Monday, December 31, 2012

As 2013 Begins, It Brings Some Justice For Leslie-Anne Knight And A Stirring Message From One Of Her New Employers

The Elders have just hired Leslie-Anne Knight, victim of papal politics, to be the new CEO of their organization.

I don't normally get inspired to post at night, but tonight is a different story.  I thought I'd start out 2013 with some good news.  I was seriously dismayed back in March of 2011 when the Vatican summarily fired Leslie-Anne Knight as head of Caritas Internationales.  There was no real reason given, except some mumbling about Catholic identity issues being blurred by the social justice mission of Caritas and as the head of the organization Leslie-Anne Knight was not pushing the identity issues strongly enough. Subsequent to that the Pope just recently issued a motu proprio emphasizing the importance of Catholic identity markers for Catholic evangelization in Catholic charitable works. 

Back in 2011 I thought Lesli-Anne Knight had been sand bagged by the men with an agenda.  I hoped and prayed we would hear from her again.  Well, as of January 2nd she begins a new position as CEO of the Elders.  The Elders is a group of retired world leaders who are committed to work together to foster peace and human rights.  They are especially working for the advancement of women and girls in traditional societies whose customs ignore human rights for women.  This link will take you to the home page of the Elders.  Readers will recognize more than a few of the names of the Elders. No major Catholic figure is among them, but now one is their CEO, and since God is good, Leslie-Anne Knight is going to find things very different.

When you read the following blog piece from the Elders website by Bishop Desmond Tutu, try to imagine Pope Benedict writing this piece.  It was virtually impossible for me, the passing of the Philippine Reproductive Rights bill still on my mind and so was his anti gender bender speech to his curia, but my imagination soared with the idea that this sermon from Bishop Tutu is what I am working towards as a 21st Century Vatican II Catholic.

“I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”

 On 25 November, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is deeply saddening, though perhaps not shocking, to learn that around 70 percent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Despite the progress we have made, this world remains a cruel and arbitrary one for too many women and girls.

Do not be fooled, however: this is not some so-called “women’s issue”. After all, we know that more often than not, the violence suffered by women is inflicted by the men they share their lives with – their fathers, husbands, intimate partners. If the majority of women in this world have suffered at the hands of their men, how many millions of men must have hurt and abused women? How many millions of men have stood by and let it happen?

If men overwhelmingly brutalise women, then men are overwhelmingly brutal.

This is something I cannot accept. This is why I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men .

An unspoken kind of violence
I am an Elder now, and have witnessed many forms of brutality. There is the direct, physical violence often committed in anger or in war. But there are other forms of violence, too – more complex, more insidious, more unspoken – that we must not overlook.

In Ethiopia, last year, my fellow Elders and I met a woman called Himanot who was forced to get married when she was 13 years old. She was not physically forced or dragged to her wedding in chains – in fact, she wanted to run away. But her mother told her that she would kill herself if Himanot ran away. So what choice did the child have?

Inflicting this kind of emotional pressure is a form of violence against women. Taking away a girl’s education, a girl’s right to develop in her own time, to fulfill her potential: yes, this is violence. Yet, I do not judge Himanot’s mother too harshly. Most parents who marry off their daughters young have their best interests at heart – not many of them would willingly have their child face the shame and stigma of defying “tradition”.
So if this is violence, who is the perpetrator? If not the family, is it the community? Where does the responsibility end? The statistics tell us that 70 percent of women suffer violence at some point in their lives. But I suspect this figure would be higher if we included all the emotional, structural violence that for many girls and women forms the warp and weft of everyday life.

Child marriage is violence against women
When it comes to violence against women, there are few practices as harmful, or as widespread, as early marriage. It is not just the intense emotional and social pressure that the young bride is put under. Fundamentally, it violates a girl’s right to determine her own future – how can a child give her “consent” to marry when she is just 10 or 12 years old?

In such an unequal union, we know that girls are far more vulnerable to physical violence, especially when they are married to older men. It is hard to insist on practising safe sex, leaving them more likely to contract HIV or become pregnant before they are ready. And early childbearing itself can be devastating to a girl’s body – across the entire developing world, childbirth is the number one cause of death for girls aged 15-19.
And despite all this, the practice is defended in the name of “tradition”. This is why my fellow Elder Ela Bhatt says, “Child marriage is violence that is happening with the consent of society.”

Of course, not all of society consents. There are a few courageous voices, growing louder and stronger every day , who are challenging the status quo. I have been privileged to meet some of those who are showing their true mettle, defying tradition to protect the rights of girls and women in their communities.

Teenage boys challenging tradition in India
The state of Bihar has one of the highest rates of child marriage in India – 69 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. It is actually illegal in India to marry before the age of 18, for girls, or 21, for boys. But for most young people there, the weight of family and community tradition overrides this relatively recent law.
When I travelled to Bihar with my fellow Elders earlier this year , a boy called Premnath told me how his father is pressuring him to find a wife who can help with the housework after his mother passed away last year. But Prem – just 18 years old – is resisting. He has pledged to delay marriage, and proudly showed us a book of similar pledges from other young people and their families.

Together with his peers in the “Jagriti” movement, both girls and boys, he is now mobilising young people all over Bihar to make the same commitment. They already had more than 21,000 signatures when we visited last year – a staggering achievement. It seems, in fact, that he and his peers are defying their own Elders! This takes some guts, and I have to salute them for it.

Men and boys: take a stand
I want to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by recognising the work of young men like Premnath. It is one thing to stop an individual act of violence, or perhaps a violent individual. But to take on a whole community, a whole tradition, and try to challenge something that has been harming girls for generations – that is courage.

Men have a lot to answer for, I cannot deny it. We have built institutions that oppress and harm women, and we justify our practices as “the way things are” or “the way things have always been”. Yet, as I always say, I am a prisoner of hope. I do believe that we men can help put a stop to these traditions. We can refuse to participate in them, and we can refuse to condone them. We can go further, and campaign against them.
It is not an easy task. But if an 18-year old boy in a patriarchal, traditional community like Prem’s can do it, I have faith that others can do it, too.


