Sunday, April 18, 2010


The Sunday edition of ‘The Boston Globe’ – substantially false reporter of the Shanley case, initiator of the January 2002 3rd Wave of the Catholic Priest Sex Abuse tornado (so conveniently timed to weaken any potential official Catholic opposition to the waging of illegal and thoroughly unjustified war against Iraq), and now the busy collaborator in its corporate parent’s (‘The New York Times’ ) sudden initiation of the 4th Wave of the Catholic Priest Sex Abuse tornado – publishes a long ‘report’ on a high-powered Boston attorney who played a great part in the 2nd Wave (1990) and 3rd Wave cases.

Naturally, it is always important in a time of Mania to look carefully at whatever is published, and this is especially so if the media involved have a track record that doesn’t inspire confidence.

This skepticism is, in my view, vitally important. Yes, so that you don’t wind up getting stampeded and become just another head among the herd being stampeded in – but of course – a good cause.

But also so that you develop a confidence in wading into the dark and murky swamps of manipulation in order to discover what is real ‘in there’, and what isn’t. Because there are no doubt – somewhere in there – genuine cases and genuine victims, and it’s necessary to maintain an awareness of that, even as you simultaneously realize that you as a reader are quite possibly the object of a premeditated effort at rather comprehensive and skillful manipulation.

This is essential for any mature Citizen in a time of such sustained (and government-abetted) Mania, and also for any mature supporter of the SO community. Because the goal, I firmly believe, is not to create a counter-stampede to the Mania stampede; that simply descends to the queasy level of those Mania-supporters who believe that in a ‘good’ cause, you can and must do ‘whatever it takes’.

Rather, the goal is to create a politically and analytically competent and mature collaborative of Citizens who, while accepting the reality of an issue, are able to maintain the vital perspective that will prevent a stampede that will destroy not only whatever is trampled but also much of ‘the herd’ itself.

In an eerie mirroring, remember, genuine sex-offenders manipulate for their own purposes, but so do the ‘advocates’ who seek to achieve a number of objectives , some benevolent and societal, some self-serving.

These conflicting currents are present in even a slow-moving stream in this complex life of ours, but they are whipped up to flood-force in a time of Mania. Which is why the Framers’ generation was so concerned to prevent such floods and stampedes from sweeping along the sovereign power and integrity of the government once they got started.

So to this ‘story’ – I can’t really call it a ‘report’.

As far as can be made out, this is the general factual nub: In 2004, a verrrry high-powered and noted Boston attorney, Eric MacLeish, a respected member of a prestigious firm, who played a great part in the 1990 and 2002 Waves by representing alleged victims with great success all around, suddenly quit the whole thing – including the profession of law – and teaches now in a small state college in New Hampshire. In the process he separated from his wife, had an affair with his (female) therapist – whom he has recently had thrown out of her profession - and while refusing psychiatrist-recommended institutionalization has been wrestling with his demons.

He is presently 57 years of age.

The gist of the article – expressly sub-headed so that you don’t miss the point or go off and pursue your own thoughts - is that this is a story of “the hole in the heart of a star”, who had a “hard fall and the long-buried pain he finally came to understand”. (Forgive me for dating myself, but in my mind I hear clear as a bell the solemn announcer intone – as he did every Saturday morning at 11 – “Fury: The story of a horse and the boy who loved him”.)

Specifically, the former attorney was – we are to accept – overwhelmed by the pain of the alleged (and I am not denying that some of them are genuine) victims he represented, and indeed – according to therapists (not the female with whom he carried on an affair) – was suffering PTSD by means of suffering “vicariously” the pain of the victims.

PTSD, you may recall, was a diagnosis that arose here in the wake of the Vietnam War, as a professional response to the large number of veterans who seemed unable to adapt to civilian life upon return from their tour or tours of duty, some of whom reported nightmares, ‘flashbacks’ (this is where the term gained wide popular currency), and other psychological and behavioral symptoms that ranged from emotional outbursts (tears and sadness or overt physical violence) to alcoholism, drug abuse, and so forth.

The clinical community – through the vetting process of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM, then in the phase of significant expansion) - formalized a century’s worth of observations about returning-soldiers’ difficulties in to the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The truly awful experiences of combat – being shot at and subjected to the horrors of military assault by the other side, seeing your friends maimed and killed – had long been observed. These were codified in the DSM process.

