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Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew

The unnamed seminarian (Monster Ztudio/Shutterstock)

Remember how, after Harvey Weinstein was busted as a serial sexual abuser, it emerged that a whole lot of people knew this about Weinstein, but never said anything about it? The same thing is true about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was outed today (by the Catholic Church) as having sexually abused a minor years ago.

I had never heard that McCarrick abused minors, but I heard from many sources that he  would go after seminarians. He had a habit of inviting them to his beach house, and always inviting one more young man than there was bed space for. The unlucky mark had to bunk with the Archbishop, who loved to snuggle.

Here are excerpts from an “open letter” to Pope Benedict XVI, written a decade ago by the sociologist Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who specializes in studying the sexual behavior of Catholic priests:

While I was Adjunct Professor at a Pontifical Seminary, St. Mary’s Baltimore (1972-1984) a number of seminarians came to me with concerns about the behavior of Theodore E. McCarrick, then bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey. It has been widely known for several decades that Bishop/Archbishop now Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them. He established a coterie of young seminarians and priests that he encouraged to call him “Uncle Ted.” I have his correspondence where he referred to these men as being “cousins” with each other.

Catholic journalist Matt C. Abbott already featured the statements of two priests (2005) and one ex-priest (2006) about McCarrick. All three were “in the know” and aware of the Cardinal McCarrick’s activities in the same mode as I had heard at the seminary. None of these reporters, as far as Abbott knew, had sexual contact with the cardinal in the infamous sleepovers, but one had first hand reports from a seminarian/priest who did share a bed and received cards and letters from McCarrick. The modus operendi is similar to the documents and letters I have received from a priest who describes in detail McCarrick’s sexual advances and personal activity. At least one prominent journalist at the Boston Globe was aware of McCarrick from his investigation of another priest, but until now legal documentation has not been available. And even at this point the complete story cannot be published because priest reporters are afraid of reprisals.

In 2012, I was approached by a freelance journalist working for The New York Times Magazine on this story. Someone had told him to contact me, that I might be able to help him. It turns out that he didn’t need my help. This journalist had done what no others had been willing or able to do: found court documents about Uncle Ted’s settlements with adult men he had forced himself on, and land at least one on-the-record interviews with a victim.

The man, I was told, was an unwilling victim, but allegedly let McCarrick get away with it because as a bishop, McCarrick was in a position of total power over his future as a priest. It was the exact same reason that actresses submitted to Harvey Weinstein.

Why did this story never get published? That’s a good question. When I first spoke to the reporter, he was on the verge of publishing. Weeks, then months, went by, and no story. When I contacted him again, he told me he had no idea. The editor on the story had changed, and the new editor kept making him go re-report things he had already nailed down. This was a mystery to him.

Mind you, this reporter was coming at the story from an abuse of power in the workplace angle. He was not a Catholic, nor did he understand the intra-church dynamics of the scandal. I asked him for the name of the editor. He told me. I looked it up. The editor was a gay man whose marriage announcement had recently been in the Times.

Did that fact have anything to do with the fact that the McCarrick story was killed by the Times magazine? It is impossible to know at this point, but if I were Times executive editor Dean Baquet, I’d want to know why my newspaper had a good story about a Catholic cardinal using his power to sexually exploit his employees, but did not publish it.

But I can tell you this: back in 2002, a liberal Catholic journalist and I were trading stories about covering the abuse scandal, and the obstacles to covering the story that we found on our own ideological sides. I told him that on the Catholic Right, I found a strong unwillingness to contemplate the possibility that mandatory celibacy played a role in creating a culture of secrecy and abuse. Also, there was a deep reticence to think critically about the role of authority within the Catholic hierarchy, and how that played into a culture of abuse and cover-up. We conservative Catholics had made such a big deal about the loss of authority within the Church, and had developed within ourselves a chronic reluctance to confront facts that called the integrity of the system into question.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, for example, once upbraided me angrily on the phone for publishing a story about Bishop James Timlin’s handling of the Society of St. John situation.

“The bishop told you there was no story there!” he growled.

I pointed out to Father Neuhaus that I had quoted the bishop saying that in the story. Neuhaus was aghast that I had published the story at all, given the bishop’s words.

“Father Neuhaus, why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” I said.

“Because he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!” Neuhaus shouted.

Really, he shouted. Remember, this was February 2002, only a month after the scandal broke big in Boston. Churchmen like Father Neuhaus would come to learn in time how very wrong they were. I seem to recall Neuhaus writing about this, eventually. I bring it up here to point out how the scandal radically challenged fundamental views conservative Catholics had about the Church and how it works — so much so that they didn’t see what they didn’t want to see, in many cases.

That’s the kind of thing I told my liberal Catholic colleague. For his part, he told me that on the Catholic left, nobody will deal with the homosexual aspect of the scandal, in particular the gay networks within the Catholic Church. It was a third rail. They had an ideological commitment that this kind of thing was nothing more than a trumped-up fantasy of homophobic right wingers. The Catholic left was as committed to that view as the Catholic right was to its own shibboleths.

The thing is, you couldn’t really understand the Catholic abuse scandal without taking into account the homosexual networking, as well as the celibacy rule, and the culture of authority within the Church. None of these factors were or are complete explanations, but a complete explanation was impossible without taking them all into consideration. This was exactly what many Catholic partisans on both sides did not want to do. They only wanted confirmation of their prior beliefs. The facts of the scandal made fools of us all, eventually. My own foolishness was exposed when I accepted the lies told by a conservative Catholic priest in 2005 — that he had been driven out of Pennsylvania by church liberals — because it played into my own prejudices, and besides, I was sure that I could tell who was lying and who wasn’t.

I was wrong. And I was a fool.

