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"Hi; I'm a Pedophile"
When Public Trust is Broken; Part Two
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Hi; I’m a Pedophile

When Public Trust is Broken; Part Two

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Note: We have received a great deal of feedback from the first article on this subject posted yesterday; some positive and some, ehm…um... constructive. As many people questioned the necessity for including one or more of the six steps we posted, we thought that a point-by-point analysis of each step would be helpful to our communal conversation about this very timely and important subject. We hope you find this thought provoking.

Kindly join our discussion by emailing your comments to or posting them below. Please note that comments critical of our position will be posted, but not ones that attack individuals or are needlessly disparaging. This is a very sensitive topic and we ask our readers to respect the nature of our website and agree to disagree respectfully when posting (compliments are welcome as well).

Ever wonder why we recite “Al Cheit (a series of verses where we confess our sins)” a total of eight times during the liturgy of Yom Kippur? The answer is that viduy (orally expressing our misdeeds) is an integral component of repentance.

In his monumental “Yad HaChazakah,” the Rambam (Maimonides), our great codifier of halacha (Jewish law), brilliantly converts nebulous terms like teshuva (repentance), into practical checklists of precise steps one needs to take in order to perform this Torah commandment. This was an extraordinary contribution to Jewish life for it gives us a structured set of sequential steps to take to improve our spiritual and physical lives.

The main components of teshuvah according to Rambam (Hilchos Teshiva 1:1) are:

1) Feelings of remorse for past misdeeds

2) A sincere commitment to avoid returning to the path of sin

3) Confessing one’s sins by mentioning them while praying to G-d.

4) Personally apologizing for the sin

5) Making retribution

The Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has helped millions of people recover from addiction, similarly gives recovering addicts a clear and concise road map to come to terms with their compulsion and save their lives[1].

One of the Twelve Steps is #5 “Admitting to G-d, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” In fact it is probably the best known of the Twelve Steps, due to the fact that the first words of an addict at recovery meetings are, “Hi; my name is John Smith and I’m an alcoholic.”

Addicts, and all of us to a smaller extent, would rather avoid the stark reality that we have sinned and need to improve our shortcomings. We would rather deny, negate, evade, postpone, dodge, shirk, and on and on, than stop the music and search our souls. Confession cuts to the chase and forces reflection and honesty.

This is the second in a series of essays on the matter of what protocol should be followed when communal leaders betray their public trust. In the first article on this subject, we proposed that step #1 should be:

“A public confession in writing or via recorded statement shall be made available to the constituents of the institution where the individual served. The public acknowledgment need not include specific details, but the perpetrator needs to clearly state that he/she committed severe misdeeds and takes full, personal responsibility for them.”

A public confession is critically important on so many levels:

A. It ends the swirls of denial and uncertainly

B. Provides some closure to those immediately affected and to community members at large

C. Reduces or eliminates the harassment that the victims who reported the abuse often suffer, from people who don’t know the truth

D. Forces the individual to come to terms with the sins he/she committed.

My dear friends, it is painfully clear that what was done in the past, when community leaders were found to have betrayed their public trust, just isn’t working. It is "All Pain and No Gain" when misconduct is brushed under the carpet, and only slightly better when halfhearted measures are taken.

Many times – in the past, and even just recently – “private arrangements” were made with perpetrators who had betrayed their trust, that were thought to have been sufficient to protect public safety. In almost all instances, though, those agreements were broken in very short order. We propose that the lack of public confession greatly contributed to this phenomenon.

Tragically, the recidivism rate for perpetrators is very high, and this will be something they will struggle with all their lives. But the first meaningful step to sooth the searing pain of the victims, protect the public at large, and allow the perpetrator to begin the long, long path back from his/her terrible deeds is one and the same. It sounds something like this:

Hi; my name is ___________ and I’m a pedophile.

[1] Having worked with recovering addicts for many years, I find the striking similarities between Rambam’s approach to teshuva and the Twelve Steps (FYI; Rambam came first) to be a fascinating subject and created a shiur (lecture) titled, Twelve Steps to Teshuva that evolved from a question that I asked one of my heroes, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, "Why is it that millions of addicts successfully "did teshuva" and changed their destructive habits, while I find myself struggling to improve my shortcomings year after year with less-than-perfect results?"

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