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  Home :: 2007 February :: Wayward Clergymen: Epidemic Or Aberration?
Wayward Clergymen: Epidemic Or Aberration?

Eugene L. Meyer and Richard Greenberg
JTA Wire Service

FEBRUARY 02, 2007
New York

How extensive is the problem of clergy sex abuse in the Jewish community? It depends which criteria are used as a yardstick.

One possible gauge is the volume of abuse complaints that have beenadjudicated by the ethics panels of the major religious denominations.

Judging by the tiny caseload, the problem appears to be negligible-- unless, of course, wrongdoing by rabbis and other clergymen isunderreported, as some observers maintain.

Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive vice president of theReconstructionist Rabbinical Association, counted three or fourinvestigations into rabbinic sexual misconduct since the 300-memberorganization adopted a new code of ethics in 1999. The code is againbeing revised.Hirsh would identify neither the transgressions nor the transgressors.

"We're not allowed to discuss any details," he explained, althoughin one instance, he added, the association's ethics committee merelyadmonished the accused rabbi to "be careful next time."Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservativemovement's 1,600-member Rabbinical Assembly, said in the 17 years hehas held his current post, only three rabbis have been asked to leavethe R.A. or left on their own due to "inappropriate behavior" of asexual nature. This year, one rabbi was expelled.

In addition, the R.A. insisted that "several" other rabbis found to have engaged in "seductive behavior" undergo therapy.

Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RabbinicalCouncil of America, a primarily modern Orthodoxy organization, said theRCA has ruled on so few sexual misconduct complaints over the past 10years that the number is not statistically significant.

The Union for Reform Judaism, which has 900 member congregations,sees no "particular need" to keep records on the numbers ordispositions of sexual misconduct cases, according to its president,Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

"I don't happen to believe there's any evidence of an epidemic ofrabbinic sexual abuse," Yoffie said. "If you are asking, am I aware ofthere being some significant numbers of people, my answer is no. Wehave to keep it in perspective."

The Awareness Center, a controversial Baltimore-based Jewishclearinghouse of clergy sex abuse information, lists on its Web sitescores of Jewish clergy who are alleged to be sexual predators. Some ofthem have been convicted of crimes, but some have not even beencharged.

Although authoritative statistics quantifying the problem appear tobe nonexistent, "some experts" estimate that "between 18 and 39 percentof Jewish clergy are involved in sexual harassment, sexual exploitationand/or sexual misconduct -- the same percentage as non-Jewish clergy,"according to the 2002 book "Sex, Lies, and Rabbis: Breaking a SacredTrust" written by psychotherapist Charlotte Rolnick Schwab."All denominations are involved," Schwab wrote.

In her book, she said quantitative data were drawn in part from aconversation with the Rev. Marie Fortune, director of the FaithTrustInstitute, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that fights sexualand domestic violence.

Schwab in her book added: "The large number of cases I, alone, have in my files bears out this estimate."

Contacted later, Fortune said: "To my knowledge there are nodefinitive statistics in any of our faith groups that quantify theproblem, and what we have instead are anecdotes and in some placesnumbers of complaints brought in that particular jurisdiction."

Fortune said her "best guess, based on anecdote and experience," isthat 10-15 percent of all clergy have been involved in some form ofsexual impropriety.


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia