Friday, June 7, 2019

Ruth Krall, Prolegomena: An Act of Re-Thinking (Part 2)

This posting is a continuation of an essay by Ruth Krall, the first part of which I posted several days ago. As that previous posting notes, Ruth's essay, entitled "Prolegomena: An Act of Re-Thinking," invites readers to re-think how we've come to view the phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people in religious contexts. Ruth urges us to consider applying terms and concepts from the realm of public health to this phenomenon. Is this abuse an epidemic in religious contexts today? Is it endemic in religious structures? Is it pandemic?

Because the essay belows continues (and links to) the first part published previously, the endnotes begin at xvi rather than 1. Here's the second part of Ruth's valuable essay:

Sexual Violence inside Religious or Spiritual Teaching Communities: A World-wide Community Health Crisis …. Or Doing Business as Usual

Honesty compels me to say that I believe the present leadership in the church to be morally, intellectually, and religiously bankrupt. (xvi)

~ Andrew Greeley, American sociologist, novelist, and Catholic priest

Today's worldwide phenomenon of religious leader sexual abuse continues. It is impossible to know the precise demographics of this public health problem because (1) the data have not been systematically collected and (2) denominational repositories of church-collected data about known abusive individuals and church-collected files regarding institutional cover-ups are all concealed and are, therefore, not accessible to researchers or even to lay members of churches. In addition, to my knowledge, there are no cross-cultural or comparative religious organization studies to ascertain differences among the world's various spiritual and religious traditions.

American priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley wrote in 2003 that he believed that Cardinal Ratzinger's estimate that 1% of priests were sexually abusive was too low. Greeley estimated that 4% of priests were sexual abusers. However, he did not quote scientific studies to back up his claim.

It is quite likely that the historical archives of the Vatican probably have the best collection of historical and contemporary Roman Catholic priest pedophilia incidence data available anywhere on the planet, but this information is simply not accessible to scientists and concerned public health officials. To state it bluntly: the Holy See (the Pope) and powerful Vatican officials do not intend to grant archival access to historians or to public health demographers and medical scientists. There is no institutional mandate or administrative intention to release this information.

For centuries the worldwide Catholic Church has hidden demographic information about clergy sexual violence incidence and location statistics. In addition, it has hidden case study information about individual priests inside elaborately enforced systems of secrecy and cover-up. (xvii) To gain access to this material, the Italian government would need to raid the archives. (xviii) Because Vatican City is an independent state, this is no longer possible. The Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy and Catholic popes rule infallibly and absolutely. They are assisted in their rule by an elaborate network of ordained clergy managers and subordinates called the Roman Curia. (xix) Only the pope can order these archives open to study. Given the negative politics of the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon in world-wide Catholicism, it is unlikely that these records will ever be made available without some form of external coercion.

The Rule and Role of Canon Law

An elaborate historical system of Roman Catholic denominational laws, known as canon law, governs the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. In this code, legal rubrics are codified by topic and provide the church's worldwide denominational administrators (bishops, archbishops and religious order superiors) a set of internal regulations for church governance.

Canon lawyers apply and informally interpret the law but they are subject to the pope's guidance for official interpretation and application. In today's world, canon law represents a complex and fully developed legal system that regulates the life of local congregations, seminaries, priestly formation, ordination, promotion up the channels of command, etc. Canon law organizes and enforces what it means to be a Roman Catholic in the contemporary world. It differentiates between orthodoxy and heresy. It provides standards for governing the behavior of church officials and lay Catholics in all parts of the Roman Catholic world.

Canon law promulgates standards by which an individual can enter the priesthood, how he is educated, what he needs to do to be ordained, and the promises or vow which he makes upon ordination. It provides strict guidelines on the means by which he may legally exit the priesthood for secular life.

One of those canonical requirements is celibacy for all priests and all vowed members of religious orders, and for all members of the church's hierarchy such as bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Canon law dictates administrative regulations regarding the punishment of priests who violate their priestly vows of celibacy in some manner or another, for example, getting married before secularization (laicization) happens.

Another requirement is obedience. Priests, members of religious orders, and deacons promise obedience to their bishop and to the pope; bishops and archbishops promise obedience to the pope. Members of the laity are expected to be compliantly obedient (without complaint) to their local parish priest(s) and to their local diocesan bishop.

