UK

STEPHEN POLLARD: Church leaders who help hide crimes are just as culpable as those who commit them

One of the main purposes of religion is to teach right from wrong. Yet far too many faith leaders are manifestly failing to do so.

Yesterday’s appalling report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has exposed what many of us have known for a long time.

The language could not be more stark. It said there were ‘shocking failings’ and ‘blatant hypocrisy’ in how religious groups handle allegations of child sexual abuse.

And there is ‘no doubt’, it went on, ‘that the sexual abuse of children takes place in a broad range of religious settings’.

In deeply religious communities, ‘victim blaming’, abuse of power and the mistrust of external secular authorities are common. And it is children, who are vulnerable to sexual abuse, who bear the brunt of this group isolation. Millions are currently thought to be at risk.

Clearly, any form of child abuse is sickening. But there is something especially shocking when the abuser is a religious leader.

The travails of the Catholic Church in recent decades are well-known.

t is children, who are vulnerable to sexual abuse, who bear the brunt of this group isolation. Millions are currently thought to be at risk (stock image)

But the report saw fit to investigate no fewer than 38 religious organisations and settings in England and Wales, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and members of non-conformist Christian denominations.

Over more than two weeks of testimony last year, it found evidence of ‘egregious failings’ – though those words cannot convey the depth of suffering they mean to the young victims.

Earlier this week, I read of a rabbi in north London who had unforgivably claimed that it is a ‘severe sin’ to report child abuse to the police.

Paltiel Schwarcz argued that there were almost no circumstances in which a Jewish abuser should be reported to the British authorities.

As a Jew, it shames me that anyone of my religion should hold such a contemptible view. And, rightly, the umbrella bodies for his fellow orthodox rabbis immediately distanced themselves from his foul beliefs.

Yet he is far from alone. It is all too common for leaders of all faiths to believe that their religion somehow gives them a status that puts them above the law of the land.

I have been editor of the Jewish Chronicle for well over a decade. Almost all the rabbis I meet are decent people who would never dream of covering up child rape. But my newspaper has had to report too many stories of abuse for me to believe naively that there are no cover-ups.

Indeed, yesterday’s report refers to the terrible case of three children abused by Todros Grynhaus, a prominent figure in Manchester’s Haredi Jewish community, who was – of all things – sent for counselling by his rabbi after allegations were first levelled against him. (He was later convicted and jailed.)

And of course the problem is by no means confined to Judaism. A girl who was raped in a ‘house mosque’ between the ages of eight and 11 was called a ‘s***’ by her fellow Muslims.

Clearly, any form of child abuse is sickening. But there is something especially shocking when the abuser is a religious leader (stock image)

Clearly, any form of child abuse is sickening. But there is something especially shocking when the abuser is a religious leader (stock image)

There are equally appalling instances referenced in the new report among Jehovah’s Witnesses and Methodists; although the true scale of the crimes is surely going under-reported.

Why do religious communities so often fail to protect the victim – and instead protect the abuser? More often than not, the simple and ugly motivation is to avoid bad publicity for the group and their faith.

But cover-ups are not the only explanation. As religious leaders, they might believe they are beholden primarily to the word of God.

And since the word of God carries far more weight than any man-made rules, they might reason that cases of child abuse are therefore properly a matter for internal religious courts, rather than the secular judicial system. Of course, this view is not only illegal: it is deeply immoral.

Over more than two weeks of testimony last year, it found evidence of ¿egregious failings¿ ¿ though those words cannot convey the depth of suffering they mean to the young victims (stock image)

 Over more than two weeks of testimony last year, it found evidence of ‘egregious failings’ – though those words cannot convey the depth of suffering they mean to the young victims (stock image)

So convinced do many religious organisations become of their rectitude that they cannot see what stares the rest of us in the face: that they are on the wrong side of the divide between right and wrong.

Often when a cover-up is at last exposed, the justification is that the abuser was a wonderful person who unfortunately had a foible – his penchant for abusing children.

So the powers that be take it upon themselves to ‘manage’ the situation – in other words, to cover up what happened and protect the abuser.

But in the end, it is simple. Religious leaders who do not report or deal with child abusers are effectively guilty of the same abuse themselves and risk it being inflicted on other children.

They, too, should be brought to justice with the full weight of the law. Every religious group in Britain must read yesterday’s report carefully and learn from its harrowing conclusions.


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button