10 Apr 2011

Australian starts private criminal prosecution of Watch Tower Society for refusing to submit to child protection law

Sunday Herald Sun   -  Australia       April 10, 2011

Former Jehovah's Witness taking on Watch Tower

by Graeme Hammond  |  Sunday Herald Sun

A FORMER Jehovah's Witness is to launch a private criminal prosecution against the religion's world headquarters.

His action is in protest at its refusal to require church elders to submit to Working With Children police checks in Victoria

Steven Unthank, who says he was a victim of sexual assault by a church elder in Queensland, says he is taking the drastic step to protect children within the religion and at homes where Jehovah's Witnesses doorknock.

Mr Unthank, from Toongabbie in Gippsland, says he is frustrated over inaction by police and the Justice Department after the religion decided its ministers were not required to undergo police checks.

He hopes the state will take over the prosecution after court documents are filed on April 19.

Mr Unthank, 43, quit the religion in late 2009 after waging a long campaign to persuade the Watch Tower Society, the religion's administrative arm, that elders and door-to-door preachers needed to get police checks before working with children.

Victoria's Working With Children Act requires ministers of religion who have regular unsupervised contact with children to apply for background checks and the Catholic and Anglican churches say all ministers and volunteer workers routinely apply for such checks.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses say all members become ordained ministers at baptism, a spokesman for the Watch Tower Society said elders or other evangelists were not required to gain a police clearance.

"We don't typically work with children, we don't have Sunday schools, so that law doesn't apply to us," the spokesman said.

But Mr Unthank said adult Jehovah's Witnesses often paired up with minors when preaching, with much of their time spent in cars calling on homes. Elders also mentored children and teens from religiously divided homes.

He said elders underwent no background checks before being appointed and were required only to voluntarily declare any convictions for sexual offences.

"Without police checks, how would a member of the public know it isn't a sex offender knocking on their door, talking with their kids?" he said.

Victoria Police say they investigate specific complaints about breaches of the Act, but government sources say the Watch Tower Society's stance remains "a worry".

"A lot of this is about reassurance to parents and the public, so their attitude isn't helpful," one source said.

This article was found at:


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  1. Police inquiry over Jehovah's Witness magazine 'mentally diseased' article

    An official magazine for Jehovah's Witnesses that described those who leave the church as "mentally diseased" is at the centre of a police inquiry, it has emerged.

    TELEGRAPH UK September 27, 2011

    Detectives are investigating whether the article, published in July’s edition of The Watchtower, is in breach of Britain’s religious hatred laws.

    The article, published in the magazine which is distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe, reportedly warned followers to avoid "false teachers" which it condemned as being "mentally diseased".

    "Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease," part of the article stated.

    "You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are 'mentally diseased', and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings."

    A group of former Witnesses, based in Portsmouth, have made an official complaint to Hampshire Police about the article. Police have launched an investigation.

    They are considering whether to complain to the Charity Commission. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, which prints church doctrine in Britain, is a registered charity.

    The church is known for handing down harsh punishments to followers who criticise doctrines or raise questions about the faith.

    Angus Robertson, a former Witness "elder" from an undisclosed town in Hampshire, who was present at the meeting with police, told The Independent: "The way scripture is being used to bully people must be challenged.

    “If a religion was preaching that blacks or gays were mentally diseased there would understandable outrage."

    But Rick Fenton, a church spokesman, defended the passages, saying ostracisation was "a personal matter for each individual to decide for himself".

    "Any one of Jehovah's Witnesses is free to express their feelings and to ask questions," he said. "If a person changes their mind about Bible-based teachings they once held dear, we recognise their right to leave."

    A Hampshire police spokesman was unavailable for comment.


  2. 'Firm stand' on transfusions

    Matt Smith, The Mercury November 12, 2011

    A JEHOVAH'S Witness leader has defended the position of the religion to make its own choices on blood transfusions.

    Jehovah's Witness senior elder Graeme Martin said it was a misconception that Jehovah's Witnesses suffered a greater mortality rate as a result of refusing transfusions.

    "An increasing volume of medical research indicates the very opposite," Mr Martin said yesterday.

    He said a growing number of people around the world were refusing blood transfusions for cultural and medical reasons.

    However, he said Jehovah's Witnesses were the only group of people who made the decision on religious grounds.

    Mr Martin was responding broadly to the issue after a Tasmanian Coroner Rod Chandler published his findings into the death of a Glenorchy Jehovah's Witness.

    Mr Chandler found a blood transfusion would probably have saved the life of Judith Louise Allen, who died of complications after lap band surgery in July 2009.

    Medical staff tried to persuade her husband to consent to the transfusion when she became critically ill after the surgery, but he insisted that her religious beliefs be respected.

    The case has prompted Mr Chandler to call on the Jehovah's Witness governing body to relax the doctrine that Christians should not accept blood transfusions.

    Mr Martin said he could not comment on Mrs Allen's case.

    "Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that Jehovah's Witnesses continue to take a firm stand regarding blood transfusions based on the Bible's clear injunction that Christians 'abstain from blood'."

    Mr Martin said evidence showed blood transfusions did not help in some situations.

    "In addition to lack of evidence for benefit, there is a growing body of literature showing transfusion to be associated with harm in the short, mid and long term," he said.


  3. Jehovah's Witnesses ordered to pay more than $20 million to woman who said she was sexually abused

    By James Eng, msnbc.com June 15, 2012

    In what both sides described as a momentous ruling, a jury in Oakland, Calif., has found that Jehovah’s Witnesses was partly responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of a girl by one of its members and must pay her more than $20 million.
    The Alameda County Superior Court jury on Thursday awarded $21 million in punitive damages to the plaintiff, who is now 26 years old. That was on top of the $7 million in compensatory damages it awarded her on Wednesday.

    The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entity, is responsible for the entire punitive damages amount and 40 percent of the compensatory damages, said Rick Simons, attorney for the plaintiff. Sixty percent of the compensatory damages was assessed against Jonathan Kendrick, the man accused of abusing her.

    The woman sued Watchtower, the Fremont, Calif., congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kendrick in 2011. She contended church elders acting under the authority of Watchtower knew about the risk of child sex abuse in their midst but kept it secret.

    “I once wanted to be the best Jehovah’s Witness I could be. Now I feel I’m doing more to help other children in Jehovah’s Witnesses than I ever did walking door to door to spread the ‘good news,’” the woman said in a news release issued by Simons.

    Jim McCabe, attorney for the Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said Thursday before the punitive damages were announced that he was “stunned” by the verdict and would appeal.

    “This is the first case I know of where a church has been hit with liability involving a rank-and-file member,” he told msnbc.com.

    The jury found that the elders who managed the Fremont congregation in the 1990s and who were under the supervision of Watchtower knew that Kendrick, a member and a congregation leader, had recently been convicted of the sexual abuse of another child, but they kept his past record secret from the congregation, said Simons.

    Kendrick went on to molest the plaintiff, who was a Jehovah's Witness member in Fremont, over a two-year period beginning when she was 9 years old, the lawsuit contended.

    Kendrick was eventually convicted in 2004 of the sexual abuse of another girl, and is now a registered sex offender in California, Simons said. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the plaintiff, but Simons said the case is under investigation by law enforcement.

    continued in next comment...

  4. continued from previous comment:

    Kendrick was not in court for the trial and msnbc.com could not immediately find a contact number for him.
    The California sex offender registry lists two convictions for him: lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age and sexual battery involving a restrained person.

    The lawsuit alleged that Watchtower had a policy that instructed elders in its Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations to keep reports of child sex abusers within the religious group secret to avoid lawsuits.

    “The verdict is significant because the policy of hiding sex abusers within the congregation was out in this case,” Simons said.

    He also said the judgment was “one of the largest in the country for a child sex abuse single victim in a religious institution molestation case.”

    Jehovah's Witnesses is a Christian denomination noted for its nontraditional interpretation of the Bible. Members are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake! magazines.
    The woman filed the lawsuit after trying, without success, to get Jehovah’s Witnesses in Southern California and in Fremont to change the secrecy policy, Simons said.

    “There was no settlement demand from her because she felt the only way to expose this policy and make it change was to bring this case to trial and make it public,” he said.

    “The money is the only way left for her to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop keep hiding known sex offenders within their congregation.”

    McCabe denied Jehovah’s Witnesses has a secrecy policy concerning child sex abuse. He called the verdict "unprecedented."

    “We’re stunned by the verdict. We hate child abuse and everything to do with it.”

    McCabe said he was not aware of any other case in which a religious organization has been found liable for wrongdoing by a member who was not in an official position of responsibility.

    “We’ve got a long ways to go yet before this one is resolved,” he said of the planned appeal.

    Simons said Jehovah’s Witnesses has sufficient resources, including valuable real estate, to cover the judgment but an appeal could drag out for years.


  5. Lawyer tells of agonising scenes as doctors forced to let a Jehovah's Witness who wanted to live, die

    Jeremy Laurance The Independent June25, 2012

    A lawyer who advised doctors that they must let a 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness die even though he wanted to live has spoken of the agonising scenes before the young man's death.

    Robert Tobin, a partner in the London law firm Kennedy’s, was called in by an unnamed NHS Trust when the man, a Jehovah’s Witness who was critically ill with sickle cell anaemia, refused a blood transfusion which could have saved his life.

    Over three weeks the man gradually deteriorated as the crisis progressed, before eventually dying.

    “Medical staff were understandably upset at seeing a patient deteriorate before their eyes knowing a simple procedure could have been provided that would have saved his life,” Mr Tobin said.

    The man’s mother, also a Jehovah’s Witness, was at her son’s bedside, and an elder from the man’s church also attended. The trust was concerned that they were unduly influencing him but a doctor from a neighbouring trust who was called in to assess him said he had full capacity and was making the decision on his own.

    Mr Tobin said: “I don’t know what his mother was thinking as she sat by and watched him die. I assume either she felt powerless or she felt bound to her own religious code of conduct which says you can’t share blood with others.

    “He had full capacity, he made his decision, however irrational. His doctors were bound by that. The rules are very clear.”

    Mr Tobin said that at the Trust’s request, the Jehovah’s Witness signed an advance directive - the so-called “living Will” - setting out his wishes in case he lost mental capacity in the future.

    Mr Tobin highlighted the ethical discrepancy in the law which forbids the same doctors from assisting those who want to die.

    He contrasted the Jehovah's Witness's case with those cases raised in the debate over assisted dying, in which patients have petitioned the courts for the right to seek help to end their lives.

    Last week Tony Nicklinson who has “locked in” syndrome after suffering a massive stroke, sought a ruling exempting doctors from criminal prosecution if they assisted his suicide.

    “There is a subtle distinciton between a patient’s right to life and a patient’s right to die,” Mr Tobin said.

    While the law forced medical staff to stand aside and not intervene in the case of the 22 year old Jehovah’s Witness, even though the man had no intention of ending his life, they were prevented from intervening to help patients such as Tony Nicklinson die at a time of their choosing.

    “But the same doctors could be faced on a another day with a patient who wants assistance to die when his condition becomes impossible to live with. In that case the doctors could face criminal prosecution if they helped him to realise his wish,” said Mr Tobin.

    While the legal distinction was clear for doctors treating the Jehovah's Witness, the ethical one was not. Both patients wanted to exercise their personal autonomy but only one - the Jehovah’s Witness - was able to do so, because he needed no assistance.

    Mr Tobin added: “It is tragic that his goal was not to die but to ensure that he obeyed what he regarded as his religious commands. Death only came about as a consequence of that and not, as with those wishing assistance with dying, as the primary aim."


  6. Without fanfare, Jehovah’s Witnesses quietly soften position on blood transfusions

    by Tom Blackwell, National Post Staff | Dec 20, 2012

    For years, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ fiercely held belief that blood transfusions are contrary to God’s will led to emotional and very public disputes, hospitals clashing with parents over whether to infuse sick children.

    That long history of messy legal confrontations appears to be vanishing, however, amid changing approaches to the issue on both sides, health-care officials say.

    The church’s ban on accepting blood still stands, but some major pediatric hospitals have begun officially acknowledging the parents’ unorthodox beliefs, while many Jehovah’s Witnesses are signing letters recognizing that doctors may sometimes feel obliged to transfuse, they say.

    As institutions show more respect toward parents’ faith and try harder not to use blood, Witnesses often seem eager to avoid involving child-welfare authorities to facilitate transfusions, and more accepting that Canadian case law is firmly on the doctors’ side, some hospital officials say.

    “They get it that we’re going to transfuse where it’s medically necessary. They’ve lost that battle; they understand that,” said Andrea Frolic, a bioethicist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. “But it’s kind of an affront to their community to involve child-welfare services where there aren’t concerns about neglect, there aren’t concerns about abuse. … Part of the thing was ‘Just go on and do it. Why do we need to involve CAS [Children’s Aid Services]? It makes us feel like bad parents.’ ”

    Ms. Frolic made a presentation on her hospital’s two-year-old policy to the Canadian Society of Bioethics conference earlier this year and said several other children’s hospitals are following similar approaches.

    They include Sick Kids in Toronto and Montreal Children’s Hospital.

    To Calgary’s Lawrence Hughes, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who fought a long court battle against the blood policy, the apparent changes are a sign that the Witnesses are fed up with the legal tussles, which he believes were unpopular with members and a strain on resources.

    Mr. Hughes broke with the Witnesses, and the rest of his own family, when it tried to prevent his teenage daughter, Bethany, who died in 2002, from receiving a blood transfusion while being treated for cancer.

    The turning point seemed to come in 2007, he argued. A Vancouver hospital had child-welfare officials seize some of the sextuplets born to a Jehovah’s Witness couple that year so doctors could give them blood. The church’s governing Watchtower Bible and Tract Society fought the move in a losing — and highly publicized — court battle.

    “I think that did them in. They couldn’t take it any more,” said Mr. Hughes. “I’ve been contacted by people who used to be in my congregation, and they left because of this [blood ban].”

    Mark Ruge, a spokesman for the Watchtower Society in Georgetown, Ont., said the church, which has branches throughout the world, has not altered its blood ban, though he said he could not account for the actions of individual families.

    continued in next comment...

  7. David Gnam, one of the Witnesses’ lawyers who has handled many of the transfusion cases, also said there has been no official change in policy, though he is aware that some hospitals have patients sign forms.

    “I’ve been involved in cases representing Jehovah’s Witnesses patients and occasionally it’s been in everybody’s best interests to come to some sort of agreement between the parties,” he said. “But that’s just individual hospitals, doctors and patients.”

    Still, evidence suggests that the number of cases that end up before a judge has dropped significantly. The Canlii website, which catalogues many Canadian court decisions, includes nine separate child blood-transfusion rulings from 2000 to 2007, but just three in the five years since then.

    The Witnesses’ conviction that agreeing to transfusions of whole blood can lead to damnation, officially adopted in 1945, stems from various Bible verses that call on followers to “abstain from” blood.

    Disputes arise when parents refuse transfusions on behalf of children below the age of consent. Hospitals in the past typically approached child-welfare authorities, who asked the courts for an order giving them temporary custody so they can ensure the transfusion is administered.

    Toronto’s Sick Kids now will go to “all lengths” to find alternatives to transfusing blood when Jehovah’s Witnesses voice their opposition, said Rebecca Bruni, a bioethicist at the hospital. It also asks parents to sign a letter of understanding — drafted with the help of one of the church’s hospital liaison committees — that says the institution recognizes their religious objections and will try to avoid transfusions if at all possible. The letter is not a consent form, but adds that where the child is at imminent risk of serious harm or death, medical staff will press ahead with the transfusion.

    “What is beautiful about this is that it’s a symbolic way of embodying respect and dignity and when we do this, we don’t need to call Children’s Aid, which can be messy and ugly.”

    McMaster Children’s Hospital has a similar letter of understanding, recognizing that providing a blood transfusion can be traumatic when “it has potentially eternal consequences,” said Ms. Frolic.

    McGill Children’s Hospital in Montreal has had such a protocol for about a decade, and found that it brought about a “real, significant drop” in conflicts, said Lori Seller, a clinical ethicist at the facility.

    All the ethicists stress, as well, that some Jehovah’s Witnesses do not agree with the blood ban, but are anxious that their green light to transfusion be kept confidential.

    “Some families are really more concerned about other Jehovah’s Witnesses finding out they consented to the blood transfusion,” said Ms. Seller.


  8. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (Jehovah's Witnesses)

    go to http://par-anoia.net/releases.html#watch for links embedded in original message.

    This 700mb stash of documents gives some rare insights into the workings of the main legal entitity of used by the Jehova's Witnesses to direct and administer doctrines for the religion.

    The material deals with pending court cases, insider accounts and historical materials. The data has been structured for easier navigation, some highlights:

    An interesting, mainly credible, account of an insider's view of church workings over the past several decades. J W's Brooklyn and Manhattan real estate holdings, possible fraud, church history, and their policies toward child sex abuse cases, beginning in the 1980s, are detailed. A good place to start for someone with limited knowledge of Witnesses. (PDF, 460kb)

    Folder of documents on the "Chimera" lawsuit, a current pro se action brought in San Mateo, California involving alleged church fraud, money laundering, and a wide ranging RICO scheme involvling bank, city, and public employees, to divest older members of the church from their spiritual leadership positions, and control over church cash. The case itself may not offer much insight, but does gives clues as to how the church is structured, and details some of their inner workings on maintaining bank accounts, fundraising, et cetera.

    Some of this information about building fund schemes, touched upon here and in other Chimera case docs, may be of interest to those who are studying Scientology's real estate transactions and fundraising schemes, as described in Lawrence Wright's new book "Going Clear. (PDF, 105kb)

    Collection of material about child sex abuse allegations within the JW. Witness testimony, a large volume of info on William Bowen, who founded a Jehovah's Witnesses survivors support group, SilentLambs, Inc, corporate docs, and lawsuit material between the church and Bowen, included.

    There is lots of more data in the archive, including video testimony and various other court documents. Use the links below to access the full data. We like to thank all Anons who helped to collect, evaluate and sort this material.

    to view the links embedded in the message above go to: http://par-anoia.net/releases.html#watch


    Anonymous Message: #OpWatchtower Court Document leak (youtube)


  9. Child in Jehovah's Witness court bid

    by Barney Zwartz The Age Australia February 18, 2013

    A TRARALGON child has clubbed his pocket money together with three others, paying $69.70 to launch a private criminal prosecution against the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    The child, 11, who is due to give evidence on Monday at the state inquiry into how the churches handled child sex abuse, wanted to force the church to comply with working with children laws. After four hearings, to which church leaders did not send a representative, the church began complying and the Office of Public Prosecutions intervened to discontinue the case.

