Cardinal McCarrick and the crisis of episcopal leadership

The shock and sadness expressed over the allegations Cardinal McCarrick violated the Charter are no more than a red herring.

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, is pictured during a reception for new cardinals at the Vatican Feb. 22, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Over the past sixteen years, there has been much praise of the reform efforts the Church’s hierarchical leaders in the United States have undertaken in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandal that erupted in 2002. Much of that praise has come from the bishops, themselves. From the very start, however, there has been ample reason to take a grim view of the thing, and I confess I have never been too terribly sanguine regarding the prospects for successful reform.

When I have heard it said that the US bishops have made the part of the Catholic Church in their charge the safest place in the world for children, I have inwardly – sometimes privately, but never before now publicly – quipped, “Someone needs to tell them that’s not a selling point.” At best, it’s only a little better than saying: The Catholic Church – Now abusing fewer children.

We have heard little about those successes over the past few weeks, especially since several major sees have been caught up in another abuse scandal – this one dating back more than four decades and involving a man, who in the years intervening became a prominent figure in the US Church: the Archbishop-emeritus of Washington, DC, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick.

Cardinal McCarrick is accused of abusing a minor this time – hence Church authorities have taken action – though his reputation for license with priests and seminarians, many of whom were his subordinates, has been the stuff of black legend for decades.

Coverage of the story since it broke in the second half of June has made clear the extent to which Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged behavior toward young men over whom he exercised spiritual and administrative authority was an open secret. His alleged proclivities were widely known, and where they were not, they were much guessed at, and fairly.

Until very recently, however, it seems no witness had ever brought “credible and substantiated” accusations of McCarrick’s engagement in the kind of abusive behavior that would put the accused afoul of “the charter” – that’s the US bishops’ Rome-approved Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, first adopted in 2002 and revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018 – which requires Church leadership to take action in such cases.

The statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York regarding Cardinal McCarrick says, “[This is] the first such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against [McCarrick] of which the archdiocese was aware.” Perhaps.

The Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark, however, knew of Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior toward legal adults, for they had settled complaints against him. The shock and sadness expressed over the allegations Cardinal McCarrick violated the Charter are therefore no more than a red herring.

The bishops’ vaunted Charter, which is supposed to be at once a shield for the protection of children and young people and an instrument of reform for the Church in the United States, is instead a tool the bishops use to protect themselves and the cultural status quo: so long as a cleric – high or low – does not fall afoul of it, the bishops can turn a blind eye to his behavior.

Anyone on the Church beat will have heard dozens of stories through the years, of clerics high and low behaving badly – on the parish dime in one heartbreaking case.

As Charles Collins wrote in his excellent analysis piece on the McCarrick scandal for Crux this week, “If the Church hierarchy continues to turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct involving adults, it will never be able to put an end to the sexual abuse of minors.”

Meanwhile, the bishops’ moral authority is destroyed and their credibility is in tatters – and there is no quick and easy mending of it.

The crisis of clerical sexual abuse is a crisis of clerical culture, and more specifically, a crisis of episcopal leadership: the bishops have lost their way, and they have brought the whole Church with them into a quagmire. The only way out is through, and the only way through the filthy muck and slime of half-truth more devilish than outright mendacity, is veracity. The bishops – all of them and every one of them – must tell the whole, unvarnished truth.

In any case, the truth will out.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 196 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. I wish to see more of a raking light brought to the issue of Cardinal Ticona and his alleged transgressions. McCarrick is very old news. Where McCarrick and Ticona intersect is where the meat is. How, why, do such men advance in the hierarchy when their reputations are highly questionable. McCarrick’s reputation had been known for years before he became a Cardinal (and I dare say before he advanced to the episcopate). Ticona’s behavior has been under question for decades. Simple hysterical denials from him, and deafening silence from the Vatican are insufficient.
    Public figures require public scrutiny. Continually.
    Clerical sexual misbehavior ultimately stems from theological abuse.
    The abuse of theology — the abandonment of the perennial Magisterium — the substitution of narcissistic “self-actualization” for Roman Catholic spirituality is at the root of this problem. BAD formation in seminaries and novitiates.
    Strange gods have taken the place of Almighty God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God revealed in Judeo-Christian salvation history.
    They simply don’t believe in the God of Revelation. They have adopted multiple idols — the most evident one is frequently encountered in the mirror.

