Feb 8, 2019

Catholic Nuns Are Saying #Metoo



The dumpster fire of Vatican scandal continues with the revelation of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests known of and concealed for decades. In this case it's the Church's own nuns who have been abused, enslaved, shamed, and silenced by the Catholic hierarchy. I would give the Vatican credit for displaying their dirty laundry in one of their own publications, but news of this issue has been burbling to the surface for some time now, and drew increasing scrutiny during the "year of hell" that was 2018.  Putting the issue front and center in their own women's magazine looks to me like spin control, an attempt to get ahead of emerging scandal, but perhaps I'm cynical.

The February issue of "Women Church World," distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, says that religious sisters for years have not reported offences against them by priests for fear of retaliation.

Editor Lucetta Scaraffia writes that the issue “reflects on the theme of abuse, that is, perverse use of touch”.

. . .

The article says that reports of priests sexually abusing nuns in Africa were filed to the Vatican in the 1990s. Yet, nothing changed. Now, as part of the #Metoo movement, and as the sexual abuse of minors comes to the fore, women are beginning to publicly denouce [sic] their abuse.

"If the church continues to close its eyes to the scandal — made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren't recognised by priests — the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change," Scaraffia wrote.

It is hard to imagine a greater hypocrisy than "forced abortions" in Catholic orders.

Jan 30, 2019

From Spotlight to "Year of Hell" for Vatican



I'm not really sure why I binged Catholic abuse stories over the holidays. What sort of dark compulsion caused me to immerse myself in The Keepers and Spotlight, both of which had been languishing on my Netflix queue for over a year, I can't say. I hadn't been able to bring myself to watch them, knowing exactly the kind of emotional turmoil would be churned up. But on those cold, December days they called to me, then pulled me in like the undertow of an icy river. It was sickening but necessary viewing. Perhaps it was a need for catharsis at the end of a year that had seen one ugly eruption after another in the priestly abuse saga, events that have seriously tarnished a popular and likable pope. Both the movie and the true crime series are excellent, for what it's worth. The progress of the Catholic Church is not.

I really had hope that Pope Francis would be different than his predecessors. Yet, on this issue, he seems to have even less understanding of the seriousness than Benedict XVI. The past year has been marked by tone-deaf pronouncements, 180° reversals, high profile resignations, and troves of embarrassing documents. It's hard to believe that seventeen years after the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team exposed the priestly abuse cover-ups and forever changed the world's perceptions of the Catholic Church, new waves of scandal could keep finding the Church so far behind the curve. How have they managed to learn so little from so much? Amazingly 2018 may have eclipsed 2002 as a year of horrible revelation.

A prominent cardinal resigned in disgrace. Grand jurors accused hundreds of Catholic clerics of secretly abusing children. A former Vatican ambassador urged the Pope himself to step down.

It was enough for New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan to call it the Catholic Church's "summer of hell."

The cardinal may have been overly optimistic.

In fact, the church's hellish year began in January, when Pope Francis forcefully defended a Chilean bishop he had promoted. He later had to apologize and accept the bishop's resignation.

But the clergy sex abuse scandal shows no signs of abating, with a federal investigation and probes in 12 states and the District of Columbia in the works.

Jan 23, 2019

Breakfast With Russell Baker


Russell Baker
August 14, 1925 – January 21, 2019


I was awake well before sunrise that Friday morning. A limousine was waiting for me in front of my building in Bloomfield, New Jersey, because commuter trains don't run that early. I had no time to brew coffee, so I had to make due with a chilled Pepsi offered by the driver. I am not a morning person, but it was part of my job as a publicist to escort my authors to their New York media appearances. I had booked Russell Baker on Good Morning America

I really didn't know what to expect from Mr. Baker, having only chatted with him briefly on the phone a few times. I had read The Good Times, for which I was doing publicity. It was a delightful memoir about his career in journalism. But I had not yet read Growing Up, his first memoir, for which he'd won a Pulitzer. Our department assistant had rustled up a copy for me only the day before.

I had learned a bit of the history, the unexpected success of Growing Up. The book had gone back for a second printing even before the publication date. The original publisher hadn't anticipated huge numbers on this sweet, understated memoir about coming of age in the shadow of the Great Depression and going on to become a New York Times columnist. The Times reviewed it, of course. It was a rave, and the book had started flying off the shelves, deservedly so.

