Sexual and Related Disorders
By Richard John Neuhaus
“Years ago,” writes John Leo in U.S. News & World Report, “an old friend, now deceased, was ordained a priest and joined a new community in the Midwest. My friend was homosexual, and it slowly dawned on me, on a visit out there, that the other priests in the house seemed to be gay too. So was the local bishop, according to the clerical grapevine. . . . Bishop Wilton Gregory, the current head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said, ‘It’s an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.’ Apprehension about gay domination of the Church is now a top–level concern? Ordinary Catholics hadn’t been told.” Now, if they have been paying even a modicum of attention, they know.
Before we turn to the delicate matter of homosexuality and the priesthood, there are a few other developments in the Long Lent that is now well into its second year. The National Review Board mandated by the Dallas meeting of bishops last June has set up a schedule for issuing four reports. By this June they hope to have an account of just how many priests have abused how many minors and the circumstances in which the abuse occurred. Come December, there will be a report, based on visits of auditing teams to all 194 dioceses, on how the procedures approved by Dallas and revised by Rome have been implemented in the handling of these cases. A third report, with date unspecified, will employ in–depth interviews with priests, victims, bishops, and others on the “causes” of abuse, while a fourth will be farmed out to social scientists, psychologists, and other experts who will take several years to analyze the crisis in relation to its larger social context, comparing clergy abuse rates with other professions, and so forth.
There is disagreement within the board on whether to press bishops to release the names of all priests—living, retired, dead, or afflicted with Alzheimer’s—who have ever been accused of abuse, going back as far as there are confidential files that can be publicized. That was done most conspicuously by William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, for which he won the plaudits of the media and the outrage of others for destroying the reputations of priests who have no chance to defend themselves. Ray H. Siegfried II, a member of the board, is pushing for such disclosures. “Transparency is what the charter says,” he insists, “and anything short of that this businessman is not going to accept.” And if that means suspending the Eighth Commandment, well, it’s all in a good cause. Board member Robert Bennett says, “We have to look at the institution, and at systemic problems. What is the role of celibacy? Of homosexuality? We are going to deal with the very tough issues. I’m certain we are not going to get into doctrinal issues, unless they are a cause.” The implication would seem to be that, if the review board determines that the Church’s doctrine is causing sexual abuse, the Church will just have to change her doctrine.
On the anniversary of the breaking of the Boston scandal in January of last year, the New York Times ran its own front–page report in a long story with multiple graphs reflecting what is repeatedly referred to as “the Times research.” For those who have been following the story carefully, there is little new in it. Examining priests who have been ordained from 1950 to the present, it is said that 1,205 have been accused of some kind of sexual abuse, with half of them molesting more than one minor and 16 percent accused of having five or more victims. There are, says the Times, 4,268 “known” victims. Eighty percent of the alleged abuse is against boys, mainly teenagers. The highest rate of accusations involves those ordained in the 1970s, of whom 3.3 percent have been accused. Since January 2002, 432 accused priests have resigned, retired, or been removed from ministry. Of all priests ordained since 1950, 1.8 percent have been accused. The percentage is higher in places such as Boston where dioceses have been forced to disclose their files.
In a sidebar to the story, it is said that “the study, although the most complete of its kind, faces some methodological limitations that make it difficult for either supporters or opponents of the Church to draw sweeping conclusions. Although some facts were verified from the Church or other official sources, some information was based on published reports that could not be independently verified by the Times.” The report describes abuse as “pervasive,” and, whether because of sloppy reporting or editing, confuses the question by including “incidents dating from the 1930s and 1940s.” The interesting implication is that “supporters” of the Church want to minimize and “opponents” to exaggerate the incidence of abuse. The tone and substance of the three–page story leave little doubt that the Times is in the second camp. But, in reality, things are much more complicated. Many traditionalists are inclined to exaggerate in order to demonstrate how deep is the rot, while many progressives exaggerate in order to advance their goals, particularly married clergy and the ordination of women. The Times frequently equates accusations with known guilt, but I would not be surprised if the figure of 1.8 percent accused turns out to be somewhat low. Lawyers are busily soliciting suits and some victims, also from the 1980s and 1990s, may be taking their time about going public. There are, quite possibly, more than a few such time bombs that will be going off in the years ahead.
