Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for August, 2013

My Offender Is Still a Real Person

Today I visited the city where my offending pastor works. Our family is traveling in the area and my husband had a business meeting in the city, so I tagged along and met a dear friend for lunch. My friendship with “Victor” began six years ago at the church where my abuse took place. Victor endured a different kind of betrayal: he felt a strong call to ordained ministry, but our pastor refused to consider him. Victor is transgender, and that put him outside the pastor’s comfort zone. Devastated, Victor left the church and moved back to the city where I met him today. His old friends were thrilled to see him again, and his new pastor embraced and supported his call to ministry. The church paid his way through seminary. By the end of this year, God willing, Victor will be ordained an Episcopal deacon. I could not be more pleased and proud.

Victor lives a full day’s drive from my home, so I only see him once a year. Every time we get together, I see so much evidence of growth and healing. Every year, Victor lives more fully into his vision of God’s call, and he sees the same progress in me. When we meet, we talk about our families and our work — his service to the church and the poor, my work on this issue. We try to focus on how God is working in our lives now, and not on the bad stuff that happened then. But since we both suffered at the hands of the same church and pastor, inevitably we spend time revisiting those events.

Victor confirmed my belief: my complaint profoundly affected my pastor’s career. On the day I filed my complaint, “Pastor Kevin” had been a finalist for one of the most prestigious posts in our denomination. My complaint forced him to withdraw his candidacy. Two years later, he settled for a place leading a mid-sized urban parish — a respectable job, but a definite step down from the prominence he had enjoyed in our hometown. Still, when I learned of his new job, I felt betrayed anew. Why would any church call a pastor with a recent record of sexual misconduct, unless he or the bishop had concealed or minimized the offense? Worse, he would now have access to a fresh crop of vulnerable women. So I did the only thing left in my power: I wrote to his new bishop and vestry, his search committee, and the other clergy in his new parish. I told them of his record, identified myself as the complainant, and said, “Your new pastor may have repented and reformed. But if he is still a risk, your awareness will create a safer environment.” After that, I had to let it go. I wasn’t completely at peace, but I had done all I could.

Since Victor and my offender now work in the same city, I figured they must have crossed paths. But when we met, Victor told me, “I never see him.” Relieved, I started talking about the work I’m doing now. We were sitting in the garden courtyard at Victor’s church. “Kevin’s actions changed the course of my life,” I said to Victor as I gestured toward a patch of dirt covered in dead leaves. “But in the work I’m doing now, he is no more important than one of those leaves.” And it’s true. His actions got me started in this work, but the church’s systematic indifference is what motivates me now. In my work, this man is utterly peripheral. In fact, I make it a point to know as little as possible about his current life. I try to think of him as a long-dead historical figure, or as a character in a novel.

But as Victor and I were parting today, he confessed he actually had seen Kevin a couple of times. He said Kevin no longer looks or acts like a rising star, and he said enough to give me a vivid image of the man Kevin has become since I left his church. This was unsettling. I hadn’t wanted to know anything about his life. Now it’s harder for me to dismiss him as a work of fiction: I can picture the current Kevin (older, heavier, sadder) in my mind. In a way I wish I hadn’t heard Victor’s words, because I don’t want to think of my offender at all. And yet in another sense my mind is more at ease. It’s harder to imagine him seducing a vulnerable parishioner. I have more confidence that I really have made the church safer.

Healing from trauma is hard. Denying Pastor Kevin’s existence may not have been healthy, but it was better than the obsessive, vengeful thoughts I had harbored for years. But now I need to take the next step: I need to acknowledge that this man still lives, works, feels, plays, and perhaps even grows in wisdom and grace. I don’t want to know him or connect with him in any way, but I am strong enough to release him from the prison of faux-nonexistence in my mind. And for the sake of his congregation, I’m strong enough to pray for his healing.

The Survivor’s Bookshelf

It was a book that opened my eyes to what my pastor was doing. On a three-day spiritual retreat five years ago, I was too agitated to sleep. I wrapped myself in my robe, stepped into the monastery hallway, and looked on the shelves for something to read. And there it was: Sex in the Forbidden Zone. I stayed up all night reading it and took eight pages of notes. By morning, I knew — and it still took almost two years for me to file a complaint. During those two years, and in the years since, I’ve done a lot of reading. Here are the books that have helped.

Books about clergy/congregant relationships:

Sex in the Forbidden Zone: When Men in Power — Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers, and Others — Betray Women’s Trust by Peter Rutter. Extraordinarily clear and helpful. Helped me understand why a genuine relationship with my abuser was categorically impossible. This book is out-of-print (as are many on this list), but you can get it cheap used. Or email me and I’ll send you my spare copy.

At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships by Marilyn Peterson. Peterson thoughtfully explores boundary violations from small to large, and shows that even the small ones can create a harmful breach of trust.

Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do by Scott Edelstein. Lively, witty discussion of this serious issue. Edelstein focuses on the Buddhist teacher/student model, and at times he seems to discount “mere” clergy/congregant abuse as something lesser. But as most survivors know, most abuse begins in a pastoral counseling setting, where intimacy and vulnerability are essential. I found this book excellent and affirming.

When Pastors Prey: Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women, edited by Valli Boobal Batchelor. Published in April 2013, this book gathers essays from familiar U.S. leaders like Jimmy Carter, Diana Garland, Marie Fortune, Martin Weber, Pamela Cooper-White, and Samantha Nelson, along with an astounding collection of voices of survivors and advocates from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Australia. Clergy sexual abuse is a worldwide problem, and this book brings leaders together for a worldwide response.

Books about the experience of victims and survivors:

Is Nothing Sacred? The Story of a Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed by Marie Fortune. One of the earliest titles on this topic, this book is still the classic. Marie Fortune (through the FaithTrust Institute) is still working hard to make churches safer. Also recommended: Fortune’s Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited.

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman. The first two pages are worth the price of the book. “When traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.” Thankfully, this online excerpt helps us understand why the perpetrator always wins, even if we can’t afford to buy the book.

What About Her? A True Story of Clergy Abuse Survival by Beth van Dyke. Author Jan Tuin originally wrote under a pseudonym, but later felt called to work openly under her real name. Jan founded Tamar’s Voice, named for King Solomon’s daughter Tamar who was raped by a half-brother (2 Samuel 13) and then silenced (verse 20) by her family. Jan gave me invaluable support as I came to terms with my experience and pondered whether to report my pastor.

Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections, by Marie Fortune and Joretta Marshall. Expensive even on Kindle ($40!), this book is worth going without Starbucks for a month. Of all the issues surrounding clergy sexual abuse, forgiveness is one of the most complicated and painful. This book explores Christian and Jewish understandings of forgiveness, and offers several paths toward greater peace.

The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes. The author explains why clergy sexual abuse victims bond so intensely with our abusers.

Fighting the Good Fight: Healing and Advocacy after Clergy Sexual Assault by Carolyn Waterstradt. This book introduces terminology (“virgin, laborer, midwife”) that sheds new light on the process of healing. As spiritual virgins, our naiveté made us vulnerable to abuse. Afterward, we labor and give birth to our new selves. Some (the midwives) find healing by supporting other victims along the same path.

Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction by Susan Cheever. A frank look at the author’s own sexual addiction. This book helped me understand what might have motivated my pastor.

Hiding Behind the Collar by Catherine Britton Fairbanks. A raw, candid memoir of the author’s experience of emotional and spiritual abuse by an Episcopal priest, and the betrayal by the church hierarchy afterward. See a full review here.

Books about the church’s response (silencing, ostracism, denial)

Responding to Clergy Misconduct: A Handbook by the Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune et al, published by the FaithTrust Institute. An effective response to clergy sexual abuse will help the victim heal, help the congregation deal with the pastor’s betrayal, prevent abuse by holding offenders accountable, and protect the church’s resources. This book is an invaluable resource for judicatory leaders and church leaders, and it’s also great for survivors. It helped me understand exactly how my church added to my trauma in their response to my complaint. Clarity can be painful, but it ultimately moves us toward greater healing.

How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct by Dee Ann Miller. Miller focuses on the actions of her church when she reported an abusive missionary pastor. Her church took extraordinary measures to avoid dealing with the sexual predator in their midst. Miller and her husband were silenced and ostracized, an experience at least as traumatic as the abuse itself. Unfortunately, this pattern seems to be the norm. Most victims are silenced by our churches. As survivors, we find our voices.

Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power by C. Fred Alford. Remember all the movies about whistleblowers acclaimed as heroes? Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae, Silkwood… well, maybe not Silkwood. She died in a mysterious car crash while trying to expose inadequate safety measures at a nuclear plant. Silkwood illustrates Fred Alford’s point: most whistleblowers pay for truth with ruined lives. It’s not a cheerful book, but it helped me understand I wasn’t crazy, or alone.

The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors by Nicholas DiFonzo. Understanding the mechanism of shunning didn’t make it any less painful, but it made it easier to forgive, and to reach peace.

Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems: Scapegoating, Family Secrets, and the Abuse of Power by Candace Benyei. I found this book challenging, but I confess I’m mostly ignorant about “family systems.” My bishop had used those words to justify ordering me not to contact leaders at my church, while allowing my abusive pastor to stay on the job and in the pulpit, so I thought I ought to do my homework. Now I think someone else should have done his.

Books to help the congregation:

Restoring the Soul of a Church: Healing Congregations Wounded by Clergy Sexual Misconduct edited by Nancy Hopkins and Mark Laaser. I found this book too painful to read at first; I had bought it thinking I could help my former church heal, and it turned out they didn’t want my help, or even want to heal. By the time I opened it a year later, I was ready to learn what clergy sexual misconduct does to a congregation, and how to make it whole again.

Shared Wisdom: Use of the Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling by Pamela Cooper-White. This book helped me distinguish between pastoral care (the minister’s normal response to emergencies in congregants’ lives) and pastoral counseling (ongoing therapeutic support). It is never a good idea for a pastor to offer counseling to his or her congregants. In fact, it’s a big red flag.

Resources on sexual harassment in the religious workplace:

Sexual Misconduct in the Church: Understanding how often it happens, why it happens, and what to do when it does. This 2008 collection is of limited value to survivors of pastoral sexual misconduct: the articles are brief, dated, and somewhat superficial. But it is a good resource for survivors of sexual harassment in a religious workplace. Female clergy who have experienced sexual harassment may also want to download the article Silent Sufferers, published by the Baylor University School of Social Work.

Thanks to blog readers for these great additions:

Understanding Misconduct Among Spiritual Leaders by The Hope of Survivors. This booklet provides an overview of pastoral sexual misconduct for victims and their spouses, youth, pastors and their spouses, church leaders, and congregants. This great resource is available in printed or PDF format.

When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct, edited by Beth Ann Gaede. Thirty well-organized essays by contributors including Candace Benyei (author of Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems) and Nancy Myer Hopkins (co-editor of Restoring the Soul of a Church.)

Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct by Stanley J. Grenz and Roy D. Bell. This book helps churches respond sensitively to victims, and helps to prevent abuse through intelligent policies and procedures. At-risk clergy will find guidlines for establishing appropriate boundaries. The second edition includes a risk-determination questionnaire for pastors who may become abusers.

There it is, friends: the Survivor’s Bookshelf. Now, get thee to a library!

To the Good Shepherds

Let’s say you are a pastor, priest, or minister and you start noticing a new couple on Sundays. They always sit near the back door, and they slip away before you or anyone else can greet them. After a few months, they stay around long enough tell you their story. Now you know why they are so skittish: their previous pastor betrayed their trust to meet his sexual needs.

Here are five things you can do to gain their trust and restore their faith:

  1. Listen with compassion and respect, and believe what they are telling you.
  2. Acknowledge the courage it takes for the victim to confide in you, or to even be in church at all.
  3. Provide a safe environment if the victim asks to meet with you. The presence of another person (the victim’s spouse, yours, or both) can be helpful. If you must close your office door, make sure the room is clearly visible through a window. If you must meet with the victim alone, use the business seating in your office (e.g., chairs on either side of a table or desk) and not your “pastoral” sofa or chairs. Most adult clergy sexual abuse begins in a pastoral counseling setting.
  4. Acknowledge the gaps in your understanding. If you have never spoken with a victim or survivor of clergy sexual abuse, acknowledge that you don’t fully understand the experience. Commit to educate yourself, and follow up on that promise! Read the clergy materials at The Hope of Survivors and FaithTrust Institute.
  5. Make sure they have the support they need to heal. Let them know about the help offered by The Hope of Survivors. Introduce them to people in the church whom you trust (introduce female congregants to women; male congregants to men). Those friendships are vital to spiritual and emotional healing.

Now let’s imagine a harder situation. What if the abuser were one of your friends? My new pastor faced this situation when I joined his church. He and my former pastor had worked together for years on local ministry and advocacy efforts. Fortunately, I had been a leader in one of these efforts. My new pastor already knew and respected me even before I walked into his church, but I don’t think that made it any easier. He still had to accept the painful reality that a beloved friend and colleague was not the man he thought.

Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ray Hartwell faced an even harder situation. Not only was his new congregant’s abuser a friend of long-standing, but the congregant herself was a total stranger. How tempted Pastor Hartwell must have been to stand by his friend! Thank God, he stood up for justice and compassion instead. You can read Ray Hartwell’s moving account here.

As we move into the final two weeks of Clergy Abuse Awareness Month, I want to thank the good pastors in my life. You have guided, supported, and prayed for me as I have healed from a profound spiritual crisis. Perhaps you have even paid a price because you didn’t turn away. You, my friends, are the Good Shepherds, and you have helped this lost sheep find her way back home.

Erik’s Story

Thank God for survivors like Erik Campano, who had the foresight to organize hundreds of pieces of evidence supporting his complaint against a priest and her bishop. After talking with Erik and reviewing his account, I shared his story this afternoon with a few respected journalists. Here’s what I told them:

At the American Church in Paris, new Episcopalian Erik Campano survived a classic case of clergy sexual misconduct. He joined the church, caught the attention of an Episcopal priest-in-training, initially resisted her advances, gradually succumbed, and eventually agreed to a sexual relationship that he had to conceal from his friends at the church. Although he was flattered, Erik was also confused and fearful about being sexually involved with his minister.

Ginger Strickland’s bishop, Pierre Whalon, clearly considered her a protégée. As a candidate for bishop, he had asked Strickland to give his nomination speech. Unfortunately, Whalon placed the newly minted Yale M.Div. in a non-denominational church that had no sexual misconduct policy. When Strickland asked her supervising pastor (not an Episcopalian) if she could date a congregant, she got a green light. Against Episcopal Church protocols and against her seminary training, she went ahead.

And yet it was never a real relationship. Even before she was ordained, Mother Strickland’s power as Erik’s minister made it hard for him to say no, and therefore impossible for him to give meaningful consent. The stress led to serious health problems. Finally, Erik broke off the relationship and reported Strickland for misconduct, but to a bishop who was heavily invested in her success. Bishop Whalon took extraordinary measures to protect Strickland’s career. He misrepresented to Erik which office had jurisdiction to hear the case, he delayed forwarding Erik’s complaint to an Intake Officer for months, he ordained Strickland to the priesthood despite this serious unresolved disciplinary matter, he published in the New York Post his intention to discredit Erik’s story (and may have actually done so through attorney John Walsh), he failed to meet with Erik even once to hear his complaint, and he defamed Erik’s character in his October 2012 report to the Convocation of the Episcopal Churches in Europe.

