Where Did The Pope Go Wrong?

Cases of clerical sex-abuse and the Catholic Church’s mismanagement – amounting to systemic enablement – have surfaced and spread out from Boston, where they were first revealed in 2002, then throughout the USA - and are now spreading across Europe, including major scandals in Ireland and Germany.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) himself was responsible for managing sexual abuse cases when he was archbishop of Munich in 1980 and when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Apparently, in Munich, a priest Cardinal Ratzinger had sent to therapy for pedophilia, was returned to pastoral work with children. The priest was later convicted on charges of molesting boys.

Last week, it was revealed that an office under Cardinal Ratzinger’s command had stopped the prosecution in 1996 of Wisconsin priest Lawrence Murphy, who admitted molesting 200 boys at a school for the deaf where he worked for 20 years.

As the first victims and insiders within the church hierarchy are now revealing cases in mainland Europe, some of which have been hidden for decades, it is reasonable to assume that more cases will surface – as they did first in the USA and then in Ireland.

Amidst the outcry and media sensation, there is a question which has not being asked.

If the Church, and Pope himself, got it wrong – how should they have handled sex-abuse cases in the Church? What is to be done with pedophiles in the Church, and indeed in any community?

This question is the Holy Grail (as it were) of those protecting children and combating pedophilia. It is a concern for Jewish communities also, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

The Jewish community also, of course, has pedophiles, and although sometimes similar mistakes have been made as the Catholics in managing these, there is also some progress.

In Los Angeles, a Jewish organization Aleinu has had some success in managing cases of pedophiles within the Jewish community. A combination of stick (threat of exposure) and carrot (access to some aspects of community life) has resulted in programs where known pedophiles sign-up for a controlled and supervised regime. For example, they are distanced from children, while being able to join “adult men only” prayer meetings.

In Israel, in Bnei Braq, Shlom Benayich is a non-profit organization which claims success with professionally administered and supervised therapy and lifestyle-control, for known pedophiles. Leading Rabbis have supported the organization in its work, and refer cases to them.

Another organization, Takana, recently hit the headlines in Israel when they chose to publicly expose a rabbinical colleague, Rabbi Motti Elon, of inappropriate behaviour with male students. Takana explained that they had implemented a behaviour control program with Rabbi Elon, but that he had broken the agreement – which necessited Takana issuing a public warning regarding Rabbi Elon.

In New York, another Jewish organization, Ohel helps both victims and perpetrators of sex-abuse. Ohel claims many quiet successes in both regards. However, Ohel has also received some flack from critics (particularly the blogs) which have alleged that some pedophiles who have been treated at Ohel havesubsequently hurt more children. In other words, similar charges have been made against Ohel to those now being made against Pope Benedict.

It is widely reported that recidivism (recurrence) of pedophilia is high – after treatment and even after conviction. In light of this, cases in which pedophiles are responsibly treated (therapy, restriction or incarceration), but yet re-offend, such as appears to have happened at Ohel, must be expected.

From the experience of the Jewish community, there are options for reducing the risks of known pedophiles attacking more children. These can include therapy (psychological, chemical or physical), behaviour restrictions & controls (such as an agreed protocol).

Clearly, though, putting a suspected or known pedophile, even post-treatment, into an environment where the opportunities for re-offending are significant (eg returning a teacher to the classroom or, in the Pope’s case, to pastoral duties with children) is irresponsible and clueless.

It is to be hoped that the blaze of publicity around the world regarding the Catholic Church, and now regarding the Pope himself, will lead to heightened awarness of the nature and dangers of pedophilia, and lead to wider support for community-level programs to better protect children.


  1. Thank you for your round up on programs dealing with pedophilia especially those in Israel. Unfortunately, these are all useful adjuncts to referring cases to public prosecutors. Most pedophiles need the stick of the court to get them to avail themselves of therapy. The true sticking point is the trashing of the victims and their families who do go to public prosecutors. Israel has better laws than the US, but in both places the overwhelming majority of chareidi abusers manage to escape because the families are afraid to come forward.

    Ohel has earned its lousy reputation. It is in cahoots with Agudath Israel of America in perpetuating coverups of all sorts. I suppose it might provide good treatment for individual victims. But in the end, it is high cynicism to trumpet your treatment services while allowing molesters free reign to generate more victims.

  2. Since your wrote this article I have posted "Is Ohel a Leaky Tent?" http://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/leakyohel/.

    Just a minor correction. The charges against Ohel in Brooklyn are not just the claims of bloggers. The story of Stefan Colmer was reported in the print media. Ohel could have reported him to the authorities but instead Ohel exploited a gray area in the laws about mandated reporting and said nothing. Subsequently, Colmer spent time in the Mir Beit Midrash in Brooklyn where he groomed bar mitzvah age boys. He was eventually convicted of multiple acts of sodomy with two of those boys.


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