Friday, August 9, 2019

Ruth Krall, Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons (1)

Theodore Rombouts, (1597-1617), "Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple" (i)
My house shall be called a house of prayer
But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves.
(Mathew 21: 13, Good News Translation)

This essay is the sixth in a series of essays Ruth Krall has generously offered us on Bilgrimage, under the series title "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice." This link will point you to links to each previous essay in the series. In her "Recapitulation" series, Ruth addresses what she sees as the he endemic nature of sexual abuse of followers in religious contexts and contexts offering spiritual guidance. From the outset, Ruth's latest essay on moral corruption in the religious commons announces its theme:

If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to repeatedly enable sexual abuse of that same child. This is so whether she lives inside secular society or he lives inside a deeply pious religious and worshipping community.

Ruth's essay "Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons" follows. Because the essay is rich and long, I'll be sharing it in several installments, of which this is the first:

Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Introductory Comments

Serial sexual abuse takes more than a predilection for predation.  It requires enablers – both explicit and implicit. (ii)

~ Renee Graham

If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to repeatedly enable sexual abuse of that same child. This is so whether she lives inside secular society or he lives inside a deeply pious religious and worshipping community.

While quotations, aphorism, and slogans are useful to capture our attention, they speak mostly to people whose awareness has already been raised. Something more is called for.

Bearing Witness

Her princes are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves leaving nothing for the morning.  Her prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain; her priests defile the temple by disobeying God’s instructions. (iii)

~ Zephaniah, Jewish Prophetic Tradition 

As adult members of our dysfunctional, religiously idolatrous denominations and institutions, we must pay attention. Preventing religiously-organized atrocities is the responsibility of every adult member of the community. Refusing to know, recognize, and respond to the signs of religious leader abusiveness is a form of individual naiveté and collective denial; it is a pervasive symptom of spiritual immaturity and systemic moral rot.

Sexual abuse, and its correlative, corrupt institutional behavior, is not a unique problem to Christianity; it is not even a uniquely contemporary issue. For example, institutional religious corruption was frequently critiqued by the Hebrew prophetic tradition and remnants of the prophets' work are still visible throughout Jewish scriptures. For example, the prophetic words above were written down by Zephaniah in the kingdom of Judah (ca 640 – 630 BCE). (iv) This was centuries before the itinerant prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in human history.

For multiple examples of deceit, chicanery, clerical abuses of power, and religious hypocrisy, one can read a history of the papacy from the earliest centuries of Christianity. (v) For the ethical, moral, and spiritual transgressions inside the religious community of ancient Israel and Judah, one can also read Jewish and Christian scriptures. Through the centuries, religious corruption and institutional hypocrisy drew scathing criticism from prophets and reformers. (vi)

In various eras of Christian history, religious and spiritual corruption has taken multiple and diverse forms. Some commonalities across millennia appear: overt acts of murder, greed, covetousness, character assassination, abuse of the powerless, pride of position, disdain for the foreigner, struggles to gain and keep political power and institutional authority, lying, financial dishonesty, and spiritual fraud.

In our contemporary Christian era, we have learned about a variety of sexual abuses of the laity and women religious. We have learned about sexual abuses of individuals in lower categories of the clergy — as, for example, seminarians or candidates for ordination. (vii) We continue to learn about institutional protection for clergy sexual abusers. Sexual sins of commission and enablement sins of omission litter this historical era's religious institution landscapes. Today's corrupted institutional church structures closely resemble a desert carcass surrounded by opportunistic vultures.

In short, the seven deadly sins make regular appearances inside the institutional boundaries of organized religion and its affiliated institutional structures.

Pride: pride is seen as the deadliest sin because it is believed to be the root cause of all other sins; arrogance; hubris; the sin of pride essentially consists of seeing others as inferior to us; the desire to be the center of attention, seeing others as losers; looking down on others. One can hypothesize that clericalism inside the pan-denominational church’s various clergy guilds is a pathological form of professional guild pride — seeing oneself and the priestly caste as better than the laity, therefore, deserving adulation and a position of honor.
Greed: an inordinate desire to acquire or to possess, avarice, cupidity, covetousness, may incite violence against others as in theft, hoarding; the purple hat virus of ambition to be a bishop or the red hat virus of wanting to be a cardinal are both visible in the current era's sexual abuse scandal as priests and bishops refused to act to protect the people in the pews. In addition, members of the clergy were, and are, rewarded for their inaction by promotions. Kicking someone upstairs is a bureaucratic maneuver to manage problem personnel.  
Lust: disordered love; we can lust for money, power, and prestige as well as for illicit sexual encounters.
Envy: insatiable desire or covetousness toward the traits or possessions of someone else; exaggerated feelings of jealousy directed at others.
Gluttony: over-indulgence and over-consumption to the point of waste; there is a correlation with selfishness — placing one's own well-being above and over against the well-being of others.
Wrath: uncontrollable feelings of anger, rage, and hatred; it can include holding grudges and committing subtle or overt acts of retaliatory revenge.
Sloth: absence of interest, an absence of feeling, boredom, apathy, passivity, sluggishness, laziness, idleness, indolence, a failure to do the things one should do; this is the sin or omission, failure  to act, not meeting one's ethical or moral responsibilities to others.