  2. .. It is odd that there is near zero media interest in the ugly, detailed reports coming out of Argentina concerning Jorge Bergoglio’s alleged coverup in the Ruben Pardo child abuse case.
    Especially distressing is the report that Bergoglio deployed his bodyguards against the child victim’s poor mother.
    Thus far, the Vatican has not addressed the matter.

    • I don’t think it is odd. The media has an investment in Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They always let him off the hook. But if he ever gets out of line — like behaving like an authentic Catholic and proclaiming the Magisterium without ambiguity — they will have him for lunch.
      The Catholic media? Even those of an independent mind and a faithful disposition are stimied by the Argentinian scandal — as they are by the Ticona scandal. How do you handle such corruption at the very top?
      These stories have real legs.
      I admit — I’d be stimied too, but I repeat, public figures require public scrutiny.

  3. Dolan: “the first such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against [McCarrick] of which the archdiocese was aware.”

    So many weasel words. “First”? Are there more? “Such”? Are there others of a different kind? “Report”? Have some not been reported? “Violation of the Charter”? Is it the violation of the charter that matters or the violation of persons? “Against [McCarrick]”? Have “such” “reports” been received about other Church leaders? “Of which the archdiocese was aware”? Is the “archdiocese” an organism that has awareness? Is it not individual diocesan officials who do, or should, have awareness, and the responsibility to act? Is there an effort being made not to have awareness?

    Can a person who communicates in this slippery manner be trusted?

    • No trust.
      Their message is anti-trust.
      All but a few in Rome can be believed.
      Mafia-like corruption. Mind boggling evil.

    • Dolan is never to be trusted. As someone from Milwaukee, I know. You can always tell when Dolan is lying. His lips are moving.

  4. In my old age I’ve settled into the view taken by a very famous friend of mine:

    “I love it when someone comes up to me and breathlessly tells me about something he’s just discovered – when he’s actually referring to a specific article I wrote years ago.”

    16 years ago those of us who pointed this out were accused – even by bishops, personally and publicly – as attacking the Church. There is not even cold comfort in finding out how right we were.

    Cleanse this office.

  5. Plato in Book three of the Republic says that males become feminized by too much culture and not enough sports. Sirach 42:14 says, “ the severity of a man is better than a woman’s indulgence.”
    And what do we have since Von Balthasar? And empty hell favored by Fr. Karl Rahner afterwards and Bishop Barron after him. Talk about indulgence of women within men. Christ in Luke said, “ many will seek to enter on that day and they will not be able.” He’s contradicted by our shining leaders pretty much as Benedict contradicted the God as source of massacres (e.g. Wisdom 12) in Verbum Domini 42 and like John Paul contradicted the Pentateuchal death penalties as God given in Evangelium Vitae 40. Francis completes their late life pacifism.
    We need an Aquinas in our seminaries ( no contradicting the severe in the Bible) and a Pope Julius II in the papacy ( not Julius III who was our first and hopefully only gay Pope from 1550-1555…followed later by Sixtus V who was severe like Denzel as the Equalizer ).
    We need clergy who box in their spare time…or at least run marathons. They are out there. Whether they will climb the career ladder…is another story. I don’t think you advance if you talk like Christ in his masculine mode…” many will seek to enter on that day and will not be able.” Talk like that and the red hat might be out of reach….in this day of empty hell theory.

