Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Local Mayors, Transportation Planning Board Call for End to Elizabeth River Crossings Tolls


One of the worse fiascoes that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his Republican cohorts in the Virginia General Assembly have inflicted on Hampton Roads is the "public-private partnership" that granted Elizabeth River Crossings ("ERC") the ability to fleece Hampton Roads commuters with ever increasing tolls in exchange for McDonnell and the Virginia GOP from avoiding tax increases - e.g. an increase in the gasoline tax - to pay for infrastructure that is a governmental responsibility. To call ERC greedy and rapacious is far too kind and their outrageous late fees ultimately forced the state of Virginia to demand reductions in tolls and late fees that quickly totaled in the thousands and thousands of dollars.  Compounding the distress to working class and poor commuters was the DMV's refusal to renew auto registrations until ERC receive its exorbitant demands which subjected commuters to traffic summonses as well. Now, a number of local mayors and members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Board Commonwealth of Virginia are demanding that the economy crushing tolls be lifted.  Such a move will required action by the Virginia General Assembly.  A piece in Channel 13 News looks at this issue and the need to rescind these tolls that screw the public while enriching private interests.  Here are excerpts: 
Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe said local leaders must find a way to reverse an agreement between Elizabeth River Crossings and the Commonwealth of Virginia before rising toll prices cripple the region's economy.
Rowe, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck and five others have formed a committee to study how the state could possibly change or back out of the agreement with ERC.
The committee was formed at a Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization meeting, where the mayors and others voiced concerns about toll prices and other aspects of the agreement. HRTPO director Bob Crum Jr. said he supports the new committee's opinion that something needs to change.
"Those tolls will continue to increase over time, I think the concern is what impact that will have," Crum said. "We need to investigate what options are on the table and work with the state and general assembly to get those things addressed."
Rowe said he feels like local leaders are now recognizing the tolls as a regional issue, and not just a "Portsmouth issue." An Old Dominion University study found Portsmouth lost about $8.8 million each year after the implementation of the tolls in 2015. 
However, Crum and Rowe said any changes would likely need to be made in Richmond via the general assembly. The current agreement was made between the Commonwealth of Virginia and ERC. Crum said it was not signed by the local city governments. 
Elizabeth River Crossings responded to statements from public officials that the contract needs to end. The company said in a statement that it assumed more than $4 billion in costs when it agreed to expand, renovate and maintain the Midtown Tunnel, Downtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway facilities.
 Crum said another section of the agreement between the state and the ERC is worrying for local governments. Due to a non-compete clause, ERC could claim damages and lost revenue when other transportation projects are completed within the region, requiring the state to pay compensation to ERC.
With the High Rise Bridge expansion underway and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel expansion coming soon, Crum said the board is worried about additional costs or repercussions. He said this understanding provides the new committee additional motivation to find a way to end the current agreement between the state and the ERC.

The Covington Catholic Students - a Calculated Art of Making People Uncomfortable?


At the risk of diving into the debate of what really happened in the confrontation between a group of white Covington Catholic High students and Native Americans, I suspect many individuals will interpret what they saw take place based on their own prejudices and allegiances to Donald Trump or their contempt and animus towards Trump.  Personally, I view wearing a Trump MAGA hat as the nearest thing one can do to donning KKK robes without actually doing so. My Republican "friends" will object, but supporting a vile racist who espouses racist policies, like it or not, makes one a racist or at best a white supremacist sympathizer. Thus, the Covington students wearing MAGA hats to me do not merit the benefit of the doubt.  Moreover, as a column in the Washington Post points out, one can sometimes be intimidating and threatening without violence.  A smug smile or sneer can speak volumes as many in the LGBT know from first hand experience. Given other stories surfacing about the bigotry and homophobia rampant at Covington Catholic, I suspect these students who are now proclaiming their innocence may, in fact, have know precisely what they were doing.  Here are column highlights:
“Rorschach test” already feels like such a weary metaphor for what happened last weekend on the Mall between a Covington Catholic High School student and a Native American elder. But it’s hard to think of another recent incident that’s metastasized so quickly and been interpreted so disparately — an insight into how you see the world and how you understand your place in it.
Meanwhile, the story grows, or maybe it finishes: On Wednesday morning Nick Sandmann, the smiling teenager at the center, sat for an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips,” he told Savannah Guthrie.
