Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Hoffman Process, Bob Hoffman and the Big Hoax

 My 17 month Covid lockdown in India became a long retreat for sorting out my confusion about spiritual teachers and what they teach. My experience was fueled by reviewing stories of sexual misconduct and outright abuse. I know at least one of the teachers plus several students who became entangled in the scandals that plagued several large and important Zen Centers. With deep sadness, I found the names of several friends on lists of priests who have been credibly accused of molesting adolescents. I revisited my shock when I attended Ă–sel Tendzin’s funeral, and meditated on the way my teacher Issan Dorsey used his own dying and death from HIV to teach his students about what matters in life. I felt forced to examine my own transference and countertransference in a long painful relationship with Bob Hoffman, and his sexual abuse. He stalked and raped me 5 months after I finished the first group Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy.

After reading one of my blog posts about Hoffman, a longtime friend contacted me. He is a former director of the Hoffman Institute and a Process Teacher. And he also had a very difficult relationship with Bob Hoffman. He agreed with my assessment of Hoffman, labeled him a malignant narcissist, confirmed that he was a sexual predator, a bully, and nearly impossible to work with. Yet my friend spoke of a life-altering experience working with Hoffman. He compared it to receiving a sacrament from a corrupt priest. By luck or grace, my friend feels that the Process arrived unpolluted by the sins of being human.

I do not accuse my friend of being duped: his experience was life-changing and valuable in itself. He is very skilled in self-observation, and I believe him when he says that the experience was not an illusion or a panacea. Nor did he surrender to a weirdo messiah. He’s not blind to Hoffman’s flaws or inflated self-importance. But he is far more cautious than I am about revealing Hoffman’s dirty secrets, and I’m certain he feels that I ought to be circumspect in describing Hoffman’s shortcomings as if anything negative might dissuade people who might benefit from the Process. 

My friend describes Hoffman as a wounded healer. Carl Jung coined the term to describe one aspect of the transference between patient and therapist; he created an archetype by alluding to Greek mythology. Hoffman dealt with so many “sick people” as he called us, he was always restimulated. Yes, wounded and healer can be used in the same sentence, but identities and functions must remain separate–even if it was the experience of being hurt that allowed the healer to gain insight.

In my own case, unresolved transference as well as dealing with Hoffman’s sexual abuse lasted for years. My friend’s reluctance might also be transference. I cannot say, but he does attribute his life-altering experience, his healing, to some action by another person or source. The basic mechanism of transference is confusing the names of the actors with their roles in the playbill. If we allow our experiences to remain tangled up, we become the unwitting targets for what I call the Big Hoax.

There’s a blind spot embedded in the way the Hoffman story is framed: the guru figure receives a healing message from a spirit visiting from an unseen world, and he himself is healed. If we separate the healing from the story of the healer, it neuters its potency. We don’t even need to believe the story. Once we submit to the process, we’re inevitably tied to it, and it’s impossible to separate our healing from whatever actions we attribute to the guy in front of the room expounding his theory of the universe, or a guru seated on a colorful couch telling us the secrets of our individualized personal mantra. “We” are told that we can’t have one without the other. No Hoffman, no breakthrough. No savior, no salvation. No chicken, no egg.

The conflation of our experience and the guru’s narrative also leaves room for the Source, the Guru, or the Process (legally protected under international intellectual property copyright) to command allegiance, obligation, and money. It’s an escape hatch for any distortions that violate common sense–I had an insight that healed me, but I’ll ignore the obvious fact that, sadly, Hoffman was not himself healed.

Money is one of the prime movers in the Big Hoax, and at the same time one of the reasons for the coverup. I know from first hand experience over many years that Hoffman was very interested in money. He was keenly aware of his competition in the marketplace of personal development, and he was childishly jealous of anyone who was a “successful” guru, i.e., made money. Hoffman attacked every guru on the block for doing exactly what he dreamed of, but his greed prevented him from appreciating the irony. The exchange of goods and services becomes a sleight of hand, like the one at the carnival sideshow where the huckster hides a coin under one of three cups. He shuffles them quickly, promising to double your 20 bucks if you can point to the one that hides the coin, but if you fail, you lose. Inevitably you’re out 20 bucks. 