      • I read most of your link. I disagree. To hope in an empty hell is not universalism but it contradicts not just my cited words by Christ in Luke but Christ’s thoroughly dire words on Judas and his use of past tense prophetic…not one of them perished ( or was destroyed ) except the son of perdition.
        Then on another level, it imagines that millions of humans who died in material mortal sin
        to the human eye….were all saved. I think of centuries of pirates and criminals in the millions who were killed as they tried to kill law enforcement….somehow in every case, there was not a real human choice due to impergecting extentuating circumstances not in half the cases but in all the cases. Then we have those dying in states of hatred, gluttony, adultery…..all might be saved perhaps the brain lasts longer than the lungs. It’s a theory that contradicts Christ in Luke and Christ as to Judas and it simply confuses the antecedent will of God ” who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”….with the consequent will of God…Christ…” it were better for that man had he never been born”…said about Judas and impossible to be said about him if he were long term destined for Heaven and intimacy with God.

        • From the Fatima prayer, taught by the Blessed Mother: “lead all souls to heaven especially those most in need of thy mercy”. If we can pray for the salvation of all it stands that we can hope for it as well.

          • Then Christ was incorrect when he said in Luke 13:24..” many will seek to enter on that day and will not be able”…..or when He said, “ Many are called but few are chosen”….or about Judas…” those whom thou gavest me I guarded and not one of them perished except the son of perdition that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” Private revelation in Catholicism is not binding under faith and Fatima is private revelation. Go to new advent dot com and put private revelation in the search engine. It will say that…in the Catholic encyclopedia it brings you to.
            Right now Fatima has more a hold on you than the words of Christ…especially Luke 13:24. That is a problem that should bother you.

          • I found this interesting note online about the souls mentioned in the prayer:

            “I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct;
            because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of
            endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent
            to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the
            deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never
            signified universal salvation.

            “I believe that there are a few articles on this point on the web somewhere.

            “Sincerely in Christ,

            “Br. Alexis Bugnolo
            “The Franciscan Archive”

  6. I’ve commented elsewhere that the ecclesial subculture of homosexual inter relational practice and the inevitable abuse of adult priest aspirants as well as children is so deeply embedded that it may take an act of God to correct. The reaction has been expected confusion and damaging over reaction. The “Stuff of black legend” is now perhaps a fact suggested by author Altieri. That may be nonetheless it may not be so widespread that it cannot be rectified by the Church. I’ve experienced working in tandem with too many devoted missionaries and parish priests and have met too many Christ like bishops to believe that we cannot. Those who continue to be complicit by purposeful denial are Apostate as are those who promote homosexual behavior. Some at the Vatican. The Church must be cleansed and the prospects of this Pontiff with his record of ambivalence and support of homosexual criminals like the infamous Fr Inzoli, assigning proponents like Fr James Martin leaves little doubt that anything resembling reform of the clergy will be done. It’s rather more evident that homosexual behavior is to be acceptable within the New Paradigm. We’re certainly at a crossroad leaving the only viable option apart from new pontifical leadership the willingness of our bishops to stand up and oppose the travesty as it exists barring no one who is complicit that is destroying credibility in the Church.

    • Father, you would certainly know better than most that the problem of male pedophilia has been mishandled by the hierarchy for decades. It has been covered up for so long that we have lost our confidence. My father-in-law built a parochial school in upstate NY using much of his own money to fund the project. They tithed regularly and never missed Mass. When they were sick and infirmed not a single Priest visited. Not even a Eucharistic minister check on them. That was ten years ago. The combination of these two misdeeds have caused us to lose hope. Grodi says “welcome home”. Not as long as the roof is leaking.

      • The disheartening knowledge of the extent actually began after the Boston Globe expose of Cardinal Law, the coverup of predator deviate Fr Shanley. As disheartening is your account on how the clergy treated your parents. Know that I and others would have done differently for them. I’m going to keep prayers for you.

        • Thank you, Father. ps. I have studied the atrocities in Boston with Law and Shanley, as well as the immense amount damage Mahony in LA. Yet, Archbishop Gomez said, Mahony remains a “bishop in good standing.”
          Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City is equally responsible for the multiple rapes in 1986 in LA by “visiting” Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera of Mexico. The connections are strikingly similar so these stories may be ended, but they are not over by any means. I have suggested that they ordain women in order to help eradicate this plague. Where is Pope Francis when we need him?