We could quibble about his word choices — is “listening to him and standing there” what really happened? — but that’s the point: We quibble. Conversations unravel. All week long, personal experiences have been unpacked like suitcases and brought forth as evidence.
A man I know who went to an all-boys Catholic school saw only typical adolescence in the videos: a group of kids, already hyped up by an encounter with the profanity-yelling Black Hebrew Israelites, firing off testosterone like careless sparklers.
I floated this with another friend, a woman, who raised an eyebrow. Maybe some of the other students were caught up in a fog of poorly supervised hormones, but Sandmann wasn’t, this friend pointed out. He wasn’t screaming. He was making the conscious decision to stand in Phillips’s path, and to smile.
It's the smile that we've been dissecting all week. Sandmann meant it to defuse the situation, he told Guthrie.
Is provocation a chant and a drum, or is provocation a flat smile and a decision not to move? (“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so,” Sandmann said.) Which one of them is the peaceful act, which one could be misinterpreted?
Here’s where the Rorschach test comes in: As much as we might try to see what happened from Sandmann’s perspective, or from Phillips’s, the perspective we’re ultimately seeing it from is our own.
The most insidious bully in my junior high wasn’t someone who stuffed smaller kids in lockers, but a smaller kid himself: slender, handsome, with a last name that appeared on a big building in town. What he would do, mostly, was stare. Stare and smile, and walk very close to his less-rich, less-handsome targets. Not touching, but close enough to show that he could have touched them if he wanted to.
And it’s funny, how awful “not doing anything” can feel to the person it’s not being done to. How infuriating or unsettling.
It’s funny, what a slender rich kid’s vehement denial can do to your mind-set: Maybe he wasn’t doing anything. Maybe he was just smiling. Maybe he was just smiling even when you made it clear you were trying to pass, and you were on the verge of tears? Maybe he was trying to defuse the situation, and you’re the one who was crazy.
That scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial was a circus . . .That interview with Sandmann was measured, and filled with the right words: “in hindsight,” “respect.”  But I don’t think my friends and I were crazy in junior high. I think our classmate knew exactly where the line was, and how to walk up to it. I think making people uncomfortable wasn’t the point; the point was making sure the uncomfortable people knew there was nothing they could do about it.
The Covington Catholic students were minors who were apparently mature enough to participate in the abortion debate — one of the most complicated issues of our time, and what brought them to Washington — but not mature enough to walk away from hecklers.
Does it matter that they were in MAGA hats? It’s hard for me to imagine anyone wearing them now, in 2019, wouldn’t understand they’re not just a sartorial choice.
It’s hard for me to talk about what happened on the Mall without bringing in every experience I've ever had: the knowledge that people who are used to having power know how to wield it in subtle ways. The knowledge that I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and once or twice, the giving end of it.
Maybe you think Sandmann didn’t do anything and is a victim of an Internet mob.
Or maybe you think, as Guthrie wondered aloud in the interview Wednesday, that standing there was its own act of aggression. The appearance of doing nothing while actually doing something.
It’s hard to imagine anyone’s minds changing by this point, though.
Perhaps my perspective is colored by the bullying I received in high school as a gay kid trying desperately to hide in the closet.  Or perhaps I flash back to the smiling homophobes who forced me from a law firm for being gay. Then again, perhaps I am influenced by the toxicity of Roman Catholicism.  Whatever Sandmann claims, I continue to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing.  The nature of his smile said all I needed to see/hear.

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Poll: Shutdown, Russia Drive Trump to All-Time High Disapproval

As the federal government shutdown drags on leaving 800,000 employees increasingly desperate financially - I have family members who have been furloughed - and the safety of air travel is being threatened and more and more government contractors feel financial strain, one has to wonder what is in the minds of Congressional Republicans - especially Mitch McConnell - who insist on continuing to give political fellatio to Der Trumpenführer.  A new poll shows that 57% of Americans disapprove of Trump's job performance.  A similar percentage of the population believes that Russia has "kompromat" - i.e., blackmail material - on Trump.  One would think that fear of general election defeat would at some point outweigh fears of a primary challenge.  Here are highlights from Politico on the new poll findings:

Donald Trump's disapproval rating is at an all-time high amid a historically long partial government shutdown and concerns about the president's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Nearly 6-in-10 voters — 57 percent — disapprove of Trump's job performance, compared to the 40 percent that approve. In addition, 54 percent of voters blame Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill for the government shutdown. Only 35 percent blame congressional Democrats.
