The Pope and Child Molesters

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This is not what the title suggests. Different Pope. Different molesters. Different group of bad guys. Having come this far, you might as well read on.

The prevailing orthodoxy in the Jewish community is that wartime Pope Pius XII was an unfeeling and spineless pontiff who placed the Church above all else, and had little sympathy for Jews in the first place. Feelings have run so strongly in this direction since the publication of “The Deputy,” a scathing critique of Pius published a mere five years after his death, that the issue of Pius’ potential canonization has been an impediment in Jewish-Catholic relations.

A growing number of voices, including some in the Jewish community, have come to a very different conclusion. The debate is outlined in a recent article in the New York Jewish Week.

Some things are fairly well established. The Pope did save Jewish lives, in several places. He did provide sanctuary within the Vatican to some Jews. He was honored by Jewish groups after the War for his help.

Beyond that, the claims and counterclaims continue to mount. Former critics have reversed themselves and turned into supporters. Witnesses have come forward to testify that the Pope personally instructed them – sometimes verbally, sometimes with handwritten instructions, but careful not to attract public attention – to open Catholic institutions to Jews, to move to save them, to accept them in Catholic hospitals with fictitious ailments. A former Romanian intelligence officer who defected to the United States argued that “The Deputy” itself was part of a KGB attempt to weaken the Church by calling its former head into disrepute. Others point to the impossibility of accurately assessing the truth of these new claims so long as the Vatican refuses to completely open their archives pertaining to the war years.

It also seems clear that Pius refused many requests from government officials and Catholic clergy to clearly denounce Hitler’s genocide. He made statements critical of Hitler – who may indeed have hated him and tried to have him captured – but they stopped short of pointing a finger directly at the extermination of Jews. If we can assume that all of the competing theories have some truth to them, what emerges is that Pius was very likely not an anti-Semite, and worked behind the scenes to save Jews to whatever extent he believed would not compromise the role of the Church in opposing Hitler. In so doing, he acted as a decent human being – and probably a good deal better – but not as courageous figure, as a model of religious principle refusing to bow to practicality. Sir Thomas More, he wasn’t.

History can be harsh, especially with leaders. It is often harsher yet with those whom we expect to be moral exemplars. An ordinary person can be koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas (acquire his place in the World to Come in a single instant), the Gemara tells us. A leader, it would seem, can lose his stellar reputation in an instant, by failing to exhibit the unusual courage that is expected to be part of greatness. Pius may have been a good person, but his legacy will likely be stained for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes being a good, decent person is not enough. Terrible circumstances sometimes call for extraordinary reactions, even from non-Popes. The plague of molestation and cover-up in the Orthodox community is one of those circumstances. If you have not yet read some of Rav Yaakov Horowitz’s pieces, read them and cringe. His courageous writing is getting progressively more defined, more pained, more desperate. (Quite independently of each other, two friends of mine related what they had heard from highly regarded workers in the Orthodox world. One spoke in Israel, one in the US. Each said that in his own substantial experience, molestation was the single greatest contributor to going off the derech.) He is not afraid to name names, and to harshly criticize those who wish everything hushed-up and not openly discussed.

Add to this the recent debacle in which Rabbi Dr Benzion Twerski abruptly stepped down from a task force on molestation formed by Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Dr Twerski cited unbearable threats and intimidation, although from ordinary people, not by the kano’im/askanim as originally reported. This means that the source of the problem is not just a bunch of terrorists with beards, but serious misinformation and misguided priorities among amchah.

Most of us, then, are left precisely where the Pope was in World War II. We sit back as life after life is shattered. We are not indifferent or callous. We are concerned, and very human. But we do nothing – much less than the Pope did. For not stepping forward with the courage, the selfless heroism we expect from a moral leader, we continue to criticize him.

A famous picture of Pius has him standing, extending his arm, and pointing. The photo has been used to criticize him for his presumed silence regarding the Holocaust. Perhaps we should give some thought as to whether the finger, in retrospect, is pointing at all of us.

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18 Responses

  1. RM says:

    If previous solutions offered over decades had solved anything, we would not be be seeing such widespread interest and passion now. The previous solutions were either non-solutions or not implemented. The previous problems grew.

    No amount of literary criticism and parsing over here will alter that.

    Those who would rather go after the good guys and not the others will have much to answer for.

  2. dovid says:

    yy: “I picked up the thrill of holy indignation”

    Your sarcasm is ill-conceived and definitely uncalled for. Child abuse became a reality of our communities that needs to be addressed in earnest and with no interference of oversized egos.

    yy: “a rabid need for lumping every complaint into the same pit; almost a sport-like hype about wiping out the “enemy”. kinda feels good to get the heart pumpin,eh?”

    If you choose to respond to a comment, have the courtesy of reading it carefully before responding. I didn’t urge anywhere in my comment to lynch people indiscriminately based on flimsy evidence. I wrote: “The order of the day is to identify them, catalogue them, and lock them up before they strike again. If treatment is not possible, I would consider neutering them.” If you objections to these statements, please list them in a systematic way. Objection 1, 2, 3, etc. But please, if you do bother answering, don’t try to second guess me by reading into my words, and don’t psychoanalyze me. Limit your response to my words and facts.

    yy: “R’ H’s own word in fact intimate that these pathetic yidden who’ve hurting our children and giving the Klal a bad name should be the REAL victims of terrorism!”

    You made this statement in your Sept. 23 comment the context of your revulsion of vigilante action. You use the expression “in fact” which aims at assuring the reader that what follows corresponds to reality. Can you document your statement? I am asking because Rabbi Horowitz writes just the opposite of what you claim: “I am most certainly not promoting or condoning vigilante violence. But it would be a positive step forward when child molesters in our community need to ask for police protection for fear of being harmed by righteously indignant people.” (http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=1041&ThisGroup_ID=262&Type=Article&SID=2) I want to make it clear that threat of violence while is not a sweet thing to do, is not vigilante action. Vigilante action is that type of action that ignores due process of law to carry one’s own form of justice. If you did find statements made by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz to the effect that you claim, did you contact him to clarify them for you before you wrote your little blurb on CC? Otherwise, I dare suggest that your attributing him (and little me) words that he (and little I) never said and intentions that he (and little I) never had is מוצא שם רע ברבים.

    yy: “As to the question about my Torah knowledge of the related pasukim and Halachos — you can rest assured I’m more inside than out.”

    That’s an interesting statement because no one questioned your “Torah knowledge”. Now that you rush to reassure us that you are “more inside than out” you convince me of the opposite. In Torah one is either in or out. Torah doesn’t allow us to sit on the fence.

  3. Ori says:

    yy: “If everybody believed it was a Mitzvah to help the police investigate rapists of children, this would not be an issue.” But I think that is a very far ways off and in the meantime we should be worried about justice EQUALLY for every situation.

    Ori: What would it take for Charedi society to accept that the police are the right people to handle this kind of crime?

  4. yy says:

    People — you’re reading me wrong. I AM extremely upset about EVERY form of violence and abuse, ESPECIALLY towards children. I am not presently in a position to do much about it and my own children, bla”h, b’H, seem to be in a very safe environment. But in NO way does that mean I don’t feel any outrage about this problem. Yes, proven molestors ARE criminals.

    The fact is I wouldn’t be reading these blogs if I didn’t think so.

    But once I picked up the thrill of holy indignation just waiting to make an example of someone, I became concerned with a problematic subcurrent threatening kdushas Yisroel. Just reading dovid’s response to me unfortunately confirms it. WHAT is all this excitement about getting “them” out of action and “neutered”? Of COURSE if there is actual evidence, on a substantial physiological scale, of proving that certain people can not possibly control their sexual urges outside of violence, then that would seem appropriate. But what we hear is a rabid need for lumping every complaint into the same pit; almost a sport-like hype about wiping out the “enemy”. kinda feels good to get the heart pumpin,eh?

    As to the question about my Torah knowledge of the related pasukim and Halachos — you can rest assured I’m more inside than out.

    Ori – your point about vigillantism is a thoughtful one: “If everybody believed it was a Mitzvah to help the police investigate rapists of children, this would not be an issue.” But I think that is a very far ways off and in the meantime we should be worried about justice EQUALLY for every situation. Not every claim of molestation means rape, nor should we ever discount innocent until proven guilty. But still — I DO AGREE that the cover-ups have gotten out of hand in this very terrible context and thus our efforts to protect our children must be doubled and tripled.

    Let’s just never forget that there is someOne else also running the show. All we can do is follow His laws.

  5. Jacob Haller says:

    yy,

    Are you saying that R’ Horowitz’s site is completely without credibility?

  6. Ori says:

    yy: Chas v’shalom to allow the Yeitzer any further advance by turning us into holy vigillantes!

    Ori: You get vigilantes when the police are unwilling or unable to control crime. If everybody believed it was a Mitzvah to help the police investigate rapists of children, this would not be an issue.

    Being merciful is good, but being merciful to the cruel is a prelude to being cruel to the merciful. Where the police is honest and competent, they are better trained to deal with child abusers than most people.

