Mary Johnson’s Transsexual Problem UPDATED

Over on Patheos Atheist, a woman named Mary Johnson, who is described as “a nun with Mother Teresa’s order for 20 years” and “a trusted assistant to Mother Teresa” shares some very short and not particularly illuminating answers about her journey from faith to atheism. I have no idea if her claims about her vocation are true or not, but one of her answers struck me because it was simply rubbish:

I had a friend who was transgendered. When the Church came out with a document saying that transgendered people are actually just sort of making the whole thing up, I realized how often the Church claimed to know reality, but that they often didn’t know what they were talking about at all. It became so clear that they were trying to fit reality into their system of beliefs, instead of adjusting their beliefs to the reality of the world.

Setting aside the fatuous nonsense in the last sentence, let’s look at this mysterious “document” that caused her to lose her faith. I observed in the comboxes that no such document exists, at which point she directed me to this link, which is a rather hysterical rant by someone reporting on someone’s reporting of a rumor.

A more balanced and accurate version of the story can be found here.

It concerns a report prepared by Cardinal Urbano Navarrete Cortés to explore the place of transsexuals in the sacraments and life of the church. Its main concerns were simple canonical issues. Should a parish alter a baptismal record to reflect a new gender identity? (No, but they may make a note of it.) Can a post-op transsexual marry someone of the “opposite” (that is, same) sex? (No. Obviously.) Can a female to male transsexual be admitted to the priesthood? (No. Obviously.)

It was prepared sub secretum (“under secrecy”) not to hide something, but so it would not be confused with an official teaching document of the Church or an exercise of the magisterium. It was not intended to be pastoral but was for the use of the conferences, and released later to the bishops.

In a reply to me, Mary Johnson claimed the “document” used to be on the Vatican website but was scrubbed, presumably as a coverup of …

… I dunno, our long-held and unvarying position on the subject?

In any case, I can find no evidence it ever was on the Vatican website, or indeed if its content ever reach the public beyond the CNS story linked above. Since the Church does not teach in secret, that alone should tell you all you need to know about the doctrinal force of this bombshell “document.”

Some quick searching did not turn up the report in question (again: it was not intended for the public), but you can read an English translation of the Cardinal’s article “Transexualismus et ordo canonicus“, which was published in Periodica de re Canonica, Vol. 86 (1997), pp. 101-124, a journal of the Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana. (Thanks to for the link.) Although this article is not the report, it likely informed the Cardinal’s approach to the issue and was the reason he was selected to address it.

The article is sober and compassionate. It offers the rather sane and uncontroversial opinion that gender identity disorder is a psychological issue and that surgical and chemical alterations of the body do not actually change one’s gender. It’s informed and intelligent: the very opposite of the “just making it up” story concocted by Mary Johnson.

I assume Mary Johnson does not agree with the Catholic position on the subject, but to say the “Church” issued a “document” claiming that people suffering from GID make “the whole thing up” is simply untrue.

The Church’s position is not a secret: gender is not a social construct but a function of biology. Those who have a disconnect between their physical gender and their perceived gender suffer gravely and must be treated with mercy, compassion, and love, not mutilation. Surgery and drugs can no more change a man into a woman than they could turn a fish into a chicken. They can only create a surface illusion.

Given that Mary Johnson characterized this “document” as the turning point in her de-conversion, it does make one wonder what she’s talking about. Certainly she must have explored the issue in more depth than merely trusting third party characterizations of the Church’s position. It’s a complex position that deserves more than her flip mischaracterization.

UPDATE: Mary Johnson replies here. I guess the key line is: “The ‘actually just sort of’ should have been a clue that I knew I was oversimplifying.”

She characterized the teaching that led to her break with her faith in the most damaging way possible for the Church’s perspective, but I was to grasp that characterization in the most generous way possible. Oh atheists, never change…


The “Thank You God the Synod Is Over” Post

RWell, that was fun, and by “fun” I mean “let’s never do that again.”

At least not for another year.

What a mess. The twitchy year leading up to the Synod on the Family has seen a steady rise in anxiety in the very tiny corner of the Catholic pool represented by social media and blogs.

The nature of the synod is nothing new: different factions arguing about doctrine and pastoral concerns are as old as the Church itself. Remember Galatians? “When Peter came to Antioch I rebuked him to his face, because he stood condemned.” If bloggers were covering the Council of Jerusalem, their comments would have been “zOMG! Dissidents trying to weaken doctrine by relaxing rules on circumcision!” It was All Panic All The Time.

Were there reasonable concerns about the way this synod would unfold? Very much so, and many people managed to express these concerns without headlines about “Our Doom in the Making” or posts illustrated by GIFs of wolves wandering the ruins of Rome.

I was certainly concerned that Pope Francis not only thought it was a good idea to summon a middling theologian like Cardinal Kasper from semi-retirement to shape the dialog heading into the synod, but then heaped lavish praise on his theologically faulty and wholly untenable proposals for re-admitting the divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist. That Cardinal Kasper subsequently proved himself to be a thin-skinned, arrogant liar confirmed some of the worst fears about the Pope’s judgment.