It is this final action that I address in my letter to Bishop Katharine.

In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman eloquently describes what the Episcopal Church may be doing to Erik Campano. “Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense,” writes Herman. “If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”

A powerful institutional church seems to be working hard to silence its victims. And who are the church’s victims? With the Episcopal Church we have worshipped, served, and shared not only our spiritual hopes and fears but also our financial resources. We are, in fact, the church itself. Now we are silenced by the very power we helped to create.

Dear Bishop Katharine

To the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Dear Bishop Katharine,

I had the honor of meeting you at a donors’ dinner when you visited the Diocese of San Diego in 2008. I had organized that event, and I was the sacristan for the clergy eucharist the next morning. You graciously acknowledged how effectively I was working for the church.

I am writing today with a concern about Bishop Pierre Whalon. In the bishop’s October 18, 2012 report to the Episcopal Churches in Europe, he characterized a New York Post article that he said was based on Erik Campano’s statement as “libelous.” Against the unified opinion of the FaithTrust Institute, the Hope of Survivors, and the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, Whalon called Erik’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Mother Ginger Strickland “completely baseless.” In effect, and without grounds, he accused Erik of lying both to the church and the Post. 

Indeed, the Post did print a clarification (Bishop Whalon mistakenly termed it a retraction) after conferring with attorneys for the church. But the statement doesn’t refute Erik’s claims; instead it addresses a meaningless technicality. Does it really matter whether Mother Strickland had yet been ordained when she sought sexual gratification with Erik? As a candidate for ordination, she was already subject to the church’s sexual misconduct policy. She had received training specifically forbidding her to date a person under her care. (“Don’t do the pew,” as she expressed it to Erik.) And even before she became a deacon, Ginger Strickland was by no means an ordinary layperson. She was in charge of the youth ministry, she recruited Erik as a volunteer, and the congregation knew that she was on the path to ordination.

By way of analogy: if my accounting firm made an error on my taxes, do you think they could avoid responsibility by claiming that the accountant hadn’t yet earned her CPA? Absolutely not. Neither should the Episcopal Church duck out of responsibility to Erik Campano, or allow their bishops to smear Erik’s character publicly and in writing to the entire Episcopal Church in Europe.

In a spirit of full disclosure: I have also endured clergy sexual misconduct in the Episcopal Church. Like Erik, I was also harmed by the church’s response. As an Episcopalian, I pledged generously (my total donations far exceeded my Church Insurance settlement), and I was a leader on the bishop’s Diocesan Council. Since that time, I have co-led a successful $1 million capital campaign for a congregation in the United Church of Christ. I share these facts not to boast, but to let you know that when Title IV fails, Episcopalians may redirect their resources outside the church. The loss to the church can be material. But always, regardless of money, the loss grieves the heart of God.

The Episcopal Church is not the only place where this harmful behavior occurs. In my blog SurvivorsAwakenTheChurch.com, I address the issue broadly. But the Episcopal Church is your flock, Bishop Katharine. You can’t change all churches, but you can make your church safer for the “little ones.” I hope you will ask Bishop Whalon to retract, publicly and in writing, his character-defaming words against Erik Campano, and I hope you will lead a reform of the whole system. The new Title IV offers strong protection to complainants. If bishops would consistently follow the canon and protect the vulnerable, people like me might still be in your church.

Yours in the struggle toward truth, justice, and healing,

Catherine Thiemann

Recognizing the Red Flags

Nine years ago I went through what the mystics call “the dark night of the soul.” I’d been receiving spiritual direction from my associate pastor, “Eileen,” so I told her I was going to leave the church. She asked me to tell “Kevin,” our senior pastor. I took the email I had sent to Eileen and forwarded it to Pastor Kevin. At that point, he and I had exchanged friendly banter getting ready for  worship services, but we’d never had even one real conversation. I knew he would be disappointed to lose a parishioner. What I didn’t expect was a near-declaration of love.

