Monday, August 12, 2019

Ruth Krall, Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons (2)

Theodore Rombouts, (1597-1617), "Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple"

The essay below is the second installment of Ruth Krall's essay "Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons." Part one was published previously. In this essay, which is the sixth of a series of essays Ruth has entitled "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice," whose premise is (to quote the essay below), "Studies of sexual violence inside our denominational homes require new vocabularies and new conceptual models." 

In this current essay, Ruth argues, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to repeatedly enable sexual abuse of that same child." But also: "Remember this: it takes only one of us to be a healer."

The continuation of Ruth's essay on moral corruption in the religious commons follows (note that endnote numbers begin at xx because this is the second part of an essay whose first part has previously been published):

Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Thinking Slant

To recall the Ebola virus analogy: our collective denial and our institutional unwillingness to believe the survivors of sexual abuse done by religious clergy are similar to saying: This clergy sexual abuse virus does not exist and even if it does exist, it does not threaten me. Why should I endanger my own welfare? Why should I threaten my personal salvation, my family's welfare, my community's sense of individual and collective security? Why should I give a damn about abused children I will never meet? Why should I care about others' suffering? How the institutional church chooses to supervise its personnel and manage its financial matters is, after all, none of my business. (xx)

In the Gospel of Mathew, the human Jesus is reported to have said the following to his followers: I can guarantee this truth: whatever you did for my brothers and sisters – no matter how unimportant [they seemed], you did it to me. (xxi)

Also in Mathew: Jesus instructed his followers: Who shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (xxii)

First and Second Attack Wounds

In listening to Mennonite and other Protestant survivors of religious leader sexual abuse, something has become quite clear to me: abuse survivors perceive the physical acts of sexual violation and their physical, psychological, and spiritual aftermaths as one level of betrayal and violence. In addition, they also perceive the religious institution's negligence in promptly and effectively managing its sexually abusive employees as another level of traumatic betrayal and violation. Their rage at both types of abuse is pervasive. Their sense of despair is equally pervasive.  Their emotional and spiritual pain is as palpable as their physical body's pulse.  And yet, that said, their courage and determination to survive and heal these deep personal wounds is often quite formidable.Their determination to prevent sexual abuse from happening to others is equally formidable.

One Christian woman said to me many years ago: I am not only a victim; I am not only a survivor; I am a thriver. Good therapy long before I met her had provided a container in which she could work with her life history of multiple forms of abuse: incest, clergy sex abuse, and affinity rape. Her determination — never again — fueled her activism and stoked an inner resolve to living well as the best form of revenge. In the years since the conclusion of therapy, she had learned to create, to trust, and to rely on a loving network of family and friends as a shielding boundary — an early warning system. At a certain moment in mid-life, she made peace with her life history and moved on to create an abuse-free rest-of-life for herself and her children. When I met her, she was deeply engaged with her grandchildren — and was very protective of them. Her laughter was spontaneous and free. In her seventies, she was, indeed, thriving.  

It Takes Only One of Us

In a public lecture many years ago, pediatrician-oncologist Rachel Naomi Remen was describing the healing process for adults who were abused and severely traumatized in early childhood. She told the story of one of her clients. She'd asked him: How did you survive into adult life in the way you did. You have lived a very creative and loving adult life. How did you do it? After a long pause, he replied: You see, Rachel, there was the family dog. I knew she loved me.

To this collective group of physicians, nurses, and licensed therapists, Remen drove the teaching point home. She said to us: Remember this: it takes only one of us to be a healer.

Trauma Compounded by Trauma

The institutional church's most cynical defensive acts of betrayal, denial, minimization, lying, and overt verbal or legal attacks on survivors of abuse: these institutional responses to the accusations of clergy sexual abuse are experienced as a second and even more devastating form of abuse and attack. In my personal opinion, because of the emotional and spiritual damage they do, these forms of institutional attacks are truly despicable behavior and need to be openly condemned.

These complex and interpenetrated forms of violation and attack behaviors done by members of the clergy and the administrative castes of the church complicate the victim's processes of recovery and healing. All post-abuse victim-hostile attacks carried out by religious institutions are destructive to the psyche and to the spirit of sexual violence survivors. All are harmful, as well, to the worshipping community of believing individuals.

If it takes only one of us to be a healer, it also takes only one of us to destroy the path to healing for a sexually victimized individual. In the 1970s, Burgess and Holmstrom published the first of many books about rape, rape trauma syndrome, and therapeutic work with rape survivors.  They published their initial findings: when a newly raped victim first told her story, the response of the first hearer was a major influence on her post-rape healing. In short, whether the victimized individual was believed or not made a major impact on the long-distance prospects for healing and re-gaining an ordinary life. (xxiii) The comments of first-responders and of emergency room personnel mattered immensely in how the newly raped individual would subsequently manage her life history of being raped.

If we are honest with ourselves, the continuous and very human temptation is to turn away from victimized individuals, to join our personal denial to the collective habits of institutional denial — a reality which culturally infests our spiritual houses of worship. (xxiv) We are tempted to look for "reasons" this woman was raped — in essence, blaming her for the violence which she experienced. When we do this, we compromise our personal faith, our spirituality, and our religious praxis. We contribute to the destruction of safe and healing communities.

