New York Times: The Faithful’s Failings

By Shmarya Rosenberg (Failed Messiah blog)
July 23, 2013

Frank Bruni writes:

The men were spiritual leaders, held up before the children around them as wise and righteous and right. So they had special access to those kids. Special sway.

And when they exploited it by sexually abusing the children, according to civil and criminal cases from different places and periods, they were protected by their lofty stations and by the caretakers of their faith. The children’s accusations were met with skepticism. The community of the faithful either couldn’t believe what had happened or didn’t want it exposed to public view: why give outsiders a fresh cause to be critical? So the unpleasantness was hushed up.

This is not a column about the Catholic Church.

This is a column about Orthodox Jews, who have recently had similar misdeeds exposed, similar cover-ups revealed.

And I’m writing it, yes, because the Catholic Church over the last two decades has absorbed the bulk of journalistic attention, my own included, in terms of child sexual abuse. There are compelling reasons that’s been so: Catholicism has more than one billion nominal adherents worldwide; endows its clerics with a degree of mysticism that many other denominations don’t; and is just centralized enough for scattered cover-ups to coalesce into something more like a conspiracy. The pattern of criminality and evasion has been staggering.

But some of the same dynamics that fed the crisis in Catholicism — an aloof patriarchy, an insularity verging on superiority, a disinclination to get secular officials involved — exist elsewhere. And the way they’ve played out in Orthodox Judaism illustrates anew that religion isn’t always the higher ground and safer harbor it purports to be. It can also be a self-preserving haven for wrongdoing…

Bruni goes on to talk about the YU abuse scandal, about Rabbi Herschel Schachter's talk in London last year where he said that it might be a bad thing to report abuse if the abuser will end up in a jail cell with a "schvartze," and Agudath Israel of America's position that a only senior rabbis can decide whether abuse allegations should be reported to police or instead kept within the haredi community alone.

I broke two of those three stories, Schachter and Agudath Israel. The Times former public editor acknowledged the second last year. The link Bruni gives for the first goes to an article that clearly cites and links to as its source.

Bruni talks about Rabbi Norman Lamm but makes no note that Lamm was senile and was unethically ambushed by the Forward's reporter after being clearly told that Lamm would not be able to speak to him – another story I broke.

But the truly sad thing is that the bulk of the reporting the Forward and the Times relied on to do their haredi child sex abuse reports was taken without attribution from Hella Winston's long series of Jewish Week articles. The Times' former public editor admitted this in print, as well, and chastised his paper's editors and reporters for stealing (in effect) the material. But Bruni never mentions Winston or the Jewish Week and he provides no link to the paper.

None of Bruni's lapses are necessarily intentional. They can just as easily have flowed naturally and unknowingly from the unethical reporting that preceded him.

(In fact, that is what I believe happened. Why? Because the Times rarely links to its outside sources, but Bruni – who is a columnist and therefore has more independence and freedom – does link to an outside source, something that is commendable.)

All this aside, Bruni's column is important because it brings more attention to the issue.

It's just too bad that every step ahead seems to be accompanied by questionable behavior from leaders of the Fourth Estate.