Monday, October 31, 2005


Clergy sexual misconduct, perpetrated under the guise of closed-door pastoral counseling is against the law in 21 states and is a felony in Minnesota and Texas. I read an article last year about a Minnesota minister who was convicted of clergy sexual abuse of a female congregant he had counseled. He was sent to prison and when released he will face a long probation and must register as a sex offender. In Minnesota and Texas, the same statute (law) that protects individuals who undergo counseling with licensed mental health practitioners also protects those who seek pastoral counseling with clergy. I've read the statutes - it places clergy who provide pastoral counseling in the same category as psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The statute states that it is a felony for clergy to engage in sexual relations or sexualized behavior with individuals they have counseled. The same statute applies to mental health practitioners who abuse therapeutic fiduciary relationships with patients. These laws require clergy who counsel to maintain the same professional boundaries and code of ethical behavior as mental health pracitioners. These statutes apply to all clergy members or anyone who represents themselves as members of the clergy. It makes no difference if the individual is ordained or just "pretending". The offending clergy isn't required to have an education or degree in psychology to be bound by the statute - the only requirement is that the clergy member engaged in pastoral counseling with the victim prior to the illegal act or behavior. Baruch Hashem! There are legislators out there who "get it" and have actually done something to protect their citizens against this tragic and prevalent problem. I am elated that 23 states have enacted laws to regulate pastoral counseling - it's a positive step in the right direction. Twenty seven more states need to enact legislature to criminalize clergy sexual misconduct and forty eight more states need to declare it a felony before I'm completely satisfied.

As a resident of California, I had no legal recourse (other than a civil lawsuit) as a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct, perpetrated during pastoral counseling. I was sexually harassed, touched in a sexual manner, endured forced genital contact (through clothing) and ultimately, I was physically assaulted when my abuser discovered I'd ended my silence and had spoken out against him. If these acts had been perpetrated in Minnesota or Texas, my abuser would have been guilty of a felony, required to serve prison time and register as a sex offender upon conviction. The legislature in my state is long overdue for a wake up call. I wrote my term paper last year on this subject: "Adult Clergy Sexual Misconduct During Pastoral Counseling and the California Legislature". I earned an A+ and my oral presentation generated a tremendous amount of interest from my fellow paralegal students. No one was aware that this is not already against the law and they were all horrified.

In the fall of 2001, when I became convinced that I must report my abuser to the Central Conference of American Rabbi's - (CCAR - Reform) - I said a very earnest, special prayer asking G-d to make me His servant and show me His will. I know in my heart that Hashem called me to do everything in my power to prevent my abuser from ever perpetrating sexual abuse against another woman. This was my task and for the next four years I did everything I could do, putting privacy aside, to stop him from doing it again and warn the women of my community about what he's shown himself to be capable of. I knew I had to report him when I was given information about another victim from a former temple board member. The information was provided to me after the former board member was told about my case. He was horrified to hear that the rabbi had done it again and encouraged me to report the abuse to the CCAR Ethic's Committee. The previous incident recounted to me involved a sexual harassment lawsuit against the rabbi, the temple Board of Trustee's and the temple itself, by a female congregant who also worked in the temple office. I was told to go to the courthouse and look up the case, which I did. The lawsuit was reportedly settled out of court by the temple's malpractice insurance and the entire incident was "swept under the rug" - hushed up by the Board to avoid a scandal. I was told it was thought at the time that the "incident" occurred due to the rabbi's going through a divorce from his first wife. The rabbi was placed on probation but allowed to remain on the Bimah. Three years later, I joined the temple and in eight months I was made a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct. Just goes to show you how horribly wrong temple administrators can be when dealing with cases of rabbinic sexual misconduct (RSM). I had been afraid to step forward because I would have to speak out against a rabbi - I thought that no one would believe me. I bought into the old adage that "rabbi's don't do that!" When I was given solid information from a reliable source that there had been another victim, I had to report him - it was no longer just about me.