Bearing Witness

Over the years as I lived and worked in a wide variety of organizations— both secular and religious— I came to hold the opinion that one form of immoral or unethical behavior usually came attached to other forms. For example, sexual misconduct often came joined at the hip to financial misbehavior or even overt fraud. Sanctimonious hypocrisy and overt lying were often fused in a similar manner. Supercilious and malicious verbal attack behaviors against the rights of others to live in safety were common in situations of professionals' sexual abusiveness. In his last book, American Catholic journalist Blair Kaiser notes the omnipresent reality of idolatrous pride as the sin which interconnects the whole. (viii)

As far as  I know, the word idolatry hasn't made its way into canon law; the term itself rings strange to modern American ears but that’s what the bishops were caught up in, a worship of something other than God (and a devotion to their own power) that vitiated all their other good works. When the bishops fought back…they did so on legal grounds.  They never questioned their own idolatry. (ix)
~ Robert Blair Kaiser

As I write these words, I think also about Blair Kaiser's personal encounter with clericalism, priest sexual abuse, and institutional enablement. A Jesuit-educated journalist, he was probably the most important American news figure to cover Vatican II (1962-1965) from its beginning to its end. A newly married man living in Rome, he encountered the harsh realities of clergy sexual abuse and institutional denial up close and personal. His "friend" — Jesuit priest Father Malachi Martin —seduced Blair Kaiser's wife. (x)

Learning about sexual abuse-shattered lives inside our communities, we must teach ourselves to ask questions about hidden, corrupt, and treacherous institutional realities. Hearing rumors about sexual abuse by religious leaders or learning about spiritual teacher abuse from victimized individuals, we must set ourselves on the path to become believing witnesses. Witnessing institutional denial and lying, we must also bear witness to the institutional worshipping church's need for moral and political reforms. We must, it seems to me, seek individual and collective spiritual renewal.

Hearing, receiving, and believing the testimony of those whose lives have been disrupted and irrevocably changed by these devastating forms of personal and institutional abuse, we must also set our feet on the path of institutional truth-speaking and accountability. We must learn how to hold religious leaders accountable for their personal and collective acts of institutional malfeasance. We must take responsibility for instigating and insisting upon institutional reforms.

We must learn to listen respectfully and non-defensively to things which make us personally uncomfortable. We must actively seek to avoid the psychological traps of disbelief, denial, minimization, and blame-shifting. We must also seek to avoid the spiritual traps of individual and collective negligence. Finally, we need to avoid becoming immobilized by feelings of helplessness and spiritual despair

As our shoulders sag and our personal proclivities to denial and despair become self-evident, we might make our Morning Prayer one of petition: Great Spirit, give me ears to hear, eyes to see, a heart to understand, and a robust courage to act. (xi) The Great Depression Era hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory, by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1930), says it best for me: Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore: grant us wisdom; grant us courage for the living of these days, for the living of these days. (xii)

Whether we are faithful and trusting believers inside our religious communities or alienated and marginalized individuals on the borders outside them: to be honorable adults, we must continuously set and then re-set our individual and collective moral and ethical compass towards justice for victimized children and adults. This includes insisting upon full accountability for those religious leaders who are their abusers and for those religious leaders who are the enablers of others' abuses.  

Where corrupt authoritarian religious institutions have insisted upon adding institutional secrecy, minimization, outright denial, attack behaviors, and lying to the mix, we must be willing to take the dangerous leap of seeking to identify, understand, and challenge these structures of institutionalized violence.  In short, we must pay attention to the moral, ethical, and spiritual corruption present inside the borders of our religious communities' most powerful and most honored people and institutions.