As I wrote above it is impossible for me to imagine that too many of our Roman Catholic leaders would have the guts to write the above blog piece.  Well, unless they were retired.  It is just nauseating to me that I truly believe our current Pope would find these sentiments 'radical feminsim'. And principally because Bishop Tutu talks about reproductive rights for child brides, the right to protect their own lives from the sexual transmission of HIV, and the real harm pregnancy does to these young bodies.  Of course here I flash on the nine year old girl in Recife, Brazil and the Catholic insanity surrounding that situation.  It really is impossible to imagine any Catholic leader writing as Bishop Tutu does.  That especially includes his call for men to help put a stop to these patriarchal traditions that exploit women--- because in point of fact our Catholic male leadership is calling for a removal or women's reproductive rights and doubling down on patriarchy.  

I could seriously go on, but in any event, congratulations Leslie-Anne Knight. May 2013 be a very good year for you.  And for all my readers. 


A Reprise From January 2012

Usually my end of the year post reprints one from the beginning of the year.  This will be no exception, but it's content contains information on some of the big stories in Catholicism that ended the year 2012.  A couple of reasons why I chose this post:  I still firmly believe the now Cardinal Tagle represents hope for the future for all Catholics.  The Tiber/Thames boat crossing percentages are still hugely skewed on the side of Catholics moving to the Episcopal Church and that is still thoroughly ignored by conservative Catholics.  The Philippine government finally did pass and sign into law the Reproductive Health Bill, sending quite the message to the Philippine hierarchy--of which Cardinal Tagle seems to be the only one who got the message.  The Southern Hemisphere is bleeding Catholics to Pentecostal Churches in numbers that dwarf the loss of Northern Catholics to the Episcopalian Church.  The Vatican still doesn't seem to understand any of these trends.

Some Thoughts On Catholics Crossing Rivers And Catholic Hemispheres

Archbishop Lois Antonio Tagle of Manilla may lead the both the Philippine Church and the global church through some interesting times.

In all the coverage of Benedict's creation of the Anglican Ordinariate I've never found any numbers about the influx of Catholics into the Episcopalian Church.  Instead I've found glowing reports about the influx of Anglicans into the Catholic Church through Ordinariate.  This is true whether the coverage is from mainstream media or Catholic media such as America, Commonweal, or the NCR.  It's always about those Anglicans/Episcopalians coming in, and dead silence about the route out.  The following excerpt is taken from Episcopal Cafe and lo and behold, it gives the statistics for the boats on both the Tiber and the Thames.

.......Thus far, 100 priests and fewer than 1,400 people in 22 church communities have expressed an interest in the ordinariate. Gather them all in Washington National Cathedral, and the place isn’t half full. Only six of these 22 communities have more than 70 members, which suggests that their longterm viability may be an issue. And there is no evidence to suggest that these small congregations are the thin edge of an as yet invisible wedge.  (If 16 of these communities have less than 70 people then the long term viability of the Ordinariate should be a concern.)

The prominence the ordinariate has achieved in the media has unsettled some Episcopalians. As a denomination, we are still recovering from several years worth of news stories in which the departure of some three percent of our membership for a more theologically conservative body was variously described as a “schism” or an “exodus.”

In part to bolster Episcopal spirits, and in part to provide reporters with some sense of perspective, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some numbers. According to the 2004 U. S. Congregational Life Survey—which I believe is the most recent one available—11.7 percent of Episcopalians were formerly Roman Catholic.

The Episcopal Church had slightly fewer than 2,248,000 members in 2004, indicating that not quite 263,000 of its members were former Catholics.

The Episcopal Church has shrunk some in the last seven years, and now has about two million members. Assuming that the percentage of former Catholics in the Episcopal Church has remained constant (I think it is likely to have risen, but that’s an essay for another day), there are currently some 228,000 former Roman Catholics in the Episcopal Church.  (I would think the percentage has risen as well and that the influx of Roman Catholics has had somewhat the same effect Latin immigration has had for Catholicism.)

There may be a good reason that the departure of fewer than 1,500 Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic ordinariate deserves extensive media coverage while the departure in recent years of more than 225,000 Roman Catholics to join the Episcopal Church goes unmentioned even in stories about the creation of the ordinariate, but I don’t know what it is.

The stories on the ordinariate also report that as many as 100 priests—many of whom may be Episcopalians—have also applied to join the ordinariate. Is this evidence that the Catholic Church is winning priests from the Episcopal tradition? It reads that way, unless one knows, thanks to the Church Pension Group, that 432 living Episcopal priests have been received from the Roman Catholic Church.


For all the ballyhoo surrounding the Anglican Ordinariate the truth is the river flowing out of Catholicism and into the Episcopal Church has a whole lot more traffic in both clergy and laity.  There is plenty of reason to think this isn't going to change in the near future, especially in North America and other Anglo countries in which both Catholicism and Anglicanism are historic churches.  As for the developing South, well, that is going to be a very different story.

The Catholicism of the South is not the Catholicism of the North.  The same is true for Protestant Christianity.  In the North the talk is of reform and a return to a less hierarchical and more inclusive Christianity which includes acceptance of homosexual unions, an ordained ministry for women and the openly gay, a relational approach to sexual morality, and all of this with an emphasis on the individual spiritual journey rather than the collective identity approach of our ancestors.  None of this is on the radar of Catholicism in the South where traditional sexual and gender roles are sacrosanct, patriarchal authority holds cultural sway, collective spirituality is what gives life to the individual journey, and the miracles, exorcisms, and Divinity of Jesus are not just literal truth, but the main point of discipleship.  In some respects this is a Catholicism that is about a 'return on one's spiritual investment', especially in areas in which the modern western approaches to healing and mental illness are few and far between or economically beyond the reach of the poor and impoverished.

There's certainly no question that the Catholic tradition supports these notions of healing and exorcism, and the power of the Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints and Angels, and Charismatic practices flourishing in the South.  It was in these beliefs that missionaries connected with the original indigenous populations. And it's equally true that the long Catholic tradition has very little support for any notions of gender equality, gay unions,  a relational sexual morality, or a less authoritarian clerical structure.  It would seem then that global Catholicism will not reflect the reforms hoped for by progressive Northern Catholics.  The river into the Episcopalian/Anglican Church will stay quite congested.

