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“The Essence Of Abuse Is Secrecy”

This season, the Catholic church is being forced to confront as never before issues of clergy sexual abuse. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was not sexuality, but silence,” writes Catholic theologian Mary E. Hunt.

At the same time, disturbing incidents involving Jewish clergy are also being reported in the news. LILITH has in the last year reported on several incidents [see LILITH Winter 2001 and Spring 2001]. The latest was in February, when Cantor Howard Nevison, 61, was arrested for allegedly molesting his nephew, now 12. between 1993 and 1997. Nevisons voice had for 24 years echoed in the sanctuary of New York’s majestic Reform Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue.

The boy first told the authorities about his uncle in 1998, when he also accused two other relatives of sexual abuse: Lawrence Nevison, Howard Nevison’s brother, and Lawrence Nevison’s son, Stewart. Both Lawrence and Stewart Nevison were convicted. The father remains in jail, while his son is out on bail.

Although Cantor Nevison subsequently told Emanu-El administrators about his nephew’s allegations, the temple kept the revelation secret, according to The New York Times and The New York Jewish Week. When the story broke, temple officials circled the wagons, refusing for days to speak publicly about the scandal, except to acknowledge that the cantor had spoken about the accusation in the past. In April, the New York Jewish Week reported that Emanu-El members had established a legal defense fund for Nevison. Nevison is now out on bail, awaiting trial. He has not resigned from his position at Emanu-El.

LILITH asked psychotherapist Peter Fraenkel, member of the sex abuse project at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in Manhattan and the co-author, with Marcia Sheinberg, of The Relational Trauma of Incest, What should Emanu-El have done in the face of the allegations

“They should have made a statement to validate the seriousness of what the child is saying,” Fraenkel declared. And while accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty, “Temple officials should acknowledge the possible truth of the child’s statement.” Research shows, Fraenkel said, that children rarely make up such accusations.

“The secrecy sends the message that adult men come first over kids,” said Fraenkel.

“The essence of abuse is secrecy,” said couples and family therapist Esther Perel, who has worked extensively in the area of sexuality. “If you, as an institution, maintain secrecy, then you are feeding the core of molestation.”