Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Abuses by Clergy? A Note of Skepticism

I confess to having contrarian instincts. When the hounds are baying for someone’s blood, my inclination is to wonder if just perhaps the problem is with the hounds. I’ve never had an occasion to write about sexual and financial abuses committed by rabbis, pastors, and priests. With the vast majority of cases, I suppose a member of the public like me simply has to take the accusations at face value and feel appropriately sickened. After all, we entrust these clergy members with our families, our fortunes, our faith. 

Yet an additional note needs to be added. 
This week’s Torah reading, Behar-Bechukotai, includes a series of admonitions (Leviticus 26:14-43) delivered by God through Moses to the Jewish people. If the Jews turn away from the Torah, then a series of mounting tragedies will befall them. As Rav S.R. Hirsch explained it long ago, minor deviations of faith are like tiny cracks in a supporting structure. They can spread, grow, widen, finally leading to the collapse of the wall, roof, arch — whatever.
He reads the opening verses of the Admonition as describing the course of “defection” from belief in God’s Word. Citing the midrash Sifra on Leviticus, Hirsch notes an intermediate stage in the defection by unbelievers. It involves chachamim, the wise, the rabbis, “receiv[ing] the full weight of their hatred. In them [the defectors] see the ‘misfortune’ of their race, and the disdain which they feel towards their brethren who remain faithful to the Torah becomes transferred to the spiritual bearers and guardians of the institutions of the Torah.”
Sifra is anywhere up to 1,800 years old. Hirsch was a contemporary of Darwin. So these are not apologists for contemporary abuses by rabbis or other clergy.


They are telling us that as the condition of religious belief weakens, hatred of the clergy intensifies. Much as we find libels directed against the Torah itself, we should expect to see the same directed at rabbis. Spiritual sickness is like any other disease. As it runs its course, it has stages and symptoms, and this is one of them.
Please understand, I’m not denying that massive widespread abuses have been committed by clergy of various faiths and denominations. Given the power that comes with their jobs, and given the corrosive effects of secular culture with its cynical influence, it’s not so shocking that some clerics would abuse what power they still have over their flocks.
At the same time, a note of caution and skepticism is in order. The case of alleged misconduct by a cleric with which I’m most familiar — not sexual in nature — is absolutely shot through with lies and libels against an innocent man. I know this can happen. I’ve seen how people can be eager, sickeningly so, to believe the worst on the strength of mere rumors. I also know that in this Internet age, standards of reporting are shockingly low, even when the stakes include ruining lives.
It casts no aspersion on victims and their truthfulness to say that there exists a significant public eager, slavering, to hear accounts of abuse.
There are websites that specialize in this — drooling for stories in which rabbis, for example, are shown to be liars, hypocrites and abusers. Anonymous accusations are welcome and believed without further investigation. I know the Jewish sites of this kind best. They are egregious.
There really is tremendous wickedness out there, but it’s not only from abusive clerics.
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posted May 13, 2009 at 4:31 am

I wanted to respond to a few points.
There are websites that specialize in this —
A review of more than 2000 such sites shows a common theme found in the vast majority of these sites – they get put up as a last resort as they have generally exhausted other avenues with little result and less direct response – this occurs across the range of religions – by the time someone turns to putting their story on the Internet they are angry and frustrated due to the lack of response and the lack of justice and an adherence to both the principals of human rights and the teachings of whichever religious group. These sites do speak very loudly of horror as unfortunately the only way to speak of horrors such as these is to speak of the horrors hey have experienced. In short this can be described as a lack of communication between the victim and his church/religion. A visit to some of these sites will show this theme on a repeated basis. Finding someone within church/religions who have the qualifications/experience to talk and discuss their issues is the prime cause – victims repeatedly account their experiences of attempting to establish some form of communication – when a human response is almost entirely deficient from the church/religious bodies and the only avenue of contact made available is via a legal process which has been stacked against them due to this aspect being a result of the prolonged cover-up of sex abuse by church/religious and in particular the Catholic church. Until there is a human needs based door opened by church/religious where abuses have occurred I imagine the numbers of these sites will continue to grow – our observations tell us that they doubled in number in just over 10 months.
In regards the numbers of false claims including false memory or repressed memory claims – combined these amount to approx. 1.4% of all claims made and victims once again repeatedly point this out only to hear from those afraid that their church is being ripped off by the majority of claimants when in fact based on the facts that is not the case.
Feeling appropriately sickened is not really an appropriate response. When something can sicken a person to the degree these victims have been feeling sickened and failing to become active in repairing or finding avenues which will permit church/religious responses to the victims of sexual abuse to be both humane and moral – that simply is not happening – that aspect often causes further severe harm to victims and causes them such outrage that they feel the world should hear of the original abuses and the subsequent abuses found in their attempting to reconcile with what after all has been their abuser.
There are religious out there trying to help in the right way, I have spoken to a number and they too have some similar laments in that through their own processes the crimes and the needs appear to become minimized and lost within their own ranks. Those are the men I feel for as they try in vain to assist victims and to educate their hierarchy into appropriate ways to deal with these matters.

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Bob Schwiderski for David Clohessy

posted May 13, 2009 at 9:31 am

Spreading and acting on rumors is wrong. But urging those who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes to come forward, speak up, and get help is crucial if we are to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
Religious figures and institutions have considerable power and can be intimidating. When an adult is raped by a pastor or a child is molested by a rabbi, we have two choices. We can passively sit back and do nothing. Or we can reach out to those suffering in silence, shame and self-blame. We choose the latter course.
David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
St. Louis MO
314 566 9790

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posted May 13, 2009 at 10:18 am

It is inaccurate to say that those who stand up against corrupt and abusive rabbis have disrespected the Torah. Victims of abuse have the right and responsibility to report what has been done to them. What is happening, is the simple fact that religious authorities are starting to be held to account. This will require a sustained effort by a number of organizations that have been smeared at the lead in to this blog. Many of its members have had their faith shattered and have been ostracized by their religious communities.

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posted May 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm

We all know there is evil in the world. But you are missing something. Clergy sexual abuse is not only about the abusers, in fact it is not even mostly about them. It is about the evil hierarchy who lied about them and transferred them from parish to parish, from diocese to diocese, from state to state, and even, from country to country. These men are NOT sick – they are evil. They knowingly and consciously deceived the innocent victims and their families. This is NOT spiritual sickness, it is evil, and as such, should be punished. Do not make excuses for them by calling them sick.

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posted May 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm

They appear to be evil because the devil is waiting his chance to strike.
He tempts with the easy way out and if one isn’t one with the Lord, he will succumb. It’s easier to cover it up, than to clean out the rot and face the aftermath.
The devil must be thrilled at his accomplishments

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John Massam

posted May 16, 2009 at 6:59 am

It is the gullibility of the parents of the children, and in some cases of adult or near-adult followers of these various religions, that is to blame. Instead of thinking about the false reports, look at the true reports (the vast majority), and as a previous comment says, ask why the heads of some religions posted predator clergy to other places, even overseas. Be prayerful, but watch, for your adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion (according to Yeshua).

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