    The inquiry will also hear from anti-Jehovah's Witness campaigner Steven Unthank, a former member of the church who says he and his family were ostracised and persecuted after he tried to tackle child abuse.

    His submission alleges the church and its incorporated body, the Watchtower Society, covered up criminal child abuse, including rape, sexual assault, death threats, blackmail and assault, across four states by ordained ministers and officers of the church.

    The Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal will hear a religious vilification complaint against the church by Mr Unthank in May, after the church said people who left the church, as he had, were ''mentally diseased''.

    And the Victorian Health Services Commissioner is investigating a complaint by another former Gippsland church member that a Jehovah's Witness chaplain was found alone without permission with a naked toddler in a room at Latrobe Regional Hospital.

    The child appearing today, who cannot be named, has asked the inquiry to determine whether the church's failure to get working with children checks between July 2008 and December 2011 amounted to criminal child abuse of all 6160 Jehovah's Witness children in Victoria.

    He asks why the government and police let the church ''get away with'' non-compliance, and whether the state will help file a class action against the church.

    continued in next comment...

  10. The submission suggests the 2000 Jehovah's Witnesses who worked with children were committing criminal offences each week. These included ministers, elders, chaplains, teachers, volunteers, publishers (a term for people who doorknock) and even people who repair the church premises, called Kingdom Halls, ''as they use child labour to save money''.

    The child says he and his family have also been ostracised by the church and forbidden to attend services. ''Because everyone protected them, I have now lost my religion.

    ''The state of Victoria allowed this to happen.''

    The four children launched their prosecution with a magistrate's permission on July 26, 2011. In October 2011 the church's Governing Body wrote to all Victorian congregations, telling them to get the checks. At the final court hearing, on February 21, 2012, the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the case, saying it was not in the public interest.

    ''How can [tackling] child abuse not be in the public interest? How can criminal charges be discontinued after the person refused to turn up to court of five separate occasions?'' the child asks. He wants charges reinstated against church leaders.

    A spokeswoman for the Office of Public Prosecutions said the charges were withdrawn because there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

    Vincent Toole, solicitor for the Jehovah's Witnesses, said the fact that the church got working with children checks had nothing to do with Steven Unthank, whom he suggested was behind the court case. ''We find it disappointing that he continues to misrepresent our organisation.''

    Mr Toole said Mr Unthank unsuccessfully tried to get authorities to take action against the church over working with children checks, and ''after none were prepared to pursue the matter, he took the extraordinary step of instituting a private prosecution''.

    ''Jehovah's Witnesses abhor child abuse, and place the protection of children at the highest level,'' he said.


  11. Jehovah's Witnesses 'a cruel cult'

    by Chris Johnston, Senior Writer for The Age Australia March 15, 2013
    Christian sect the Jehovah's Witnesses - with 64,000 active 'disciples' in Australia - are a cruel religion with no soul, according to Melbourne cultbuster Raphael Aron.

    His warning comes as the federal government considers tightening the definition of a charity to prevent some cults and quasi-religions keeping their tax free status. Independent senator Nick Xenophon has renewed calls for a national cult-busting agency.

    Mr Aron, a psychologist, counsellor and director of Melbourne's Cult Counselling Australia, said the Jehovah's Witnesses had a policy of "shunning" members who left or wanted to leave by cutting them off from family members who remained.

    "I am still waiting for a justification for someone to be able to rip away a five or six year old child from their extended family because Mum or Dad have decided to leave the Jehovah's Witnesses," he said.

    Former members say shunning can involve bullying, threats, harassment and stalking to lure the 'apostate', or lapsed member, back. The religion's scripture magazine The Watchtower describes 'apostates' as "mentally diseased" outcasts who "seek to infect others."

    Mr Aron says shunning is "draconian, cruel and callous." Religion and faith were supposed to provide support, comfort and warmth but shunning could crush self-esteem and give feelings of guilt, especially in children.

    Late last year the federal government set up a body called the Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission (ACNC) to regulate charities with tax-exemptions. It can de-register charities. A treasury spokesman said the government could soon redefine charities and boost their requirement for 'public benefit.'

    "At the moment groups like the Jehovah's Witnesess and Scientology are subsidised by the taxpayer," Senator Xenophon said. He said the French government's cultbusting agency Miviludes had been effective.

    Victoria's current state inquiry into how churches handle child sex abuse has submissions from former Jehovah's Witnesses. One includes allegations of rape, sexual assault, blackmail and death threats. Others include allegations of paedophilia.

    A spokesman for the church in Australia, Sydney solicitor Vincent Toole, dismissed the allegations and said shunning was a"myth."

    Mr Aron, who has written two books on cults and has investigated them for thirty years, said the Jehovah's Witnesses were an outwardly benign group but they withheld information from potential recruits. Jehovah's Witnesses cannot celebrate Christmas, Easter or birthdays. They are not allowed to have blood transfusions, sing the natiuonal anthem or salute the national flag.

    "They come to your door on a Sunday morning and you have a wonderful discussion about God but they never tell you that once entrenched in the religion you may never be able to say happy birthday to your children again."

    They don't celebrate birthdays because they say there are no birthdays in the Bible, which Aron, an observant Jew, maintains is not true. "There's no Moomba in the Bible either," he says. "And no football. Does that mean we shouldn't do those things either?"

    Jehovah's Witnesses believe they have God's messages to themselvces, that all other religions are wrong, that the end of the world will come and only those in 'The Truth' will survive. They have predicted the end of the world five times. They also believe Satan has ruled the earth since 1914.

    Read the full story in tomorrow's Saturday Age.


  12. Doctors win right to save Jehovah's Witness boy's life

    by Vanda Carson, The Daily Telegraph Australia April 18, 2013

    A TEENAGE boy has vowed to "rip out" a needle giving him a blood transfusion despite a judge ordering the lifesaving treatment against the boy's religious beliefs.

    Doctors from Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick made an urgent application to the Supreme Court to help them save the boy, a devout Jehovah's Witness, who is fighting Hodgkin's disease.

    In a judgment handed down on March 28, Justice Ian Gzell immediately ordered a blood transfusion after doctors said the 17-year-old's life depended on it.

    Justice Gzell noted his orders "may only extend (the boy's) life for 10 months - when he becomes an adult and may stop the treatment".

    "The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual," he said.

    The boy, who cannot be identified, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in January last year. He is a "devoted" follower of the religion and Justice Gzell found him to be "cocooned in that faith".

    The boy told doctors he did not want to be given blood, even in an "emergency", and that if he was forcibly transfused while sedated it would be like being "raped".

    Doctors had respected his wishes, with the teen treated with chemotherapy in order to avoid giving him transfusions. But that did not reduce the tumours in his lungs, spleen and lymph nodes.

    His doctor, Professor Glenn Marshall, argued the boy needed a high dose of chemotherapy, but that would make him anaemic and he would require a transfusion.

    Professor Marshall told the court that, if he continued to treat the boy's cancer with chemotherapy and he was not transfused, he had an 80 per cent chance of dying.

    "The alternative is that (the boy) will die of cancer because he is receiving less than optimal treatment for it," Justice Gzell said.

    Professor Marshall said the boy had a 50 per cent chance of being cured of cancer if he was given full treatment, including a transfusion.

    His father has written a scripture quote which refers to abstaining from blood on a whiteboard in his hospital room. The court was told "it is a tenet of the Jehovah's Witness faith that blood products are forbidden".

    The boy and his father told the court there were no "ramifications" from their church provided the transfusion was "against his will".

    The boy told the court taking blood would change his relationship with God.

    The judge has given the green light for doctors at the Kids Cancer Centre at Randwick (part of the Sydney Children's Hospital) to give the boy blood.

    The boy was in remission from the disease for several months last year but he suffered a relapse in November.

    Last year the NSW Supreme Court made similar orders for a four-year-old girl from South Australia.


  13. Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA)


    Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA) is an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the damaging influence of the Watch Tower Society through respectful and well-informed activism. AAWA is also committed to offering help and support to those who are mentally and emotionally afflicted by the Society’s teachings and practices in whatever ways it can.

    AAWA arose in early 2013 through a series of discussions between its founders, who all felt it was the right time to try to organize a number of like-minded individuals who were engaged in similar efforts into one cohesive unit. It was agreed that an organization needed to be formed that could confront the Watchtower head-on, and serve as a focal point whenever future media stories arise so that the position of those affected by Watchtower policies can be articulated.

    With so many activists around the world, all of whom offer unique skills and experience, it was felt that much meaningful work could be accomplished if all of these individuals could be connected as a team that could work together. It was decided very early on that AAWA would need to be religiously-neutral, in that it would not promote or endorse any religious or philosophical belief system in particular. Its sole purpose would be to shine a bright light on the Watchtower’s murkier practices, and help thinking Witnesses break free from its clutches.

    To that end, following considerable thought and discussion, AAWA was legally incorporated on March 7th 2013, and work began in earnest towards getting the basic infrastructure of the organization up and running. A “launch date” was pencilled in for April 3rd, by which time the organization would be ready to start taking on volunteers. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen exactly what the response will be – but so far the early signs are promising. All who have been approached about AAWA have embraced it enthusiastically, and pledged their time and efforts to help make it work.

    For more information go to:


    AAWA Exposing Watchtower Truths: Children in Danger - Mental Abuse (youtube)


  14. Candace Conti Awarded $28M In Jehovahs Witness Sex Abuse Case

    Huffington Post June 16, 2013

    OAKLAND, Calif. -- A Northern California jury has awarded $28 million in damages to a woman who said the Jehovah's Witnesses allowed an adult member of a Fremont church to molest her when she was a child in the mid-1990s.

    Alameda County jurors awarded $7 million in compensatory damages on Wednesday and another $21 million in punitive damages on Thursday to Candace Conti, her attorney, Rick Simons said.

    "This is the largest jury verdict for a single victim in a religious child abuse case in the country," Simons told The Associated Press.

    In her lawsuit, Conti, now 26, said from 1995-1996, when she was 9 and 10 years old and a member of the North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, she was repeatedly molested by a fellow congregant, Jonathan Kendrick.

    The Associated Press does not normally name victims of child sexual abuse but Conti has identified herself publicly to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward, Simons said.

    "Nothing can bring back my childhood," Conti told the Oakland Tribune. "But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it."

    Conti also claimed in her suit that the religion's national leaders formed a policy in 1989 that instructed the religion's elders to keep child sex abuse accusations secret. Congregation elders followed that policy when Kendrick was convicted in 1994 of misdemeanor child molestation in Alameda County, according to Simons.

    Kendrick was never criminally charged in the case involving Conti, but besides the 1994 conviction, he was later convicted in 2004 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child, records show.

    Kendrick, 58, now lives in Oakley, Calif., according to California's sex offender registry. A message left with a person answering the phone at his home was not immediately returned.

    Kendrick was ordered to pay 60 percent of the judgment, but Simons said there would be no attempt to collect any money from Kendrick, in part, because he would not be able to pay the judgment. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – the organization overseeing the Jehovah's Witnesses _would be responsible for 40 percent, Simons said.

    Jim McCabe, an attorney for the congregation, said he planned to appeal the jury's decision.

    "The Jehovah's Witnesses hate child abuse and believe it's a plague on humanity," McCabe told the Tribune. "Jonathan Kendrick was not a leader or a pastor, he was just a rank-and-file member. This is a tragic case where a member of a religious group has brought liability on the group for actions he alone may have taken."


  15. Jehovah’s Witnesses hushed up child sex scandal

    Sunderland Echo July 17, 2013

    CHURCH officials hushed up a child sex scandal in their ranks and refused to co-operate with police.

    Jehovah Witness ministerial servant Gordon Leighton admitted sexually abusing a child when he was confronted by his church elders, a court heard.

    But during the official police investigation, the 53-year-old – who made headlines in the 1990s when wife Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion after childbirth on religious grounds – denied any illegal wrongdoing.

    And when detectives asked elders Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott to make statements about the confession, all three refused and said what they had heard was confidential.

    For three years, the elders refused to co-operate with the criminal investigation and kept up that stance when the case was brought before Newcastle Crown Court after the victim made a complaint to police.

    Each was issued with a witness summons which they fought to overturn before being ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland citing public interest.

    Their barrister Richard Daniels said the men had a “duty to God” not to breach confidence.

    He added: “Privileged communication between members of the congregation and ministers is an absolute right and duty and there is no power in law to breach such a confidence.”

    Judge Moreland said: “It is apparent that the three elders who were present when this conversation took place are in possession of relevant evidence as to a point which is of real significance in this case.

    “They claim the right of confidentiality, they claim that what they heard said by the defendant during the course of that meeting ought to be subject to privilege, as ministers of religion.”

    Judge Moreland refused to withdraw the summonses and said: “Public interest is clearly in favour of this evidence being given.

    “What was said by the defendant on that occasion is of great significance in the trial.”

    Despite the judge’s ruling, the men still refused to make statements to police until just hours before they were called before the jury.

    Leighton, who has since been expelled from the church at Lambton Kingdom Hall in Washington, denied two charges of indecency with a child and seven of indecent assault.

    He was yesterday found guilty of two charges of indecency with a child and six of indecent assault. He was found not guilty of one indecent assault charge, on the direction of the judge.

    He was remanded in custody until he is sentenced next month but warned he is facing a lengthy spell behind bars.

    Prosecutor Katherine Dunn told the court the victim, who is now an adult, broke her silence in 2009.

    The court heard how at a special church meeting, Leighton “admitted sexual abuse” and made excuses for his behaviour.

    Miss Dunn said: “The elders conducted their own investigation. A meeting was arranged and the defendant was confronted with the allegations.

    “After initially denying the allegations, he broke down and admitted sexually abusing the complainant.”

    The court heard Leighton, of Wigeon Close, Ayton, refused to answer any questions when interviewed by detectives and claimed his confession at the meeting was limited to masturbation and reading pornographic material.

    Throughout the six-day trial, Leighton denied all allegations and that he had confessed to the elders, telling jurors: “It never happened. It’s all untrue.”

    Leighton had also denied unrelated assault charges, which he was found guilty of.


  16. 10 obtains video of admitted child molester in Jehovah's Witnesses

    Some people say group covered up abuse for years

    by Mitch Blacher 10News July 22, 2013

    · SAN DIEGO - Team 10 has obtained a video that some people say helps to prove Jehovah's Witnesses covered up child abuse for years.

    In a video deposition taken in 2011 during a civil lawsuit, admitted serial pedophile Gonzalo Campos said he abused several children in his San Diego congregation from the early 1980's through the mid 90's.

    "I did abuse him," said Campos in the video. "I touched his private parts."

    His on-camera admissions and a confidential settlement worth millions, may have to be enough for his victims. The Jehovah's Witnesses never told police about Campos, who was a church elder. He's never been charged with a crime and he may never see the inside of a prison cell. He has fled the country and now is in Mexico. He also still is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    An attorney questions Campos on the video, "Were you allowed to continue to give bible study to children after you attempted to touch (the victim) inappropriately?"

    "Yes," Campos said.

    Irwin Zalkin represents the seven victims who have come forward.

    "He is a serial pedophile," Zalkin said. "It's about accountability. It's about taking responsibility. It's about protection of children. It's about changing the way they operate."

    Zalkin claims child abuse continues inside the Jehovah's Witness community. He claims church leaders, known as elders, and Jehovah's Witness' headquarters, known as The Watchtower, treat child abuse like a sin instead of a crime.

    "The elders are instructed that they are to report that up the chain to The Watchtower, before or not to authorities," Zalkin said. "It is The Watchtower who will decide what happens."

    Team 10 found The Watchtower has sent each congregation and its elders several confidential memos about how to handle child abuse starting in 1989.

    The original memo warns to "be careful not to divulge information about personal matters, quoting scripture which says there is 'a time to keep quiet."

    Another memo from October 2012 outlines the current church policy.

    It tells elders to "call the legal department" and "contact your ... Overseer." It says, "loving elders should take steps to protect children, especially when ... the one who has sexually abused a child ... will be allowed to remain a member ..."

    continued below

  17. Jim McCabe is the attorney for the Jehovah's Witnesses. He explained how the church now handles abuse allegations.

    "Today whenever there's an allegation of child abuse and a local congregation hears about it they call headquarters and get instructions," McCabe said.

    Team 10 learned Campos is still a member of the Jehovah's Witness church as he lives in Mexico, but McCabe says he is not allowed to hold a leadership position.

    Team 10 also learned Campos is just one of thousands of alleged abusers the Jehovah's Witnesses know about.

    A database detailing more than 23,000 allegations of abuse was discovered in church headquarters and revealed to the public in 2002.

    When Team 10 asked McCabe if the church always reports allegations of abuse to police, he answered no.

    "Under biblical law a man can only be convicted on the testimony of two or more witnesses," McCabe said.

    McCabe is a Jehovah's Witness and elder of his La Jolla church. He said the Jehovah's Witnesses have always reported abuse allegations to police when required by law. It became law in California in 1997.

    "Our problem is that there are some bad men that sneak into organizations," McCabe said. "They snuck into our organization, they snuck into other organizations."

    Team 10 asked if Zalkin believed it's widely known that there are sexual abuse problems inside Jehovah's Witnesses.

    "No, no and it needs to be brought to the public's attention," Zalkin said. "They have been operating in secrecy and at will for decades."

    "We wish we could undo what has been done, but it can't be," McCabe said.

    Zalkin said he plans to file more lawsuits against Jehovah's Witnesses soon.

    Some of those cases stem from other alleged abuse in San Diego.

    McCabe issued this statement to Team 10:

    "The letter that you refer to that you received from Zalkin Law Firm is six pages long and this was the only literal and intended reference having anything to do with Child Sex Abuse (click http://bit.ly/1301TiRfor the letter; refer to page 3, Section B). I also gave you dozen of published articles in the Awake! and Watchtower magazines that constitute Jehovah's Witnesses policy on child abuse -- we abhor it and do not condone it or cover it up."

    (*Editor's note: Due to an editing error, a quote was incorrectly attributed to the wrong person in an earlier version of this story. Zalkin, the attorney who plans to file lawsuits against Jehovah’s Witnesses, said this issue needs to be brought to the public's attention.)


