May 31, 2012
Organized religions are responsible for many wonderful things, too numerous to mention here.
But they also have a responsibility to safeguard against terrible things that are done in their name.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in two current controversies - one involving the Catholic archdiocese in Philadelphia, and the other an ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn.
Jurors are scheduled to hear closing arguments today in the child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn involving his handling of several priest-abuse complaints.
Lynn, 61, was the Philadelphia archdiocese secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Dozens of priests have been accused of raping or molesting children in the archdiocese, yet were not reported to the authorities by the church and were allowed to continue to interact with young people.
Lynn testified that he was prevented from getting accused priests into treatment programs or removing them from parishes by the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Lynn said that unless a priest was a diagnosed pedophile, Bevilacqua would not remove him.
Lynn testified that in 1994 he gave a list of accused priests to Bevilacqua and that the cardinal destroyed it soon after reading it.
A similar despicable situation exists in the Orthodox haradi congregation of Agudath Israel, where abuse victims are discouraged and often ostracized for reporting incidents to police.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has told Agudath Israel's leaders that police rather than rabbis should be the first ones notified in suspected child-abuse cases.
Agudath's executive vice president, David Zwiebel, has insisted that sex-abuse cases should be reviewed by rabbis before they are reported to police.
We understand that this policy is the result of centuries of warranted mistrust of authority in other countries by some Orthodox communities, but today, in the United States, this is terribly misguided.
Yet Zweibel said his group will continue to require that parents get permission from a rabbi before contacting police.
While religious rights are precious and should be safeguarded, the Catholic Church and Agudath must understand that children must be protected. Nothing is more important than that.
Every state has "mandatory reporter" statutes identifying professions required to report child maltreatment under specific circumstances.
In New York, they include various medical personnel, including physicians, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and social workers.
Also, teachers, counselors, other school employees, day care providers, overnight camp directors, substance abuse counselors, district attorneys and law enforcement personnel.
But not clergy.
Police - not priests or rabbis, are the experts in dealing with child-abuse claims. Hiding an abomination is an abomination itself.
It is long past time for the New York Legislature to include clergy and others in religious organizations as mandatory reporters of child abuse.