It is said by students of journalism that the priest scandal received more media attention last year than any story except the war on terrorism. It was persistently on the front page of the Times, sometimes for days running. Yet in the two multi–page roundups at year’s end, summarizing the most important news of the year past, the scandal received a passing mention. Does this mean the Times thinks the scandal is not that important after all? Or perhaps it does not qualify as news, but if it is not news, what is it? Maybe a favored cause of the media that better fits the category of advocacy. In that case, featuring it in the end–of–the–year roundups might look like the media celebrating itself. That has been known to happen. Or maybe the editors responsible just overlooked the story, although one supposes they read their own paper. In any event, it struck this reader as curious.
Lawyers in the Ring
Editors may eventually weary of the story, but not, I expect, anytime soon. Meanwhile, those who love the Church must be braced for more grim news with no end in sight. Those who hate the Church will not let the story go. Writes one columnist, “The Catholic Church in the United States is finished, but it will take years to bury the corpse.” Eugene Kennedy, a former priest and longtime professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, offers some vivid observations on the mistake of the bishops in inviting the lawyers to help run the Church. Like overstaying guests, they won’t leave. “The bishops, accustomed to being both owners and managers of the team, as well as umpires making all the calls at every hierarchical home game, must now play on the home field, and according to the rules, of the lawyers. This is a direct result of the bishops’ Faustian pact with the law, signed in their own blood at Dallas, lowering the drawbridge and allowing lawyers to enter and seize the inner workings of the Church.”
Ignore the battling metaphors; he’s making an important point. “The bishops belatedly pried their hands away from their own eyes and admitted at Dallas that they had a problem. Their solution was to hand it over to the legal system, to empty their files onto prosecutors’ desks, and to hide under their own desks to look good legally as they removed priests automatically on the basis of accusations alone.” Victims sue, priests countersue for defamation of character, and lawyers flourish. Kennedy compares it to the World Wrestling Federation. “This fixed performance is what lawyers do. They don’t make any secret of it. They have been to wrestling school together and the main object is how to use mock strangleholds to squeeze money, not justice, out of the system.” The other parties in the drama “become secondary to the lawyers in the middle of the ring and their dream of dividing a championship purse without really hurting each other. They want to do this again next week in a different place.”
A promising alternative to that charade is offered by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, who has the unenviable task of restoring the deeply divided and demoralized diocese left by his predecessor, Rembert Weakland, who resigned in disgrace. Dolan’s pastoral letter, “Reform, Reconciliation, Renewal,” is the work of a bishop who knows how to bishop. It addresses the crisis in the Church’s language of sin and grace, is responsive to critics and victims without pandering, and accents “restorative justice,” which means employing a way of mediation that sidelines the lawyers while, at the same time, meeting all legal requirements. “The mediation I envision,” says Dolan, “is a process independent of litigation where victims and their advocates meet with representatives of the archdiocese, without lawyers, to come to a response of pastoral, spiritual, emotional, and restorative care. . . . I believe with all my heart and soul that Jesus is purifying and renewing his Church through all this sorrow and pain.” There is undoubtedly much more pain to come, but Dolan’s initiative has been well received by almost everyone in Milwaukee and suggests itself as a model for other dioceses. (A copy of the pastoral letter may be obtained by writing the Archbishop at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, P.O. Box 070912, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53207–0912.)
In pathetic contrast is Manchester, New Hampshire, where Bishop John McCormack, formerly an auxiliary of Boston, has managed to get himself into a position so untenable that even his friends fear he cannot last much longer. He appears to be in way over his head. McCormack has stumbled again and again, but he set off national alarms when, under pressure from the state’s attorney general, he entered into an agreement that makes the diocese the defendant and places significant parts of the Church’s ministry under state supervision in a way that raises monumental questions of church–state relations.