          • Morgan our opponent is spiritual and directed at the Mystical Body. Those of us specified for ordination are to carry on the work of redemption by Christ precisely as He ordained men to be his Apostles and they the presbyters. This battle is eschatological foreseen in scripture by Christ and the Apostles. Satan has infiltrated our ranks and a red line of demarcation exists between apostates many the deviate reprobates others in error distancing themselves from those of us remaining loyal to Apostolic Tradition and Christ. The ordination of women even if it were licit cannot resolve this confrontation. Catholic clergy have serious responsibility to defend and explicate the faith for the Laity, to identify abrogations of divine law and Church doctrine. I accept your prayers and know with God’s grace I and others will not fail you if you on your part stand fast.

      • “the problem of male pedophilia has been mishandled by the hierarchy for decades.”

        Even more glaring is the mishandling of homosexual ephebophilia – which overwhelmingly dwarfs pedophilia – involving intrinsically disordered sexual deviants masquerading as Priests and Bishops.

        “When they were sick and infirmed not a single Priest visited. Not even a Eucharistic minister check on them.”

        That is redundant since only a validly ordained Priest may be referred to as a Eucharistic minister as Redemptionis Sacramentun unambiguously explains.

  7. It would be most interesting to see one comprehensive list of who appointed present US bishops and those of the previous generation. I fear the image of the virtuous, orthodox “John Paul II Bishop” would not survive. Oh yes, while we’re at it, who appointed all the sitting bishops of Ireland and Germany?

  8. “The shock and sadness expressed over the allegations Cardinal McCarrick violated… ” Shock? Sadness, anger, frustration, certainly. But shock? Who could possibly have been shocked?

  9. “Shocked and saddened” are entirely inappropriate reactions to this rotten abusiiveness.

    Anger and distrust is proper in the face of the culture of deceit and abuse that has finally been exposed.

  10. The depth of all of this deceit is that it was McCarrick who set up the “VIRTUS Child Protection” program implemented 1st in the AD of Washington and then exported nationally in the US.

    It was set up as a red herring – brazenly contradicting the findings of the 2002 Report on the Crisis in the US Church: 81% of sex abuse was homosexual predation.

    Our parish parents were put through McCarrick’s program in its 1st year. We had all read and discussed the 2002 Report. The McCarrick program’s opening session asserted that the problem was male heterosexual abuse of children. It was an obvious farce. We and other parents started pushing back on the “trainers” who were insisting that we must accept the VIRTUS premise contradicting the 2002 Report. A loud argument ensued, as the “trainers” lost “control” of room. The head guy from the consulting company had to come in and declare an unscheduled break to regain “control.”

    The whole response since the 2002 Report is a gigantic sham.

    We have no idea what is going on in seminaries, and no basis whatsoever for knowing.

    The Church establishment – including most bishops, most of their diocesan offices and most of the Catholic press is just pretending everything is fine.

    • This all sounds familiar. In my diocese, the response to the national problem of homosexual clerical abuse of children has been bizarre. Fathers who wanted to participate with their own sons in Boy Scout outings were required to undergo complete criminal background checks! That’s when I said “enough is enough” and pulled my sons out of scouting. And then, of course, the Scouts introduced “gay” scouts, followed by homosexual scout leaders, and the the diocese STILL sponsors a scout troop. It is obvious that good people in the Church still do not understand the crisis, and the homosexual lobby in the Church is in full charge of the “messaging.”

  11. In an effort to reveal the whole truth, I tell the following, this is NOT an attempt to tear down my church or to drive believers from their faith, on the contrary it is exactly what you suggested we need…the WHOLE TRUTH. To that end I relate my history of abuse and my dealings with Cardinal McCarrick regarding sexual abuse of children by clergy.

    I as well as my younger brother were sexually, abused by my parish priest when I was about 12, but the grooming process began even earlier. I suspect my younger brother, was even younger when his abuse began.

    I grew up in a large devout Catholic family who was very much involved in parish life, I aspired to become a priest from an early age and in fact spent 2 years in a college seminary program at a Salesian College, although I was part of the Franciscan Capuchin Fraternity that attended this college seminary program. What I experienced and witnessed in this seminary is another story, too much of the same.

