Ruth Krall, Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion (2)

By William Lindsey
Bilgrimage blog
July 29, 2019

The essay below is the second part of Ruth Krall's essay entitled "Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion." The first part was published on Bilgrimage several days ago. As the introduction to the essay at the link I have just provided explains, the essay is one of a series of essays Ruth has published on Bilgrimage, under the series title "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice." Links to the previous essays in this series appear at the link I've just given you above. The common theme binding these essays together is the endemic natural of religious and spiritual leader sexual abuse of followers. The current essay explores this theme by arguing that clergy sexual abuse is a global public health issue whose noxious presence can be found inside multiple language groups and national identities. The secong part of Ruth's essay, "Historical Meandering," follows (note that footnotes begin with xiii because this essay is a continuation of the first part published previously):

Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

The Question of Women’s Ordination as a Preventive Factor

Despite pressure from the laity and the church's liberal theologians to ordain women, today's ruling class of dominant males in the Catholic Church maintain that ordination of women is canonically impossible. (xxiii) Other American religious denominations such as the Church of the Latter Day Saints and the Southern Baptist Convention also maintain doctrines of women's inferiority and essential subordination to male leadership or headship. This makes women uniquely unsuitable for institutional roles as clergy or theology professors.

The official ideology is that of women's and children's inferiority and the accompanying cultural demand is for their unquestioning deference and obedience to the all-male clergy and to the all-male clerical hierarchy. Since the historical Jesus was a male, females cannot represent him in the clergy. In this mode of thinking, Jesus' genitalia take precedence over his message. Since the disciples were all male (Mary Magdalene gets overlooked somehow) only men can be ordained to the clergy. Again, the issue of male genitals seems to take precedence in the matter of clergy selection. In this manner, essentialist female inferiority and subordination is written into church law and custom.

There are historical "rumors" that the early Christian community did, in reality, have women priests and women bishops. (xxiv) These conclusions are ignored by the institutional church. They are not, however, ignored by women scholars and by educated lay women seeking role models for their own spirituality in a postmodern age.

In addition, in the Roman Catholic tradition, priests and members of the laity are taught that ordained members of the clergy are an alter Christus. Their so-called ontological changes (on the day of a priest's ordination) create a different form of the human personality. This change occurs during the liturgy of ordination, when the candidate for ordination kneels before the bishop. The bishop places his hands on the candidate's head. In a somewhat mystical transaction, the new priest's soul is ontologically changed by the bishop's actions. In this ontologically-changed manner, the cleric gains a personal share in Christ's divinity and is thereby elevated in prestige and power above members of the laity. (xxv) He becomes an alter Christus.

In addition, when popes speak from Peter's seat, their words are infallible and eternally binding on the entire church. (xxvi) Popes have consistently maintained that women cannot be ordained and serve as clergy. In addition, they maintain that women religious must be subordinate to their male bishops (and long-distance to the male pope). Inasmuch as male bishops and priests control the sacraments — and, essentially, salvation — all females are inferior to these male clergy. Inside the church, women are, therefore, co-dependents — cooperating with their institutional repression and oppression.

However, most Christian denominations in the English-speaking world do ordain women. Several denominations such as the American Methodist Church, the African-American Methodist Church, and the American Anglican/Episcopal tradition have consecrated women bishops. (xxvii) Some women are deans of the world's great Episcopal and Anglican cathedrals. (xxviii) Today, in addition to ordained roles, Christian women serve the worldwide network of Protestant churches as seminary presidents, theologians, and biblical scholars. (xxix) In general, however, the denominational structures which control these various religious institutions (congregations and seminaries) are still controlled by powerful men.

