Jewish Week Intimidation aside, what is your impression about how often rabbis are discouraging people from coming forward when asked for advice?
Hynes: What I’ve said to [Agudath Israel vice president] Chaim Dovid Zwiebel is that his suggestion that rabbis have to screen is wrong for two reasons: One, rabbis have no expertise in this area to determine what reaches a level for reporting, and what he’s doing is putting the rabbis in a very dangerous position; because one of these days a rabbi is going to make a mistake cross the line and tell someone under no circumstances are they to report abuse and they are going to be indicted for obstructing governmental administration. I made it very, very clear to Dovid that was my position.
Do you view this the same as witness tampering or witness intimidation? Are there constitutional issues protecting a rabbi’s advice?
Hynes: You’re changing the fact pattern. Why don’t you stay with my fact pattern? My fact pattern is, a rabbi says under no circumstances should you report this, that’s crossing a line. If a rabbi says mesirah prohibits you from reporting then that’s something I can’t deal with; I can’t pierce that religious connection.
In fact in the legislation I submitted to state DA’s Association’s legislative committee — which has now been passed on to the executive committee for the summer — specifically says in cases of confession or confidential communication to a religious person, whether a rabbi or a minister that would not require mandatory reporting. Mandatory reporting would be finding out about abuse of a third party. There is no reason why clergy should not be mandatory reporters as far as I’m concerned. Twenty-six states in this country have mandatory requirements, only two of them have clergyman-penitent exception: Remarkably, 24 do not. In New Hampshire and West Virginia, despite the clergy-penitent exception they require mandatory reporting in those cases where sex abuse of a third party is involved. There is no reason you can’t have that here for clergy as well.
You said earlier that rabbis don’t have the judgment to assess cases. Agudath Israel has said they are offering training courses for rabbis.
Hynes: I think he has backed away from that. The danger in that … I don’t think a clergy person has the ability or even should have the authority to do screening. The only thing I can do to get around this is hope I can get support in the legislature to change the mandatory reporting to include members of the clergy.