Kasper’s “we doan need no stinkin’ Africans” gaff revealed his paternalistic Germanic colonialism. That he was perfectly willing to ruin, or at least damage, the career of a respected Vatican journalist by lying to cover his own caboose is shameful, and it would have worked if the reporter hadn’t recorded the interview. Watching a publication like Commonweal labor mightily to spin his comments even after he repudiated them was a fine reminder that the progressive wing of the church is overpopulated by political hacks.

Kasper needs to return home and we should never have to hear from him again in any serious debate. He has nothing of value to offer on the subject, and he shouldn’t have been asked to advance his opinions in the first place.

The synod proceeded to run like a broken merry-go-round, as these things often do. This time, however, the chaos of various factions fighting to advance their views was broadcast in real time thanks to social media. Add to this the usual awful Vatican media management, and you wound up with explosive headlines guaranteed to sow confusion, possibly for years to come.

The amplifying quality of modern electronic media made all this rise from mere procedural quarreling into The Pivotal Moment in the Church in Our Time and Maybe in All History No Really I’m Not Even Kidding You Guys! It’s in our nature to inflate the importance and uniqueness of our times. I read comments about the church being poised on a knife edge and think, “Yes, as always. Get a grip.”

That people could write, in all seriousness, that the “Relatio post disceptationem” was “the worst official document in the history of the church” just shows the state of ignorance of some of the people shouting the loudest. It would be nice if some who profess to love Latin so much would bother to learn it, so then maybe they’d realize that “Relatio post disceptationem” means “report after a debate” and is thus not an “official church document,” much less the “worst” official church document in our history. Have these people even heard of Siena or Pisa?

The Relatio landed with a thud as people took turns either praising its prophetic willingness to discard actual Catholic teaching or condemning it as some kind of latterday Thalia purpose-built to destroy the church. It was neither. Most of it was perfectly fine, although it provided an incomplete portrait of the debate as it stood and thus failed its basic brief. Four or five paragraphs were utterly awful, and the language in the section on homosexuality was simply a disgrace. (There are suggestions that these paragraphs were inserted–perhaps without the knowledge of Cardinal Erdo–by Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte.)

Now that the synod has come and gone and the October Schism anticipated by certain doomsayers failed to materialize, I wonder if some of the reactionaries are disappointed. There’s a radical fringe that would like to be shed of not merely the progressives and dissidents, but also the moderates. As 2014 unfolded, they filled social media with a nonstop klaxon of fear. I do not doubt that those who wailed the loudest did so out of love of the church and genuine concern for Her, but they were reacting from a place of anxiety not reason, and there is no fear in love: perfect love drives out fear.

Pope Francis attempted to bridge the divide in his final address to the synod fathers, but it seems to set up false equivalencies between those who want to maintain the continuity of doctrine and those who don’t. He spoke of …

… a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!

The very nature of the process–Francis deployed the word “parrhesia,” a rhetorical term meaning to speak frankly without fear of offense–means that the synod would produce documents and statements that would run against the grain. People can’t conduct a full debate without the freedom to put all points on the table and evaluate them honestly, candidly, and without fear.

The synod is a process, and the process will continue. We say some alarming things in any vigorous debate. Modern culture suffers from a sexual insanity, and any debate which touches on sexuality–as debate about the family must–will be tense, often controversial, and almost certainly misunderstood both within and without the church. The process and the perception of the process are thus at odds. We shouldn’t fear it, but we should understand it, and continue to do our best to discuss faith in charity, without undue anxiety and with confidence in the Holy Spirit Who guides and inspires us.


Ministering to People With Same-Sex Attraction: An Interview With Fr. Paul Check of Courage

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Fr. Paul Check, Executive Director of Courage International, for the National Catholic Register. The conversation ranged from natural law and moral theology to the challenge of ministering to people with same-sex attraction in our crazy times.

Here’s a little section in which we spoke about Pope Francis:

For a year now, we’ve heard Pope Francis’ words — “Who am I to judge?”— taken out of context and thrown back in the face of anyone talking about traditional Church teaching on homosexuality. Has this had any effect on your ministry?

Though I don’t want to pretend I’m an authentic interpreter of the Pope’s words, I think it’s been the source of unintended confusion. I think people do a terrible injustice to Francis — whether they understand him to be the vicar of Christ on earth or not — if they put words into his mouth or attach meaning to his words, that he clearly does not intend. We can take him at his own words when he says “I am a loyal son of the Church,” or when he makes reference to the Catechism on the topic of homosexuality, as he did in that same interview. It may be the case that the Pope would like to reformulate some things he has said — as a public speaker, I often do! — but there isn’t anything in his remarks that presents a challenge to the work of Courage or any other apostolate.

Not long ago, he made it very plain that a child had a right to a father and mother, and therefore he was speaking very plainly to the subject of same-sex adoptions.

I like the way Pope Francis talks about the importance of establishing relationships with people so we can talk to them about the deeper questions. The example that I use is John 4: the story of the Woman at the Well. Jesus establishes a relationship with the woman to such a degree that when the conversation is over, she goes to town and tells people. That’s important for us as Christians and as ambassadors of the gospel: to establish a ground for conversation.

Jesus shows us in John 4 what true charity looks like, and Francis is holding this up for our understanding and imitation — especially on controversial questions. It’s a valid way forward so that we can have real hope of sharing the good news.

Read the rest.

Fr. Check will be attending the Courage Conference 2014, taking place Thursday through Sunday in Villanova, Pa. I’ll be there on Saturday.

Should Parents Turn Gay Kids “Over to Satan”?

Since this post wound up being too long, I’ll get to the short answer to the titular question and say, “No.” And let me just add “duh.”

But noted anti-Catholic John MacArthur has a different perspective . He was asked a question about how a parent should respond to a child who is gay, and this was his response:

There’s a problem of language here: he’s speaking Protestantese to people who only understand English. Most people will hear “turning over to Satan” and think “damnation.”

That may in fact be what MacArthur has in mind, and the dark depths of the Calvinist brain are well beyond my ability to understand. But let’s look at what he may be trying to say, on his own terms.

In the video, he suggests two ways for a parent to respond to a gay child. If the child claims to be a Christian, he is to be confront sternly. If there is no response, you’re to tell the church and there is to be a public “putting-out” of the child.  Shunning, in other words. You have to alienate them and separate them. You don’t eat with them. You “turn them over to Satan” as Scripture says.

If the adult child does not claim to be a Christian, it’s a “whole different issue.” You have to treat them like a non-believer, by bringing the Gospel to them directly and confrontationally.

Okay, so exactly what part of the Scripture is MacArthur misinterpreting here?

First up, 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Satan is a liar, not a teacher, so we cannot view this as a “learning” discipline. Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were teaching heresy, won’t learn to avoid error from the father of heresies. So what does Paul mean?

St. Thomas offers two interpretations:

First, that just as the Lord gave the apostles power over unclean spirits to cast them out (Matt 10:8), so by the same power they could command the unclean spirits to torment in the body those whom they judged deserved it. Accordingly, the Apostle commanded the Corinthians on his own authority to deliver this fornicator to Satan to be tortured. Hence, secondly, he discloses the effect of this sentence when he says: for the destruction of the flesh, i.e., for the torment and affliction of the flesh in which he sinned: “One is punished by the very things by which he sins” (Wis 11:16). Thirdly, he mentions its fruit when he says: that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, i.e., that he may be saved on the day of death or on the day of judgment, as was explained above (3:15): “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” i.e., of temporal punishment. For the Apostle did not deliver the sinner over to Satan’s power forever, but until the time when he would be converted to repentance by bodily torment: “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear” (Is 28:19). This sentence of the Apostle corresponds to what the Lord observed, when he said to Satan: “Behold he is in your hand (namely, his flesh), but yet keep his life unharmed” (Jb 2:6).

To deliver this man to Satan can also be understood as referring to the sentence of excommunicating by which a person is cut off from the community of believers and from partaking of the sacraments and is deprived of the blessings of the Church. Hence it says in S. of S. (6:10): “Terrible as an army set in array,” i.e., to the devils. For the destruction of the flesh would mean that, being cut off from the Church and exposed to the temptations of the devil, he might more easily fall into sin: “Let the filthy still be filthy” (Rev 22:11). Hence he calls mortal sins the destruction of the flesh, because “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). But he adds: that his spirit may be saved, i.e., that the sinner, recognizing his vileness, may repent and thus be healed: “I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth” (Jer 31:19). This can also mean that his spirit, namely, the Church’s Holy Spirit, may be saved for the faithful in the day of judgment, i.e., that they not destroy it by contact with the sinner, because it says in Wis (1:5): “For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts.”

“Turning over to Satan” is excommunication, since the person is put out of the Church. He becomes part of the world rather than part the body of Christ, and is thus a subject of the Lord of the World: Satan. This is a medicinal penalty in Catholicism, meant to correct grave and persistent sin.

There is also the sense that “turning over to Satan” involves punishment of the body, in the hope that by the torments of Satan the sinner may be drawn back to the straight path.

Next, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

As the flesh will be glorified in salvation, so is it corrupted in sin, and the punishment of this flesh is the work of the devil.  As St. John Chrysostom writes: “For the gain is greater than the punishment: one being but for a season, the other everlasting.”

So we have this notion of the obstinate sinner being punished in order to draw him back to the church. Is that how MacArthur understands the passage? I don’t know. Calvinists tend to think most of us are damned, so I’m guessing he has something else in mind.

But here’s where we get to the really fun part with MacArthur, because he and other fundamentalists are awfully selective when it comes to what they think is worthy of divine punishment. See, there are other people who should be turned over to Satan, according to Paul:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

Here we have the distinction MacArthur is attempting to make: Paul is not referring to the “immoral of this world” (non-Christians), but to he who “bears the name of brother” (Christians).

Please note, however, the list of people included.  Is MacArthur suggesting we turn people over to Satan for speaking harshly of others (“revilers”) and stop eating with people are greedy? Drunks are to be put out of the church? In fact, are all the “immoral” to be put out of the Church and cut off from family? You’ll have a pretty small church.

Elsewhere, Paul identifies others deserving of harsh judgement. Among them is “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body.” That means anyone who fails to recognize the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Like John MacArthur.

In fact, Paul makes this link direct in 1 Corinthians 5 when he writes “let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is the Eucharist.

The Council of Trent took a more sensible line, tempered by mercy, as taught to us by the One who ate with sinners:

Should they, however, happen to sin in any manner through human frailty, that precept of the apostle is to be observed by them, that they reprove, entreat, rebuke them in all kindness and patience, since benevolence towards those to be corrected often effects more than austerity, exhortation more than menacing, charity more than power. But if, on account of the grievousness of the transgression, there be need of the rod, then is rigour to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness; and that they who are chastised may be amended; or, if they be unwilling to repent, that others, by the wholesome example of their punishment, may be deterred from vices; since it is the office of a pastor, at once diligent and kind, first to apply gentle fomentations to the disorders of his sheep, afterwards, when the grievousness of the distemper may require them, to proceed to sharper and more painful remedies; but if not even these are effectual in removing those disorders, then is he to free the other sheep at least from the danger of contagion. (Trent, Session 13, De Reformatione, Chapter 1)

It’s worthwhile to note that this decree follows one on the Eucharist. Thus, in context, Paul is not recommending that parents stop having dinner with their kids, but that the Eucharist should be withheld from people engaged in obstinate sin, whether that sin is sodomy or greed. Notably, this power is reserved to the Church, not the individual or the community.

And, of course, merely “coming out”–the criteria which is used by MacArthur–is not enough to trigger any of this. Declaring one’s sexual preference is separate from engaging in gravely disordered sexual acts. The acts, not the ontological state, are the sin.

So how are we to respond to a child who comes out? 

MacArthur missed the one word that should have led all the others: love. With love. How parents navigate this tricky minefield of modern sexuality is no easy thing, and we can hope that the Synod on the family turns its attention to offering real guidelines for dealing with children and loved ones with mercy, love, and faith. It’s not easy. The world has gone mad and our children are not immune to this madness.

There’s a fine line to be walked, and we need a little guidance on how to walk it. Do we attend a gay wedding? No, because that would be creating a public scandal. But do we stop talking to a gay child?

Of course not, and there is nothing in Paul or anywhere else to suggest that we should. You can’t just yank out a line from Paul, isolate it, and use it as a one-size-fits-all guideline. This is just Religion by Proof-Texting, not the faith of a living Church.

The obsession of Christian fundamentalists, and in some sectors of Catholicism, with homosexuality is an unfortunate byproduct of our times. Political and social issues are becoming entangled with the faith, and some are losing perspective on the reality of sin.

It’s kind of strange to see people talking so much about the sinfulness of sodomy (which affects the non-sodomite not at all) while giving little attention to the other three sins that cry out to heaven: murder,  oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages.

We don’t see a lot of Bible-belters carrying signs that say “God hates defrauding workers of their just wage.” But drag sodomy into the discussion, and suddenly some people get very interested in letting you know what they think. This has more to do with the individual and his insecurities than with the sin itself.

As for me, I intend neither to sodomize nor to be sodomized, and so the sin is of little interest to me, except in the way it indicates a general decline in the public’s understanding of healthy sexuality and the continuing erosion of marriage. If a child of mine fell into that behavior, I would be heartbroken and do I would could to help him or her find the way to live a life of faith in chastity.

It would not be an easy road to walk, but I would not leave my child to walk that road alone.

As the Fathers of Trent observed, “rigour [is] to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness.”

Apple Nixes App About Female Masturbation

Steve Jobs was always adamant about keeping the App Store porn free. Of course, anyone with a mobile browser can tap a gusher of porn on their Apple mobile devices, but Jobs didn’t want to be part of selling sexually explicit material.

This is all I can actually show you of the game.

Whether or not HappyPlayTime is porn is probably in the eye of the beholder, but when game features a cute animated vulva whose goal is to teach the women about the joys of self-pleasure, then it’s close enough.

Developer Tina Gong describes it as “a sex education game whose aim is to eliminate the stigma around female masturbation.”

“Stigma” is one of those “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” words, since the idea of any sexual act being stigmatized in our sexually insane modern culture is ludicrous. The Age of Reason was replaced by the Age of Porn in which we now find ourselves. Female masturbation? We’re supposed to be celebrating sodomy like it’s a sacrament and she’s acting like female masturbation has a stigma? Did she miss the past ten years?

Here’s the description by the designer:

Loving your body, in every way, is not a sin. No more shame, no more secrets. This little vulva is on a mission: to free the world from a silly social stigma.

Sexuality is one of the most basic instincts of human beings. Being comfortable with your own sexual pleasure is a prerequisite to both being able to healthily accept pleasure from others, and pleasing others. How can you exchange pleasure with someone else if you don’t understand what your own body likes? That’s why masturbation, and learning how to masturbate is such a fundamental life lesson.