Now, the secular media has its own biases when it comes to covering the Catholic Church. Among them, in my experience, was a refusal to examine the role of homosexual networks within the Catholic priesthood in creating and protecting a culture of abuse within the Church. I do not know the extent to which these are still active, but this is what Richard Sipe told me for National Review in 2002:

One disturbing facet of this willingness to overlook serious sexual sin, say a number of priests and seminarians, is the existence of a discreet but powerful homosexual network within seminaries and chanceries. A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist and former Benedictine monk who has treated scores of sexually abusive priests and has written extensively about the phenomenon, says that the reality of the gay network is well known to clerics and others closely familiar with the workings of the Catholic Church, though difficult to prove from public sources.

“I’ve reviewed over 100 cases of sexual abuse by priests. In there you get the documentation, which unfortunately often gets sealed by the Church after they settle the cases,” says Sipe, who is an expert witness in abuse cases. “It’s very clear that you can trace [the network], one person to another, through a sequence of appointments, the sequence of who follows whom in what position, and how they got there. It is a fact, and nobody can sincerely deny it.” A typical pattern involves a priest becoming sexually involved with a seminarian or younger cleric, and then the junior man following his elder up the diocesan hierarchy. Sipe and others interviewed say this “bond of secrecy” introduces the possibility of blackmail: Those in positions of authority are prevented from acting against others because they themselves are compromised. It’s a form of mutually assured destruction.

Richard Sipe is not a conservative. He’s a social scientist who was telling me how the system works. When I was working on these stories, I learned that most gay priests who are sexually active do not molest children or adolescents. The problem is that they — as well as straight priests who are sexually active — have secrets, and learn to keep their mouths shut as part of an informal system of self-preservation.

And the psychological pressure they put on those who are relatively powerless within the system is enormous — or, I should say, was enormous. I haven’t reported on this stuff in over a decade. I don’t know to what extent any of this is still the case. I’m remember now a series of abuse stories I was working on in 2001 for the New York Post, before things blew up big out of Boston. A source — a devout young Catholic man — had been telling me that he left seminary because he couldn’t stand the constant pressure from priests there to have sex with them. One of the seminary leaders told him that if he’s not gay, fine, but to go get a girlfriend. To me, it was clear that the priest-professor was trying to lead the kid into his own web of corruption, one way or the other. This young man was stricken and confused.

We had set up a time to meet to have an on the record conversation for my column. That morning, he phoned me, crying. He told me that he had e-mailed his professor the night before, telling him that he was going to sit down with me and spill his guts. The priest-professor asked if he could come over. The young man said yes. The priest-professor convinced him that if he went public, he would hurt the Church terribly. Is that really what the young man wanted to do? No, the kid said, it wasn’t. The kid — I say “kid,” but he was in his early 20s — wept on the phone with me, and said he was cancelling our meeting. He couldn’t do that to the Church. Nothing I said changed his mind. That devil had gotten inside this devout young man’s head, and done a number on him.

Are Catholics today, in 2018, less susceptible to that kind of manipulation? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. Believe me when I tell you that a lot of people in the church knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s sex life. How many of them have gone public with it? Not Cardinal McCarrick’s successors in Newark, Archbishop Myers (a conservative) and Cardinal Tobin (a liberal), who knew about at least two settlements with McCarrick’s victims. I just found this posted in 2010 by Richard Sipe. Excerpt:

There is documentation that records McCarrick’s sexual activity and sleeping arrangements with seminarians and young priests even when he served as the first bishop of Metuchen after serving as an auxiliary bishop in New York. On file are the unsealed “MEDIATION DOCUMENTATION FOR FR. G.” that involved McCarrick, the dioceses of Metuchen and Newark, NJ. (2006) A financial settlement was reached. The case was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, but it has not yet responded. Documents include the history of McCarrick’s initial sexual gesture and approach to the victim then a seminarian, in the bishop’s Metuchen residence in 1986.

Documentation includes hand written correspondence (letters and cards) from McCarrick postmarked between 1987 and 2005. Many of the letters are signed “Uncle Ted.” The names of other priests who were either seen having sex with McCarrick or witnessed McCarrick having sex with another priest are also included in the file. One of the priests is still in active ministry another left the ministry and was assisted by the church and McCarrick to re-educate for another profession. The names of other sexually active priests are also in the reports. Records of McCarrick’s activities with these priests are also included in medical evaluations and records all reviewed by Bishop Hughes of Metuchen already in 1995.

Excerpts from the legal Settlement Documents include firsthand accounts that are also in the Newark Archdiocese records of an incident on a trip with McCarrick, then Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, with a seminarian and two young priests when they shared a room with two double beds, it reads:

McCarrick, wearing just underwear, got into bed with one of the priests: “Bishop McCarrick was sitting on the crotch of Fr. RC As I was watching TV with Fr BL [full names appear in the documents], bishop McCarrick was smiling and laughing and moving his hands all over Fr. RC’s body. Bishop McCarrick was touching Fr. C’s body, rubbing his hands from head to toe and having a good time, occasionally placing his hands underneath Fr. C’s underwear. [I was] feeling very uncomfortable while trying to focus on television, and Fr. B.L., started smiling. As I looked at the bed next to me, Bishop McCarrick was excitedly caressing the full body of Fr. R.C. At that moment, I made eye contact [with] Bishop McCarrick. He smiled at me saying, “Don’t worry, you’re next.” At that moment, I felt the hand of Fr. B.L. rubbing my back and shoulders. I felt sick to my stomach and went under the covers and pretended to sleep.”