Jesus' warning in the Gospel of Mark is very direct: For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (xxv)


The temptation to blame victims of sexual abuse is strong — we see it among survivors who blame themselves and we see it among helping professionals. We see it among first responders. We see it among family members. Most especially, in terms of this essay, we see this in a wide variety of religious communities.

Our individual and collective institutional refusal to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and our subtle (or not-so-subtle) attacks on the survivors of clergy sexual abuse are similar to the disingenuous propaganda of a war zone. The inner early warning message is clear.  It says: Keep your job and your paycheck; don't rock the boat; stay alive; keep your mouth shut about the atrocities you have experienced or have witnessed; do not inquire about the truthfulness of the rumors you hear; believe what you are told by institutions and their bosses; above all, obey without question those in positions of authority; go about your day to day business quietly; do not, under any circumstance, call attention to the atrocities you have experienced or witnessed; do not question those in positions of power; do not protest or resist; institutional obedience is important to your economic and personal survival. (xxvi)

I always think of this process of well-groomed obedience as similar to the blinders worn by the Amish horses of my childhood — the horses wore blinders to keep them focused on the work at hand — i.e. they were passively obedient to their driver-owners. Their peripheral vision was blocked. It was not the horse's job to find the path home. He grew accustomed to wearing the master’s blinders and never resisted them. (xxvii)

Narrative Theology: Continuing to Think Slant
Tom Doyle estimates, dating back to the 1950s, that 15,000 priests sexually abused more than 100,000 children in the US. (xxviii)
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, we now know: this statistical level of abuse involves uncounted enablers. Most of those enablers are members of the clergy or their institutional supervisors. In addition, much more abuse goes unreported than gets reported. Consequently, we are looking at a statistical baseline — not at the complex reality somewhat misrepresented by this tiny byte of data. It is quite likely, for example, that these numbers do not include clergy sexual abuse and sexual harassment of adult men and women. The data most likely reflects a USA guestimate statistic — not scientifically or independently collected demographic data. Our collective reading of the baseline is, therefore, hampered by our inadequate access to complete and statistically layered demographic information. (xxix)

Ground-breaking multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary work of any kind requires individuals who think both inside and outside of the usual boundaries of their ordinary intellectual work. It requires inquisitive minds who seek to identify the unasked questions as well as to confront the poorly asked and ill-defined ones. This kind of work demands that professionals ask the usual questions in new ways. As I have emphasized in earlier essays, studies of sexual violence inside our denominational homes require new vocabularies and new conceptual models. In the case of clergy sexual abuse of children and adolescents, it requires new helpers, i.e. the assistance of community mental health and public health professionals.  

St. Francis of Assisi

There is a story told about St. Francis. He was praying in front of a crucifix one day when he heard the Holy Spirit say to him, Francis: Don't you see that my church is being destroyed? Go then and rebuild it for me. In his exegesis of this story, Daniel Horan writes that Francis saw the decrepit, falling-down physical condition of the church building in which he prayed and immediately began to repair and to rebuild it — brick by brick. Gradually, according to Roman Catholic hermeneutical traditions, Francis came to understand the commandment of God as a spiritual command: he was to work to rebuild the church that is the body of Christ.

Horan asks us whether or not the traditional exegesis of this study is the correct one:

Typically, the story is understood as an instance when the saint from Assisi got it all wrong, at least at first. The general take away is that Francis was too literal, concrete, and short-sighted at first in his attempts to make sense of God’s instruction to him.  He focused on the physical decay of the structures before him rather than issues of spiritual and ecclesial reform. He only really got the true meaning later. (xxx)

In light of the contemporary clergy sexual abuse scandal in today's Roman Catholic Church, Horan asks his readers to reconsider this centuries-old story and its hermeneutical conclusions: he asks us if maybe Francis got it right after all: What if you cannot begin to address the large social, spiritual, and theological issues until you fix those broken things that are right before you? (xxxi)


xx. Cox, J. (July 16, 2019). "Followers of Accused Priest Monsignor Harrison Now Show Their Support with Signs." to see SNAP’s July 17, 2019 response to this signage campaign, see "SNAP Urges Boycott of Businesses Displaying Signs Supporting Accused Priest." 

xxi. Matthew 25:40 (God's Word translation).

xxii. Matthew 18:6 (KJV).

xxiii. Burgess, A. W. and Holmstrom, L.L. (1974). Rape: Crisis and Recovery. Bowie, MD: Robert J. Brady Books.

xxiv. Cohen, S. (2001). States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge, UK:  Polity Press; see also Shupe, A. (2008). Rogue Clerics: The Social Problem of Clergy Deviance. Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

xxv. Mark 8: 36-37 (KJV).

xxvi. For a good discussion of obedience disorders, see Hamilton, V. L. and Kelman, H. (1987). Crimes of Obedience: Toward a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. For a good discussion of the human tendency towards denial and self-exclusion see Cohen, S., States of Denial, op cit.

xxvii. A google search for the phrase "picture of horse wearing blinders" provides multiple examples

xxviii. Korff, J. (July 15, 2019), op.cit.

xxix. "See Pongratz-Lippitt, C.  (July 25, 2019).  "Latest Statistics Show German Church Faces Massive Exodus." The Tablet. A 2018 German study indicates that at least 4.4% of German priests during the years 1946 and 2014 were credibly accused of sexual abuse.

xxx. Horan, D. P. (March 6, 2019). "Francis of Assisi's model for church reform may help in the abuse crisis." National Catholic Reporter.

xxxi. Ibid.

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