Personal Conclusion

While I personally support the ordination of women, I do not believe that ordained women —especially in small numbers— will be able to change the patriarchal cultural milieu that institutionally supports clergy sexual abuse of lay women and children. Ordained women, in my church, for example, have not had and do not currently have the power to change a male-entitlement clerical and administrative culture. In the Mennonite Church-USA and in the Mennonite Church-Canada, there have been multiple abusive clergy and religious leaders. In general, female denominational leaders have done no better job of managing these abusive individuals and complex abusive institutional situations than have the male bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, the all-male hierarchy of the Latter Day Saints, or the fundamentalist male President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Question of a Homosexual Clergy

One of the common complaints inside the Roman Catholic tradition is about the statistically documented presence of homosexual priests. (xxx) From my vantage point as an outsider to the Roman Catholic tradition, there are two problems with a denunciation of LGBTQ priests and vowed religious as the foundational cause of the sexual abuse phenomenon. The first is quite simple: there is no scientific demographic data pool to support such a direct and supposedly scientific correlation between sexual orientation and sexually abusive behaviors.

The second is even more troubling: pedophilia is a sickness; the pedophile's acts of abuse are a crime. In contrast, one's sexual orientation is inborn. It is genetic in its origins. There is no known or well-documented correlation between the identities of sexual minorities and the criminal behavior of clergy sexual abusers. Yet conservative Catholic media continue to suggest — indeed to insist upon — such a direct correlation. In this view, ridding the clergy of its homosexual priests and religious would end the church's clergy sexual abuse problem once and for all.

What we know from Kennedy's and Hecker's studies (xxxi) and from Richard Sipe's ethnographic work (xxxii) is far more complex.

Pedophilia is a psychiatric illness. Pedophile priests assault prepubescent boy and girl children. An individual priest may abuse only boys, only girls, or both boys and girls. No attribution of pedophilia as a clinical manifestation of a homosexual identity is medically or scientifically accurate. The pathology issue in pedophilia is the adult's sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. Pedophilia is, therefore, not a question of sexual gender identity and orientation.

Kennedy and Hecker suggest that the sexual abuse of post-pubescent children (ephebophilia) is correlated to the stalled psycho-sexual-emotional development of abusive priests. In short, while the priest may be an adult by age, his psycho-sexual development has been stalled at the level of an early adolescent. He will, therefore, seek out early teenagers as his sexual partners. If he is a homosexual, he will seek out teenage boys; if he is a heterosexual, he will seek out teenage girls. Since human sexuality is often polymorphous, the immature clergy person may abuse both boys and girls — depending on the accessibility of this or that individual.

Kennedy and Hecker raise the question of seminary formation programs as a causative factor in the priest's faulty formation and maturation process— a process which they believe produces emotionally and spiritually immature and abusive priests, priests who have the crushes of thirteen and fourteen year-old boys on other thirteen or fourteen year-old girls or boys.

Since religious women are also abusers, these comments about sexual identity formation and abusive predatory behaviors apply to them as well as to men. There is, however, much less information visible regarding female abusers.

In my opinion, the Catholic Church's ideology of LGBTQ people as intrinsically disordered demonstrates its unrelenting and unmitigated hostility towards gay and lesbian individuals. (xxiii) Its politicized forms of address have complicated, undermined, and misled the search to understand the roots of clergy sexual abuse and bishop-led administrative abuses of power.

Personal Conclusion

From my reading, I can find no scientific basis for this religious anti-LGBTQ prejudice. It seems, rather, to have deep roots in Catholic canonical teachings about sexuality. In turn, these teachings are deeply anchored in its scientifically outdated theology (ideology) of natural law. Because this is so, the Catholic Church's institutionally-organized theological hatred of its LGBTQ community seems to be driving a campaign of false facts and ideological dissimulation. The church's antiquated theology of natural law vis-a-vis human sexuality is in conflict with contemporary science. (xxxiv) The church that does this kind of administrative behavior/ideological reasoning towards the clergy and the laity is willfully ignorant of contemporary research and medical science. This is a socially malignant form of church administration. Instead of focusing on its own behaviors of mismanaging sexually abusive clergy and religious leaders, the church's hierarchy of bishops and mid-level managers such as vicars for the clergy seek to shift the blame from predators and the church as an abusive institution to a culturally-maligned group of individuals. In other words, by such a move the hierarchy seeks to shift attention away from its own administrative misconduct by creating a mythical narrative of others' responsibility for the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