  18. Girl Forced Into Blood Transfusion Can't Sue

    By JEFF D. GORMAN, Courthouse News Service July 12, 2013

    (CN) - It is too late for a 15-year-old Jehovah's Witness to fight the appointment of a guardian who forced her to undergo a life-saving blood transfusion, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.

    Sheila W., as she is named in the decision, was 15 when she was diagnosed in early 2012 with aplastic anemia, an illness in which the patient's immune system attacks the bone marrow.

    She declined to undergo life-saving blood transfusions, and her parents supported her decision. They are Jehovah's Witnesses and believe that God does not allow blood transfusions.

    Citing the biblical passage Acts 15: 28-29, Sheila told a Dane County judge that a transfusion would be equivalent to "rape."

    When the county petitioned for temporary physical custody, the court held a hearing at the hospital and appointed a temporary guardian to decide whether to consent to the recommended transfusions.

    With the guardian's consent, "an undetermined number of blood transfusions were administered to Sheila," according to the ruling.

    Sheila appealed, but the order to appoint the guardian expired while the action was pending and the Court of Appeals dismissed the case as moot.
    The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed Wednesday.

    "No determination of this court will have any practical legal effect upon an existing controversy because the order being appealed has expired," the unsigned opinion states.

    While all of the parties agreed on the mootness subject, Sheila wanted the state's highest court to rule on the issue of whether Wisconsin recognizes her rights as a mature minor to make medical decision and whether the appointment of the guardian violated her constitutional rights.

    Despite their acknowledgement that the case "undoubtedly presents issues of public importance," the justices declined to rule on the merits of the case.

    "We deem it unwise to decide such substantial social policy issues with far-reaching implications based on a single fact situation in a case that is moot," they wrote.

    Justice David Prosser wrote a longer concurrent opinion.

    "Permitting a minor to refuse lifesaving medical treatment comes uncomfortably close to permitting a minor to commit suicide," he wrote.

    Justice Michael Gabelman wrote in dissent that the court should have ruled on the merits of the case.

    "The Sheila W.s of this state may have to wait a long time before the legislators on white horses arrive," Gabelman wrote. "In the meantime, the actual problem of what to do with minors who refuse life-saving treatment will remain unresolved."

    One week earlier, the court affirmed the convictions of Leilani and Dale Neumann, a "Pentecostal" couple whose daughter died as they prayed over her instead of seeking medical treatment.


  19. A matter of life or death

    by B.C., The Economist Aug 28th 2013, BELFAST

    A YOUNG man with severe learning disabilities should be given a life-saving transfusion of blood if that were to become necessary during extensive dental surgery, despite the fact that he and his mother belong to the Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith which regards transfusion as sinful. That is what Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice ruled in a judgment several weeks ago which has only just been made public.

    Summarising the case rather sensitively, Sir Declan Morgan described the unnamed 26-year-old as a man who "enjoys a close and loving relationship with his mother" and was said by her to "enjoy attending church" and have "positive social contact" through church in an otherwise difficult life. But he could not take an informed decision about transfusion because under the established rules, such choices cannot be made if "the patient is unable to comprehend or retain" the necessary information. At least two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were relevant, the judge noted: the second, which guarantees the right to life, and the third, which outlaws "inhuman and degrading" treatment. But legal precedents indicated that a treatment aimed at preserving life could not be considered cruel.

    The verdict amounts to a victory for what many people would see as common humanity, in the face of a religious taboo which every so often has tragic consequences. In 2007 a young woman in the English town of Shrewsbury died after giving birth to twins because her principles as a Jehovah's Witness prevented her from receiving blood. But last year, a high court in Dublin ruled that a woman who suffered an ectopic pregnancy should be given a life-saving transfusion, even though she and her husband were Jehovah's Witnesses and she had (as the faith recommends) signed an "Advanced Care Directive" signalling her objection to receiving most blood products. She was heavily sedated at the time of the verdict.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses propagate (in every corner of the earth) a millennarian variant of Christianity, insisting that the end of the present world era is imminent and denying the Trinity—God in three persons—which for most Christians is a core doctrine. Their objection to transfusion reflects warnings against consuming blood that occur in the New Testament book of Acts, and as well as in the books of Genesis and Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures. But transfusion for medical reasons did not exist in Biblical times; this is one of the many difficulties that arise when codes of ethics that were devised for life in the pre-modern desert are applied to the 21st century.

    In Russia, reining in the Witnesses' objections to transfusion has taken a sinister turn, according to religious-freedom campaigners. In a practice that was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, a prosecutor in St Petersburg told hospitals to report, with names and personal details, any cases of people refusing blood transfusions, as possible evidence for a broad investigation of the entire sect. The Witnesses are among several faith groups which have been targeted under a Russian law that outlaws religious "extremism" in the broadest of terms. The ECHR awarded damages to two Witnesses whose privacy had been violated.

    Further west, a consensus is emerging that people of more-or-less sound mind can, if they so choose, put their lives at risk by refusing certain treatments; but they cannot impose that risk on dependants who for one reason or another cannot decide for themselves.


  20. DA: Jehovah Witness Church concealed molestation crimes

    By Jeanne LeFlore, Mcalester News Capital Staff Writer Oklahoma February 4, 2014

    McALESTER — “The entire church body of the Jehovah Witness Church” allegedly concealed child molestation crimes alleged against a man identified as a former church elder, according to a motion filed in Pittsburg County District Court.

    The motion was filed Jan. 28 by the District 18 District Attorneys office in connection with molestation charges against Ronald Lawrence, 76.

    Ronald was an elder in the McAlester Jehovah Witness Church, according to McAlester Police Dectective Sergeant Chris Morris.

    “He is no longer an elder but he is still a member of the church,” Morris said.

    According to the motion the State will present an offer of proof regarding concealment of the crime by Lawrence and the “entire church body, most especially the governing body of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah Witnesses.”

    In November Lawrence was charged in Pittsburg County District Court with 19 felony counts, including 11 of lewd molestation, seven of forcible sodomy and one count of rape by instrumentation.

    The alleged victims in the cases were two preteen girls and one 5-year-old boy at the time.

    Lawrence was arrested by McAlester police after three people came forward late last year alleging they had been molested some 30 years ago, according to the McAlester Police.

    An affidavit filed in the case alleges one female was molested from the time she was 8 until she was 13 years old.

    A second female alleged she was molested by Lawrence between the ages of 10 and 13, and a male alleged he was molested at the age of 5.

    Lawrence told police that “he admitted to his church that all of the allegations were true” so that he could be reinstated into the church after being “dis-fellowshipped,” the affidavit alleges.

    The affidavit alleges Lawrence said he confessed to his church and he named four Jehovah Witness church elders who he said were aware of some of the incidents.

    Lawrence told police he confessed to his church about the allegations including an incident with fourth child, a boy who told his parents that he was “sexually assaulted” by Lawrence in the janitors closet at First National Bank, the affidavit alleges.

    In December Lawrence’s attorney Warren Gotcher filed a motion stating the charges should dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

    In response the district attorney’s motion states that because the alleged crimes were not reported to law enforcement until 2013, the statute of limitations has not run out.

    The motion alleged that the Jehovah Witness Church prevented the victims from coming forward.

    “The actions of the church, their banishment of (Lawrence) on one or more occasion and the directives of the governing body toward the victims and their family members regarding these crimes were actions of “concealment” and further actions preventing the victims from reporting the crimes to law enforcement,” the motion alleges.

    According to the motion, the State of Oklahoma is asking the court to overrule the defendants motion to dismiss and order the matter to proceed to preliminary hearing.

    Lawrence was released from jail Nov. 24 after posting a $50,000 bond. As a condition of his bond, he is not to have contact with the alleged victims in the case.

    If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

    No one answered several calls to the Jehovah Witness Church and Lawrence could not be reached for comment.

    A future court date had not been set by press-time today.


  21. Convicted paedophile allowed to grill his victims at Jehovah's Witness meeting

    By Chris Osuh, Manchester Evening News May 21, 2014

    Women who complained that former Jehovah’s Witness elder Jonathan Rose, 40, had molested them as children relived their nightmares in front of him after he was released from jail

    A convicted paedophile grilled his traumatised victims about their ordeals in a series of meetings organised by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Women who complained that former Jehovah’s Witness elder Jonathan Rose, 40, had molested them as children relived their nightmares in front of him after he was released from jail.

    In October, the MEN reported how Rose was jailed for nine months for abusing two little girls, one aged five, another aged 10, at the Jehovah’s Witness congregation he belonged to.

    The two victims came forward after a third woman, who Rose had previously been acquitted of molesting as a teenager, branded him a ‘paedo’ on Facebook.

    Rose, of New Moston, was released early from jail in March.

    The three complainants were told if they wanted him barred from the church they would have to recount their ordeal before elders.

    Rose was even allowed to ask the women about the abuse he was jailed for - as eight elders looked on.

    A source, who asked not to be named, told the MEN: “Before each meeting the women were read a scripture on false witnesses and told to consider it carefully. They had to go through the abuse in detail and were asked if they encouraged it. One of the victims was asked if she had enjoyed it.

    “At the third meeting Rose was present. He questioned the women in detail about the abuse with no one stepping in to stop bullying as would happen in court.

    "The victims had already done this in court, which elders attended. But even though it was very distressing they bravely went through it again. They were told that unless they did, he would not be disfellowshipped.”

    It’s understood Rose was finally ‘disfellowshipped’ after complaints to the police and Charity Commision.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not deny the meetings took place, but say Rose is ‘no longer’ a Jehovah’s Witness, or allowed to ‘share in activities’.

    They said no-one would be ‘forced’ to confront an ‘alleged perpetrator’, adding that victims were supported with ‘spiritual shepherding’, with members’ welfare of ‘paramount concern’.

    A spokesman’s statement said: “You ask about allowing individuals such as Mr Rose to attend our congregation meetings. As our congregations are places of public worship, they are open to the public. Nevertheless, elders will always comply with restrictions imposed by the courts or police on offenders’ movements.

    “When a Jehovah’s Witness is accused of child abuse, local congregation elders are expected to investigate. If a victim wishes to address a matter, this can be done directly or in writing.

    "No victims are forced to attend a meeting or confront an alleged perpetrator of child abuse. Of course it may not be possible to handle a matter in the congregation until the authorities have completed their investigations or if the person is incarcerated. Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly do not condone child abuse.

    "Child abuse is abhorrent.”


  22. Charity Commission investigates Jehovah's Witness congregation in relation to indecent assault case

    By Sam Burne James, Third Sector Online, 28 May 2014

    Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is at the centre of reports that a convicted offender was allowed to question his victims at a public meeting

    The Charity Commission has opened an operational compliance case into a Manchester-based Jehovah’s Witness congregation following concerns about how it protects vulnerable beneficiaries.

    The commission said it was in discussions with Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses after reports in the Manchester Evening News that a congregation member, Jonathan Rose, who was recently released from prison after serving nine months for the indecent of assault of two girls, was allowed to question his victims in front of congregation elders. The victims were required to recount the abuse at the meeting in order to have Rose barred from the church, the paper says.

    A spokeswoman for the commission said: "The commission has ongoing serious concerns about the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with its policies and procedures for the protection of vulnerable beneficiaries. We are engaging with the charity’s trustees about our concerns. We cannot comment further at this stage."

    The commission added that it had opened an operational compliance case into the charity.

    The charity has been registered with the commission since 1997 and had income of between £5,000 and £10,000 for each of the past five years.

    A spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Third Sector while it did allow victims and their perpetrators to meet, this would only happen with the victim's consent and the meetings would be held in private.

    He added in a statement: "When any one of Jehovah's Witnesses is accused of serious wrongdoing, the matter is investigated. If a victim wishes to assist by providing details, this can be done in person or in writing. Victims are never forced to attend a meeting or confront an alleged perpetrator of child abuse, and indeed we have no power to do so. Any meetings are held in private and are not public. When child safeguarding is concerned, these procedures are in place to help protect children."

    He said he was unable to comment further on the Manchester New Moston Congregation case, but said that Rose is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


  23. Jehovah's Witness elder gave schoolgirl incredibly inappropriate topless massages

    By Ciaran Jones, Walesonline June 17, 2014

    Businessman Mark Sewell, 53, denies 12 sex charges against girls and women in a period spanning more than a decade

    A high-ranking Jehovah's Witness touched a schoolgirl's breasts as he massaged her, a court heard today.

    Church elder Mark Sewell gave the girl a series of "incredibly inappropriate" topless massages when she was aged only 12 or 13, it was claimed.

    On one occasion the girl's father interrupted a massage, with Sewell shouting "Put your top on!" at the youngster, jurors were told.

    The businessman, 53, denies 12 sex charges against girls and women in a period spanning more than a decade.

    In a video interview played to the jury at Merthyr Crown Court the woman, now in her 30s, alleged Sewell had given her massages "six or seven" times when she was aged 12 or 13.

    The woman, a fellow member of the faith's Barry congregation, said churchgoers lived "in each other's pockets" at the time.

    As a consequence there would often be large groups of people at Sewell's house in Porthkerry Road in the town for games of pool as well as music and food.

    The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said: "He used to take me up to his bedroom where I used to take my top off and bra off so I was laid face-down at first on their double bed.

    "He would stand over me and give me a massage."

    Recounting the experience to a police officer in the interview she added: "I feel nervous now because I remember the feelings now."

    She said she used to close her eyes for fear of seeing Sewell in the reflection of a large mirrored wardrobe in the bedroom he shared with wife Mary.

    "He used to massage my back and my arms and often mentioned I was very tense.

    "Now, looking back, of course I was tense - I didn't really like being massaged with no top on.

    "Then he used to say to turn over. I used to say 'I don't want to turn over without a towel' as I was going through puberty, my little breasts were growing.

    "He used to be reluctant to give me a towel. He used to pull my feet down the bed so I would move down the bed and the towel would move.

    "I remember trying to grip it between my arms so it would stay in place. I did not want anything showing."

    She added: "I just didn't like it. It wasn't right really."

    continued below

  24. During one of the alleged incidents the woman said, she heard her father coming up the stairs.

    "I remember panicking, my heart going, and him saying 'Put your top on, put your top on!'

    "That's when I remember thinking, 'Ah, why doesn't he want my dad knowing?'"

    She added: "If it was so innocent why did I have to quickly put my top on?"

    The woman said she "could never really say no" to Sewell, who she described as "always quite a touchy-feely person" who would give open-mouthed kisses.

    He "intimidated" her, she claimed.

    Describing the alleged massages she said. "When he would come down the sides [of my body] his fingers would be around my breasts but not touching nipple or anything."

    She told the police officer: "He did touch my breasts with his fingers when he came back down."

    Marian Lewis, defending, asked the woman whether she had requested Sewell massage her.

    "I don't remember asking to be taken to a bedroom half-naked to be massaged, no," the woman replied.

    The woman's father, who cannot be identified, told the court Sewell was a "very obnoxious bully" and said it was "very dangerous" to confront him.

    The man described an incident in which he claimed Sewell followed him in a car, revving the engine and shouting out of the window, as he walked away following a confrontation.

    The man, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt with a pink tie and black trousers, also said he was "a bit disturbed" by the way Sewell would give "full-frontal" kisses to women.

    The man's own wife was kissed on the lips by Sewell, he claimed.

    "It was overt. It's not a normal thing to do."

    Giving evidence to the four men and eight women of the jury, he also described the moment he allegedly walked in as Sewell gave his topless schoolgirl daughter a massage.

    "Mark exclaimed 'What are you doing? Get out of here. Get out of here and close the door.'

    "This made me very angry. He didn't had my permission to have my daughter in this situation."

    The man added: "I could have seriously harmed Mark although he was much stronger than me."

    The court had earlier heard how respected Jehovah’s Witness Sewell used his “position of power” as an elder in the Barry congregation to “exploit and abuse” women and children for more than 10 years.

    Between 1985 and 1995 Sewell is alleged to have abused two young girls and also raped a woman, all of whom were fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    He is also accused of indecently assaulting another woman by rubbing his groin against her as she made a cup of tea.

    Greying Sewell, wearing a grey suit over a grey shirt and diagonally-striped tie, listened on a hearing loop as he sat in the glass-fronted dock.

    He denies 11 counts of indecent assault and a single count of rape.

    The case, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.


  25. Jehovahs Witness elder guilty of sex abuse: Now charity watchdog launches investigation

    By Ciaran Jones, WalesOnline July 01, 2014

    Paedophile Mark Sewell, 53, faces a “very substantial” prison term when he is sentenced tomorrow after being found guilty of eight historic sex offences
    The charity watchdog has launched a probe into a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses where a church elder sexually abused women and children.

    Paedophile Mark Sewell, 53, faces a “very substantial” prison term when he is sentenced tomorrow after being found guilty of eight historic sex offences.
    The disgraced businessman and former Butlins holiday camp driver was found guilty of indecently assaulting two young girls who were fellow worshippers in the Barry congregation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    'There were 12 elders and not one of them stood up - not one': Victim of Jehovah's Witness rapist describes torment
    He was also convicted of raping a fellow churchgoer in an attack which “shredded” her knickers and left her pregnant.

    We revealed on Sunday how the Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed records showing the allegations in the early 1990s.
    In a series of previously unreportable court hearings ahead of Sewell’s three-week trial it was heard how the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been uncooperative with detectives investigating the case and said the organisation no longer retained any evidence on the abuse claims.

    All congregations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are registered charities.

    Today a spokesman for the Charity Commission told WalesOnline: “We have opened an operational compliance case into the charity and cannot comment further while the case is live.”

    The announcement follows the regulator launching separate but linked statutory inquiries into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain and also a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Manchester.

    The commission revealed last month it had opened an inquiry into the society – the over-arching body behind the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK – to examine its handling of safeguarding matters, whether trustees had fulfilled their legal obligations and also the safeguarding advice provided to congregations.

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  26. At the time the inquiry was launched a Charity Commission spokesman said: “The commission’s concerns have been amplified by recent criminal cases concerning historic incidents of abuse involving individuals who appear to have been connected to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and/or the charity.

    “In addition there has been growing public interest in how the charity and congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with safeguarding matters.”

