Monday, September 30, 2013

50 Days of Prayer - Day 38

[To go to a specific day's post in our 50 Days of Prayer, click on one of the days listed to the right. For an explanation of what the 50 Days of Prayer is about, click here. If you've missed some days, just jump in and join us anyway!] 

Day Thirty-Eight

The Plan

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  (Luke 24:27)

What is revealed after the Resurrection is not just the New Life that awaits us, and not just that Jesus is "my Lord and my God" as Thomas recognizes in a flash of awe and astonishment (John 20:28), what is revealed is the entire plan and how it fits together.

Recently we went on a tour during which I was not only blessed with a great crew of actors who gave themselves wholly to our performances, but with an insight about my life and my vocation, a resolution of an issue that had been in flux for 3 1/2 years.  Suddenly I saw what a great deal of pain and suffering and confusion had been about.  Suddenly I saw God's hand in everything, even in redeeming my sin and my selfishness, which had been impeding His will all along.  Suddenly I saw that it all fit.

And I saw that if I remained somehow true, true to Him and true to what He was asking of me, that my whole life would fit in a similar over-arching plan.

Our lives are all part of this great and vast plan, a plan that writes straight with crooked lines, a plan that redeems sin and death by means of our sin and His death, a plan that makes sense of everything, a plan in which everything fits together.

It is not only eternal life that was opened up to us at the Resurrection, it was also the Plan.

Let us meditate on that as we pray ...

To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.

How Low Can You Go?

OK, there's an obvious connection between my last two posts -

The connection drove Dreher from the Church, and the connection is simple, but you can't say it as a Catholic, for a kind of bizarre clericalism reigns in the so-called conservative circles of the Catholic Church, a bizarre clericalism that overlooks the obvious connection.

And that obvious connection is this.  

Most of our bishops apparently don't believe a damn thing they preach.  They don't live it.  They live in ways that flagrantly contradict it.  They are so morally corrupt that they don't even have the common decency of normal secular men, who at least have enough natural goodness in them to protect children from harm.  They lie, they bully, they enable very sick men to do very sick things.  

I know that people will criticize me for saying this.  They'll tell me I'm extreme, over-reacting, hateful.  They'll tell me there are many good bishops; they'll tell me there are many good priests; they'll tell me I'm judgmental and I need to go to confession and they'll pray for me.  They'll tell me I think I'm the perfect Catholic and how dare I criticize the successors to the apostles.  They'll tell me I'm a miserable sinner.  And much of this is very true.

Meanwhile, bishops, after ten years past, and millions of dollars lost, and thousands of lives ruined, and well-meaning lay volunteers forced to endure "child safety" programs that priests and bishops ignore - still, our bishops continue to allow this and this and this.  And also liturgical abuse.  And heterodoxy.  And bad catechesis.  And the abandonment of Christ and His cross - so much so that the average parishioner under age 40 at a typical suburban Catholic parish in this country doesn't really quite know who Jesus is, thinking "Jesus was nice, you be nice too" covers it; when it doesn't even come close.  And the bishops smile and go to dinners and fund raise and pat each other on the back and blame the media when things go wrong.

Louis XV set the bar very low a while back when he said, "The archbishop of Parish should at least believe in God."

Today, I'm afraid, we've all allowed the bar to be set a tad bit lower.

What on Earth is Wrong with Our Bishops?

The children of St. Patrick school in Kansas City, whose principal tried to protect them, but whose bishop put them at risk.

What on earth is wrong with our bishops?  

As bad as I thought Bishop Finn handled the Fr. Ratigan case, I had no idea that he ignored the red flags described in this letter alone.  The letter was written in 2010 by Julie Hess, the principal of the Catholic school at the parish where Fr. Ratigan was pastor, and delivered to Finn's Vicar General, his second-in-command.

All you need to keep in mind while reading it is that Fr. Ratigan was later discovered to have been busy taking pornographic photographs of the little girls of his parish (one as young as age two), was molesting them, and has since been sentenced to 50 years in Federal prison without the possibility of parole.

How did Fr. Ratigan's ordinary react to this letter and to the unfolding of this horrific case?

  • Bishop Finn utterly and totally ignored this letter.  As far as I know, he never even acknowledged receiving it until more than a year later, after the story broke, when he claimed he finally "read it for the first time."  Even if this is true (and I doubt it), how can the Vicar General receive a letter like this and not insist that the bishop read it immediately and act on it?
  • Bishop Finn failed to report the abuse of these children to the police once it became known to him.
  • Bishop Finn refused to let the parishioners know their children were victimized by Fr. Ratigan.
  • Bishop Finn placed Ratigan in an unsupervised setting where he continued to have access to the children of the parish, and continued to abuse them.
  • Bishop Finn allowed the computer containing the evidence of pornography to be destroyed.  And though a copy of the hard drive had been made, police were certain that other evidence could have been uncovered from the computer by experts, had Finn not given the computer back to one of Ratigan's relatives, who promptly trashed it.
  • Bishop Finn spent $1.4 million dollars of diocesan funds defending himself against two misdemeanor charges relating to this case that he was nonetheless convicted of - a conviction that imposed only a few thousand dollars in penalties.
  • Bishop Finn's supporters made light of the child abuse.
  • Bishop Finn's supporters - including his brother bishops - blamed not Bishop Finn, but the local news media for all of this.