McCormack and his colleagues are let off the hook by an agreement that states, “The Diocese of Manchester acknowledges that certain decisions made by it about the assignment to ministry of priests who had abused minors in the past resulted in other minors being victimized.” The decisions were made by “it.” The agreement speaks of faults in the “culture” of the diocese, in the “system,” and in the “structure.” No blame is attached to the people in charge, if anyone was in charge. The logic is: the structure made us do what we didn’t do. Bishop Gregory of the USCCB immediately recognized the evasiveness of this ploy and the dangerous precedent it could set. “The errors of specific persons at specific times and places which may have endangered children cannot be attributed to the Church as a whole,” he declared. “As Church leaders we are willing to own up to our mistakes.” And if McCormack isn’t, Manchester might soon have a new leader.
The Nuns’ Story
Since the last installment, there was also the Nuns’ Story. You may have seen it during its brief run into deserved oblivion. It was reprinted in papers around the country. I do not say that the St. Louis Post–Dispatch hit a new low, since the competition for that distinction is intense among the media bottom feeders, but the paper splashed on its front page the awful disclosure that 40 percent of nuns have been sexually abused at some point in their lives, with one out of eight exploited during her religious life. As the story was pitched, the unsuspecting reader would conclude that 40 percent of nuns had been raped or molested, mainly by priests. The paper preened itself on the hard–nosed investigative reporting that had brought these previously concealed facts to light. In fact, the study exploited by the Post–Dispatch had been published several years ago in professional journals and was thought old hat by people paying attention. Fearless investigative reporting consisted in nothing more than an ability to read and a determination to distort. Sexual abuse, as defined in the story, was so loosely defined that it is surprising that 100 percent of nuns did not report being abused. After all, the refusal to ordain women as priests is clearly an instance of “gender discrimination.” As it happens, women ministers in oldline Protestant churches and women rabbis report being abused, exploited, and discriminated against at a rate almost twice as high as reported by nuns. But that, of course, is beside the point. It is the Catholic Church that is in the crosshairs. Philip Jenkins commented in Chronicle of Higher Education: “The attention focused on this nonstory is a telling illustration of how far the media are prepared to go in attacking the Catholic Church, and how many people are prepared to accept these charges without question or criticism. The only remaining question is this: Why don’t they just quit stalling and reprint The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk?”
On the legal front, the California assembly and senate have unanimously voted to suspend the statute of limitations on clergy sex abuse claims for one year. When that was happening last summer, the California bishops did not oppose the measure, fearing that it would seem self–serving and would only highlight the fact that the law is aimed, without saying so, specifically at the Catholic Church. This December, however, the bishops did issue a letter saying that the law would result in a new wave of molestation suits, and would revive long–settled cases, some involving alleged perpetrators and witnesses who have been dead for many years, which would make it “difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the truth.” The bishops may challenge the law in court.
The idea of statutes of limitation is to serve the goal of what today is commonly called “closure”; that parties in a dispute have a right at some point to finality, to be free from the endless threat of lawsuit. Also, such statutes protect the integrity of the court and justice systems, so they do not have to be dealing with cases in which the evidence has gone stale and witnesses are appealing to such discredited notions as “recovered memory syndrome.” Nonetheless, a number of states are planning to follow California’s lead, and some, such as New Jersey, are entertaining proposals to eliminate altogether statutes of limitations in cases of child molestation. In Minnesota, on the other hand, a coalition of churches, child care agencies, and defense lawyers successfully argued that such changes are bad for the justice system, bad for children, and bad for the institutions that have the job of protecting children.