McCarrick continued to pursue the young man, sent him notes and telephoned him. Notes reveal that it was the custom the Archbishop McCarrick to call his protégés “nephew” and encouraged his entourage to call each other “cousin” and for them to call him “uncle Ted.” On another occasion McCarrick summoned the young man to drive him from the Newark Cathedral to New York City. He took him to dinner; and after, rather than returning to Newark as anticipated McCarrick went to a one-room apartment that housed one bed and a recliner chair. McCarrick said that he would take the chair, but after showering he turned off the lights and clad in his underwear he climbed into bed with his guest. Here is the account from the documents:

“He put his arms around me and wrapped his legs around mine. Then He started to tell me what a nice young man I was and what a good priest I would make someday. He also told me about the hard work and stress he was facing in his new role as Archbishop of Newark. He told me how everyone knows him and how powerful he was. The Archbishop kept saying, “Pray for your poor uncle.” All of a sudden, I felt paralyzed. I didn’t have my own car and there was nowhere to go. The Archbishop started to kiss me and move his hands and legs around me. I remained frozen, curled up like a ball. I felt his penis inside his underwear leaning against my buttocks as he was rubbing my legs up and down. His hands were moving up and down my chest and back, while tightening his legs around mine. I tried to scream but could not…I was paralyzed with fear. As he continued touching me, I felt more afraid. He even tried several times to force his hands under my shorts. He tried to roll me over so that he could get on top of me, but I resisted, I felt sick and disgusted and finally was able to jump out of bed. I went into the bathroom where I vomited several times and started to cry. After twenty minutes in the bathroom, the Archbishop told me to come back to bed. Instead I went to the recliner and pretended to fall asleep.”

In a letter dated four days after this incident McCarrick wrote a note signed “Uncle Ted” that said in part: “I just wanted to say thanks for coming on Friday evening. I really enjoyed our visit. You’re a great kid and I know the Lord will continue to bless you…Your uncle has great spots to take you to!!!”

There are additional documents that substantiate this particular relationship. One can safely say that now-retired Cardinal McCarrick was same-sex active and can be presumed to have a homosexual orientation. Neither fact has interfered with his career as a cleric in the Roman Catholic Church.

The power position of a cardinal places him above suspicion and makes him immune from criticism; this in defiance of the solid historical record of periodic moral violations of some clerics (and politicians) in high places. The facts are clear, simple, and typical of the heritage of tolerance of abuse and cover-up inculcated by Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Newark (1986-2000). There is documentation that records McCarrick’s sexual activity and sleeping arrangements with seminarians and young priests even when he served as the first bishop of Metuchen after serving as an auxiliary bishop in New York.

The journalist who wrote the spiked story for The New York Times Magazine had all of this information, and the priest he interviewed was the priest who vomited. It’s part of the legal record. Can you imagine having a reporter who had all this information on a Roman Catholic cardinal, and you being an editor who decided not to publish it? On what possible grounds can you justify that? That because it wasn’t minors, it might have been consensual, and that We May Never Really Know?

Bull. I find it far more plausible that it have been the possibility that once you start pulling on the McCarrick thread, an entire sexual underground of gay clerical cruising might have been revealed.

I don’t know, but I hope now, in this era of #MeToo, priests and others who have suffered under this conspiracy of silence find their voice. And I hope that media organizations — secular and religious — who knew about McCarrick, but chose to stay silent, are shamed, and make up for their silence by seeking out victims and reporting on their stories.

The cover-ups have to end. The conspiracies of silence must stop. In its report on today’s news, the Times reports on the sordid details of what the church commission finds that McCarrick did. Note the final quote from the victim’s attorney:

The monsignor, “under the guise of measuring his inseam, unzipped his pants, and sexually assaulted him,” Mr. Noaker said. “The kid had just turned 16, and kind of pulled back, and McCarrick was a little surprised by that.”

“Let’s not tell anyone about this,” the monsignor told the student, according to Mr. Noaker.

Over the following year, Monsignor McCarrick occasionally saw the teenager and told him how good-looking he was. The young man was again selected in 1972 to be a Christmas Mass altar boy, and vowed to be more cautious this time, his lawyer said. Another man did the measuring, but Monsignor McCarrick was there and cornered him in a bathroom, Mr. Noaker said.

“He just came in, grabbed him, shoved his hand into his pants and tried to get his hand into his underwear, and the kid had to struggle and push him away,” the lawyer said.

“These were significant sexual assaults,” Mr. Noaker said. “If someone like that is running an entire archdiocese, what does that mean for predators in the diocese? It probably means that they have secrets that they keep.”

I’m with Michael Brendan Dougherty here:

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Watch to see what happens with the McCarrick story. We are about to find out if #MeToo also covers gay bishops who sexually abused men under their authority, and punished, or threatened to punish, those who might have outed them. Watch especially to see how The New York Times reports on this, given its 2012 failure.

Finally, if there is any justice, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, will not be able to get away with this as his only statement on the McCarrick scandal:

“As clergy in God’s Church, we have made a solemn promise to protect children and young people from all harm. This sacred charge applies to all who minister in the Church, no matter the person’s high standing or long service. This morning was a painful reminder of how only through continued vigilance can we keep that promise. My prayers are with all who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse. May they find healing in Christ’s abundant love. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (http://www.usccb.org/charter) outlines a process for addressing allegations, holding us accountable to our commitment to protect and heal. I express my gratitude to Cardinal Dolan, who has carried forward with clarity, compassion for the victims, and a genuine sense of justice. With him, I express my deep sadness, and on behalf of the Church, I apologize to all who have been harmed by one of her ministers.”