Catholics of Kansas City / St. Jo: after reading this letter, if you give one dime to the diocese, you are enabling a situation where this kind of thing is encouraged.  

And we know that Archbishop Nienstadt of St. Paul and Bishop O'Connell of Trenton recently behaved exactly as Bishop Finn did in Kansas City - with contempt for the innocent victims and with flagrant disregard for the red flags that their own disturbed priests were waving.  And all this ten years after the sex scandal broke - a decade after the bishops have been telling us they've fixed things!

I'm beginning to think most of these men really don't believe a word they preach.  I suspect a level of corruption and degradation has grown up in the episcopacy that we cannot imagine, and that the bishops are deliberately shielding and enabling men like this, not out of incompetence, but with careful planning and for the worst of reasons.

Personally, I think after ignoring a letter like this and letting children continue to get harmed, Finn should be ashamed to call himself a man much less a priest of Christ.


By the way, if you don't read the letter, don't comment.  If you choose to comment, you must read the letter or your comment will be deleted.

The Church without the Cross

Rod Dreher has written a very compelling article on why he's no longer Catholic and not planning to come back.

Here's a taste ...

If you only know about the Catholic Church from reading the papers, you are in for a shock once you come inside. The image of American Catholicism shown by the media is of a church preoccupied with sex and abortion. It’s not remotely true. I was a faithful mass-going Catholic for 13 years, attending a number of parishes in five cities in different parts of the country. I could count on one hand the number of homilies I heard that addressed abortion or sexuality in any way. Rather, the homilies were wholly therapeutic, almost always some saccharine variation of God is love.
Well, yes, He is, but Sunday School simplicities only get you so far. Classical Catholic theology dwells on the paradox of God’s love and God’s justice. As Dante shows in the Divine Comedy, God’s love is God’s justice poured out on those who reject Him. In the Gospels, Jesus offers compassion to sinners rejected by religious rigorists, but he also tells them to reform their lives, to “go forth and sin no more.”
Was I frustrated because the priests wouldn’t preach God’s judgment instead of God’s mercy? By no means. I was frustrated because they wouldn’t preach God’s judgment at all, which is to say, they preached Christ without the Cross. I knew the depths of the sins from which I was being delivered, and it felt wrong to treat His amazing grace like it was a common courtesy. Like the reggae song says, “Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
Read more:

What Is Normal?


There are, if you think about it, a few ways of looking at "the normal".  The normal could be either ...

  • That which is statistically normal - the average behavior for the greatest number of people.  This is the way we like to think of "normal".  We like to think it's defined by consensus, and consensus is simply what's popular at the time.  But the statistical norm is only a way of describing behavior at a given moment.  Beyond statistical normality, there is also ...

  • What is normal for our fallen human nature: the normal that makes us happy.  This takes a big leap for people these days, who don't believe in nature, or in human nature - fallen or otherwise.  What is normal for our fallen selves are those things that make us happy in the world - nutritious food, healthy relationships, productive work, a family.  These are all good things.  If we eat bad food, surround ourselves with abusive relationships, do work that makes us miserable and that leads nowhere, or have no family or a family that's in a shambles, we are unhappy and notably so, for we are living an abnormal life - a life that's not in accord with human nature.

  • But there's also the normal for our redeemed or sanctified nature: the normal that makes us blessed.  What is normal for the New Adam is total dedication and self-sacrifice in the name of love.  Thus, things like mortifications, fasts, penances, deprivations - things that make our worldly fallen nature unhappy, these same things are delights to our sanctified selves.  Jesus Christ outlined these things in the Beatitudes.  They are surprising and out of step with either the statistical norm or the happy norm, for they point toward a far deeper happiness.

What you have, then, when you think about the "normal" is a a picture of three things ...

1. How man actually lives (the statistically normal)
2. How man ought to live to be happy in this life (the happy normal)
3.  How man ought to live to find bliss in eternal life (the sanctified normal)

Number one has no necessary connection to either happiness or blessedness.  Thus, even though having our sexuality twisted and abused by porn is now "statistically normal", it is an act that is contrary to both #2 and #3, our fallen nature and our redeemed nature.  In the old days, it may have been "statistically normal" to live with open sewers and stagnant waters that bred malaria, but such "statistical normality" did nothing to keep us healthy or happy; we simply got used to it.

When a person argues, then, that "anything goes" in sex and that this is the "new norm", tell him that at one time black men and women in this country were bought and sold as mere property.  That was utterly normal, and utterly wrong, and it made neither slave nor master happy or healthy.  We now see that as truly abnormal from the point of view of both this life and eternal life.  One day we may again see abortion or sodomy as being the inhuman abnormalities they are, for both are merely "statistically normal", and neither brings any real pleasure, but only misery and suffering, abuse and contempt.

