Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ruth Krall, Religious Leader Sexual Abuse — What Language Shall We Use?

Citrus Trees Ready for Harvest (1)

This essay is the third in a series Ruth Krall has written with the title "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice." The first essay in the series was published in two parts (here and here), and was followed by another two-part essay (here and here). As Ruth notes below, "In the first two essays, I utilized the language of public health to explore issues of prevention, containment and treatment. In this essay I have raised questions about how we begin to study these issues. I have raised the question of our research language as essential."

As she further states, "Vis-à-vis the current clergy sexual abuse issue in multiple world religions, we need, I believe, an enhanced vocabulary. We need this enhanced and more precise vocabulary in order to comprehend the complex institutional forces at work in today's religious communities as they experience and/or demonstrate the affinity sexual violence phenomena." Here's Ruth's valuable essay:

Religious Leader Sexual Abuse — What Language Shall We Use? 

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Introductory Comments 

One of the principles of contemporary social science research protocols is that the language we use to identify and describe the nature of a problem will become the language we must use to solve it. We can't describe an issue in terms of oranges when we are really talking about strawberries. The culture for orange tree groves is very different than the culture for fields of ground-clinging strawberries. The problems confronting growers of oranges are different from the problems confronting growers of strawberries. 

We cannot, therefore, conflate the unique problems of growing and harvesting oranges and strawberries into one universal form. We cannot naively assume that the problems of these two forms of agriculture are the same. One size of analysis does not fit all because it cannot do so in real life.

We might, therefore, look comparatively at the unique problems of growing, harvesting, and marketing oranges while we simultaneously look at the unique problems of growing, harvesting, and marketing strawberries. At the conclusions of these two studies we might then ask, What are the similarities and differences we notice? What unique findings did we uncover?  In these two research protocols, what were the surprises, if any, in our findings? Are there conclusions we can now draw about growing, harvesting and marketing various fruits that utilize these two unique studies as a protocol for further research studies? We might even conclude that in future studies vis-à-vis growing, harvesting, and marketing, we need more precise language. We may even need to coin and define a new language to help us present our research to the public.

This is, for example, what Hans Selye did in his ground-breaking research into the human stress response — the foundation for today's research into the human trauma response. (ii) He coined a new professional language which still informs us today. Younger researchers built upon his work and improved upon his conceptual framework. They identified and corrected scientific errors in his work.

In addition, as new technologies emerged, they were applied to the study of human stress. These new studies have substantially increased our understanding of the role the human stress response plays in the development of physical and emotional troubles. (iii) While Selyes research has largely been superseded by newer understandings of human stress and trauma, nevertheless he broke open the initial code for stdying human stressors and the bodys response — a topic which had long eluded medical science.  He gave us a beginning language system to use in our studies.

These initial, ground-breaking studies of oranges and strawberries — and their conclusions —therefore, might, in turn, lead us to study the growing, harvesting, and marketing of peanuts, pumpkins, and asparagus. Here, the diversity of our research protocols and study may lead us to a more universal understanding of issues inside agribusiness in general.

There was a wide variety of potential outcomes when we first began this hypothetical study regarding problems in the production, harvesting, and marketing of oranges and then of strawberries. Until we expanded our studies into peanuts, pumpkins, and asparagus, we could draw no comprehensive conclusions about many substantive issues in these kinds of produce-oriented economies. In casting our intellectual research net more widely, we probably did not know exactly what we were looking for. But by keeping our categories clear and our language precise, we derive a comparative analysis which is both richer and easier to unpack.

Only in the research process itself do we begin to develop more precise language— language which we can then utilize for later, more specific research protocols.

When, however, we decide to focus on the similarity of problems in growing grapefruit, oranges, lemons, tangerines, and pomelos, we begin with commonalities— not differences. As we do this, we may very well stumble across significant differences. While in the first situation of studying diverse agricultural products, we extend the reach of our research process, in the second, we begin to narrow it. Language specificity begins to matter more.

Our choice of categories matters. Are we looking to identify and extend our global understandings vis-à-vis many crop,s or are we looking for a more in-depth understanding of a specific family of crops — in this case, the citrus family?