  7. dovid says:

    yy, where is your outrage? Where is the minimal outrage that a decent human being should feel in the face of such an evil? Do you know that the Torah calls the act of a male sodomizing another male תועבה (abomination)? Have you bothered counting the number of infractions child molesters commit? Your comment screams of your indifference to the long-term damage molesters inflict on the spiritual purity and physical wellbeing of our children. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz can document that there were victims of child molesters that committed suicide or whose lives were messed up as a result of the actions of child molesters and because of those who covered up for them and refused to take action. You make a show of your concern for child molesters. You call them pathetic. Pathetic means something or someone that evokes sympathy. You have sympathy for them. I have none.

    Your Sept. 23 comment:“It implies heavily criminal reactionism.” Criminal means guilty of crime or some action relating to, or involving a crime. What’s the crime and who is the criminal? Are you inferring that my intentions are criminal? Mind you, not once have you called child molesters criminals and their sodomizing minors a crime. What’s reationism in your statement? What do these terms have to do with me or my 2-line comment? Let’s take another grand statement in your Sept. 23 comment, “Neutralize is a tremendously loaded term!” You make a contorted attempt at finding connections between my use of the word ‘neutralize’ and my unconscious mental processes. I used the word “neutralize” as a euphemism for taking child molesters out of action. The order of the day is to identify them, catalogue them, and lock them up before they strike again. If treatment is not possible, I would consider neutering them, i.e., affecting their sexual behavior surgically or chemically in order to bring about halachically and socially acceptable conduct. I am prepared to place a phone call to the rav that I ask my shailos from, to find out whether such an action is mutar or assur. I bet you find this cruel. A child molester has the din of a rodef. If one sees a child molester chasing after a child with the clear intention of raping him or her and there is no way to stop him, one must kill the molester. I for one, would not hesitate to stop him with whatever means available.

  8. yy says:

    “first neutralize them”

    As BH shared in #7, standard Ortho ed has a serious lack of any guidance about the essence of the problem: How to manage our sexual urges.

    Now don’t forget, we’re not talking about non-Jews or non-frummies working in our schools who are causing this havoc. If we were, you can be sure that EVERYone would be out to neutralize these foreigners, the Rabbonim at the head of the pack. The big confusion is over the fact that these guys were brought up from withIN, and many of them were davka atractive to their victims because of their toles as MODELS of frumkeit.

    Hence if we really want to be effective, for the Klal, we MUST address the deeper issue of how Yiddishkeit can more actively guide its adherents in the realm of sexuality.

    Besides that, our “neutralizing” commentor might want to think well about why he used that term and only afterwards parenthized his more rationale thought. Neutralize is a tremendously loaded term! It implies heavily criminal reactionism. I tend to see it also in light of many of the wild comments over at R’ Y. Horowitz’s site, where the growing picture is one dangerous scapegoating. There was even one comment entitled “Kill em all!” wherein the guy brought as a model response a recent case where non-Jews took justice into there own hands, concluding a sentence for a molestor was too light, whisked the accused across the Mexican border, tied him to a cactus and badly beat him… and then left him to die of thirst!

    R’ H’s own word in fact intimate that these pathetic yidden who’ve hurting our children and giving the Klal a bad name should be the REAL victims of terrorism!

    Chas v’shalom to allow the Yeitzer any further advance by turning us into holy vigillantes! Especially when it’s clear that the vast majority of these sad cases are really one of us. *WE* need help — the Klal who is largely at war with their own sexual energies.

    Justice, yes. Vicarious punishment, no.

  9. dovid says:

    “Is it possible that this is indicating a particualar lack of sensual and or emotional satisfaction?”

    If you wish to psychoanalyze child molesters, be my guest. But first neutralize them (lock them up) before they set their eyes on the next victim.

  10. Ken Applebaum says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for furthering the discussion on this grave issue. Hopefully, the more this problem is discussed, the greater the chance that people with the power and influence will actually do something to help alleviate it. Having small children of my own, I am very upset about this problem and amazed how people who claim to take Torah seriously fail to see the urgency in confronting a danger to the future of Klal Yisroel, i.e., our children. As Dov Hikind pointed out on his radio show, why did he have to be the one who had to get involved; where have all the Rabbanim been on this issue?

  11. RM says:

    I think there is a tendency for professionals or union members in a given field to cover for each other. The Torah does not permit such in-group thinking and behavior when these allow abuses to continue that hurt the klal. Possibly, this is an argument for a Jewish community’s ownership and oversight of its schools, which are now often private businesses without real accountability.

  12. BH says:

    “What is it about the present Jewish Orthodox society that seems to allow for such convoluted passions to exist… ”

    Here is a, perhaps, related excerpt from a recent article in the Jewish Star:

    “Norman Blumenthal, a psychologist affiliated with Chai Lifeline and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center, declined to comment on specific cases, but said: “I think we have to sit down with rabbis and educators and work this issue into the curriculum. We have to teach children to protect themselves. The corollary to that is that we also need to teach our children how to deal with their sexual urges and how to address them because we’re not really addressing that. We need to start talking to them about a Torah perspective on sexual urges and expressions.”

  13. lacosta says:

    If one defines gadlus as including the ability to deal meaningfully with the critical issues, then we can include rabbi horowitz in the pantheon.

  14. yy says:

    This is exagerrated comparison.

    An entire national government was involved in an explicitly defined campaign of genocide and the leader of a world religion which prides itself on missionizing the other had nothing officially to say against that government! Whatever struggles the Pope was going through, the hypocricy shone through.

    Allthis can in no way compare to the terrible but very normal issue that we are having with identifying and routing out these molestors. It’s a real problem because if we react too quickly the lives of the accused could also be terribly ruined.

    I believe the real question we must ask is not why we don’t have more Xn-like heroics amongst our Rabbonim, but why is the problem there in the first place! What is it about the present Jewish Orthodox society that seems to allow for such convoluted passions to exist… amongst our EDUCATORS? Is it possible that this is indicating a particualar lack of sensual and or emotional satisfaction?

  15. Ori says:

    Are the police in your area generally considered honest and competent? If so, then I believe the parents who got a story from their son should go to the police. Maybe you could encourage them, or talk to somebody who will.

    It’s possible there is nothing to these rumors. But they still need to be investigated by somebody trusted:

    1. Otherwise, who would want their kids learning with from this Rebbe?

    2. Not investigating, or appearing not to investigate, creates the appearance that child molesters can get away with it.

    The laws against “Mosrim” come from a time when the gentile rulers were anti-Semitic and just looked for excuses to hurt Jews. They are not there to keep criminals safe.

  16. michoelhalberrstam says:

    O often wonder whether the failure ofour leadership to respond to the prolem of the child molester stems from the fact that we are conditioned to look for solutions which will alleviate a general situation rather than rectify an immediate problem. Thus we are stymied by the fact that we have to admit that this problem exists in our community and that it says something about us. We don’t like that , so we have opted to do little or nothing about removing those molesters whom we have identified because we can’t accept the fact the we have no answer to the larger problem at all. Perhaps we need to grow up and understand that some problems, like some chronic disease cannot be cured, they can only be managed. If you mange these diseases, life goes on. If you don’t the patients will die and their lives will become hell as well.

    Sexual predators live among us, we have to limit their influence.If this makes us seem more like everyone else and less special, that’s unfortunately too bad.

  17. Melanie says:

    What can most people do? Great question.

    My community just experienced a suspected molestation case by a 1st grade Rebbe, in a new school. To the credit of the neighborhood, people know about it but aren’t discussing it among themselves. To the discredit of the school administration and Rabbinic board, no one took on the complaints directly or with the advice of an expert on such matters.

    The Rebbe was removed from teaching immediately, while the school begain research. In the meantime a well-meaning parent made phone calls among the class to petition that the Rebbe be let back in, at which point at least one parent asked their son whether anything unusual happened, and got quite a story.

    Still, no calls to police. The school took no action to detox these boys. And now the Rebbe is teaching at another school in the area.

    So – here I am, someone who has heard all these rumors. As have many more in the community. Yet no one is condemning the school (which conveniently restructured a month before the whole issue came out), and no one is speaking Lashon Hara about the Rebbe. But he obviously hasn’t been exonerated – or wouldn’t we have heard about it?

    What do you think?

  18. Ori says:

    In so doing, he acted as a decent human being – and probably a good deal better – but not as courageous figure, as a model of religious principle refusing to bow to practicality. Sir Thomas More, he wasn’t.

    Was his obligation in this case to courageously speak out, regardless of the cost to himself and his followers (and even any Jews they could save)? Or was it to do what he thought would save as many as he could, which would be to work behind the scenes and not antagonize Hitler the to point where he’d outlaw Catholicism?

    Sir Thomas More was a private individual. His practical considerations extended no further than his own neck. A pope is more similar to a chasidic admor (= the leader of a Hasidic dynasty). He is responsible to a large number of people. His bravery puts all of them at risk.

    Most of us, then, are left precisely where the Pope was in World War II. We sit back as countless – literally – lives are shattered. We are not indifferent or callous. We are concerned, and very human. We do nothing – much less than the Pope did. For not stepping forward with the courage, the selfless heroism we expect from a moral leader, we continue to criticize him.

    What can most people do? If you know of a child abuser, you should get that abuser to where he won’t be unsupervised around children (prison is almost the only option). But is there anything that a person who does not know any child abusers should do, other than striving to a person in whom kids feel they can confide?