But these days we reject all three norms as arbitrary and contstrictive.

These days we are simply fools.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

50 Days of Prayer - Day 37

[To go to a specific day's post in our 50 Days of Prayer, click on one of the days listed to the right. For an explanation of what the 50 Days of Prayer is about, click here. If you've missed some days, just jump in and join us anyway!] 

Day Thirty-Seven

The Resurrection

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death ... Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (from 1 Cor. 15)

This is indeed Good News.

Do we really believe it?

Let us pray a decade of the Rosary meditating upon the Resurrection.

And let us pray ...

To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.

Sexting, Blabbing, or Bullying - Which Would You Choose?

Let me begin by saying that "sexting" (sending lewd comments and naked photos of yourself via text), though sinful, is far from the worst thing one adult can do to another.  Sexting someone you think is a 16-year-old boy ... well, that's another story

But which is worse?  A priest sexting someone he thinks is a 16-year-old boy, but isn't - or a pastor refusing to tell parishioners about this and bullying them into not asking questions when the priest is removed from their parish for this very reason?

The priest intended to abuse a minor, but didn't.  The pastor intended to bully his parishioners, and did.

From The Star Ledger (emphasis mine) ...

The text messages read as if they’ve been ripped from a pornographic novel.
Matthew Riedlinger quizzed his texting partner about sex videos, pressed for details about intimate liaisons, described sexual acts and encouraged mutual masturbation.
He also repeatedly asked to meet.
"Promise me you will never breath (sic) a word of this to anyone — ok?" he wrote.
Riedlinger had good reason for discretion.
He is a priest of the Diocese of Trenton, and while exchanging more than 1,200 text messages over four weeks last year, he thought was he talking to a 16-year-old boy.
Riedlinger, at the time an assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson and a sex-education teacher at the parish school, was the target of an elaborate sting by a Catholic University of America graduate who says the priest sexually harassed him for years.
Timothy Schmalz, now 23 and a resident of Washington, D.C., said he was moved to action after his first complaint about Riedlinger in 2011 resulted in what he characterized as a slap on the wrist by Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell.
Schmalz is one of five young men who provided The Star-Ledger with similar accounts of harassment and sexual obsession by the priest. Four of the five were in their late teens or early 20s when Riedlinger began inappropriate and persistent sexual dialogues with them, they said. The fifth was in his late 20s.
The sting, initiated on Facebook and carried out through the use of a Google Voice account, partially served its purpose.
After Schmalz forwarded transcripts of the text messages and other materials to O’Connell in August 2012, the bishop removed Riedlinger from the parish, placed him in an in-patient treatment program and later assigned him to restricted ministry away from children, the diocese confirmed.
But for more than a year, O’Connell refused to tell parishioners at St. Aloysius why the priest had been pulled, an omission that advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse call a flagrant violation of the church’s pledge of transparency.
Moreover, the former pastor, the Rev. Kevin Keelan, chastised parishioners for asking questions about Riedlinger’s removal, saying in the church bulletin that "blabbing" was a sin and that they were not entitled to more information.
O’Connell informed parishioners of the complaints in a statement only last weekend, a day after The Star-Ledger questioned the diocese about Riedlinger and the decision to withhold information about the allegations.
Even then, the statement makes no mention of the fact that Riedlinger believed he was corresponding with a 16-year-old boy during sexually explicit conversations.
"Father Riedlinger has been the subject of two complaints to the diocese over the past few years regarding his participation in inappropriate cell phone text communication over a period of some years with adults," according to the statement, which was read aloud at weekend Masses. "There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints."
Read more here.


Now doesn't that make you feel good, readers?

Clearly, Bill Donohue is having an impact.  When embarrassed, fall back not on the great Law that is written in our hearts, not on Jesus Christ, not on the Holy Spirit, not on contrition or penance ... when caught doing wrong, evade, bully, shift the blame, spin, and parse your words with legalistic finesse.  

In the same way that Donohue is defending Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul for allowing a priest to park a camper on the lot of his parish and invite little boys inside of it, while knowing for ten years that this man is a disturbed individual personally and sexually, simply because there were no official "complaints" made through official channels; in the same way that Donohue defended Bishop Finn for covering up for a priest who molested girls by claiming that the "crotch shots" this priest took of girls with spy cameras and the naked pictures he took of a two-year old's genitalia were not technically child pornography, after all; so the anonymous spokesman for the diocese of Trenton assures us that  "There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints" against Fr. Riedlinger.  And that he was sexting an adult - which is technically true.

Glad our bishops and pastors are learning their lessons, aren't you?

Maybe one day they'll be as good at PR as Bill Donohue!

The New Norm: A Generation Raised on Porn

WARNING: I get a bit graphic here, and it's an adult topic meant for some adult readers. I am writing about the biggest change in our culture since the pill, and I'm pulling no punches.  This article is not for everybody.


There is a New Norm, and we're not even seeing it.  The New Norm is a generation raised on porn, and consequently showing symptoms of a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  That sounds like a stretch, but read on ...

