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Vulgarity and Vengeance Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Thursday, 05 January 2012

The story is familiar by now. Nine years ago, a young football coach at Penn State walked into the locker room and heard odd noises from the showers. He peeked in, and claims to have seen a young boy with his hands placed on the walls, and a retired coach, Jerry Sandusky, embracing him from behind. 

He reported this to his superiors, and, after a perfunctory investigation, they let the matter drop. Other young men now claim that Sandusky recruited them through his charity, The Second Mile, and seduced them or pressured them into sexual activity.


Sandusky maintains that he is innocent. That seems implausible. Every time he opens his mouth, he comes across as all the more deviant, tangled in years and years of self-deceit and depravity. If he is guilty, as he appears to be, then he should spend a long time in prison. 

But what puzzles me is not the factual dispute. It’s the reaction of the public in the comments appended to news articles on the scandal, which are unrelievedly vulgar, and express a gleeful delight in vengeance. 

Some say that he deserves execution, others castration. Many look forward with satisfaction to the homosexual rape he will suffer in prison. For criminals, too, possess a code of good and evil, and though they may respect a killer, they despise people child abusers.
   

What’s the puzzle, you may ask? It’s manifold. First, what, according to contemporary mores, is wrong about male penetrating male? We are told that this is just another form of sexual release; we are even asked to celebrate it, with gaudy parades down Main Street, attended by children, who will be encouraged, if they are “questioning,” to try it out – protected, of course, by a latex sheath. 

But then, why the disgust with Sandusky, and why the sense that he would be justly punished by that same act? For the same people would not say, if he had kissed the boys, that the prisoners should make him suffer by kissing him in return. 

Nor do they concentrate upon the age difference. Indeed, that difference accentuates the evil, but doesn’t change the nature of the act, and it’s the act that they revile, with most disgusting physicality.

Yet in their vilification of Sandusky, there’s not a trace of self-awareness. It’s not only that they never stop to question their tolerance of homosexual activity in general. It’s that they don’t examine their own consciences. 


They Brought the Children by Vasily Polenov, c. 1900

They’re blissfully free of sexual evil – because they happen not to be attracted sexually to children. They seem to understand that it is vile to corrupt the innocence of children. But if they reflected for a moment, they would see that we’ve been corrupting children for a couple of generations now. 

The television that children watch is almost uniformly vicious. Drug stores are stocked with lewd and nasty magazines. Pornography on the computer is a click away. High schools peddle porno-twaddle in English classes, like Tony Kushner’s homosexual rant, Angels in America

Even toys for little girls instigate the itch of sexual desire. And it’s impossible to watch the good ol’ national pastime on television without seeing commercials for men who need the latest chemical winch. Where, then, is the loathing for all of that?


And then, what about the misery caused by sexual sins in general? Who are the Americans ready to stone Jerry Sandusky? We aren’t those Pharisees whom Jesus condemned as being whited sepulchers, clean on the outside but filled with filth and corruption within. 

Because we’re not even white on the outside. For that, one has to abide by the externals of a strict moral code, while harboring pride and other evils within the heart. But we combine the self-righteousness of Pharisees over one of the few moral laws we still recognize with a general squalor.

Which sexual sin, after all, hurts the most children? The still thankfully rare pederasty, or divorce?  Who is more reprehensible, a sick man who showers with a fatherless boy, or the selfish man who is responsible for his being fatherless in the first place? Who does more to poison relations between men and women, Sandusky in this corner, or the thousands of fornicators in that? 

Finally, I am struck by our obliviousness to the terrible mystery of sin. Because I know that without the grace of God I am utterly lost, I can look upon the most dreadful sinner with compassion. Jesus on the Cross did not say to the repentant thief, “It’s too late now, pal,” or “Just a few minutes ago you were joining in the mockery, and now you expect me to give you a second thought?” 

He who was sinless became sin for us. He plumbed that abyss; he descended into hell. Even before he walked the bitter way up to Calvary, Jesus had entered our misery. As the evangelist John says, Jesus did not need anyone to tell him about the human heart, because he knew what men are. 

But now that people have lost the sense of sin, when someone breaks one of the few moral laws they still recognize, they have no experience of contrition and penance. They don’t know the psalmist, “Out of the depths, O Lord, have I cried unto thee.” Their judgments are severe precisely in proportion to their ignorance of themselves.
    

They behold a man like Jerry Sandusky, and they don’t consider, even while they cry out for his punishment, that they are witnessing a drama wherein a human soul lies in the balance. They do not feel the hammers nailing Christ to the Cross, to show us what love is, and to portray forever the consequences of our wickedness. 