To demonstrate my case: before me, no one, and I mean no one, not Claudio Naranjo, nor Raz Ingrasi, nor Tim Laurence, nor any of Hoffman’s disciples, i.e. the people who make money from Process, ever bothered to examine the roots of Hoffman’s tale of the birth of the Process. Whether they believe Hoffman’s story or reject it, I assume they all claim, like my friend, that the results of the Process preclude any critical observation. To quote Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

John Tarrant Roshi once said to me that to create a powerful insight, even a life-changing breakthrough experience, was relatively easy. Tried and true ways of breaking down the defenses of the ego allow for an onrush of fresh stimuli. Hypnosis, sleep deprivation, forced concentration, disruption of normal communication and human interaction, alteration of key environmental factors related to perception, light and noise levels most obviously. Alcohol and drugs, a favorite California choice, also make the list. Charlatans and cult leaders as well as authentic teachers have understood how to manipulate these factors from time immemorial, but the hard part, Tarrant Roshi said, is to create real change in a person’s life.

Let’s examine the guru phenomenon and the Hoffman Process.

Marlys Mayfield, Naranjo’s longtime student and an expert in the field of Critical Thinking, told me that she was shocked when I told her that Seigfried Fisher was a real person whose son contacted me after he read one of my blog posts; she’d always assumed that Dr. Fisher, Hoffman’s spirit guide, was a “Source” of channeled psychic wisdom like “Seth” or “Lazarus.”

Fisher’s son wanted to correct some of what I’d said about his father. His Father was German and not Viennese. It was the son, not his mother, who sued Hoffman to stop him from using his father’s name as a source for a process of psychic therapy. His father didn’t maintain the strict separation between social and professional contact currently dictated by the ethics of psychoanalytic practice. Fisher’s son had dinner at Hoffman’s house, and Hoffman had been to dinner with Fisher’s family. This much is true: there were dinner conversations between Hoffman and Fisher, but that’s where it ends.

Dr. Siegfried Fisher treated severe psychosis. Most of his patients at Langley Porter were short term, but Hoffman had been his patient for years. When I pressed Hoffman to tell the truth about his relationship with Fisher, Hoffman substituted a story that he and his wife did family therapy together when they were “having trouble with their son Michael.” I forced Hoffman to admit that Fisher was not a family friend but his therapist, yet Hoffman still evaded truthfully describing their relationship–that sleight of hand once again. Lies cover up lies ad infinitum, and I accepted the admission. In the shenanigans of a conman, truth is a strip tease. Fisher’s son told me that his father claimed he could cure homosexuality, and it’d be a good bet that Hoffman’s sexuality came up in therapy. But I’ll leave any speculation about their conversations dangling like a g-string as a token of modesty.

Fisher’s son bears no animus towards Hoffman, but he does not attribute any value to the Fisher Hoffman Process. “He was a tailor and not a spiritual man.” He legally separated his father’s legacy from Hoffman’s Process. Following a different methodology I will now try to separate Hoffman from the experience of the Process. I’m going to try to kick us out of the Big Hoax, and telling the truth may also be the cure for my resentment.

The first step is to critically examine Hoffman’s narrative. Who was Bob Hoffman? He was a tailor from Oakland California with minimal formal education and no psychological training. Rather he had been the patient of a skilled and distinguished psychoanalytic professional for many years. Before he finished his course of therapy, Dr. Fisher died, and Hoffman remained in transference. He was never “cured” in any sense of the word; he was certainly not professional–the evidence is staggering if you worked with him.

During his years of psychotherapy he learned, perhaps even experienced, one real link in the birth of psychosis. Using as many tricks as he could glean from as many sources as he could, especially hypnosis and auto-suggestion, plus the trance state he’d learned in the spiritualist church and from his teacher Rose Strongin, he pieced together a way of barging into a person’s unconscious with a blunt force that forced an opening and allowed some people a fresh view of themselves, and, if for only a second, to step out of their habitual way of living and clearly distinguish parts of themselves that they’d been hiding from, neglected, or repressed.

Using a true huckster’s innate instincts, Hoffman crafted wares to take to market. But in order for him to sell, he had to convince us that there was something to buy. Thus the story of his midnight visitation. I cannot say that he consciously crafted the story, hallucinated, or really did experience an insight, but it makes no difference. It allowed him to claim infallibility for the knowledge coming from an otherworldly source, knowledge that he could access as a gifted intuitive. We could hitch a ride, but it wasn't free.

I have a strong personal distaste for being forced to take a side in a heated argument. However in this case my happiness depended on dealing with my own transference and the lingering effects of sex abuse. I had to be equally exacting in my self-examination, and tell the truth, or at least examine my own part in the experience.

Along with countless others, I was in personal pain. I had attempted a course of professional therapy several times, but when Hoffman promised a loving divorce from mommy and daddy in 13 weeks, I jumped at the chance. I could bypass expensive professional therapy. As Laura, Jonestown survivor, said, “Oh, I was absolutely brainwashed, but I brainwashed myself. I allowed myself to hear what I wanted to hear from Jim Jones because I wanted so badly for it to be true.” Following the insidious mechanism of cult mentality, once I’d made a decision that it had to be true, evidence appeared to support my belief, even experiences that were completely contradictory, even if the guru raped me.

