Christopher West, Jason Evert, and conversion therapy

Almost one-quarter of the homosexuality “research” shared by the Chastity Project is by conversion therapists or sexual predators.

I’ve been putting together research on how Christopher West and Jason Evert have relied on and promoted SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts, including conversion therapy) and ex-gay narratives through their work. I recently went to the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame and pulled all their books available off of the shelves. Every book which discussed homosexuality supported some kind of conversion therapy or ex-gay narrative. I’ve also started gathering information from blog posts and other sources by West and Evert. I won’t provide much commentary here (you can find that in tomorrow’s piece). I will say that West and Evert rely on outdated, under-supported, and debunked research, as well as stereotypes, assumptions, and stories of change that have since been exposed as falsehoods. I’ve provided below an overview of what I’ve found so far.

You may be wondering what SOCE, conversion therapy, and ex-gay narratives are, and what’s so bad about them. Here’s the short of the long. The ex-gay narrative (as I’ve named it) is a belief developed by late-20th century theorists that homosexuality arises as a pathology, a result from childhood trauma or issues with attachments to parents. A child feels insecure about same-sex acceptance, and this leads to a “narcissistic” desire for affirmation that becomes “eroticized” in desires for same-sex others. This narrative tends to shame parents by blaming them for a child’s homosexuality. This narrative and pathological approach to homosexuality has not been supported by research and is rejected by the psychological community. Conversion therapy, and SOCE more broadly, seeks to help a child become heterosexual by resolving these issues and developing a “proper” relationship to one’s sexual identity as male or female. Terms like “healing” and “realizing one’s masculine identity” can often be euphemisms for ex-gay narratives and SOCE.

An estimated 700,000 Americans have undergone SOCE. Conversion therapy has been discredited as a dangerous practice in the psychology community, and LGB persons who have undergone it are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide. If I understand it correctly, the study which provided this finding suggests that more than 300,000 Americans who have undergone conversion therapy have attempted suicide. It also suggests that roughly 630,000 Americans who have undergone conversion therapy have had suicidal ideation. (The study controls for adverse childhood experiences in its findings.) The research “supporting” SOCE tends to be unscientific, under-supported, and misrepresentative of others.

It’s also important to note that ex-gay narratives and SOCE were invented in recent decades and had not been a part of the Christian tradition prior to the rise of contemporary psychoanalysis. Ex-gay narratives also do the Church a disservice by reading the term “objective disorder” through the lens of contemporary pathology, rather than through the lens of philosophical teleology. The psychology community, which invented the ex-gay narratives, has since found them under-supported, fallacious, and harmful.

Exodus International, the largest ex-gay ministry and proponent of conversion therapy in the United States, shut down after its leadership admitted that its work was grounded in falsehoods and caused significant harm. Exodus was a sort of parent organizer for a number of SOCE ministries and organizations, including JONAH, NARTH (which West and Evert recommend), and Desert Stream Ministries. JONAH and NARTH were both shut down after financial and tax mismanagement. Desert Stream Ministries, which now works with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Denver, has had multiple allegations of sexual abuse by personnel. As I’ll share below, Christopher West is on the board for the Restored Hope Network, the organization that took Exodus’s place after it closed.

And with that, here’s the research…

Christopher West’s Good News about Sex & Marriage (2000, revised and expanded in 2018)

West devotes a chapter of the book to “same-sex attraction.” He also opens up about his own experiences:

“More than one person I love has struggled with homosexual attraction. I myself went through a painful period in my teenage years of questioning my masculine identity… [In high school] I was struck with mortal fear that I might wake up one day and discover I was ‘gay.’ This fear, coupled with a memory I had desperately tried to repress of ‘experimenting’ with a friend from school when I was about ten, would eventually play a key role in leading me to my knees seeking from God what it means to be a man…

[A]s a teenager (and even into my early twenties), I went through a painful period of questioning my masculine identity. I was very troubled by the fact that I found myself attracted or drawn to men who I thought were more masculine than I. Whenever I’d be in such a person’s presence (the college campus ‘stud,’ for instance), I’d feel terribly insecure about myself.