I believe we are obliged by our faith to identify abusive leaders. We are obliged by our faith to speak to morally and ethically corrupt institutions. By virtue of our faith, we must speak up against our leaders' individual and collective malfeasance, their criminality and interpersonally malicious behaviors. We must identify the subtle subterfuges and the overt lies. We must refuse — repeatedly— to become their enablers.

To do this kind of work means that we must learn to distinguish trustworthy people we don't like from untrustworthy ones that we do like.

Ultimately, if we are to become moral and ethical adults, we must give up blind devotion, unwarranted trust, childlike obedience to authoritarian leaders, and an unquestioning naiveté. We must confront our fears of being excluded from the community that has been our spiritual home. We must grow up. If we are to become spiritually mature adults, we must stop being gullible. We must stop engaging in magical thinking. We must stop practicing denial.

Most of all, we must counter our wishful naïve belief that sexual violence could not, and therefore does not, exist in proximity to us or to our community of faith and praxis. We must understand that no religious community is immune. We must be prepared for the possibility that someone we like, trust, admire, and appreciate is an abuser or an enabler of someone else's abuse.

Looking Slant Once More

To be personal: I am a non-graduating alum of a Mennonite seminary. I really liked my professors, trusted them, and enjoyed learning in their classrooms. Not only were they my teachers: because of my professional role in Mennonite collegiate education, they were also my respected professional colleagues. They opened Jewish scriptures (Torah and the Prophets) to me; they opened the study of hermeneutics and textual exegesis.

I was very distressed many years later when I learned that these respected teachers and colleagues (my spiritual and intellectual elders) had known about professor and former seminary president John Howard Yoder's sexual abuses of young women seminary students and did nothing to stop it. Not only had they passively done nothing: they, along with seminary administrators, boards of directors, and denominational executives, had actively hidden this information deep inside the seminary's administrative and faculty governance structures. The reach of this so-called secret was like a gigantic spiderweb —tied to many different branches of the institutional Mennonite Church's bureaucracy.  Not only was the seminary implicated in the cover-up. So too were many church bureaucrats in a wide variety of church-run and church-sponsored agencies.During this era, two separate Mennonite conferences protected Yoder's ordination credentials.    

I have long believed that sexual abusers will always be present in our communities; I have also long believed that all institutions have a responsibility to manage and contain their abusiveness. Institutions have a moral and ethical obligation to publicly announce what they know about sexual abusers in order to protect other vulnerable individuals. I firmly believe, for example, that sexual abusers should be reported to civil authorities for their criminal behavior. Where the issues of their abusiveness do not involve the criminal justice system, they should be publicly fired and notations made to their permanent personnel files. Potential employers should be alerted to this history.

For me, the clergy sexual abuse issue has been a situation in which we see the church's institutional mismanagement of its abusive personnel. Not all abusive acts are equal. But each one must be addressed and appropriately managed.

In one secular environment, I witnessed a professor change his pedagogy because he had been warned about using sexist and exclusionary language in his classroom laboratory. He had been publicly asking his women undergraduate students why they wanted to be scientists when they should be married and making babies. His department head, upon learning about this from a student woman's complaint, stepped in and told him to "cut it out." And he did. He may have continued to believe that women's primary social role was "baby-maker." If so, he learned to keep that opinion to himself. Student complaints about his offensive sexist classroom behavior ended. Consequently, the classroom was more hospitable to their learning.

In another institution, a faculty man apologized to me for sexist remarks he had made in my hearing about women faculty members. It was my understanding at the time that one of our colleagues — a male — told him he was way out of line in his off-the-cuff comments about me and other faculty women. He too may have continued to believe that we— his faculty women peers — were all castrating bitches. But he learned that the campus community — male and female — did not support his public expression of this opinion.

Self-policing is part of the American academic culture. It doesn't always work. But the principle is clear: the academy only succeeds when its professors behave in an honorable manner. The best way to kill an academic career is to "get caught" plagiarizing the work of others. Another way is to sexually harass, abuse, and physically assault students, a departmental secretary or a faculty colleague.

In addition, faculty self-governance must be backed by robust institutional management of its identified and known abusers. Human resource departments must be prepared to investigate and to intervene in situations of sexual abusiveness by faculty or staff. Student life deans must be prepared to intervene when students sexually assault other students.