They laugh, but there is nothing to laugh at. That’s always the case with us sinners, isn’t it?  No doubt there was laughter among the Pharisees and the Sadducees beneath the cross. If they were united in nothing else, they could be united in that. 


Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 

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Comments (27)Add Comment
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written by Maggie Goff, January 05, 2012
Thank you so much for this. You made me look at myself. I can't thank you enough.
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written by Jacob R, January 05, 2012
I think you hit a strong point.

Secularists are yearning for fellowship but in public they say all fellowship is dogmatic and mind numbing.
But they're still humans so, pathetically, they feel an unquenchable need for fellowship which they wont acknowledge.

So they find things like revenge to buddy up around.
One symptom of this I think is that a great many of my friends who are closer to 30 than 20 still recoil in horror and give me dirty looks when I tell them Southpark and Family Guy were funny when I was younger but now just seem vulgar and boring. The cartoon versions of the old Howard Stern show, an impressive amount of wit but nothing that will truly nourish your soul. They know I'm just a wimp and must have some insecurity that's making me not want to watch immature adolescent shows until I die.
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written by Richard A, January 05, 2012
Manfred, Humanae Vitae was opposed, it was not contravened, as those who oppose it have no authority to contravene it. Words matter.
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written by SJM, January 05, 2012
I wonder how many of those who are writing ugly and cruel vindictive comments are into pornography? Or, have "taken license" with their own children, step-children, or significant other's children?

How do we regain a sense of sin? Or a sense of justice and mercy and compassion? Maybe it takes a "lightening bolt" to get our attention to see ourselves as we really are (as it did for me a while back, thank God).

Thank you for putting this subject in perspective.

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written by V M Hoyns, January 05, 2012
Thanks for a wonderful thouht provoking article. We all must look within.
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written by tom, January 05, 2012
I concur. I lambasted fellow workers for stating he (Sandusky) will get what’s coming to him in prison. I said no one deserves that. With the acceptance of homosexual acts by society, how long before other perverted sexual acts are accepted?
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written by Jeff, January 05, 2012
Thank you for expressing the thoughts that have been going around in my head since the news of this story first broke. I've followed it closely, too closely, as the images invoked within the grand jury report will never be scrubbed from my brain. What struck me the most were the comments left in comboxes everywhere, just as you point out. I noticed two camps: the larger one condemning and convicting Sandusky with disgust; and the much smaller crowd who immediately laughed it off and made jokes about it and the university. I wrote those off as juveniles or (trying to be charitable here) as their way of dealing with this horror. But what I could never come to terms with were those in the larger group. I wondered how many of them also supported the NAMBLA agenda and the destruction of boundaries and morals we've been privy too. I've mentioned this to others when the subject came up and was met with stony silence.
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written by Dave, January 05, 2012
We do not live in a merciful society. We do not live in a Christian society, though there are millions who profess to be Christians, Catholic or other. We live in a bloodthirsty society, one that clamors for the blood of others, always. The call for vengeance against Sandusky is but a recent example of the blood-lustful mercilessness of American society; but to do the topic full justice, we would have to talk about the taking of innocent lives in the wombs of their mothers, which has not been forcefully enough denounced, for the crime continues. We would have to talk about the increasing acceptance, even by people who sincerely profess Christianity, of euthanasia, in total obliviousness of the 5th Commandment and of the unrepeatable and matchless dignity of each and every being created in the image and likeness of God. We would have to talk about the preference of our society for war in its dealings with other societies, and even within our own borders, considering the war on this or the war on that (the war on crime begot the war on drugs begot the war on terror and so it goes). People revile Sandusky not just because his crimes are vile but also because they put the lie to the veneer of goodness and respectability behind which are daily committed innumerable sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. And heaven will not be silent forever.

But where I need to start is with the man in the mirror. Have I done enough to combat abortion; pornography; the sexualization of all relationships, including those with children; the penchant for vengeance and bloodthirstiness that lies in my heart too, for I am as fallen a sinner as any other. God has showered me with grace and mercy, and so the question for me is how do I shower that grace and mercy on others? Am I kind? Am I forgiving? Do I hate the sin but love the sinner? Do I stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel in both its offer of salvation and its demands, or do I go along to get along, afraid to lose what (little, in absolute terms) I have achieved in life? Am I "mad as hell and not going to take it any more," or do I anesthetize myself with all the drugs and drug-like distractions our society so helpfully places at our disposal?