Listening to tapes of a conference on gender issues and personal healing finally helped me to make sense out of this troubling inner dynamic. Several of the talks were given by a man who had lived as an active homosexual for many years. Although I can’t say my attractions were ever fully eroticized as his were, as he very candidly shared his struggles and his healings, his story resonated with me.”

In his endnotes, West identifies that speaker as Mario Bergner, an Anglican preacher who claimed that prayer healed him of AIDS and homosexuality. West found hope in Bergner’s story of overcoming homosexuality and marrying a woman. Bergner was a prominent ex-gay speaker who was removed from his ministry after a “sexual fall.” In a public post in 2018, Bergner shared that he was divorced by his wife, had an emotional break, entertained being with a male partner, was told by a mentor that men with same-sex attraction who marry women often have serious issues in their marriages, and had been using gay porn and engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.

Nonetheless, West drew on Bergner to believe that he, too, could be “healed” of his attractions to men. West gives a story of how his “healing” was complete through a sort of vision:

“This inner dynamic became a very pointed reality for me one day as I was working at one of my first jobs out of college. The woman who sat behind me was the kind of girl who hung Chippendale posters in her cubicle. These images of muscle-bound studs in tight spandex pants and bow ties tapped into all my insecurities, so I avoided her cubicle like the plague. One day I reluctantly overheard a conversation she was having with a friend. She described a dream she’d had of a similar stud who rode up the beach on his white stallion and had wild sex with her in the waves.”

West says that, after hearing this story, he had a vision where he saw the Chippendale man walking down the beach. West writes, “He wasn’t just a man. He was the man. At some place in my soul, he was what I wanted to be, but wasn’t.” West then says that in this vision he saw another man, with a “weak, disfigured, beaten, bloody” body, a crown of thorns, and scourge marks. A voice asked him who “the real man” is, and West said that his heart cried out, “Jesus, you’re the real man. I choose to identify with you.” West says that, after that vision, those attractions “no longer had a grip” on him.

Further in that section of Good News, West goes on to write about “the inherent meaning to your sex.” He says, “If you’re a man, God created you to be a man. If you’re a woman, God created you to be a woman.” West argues that this is one’s “sexual identity.” West says that same-sex attraction isn’t really a sexual orientation. He writes, “[T]his is more properly described as a disorientation, since it departs from the natural, God-given complementarity of the sexes.” West says that “no one is gay” because “no one is ontologically (in his or her very being) oriented toward the same sex.” (West repeats this argument in a 2016 blog post.)

West devotes one section of the chapter to the question of whether homosexuals can “change and become heterosexual.” Consistent with ex-gay theories, West starts out by arguing that “homo-sexuality” and “hetero-sexuality” don’t really exist in their own right. He writes: “All that really exists is sexuality: the call of men and women to love in the image of God.” Therefore:

“[H]omosexuals don’t ‘change’ into heterosexuals. Men and women simply become what they are. That is, as the sun rises in the cold and darkness, men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction can and do experience warmth and light. The truth of sexuality can and does vanquish distortions of sexuality.” 

The analogy is quite opaque and seems to suggest orientation change (or, as West and other advocates of the ex-gay narrative would probably put it, “proper sexual development”) can occur. West writes, “[W]hatever our particular struggles, everyone can, through an ongoing appropriation of Christ’s redemption, experience more and more the truth of sexuality as God intended it to be in the beginning,” even if not in this life. 

West ultimately says explicitly that one’s sexual orientation can be changed, but “with all the proper clarifications.” He writes:

“As numerous ‘former homosexuals’ demonstrate, it is possible for a person even with predominant same-sex attraction, if he or she is willing and receives the proper counseling, to experience rightly ordered sexual attraction. This doesn’t mean, for whatever reason, that it always happens. Nor is a person loved any less by God if he or she doesn’t experience such a change. But it is possible, and that should be a source of great hope for those who are seeking to overcome their struggle with same-sex attraction.”

To back up this claim, West cites a “self-therapy” orientation change guide by Dutch conversion therapist Gerard van den Aardweg. 

Aardweg seems to have a particular disdain for the LGBTQ+ community. He calls “the psychological and medical problems of many practising homosexuals” a “considerable and steadily increasing social burden.” Aardweg has said, “Gay children do not exist” and that gay relationships are “promiscuous by nature.” For the genesis of homosexuality, Aardweg points to same-sex peer isolation, issues in parental relationships, and “neuroticism.” He has argued that parents are “guilty” for their children’s homosexuality. He has written that homosexuality is “just a kind of neurosis” that can be cured. He views homosexuality fundamentally as “a character neurosis.” Aardweg was a former member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuals (NARTH). NARTH is a now-defunct ex-gay organization that referred individuals to conversion therapy and other orientation change efforts. NARTH was central to the Evangelical ex-gay movement’s legitimation.

The quality of Aardweg’s work can be summarized by this fact: Aardweg’s most recent article, “The Psychogenesis of Homosexuality,” relies on a 1999 self-published book by fellow NARTH member Neil Whitehead. Whitehead held no qualifications in genetics, neuroscience, or psychology. His only published article on homosexuality ended up being retracted because of issues with its methodology. Aardweg’s own article, published by the official journal of the Catholic Medical Association, was remarkably outdated and demonstrated a lack of awareness of current research. Almost half of the research cited was 25-90 years old at the time of publication, and less than 10% of the cited works were published after 2006. The most recent research in support of orientation change cited by Aardweg was a 2003 study by Robert Spitzer. That study was criticized for its methodological issues and later retracted by its author, who apologized for the harm it had caused. Aardweg’s works read like outdated assumptions based on stereotypes, because that’s what they are.

West does not provide any citations or evidence for his next claim:

“It should be noted that clinical experience seems to demonstrate that to the degree a person has lived actively as a homosexual, it’s more difficult to experience rightly ordered desire. Conversely, those who experience the attraction but haven’t acted on it usually experience transformation of their sexual desires more readily.”

West then goes on to share how he overcame his own attractions to other men, as well as “lies about the meaning of manhood.”

West draws on a number of sources for his understanding of homosexuality, including Aardweg and Bergner. He also recommends the work of conversion therapist Leanne Payne, who described homosexuality as “cannibal compulsion.” Payne has written that homosexuality is usually a “psychological sickness” and that only in “obedience to God’s revealed will… can the sufferer be freed from this diseased form of love.” West repeats many of these arguments in a 2021 YouTube video which discusses Good News

In terms of resources, West recommends two organizations: Courage International and NARTH.

West has sold millions of copies of books, DVDs, and lecture recordings, and he has trained thousands of priests and dozens of bishops. He has spread and popularized the above views in the Church. Good News is one of the most influential works on sexuality in the American Catholic Church. You will find it on the shelf of nearly every university Catholic center and parish library. Good News has been required by dozens of US dioceses as part of the marriage preparation program Joy-Filled Marriage.

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Christopher West’s Theology of the Body Explained (2003)

In his brief discussion of “men and women [who] experience sexual desires towards members of the same sex,” West argues that such attractions are “part of the disorder of the sexual appetite caused by original sin.” He writes: 

“The good news is that, whatever our individual distortions, we are called to experience the ethos of redemption which has real power to restore God’s original plan for sexuality in our hearts… Furthermore, the more deeply wounded a person is in his or her sexuality, the more time and effort it requires to experience healing.” 

West notes that some “thorns in the flesh” may not be removed in this life, and when this is the case, one is called to holiness in one’s deep woundedness. West then quotes the Catechism: “All Christ’s faithful are to ‘direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity.’” For readers who want to know more about “homosexuality in light of John Paul’s theology of the body,” West recommends his Good News About Sex & Marriage.

Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners (2004)

West doesn’t spend much time discussing homosexuality in this brief book. “For a more detailed discussion,” he recommends Good News about Sex & Marriage. He writes briefly that all people are called to turn away from lust, even people experiencing homosexuality.

Jason Evert’s If You Really Loved Me (2008)

Evert devotes five pages of his book to the issue of homosexuality. Evert starts out by discussing the causes of homosexuality. He says, “In my research and ministry, I have frequently encountered the following three issues related to the onset of homosexual attractions.” They are:

  1. “Sometimes a parent is sexually abusive.”