“As the government shutdown enters its second month, President Trump continues to carry the bulk of the blame among voters for the stalemate,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. “In this week’s poll nearly half of voters (49 percent) say the president is responsible — up 6 points since the shutdown began.
While 43 percent support the construction of a border wall — compared to 49 percent who oppose construction — only 7 percent of voters said that they support dedicating funding to a border wall if it was the only way to end the government shutdown.  That’s compared to 72 percent who oppose dedicating funding to a border wall if it was the only way.
When asked whether they will approve of dedicating funds to border security, but not a wall, to end the shutdown, 34 percent supported. Fifty-one percent, however, still opposed that plan.
A majority of voters also believe that Russia has incriminating information against [Trump] the president. According to the poll, 57 percent believe it’s likely that Russia “has compromising information“ on Trump, compared to 31 percent who don't think it's likely.
If there is any good news, it is the reality that Republicans may be setting their Virginia counterparts up for another disastrous election in November 2019.  Trump is already hugely unpopular in Virginia and many suffering as a result of the shutdown may seek their revenge on the Virginia GOP. 

Karen Pence's and Christofascists' Fraudulent Embrace of Victimhood

Karen Pence: a bigot playing the victim card.
According to Karen and Mike Pence they are the victims of persecution by those who find it inappropriate for the wife of the Vice President to be employed at a vitriolically anti-LGBT school.  It's not as if there are not a multitude of other schools - both public and private - in Northern Virginia at which Karen Pence could have chosen to work.  Mike Pence finds criticism of his wife's choice "offensive" and whines that they are being "persecuted" for being "Christian."  Never mind that Immanuel Christian School not only bans LGBT individuals and seemingly wants them to cease to exist, but the school also bans anyone that does not embrace its bigotry and homophobia. The Pence's hypocrisy and dis-ingenuousness is the norm nowadays among Christofascists who whine that any restriction on their ability to mistreat others is "persecution." "Modern day Pharisee" is too kind a label for these vicious and falsely pious hypocrites.  A piece at NBCNews looks at this display of false victimhood.  Here are excerpts:
Karen Pence, currently the second lady of the United States, is returning to Immanuel Christian School, a private K-8 elementary school that is a part of the Immanuel Bible Church, to teach art part-time to students.
Civil rights and LGBTQ activists, including most recently Lady Gaga, criticized the SLOTUS’s new position because the school explicitly “refuse[s] admission” to students who do not live according to the “biblical lifestyle” — which means no rough-and-tumble homosexual or bisexual activity. Likewise, the school discriminates against job applicants who do not “live a life of moral purity;” disqualifying conduct includes everything from “lesbian sexual activity” to transgender identity” to “heterosexual activity outside of marriage.”
“It’s disturbing Second Lady Karen Pence would put her stamp of approval on an institution that actively targets LGBTQ students at one of the places where they should feel the safest,” Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement through the organization.
Legally, Immanual Christian School can discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Virginia, in addition to 38 other states, does not prohibit private workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Increasingly, this is the desperate defense of those who find themselves on the wrong side of history — as well as societal and legal norms. While LGBTQ individuals still suffer from hate crimes (especially trans Americans) and prejudice, the majority of Americans have no problem with gay marriage or other civil and legal rights. Realizing this, one pocket of America is now attempting to hide its own historical privilege in the language of the oppressed.
But I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education, is deeply offensive to us,” Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview with Eternal World Television. . . . . Or, as David French wrote at the National Review: “No one is forced to attend the church. No one is forced to attend the school. It’s a voluntary association that is protected by the First Amendment and rooted in the faith that guides the lives of tens of millions of Americans.”
French is correct, actually. Despite having a lifestyle at least partially funded by the American taxpayer, Karen Pence has the freedom to believe in her evangelical Christian faith; she has the freedom to work at a school that espouses this faith — a faith constructed by a morality that is fundamentally patriarchal, sexist and homophobic. And her freedom to do so is indeed protected by the First Amendment.
The ground lines of the cultural battle have been set — and they’re in favor of the bigots, who have strategically positioned themselves as the victims of an attack on their religious freedom.
