Religious Groups Stall Reform Law
by DOUGLAS MONTERO
The New York Post - August 1, 2001, Wednesday
A strongly backed bill that would make it a crime if educators fail to
report an accusation of school sex abuse to the police is being stymied
by two of the city's most powerful religious organizations, City Hall
sources told The Post.
Bill No. 933, inspired by several mishandled complaints in public
schools, would require cops to investigate allegations of sex abuse
involving private schools run by churches and temples as well as public
The law could set the stage for a battle between church and state
because both Catholic and Jewish schools deal with sex-abuse allegations
against clerics internally, experts said.
City Hall sources admit they were surprised by the religious groups'
11th-hour request to postpone the vote in the City Council's Education
Committee on June 4.
"They [religious schools] claim they were unaware that the provisions
of the law applied to both public and private schools," one source said.
Council staffers are quietly negotiating with a coalition of religious
groups hoping to tailor the bill to fit everyone's demands - a delicate
process during an election season.
When told the law covers "co-curricular and extra-curricular
activities" such as prayer groups or kids helping out in religious ceremonies,
New York Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling seemed surprised.
"I'm not sure the law covers that," Zwilling said, who refused to say
if the church supported the bill.
Zwilling insisted the bill applies to clerics working only in schools,
but a second City Hall source said it reaches into "all of the
properties on school grounds."
Zwilling referred questions to Rabbi David Zwiebel, of the Agudath
Israel of America, a Jewish advocacy network that's spearheading talks with
Zwiebel argues the bill is too broad in its definition of abuse, and
thinks it will strip school principals of their "professional discretion"
to resolve disciplinary problems internally.
The failure to let principals "exercise professional judgment and
discretion in dealing with actual or threatened criminal conduct is a
serious flaw," he wrote in a five-page June 28 letter to Council Speaker
Peter Vallone and committee members.
Zwilling and Zwiebel deny allegations they want to kill the bill to
protect accused clerics.
Zwiebel said the law could create "tensions" between church and state.
The committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the matter in the fall.
"The new legal mandate is not embraced by everyone because it is
designed to change the usual way of doing business for the protection of
children," a mayoral administration source said.
"Because of the delay, the window for getting this in place by
September is closed - and that's a terrible shame."
All Rabbis Back Law To Report Child Abuse Except Ultra-Urthodox Agudath Israel
By Rachel Donadio
The Forward (NY)
With the exception of a major ultra-Orthodox organization, rabbinical
groups of all denominations say they support proposed legislation in New
York State that would require clergy to report allegations of child
The proposal, which would broaden the state's Social Services Law to
make clergy of all religions criminally liable if they do not report
instances of child abuse, was advanced last week by Manhattan District
Attorney Robert Morgenthau in the wake of growing allegations of
molestation within the Catholic Church. This week, the Democrat-controlled
State Assembly proposed similar legislation, and a version passed in the
Republican-controlled State Senate.
Most rabbinical groups said they were not concerned that the
legislation would violate confidentiality between clergy and congregants.
"I think that full disclosure to the authorities would be not only
acceptable, I think it's imperative," said Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive
vice president of the Reform movement's Central Council of American
Rabbis. "Ethical violations, whether they're violations of the criminal
code or not, need to be dealt with very openly, fairly and directly by
each denomination. Anything short of that is not keeping faith with our
The ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, however, said it
was wary of the legislation, which would require clergy to "report to
authorities whenever they have reasonable cause to believe a child has
been abused," according to a March 19 statement by Morgenthau.
David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Aguda, said he feared that
the proposal could infringe on "religious freedom."(CAN ANYONE UNDERSTAND WHAT THE HELL HE"S TALKING ABOUT?-FREEDOM OF WHAT?-UOJ)
"There ought to be some exemption for situations involving
confidentiality," Zwiebel said. "To protect the Catholic confessional-type
situation, and more specifically in our community, to protect those situations
where a member of the community does want to confide in his rabbi and
get guidance and counseling without fear of having the whole fury of the
secular legal system descend on him."
Last summer, Aguda and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York joined
forces to oppose a proposed bill in the City Council that would have required all schools, including parochial schools, to file a police report
about any criminal act committed by students or staff. Zwiebel said he was concerned that secular law would "not necessarily" respect religious concerns, such as the concept of mesira, a category of rabbinic canon law concerning when a Jew may inform on another to the secular government. He said that rabbis should evaluate issues "on a case-by-case" basis.