Here The Witherspoon Institute looks at the correlation between Porn Use and Supporting Same Sex Marriage.

The article concludes (my emphasis) ...

In the end, contrary to what we might wish to think, young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness. It may be, at least in part, a byproduct of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts.

This relates to my recent post, which is an article in the Mail Online, about how unbelievably depraved sex acts are now the norm to 14-year-olds who have been exposed to them online.

'Nugget, what's that?' asked Jonny.
'A nugget is a girl who has no arms or legs and has sex in a porno movie,' chortled one young, pimply boy, to an outburst of embarrassed laughter from some, and outright revulsion from others.
The adults in attendance were incredulous at the thought that not only did this kind of porn exist, but that a 14-year-old boy may have actually watched it. 

My friend Paul Rhodes writes (again, my emphasis) ...

You have NO chance of winning the debate by hoping that some innate disgust with buggery will sway people's minds against "same sex marriage". 
First, buggery doesn't disgust most people anymore. The mainstreaming of porn has in fact made buggery attractive. Buggery has lost its power to shock.

And I reply ...

What I am just beginning to realize is that, when I said, "Why are we so foolish to think that unrestrained sex will not lead to human misery and depravity?" and a Facebook friend replied, "Well, why would it?" - this is the "new norm". It is beginning to dawn on me. We realize that the elimination of all gun control and laws against homicide would lead to barbarism; but we can't see that the elimination of moral laws regarding the weapon all guys "conceal and carry" - the penis - and any social norms prohibiting the harm that unrestrained use of said device and its corollary produces - we can't see that eliminating such things will obviously and inevitably lead to something even lower than barbarism.  

Honestly, people can no longer see that unrestrained sexuality is extremely dangerous.  It's not obvious any more.

Recently I've been writing about my new favorite show Catfish on MTV.  I wrote about one of the young ladies featured on that series, a girl who is enthusiastically enduring an abusive live-in relationship ...

At the age of 15 she was in a residential treatment center for self-abusive behavior (which is typically cutting, burning, self-mutilation). 
She is probably a victim of sexual abuse ... and now she tells the other man in her life - a man who actually does love her - that she's not good enough for him.  She's staying with the live-in (the jerk) because she doesn't feel worthy of the good guy.
It is hard to imagine what abuse and neglect can do to a child.  I have known some very intelligent and capable and spiritually sensitive people in my day who were unable to enter into any kind of mature loving relationships because their fathers abandoned their families, their mothers tormented them, or a darker secret like molestation or suicide lurked in the shadows.


Here's the deal and we don't want to see it.   Sex is oriented toward the family.  Trivialize one and you trivialize the other.

Culturally speaking, divorce and remarriage pave the way for contraception, and contraception paves the way for pornography.

And pornography is a form of abuse.  It abuses those who produce it and it abuses those who consume it - adults and children both.  And the effects of this abuse are just beginning to be seen the world over, for we now have a generation formed by pornography - you might almost say raised on porn - from their earliest years.

This is a vast change in human behavior and in the molding of human nature, and we are totally ignorant of it.

I know many young actresses, but most are seriously religious.  The few young women I do know who are avowedly secular have the following traits in common.  ...

  • Lesbian encounters are considered a necessary rite of passage, whether you are attracted to other women or not.
  • Violations in the bedroom - physically repulsive and abusive sex acts - are considered normal, even those that are most degrading to women.
  • Becoming a mother is the worst thing you can do; it will ruin your figure and your career and it will take away your freedom.
  • Becoming a single mother, however, is sometimes fun because babies are cute (but husbands aren't) and you can always get state aid to help you raise them.
  • Pornography is fine and dandy.  Even the kind that incites guys to attempt the abusive sex acts described above.
  • The Orgasm is more important than any emotional intimacy.  Sex is about the "O" and nothing else.  Nothing else.  This is why it can be done alone, with a guy, a girl, an object, or any number of participants.  It is an intense physical experience and it entails a kind of power over others.  That's it.  Physically it's fun and it gives a rush of power over others; that's why you do it.  Porn, therefore, is a very accurate depiction of human sexuality.  Real-life sex is just like porn; porn is just like real-life sex.
  • Women are not designed for anything in particular.  They are simply men without penises; and the men who have penises are the enemy.
  • The fathers they have had or known are typically weak or absent - sometimes for several generations in the family.
  • The mothers they have known typically compensate by becoming over-the-top.
  • They think "Gay Marriage" is all about fairness - after all, gay male best friends are a blast; they love to go shopping and talk catty about your girlfriends, so why do anything to make them unhappy?
  • Being sexually promiscuous is OK - but the word "whore" is still used to describe other girls who do this (but never used to describe yourself when you do this).  Sexual promiscuity seems to mean sleeping with anonymous strangers or a string of one-night stands or with guys or gals you barely know - and doing this a lot over a short period of time.  It does not mean having dozens of partners in succession and dumping each and moving on to the next, as long as each sex partner lasts a month or so.  That's not being promiscuous.
  • Love is over-rated; comfort is where it's at.  Find somebody you can be comfortable with.  Set the bar low, and settle.  Shack up, or get close in other ways.  But when you become mutually un-usable to one another, move on in a heartbeat and don't look back.  He'll do it to you; you do it to him.
  • The meaning of life is use, not love.

