Ruth Krall, Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion (3)

By William Lindsey
Bilgrimage blog
August 02, 2019

Vasily Polenov, Le droit du Seigneur (1874), in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow

This is the third and final installment of an essay by Ruth Krall entitled "Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion." The previous two parts of this essay have appeared here and here. This essay is one in a series of essays Ruth is publishing on Bilgrimage under the series title  "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice." The first of the two links above will give you links to each previous essay. In this essay series, Ruth is focusing on the endemic nature of religious and spiritual leader sexual abuse of followers.
The current essay deals with the importance of an historical framework for understanding and dealing with this endemic sexual abuse in religious institutions. Vis-à-vis the Christian churches, Ruth proposes that "if we are to seek to understand or unearth the fundamental pilings (i.e., the deep and pervasive foundations) of this abuse scandal inside Christendom, we must first learn how to work with each other" — to understand the various faith languages of different Christian traditions and the prejudices borne within each stream of Christianity, and to talk together coherently about these faith languages and prejudices as we seek a solution to problem endemic to all of our faith traditions. 
Please note that the endnotes begin with xxxvii because this essay is a continuation of an essay previously published in two installments.

Historical Meandering: Ideologies of Abuse and Exclusion

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Remaining Questions

One of the issues that is known but remains fuzzy (to me at least) is the question of access. To what degree does accessibility determine the object of an individual priest's abusive encounters? To what degree does the sexually abusive religious leader seek out and groom a prospective victim and to what degree is he an opportunist — creating victims on a more random basis? A third question is also visible: to what degree do sexual predators and abusers seek out careers in ministry — knowing that, as members of the ordained clergy, they will gain easy access to potential victims?

Another major issue and question has begun to emerge — much like a submarine emerges — quietly, slowly and almost out of sight.  It is quite possible— even probable — that male clergy sexual abuse of adult women, i.e. women past their legal majority, is the most prevalent form of Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy sexual abuse. (xxxvii) Until well-designed demographic studies are carried out, this issue is likely to remain ill-defined and nearly invisible.
Mary Koss's mid-century work on identifying hidden rapists and hidden rape victims on American college campuses can serve as a model for bishops and seminary rectors/deans. It is possible to screen individuals for a history of or proclivity to sexual violence. (xxxviii)
The Complex Issues of Christian Ideology
All of us who are Christians today have (to some degree or another) inherited the Roman Catholic tradition. It is part of our religious genetic structure. The Roman Catholic Church is the parent church from which all of our Western denominations emerged. Its scriptures, customs, theology, and cultural practices have all shaped Western ideals and cultures — both religious and secular. Its presence as the largest Christian denomination has shaped Western spiritualities. Christendom, as a political and cultural reality, tells us this. Christendom was born out of two parents: Judaism and the Greco-Roman culture. In a dying empire, the emperor Constantine (272-337 CE) was perhaps the founder of Christianity as we know it today. The First Council of Nicea (325 CE) was the foundational agreement between Christians and the empire about embodied matters of faith and praxis — a move which allowed Christianity to spread throughout Constantine's empire.
As we seek to understand the sexual abuse of the laity by Christian clergy and other religious leaders, our theological and liturgical diversities are, perhaps, our greatest strength and, paradoxically, our greatest weakness.
Given that reality, I personally find it essential to study Catholic history, theology, and praxis. My clinical perception teaches me that whether I accept something in an unqualified manner or I actively reject that something, I am being shaped by that something — usually unconsciously. The intensity of Catholic and Protestant antagonisms against each other strongly suggests a strong undercurrent of shared understandings. The bitterest and longest-lasting feuds and hostilities often occur inside our biological family groups. It is, therefore, our nativist religious antagonisms which prevail in many ecumenical encounters. These religiously-based antagonisms and cultural misunderstandings work against us in creating abuse-free churches for our children and our children's children.
Let me illustrate: a Roman Catholic friend recently told me that as a child and adolescent, she was explicitly taught that all Protestants were heretics. We were, therefore, excluded from God's love and God's salvation. As a modern descendant of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, I know the proper treatment of heretics is to burn all of them at the stake.
But, what I didn’t tell my friend was that I was taught that the Pope/the Catholic Church is the great whore of Babylon (Revelations 17:1-18).  I was implicitly taught that in this ancient text, truth is revealed: God, himself, will destroy the great whore.
It appears that damnation lurks everywhere inside Christendom. No wonder we don't trust each other. No wonder we can't work together to solve a common problem: abusive clergy and abusive institutions.
A Tentative Proposal
I want to suggest that all of Christendom must engage itself in the tragic reality of clergy sexual abuse of minors and adults — those vulnerable and often culturally powerless individuals who worship inside our various communities of faith. If we are to seek to understand or unearth the fundamental pilings (i.e., the deep and pervasive foundations) of this abuse scandal inside Christendom, we must first learn how to work with each other. We need, I believe, a series of planned, well-focused, and well-directed ecumenical conversations. We also need to engage ourselves in conversations with those experts from the secular world who have the professional and technical skills to gather the data we need as a foundation for our conversations. I do not envision these as victim-centered conversations. Instead, I envision them as institutional pathology-centered questions.
To do this work together, we must, at the least, learn the rudimentary facts of our shared pre-Reformation history. We must learn from our differentiated post-Reformation histories as well. The clues to our current institutional praxis dilemmas are lodged in our cultural histories. We must learn each other's faith languages. We must encounter each other's prejudices. We must learn to practice good manners with each other.
Catholics alone will not solve their institutional problems of clergy abusers of pre- and post-pubescent children and corrupt and administratively inept bishops. Protestant alone will not solve their problem of clergy sexual abusers of adolescents and adult women and corrupt administrative cover-ups.
In Conclusion
Perhaps the most devout followers of a religious group are more susceptible to abuse than individuals who are less trusting of their spiritual and religious elders and leaders. To test this hypothesis, we would need to develop a workable and measurable research definition of devout religiosity such as regular attendance at services. This definition could then be used in multiple studies.
These kinds of study might include an in-depth study of one religious group. It might include an in-depth study of a second or third or fourth religious group for the purposes of identifying similarities and differences among groups. These kinds of research protocols could examine multiple religious groups within Christianity and within other world religions (again, looking for similarities and/or differences) or it could examine abuse in a cross-cultural sample — say Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu (again looking for similarities and/or differences).
In addition to the professional and technical languages and research methodologies currently in use (the languages of canon law and other forms of church legislation, criminology, theology, sociology, psychiatry and psychology), we both can and should now begin to utilize the technical or professional language and research protocols of community mental health and public health.
When we do this kind of looking slant at an issue, it becomes evident almost immediately that we must differentiate between epidemics, pandemics, and endemic or hyper-endemic realities. Because we do not have sufficient public health demographic studies in place at this moment in history, this is probably a Sisyphean task. Until competent researchers do multiple and repetitive stratified random sampling studies , the actual numbers of perpetrators and the actual numbers of victimized individuals remains unknown.


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