Two books have been on my reading list for a long time, and I think I'll read them soon. One is "Man's Search for Meaning," in which Victor Frankl writes about those who maintained or discovered hope even in the hellishness of the concentration camps. We all need to maintain hope these days, after all, me too; and a close reading of Search combined with a close reading of Spes Salvi may do much good. The other is "Whatever Became of Sin?" by psychiatrist Karl Menninger, a book that's been kicking around since the sixties(!). That might be a program for the entire year.

On the political front, I see in Rick Santorum's Iowa victory a beacon of hope, for he is the only candidate who links moral values, the state of the family, and the state of the economy, and his message has found some resonance, winning him a bump in NH and may he win there, too. But Rick is only one man: each of us needs, now, to reach down deep and to ask ourselves what is the price our Lord is asking us to pay that we have up until now been refusing? What is the sacrifice he asks of us in order to advance the Good News of salvation and deliverance from sin and of the grace available to fulfill the Gospel's demands, right here, right now, today, right where I live? If I refuse to make that sacrifice, what will I say at my particular judgement?

Chesterton had it right when he wrote, "Dear Sir: I am the problem with the world." So now may each of us go and be solutions, each in his or her place, doing what we can -- which is always, always, always more than we think.
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written by polycarped, January 05, 2012
A very interesting piece and I couldn't agree more with your general view on how we have lost sight of sin that we happen to find offensive (and therefore easily recognise) as opposed to the sin that we perhaps enjoy. However in relation to your point "...according to contemporary mores, is wrong about male penetrating male?", I do think it's worth pointing out that, whether we're talking about male pentrating female or male penetrating male, there is obviously an important difference between consensual penetration (of any kind) and rape - the incident witnessed by the young football coach appears to have been the latter, where only one party is guilty of the sin.
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written by Scott W, January 05, 2012
Going to prison no more equates to getting raped than being in the military equates to coming home in a body bag. It's possible, it occurs, but let's not exaggerate things. Think about the consequences of this misconception: why would you ever want to hire an ex-con if the belief is that they've been raping each other for the last umpteen years?

Ex-con who served in a max prison
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written by Trish, January 05, 2012
Great thoughts, Mr. Esolen!

Being the blood relative of a man who abused boys back in the 1980s and who was convicted and arrested for that (he's now dead -- God rest his soul), I've reflected on this a lot.

Many of our relatives speak severely about this relative and express their desire that he be damned to perdition. But really, if we feel this way about folks who commit these sins, we fail these people because we fail in our duty to pray for their souls, that God have mercy for them. If we can’t forgive and pray for mercy for sinners, then who are we to call ourselves Christian? Would we not then be hypocrites when we pray the Our Father? So many of these abusers were abused themselves, most often mentally ill, etc. Knowing as I do the side of the family that this relative is on, I can tell you that at least half of them are and/or were mentally ill, and that there was almost definitely abuse in there somewhere. There is no doubt, of course, that there is objective evil involved, but we must remember that there is also the subjective component to it and that we must hate the sin but pray for the sinner. Who are we to play God and judge anyone else's culpability?

When I think of this, I’m always reminded of St. Therese whose prayers converted that hardened criminal whose name escapes me. She could have said, “Well, this capital punishment serves him right. How unforgiveably evil of him to kill people!” But no, she saw the need to pray that he repent. It's her attitude I wish to emulate. Personally, I couldn’t stand this relative of mine; I thought he was an arrogant jerk and hated his personality, and once I was later made aware as an adult of the objectively sinful actions that landed him in prison (I was a child when that happened), the distance between us was even greater. But personal dislike or hatred of the sin itself is absolutely no excuse for wishing him eternal suffering, and I feel strongly that I should rather be praying that he make it to heaven. Would it not be a fabulous testament to the unfathomable mercy of God to find, upon our own deaths, that these folks were repentant at their deaths through our prayers and are enjoying the presence of God in heaven, as we hope to do some day?
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written by Scott W, January 05, 2012
BTW,
Excellent article. As a three-time bankrobber and former "tough guy", I've often reflected that when I was released from prison at 21 and enjoyed the "dating/fornication" scene, I was actually uglier in my soul than when I was committing crimes and being a jerk in prison (strong-arming child molestors etc). So behaviors that are legal and normal in out times are often more soul-destroying than robbery!
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written by Louise, January 05, 2012
"On the political front, I see in Rick Santorum's Iowa victory a beacon of hope"

Don't hope too hard. I saw Santorum's interview with Bill O'Reilly last evening (before the football game started), and it was very sad. O. asked his views about same-sex marriage and Mr. Santorum was the typical deer caught in the headlights. He was not prepared to explain what his objections to it were, whether he would begin work on a Consitutional amendment regarding marriage, or whether he would rescind marriage licenses or revoke marital status. All I could think of was the admonition "be prepared to defend the reasons for your faith". He had better come up with a good response to that challenge or he will be sunk