    My parish priest ingratiated himself into our family life. He spent many, many hours at my house several days a week. At first, he was like a father figure to me, directing my studies, giving me responsibilities and duties in the parish as well. He took me on a trip across the country on a train, overnight he climbed into my bed and that’s when the sexual abuse began. I was confused as he explained I should relax as this is normal when 2 people love each other. I began to withdraw and avoid his presence whenever possible. That just made things worse. His physical violence at times was a means to control me as I tried to avoid his presence as much as possible but he only became more angry and controlling.

    He gave me many gifts, the finest clothes, jewelry, took me on many trips, including a trip to Europe (where in our Rome hotel he beat me because I took a bed in another room and didn’t plan to sleep with him). On another occasion, angry at something I had said (not sure of who said it, my younger brother or I) I was too afraid to admit to, he took me and my younger brother to the basement where he stripped us of our clothing and beat our bare backsides with a belt buckle. He insisted I confess my sins to him, he always made me apologize for my actions, sitting in silence like a prisoner, he waited sometimes hours for my anger to subside until I would finally give in, apologize so he would let me leave. He constantly told me he could not go on living without me and I feared he would at some point take his own life and mine if I ever disclosed the abuse. On several occasions I absolutely feared for my life.

    This diocesan priest then decided he was going to join the Franciscan Capuchins, I was scared to death by this, he is still pursuing me. I learned from him he had already begun the process. I knew I had to speak out and decided to tell another priest who I knew to be Father Martins good friend from the seminary. Fr Bill Cramer. I was teaching CCD at his parish and asked if we could talk one day after class. When I told him what Father Martin had done to me years earlier, Fr Bill turned white as a ghost and never spoke to me again. He avoided me at every turn. I later learned he himself had been abusing 2 young brothers at that time, had plead guilty and was removed from ministry.

    In early 1983 after finishing my second year in the seminary (to which I never returned) , I got up the nerve to tell the auxiliary bishop Jerome Pechillo of Newark about my past abuse and hoped he would get help for Father Ken Martin so he couldn’t harm other children. He did not treat me kindly. The bishop chastised me for referring to him as “Father”, instead of His Excellency, reminding me he was a bishop. He then said I was speaking out because I read an account in the local newspaper about another priest accused of abusing young boys, I knew nothing of what he was talking about at that time. He then said I was angry because my dad had recently died, my dad had been suffering from cancer.

    He sent me to the Newark Vicar of priests to tell him everything, he explained he was a psychotherapist, he was not. The priest who had abused me by now had moved on to my younger brother. They never removed him from our parish, that is not until Archbishop McCarrick became the Archbishop of Newark and promoted him to serve as his personal secretary, that’s right he was promoted.

    After trying to go on with my life and forget about all that had happened, some years later my younger brother began to disclose his abuse (1996), my family, wanted answers they didn’t know that I too was abused. I met with several priests including the new Vicar of Newark Paul Bootkoski, he was compassionate at the time and promised to arrange a meeting with Archbishop McCarrick, needless to say almost a year later and no meeting. I had made repeated requests which fell on deaf ears. Archdiocesan lawyers said they had immunity by virtue of the Charitable Immunity laws and the Statute of Limitations in NJ. They repeatedly requested a confidentiality agreement which made me very angry.

    I then sent a certified letter to our Archbishop explaining how I am sickened by the total lack of a pastoral response and demanded a meeting indicating that if he failed to meet with me I would have no choice but to take my case to the press. He called me shortly after receiving my letter to arrange a meeting.

    I met with then Archbishop McCarrick and the new Bishop elect of the Metuchen Diocese Paul Bootkoski (he was McCarrick’s Vicar of Priests in Newark) . The Archbishop told me he had never met with a clergy abuse victim before and that I helped him understand the suffering such abuse causes. I asked to be allowed to speak with other priests and seminarians to tell my story and the harm which is done when children are sexually abused. He said that would be arranged and the Bishop would reach out to me. I also explained my anger at repeatedly being asked for confidentiality, I would be no different than Judas excepting pieces of silver had I chosen to be silent. This I promised would never happen. He promised this man would not have access to children. It wasn’t long at all before I realized none of this was true, not a single promise kept. A week after our meeting I was again asked for confidentiality. Not long after I saw the Archbishop along with Father Martin surrounded by children at a local hospital pictured in the Diocesan paper.

