News of the Weird

* Catholic officials in Brazil attribute the recent 250 percent increase in church attendance to the popularity of priest Marcelo Rossi, 31, a singer and former aerobics instructor described by his young female parishioners as a "hunk" and whose high-energy stadium Masses regularly draw 20,000 worshipers. According to a March Chicago Tribune story, Father Rossi's services use a "Byzantine rosary," which reduces time spent in prayer, and buckets of holy water thrown by assistants over the screaming, rock-concert-like fans. Wrote a leading Brazilian magazine, "You can't deny that to be Catholic is cool now."

* In March stories by Knight-Ridder News Service (in Honduras) and the Wall Street Journal (in Russia), the latest U.S. disaster-relief efforts were revealed to be rife with ill-conceived aid. Honduran hurricane victims still need cooking utensils and medicine but are receiving old clothes, cans of largely unappreciated foods like artichoke hearts and items like microwave popcorn, dog food and dental floss. Food commodities donated for starving Russians tend to lower the prices of similar Russian food, angering farmers, and, even so, the American food usually winds up being sold on the street rather than given to the poor.

* In March, a federal judge in Syracuse, N.Y., rejected the latest lawsuit by Donald Drusky of East McKeesport, Pa., in his 30-year battle against USX Corp. for ruining his life by firing him in 1968. Drusky had sued "God ... the sovereign ruler of the universe" for taking "no corrective action" against Drusky's enemies and demanded that God compensate him with professional guitar-playing skills and the resurrection of his mother. Drusky argued that under the federal rules of civil procedure, he would win a default judgment if God failed to show up in court.

* In March, Cairo, Egypt, school superintendent Maryann Maurice, 57, was jailed for illegal street begging; she said she earned about $150 a day, the same amount the school paid her monthly. Also in March, retired Russian army Col. Dmitry Setrakov, 69, was arrested after a brief standoff at a downtown Moscow bank; he had pulled a shotgun in an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw about $22,000 from his own account, which, like nearly everyone else's, is frozen. And the London Daily Telegraph reported in March that Russian soldiers in Chechnya had sold off at least 100 of their colleagues to the other side for as little as $17 each; the Chechens ransom the Russian soldiers back to their families.

* Among the reasons given by an unidentified Buffalo, N.Y., police officer in February in his request for full disability pay based on psychological injury was his having walked into a stationhouse in 1997 to find other officers celebrating an Easter Sunday Mass. According to the officer's lawyer, visualizing the stationhouse now causes him such emotional turmoil that he is not able to perform his duties.

* According to records released in January by the world track-and-field organization IAAF, U.S. medal-winning sprinter Dennis Mitchell denied he had taken performance-enhancing drugs, despite a positive test result. Mitchell said his testosterone was high only because he had had sex four times the night before.

* Bruce Charles Davis, 36, explaining in November to an employee of a U.S. Bank branch in Sacramento, Calif., why he had just robbed the place: "I only wanted to teach you a lesson. I want a job in bank security." Davis would have been more plausible had he not already had five bank-robbery convictions and another one pending.

* Alaskan gubernatorial candidate John Lindauer, during a debate in Ketchikan in October, tried to explain why he had been inconsistent as to when his wife had donated to his campaign. (If given in 1997, the donation would be legal; if given during the campaign, illegal.) According to Lindauer, "I said, and (my opponents) took this shot through a radio-station mirror, I believe, and took one sentence I was saying (Lindauer never explained what a radio-station mirror was, lost in November and as of March was facing an ethics investigation about the gift.)

* In September, Jonesboro, Ga., high-school science teacher Doris Walker, 43, proved her innocence of a student's charge that she had had an affair with him by baring her breasts to show the jury a surgical scar that the student failed to mention when asked whether Walker's breasts bore any unusual characteristics. And in October, a 12-year-old girl in Phoenix, who said she had been molested by her grandfather for four years, convinced police to arrest him when she handed officers a bottle in which she had gathered his sperm; she said she got the idea from an episode of TV's NYPD Blue.

* In February, David Ibrahim filed a lawsuit in San Diego against several law-enforcement agencies for $125,000 to cover the inconvenience and humiliation he suffered when jailed for seven days when police discovered methamphetamine in the gas tank of his Dodge Ram truck. Eventually authorities came to realize that the meth had been placed in the truck by a drug dealer before the Drug Enforcement Administration seized it in a raid, but that the DEA failed to find the stash before Ibrahim bought the truck at auction. (On the other hand, police got a search warrant for Ibrahim's home on the basis of their truck stash and, in a startling coincidence, found 93 grams of methamphetamine that did not come from the truck.)

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].