Like my friend’s experience working with Hoffman, my work in the first group Process with Naranjo and Hoffman radically altered the course of my life. This was Hoffman’s first group Psychic Therapy, and I believed there was value for me. I heard Hoffman’s story, and believed at least a part of it. Although I remained skeptical, I fabricated qualifications where needed, and made mental adjustments to stomach Hoffmanisms like “illogical logic nonsensical sense,” gibberish play acting as wisdom.

Rather than getting a loving divorce from mommy and daddy, my work with Hoffman destroyed any possibility of repairing my admittedly strained relationship with my parents. After I dutifully completed the final steps of the process, my parents thought I’d lost my mind, and effectively cut me out of their lives for 20 years. Hoffman fed me a story about my father being gay; I didn’t realize until later that I was being groomed by a predator.

After years of alienation, I did manage to create a relationship with both my parents before they died, but it was my own hard won task. Hoffman had nothing to do with it. In fact he impeded it.

Was Hoffman a Wounded Healer?

My friend looks on his experience with Hoffman as receiving a sacrament from a corrupt priest. I tried to see if Jung’s term wounded healer might help me understand why I was so taken in by Hoffman’s work, connecting Hoffman's own experience of pain and abuse in his life with his path to become a healer. And at the same time, finding in myself grace and forgiveness for Hoffman’s continuing psychotic behavior.

I’ve never had much taste for Jung’s archetypes. It may be just my adverse reaction to being force fed Christian mythology where facts are easily disregarded and myths become facts. I love the Iliad, but I cannot read it with the same kind of attention that I used to give my Sunday morning reading of the New York Times. 

The mythological centaur Chiron is the model for Jung’s archetype. Chiron is, as far as centaurs go, a rather upright creature. He doesn’t drink and carouse but rather educates young men in the healing arts that were taught to him by his stepdad Apollo. So far so good. But he has to give up his immortal status to save Prometheus–the exchange is negotiated by the immortal strong man Heracles–and Chiron dies when a poison arrow pierces his ankle.

But Chiron dies immediately; his wound is incurable. At least to my logical mind, I don’t see how he could be continually wounded and use his pain as a balm to heal others if he’s dead. The myth is of course a myth, but Jung had to juggle the elements of a complex mythological narrative to make it fit his archetype of The Wounded Healer.

However, even if we don’t buy into The Wounded Healer archetype, there is evidence that people damaged by abuse or trauma do become healers. A study by Victor et al. (2021)* found that 82% of clinical psychology, counselling psychology, and school psychology graduate students and faculty members in the United States and Canada suffered from mental health conditions at some points of their lives. Even without the visit by Dr. Fisher in the middle of the night, there was some probability that Hoffman might seek a second job in the healing arts.

At the beginning of the Covid lockdown, I woke up in the dead of night and vowed never again to believe nonsense. Reliance on spirit guides giving messages in sanctuaries filled with divine light, simplistic talk of negative love and fictional scenarios of my mother’s emotional child telling me a sad story, staged funerals, forced closure on life’s chapters by ripping out imagined umbilical cords, all this is too far a stretch from Freud’s free association on a couch in Vienna. In a best case scenario, doing the Process could be something like attending an amazing show off Broadway, albeit with an expensive ticket, but deeply moving and life changing in subtle ways. In my case the performance was spoiled by the producer who hid a casting couch backstage, and raped me.

It is possible for a lunatic to be cured, and go on to become a healer of others. Even the fake guru can heal or provide some measure of relief, but at some point the myth has to be stripped away. Our only chance is to move outside the guru’s thrall and claim the experience as our own.

Tell the truth. Recognize The Big Hoax for what it is.

*Victor et al. (2021). "Only human: Mental health difficulties among clinical, counseling, and school psychology faculty and trainees". Retrieved 19 July 2021

Monday, July 19, 2021

Why do cults need to rewrite history?

Originally posted January 22, 2020

If I were Deep Throat, I’d tell you to follow the money. If you were asking whether to register for the Process, I’d caution caveat emptor.

A core premise of all spiritual work is that, as human beings, we have to be honest with ourselves, including our faults and idiosyncratic distortions of truth. This applies equally to the healer. In a course of psychological treatment, the whole point is that you uncover parts of yourself that you’ve been hiding from and have cast their shadow over the rest of your life. If you undertake a professional course of therapy, you assume that your therapist has dealt with most of that material themselves, and can provide a reasonably unbiased mirror for your own work. That trust is essential.