Does that include seminarians and priests, Your Eminence? I find it impossible to believe that Cardinal Dolan, or McCarrick’s successors in Metuchen, Newark, and Washington (including Cardinals Wuerl and Tobin) , knew nothing of Uncle Ted’s Gay Predation. Yet they allowed him to retire with dignity, to play a key role (by his own recollection at Villanova a few years ago) in the election of Pope Francis, and to serve as an envoy of sorts for Francis. What did these cardinals know, and what did they do about it? And who else in power knew, and said or did nothing? Why not? What kind of power did McCarrick have, anyway?

It might surprise you to learn that the person who tried to get me taken off the McCarrick trail back in 2002, was a prominent conservative layman, a closeted gay man who intervened at his dear friend the Cardinal’s request. He did not succeed; I failed to get the story because none of the people who were telling me what they knew about McCarrick were willing to go on the record. Still, you would not have expected a man like this to run interference for a liberal cardinal who loved to force seminarians to share his bed.

But then, you wouldn’t expect a New York Times editor to spike a story about a Catholic cardinal who sexually exploited those in his employ. This scandal has made for some very strange bedfellows. In 2001, when I first contacted the heroic Father Tom Doyle for a comment on a sex abuse story I was working on for the New York Post, he warned me that if I continued on the path of investigation, I would “go to a place darker than you can imagine.” He was trying to warn me. He was right. It’s still dark — but on days like today, when the truth finally comes out, there is light.

More light, please.

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Church: Cardinal McCarrick Is A Molester

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (US Institute of Peace/Flickr)

This has been a very long time coming:

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., has been removed from public ministry after a credible allegation he abused a teen 50 years ago while serving as a priest in New York Archdiocese.

More:

Innocence? I believe McCarrick is lying, and that he knows he is lying. I have been waiting for this story to break since 2002.

Back then, I received a tip from a priest who had gone on his own dime to Rome, along with a group of prominent US Catholic laymen, to meet with an official for the Roman Curial congregation that names bishops. It had been rumored at the time that Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Newark, was going to be moved to Washington, DC, and to be made a cardinal. This group traveled to Rome to warn the Vatican that McCarrick was a sexual harrasser of seminarians. The story this priest shared with me was that McCarrick had a habit of compelling seminarians to share his bed for cuddling. These allegations did not involve sexual molestation, but were clearly about unwanted sexual harassment. To refuse the archbishop’s bedtime entreaties would be to risk your future as a priest, I was told.

Rome was informed by these laymen — whose number included professionally distinguished Catholics in a position to understand the kind of harm this would cause –that McCarrick was sexually exploiting these seminarians, but it did no good. McCarrick received his appointment to the Washington archdiocese in 2000.

In early 2002, though, the priest who tipped me off wouldn’t go on the record. It would have meant the end of his priesthood, quite possibly. He gave me the name of a couple of medical figures who had been on the same journey. I called one, who confirmed it, but wouldn’t go on the record. I called the other, who gasped when I said it out loud, and who said, “If that were true, then I wouldn’t confirm it for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”

That’s where the investigation stood after a couple of days. For all I knew, these were only allegations. Then a personal friend of McCarrick’s — a closeted gay man, someone whose name you would know — contacted the news organization for which I was working on this story. The caller did so on McCarrick’s behalf, trying to get me pulled off the story. I won’t go into details, but the man who made the call conceded that McCarrick was guilty, but insisted that no laws had been broken, and therefore it wasn’t a big deal. My supervisor on the story, to his great credit, simply said to keep digging, but to keep him informed.

How did McCarrick find out? It turned out that the priest who tipped me off had only told his spiritual adviser, a well-known conservative cleric, who had almost certainly called McCarrick. My informant — remember, this was early 2002 — was still under the naive impression that you could tell the good guys from the bad guys in the Catholic scandal based on where they lined up theologically. Not true!

I never wrote the story about McCarrick, because I could not get anybody to go on the record. That spring, I fielded more than a few calls from Catholic priests from the New Jersey area who had direct personal knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual derring-do with seminarians. They would phone me, tell me what they knew, and then beg me to “do something”! I would tell them that I could do nothing until and unless they provided documents, and/or were willing to put their name to public accusations.

Nobody could or would do that. Whenever I would see Cardinal McCarrick on television that spring, wringing his hands about how terrible the abuse scandal was, and how the hierarchy really had no idea how extensive the crisis was, yadda yadda, I knew that I was looking at a world-class liar and hypocrite. Moreover, I knew for a fact that the Vatican had been warned about “Uncle Ted” before moving him to Washington, and that those warnings had meant nothing, because hey, Uncle Ted was well connected, and he was a champion fundraiser for the Church.

Let me make this clear: The Vatican had been warned in person, by credible Catholic laymen, and a Catholic priest in a position to know, that as Archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick would compel seminarians under his authority to get in bed with him and cuddle him. These laymen traveled to Rome at their own expense to warn the Vatican about this man’s sickness. But Pope St. John Paul II, who I assume was not told of the allegations, made him a cardinal archbishop anyway.

Believe me, this single incident from the life of Uncle Ted, fifty years ago, is not the only one. I hope and pray to God that Theodore McCarrick is about to have his #MeToo moment. There are more, many more, stories to be told about Uncle Ted and his “ministry” to young men under his authority in the Church. I am grateful that they will now be coming out while he is still around to face some kind of justice, if only in the court of public opinion.

And there’s this: that Cardinal McCarrick was a sexual predator of some sort was the worst-kept secret among the East Coast media covering the church abuse scandal. Even though the McCarrick allegations, if true, clearly reflected deep moral corruption in a leading American Catholic figure, and were at the very least a matter of a man of great power within an organization using that power to compel those under him within the organization to satisfy his sexual desires. I wanted to pursue the story more deeply, and had an editor who was willing to let me do so, but I did not have the resources at the time to do the deep digging that was necessary. To the best of my knowledge, those journalists who did have the resources turned a blind eye to it. I do not know the reason, but I have my theories.

I do know this much: in 2012, one reporter I know personally nailed the McCarrick story, with on-the-record interviews and having dug up court papers. The major magazine for which he was doing the story killed it at the last minute. To this day he does not know why. Again, I have an idea, but it is only speculation. I do know from my extensive, detailed conversations with this journalist, as well as from my own conversations with sources in 2002, that there is a lot more on this story yet to come out — that is, if reporters and editors are interested in making sure Cardinal McCarrick has his #MeToo moment.

If.

A word for all you Catholic priests and laymen who contacted me 16 years ago about Cardinal McCarrick, and told me what you knew, but who would not go on the record about it — it is time for you to find your voice. Speak up. Tell what you know. The young men who had to suffer this pervert’s attentions all these decades deserve to have their pain acknowledged and vindicated.

UPDATE: A statement from the current Cardinal Archbishop of Newark. Excerpt:

The Archdiocese of Newark has never received an accusation that Cardinal McCarrick abused a minor. In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.

When did the archdiocese and the diocese receive these allegations? The wording is ambiguous. If settlements were made, when were they made, and why did church officials not disclose to the public that their former leader screwed around?

Why were so many bishops willing to run cover for Ted McCarrick all these years? Why?

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What Trans Hysterics Reveal

New York magazine writer Jesse Singal has for some time been a voice of balance and sanity on the transgender issue. In The Atlantic, he just published a long, thoughtful report about what to do when children say that they are trans. The piece included interviews with “detransitioners” — people who had transitioned to the opposite gender, but who returned to their birth sex. It opens with the story of “Claire,” a teenage girl who came to believe that she was in fact a boy. She began to harangue her parents to get her on hormones and a double mastectomy. They hemmed and hawed. Excerpt:

Claire humored her parents, even as her frustration with them mounted. Eventually, though, something shifted. In a journal entry Claire wrote last November, she traced her realization that she wasn’t a boy to one key moment. Looking in the mirror at a time when she was trying to present in a very male way—at “my baggy, uncomfortable clothes; my damaged, short hair; and my depressed-looking face”—she found that “it didn’t make me feel any better. I was still miserable, and I still hated myself.” From there, her distress gradually began to lift. “It was kind of sudden when I thought: You know, maybe this isn’t the right answer—maybe it’s something else,” Claire told me. “But it took a while to actually set in that yes, I was definitely a girl.”

Claire believes that her feeling that she was a boy stemmed from rigid views of gender roles that she had internalized. “I think I really had it set in stone what a guy was supposed to be like and what a girl was supposed to be like. I thought that if you didn’t follow the stereotypes of a girl, you were a guy, and if you didn’t follow the stereotypes of a guy, you were a girl.” She hadn’t seen herself in the other girls in her middle-school class, who were breaking into cliques and growing more gossipy. As she got a bit older, she found girls who shared her interests, and started to feel at home in her body.

Heather thinks that if she and Mike had heeded the information they found online, Claire would have started a physical transition and regretted it later. These days, Claire is a generally happy teenager whose mental-health issues have improved markedly. She still admires people, like Miles McKenna, who benefited from transitioning. But she’s come to realize that’s just not who she happens to be.

Singal reports that the culture surrounding transgenderism — medical, activist, media — marginalizes voices that question whether or not transitioning is the right thing for all gender dysphoric kids:

The leading professional organizations offer this guidance. But some clinicians are moving toward a faster process. And other resources, including those produced by major LGBTQ organizations, place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” web page, for example, encourages parents to seek the guidance of a gender specialist. It also asserts that “being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation.” Similarly, parents who consult the pages tagged “transgender youth” on glaad’s site will find many articles about supporting young people who come out as trans but little about the complicated diagnostic and developmental questions faced by the parents of a gender-exploring child.

HRC, glaad, and like-minded advocacy groups emphasize the acceptance of trans kids for understandable reasons: For far too long, parents, as well as clinicians, denied the possibility that trans kids and teens even existed, let alone that they should be allowed to transition. Many such organizations are primarily concerned with raising awareness and correcting still-common misconceptions.

A similar motive seems to animate much of the media coverage of transgender young people. Two genres of coverage have emerged. Dating back at least to the 1993 murder of the Nebraska 21-year-old Brandon Teena, which inspired a documentary as well as the film Boys Don’t Cry, a steady stream of horror stories has centered on bullying, physical assault, and suicide—real risks that transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) young people still face.

Singal reports that the experiences of adults who transition is different from that of young people, because young people are so unformed. There could be many different causes for the dysphoric feelings children and teens have, and kids that young are not good judges of what’s best for them. Singal tells the story of Max Robinson, born female, transitioned as a teenager into a male identity (hormones, double mastectomy), but who found that it did not solve her problems:

Max was initially happy with the results of her physical transformation. Before surgery, she wasn’t able to fully pass as male. After surgery, between her newly masculinized chest and the facial hair she was able to grow thanks to the hormones, she felt like she had left behind the sex she had been assigned at birth. “It felt like an accomplishment to be seen the way I wanted to be seen,” she told me.

But that feeling didn’t last. After her surgery, Max moved from her native California to Portland and threw herself into the trans scene there. It wasn’t a happy home. The clarity of identity she was seeking—and that she’d felt, temporarily, after starting hormones and undergoing surgery—never fully set in. Her discomfort didn’t go away.

Today, Max identifies as a woman. She believes that she misinterpreted her sexual orientation, as well as the effects of the misogyny and trauma she had experienced as a young person, as being about gender identity. Because of the hormone therapy, she still has facial hair and is frequently mistaken for male as a result, but she has learned to live with this: “My sense of self isn’t entirely dependent on how other people see me.”

