BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — A committed Catholic who served from childhood as an altar boy, Karol dreamed as a teenager of entering the seminary in his hometown in northern Poland and becoming a priest.
“I had a deep faith and wanted to serve the church,” said Karol, now 26, recalling how he had discussed his hopes of one day becoming a bishop with his spiritual mentor, a priest at the Church of Divine Providence in the city of Bydgoszcz.
“Burying the lead” (or “lede”) is a form of journalistic malpractice that stuffs the most important information or disclosures in an article under a layer of mostly irrelevant or unoriginal text, likely to deflect readers from noticing them. This article is a prime example.
If you’re a certain age, and a New York Times reader, this piece may (or ought to have) caught your attention:
New York Times — September 27, 2022
The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement
By Ethan Watters
Mr. Watters is a journalist and author whose work focuses on psychiatry and social psychology
Most students in psychology and psychiatry programs today are too young to have any firsthand memory of the moral panic engendered by the recovered memory movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when therapists proudly advertised their ability to help clients unearth supposedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; the accusations that followed shattered families and communities across the country.
The belief that such memories could be repressed and then recovered through special techniques was widespread among mental health professionals for well over a decade. In books and on television, therapists portrayed themselves as the first generation of healers to understand both these mechanisms of repression and how to unlock them without contaminating the story that emerged.
The results were dramatic: Patients often recovered abuse memories that began in infancy and lasted for decades. Some came to believe not only that they had repressed memories but also that their minds had fractured into many personalities to manage the pain and betrayal.
With a few decades’ perspective, it’s clear this level of confidence led to disastrous results. In 2005 a Harvard psychology professor, Richard McNally, called the recovered memory movement “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.”
The effects of this “catastrophe” spread far beyond the mental health field. Many innocent people had their careers and lives ruined. Further, the moral panic planted and spread conspiracy theories, especially in fundamentalist and evangelical church groups, about vast networks of satanic cults kidnapping, breeding, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of children, and doing so, under the noses but somehow beyond the reach (or even protected by) police, the FBI/CIA, or liberal Democrats. As Watters recounts:
That popular culture influenced what happened in therapy is clear. . . . Pop culture also seemed to drive two of the more incredible outgrowths of the movement: the precipitous rise of multiple personality disorder and the widespread belief that satanic cults were abusing children on an industrial scale. Two best-selling books, “Sybil,” published in 1973, and “Michelle Remembers,” published in 1980, were critical in stoking public interest. Both books tell supposedly true stories of therapists helping their patients recover memories during therapy. Both were later thoroughly debunked — but not until long after they had their impact.
Stories of satanic cults have arisen in different times and places for over a millennium, but “Michelle Remembers” gets credit for kicking off the particular hysteria that struck the 1980s. The book describes the treatment of Michelle Smith, who recovered memories of being held captive in cages filled with snakes and witnessing the butchering of kittens and stillborn babies.
The popularity of “Michelle Remembers” was a precursor to hundreds of stories that began popping up across the country about day cares and preschools suspected of harboring Satan-worshiping child abusers. In a parallel development, patients in recovered memory therapy began to “recover” stories of satanic abuse from their childhoods. These types of memories were far from uncommon: One survey of clinicians taken in 1994 revealed that 13 percent reported seeing at least one case of a patient remembering ritualistic abuse. Thousands of patients described truly incredible scenes of ritual murders, cannibalization, gang rapes and forced pregnancies.
For quite a long time, there was a broad consensus in popular opinion that memories recovered in therapy — including the outlandish satanic cult tales — were true. Nearly a decade after the publication of “Michelle Remembers,” Ms. Smith appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show. Her stories of torture and human sacrifice were portrayed by the host as if they were indisputable facts.
Other prominent believers in the validity of recovered memories and satanic ritual abuse ranged from the feminist icon Gloria Steinem to the evangelical preacher Pat Robertson to the talk show host Geraldo Rivera. In 1993, Ms. magazine published a cover story with the warning “Believe it! Cult ritual abuse exists.” These prominent and well-respected public figures were seemingly convinced that an international cult of satanic child abusers would soon be fully exposed.
Fortunately, what was eventually exposed was that, while child abuse was real enough, a vast satanic conspiracy was not behind it, and “recovered memories” were mainly coerced compliance with credulous adult fantasies masquerading as therapy or religion. Michelle Remembers , among other accounts, was extensively and effectively critiqued.
However, while the “moral panic” it produced soon subsided, like a latent virus, the notion of cult child kidnappers and cannibals never entirely disappeared. Abetted by social media, a new version of it, called Pizzagate, emerged in 2016 from the toxic mix of dark internet channels, social media, and rightwing conspiracy broadcasts such as Infowars. This time many allegations named Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as the center of a murderous child sex trafficking ring, which supposedly had a torture chamber hidden in the basement of an obscure Washington DC pizza parlor.
In December, 2016 a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison Welch, invaded the pizza parlor brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle, ostensibly to rescue child captives. Welch fired the weapon, but no one was injured, and he was arrested. The pizza parlor was “revealed” as having neither a basement, any captive children, nor evidence implicating Hillary Clinton.
The troubled human mind appears uniquely attuned to clues from social settings, mirroring behaviors, feelings and beliefs with little or no conscious awareness. In her 2021 book “The Sleeping Beauties,” the neurologist Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan wrote compellingly of immigrant children falling into comalike states and groups of young women experiencing seizures without organic cause. Her insights into the connection between culture and these unique symptoms of psychopathology are trenchant.
“We embody narratives,” she explained. “Some are told to us by powerful people — doctors, politicians, activists, public figures, celebrities.” She continued, “If a model for illness is vivid enough and the basis for the illness is sufficiently salient, it is easily internalized by the individual and then passed from person to person.”
The recovered memory narrative, along with multiple personality disorder, became, for a time, one of those compelling and socially contagious models for illness. Healers, politicians, activists and celebrities were all involved in making the story salient and legitimate. The cultural currents they collectively created were strong.
Sometimes . . . cultural influences on patients’ symptoms are entirely unconscious, and the vectors of the contagion are difficult to identify. But the impact of cultural beliefs on the rise of recovered memory therapy is simply impossible to ignore. The process that recovered memory therapists describe in their books was the looping effect on steroids.
Patients began with vague symptoms of distress and ended up with a compelling story of why they were unhappy — a story that was embraced and promoted in both the mental health profession and popular culture. In the end, the patients had new memories, a new designation as a survivor and altered relationships with everyone in their lives. The transformation into a new identity — a new way of being — could hardly have been more dramatic.
Or, for many of us, more familiar, or more current: every day I read or hear people lamenting the drastic change that has come over relatives, friends, associates; and I lament such changes too; and agonize about their potential social /political outcomes.
I also have memories of my own:
In 1991, I reported on a case involving some British Quakers in the print predecessor of this blog. The house of a Quaker family living quietly on the Scottish isle of Orkney was suddenly invaded at dawn by police and child protection workers, their children seized from their beds and taken away, and the parents threatened with major legal charges, based entirely on unconfirmed allegations of being part of this intercontinental satanic child-abusing conspiracy. The full article is online here. (No paywall.
Can it happen again? It already has, a year ago in January at the Capitol and itssimmering toward another boil. Watters does not offer a facile. “How-To-Prevent-A-New-Panic (or Panics)” list. He notes that the exposure and discrediting of the recovered memory infestation was largely the work of reporters and detectives outside of the mental health field, who had not, pardon the expression, drunk the kool-aid; it took years. And his conclusion is not upbeat:
Recently, I spent an afternoon watching various TikTok channels under the hashtags #recoveredmemory and #dissociativeidentitydisorder. The ideas and themes I heard, mostly from young adults, were disturbingly familiar. Belief in memory repression and the idea that the mind can split into dozens of distinct personalities are alive and well. Across social networking sites, I also found a maelstrom of information, opinion and conversation about mental health topics . . . . The internet as we know it didn’t exist during the rise of recovered memory therapy, but it is a powerful cultural force now and may be ground zero for the creation of new symptom pools, new looping effects and new ways of being.
What takes place on social media will, no doubt, influence what develops during private therapy sessions. Effectively treating this new generation will require an understanding of how culture is once again shaping the symptoms of patients and the certainties of healers. Without that knowledge, mental health professionals will risk engendering new hysterias that they can neither control nor cure.
COMMENT: The restrained Associated Press headline on its story reads “Senate negotiators announce a deal on guns, breaking logjam.”
The Raleigh NC News & Observercalled it (more accurately, I think) an “OUTLINE of [a] gun violence agreement.” The story’s lead paragraph dubbed it a “FRAMEWORK.” [Emphasis added.]
The AP article, by Alan Fram, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Updated June 12, 2022, also acknowledged that:
> “The proposal falls far short of tougher steps long sought by President Joe Biden . . . .” And it was at best a > “limited breakthrough offering modest gun curbs . . . .” Further, > Leaders HOPE to push any agreement into law rapidly — they HOPE this month — before the political momentum fades that has been stirred by the recent mass shootings . . . .” [Emphasis added.] But
> “Participants cautioned that FINAL DETAILS and LEGISLATIVE LANGUAGE REMAIN TO BE COMPLETED, meaning FRESH DISPUTES AND DELAYS might emerge.” [Emphasis added.]
Senate bargainers announced a bipartisan framework Sunday responding to last month’s mass shootings, a noteworthy though limited breakthrough offering modest gun curbs and bolstered efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.
The proposal falls far short of tougher steps long sought by President Joe Biden and many Democrats. Even so, the accord was embraced by Biden and enactment would signal a significant turnabout after years of gun massacres that have yielded little but stalemate in Congress.
Leaders hope to push any agreement into law rapidly — they hope this month — before the political momentum fades that has been stirred by the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. Participants cautioned that final details and legislative language remain to be completed, meaning fresh disputes and delays might emerge.
Participants cautioned that final details and legislative language remain to be completed, meaning fresh disputes and delays might emerge.
North Carolina’s Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, were among 20 senators, including 10 Republicans, who released a statement calling for passage. That is potentially crucial because the biggest obstacle to enacting the measure is probably in the 50-50 Senate, where at least 10 GOP votes will be needed to attain the usual 60-vote threshold for approval.
“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the lawmakers said.
The group, led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., and North Carolina’s Tillis produced the agreement after two weeks of closed-door talks.
WHAT THE AGREEMENT WOULD DO ON GUNS COMMENT: A MORE ACCURATE SUBHEADING: WHAT the “framework” MIGHT Do; Further comments follow the AP article’s summary of the “outlined” potential provisions:
AP: – The compromise would make the juvenile records of gun buyers under age 21 available when they undergo background checks. The suspects who killed 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo and 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde were both 18, and many perpetrators of recent years’ mass shootings have been young.
— The agreement would offer money to states to enact and put in place “red flag” laws that make it easier to temporarily take guns from people considered potentially violent, plus funds to bolster school safety and mental health programs.
— Some people who informally sell guns for profit would be required to obtain federal dealers’ licenses, which means they would have to conduct background checks of buyers.
“Right now we have people who are practically dealers, but they’re kind of viewed as hobbyists or various other categories,” Tillis told McClatchy last week as he disclosed details of the package he was negotiating with Murphy, Sinema and Cornyn.
— Convicted domestic abusers who do not live with a former partner, such as estranged ex-boyfriends, would be barred from buying firearms, and it would be a crime for a person to legally purchase a weapon for someone who would not qualify for ownership.
Congressional aides said billions of dollars would be spent expanding the number of community mental health centers and suicide prevention programs.
Wayne Finegar II of Baltimore Maryland was formally approved to become the next Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC on Sunday evening, February 13, 2023, by the Quaker House Board. He succeeds Kindra Bradley, who stepped down in October of 2021 due to family concerns.
Wayne’s employment officially begins on March 1. He is expected to begin moving into the house this week.