Cults rewrite history in the interest of portraying the guru as having some access to privileged knowledge which is just a marketing plan to gain followers. In much the same way, the online biographies of Bob Hoffman, the founder of the Hoffman Process, or the Quadrinity Process, are awash in lies, factual inaccuracies, fabrications or, in the best case, distortions that I wonder how it could be possible that any of these people actually met or worked with Hoffman. If they did, they are not being honest. They cannot demonstrate that Hoffman had the clarity to be able to establish the trust required to do deep personal work, and thus the creation of the kindly grandfatherly “intuitive” figure who had everybody’s best interest at heart.

It’s of course total hogwash, and anyone of Hoffman’s early associates or teachers would have to admit if forced to testify under oath that he was not the gentle, sympathetic or insightful man of that narrative. They might try to get away with saying that his methods were unorthodox. Maybe they would even go so far as to say something like pig-headed. I know only one who will say publicly he was a malignant narcissist.

His apologists might not fully agree with me that he was the bully and liar that I experienced, but I knew Bob Hoffman for more than 25 years. I discovered some of the lies he felt he had to tell the world in order to promote what he considered his very important work. Most significantly he lied about his relationship with Sigfried Fisher. He was Hoffman’s therapist for many years, but Hoffman called him a family friend with whom he shared convivial dinners. Hoffman also closeted an unhappy, gay life. He would tell you that, of course, the people who worked with him closely knew that he was gay, but, in my view, that hardly consititutes being open. I would also say that he was what I'd call a closeted homophobe, but that is probably too much of a leap for me as I also had to deal with his sexual and emotional abuse.

The Process currently is not psychotherapy, but it does explicitly and purposefully dig into the psychological roots of emotional conditioning. Its roots are as an alternative to traditional therapy; the first version was called The Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy. The current version of the Hoffman Process is an intense, choreographed emotional rollercoaster that promises an experience of complete freedom and unconditional love in a few days. It costs a great deal of money. It’s a hard sell. It needs endorsement to pass the therapeutic hurdle as at least vaguely within the conditions of ethical practice. One glance at the waivers you agree to when you sign up and you know you’re in dangerous territory.

I Googled Volker Kohrn of the Australian branch of the Hoffman Institute, and came across a piece called 50 YEARS LATER, BOB HOFFMAN’S DREAM LIVES ON. The claims that he, or his copywriter, use to describe the endorsement of Claudio Naranjo are not accurate. Taken individually they might seem to be just a simplification of the actual history and thus not far from the truth, but in fact they are presented as if Naranjo had a strong hand in the development of the Process, giving it a kind of psychotherapeutic imprimatur.

Here are the claims:
  • The renowned Enneagram teacher Claudio Naranjo did help Hoffman formulate his “world famous” process, but not in the ways described. In fact their relationship was far more complex and conflicted than either admitted. I have described my first hand experiences in both the first SAT version of the FHPT as well as Bob’s first group process in Tolman Hall.
  • Naranjo’s medical education and his psychiatric internship were at the University of Chile. He was a Guggenheim Fellow at Harvard for a year, a very high honor indeed and worthy of note, but it does not include matriculation and graduation from the University. I suppose you could stretch it and say “Harvard educated," but it's not accurate. Perhaps just a minor point, and “Harvard educated” sounds very impressive.
  • Naranjo did not coin the word “Quadrinity” to point to four aspects of our human nature, emphasizing the oft neglected emotional and spiritual sides. It was the incredibly talented polymath Julius Brandstatter who came up with the word. That’s a fact. But of course if you were looking for a sign of real collaboration, why not insert that Naranjo gets credit for naming rights? Who after all is Julius Brandstatter?
  • The writer claims that Naranjo also helped Hoffman formulate the 8 day Process. Wrong. Naranjo independently crafted a 3 day version of the Process for his SAT groups, and Bob realized that a shorter process would be more marketable. Claudio had no hand in formulating what is now known as the Process. Again Julius Brandstatter along with his lovely professionally trained wife Miriam were Hoffman’s main consultants. How do I know this? Hoffman himself told me when I was an observer at one of the initial 8 day processes in the Santa Cruz mountains, and Miriam herself recounted the experience in great detail when I visited her at her home in Mountain View, California during the last years of her life.
I stand by my presentation of the history of the Process. I had detailed conversations with as many people who contributed to Hoffman’s Process as I could when researching my paper, The Ontological Odd Couple. The Hoffman Institute International’s copywriter is batting four for four. I might be less critical of the Process if the current practitioners at least did their homework.