    In my frustration and knowing I had AGAIN been ignored and misled I wrote every US Cardinal and the Vatican Secretary of State (in 1998) about these incidents and the fact that Archbishop McCarrick had promoted a known offender well after I had already informed the Archdiocese. Several Cardinals responded to me in writing including Cardinals Law, Mahoney, Cook, Stafford and the Vatican so, THEY KNEW.

    My abuser, Father Kenneth Martin after a review of Diocesan files mandated by the NJ AG in 2002, was simply allowed to retire and is still a priest today. He then began a job working for the state of NJ as a train conductor on NJ transit and lives as a free man in a NJ shore town.
    Mark Crawford

    • Mark, I don’t know what to say. I am so sorry about what you went through. I am angry at the reactions that you got. I’m sickened and ashamed by the behavior of those whom you told and whose clear duty it was to protect you and others.

      • Thank you Leslie and Chris for your kind words. Chris, you are correct, the truth will set you free. I will never be silenced. Thankfully, I am not alone and the voices which cry out for truth and justice will be heard.

        • Amen Mark.

          Silence is the enemy in this matter.

          And God bless those holy priests and bishops who soldier on, despite this great betrayal.

    • I just learned of a website being established by a group of laity called It appears that they are encouraging people to share stories and allow people to examine the links between various stories of abuse where there is a connection, even remote, to McCarrick. They are vetting the stories first before publishing but I think this could be a very helpful tool for documenting and publicizing the way abuse has been perpetuated and covered. May God help us all as we work to pursue justice and healing.

  12. One update to my earlier comment which I just discovered, although Fr Bill Cramer admitted to the abuse of the 2 boys, he voluntarily left ministry for awhile, but was later allowed by Bishop Rodimer (Paterson Diocese) to return to work/ministry as a hospital chaplain after he was cleared by a therapist. I don’t know his status today.

  13. What I have yet to see in any of these conversations regarding the failure of the hierarchy is that much of this failure occurred within the specific context of ritual abuse. No one has opened up the conversation regarding the involvement of many of our priests and some of our bishops in the occult.

  14. I now understand why Protestants would rather gather in small groups in prayer with their bibles. A Pope who won’t defend Catholic teachings and children and Bishops who won’t protect Catholic children and teaching…just what purpose do they serve?! The great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor said that if the Eucharist is just a symbol then to hell with it. I would say the same about the hierarchy. If they aren’t going to be true spiritual Fathers in Christ then to hell with them. I’m not about to apostatize, but my obedience to clergy is now contingent on their obedience to the Gospel, perennial Church teaching and basic common morality. No more blind trust or giving the benefit of the doubt. The hierarchy needs to know that trust and obedience needs to be earned.

  15. If Jesus tore down the Temple because of money-changers, what would he with this? The question is rhetorical, because I already believe the outcome is inevitable. And rightly so.

    What the leadership has done for decades is beyond redemptuon. The rot still exists and will only be remedied by a total removal. We all know that will never come from within, so the rot will fester, vocations will keep spiraling downward and the flock will continue to flee. Those of us who once heard the calling will find other means to practice and express our beliefs.

    Jesus has no need for a building, or structure, only believers.

  16. As a survivor of abuse, I can speak from experience when I say the conspiracy is the most painful part of the abuse. Having come forward to report my abuse in the early 90s, I was lied to and misled about the handling of the priest that abused me, Father John Capparrelli. I was assured that the Newark Arch Diocese was aware of claims against him and that he had been defrocked.

    In 2011, I was stunned to find out that not only was he still a priest, but he had been given numerous teaching promotions over the two decades since I made my initial report.

    What is needed is complete and thorough transparency by the Church on matters of abuse, both past and present. Victims need to be acknowledged, abusers punished and anyone that conspires to hide these crimes held accountable. Anything less is shameful.

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