In my youthful ignorance I hadn't really understood why it was so easy to book media for Russell Baker. It began to dawn when I saw how warmly he was welcomed at the GMA studio. They seemed thrilled to talk to Baker again, even for a mass market reprint of his second memoir. I began then to understand just how beloved he was. As the day wore on, I began to understand why.

Nov 11, 2018

James Arthur Ray and His Business of Death




"The fact that he would do this suggests to me he hasn't learned all that much -- the idea of trying to turn what he did into somehow generating money by the redemption book or whatever.... I think this is just rubbing salt right back in the wounds for all of them and the people who are either financially ruined or mentally damaged by that entire event..." ~ Connie Joy, author of Tragedy in Sedona


It appears that James Arthur Ray has a new book coming out, and I say "appears" because I can find no record of it anywhere but on his website. Yet Ray has already kicked promotion of this book into gear, pitching The Business of Redemption on his local FOX, CBS, and ABC affiliates. As a former book publicist, I find this whole thing very odd. Normally, media appearances would not be scheduled until the pub date, when finished books are in stores and available for purchase. This book doesn't even have a pub date, only vague allusions to "next year."

I looked at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and found no listings or pre-order options for this book. That is something that is generally set up well in advance by publishers. But that's the other piece of information that seems to be missing. There is no mention of a publisher. My back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that this is a self-published book and a poorly coordinated one at that. I am speculating somewhat, but unless I miss my guess, Ray is counting on pre-orders through his website to fund the production of finished books, hence the vague pub date, which is probably contingent on how many orders come in and when.

This leads us to the most disturbing aspect of this venture. Why start promotion of this project in October, the very month that three people died on his watch? Not for the first time, Ray's attachment to this tragedy seems more ghoulish than respectful, let alone repentant. I mean... what did that press release look like?! Did he send it out on October 8th? I would not put it past him.

Aug 21, 2018

In Pennsylvania, A Reckoning



The headlines alone make make my gorge rise:


Disney World! Who would knowingly help a pedophile get a job at Disney World?!!! The Catholic Church, that's who.

Like people all across the country, and probably much of the world, I have been processing, over the past week, the horrible revelations to come out of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on priestly abuse throughout the state. At least 300 "predator priests" abused at least 1,000 children (their findings acknowledge that the actual number is probably much higher), over a seventy year period. And the Church establishment, as it has done in so many dioceses around the world, conspired to keep it all covered up. They moved offending priests around to different jobs many of which still gave them access to minors, they hid records under lock and key, and they threw the victims under a bus. Same story, different state. Yet somehow this time feels so much worse.

If the Catholic sexual abuse scandal that came to light in 2002 slowly unspooled through news reports, Pennsylvania's grand jury report landed like an atom bomb, dropping its online horrors all at once. With some redactions, the report was readily available for everyone to read and share: the accusations of sexual deviance, shameless lies and deceitful churchmen.

"What we have now is people freely expressing their outrage on Facebook and Twitter," said Greg Kandra, a Catholic deacon in Brooklyn, New York. "The anger is palpable. This is like 2002 on steroids."

Aug 6, 2018

Teal Swan: Cult or Movement?



People keep calling teal the c-word, cult leader, and dammit, she's addressed this! Way back in 2014, she put this matter to rest, with a blog post addressing, point by point, the cult criteria that she in no way meets. Earlier that year I had written a blog post, myself, comparing her organization to a number of cult criteria checklists, and I came to a different conclusion. I started blogging about teal way back when, because I saw a number of red flags that warned of a cult in formation, starting with the coerced, public "confession" of her ex-boyfriend to "sociopathy." Since that time, she has grown ever more culty and her long-sought mainstream coverage has acknowledged that fact. She did not help herself with her own commentary in the recent podcast series "The Gateway," wherein she told Gizmodo reporter Jennings Brown:

I have the perfect recipe for a cult. Perfect. Recipe.

No, her foray into mainstream press coverage has not gone well and now comes an article from Vice, which puts her cult leader status and her disturbing position on suicide under a microscope. And irony of ironies (note the correct use of the term), the cult expert Vice interviewed for the article is the very one whose checklist teal used to exonerate herself in that blog post, Janja Lalich, PhD. Unlike teal, Lalich appears to have concluded that teal meets the criteria of a cult leader, a dangerous one.

