(JTA) — An interfaith initiative based in Jerusalem has created international ethics guidelines for religious leaders to insure proper conduct with their congregants.
The “Ten Guidelines” were announced last week in Jerusalem by the International Conference of the Israeli organization Tahel, Israel’s Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children. The new initiative calls upon religious leaders around the world to unite and discuss issues of sexual violence and abuse within the community and to formulate and adhere to international guidelines.
The Ten Guidelines include a reminder to clergy to trust their instincts. For example, the guidelines say: “If you feel that extra distance is appropriate in a specific circumstance, trust your feelings. It’s a red flag, warning you to take extra precautions.”
Another guideline urges religious leaders to avoid virtual communication with their students, congregants and followers, since words can be misconstrued and understood as inappropriate or harassing. They are also encouraged to install glass doors in their offices, place a desk between them and their guests, document any meeting in writing, and avoid all physical contact.
Among the world leaders who signed their names to the guidelines are Rabbi Doctor Aharon Adler from Jerusalem, a Talmudic scholar; and Ramadan Dabash, Mukhtar in eastern Jerusalem.
“Religious victims of abuse will often turn to their faith leader long before they appeal to the authorities, on the assumption that they feel secure enough to go public at all,” said Tahel Director Debbie Gross in a statement. She added that the guidelines emphasize that religious institutions can be “fertile ground for sexual offenses.”
Gross said the new guidelines were meant to fight “the tendency to hush up stories within the community in order to preserve its solid reputation.”