Bush Administration Shields Christian Terrorists

Salon Magazine has an article about Christian Terrorist Clayton Waagner, the man who was convicted last week of sending over 550 envelopes of fake anthrax letters to women’s health clinics across the country, including Planned Parenthood clinics here in Indianapolis. Prior to the anthrax threats, Waager had escaped prison where he was being held on weapons and stolen vehicle charges, and went on the run robbing banks, stalking women’s health clinics and preparing violent activities against doctors with other Christian terror cells before he was caught on the anthrax charges.

What’s interesting about all this is how Ashcroft’s Justice Department bent over backwards during Waagner’s trial to ensure that his terrorist past and connections to right-wing anti-abortions groups never got brought up, and to ensure that the media didn’t do any real coverage of Waagner’s trial or history. They also worked hard to downplay how much anguish and chaos the anthrax threats created for the people who received them.

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Recent News Headlines

I was having a conversation recently with someone from work, who said that they thought things were getting much better for gay people in America and they felt that there are no real incidences of homophobia any more. For their benefit, these news headlines from the past week.
Conservative Supreme Court justice ridicules sodomy ruling
Wisconsin assembly passes defense of marriage act
Alabama college removes gay-suggestive photo exhibit
Antigay Baptist school appeals voucher program rejection
Embattled bishop-elect defends his position
Patricia Ireland fired from YWCA for sexual orientation
Lesbian hiker murder trial delayed
Tennessee congressman joins growing call for marriage amendment
Oklahoma gays criticize “ex-gay” summit
Head of Poland’s Catholic Church opposes gay rights
Christian group asks lawmakers to sign pledge opposing gay marriage
Expelled gay student sues Christian school
Tennessee man who strangled gay activist back in court
Connecticut gay beating case settled
Injunction issued against suspect in Boston gay bashing
Israeli gay man denied partner’s inheritance

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The Magdalene Sisters Documentary

I wrote a few months back about the Magdelene Laundries – In Mid-20th Century Ireland (until the last one closed in 1996), the Catholic Church ran commercial laundries, run by nuns, that were essentially prisons for wayward girls, who were deposited there by their families when they became pregnant, got in trouble or otherwise upset society.

The story of these prisons is now being told in a British documentary, Sex in a Cold Climate by Steven Humphries, and was then made into an award-winning (but denounced by the Catholic Church, big surprise) movie, The Magdalene Sisters by Peter Mullens, which is currently playing in the United States. I happened to run across an interesting article about the movie in Slate, and it occurred to me that, had I been born a few years earlier and in the wrong country, I would have been one of those girls.

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Top Ten Conservative Idiots (#113)

Courtesy Democratic Underground. In which Bill O’Reilly threatens to shoot Al Franken because Franken is smarter than he is and made him look bad at a book expo. Aw, poor Bill. Also, the Catholic church accuses gay people of hate crimes for kissing. Gee, that’s so similar to Matt Shepard being beaten to death and tied to a fence post.

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The Magdalene Laundries and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has a lot more to answer for than abuse of altar boys. For years the Catholic Church in Ireland enslaved young women in “Magdalene laundries” run by convents, where they were unpaid prisoners forced to work their entire lives for the Church. The last of these laundries closed in 1996.

Ireland’s Dirty Laundry
Wounds Still Fresh For Thousands of Women Enslaved by the Catholic Church
By Hilary Brown and Matt McGarry

C O R K, Ireland, Jan. 26
— A sudden spate of TV exposés, docudramas and a major motion picture have brought to light one of the most shocking episodes in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland — the existence of the now-notorious “Magdalene laundries,” a sanctified form of slavery.

Operated by the Sisters of the Magdalene Order, the laundries were virtual slave labor camps for generations of young girls thought to be unfit to live in Irish society.

Girls who had become pregnant, even from rape, girls who were illegitimate, or orphaned, or just plain simple-minded, girls who were too pretty and therefore in “moral danger” all ran the risk of being locked up and put to work, without pay, in profit-making, convent laundries, to “wash away their sins.”

They were completely cut off from their families, and many lost touch with them forever.

Stripped of their identities, the girls were given numbers instead of names. They were forbidden to speak, except to pray. If they broke any rule or tried to escape, the nuns beat them over the head with heavy iron keys, put them into solitary confinement or shipped them off to a mental hospital.

Over a period of 150 years, an estimated 30,000 women were forced into this brutal penance, carried out in secret, behind high convent walls.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the laundries began to close, as the power of the Church in Ireland diminished and as social attitudes became less puritanical. Incredibly, the last Magdalene laundry to shut down was in 1996.

‘We Were the Living Dead’

Mary Norris, 69, was committed to a convent laundry in Cork for two years. An articulate, intelligent woman, she was transferred from an orphanage at age 15 because she was “disobedient.” Her number was 30.

On one occasion, she said, the nuns actually ordered the girls to pray for those held in Soviet prison camps, a bitter irony, as she considers the convent laundries “an Irish gulag.”

Though it was clearly very painful for her, she took us around the convent — now abandoned — where she had suffered so much.

“In the winter, it was freezing cold, and in the summer, it was like the desert, it was so hot with the steam,” she said. “We were the living dead. We weren’t treated as human beings, as individuals. We were just part of the workforce. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Guilt by Illegitimacy

Sadie Williams, 64, spent a total of four years in two different convent laundries. She was 14 when she was virtually kidnapped by two women who had determined that she was “in moral danger.” Williams liked to take a walk in the evenings, after working all day at a bed and breakfast in Dublin. She said the women considered her much too attractive to stay out of trouble.