At first glance the future for Catholicism appears to be centered in the exploding Catholic South where traditional piety, traditional sexuality, and traditional forms of male hierarchy hold sway. This would be especially true in the poorer urban areas with a high population density from rural immigration.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs is at it's most base level in these situations.  Ideas which need  freedom from physical survival angst don't come up on any one's radar---like women's ordination. However, ideas which do impact one's physical survival do hit the radar screen---like women's access to birth control.  

This is one reason I closely follow the debate in the Philippines between the hierarchy and the government over women's access to birth control. This is one place where the Vatican plan to use the South to sustain it's current structure and theology is clashing head on with the actual needs of people in the pews. In a real sense, the Philippines is a Southern hemisphere clash of wills over Humanae Vitae and the celibate male authority that teaches it.  This battle played out in the North almost fifty years ago and much of the call for reform began with it's utter rejection by the laity.  The Bishops and their supporters have managed to keep the bill from being finalized for some ten years, but it finally appears the tide is turning because women and young Filipinos have had enough and together they represent a lot of votes.  There is a growing sense of moral betrayal by the hierarchy in the Philippines which may be one reason the Vatican appointed Louis Antonio Tagle, something of a pastoral moderate, as Archbishop of Manilla. 

If the Vatican is truly banking on the South to sustain it's power and prestige Benedict and JPII certainly had different ideas about how that should play out in the Vatican itself.  JPII had a College of Cardinals that was  40% from the South and Benedict has almost totally reversed that trend. I wonder if that's not because the flavor of the Church in the South appealed more to JPII the Mary worshipping Polish mystic than it does to Benedict XVI the German intellectual theologian.  In some respects, Pope Benedict is presiding over a global Catholicism for which neither the pentecostal South or the rebellious North have much appeal.  No wonder he's rumored to be considering retirement.  

If we've learned anything from the Arab Spring it's that today's youth are very well connected with access to all kinds of information, that the Internet/cell phone explosion is creating something new in collective humanity, and that it won't be easy for existing power structures to deal with the change this implies.  The Vatican is not immune to this.  Catholicism was the first truly global social entity, but if it wants to maintain relevance in today's global world, it can no longer afford to think in centuries.  We can make pretty accurate predictions about the demographic look of the Church fifty years from now, but how that demographic will practice Catholicism is another thing entirely.  One thing for sure, it won't be in any Anglican ordinariate.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mentoring Seminarians And Hidden Agendas

I can't help but wonder how many of these seminarians will carry on in the long 'tradition' of mentoring. Not all of them will have the very subjective criteria that seems to attract a mentor.

There have been a lot of loose ends floating around in my head that have bothered me lately.  I felt as if there was some big connection amongst all those threads that I was just missing completely.  Two of those threads were Pope Benedict's need to conflate gay marriage with what ever ailed society and his promotion of Georg Ganswein to Archbishop with the additional title of Prefect of the Pontifical Household.  This is in addition to his first secretary duties.  Georg now has a lot of power.

I've written in the past that one of the problems with the clerical system is this form of 'mentoring'.  That is when an older cleric higher up the food chain takes on a younger man and keeps him at hand as they move up the ladder together.  On his website Richard Sipe makes the point the younger man is usually very good looking and selected for those reasons. It has proven to be the most secure way to procure personal advancement.  This is not to say that these relationships all involve a sexual content because they don't.  Many of them are more akin to father/son as I'm sure the one between Pope Benedict and Ganswein actually is.  I'm am sure of that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is if I personally were going to pick a son to mentor, I certainly wouldn't have rejected Georg Ganswein. Nothing subjective in that. LOL

Unfortunately there are too many of these relationships which do come with sexual activity.  Sipe uses Cardinal McCarrick as one case study. In this case there were known and proven accusations against McCarrick which didn't preclude 'Uncle Ted's' advancement up the curial ladder. This was similar to the treatment meted out to Cardinal Groer and Maciel Marciel whose known penchant for sexually grooming seminarians was ignored by both Cardinal Ratzinger and JPII. That is, until the outcry was such it could no longer be ignored. For whatever reason, McCarrick, like a host of other bishops, has been immune from any sanctions.  One of those others is San Diego's Bishop Robert Brom.  It was in reading his story on Sipe's website that some threads began to form a pattern and that pattern points to very powerful American cardinals doing many questionable things in order to keep a lid on this entire system of 'grooming and mentoring'.  What makes it even more interesting is that many of these players are actively involved in all the gay bashing.  

For instance, AB Sal Cordileone served as Brom's secretary, tribunal judge and adjunct judicial vicar. He received his episcopal consecration from Brom who was assisted by the then Archbishop Raymond Burke. Cordileone then served as an Auxiliary in San Diego before moving to Oakland and now San Francisco. Technically AB Sal has surpassed his mentor, but Sal only has an official DUI on his record while his mentor has a host of issues on his.

As Cordileone demonstrated in the Prop 8 campaign these men are willing to fight dirty. His mentor doesn't  play nice either. Brom has had a priest adversary laicized for what the priest claims were phoney charges and for which he could never defend himself with the CDF--a CDF then under Cardinal Ratzinger. This story is part of a series of articles Richard Sipe has in his report on Brom.  Maybe more interesting is that Brom has also put a priest convicted of a sexual abuse charge with a young adult woman back into ministry within months of his conviction.  Then Brom, along with Burke, are reputed to be the main reason the University of San Diego's president Mary Lyons was forced into the untenable position of revoking the fellowship of British theologian Tina Beattie for Beattie's mild statement endorsing civil gay marriage.  A move which resulted in the University's faculty senate voting to rebuke her.  

I just can't help but wonder why heterosexual activity, even criminal heterosexual activity, is shrugged off, but anything remotely gay is squashed pronto.  The more I looked into the circle of priests Brom was connected with the more mind numbing it all became.  Too many of them were accused, like Brom, of sexual activity with seminarians or young boys.  The connections went from Springfield IL, to Winona MN, to San Diego CA, and involved multiple American Cardinals and bishops, progressives as well as conservatives. Too many then turn out to be overt gay bashers.

It all makes me wonder how long these guys, including the ones in Rome, think this strategy of gay bashing to mask gay activity is going to last? I have no doubt they are all thankful that Pope Benedict is exactly where he is because the CDF under Ratzinger pursued none of these offenders and he hasn't while in office as pope.  Which leads me to wonder if it isn't somehow the presence of Georg himself that stops him from acting on Bishops like Brom or Cardinals like McCarrick.  In any case, this whole closed 'mentoring' system needs to go.  Anytime an organization promotes through this kind of subjective mentoring process it's lethal for the health of the organization.  In the case of the Church in the West, it's just another loop in the noose around the neck of Holy 'Mother' Church.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

For Me, A Christmas Gift From Richard Sipe.

An old and tired looking pope gives an old and tired message.  One wonders if he will retire this year.

I was just saddened again this Christmas to hear the Pope once again castigate gays for most of the ills of the world.  Even though I've written a previous post about one of Benedict's droppings, it has left a bad taste in my mouth.  It's not like this is the first time he has chosen the Christmas season to throw lumps of coal at gays.  I happen to find this obsession of his pathological and hugely polluting for the spiritual energy of the Church.  I have never found it edifying to work for any leadership that can't admit to their own pathology because that pathology always plays out in the collective work force. It becomes the unstated underlying motivation for too many dysfunctional decisions.  In the case of Roman Catholicism, I firmly believe this is why so much time and energy is focused on dehumanizing gays and attempting to control women's reproduction through legislative means.  Call it the politics of pathology.  It's hardly surprising Catholicism leads the way in these endeavors since it's entire leadership core is carefully enculturated to both reflect and blindly accept the dysfunction coming from up the food chain, especially the dysfunction about human sexuality.

And then my mood hasn't been helped by some of the commenters now popping up and attempting a take over of the National Catholic Reporter website.  These men generally last a week or so, spew hundreds of comments, and then drop out to be replaced by other cohorts.  It's like they have a commander in chief who tells them engaging with apostates for more than a week is bad for their soul.  I have the hopeful delusion they disengage because it's bad for their lock step faith and leaves them with too many questions. Bill Lyndsey has an example of this kind of commenter over at Bilgrimage.  Droppings from the Catholic birdcage indeed. 

So all of this angst propelled me to check in with Richard Sipe's blog because if anyone could explain this bizarre need of Pope Benedict's to bash gays at Christmas it would be the world's expert on clergy and their sexuality.  He has a new post up in which he gives answers to the most frequently asked questions he receives on lecture circuits and in interviews.  I found the answers to the following questions balm for my soul.  I guess one could say, this was not a Richard Rohr Christmas for me, it was a Richard Sipe Christmas.

Why is the church against homosexuality when so many priests are gay? 
I wrote the article "Is The Pope Gay?" It focused on Pope Benedict XVI, but it was neither an attack nor an allegation of misbehavior. It was meant to provoke discussion of the topic so important for Catholic clergy and the whole church. The position of the Catholic Church about homosexuality is not only wrong headed it is unsupportable and hypocritical. Since official teaching considers homosexuality as intrinsically evil it is impossible for the Vatican to dialogue or explore its position. (This is other wise known as backing yourself into a dead end corner.)

The Church's basic teaching on human sexuality is simply wrong. It is equally as false as its former belief that the sun moves around the earth. It ignores the scientific, psychological and socio-spiritual realities of sex and human relationships.

Homosexuality is a God-given orientation just as heterosexuality is. The church's position that it is an intrinsic disorder fails equally when it comes to understanding masturbation and birth control that it plasters with the same label. This is patently false and offers inadequate pedagogy.

When I posed the question about the pope's sexual orientation it was only to raise these areas for calm and rational discussion. Many informed people in Rome believe that Pope Benedict XVI has a homosexual orientation. This is neither an accusation of fault nor any implication of wrongdoing. But the official teaching of the church proscribes that men of homosexual orientation should be allowed to train for the priesthood or be ordained (Cf.1961 Directive).

The patent hypocrisy of church teaching and practice is a travesty. Many saints had a homosexual orientation and many good priests are gay and celibate. (Pope Benedict might be reaching new heights in hypocrisy in his castigation and persecution of gays. He is apparently oblivious to the fact many of his flock think he is exactly that state of being which he condemns.)

Homosexual orientation is neither an illness nor a perversion. To oversimplify: It is an inborn attraction and disposition to love persons of the same sex, even sexually - parallel to persons of heterosexual orientation and disposition. Homosexual persons can behave perversely and be ill just as heterosexually persons can.

Hypocrisy is the greatest religious sin. Although homosexuality among the clergy and in the general population involves difficult and complicated social and moral questions to confront it is one area of necessary discussion for serious Christians.

Why exclude women from the priesthood? Excluding women from the priesthood is based on a bad cultural habit and destructive tradition of degrading women and keeping them from equality and power. That stance has a long history and must be faced just as the practice of slavery was.
There are no solid theological reasons for keeping women out of ministry. There is a good deal of misogyny in clerical culture. Fear and loathing of women is deeply entrenched in the power structure of the church. The threat of women to this power extends even to a married clergy.
 (Yes, the threat women somehow pose to the Roman Catholic clerical system is so high, it precludes married priests, much less the ordination of women. We need to investigate why the idea of women is such a threat.)
Is Celibacy the cause of sexual perversion and should it be abolished? There is no question that Mandatory celibacy is untenable. No one can impose a charism (a grace). And the forced celibate obligation is without a doubt a factor in the abuse of minors as well other clerical sexual aberrations. Some scholars say that celibacy is a perversion in itself and a violation of God's original command to Adam,  "to increase and multiply".

I was present at an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1993 during which he said that he (and no (other) pope) had the authority to change the requirement for a vow of celibacy in order to be ordained to the priesthood. And he and other popes have acted in defiance of this proclamation. The same restriction on his power obviated the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not believe either statement. (I don't either, it's nothing more than self justifying magical thinking.)