Through a manipulation of First Amendment language, freedom of religion currently serves as code for bigots to justify not only their discriminatory beliefs but the continuation of verbal and physical violence against minority communities. Even though they project the language of the snowflake at civil rights advocates and liberal-leaning citizens, it is they who cry “victim” when their moral values are exposed as promoting hate and violence. Using a quite simple two-pronged logic, they circumvent accountability by projecting blame onto those people who they discriminate against while obfuscating the bigotry of their own beliefs.
And the refusal to hold oneself accountable is a strategy for dominance that unethically burdens, and potentially harms, others. A more critical interrogation of historical values — here, religious values steeped in misogyny and homophobia — gets crushed by the moral panic of Karen Pence’s defenders, who are frothing at the mouth to evangelize the rightness of America’s “culture wars.”
Here, they even have an unexpected ally in people who perceive Pence’s return to the workplace as an equal rights issue.
However, a woman entering the workforce is not a feminist victory if the work performed is in the service of bigotry and discrimination. Remember, you cannot divorce the act from the identity. This equation is akin to the mislabeling of white suffragists as feminists. White women who fought for other white women to have the vote, and aligned themselves with racist patriarchs in order to finance their constitutional battle for the 19th Amendment, were not feminists.
Karen Pence is not, contrary to what her defenders say, a victim. Willfully ignorant about the harmful cultural messaging of her actions, and complicit with oppressive systems built on bigoted beliefs, she is the unimpeachable mother — white and heterosexual — who, actually, has always been the idol of “good,” Christian, white America. Her defenders are knights in white robes who shout “freedom!” as they cut down their enemy.
This is American history, and, it seems, mother will continue to teach it.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Vatican’s Self-Created Crisis for Catholicism.


Having been raised Roman Catholic, been an altar boy for a decade from age 8 to 18, and risen to the 4th Degree in the Knights of Columbus, I am all too aware of the Medieval dogma of the Church and its desperate clinging to a 12th century understanding of human sexuality.  And yes, during those years I was desperately trying to "pray away the gay". something that is both ludicrous and futile with the benefit of hindsight.  Nowhere is this embrace of 12th century ignorance more true than in the context of the Church's war against homosexuality which at times has included torturing gays and burning them at the stake, a mindset and practice which Catholic missionaries spread like a cancer across the globe.  Meanwhile, the Church has found the ranks of its clergy - probably for centuries - increasingly filled with gays with stunted psycho-sexual development given the Church's bizarre system of all boys schools and high school seminary schools since there was nowhere better to hide one's "secret" than with in the ranks of the celibate priesthood. Something similar also plagues anti-gay Protestant denominations where we see closeted evangelicals flocking to the pulpit where they vent homophobic vitriol only to be caught in gay sex scandals down the road.  In an extremely long piece in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan lays the current sex abuse scandal firmly at the feet of the Vatican.  In reading the piece (which I recommend reading the entire piece), do not forget that celibacy requirement in the Roman Catholic Church derived from the Church's lust for money as the costs of married priest with children mounted. Simply put, celibate priests did not dissipate Church assets in the support of wives and families.  Here are column highlights: 
We have no reliable figures on just how many priests in the Catholic Church are gay. The Vatican has conducted many studies on its own clergy but never on this subject. In the United States, however, where there are 37,000 priests, no independent study has found fewer than 15 percent to be gay, and some have found as many as 60 percent. The consensus in my own research over the past few months converged on around 30 to 40 percent among parish priests and considerably more than that — as many as 60 percent or higher — among religious orders like the Franciscans or the Jesuits.
This fact hangs in the air as a giant, unsustainable paradox. A church that, since 2005, bans priests with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and officially teaches that gay men are “objectively disordered” and inherently disposed toward “intrinsic moral evil” is actually composed, in ways very few other institutions are, of gay men.
The massive cognitive dissonance this requires is becoming harder to sustain. The collapse of the closet in public and private life in the past three decades has made the disproportionate homosexuality of the Catholic priesthood much less easy to hide, ignore, or deny. This cultural and moral shift has not only changed the consciousness of most American Catholics (67 percent of whom support civil marriage for gay couples) and gay priests (many of whom are close to quitting) but also broken the silence that long shrouded the subject.
Five years ago, Pope Francis made his watershed “Who am I to judge?” remark after being asked about a flawed gay priest. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” Francis went on. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. . . . . These sentiments won 62 percent of the votes of the synod bishops — just shy of what was necessary to pass, but still evidence of a sharp shift in tone in official Catholic teaching.