Not largely emphasized, unsurprisingly, were the causative factors endemic to the type of non-traditional warfare experienced in Vietnam: where it was very hard to distinguish civilians from enemy combatants, and where US troops wound up – through policy or circumstance – accidentally or otherwise killing and maiming men, women, and children who wore no uniform and perhaps had not committed any act of aggression or posed any immediate threat. In other words, a PTSD experience based not purely or perhaps even largely on the soldier’s victimization, but rather on the guilt and self-revulsion at having victimized, perhaps atrociously so.

The climate in the country was getting to be such that ‘guilt’ and ‘victim’ could not be considered in the same conceptual frame; victims, by definition, were ‘innocent’.

That was the tortured complexity of the PTSD diagnosis – and such therapeutic efforts to relieve the symptoms – as things developed in the 1980s in this country.

With an almost classically tragic inevitability, the PTSD diagnosis – primarily developed to deal with the awesome stresses of military combat – was adopted by the larger civilian ‘victim’ movement as it developed here throughout the 1980s, and – even more inevitably – was co-opted by the sexual-abuse and sex-offense movement as it too developed.

So to the point now where it is considered conventional wisdom that unwanted sex – ranging from molestation, defined (to the extent that these things are ever formally defined) as unwanted sexual experience not rising to the level of assault and on up to rape and attempted rape – can create and most likely does create in any person a massive and monstrous psychic and emotional trauma, equaling that of overt military combat experience.

The attorney was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, through the “vicarious” suffering of his clients.

But that was just the beginning.

In mid-life, having left his career and his profession, divorced, carried on an affair, traveled 700 miles in a single day on his BMW motorcycle, he came to the realization that the cause of all this was that – may I be permitted to say Wait for It … ? – he had been abused physically and sexually as a child.

He had been sent to a British boarding school at the age of 8 in England, and he still bears on his back the scars from the caning that was apparently still carried out over there at the time.

In September 2004 (and the article’s timeline is a little murky here on whether this discovery pre-dated his PTSD symptoms or post-dated them) he was cleaning out the closets in his parents’ home and discovered a packet of letters sent from him to his parents while he was at that English school in the early 1960s. There was also a letter that the wife of the school’s headmaster had written to his mother.

The letters indicate “pain and loneliness” – as prep school letters from youngsters often do. He had literally calculated the number of hours, minutes, and seconds til the end of the school term – as young prepsters sometimes do.

He asks his mother if she can “get Dad to come down next time because Mrs. Gilbert has something important to tell him” – although whether it is about his performance and adaptation to school or about something else is not clear. At any rate, he apologizes to his mother for being back in the infirmary but insists that he “really couldn’t help it”.

So far so murky and yet not so unfamiliar to anyone who’s been the prep school route – and in England!

But then he comes across a letter in the packet dated June 3, 1964, from the wife of the headmaster to his mother: there are some physical issues he had been having. And then the comment (again, it’s unclear whether this comment is only part of what was written in the letter or was the entire bit) that “We have had nearly 48 hours now without sight or sound of the man and we hope he’s gone for good”.

Was this the man who caned the students? A faculty member with an emotional or substance-abuse problem? Or some other man around the campus or who came somehow into this boy’s ken? It seems odd that a faculty member could simply be expected to disappear and never be heard from again.

The text of the ‘story’ then gets a bit odd itself and I have to quote it at length: “To MacLeish, the cryptic words were confirmation of his childhood memories. He thinks the letter offers veiled references to a sexually abusive scout-master in charge of a school-sponsored troop, a man he remembers being alone with on some Saturday and Sunday afternoons, in the woods”.

It’s a bit odd, in several ways.

MacLeish considers the letter a “confirmation” but then he only “thinks” that they offer references to a scout-master, whom the story does not clearly say MacLeish had not previously been able to remember. And who indeed he does remember as taking walks in the woods with.

But before you can get distracted by all that – and perhaps do too much thinking – the story immediately moves you along. The next paragraph breathlessly reports “the letter loosened other shattering recollections”. Which is still murky about whether these “recollections” were merely refreshed and brought to the fore or were actually – in the now-classic scenario – “recovered” after being “repressed” for 40 years. But it’s hard to imagine that a contemporary American paper – and especially one as Mania-nurturing as ‘The Boston Globe’ – would pass up the opportunity to come right out and sound the ‘repressed memory’ alert. *

Rather remarkably for this sort of thing, the article acknowledges that “he had long had the image of being molested by a teacher at [the English prep school] when he was about 10”. How long? And if the memory hadn’t been repressed, then what sort of causative force created all of his mid-life symptoms?