Dr. Esolen,
Have you considered writing something on the infantilization of men in our time, as in so called comedies as mentioned above? In the real world, can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman saying some of the things that we hear Pres. Obama saying about his political "enemies"? What passes for adult humor today is what 10-year-olds used to giggle about with their hands over their mouths in the bathrooms. While we're at it, when did "college men", as we called them, turn into "college boys"?
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written by Manfred, January 05, 2012
Dear Richard: I am not certain whether this would be considered contravening or opposing, but if you go to the University of Detroit Mercy (it is both Jesuit and Sisters of Mercy)website and go to the page Re-search, you will see Women's Gender Studies, Planned Parenthood and National Organization of Women (NOW) prominently displayed. With over 90% of American Catholics of child-bearing age contracepting, the entire subject becomes academic.
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written by Tony Esolen, January 05, 2012
Thank you, all, for your considerate comments. I was afraid at first to write this piece, because I thought the trolls would come out in full force. I put the Sandusky reaction into the category called OPS: Other People's Sins. Other People's Sins are always more serious than mine. Want to know why? Simple: it's because Other People commit them. When I commit my sins, you see, there's a context, there are mitigating circumstances, and sometimes, hey, if you really looked at My Sins with intelligence and subtlety, you'd see that, shazzam! they aren't really sins at all, but rather virtues! But Other People's Sins are a different story.

Nobody has yet explained to me what precisely is so life-disturbing about what Sandusky did to these boys. I mean that I know what is disturbing about it; and it has nothing to do with physical force (which wasn't used), and nothing to do with a difference in age (which the child doesn't think too much about), and everything to do with the unnaturalness of the act -- with the sodomy. But no one will admit as much.

We live in a strange and cruel time.
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written by Manfred, January 06, 2012
I find the second paragraph of your last entry very disturbing, Dr. Esolen. Mr. Sandusky set up a charity named the The Second Mile in order to assist disadvantaged boys. This is the classic modus operandi of the "chicken hawk" as they are called-to sexually exploit the weak. How do you know that physical force was not used? It has nothing to do with the difference in age? Why don't you attend B XVI when he meets with victims (FOR THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE!) of sexual predators as they relate decades of alcoholism, drug abuse, and in some cases suicide. The Pope himself is moved to tears, referring to the "filth" in the Church. Read #2357 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and see "grave depravity", "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered", "UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE CAN THEY BE APPROVED" (my emphasis). And you make it appear that some readers might have a prejudice against sodomy?
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written by cdb, January 06, 2012
I think we generally don't want heterosexual men in the girls locker rooms, or showering with them.

But it would be very wrong, apparently, to refuse to hire a gay man who wants to coach a boy's sports team because ... well, it's just different, completely.

Regarding vulgarity ... I guess if we have to read about "penetration", "latex", "odd sounds", "embracing him from behind" ... then comment boxes can get a bit racy.

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written by Paul, January 06, 2012
Dr Esolen,

Your articles are always arresting and valuable in sorting out the assumptions in what we are pleased to call the culture. But I cannot agree with you in denying the impact of the age difference. I wonder what basis you have for stating that the child doesn't think too much about it. The betrayal of trust is directly connected to the difference in age -- one trusts the older beneficent figure not to do something harmful or wrong. The unnatural act becomes the embodiment of the harm. There is lasting harm from both and they are inextricably tied together.
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written by Leo Ladenson, January 06, 2012
Let's not forget that homosexual campaigners have successfully fought to lower the age of consent in the U.K. and elsewhere.

I think Prof. Esolen couldn't be more correct.
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written by Alecto, January 06, 2012
Although this article is well-intentioned and thought provoking, I see this situation differently. For anyone with children, the fear of abduction and/or molestation is real, if rare. It isn't exaggeration to say it is a parent's worst nightmare - witness Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, and so many others. Only the victim (and God) have the power to forgive, not the rest of us. We have compassion for him as a sinner, but we also have a duty to condemn sinful behavior and punish criminal behavior. Jesus said that anyone who gives a bad example to children would be better off having a millstone tied around the neck and being thrown into the sea. Not very warm and fuzzy, is it? I agree that we do not set the example we should for children, either personally or collectively. The first step is to turn off the TV, avoid the newstand and confine our internet surfing to Catholic websites. LOL.