Much about the canonical law system resembles civil law. There are expected behaviors and there are punishments for violations of expected behaviors. Except, of course, there are also times when there are no punishments and violations are both tolerated and actively provided protective cover. (xx) Ordained clergymen's sexual abuse of children, teens and vulnerable adults is one contemporary example where the organizational or institutional Roman Catholic Church looks the other way at widespread violations of its canonical system and its rules about celibacy and sexual continence. (xxi)

Systemic Religious Control of Lay Sexuality

If I recall correctly, it was Roman Catholic historical theologian Margaret Miles who remarked that when one can control someone's sexuality, the controlling person or organization has total control over the one controlled. (xxii) By means of its teachings regarding mortal sins  of a sexual nature (xxiii), the institutional Roman Catholic Church seeks to gain total control of its members. When church teachings about sexual thoughts as well as sexual behaviors induce guilt in the minds of lay people, the church has gained control of their minds as well as their bodies.

If, in addition, people are implicitly or explicitly taught to believe that priests, because they are ontologically different than lay individuals, cannot and do not sin, are sexually pure and above sexual sins, this is a perfect storm — especially for clergy-abused children, teens, and emotionally vulnerable adults. (xxiv) Sexually violated by a trusted member of the ordained clergy (an oxymoron in lay minds), the violated individual inevitably assumes responsibility for the act of violation done to him or her by the other. A layer of pseudo-guilt is layered over other aspects of the traumatic response to sexual violation and assault.

In this kind of situation, the long-term physical, mental, and emotional sequellae to abuse are further complicated by religious and spiritual duress. (xxv) The spiritual damages may, some authorities speculate, be more devastating and long-lasting than the body's physiological and emotional responses to specific acts of violation and their subsequent trauma. (xxvi)

In Conclusion

This opening or introductory essay has argued for a public health approach to studying clergy and religious leader sexual abuse in the contemporary era. It has utilized current literature and research. It has focused on the Roman Catholic priesthood and Roman Catholic culture.

Reading or listening to the nightly news, it becomes quite apparent that clergy sexual abuse transcends the Roman Catholic tradition. In addition, it transcends Christianity as one among several world religious traditions where sexual abuse is also a sociological or anthropological reality.


xvi. Greeley, A. As cited by Elaine Woo, "Rev. Andrew M. Greeley dies at 85; outspoken Catholic priest." Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2019. See also Greeley, "The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests." America Magazine, February 10, 2003. Ten years earlier, in 1993, Greeley was reported to have estimated that 2000-4000 priests were sexually abusive and that victim numbers were well above 100,000 individuals. See Franklin, James F., "Rev. Greeley Puts Number of Abused at 100,000." Boston Globe, March 19, 1994.
xvii. Doyle, Sipe, and Wall. Op. cit.

xviii.  On June 7, 1929, the Italian government ratified the Lateran Treaty, which established the Vatican as an independent state. See Laschelles, C. (2017). Pontifex Maximus: A Short History of the Popes. United Kingdom: Crux Publishing, pp. 267-278. 

xix. See "Roman Curia" Wikipedia

xx. See, for example, Anderson, J. (2007).  Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Relationships. New York, NY:  Continuum International Publishing. See also Martel, F. (2019). In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. London, UK: Bloomington Continuum.

xxi. Appreciation to Father Thomas Doyle for fact-checking my understanding of canon law and its use.

xxii. I have lost the source of this comment, but this is what I remember reading or hearing. Whoever said this, that individual is correct. Human sexuality and human sexual behavior are both deeply personal and collectively social.

xxiii. See "Mortal Sin." Wikipedia. 

xxiv. Benkert, M.  and Doyle, T. P. (2009). "Clericalism, Religious Duress and its Psychological Impact on Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse." Pastoral Psychology 58 (3), June 2009, pp. 223-238.

xxv. Romo, J. "An Interview with Dr. Marianne Benkert." (February 4, 2010). Healing and Spirituality. 

xxvi. Doyle, T. P. (June 2008/2016).  "The Spiritual Trauma Experienced by Victims of Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy." Pastoral Psychology 58 (3), pp. 239-260. See also: Krall, R.E. (2016) "Soul Betrayal: Spiritual and Religious Trauma." Enduring Space; and Krall, R.E. (2017). "Clergy and Religious Leader Abuses of the Laity: Religious and Spiritual Consequences."  Enduring Space.

For Ruth Krall's source for the image at the head of the posting, see the first link at the head of this posting.

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