Friday, August 16, 2019

Ruth Krall, Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons (3)

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

The following is the third part of Ruth Krall's essay entitled "Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons." The previous two parts of the essay have been published here and here. In this concluding section of her essay, Ruth asks what we ought to do when we recognize the depths of corruption and abuse enfolded in religious institutions: "Do we become enablers of abuse by keeping silent, or do we become informers and whistle-blowers about the levels of institutional violence we see? Do we respond to what we know by speaking up?" Ruth's essay follows (part 3, with footnotes continuing at xxxii):

Moral Corruption in the Religious Commons

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Insider Witnesses to Institutional Corruption
Virtually all of the ethical resisters … had long histories of successful employment.  They were not alienated or politically active members of movements advocating for major changes in society. On the contrary, they began as believers in their organization, convinced that if they took a grievance to superiors, there would be an appropriate response.  Their naiveté led them into a series of damaging traps.  They found that their earlier service and dedication provided them with little protection against charges of undermining morale and effectiveness. (xxxii)
~ Myron Glanzer
Those of us who live our professional work lives inside the borders of religious institutions have, I believe, a unique responsibility to the truth. We are called to bear witness by speaking the truth about what we observe, learn, and know — as insiders. In Kelman's and Hamilton's work, it grows clear that we are called to disobedience in authoritarian situations of institutional corruption. (xxxiii) In an era in which various religious organizations practice sleight of hand trickery and overt deceit about leader misconduct in the public commons, it is quite likely that insiders will make the first sighting of institutional corruption and administrative spiritual decay. It is most likely that insiders will see the patterns and practices of institutional enablement from the inside.

When I was still employed, I sometimes talked with my academic friends about smelling institutional chicanery. (xxxiv) I often did not have details or factual information,m but I sensed and intuited that something was very wrong. This is an apt metaphor. The physical nose is a very sensitive body organ and can deliver a warning — "fire" or "putrid decay" or "deadly chemical fumes." The same is true, I believe, in situations of institutional malfeasance. We are continuously monitoring our environment and often we "smell" something before we can consciously encode into words what it is exactly that has alerted us to the reality that something is wrong— that something has ethically or morally polluted our work environments (i. e., making them noxious).

Smelling institutional wrong-doing, what is an individual's responsibility? Is his or her primary loyalty to the institution? Is her or his primary loyalty to personal or institutional survival? Is one's primary loyalty to truth-telling? Or, is the employee's primary loyalty to the institution's victimized individuals — these little ones Jesus talked about with his disciples?

How each of us answers these difficult work environment questions is predictive of our individual responses to learning about sexually abusive behavior inside of them. How various individuals inside corrupted institutions answer these questions will partially determine the overall trajectories of institutional responsiveness to church clergy's victimized individuals. On paper the choice is quite simple: Do we become enablers of the abuse by keeping silent, or do we become informers and whistle-blowers about the levels of institutional violence we see? Do we respond to what we know by speaking up?

In real life, the choice is most likely self-perceived in self-referential terms. What is the factual truth here? Do I know for certain that what I am witnessing is a factual reality? Who am I? What are my personal values? What are my perceived and actual obligations to others — to my personal network of family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, and clients? What is my responsibility to care for my own very personal self? How do I balance all of the demands made upon my life?What if I am wrong about my perceptions? What if my friends and co-workers all abandon me— turning their faces against me?What if I make a total jackass of myself and am fired?

In 2015, documentary film producers Susan and John Michalczyk published their insightful documentary A Matter of Conscience: Confronting Clergy Abuse. At its first public screening, Susan commented: You can't be a bystander. You can't look the other way. You can and must take a stand. The documentary is neither adulatory nor naïve. It interviews a diverse group of Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse whistle-blowers and examines their motives, actions, and the institutional repercussions they faced in light of their actions. (xxxv)

Continuing to Look Slant

That which is hateful to you,
Do not do it to your fellow
That is the entire Torah
The rest is commentary. 
~ Hillel, the Elder
Sometimes the narrative of clergy abuse is so evil, we feel we need to turn away from the victimized ones. After hearing some of these stories, several of my activist-advocate colleagues frequently comment, I feel like I need a very long shower.

Encountering that which seems unbelievable to us — that which challenges our personal worldview and our sense of morality and common decency — we want to put on sound-dampening ear muffs. We want to put on eye blinders. We want to hide in isolated caves. We want to pull the covers over our head. We want to turn our face against the wall and curl up in fetal position. We want to withdraw into the safety of ignorance.

When we turn aside, however, we betray the institutional church's victims. In addition, we also betray the underlying foundation of our faith — the ethical, moral, and spiritual teachings of Judaism and Christianity. We become enablers of the rapist's physical violence and the church's self-protective institutional violence.

