Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Apology for Sex Abuse

* How wonderful it is to finally see a religious leader of this magnitude speak in such humble and apologetic tones. Finally a mea culpa. Decades of sexual abuse by members of the clergy whose many victims suffer to this day have finally heard an expression of remorse and an apology from their greatest religious figure.

Not only did he apologize - at his own request he met with some of the victims. Of course it doesn’t come anywhere near enough to simply apologize but it is a major step forward. It shows a deep and sincere understanding and real compassion for the victims. It is one thing to have compassion privately which I’m sure this religious leader has. It is another to humble oneself and meet publicly and express it to the victim. It took a lot of courage to do what he did and he deserves a lot of credit.

I only wish it was one of our religious leaders who had done this. Unfortunately no such public meeting took place between any of our religious leaders and victims of abuse - to the best of my knowledge. The religious figure I’m talking about here is Pope Benedict.

I wasn’t going to post anything controversial today on the eve of the Passover holiday. But a convergence of two events precluded that for me. These are matters that cannot be ignored and deserve to be addressed as soon as they happen. The heart cries out for justice! And the contrast between these two events is too stark to ignore. The other event is the plea bargain and light sentencing of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko.

When it comes to matters of Arayos- matters of illicit sexual acticity - it should be obvious to anyone that the Torah world’s standards are very strict compared to that of most of western culture. Charedi leadrs are not reticent about this. Just look at the recent concert bans due to fear of a boy and girl meeting. Or the general preoccupation with the mingling of the sexes – minimizing it to almost nil.

And yet when it comes to situations where Halachos of Arayos are violated in the extreme in ways that have harmed innocent people - children in many cases – silence! We turn out backs on the victims and favor the violators.

I am not going to second guess the US system of justice here. But the plea bargain deal granted to Rabbi Kolko is very troubling. He received no jail time. Instead he got three years probation.

One can only speculate what went on behind the scenes. But what ever it was, this sentence seems mild in comparison to sentences of Catholic priests who committed similar crimes. Was this a just verdict? Are our rabbinic leaders happy with this result?

There is speculation that Attorney General Charles Hynes deferred to perceived or real pressure from the Charedi community to go light on Rabbi Kolko - and that is the reason he got off with a slap on the wrist!

A slap on the wrist for over 20 years of sex abuse?! Abuse that destroyed lives?! Rabbi Kolko’s behavior far exceeded anything found at a separate seating concert. I don’t get it!

There has yet to be any public expression of remorse by a great rabbinic leaader. I do not recall any Gadol meeting publicly with any victim to express his remorse at what happened to them. Not even in a symbolic way.

This reticence to make any public statements of guilt or apology stands in stark contrast to Pope Benedict.

It is also in stark contrast to what a group of Rabbinic leaders in Baltimore did. They issued a profound statement of guilt and remorse when their community was rocked by similar accusations against one of their own - a rabbi who for a decades had abused young boys sexually.

Their Mea Cupa should have been the stimulus for a similar if not stronger mea culpa in New York where an Avreimal Monderowitz and a Yehuda Kolko have been inflicting sex abuse for decades causing extreme emotional pain and suffering to countless numbers of victims. In some cases for the rest of their lives.

Instead there is silence and coverup …hiding behind Halachic claims of requiring it be swept under the rug. Lives ruined! Claims left un-redressed! All in order to save face. But did they succeed in saving face? I don’t think so.

Where is our rabbinic leadership? Why are they silent? How can the victims be ignored? Why is Rabbi Kolko being allowed to get away with his crimes? If the Torah world needs to ignore abuse victims in order to save face, what exactly are they saving? By their silence are they furthering more Torah observance or more sexual abuse?

* originally posted on Passover eve.