The Lavender Network
Now we turn to the top–level concern that John Leo says he and other ordinary Catholics had not been told about. Three years ago, Father Donald Cozzens, a man of impeccable liberal credentials and a former seminary rector, published The Changing Face of the Priesthood, which brought to more general attention the high incidence of homosexuals in the priesthood. Nobody knows how high, but certainly several times higher than in the general population. There are seminaries, Cozzens wrote, in which heterosexual men are made to feel distinctly uncomfortable by a dominantly gay culture. Cozzens has a new book, Sacred Silence: Denial and Crisis in the Church (Liturgical Press). In it he responds to criticisms of the earlier book and defends his liberal credentials on a number of scores, notably in his support for married priests; but he does not back away from his concern about homosexuals and the networks they almost inevitably create, frequently involving promiscuous sex in the gay subcultures of American cities, and, in some cases, even the blackmailing of priests and bishops who may try to restrain or expose their activities. Cozzens writes:
After Cozzens’ first book, there appeared Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men, written in the mode of an exposé of the lavender hegemony in many seminaries that drove away the good, meaning heterosexual, men of his title. There is not a shortage of priestly vocations, Rose argues (following Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha), but an abundance of obstacles that effectively exclude good men who dissent from widespread doctrinal dissent and are not “comfortable with” sexual deviance. Rose has been criticized for citing a couple of seminary situations of a decade or more ago that have since been largely remedied, but almost nobody denies that the problems he addresses are very real, and not very rare. In a survey of 1,200 priests conducted by Dean R. Hoge of Catholic University, more than half said there was a homosexual subculture in their diocese or seminary. But only three percent of priests over the age of sixty–six had that impression. Hoge said that the age gap shows that the subcultures had increased over time, or that they were underground, or that older men have hazier memories of their seminary days. The last two explanations are probably true, and the first, on the basis of the evidence offered by Cozzens, Rose, and many others, is almost certainly true.
Jason Berry, a journalist who brought clergy sex abuse to public attention in the 1980s, agrees with Cozzens and Bishop Gregory that the priesthood is in danger of becoming a “gay profession.” In interviewing gay priests, Berry writes, “I asked why, if they could not practice celibacy, they didn’t leave the priesthood. Most saw themselves as leading the Church toward the reform of outdated moral teachings—including celibacy.” He writes, “Most liberal Catholics find it difficult to call attention to this situation for fear that criticism of any dimension of gay culture is homophobia. But the issue is hypocrisy, not homophobia.” The answer, according to Berry and many others, is to end the celibacy rule, allowing heterosexuals to marry and gays to do whatever gays do.
The Dots Connected
The reality of gays in the priesthood and its connection to the scandals has been aptly described as the elephant in the sacristy that many are determined to ignore. The Times says 80 percent, but other tabulations of the instances of abuse that have come to light indicate that as many as 90 percent involve boys, usually postpubescent boys. In other words, sexually mature teenagers who view themselves, and are viewed by others, as young men. Men having sex with men is usually called homosexual or gay sex. That the beautiful young man is the erotic ideal of the gay subculture is easily verified by flipping through any of a dozen gay–oriented magazines at your local bookstore. Yet, in the context of the present scandals, many are embarrassingly stubborn in denying the obvious. It is not a matter of connecting the dots. They are already and very explicitly connected by the subculture, by gay priests who are determined to “reform outdated moral teachings,” and by the court records in case after case. Even if, as some claim, only a little more than half the cases involve priests having sex with young men, it makes little sense to suggest that the Church should ignore more than half the problem.
After the Dallas meeting of bishops, Dignity, an organization of gay activists, issued a press release: “We are very pleased that in this document [adopted at the meeting], the U.S. bishops are finally agreeing with what experts have been saying all along—that there is absolutely no link between the sexual abuse of children and homosexuality.” Of course the bishops did not agree to any such thing, but they did carefully avoid mentioning the link. That avoidance or, as some prefer, evasion is coming to an end. Toward the end of last year, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, on behalf of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, declared:
A draft of a forthcoming document on this question is circulating among several congregations of the Curia, and it or a companion document will also address the matter of psychological testing and the abuses of psychological testing in determining admission to seminaries. The document will be normative for the universal Church and, it is expected, will play an important part in the visitation of American seminaries ordered by the Pope last April. Predictably, some are construing this as a “witchhunt” against gay priests and yet another “rollback” of the reforms mandated by “the spirit of Vatican II.” There will likely be nothing new in the document, however. What is new is the sense of urgency about applying what has always been the Church’s teaching and formal discipline.
