THE Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) has issued an extraordinary statement on child sexual abuse timed for Yom Kippur, in which it asks forgiveness from victims and condemns any cover-ups.
In a letter to be distributed to shul-attendees, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, the Orthodox rabbinical roof body’s president, stated: “Over the last few years it has become clear that our community has been affected by this scourge no differently than any other community. It has also become clear that we have not handled this issue in an appropriate manner.
“I wish to be frank. For whatever reason a culture of cover-up, often couched in religious terms, pervaded our thinking and actions. It may even have been well intentioned, but it was simply wrong. An issue of child sexual abuse must be reported to the police immediately and perpetrators must be brought to justice. It makes no difference whether the crime took place 10 years ago or 10 days ago. There can be no exceptions and no excuses.
“I turn to the victims. No one can know your pain and what you have been through. And the pain has only been magnified by our inaction. On this holiest of days I sincerely beg your forgiveness on behalf of all of us who did not hear your voice. I can only assure you on my behalf, and on behalf of the vast majority of the rabbinate, that we hear you now loud and clear. We will do our utmost not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We hope that you can find it within yourselves to forgive us.”
Rabbi Gutnick’s statement also urged victims to find their voice. “I know it is difficult for you to come forward to the police, but one of the ways through which abuse will be stopped is by perpetrators being prosecuted, and a clear message of deterrence being sent to potential abusers … There are victims’ advocate groups such as Tzedek who can give moral support. I myself recently accompanied a victim to the police. Please help us, if you can, to combat this abuse. Very often after coming forward, victims find it easier to find healing and closure.”
Abusers themselves were also addressed in the Yom Kippur statement. “To perpetrators I say you will be found. It may not be today, it may not even be tomorrow but it will happen. There will be justice if not in this world, most definitely in the next. You have done a most heinous crime and you will never find atonement with Hashem or peace within yourselves until you do the right thing. Turn yourselves in. Admit to the wrong you have done so that you may begin the path to atonement and allow your victims to find healing and peace.”
Rabbi Gutnick told The AJN: “Yom Kippur is a time when we do teshuvah (repentance), remembering and acknowledging past wrongdoing and making a commitment for the future. It’s a perfect time for atonement … I’m hoping it goes to all shul goers … I’m hoping that everybody involved will be empowered to help to remove the stigma and to help them to find the courage to come forward.”
CEO of victim advocacy group Tzedek, Manny Waks, described the ORA letter as an “incredible milestone”.
“This is an important development – it is an acknowledgment that many victims and survivors within religious institutions have longed to hear; that finally the national peak Orthodox rabbinic organisation is taking responsibility for the abuse suffered, as well as for the subsequent cover-ups.”
Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia president Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.