Saturday, July 6, 2019

Ruth Krall, Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems (2)

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This is the second part of Ruth Krall's essay "Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems." The first part is here, and that link also points you to links to three previously published essays in the same series, which Ruth has entitled "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice." This current essay follows on the three preceding essays, in which Ruth which hypothesizes the endemic natural of religious and spiritual leader sexual abuse of followers. The current essay continues this theme by asking what might be the role played by various ideologies in establishing institutional climates that faciliate abuse and then cover it up. 

Because this posting is a continuation of the first half of "Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems," footnote numbers start at the point at which footnotes in the first part of the essay left off in the previous posting. Ruth's essay follows:

Ruth Krall, Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems (Part Two)

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Bearing Witness

Bearing witness in any situation of human violence and social injustice has two dimensions. Both are essential. In the first, we learn to pay attention, to see, hear, and understand the truth. This includes the gathering of truthful, factually accurate, and reliable information.

In the second phase or aspect of bearing witness, we use our human voice (or our human pen or computer) to communicate what we have heard, seen, and witnessed. We seek to inform our communities. We seek to mobilize help for those who are culturally helpless. This latter element can include advocacy work, confrontation with the powers, and overt non-violent resistance.  It can also involve providing informed help of a specific nature.

In both of these aspects vis-à-vis bearing witness, we need to develop humility — we are not better than others; we need to develop compassion for the other; and we need to take care of the inner soft-self so that our intrapersonal resources do not become either deflated or messianic inflations.

My personal experience and belief system is that in every stage of bearing witness, we need a community — a base community that both holds us and warns us. We need a communal cycle of action and reflection, a time of gathering data, and a time of acting on the information we have gathered. (xi) Each cycle of action and reflection brings new obligations and new awareness of the truths of the matter at hand. Knowledge without action is, in itself, a self-corrupting activity. Action without reflection yields flawed results and may, indeed, make the situation worse.

One principle is quite clear to me: the more we corrupt our personal selves inside the safety of silence, ignorance, and a willful denial of the rights of others, the less useful we are to those who need us most.

This is a principle which the American Catholic bishops seem reluctant to learn and put into practice. In my opinion, therefore, they corrupt the religious commons they are supposed to serve.

A Revelatory Warning

If you want to have a career, you have to put this stuff behind you.

~ Cardinal Pio Laghi (xii)

The "stuff" to which Cardinal Laghi was referring was clergy sexual abuse in the 1980s and the institutional Roman Catholic hierarchy’s administrative mismanagement of its abusers. This problem, in Laghi’s worldview, was not, therefore, the statistically significant presence of sexual abusers in the American clergy; his problem was not the bishop’s mismanagement of these priest abusers: his problem was a principled priest's protest against this abuse and its mismanagement by American bishops. This problem priest was Laghi's Secretary-Canonist, Father Thomas Doyle. Shortly after this warning (1986), Doyle was informed he was no longer employed by the Vatican embassy in Washington, DC. I am guessing as I read this history that Doyle and his presence on the embassy's staff had become an institutional embarrassment to Laghi's own career ambitions — he was a career officer in the Vatican's diplomatic corp. (xiii)  A coalition of American bishops — some of them Doyle's friends and mentors — turned on Doyle, and Laghi chose not to protect him. (xiv)

The late Roman Catholic journalist Robert Blair Kaiser put it this way: The so-called "sex abuse crisis" is a misnomer. It was (and is) not a crisis but a disease something akin to alcoholism or an addiction to gambling, tinted with a little bit of all seven deadly sins, dominated by the deadliest of them, pride. Wayward priests have pursued their wayward ways because they were trained to think of themselves as something special — :ontologically different" as Pope John Paul ll kept insisting — a different species — and therefore accountable only to the Pope (who was accountable only to God). (xv)

For Kaiser the ideological root for his church's sexual abuse phenomenon is a combination of personal pathology (sexual addiction) in the context of a social reality inside the American priesthood (clericalism).  In addition, the ideological root for the institutional church's mismanagement of its abusing priests is the institution's abusive power. He writes that the solution should have been a simple one: U.S. bishops would just have to renounce their absolute power (the absolute power that corrupts absolutely) by shucking off their lordly posture and becoming servants to the people. (xvi)

It is also important to note that Kaiser — educated by Jesuits — brought a new word to the table: idolatry. He wrote: When the bishops fought back against Doyle, they did so on legal grounds. They never questioned their own idolatry. It was the politics of sex and religion that had the bishops' knickers in a twist. When they caught Doyle sounding like a prophet, they had no choice but to ignore him. When they found him talking to the press (because that’s what modern prophets do), they had him fired. (xvii)

Sometimes a specific narrative story guides us to the research questions which we need to ask. The specificity of this story contains, as it were, the story of the whole in an embryo form.