Max believes that the medical personnel who treated her did her a disservice, pushing her towards transition. Singal reports that this is happening more and more, and that within the trans community, one isn’t allowed to have second thoughts, or conflicting thoughts:

Within a subset of trans advocacy, however, desistance isn’t viewed as a phenomenon we’ve yet to fully understand and quantify but rather as a myth to be dispelled. Those who raise the subject of desistance are often believed to have nefarious motives—the liberal outlet ThinkProgress, for example, referred to desistance research as “the pernicious junk science stalking trans kids,” and a subgenre of articles and blog posts attempts to debunk “the desistance myth.” But the evidence that desistance occurs is overwhelming. The American Psychological Association, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Endocrine Society, and Wpath all recognize that desistance occurs. I didn’t speak with a single clinician who believes otherwise. “I’ve seen it clinically happen,” Nate Sharon said. “It’s not a myth.”

Despite this general agreement, Edwards-Leeper worries that treatment practices are trending toward an interpretation of affirming care that entails nodding along with children and adolescents who say they want physical interventions rather than evaluating whether they are likely to benefit from them.

A decade ago, the opposite was true. “I was constantly having to justify why we should be offering puberty-blocking medication, why we should be supporting these trans youth to get the services they need,” Edwards-Leeper recalled. “People thought this was just crazy, and thought the four-hour evaluations I was doing were, too—how could that possibly be enough to decide whether to go forward with the medical intervention? That was 2007, and now the questions I get are ‘Why do you make people go through any kind of evaluation?’ And ‘Why does mental health need to be involved in this?’ And ‘We should just listen to what the kids say and listen to what the adolescents say and basically just treat them like adults.’ ”

And yes, social contagion is a part of this:

But some anecdotal evidence suggests that social forces can play a role in a young person’s gender questioning. “I’ve been seeing this more frequently,” Laura Edwards-Leeper wrote in an email. Her young clients talk openly about peer influence, saying things like Oh, Steve is really trans, but Rachel is just doing it for attention. Scott Padberg did exactly this when we met for lunch: He said there are kids in his school who claim to be trans but who he believes are not. “They all flaunt it around, like: ‘I’m trans, I’m trans, I’m trans,’ ” he said. “They post it on social media.”

I heard a similar story from a quirky 16-year-old theater kid who was going by the nickname Delta when we spoke. She lives outside Portland, Oregon, with her mother and father. A wave of gender-identity experimentation hit her social circle in 2013. Suddenly, it seemed, no one was cisgender anymore. Delta, who was 13 and homeschooled, soon announced to her parents that she was genderqueer, then nonbinary, and finally trans. Then she told them she wanted to go on testosterone. Her parents were skeptical, both because of the social influence they saw at work and because Delta had anxiety and depression, which they felt could be contributing to her distress. But when her mother, Jenny, sought out information, she found herself in online parenting groups where she was told that if she dragged her feet about Delta’s transition, she was potentially endangering her daughter. “Any questioning brought down the hammer on you,” she told me.

Delta’s therapist said that before they jumped into a treatment protocol that would result in irreversible changes to Delta’s body, that they first treat her depression and other things. Result: Delta’s dysphoria resolved itself. Had they rushed into transitioning, terrible damage could have been done.

Singal’s article is quite long and nuanced; read the whole thing.  It’s bottom line is this: there’s so very much we don’t know about transitioning, especially about the psychology of children, adolescents, and teens. Therefore, we should slow down, because the consequences for kids who undergo these procedures are radical and irreversible.

Trans activists and their allies are going berserk over the article. A typical tweet from a transgender:

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And this, from Jezebel:

Why does this guy have such a vested interest in reporting on trans issues, even when so many trans women—including Julia motherfu*king Serano, author of the seminal transfeminist text, Whipping Girl—keep telling him to stop? Why does he insist on covering these stories for no discernable reason? Seriously! What’s his fu*king deal???

Gosh. Trans people are telling this journalist to stop, and HE JUST WON’T STOP DOING JOURNALISM! What is the world coming to?!?

The writer of that Jezebel piece speculates on personal deficiencies that explain Jesse Singal’s inexcusable refusal to conform his journalism to the party line. A note at the end invites anonymous tips about Jesse Singal.

Jesse Singal is a brave man. These fanatics are out to destroy him. Let the rest of us take a lesson from this story — a lesson about this movement, its aims, its tactics, and its useful idiots in the media, whose number does not include the brave and diligent Jesse Singal.

UPDATE: Mrs DK comments:

Parents like those of us going through this, in our ever growing support group, consider this article a real breakthrough.

Think about it. No doctor, no endocrinologist, no mental health professional can tell me that my 19-year-old autistic daughter who is injecting testosterone won’t turn out to be a detransitioner. She says that she’s “really a guy”, since she “prefers male pronouns”. Every parent in my support group says that their daughter says the same thing — a statement that would be unthinkable to every person of common sense not that many years ago. She fits the bill of the 4thwavenow stereotype who is transitioning due to social contagion.

Her voice has already broken, and what testosterone is doing to her internal organs is serious enough that she will have to have a hysterectomy to avoid a higher cancer risk if she continues injecting. She can’t even buy a legal alcoholic drink for another two years, yet her university prescribed these non-FDA-approved hormones so she can be her “true self”, based on no objective tests whatsoever.

I hope many find this article eye-opening. Welcome to our world — and thanks to Rod for continuing the discussion. As he’s pointed out, it’s not Christians and conservatives who have the biggest problem with what’s happening. Almost all the parents I know who are going through this are liberal — and they are also livid at the complete abdication of the educational, mental health, and medical communities (and their fellow liberals!) in the face of this.