But I beg the question.

Here are the reasons that anyone should be extremely cautious. The original Process was channeled from a dead psychiatrist through a bespoke tailor from Oakland California who had absolutely no professional credentials. Undertaking this exploration outside the clear guidelines of professional therapy can be very risky. It certainly was in my case.

The Hoffman Institute needs to highlight Naranjo’s involvement as it lends credibility to their product. And to that end they’ve invented a dubious resume.

Cults rewrite history.

Caveat emptor.

Here is a link to my other writing about the Hoffman Process. Caveat: it’s definitely not promotional.

Friday, July 16, 2021

How does the past become the past? Therapy, Jesus and Zen

My Facebook Zen friend, James Kenney, asked a wonderfully provocative question: “Is forgiveness an act of will?”

Psychologists define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. 

Whether forgiveness is a will-act, whether it’s voluntary or conditional, and what happens to your state of mind, are also issues worth examining. The psychological definition says it's a choice that allows a person to forgive another for an offense or an act that was illegal or immoral. It is intentional.

When someone forgives someone, they let go of negative emotions. When a debt is forgiven, there is a release of any expectation or commitment for repayment or compensation.

Perhaps in terms of the law and psychotherapeutic practice these definitions are useful, but as a practitioner, I find they don’t go far enough. I’m going to posit forgiveness as being finished with the past in the sense that the trauma becomes a complete chapter of personal history without any holdovers in one’s present everyday life. This includes being able to handle any residual flashes of negative emotion as well as not suffering any real financial or physical consequences from the other person’s action. I’ve set the bar quite high. Forgiveness is like an act of God, but very possible for us humans too. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness.

In my response to James’s question on Facebook I made a simple statement that I was raped by Bob Hoffman within 6 months after I finished the Process of Psychic Therapy, and when a senior Hoffman teacher asked me why I hadn’t been able to “move on,” I said that I chose not to. It’s part of being compassionate. 

Then a no-doubt well-intentioned person told me that I just had to forgive Hoffman. I found the injunction extremely annoying, but I could not pin down why. I felt that my respondent had both missed the point and misconstrued my intention. However there was something more. I was told I had to forgive to live fully, but not condone the act. That I had to dispel the darkness, or something. Of course when I went back to copy the response so that I could digest it, the writer had taken it down.

I hate being told what’s in my best interest. But now that I’ve owned up to my off-the-shelf response, perhaps I can examine why I resist this blanket injunction to forgive. I’ve actually written about this in some detail, “Forgive and Forget Hoffman?” where I examine one possible underlying motivations, playing the victim card, which is what I think the senior Hoffman teacher was snidely inferring with his admonition wrongly framed as a therapeutic question: isn’t it time to move on?

Thanks for advice I didn’t request, and, actually, I get to decide when, what and if to forgive. But instead of just firing off a “Fuck off,” I’ll take it the opportunity to spell out my reasons for rejecting the self-serving advicethe teacher does make money selling Hoffman’s Process, and my well-intentioned respondent reads New Age self-help books although I am unsure if he gets a percentage.

It’s not in the past because it’s not in the past. There are limits to being able to just declare something ancient history, to forgive and forget.

I was enjoined to dispel the darkness of past events that are blatantly evil and destructive. I’m going to posit that just dismissing them and their consequences under some command to “move on” is not particularly useful or helpful simply because it’s not honest.

My friend Susan Murphy, an insightful Australian Zen teacher, responding to my question as to whether or not I was playing the victim card, pointed to the story of Jesus at Capernaum when he healed a man whose friends had to lower him through the roof of a house where Jesus was with some friends--the crowd so dense that this was the only way to get Jesus’s attention. Some version of the story appears in all three synoptic gospels.

The writers of the story clearly separate two aspects of Jesus’s healing. First off Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s the most important one: the man’s faith and that of his friends have caught the attention of Jesus, and he does what he was sent to do, forgive sins. But it is after all a teaching story, so there are objections: scribes and Pharisees, also present, at least rhetorically, ask, ‘How can you forgive? That power belongs only to God.’ And here are the words Jesus responded with in Mark’s gospel: "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? “ The man stands and picks up his mat, demonstrating Jesus’s power, but it also says, compared to forgiving sins, that was the easy part.

And, in the blink of an eye, the past becomes the past.

Why the deliberate separation of two events or perhaps two sides of the same event? Forgiveness is an act of grace and god, and then the disappearance of the physical impairment, the man’s disability becoming just part of his ancient history. The implication is that they may not always be a miracle as commonly understood, but, because Jesus is neither a charlatan nor soothsayer nor fake miracle worker, the act of forgiveness belongs to God alone. However depending on factors we cannot fully understand, there may or may not be the sought after physical, magical cure. But this nuance is left for the commentator or preacher at a later date.

And this is Susan’s observation: “When Jesus told the paralysed man who had been lowered through the roof for a miracle, ‘Pick up your bed and walk,’ effectively he was acting not in the name of supernatural power but in the name of the forgiveness he was asserting that [he] had a right to bestow, because ‘justice is mine’, (or was his, as the Lord). What I see here is that the true miracle, then, was not the performance of a nature-bending act, it was forgiveness. He veered away from performing miracles after that. They were cheapening his teaching. . . . Forgiveness is surely the actualising of love.”

I promised Zen! I quoted a Zen teacher’s reference to the Gospel of Jesus. Let me bring Zen to the Gospel.

A small band of Zen monks carry a paralized brother to meet Jesus in Capernaum, and get his blessing. Like many people here in India lining up for darshan, they’re seeking some relief for their sufferings, also a very Zen thing to do, but following their training, they don’t have too many expectations. They set the stage for a Buddhist encounter with Jesus. 

Their Zen training suddenly throws a lot of work into the scenario. They carry the man obviously a long way from a distant Eastern ashram. Then they find the materials and tools to fashion a ladder to get up to the roof. They certainly can’t steal one. After determining where Jesus was sitting, they carefully cut an opening in the ceiling, not hurting anyone in the room with falling debris. Each one of these actions is deliberate, requiring planning and effort. The work is performed as carefully and mindfully as possible. They’re monks after all. I didn’t mention that they might also have to learn Aramaic but there’s already enough to do without that so let’s throw in the magical appearance of a good interpreter.

Somehow they climb down into the presence of Jesus with the brother they’ve just lowered in a sling, and hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” They also hear the Pharisees' question: “Doesn’t forgiveness of sins belong to God?” "Good question," they say, and the dharma combat begins. The Pharisees are often the fall guys in the Gospel stories, but not our Zen monks: What is forgiveness of sins exactly? What is there to forgive? Are a misstep or an evil act the same? These monks live by the Law of dependent origination, Paticca-samuppada. Something in their brother’s past resulted in his paralysis. At least in that regard, on the surface, although Jesus does not talk about any cause for the man’s affliction, there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that it was the result of something in his past, his sins. In Zen they were taught to chant: “All my ancient twisted karma from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion, born through body, speech, and mind. I now fully avow.” 

I promised therapy. Here is an examination of the mental results of past events.

I will try to frame the conclusion of this conversation with some tested therapeutic hypotheses. I remained in negative transference for years to a man, a trusted therapist, whom I turned to for counsel at a time of personal crisis when I was very vulnerable, and he abused me sexually and emotionally.

I recognize my personal event in this Jesus story, and thank Susan for providing the match up for me to work with. Of course Hoffman’s rape paralized meI am the paralytic lowered through the roof. Hoffman’s abuse surely cut off opportunities that might have been open to me were I not in transference for so long; there were always blocks working with teachers because on some very deep level I couldn’t trust them; there was sexual dysfunction and frustration; there was alcohol and substance abuse; there were the silly issues with partners that popped upwhen I managed to find someone willing to put up with my defensiveness. I certainly would have preferred to exit the dead-ended process earlier. I can imagine the possibility of having time and energy to explore other avenues, but those daydreams didn’t happen.

And yes, I regret those lost opportunities although I’ve managed to find compassion for Bob Hoffman who was himself a closeted gay man racked by self-doubt, psychosis, and loneliness. It is not difficult to be truly forgiving and compassionate when you really comprehend the pain of another person’s life. It seems to actually spring up naturally without effort or responding to a command to move on. And, in my case it happened in its own course after I was willing to do the work of unraveling the complex story of my abuse.

But I am not ready to forgive Hoffman's actiions. They had real consequences. My greatest loss doing the process of psychic therapy was the destruction of an admittedly tenuous relationship with my father. I was in crisis when I undertook work with Hoffman, but my father did not abuse me. Hoffman didhe really abused me, but managed through his psychic therapy to blame my dad (and then forgive in his again fictional way). As a result I had almost zero relationship with my father, a wonderfully kind and good man, for most of my adult life. Hoffman even fed me a wildly speculative made-up story about my father being gay. My father lived to be almost 101 years old, and I was lucky that we shared a few very rich years of real friendship at the end of his life. I missed out on 40, but I am still very grateful. Yes, that past is fully past, but some gifts remain and can be nurtured.