In 1974, the Congregation for Education said: “The choice of priestly celibacy does not interfere with the normal development of a person’s emotional life, but on the contrary it presupposes it. . . . This maturity is all the more applicable when one is dealing with the formation of students in a seminary. This is because God calls real men and, if there are no real men, there can be no call.” To speak today in that old–fashioned way about “real men” triggers the charge of homophobia, but only because everybody knows what the phrase means. In a 1967 encyclical, Pope Paul VI wrote, “The life of the celibate priest, which engages the whole man so totally and so delicately, excludes in fact those of insufficient psycho–physical and moral balance. Nor should anyone pretend that grace supplies for the defects of nature in such a man.” Last month I mentioned the thoughtful response to the crisis by Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne–South Bend, Indiana. Citing the foregoing authoritative statements, D’Arcy comments: “If we send into the ministry men with pathologies, serious personality problems, or an incapacity for true pastoral love, they will draw the same kind of men. Thus the path to more vocations to the priesthood, which are so desperately needed, lies not in lowering the bar but in raising it to where the Church in its documents always said it should be.”
Jesuits Take the Lead
Although no hard figures are available, it is generally thought that the incidence of homosexual and gay priests is considerably higher in the religious orders than among the diocesan clergy. The discussion is confused by the frequent failure to distinguish between “homosexual” and “gay.” Homosexuality is present when someone experiences, with varying degrees of intensity, same–sex attractions. A person whose erotic desires are dominantly or exclusively directed toward persons of the same sex may know himself to have a major problem with homosexuality. For understandable reasons, gay activists want to subsume all homosexuality under the title of “gay.” But the distinction still holds in everyday language. If someone announces himself as gay, he is not saying that he has a problem with same–sex desires. He is in almost all cases defining and affirming his identity as a person by reference to his sexual desires. “This is not just something about me, it is who I am, and what I do sexually is honest to who I am.” Understandably again, such persons typically dissent, publicly or privately, from the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, and frequently do not hesitate to assert that what the Church teaches is simply false.
In reaction to the present circumstance, and in defense of gays in the priesthood, the Society of Jesus has taken the public lead. This is not because the Jesuits necessarily have a higher ratio of gay priests—although there has been much published about the “graying and gaying” of the order—but because they have an official publication of some public influence, America, and they still enjoy the afterglow of a reputation for intellectual acuity. Other orders have followed more or less identical practices. Here, for instance, is a celebratory story about a leading gay activist in Illinois who, to his surprise, was readily accepted for the priesthood this past year by the Dominicans of the Chicago Province. As he looks to his future, we are told, “He would like to serve a college campus ministry, recruiting other men into the order.” But of course. “I have been offended in the last year,” he says, “when people have used the gay issue as a scapegoat for the scandals in the Church. Being a pedophile has nothing to do with being gay.” There is some truth in that, remembering that a pedophile is inclined toward sex with prepubescent children.
Whatever may be the situation with the Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, and others, including diocesan clergy, the Jesuits have become the chief public defenders of the status quo established over the past three decades or so. Last fall, America set up an exchange between Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary of Detroit, and Fr. Andrew Baker of Rome’s Congregation for Bishops. Gumbleton has long been an advocate of gay advocates, while insisting that he is not a gay advocate, and he wrote an anecdotal essay about the gay men he knows who are good priests. Baker offered a closely reasoned point–by–point argument as to why homosexuals, and certainly gays, should not be admitted to the priesthood. The editors apparently recognized that Baker got the better of the exchange, and subsequent issues have not even pretended to offer “balanced” viewpoints. Multiple editorials and articles have defended the ordination of gays, and a special issue was devoted to the subject in December.
In that issue, Fr. Edward Vacek, professor of moral theology at Weston School of Theology in Massachusetts, was featured as the heavy hitter. Fr. Vacek, who does not disguise his rejection of magisterial teaching, offers as his clinching argument the syllogism–like formulation, “From the fact that there are gay men who are good, celibate priests, it follows that gay men can be good celibate priests.” Of course everything depends on what is meant by being a good priest and what is meant by being celibate. “The linchpin in the Vatican view is that homosexuality is an ‘objective disorder,’” he writes. “For the purposes of this article, let me concede but also clarify that term.” In the Catholic tradition, he continues, heterosexuality is also an objective disorder because, according to everyone from St. Paul to the Second Vatican Council, it can be accompanied by lustful thoughts, adultery, fornication, and other evils. That is why, he says, the Church teaches that “marriage is a ‘remedy’ for this disorder.”