In other words, I would venture to say that most secular women under the age of 35 show what used to be symptoms of PTSD - in other words, symptoms of abuse.  Their sexuality has been violently altered, through exposure to a culture raised on porn - to a culture that degrades love in favor of use.

A dysnfunctional family raises young women with these symptoms.  A dysfunctional culture does the same.

And porn is right in the center - as both a cause and an effect of this way of life.

Are all young secular women like this?  Of course not.  But it's the new norm.

The End of Innocence and the End of Sex

From the Mail Online ...

The moment I knew internet pornography had cast its dark shadow over the lives of millions of ordinary British teenagers will live with me for ever.

I was sitting in the smart drama hall of a specialist sports college in the North of England with a fantastic reputation.

Before me were a group of 20 boys and girls, aged 13-14. Largely white, working class children, they were well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy. 

Martin Daubney, ex-editor of Loaded, with his wife Diana and his son Sonny
Martin Daubney, ex-editor of Loaded, with his wife Diana and his son Sonny

As the presenter of a Channel 4 documentary called Porn On The Brain, airing next Monday at 10pm, I'd been invited to sit in on a forward-thinking class led by sex education consultant Jonny Hunt, who is regularly asked into schools to discuss sex and relationships. To establish what these kids knew about sex - including pornography - he had asked the children to write an A-Z list of the sexual terms they knew, no matter how extreme.

Most of these children had just hit puberty and some were clearly still children: wide-eyed, nervous, with high-pitched voices.  

    Some of the girls were beginning their first forays into make-up. Several wore braces on their teeth. Everybody was smartly turned out in school uniform, and the most anti-authority statement in the room was a tie worn deliberately short. A One Direction pencil case lay on a desk. These were clearly good children, from good homes. So far, so very, very ordinary.

    But when Jonny pinned their lists on the board, it turned out that the children's extensive knowledge of porn terms was not only startling, it superseded that of every adult in the room - including the sex education consultant himself.

    Martin was shocked by what the teenagers said
    Martin was shocked by what the teenagers said
    'Nugget, what's that?' asked Jonny.

    'A nugget is a girl who has no arms or legs and has sex in a porno movie,' chortled one young, pimply boy, to an outburst of embarrassed laughter from some, and outright revulsion from others.

    The adults in attendance were incredulous at the thought that not only did this kind of porn exist, but that a 14-year-old boy may have actually watched it. 

    But the more mundane answers were just as shocking. For example, the first word every single boy and girl in the group put on their list was 'anal'.

    When questioned, they had all - every child in a class of 20 - seen sodomy acted out in porn videos. I was stunned they even knew about it - I certainly hadn't heard of it at that age - let alone had watched it and as a result may even have wanted to try it.

    One 15-year-old girl said, 'Boys expect porn sex in real life'. And one boy - to choruses of approval - spoke of his revulsion for pubic hair, which he called a 'gorilla'.

    When Jonny pointed out that pubic hair was normal in real life, the boys scoffed, but some of the girls were angry that the boys' template of what to expect from real girls had clearly already been set by porn.

    By the end of the hour-long class - and three others that followed with other children - I was profoundly saddened by what I had witnessed. While teenage boys will always be fascinated by, and curious about, sex, what's now considered 'normal' by under-18s is an entirely distorted view of intercourse and the way relationships should be conducted.

    It seemed as if the children's entire expectation of sex had been defined by what they see in online porn. The conversation was horrifying enough, yet there was worse to come.

    In the playground, I interviewed a brave group of seven bright boys and girls aged 14-15 to ascertain in more detail what online porn they had witnessed.

    'Nugget, what's that?' asked Jonny. 'A nugget is a girl who has no arms or legs and has sex in a porno movie,' chortled one young, pimply boy
    One boy calmly recalled watching a scene too graphic to describe in a family newspaper, but which had involved an animal.

    'You're watching bestiality?' I asked. 'That's illegal. Where are you getting this stuff from?'

    'Facebook,' the boy said. 'It just pops up whether you want it or not, sometimes via advertisements. You don't have any control over it.'

    A girl added, 'On Facebook, you just scroll down and it's there. If any of your friends like it, it comes up on your home page.'

    These kids were balanced, smart and savvy. They were the most academically gifted and sporting in the school. They came from ordinary, hard-working households. This was not 'Broken Britain'.

    Some were clearly shocked by what they had seen on the internet.

    'I find it dirty and disturbing,' said one 15-year-old boy. 'I try not to look at it, but people just keep sending it to each other. They email disgusting links to each other's mobile phones to shock.'
    One girl put her head in her hands and said, 'It's just gross'.