    An investigation was also launched into the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to probe its safeguarding procedures.
    The announcement came in the wake of reports a former elder in the congregation, Jonathan Rose, was allowed to grill women he had abused as children in a series of meetings organised by the church.

    The 40 year old was allowed to confront his victims following his release from a nine-month jail term for abusing the two women when they were aged just five and 10.

    A spokesman for the commission said they had “serious concerns” about the New Moston congregation but added: “The commission stresses that it is not a safeguarding authority and its inquiries will not investigate allegations of abuse or actual incidents of abuse, whether historic or recent. Its concern is with the proper regulation of charities.”

    The trustees of both charities intend to challenge the regulator’s decisions to open the statutory inquiries.

    The case looking at the Barry congregation will be independent of both of these inquiries.

    A Church spokesman said: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses we have an absolute and unequivocal abhorrence of child abuse and [offer] our support for any victim or parent who reports this crime to the authorities. This is in line with what the Bible says at Romans 12:9.

    “We feel that the care and safeguarding of children and the promotion of their welfare is extremely important.

    “Jehovah’s Witnesses act in harmony with the law and do not condone child abuse in any circumstance or endeavour to shield from the authorities those committing offences of this nature.”


  27. Former Jehovahs Witness leaves memorial to family who shunned her

    Bucks Herald, UK July 29, 2014

    A former Jehovah’s Witness who says she was shunned by her family after leaving the religion has spoken of the loss she feels.

    Victoria Summers, 40, was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses but struggled to cope with being a follower of the faith.

    A ‘lifetime of unhappiness’ culminated in her decision to leave five years ago, but she says her parents still refuse to speak to her and have never met their toddler granddaughter.

    On Saturday, she laid a bouquet of flowers and hung a poster outside the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ashbourne End, Aylesbury in ‘a quiet memorial to the family she has lost’.

    For the first time this year, support group the Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses organised the Watchtower Victims Memorial Day – which will be on July 26 every year – to give former Witnesses a chance to commemorate the family that they have lost by leaving the faith.

    The Bucks Herald contacted the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in London for a comment, but a spokesperson said they were unaware of the day and did not want to comment.

    Victoria, of Rivets Close, Aylesbury, said: “It is devastating, but I have tried to move on. This isn’t a loud protest, it’s a memorial.

    “The way I see it, if my family had died I would be able to visit a grave. It is a normal and healthy way to grieve. It’s a day of remembrance for me and my family.”

    Victoria, who moved to Aylesbury in 2009, said growing up under such devout parents was tough.

    She said: “It didn’t make me happy at all from a very young age. It alienated me from all my peers. I never had a birthday party and I was always the one saying ‘no’.

    “I remember when I was about seven years old, a little girl came up to me and asked if I wanted to be her friend. I had to say no, because she didn’t love Jehovah.”

    Despite doing well at school and being encouraged by teachers to enrol at university, Victoria said she was controlled by fear and drifted through her 20s and 30s door-knocking for 90 hours each month.

    She said: “The message was implicit – if you want to make us proud, you will not pursue higher education.

    “You will devote your time to door knocking. I did it because I wanted to make people happy, but I wasn’t happy.

    “I should have been carefree and figuring out who I wanted to be. I did it because I thought that if I didn’t, I would lose everybody.”

    continued below

  28. She said she buried her feelings and entered into an unhappy marriage with a fellow Witness, moving to the island of Malta where she lived for five years before reaching ‘breaking point’.

    Victoria, who works as an audio typist from home, said: “One day I thought: I just can’t do this anymore. If I don’t get out, I’m going to kill myself.”

    After packing her life up into just five bags, she moved to London where she received a phone call from her father asking if she had lost her mind.

    Victoria, who says she is now very ‘apathetic’ towards religion, said: “They were considering having me sectioned. I was shunned from that stage really – I had no one.”

    Though she had hit rock bottom, Victoria forced herself to attend social clubs in the city to meet new friends and got talking to a man who is now her husband.

    She said: “I immediately told him what had happened and he just understood. He became my everything – my social life, my family.

    “We married after 18 months and I wrote a letter to my parents to tell them that I didn’t recognise their authority.

    “From that moment on, I heard nothing.”

    That was five years ago, and 19 months ago the happy couple welcomed their first daughter who is doted on by her paternal grandparents.

    The family are able to celebrate Christmas and birthdays together – something Victoria never experienced for more than three decades.

    The mum-of-one said: “I now have the life I always wanted. I’m at peace and settled, without this cloud hanging over me. My husband’s parents have been wonderful.

    “Celebrating Christmas and birthdays for the first time aged 35 was a little strange at first. I had to get my head around it and came to the conclusion that these celebrations have little, if nothing, to do with religion.

    “They are an opportunity to celebrate and spend time with the people you love, and my husband and his family really made a fuss of me on my ‘first’ birthday and Christmas, which made me feel so welcomed and loved.

    “We still write to my family every couple of months to tell them about their granddaughter and have done since she was born, but my letters have never been acknowledged.

    “At least I will be able to tell my daughter that I tried, and I will always tell her where her grandparents are.”


  29. Vermont Sisters Sue Jehovah's Witnesses For Child Sex Abuse

    BY TAYLOR DOBBS, Vermont Public Radio SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

    Two sisters raised in Vermont filed lawsuits Tuesday against the Bellows Falls congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, alleging that an ordained minister of the church sexually abused them as children.

    Miranda Lewis, 23, said she was in a church meeting when she was around the age of four when Norton True – at the time a "ministerial servant" in the church – held her back as everyone else left.

    “He waited for the room to clear out, and that’s when the abuse started,” Lewis said. She didn’t go into detail about the abuse, but the lawsuit, to be filed in Windsor County Superior Court, alleges that True lifted her dress and touched her.

    In the case of Miranda’s sister Annessa Lewis, the complaint says that True was babysitting her on his property (years before the incident with Miranda allegedly happened) and took her to his barn and, when lifting her up “to be able to see horses located in a horse stall,” put his hands under her underwear and touched her.

    Both cases allege that True molested the Lewis sisters on “multiple occasions.”

    The sisters’ mother, Marina Mauvoleon-Folsom, says she reported the abuse to church elders. The suit alleged they didn’t take any action against True, didn’t warn anyone else in the congregation about True’s alleged activity and “chose not to report the abuse to any child protective or police agency.”

    Mauvoleon-Folsom said the church maintained a culture of silence around child sexual abuse.

    "They wanted me to be quiet about what had happened. Because they were not willing to do anything in the congregation, they allowed us to move to another congregation," she said. "It was very strange. It was a very strange thing. There was almost no support for myself or my family, or any understanding at all."

    At the Jehovah’s Witnesses center in Bellows Falls, a man who answered the phone said he “can’t address the issue” and that he was “not the person you need to talk to,” and hung up.

    It’s unclear if True is still part of the church in any capacity.

    Mauveleon-Folsom said she did report the incident to police, and ended up working with the state’s child protection agency, but no charges were ultimately filed.

    continued below

  30. Irwin Zalkin a San Diego based lawyer specializing in sexual abuse cases, said it’s fairly common for police not to pursue charges in sex abuse cases involving young children.

    “They’re tough cases for [law enforcement],” he said. “They have a high standard, a high burden of proof. They’re very different than the civil cases.”

    In these cases, both civil lawsuits, the sisters seek unspecified damages and trial by jury.

    The two cases against True aren’t Zalkin’s only pending lawsuits against Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has been involved with more than 20 such cases across the U.S., six of which were settled out of court for confidential but “substantial” amounts, he said.

    Zalkin joined forces for the Vermont cases with Jerry O’Neill, the attorney who sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in a number of child sex abuse cases, leading to millions of dollars in settlements.
    In those cases, documents kept by the church showed that officials were aware of the sex abuse. Zalkin said Jehovah’s Witnesses keep similar records, but have refused to disclose them under court order.

    In one California case, Zalkin said that refusal led to a default judgment against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    O’Neill said a similar refusal in Vermont would likely not be seen as acceptable by the courts.

    “I don’t think it’s going to go well for [the defendants],” he said. “The courts are not willing, in my experience here, to permit the shielding of relevant information. So I anticipate – don’t know until it happens – that the courts here are likely to order the production of those documents. They’re relevant documents that are not privileged in any way. I think they’ll be required to produce them.”

    Annessa, 27, now lives in Texas. Miranda Lewis lives at home with her mother. She says she’s coming forward now to force the church to confront the issue of child sex abuse and to save other children from being abused.

    “I hope it helps make them pay attention,” she said. “I mean, I guess that’s the best I can say. I just hope it makes them pay attention and just think about it a little bit more than they have in the past.”


  31. Latest Sex Abuse Suits Target Jehovah's Witnesses

    Attorneys say religious doctrine barred reports of abuse

    by Isaac Avilucea, The Connecticut Law Tribune October 10, 2014

    In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Roman Catholic Church was rocked by allegations of rampant sexual abuse by priests. Since then, millions of dollars have been paid in settlements to victims. Now a string of lawsuits against Jehovah's Witnesses shows sex abuse problems may be nondenominational.

    Four accusers are suing East Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses New Haven and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, saying they were sexually assaulted by Orlando Afanador, who held a leadership position in the New Haven congregation for five years starting in 1988.

    The four lawsuits were filed by siblings Sybelle Almodovar, Evelyn Selimaj and Ferdinand Almodovar, and another woman, Bianca Martinez. The suits trace Afanador's ascension in the church, detail the Witnesses' internal hierarchy, and describe practices the plaintiffs say prevented followers from going outside the church to report abuse and that allegedly allowed Afanador's actions to go unchecked for years. (In 2010, Afanador was criminally convicted of sexually assaulting a Nebraska boy.)

    The Connecticut plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Thomas McNamara, of McNamara & Goodwin in New Haven, and Irwin Zalkwin, of San Diego, who plan to pursue the cases in state court. McNamara said church leaders got around legal obligations to report suspected sexual abuse to authorities by loosely asserting priest-penitent privilege, which protects pastoral communications that take place in confessionals. The problem, McNamara said, is church officials "stretched" application of the privilege to the point that "everything is confidential."

    According to the lawsuits, the abuse began in 1988, shortly after Afanador migrated from another Connecticut congregation to the East Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses New Haven after a mother in the previous congregation claimed he molested her children. Afanador was reportedly sanctioned by the other congregation but not expelled, which enabled him to move on to East Spanish.

    At East Spanish, he quickly rose to ministerial servant, a position held by a number of men in each congregation who perform tasks ranging from maintaining the Kingdom Hall to assigning "witnessing" territory to members. It was in New Haven where Afanador met the Almovodor family. Soon, he and his wife moved into their home to help babysit the children after the parents divorced. Sybelle was 8 when Afanador began trying to entice her into sexual acts by dangling gifts, her lawsuit claims.

    For about a year, he reportedly terrorized the girl almost nightly, entering the room she shared with her younger sister, Evelyn, violating her while the younger sister watched and listened, the lawsuit says. Meanwhile, the lawsuit says Afanador sexually abused Ferdinand more than 25 times, forcing him to perform oral sex, snapping photos of him engaged in sexual acts and showing him pornography.

    In Martinez's case, Afanador allegedly began abusing her shortly after her family moved to Connecticut in 1989 and settled into the same apartment building where Afandor lived. Martinez, who was 9 at the time, often visited Afanador's apartment to play with his son. One day, she went to show off her new hamster to Afanador's son, but she instead encountered Afandador, who invited the young girl in to wait. While she was sitting on the couch, he allegedly fondled her; she said she hopped off the couch and ran home.

    continued below

  32. Eventually the Almodovar family claims the abuse forced them to move back to the Dominican Republic. They said they told church leaders there what had happened, but they say nothing was done. Their lawyers said they filed lawsuits after realizing they weren't the only victims of Jehovah's Witnesses leaders. Zalkin is representing two Vermont women who say they were sexually abused by a different ministerial servant in the 1990s.

    Other similar accusations stretch back more than three decades. In 2007, NBC News reported that it had learned of nine confidential settlements between the religious group's leaders and sexual abuse victims. The network said it had learned that one of the settlements totaled nearly $800,000.

    In California in 2012, a sexual abuse victim was awarded $28 million in damages for abuse that took place in the mid-1990s. In Pittsburgh, an elder was charged last year with molestation, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation. The charges were ultimately dropped after defense attorneys successfully argued the statute of limitations had run out on the alleged crimes, which occurred from 1977 to 1982.

    "This is an insidious problem, an epidemic problem with child sex abuse within this organization that so far seems more concerned about protecting its reputation from scandal than about the children," Zalkin said at a news conference in New Haven.

    The church is being served with the Connecticut lawsuit on Oct. 13. So far, McNamara said, Witness leaders have not informed him if the church has retained counsel. No one from the church's New York regional office responded to a request for comment.

    The lawsuit also attempts to explain how the church hierarchy and practices may lead to the coverup of abuse. It notes that little is done without the approval of Watchtower, the organizational leaders—or elders—who advise congregational leaders through "secret" handbooks that cover everything from routine church operations to how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse, according to the lawsuits.

    In previous lawsuits, Witnesses elders have been criticized for discouraging reports of suspected sexual abuse by church members and leaders in hopes of limiting lawsuits and negative publicity. The Connecticut lawsuit is more specific, saying the church's "two-witness rule" allowed Afanador's conduct to go unquestioned. Rooted in a literal application of biblical scripture, the two-witness rule requires an accused person to confess to sexual abuse or for two witnesses to the act to come forward to file a formal complaint.

    Church leaders gave the two-witness rule priority over state law requiring clergy to report known or suspected instances of child abuse, McNamara said. He said it's preposterous to think that an abuser would ever allow someone else to witness a sexual act with a child.

    "Imagine the scenario: 'I'm about to abuse this 10-year old child. Can I get a volunteer [to] please watch me?'" he said. "What's it going to take for them to [turn from the two-witness rule]? Not being a Jehovah. They are known for being extremely rigid. I don't see that going by the wayside any time soon."

    For this reason, McNamara said he thinks more sex abuse victims will step forward once they realize the church's reputation is not "more important than justice and their own healing."


  33. Plano Jehovahs Witness congregation sued for sexual abuse

    Lawsuit alleges exploitation, negligence, fraud throughout organization

    by Kevin Cummings, Star Local Media . October 26, 2014

    On Thursday, Dallas-based Turley Law Firm filed a civil lawsuit against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. (WBTS) – one of the legal corporations that presides over the Jehovah’s Witness faith in the U.S. – stemming from allegations of appointed members of the organization sexually exploiting and abusing children in Metroplex congregations in Plano, Dallas and Greenville.

    The local congregations are also defendants in the lawsuit, as well as Reginald Jackson and an unknown individual - elders who were directly appointed by the WBTS to oversee congregations in the area’s regional circuit.

    “[WBTS is] the top of the chain of command; they oversee and are involved in the decision-making ... daily function – everything has to be approved,” said Steven Schulte, a lawyer with the Turley Law Firm. “They are intimately involved ... have absolute authority over the congregation and had every reason to know [of the abuse].”

    Officials at WBTS did not return calls for comment.

    According to the lawsuit, six individuals from the Dallas, Plano and Greenville congregations were sexually, physically and emotionally abused in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they were between the ages of 4 and 14. The plaintiffs in the case are unnamed due to the nature of the allegations.

    The six plaintiffs in the case did not report the alleged abuse while it was occurring because they and their families were threatened by Jackson and the other individual with discipline and harm if they spoke to anyone about the acts, the lawsuit states. Within the Jehovah’s Witness faith, members are told to handle issues within the organization. However, the organization’s policy requires leaders to hold internal investigations of claims of abuse and wrongdoing.

    “[Jackson] was directly appointed to that position, which is a leadership position in the organization. ... There would have been a circuit overseer who would have oversaw ... and would have reported,” Schulte said. “At some point you reach a point where it’s your time to come forward.”

    Schulte said the male plaintiff was likely a member of the Kingdom Hall Jehovah’s Witnesses of Plano. However, it is likely that the alleged abuse occurred at multiple locations since he “regularly took them on trips and other religious outings.”

    In addition to sexual exploitation and abuse, the lawsuit claims that the defendants were involved in negligence and various forms of fraud stemming from allegations that congregation leaders misrepresented themselves as people of trust and that the WBTS should have been responsible for oversight since its “authority flows down from it to the local levels.”

    Each of the six plaintiffs in the case are seeking about $1 million in damages for the alleged lasting psychological and emotional damages that the abuse has caused in their lives since the instances described in the lawsuit took place. The suit says they are also seeking punitive and exemplary damages in hopes that it will deter future acts from occurring.

    “Sex abuse victims oftentimes suffer lifelong pain and drama,” Schulte said


  34. Jehovahs Witnesses Ordered to Pay $13.5M to Bible Teacher's Alleged Victim

    By Andie Adams Rory Devine, NBC 7 San Diego Octobe 30, 2014

    A $13.5 million judgment was awarded Wednesday to a San Diego man who says he was the childhood victim of “very aggressive abuse” at the hands of his Bible study teacher.

    Jose Lopez, now 35 years old, came forward as one of eight children who accuse Gonzalo Campos of sexually abusing them between 1982 and 1995, according to his lawsuit.

    Campos served in the leadership of the Linda Vista Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Playa Pacifica Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pacific Beach, Lopez’s attorney Irwin Zalkin told NBC 7.

    In about 1986, when Lopez was 7 years old, Campos was first introduced and portrayed to him as a fatherly figure who could teach him about the Bible.

    Instead, the accused perpetrator used his position and time alone with Lopez to groom him, according to Zalkin.

    "After a period of grooming him, which Campos was very adept at, one day he took him and he seriously molested him in a private residence," he said.

    The attorney believes Campos would take his victims to a home his mother cleaned in La Jolla.

    Although the alleged molestation happened on one occasion, the high amount awarded by a judge reflects the severe consequences Lopez has faced as a result, including post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and trust issues, Zalkin explained.

    But the lawsuit does not seek damages from Campos himself, or even the Linda Vista congregation.

    Instead, it names the defendant as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the entity that oversees Jehovah’s Witness churches.

    Zalkin said $10.5 million of the amount was for punitive damages as a result of the Watchtower’s response to the Campos scandal.

    "Damages that reflect the reprehensible conduct of the Watchtower in how they covered this up for years and allowed multiple children to be injured,” said Zalkin. “They protected and harbored a criminal."

    The Watchtower told NBC 7 it plans to appeal the judgment, saying the award given after a hearing at which it was barred from participating.

