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Friday, April 15, 2011

Germantown Cricket Club; Bradley Manning, and Clergy Sex Abuse: ICON Magazine column, April 2011

In the somewhat rundown landscape of Northwest Philadelphia, the Germantown Cricket Club has seen it all.

Founded in 1854 by a group of ardent cricket players, the Club was designed by architects McKim, Mead & White in 1879. The date is important because some critics consider the firm’s work from 1879 to 1887 to be superior to the design of the firm’s later buildings which copied post 16th Century Italian Renaissance styles and which quickly became the firm’s signature style (Boston’s Trinity church and the Public Library are two fine examples of this). MMK, in fact, produced so many “Renaissance” buildings in Manhattan that architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright found it hard to hide their contempt. Wright, for instance, once remarked that the firm’s post 1887 work was “No more beneficial to humanity than the bubonic plague.”

The Germantown Cricket Club follows MMW’s “shingle style” design used in the construction of a number of seashore homes, casinos and villas, such as the Newport Casino Tennis Club in Rhode Island.

In its heyday, MMW boasted so many wealthy clients that some wondered how other architects ever got a chance to earn a living.

The Club’s Manheim building, with its Grand Ballroom, spacious outdoor dining area and manicured lawn, all of it evoking the atmospheric qualities of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Taking a tour of the place recently with (the Lou Kahn-trained) Germantown architect Robert Crouh, made me wonder how this imposing structure-- which was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1987-- managed to survive Germantown’s long devolution.

Germantown in the late 1800s was a moneyed place when visitors entered via a rose garden (where today there’s a parking lot). By 1891, when 7,000 or more spectators converged at the Club to watch the Philadelphia Cricket team beat England’s Lord Hawke’s boys, the Club had become world famous. Exponential growth required the addition of an athletic wing (with lockers, squash courts and an indoor pool and lounge) in 1903-4, also designed by MMW.

The manicured lawn behind the Manheim building, though covered with snow the day of our visit, cannot be walked on without special shoes. It’s easy to imagine a large hated, white-gowned Vanessa Redgrave “floating” over this space in some 19th century epic.

“Cricket is not a sport one associates with Philadelphia. Before the Civil Wart it was really immigrants who played cricket. Prominent Philadelphians didn’t want their kids playing cricket with kids who didn’t speak English,” Couch told me. “After the Civil War it became a sport that the people on the Gilded Age side of things didn’t feel that bad about playing.”

The Ladies clubhouse was torn down in the 1950s when women were incorporated into the Club while the cricket stadium, which held a pool and underground bowling alley, was demolished 45 years earlier.

From the beginning, Couch says, membership was far more open “than you’d expect a Philly club to be…there were Jewish and Spanish members long before such things were common.”

When the Big Bill Tilden sex scandal hit the 1940s, and the star was given a prison sentence, Couch says the Club archives were “purged of anything related to him. “The only time you found something was when you went into the ladies scrapbook and you found a little invitation to a celebrity dinner because Bill Tilden had arrived back on the boat after winning Wimbledon.”

It was Couch, in fact, who “redesigned” Tilden’s legacy when he replaced the picture of Tilden in the Club’s hallway that was removed decades again. “Everything you see in here with Bill Tilden’s name on it, I bought on e-bay,” he said.

As for Big Bill Tilden, he was arrested on Sunset Blvd. in 1946 for having sex with a male teenage prostitute (underage). Not more than a year later he was slapped with a morals charge for propositioning a 16-year old male hitchhiker. Before these scandals he was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the century by American sportswriters. He died at age 60, alone and in squalor.


Support for PFC military intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, thrown into solitary confinement at the Quantico Marine Brig last May for allegedly releasing a classified video that depict U.S. troops murdering civilians in Iraq, has increased in recent months. For almost a year now the 23-year old soldier has been in solitary confinement, deprived of sunlight, exercise and human contact despite the fact that he has not yet been formally indicted. The situation has even aroused the concern of military psychologists who worry that the torture may create long term psychological injuries. According to Glenn Greenwood of, the young soldier isn’t even allowed to sleep at night but is awakened by guards around the clock, presumably for his own protection.