They also triggered near panic on the Catholic right. Alarmed by the possibility that divorced and remarried people might be welcomed as well as gays, traditionalists launched a fierce rearguard campaign against the new papacy, with a focus on what some called a “Lavender Mafia” running the church, and broke new ground in connecting this directly to the horrifying revelations of sex abuse that came to light in 2002. In increasingly direct ways, they have argued that the root of the scandal was not abuse of power, or pedophilia, or clericalism, or the distortive psychological effects of celibacy and institutional homophobia, but gayness itself.
The unseemly fall this past summer of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the most powerful American cardinals of his time, provided a cause célèbre for this faction. It emerged that McCarrick had abused at least two children and then sexually harassed generations of adult seminarians with impunity.
McCarrick gave the right an opening. New online media organizations — led by Breitbart-style websites such as LifeSite News and Church Militant — now routinely pounce on any incidents involving gay priests and have an influential audience in the Vatican. A wealthy group of conservative Catholics, the Better Church Governance, has even launched an investigation into the orthodoxy, conduct, and, it’s clear, sexual orientation of each of the 124 cardinals who will elect the next pope.
At the center of this struggle, of course, are gay priests, bishops, and cardinals themselves. They are caught in a whiplash of relative toleration embodied by Francis and hostility exemplified by his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. . . . . “They are equating all gay priests with sexual abuse. There’s a witch hunt.”
Sullivan then jumps and looks at good, decent gay priests and what the Vatican is doing to them and ultimately to the institution itself,  He also looks at an accurate history of gays in the Church:
Most of the gay priests I spoke with have never experienced abuse in the church. Many had already come to terms with their sexual orientation before they entered the priesthood, but some wrestled with it in the seminary, and others later in life. “There is no typical experience,” Father Joe, as I’ll call him, told me. “At first I wondered if I were a fraud, because I thought, Well, am I just trying to escape into a life in which I don’t have to deal with my sexuality? But I had people in charge of me who challenged me to ask myself if this were authentic, and I felt that this was the life and work that God was calling me to. It’s an ongoing discernment.” Then there was a moment of grace. “I was working in a hospital at the height of the AIDS crisis. A nun said to me, ‘What do you want to tell these people? They’re active homosexuals, drug users.’ I said, ‘I would talk about God’s mercy and be with them as they are.’ It helped me understand how God could use me even though the church didn’t accept me.”
Another, call him Father Andrew, described his choice of vocation as “convenient and existential”: “I was 18 and sexually aware but extremely depressed, and my father cornered me one day in the kitchen and made me come out. I went to a psychologist, who told me, ‘You’re not going to change. You need to accept yourself.’ ” Andrew’s father was not happy about this recommendation and ended the therapy. In college, Andrew sought out more treatment, and then, suddenly, his father died. It threw him. “I kept thinking about life and death. I had started praying again and attending Mass. I was driving in the desert from Phoenix to Tucson and saw these dust devils, and I suddenly heard in my head, ‘Oh, be a priest. You won’t need to deal with sex; you can be respected.’ And then my brother died — a car crash.” By his junior year, Andrew was in the seminary.
The scapegoating has wounded many of the priests I spoke with. It has become a double stigma: targeted by the hierarchy for being gay and by the general public for being pedophiles. Many of the people I spoke to, Catholics and non-Catholics, about the subject of gay priests rolled their eyes and asked about the abuse of children. The news environment is saturated with stories about sex abuse — and rightly so — yet there are hardly any public examples of the overwhelming number of gay priests who would never dream of preying upon the powerless.
These men are still sexual beings, flesh and blood. In these crises, they tend to do one of two things: either fall so deeply in love that they cannot sustain a life without physical intimacy and so leave the church or, more often, recalibrate, confess, and recommit to the celibate life.
How do you live a healthy sexuality in a context where your sexuality is stigmatized?” After the 2005 ban on gay priests, Father Mike became attracted to conversion therapy and underwent a year and a half of trying to be cured of being gay. It was only later that he came to see how “none of it was true; it was all a lie.”
The preponderance of gay men in the priesthood is, in fact, nothing new in the history of the church. For well over a millennium, it was commonplace, and though there were occasional denunciations of it, these were usually followed by papal inaction or indifference.
Even Saint Augustine had one particularly intense love affair with another young man. “For I felt that my soul and his were one soul in two bodies,” he wrote, “and therefore life was a horror to me, since I did not want to live as a half; and yet I was also afraid to die lest he, whom I had loved so much, would completely die.” This was not merely a spiritual friendship, Augustine confessed. . . . Some have speculated that Augustine’s starkly Manichaean divide between the spirit and the body is rooted in his disgust at his own homosexual tendencies. The historical record, however, reveals that for all Augustine’s influence, the practice of intense homoerotic friendship among the clergy was common over the following centuries, especially in monasteries.
The masterpiece on the subject of “spiritual friendship” was, in fact, written by a gay man, Saint Aelred, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in England in the mid-1160s. He had had sexual relationships with men in his younger years, but, vowing chastity as a monk, he sublimated these desires into an idea of intense celibate love for another man. He took as a model the relationship between Jesus and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” John, describing it at one point even as a “marriage.”
By the 12th century, priests and monks were writing love poems to one another in what Boswell describes as an “outburst of Christian gay literature still without parallel in the Western world.” But perhaps in response to this broad acceptance of gay spirituality, some began to campaign for a crackdown. Around 1051, Saint Peter Damian published a treatise, The Book of Gomorrah, whose rhetoric is strikingly similar to the online denunciations of our time: “absolutely no other vice can be reasonably compared with this one … [it] is in fact the death of the body, the destruction of the soul … it removes truth utterly from the mind.” He accused the church of being run by a gay cabal who covered for each other and gave one another absolution for their sins. The pope at the time, Leo IX, nonetheless refused to ban gay clergy and argued that the problem w as those who had sex “as a long-standing practice or with many men.”
In 1102, in a similar moment, the Council of London decided to promulgate a decree against the newly defined sin of “sodomy” — only to have the publication stopped by the archbishop of Canterbury, who remarked that “this sin has hitherto been so public that hardly anyone is embarrassed by it.”
The tide turned decisively in the 13th century with the theological genius Thomas Aquinas denouncing homosexual acts as “against nature.” All sex — heterosexual and homosexual — was to be reserved only for married couples open to procreation, and any other sexual activity was a grave sin. Homosexuals, in the new theology, were part of nature — many had noticed homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom, particularly among hares and hyenas — but they were also somehow contrary to nature. Aquinas never resolved this paradox. Neither has the church.
As the taboo deepened in the succeeding centuries, there is little reason to believe that gay priests disappeared, but most went more fully underground. Still, same-sex love remained a profound part of Catholic Christianity. The friendship that grew between Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier, for example, created the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, in the 16th century.
The greatest Catholic theologian of the 19th century, Cardinal John Henry Newman, devoted his personal life to another man, Ambrose St. John. This does not mean the two had a sexual relationship (although they might have), but it does suggest that deep same-sex love was still alive in the highest echelons of the Catholic priesthood, even at the apex of Victorian repression and even in someone about to be celebrated as a saint. When St. John died, Newman wrote, “I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or a wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone’s sorrow greater, than mine.”
But why is the priesthood so gay? It is worth noting that the connection between homosexuality and spirituality is by no means restricted to Catholicism. Some evolutionary psychologists have found an ancient link between gay men and tribal shamanism. Carl Jung identified the archetypal gifts of the homosexual: “a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men”; a talent for teaching, aesthetics, and tradition (“to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past”); “a wealth of religious feelings, which help to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality; and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.”
Among gay priests themselves, I heard a variety of explanations. Some described to me how their sense of displacement as boys and teens made them more sensitive to the needs of other marginalized people: “You were an outsider, and you can help other outsiders and welcome them in.” Another simply said, “We understand suffering.”
Then there is the common experience of a gay boy or teen, brought up in the church, who turns to God in struggling with the question of his difference and displacement from the normal. He is forced to ponder deeper questions than most of his peers, acquires powerful skills of observation, and develops a precocious spirituality that never fully leaves him. This resonates for myself as a Catholic boy and teen. The first person I ever came out to was God, in a silent prayer on my way to Communion. I was an altar boy, knew well how to swing a brass thurible full of incense, could debate the nuances of transubstantiation by the age of 11, and considered the priesthood as a vocation (I concluded I wasn’t good enough a person).
But there are other reasons for gay men to seek the priesthood that are far from healthy. The first is celibacy. If you were a young gay Catholic in centuries past, one way to avoid social ostracism, or constant questions about why you lacked an interest in girls or women, was to become a priest. . . . . This pattern, though much less severe than in the past, endures. A profound lack of self-esteem, fueled in part by the church’s homophobia, also led to some seeking the priesthood as a means to repress or somehow cure themselves.