    “Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts,” the organization said in a statement. “The trial judge’s decision is a drastic action for any judge to take given the circumstances of the case. We will seek a full review of this case on appeal.”

    As for Campos, Zalkin said he is in Mexico, where he moved as soon as they started investigating this case.


  35. Abuse victim Jehovahs Witnesses refused to report rape to the police

    YLE News Finland November 2, 2014

    The Jehovah's Witnesses' so-called "judicial committee" is dealing with criminal cases, according to some former members of the Christian religious denomination. The committee has refused to reveal sexual abuse cases to the police. Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen of the Christian Democrats is asking for clarification on how police could better serve victims in such cases.

    Kirsi-Maria Aho, a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination, faced sexual abuse some twenty years ago. Cases of abuse are heard by the faith’s judicial committee. The abuser was not part of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    “It was a crime. First, the man raped me and then he abused me sexually. This would have been a matter for the police, but the elders banned me from going to the police because the name of Jehovah couldn't be dragged through the mud,” Aho says.

    Aho had to appear before the committee several times. She describes it as cruel and accusatory.

    “It was really cruel. A young girl under fire in front of three men,” she says. “The men asked confusing questions, such as whether I had indulged in group sex. The Committee emphasized that I had done wrong and that I was wicked and adulterous. No one defended me.”

    As punishment, Aho was ostracised from the community. At the same time she was isolated from her loved ones.

    Recovery from the devastating experience has been slow.

    “I thought for 22 years that I was bad,” says Aho. “Since I was isolated from the Jehovah's Witnesses I’ve thought that. Art therapy studies have brought me self-respect and understanding. I’ve realized that I’m not the bad one.”

    Minister of the Interior calls for clarification of police role
    The Victims of Religion Support Association has documented 28 such human experiences under the Jehovah's Witness’ legal committee. Aho's is one of them. This week the association gave the Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen a list of suggestions on how society should address the issue of Jehovah's Witnesses legal committees. Räsänen is the parliamentary member responsible for matters relating to religious communities.

    The association proposes, among other things, that religious courts be prohibited by law. Räsänen has passed the report on to the Ministry of Justice for clarification.

    “In any case, we should not accept parallel legal systems in which crimes are investigated and sanctions considered,” says Räsänen. “Now, of course, it should be figured out where these judicial committees stand in light of our legislation.”

    The report recommends that police have a better understanding of such cases and Räsänen has already called on her own Ministry to clarify their role.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses see the Victims of Religion Support Association as an attack on the principles of the faith. The Jehovah's Witnesses community did not wish to comment further.


  36. Jehovahs Witnesses under fire from former congregants who say child sex abuse was hushed

    By Aimee Green | Oregon Live December 01, 2014

    Two people who say that as children they were sexually abused by a leader in a Hillsboro Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation filed a $10.5 million lawsuit Monday – among the first in Oregon to accuse the religious organization of hiding decades of sexual abuse.

    Attorneys for Velicia Alston, 39, and an unnamed man said the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership continues to cover up sexual abuse against children by leaders. They say it is more than a decade behind other organizations, such as the Catholic Church, that have been forced to address their problems through many years of civil litigation.

    “There is a crisis of silence in the Jehovah's Witness organization," said Irwin Zalkin, one of several attorneys representing Alston and the man. Zalkin described the religious organization as "more concerned about protecting its reputation than protecting its children."

    For example, Zalkin said the seven men who make up the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body have a policy requiring a confession from the perpetrator or two eyewitnesses to the abuse before leaders will take any action.

    “Even if they do disfellowship a perpetrator, they don’t tell the congregation why,” Zalkin said during a news conference Monday in Portland. “No one but the elders can ever know that there is a child predator lurking in that congregation.”

    Zalkin said Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders don’t call police. Rather, Zalkin said, they take the position that although Oregon law defines clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse, they don’t need to report the abuse because it was a privileged religious communication.

    “At some point, it becomes too expensive to keep doing this,” Zalkin said. “That’s what civil litigation is about.”

    An attorney for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mario Moreno, said he hadn't yet seen a copy of Monday's lawsuit and couldn't offer comment.

    Zalkin, an attorney from San Diego, said this is the first case of its kind that he knows of in Oregon. His firm has 14 active cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in other states that include California, Connecticut and New Mexico. Several others also are pending in the U.S.

    continued below

  37. Portland attorneys Kristian Roggendorf and Paul Mones also are representing the two plaintiffs who filed Monday’s lawsuit in Multnomah County Court.

    The suit alleges that Daniel Castellanos, who held the equivalent position of a baptized ordained minister in the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, molested Altson in 1986 or 1987 when she was 11 or 12 years old. The suit claims Castellanos also molested a boy, described only as John Roe in the suit, when the boy was 8 to 10 years old.

    Alston said she chose to use her name and speak to reporters Monday because she wants to give victims a voice. She said filing civil litigation in hopes of changing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policies did not amount to committing an act against God, even though her attorneys say the Jehovah’s Witnesses might shun her for doing so.

    "I know that there are other victims," said Alston, who now lives in San Diego. "I know that you're scared because you're worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it's OK to say something. Because if you don't say something it's going to keep happening."

    The suit alleges Alston was kissed and fondled under her clothes multiple times by Castellanos, a piano teacher, while he was supposed to be giving her piano lessons at his house. She eventually told her mother, who went to the Hillsboro congregation’s elders. Alston said the elders told her and her mother to tell no one – including police.

    Zalkin said Castellanos was ousted from the congregation for three to five years but eventually let back in.

    Castellenos was married and had children at the time of the abuse, Alston said. She and her attorneys don’t know how old he is or where he lives, but they believe it’s outside of Oregon. They said they don’t think he has any criminal history.

    Castellenos couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

    Jehovah's Witnesses count about 8 million people within more than 113,000 congregations.


    see Zalkin Law Firm Press Release at:


  38. An Inside View of Jehovahs Witnesses: A Interview With Director Gregorio Smith

    by Danielle Tumminio, Episcopal priest, life coach, and author of 'God and Harry Potter at Yale'

    Huffington Post December 12, 2014

    I recently had the opportunity to view a new documentary about the experiences of contemporary Jehovah's Witnesses and was so intrigued by what I saw that I wanted to know more and thought my readers would as well. So what follows is an interview with director Gregorio Smith, whose film Truth Be Told will currently become available to the general public on December 19th.

    This film takes a fairly critical look at the institution behind the Jehovah's Witnesses. What led you to make it?

    I had just completed my film Birds and was eager to start a new project when my production partner, who was raised Catholic, suggested we do a documentary about "the Jehovah's." This is what they were called in his neighborhood while growing up, as in, "Quick! Get away from the window! The Jehovah's are coming!"

    At the time there were few films about the Jehovah's Witnesses organization and/or experience. Two of the more recent productions included a well-received fictional drama from Denmark, and a documentary that aired on PBS here in the States that's widely considered a patently uncritical puff piece of the Watchtower Society.

    I watched dozens of ex-Jehovah's Witness testimonials on YouTube and found revisiting my own Jehovah's Witness upbringing more distressing than anticipated. I left the religion decades ago, but there I was feeling an instant kinship with complete strangers sharing their stories of various emotional, social and psychological traumas.

    These testimonials, albeit powerful, have a limited reach since they contain language that would only be understood by other ex-Jehovah's Witnesses -- The Truth, field service, apostates, disfellowshipping (shunning), worldly, the society, demonized -- an entire lexicon of obscure Jehovah's Witness jargon.
    Furthermore, these testimonials were mostly created in people's homes with consumer-grade technology and lacked key formalistic elements like picture quality, shot composition, lighting, editing and sound design.

    Production value and approachability matter. And after giving the project much thought, we felt that we were in a good position to produce a documentary that offered an immersive historical understanding of the Jehovah's Witness experience, one that harmonizes the intensity of individual Jehovah's Witness stories with professional-grade aesthetics and technical elements.

    And while Truth Be Told is of natural interest to former, fading and active Jehovah's Witnesses, we believe it is a valuable tool that will appeal to the non-Jehovah's Witness world and can educate millions about the lesser-known side of Watchtower Society culture: the suspension of critical thinking, the discouragement of higher education, the non-observance of birthdays, Christmas and other societal holidays and customs, the prohibitions on sexual conduct, their zero-tolerance homosexuality policy and their excessive devotion to a central tenet that the destruction of the world is imminent.

    Do you think there's such a thing as a happy Jehovah's Witness? Or if I phrase it differently, do you think the religion is flawed or do you think the way people practice it makes it flawed?

    I think Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are happy, at least in the Jehovah's Witness version of happiness. Problem is, this happiness resides outside of themselves in a facade, a pious Potemkin Village where members are simply aping the smiling happy people and fellowship depicted in Jehovah's Witness literature designed to elicit emotional versus rational responses. In short, their happiness is informed by their own propaganda.

    continued below

  39. I am not a theologian, so I cannot say whether or not the Jehovah's Witness religion as a system of belief is flawed. I can say, however, that my Jehovah's Witness upbringing was a life of strict obedience to "theocratic order" in an atmosphere of high expectations with little to no reward. And a dogmatic culture fraught with fear, guilt, paranoia, legalism, isolation, and asceticism does not leave much room for happiness.

    It's worth mentioning that a show of hands at Truth Be Told screenings across the country revealed that more than half of the former Jehovah's Witnesses in attendance have either been in or sought out mental health counseling/therapy, and half of those admitted to contemplating or attempting suicide.
    What kind of reforms would you like to see the Jehovah's Witness -- formally called the Watchtower Society -- make for the religion to be healthier? Are such changes possible?

    The Watchtower Society can benefit from a healthy dose of humility. This perception that they alone possess "The Truth" cultivates an air of spiritual elitism and bigotry, since members regard other faiths and beliefs as "false" or otherwise inferior. It also fosters a dangerous climate of absolutes where the rules, regulations and doctrine as set forth by its leadership (called "Governing Body") are considered unimpeachable and any challenge to their administrations is tantamount to religious persecution, heresy or apostasy.

    Ironically, this tendency towards legalism could signal the demise of the Watchtower Society, as their entrenchment in response to upticks in departures and increasingly dangerous questions from members will ultimately approach a point of hyper-legalism whereby the entire Jehovah's Witness infrastructure chokes on its excess of rules and regulations.

    No one has a monopoly on the truth and a healthy discussion about religion needs vagueness -- room to contemplate the wonderment and mystery of the unknowable. A God understood is no God. This kind of perceptual shift, however, challenges over a century of increasingly insular and absolutist Watchtower Society doctrine, so I don't believe reforms will ever happen in earnest.

    What do you hope viewers will take from the film?

    Truth Be Told is an examination of the clear and present dangers of undue influence in the hands of fanatical religions and other high-control groups. And it is important for our viewers to understand that the indoctrination, spiritual intimidation, ostracism and other human rights abuses discussed in the film did not just occur in the past. They are happening right now to millions of Jehovah's Witnesses families and their worldwide.

    Truth Be Told is also an effective educational tool that will allow the non-Jehovah's Witness world to see this religion in an entirely new light. Academics, medical and mental health professionals, and legal experts regard have expressed surprise and fascination upon viewing Truth Be Told and regard the film as a "valuable contribution" for its historical and immersive insider's view into Jehovah's Witness culture.

    Our outreach will have its challenges since the people that the film could help the most are the least likely to view it. As one ex-Jehovah's Witness tweeted:
    "I'd share this with my JW family but am afraid of being called an apostate and losing contact. They are ruled by fear."

    More information on the film is available at this website. Worldwide online screenings will be held on Christmas Day, accompanied by social media-facilitated discussions (#hereliesthetruth).


  40. Doctors can ignore deeply held views of two Jehovah's Witnesses to treat their burns victim son

    A health trust with responsibility for treating the boy, who suffered severe burns in an accident, is told it can ignore religious objections from his parents

    By Agency The Telegraph December 8, 2014

    A High Court judge has ruled that the son of two devout Jehovah's Witnesses can be given a blood transfusion despite religious objections from his parents.

    Mr Justice Moylan was told by doctors that the "very young" boy had suffered severe burns in an accident and might need a blood transfusion.

    The judge concluded that a blood transfusion would be in the youngster's best interests in spite of the "deeply-held views" of his mother and father.

    Detail of the decision has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

    The judge said a health trust with responsibility for treating the boy had asked for a ruling.

    He did not name anyone involved and did not give the child's age.

    Mr Justice Moylan said he hoped that the boy's parents would understand.

    "I am extremely grateful to (the boy's) father for so clearly and calmly explaining to me the position held by himself and (the boy's) mother," said the judge.

    "I have no doubt at all that they love their son dearly. I also have no doubt that they object to the receipt by (their son) of a blood transfusion because of their devout beliefs.

    "I hope they will understand why I have reached the decision which I have, governed as it is by (their son's) welfare."

    Two other High Court judges had been asked to consider similar issues earlier this year.

    Mr Justice Keehan gave permission for a baby boy to undergo blood transfusions during an operation, notwithstanding his parents' objections.

    He had been told by a specialist that the baby had complex heart disease and no "long-term prospect of survival" if he did not have cardiac surgery.

    The baby's parents had agreed to surgery but said they could not consent to their son, who is a few weeks old, receiving blood.

    But Mr Justice Keehan concluded that receiving blood was in the little boy's best interests, despite his parents' "understandable objections".

    continued below

  41. The judge did not identify the little boy but said doctors at the Birmingham Children's Hospital had applied for an order that surgery could proceed with blood transfusions.

    But Mr Justice Peter Jackson gave doctors permission not to administer blood transfusions to a 63-year-old woman who was a Jehovah's Witness.

    The woman had subsequently died.

    Doctors working for Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had asked for permission to withhold a blood transfusion.

    They said the woman, who had been a Jehovah's Witness since the 1970s at least and had a history of depression and paranoid schizophrenia, was "gravely ill".

    Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that when doctors made the application the woman had "clearly lacked" the mental capacity to make or communicate decisions about treatment.

    But the judge said that after being admitted to hospital the woman had been "adamant" that she did not want treatment with any blood products.

    He concluded that the woman had made a decision, when she had the mental capacity, that doctors rightly considered had to be respected.

    The judge said the human right to life was "fundamental" but not absolute. He said there was no obligation on a patient to accept life-saving treatment and doctors were not entitled or obliged to give treatment.

    Jehovah's Witnesses say their attitude to blood stems from Biblical teaching.

    "Both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood," says the religion's website http://www.jw.org. "God views blood as representing life. So we avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life."

    The website highlights a number of Biblical references, including passages in Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Acts.


  42. Judge stops children of Jehovah's Witness from going to church

    New Zealand Herald December 16, 2014

    A judge has stopped the children of a Jehovah's Witness from going to church and attending witness meetings and allowed them to attend birthday parties and Christmas celebrations.

    The High Court ruling, released publicly today, comes after the children's separated parents appealed against Family Court orders regarding custody details.

    Justice Brendan Brown said his ruling would "dilute" the two young children's exposure to their mother's faith. However, he recognised the order was "at odds" with the children's wishes.

    After the parents separated in 2010, the mother became an "adherent of the Jehovah Witness faith", the ruling said.

    Without the father's knowledge, she introduced the children, then aged 4 and 6, to the religion.

    A Family Court ruling by Judge Paul Geoghegan ordered the children's main carer should be their father, and the judge placed constraints on the children's participation in the Jehovah's Witness faith.

    Both parents appealed against the ruling and sought clear directions regarding the children's participation in the faith.

    The mother told the court she would not attend a concert one of her children was involved in, because it was being held at a Baptist Church.

    She also did not attend her other child's soccer prizegiving, because it was also held at the church.

    The children told Justice Brown that if they were not allowed to worship Jehovah by attending services, they would be "angry" and "sad".

    He said the children had a right to be exposed to each of their parents' religious beliefs and it would be "impractical" to prevent their involvement in their mother's faith.

    "Indeed it would be my view it would be counter-productive and possibly destructive to order otherwise."

    However, he felt that involvement should be curtailed.

    "...the children should not attend Jehovah's Witness meetings or church activities including seminars or witnessing.

    "I recognise that such a direction is at odds with the children's express wishes.

    "Nevertheless the evidence persuades me that their welfare and best interests require that there should be a dilution in the intensity of their exposure to their mother's faith."

    They could engage in Bible study, watch videos and read passages from the Watchtower while they were with their mother in her home, Justice Brown said.

    They could also attend birthday parties, and Easter and Christmas celebrations -- all of which are prohibited in the Jehovah's Witness faith.


  43. Jehovahs Witnesses appeal to charity tribunal against regulator's statutory inquiry

    by Sam Burne James, Third Sector UK January 8, 2015

    The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain made the appeal last month; the Charity Commission's statutory inquiry was announced in June last year

    The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK has lodged an appeal at the charity tribunal against the Charity Commission’s decision to open a statutory inquiry into various matters, including child safeguarding.

    The commission announced its inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain in June 2014. It said it was looking into a number of issues, including the administration, governance and management of the charity, and its safeguarding policies. It had been alerted to concerns about how a congregation in Manchester dealt with a former trustee who served nine months in prison for the indecent of assault of two girls.

    The Watch Tower said at the time that it intended to register an appeal, but did not do so until 22 December. A spokesman for the society said: "We can confirm that the appeal lodged with the charity tribunal is against the June 2014 statutory inquiry into Watch Tower."

    A directions document issued to the commission by the tribunal on 23 December, and published online the following week, says the appeal might have been made outside the time limit. It gives the commission until later this month to tell the tribunal what information it gave the society about its rights of appeal after it decided to open the statutory inquiry.

    In June, the commission also opened a statutory inquiry into the Manchester-based congregation in question, and its trustees lodged an appeal against this the following month. A telephone directions hearing on this matter is scheduled for 20 January.


  44. Woman sues Jehovah's Witness elders over lack of protection from sex attacker

    The woman, in her 20s, was molested by “ministerial servant” Peter Stewart over a five-year period in Loughborough

    By Andy Rush, Loughborough Echo UK February 4, 2015

    A WOMAN who claims Jehovah’s Witness elders failed to protect her from a predatory sex attacker who repeatedly abused her as a child is now battling for £500,000 compensation.

    The woman, in her 20s, was molested by “ministerial servant” Peter Stewart over a five-year period in Loughborough, Leicestershire, in the 1980s and 90s, London’s High Court heard.

