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November 6, 2009

On Abuse, the Catholic Church’s Progress

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to United Nations organizations in Geneva, noted that the Catholic Church has been “cleaning its own house” and that other institutions “could do the same” (“Vatican’s New Defense on Child Molestation Charges: Finger-pointing,” October 16).

There is validity to his statement.

While the Catholic Church was dragged kicking and screaming — and the architects of change were the media and Catholic laypeople — there’s no denying that today’s church is different.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Charter for the Protection of Children that requires counseling for child sex-abuse victims; mandatory reporting to “public authorities” of all child sex-abuse complaints; permanent removal from ministry of any priest or deacon found guilty of even one act of sex abuse, no matter when committed; a mandatory “safe environment” for all youth programs, and mandatory background checks for church personnel.

Outstanding lay groups like Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests and Voice of the Faithful make sure these policies are implemented.

The sad and even ugly truth is that after all the recent headlines, arrests and convictions resulting from abuse scandals, no comparable system exists for American yeshivas. Our ancient rabbis teach, “We should believe there is wisdom among the nations of the world.” This lesson needs to be applied to present-day circumstances.

I suppose nobody likes criticism from outside their own religious or cultural milieu, but facts are facts, and truth is essential if genuine and constructive change is going to occur in the Jewish world.

Elliot B. Pasik
Jewish Board of Advocates for Children
Long Beach, N.Y.

Finally, the Vatican has shot back at all those phonies who have exclusively concentrated on the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was right to say that Jews and Protestants are hardly immune from this problem. Indeed, recent revelations about the depth of abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community give much support to Tomasi’s position. Yet the Forward titles its article on Tomasi’s remarks “Vatican’s New Defense on Child Molestation Charges: Finger-pointing.”

It is not a “new defense” or “finger-pointing,” as the Forward would have it — it is nothing more than a reality check and a plea for even-handedness. The parade of lawyers, critics, comedians and late-night entertainment hosts who relentlessly pitch the idea that the Catholic Church has a monopoly on this problem is sickening. And as we recently saw with the reaction of many in Hollywood to Roman Polanski, it is clear that the sexual abuse of minors is not something that bothers them.

Unless, of course, the offender is a priest.

William A. Donohue
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.

In a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, noted in the Forward, Catholic Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said that most American churches hit with allegations of child sexual-abuse are Protestant. He then went on to assert that “Sexual abuses within the Jewish communities approximate that found among the Protestant clergy.”

As evidence for this second assertion, Tomasi cited an article that appeared in The Reconstructionist, which is published by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. The article to which Tomasi refers, “Rabbinic Sexual Misconduct: Crying Out for a Communal Response” (spring 1999 issue), by Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, states: “While we have no surveys targeting the rabbinic community, most people working in this area believe that an examination of rabbis would reveal numbers similar to those of ministers.”

In retrospect, the former editor of The Reconstructionist, Rabbi Richard Hirsh, notes that the sentence should have been edited to stress the difference between fact (“we have no surveys”) and opinion (“most people”). Tomasi chose to rely on that portion of Schaefer’s statement that is unsubstantiated opinion. In addition, Schaefer’s article addresses sexual relations between adults.

We are conveying in a private communication to Tomasi the same correction and clarification we share here with the readers of the Forward. Whatever actual data may be cited with regard to charges of clergy sexual misconduct, the Reconstructionist article referenced by Archbishop Tomasi cannot be counted among sources that contain them.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Wyncote, Pa.

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