Sunday, June 16, 2019

Ruth Krall, Religious Leader Sexual Abuse: A Pan-Denominational Approach (Part 2)

Transferring an Ebola Patient for Transport to a Care Facility 

Religious Leader Sexual Abuse: A Pan-Denominational Approach

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

This is a continuation of an essay by Ruth Krall, the first half of which was posted a few days ago.  As that previous posting noted, this essay, entitled "Religious Leader Sexual Abuse: A Pan-Denominational Approach," continues Ruth's analysis of religious leader sexual abuse of vulnerable individuals from the standpoint of public health. It proposes that "any effort to eliminate sexual abuse as a public health problem must, therefore, be both a national and an international effort. It must also be pan-denominational — reaching into multiple religious communities." Here's the second half of Ruth's outstanding essay — note that footnote numbers begin in medias res because this part of Ruth's essay links to the part previously posted: 

Organizational Management Equivalencies

The equivalent here for me is financial embezzlement. Let's say a bank employee is emptying the cash drawer on a regular basis for his own use. This behavior would not be tolerated. The individual would be (1) fired and (2) reported to civil law enforcement agencies. Given the magnitude of the theft, she or he would also be publicly outed by means of news media.

Many years ago now, I watched as one of my alma maters became aware of financial embezzlement by its business manager. He was fired on the spot and an announcement was placed in the annual alumni newsletter so that all alums would have accurate information about what had occurred. I am guessing — but do not know — that this institution's governing board and president wished to forestall rumor-mongering among its alums as well as in the larger community in which the school was located.

In another situation, as a very young mid-level administrator, I watched a narrative of embezzlement unfold inside my organization. A subordinate financial officer reported his department head boss to the governing body of this institution. The subsequent — and very quiet — investigation revealed that the mid-level administrator was indeed cooking the books.  He was fired on the spot and immediately escorted off the premises. A brief and very terse announcement was made to local media by the organization's president. I learned of this episode the way my neighbors did — by televised news reports that evening. By the next day, many more internal details were visible inside the organization's various departments.  

What to Make of Organizational Apathy?

One thing that has seemed strange to me is the institutional church's nearly total lack of curiosity about something (clergy sexual violence against the laity) which is clearly institutionalized. Knowing, for example, that they have a problem, seminaries don't do psychological screening of potential candidates for ministry; they don't offer mandatory courses in sexual ethics or even in professional ethics; they don't offer courses about the long-term spiritual effects of sexual violence in the lives of the institution's victimized individuals. Knowing that billions of dollars have been won in court settlements against religious institutions, these seminaries don't offer course content in the actual costs of sexual abuse to individual congregations and to denominations. They neither develop case studies nor do they teach their students about the specifics of clergy sexual abuse.

Allow me to use a Mennonite example here: Mennonite theologian and ordained minister John Howard Yoder's abusiveness to adult church women, graduate students, and young female ministerial candidates has been known inside the Mennonite educational bureaucracy since the mid-1980s. Yet I know of no academic course inside Mennonite Colleges and Seminaries which examine this denominational failure to protect vulnerable women, students, and junior, untenured teaching faculty. I know of no dense academic investigation of Yoder, his life, and his abuse patterns as a teaching case study.

We do not know, for example, anything about the roots of Yoder's behavior in psychopathology. We don't know, for another example, institutional thinking here as it unfolded during the 1970s and 1980s. We don't know how many victims he left in his wake. We don't know anything about the clinical costs of his abuse.

Most particularly, however, we (denominational administrators, theologians and ethicists) have not looked at John's entire corpus of theological and ethical writings as a source of information about his decisions to become an abuser. We have not, therefore, used John's own written and spoken voice as a hermeneutical methodology to examine his personal (and his church's) institutional pathology.

In addition, we have never examined denominational politics as a structured environment in which John was both allowed to abuse and protected from the consequences of his abusiveness. Beyond our most remote questioning, there is the still inner voice that asks how many church bureaucrats knew and protected him because they, too, were sexual abusers of the laity? What games were played out in real time of bureaucratic and interpersonal extortion: I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me but if you tell on me, I will tell on you? These kinds of administrative games are usually played non-verbally.There is no spoken or written trace in the community memory to note that they were played.

Since we know there were other Mennonite abusers in this same era, institutional issues need to be examined as well. (xxxi) Did Yoder's writings, as some of his survivors have suggested, provide protective cover for other abusers?

To me this is like saying, Yes, we know people are dying of Ebola and we are totally helpless in the world of competing nation states to address the practical realities of this potentially world-wide plague. There is nothing we need to learn (or can learn) about Ebola and its transmission, its clinical manifestations, its morbidity and mortality rates. We are totally helpless in the face of this virus and the pathology it causes. Because we are powerless, we won't, in our schools of public health, study Ebola as a case study.

In addition, where there have been studies done about the nature of clergy sexual abuse, the denominational church ignores its science-generated information. For example, the issue of spiritual and psycho-social immaturity research done in the last century inside the American Roman Catholic religious tradition seems, in retrospect, to have instituted no changes in seminary admissions and in seminary curricula. (xxxii)

In contrast: inside medical education programs, the institutionalized custom of grand-rounds provides the medical community with a mechanism for examining complex issues of clinical success and failure as one way the medical profession self-polices itself. These are educational events which involve senior faculty as well as beginning students. They may include external expert consultants. As a beginning student, I loved grand rounds because they were unpredictable and because the learning was so applicable to what I was studying. The in-depth case study of one was the foundation for understanding the many.

In this current era, continuing education programs may also utilize electronic communication programs such as Skype. A model of scientific inquiry into complex and multi-faceted clinical issues is, therefore, modeled and practiced. Many years ago, I attended a scientific medical panel which was conducted totally by long-distance communication devices. Every speaker — some of them from European nations —appeared on a huge screen. Other than the panel's on-site moderator, there were no experts in this auditorium of approximately 100 students.

Actually, that program was designed to demonstrate the potentialities of long-distance learning as much as it was to teach us about a specific pathology. I was immediately intrigued by the potentials of such learning programs in a widely diversified academic community. Now live-streaming is a common practice. Individuals in remote locations can now benefit from up-to-the-minute scientific advances in any given academic field of studies.

The stark reality in this sexual violence narrative is not that we cannot work together to change the structures of violence and violence protection. It is that we choose not to do so. Individually and, perhaps more importantly, collectively, we lack the political will to force change. We do not appear to know how to form inter-religious communities of advocacy work. Churches, et al., by virtue of their long-standing organizational realities, are, in my opinion, going to outlast us. While the Lone Ranger may be able to singlehandedly rescue the damsel from the railroad track, I don't believe she or he will be able to change the clerical and institutional narrative of sexual abuse of children, teens, and adults.  

Individually and collectively, many of us look the other way when powerful religious figures, both male and female, abuse less powerful and vulnerable individuals (usually children and adolescents, but also adults). Instead of protecting the vulnerable, we choose to protect our ashrams, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques as well as our denominational primary and secondary schools. Religiously-owned colleges, seminaries, and universities are frequently identified as hubs of affinity sexual violence and abuse.Secular institutions of higher education are not immune.

When we choose to remain ignorant, we become complicit with these painful abuse narratives. We become passive bystanders.  When we choose to be silent, we become complicit. But, more importantly, when we choose to be Lone Rangers by refusing to work collectively, we empower corrupt institutions to outlast us. (xxxiii)

To Summarize

To summarize: the pathology of religious and spiritual leader abusiveness is a distressing reality in many of the world's religious cultures. Abusive behavior is not the rare and aberrant behavior of a few. It is a quantifiable sociological and anthropological phenomenon. There is, to speak metaphorically, no single Typhoid Mary who can be quarantined to protect the whole. Rather, there are thousands of religious leader abusers inside various world-wide religious communities.

In addition, there are thousands of supervisors who provide institutional cover for the known abusers. These enablers of abuse share, in my opinion, moral and ethical responsibility for the abuse that goes unchallenged because of their irresponsible and corrupt management practices.

It is clear: a theology of celibacy and sexual abstinence does not protect vulnerable individuals from being sexually abused. It is also clear that a theology of monogamous marriage and sexual chastity outside marriage does not protect vulnerable individuals. It is clear that theologies of obedience to religious authorities do not protect vulnerable children, teens, and adults. Something more than theology is called for.


xxxi. For example, Urie Bender, Paul Landis, Vernon Leis, Conrad Wetzel. For a more complete list, of known Mennonite abusers, see the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List.

xxxii. See Kennedy, E. and Heckler, V.  (1972). The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological investigations. Washington DC: U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.  

xxxiii. Cohen, S. ( 2001). States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge, UK:  Polity Press.

No comments: