Frummer Than The Pope

Since the Boston Globe first revealed some of the abuses of minors by Catholic Priests in the Boston Diocese in 2002, the wave of allegations has spread.
In the months following the series of Boston Globe articles, other complaints surfaced and diocese throughout the USA came under scrutiny. Court cases against the Church itself have so far run into billions of dollars in settlements and penalties.

Major scandals have also subsequently erupted in Ireland, Australia, Canada, and most recently in the European mainland, including in the Pope’s own previous dioceses in Germany. This week, the German church suspended a priest who had been allowed to work with children for decades after a court convicted him of molesting boys. In 1980, Archbishop Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) had allowed the priest to move to Munich after allegations of abuse.

Although the full extent of the abuses and the management of those abuses by the Catholic Church is still not known, and by the nature of the cases, many will never be known, the pattern that characterizes the problem are becoming clear.

There were two levels of problems:

1. That priests have abused minors.

The numbers are still unclear, but the Church in the USA has itself now issued reports which acknowledge 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the USA. This number constituted approximately 4% of the 110,000 priests who had served during the period covered by the survey (1950–2002). The report found that, over the 52-year period covered by the study, "the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and approximately 60 percent of religious communities."

2. That the Church authorities had mismanaged or actively covered up these abuses.

The main failures by the US Church authorities were presented in April 2003 at the Ponifical Academy for Life conference.

• Failure by the hierarchy to grasp the seriousness of the problem.

• Overemphasis on the need to avoid a scandal.

• Use of unqualified treatment centers.

• Misguided willingness to forgive.

• Insufficient accountability.

Tactics were used which are now acknowledged as inappropriate and even criminal.

The priests in position of responsibility over the alleged offenders tended to avoid reporting to the legal authorities; they tended to re-assign the offenders to other diocese, where they often continued to attack children; and they used various tactics to shut-up those who brought forward complaints.

In light of these failings in the Catholic Church, other faiths have begun the process of re-examining their own communities, and re-assessing the incidence and response to child abuse incidents.

In the Jewish community, allegations of child sex abuse have often been treated as ‘internal’ rather than as criminal matters requiring the authorities intervention.

Furthermore, allegations have tended to be suppressed, due to the fear of bringing shame upon the families of the victims, upon the perpetrators and upon the community.

And strikingly similar tactics have been used in Jewish communities, as those used in Catholic communities.

Meantme, various Jewish media have taken the lead from the Boston Globe, and have made efforts to bring to light cases of child abuse in the Jewish community. These include investigative articles in the Baltimore Jewish Times, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and in a recent book Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals (which I reviewed for the Jewish Press).

The role of blogs has also been important, allowing child-abuse victims to come forward and tell their stories anonymously, while bringing a new level of increased awareness to those communities where discussion of this has historically been taboo. The Unorthodox Jew and The Failed Messiah have taken pioneering positions in investigating, exposing and educating about child abuse – in spite of calls by leading rabbis to close down the blogs.

The wave of newly exposed cases and scandals, which have spread out from the Boston Diocese of the Catholic Church, to cover the whole of the USA, and are starting to be revealed throughout Europe, including the Pope’s own backyard – are now starting to hit the Jewish community.

The indication is that child abuse in the Jewish community is, regretfully, at comparable levels to other communities – and that many Jewish community leaders have responded to allegations in ways are similar to those used in the Catholic Church, and which are now understood to be illegal, irresponsible and dangerous.

In order to make progress to protecting children more effectively from child abuse, the poor record and discredited policies need to be openly acknowleged, assessed and then fixed in the Jewish community, as in all other communities.

Regretfully, there is little to indicate, on this issue, that the Jews have been “any frummer/more holy than the Pope”.


  1. Hillel Abrahams17 March 2010 at 19:09

    Well written post. We as a community need to wake up to this issue. Education is the key. Lets hope that the leaders of the community recognize and learn from the mistakes of the Catholic church. Although we already see some serious blunders on the part of well meaning people and leaders - its never too late to change track and deal with the problem correctly. The real mistake of the church was that they CONTINUED their ineffective methods of dealing with the problem. Lets hope the Am HaNivchar will rise to the occasion and realize that we have a situation of Ubiartem Hora Mikirbecha - we must uproot evil from within out midst.

  2. This is a problem in patriarchal societies in which men control power and determine religious law. Women become agunot, men are free to have affairs. Children are raped in mikvaot, yeshivot and elsewhere. Nuns are oppressed sisters but priests are authority-figure FATHERS. No wonder that many churches have inexplicable numbers of infant graves, untold numbers of abused children and who knows how many adult affairs between priests and "penitent" female parishoners.

    NONE of the above will change until women are put in charge of religous rites and rituals. Women (except for Nancy Pelosi and her ilk) lack the hunger for power, the tendency to abuse defebseless others and the ability to endure another's pain.

  3. I agree with you David, that orthodox Jews have not been frummer than the RC church. I am reminded that in lita frum was a word used to also refer to a galach. The real compliment was being called ehrlich (honest or honorable).

    No amount of pious appearance can take the place of honestly confronting abusers and protecting their victims. In fact many have made the mistake of protecting the image of frumkeit even when it involved deep violations of human dignity repugnant to all societies including those based on atheism.

    Let us hope that as we celebrate freedom with symbols of nobility like leaning we also incline our hearts to erlichkeit and ssure our children of freedom from the terror of abuse. Frumkeit will naturally do better when it is rooted in erlichkeit.

    chag kasher v'someach


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