  2. “Sometimes the opposite-sex parent is too enmeshed in the life of the child.” 

  3. “The same-sex parent may be emotionally or physically absent.” 

This is a key trope for conversion therapists: blame the parents. Evert does not provide citations for these claims.

Evert promotes efforts and hopes for orientation change. He writes: 

“I know of many men who were actively homosexual but left that lifestyle and created successful marriages and families. Just because you have feelings that you are unable to explain, this does not mean that God is unhappy with you or that you are incapable of living a fulfilled heterosexual life.” 

He advises against individuals identifying as “gay” or “homosexual.”

Evert recommends NARTH to readers in search of counselors. For his understanding of homosexuality, Evert cites only two sources: a 1983 text by ex-gay theorist Elizabeth Moberly and a 1986 book on “treating” homosexuality by Aardweg. It’s worth noting that every work cited in his section on homosexuality is from before 1999.

This section of the book is publicly available through The Chastity Project here

Jason Evert’s promotion of Daniel Mattson (2012-present)

The Chastity Project, an initiative led by Evert, promotes the work of Daniel Mattson in its “articles” tab on the question of homosexuality. The Chastity Project frames Mattson’s argument against identifying as gay as “coming out the Catholic way.” Mattson instead insists that Catholics like him should say they “live with same-sex attraction.” He views his same-sex attraction as a “disability.” 

In another piece promoted by the Chastity Project, Mattson explicitly rejects my own approach to identification. Mattson finishes the piece by saying: “I am not gay. I am a man.” Mattson was a popular speaker for Courage International until a young man came forward and alleged that Mattson had engaged in a multi-year online sexual relationship when the boy was thirteen and Mattson was in his thirties. 

Jason Evert’s promotion of Joseph Nicolosi (2012-present)

The Chastity Project also promotes the work of deceased conversion therapist (and founder of NARTH) Joseph Nicolosi in in its “articles” tab on the question of homosexuality. The piece promoted by Evert, which explicitly writes about the benefits of reparative therapy, links directly to the NARTH website. Nicolosi has been recalled by former clients as a deluded (even if well-intentioned) man who pressured them into false narratives, blamed them for failures to change, and misrepresented his successes.

Jason Evert’s promotion of Richard Fitzgibbon (2012-present)

The Chastity Project also promotes the work of conversion therapist Richard Fitzgibbons in in its “research” tab on the question of homosexuality. The piece promoted by Evert is largely a defense of the work of NARTH (in the name of “informed consent”). Fitzgibbons argues that youth should be provided information about “the serious dangers to psychological and medical health from homosexual behaviors” and “the resolution of same-sex attractions.” Fitzgibbons argues that youth need to be taught about “the serious emotional conflicts in youth with same-sex inclinations, such as a lack of secure attachment relationships with a parent or same-sex peers.” He criticizes the American Psychological Association, and other professional organizations, because they do not “identify the serious high-risk behaviors, compulsive masturbatory and sexual behaviors, depression, and excessive anger in those with homosexual inclinations.” Fitzgibbons argues that youth should be provided “treatment of same-sex inclinations.” 

In the piece, Fitzgibbons makes a number of arguments about the origins of same-sex attractions. He writes:

“In our clinical work over the past 34 years, with perhaps three to four hundred men and women with same-sex attractions, we have found that the most common cause of same-sex attractions in males is an intense weakness in masculine confidence that is associated with strong feelings of loneliness and sadness. This insecurity arises from a number of factors, including same-sex peer rejection in early childhood as a result of a lack of eye–hand coordination. This challenge in boys interferes with male bonding in sports, and with secure same-sex attachments. Other origins of male insecurity and sadness are an emotionally distant father relationship, a poor body image and, finally, sexual abuse victimization…

Other causes of male same sex attractions are a mistrust of women, arising from conflicts with a controlling, angry, and overly dependent mother, or from significant rejection by females. Finally, selfishness and sexual narcissism are factors in some males.”

