Why did Agudath Israel oppose a NY State bill that would have made rabbis mandatory reporters of abuse, just as doctors and teachers now are? Here are two reports, the first from the Jewish Week, the second and more damning from the Forward:
Mesirah [informing to a non-Jewish government or official] is also one of the reasons supplied by Agudath Israel for its opposition to a bill that has passed the state Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. The bill would add clergy to other categories of professionals, like educators and health care workers, who are required to report suspected child abuse. A similar bill was killed last year.
The law, if passed, would also require clergy and religious institutions to review records from the preceding 20 years and turn over old allegations to civil authorities.
This would be an “unconstitutional” law, said David Zwiebel, the Agudah’s executive vice president for government and public affairs. The group is working behind the scenes in Albany to defeat it.
“It is a sensitive issue now especially with some of the attention that’s been focused on allegations within our own community,” he said. “The last thing we want to be seen as is obstructing whatever legitimate inquiries may be made among our own rabbinate.
“At the same time,” said Zwiebel, ”it would be unfortunate if the stories that have made their way into the papers and TV programs were to cause the kind of overreaction that this represents by perpetuating the notion that clergy, of all people, are more suspect than any other profession or group in society.”
Rabbis Back Law To Report Child Abuse
By Rachel Donadio
The Forward (NY)
March 29,2002 p. 3
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 abuse.
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 people."
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."
"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.’"…
Agudath Israel of America: Protecting rabbis, endangering children.