Though Teal has denied cult allegations, her massive social media influence and controversial practices around depression and suicide—sometimes encouraging students to imagine their own deaths in detail—have placed her on the dangerous side of Lalich’s cult radar.

. . .

Lalich sees this kind of dramatic therapy as a way to manipulate vulnerable people. “They can get very unstable, and that’s what she’s counting on,” she said. “Cult leaders will always get their people to what I call ‘reframe their lives.’ They reinterpret their lives so they see everything from before the cult as messed up, and only by staying with the cult leader will they get straightened out.” (To this day, many members of the “Teal Tribe” say they are only alive today because of her teachings.)

Jun 19, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mainstream — UPDATED


The Gateway: Gizmodo's New Podcast About
Controversial YouTube Guru Teal Swan (TRAILER)

The Gateway is a six-part series about Teal Swan, a new brand of spiritual guru, who draws in followers with her hypnotic self-help YouTube videos aimed at people who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Some followers move to Teal’s healing center—a spiritual startup in Atenas, Costa Rica—where they produce content and manage social media accounts. Teal insists her therapy saves lives, but her critics say Teal’s death-focused dogma is dangerous.

**TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with suicide and other awfulness.**

Episode Reviews: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6
Further Update: Teal Tribe Kerfuffle
Another Update: In which teal lies about Cameron... again


Last fall Gizmodo gained incredible access to teal's operation. Reporter Jennings Brown not only interviewed teal several times, he was allowed to take a crew into Philia, her retreat center in Costa Rica, to observe one of her high ticket Curveball retreats. The result of his year-long investigation is a six-part podcast series that is by far the most extensive profile of teal yet by a mainstream media outlet. Days before Gizmodo first interviewed teal, she was interviewed by reporter Addison Nugent for OZY, an international, online magazine. The interview was uncomfortable for teal, which she expressed immediately, and somewhat intemperately, on her blog. Neither the resulting OZY article nor "The Gateway" podcast series — which began airing at the end of May and has aired three episodes to date — have been mentioned by teal or her team.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I was interviewed by both reporters and my statements appear in both pieces.)

The day ends.  The house falls into the dark silence of sleep.  The next morning we board a plane to Paris.  I have one more interview to do; a segment for the provocateurs section of OZY.  This interview marks the end of this European tour.  I have five minutes to change my outfit before the camera is switched on in our hotel room.  The style of this interview is not what I expected.  There are two different styles of interview, one is supportive and the other is antagonistic.  In a supportive style interview, you are already going into the interview being loved.  The entire structure of the interview is set up to make you look good.  In an antagonistic style interview, the majority of the focus is placed on challenging you.  No one holds your hands in support in this type of interview.  Instead, the interviewer gives you the opportunity to fight though the power of narration to earn people’s good opinion by putting you on the spot.  The interview started off with this: “I have interviewed spiritual leaders from everywhere and many of them have been doing this for more than 30 years and to be honest, none of them have the amount of controversy, hatred and dedicated antagonists as you do.  There is so much written against you out there in the world, they call you things like ‘the suicide catalyst’, why do you think that is?”  In an antagonistic style interview, you spend your time trying to answer questions while simultaneously trying to caretake the vulnerable aspect of you that feels targeted and like hiding under a blanket while sucking its thumb.  Sometimes the interviewer is already biased against you and is simply setting up the interview as a trap to make you look bad so their pre-conceived, concrete concept of you can then be shared by the world in order to make them feel personally validated.  But if the interviewer is genuinely non-biased, the antagonistic style of interview often leads to the best content.  Nonetheless, it is always awkward when this style of interview ends because everyone acts as if nothing just happened and everyone is really friends when in reality both you know and they know that it was an antagonistic interaction that made all parties involved socially uncomfortable.  I decided to order minestrone soup after the interview was over to comfort myself and take a bath before I fell asleep. [all emphases added]

Apr 24, 2018

Smallville Star Arrested for Role in Branding Cult



Keith Raniere may be discovering that there's a downside to following the Scientology model of recruiting celebrities into your cult. For whatever credibility and popularity they may initially bring to your organization, if things go pear-shaped, fame becomes infamy. A few weeks ago, the NXIVM founder was extradited from Mexico on sex trafficking and other charges. There was a flurry of news coverage, as noted here. But when "Smallville" star Allison Mack was arrested on Friday, a media firestorm ensued.