Why do intelligent people believe nonsense? Because when we’re vulnerable and in pain, we need to experience compassion. Instead I had the bad luck to be an object to fulfill a charlatan’s need for sexual gratification. The real answer to the question about "moving on" is that the compassion and forgiveness had to be for myself, not Hoffman. And because I’ve opted for the Zen route, it was not like just falling through a hole in the roof or being lowered into a Blessed Presence. I traveled from afar with the help of companions. That was my good luck, and I remained angry enough at Hoffman’s abuse to get to the heart of the matter. At least for me that route could not be short circuited.

The hip coffee house New Age sage will tell you that not forgiving only hurts you. There’s no one to hurt but yourself so why not “Move On”? By contrast, in legendary Zen a deceptively ordinary lady at the tea stand doesn’t order you around but rather asks a simple, innocent sounding, straight forward question: “hey Mr. Paralytic, is that ‘not-walking-mind’ past, present or future?” A good answer might allow you to step into the radical present. The past is past because it’s past; the future might exist in hopes and dreams, perhaps sadly colored with regret; the only place to walk into is this moment.

If there was a tea stand in Capernaum, you can bet that there were no crowds like the ones surrounding Jesus. Zen is oftimes a lonely practice, but maybe a few stragglers found their way there after Jesus had performed enough miracles for one day. They would be lucky if they came armed with some good questions. But that might take some work, work that’s still to be done, like finding a real path to forgiveness.

In Zen forgiveness is an act of will if you choose the right path and refuse to settle for an easy way out. Then the Blessed Presence thing just happens. That cannot be willed.

And to the Hoffman teacher who told me to “Move on.” Thanks for the free advice, but “Fuck Off.”

P.S. When the Hoffman teacher asked why I waited until now to write a hit piece, I listed all the writing that I've been doing over almost two decades in my attempt to put the past in the past: My Hoffman Process Writings.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Don't Ask, Don't Tell—A Jesuit Strategy

Originally posted January 6th, 2008; revised July 12th, 2021

A Catholic friend who is also gay asked me how I felt about pedophile Jesuits having their despicable histories show up in the news, and the courts.

After cleaning up the common confusion between pedophilia and homosexuality—it’s impertive to keep them separate even when they overlap as in the clergy scandal—I began reflecting on my own history, other gay men I knew in religious life, my experience living with my vows as a Jesuit, and my decision to leave.

I recalled two conversations I had with Avery Dulles. Avery was my friend, mentor and spiritual director. He knew my life; he’d met my parents and my friends; he tolerated my leftwing political views. His questions about my interests, my reading habits, even the issues I had working with certain professors were always insightful and never judgemental. He also knew about my struggle with my sexuality. His advice in each and every case if I asked for it, and sometimes when I didn’t, was clear and even-handed. He never let me down. I really mean never.

One afternoon in the Spring of 1973, Avery and I were walking together up Riverside Drive towards 120th and the classrooms Woodstock used at Union Theological. He asked me about a panel I was organizing about a Christian response to the Stonewall Riots in '69, only 4 years earlier. I’ve lost the particulars of the conversation, but what remains clear about that bright afternoon—he was not hesitant to link my personal struggle with Stonewall, and he let me know that if I wanted to live a productive and fulfilling life as a Jesuit and a gay man, it was entirely possible, and I could count on his support. But that to make it work, I would have to live as a fully committed Jesuit, including celibacy. My memory is of a man so human, so compassionate, and a true friend. He was also the only faculty to attend the panel discussion I organized.

After I'd left the Jesuits, we still maintained our friendship. Our last visit was in 2001, just when Pope John Paul made him a Cardinal. Driving him back to his room at Santa Clara University after a dinner organized by a mutual friend, I asked what he thought about the erupting sexual scandals that were beginning to rock the very foundations of the church.

He said that his first response was profound embarrassment—men with whom we both shared the ideals of Ignatius took advantage of their position as priests to prey on teenage boys and young adults. But then he hesitated. He said that the word embarrassed is not exactly right—he said “profoundly disappointed” might be closer. He was embarrassed for the institutional church he loved and supported, but, like me, was personally disappointed in the men with whom he thought he shared some altruistic spirit. In retrospect I think that ``disappointed” was still a euphemism. He felt betrayed.

I too have experienced the power of the Spiritual Exercises, and felt the enthusiasm and vision of Ignatius who was a religious genius. I was naive enough to believe that every priest, every Jesuit, would not sexually abuse another human, and I also believed that I had enough experience with human nature to recognize the shadowy demons that most every human has. What I learned was that not every priest is an idealist, and my experience of human nature was limited.