Other gay priests, more self-aware and cynical, find there is a career to be made in all of this falseness. From the 13th century onward, it’s easy to see how secretly gay men found in the church, and the church alone, a source of status and power. Marginalized outside, within they could become advisers to monarchs, forgive others’ sins, earn a stable living, enjoy huge privileges, and be treated instantly with respect. Everything was suppressed, no questions were asked in seminaries, and psychological counseling was absent (and even now is rare). Scarred, scared men became priests, and certain distinct patterns emerged.
One, as we have come to learn, was sexual acting out and abuse. To conflate sexual abuse with the gay priesthood, as many now reflexively do, is a grotesque libel on the vast majority who have never contemplated such crimes and are indeed appalled by them. It is classic scapegoating.
But some abuse of male teens and young adults, as well as abuse of other priests, is clearly related to homosexuality gone horribly astray — and around a quarter of the reported cases involve 15- to 17-year-old victims.
The scale of it in the late 20th century was extraordinary — but, in retrospect, predictable. If you do not deal honestly with your sexuality, it will deal with you. If you construct an institution staffed by repressed and self-hating men and build it on secrecy and complete obedience to superiors, you have practically created a machine for dysfunction and predation. And the hideous truth is we will never know the extent of the abuse in centuries past or what is still going on, especially throughout places in the world (like Africa and Latin America) where robust scrutiny of the church is still sometimes taboo.
Another pattern was externalized homophobia: What you hate in yourself but cannot face, you police and punish in others. It remains a fact that many of the most homophobic bishops and cardinals have been — and are — gay. Take the most powerful American cardinal of the 20th century, Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York, who died in 1967. He had an active gay sex life for years while being one of the most rigid upholders of orthodoxy.
Anti-gay archconservative Cardinal George Pell was recently found guilty of sexual abuse of boys in Australia. The founder of the once hugely influential hard-right, anti-gay cult the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, was found to have sexually abused countless men, women, and children. The leader of Church Militant, which is obsessed with gay priests, is a self-described “ex-gay.” This is a good rule: Those in the hierarchy obsessed with the homosexual question often turn out to be gay; those who are calmer tend to be straight.
But this is because so many in the hierarchy still cannot see homosexuality as being about love and identity rather than acts and lust. As we uncover layer upon layer of dysfunction at the very top of the church, it may be time to point out how naked these bejeweled emperors can appear.
And this, of course, has added another layer of complexity to the story of gay priests: Generations matter. Those in their 70s and 80s grew up in a different universe, where the closet was automatic and the notion of even discussing gay priests was scandalous. One priest described that generation to me as “so closeted they might as well be in Narnia.” They may not even be aware they’re gay. But their reaction to the modern reexamination of homosexual love, and the consideration of sex as distinct from procreation, was panicked retrenchment.
This dynamic has made the clerical closet — not the fact of gay priests but the way that fact has been hidden — a core mechanism for tolerating and enabling abuse. On top of all this, the vow of obedience to superiors gives gay bishops and cardinals huge sway over their priestly flock. Some, of course, realized this power could be leveraged for sex and abused it.
The only obstacle standing in the way of this path is the homophobia formally embedded into church doctrine in 1986 by the future Benedict XVI. The church now explicitly teaches that gay people are “objectively disordered” because their very being leads them to an intrinsic moral evil. This “evil” is the orientation to have sex that cannot lead to procreation — the same reason the church opposes birth control for straight couples. The difference, of course, is that birth control is a choice, while gayness isn’t.
At some point you realize that this is, in the end, the bottom line. There is a deep and un-Christian cruelty at the heart of the church’s teaching, a bigotry profoundly at odds with the church’s own commitment to seeing every person as worthy of respect, deserving of protection, and made in the image of God. It’s based on a lie — a lie that the hierarchy knows is untrue, and a lie proven untrue by science and history and the church’s own experience. “The hierarchy is tying itself in knots in public over something it has already conceded in private,” Father Leo explained to me.
The task, it seems to me, is not to rid the church of homosexuality, which is an integral part of the human mystery, but of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and dysfunction.