Fitzgibbons also argues that there are a number of health risks associated with same-sex attraction, and that youth should be informed about this. He writes: “Youth have the right to know the recent research that demonstrates the serious health risk of acquiring cancer in the homosexual life style.” He says that SSA (same-sex attracted) youth are at a higher risk of emotional and mental illness, and also higher risk for physical illness and disease. He says that those with SSA are at a higher risk of partner abuse. None of this research represents consensus among the medical or psychology community today. Much of it has been refuted and would now be considered ideologically-motivated misinformation.

Fitzgibbons goes on to say that his goals for therapy is to “help the person identify the underlying causes of his or her SSA, which often includes low self-esteem, sadness, loneliness, anger and anxiety.” He claims he and others have had significant success, where clients have “subsequently identified themselves as being heterosexual.” He also writes, “Contrary to the claims made by the opponents of therapy, they did not experience an increase in psychological conflicts as a result of therapy.” This is refuted by current research.

The issues with Fitzgibbons’s article are similar to Aardweg’s. For example, to back his orientation change claims, Fitgibbons also cites the retracted Spitzer study.

Fitzgibbons has also been involved in a number of priest abuse scandals. After child pornography was found on the computer of Father Shawn Ratigan, Fitzgibbons assessed the priest and said he was not a pedophile and just lonely. Based on the assessment, Ratigan was sent to a mission house where he took lewd photos of children he had access to. Fitzgibbons also assessed a priest discussed in the McCarrick report. That priest had abused two boy’s in the parish. Fitzgibbons stated that the priest “has been victimized and is not the victimizer,” and the priest was assigned to other parishes.

Four of the 18 pieces on homosexuality “research” currently shared by the Chastity Project are either by conversion therapists or sexual predators. 

Jason Evert’s advice for high school kids with same-sex attraction (2015)

In a Q&A for the Chastity Project’s website, Evert responds to a high school boy who shares that he is attracted to other guys at school, hasn’t told anyone, is scared, and doesn’t know what to do. Evert assures him that God loves him. He then says, 

“As a young man matures, he will often seek to identify with what is masculine. Sometimes this desire to identify with a guy who is particularly masculine may be misinterpreted as the beginning of homosexual attractions….

Sometimes feelings of same-sex attraction will come and go, and other times they will last quite a while. Some guys experience same-sex attractions, then the feelings dissipate and they eventually fall in love with a woman and get married.”

If the “attractions” do not subside, however, Evert cautions against “coming out.” He writes:

“I have friends who experience same-sex attractions, but some of them do not prefer to be called ‘gay’ or even ‘‘homosexual.’ They feel that such labels would define them by their sexual desires, and that would minimize them. After all, we should not define ourselves by our struggles or sexual attractions. A ‘homosexual’ is not who you are.” 

Evert quotes a friend: 

“We can choose to place God above our sexuality, or sexuality above God. Our sexuality (though a very important gift) does not belong at the center of our embraced identities.”

Evert also writes how counseling can help a person overcome homosexuality, in a way:

“If desired, counseling can be a great blessing because it helps you to understand yourself, and self-knowledge is always a good thing. I remember listening to one man who had lived a homosexual lifestyle say that after years of being immersed in that culture, it finally dawned on him that he wasn’t ‘homosexual.’ In his words, he was ‘homo-emotional.’ Because he never had a loving father, he longed for the approval, attention, and affection of a man, and the world taught him to sexualize his problems. After looking for fulfillment in a sexual way, he discovered that none of those relationships brought him what he desired.”

Christopher West’s “Advice to a Woman in a Very Painful Marriage” (2016)

In a blog post, West responds to a woman who has been married for a few years and describes her relationship with her husband as “totally broken.” He reads between the lines to identify that the conflicts are “about their marriage bed.” The topic of homosexuality is not addressed, but he does refer the woman to Dr. Greg Popcak for therapy. Popcak is the Founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which oversees catholiccounselors.com. (The site has promoted the work of Aardweg.) Popcak regularly appears on Catholic media. He was also a co-signer of the 2017 Nashville Statement, an evangelical Christian statement of faith that held, among other things, that one cannot identify as homosexual. The statement also suggests that same-sex attraction is itself sinful:

  • “WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” 

  • “WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”

In 2008, West had also provided an endorsement of Popcak’s book Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Evert’s “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church” (2016)

In a 2016 talk on “homosexuality and the Catholic Church” for the Chastity Project, Jason Evert says that orientation change is not a guarantee. And yet the story he gives of an actual homosexual person (that Evert never identifies as homosexual) is the story of a friend who had recently gone on a date with a woman. Evert says:

“A good friend of mine, he had lived a promiscuous gay lifestyle. And then he had a beautiful conversion and he decided, ‘Ok, I’m just going to practice abstinence. I’m going to put God first in my life, and I’m going to give this a shot.’… He said, ‘I wasn’t trying to, like, pray the gay away. You know, that is not the approach you advocate. I was just saying, ‘God, show me what you want in my life, and I’m going to obey you. And if I’m not doing the sexual stuff with other men, then I trust you.”

And so he just did this for a while. And just a few months ago, out of the blue, he felt a spark of attraction towards a woman for the first time. And he thought, ‘Wow, that’s really weird. Where’s that from?’ And the spark became a bit of a flame. It became a blaze. And he found himself in love with a woman. And he actually just went on his first date a few months ago. And he emailed me and he said, ‘I never thought that God will fulfill my desire for fatherhood in a natural way. And I thought when I was giving up my sexual activity, I thought I was giving up whatever hope I had of becoming a father.’

And, now, I cannot promise you that if you choose to practice chastity, your attractions are going to change. Who can promise that? That isn’t the ultimate hope. Our hope is ultimately in God. What I can promise you is that holiness is not measured by your ability to change your attractions. Our holiness is only measured by our willingness to conform our hearts and our will to the will of God, and to express His love in and through our bodies…”

West’s endorsement of That Famous Fig Leaf (2019)

In 2019, West offered an endorsement of Chad Thompson’s That Famous Fig Leaf. West said:

"Chad Thompson offers a unique examination of symbolism inscribed by God in our bodies… Drawing from an array of sources, including John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Chad offers a timely exploration of how the way we perceive and esteem our bodies impacts our relationships with self, others, and God.”

Thompson identifies as “a formerly gay man.” He is an active supporter of SOCE and relies on Moberly, Nicolosi, Andrew Comiskey, Richard Cohen (who was banned from presenting at Exodus after a disturbing conference presentation), and other ex-gay theorists and therapists. In That Famous Fig Leaf, Thompson argued for people to have more naked interactions, particularly men.

SOCE advocates commonly argue for such interactions as a way to “heal” one’s homosexual attractions. The now-closed ex-gay organization JONAH, for example, would have groups of men stand naked with a counselor and ask participants to re-enact past abuse. Other men I know who have gone through SOCE have shared stores about being instructed to run around the woods naked with other men at Journey Into Manhood (JIM) retreats. People Can Change’s Journey Beyond weekends would also include activities where men simulate “stages of life, often naked, beginning with rebirthing and newborns bonding with loving ‘surrogate fathers.’” People Can Change and JONAH have both been subject to FTC lawsuits over these and other practices that involved deceptive claims. JONAH had also been accused of sexually abusive activities.

Christopher West and the Restored Hope Network (present)

In addition to the above, Christopher West currently serves on the Board of Reference for the Restored Hope Network. The Restored Hope Network is an ex-gay network of Christian ministries and individuals that was created after the collapse of Exodus International. Its work focuses primarily serving “those who desire to overcome sinful relational and sexual issues in their lives and those impacted by homosexuality.” While claiming to reject “conversion therapy,” it promotes “theologically based therapy” often aimed at orientation change. 

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This is just a small bit of their “research” and reliance on orientation change and conversion therapy efforts. As I continue to work on my upcoming post, I’d love to know if you have any more information! Also feel free to share your experiences with West, Evert, and other chastity speakers and Theology of the Body popularizers in Catholic culture!

If you are an LGBTQ+ Catholic whose faith or sexual integration have been harmed by the work of West or Evert, I’d love to hear about your experiences, and possibly invite you to a group discussion on your experiences. If you are open to sharing, please complete this form.


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