Upon learning about the Mennonite Church's web of deliberate secrecy in its management of the John Howard Yoder situation, the disillusionment to my personal spirituality was great. The effect on my religious and denominational self-identify sent shock waves through my spirituality and changed my personal commitments to my religious heritage, tradition, and community. Only as other Mennonite women and I began to challenge institutional secrecy, and only as we did intensive political work inside our extended ethnic Mennonite community networks, did the seminary act — but again, in very secretive and very institution-defensive ways.Yoder’s move to a full-time position at the University of Notre Dame (a geographic solution) was facilitated, and, once tenured there, he continued to abuse Anabaptist-Mennonite, Protestant, and Roman Catholic women for almost another decade. (xiii) He was both an opportunist and a deliberate stalker. He groomed women and he took advantage of vulnerable women in situations as they presented themselves to him.

Once he was at Notre Dame, other Mennonite Church agencies continued to send Yoder on speaking and consultation trips abroad. Mennonite and evangelical presses continued to publish his work. He continued to keynote major conferences. Here, too, he abused women. One professional Mennonite woman in a Central American nation sent a letter to his United States supervisors saying — in essence — do not send him here again. He endangers our daughters. She told her North American female colleagues and friends that she had done this and asked them to support her request.

I was never one of Yoder's victimized women but I consider myself to be a victim of the church's mismanagement of Yoder. I was attacked for my activism — very surreptitiously and underhandedly — by church leaders in the know. Only the fact of being fully tenured and having an ethical academic dean as well as supportive faculty and staff colleagues protected me. Only in the process of seeking to uncover the origins of these attacks (inside the protective container of full retirement) have I been able to unravel their multiple points of origin. In other words, I finally could take down a particular spider web in which a variety of the church institution's administrators attempted to trap me. I now know exactly who covertly attacked me and the year in which these churchmen individually and collectively sought to have me fired. I am grateful to my friends and colleagues for helping me to unravel this crazy-making narrative of my mature professional life. (xiv)

One of the more hilarious aspects of this harassing nonsense was that during my Yoder "activism years," seminary administrators"“secretly" sent one of its most senior professors to the college where I was employed. His task was to go through the card catalogue and identify the heretical and theologically unacceptable— i.e., feminist — books I’d ordered for the library collection. I learned about this effort at academic censorship from the college's librarian who was appalled. She assured me I would continue to be able to order books and that the library would purchase them without questioning me about their so-called theological inappropriateness. As far as I can tell, nothing came from this mean-spirited attempt to do academic censorship. Eventually, years later, someone slipped me a copy of the "report" to the college’s president — the report which presented the findings of this man's card catalogue surveillance.  

Yoder never made it into the Ivy League, nor did he make it onto the faculties of prestigious theological schools on the west coast. I have long believed — but without specific information— that powerful Mennonite and other-than-Mennonite theologian-scholars-in-the-know blocked his way because of his history of verbal and sexual abusiveness. Academic search committees not only conduct open searches; they also use back-door sources of information when important academic posts are filled. The last thing a faculty or administrator search committee wants is for a new faculty or administrative appointment to be blown up by bad publicity about sexual misconduct and overt interpersonal abusiveness in previous academic or church management positions.  

By the last eight or ten years of his life, Yoder's institutionally powerful Mennonite supervisors, friends and colleagues could no longer protect him. The stories of his abusiveness were too public, too pervasive, and too well-known. Notre Dame, on the other hand, kept him on its theology faculty until he died. In the years since Yoder's death, his Mennonite enablers have become known as well. In my personal opinion, their careers and personal reputations languished after revelations of his sexual abuse were finally verified by the institutional Mennonite Church. (xv)

Working to Change Institutional Cultures

To do this kind of political whistle-blowing we must first cast our lot with those who have been abused or are being abused. In short, we must take sides with those whom we — and our faith communities — most want to disbelieve; with those passively abandoned by— or aggressively attacked by — our churches' leaders. We must stop being serfs and we must become politically active and emotionally secure adult church citizens. We must be willing to confront abuse and abuse-enabling individuals inside these corrupted communities, communities inside which we — along with the abusers and enablers — live.

Denial of individual and institutional evil does not serve any of us. Nor does it serve Christian faith and theology. In this vile conjoined narrative of clergy sexual abuse and enabling religious institution corruption, we need to disentangle ourselves and our lives from the corrosive realities of abusive institutions. We need to learn how to interrogate the institution's deceitful and self-protective narratives and its malignant decisions. We need to recognize that individual and institutional abuse is often accompanied by institutional enablers who make aggressive, direct and/or indirect, institution-protecting attacks against the victims of sexual abusers, who make attacks against the morally-principled individuals who support victimized individuals. (xvi)

In addition, we need to proactively work with others to create safe and healthy communities for every individual who associates with the community in any way — be that enrolling in a denominational primary school, participating in preparation activities for confirmation, studying in a denominational seminary, or working as an employee of the institutional church.

Engaging with Factual Truth

As we do this hard work of engaging with factual truth, we will (at least in my experience this is so) encounter uncomfortable and almost unbelievable facts — facts that not only indicate betrayal of abused individuals but also facts that represent deliberate and political betrayals of the collective whole — including our own selves. It is quite likely that when we seek to intervene, we will encounter resistance and enraged ideological attacks on our personal, economic, and spiritual well-being. Perhaps most importantly, we will uncover corrupted religious and spiritual belief systems — those ideologies and beliefs which are foundational to the community’s abusive faith and corrosive praxis.

It is important to remember that our grief and our rage at these institutional and systemic betrayals of vulnerable individuals occur inside the presence of the divine Spirit who is seeking always to live among us. (xvii) The same is true of these deliberate betrayals of the community of the faithful— the people of God— inside these corrupted institutions. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: He (G-d) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (xviii)

It is inevitable: working with survivors of sexual abuse and confronting secretive and abusive (i.e., corrupt, morally bankrupt) institutions, inevitably changes us.  In her work with trauma survivors, Harvard-based psychiatrist Judith Herman discusses the need for helping professionals, survivor advocates, and friend helpers to have a trusted community with whom they can debrief the work and where they can find emotional support. (xix) Along with Herman, I too believe that assisting in the care of deeply traumatized and wounded others inevitably must involve taking care of the multi-dimensional self. This is not an either/or situation but a both/and one.

(For the next installment of this essay, see here.)


i. Theodore Rombouts, (1597-1617). "Christ Driving the Money-changers From the Temple." The  original is in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and this image has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons from the museum catalogue for online sharing. 

ii. Graham, R. (July 12, 2019). "Everyone Knew About Jeffrey Epstein: Nobody Cared." Boston Globe. 

iii. Zephaniah 3:3-4 (NLT translation).

iv. Zephaniah was a contemporary of the better known prophet Jeremiah. His work preceded Josiah’s reform of the Kingdom of Judah in 621 BCE. For more information, see "Zephaniah," at Wikipedia.

v. Laschelles, C. (2017). Pontifex Maximus: A Short History of the Popes. United Kingdom: CRUX Publishing.    

vi. See Matthew 23:1-39; and Luke 11:37-54. See also Luke 20:47-49.

viii. Blair Kaiser, R. (2015).  Whistle: Tom Doyle’s Steadfast Witness of Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse.  Thiensville, WI.  Caritas Communications  

ix. Blair Kaiser, R. (2015). Whistle: Tom Doyle's Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse. Thiensville, WI: St Martin’s Press. P. x.

x. Blair Kaiser, R. (2002). Clerical Error: A True Story. New York: Continuum.  

xi. Proverbs 20:12: "The hearing ear and the seeing eye: ADONAI made them both" (CJB translation). 

xii. Fosdick, H. E. (1930). God of Grace and God of Glory. For lyrics, see "Hymn Database" maintained by Heather Patey of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. For a choral version, see this rendition by Mount Olivet United Methodist Church of Arlington, Virginia, 7 March 1993. 

xiii. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. (March 2015). "AMBS Press Announcement: AMBS Responds to Victims of John Howard Yoder's Abuse." AMBS website.

xiv. Waltner-Gossen, R. (January 1, 2015). "Defanging the Beast: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse." Mennonite Quarterly Review 89 (1). Pp. 7-80.

xv. This is similar to the situation of Cardinal Wuerl of the Washington Diocese vis-à-vis sexual abuse allegations against his predecessor Cardinal McCarrick. See  Guidos, R. (January 16, 2019). "Cardinal Wuerl acknowledges he knew of one accusation against predecessor." Catholic News Service.

xvi. Korff, J. (July 15, 2019). "The Fifty Year Secret: Tom Doyle — The Truth Seeker." WJLA, Arlington, VA.

xvii. Matthew 18:20 (NIV): "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

xviii. Isaiah 40:29 (NIV).

xix. Mendelsohn, M., Herman, J. L., Schatzoa, E., Coco, M., Kallivayalii, D., and Levitan, J. (2011). The Trauma Recovery Group: A Guide for Practitioners. New York: Guilford Press.

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