His first email included these words: “I’m going to try to be a big boy about this but can’t make any promises.”

His second email said this: “I was very concerned about (actually quite troubled by) the possibility of you not being here on Sundays – I thought about it deeply and frequently for a couple of days.  Your impact in my life and ministry is far greater than you know.”

His third email made this astonishing statement: “Your decision impacted me so deeply (grief is not too strong a word) because you, more than anyone else I can think of or name, are my archetypal ‘perfect parishioner’ – really smart, doubting but willing to search, … looking for your ministry niche but unwilling to serve simply for the sake of duty, … tough-minded/soft-hearted, able to ponder metaphor and see the possibility of holiness in all of life.”

By the time I received his second email, I was already reconsidering my decision. The third email clinched it. At a time when I felt useless and worthless, my pastor saw something special in me, so special that he actually grieved the thought of my leaving. Still, his words took me aback. Why would a virtual stranger tell me I was “the perfect parishioner”? Shouldn’t that have been a red flag?

Yes, it should. It certainly was to my husband. When he read my pastor’s emails, he asked incredulously, “Is he in love with you?”

My gut told me, “He might be.” But my mind said, “Impossible!”

How I wish I had known where to look for help! FaithTrust Institute would have told me how to know when my boundaries had been crossed. The experts at The Hope of Survivors would have told me more warning signs to watch for

Even without these resources, if I had just listened to my feelings, I would have left the church that day and avoided years of suffering. But I don’t want to focus on pain. God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), so let me conclude with words of thanks. I’m grateful that my experience brought me to the church where I have healed and grown. I’m grateful for the strength and wisdom I have gained. Most of all, I’m grateful to be one of the community of survivors working for a safer church.

Easy Prey

The first summer at my new church, “Ray” filled in as guest preacher during our pastor’s vacation. Because of PTSD, I was still hyper-alert to any possible danger. I had chosen a church with a gay pastor for this reason. So when straight, married Ray stepped into the pulpit, I vowed to keep my distance. But how could Ray know this? He approached me after the service to say hello, and his friendly, respectful greeting triggered a state of near-panic. It was days before I could even talk about it to my therapist.

Now we learn that Mayor Bob Filner apparently sought an invitation to a meeting of the National Women’s Veterans Association of America (NWVAA) in San Diego, most of whose members are military sexual assault survivors. At that meeting, or perhaps at several meetings, he groped or made verbal advances to at least eight women. According to a CNN report, NWVAA president Tara Jones said, “He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks, the full gamut.”

What I survived was nothing like rape, and I was thrown off-balance by a simple friendly greeting. Bob Filner knew these women had survived sexual assault by men in power, and he — a man with immense power — forced much more than a friendly greeting on them. He left a voicemail for three-time military rape survivor Eldonna Fernandez, telling her he was in love with her and asking her to dinner. He asked Army veteran Gerri Tindley to talk about her rape, rubbing her back and moving so close to her that she “nearly fell off the couch” trying to avoid him. If an innocent greeting could retraumatize me, what did Filner’s groping and sexual language do to these women?

Bob Filner built his political career partly on his service to military veterans. He surely knows the statistics on sexual assault in the military. He must know that victims of sexual assault can lose their ability to resist unwanted advances. (Survivor “Louise” explains why revictimization happens.) Did Filner advantage of this knowledge to meet his own needs, without regard for how it would harm these brave women?

The good news: NWVAA has rescinded the lifetime achievement award they were to have given to Mayor Filner, and has disinvited him as keynote speaker for their August gathering. Exposed and publicly rebuked, he is unlikely to cause further harm to these women.

The other good news: Guest preacher Ray and his wife have become trusted friends and colleagues. If Ray noticed my earlier distress, he responded with pastoral grace. For that, I am thankful.

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