It is important to note that many additional Christian denominations have an actively embodied prejudice against gay and lesbian Christians. In the last quarter of the last century, for example, a Mennonite seminary barred gay men from attending or gaining a M.Div. degree. This action of its board of directors was coterminous with the seminary's decisions not to discipline Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder for his history of sexually abusing young adult women. The Mennonite Church USA has recently split over these complex issues of sexual identity — with conservative conferences exiting the denomination. (xxxv) In a similar manner the worldwide United Methodist Church is currently in deep internal conflict over these issues of full inclusion. (xxxvi)

Since I think it is quite likely that heterosexual clergy abusers may be in the statistical majority, I think the issue of denying healthy homosexual men and women the rights and privileges of ordination is based on a bogus and deeply prejudicial premise. Good, well-designed demographic research is needed to test my presumption.


xxiii. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (October 31, 1975). "Statement on the Ordination of Women." I smile as I see the date. The bishops released their statement about women's ordination on the traditional night of witches — Halloween eve.

xxiv. Mac Donald, S. (July 3, 2019). "Girl power: Vatican 'hid art that showed female priests.'" Irish Independent. See also Denzey, N. (2008). The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women. Boston: Beacon Press. See also Seneza, N. (August 9, 2018). "Rediscovering Role of Mary Magdalene, 'Apostle of the Apostles.'" LaCroix International.

xxv. Appreciation goes to Dominican Father Thomas Doyle for clarifying the concept of ontological change and its mode of transmission during ordination.

xxvi. "Papal Infallibility." Wikipedia.

xxvii. Many Protestant churches in America do not have bishops. However, there are female American bishops in several Protestant traditions:

• Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

• Episcopal Bishop Chilton Knudson

• Methodist Bishop Marjorie S. Mathews

• Methodist Bishop Leontine T. Kelly (First African-American Bishop)

• African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti Murphey McKenzie

xxviii. Episcopal News Service (December 5, 2012). "American Cathedral in Paris chooses Lucinda R. Laird as 10th dean." See also James, S. (September 23, 2010). "Making History, Twice, at Grace Cathedral."

xxix. For example, Union Theological Seminary in New York City has a female president and an amazingly diverse faculty. See the faculty page of the seminary.

xxx. This issue of clerical and religious homosexuality gets a regular airing on Catholic media sites. For example, see National Catholic Reporter's listing of NCR articles under the heading "Homosexual Clergy in the Catholic Church."

xxxi. Kennedy, E. and Heckler, V. (1972). The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological investigations. Washington DC: U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. See also Kennedy, E. C.(2001). The Unhealed Wound: The Church, the Priesthood, and the Question of Sexuality. New York: St. Martin's Griffin Press.

xxxii. Sipe, A. W. R. (1995). Sex, Priests, and Power: The Anatomy of a Crisis. New York: Routledge; and Sipe, A. W. (2003). Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Re-Visited. New York: Routledge.

xxxiii. See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1975). Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, especially sections VIII and IX, defining LGBTQ human beings as "intrinsically disordered."

xxxiv. I found the following three books — which I read in tandem with each other during the spring of 2019 — to be helpful to me in understanding the Roman Catholic hierarchy and these questions regarding the relationship of sexual orientation to clergy sexual abuse.They expanded my horizons. I learned in seminary to ask historical questions about today's ideologies and practices. Actually, I learned my first lessons in the need to take a good history as a clinical nurse specialist in my community mental health classes"

• Anderson, J. (2006). Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Relationships. New York: Continuum.

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

• Martel, F. (2019). In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. London: Bloomsbury/Continuum.

xxxv. Gill, J. (January 2, 2018) "U.S. Mennonite Church Splits Over Homosexuality." Daily Caller.

xxxvi. See Gjelten, T. (June 26, 2019) "After Disagreements Over LGBTQ Clergy, U.S. Methodists Move Closer To Split." National Public Radio.








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