There is a third variable to be considered in the design of our research protocols. Do we want to focus only on citrus growing in the United States, or do we want to look at international issues in citrus production, harvesting and marketing? Citrus trees grow in many of the world's nations. Are the problems in growing, harvesting, and marketing similar across national and geographic boundaries? Do we, for example, only want to deal with issues inside the boundary of the United States? Do we want to look only inside the Americas? Or do we want to do our research on an international scale?Each of these preliminary decisions — the pre-research decisions — will affect the research population and the methodologies which we choose to study these populations. Another way to ask this question is to consider what demographic issues must be entertained. What, specifically, is the population we need to study to address our concerns? If we really want to know, for example, about pumpkins, it is likely they don't grow in Antarctic. It is also likely they are not growing in mid-December in Alaska. We can, therefore, rule out studying populations in those two areas.

In the conclusions drawn from our various studies, we might conclude that the issues we are most interested in understanding relate to problems in agricultural produce management and marketing — at which point we must also turn to the language and research methodologies of economics. In other situations, the issue of climate change might emerge as a causative factor in creating problems for agribusiness.  

Our initial research into the uniqueness of various produce-growing cultures has led us to a solid foundation of information. As a consequence of our careful work, a new cycle of research can begin — this time with a more carefully stated and more precisely thought through conceptual framework, a better defined set of categories, technically defined language, and a more measurable or quantifiable set of essential research questions.

What Is This Nonsense about Strawberries and Oranges?

What I am illustrating is the principle of looking slant at complex topics — seeking by analogy to locate a richer and more precise vocabulary for our use. Vis-à-vis the current clergy sexual abuse issue in multiple world religions, we need, I believe, an enhanced vocabulary. We need this enhanced and more precise vocabulary in order to comprehend the complex institutional forces at work in today's religious communities as they experience and/or demonstrate the affinity sexual violence phenomena.

In previous essays, I raised the question of which public health language is appropriate to use in our research discussions about clergy sexual abuse and corrupt institutional management of such abuse.

From what I can tell by reading widely, the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon is endemic, pan-denominational, and present inside multiple global nations, communities, language groups, and cultures. It is not only a Roman Catholic phenomenon. It is not only a Christian phenomenon. In addition, we have no evidence that it is spreading widely.

We do, however, have evidence that it has been historically prevalent for millennia. We have evidence that it has been and currently is a reality in multiple cultures, multiple language groups, and multiple spiritual traditions.

Many years ago, in a setting where I was the rare Christian in a largely Buddhist audience, a speaker —whose name I have long since forgotten — told a story about a group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns who went to the Dalai Lama to complain about the sexual harassment and physical abuse they were experiencing at the hands of some monks inside their community.  After allowing the implications of this story to sink in, the speaker said, the Dalai Lama wept and he immediately began to make change happen.

In coming to understand complex realities such as sexual violence inside religious/spiritual communities, we begin (as did the blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time) inside our own personal experiences: we begin inside the narrow parameters of our individual understanding and within the confines our own cultural blinders. (iv) We begin inside our personal religious community and inside our particular network of family and intimate friendships. For those of us who are clinicians, we begin inside our professional guild. The same is true for canon lawyers, civil lawyers, denominational bureaucrats, professional demographers, etc. Our professions shape us. There is no escape from our cultures of origin or from our educational and professional life histories. In short, we begin with who we are, and we begin inside our ongoing life experiences.

Why, we must ask, is religious leaders' sexual violence prevalent in so many different religious environments where, for example, different philosophies, ideologies, theologies, and liturgical worship patterns provide unique belief structures and socio-cultural realities? Is there some common ground we might explore in order to understand these phenomena inside such very different religious and spiritual traditions? If we did, for example, some in-depth studies — case studies — of our unique traditions, what underlying causative issues might we uncover? What correlations between and among communities might we find? What language might we need to develop?

If the commonality in produce production and marketing is at its foundation economics, what — if any — is the commonality of experience in religious leaders' sexual abuse of their followers?

Are there, in reality, commonalities? Are there differences? How do we discover, describe, and then explain these research-uncovered commonalities and differences? What is the urgency of our questions into these matters? Why should we — or anyone else, for that matter — give a damn about these concerns?

It is useful to remember the young Hans Selye. His teachers and advisors told him he was too brilliant to waste his time and intellectual resources studying the human stress response. He had an inner security — an inner compass or beacon — that allowed him to disregard his elders' wisdom and carefully and meticulously pursue his research question where it led him. He followed the clues rather than imposing pre-established ideas. By refusing to abandon the questions he had about the body'’s response patterns to stress — no matter how vague they were when he began — the human world has benefitted. Twenty eight years after his death, the world of medical science is still engaged with questions of stress and trauma.