I agree that mandatory celibacy for ordination must be changed. It simply does not work. I do not agree that religious celibacy is a perversion nor that celibacy that is freely chosen and lived is a cause of perversion. Celibacy is a charism - a gift - and it cannot be forced or legislated. To attempt do so is a perversion. That is why it has never worked well nor been successful for a majority of priests and caused so much pain and destruction. (It's not just the forcing of a charism on people that makes forced celibacy a perversion, but the corruption it brings with it when celibacy is not followed.)

Is the church too focused on controlling sex? Yes, for two reasons: it has lost touch with its spiritual origins and it has failed to listen to the experience of married people. There was a perception during the early days of the church of a necessity to control the organization, discipline and material goods of this budding social and spiritual entity. The demand for celibacy that had some very real and deep regard for the spirituality of men who did give up everything to imitate Jesus (like the monks of the desert) was used to implement organizational control. Like the sower of seed in the Gospel weeds and wheat grew up together. Celibacy has had mixed results in the life of the Church. But the real question is one of control, power and money. The concentration of money and power in the church has been a constant source of its corruption.

Jesus, and the New Testament generally, offer no directives about celibacy and little about sexuality. The process of evolution continues to infuse knowledge and understanding of human development and also of biblical scholarship. We must respect our God-given capacity to learn and develop an informed conscience.

Does corruption proceeds from the top down? Yes. At the First National Conference for Victims & Survivors of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse held in Chicago, October 1992 I said:  "the problem of child abuse now visible is the tip of the iceberg. When the whole story of sexual abuse by presumed celibate clergy is told it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican." 
Corruption in the Church comes from the top down. Many saints have held this position. Wherever one finds sexual abuse of minors on any level of the clergy there are inevitably men in authority above them who are sexually active themselves or who are tolerant of such behavior. If celibacy were truly and widely practiced on the highest levels of the Church there would be no room for the abuse of minors. (And no opportunity for blackmail, bribery, or need for 'omerta'.)
As I collected data on the behaviors of bishops and priests the systemic dynamic of celibate/sexual violations became more and more apparent. Bishops and priests are sexually active behind a veil of feigned abstinence. The sexual crisis of the Roman Catholic Church splashed in bold headlines across continents demonstrates the workings of their secret world. 

What is your religious commitment? People frequently ask if I am still a believer? Jesus Christ is the foundation and ground of my life and being. I believe in Who and What Jesus said He is. 

The two operational pillars of my theology and work are secured in two directives: Thomas Aquinas' dictum,  "grace builds on nature" and St. Irenaeus' belief that  "the glory of God is man fully human". These tie together my experience of religion and psychiatry and my existence at the interface of psychology and spirituality. (The 'glory of God is man fully human' is a truth for the ages.)

Like so many Catholics today I retain nostalgia for the comfort of ritual, the beauty and grandeur of music, gesture and vesture. But the current sexual and financial corruption of the Church renders churches and ritual unavailable and empty. This is a painful phase of a profound reformation precipitated by the definitions of the Second Vatican Council like those articulated in Gaudium et Spes. We, not the hierarchy, are the Church - the People of God. (Yes, exactly. For too many of us  the current level of corruption literally makes churches and ritual 'unavailable and empty'.)

The current crisis has moved many deprived Catholics to realize that our core spirituality and the truth of our religion is beyond the outward forms and prevails in communion with the living presence of Jesus. This is not a rejection of sacramentality, but a more profound awareness of its essence that will be realized more completely - beyond magic and myth - when this Reformation is formulated. Spiritual life like all life is a process. I think of the process in mundane terms like pealing an orange - the essence is there and more accessible once one removes the outside skin. (This is just a profound paragraph and expresses my own spiritual situation far better than I could. Truly, sometimes mere words are precious gifts.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The NRA Christmas Message: No New Gun Regulations. Also Some Thoughts On Certain Similarities With The Kof C

I like the short and succinct version.  Yes, let us turn our schools into OK Corrals.

Wayne LaPierre has given the American people the NRA answer to any new gun regulations.  Ain't gonna happen on his watch.  Instead he will fight for the US tax payer to hire rent-a-cops for every school in the land.  Easy for him to prescribe since such a plan essentially asks the tax payer to foot the bill for the consequences of his version of what the second amendment protects. Apparently that amendment protects the rights of mass killers to access assault weapons and hundred round cartridge canisters.

I have reprinted the first half of the following AP article from the Marietta Daily Journal.

NRA unwavering in opposition of any new gun laws

Kevin Freking - AP - 12/24/2012
WASHINGTON — An unwavering National Rifle Association said Sunday that new gun regulations would not make children safer and that a White House task force on gun violence may try to undermine the Second Amendment.

The organization blasted “a media machine” that it said relishes blaming the gun industry for each new attack like the one that occurred just over a week ago at a Connecticut elementary school.

“Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal,” said Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby, in a television interview.

LaPierre hardly backed down from his comments Friday, when the NRA broke its weeklong silence on the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

LaPierre’s assertion that guns and police officers in all schools are what will stop the next killer drew widespread scorn, and even some NRA supporters in Congress are publicly disagreeing with the proposal. Rep. Chris Murphy, (D-Conn.) called it “the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.” A headline from The New York Post summarized LaPierre’s initial presentation before reporters with the headline: “Gun Nut! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown.” (I have to admit my first reaction to Friday's press conference was just exactly like Rep. Murphy's.)

LaPierre told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that only those armed guards and police would make kids safe.

“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre said. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe.” (Actually, I don't think the American public think putting armed security in our schools will make kids safe.  It didn't work at Columbine.)

He asked Congress for money to put a police officer in every school. He also said the NRA would coordinate a national effort to put former military and police officers in schools as volunteer guards(I would rather Congress authorized a significant buy back plan, but I don't have LaPierre's access to the 'media machine' LaPierre castigates even while he uses it.)

The NRA leader dismissed efforts to revive the assault weapons ban as a “phony piece of legislation” that’s built on lies. He made clear it was highly unlikely that the NRA could support any new gun regulations.

“You want one more law on top of 20,000 laws, when most of the federal gun laws we don’t even enforce?” he said.

LaPierre said another focus in preventing shootings is to lock up violent criminals and get the mentally ill the treatment they need.