    The trauma she suffered derailed her education and career, and led to harrowing nightmares and recurring thoughts of suicide, her barrister, James Counsell, said.

    Matters came to a head after she “passed out on her bed next to a pile of paracetamol” while on holiday with her husband, “having left him a suicide note”, he added.

    Soon afterwards, she had a “bad panic attack” - triggered by seeing a collection of Jehovah’s Witness literature.

    That led to tense discussions with her husband, and her final decision to take legal action, Mr Counsell told the court.

    The woman - who cannot be identified - is suing the Trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, alleging they are “vicariously liable” for Stewart’s crimes.

    Stewart was convicted of entirely separate offences of sexually abusing a schoolgirl and a young boy in 1995, said Mr Counsell.

    He died in June 2001, aged 72, “shortly before police arrived at his home to arrest him for sexually abusing the claimant”.

    Stewart was an apparently “respected and devout” member of the congregation in Loughborough, the court heard.

    However, he repeatedly preyed on the girl between the ages of four and nine, “using his position as a ministerial servant to commit these acts”.

    He molested her in a variety of situations - including “both before and after and sometimes during Watchtower study sessions”, Mr Counsell claimed.

    His attacks took a catastrophic toll, leaving his victim prone to “vomiting” at the memory, and with complex feelings of guilt and shame.

    continued below

  45. Stewart forced her to keep silent by telling her that “what she was doing was fornication and that she was sinning”, the barrister explained.

    He warned her that “when Armageddon came - a regular topic for general discussion at group and congregation meetings - she would not be saved because of what she was doing”.

    “It was precisely because much of the abuse took place at public - and at Jehovah’s Witness events - that she could not always avoid him,” added Mr Counsell.

    The woman first “mustered the courage” to disclose her abuse in 2000 - after hearing of Stewart’s imminent release from jail for his offences against the two school children.

    Stewart’s former Jehovah’s Witness congregation “began an investigation” but failed to contact the police, said the barrister, adding that the inquiry “appeared to go nowhere”.

    That alleged inaction “intensified her feelings of anger” and the woman finally went to the police in May 2001.

    “But when the police went to Stewart’s home to arrest him they discovered from neighbours that he had died,” added Mr Counsell.

    The barrister alleged that Jehovah’s Witness elders “had known about Stewart’s activities with young girls since the very early days of the claimant’s abuse and had failed to prevent it continuing”.

    It was Stewart’s authority as a ministerial servant which allowed him to “gain contact and befriend” his victim, said Mr Counsell.

    “The abuse was committed while he was performing tasks to further the interests of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

    Lawyers for the Trustees are defending the case, insisting that proper steps were taken to protect its members and that Stewart was not performing a “pastoral role”.

    Their counsel, Adam Weitzman, said he “disputed that the elders were negligent” and denied that the Trustees could be held legally responsible.

    He pointed out that, from 1991, Stewart and the woman “ceased to be members of the same congregation”.

    Stewart was never an “employee” of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation and the Trustees owed the woman no legal “duty of care”, he argued.

    Mr Weitzman said: “While it is accepted that, from August 1990, the elders knew (Stewart) had sexually assaulted another child, there was not sufficient proximity between them and the claimant to impose such a duty. Nor would it be fair, just and reasonable to do so.”

    The High Court hearing continues.


  46. Jehovahs Witnesses silencing techniques as terrifying as child abuse

    Elders in my congregation knew that there was a predator in our midst. But they threatened to punish those who spoke out

    by Candace Conti, The Guardian March 2, 2015

    Candace Conti was the first child sexual abuse victim to win a jury trial against Watchtower

    Growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness family is different. As a child, I didn’t celebrate birthdays, Christmas or July 4. Nor did I, or anyone I knew, mix with non-Witness families in Little League or Girl Scouts. Instead, I spent much of my time sharing the “good news.” I used to go door-to-door on my own with a big, strong, well liked man in my congregation, named Jonathan. I was just 9 and 10 when he repeatedly sexually abused me.

    It is really hard for kids to speak up when they’re abused. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses make it a lot harder.

    They have a “2 Witness” rule, which says that anyone who accuses an adult of abuse must have a second witness. If there is no second witness, the accuser is punished for a false accusation - usually by ordering that no Witness may talk with or associate with the “false” accuser. This is called dis-fellowshipping. For a kid raised only with other Witnesses, it was horrifying. Even your parents would have to ignore you. It was more terrifying than Jonathan.

    It was the elders of my congregation who had assigned Jonathan to team up with me. When we separated from the others, he forced me into his pick-up truck and drove us to his house. Then he would say “Let’s play”. It happened too many times. Like everyone else in the congregation, my parents liked “Brother” Jonathan and trusted him in our family.

    My parents were consumed with some really huge problems in those years, and later divorced. I was emotionally alone - and wanted to be the best Jehovah’s Witness I could be. That’s why I went out to field service - the door to door ministry that Witnesses are known for.

    What my parents didn’t know, was that Jonathan had sexually molested another girl in our congregation. The elders knew this and had kept it a secret. They were following orders from Watchtower leaders, based in the world headquarters in New York, who in 1989 had issued a top-secret instruction to keep known child sex abusers in the congregations a secret. This instruction became Exhibit 1 at my civil trial.

    The elders and the Governing Body all knew that child molesters hide in religious groups and often are people who are likeable and friendly - like Jonathan.
    They knew molesters would likely do it again. But they chose to ignore the safety of the kids, in favor of protecting their image - and their bank account - from lawsuits. It was all in that 1989 letter.

    A recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that they have continued to issues directives urging silence around child abuse. Last November, elders were instructed to avoid taking criminal matters like child abuse to the authorities. Instead, they were told to handle them internally in confidential committees. The report also showed that Jehovah’s Witnesses evoke the First Amendment to hide sex abuse claims.

    It took me learning about Jonathan’s other victims for me to speak up. In 2009, I looked on California’s Megan’s Law website, the state’s official list of registered sex offenders. There, I found he had been convicted a few years before for sexually abusing another 8-year-old girl. I felt horribly guilty that I hadn’t spoken up about him earlier. Now, I need to stop predators from doing this again.

    The only way to end this abuse is by lifting this veil of secrecy once and for all.


  47. Jehovahs Witnesses charitys attempt to delay inquiry led to ongoing risks to children, says judge

    by Emily Corfe | Civil Society Media March 10, 2015

    A judge has ruled not to allow a Jehovah’s Witnesses charity more time to appeal against a Charity Commission statutory inquiry.

    At a tribunal last week, judge Alison McKenna said the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, had caused prolonged delays to the regulator’s investigation leading to “ongoing risks” to children.

    The Charity Commission initially opened an inquiry into the charity in May 2014 to investigate if adequate safeguarding procedures were in place, following revelations that trustees of the charity had allowed a convicted paedophile to question his victims.

    Jonathan Rose, an elder of the New Moston congregation, was jailed for nine months for abusing two women when they were young girls, the Manchester Evening News reported.

    According to the paper, after his release in March 2014, a series of “disfellowship” meetings were held to decide whether Rose should remain a member of the organisation, and the women were asked to recount their ordeal. At one meeting, Rose was allowed to ask the women questions.

    The regulator said at the time that it has had “ongoing serious concerns” about the charity and had previously opened regulatory compliance cases into the Watch Tower Bible in July 2013 and the New Moston congregation in December 2013.

    Last week, judge McKenna, said the charity was given 42 days to make an appeal but overran the allocated time period and instead called for a time extension while applying for a separate judicial review at the Administrative Court.


    McKenna said the charity’s delay of “over six months” in making the extension application to the tribunal “elongated unreasonably the period of time” in which the Commission would be “delayed from carrying out its inquiry pending determination of a challenge to its decision”.

    “I give weight to the fact that the [Commission’s] inquiry and production order relate to safeguarding matters which could… logically concern on-going risks to people who are still children”, she said.

    McKenna said: “it seems to me that the continuation of the court proceedings was [the charity’s] main priority at that time… I also conclude that there was not a good explanation for it”.

    The judge noted that the charity would not be able to challenge the decisions of the Commission if its application “to proceed out of time is not allowed”.

    “I accept that that is a serious matter,” she said. “However, it seems to me that the charity, in adopting the litigation strategy it did, must have factored that risk into account.

    “I also note that the [Commission] has already delayed its inquiry and the enforcement of compliance with the production order for over six months while the charity mounted a challenge to its decisions, in the forum of its choice. It does not seem to me that it would be fair and just to allow the charity to start new proceedings in the tribunal now and thus and delay matters further, having taken the course that it did.

    “In these circumstances, I do not consider that it would be appropriate to… extend time to allow this application to proceed out of time and I now refuse the charity’s application.”

    The Watch Tower was approached by Civil Society News for comment but did not respond by the time of publishing.


  48. Former Jehovahs Witness Accuses Church of Hiding Child Abusers from Congregations

    By DAN HARRIS and NICK CAPOTE, ABC News March 12, 2015

    A former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses is taking on the leadership of this wealthy, secretive religion, who she says failed to protect her from a predatory pedophile. She blames what she says is the church's policy of silence on child abusers.

    Candace Conti, now 28, was just 9 years old when she says she was abused by a well-liked member of her small congregation in Fremont, California, named Jonathan Kendrick. While doing door-to-door evangelizing, which Conti said she would often do without her parents, she said Kendrick would take her to his house and molest her.

    “He's just a big person... I found him very scary,” Conti said.

    As a child, Conti said she didn’t think she could tell anyone about the abuse. But years later, she testified during a trial against the church that Kendrick abused her several times a month for what she says felt like two years.

    “I never thought I could [talk about it],” she said. “Bringing that up just would demolish my family-- the only people that I knew... I think I was scared to.”

    Conti had nowhere else to turn, she said, because of her beliefs, and she grew up isolated from the outside world.

    Like all Jehovah’s Witnesses, Conti says she was taught that Armageddon was imminent, and that only the true believers would survive and live in a heaven on Earth. She says she was taught that, “everybody outside of the Jehovah's Witnesses are pretty much walking dead ... and could be used as a tool by Satan to mislead you, to pull your away from your Christian family.”

    It was only years later, after Conti had grown up and left the church, that she found Jonathan Kendrick on a sex offender registry. He had served seven months in jail for sexually abusing his wife’s 7-year-old granddaughter. After seeing him on the registry, Conti decided to come forward with her case.

    She said she “felt really guilty for not doing anything that this wouldn’t have happened to somebody else.”

    Conti said she went to local church leaders, known as elders, and told them her story. But Conti said the elders refused to believe her unless she could prove the abuse happened by providing two witnesses to the alleged abuse.

    According to the religion’s internal system of justice, it is believed that the Bible requires there to be two witnesses in order for a crime to be punishable.
    So Conti went to the police instead. They began an investigation, but with Kendrick denying the abuse, the authorities have not brought charges -- although the investigation continues.

    Conti’s next move was to sue the church itself. She hired attorney Rick Simons, who had spent many years representing victims in cases of abuse by pedophile Catholic priests.

    “If ever there was a group that needs the sun to shine on them and their practices, it's this one [Jehovah's Witnesses]," Simons said. “Because when your doorbell rings on Saturday morning… and your kid answers the door, you don't want that guy to be a child molester.”

    continued below

  49. When Conti and her attorney began conducting depositions with local church leaders in California, they learned something that astonished them: Even before Conti was abused, the elders knew that Jonathan Kendrick, who had then held a leadership position in the congregation, had also molested his stepdaughter when she was a teenager.

    And yet, the elders did not call the police and did not warn the rest of the congregation.

    “I was disgusted. I was absolutely disgusted,” Conti said. “It was more damage control at that point than ever trying to be proactive and saving somebody.”

    Under oath, the elders of the congregation said the reason they did not tell the congregation about Kendrick’s abuse was that the information was “confidential.” In fact, the elders said they were following the strict guidelines at the time provided by church leadership at the Jehovah's Witnesses’ headquarters in New York, called “The Watchtower.”

    In a series of letters to elders across the country regarding child abuse, The Watchtower stated that although they acknowledge that some states have child abuse reporting laws, allegations should otherwise be kept secret to all but church elders, because the “peace, unity and spiritual well-being of the congregation are at stake,” and because “worldly people are quick to resort to lawsuits if they feel their ‘rights’ have been violated.”

    The elders in Fremont did remove Kendrick from his leadership position, per Watchtower policy, on the grounds of “uncleanness.”

    When Candace Conti’s lawsuit against the church went to court, attorneys for Jehovah's Witnesses argued that it is not the responsibility of a religious organization to protect children from sexual abuse by other congregation members. They said the church provides education to parents on the risk of sexual abuse. They also pointed out that the alleged abuse of Candace Conti never took place on church property.

    Furthermore, church attorneys questioned whether Conti was specifically assigned by the elders to go door-to-door preaching, known as “field service,” with Kendrick.

    Ultimately, the jury sided with Conti. In a landmark verdict in 2012, she was eventually awarded over $15 million. The Watchtower is currently appealing the case.

    The Watchtower denied our request for an interview, but told “Nightline” in a statement, peppered with Bible citations, that "it would be inappropriate for us to comment on cases currently in litigation." ... "Jehovah’s Witnesses have also consistently warned congregation members and the public of the need to protect their children from the horrific crime of child sexual abuse."

    Whatever the outcome of her case, Candace Conti’s public fight appears to have opened the floodgates. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are now facing a series of lawsuits across the country. Attorney Irwin Zalkin is trying 15 of those cases.

    “For some reason [church leaders] believe they’re above the law,” Zalkin said.

    continued below

  50. In October a San Diego court awarded one of Zalkin’s clients $13.5 million dollars in damages for alleged sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Congregation leader Gonzalo Campos, of the Linda Vista Spanish Congregation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses plan to appeal the verdict.

    Kendrick was absent from Conti’s trial and denied “Nightline’s” repeated requests for an interview. In a brief interview with “Nightline” outside of his home in California, Kendrick said, “My statement is this. I've never been alone with Ms. Conti, never molested Candace Conti.”

    He denied he ever did field service with Conti alone, and repeatedly denied molesting her or ever being alone with her.

    “I'm sure that's the smart thing for him to say,” Conti told “Nightline.” “That hurts like hell. But ... do you expect honesty from a child molester?”

    Conti is moving on with her life. She graduated from college and recently got engaged. But she said she will continue fighting on behalf of all victims of child abuse.

    “I don’t have a monopoly on pain,” she said. “Instead of being victims we can change it, and have our words speak for change. Then this pain might be a little bit worth it.”

    Since Conti’s verdict in 2012, the church appears to have made some changes on its confidentiality policy when it comes to child abuse, but critics, including Conti, say it’s not enough.

    As for Jonathan Kendrick, he says he is still a member in good standing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    As you are aware, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on cases currently in litigation. However, in addition to the statement we previously provided, please allow us to make the following points.

    We abhor the sexual abuse of children, and we do not protect any perpetrator of such repugnant acts from the consequences of his gross sin and crime. – Romans 12:9.

    Our current and long-standing policy is clearly stated in the publication “Shepherd the Flock of God”—1 Peter 5:2, in which elders are provided the following direction:

    “Child abuse is a crime. Never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to the police or other authorities. If you are asked, make it clear that whether to report the matter to the authorities or not is a personal decision for each individual to make and that there are no congregation sanctions for either decision. Elders will not criticize anyone who reports such an allegation to the authorities. If the victim wishes to make a report, it is his or her absolute right to do so.”—“Shepherd the Flock of God”—1 Peter 5:2, chap. 12, pp. 131-132, par. 19.

    Seeking legal advice is a vital element of handling sensitive matters responsibly. Thus, for decades our elders have been instructed to contact our Legal Department whenever they learn of an allegation of child abuse. We do this, not to hide the crime and the sin, but rather to ensure that our elders strictly comply with child-abuse reporting laws.

    By means of our Bible-based publications, our religious services, and our website jw.org., Jehovah’s Witnesses have also consistently warned congregation members and the public of the need to protect their children from the horrific crime of child sexual abuse. We encourage anyone who wishes to understand our position to visit our website jw.org., and search the term “child abuse.”


  51. Pregnant Jehovahs Witness decision to refuse treatment 'harrowing' for hospital staff after mother and baby die

    by Amy Corderoy, Health Editor, Sydney Morning Herald April 6, 2015

    A pregnant Jehovah's Witness woman and her baby have died after the woman refused a blood transfusion in a Sydney hospital.

    Doctors described the harrowing effect on staff at the Royal Hospital for Women and Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick of what some felt were two otherwise avoidable deaths, after the women refused the transfusion when she developed complications nearly seven months into her pregnancy and was discovered to be suffering from leukaemia.

    More than 80 per cent of pregnant women suffering from the cancer, called acute promyelocytic leukaemia, will go into remission with proper treatment, and the outlook for their babies is good.

    But the 28-year old's religion forbade her from accepting the blood transfusion she needed to save her life and that of her unborn baby.

    Ethicists and doctors say they are facing increasingly difficult decisions as the number of potentially life-saving treatments that can be done in utero grows. At the same time, debate has raged over NSW MP Fred Nile'spush to introduce laws making it a crime to seriously harm or kill a fetus in utero.

    Haematologist Giselle Kidson-Gerber said her experience treating cancer patients and her Christian faith had helped her understand the woman's choice, but it was difficult knowing that choice would affect the unborn child.

    The woman's obstetricians, who in Australia would otherwise "rarely see people die, or make a decision that will hasten death" were unable to perform a caesarean.

    "She would have had to have a classical caesarean, and she most likely would have bled to death. The obstetricians weren't comfortable with that when there was a chance we could have got her through," she said.

    "They were unable to do a caesarean for the sake of the baby without putting her at risk".

    But the baby died, and shortly afterwards the woman suffered a stroke and multi-organ failure, Dr Kidson-Gerber and her colleague Dr Amber Biscoe wrote in an account of the case published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

    "Refusal of a lifesaving intervention by an informed patient is generally well respected, but the right of a mother to refuse such interventions on behalf of her fetus is more controversial," they wrote. "A doctor indeed has moral obligations to both the pregnant woman, and perhaps with differing priority to the unborn fetus.

    continued below

  52. Circumstances where fetal and maternal autonomy conflict, or where fetal beneficence conflicts with maternal autonomy, create challenges."

    Dr Kidson-Gerber said as more fetal-specific conditions become available, there would be more cases where the interests of the fetus and the interests of the mother conflicted.