    It's horrifying enough for parents to know that children can get porn via the internet. But to think they get it from Facebook - the social media currency that has become a universal must-have for teenagers globally - will strike terror into their hearts.
    After leaving Loaded MartinI agonised that they may have switched a generation onto explicit porn
    After leaving Loaded MartinI agonised that they may have switched a generation onto explicit porn

    I asked the teenagers: 'On a scale of one to ten, how likely would you say it is that boys and girls your age are watching porn online?'

    The reply was a chorus of tens, nines and one eight.

    When I asked the children if there were parental controls on the internet at home, they all said no, their parents trusted them. They all admitted their parents had no idea what they were watching, and would be shocked if they did know.

    What I saw at the school was awful, but sadly not unusual.

    The findings were backed up in a survey of 80 boys and girls aged 12-16, commissioned for the TV show.

    It proves the vast majority of UK teens have seen sexual imagery online, or pornographic films. 
    According to the survey, the boys appear largely happy about watching porn - and were twice as likely as girls to do so - but the girls are significantly more confused, angry and frightened by online sexual imagery. The more they see, the stronger they feel. 

    But what impact is this steady diet of online depravity having on the attitudes of boys and girls towards real life relationships, and on their self-esteem? 

    Could it even have a wider impact on their lives, blighting their ability to function in the world, get good qualifications and jobs?

    What I discovered left me truly shocked and saddened.
    He wanted to know how to protect his son
    He wanted to know how to protect his son
    You might be surprised. After all, from 2003-2010 I edited lad's magazine Loaded.
    With its frequent nudity and lewd photo spreads, I'd long been accused of being a soft pornographer, and after leaving Loaded I agonised that my magazine may have switched a generation onto more explicit online porn.
    In the documentary I set out on a journey to answer the question: is porn harmless, or is it damaging lives?

    My interest was deeply personal, too, as my own beautiful little boy, Sonny, is now four. Even though he has only just started primary school, the Children's Commissioner estimates boys as young as ten are now being exposed to online porn.

    I wanted to know what I could do to protect my own son from a seemingly inevitable exposure to hardcore material in just a few years' time.
    I used to be sceptical that porn was as damaging a force as the headlines and David Cameron - who recently said it was 'corroding childhood' - suggest. In the past I'd even defended pornography in university debates, on TV and on radio. I claimed it was our freedom of choice to watch it and said it could actually help add to adult relationships.

    But what I saw during the making of the film changed my opinion of pornography forever.
    The true stories of boys I met whose lives had been totally taken over by porn not only moved me to tears but also made me incredibly angry that this is happening to our children.
    And the looks of revulsion on those poor girl's faces in the playground enraged me.

    I feel as if an entire generation's sexuality has been hijacked by grotesque online porn.
    To find out what porn is doing to young men, and the girls they have relationships with, we spoke to them via online forums and discovered that there were many young lives seriously blighted by an excessive, unhealthy relationship with pornography that can begin when they are as young as 12.

    We learned that some had lost their jobs, others had broken relationships, failed exams, or got into serious debt through using porn.

    'When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sexThat is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they're sexual psychopaths'
    Take the 19-year-old man I got to know. He was handsome, articulate and in full-time employment as an apprentice electrician. But his life was dominated by his porn habit.

    'Every bit of spare time I have is spent watching porn,' he says. 'It is extreme. I can't hold down a relationship for longer than three weeks. I want porn sex with real girls, but sex with them just isn't as good as the porn.'

    Having established, like the recent Children's Commissioner report, that 'basically, porn is everywhere', we set out to discover what all this porn was doing to their brains. 
    Was it having any effect at all? Could it be addictive?

    We found Dr Valerie Voon, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University and a global authority on addiction.

    Then, in the first study of its kind, we recruited 19 heavy porn users who felt their habit was out of control and had Dr Voon examine their brain activity as they watched, among other things, hardcore porn.

    She showed them a variety of images, both stills and videos. 

    These ranged from images known to excite all men, such as bundles of £50 notes and extreme sports in action, to mundane landscapes and wallpapers - all inter-spliced with hardcore porn videos, plus pictures of both clothed and naked women.

    The ways in which their brains responded to this diverse imagery were compared with the responses of a group of healthy volunteers.

    She was interested in a particular brain region called the ventral striatum - the 'reward centre' - where our sense of pleasure is produced. This is one of the areas where an addict will show a heightened response to visual representations of their addiction - whether it's a syringe or a bottle of vodka.

    'Letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house'

    'Letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house'

    What we discovered was a revelation. When shown porn, the reward centre of normal volunteers barely reacted, but that of the compulsive porn users lit up like a Christmas tree. 
    The compulsive porn users' brains showed clear parallels with those with substance addictions.
    Everybody on the project was astounded, even Dr Voon, who admitted she had been 'sceptical and ambivalent' about the study at the outset.

    If porn does have the insidious power to be addictive, then letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house, or handing out vodka at the school gates.

    And this toxic effect is filtering down directly into young girls' lives.

    The most shocking testament came from Professor Gail Dines. Regarded as the world's leading anti-pornography campaigner, she has interviewed thousands of men and women about sex and pornography.

