The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, said Wednesday that he would push for state legislation to add rabbis and other religious leaders to the list of professionals required to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities.
The move comes as Mr. Hynes, the city’s longest-serving district attorney, has come under intense scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. A recent article in The New York Times showed that Mr. Hynes did not object when Agudath Israel of America, an organization representing various Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox factions, told him last summer that it was instructing adherent Jews to get permission from a rabbi before reporting allegations of sexual abuse to the authorities.
Brooklyn is home to the largest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. The issue of child sexual abuse has divided the community in recent years, and Mr. Hynes has become a central figure in the drama. Victims’ advocates accuse him of bending to the will of the rabbis, many of whom have long insisted that crimes like sexual abuse be handled by rabbinical authorities, who often do not report their findings to the police or prosecutors.
Criticism has continued to mount even as prosecutions by Mr. Hynes’s office have grown sharply in the last three years, a spike he and his aides credit to a program he began in 2009 to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish victims to report abuse. His office says the program, called Kol Tzedek, has helped lead to more than 95 indictments. Requiring clergy to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities would give Mr. Hynes’s office a new tool to go after rabbis who advise their followers against reporting.
“This thing has become a very, very important issue, and the question is, how do you deal with it?” Mr. Hynes said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
As of 2010, 26 states required clergy to report sexual abuse. Bills that would do the same in New York have languished in the Legislature since 2003. Some religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church and Agudath Israel, have opposed previous bills because they would also have required religious organizations to go into their files and turn over allegations of past abuse.
Assemblyman John J. McEneny, an Albany Democrat, first introduced such legislation in 2003 and has a current bill that would not require the reporting of past allegations. Catholic Church and Agudath officials said on Wednesday that they could support a bill of that type.
Mr. Hynes, who said he was unaware of Mr. McEneny’s bill, said he would discuss the measure with him. Mr. Hynes, who said he would work with the New York State district attorneys association to fashion a measure, said he favored a bill modeled after similar laws in New Hampshire and West Virginia, which do not require clergy to report allegations told to them in confession. Mr. Hynes is also creating a task force to crack down on witness intimidation in child sexual abuse cases in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and has had a memorandum of understanding with the bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese since 2003 requiring Catholic priests to report allegations of abuse to his office.