More Tuesday Male Beauty


Trump’s White House: Totally Out of Control

Elect an individual utterly unfit for office and expect chaos in the White House.  Elect a malignant narcissist and the chaos will be multiplied ten fold.  That's more or less the premise of Cliff Sims' new tell-all book, “Team of Vipers,” which goes on sale next week.  The portrait it paints of Der Trumpenführer and his regime of misfits ought to disturb, if not terrify, patriotic Americans.  The Washington Post secured an advanced copy of the book and provides a glimpse of the malfeasance and danger to democracy that Trump - and I'd add, Mike Pence - poses to the nation.  Despite all this, Congressional Republicans remain Trump's political whores giving him the political equivalent of daily fellatio.  Here are article highlights:
President Trump watched on television, increasingly angry as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan criticized his handling of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He held the remote control “like a pistol” and yelled for an assistant to get the Republican leader on the phone.
“Paul, do you know why Democrats have been kicking your a-- for decades? Because they know a little word called ‘loyalty,’ ” . . . Why can’t you be loyal to your president, Paul?”
The tormenting continued. Trump recalled Ryan distancing himself from Trump in October 2016, in the days after the “Access Hollywood” video in which he bragged of fondling women first surfaced in The Washington Post.
“I remember being in Wisconsin and your own people were booing you,” Trump told him, according to former West Wing communications aide Cliff Sims. “You were out there dying like a dog, Paul. Like a dog! And what’d I do? I saved your a--.”
The browbeating of the top Republican on Capitol Hill was one of the vivid snapshots of life inside the Trump White House told by one of its original inhabitants, Cliff Sims, in his 384-page tell-all, “Team of Vipers, which goes on sale next week and was obtained in advance by The Post. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Sims, who enjoyed uncommon personal access to Trump, recounts expletive-filled scenes of chaos, dysfunction and duplicity among [Trump] the president, his family members and administration officials.
Unlike memoirs of other Trump officials, Sims’s book is neither a sycophantic portrayal of the president nor a blistering account written to settle scores.
The author reconstructs in comic detail the Trump team’s first day at work, when the president sat in the residence raging about news coverage of the relatively small size of his inauguration crowds, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer scrambled to address it.
Spicer had worked the team “into a frenzy,” and it fell to Sims to write the script for his first statement to the media. . . . And in their rush to satisfy the impatient [Trump] president, nobody checked the facts. Spicer, he writes, was “walking into his own execution.” . . . The book’s scenes are consistent with news reporting at the time from inside the White House.
Sims depicts Trump as deeply suspicious of his own staff. He recalls a private huddle in which he and Keith Schiller, the president’s longtime bodyguard and confidant, helped Trump draw up an enemies list with a Sharpie on White House stationery. “We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders,” Trump told them.
Sims recounts that Kelly once confided to him in a moment of exasperation: “This is the worst [expletive] job I’ve ever had. People apparently think that I care when they write that I might be fired. If that ever happened, it would be the best day I’ve had since I walked into this place.”
As White House director of message strategy, Sims regularly met Trump at the private elevator of the residence and accompanied him to video tapings — carrying a can of Tresemmé Tres Two hair spray, extra hold, for the boss. At one such taping, about an hour after Trump had tweeted that he saw MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift,” the president sought feedback from Sims and Spicer. . . . [Trump] The president then raged about the “Morning Joe” program on which Brzezinski appears and instructed Spicer, “Don’t you dare say I watch that show.”
At times, Trump evinced less rage than a lack of interest. Sims recounts one time when Ryan was in the Oval Office explaining the ins and outs of the Republican health-care bill to [Trump] the president. As Ryan droned on for 15 minutes, Trump sipped on a glass of Diet Coke, peered out at the Rose Garden, stared aimlessly at the walls and, finally, walked out. . . . Apparently, he had had enough of Ryan’s talk. It fell to Vice President Pence to retrieve Trump and convince him to return to the Oval Office so they could continue their strategy session.
He paints Spicer, counselor Kellyanne Conway and communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp in an especially negative light, calling Conway “the American Sniper of West Wing marksmen” and describing her agenda as “survival over all others, including [Trump] the president.”
Perhaps the book’s most cinematic chapter of chaos is “The Mooch Is Loose,” a reconstruction of Anthony Scaramucci’s 11 days as White House communications director. . . . “Can you believe this guy?” [Trump] the president told Sims. “He’s completely out of his mind — 
 Be very afraid.