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Washington Malevolence

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What the hell is wrong with us? The Democrats had the moral high ground here … but now they’ve shown themselves to be just as cynical as the Rs.

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View From Your Table

Ponta Delgada, Azores

That’s green tea crème brûlée with sautéed banana and banana cream on top, with a wedge of Morro cheese ice cream on the side. It tasted much better than it looks here!

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Banning Baptist Billboards In Dallas

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas (screenshot from FreedomFirstDallas.org)

This is idolatrous:

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Watch the video here if you like.

It is one thing to be grateful to God for the gift of one’s nation and its laws and customs. But this? This worship of the nation? This is not burning a pinch of incense to Caesar. This is pretty close to throwing double handfuls onto the fire.

Understand me clearly: I believe that patriotism is a good thing. But this is nationalism. This is an uncritical, worshipful, grossly sentimental disposition towards the country and its institutions. I’m shocked that a church would carry on like this. Then again, this is the church whose choir sang “Make America Great Again,”  and which welcomed the Rev. Dr. Sean Hannity of Fox News to speak to the congregation on Sunday morning, in an interview.

I’m on this overseas trip with a friend who is a theologically and politically conservative Southern Baptist layman. He’s active in his local church, and in international mission work. He can’t stand this stuff. He was telling me this afternoon that Southern Baptists tend to look down on prosperity gospellers for their instrumentalizing faith for the sake of gaining money, but that they are often guilty of the same thing, except not with money, but with power. Looking at it from the outside, I can’t see much difference between these Christians on the right, and Christians on the left who worship “social justice” like First Dallas types worship America and conservative politics.

That said, I was displeased to see that a private company that owns some Dallas area billboards took down those purchased by First Dallas to advertise Jeffress’s upcoming sermon this Sunday, titled, “America Is A Christian Nation.” Excerpt:

The advertisement at the Lemmon Avenue exit promoting a celebration of Christian patriotism Sunday at First Baptist Dallas had drawn criticism and been labeled divisive. The downtown megachurch’s senior pastor Robert Jeffress defended the billboard and said its removal was unduly influenced by the media and Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Jeffress said that the billboard company, Outfront Media, cited a Dallas Morning News column in its decision to revoke its approval for the advertisement.

Outfront Media said in an interview Monday that neither The News nor Rawlings had anything to do with the billboard’s removal.

 

I don’t have anything against the column, though it irks me that the city’s mayor felt that he had to weigh in against one of the city’s most prominent pastors. Jeffress says his sermon is going to be about what he believes are the evangelical Christian foundations of the United States. This is a historically shaky thesis, to say the least, and I’m on the record saying that America is a “post-Christian nation,” in the sense that the Christian narrative used to be the default source of moral truth in this country, and the Christian religion a binding force, but no more.

Still, the story Jeffress tells is nothing new among conservative Evangelicals. It is striking that in Dallas, what was once the city’s most powerful and influential church is now suffering the indignity of having a billboard advertising a stock Christian nationalist theme taken offline. Again: you couldn’t pay me to sit there and listen to Jeffress preach that poke-in-the-eye patriotism on Sunday, and partake in his church’s glorification of the war machine, under the guise of a “salute to the armed forces.” But the idea that these views are now considered too indecent to advertise on a billboard in Dallas — Dallas! — is troubling.

I would love to know if Outfront Media, the billboard company, allows other religious, or atheist, organizations to rent its billboards, and if it allows one of the city’s many upscale strip clubs to do so.

I don’t care for Jeffress’s Fox Newsified faith, but I really hate that the only kind of religious sentiment acceptable in the public square is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, because it’s not “divisive.” If Dallas-area Muslims wanted to rent billboard space to say, “ISLAM IS THE ONE TRUE FAITH,” that would be rather divisive, but so what? Are we now too fragile to withstand these claims? Why are political billboards the kind of divisiveness we can accept, but First Dallas’s religious billboard is too hurtful to be seen by motorists?

UPDATE: People, read this blog entry closely. I believe that the billboard company has acted within its rights to take down the Baptist billboard, and I would defend its right to have done so. Interestingly, so does Robert Jeffress. What I’m objecting to is the idea that First Baptist Dallas’s particular message was so offensive that it deserved to be withdrawn from the public square. As you can tell from this post, I think what Jeffress and his church are doing is a form of idolatry, but I believe that they should be allowed to promote this message in the public square. I believe that a liberal church, or an atheist organization, should be able to do the same. What I’m complaining about here is a change in public moral standards regarding religious speech in the public square. 

I will not post comments that falsely portray my position as hypocritical because of my support for the Christian cake baker in Colorado. I likewise support Outfront Media’s right to decide how to use its billboards. What I don’t support is either a) Jeffress’s particular message, or b) Outfront Media’s decision to suppress that message.

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Azores Postcard.2

Isn’t that great? That’s me at the end of the trail that appears in this stock photo I posted the other day.

I regret to tell you that I’m in a lot of back pain. I threw my back out a couple of days before leaving, but it’s been manageable with meds. So manageable that I walked a lot yesterday. I woke up this morning and was having trouble moving. It’s excruciating getting in and out of a car. Fortunately, I brought the big guns on meds, so I’ll be fine, but I’m going to be spending the rest of this day flat on my back in bed. My party just drove from Furnas today to Ponta Delgada, the capital on the southern coast of São Miguel. Now that we’ve checked into the hotel, I’m going to check out. I hope to be back on my feet tomorrow.