“The average guy in the country values his freedom, doesn’t believe the fact he can own a gun is part of the problem, and doesn’t like the media and all these high-profile politicians blaming him,” he said. (See, here it is again, the gender thing. Wayne, I don't think your corporate sponsors would want you forgetting about the exploding women's market in gun ownership.  All that fear mongering is paying off for them.)

Some lawmakers were incredulous, yet acknowledged that the political and fundraising might of the NRA would make President Barack Obama’s push for gun restrictions a struggle..........


The NRA is another example of what happens when right wing money buys the leadership of a given organization.  The same thing can be seen in the K of C.  Back in my day the NRA was known for hunter's safety instruction, promoting wild life husbandry, and vetting outfitters and tour guides.  But back then, the KofC was known for pancake breakfasts, small construction projects around the parish, charitable endeavors, and club houses with full bars.  Hmmm, things have certainly changed.  Now both groups are masters at promoting political division and increasing the fear level in the country.  The leadership of both groups have a visceral reaction to President Obama and share the same funding sources and think tanks. I do not think we will hear a Christmas message from Carl Anderson that contradicts Wayne LaPierre.

Maybe KofC councils can run gun shows and use the money to pay for armed guards in Catholic elementary schools because sure as Christmas means toys they won't use any of their extensive funds to promote gun regulation.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sorry Pope Benedict, At Least In The US, We Do Need To Redefine Gender Expectations

"The bearer of this card has averted complete humiliation.  Today, he is a Man.  Fully entitled to all the rights and privileges duly afforded.  To belch without apology.  To leave the seat up without shame.  The way is before you."

Pope Benedict's recent splurge of talks condemning gay marriage, feminism, and gender as a 'new philosophy of sexuality' are in my estimation, particularly mistimed for the American public.  Particularly his idea that these somehow threaten world peace.  I suppose if you are the head honcho of an all male enterprise, grew up in male dominated culture, and think world peace is maintained by some form of approved male patriarchy and dominance, then these social trends would indeed, threaten your notion of a peaceful and correctly ordered society.  Unfortunately in the US, our peace and security are directly threatened by our arbitrary notions of the properly gendered male. In light of the Newtown massacre there are finally voices being raised about the fact that all but one of the mass shootings occurring in the last thirty years--60 some in all--were perpetrated by males, and this does not include the number of suicide/murders that are also almost always perpetrated by males.

Jackson Katz, writing for Huffington Post, lists seven reasons why Americans need to precisely look at how we are creating an arbitrary gender definition of masculinity, and how that definition is at the core of so much of the violence in American culture.  Rather than supporting Pope Benedict's plea to maintain the old status quo, Mr Katz is calling that whole idea into question precisely because it threatens peace and security, and guns make even the least macho male, utterly dangerous. I remember when I was ten asking my dad, who stood 6'2" tall and was really well built, what scared him the most.  He said:  "A small man with a big gun." For me now, I might say it's a small man with a global platform.

The following is the last part of Mr Katz's article and includes all seven of his reasons we might want to do exactly what Pope Benedict doesn't want us doing, changing the gender expectations for males.  Ironically, this is the exact same kind of thing Jesus attempted 2000 years ago.

Memo to Media: Manhood, Not Guns or Mental Illness, Should Be Central in Newtown Shooting

.....1) Make gender -- specifically the idea that men are gendered beings -- a central part of the national conversation about rampage killings. Typical news accounts and commentaries about school shootings and rampage killings rarely mention gender. If a woman were the shooter, you can bet there would be all sorts of commentary about shifting cultural notions of femininity and how they might have contributed to her act, such as discussions in recent years about girl gang violence. That same conversation about gender should take place when a man is the perpetrator. Men are every bit as gendered as women.

The key difference is that because men represent the dominant gender, their gender is rendered invisible in the discourse about violence. So much of the commentary about school shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, focuses on "people" who have problems, "individuals" who suffer from depression, and "shooters" whose motives remain obtuse. When opinion leaders start talking about the men who commit these rampages, and ask questions like: "why is it almost always men who do these horrible things?" and then follow that up, we will have a much better chance of finding workable solutions to the outrageous level of violence in our society.

2) Use the "M-word." Talk about masculinity. This does not mean you need to talk about biological maleness or search for answers in new research on brain chemistry. Such inquiries have their place. But the focus needs to be sociological: individual men are products of social systems. How many more school shootings do we need before we start talking about this as a social problem, and not merely a random collection of isolated incidents? Why are nearly all of the perpetrators of these types of crimes men, and most of them white men? (A recent piece by William Hamby is a step in the right direction. )

What are the cultural narratives from which school shooters draw lessons or inspiration? This does not mean simplistic condemnations of video games or violent media -- although all cultural influences are fair game for analysis. It means looking carefully at how our culture defines manhood, how boys are socialized, and how pressure to stay in the "man box" not only constrains boys' and men's emotional and relational development, but also their range of choices when faced with life crises. Psychological factors in men's development and psyches surely need to be examined, but the best analyses see individual men's actions in a social and historical context.

3) Identify the gender subtext of the ongoing political battle over "guns rights" versus "gun control," and bring it to the surface. The current script that plays out in media after these types of horrendous killings is unproductive and full of empty clichés. Advocates of stricter gun laws call on political leaders to take action, while defenders of "gun rights" hunker down and deflect criticism, hoping to ride out yet another public relations nightmare for the firearms industry. But few commentators who opine about the gun debates seem to recognize the deeply gendered aspects of this ongoing controversy. Guns play an important emotional role in many men's lives, both as a vehicle for their relationships with their fathers and in the way they bolster some men's sense of security and power.

It is also time to broaden the gun policy debate to a more in-depth discussion about the declining economic and cultural power of white men, and to deconstruct the gendered rhetoric of "defending liberty" and "fighting tyranny" that animates much right-wing opposition to even moderate gun control measures. If one effect of this tragedy is that journalists and others in media are able to create space for a discussion about guns that focuses on the role of guns in men's psyches and identities, and how this plays out in their political belief systems, we might have a chance to move beyond the current impasse.