The story flows swiftly on. “He flashed back to the teacher’s study on the top floor”. A flash-back is not – in PTSD dynamics – something that you can control. And if the phrase is simply tossed out for dramatic effect, and to rhetorically link it to the conventional youth-sex-abuse scenario, then it seems somewhat manipulative. Perhaps it would be better to say that he “recalled”.

The story continues with MacLeish’s self-report: “My memory goes up to the point where he starts touching me under the blanket [he was lying down under the blanket with the teacher] and I fought. I remember I had to go back, and I don’t remember anything after that”. Which is a remarkably in-and-out sort of memory: it’s one thing to experience (although there is great professional doubt that even this can happen) something and totally forget it, and another thing altogether to recall everything up to a point.

Although, from a debating or lawyering point of view, such a tantalizing partial memory would work very effectively as a rhetorical device: a suitably receptive and prepared hearer can ‘fill in the rest’ without the teller actually having to perjure himself. You can never really tell in this sort of thing, which – from a certain point of view – is the beauty of it.

Innocently and without insight, the story notes that many of the major participants are now dead: the headmaster and his wife and MacLeish’s parents. The school ceased operations long ago and there are no records and no alumni directories; MacLeish doesn’t know if the teacher is still alive, the story says, although in a UK even more rigidly monitored than the US, it shouldn’t have been too hard to find out.

He apparently did try to do some digging, though. MacLeish says that the school’s lawyer contacted him – and no doubt not out of coincidence or serendipity – and reported that “the people he inquired about ‘were either dead, handicapped, or did not wish to see me’”.

I can’t blame them. At this point, the Mania being up and running for so long, anybody who ever worked at a school or other institution and gets a call from a former student (and now a lawyer, or former lawyer) making inquiries about things from decades ago, and having any sort of financial savings or assets at all, could hardly be blamed for declining the chance to talk over old times. Which is not to imply guilt – just prudence.

Shrewdly the story then injects a point dear to the heart – and next on the list – of advocacy interests: statutes of limitations. The police, MacLeish reports, were unwilling (even in this day and age and in the UK) to investigate “a 40-year old claim”. We can also take some heart that the word “claim” instead ‘crime’ is used; it’s a bit of circumspection – and quite legitimate – that you don’t often see nowadays.

After all, if it comes down – after 40 years – to he/said, he/said, and the victimist axioms that the victim must be believed and that lack of evidence should not be allowed to stand in the way of prosecuting a crime are in effect, then there is no defense against anything that might be ‘claimed’.

But the story keeps tossing logs onto the fire. Neatly inserting the memory of the Father Porter case**, in which MacLeish played a major role, MacLeish was asked by a reporter – in what must be an incisive and prescient question – whether his own personal history of any sexual abuse was at least partially motivating his impetus in this type of case. MacLeish emphatically denied it.

It was true, he admitted to the reporter, that he had been “assaulted by a much older friend when he was on a camping trip at the age of 15, when he was a copy-boy at a Washington radio station”.

So MacLeish certainly didn’t have a ‘repressed’ or ‘recovered’ memory of that incident at least; nor had he a genuinely (to the extent that the term applies) repressed memory in regard to his English prep school experiences.

And he certainly put himself in situations (the Washington incident was not one of custodial influence or coercion) where he was alone in remote places overnight at close quarters with males.

Be that as it may, MacLeish now “has a different opinion”.

Remarkably, he undermines any repressed or recovered memory implications by then stating that “I never forgot what happened to me as a younger child, but I didn’t place much significance on it, which was totally irrational”.

Well, yes but no.

If as a child – although closer to a teen than to an infant – he felt no significance, then it is at least perfectly plausible that he felt no significance because – well – he felt no significance. In other words, that at least at the non-assaultive level of ‘molesting’ the human psyche – at least at the level of teen – can handle such events. Surely, MacLeish’s own later history (that camping trip in D.C.) supports the possibility that he continued to have – perhaps even to seek out – opportunities for some level of relating to older males.

That is not at all to suggest that he sought sexual encounters – no matter how low a level (i.e. non-genital) – with older males, nor is it to imply that any adult who is in some way given the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone much younger (but not a child) has any right to be taking sexual advantage.

But there is surely more here than meets the eye of ‘The Boston Globe’.

Of course, if there wasn’t some sort of ‘sexual trauma’ then how else explain MacLeish’s remarkable and comprehensive melt-down in mid-life?

Which suggest to me that any explanatory alternative to the ‘sexual molestation’ script would take both Mr. MacLeish and the ‘Globe’ to places they’d rather not go.