Before I forget, please let me encourage you to come visit these beautiful islands. I have only been on São Miguel so far, but we’re headed to Terceira later. I cannot get over how lush this place is, and how friendly the people are. We stayed at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Furnas for two nights. It wasn’t enough. The hotel is beautiful, and the staff could hardly be nicer. I’ve mentioned that it’s attached to a gorgeous botanical garden. I deeply regret that I was in too much pain this morning to get up early and go explore parts of the garden that I had not seen on the first jaunt through it. If this place has seduced me, the guy who only likes nature when it has been prepared well and served on a plate, you can well imagine how much it will please people who love the outdoors.

Last night I was talking to a young traveler from Houston who is here with his wife. We couldn’t get over the fact that the Azores remain relatively undiscovered by Americans. That’s not going to last long, especially now that Delta has a daily flight here from JFK. “This is going to be the new Iceland,” he said, repeating something I’ve been hearing all week from the friend who brought our group to the Azores. He has been to Iceland, and loves it, but said it has become prohibitively expensive. Not the Azores!

UPDATE: Ran into this statue in a small town today. Seems to have been a local Catholic priest, but this unfortunate statue makes him look like a minor Soviet dignitary:

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Azores Postcard

That’s the holy water font in Our Lady of the Rosary parish church of Povoação, a coastal town on the Azorean island of São Miguel. I went there today. It was special to me, because my wife and I married in Our Lady of the Rosary parish in New Orleans back in 1997. The tiles on the wall are azulejos, and are common in Portugal. I found this lone elderly nun praying in the church when I entered:

She was lost in prayer, that dear old saint. There was a chapel to the left of the altar, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Catholicism brings the weird to Christianity — and sincerely, that is why I love Catholic culture! Here is a depiction, in azulejos, of the 17th century French saint Margaret Mary Alocoque receiving a vision of Christ, which became the foundation of the popular Sacred Heart devotion:

I prayed for a short time in this beautiful little seaside church, then walked around the town. I saw this majestic rooster on the street. Look how beautiful he is:

I continued my drive with my party around the eastern coast of São Miguel, the biggest island of the Azorean archipelago. My son Lucas is with me on this trip. Here’s a shot of him looking out over the Atlantic:

Hydrangeas grow wild in the Azores, and man, they are something to behold:

Earlier in the day, a bunch of us went for a walk around the lake in the town of Furnas. We started at the caldeiras, where the earth belches sulfurous steam:

But the trees — my God, they were so beautiful. Here’s me reverting to deep Crunchy Con mode with a Japanese cedar, my favorite kind of tree here:

Notice this on my path:

There was a chainsaw sculpture of the cousin of the Loch Ness monster, living in this lake:

This is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in this Edenic place so far: moss on a Japanese cedar. This photo has not been enhanced. It really looks just this vivid:

I was lost in a contemplative reverie for most of this walk. It was so unusual for me. I prayed my prayer rope for almost the entire walk, and felt weirdly connected to everything around me. Y’all know me well enough to know how alienated I feel towards nature. Not here. My reaction to this island is startling me, but also delighting me. If we didn’t have other places to go, I’d want to pitch a tent in these woods, and settle down reading The Lord of the Rings and the church fathers for a week.

We saw and did more today, but I’m too tired to write about it. I’ll end with the cocktail I had on the back terrace of our hotel, the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. The drink is called a Pennyroyal. It’s made with gin, lemon juice, mint, simple syrup, and pennyroyal:

The hotel is the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. It’s one of the nicest in Furnas, and it’s relatively inexpensive. A young couple from Texas I’d met earlier in the hotel lobby stopped by my table. We agreed that this island is one of the most beautiful places we’d ever been, and that it is shocking how affordable it is. When are Americans going to discover this place? Soon, probably. Readers, get here before it’s overrun.

Our friendly waiter was a young guy who grew up here. He said that things are improving rapidly in the town, and on the island. He said the Azorean government makes welfare recipients work for their dole check. That’s why you don’t see litter anywhere, he said, and why there are always crews out beautifying the landscape. I told him that as an American, I thought it was a real gift to be able to drive around the island and not see billboards and ads anywhere. These people aren’t rolling in money, but they have the kind of wealth that you can’t buy.

Tomorrow, we move on. I’ll report back in.

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Oh, Wow, Nature Can Do That?

So, I’m in the Azores, a Portuguese island archipelago about 800 miles west of Lisbon, in the middle of the North Atlantic. That lake behind me is in the caldera of a dormant volcano. There are steam vents a few places around it. There’s a restaurant where you can have your food cooked in one of them.

This hotel where my friends and I are staying has a botanical garden next to it, the Parque Terra Nostra. It’s an incredible thing. You longtime readers know that I am an avid indoorsman, and don’t like to go outside much. This garden, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been a game-changer for me. The first time I went into it, I did nothing but walk around alone and pray my prayer rope, and marvel at the beauty of all the plant life there. I swear, I thought I was going to round a bend on one of the trails and find Tom Bombadil’s house.

Look at this amazing tree:

It has been a revelation to me to see how much I love being in nature when it’s not soul-crushingly hot and humid outside, and I don’t have to worry about rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and coral snakes (there are no venomous snakes in the Azores).

We’re not going to be in this town much longer, but I intend to go back to the garden as often as I can. Maybe it’s not that I don’t like nature, and the outdoors; maybe it’s that I don’t like nature and the outdoors in the subtropics, where I grew up, and where I live now. I hate a damn snake worse than just about anything.

Hydrangeas grow wild here. It’s not hydrangea season, but you can still see some. In the botanical garden, I walked through a grove of camellias, which are widely cultivated on these islands. These islands are unbelievably lush for being so far north, but it’s the jet stream that keeps them so temperate year round. It’s never too cold nor too hot.

UPDATE: I’m driving a rental car here, a zippy five-speed hatchback. I haven’t driven a manual transmission car since college over 30 years ago. I had forgotten how much fun it is!

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