4) Consult with, interview and feature in your stories the perspectives of the numerous men (and women) across the country who have worked with abusive men. Many of these people are counselors, therapists, and educators who can provide all sorts of insights about how -- and why -- men use violence. Since men who commit murder outside the home more than occasionally have a history of domestic violence, it is important to hear from the many women and men in the domestic violence field who can speak to these types of connections -- and in many cases have first-hand experience that deepen their understanding.

5) Bring experts on the air, and quote them in your stories, who can speak knowledgeably about the link between masculinity and violence. After the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, CNN featured the work of the author Kevin Powell, who has written a lot about men's violence and the many intersections between gender and race. That was a good start. In the modern era of school shootings and rampage killings, a number of scholars have produced works that offer ways to think about the gendered subtext of these disturbing phenomena.

Examples include Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel's piece "Suicide by Mass Murder: Masculinity, Aggrieved Entitlement and Rampage School Shootings," Douglas Kellner's "Rage and Rampage: School Shootings and Crises of Masculinity," and a short piece that I co-wrote with Sut Jhally after Columbine, "The national conversation in the wake of Littleton is missing the mark."

There have also been many important books published over the past 15 years or so that provide great insight into issues of late 20th and 21st century American manhood, and thus provide valuable context for discussions about men's violence. They include Real Boys, by William Pollack; Raising Cane, by Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon; New Black Man, by Mark Anthony Neal; Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft; Dude You're a Fag, by C.J. Pascoe; Guyland, By Michael Kimmel; I Don't Want to Talk About It, by Terrence Real; Violence, by James Gilligan; Guys and Guns Amok, by Douglas Kellner; On Killing, by David Grossman; and two documentary films: Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by Byron Hurt; and Tough Guise, which I created and Sut Jhally directed.

6) Resist the temptation to blame this shooting or others on "mental illness," as if this answers the why and requires no further explanation. Even if some of these violent men are or were "mentally ill," the specific ways in which mental illness manifests itself are often profoundly gendered. Consult with experts who understand the gendered features of mental illness. For example, conduct interviews with mental health experts who can talk about why men, many of whom are clinically depressed, comprise the vast majority of perpetrators of murder-suicides. Why is depression in women much less likely to contribute to their committing murder than it is for men? (It is important to note that only a very small percentage of men with clinical depression commit murder, although a very high percentage of people with clinical depression who commit murder are men.)

7) Don't buy the manipulative argument that it's somehow "anti-male" to focus on questions about manhood in the wake of these ongoing tragedies. Men commit the vast majority of violence and almost all rampage killings. It's long past time that we summoned the courage as a society to look this fact squarely in the eye and then do something about it. Women in media can initiate this discussion, but men bear the ultimate responsibility for addressing the masculinity crisis at the heart of these tragedies. With little children being murdered en masse at school, for God's sake, it's time for more of them to step up, even in the face of inevitable push back from the defenders of a sick and dysfunctional status quo.


And unfortunately, one of those defenders of a sick and dysfunctional status quo, is Pope Benedict.  There is no way to get around that as he has consistently attacked any notion that would change the balance of power between the masculine and the feminine---whether that is in the Church, in the bedroom, or in relationships. If he could actually process what Jesus taught about relating to others, that it wasn't through dominance but service, he might have a different perspective on redefining gender roles.  Apparently he can't, but that doesn't mean Catholicism itself, through the laity and it's theologians have to remain silent, and more of us need to speak out.  

I asked my dad that 'what scared him question' almost fifty years ago, but he was right back then and with today's assault weapons, his message is even more true.  We need to seriously deconstruct what passes for masculinity in a culture that no longer needs old definitions for it's continued survival. It sure seems to me that Pope Benedict and his ideas about gender are a bigger threat to world peace than any gay marriage initiative.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The God Emperor Of Roman Catholicism Speaks To His Faithfiul Acolytes

Pope Benedict has an obsession with gays, feminists, and insisting on the literacy of Genesis. On these issues he truly seems to think he is the God Emperor of Roman Catholicism.

I read Pope Benedict's annual message to the Vatican curia with zero expectations of finding anything hopeful or uplifting in his words.  Consequently I was not too disappointed. I am however, wondering how much longer we will have to live under a pope who inflicts the entire global church with his own unresolved issues under the guise of 'teaching' or 'instructing the faithful'.  I am tired of, and sad about, constantly reading this kind of instructing in which Benedict castigates Western culture for all of his personal woes while exhorting the developing world to ignore how population density is directly related to poverty and the ills associated with same. Men must dominate, women must be pregnant, and gays must return to the same deep closet he himself is so familiar with and all of this is God's will.  

I've broken up two extended paragraphs in his speech to illustrate my belief that Pope Benedict has some issues he himself has never addressed. Pope Benedict never comes out and mentions gays specifically or feminists directly.  Instead he uses innuendo and code words and hides behind the thinking of a Jewish Rabbi. He strings together observations which we are then to take his word for that they are linked in the way he links them. Well, OK, but some of these linkages are not all that logical.  But I guess when you are giving a speech to the lock stepping acolytes you don't have to make a whole lot of logical sense. Especially if you hold the very ontologically superior position of God Emperor of Roman Catholicism.

The great joy with which families from all over the world congregated in Milan indicates that, despite all impressions to the contrary, the family is still strong and vibrant today. But there is no denying the crisis that threatens it to its foundations – especially in the western world. (Benedict seems to have zero faith in the strength of the family.  How is it an institution, which he teaches us has been God's will from day one, is now so weak it can't stand under the assault from a relatively few gay marriages?  Or is it that it's the Roman Catholic clerical system that can't stand under the assault gay marriage represents to that culture?)

.... So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his "I" ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost. (I understand this is a translation from Italian, but if you go back and read this it's expression is not gender neutral or inclusive and it could have easily been made so.  This is Benedict talking about humanity as if it's all about men and only about men and the male inability to make lifetime commitments.  For him this may be true, as this inability to make lifetime commitments has certainly impacted the number of male celibate clergy.)

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: "one is not born a woman, one becomes so" (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term "gender" as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. (In these sentiments biological sex equals gender equals gender roles equals male dominance/female submission and it is all God's plan and patriarchy has nothing to do with it because patriarchy is the natural expresson of our male God's will.)

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. (Exhibit number one of this process is the Church's demand for celibacy in it's male and female religious. Talk about denial of one's nature and forcing a contrived dualism on the nature of humanity.)

