11/29/2013 07:56 EST | Updated 01/29/2014 05:59 EST

I Can Only Hope God Has Mercy on Sex-Offending Clergy

We all have a part of us that is still connected to the animal emotions within that have not been filtered by our more mature moral pre-frontal cortex. I know that feeling all too well. It comes over me when I read about child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, especially committed by clergy.

We all have a bit of Cain in us. The part of us that is still connected to the animal emotions within that have not been filtered by our more mature moral pre-frontal cortex. We've seen it in Rob Ford: that bare-naked uncontrollable rage against someone, against the world.

I know that feeling all too well. It comes over me when I read about child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, especially committed by clergy.

I envision myself in front of the abuser, military weapon in hand, the kind that shoots out gazillions of bullets per nano-second. And I just fire away slicing the creature in half. These hateful, angry feelings had once led me to believe in capital punishment because I did not believe these monsters had the right to breathe the air we share.

It's those emotions deep within my amygdala that make me thankful for my belief in the God of justice and mercy. I feel His hand on my shoulder reminding me that "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord." I can let go of the hate and remind myself again that I do not believe in capital punishment. That I don't want the state taking life. I leave that in the hands of God. It is our responsibility as citizens to rage against these heinous acts.

We've witnessed sexual abuse by priests and the cover up. Now we face sexual abuse, rape, of children in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities around the world, with its attempted cover up. Orthodox Jewish groups instruct "their" Jews they may only report allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys or the police if a rabbi first determines the suspicions are credible. There are in these cloistered communities those who believe the secular court system is unreliable and "allegations" must be reviewed by a rabbinical court system.

No. We must never be so tolerant of any religious group they feel they're separate and protected from the laws of the land. Spanking a child can lead to a visit from Children's Aid. Why do these religious cults get a pass?

In the 1990s I returned to school and went on to hold a residency in clinical pastoral education at Toronto Hospital. I became a chaplain. I wanted to provide spiritual care to people in crisis. I always knew when I went into a room that I was representing to my patients their understanding of God. In a sense, I was bringing God into the room. For those who believe, the Presence of God is healing.

I was called to the emergency room. A middle-aged man had just been told that he needed surgery. Surrounded by his family, a request was made for a priest. I remember witnessing an emotional change in the air when the priest arrived to provide the sacrament of the sick. There had been a palpable sense of fear and anxiety in that small curtained cubicle. When the priest placed his vestments over his shoulders, opened his prayer book and began giving the sacrament, there was a transformation. There was calm, hope, faith and belief, a new energy was in the room. The priest represented to this man and his family the presence of God. This is the power of religion.

A few years later, I was in need of spiritual care. I was suffering from deep depression and was suicidal. I was blessed with excellent medical care but it was my Rabbi who kept me alive by tapping into a part of me that is deeply connected to God. He reminded me that as a child of God, I do not have the right to take my own life. I am obligated to "choose life for you and your children." He refused to let me choose death. It was in my mind an order. Choice had blessedly been taken away from me. That is the power of clergy.

Can you imagine the power of clergy over children? We as chaplains, rabbis, priests and reverends represent God, who embraces justice and mercy, charity and loving kindness, to those who seek us, and the word of God to those we teach. I have always held that as a sacred trust.

How does a child say no to a member of the clergy who decides to sexually abuse him or her? Here is a human being, who to these impressionable, trusting children "represents" the light of God, who then takes them into the abyss of darkness, terrifying them, destroying their innocence, destroying their trust in humanity and God.

This is what's happening in closed ultra-orthodox societies all over the world. From Great Britain to Australia, Canada to the United States, these rabbis, these misogynistic sexual predators, are destroying our babies. What makes this crime so much worse is the creeping banality of evil committed by the bystanders that has insinuated itself into our culture enabling the abuse.

There seems to be a fear amongst the followers of losing their leader as if he were a god; perhaps because he acts as if he were a god. Two sins are being committed. The acts of sexual abuse by rabbis are sins of commission. And then there is another sin, one I consider just as grave; the sin of omission by adults committed by turning a blind eye, defending the abusers, shunning those who wish to protect the children, and encouraging the abused to recant.

This is a sickness that must be stopped. This is fundamentalism; a cancer that must be excised.

It is inexcusable that our secular society permits religious communities, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, to cut themselves off from the rest of society, sheltered from the laws of the land, making it possible for abuse to take place with impunity. This must end. Abusers and enablers must be punished.

Ezekiel preached, "If a righteous man give up being righteous and practice evil, doing every abominable thing that a wicked man does, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered. For the sin of which he is guilty, he shall die."

We expect our clergy to be righteous. For me, their fall from grace as sexual abusers is without hope of redemption. They must never be allowed to see the light of day, again.

I believe in the God of justice and mercy. Now is time for these monsters to face justice. Let us talk about mercy some other time.


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