It is my personal belief that when we refuse to look and actually see the truth in front of us, we betray our calling as Christians to be healers and care-providers to those in need of our help. (xxxvi) What happens to our calling when our institutional leaders betray us — and the church's victims— by their institutional indifference to the pain they themselves have inflicted by (1) their abuses of power and (2) their administrative cover-ups of institutional negligence? How do we navigate belonging to an institutional church which seeks to maintain its own position in the world by an accompanying idolatrous lust for power, money, influence, and unlimited sexual access to vulnerable children and adults?

Malignant Normality
We can take the larger ethical view of the activist witnessing professional. (xxxvii)
~ Robert Jay Lifton
In the twentieth-century, the institutional Christian church (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and independent or non-denominational and non-affiliated churches) has betrayed the Christian Gospel and its people in the name of authoritarian power and clerical control of the powerless. The first of these abuses was during the Nazi era in Germany and other European nations. (xxxviii) The murder of millions of individuals inside the ideology of racial purity meant the state-mandated murder of Jews, Gypsies, sexual minorities, handicapped children and adolescents, mentally disabled individuals, citizens of Poland, and political dissidents. (xxxix) The deadly ideologies and rhetoric of religious and ethnic hatred had been planted inside Christendom for millennia. These ideologies of hate and exclusionary violence were, therefore, deep-rooted and well-watered inside twentieth-century German Christendom. (xl) While there was a religiously-motivated resistance movement inside Germany, it was very small. (xli)

The second massive betrayal inside the twentieth-century institutional Christian church is the clergy sexual abuse scandal inside our respective denominations. Given that the world-wide Roman Catholic Church has 1.2 billion baptized members, thousands of children, adolescents, and adult women have been raped by priests and sexually abused by clergymen. Institutional supervisors of abusive clergy and bishops have tended to shelter the sex offenders and rapists rather than care for their victims. For Roman Catholics, the epicenter of this era of religious leader sexual abuse of Catholic laity is located in Vatican City. The papal reigns of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis are each implicated in this ongoing Christian scandal. Not only, therefore, are diocesan local bishops and diocesan administrators implicated. (xlii)

The hierarchy of the worldwide church is, and has been, involved in massive cover-up activities. The same is true for individual congregations and parishes. This is also visible inside the church's religious orders. The institution-wide cover-up of abusive individuals and institutional criminality has become clear inside the United States and other English-speaking nations. This is primarily because state and local governing bodies have become involved. In several nations such as Ireland and Australia, national investigations have been carried out and reports issued. In the United States, it is the various states' attorneys general who are now calling the questions. It has become clear: the centuries-old authoritarian and patriarchal ideologies and praxis of abusive clericalism have been well-watered during the preceding centuries of Christendom. (xliii) The cultural fruit of these trees and the spiritual forest that they live in are both toxic and poisonous.

American psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton in his many books and published articles over the years alerts us to the cultural reality of a malignant normality. While Lifton’s work addresses the nation-state and the world of nation-state politics, I want to apply this concept to the current sexual abuse scandal in many of our religious and spiritual teaching traditions.

Malignant normality has to do with the social actuality within which we are presented as normal, all-encompassing, and unalterable, and second, our potential and crucial sense of ourselves as witnessing professionals. (xliv)

Lifton begins by discussing his premise that all societies put forward ways of viewing, thinking and behaving that can be much affected by the political and military currents of a particular era. Such requirements cans be fairly benign, but they can also be destructive to the point of evil. (xlv)

In his studies of Nazi doctors — those individuals who participated in the selection process and the subsequent murder of individuals in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Third Reich —Lifton notes that these individuals were simply doing their job, meeting the expectations of their supervisors and peers. Lifton calls this a process of adapting to evil. (xlvi) He notes that this was a normalization of evil. (xlvii)

Malignant normality can take many forms. What appears to be needed to sustain situations of malignant normality, if I am reading Lifton correctly, is for large organizations of professionals and other individuals to support and to proliferate its underlying ideologies of hate.

Noting that citizens and professionals are not powerless in the situation of despotic leaders seeking to change the underlying cultural agreement of normal, Lifton notes that we (professionals) need to combine our sense of outrage with a disciplined use of our professional knowledge and experience. (xlviii) In addition, professionals can use our knowledge and technical skills to expose such [malignant] normality, to bear witness to its malignance, to become witnessing professionals. (xlix)

When, across the divides of denominational Christianity, Christians come together to pursue justice for the marginalized, we will begin to swing the pendulum — which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called the long arc of history towards justice. (l) In light of our various religious denominations and their tolerance for sexually abusive clergy and religious leaders, I personally believe that bearing witness to the evils we deplore is an essential aspect of our Christian calling — that which the contemporary descendents of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, call Nachfolge Christi — the faithful following of the faithful Christ, i.e., Christian discipleship.

 Concluding Remarks
All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing. (li)
~ Edmund Burke
In bringing this series of essays to an end, I note that we began by looking slant at a variety of issues.  In the process of writing these six essays, I have wandered through multiple academic disciplines – harvesting their informed wisdom for us to consider.  Along the way I made some recommendations:

We need, as sexual violence advocates, to expand our community of dialogue and discourse. In particular, we need to add the voices, professional wisdom, and research methodologies of community mental health and public health.
We need to develop a variety of research protocols— from longitudinal case studies to stratified sampling demographic surveys.
We need to utilize the methodologies of stratified random surveys, in addition to ethnographic studies.
We need to both expand and sharpen our vocabularies of discourse.
We need interfaith working groups to explore the roots and the symptoms of the clergy sexual abuse disorder/communal pathology in our various faith traditions. Here we are looking for similarities and differences.
We need to revisit church history and seek to understand pre-Reformation and post-Reformation influences on today's issues vis-à-vis clergy sexual abuse and clericalism.
We need to commit ourselves to becoming professional witnesses.
As professionals in this field, we must learn how to take care of our inner selves in order that we do not become emotionally fatigued victims of secondary trauma.
We must seek out discrete and specific ways in which we can support the work of other individuals who are doing this work; we must, therefore, come to intimately know the socio-cultural and institutional-organizational terrains in which we find ourselves.
The role played by of cultural ideologies is vitally important to our understanding of these troublesome issues. We need informed and compassionate theologians, philosophers, and church historians to help us do our work.
It is possible for individuals and members of the collective to counter the malignant normality of today's era of abusive (and intellectually clueless) religious institutions. As believing or unbelieving Christians, Jewish and Christian scriptures teach us that indeed it is our spiritual duty as G-d's children and as followers of the itinerant prophet Jesus of Nazareth to do so.

In these short essays, I have worked to (1) do a close reading of clergy sexual abuse and institutional malfeasance and then to (2) exegete where we currently are in our studies of religious leader sexual abuses; where we currently are in our studies of institutionalized responses to those abuses.  Along the way, we have seen hints and intimations about next steps. Those hints and intimations now must be tested in the research protocols of others.  


xxxii. Myron Glanzer in Boatright, J. (2000). Ethics and the Conduct of Business. (3rd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. P. 113. Quoted by Vince Reardon (2010). Legacy: Passing on Cherished Values in a Values-Starved World. San Diego: LP Publishers. P. 37.

xxxiii. Hamilton and Kelman, Crimes of Obedience, op.cit.

xxxiv. Krall, R. E. (August 10, 2015). "How to Smell a Rape-prone Campus." Bilgrimage.

xxxv. Michalczyk, S. A. and Michalczyk, J. J. (2015). A Matter of Conscience: Confronting Clergy Abuse. Boston: Etoile Productions.  For more information, contact see the Etoile Productions website. For background history see susanjohn (September 3, 2014). "A Matter of Conscience: Why We Produced This New Documentary Film." Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. 

xxxvi. See Luke 10:25-37.

xxxvii. Lifton, R. J. (2017). Foreword, Lee, B. (Ed.) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 21 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. New York: St. Martin’s Press. P. xix.

xxxviii. For the Vatican's pact with Mussolini, see "Lateran Treaty," Wikipedia. For the Vatican's treaty with Hitler, see Krieg, R. A. (September 1, 2003). "The Vatican Concordat With Hitler's Reich: The Concordat of 1933 was ambiguous in its day and remains so." America Magazine.

xxxix. I highly recommend the twentieth-century documentary film, The Shoah. See the trailer for it at YouTube. I also recommend Robert Jay Lifton’s study, (1986). The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books.

xl. Lifton, R. J., ibid.

xli. In personal correspondence, Tom Doyle commented on the Nazi era — that only two German bishops in the Roman Catholic tradition resisted the Nazi regime. Both were marked for political assassinations but the war came to an end before the murders were carried out. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands out as a German Lutheran resister, and he was murdered in prison.

xlii. Martel, F. (2018). In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. New York: Bloomsbury.

xliii. Doyle, T.P, Sipe, A. W. R. and Wall, P. (2006). Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse. Taylor Trade Publishing.

xliv. Lifton, op. cit., p. xv.

xlv. Ibid.

xlvi. Ibid., p. xvi

xlvii. Ibid.

xlviii. Ibid., p. xvii.

xlvix. Ibid., p. xviii

l. See the very interesting discussion about the long history of this phrase/concept at the Quote Investigator site. 

li. See the interesting discussion of the origins of this quotation at the Quote Investigator site. 

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