information along with inappropriate pictures of themselves on sites such as MySpace, which has 55 million members. But most teenagers appear to be oblivious to the dangers of such broad disclosures.

“Kids are not connecting what they’re doing on the computer with real life,” Parry Aftab, an online safety expert who has advised MySpace, told USA Today. “They do not believe they’re accountable.”

Apparently criminals have tuned in to the opportunity for misbehavior such websites hold, as a brief look at recent crimes indicates a vast new market for finding targets has opened up in cyberspace.

In January, a 14-year-old girl was found strangled in a garbage bin in Newark, N.J., and media reports have linked MySpace with her death, USA Today said. A 15-year-old was found dead in a canal near her home in Livermore, Calif., last month, and police discovered she was active on MySpace, USA Today said. And in Middletown, Conn., seven girls under 16 have been sexually assaulted by men they encountered on MySpace.

“A case that doesn’t have a connection to the Internet is rare,” Los Angeles detective Paul Bishop told USA Today.

While the Connecticut attorney general’s office is investigating MySpace “for possible criminal prosecution” for “failure to shield minors” from pornographic images and sexual predators making it “a parent’s worst nightmare,” MySpace released a statement regarding the issue, USA Today reported.

“We share [the attorney general’s] concerns about the safety and security of MySpace, and we will be working with him … to make our safety practices and procedures even stronger and more effective,” the statement said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has noticed a change in the types of crimes reported to their agency, USA Today said.

“We’ve seen fewer cases of kids being enticed in chat rooms by someone using deceptive methods,” Michelle Collins, a spokeswoman for the center, told USA Today. “And we’ve seen more cases of children who are inadvertently exposing themselves and putting themselves at a higher risk from offenders or people who have bad intentions.”

In related news, in January NBC’s “Dateline” aired another hidden-camera report addressing the problem of men who target teenagers online for sex. The show was the highest-rated edition in more than a year, which may indicate parents are starting to realize they need to pay attention to the issue, USA Today said.

“I believe the Internet has actually fed the creation of pedophiles,” New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who has written on the issue, said. “In the past these people might have the inclination, but acting on it was so difficult.”

HOMOSEXUAL BISHOP TREATED FOR ALCOHOLISM — Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who created controversy in 2003 when he became the first openly homosexual bishop to be ordained within the Episcopal Church, is being treated for alcoholism.

The bishop of the New Hampshire diocese checked himself in for treatment at an undisclosed location this month after family and close friends advised him to get help for the addiction, according to the Concord Monitor Feb. 15.

Most people the paper interviewed said the news of his struggle with alcohol came as a shock.

“I was clueless,” David Jones of St. Paul’s Church in Concord, said.

Robinson wrote a letter to the clergy and bishops within his diocese Feb. 13, explaining the situation, and the letter was posted on the diocese website.

“I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on February 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol,” Robinson wrote. “Over the 28 days I will be here, I will be dealing with the disease of alcoholism — which, for years, I have thought of as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether.”

The president of the Standing Committee of New Hampshire also posted a letter on the dioceses website, reminding its people that the Episcopal Church has “long recognized alcoholism as a treatable human disease, not a failure of character or will.”

“The members of the Standing Committee fully support and stand with our bishop and his family as he confronts the effects of alcohol on his life, and we commend him for his courageous example to us all, as we pray daily for him and for his ministry among us,” Randolph K. Dales of the diocese standing committee wrote.

But opponents of Robinson’s ordination say the latest news is further evidence that he is not worthy of the role of bishop.

David Virtue, whose website virtueonline.org regularly criticizes Robinson, said the reaction within the diocese is one more example of what he calls the Episcopal Church Left “trumpeting sin as a noble cause.”

“The Episcopal Left will not see this for what it truly is, but will wrap it in the swaddling clothes of personal victimhood and ‘courageous honesty,’” Virtue wrote Feb. 13.

COLLEGE EDITORS SUSPENDED OVER CARTOONS — The editor in chief and opinions page editor of The Daily Illini, the student newspaper at the University of Illinois, were suspended Feb. 15 after choosing to reprint some of the satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have caused widespread violence worldwide.

The students said they decided to run six of the 12 cartoons that were first published in Denmark in order to “raise a healthy dialogue about an important issue that is in the news and so that people would learn more about Islam.”

But Richard Herman, the chancellor of the university, criticized the newspaper in a letter, which said in part, “I believe that the D.I. could have engaged its readers in legitimate debate about the issues surrounding the cartoons’ publication in Denmark without publishing them. It is possible, for instance, to editorialize about pornography without publishing pornographic pictures.”

After the cartoons showed up in the paper, the staff later ran an apology, held conversations with Muslim students and promised more complete coverage on the issue, The New York Times said.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the school is being unfair in the way it treats criticism of different religions. In March 1997 the same campus displayed drawings that showed “red glass vaginas hanging inside European Roman Catholic cathedrals; two of them had red glass holy water cruets with crosses on them,” he said. So Donohue wrote a letter expressing his objections and received a reply from then-Chancellor Michael Aiken.

“Aiken said he regretted that the art ‘disappointed’ me,” Donohue said in a Feb. 17 news release. “… His closer was precious: ‘The University believes that true intellectual discourse extends not only to written communication but also to the visual.’ Except when Muslims get angry.

“So what’s changed? Do Catholics have to call for beheadings to get respect?” Donohue added. “How else to explain the condescending response I got, and the sympathetic response afforded Muslims? Similarly, nobody was disciplined for offending Catholics, but two kids have been suspended for offending Muslims!”

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  • Erin Curry Roach