Bradley’s “crime,” the release of a video showing soldiers from Bronco Company 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment, shooting civilians from an Apache helicopter in Iraq in which 12 people were killed and two children injured, has garnered worldwide attention. The video, which was released to Wikileaks, has been compared to Daniel Ellsberg’s October 1969 7,000 page Vietnam War secrets document Ellsberg smuggled out of his office and then published as The Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg, who just barely escaped a fate similar to Bradley’s, is now considered an American hero by most. The Pentagon Papers helped not only to end the Vietnam War but to terminate the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Recently 22 additional charges were brought against Bradley by the military, almost assuring further abuse by the young hero’s jailers. The additional charges, as reported by The Times, include ambiguous categories like “Aiding the enemy,” and a recasting of old charges but in a different form.

Some contend that because PFC Bradley is seen wearing a rainbow wristband in an early Facebook photo, that he’s being persecuted because he’s gay. Those who side with the government’s treatment of Bradley insist that the treatment has nothing to do with his sexuality but that the fact that he “betrayed America.”

“If this young soldier had not leaked the video, we would have no evidence of what was clearly a serious abuse on the part of the U.S. military,” stated Reporters Without Borders.


Recently I visited the basement chapel of St. John the Evangelist parish in Philadelphia. The time was late afternoon, when the Capuchin-Franciscan monks have a Latin Benediction service. Usually there are many people in the chapel at this time but I found that I was only one of three people in the pews.
So where were the people?

Call it coincidence, but only days before Philadelphia DA Seth Williams and a grand jury charged 2 priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher with molesting young boys. It was the first time in the United States that a high ranking Church official had been charged with failing to protect children from abusive priests.

Fire was added to the scandal when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended 21 priests from active ministry because of accusations involving inappropriate behavior with minors. This caused the blogosphere and message boards throughout the city to explode. Many left messages boasting that they were former Catholics because of the scandals. Others encouraged Catholics to quit the Church or eliminate financial support.

While priests who abuse children should be prosecuted, people who use the scandal to enflame anti-Catholic bias are out of bounds.

Catholics who choose to renounce their faith because of the scandals have every right to do so, but I would then ask them: Where are you going to go? If that answer is “To some Protestant denomination,” I’d remind them that an AP report in 2008 stated that sexual abuse among Protestant clergy may be higher than among Catholic clergy.
The 2008 report, published by, states that Protestant abuse statistics “are harder to come by because the hundreds of denominations are less centralized than the Catholic Church.”

Similarly, should an ex-Catholic hope to find refuge in [a sex abuse free] Orthodox Church, he or she would be sadly mistaken. The problem of sexual abuse has no denominational boundaries. Several years ago, the Hellenic Communication Service stated that not only has the Orthodox Church been affected by such scandals, but “in America, individuals have already contacted the archdiocese asking for monetary compensation in [the] millions of dollars.”

In many ways the world of religion has a tendency to attract people who are maladjusted sexually. This is not to disparage Protestant or Catholic religious life, although it does point to the necessity of finding a better way within "religion" to keep potential predators out. It's also true that while religion and sex are close cousins -- how often has sexual passion been described as something linked to the religious experience?--in the western world the dualism between the two continues to be the source of many problems.

Within Catholicism, for instance, seminaries did not have pre-admission psychological testing until 2008. Prior to this, Catholic boys were urged to enter the seminary directly from high school, having no idea who they "were" as sexual beings.
Today, the average age of the Catholic seminarian is older, somewhere in the late 20s or early 30s, so there's plenty of time for him to sample the pleasures of life, or at least figure out who he "is," before considering celibacy.

The clergy sex abuse crises in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean that there’s something inherent in Catholicism—a bug in the holy water? -- that changes priests into pedophiles or ephebophiles. Unfortunately, anything less than an outright condemnation of Catholicism these days is seen as being soft on abusers.

I experienced a little of this leaving St. John’s when a passerby gave me a disapproving look, as if just entering a Catholic Church in some way made me a sinister co-conspirator.

“What boy have you abused?” the glare seemed to say.

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