But of course this is patent sophistry. Everything created good, including man’s love for woman, is tainted by original sin and susceptible to actual sin. But there is nothing “objectively disordered” about heterosexuality. Marriage has indeed been viewed as, among other things, a remedy for lust, adultery, fornication, and other evils, but never as a remedy for heterosexuality. Vacek repeatedly depicts two thousand years of consistent Christian teaching on homosexuality as “the Vatican view,” as though Rome is imposing a new position and he is defending the tradition. It is really quite extraordinary, and thoroughly disingenuous. The unsuspecting reader might assume that Fr. Vacek’s essay reflects a difficult wrestling with his uncertainties. But it appears he has long had a very definite view on these matters. There is, for instance, his 1980 essay in Commonweal, “A Christian Homosexuality?” In the light of his argument there, the question mark was already then a coy gesture.
Well before the “gay revolution” had really gotten up steam, and before “gay” was the prescribed term, Fr. Vacek wrote, “Put simply, some are quite happy with their condition, some confused, and some quite unhappy. To those who are at peace with their homosexuality it seems an affront to demand that they change themselves.” He then took what is now called the “conservative” gay position associated with Andrew Sullivan and some others. “It should be clear in what follows that no one recommends the kind of activity that would be condemned if it were performed in a heterosexual context. No argument for homosexual relations should be construed as an argument for promiscuity, prostitution, mate swapping, infidelity, and the like. Homosexuals must exhibit the same personalist virtues as heterosexuals.”
With apparent reference to the thoroughly discredited work of the late John Boswell, Vacek wrote, “Many scholars think that the sin of Sodom was not primarily homosexuality, but inhospitality, gang rape, and even attempted sexual congress with angels.” Employing what he describes as an “ethics of proportionality” (which has since been explicitly condemned by John Paul II), he wrote, “Stated briefly, my judgment is this. Homosexual actions are biologically deficient, but they may be psychologically healthy, the best available exercise of one’s interpersonal freedom, and may even be a form of authentic Christian spirituality.” He goes further. “Persons who are homosexuals are able to function and grow at least as well as heterosexuals. . . . Somewhat surprisingly, they ‘make love’ more humanely, largely because they are better able empathetically to feel what their partner is feeling.” Fr. Vacek allowed that some homosexuals may be called to “genital non–activity.” “The desire never to act contrary to certain explicit statements of our Scriptures and tradition may itself constitute such a vocation for some.” Fidelity may be an option. For some.
In sum, twenty–three years later America recruits as its champion for the defense of a disordered status quo a pioneer of the status quo’s disorder. “From the fact that there are gay men who are good, celibate priests, it follows that gay men can be good celibate priests.” It sounds logical; one might even say Jesuitical. But of course it entirely begs the pertinent questions. Does being a good priest include faithfulness to the Church’s authoritative teaching? Does being celibate mean a commitment to perfect and perpetual continence? To judge by the case that America tries to make for the status quo, the answers are clearly in the negative. But the alarm of the editors, and of those, Jesuit and non–Jesuit, for whom they speak is not surprising. There will not be, I am confident, a witchhunt to drive those with homosexual leanings out of the priesthood. There will be, I hope and expect, a strengthened resolve to confront priests, both heterosexual and homosexual, with the need to decide between fidelity and demitting their ministries. There will also be, and it is already underway, a clear policy and practice of not admitting homosexuals to seminaries and other programs of priestly formation.
Some seminaries and religious orders will no doubt resist as best they can the renewed order of the old tradition. They are the ones that are dying. About the “ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men” and about much else with which the Church is struggling, the conventional alignments will likely continue for the foreseeable future. What are called the left and the right are in agreement that authoritative magisterial teaching and governance ended with Vatican II. The right, often preferring the name traditionalist, views the Council as an abandonment of the tradition in favor of modernistic novelties. The left, often calling itself the party of progress, celebrates the Council and construes it as having terminated the authority of Rome and of the hierarchy more generally. Garry Wills puts it nicely: John Paul II, Ratzinger, and those in their company are attempting “a coup against the Council.” Both left and right are the parties of Catholic discontinuity. In the center is the party of Catholic continuity. It is composed of those who embrace the high adventure of Catholic fidelity as set forth by the Council and its authoritative interpretation by the continuing Magisterium of the Church. Despite all, the center holds.
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