    'When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sex,' she says.

    'That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they're sexual psychopaths. 

    'Pornography is sexually traumatising an entire generation of boys.'

    By talking with sexual addiction experts such as Professor John E Grant of the University of Chicago, Dr Paula Hall, the UK's top sex addiction therapist, and Professor Matt Field from the University of Liverpool, we learned that the teenage brain is especially vulnerable to addiction.
    The brain's reward centre is fully developed by the time we're teenagers, but the part of the brain that regulates our urges - the pre-frontal cortex - isn't fully developed until our mid-20s. The brains of teenagers are not wired to say 'stop', they are wired to want more. The implications of this study are profoundly troubling.

    So who is going to take on the responsibility for protecting our children until they are old enough to do it for themselves?

    Can we rely on schools? It strikes me that the current sex education system in the UK - where schools are obliged only to teach the basics of reproduction and the perils of sex, which they can opt out of anyway - is hopelessly outdated.

    In the internet age, our children are turning to online porn for an alternative sex education - the worst place they can go.

    The Mail claimed a victory in July when David Cameron announced that by the end of 2014 all 19 million UK homes currently connected to the internet will be contacted by service providers and told they must say whether family friendly filters that block all porn sites should be switched on or off.

    But our TV show proved that determined children will always find a way around online blocks.
    Ultimately, the responsibility lies with us, the parents. The age of innocence is over.

    Like many parents, I fear that my boy's childhood could be taken away by pornography. So we have to fight back.

    We need to get tech-savvy, and as toe-curling as it seems, we are the first generation that will have to talk to our children about porn.

    We have to tell our kids that pornographic sex is fake and real sex is about love, not lust.
    By talking to them, they stand a chance. If we stick our head in the sand, we are fooling only ourselves. 

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    Catfish and Shakespeare

    The TV show Catfish (which I write about here and here) is really like a Shakespearian comedy.

    Most of Shakespeare's comedies deal with the effect of masking, and how when one person pretends to be another, various reactions and emotions are elicited from those about them that would not be brought out otherwise - even if a girl is pretending to be a boy (which happens a lot in Shakespeare).  Shakespeare applies this "much virtue in if" to theater in general - the pretense and make-believe of drama help us enter into a fantasy world where we can safely draw forth the good and bad within us, all within the confines of a safe place, the theater.

    And that can be seen in Catfish.  One of the themes that keeps coming up in Catfish is something like this ...

    • Even if your on-line lover is not the stunning model whose pictures grace her Facebook page - even if she weighs 400 pounds, her real name is Wilma and she drives a semi for a living - the pretense nevertheless can elicit great love.  An actual intimacy can develop, even when one person is hiding behind an entirely false front.

    Of course since this is lying and not theater (we go over that distinction again and again for Catholics who make excuses for lying) - because one party is being fooled against his or her will, then even if a strong intimacy develops, the duped party has to decide, "Well, although Dominique the beautiful African-American model and jet-setting heart surgeon is really Wilma, the obese white truck driver from Muskogee, I still love the soul of Dominique - and the soul of Dominique is Wilma!"

    But ...

    "But Wilma has been lying to me all these years.  Can I love someone who is willing to lie to me like this?"

    The truth will set you free, and really that's what this show is all about.  Sometimes the online lovers don't exist; sometimes the duped party bends over backwards to be fooled by the faker; sometimes good is done despite the dishonesty that prevails.

    But it makes you realize how a bit of make-believe can go a long way, both for good and for bad.

    The show is also about untangling the knots - the honesty and support a person can give, even behind a mask while pretending to be someone he or she is not, this has value, doesn't it? especially if the thread of love and care can be separated from the thread of falsehood and deceit.  

    In one episode of Catfish, a woman is pulled out of a slide into sexual promiscuity, drinking and drug abuse by an online relationship with "Stephen", a well-built black man with stunning eyes - but "Stephen" ends up being an online persona created by this woman's pudgy white girlfriend Gladys and Gladys' pasty-faced cousin Tony, who were using the pictures of a model and a cell number the victim didn't recognize when sending her texts from "Stephen".  Hurt as the victim was, Gladys insisted that it was the only way she could pull her friend out of her self-destructive spiral.

    All in all, the show reveals our hunger for intimacy, and the way the internet feeds that hunger, in what appears to be a "safe" way.  True intimacy and even a bit of real love can grow between people when this strange game of theater and make-believe is played; but love can never be reconciled with a lie.  God is Truth and God is Love and therefore the two must always go together.

    And it can be heart-breaking to see what might have been a long-term intimacy crumble because the true nature of the lie at the core of it is finally revealed.  But that's how many friendships die, isn't it?

    The pictures Gladys used to pretend to be "Steve".

    Cassie, finding out that "Steve" is really her girlfriend ... 

    ... Gladys, who ran the scam for the sake of Cassie, helped and assisted by ...

    ... her cousin Tony.  Well, I couldn't find a picture of Tony, but he looked a lot like this.  Tony would engage in "phone sex" with Cassie, pretending to be "Steve".  Maybe that's why he's smiling.