Yet clearly there are such alternative explanations.

He says that his career “was built on suing the state, the Roman Catholic Church, and Harvard University”. Which may well indicate the type of personal temperament that is well-placed in a career in civil law. But you take a big leap if you then also assert that PTSD stemming from trauma-level emotional and psychic damage manifested itself in your motivation to sue ‘institutions’ (presumably, and the story doesn’t get into it, for matters about sexual-abuse).

And it goes without saying that a civil case, against a defendant organization with untold reachable assets, in a time of Mania where standard and traditional jurisprudential protections such as Rules of Evidence, Statutes of Limitation, and the Presumption of Innocence are greatly weakened, would be the opportunity of a lifetime for any hot-shot big-firm attorney (or any attorney with the price of a filing fee).

Thus when the story refers to “his demons” I’m not sure whether those demons were the result of sexual experiences or – and examples of this are legion, especially in America – the hardly rare consequences of hard-driving and ambitious persons who neglect their emotional lives in order to get ahead.

And, it can’t be ruled out, any guilt that might have accrued from doing things that – like more than a few of those Vietnam troops – you shouldn’t have done and that you then can’t easily live with or continue to repress.

Especially when you hit mid-life and realize that you are now closer to the far-end of the trail than to the beginning.

At this point, and despite his not insubstantial insights into himself and the possibility of therapy that could restore an efficacious balance in his life, MacLeish has no intention of going back to the practice of law.

Well, that’s his choice. The high-paced life takes a serious toll and an adult who decides to opt out of it is surely reasonable.

Whether there are other reasons why he isn’t going back – perhaps why he left in the first place – is a question to which there is presently no clear answer.

But one can only wish him well in trying to restructure his life.

But his deployment of that “totally irrational” trope is, once again, a now-classic nod to the conventional wisdom that Of course sexual abuse when you’re young (or at any age) is going to cause irreparable and unmanageable ‘trauma’.

And, as I said, his own experiences give the lie to that grossly un-established ‘wisdom’.

So what am I saying here?

About Catholic priests: There are certainly some seriously deformed persons among their ranks – although whether there are proportionally more than in other professions and among the clergy of other faiths or among adults generally is an interesting question that has yet to be addressed sufficiently. And how many of them have offended against children in grossly and egregiously assaultive ways and how many of them have offended at the level of the ever-elastic ‘molesting’ is another question. And, as in all trials in a time of Mania, how many were given fair and reasonable trials – among the verrrrrry few trials that have actually been held – is another question.

About the absolute insistence that any unwanted sexual experience – no matter how mild – causes permanent and unmanageable damage to any human being: That seems to be an assertion in great need of substantiation. The human species, young as it is in relative terms, has survived an awful lot of stuff, thereby proving its robustness and resilience, and all of that during a period when – if various advocacy historical assertions be credited – sexual liberties and even genuine crimes were far more rampant than in the current era. Which is not to ‘minimize’ or to ‘justify’ but merely to point out that ‘victimist’ (if I may) thought ignores and indeed disrespects the obvious strengths of the human psyche as demonstrated over the few millennia the species has been in business.

About the ‘Globe’ and its story-telling: Clearly, either not enough thought is going into the pre-publication assessment of these pieces or else there is a premeditated and sustained selectivity in them, designed – one can only conclude – to manipulate public opinion rather than to inform it. And at least in part for the paper’s pecuniary gain and reputational enhancement. The purpose of ‘the press’ is to inform the public as fully and accurately as possible, so that the public – in its role as The People – might judge how well government is handling matters of significant public import. The willful and premeditated creation of a vivid but inaccurate ‘story’, for the purposes of making the paper more attractive for purchasers, cannot in the larger perspective be any less a molestation and abuse (and perhaps assault) against The People than the majority of those accused of such ‘molesting’ against individuals.


*I know – you may ask why such a paper would really hesitate out of scruples and deprive itself of the opportunity; why wouldn’t it simply toss in the idea and figure that the force of the Mania would carry it along regardless of accuracy? That’s the type of mystery you get in this Mania.

**A 1990 Massachusetts case that heralded the 2nd Wave as well as coincided with the overall inception of the formal Sex Offense Mania in this country; that accused, Father James Porter, was – as best can be determined – a genuinely sex-obsessed man who actually petitioned successfully to be defrocked, got married, raised a family and then was convicted of molesting a baby-sitter. He died in 2005 of cancer, in his 70s, while confined to a hospital, having completed his sentence and awaiting a civil-commitment Hearing.

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