Unfortunately for many women, there has been a cultural stigma that blocks access to self-stimulation. HappyPlayTime is here to eliminate this barrier as much as possible. By talking openly and lightheartedly about female masturbation, we are taking the first step to becoming truly sexually liberated.

Disclaimer: The research used in this game is based on cisgender females and does not include transgender females. For resources about transgender female masturbation, a good place to start looking is here: F***ing Trans Women Zine.

The disclaimer is just a precious little candle on a cake iced in pure bullshit.

Women who demand to be treated as more than mere vaginas, and then produce art that obsesses about their vaginas, are just another indication of a culture gone mad. Whatever your moral perspective on human sexuality, the idea that an anthropomorphic vajayjay can “help” anyone, or is anything more than attention seeking behavior, is absurd.

In any case, Apple told her to go tickle her bean elsewhere:

The developer created the app native to iOS, perhaps making a wish on Tinkerbell’s wings that the very well-known and universally applied Apple standards would disappear in a puff of wicked patriarchal smoke if she just scrunched up her face and thought real hard.

Because a giant frigging (literally) animated vulva that teaches masturbation doesn’t qualify as “explicit depictions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings?” The entire point of the app is to stimulate erotic feelings. Not everything needs to be an app.

And now she’s got nothing but a long project of translating her app to HTML5, which is not a direct or simple process. So, good luck with that.

Nintendo Says No to Gay Love

The grand modern project to jam homosexuality into every orifice of modern life has hit a brick wall at Nintendo.

The family-friendly publisher is getting ready to bring their bizarre life sim series Tomadachi to America as a 3DS title called Tomadachi Life. Part of the gameplay is having your characters fall in love, and the advocates of the Love That Just Won’t Shut The Hell Up Already are vexed that same-sex couplings will not be part of a gentle, child-friendly game. They’ve started a hashtag called #Miiquality to protest, because it’s 2014 and that’s what you do.

Nintendo had this to say:

The ability for same-sex relationships to occur in the game was not part of the original game that launched in Japan, and that game is made up of the same code that was used to localize it for other regions outside of Japan. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.

Interestingly, the very first version of the game had male-male relationships, possibly as the result of a glitch. They were removed in the first patch.

Gay marriage isn’t legal in Japan.

When Spider-Man Worked for Planned Parenthood

Yes, this really happened. Retronaut has found a special issue of Spiderman done in a collaboration between Marvel and Planned Parenthood. The art is by Marvel vets Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, but the writing is by Ann Robinson, who had a brief tenure as a Marvel executive, and no other known writing credits, for reasons that will be obvious.

The plot–and oh how I wish I was making this up–is about an alien called The Prodigy from the planet Intellectia. His voice can persuade people to do anything, and he’s using it to convince teenagers that sex doesn’t lead to pregnancy, and even if it does babies are great. He wants them to have lots and lots of human babies so he can take them back to his planet to serve as child labor.

You probably think I’m kidding, so…

Oddly enough, The Prodigy and Planned Parenthood both want kids to have plenty of consequence-free sex.

Spidey ain’t buying this jive:

Also: Spidey hates children. This is kind of … dark:

He makes quick work of the villain:

He spurts webbing into his mouth to shut him up:

… let’s just move along  …

Finally, he gets on with business of telling kids about sex…

…and, of course, where to go for “help.”

Because it’s not disturbing at all to have a beloved childhood hero pimping birth control.

And make sure you pick up their other fine publications:

Compared to the “Fisting is teh Awesomes!” stuff they churn out now, this is fairly benign, but it shows how PP has been snaking its way into popular culture and children’s lives for decades.

Exit question: Platform shoes–time for a comeback?


A Quick Reply to Dr. Peters About the Scouts

My thanks to Ed Peters for the link and comment to my post about the Boy Scouts lifting the ban on openly gay scouts. Dr. Peters had this to say about what I wrote:

Update, 29 May 2013: But for one sentence, I basically agree with Tom McDonald’s take on the Boy Scout matter. The one sentence that stands out–nay leaps out–but is completely unsupported by everything else McDonald wrote, is this: “The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground.” Huh? How? Where? Please point to where the BSA did anything such thing.

Anyway, pace that lone line, the rest of McDonald’s essay, imo, reads well and usefully.

I can see where that’s confusing, because I shifted to talking about process when I’d been talking about the policy itself, so let me clarify.

I don’t believe the BSA really needed to address the issue at all. The standing policy was largely effective for over a century, and the issue was only forced by the grotesque political and social theater of the activists and their obsession with the sex lives of children. If not for the addition of two powerful executives–Randall Stephenson and James Turley–to the BSA board, the issue would have simply been left as is, with councils making common sense decisions on individual cases.

Several contrived instances of scouts being dismissed for sexuality, however, were whipped into a media frenzy in order to force the hand of the BSA. Nothing substantial is different about the content of a Scout’s moral being  in 2013 than it was 1910. We adapt to the accidents of modern life in certain ways, but the Forms (if you will) of boyhood and manhood should remain constant. That was the whole point of Scouting: to the shape the boy with timeless values.