She was only 14 when she ended up in a convent laundry outside town as “Number 100,” and locked into a cell each night. She says she almost never saw daylight.

“Oh, it was dreadful,” she said. “I cried and cried all the time, and kept asking why, why wasn’t I getting out. And I would write begging letters to my mother. When I finally got out, she was already dead and buried three years. But I was never told, even though I was writing, still writing letters to her.”

She has since learned that the nuns stopped all her mail. Her mother wasn’t married, so Sadie was considered to be guilty of the sin of illegitimacy.

No Apology

There have been no direct reparations from the Irish Catholic Church to the tens of thousands of women it used as slave labor. Nor has there been a formal apology. It’s not even known how many victims of the Magdalene laundries are still alive: they are not organized, and many don’t want to talk about this terrible part of their past.

Very few Churchmen in Ireland will comment on the scandal. An exception is Willie Walsh, the Bishop of Killaloe. Over a cup of tea in his residence, he said that it is “a source of pain and shame.”

“These girls were rejected by society, and the Church in some way thought it was giving refuge to these girls,” he says. “I suppose … the Magdalene laundries was in some instances a form of slavery.”

The Rev. Patrick O’Donovan is more outspoken.

“It’s an appalling scandal,” he says. “You could compare them to concentration camps. … The nuns thought they were doing good. … They didn’t realize the damage they were doing.”

Mary Norris has campaigned to have a simple memorial built in the convent where she was held. Thirty names are engraved on a simple headstone; dating from 1876 to 1973. Some women spent their entire lives in these institutions. Having been cut off from their families, they had nowhere to go.

Norris says she no longer hates the nuns who oppressed her. “If I hated them,” she says, “they’d still be winning. They’d still have control over me.”

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Catholic Priests Abused Women, Too

According to a Salon article [Devout and defiled: While male victims of predatory priests dominate the headlines, abused girls and women suffer in silence], statistics show that half of the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests are women; something I’ve been saying all along. Which means that the the sex abuse scandal with the church was not the fault of gay people, as the Catholic Church claims, but the fault of the Church itself, who kept secret all the abuse for so many years.

Abuse survivors, along with their attorneys and psychologists, say that sexism and social conditioning, magnified many times over within the Catholic Church, have led to the trivialization of harm suffered by women who have come forward to finally report abuse by priests. At the same time, these same factors have caused women to be ashamed — and keep silent — about their experiences.

“There’s no question that abuse of women [by priests] has been vastly underreported,” says A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychotherapist who has studied priests’ sex lives for more than 30 years. “There’s a tremendous bias against women in the U.S. — and the world — and a tremendous callousness about sexual abuse against women.”

No secular organization has statistics on the total number of people abused by priests; the most complete numbers are held by church officials, who aren’t sharing. But attorneys and survivor networks estimate that from one-third to over a half of all victims of sexually abusive priests are women. And criminal cases filed in the last year in Los Angeles County involve approximately the same number of male and female victims.

A key quote about why we hear so much about the abuse of boys:

“Women and girls are every bit as much at risk as boys and men,” says Schoener. “But the sexual abuse of a boy is treated far more seriously, and is considered a far worse offense. Men are regarded as too strong to be victims; their victimization is somehow more shocking to the public. Women are expected to put up with more.”

“To begin with, women appear less likely to report abuse, says Schoener. The shame of sexual abuse is similar for both genders, but women tend to be “trashed” by church officials and supporters as being seductresses, he says. “We have seen girls as young as 10 portrayed as sirens.” Reporting sex abuse also tends to have more serious ramifications for a woman’s marriage.”

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Left-Handed People and the Catholic Church

Did you know that “Centuries ago, the Catholic Church declared left-handed people to be servants of the Devil? For generations, left-handers who attended Catholic schools were forced to become right-handed. They justified this belief on the basis of several bible quotations that stigmatized left-handedness.

There are also quite a few superstitions about being left-handed. It wasn’t until we realized, in the last century or so, that there are legitimate biological reasons for left-handedness, that people were no longer forced to use their right hand. I’m not the only person who sees the parallels between being left-handed and being gay. You can read a lot more about left-handedness at this site.

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Relationships and the Importance of Gay Marriage

This article in the New York Times, in a nutshell, explains what I’ve been saying for 15 years about why it is important for gay and lesbian people to be allowed to get married.

“Marriage, for instance, isn’t just about the relationship of two people. Other people have to recognize the couple as a couple. What it means to be married is that other people treat you like you’re married,” Professor Chwe says, noting that two people who never see each other may still be regarded by others as married. (Conversely, two people who consider themselves a couple may be denied recognition by others.)

The need for common knowledge means a wedding is more than the exchange of vows by two individuals. “When you go to a wedding, it’s not just about you seeing the two people getting married. It’s also very important that you know that other people know,” Professor Chwe says. That’s why the vows themselves matter less than the ceremony.

“You might have a New Age reading or you can have a very traditional Catholic wedding. But having everyone being together in a wedding is extremely important, regardless of what is said,” Professor Chwe notes. “You’d never have a wedding by just sending a fax to everybody.”

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