Inasmuch as the sexual abuse phenomenon is not only a Roman Catholic one, we must ask questions regarding multiple and diverse cultural and ideological belief systems. We must identify and study these complex systemic issues (issues which circle around the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon in multiple organized religious and spiritual teaching institutions). What are the ideologies in play at all times? When we look slant at these issues, what becomes immediately evident is that various forms of systemic injustice and religious ideologies permeate the environment. These various forms are present inside the fundamental ideologies of a wide variety of denominational and religiously-based organizations.

One of these ideologies is patriarchal reasoning and belief systems. Nearly all of the abusive organizations are both hierarchical and patriarchal. Power is concentrated in maleness and in wealth. In some of these religious systems we see absolute power vested in very few individuals — the modern-day equivalent of shamanic power or high priest power. In most religious organizations and spiritual teaching centers, the priest or guru is believed to represent the divine or the transcendent in special ways. She or he is often assumed to be above sin or personal failures. As the community's role model for how to find salvation or enlightenment, the leader gradually becomes above criticism.

We have had, to date, no comprehensive look at the ideological foundations of the sexual abuse crisis in our respective religious traditions. Here, one shoe will not fit all. The sixteenth-century Reformation destroyed Christian unity even as it freed the human conscience to find (or create) a complex Christian identity and praxis. The Council of Trent cemented these differences in place. The relatively recent emergence of Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism, and the establishment of Islamic mosques in Western cultures: these and other cultural changes brought with them new challenges.

Our commonalities, in this sexual abuse crisis, are not (I believe) theological: they are lodged in the ideological world of organizational behavior. There is the world of sexually violent clergy and there is the corrupted and abusive behavior of institutional administrators. Abusive and corrupted systems of governance provide institutional resources and cover so that individual perpetrators can continue to abuse without needing to demonstrate any personal accountability to their individual victims or to the victimized community.

Malignant Normalcy

When malignant normalcy becomes the ordinary experience of religious and spiritual teaching relationships, we see the breeding grounds for continuous cycles of systemic violation and individual violence. (xviii) Malignant normalcy has to do with the social actuality with which we are presented as normal, all-encompassing and unalterable; and second, our potential and crucial sense of ourselves "as witnessing professionals." (xix) In situations of malignant normalcy, individuals live and work inside organized systems; they do what is expected of them — no matter how unjust or how evil — without question and without principled dissent. There is a nearly continuous and seamless process of adapting and accommodating the self to the institutionalized cultural presence of evil. In this process, doing evil becomes normalized. It goes underground and becomes invisible to those who live inside their socialized cultures of violence and violation.

A corrupted organizational environment staffed by corrupted individuals is, in my opinion, an ideological sewer. In the case of clergy sexual abuse that is institutionally protected, all of us have an obligation to become witnessing resisters. To do this, we must have accurate information (demographic data) and an alternative vision (ideology) of a future without clergy sexual abuse and its consequent cover-up actions by institutional supervisors and administrators.

From my reading of Roman Catholic whistle-blowers and activists, a vision of the abuse-free church has not yet become a viable and sustainable vision. In part, this is because accurate information has been withheld by the institutional church. While these activists and whistleblowers have called our attention to these abusive phenomena (clergy abuse and institutional corruption) inside their institutional church, they have not completed the task of ending this abuse and, indeed, ending the potential for this abuse to continue. There is, as far as I can determine, no guiding vision about a violence-free future and a healthy spirituality (of individuals and institutions).  


We do not yet have all of the breadth and depth of the demographic information and knowledge that is needed for us (individually and collectively) to understand and to address the endemic nature of today's clergy sexual abuse phenomenons. It is that simple and that complex.

When we look slant, therefore, at clergy sexual abuse inside organized religious and spiritual teaching centers and institutions, the public health dimensions become visible. Most importantly, perhaps, the organizational ethos of malignant normalcy becomes visible. Systemic forms of institutionalized violence form the organizing culture in which the "virus" of clergy sexual abuse spreads rapidly. Inside these institutionalized systems, moral and spiritual corruption spread like an untreated virus. There are endemic issues and realities in today's religious and spiritual environments vis-à-vis pandemic religious leader affinity sexual violence behaviors.


xi. Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

xii. Approximately 1985/1986: Apostolic Pro-Nuncio Pio Laghi to Father Thomas Doyle. See KHOU 11 (Jan. 13, 2019), "Catholic Priest Shuns Collar to Fight for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse," at YouTube.

xiii. For biographical information about Pio Cardinal Laghi and his career, see his page at the Catholic-Hierarchy website. 

xiv. Berry, J. (1992). Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: Doubleday.  

xv. Kaiser, R. B. (2015). Whistle: Tom Doyle's Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse. Thiensville, WI: Caritas Press, pp. ix-x.

xvi. Ibid., p. x

xvii. Ibid.

xviii. Malignant normalcy is a phrase coined by American psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton. It originated in his early studies of Nazi physicians inside Nazi centers of torture and murder — such as Auschwitz and Dachau. See Lifton, R. J., "Foreword," in Bandy, X. L. (2017). The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. New York: St. Martin’s Press, pp. xv-xix.

xix. Ibid., p. xv.

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