The Role of the Gods

To be quite candid, we must also ask if the gods— through their human followers — teach their devotees (through their human intermediaries, their representatives and spokespersons on earth) to be abusers. After all, in antiquity, Zeus, Thor, Poseidon, Hades, and Odin were all violent abusers and rapists. In addition, we must never forget that the Sabine women were raped by the human founders of the city of Rome. Is rape, therefore, the foundational theology of contemporary human culture; of human religious practice? Do the gods demand rape — the de-flowering of virgins — as an offering to their power? Do the gods' human followers demand the same?

In a puzzling question (to which I have no answer): does today's Roman Catholic Church carry and unconsciously maintain a millennia-old replication syndrome? Does it, by its ideologies, pass violent sexual abuse forward in history? Is this done unconsciously or is it done deliberately? Do the Sabine women from Rome continue to cry out for justice? Do today's raping so-called celibate priests spiritually re-enact (unselfconsciously) the rapes of their genetic and cultural and theological forefathers?

The cult of Cybele whose ancient temple was roughly coterminous with today's Vatican City included celibate priests who, in moments of spiritual ecstasy, castrated themselves. Is this the unconscious memory of self-enforced celibacy (an emotional castration) which today's Roman Catholic church insists is essential for the role of priest and high priest (Pope)?

For decades, I have been privately obsessed with these two stories (the so-called myth of the Sabine women, and the narrative anthropological history of Cybele's ecstatic followers). I ponder the long-arm consequences of history and myth as the cultural foundations (laid centuries ago) form today's contemporary complex or infrastructure of culture, beliefs, mythologies, and practices.  

We know there is something called a replication syndrome. In these cases of priest rapes, how far back does this history go for individual priests; for the collective body of priests; for the institutional world-wide church? (v)

In Conclusion

If the commonality in produce production and marketing is economic, what is the commonality of experience in a multitude of religious leaders' sexual abuse of their followers? What are the differences? What research methodologies can we use to explore these troubling questions? What language shall we use?

In the first two essays, I utilized the language of public health to explore issues of prevention, containment and treatment. In this essay, I have raised questions about how we begin to study these issues. I have raised the question of our research language as essential. I also believe our common, ordinary, everyday language is essential to our technical understanding.

In our work, do we unearth (and thus clarify) the central guiding metaphors of this religious and spiritual abuse scandal? Or, do we obfuscate and dither? Do we dig foxholes and trenches in which to defend our position? Or, do we seek to build communities of study and activism?

It seems to me that something more is called for than what I see on today's sexual violence scholarship and activism horizons. I want to continue to look slant at these issues. Not ignoring what has gone before, I want to build upon what is already known. We do not need to begin de novo.

We do need, however, to allow our deepest intuitions and let them guide the development of our thinking and of our research. Whether we choose to look in depth at one denomination or we choose to look globally at many religious groups, what we are seeking for is, I believe, more accurate knowledge and a broader, more accurate perspective on this troublesome issue than we currently have. In short, we need better information (demographic data) and we need a more accurate, more nuanced, more professional, and more complex language. We desperately need, in my opinion, an interdisciplinary conversation that includes the public health sector of our professional inquiries. In short, we need better data. (vi)

In addition, we are seeking for moments of deep intuition to break our categories and give us new languages and new constructs. Finally, we need, I believe, the synergy of the whole.  


i. Tony Cardew, "Uses for Diatomaceous Earth."

ii.  Selye, H. (1956/1978). The Stress of Life. NY: McGraw-Hill.

iii.  For an overview of contemporary brain scan technologies, see Michael Demitri, "Types of Brain Imaging Techniques,"PsychCentral, Oct. 2018.

iv.  In this ancient Indian parable, a group of blind men who have never before encountered an elephant are brought up to an elephant and they begin to explore its surface by touch. In essence, these men learn to conceptualize what an elephant is by touching it. Each man touches a different part — one its tusk, one its mouth and trunk, another a leg, a third man the belly, and another its tail. Asked to describe the elephant, each man describes the physical being of the elephant in terms of his own exploration and experience. In one version of this Buddhist myth, the men come to believe that the others are lying and they come to blows as each defends his own experienced encounter with the elephant as the definitive one.

"Blind men and an elephant,"  The Heath Readers by Grades, vol. 5 (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1907) , p. 69

v. Van der Kolk, B. (June 1989). "The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism." Psychiatric Clinics of North America 12(2), 389-411. See also Teicher, M. H. (October 1, 2000).  "Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse." Cerebrum Online.  

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