This is not the first time Raniere's cultivation of the rich and famous has backfired. It may be what put him on the road to ruin. India Oxenberg, an aspiring actress from a royal bloodline, must have seemed like a real get, until her much more famous mother Catherine Oxenberg went public. Her plea for her daughter's safety was covered by the New York Times, People, Megyn Kelly TODAY, and 20/20. And suddenly that "branding cult" was water cooler talk.

The unflinching, in-depth coverage in the media also forced New York authorities to begin taking complaints seriously, that they had previously dismissed as "consensual." Roughly six months later, NXIVM's most famous member is facing 15 years to life and so is Keith Raniere.

Previous to this graphic, public outing, Raniere's organization had been chugging along pretty quietly in Albany, making millions, and silencing former members with lawsuits and intimidation tactics, thanks to the very deep pockets of Seagram's heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman. Although their wealth and social position had also brought him a spate of bad press. But suing your victims into silence and bankruptcy is a less effective tactic when some of them are famous and well-heeled, something Scientology is learning the hard way with its futile attacks on Leah Remini.

Apr 10, 2018

Tony Robbins: Rape Apologist



On the Ides of March, Tony Robbins did one of his pricey "Unleash the Power Within" events in San Jose. What he unleashed instead was a firestorm. Right after the event, video surfaced of Robbins mansplaining the perils of the #metoo movement to a sex abuse survivor. It quickly disappeared, most likely quashed by his team. Their damage control effort seemed to be working... until it wasn't.

Late last week I noticed that the video had resurfaced. The original footage is taken from a distance and it's a little hard to make out, but a YouTube version is found here. A cleaner, edited version was
posted to Facebook here.

On Saturday Tarana Burke's scathing response to the video was published on the Huffington Post. In under 24 hours, after weeks of trying to bury it, Robbins finally addressed the incident publicly and issued an apology — something he swore in profane terms he would not do, during the altercation. (I think it bears mentioning that Robbins has enjoyed a lot of positive coverage on the Huffington Post, over the years, and a very friendly relationship with founder Ariana Huffington.)

“My comments failed to reflect the respect I have for everything Tarana Burke and the #MeToo movement has achieved,” Robbins said in the statement. “I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement.”

“It is clear that I still have much to learn,” he added.

Well, that last statement is certainly true.


Mar 23, 2018

What is Cardinal Dolan So Afraid Of?



Cardinal Dolan is nothing if not consistent. He continues to work very hard to protect the Catholic Church from consequence for it's decades of enabling pedophile priests. After leaving a meeting with New York's Gov Cuomo, he described  a "look-back window" in pending legislation as "toxic" and "strangling" for the Church, fearing a slew of cases against priests and dioceses that covered for them.

“The look-back we find to be very strangling,” said Dolan. “When that happens, the only organization targeted is the Catholic Church.”

How so? Is this a law that would only apply to cases of sex abuse involving Catholic priests? (Answer: no) Or is he saying that the Catholic Church is the only organization that has such a multitude skeletons rattling in its closets?

His statements seem unintentionally revealing. Just how much exposure does the Catholic Church have at this point? What does he know that he so desperately wants kept secret?

That this legislation would flood the Church with law suits is disputed by victim's group Child USA, but how is this even relevant? Should New York's legislator's tailor laws to protect the Church from potential litigation? Why would it be the State's job to protect the Church from facing consequences for decades of protecting and enabling pedophile priests?

Jan 8, 2018

FLDS Women Are Taking Their Power Back



Just when you thought the story of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS couldn't be any more stomach-turning, new and still more horrible details come to light. The "prophet," who remains incarcerated for molesting his very young "brides," is now facing new allegations of sexual abuse, via a lawsuit by one of his alleged victims. Worse, she cites numerous co-conspirators, including two of his brothers, in a scheme to ritually abuse girls as young as eight.

A new lawsuit accuses Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs and others in the church of ritualistic sex abuse involving girls as young as eight years old.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state court by a 21-year-old woman only identified as "R.H.," levels allegations of abuse against Warren Jeffs, his brothers Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs; and former FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen of sex abuse. It also goes after the FLDS Church and the court-controlled real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.

. . .

"Systemic sex abuse at the hands of Warren Jeffs and other leaders of the FLDS Church from the age of eight until the age of 14," her attorney, Alan Mortensen, told FOX 13 in an interview Wednesday.

The details, which can be read in court documents, are hair-raising.