Yes, we are all of us sinners, and I am guilty, guilty, guilty. However, the compassion I feel for Sandusky as sinner is tempered mightily by a thirst for justice, which is not the same as vengeance. Too few child victims ever receive the justice or the compassion they deserve and go on to lead very troubled, confused lives, sometimes resulting in suicide while their rapists are set free to rape again and again. I do not see that Mr. Sandusky is repentant, as was Mary Magdalene. I rely on others erudition, but how is it possible to be forgiven without contrition? Even should Mr. Sandusky become contrite, it does not waive his responsibility for his behavior anymore than contrition for my many grievous sins (of which I am acutely aware) absolve my need for penance.

I do not find that clamoring for castration is an outrageous evil either. Pedophiles have very high rates of recidivism. Yet our criminal justice system cannot imprison them indefinitely. How would Prof. Esolen suggest we treat such people within the confines of a free society? With fluffy bunnies and down-filled cells? One of the consequences of violating both moral and criminal laws is that the consequences aren't convenient. One loses all of one's freedom.

Lastly, some of the outrage directed towards Sandusky and his ilk may be based on a perverse comfort we all take in feeling morally superior to worse sinners or public sinners. It's smug to be sure and sanctimonious. It may not be right, but it is human to do so. I will be more careful to hold my condemnation in the future.
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written by Tammy, January 06, 2012
"Who is more reprehensible, a sick man who showers with a fatherless boy, or the selfish man who is responsible for his being fatherless in the first place? "

I have brought this up in conversations with people and gotten shocked reactions, but I propose that a man who abandons his family (and protection of them is one of the components of any abandonment) if the wife / kids become victims of crime or abuse directly resulting from his absence, the abandoning father/husband is just as culpable for the victimization of his family as the perpetrator.

We see it in media, Ive heard it in my own life...the man, on his way out the door says "the kids will be FINE!".

not.
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written by Tony Esolen, January 06, 2012
To respond to a couple of the points here:

The boys whom Sandusky abused suffered anguish for many years. I have no doubt about this. I doubt that the anguish has anything to do with the difference in age. Let me be blunt here. I want a man to tell me that, if Mrs. Robinson next door had seduced him when he was a teenager, he would have lapsed into self-loathing and alcoholism and the rest. Perhaps he should have been racked with remorse, but more likely he would have been proud of his having come of age, and being a "real man." I am not praising this attitude, but noting it as a fact.

The difference in age makes Sandusky's act the more vile, but it does not in the slightest explain the suffering of the children. The perversion of the father-son relationship, and the male-male friendship, does explain it. It has everything to do with homosexuality.

Manfred -- I am arguing FOR the heinousness of this sin, not against it. From all I have heard, physical force was not used. In a sense, that makes the sin even more destructive, because the boys cannot plead that they were simply overpowered by a man who outweighed them by a hundred pounds and more. They were seduced, alas.

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written by Tony Esolen, January 06, 2012
I've had trouble posting ...

I am arguing FOR the HEINOUSNESS of this sin!

The reason why I don't believe that age-difference by itself has anything to do with the anguish the boys would suffer, is that I myself was a boy -- I know what boys feel. If it had been Mrs. Sandusky, they'd have thought, alas, that they had come of age! Homosexuality has EVERYTHING to do with their anguish. The coach perverted the father-son relationship, and the male-male friendship.
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written by Peadar Ban, January 07, 2012
Dr. Esolen,

You "want a man to tell you..." I was 12 when I was embraced by a grown woman, the wife of one of my father's friends. I understood in a way I didn't entirely understand until years later what was being made available. And, you are quite correct in your concl;usions about the effect it had on me, and on my friends when I told them.
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written by Achilles, January 07, 2012
Professor, you make an excellent point over all. It doesn’t surprise me to see the misunderstanding of your ironic emphasis on the heinousness of these crimes. I suspect two culprits, first that even the idea of literacy has been badly obscured by the progeny of modernism and Dewey, thus discreet statements of isolated facts are favored over context and the old grammarian’s idea of grammar. And, I think tolerance has so insidiously seeped into our culture that your straightforward characterization of this perversion rubs the modern sensibilities like sandpaper.

You have brought to mind the subtleness of the gay agenda gently unifying with Nambla- seduction is the gateway to “consensual” for those that would justify their perverse appetites at the expense of reason, goodness, truth and beauty. You are surely right, the seduction causes a much more difficult recovery than would have outright forceful violation. However, nothing seems quite so unnatural as male homosexual acts. Thank you for the excellent article and comments. Pax, Achilles
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written by Nancy, January 17, 2012
Commonweal Associate Editor Grant Gallicho and his friend are having a good time at his Facebook page mocking this article and you Professor - and your children.

These people are despicable.

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