    Saturday, September 28, 2013

    Sunset in Dover, Missouri

    At Terre Beau Winery

    50 Days of Prayer - Day 36

    [To go to a specific day's post in our 50 Days of Prayer, click on one of the days listed to the right. For an explanation of what the 50 Days of Prayer is about, click here. If you've missed some days, just jump in and join us anyway!] 

    Day Thirty-Six


    We have prayed the Crucifixion, Judgment and the Pieta these last few days.

    There is nothing worse than death - and not even our own death, but death of the ones we love.  It is the end of all hope, and can only be overcome by love ... or can it?

    Christ either defeats death, or He doesn't.  Life either has meaning, or it has none.  Intention, personhood, the soul - these things are true or they are damn lies.  

    And souls that are filled with sin can only echo Macbeth ...

    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Let us pray ...

    To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    50 Days of Prayer - Day 35

    [To go to a specific day's post in our 50 Days of Prayer, click on one of the days listed to the right. For an explanation of what the 50 Days of Prayer is about, click here. If you've missed some days, just jump in and join us anyway!] 

    Day Thirty-Five

    The Pieta

    The next mystery in our series is one of the Hidden Mysteries (or Genesian Mysteries).

    It comes between the Crucifixion, which we prayed on Day 33, and the Resurrection, which we will pray on Day 37.

    It is Mary holding the body of the dead Jesus in her arms.

    Think of that moment.  God is dead.  Not in the way Nietzsche and the materialists like to claim.  They're just playing around with a world without a father.  But literally dead.  Hope had vanished, all was lost.

    And in this moment of most abject suffering, the nadir, the low point of all of history - the black hole of the universe - a few loyal friends cared for His dead body, as did his Mother.

    Love prevailed, even in that darkest of days.

    Think, too, of Mary, the bearer of Christ.  She was the bearer of Christ in her womb, bringing joy and life to Elizabeth and others; and she was the bearer of the dead Christ, brought down from the cross, bearing Him at the worst moment in all of creation, bearing Him back to a cave like the cave in which He was born, only this one was a tomb.  Think of this awful moment, made beautiful by her ongoing love, which outlasted any reason to be loving.

    We are told that Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)  And "all these things" are the great mixture of sorrow, joy and awe that Our Lord brought to her.

    But it is this treasuring of things in the heart (for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" - Mat. 6:21), this holding of things in the womb of her soul, as they germinate and take root - even the horrible things, such as the body of her dead son - it is this motherly pondering and quiet loving care that we all should emulate, for doing so would make us as spiritually fertile as she was - and is.

    Let us pray a decade of the Rosary meditating upon the Pieta.

    And let us pray ...

    To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.

    The Real Knot

    A blog reader writes ...

    Kevin, thank you for posting on Our Lady, Untier of Knots. If you have any more stories about Her help in the future, please let us know. I, alas, have a plenitude of knots that need loosening - or even cutting a-la Alexander the Great.

    I am in the middle of a novena to Our Lady, Untier of Knots.  What has struck me so far is the prayer of Day Three ...

    Help me now to forgive all the persons who consciously or unconsciously provoked this knot. Give me, also, the grace to forgive myself for having provoked this knot. Only in this way can You undo it. Before You, dearest Mother, and in the name of Your Son Jesus, my Savior, who has suffered so many offenses, having been granted forgiveness, I now forgive these persons [mention their names here] and myself, forever. Thank you, Mary, Undoer of Knots for undoing the knot of rancor in my heart and the knot which I now present to you. Amen. 

    Our worst problems are usually interior problems.  They may have external embodiments, but they grow out of the knot of sin and grace within us.  The harder we tug at either end of the not, the tighter it gets.  Only a patient loosening of the strands does the trick.

    Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot
    Of course one can always cut a knot, as did Alexander the Great.  But the problem is you cut off the thread of grace along with the thread of sin.  Someone I know did just that - cutting a person and a situation out completely in order to avoid sin, and at the same time cutting the life-line -a life-line to an entirely new world that was opening up, a world that could have been cultivated apart from the sin.

    But we don't want to see that.  We don't want to take the time to unravel the knot.  For one thing, it involves forgiveness as well as admitting to ourselves the wrong part we've played and the "rancor in my heart" that helped entangle the situation.

    I have always found, when I've struggled with forgiving someone, that the hardest thing is to own up to my own role in the harm that was done, and usually that role is not minimal.  And once I take responsibility for my own wrongdoing, I find the knot of resentment is suddenly loosed - and I'm free.  How can we hold grudges against others when we know the miserable things we're capable of, and the miserable things we do?  And when we know the great mixture of good and bad that we all are, and the great struggle that goes on even within the best of us?

    The whole Christian life entails the cultivation of the Spiritual Seed and the weeding out of the germ of corruption - the loosening and untangling of the thread of grace from the competing thread of sin that binds and suffocates it.  We are given the Kingdom, and it is our job to follow that thin and frayed string that leads us there.