The BSA allowed itself to be forced into action, and their efforts in reaching a compromise have been fumbling and often disturbing. Early proposals suggested that they were willing to abandon the ban on adult leaders as long as it was limited to the local level. Considering that the BSA had once said they’d hold the line on admission of openly gay Scouts and adult leaders, this was a pretty major concession of core Scout values. When they now claim they’ll “hold the line” on gay leaders, can we really believe them any more? They already indicated it was a one possible solution to the issue.

Let that sink in a little: the organization that argued the Dale case all the way to the Supreme Court (and won) was debating a local concession on the issue at the heart of that case.

The BSA conceded on a point they once (rightly) said they didn’t need to address. Social, legal, internal, financial, and political pressure forced them to address it. That’s what I meant by “conceding the moral high ground.” I think the policy is in keeping with Catholic teaching and the values of scouting. However, I think the process of reaching this policy tainted the Scouts, and puts a crack in the edifice through which other compromises may, in time, force themselves.

Pressure them enough (this episodes suggests) and the Scouts will concede. Their concession, in this case, took a form that was compatible with their values and ours. Will the next one? As Bishop Guglielmone told me: “The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know.”

The Boy Scouts: Caught in the Culture Wars

I tend to draw the stories on scouting for the National Catholic Register, so I’ve been watching as the BSA tried to revise their policies for dealing with boys who publicly proclaim same sex attraction. It’s important to note that the BSA does not ask about sexual preference, operating on an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” that quite reasonably kept the private sexual habits of people–particularly minors–out of the organization.

The gay lobby and their allies, however, have made it clear that this is no longer an option. Sexuality, long a province of the private sphere–must now be dragged into the sunlight to be celebrated. People who would attempt to demur, or decline to admit same sex relationships on equal footing with opposite sex relationships, must be labelled bigots, targeted, and beaten into submission.

The gays have been pursuing the Scouts for years. Ever since homosexual activist James Dale argued all the way to the Supreme Court for his right to go camping with 14-year-old boys (and rightfully lost based on the BSA’s right to freedom of association), the Scouts have been chased from public buildings, seen their funding attacked, and come under a withering media onslaught. They weathered it well, stuck to their values, and continued on their merry way trying to form boys in civic virtue and manhood without obsessing over-much on gay sex, which is so low on the list of things that concern reasonable Americans as to be invisible.

By the way, it’s also a youth organization that has chastity as required virtue, so scouts aren’t supposed to be engaged in sexual conduct anyway, gay or straight. If you try to hit the combox with arguments that homosexuality is about love not sex, please save yourself the effort. Homosexuality minus sexual attraction is friendship. I object to the current trend of people declaring their sexual habits as they would declare their race or religion, because it shifts homosexuality from behavioral to ontological. “Gay” becomes your identity: your very being.

It’s as though we suddenly find ourselves in a world where people approach you and are compelled to say, “I’m left handed.” And you’re supposed to respond, “That’s awesome! Let’s have a parade!”

And the idea of “gay teens” is particularly problematic. There are, quite obviously, same-sex attracted teens, but the idea that teenagers, who can’t even settle on a hairstyle or a musical preference, can declare a fixed lifetime sexual identity is absurd. Adolescence is a time of flux and experimentation. The emotional and sexual tsunami of teen years is trying enough when we’re just dealing with the behavior and its ramifications.

When we attach ontology to the mix (making these desires central to being), we just make everything more confusing. A teen with same-sex attraction is now a “Gay Teen.” It’s like joining a club you can never leave. There really isn’t a lot I believed or desired at 15 that I believe or desire now. (And the same people who say that gay isn’t a choice also say that sexuality is fluid. I really wish they’d make up their minds. )

In short, most adult homosexuals experience their first same-sex attraction as teens, but not all teens with same-sex attraction grow up to be adult homosexuals.

Setting that “identity” in amber with the current trend of “out teens” ignores the complex psychological, social, situational, and developmental issues that swirl around a lifetime of sexual behavior. There have always been young men (including Boy Scouts) who engage in same-sex sexual behavior without it being central to their identity, or even repeated. Most just grow out of it. Labeling and politicizing this behavior–the ontological shift–is a new phenomena.

The Boy Scouts knew this. They sought to keep sexuality out of their organization. But society–meaning the elite, the media, the politicians, and the activists–has decided sexuality must be everywhere, always, open, and in-your-face.

Their goal–which they will continue to pursue–is to lift the ban on gay scouts and adult leaders. That’s a non-starter for the same reason the Girl Scouts wouldn’t let me overnight with 16-year-old girls.

And can I just add: “Duh.”

The Scouts have already had abuse scandals. Can you imagine what will happen when (not if) an openly gay leader has sex (“consensual” or otherwise) with a Scout?

The initial plan was to kick the decision for allowing openly gay scouts and adult leaders back to the councils and the units. This would have allowed units chartered to a religious organization (which comprise 70% of all units) to set their own policy.

