I came across an upsetting story last week, the latest in a series of stories on an upsetting topic. Some respected community leaders were accused of molesting children. Their superiors failed to act on the accusations or go to the police. They feared the financial or public relations consequences. They did not limit the accused pedophile’s access to children. Trust us, the superiors cautioned.
I’ve read such stories far too often in recent years in connection with the Orthodox community, both the Modern Orthodox and so-called black hat sections.
This time it wasn’t a Jewish issue. It was Penn State.
In the wake of decades-old molestation charges against one assistant coach (first fired from his job, then convicted in a jury trial of sexual abuse of boys) and indifference charges against the long-time head coach (finally fired, a few months before he died of cancer) of the storied Pennsylvania State University football team, an inquest, appointed by the school, reported its findings.
Louis Freeh, former FBI director, headed the 7-month investigation. His investigation, citing “lack of institutional control” at the school, concluded that the late Joe Paterno, whose reputation as a caring-but-successful leader of the Nittany Lions (most career victories among all NCAA Division 1-A football coaches) had suffered greatly in recent years under the microscope of public suspicion, had stayed silent as charges against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had mounted. The school’s president and other university officials had also remained silent, according to the report.
By law, those in positions of power were required by federal law to report accusations of sex crimes.
Paterno and other Penn State people in positions of power had flouted the law and let down the powerless: vulnerable children.
Top university officials have lost their job. Sandusky, pending an appeal, will probably die in jail. The school faces massive lawsuits.
There is a financial and public image price to pay.
Sounds familiar. It’s happened in the Catholic Church, to its great shame. And, in lesser numbers, in the Orthodox community.
The Jewish press – including, to its great credit, this publication, which reported on one of the first chillul Hashem stories, against one-time NCSY official Baruch Lanner – is full of reports about rabbis who stand accused of acting inappropriately in extremis with children, about higher-up rabbis and yeshiva authorities who keep the accusations in house, about experts on Jewish law who pressure the children’s families to keep quiet and protect the accused molesters and paint as guilty and ostracize those who would seek redress from the secular criminal justice system.
The result: an Orthodox community, largely innocent of such callousness, painted, in the mind of many, with the same brush of perversity condoned in the same of some higher ideal.
At Penn State, the results of the scandal have been swift. Administrators, admitting the school’s failings, have apologized. Paterno’s name disappeared from a campus library. The future of the coach’s statue outside Beaver Stadium is in doubt.
And last week the artist who had painted a halo over Paterno’s head on a mural across from the Penn State campus removed the halo.
When will some of the leaders of the Orthodox community, who act holier-than-thou but prove themselves to be holier-than-few, realize that their halo has already fallen?