April 22, 2020
By Peter Smith
An Amish bishop in Lancaster County was arraigned Wednesday on charges of failing to report to law-enforcement authorities that a church member allegedly confessed to sexually assaulting three girls.
Pequea Township police allege that Levi S. Esh Sr., 63, failed to report a church member’s confessed sexual assaults on three girls around 2012 and 2013.
Police cite witnesses from within the Amish community who said while Mr. Esh’s church excommunicated the alleged perpetrator, he only had the matter “handled internally” in order to keep the incident quiet. When two congregants raised concerns about the case in October 2019, they told police that Mr. Esh said “it’s been taken care of, and it’s none of your business.”
Mr. Esh faces felony and misdemeanor charges of failing to report or refer a case of suspected child abuse to authorities.
The Post-Gazette reported in its “Coverings” series in 2019 that Amish and Mennonite elders, part of the self-described Plain church tradition, have often treated sexual abuse allegations as sins to be dealt with through internal church discipline rather than as crimes, and that victims are often pressured to reconcile with abusers who make a profession of repentance.
This is the first case in at least recent memory in which a Plain church leader is charged for failing to report child abuse in Lancaster County — home to the world’s largest Amish population.
But other cases have arisen in Pennsylvania. In 2019, a Mennonite pastor was convicted in Huntingdon County of endangering the welfare of children for preventing or interfering with the reporting of child abuse. In 2017, an Amish bishop in Dauphin County was convicted for failing to report suspected child abuse. Both received probation.
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