I felt I shared that deep feeling with so many Jesuits I admired, Arrupe, Berrigan, Chardin, Colombiere, Drinan, Faber, Nobili, Ricci, la Salle, to name just a few famous ones, but many others, ordinary men who lead prayerful, inspired lives for a few years or a lifetime, Charlie, Joe, Thom, Joep, Kaiser, TJC, Morgan, Neal, Bob, Jan, Freddie, Ray and many more. These men were and continue to be interested in dedicating their lives to help others. They are still my heroes.

But my friend’s question was not theoretical. Two Jesuits who were in the novitiate with me were credibly accused of molesting young men in their care. A man who was at one time a close friend took advantage of his position as a military chaplin to have sex with enlisted men and went to prison. Later when I was working at an AIDS-related non-profit, I knew another priest who was dismissed for having consentual sex with a young man just months before his 18th birthday.

My reaction was tremendous sorrow for those who placed their trust in a person they thought close to the teachings of Jesus, a conduit for God’s mercy and forgiveness, but were manipulated. This is not how the universe is supposed to work. This cannot be the world that Jesus has saved, or the Mystical Body that believers hold up as a beacon to the world. 

There was still some piece of the puzzle missing. I could hardly believe that the pathology of peodphile priests wasn't checked. Was a bishop or religious superior not being responsible? The evidence seems to point in that direction.

I noticed that the institutional response in every diocese and religious order across the United States was always the same: stonewall all investigations and never admit guilt. There were of course plenty of apologies, especially from those whose behavior was the most egregious, Law and Mahony. As one commentator said, profound apologies are not an admission of wrongdoing. Airlines routinely issue profound apologies to families of those killed in a crash caused by mechanical failure or an "act of God," as the insurance companies’ liability claims quaintly phrase it. The game seemed to be protecting the assets and “good name” of the institution which precludes any admission of guilt. “Our lawyers will not allow us to comment any further. Thank you. Next question?”

The institutional response did not address anyone’s real concerns. When asked why he did not tell parishioners the reason he removed a priest who was arrested having sex with teenage boys in the back of a car, a Jesuit Provincial said: "Why should they [need to know]? This is an Internet cruising thing. This is anonymous sex. This doesn't involve people at the parish. It wasn't a priest thing. He wasn't dressed in a collar." No, he actually was in drag with lipstick and blush. Apparently the private life and professional conduct of a priest were now separate and distinct, something I had never learned in the 11 years that I trained to be a Jesuit. People under pressure say and do stupid things.

I never had any inappropriate contact with a minor during the time I was a Jesuit. It was simply unthinkable, even in a time when the freedoms felt after John XXIII’s aggiornamento were leading to all kinds of experimentation. It was unthinkable, and yet it happened.

I took my friend’s question as an opportunity to look again into the situation more deeply, and this time include an examination of my own responsibility as a gay man with a vow of celibacy, to see if I could find in myself something beyond embarrassment, disappointment, blame, or, yes, even relief.

My last years in the Jesuits were very difficult and painful for me. I wanted to be a Jesuit, but I found celibate life extremely difficult, and I intended to honor my solemn promises if I remained in the Society. I was in therapy dealing with my own self-sabotage, self-loathing, and unconscious homophobia—parts of myself that lagged behind my intellectual acceptance, but there was never any real doubt in my mind that being gay was totally OK, healthy and a perfectly acceptable way of living in the world.

It is an open secret that there are thousands of gay men throughout the Roman clergy, members of religious orders, and even the hierarchy. It is also no secret that the official position of the magisterium is that homosexuality is “disordered.” And the solution to this contradiction for most gay priests, even if they have never broken their vow of celibacy—Secrecy! You might talk about it with your partners, if you have any, perhaps your superiors, perhaps your confessor, but never go public. Or as I say in the header for this post: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That is the first commandment.

Never having been circumspect about my own opinions or process, I was very open within the Jesuit community when I was coming out. I broke the first commandment.

Perhaps John McNeill had the same experience. If he had not come out openly "as a Jesuit priest, as a moral theologian, as a psychotherapist, as a person who is himself gay, and as a human being," he might have able to maintain his comfortable psychotherapy practice on the Upper West Side. I cannot answer that question for John, and I do not know if he would agree. But this I do know, if I had not come out fully as a gay man, I would have missed out on being able to know and express some of the deepest emotions that a human being can feel. For me there never really was any choice, but that non-choice, for some very difficult reasons, was the hardest choice of my life.

Most gay priests do not have that opportunity. They are forced to obey a pact of complete silence, and the cult of secrecy starts right at the top.