From one religious body to another, there’s a horrible sameness about the sexual abuse of children by those charged with their moral and spiritual development. The differences come in the institutions and communities, and how they deal with the abusers and their victims.
The trial and conviction of a leader of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn for the sexual abuse of a young girl has laid bare how the sect has protected abusers by ostracizing and threatening those who would call them to account. As the Daily News reported, “Many in the Satmar world were angered to see such a highly-regarded man in the community forced to defend himself in the ‘unreliable’ secular court system, instead of secret rabbinical court proceedings.” That a rabbi active in the effort to bring abusers to justice had bleach thrown in his face on a Brooklyn street Dec. 11 is testimony that the struggle for child protection is just beginning.
Then you’ve got the situation of a Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri indicted for abuse of a girl but still presiding over his congregation without so much as a proposal to remove him from his position. In a fine piece of reporting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tim Townsend uses the case to explore the challenges of addressing abuse when it comes to self-governing congregations that belong to umbrella denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention.
Meanwhile, out in Los Angeles, the files on abusive priests in the Catholic archdiocese are finally being released to public view, but it's unclear whether the clerical superiors responsible for covering up the abuse will have their names uncovered. Last year, the judge in the case permitted those names to be blacked out. “You know that the Church recycles priests,” he said. “Now you want to know who in the clergy recycled. For what useful purpose? The case is settled.”
Three cases, three religious cultures. What should be clear by now is that the cultures themselves need to be held to account if the scourge of child sexual abuse is to be controlled. And unless names are named, that will never happen.
Mark Silk is professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He blogs for Religion News Service, where this article originally appeared.