However, Zwiebel said, "if a person is perceived as an imminent danger
to children or others, rabbis would say, `let's not handle this
internally, let's bring it to outside authorities.'"
Looking more favorably on the legislation was the Orthodox Union,
representing Modern Orthodox synagogues. "In principal we'd be supportive,"
said Harvey Blitz, president of O.U. "We believe that clergy have a
responsibility to protect the safety of people from being victims."
"We were told by our Halachic authorities that we should without any
type of delay report these instances to the police," said Steven Dworkin,
the head of the Rabbinical Council of America, a Modern Orthodox
rabbinical body, referring to religious law.
Two years ago O.U. faced its own abuse scandal when several top
officials stepped down following claims that they ignored 30 years of abuse
complaints against the director of its national youth group, Rabbi Baruch
Blitz was unfazed by the thought that under the proposed legislation,
O.U. clergy would have been criminally liable for ignoring allegations
of abuse. "Maybe they would have reported it," Blitz said.
"We've tried very hard to change the culture at the O.U. in light of
what happened" and make children feel "more comfortable" reporting abuse
and leaders "more sensitive" to allegations, Blitz said.
Rabbi Joel Myers, president of Conservative Movement's Rabbinical
Assembly, also said he supported the proposal.
Myers said clergy confidentiality was not as "cut and dry" as some
would make it out to be. "Every rabbi knows not everything is confidential
or ought to be," he said. "Many clergy will say, `I'll be glad to
listen but I won't be able to tell you if it's confidential until you tell
me what the issue is.'"
The church scandal "may have nothing to do with confidentiality," Myers
said. "Confidentiality becomes a nice sounding word, but that's not the
issue. The issue is how bishops supervise priests."
"It is clear that social pressures on the clergy are such that
transferring the obligation to enforce justice onto the legal system is a
helpful step," said Rabbi David Teutsch, president of the Reconstructionist
The New York Post
March 26, 2002, Tuesday
IT'S NOT JUST CATHOLICS WHO HAVE TO WORRY
By Douglas Montero
THE panic has begun.
Religious organizations went into a frenzy yesterday after learning
state legislators introduced two bills that would require them to call
authorities whenever one their clerics is accused of molesting a kid.
But, it's far from just a Catholic problem.
"Sex abuse suppression in the Orthodox Jewish clergy is much worse than
the Catholics because it's such an insular community and they can get
away with it," according to Amy Neustein, who says she was ostracized by
her community after she began advocating for Jewish women and kids.
She called the problem of child molestation by the clergy and the
invariable coverup in her community a "cancer."
An official at the Agudath Israel of America - an Orthodox Jewish
advocacy group that helped exorcise a similar City Council bill last year -
seemed skeptical the bills would do much good.
"There may be a situation where there might be a conflict between the
law and what a rabbi feels is religiously appropriate," said David
Zwiebel, its vice president for government affairs.
"Rabbis might react differently. Some will comply with the law and
others will choose not to comply with the law."
Bishop Steven Bouman, who heads the city's Lutheran Church, insisted he
"absolutely" supports the bills. "I believe the primary responsibility
of church officials and the church is to the people we serve -
especially the most vulnerable," he said.
But when asked to describe his church's sex-abuse policy, he said he
had to check his facts. He called back an hour later and referred
questions to the church's lawyers.
Religious leaders are nervous.
The days of conducting their own internal, and possibly biased,
investigations before calling cops may be over soon.
It's appropriate that the sex-reporting bills were introduced during
the start of Holy Week.
"It's Lent, and Christ is giving the Church a big cross to bear - one
that it has earned," said Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic
But he said his church has plenty of company.
"I've always felt the Catholic Church doesn't have a monopoly on this
issue," he said.
The protection of the criminal predators by the Agudah has been ongoing and covert for years.
They are the ONLY Jewish organization actively blocking any legislative agenda that would protect our children in yeshivas. Their natural ally is of course the Catholics
who have paid out billions of dollars in claims to their victims. Perhaps civil litigation can be brought against the organizations and their extensive real estate holdings? If Lipa Margulies was in danger of losing his entire block of real estate on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, perhaps he would feel differently about protecting Yudi Kolko.
Various different catholic organizations were forced into bankruptcy because of the many civil judgements that were obtained against them.
This requires the victims and their families to come forward and assist us in our efforts to nail these criminals.
They obviously could not give a hoot about their reputations; let's hit them in their pockets and anywhere else that it hurts.