Both gay activists and religious groups argued this was incoherent and would create a patchwork of rules, leading to chaos for regional and national events.

The compromise was to add a sentence to the requirements for being a Scout that explicitly said no Scout would be rejected for reasons of sexual preference alone. It seems fairly clear that the National Catholic Committee on Scouting gave tacit approval to this compromise to prevent a full lifting of the ban.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the USCCB episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), told me that the Church can “live with” this compromise.

“I kind of expected that this is the way the vote would go,” Bishop Guglielmone told the Register. “I’m not particularly encouraged by it, but I knew it would happen eventually. As the policy change is right now promoted, we can live with it. Unfortunately, there are many people who are interpreting this policy to go much further than it actually does, particularly in the secular press.”

“My concern is that we have well over half a million young people in the program,” he said, “and most of those kids are going to stay no matter what happens. We have a real obligation to stay in dialogue and to stay connected to the program.”

Added the bishop, “The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know. That’s why I feel it’s imperative for the Church to continue to be involved. And if it gets to the point where some of our basic issues are threatened — such as being able to pick leaders for Catholic chartered groups or in diminishing the role of religion and God — then we will have to re-evaluate our participation in the program at that time.”

The wording of the resolution seems almost custom-made to appeal to Catholics, separating as it does being and behavior. On that level I don’t object to it. The idea of a boy being removed from a fraternal organization devoted to cultivating character and morals at a time when he’s struggling with sexual identity seems cruel and contrary to the principles of scouting.

It’s certainly not Catholic to “kick people out” because of an inclination to sin. We don’t even kick people out for sinning. We’re supposed to be the hospital for sinners. We’re the people who separate being and behavior–sinner and sin–because we know that a person is not their sin.

Activists are pushing these boys to “come out.” They’re being used as shock troops to advance an agenda, when in fact most would probably rather just go about their own struggles and deal with their desires without getting a giant rainbow “I’m gay!” banner tied to them. The number of boys dismissed from the Scouts for homosexual inclination is vanishingly small for a very simple reason: the BSA doesn’t ask. A “gay Boy Scout” might as well be a unicorn.

On the other hand, I understand that Catholic families may head for the hills in the wake of the decision. The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground. It’s a victory for the gay lobby, which has already declared that they’re unhappy with the compromise and will continue to pester, sue, and otherwise harass the BSA until openly gay adult leaders are approved. That time will come, either sooner or later, because the idea of the primacy of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of religion have been destroyed in the modern era.

When they win that victory, the BSA will cease to exist as anything but a shadow of its former glory. No reasonable parent will send a child or teen off with an adult leader who may desire sex with him. That’s insanity.

The problem is that the policy, while reasonable, is also incoherent. Scouting is a lifetime commitment for most. The rule essentially banishes men from the Scouting leadership once they turn 18.

It also raises countless practical questions. If a boy declines to share a two-person tent at summer camp with a gay scout, will he be subjected to criticism and complaint? Putting two gay scouts together in those tents doesn’t solve the problem: you wouldn’t put a heterosexual teenage boy and a heterosexual teenage girl in the same tent, would you?

I don’t envy the position the Scouts are in. They are an honorable group being used for the culture wars, and it ill suits them. They just wanted to help boys be men. They wanted to stand by their values, which are the same always and everywhere, and not subject to the shifting winds of moral relativism. That was the mission and the vision of Lord Baden-Powell. In a world where manhood is demeaned and degraded more with each passing year, they are more essential than ever.

And at just the point when they are most needed, they are distracted, pummeled, weakened.

Kicking out Scouts for publicly proclaiming a desire was never optimal. In most cases, the units and councils rolled with these things and dealt with them privately and sensibly. Activists, however, engineered some very public cases in order to force the issue, and left the BSA struggling for a response. The response pleased no one, however, and the battle is far from over.

Meanwhile, the boys who need them–including boys struggling with same-sex attraction–will become just more causalities of the culture war.

Instagram, Vine, and Porn: What Parents Should Know

This post contains mature images that have been obscured, but may still offend some readers.

As Vine, Twitter’s new 6-second-video sharing service is swept up and spun around by the inevitable pornado, it’s worth looking at how Instagram handled a similar issue, and where they’ve failed.

Social networks and porn don’t mix well. For a social network to click with the mainstream, people need to be sure of a few things: safety, privacy, minimal advertising, and freedom from objectionable images and content. Facebook, for example, has a strict no-nudity policy. If they become overzealous with their banhammer at times, people should remember they’re trying to strike a tricky balance between freedom of expression and a smut-free, unobjectionable environment.

Twitter has far fewer limitations than Facebook, and you can find porn there without muchtrouble. Thus, it should have surprised no one when Vine became a hub for 6-second clips featuring nudity and graphic sex. Vine is making some headway against it, but the simple fact is that they will never completely succeed.

Instagram–recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion–fought similar problems for a long time. It’s hard not to see their recent, relative success reining in porn as an effort to keep Facebook happy.

For those unfamiliar with the service, Instagram allows people to quickly and easily share photos from mobile devices. Users can apply various hipster filters to make the photos look more stylish (usually by wrecking the contrast), add a caption, include a hashtag like #mycutechicken, and send them off into the aether. Other users can like the photos and make comments on them.

I set up a personal Instagram account in the early days of the service, but never really used it much, nor did I go looking for porn, even for research purposes. (More recently, I set up a public account, for those of you fascinated with pictures of chickens and coffee mugs.) I still don’t really like it all that much, since it repeats things done just fine by Twitter and Facebook, but I can see its appeal in a visually-oriented culture. Nude or sexually explicit images are banned by Instagram’s EULA, but for a long time hashtags like #sex, #porn, #nude, and myriad variations on the theme were common. If you searched for one of those tags, you got porn.

The service is very popular: not Facebook-popular, but big enough. Instagram reports 90 million monthly active users, 40 million photos per day, 8500 likes per second, and 1000 comments per second. They suffered a reversal of fortune when a change in policy claimed rights to photos shared on the service; but a public backlash and a sharp dip in user numbers caused them to back down, for now. Nonetheless, daily users of the service plummeted by 50%, from about 16 million per day down to 8 million. Those numbers will rebound, but exactly how much is an open question.

The thing that surprised me is how many parents feel comfortable letting kids use the service. As I said, it’s becoming safer, but it’s still not safe, and it’s not a place where kids should be hanging out. Instagram accounts are only allowed for people age 13 or up, but many, many far younger children are using it in violation of the policy.

There are no parental locks or protections for the flow of pictures on Instragram, which limits parents to an honor policy in which a child using Instagram 1) has a private, not a public, account; 2) only accepts “followers” who are known to the parent, and 3) never, ever searches for hashtags or browses around in the public photo stream. I’ve found no way to lock out searches, which means a kid can punch in a hashtag search and find himself in a photographic wild west without the parent ever knowing.

Instagram searches no longer return hits on obviously sexual words, but explicit images can pop up anywhere and display on a child’s screen before Instagram has a chance to delete them. This post is illustrated by screen caps I took in ten minutes of Instagram searching, and shows the juxtaposition of kids and risque pictures.

One thing parents probably don’t know is that explicit content can be given any tag. You can find a man revealing his wedding tackle in a picture tagged #teddybearpicnic. Instagram will probably find and delete the picture, eventually, but is that really something you want to risk? And for what? So kids can share pictures of each other making duck faces?

One of the high-traffic hashtags is #Kik, which is the name of a messaging service for mobile devices.

First off, if you’re a parent and you have kids using Kik, you’ve done something extremely silly, and need to stop it now. Kik is free of content restrictions, and is a jammed full of pedophiles and pervs. If you want your kid propositioned for naked photos, by all means, let them have a Kik account.

Kik and Instagram have evolved a kind of symbiotic relationship, with people promoting their Kik handles on Instagram and vice versa. If you want to see some of the problems with Instagram, spend 10 minutes refreshing the #Kik search. In the middle of the day it was giving me about 10 new pics a second, and some porn crept past the censors before Instagram finally managed to delete it.

As you can see from the screen caps, there were still pics that didn’t violate the nudity/sex policy but which no parent wants a kid to see. There are clearly personal photos of sexual stalkers and perverts, and they are right next to photos of sweet little girls, all in the same photo stream.

Do you want your child to see pictures of and from any of these millions of strangers every day? Would you let these strangers bring their pictures into your home?

Oh, and one more super huge problem: geotagging and location services. It’s very, very easy to accidentally tag a photo with a precise location, such as the home of the child who took it. Let that sink in for a minute: if your daughter shares a picture of herself without knowing that the geotagging is on, anyone looking at that stream could know where you live. There are apps and sites that can aggregate this info into a kind of stalker map.

So, what’s the verdict on Instagram? It’s gotten safer and more smut-free since the Instaporn flood of last fall, but it’s not out of the woods. It needs stricter controls and better parental locks, but even then, what you have will not be wholly safe, and the benefits for kids are little to none.

If you give in because “all the other kids are doing it,” then you’ve bought a grand old line of BS that’s been responsible for bad parental decisions for generations. Because, you know, everyone uses that line. At one point, no kids were using it, but little by little, this mob psychology takes over and affects a change in parental behavior. I’ve spent an entire career in the media observing the same phenomena, particularly with games, and this is no different.

Kids need to stay away from the search features

If you still intend to let your kid use Instagram, there are some things to minimize the risk:

  • A child’s account must be private.
  • People must be known to you to be approved.
  • Kids cannot add friends without permission.
  • They cannot search for photos or use hashtags.
  • And it is imperative that the location tagging is turned off.

As for Vine, it may never be safe, because smut peddlers can embed a single frame of porn in a six-second clip, making it much easier to slide past the censors. Twitter is a long way from getting a handle on the problem, and if you want evidence, here’s what I found in my first 30 seconds of using the service. Note that the tags includes #pets, #magic, and #howto, meaning the person who posted is looking to snare people who want non-pornographic content.