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. (The biological difference between men and women is not being called into question.  What is being called into question is the social roles which have previously been socially ascribed, somewhat arbitrarily, based on whether one was born male or female.  This is not so much a threat to society, as it is a threat to the structure of Roman Catholicism.)

From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. (This is because the nuclear family is not a product of creation, it's a product of the last couple of centuries. The long term historical social unit was the tribe, not the nuclear family. Plus if there is no God given pre ordained duality, there is no theological justification for excluding women from leadership on the basis of their sexual chromosomes.)

Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man. (This last part is really a series of not well linked statements purportedly ending in the notion that gays adopting children somehow winds up making objects of children and denying man and denying God.  It makes me wonder what goes on in Benedict's head that it's impossible for him to see that he himself is objectifying gays and feminists by defining them as 'threats' to the whole of creation.)


Pope Benedict then goes on to describe three areas of dialogue that the Vatican needs to be concerned with: dialogue with nation states, dialogue with society, and dialogue with other religions.  Note the absence of dialogue with his subjects. God Emperors do not dialogue with their subjects.  Never have and never will.

So as 2013 approaches and 12/21/2012 passed without a whimper,  Catholics of the progressive variety are left confronting the last dregs of very old energy.  Like all 'last dregs' the stench is pretty powerful and the taste bitter.  I have great hope that 'this too shall pass' and we will move into a much more humane and compassionate future where the personal dysfunction of one man will not be allowed to dictate the spiritual and religious experiences of one billion people.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Not Just About Guns, It's Also Got To Be About Autism

I've had a difficult time reading some of the coverage on the Newtown mass killings.  Part of it is my heart is torn between the parents of all the murdered children, the heroic deaths of the female staff who tried to stop or mediate the carnage, and then finally, Adam Lanza and his mother.  I've found myself getting really frustrated with commenters and pundits who seem to think Adam Lanza was a product of video games, or goth interests, or demonic influence.  I've been just as frustrated with all the talk about gun control when in point of fact too many of these mass shootings are equally products of poor mental health services and the stigma surrounding mental illness and the increasing prevalence of autism.  Maybe it's just too soon after the event for people to start thinking productively.

I did come across one powerful piece of writing that I want to share with readers.  Call it part of my campaign to get some compassion moving about a mental health issue that is not going away, is getting worse and is truly a parent's worst nightmare.  Originally written for The Anarchist Soccer Mom, I found it on Huffington Post.  It's brilliantly written by Liza Long.

"I am Adam Lanza's Mother"

 By Liza Long
Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.

“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”

Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork -- “Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

For days, my son insisted that I was lying -- that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise -- in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill -- Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.


First, I want to thank Liza Long for writing this piece.  It needs to be read by as wide an audience as possible.  This country will never truly understand what happened in Newtown and Aurora and Virginia Tech and on and on,  unless we are willing to go inside the families of these boys and inside the minds of the boys themselves.  Their brains do not function like our brains and because of that, they do not live easily in our world.  The mental health establishment can provide fairly safe environments but consistently applicable treatment is another story.  In the meantime families become prisoners of their children, they turn inward, they isolate, and they burn out.  By the time too many of these boys reach 18, if some form of therapy hasn't mitigated their symptoms, there aren't very many alternatives, especially if their families are burned out. They are now considered independent legal adults and with high functioning IQ's, quite able to buy guns, strategize with acumen, and yet they are far from adults in most meaningful ways.

In a very real sense, they don't have ego personalities.  They have avatars.  They are just as easily their video gaming personality as they are their 'social' personality, and for a minority of them, they are much more comfortable and secure in their video gaming avatar, in which they have a real sense of control and where their focus is strong enough to filter out external stimuli and where they succeed,  than they are in their 'social avatar' where an innate inability to filter out external stimuli makes them feel highly vulnerable, inclined to OCD behaviors, and where they need of a lot of repetitive structure.  It's like getting lost in the woods for a normal person, except for these boys, until a situation becomes totally and completely the same, they will continually be lost in the woods.  They act out in frustration and uncontrolled rage is just one second away.

Descriptions of Adam Lanza in high school illustrate some of this.  He was known to wear the same types of clothes buttoned up the same way every day.  He would walk down halls hugging the wall and carrying a brief case 'like and 8 year old carries a teddy bear'.  He was known to be unable to detect physical pain and in his high school that became a planned for safety issue.  Imagine not being able to detect physical pain because your can't focus on that particular perceptual stimuli.  The pain signals were probably there, he just couldn't filter out everything else to identify them.  His tech club coach also stated he would 'fly off', meaning Adam would go into a sort of catatonic state,  and they would have to call his mother to bring him out this state. This is sensory overload resulting in disassociation. I've seen this happen with adults that have high high anxiety levels. It's either full blown panic attacks or disassociation.

Adam was also at the age, late teens to early twenties,  where we generally see the onset of full psychosis in schizophrenia.  A childhood diagnosis on the autism scale can be a precursor to full blown adult schizophrenia.  This is the same profile shown by the Aurora shooter and the Gifford's shooter.  Pyschosis makes a great deal of internal logical sense to the person experiencing it and not much sense at all to outside observers.  Unfortunately there is usually enough survival skill in the psychosis that observers blow off a lot of strange behavior and don't connect the dots until after it's too late. Monday morning quarterbacking is pretty useless.

We need to get serious about tracking these kids because if they move into full psychosis how they will play out that psychosis is as idiosyncratic as they are as individuals.  We need to get very serious about giving their families some legitimate help because treatment is astronomical, especially when it involves meds whose cost can be one thousand dollars or more a month for one med, and most of them are on a cocktail of meds.  We need to explore other treatment avenues and spend serious bucks on researching why autism is becoming so prevalent.  1 in 88 kids are now diagnosed with some form of disability on the autism scale.  That's a 78% increase in nine years.  This story is not just a wake up call for gun control legislation.  It needs to be a wake up call for a serious mental health issue that keeps increasing in our children.  If we really care about our children and their families we need to put the same kind of intense effort into autism that we did for HIV/AIDS.  Or our mentally confused kids will keep killing our kids.