I have a wonderful male Reform rabbi who advocated for me during the entire reporting process and the adjudication of my complaint with the CCAR. I asked him on more than one occasion, "Why me?! Why do I have to be the one who steps forward to face shunning and ridicule? Why me?!" He answered, "Chavah, we cannot dictate to G-d who He chooses to carry out His work, who He asks to fight in the trenches in this war (against rabbinic sexual misconduct)." He would remind me that to work for G-d to right a wrong and hopefully prevent future victims is a positive way to turn my trauma into a blessing. He always found ways to comfort and support me during our numerous phone calls and e-mails. The first time I spoke to this rabbi he said two things at the start of our conversation that changed my life: "Chavah, I believe you and you know it wasn't your fault." He explained to me what transference was, easing the huge load of guilt I'd been carrying around with me and gave me back my dignity and self respect. I was assured that G-d had nothing to do with what happened to me. My advocate rabbi is big on counting blessings, even in the face of adversity and trying to bring some sense and reason to what happened. He helped me to see that I was fortunate to have been emotionally strong enough to say no and preserve my marriage vows. Had I been in different psychological circumstances during the abuse I could easily have succumbed to the persistent, forceful seduction. I was strong enough to endure the onslaught of psychological and emotional abuse that ensued following my refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with my abuser. I overcame the guilt, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I suffered with for so long. I was utterly despondent after my abuse, wavering in my core belief in G-d, feeling as though my very soul had been raped, but I survived. I was strong enough to step forward, with the help of my many advocates, and report my abuser to the CCAR and the Jewish Press. I've been told that my abuser chose the wrong woman to attempt to seduce and I agree. My marriage thrived and became better than ever after my ordeal. The abuse I suffered caused my husband to take a long hard look at his role in our marriage and we made many positive changes because of that wake up call. He is now a better husband and has grown into the soulmate I've always been looking for. I would have chosen not to become a victim but since I cannot change history, I will continue to count the blessings of what could have happened but did not and the good that has come from the trauma and suffering, as my advocate would have me do.

Now that my abuser has been reported and his sexual misconduct has been publicized to warn the women of my community, I have embarked on my survivor's mission. I am being called upon to help other victims through this blog and to lobby my legislature to enact laws to protect those who are not yet victims. My role as a lobbyist is in the research stages. Once I have educated myself on the process by which bills are introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives, I will be marching forward. I will then call upon victim/survivors, their families, friends and associates to help me in the fight to regulate clergy pastoral counseling. We must demand state laws to regulate pastoral counseling and force the legal system to prosecute clergy sexual misconduct in public courts of law. Enough of the secret investigations, surreptitious pulpit to pulpit transfers and meaningless wrist slapping that our religious institutions have to gall to call discipline in cases of clergy sexual misconduct. These institutions have graphically shown that they cannot and will not police "their own" - the government must step in and take charge when clergy abuse their positions of power and trust. This is a call to action and I will be counting on your support to get our voices heard by those who can make a difference.


  • At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Gary Schoener said…


    Some notes: First of all, you are generally right, but the situation is not as positive as you think. First of all, in those 21 other states it is not true that rabbinic (or pastoral) counseling can be prosecuted when sex occurs -- sadly clergy in those states can use a "spiritual counseling defense" and/or in states like California only certain licensed mental health professionals are included.

    These laws regulate "psychotherapy sexual abuse" so they must occur in a "psychotherapeutic relationship". In a criminal case every element must be proven to a matter of reasonable doubt and a moral certitude -- so most rabbis would "get off", even in states other than Calif. or Maine which list only certain licensed professions.

    In fact, in Minnesota, which criminalized in 1985, although a few pastors were convicted, when one Lutheran successfully used the "it was pastoral counseling, not psychotherapy" defense, we had to redraft part of the law and specifically include spiritual counseling and guidance in 1992.

    Then when we helped Texans criminalize 8 years later we got them to use similar language.

    So, what is needed: (1) all states that have the "psychotherapy laws" need to include the language from the Minnesota statute. (2) all the others need a statute; (3) we have to get education going about the statutes and prosecutions to make the point. It was designed to deter, and also to get rid of repeat offenders.

    It also helps victims and their families when you can say: "Sir, your wife (or girlfriend) is the victim of a CRIME -- a sexual assault.

    In Minnesota the (former Father) John Bussman, a Roman Catholic priest, was convicted of this crime and is in prison. Do a google search under his name.

    www.advocateweb.org has a good deal of information about these issues.

    Gary Schoener

  • At 7:37 AM, Anonymous human pheromone said…

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