    "With technology improving, there are so many potential interventions that can occur for the fetus, whether it's intrauterine blood transfusions, genetic testing or physical surgery," she said.

    In December, Fairfax Media revealed the case of a Sydney couple who wished to terminate a pregnancy after discovering the fetus had a physical abnormality.

    After delays caused in part by one hospital refusing to do the termination, the pregnancy was eventually terminated at 28 weeks, leading to questions about how consistently decisions about pregnancy termination are being made while it remains a potentially criminal act.

    Sascha Callaghan, an expert in ethics and law at the University of Sydney, said the law as it stands allowed the mother to make decisions that would affect the fetus, even if it probably would have been able to survive outside her body.

    "This isn't to say it isn't a tragic event … but we live in a society where, within reason, we let citizens be the authors of their own lives," she said. "If you are going to grant women full rights as citizens, are you going to dilute those rights for women who are carrying fetuses?"

    Dr Callaghan said Jehovah's Witnesses were often unfairly criticised for their religious stance against blood transfusion despite it being a thoughtfully and strongly held belief.

    "This woman had a long-held commitment to the Jehovah's Witness faith and that's how she chose to die. We are all entitled to die with dignity," she said. "When your fetus is in utero, it is inextricably tied to your life."

    In the United States last week, a woman was convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependen twhen she miscarried after allegedly taking abortion medications, although no traces of the drug were found in her system. She was charged under laws that were passed after a pregnant woman was shot during a bank robbery and her five-month-old twin fetuses died.


  53. Why doctors let a Jehovahs Witness and her unborn baby die

    By Elahe Izadi The Washington Post April 7, 2015

    The pregnant Jehovah’s Witness came to a Sydney hospital with leukemia and a directive against blood transfusions, a decision stemming from her religious beliefs.

    The hospital’s staff was faced with an extremely difficult situation: How to treat the 28-year-old woman and her fetus while respecting that her religious beliefs prohibited them from administering potentially life-saving treatments.

    The case ended tragically with the fetus dying in utero, followed by the mother, who suffered from organ failure. “Staff were distressed, grappling with what was perceived as two ‘avoidable’ deaths,” doctors at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Australia wrote in a letter published this month in the Internal Medicine Journal.

    One of those doctors, Giselle Kidson-Gerber, told the Sydney Morning Herald that her own Christian faith and experience treating cancer patients helped her understanding of the case. But, as she and co-author Amber Biscoe write in the letter, laying out the case could help other health professionals who find themselves in similar situations.

    “There is little published information to assist physicians to manage their own anxieties, doubts and potential moral disagreement with the patient, and to help them maintain respect for a patient and continue to deliver good medical care,” the authors write.

    The pregnant woman suffered from acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a treatable condition: The American Cancer Society says that “more than 90% of patients with APL go into remission with standard induction treatment.” The authors of the letter also note that pregnant women with the cancer have reported an 83 percent remission rate, with a good outlook for their babies when the women are diagnosed in their second or third trimesters.

    In this case, the patient repeatedly declined blood products — including red cell, white cell, platelets or plasma transfusions — while knowing that such a decision could have drastic consequences, including death, the letter says. Physicians began treating her but deemed chemotherapy to be unsafe. They also decided against having her give birth via Cesarean section.

    “She would have had to have a classical Cesarean, and she most likely would have bled to death,” Kidson-Gerber told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The obstetricians weren’t comfortable with that when there was a chance we could have got her through.”

    The baby died while still in the womb, and the woman then delivered it vaginally, and with little blood loss. But she eventually developed a stroke, suffered multi-organ failure and died after 13 days of treatment. The Australian authors write that not giving the woman any blood products “undoubtedly contributed” to the deaths of the woman and her fetus. They didn’t give her any blood transfusions because “maternal autonomy was respected.”

    “Refusal of a lifesaving intervention by an informed patient is generally well respected, but the rights of a mother to refuse such interventions on behalf of her fetus [sic] is more controversial,” the authors write. “A doctor indeed has moral obligations to both the pregnant woman, and perhaps with differing priority to the unborn fetus [sic].”

    Cases involving pregnant women’s decisions and the impacts they have on their fetuses raise complex ethical and legal issues. A recent U.S. case that resulted in a precedent-setting “feticide” conviction has prompted a debate over the actions of pregnant women.

    continued below

  54. When it comes to decisions about their own treatment, pregnant women and patients at most U.S. health facilities are supposed to be informed of their rights within state law. The 1991 Patient Self-Determination Act also requires health institutions to disclose their own policies about advance medical wishes.

    In Australia, as long as patients aren’t suffering from a condition that interferes with their ability to make decisions, doctors can’t force medical treatments upon them, Australian Medical Association vice president Steve Parnis told News.com.au.

    “What you do have is an obligation to give the patient all the information so they know about all possible outcomes,” Parnis said. “When we talk about care of an unborn child, the best option is to give the mother the best possible care. We have to recognize her autonomy.”

    The Australian doctors writing about the case in Internal Medicine Journal recommended regularly keeping a patient informed of her options as well as “developing a clear understanding of your own attitudes and beliefs, open communication between staff, identifying alternative practitioners where time permits, and accessing staff counselling.”

    Laws that could impact pregnant Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions vary across the United States, according to Columbia University Medical Center’s Cynthia Gyamfi, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. In a 2010 review, Gyamfi recommended that clinicians check their institutions’ policies and with relevant courts when they take on such women as patients.

    Some hospitals around the world have clear guidelines on how to treat such patients. For instance, the U.K.’s Nottingham University Hospitals published guidelines that delineate the types of therapies Jehovah’s Witnesses do, do not and may accept, underscoring that some adherents may be willing to accept certain therapies while others may not. In practice, people differ in how they approach the issue.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept blood transfusions due to their religious beliefs, the official Web site of the Jehovah’s Witnesses explains. “Also, God views blood as representing life,” the site states, citing the Bible verse Leviticus 17:14. “So we avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life.”

    A 2004 study published in Obstet Gynecol reviewed the charts of 61 self-identified pregnant Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York state and found that the majority of them noted they were willing to accept some sort of blood product. The authors write that their findings refute the notion that all Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse any blood product.

    Aside from the legality of such decisions, there’s “another ethical principle that comes into play in the management of a Jehovah’s Witness is nonmaleficence, or ‘do no harm,’” Gyamfi writes. “Although a provider may believe that allowing a bleeding patient to die by not transfusing her with blood is clearly causing harm, a devout Jehovah’s Witness may perceive far more harm in the belief that eternal damnation will ensue from such a transfusion.”


  55. Charity Tribunal rejects Jehovah’s Witnesses charities' latest appeal attempt

    Civil Society Media Gov | Kirsty Weakley | 9 Apr 2015

    A Jehovah’s Witnesses charity has been refused permission to appeal a Charity Tribunal ruling that had denied it extra time to appeal against the opening of a statutory inquiry.

    The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and appealed the Charity Tribunal’s decision not to extend the period of time that they had to file an appeal into a statutory inquiry that had been opened by the Charity Commission.

    The charities had claimed that the ruling earlier this year that denied them extra time to appeal was unlawful. They both claimed that the 3 March ruling had three legal errors relating to whether the charity had a good reason for asking for an extension.

    Alison McKenna, principal judge of the Charity Tribunal said in the latest ruling that she has “decided not to undertake a review as I am not satisfied that there was an error of law in my ruling”.

    The 3 March ruling had criticised the delay to the Charity Commission’s investigation, and warned that this could result in “ongoing risks” to children.

    Trustees of the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had appealed a decision to limit the questioning of a Commission case worker at an earlier hearing. McKenna said that having examined the grounds for appeal she was not "satisfied that they raise arguable errors of law" and refused permission for appeal.

    Last summer the Charity Commission opened statutory inquiries into the two organisations, after the Manchester Evening News reported that Jonathan Rose, 40, an elder of the New Moston congregation, was jailed for nine months for abusing two women when they were young girls.

    The paper reported that after his release the New Moston congregation conducted a series of “disfellowship” meetings to decide whether Rose should remain a member of the organisation, in which the women were required to recount their ordeal. At one meeting, Rose was present and allowed to ask questions.

    This article has been ammended to clarify that the two appeals concerned different points


  56. Jehovahs Witness molestation case damages cut to $2.8 million

    By Bob Egelko, SFGate April 13, 2015

    An Alameda County woman who was molested as a child by a fellow member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who took her with him on door-to-door preaching, is entitled to $2.8 million of the $15.6 million in damages she won at trial, a state appeals in San Francisco court ruled Monday.

    However, the First District Court of Appeal overturned $8.6 million in punitive damages against the religion’s then-governing body, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, for failing to warn members of the North Fremont Congregation that Jonathan Kendrick had previously molested his stepdaughter.

    The court said churches have no legal duty to warn members that one of their fellow congregants was a sex offender, and observed that such warnings “would discourage wrongdoers from seeking potentially beneficial intervention.” But the court said Watchtower and leaders of the congregation had failed to properly supervise Kendrick during his door-to-door recruitment activities for the church and were responsible for leaving him alone with Candace Conti during a two-year period that started in late 1994, when she was 9 years old.

    Conti said Kendrick befriended her family, got permission to take her on his doorbell-ringing missions, then took her to his home and molested her several times a month. Psychiatric witnesses at the trial of her lawsuit in 2012 said she suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and could require a lifetime of therapy.

    Kendrick was at times a “ministerial assistant,” or administrative aide, for the congregation, but was not an “elder,” or spiritual leader. He was not criminally prosecuted in Conti’s case, but he has been convicted of other sex-crime charges.

    “Conti’s case demonstrates the obvious threat that child molesters pose to children in a congregation when they perform field service,” the church’s term for door-to-door preaching, Justice Peter Siggins said in the 3-0 ruling upholding the jury’s $2.8 million damage award for emotional distress and future therapy costs. The jury assessed an additional $4.2 million in damages against Kendrick, who is unable to pay.

    While the Watchtower Society said it had a policy of prohibiting known child molesters from doing such work alone or with children, Siggins said, there was no documentation of that policy, and no evidence it was enforced against Kendrick.

    Richard Simons, Conti’s lawyer, said the court should have upheld the church’s duty to warn parents about known molesters. “Prevention is more important than responsibility after the event,” he said.

    Lawyers for the church could not be reached for comment.

    Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.


  57. In Childhood Sexual Abuse Case, California Appellate Court Finds Church has No Duty to Prevent Its Members from Harming Each Other

    By Blythe Golay, Vangi Johnson, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP JD Supra (press release) March 20, 2015

    In Conti v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. (filed 4/13/15, A136631), the California Court of Appeal, First District, reversed an award of $8 million in punitive damages, on the ground that a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congregation and church leaders had no duty to warn members of the congregation (known as Witnesses) that another member had previously molested a child. The Conticase had drawn attention for the jury’s award of $28 million in damages ($7 million in compensatory damages and $21 million in punitive damages) — at the time, the largest verdict for a single victim of childhood sexual abuse against a religious organization. Punitive damages were later reduced on a post-trial motion to $8 million. With the Conti decision, the award of punitive damages was eliminated completely, the Court of Appeal finding that a church has no duty to prevent its members from harming each other.

    The plaintiff in Conti sued her abuser, the Witness, her former congregation, and the Watchtower (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ corporation), contending that the Watchtower’s policies permitted the Witness to molest her repeatedly during church-sponsored activities over a two-year period. The Witness had admitted to his congregation’s elders that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter. Although the elders informed the Watchtower, the Watchtower did not notify the police or warn the congregation. With respect to the punitive damages claim, the plaintiff argued that the Watchtower acted despicably and with conscious disregard for the safety of others by maintaining a “secrecy policy” as to child sexual abusers, despite knowing of their high recidivism. Like other lawsuits against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the plaintiff in Conti relied on Watchtower publications issued in the late 1980s to 2000s as evidence that the Watchtower directed elders to keep cases of child abuse secret from the congregations and law enforcement. The sole basis for the punitive damages claim was the contention that the defendants failed to fulfill their duty of warning members of the congregation that the Witness had molested a child.

    continued below

  58. On appeal the reviewing court found that the alleged duty to warn could not be justified on the basis of a special relationship because there is “no authority for any such broad duty on the part of a church to prevent its members from harming each other.” The court also applied the factors ofRowland v. Christian to determine whether a duty existed. The court concluded that the burden that the duty to warn would create, and the adverse social consequences that the duty would produce, outweighed its imposition. Finding that such a burden would be unworkable, the court remarked: “The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision.” The Conti Court nonetheless upheld the compensatory damages award on the ground that the congregation and Watchtower failed in their duty to supervise the Witness and protect the plaintiff during their field service (a church-sponsored activity where members go door-to-door preaching in the community).

    Although the privilege for penitential communications did not apply to the Witness’s revelation that he had molested his stepdaughter, in that such was revealed in the presence of a third party, the court did discuss the relevance of the rule of confidentiality of penitential communications. The court found that the public policy in favor of protecting confidentiality militated against imposition of a duty to inform congregations of such communications. That California’s Evidence Code expressly states the extent of the privilege is not an appropriate subject for legislation was also persuasive to the Conti Court, which cautioned other courts of intruding on this privilege.

    California courts have consistently held that religious organizations do not have a special relationship with their congregation members, including minors, merely by virtue of their membership in the religion. Conti is significant for religious organizations and their counsel defending against childhood sexual abuse claims because the case reaffirms this rule, and specifically holds that a church has no duty to prevent its members from harming each other.


  59. Boy, 7, taken away from his parents after judge rules he has been damaged by his Jehovah's Witness mother's religious beliefs

    By MARTIN ROBINSON, Daily Mail May 22, 2015

    A Jehovah's Witness' seven-year-old son has been taken into care because she damaged him with her 'religious beliefs and practices', a family court judge has ruled.

    Judge Clifford Bellamy concluded that the boy had suffered 'emotional harm' from his mother and decided he would be better off with foster parents.

    The young boy had been disruptive in school during lessons touching on Christianity, destroying projects and calling bible stories lies, a court heard.

    Social services also believed the unnamed little boy was also at the centre of a rift between his parents so will no longer be living with either of them.

    Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a family court hearing in Leicester but Judge Bellamy said no-one involved could be identified.

    A member of staff at the youngster's school had told how the boy had said he 'could not be with people who didn't believe in Jehovah', said the judge.

    The little boy had cutp materials his class was using in an exercise about the 'Crucifixion story' and had said, 'nobody's telling the true stories about Jehovah', the judge heard.

    He had also 'presented as contemptuous, grimacing somewhat theatrically' when speaking about the 'non-Jehovah's Witness Bible'.

    'I am satisfied that (he) has suffered emotional harm,' said Judge Bellamy.

    'I am satisfied that the fact that (he) has been immersed by his mother in her religious beliefs and practices has been a significant factor in causing that emotional harm.'

    The judge said there were also concerns about the boy's relationship with his father.

    He said the youngster had spoken of his father being 'really mean to me' and had said: 'I don't love daddy at all.'

    Social services staff had also thought the boy was being harmed by 'conflict' between his parents.

    Judge Bellamy said he was satisfied that 'change' was required and that the youngster should be placed with experienced foster carers.

    He indicated that he would review the case later in the summer.

    The boy's mother had not accepted that he had been harmed by 'immersion' in her religion and had denied introducing him to her religion in a bid to alienate him from his father.


  60. Ex Jehovahs Witness schoolgirl exposes organisation as a religion that destroys lives

    by BEN TUFFT, The Independent MAY 24, 2015

    A schoolgirl who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses after learning of its alleged failure to protect vulnerable women has blasted the organisation in a powerful speech to her classmates.

    Holding back tears, she recalled her personal experiences as a member of the church and how she was taught everyone outside the religion, including her father, would be sent to Armageddon.

    She also highlighted women’s lowly position in the hierarchy of the organisation and how they are viewed as inferior to men.

    “They cannot teach men. They cannot even speak at a podium in front of men as I am doing now,” she said. “They are not to question any decision made by a men. That is slander.”

    Dissenting from the orthodoxy on church doctrine and practices is forbidden as a Jehovah's Witness and those who do are shunned by religious leaders. Independent thought is discouraged and is thought to have been introduced by the devil.

    The most shocking allegations relate to women the girl spoke to, who were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and wished to remain anonymous.

    One, she called Jane, was allegedly interrogated by the church elders after she was raped, while at work as insurance salesperson.

    The elders apparently said she tempted men by the way she dressed and that men were “only human”.

    In order to be forgiven and not be excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped,” Jane was forced to dress more conservatively, quit her job and worst of all drop the charges against her attacker.

    Another, called Donna, was allegedly molested by a man in her congregation when she was a young girl, but did not tell anyone because she knew nothing would be done.

    It is claimed Donna was then abused physically and emotionally throughout 14 years of marriage and when she went to the church elders for support she was told it was her fault and should be a better wife.

    Eventually Donna secured a divorce from her husband, but her torment did not end there. She was “disfellowshipped” from the organisation, which meant she was unable to speak to her friends or family members in the church.

    “To make matters worse her children were taught not to speak to her because she was evil, they were isolated by her ex-husband and know nothing other than this religion. They are also terrified of disappointing their father and their god,” the girl said.

    “The religion is separating a capable and loving mother from her children. Nothing could be more devastating for a mother.”

    The church has battled with previous allegations of silencing victims of sexual abuse, to avoid embarrassing the church, but have always vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

    In 2015 a Californian court ordered the Watch Tower Society, the company which runs the Jehovah's Witnesses, to pay $2.8m in damages after failing to disclosure the past abuse of a congregation member, which led to the sexual abuse of a nine-year-old girl.

    After learning all the religion has hid from its members the girl finished her speech by saying she wanted “no part in it”.

    “It is a religion that preaches love and acceptance, but the reality is everything is conditional. Love and acceptance is only extended as long as members practise absolute obedience and question nothing, ever,” she said.

    “This religion destroys lives, destroys families and they do it largely unchecked… because they are really good at silencing the people who leave.”

    The Jehovah's Witnesses were not immediately available for comment.


  61. Jehovahs Witness Parents Refuse Life Saving Treatment for Son

    by Michael Stone, Progressive Secular Humanist [blog] May 31, 2015

    Respect for God means letting their child die: A seven-year-old boy in Australia needs a liver transplant and a blood transfusion to live, but his parents are refusing the life-saving treatment because such medical procedures violate their sincerely held religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    A hospital in Brisbane is currently appealing to the Australian Supreme Court to allow the young boy a life-saving blood transfusion after his parents refused to consent due to their religious beliefs.

    Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital is hoping legal intervention will allow the boy to receive the transfusion, which is an essential component of the liver transplant operation the child needs to live.

    The parents have consented to the liver transplant, but refuse to consent to a blood transfusion, which is almost always necessary in such procedures.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions because they believe the Bible commands them to abstain from ingesting blood and that avoiding blood pays respect to God as the giver of life.

    Earlier this year reports surfaced about the death of a 7-months pregnant Jehovah’s Witness along with the death of her unborn baby after she refused a blood transfusion. Doctors in Sydney were forced to let the pregnant woman and her unborn child die in hospital after the mother refused a blood transfusion because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.

    As for the boy, identified as “J” by court documents, doctors say “a liver transplant is the only treatment available to address (the boy’s) condition and will give him the best chance of survival.”

    In a court affidavit filed in the case, Queensland Liver Transplant Service director Dr Jonathan Fawcett said that 95 percent of transplants required necessary blood transfusions.

    The hospital’s application before the Supreme Court is scheduled for hearing next month.

    see the links in this article at:


  62. Jehovahs Witnesses to compensate woman over sex abuse

    BBC News June 19, 2015

    A woman who claimed Jehovah's Witness elders failed to protect her from sex abuse carried out by a paedophile has won a £275,000 payout.

    The woman, now in her 20s, alleges she was abused as a child in Loughborough by ministerial servant Peter Stewart.

    She had argued at London's High Court that he used his role to abuse her.

    A judge ruled the organisation was liable for the abuse because it failed to take "safeguarding steps" after Stewart admitted abusing another child.

    Mr Justice Globe said he was "satisfied" the defendants should be "held responsible" for the abuse, which took place between 1989 and 1994.

    It is the first civil case in the UK of historical sexual abuse brought against the Christian-based religious movement.

    The organisation - which accepted that Stewart, who died before facing justice, sexually abused the claimant - said it was "disappointed" with the decision and would appeal.

    The victim said: "The procedures the Jehovah's Witnesses follow for dealing with child sexual abuse are the same as it was when I was abused.

    "Even having a ministerial servant sent to prison was not enough of an incentive for them to implement change. This sends a clear message about the importance Jehovah's Witnesses place on child protection."

    This is the first civil case for damages for historical sexual abuse in the UK brought against the Jehovah's Witness organisation, and is thought to be the first brought against any non-mainstream religion.

    It illustrates how the law has expanded in recent years so that a person need not be employed by a religious body for it to be vicariously liable - ie responsible - for their actions.

    The court firstly asks whether the relationship is "akin to employment".

    It doesn't have to be an actual employment relationship (for example, priests are not "employed" but the Church can be liable for their actions), but the relationship has to share features which you might see between employer and employee (for example, where a Church exercises control upon what a priest can and cannot do).

    Secondly, the court asks whether the abuse was "connected" to that relationship. For example, if someone uses their position of responsibility as a means to abuse children, then vicarious liability is likely to result.

    'Couldn't get away'

    The woman, known only as C during the case, says she was abused by Stewart between the ages of four and nine.

    At the time he was a trusted ministerial servant, whose role was to assist elders with religious and administrative duties.

    Shortly after C's abuse began, Stewart was found to have abused another child in the Jehovah's Witness community.

    He was removed as a ministerial servant in 1990 but because he told elders he had repented, he was allowed to continue with many of the activities he had performed in that role.

    continued below

  63. C alleges he continued to abuse her for another four years.

    The abuse took place at a number of locations, including Kingdom Hall, a place of worship used by Jehovah's Witnesses, with Stewart forcing her to keep silent by telling her "she was sinning" and "she would not be saved".

    In 1995, Stewart was convicted of separate child sex offences, including rape and indecent assault, and jailed for five years.

    He died, aged 72, in 2001, shortly before police arrived at his home to arrest him for sexually abusing C.

    The court had heard C had "suffered hugely" as a result of the abuse, which had affected her education, career and relationships.

    She had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered from repeated nightmares. She also attempted suicide.

    C had claimed the trustees of the Loughborough Blackbrook Congregation and of the Loughborough Southwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, the successors of the Loughborough Limehurst Congregation, were vicariously liable for the assaults, and for the actions of the Limehurst elders.

    Speaking to the BBC ahead of the verdict, she said the Jehovah's Witness organisation saw child abuse as a "sin that can be dealt with within their organisation - they don't see that they have to look outside themselves in any way".

    "All they want to do is pray for you and promise you that God's going to wipe away all your pain. It's just unbelievable," she said.

    She said the organisation needed to "admit to themselves that there is a massive problem".

    "These [abuse victims] aren't apostates, these are people who have suffered from horrible, horrible crimes and had their lives completely wrecked," she said.

    "They're not out to destroy the organisation. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with."

    'Wake-up call'

    Kathleen Hallisey, lawyer at AO Advocates, said: "This should be a wake-up call to the Jehovah's Witness organisation that they need to implement better child safeguarding policies that are in line with modern day knowledge about child safeguarding and sexual abuse.

    "And I also hope that it's a wake-up call to members of the organisation that child sexual abuse is a problem within the organisation - and it's something that they need to do something about."

    Richard Cook, solicitor for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, said: "We are disappointed with the decision, particularly since the court accepted expert evidence that Jehovah's Witnesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s were ahead of their time in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.

    "For decades we have warned congregants and parents of the dangers of child abuse and have published information to help parents safeguard their children.
    We will continue to do so."

    The damages and an interim payment of £455,000 towards C's legal costs will be met by the society's trustees.


  64. Jehovahs Witnesses to appear before sex abuse royal commission

    Sydney Morning Herald June 22, 2015

    The Jehovah's Witnesses Church in Australia is the latest religious group to come to the attention of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

    The child sex abuse royal commission will hold a public hearing into controversial Christian group the Jehovah's Witnesses, next month.

    The inquiry, to be held in Sydney, will hear from people who were allegedly sexually abused within the Jehovah's Witnesses Church in Australia.

    It will examine how the Jehovah's Witnesses Church and its company, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, responded to claims of child sexual abuse within the organisation.

    A Victorian inquiry into how churches handle child sex abuse claims has previously taken submissions from former Jehovah's Witnesses who alleged instances of paedophilia, sexual assault, blackmail and death threats.

    The organisation has 64,000 active "disciples" in Australia but has also been described as a cult.

    Jehovah's Witnesses believe their church is the one true religion and all others are wrong. They are among a number of religious groups which have been examined by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse including the Catholics, Anglicans, Australian Christian Churches and the Salvation Army.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses Australian headquarters has been contacted for comment about the inquiry which is scheduled to begin on July 27.


  65. Jehovahs Witness sex abuse claim sounds warning note for Churches

    by Ruth Gledhill, CHRISTIAN TODAY CONTRIBUTING EDITOR 23 June 23, 2015

    Religious and other institutions are increasingly being held vicariously liable for historic sexual abuse committed not only by their employees but also by laity and other non-employees linked to the institutions, according to a leading lawyer.

    Frank Cranmer, author of the Law and Religion blog, spoke after a woman abused for five years by a Jehovah's Witness won £275,000 damages at the high court.

    The sexual abuse of "A", aged 29, began when she was just four. Her abuser was Peter Stewart, not an employee of the church but a ministerial servant at Limehurst Congregation in Loughborough. The abuse took place at least once a week during Bible study in the victim's living room or the perpetrator's loft.

    It came to an end when Stewart was jailed on other child abuse charges at the Limehouse church.

    "A" told her mother about the abuse shortly before Stewart was due to be released after serving his sentence. She spoke to an elder in the congregation but no action was taken so she went to the police. Stewart died in 2001, a month after he was interviewed by police. "A" went to the high court seeking vicarious damages from the Jehovah's Witnesses and from two congregations, Blackbrook and Southwood, that succeeded Limehurst. She claimed successfully that they negligently failed to take reasonable steps to protect her from Stewart once they knew he had sexually assaulted another child in the congregation.

    Mr Justice Globe said last Friday: "In my judgment the relationship between elders and ministerial servants and the Jehovah's Witnesses is sufficiently close in character to one of employer/employee that it is just and fair to impose vicarious liability."

    He added: "Throughout, he told the claimant it was their secret and that she should say nothing about what was happening. He told her that she would be damned as a sinner if she said anything to anyone."

    Franks Cranmer, a fellow at St John's College Durham and secretary of the churches' legislation advisory service, told Christian Today: "In cases, particularly sexual abuse, the courts seem to be taking the view that if someone was abused as a child and the abuser is dead or without means then there ought to be compensation. The organisation with which the abuser was associated is held vicariously liable."

    On his blog he wrote that A v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the latest in a line of recent cases in which religious organisations have been held vicariously liable for historic sexual abuse.

    He wrote: "Increasingly (and, in my view, rightly) the courts are taking the view that sexual abuse is such a serious matter that where the abuser has disappeared or died, the institution with which he was associated – even if not as an employee (which Stewart was not) – should compensate the victim. A v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is in line with that way of thinking."


  66. Is religion doing enough to root out abuse?

    by Caroline Wyatt, Religious affairs correspondent BBC News July 23, 2015

    From when Karen Morgan was 12, until she was well into her teens, she was sexually abused by her uncle - a ministerial servant with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    He would go upstairs, on the premise that he was saying a prayer with his niece, then sexually abuse her.

    Now in her 30s, Karen wasn't understood when she first told her parents what her uncle, Mark Sewell, was doing.

    Sewell was also the son of a trusted older member of the local Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, known as an elder.

    Christian churches, as well as other religions, have faced claims of child abuse.

    But what is striking about the Jehovah's Witnesses is their explicit policy of dealing with abuse in-house.

    Because of their practice of following the Bible literally, they insist there must be two witnesses to a crime, often not the case in child abuse cases.

    However, in Karen's case a second witness did come forward: Wendy, a family friend and fellow member of the Barry congregation in south Wales. She had been raped by the same man.

    When she reported the crime to elders, Wendy was made to describe it in minute detail to a group of older men.

    Later, she had to give her account again in the same room as Sewell.

    Afterwards, the elders told her that as it was only her account against that of Sewell, nothing more could be done.

    This bringing together of the accused and the accuser in a "judicial committee" is a common feature of Jehovah's Witnesses' justice.

    Karen, still a teenager at the time, was put through the process.

    Reluctance to co-operate

    The elders also ruled that their separate accusations didn't constitute the required two witnesses.

    Despite a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour, it took more than two decades to bring Wendy and Karen's abuser to justice.

    He is now serving a 14-year prison sentence.

    His punishment from the Jehovah's Witnesses? There wasn't one.

    Even when the case came to court, the organisation was reluctant to co-operate.

    Karen's father, John Viney, who was also an elder in the Barry congregation, says that elders who knew of Sewell's conduct and were asked to give statements or evidence in court did not want to get involved.

    In a programme for Radio 4's The Report, we have identified this lack of co-operation in several other similar cases.

    Confidential documents from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain - the official name for the Jehovah's Witnesses - that we have seen are explicit about the best way to deal with such matters being within the congregation.

    Nowhere in the hundreds of pages we have seen are elders told that they must go to the police, even if the perpetrator confesses, unless state or national law makes it mandatory to report such allegations.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses' UK leadership declined to talk to us for the programme.

    In a statement, they said they were appealing against a recent High Court ruling in the UK that awarded substantial damages against the organisation for failing to protect a child from sexual abuse by a paedophile.

    Their statement also insists that the organisation does take child abuse extremely seriously.

    Karen Morgan and Wendy are now pursuing a civil claim against the organisation, hoping that further financial penalty may force the leadership of the Jehovah's
    Witnesses to change its policies.

    continued below

  67. For both of them what made it even harder was the sense that belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses was part of an all-encompassing lifestyle, with members encouraged to socialise and marry within the group.

    The organisation has some eight million members around the world, but as Karen found to her cost, those who decide to have a boyfriend or girlfriend who is not a member may find themselves "disfellowshipped" or shunned.

    Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only religious organisation to try to deal with allegations of sexual abuse in-house.

    Growing awareness

    For many decades, that was the preferred method of the Roman Catholic Church, which has since reformed its child safeguarding policies following numerous court cases in the US and Europe against priests for the sexual abuse of children.

    Other churches have also tightened up their child safeguarding policies, with the Methodist Church conducting its own recent inquiry into abuse allegations dating back to 1950.

    That inquiry has led to calls for the Church of England to hold a fresh internal inquiry of its own, separately from the overarching national public inquiry that has just begun, and from the investigation it published in 2010, which critics termed inadequate.

    However, it is the more closed religious communities and new religious movements where it remains hardest for the victims of such abuse to speak out and gain access to secular justice, although awareness of the issue is growing.

    Only this month, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish scholar from Manchester - who fled to Israel after he was exposed as a paedophile - was jailed for 13 years.

    Todros Grynhaus was deported by the Israeli authorities to face justice in the UK, with his conviction for sex offences against girls leading to a change in attitudes in the Haredi Jewish community.

    The case prompted the UK's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, to urge members to report child sex abuse.

    The court had heard that both women who testified against Grynhaus in the case had been "ostracised" by their community as a result of speaking out about their ordeal.

    For young Muslim girls, the price of speaking out about child sexual abuse can also be high, with many reluctant to report such abuse because of the fear that it would bring shame on them and their family.

    Sexual and physical abuse at Islamic religious schools, known as madrassas, has also resulted in some prosecutions in recent years, although often victims still hesitate to come forward with such allegations.

    Many religious organisations will find themselves being closely scrutinised in the national independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, chaired by New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard.

    The survivors of such abuse hope that the inquiry will prove itself truly independent, and help ensure that abusers will not be able to rely on their own congregations or religious leaders to protect them - whatever their faith.

    Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse:

    The Inquiry will investigate a wide range of institutions including:

    Local authorities
    The police
    The Crown Prosecution Service
    The Immigration Service
    The BBC
    The armed forces
    Children's homes
    Churches, mosques and other religious organisations
    Charities and voluntary organizations

    Caroline Wyatt's investigation will be broadcast in Radio 4's The Report at 20:00 BST on Thursday, 23 July.


  68. Paedophiles repeatedly promoted to positions of authority in Jehovah’s Witness church royal commission told


    Officials in the Jehovah’s Witness Church destroyed notes, including those involving allegations of sexually assaulting children, in case they fell into the “wrong hands” — like those of their wives.

    Church Elder Max Horley told the child sex abuse royal commission today that it was protocol to destroy notes including those he made during meetings between another elder Bill Neill and the teenage girl who accused him of abusing her.

    Mr Horley, a Jehovah’s Witness all his life, said he had not considered it a “crime” for Neill, who is now dead, to have secretly watched the girl showering from the age of 15 and to have tongue-kissed her regularly when she stayed with his family.

    Mr Horley had organised the meetings in 1991 after he was told of the abuse which took place at Narrogin in Western Australia but never considered reporting it to the police or encouraging the girl to go to police.

    He was asked by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan why the notes were destroyed.

    “Well, I guess it['s because we don’t want them to fall into the wrong hands and other people to find them and then go through them,” Mr Horley said today.

    Justice McClellan: “What are the wrong hands?”

    Mr Horley: “Well we don’t want our wives knowing our stuff, what sort of things we are dealing with. We don’t want other people in the congregation coming across that information.”

    He denied that the elders wanted to keep such details secret.

    The commission has been told that Jehovah’s Witness is a “tightly controlled, rule-bound organisation that seeks to keep its members in relative isolation from the rest of society” and women are expected to defer to the authority of their husbands and children are taught to obey their parents.

    Earlier the royal commission heard that the Jehovah’s Witness church repeatedly promoted paedophiles to positions of authority and never reported any case of child abuse to the police.

    Church elders could now face criminal charges for concealment of serious indictable offences and failure to disclose sexual offences against minors, counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart SC said.

    The church holds no insurance for child sex abuse and its corporation, Watchtower Australia, in 2008 considered forming a separate legal entity to minimise liability, Mr Stewart said.

    continued below

  69. One church Elder who had sexually abused all four of his daughters, was “disfellowshipped” not for his crimes but for “unrelated loose conduct and lying”, the commission sitting in Sydney was told.

    One of his daughters will give evidence that she had to be interviewed by three church Elders together with her father and that instead of being supported, the Elders made her feel to blame.

    Her father blamed her for seducing him.

    In 2004, the father was convicted and jailed for unlawful and indecent assault and attempted rape.

    Mr Stewart said the church’s own files reveal 1006 allegations of child sex abuse made against church members since 1950 but the Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with them using “Biblical standards” and not the police.

    They only believed victims if the alleged abuser confessed or there were two “credible” witnesses despite there rarely being witnesses to sex assaults beyond the victim and the perpetrator, Mr Stewart said.

    “(There will be) evidence that the Jehovah’s Witness Church believes that loving and protective parents are the best deterrent to child abuse,” Mr Steward said.

    He said the church believed the end of the world is near.

    “Documents will be tendered which show that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the only way to finally end child abuse is to, as they put it, ‘embrace God’s Kingdom under Christ’ and to ‘love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself’ so as to be saved when the end comes,” Mr Stewart said.

    The church has 817 congregations across Australia with over 68,000 members, a growth of 29 per cent since 1990.

    It deals with claims of sexual assault by having two Elders speak to the victim and the alleged offender but they can’t take any action unless it is proven to the Biblical standards.

    If the Elders believe there is proof, they can form a judicial committee to determine “firstly if the individual is guilty of violating God’s laws and secondly, whether the individual is genuinely repentant,” Mr Stewart said.

    Over the past 65 years, the requirement that there be two or more witnesses to child sex abuse has prevented at least 125 allegations of sex assault from proceeding to a judicial committee.

    Since 1950, 401 alleged child sex abusers have been disfellowshipped, 78 of them on more than one occasion.

    Another 190 were “reproved”, 11 of them more than once. This is a lesser form of discipline and allows the abuser to stay in the church.

    In the same time, 28 alleged abusers were appointed to positions of authority and of 127 alleged abusers deleted as church leaders, 16 were reappointed.

    The hearing is set down for two weeks.


  70. Child abuse royal commission: Jehovah’s Witnesses reveals father’s abuse

    Nicola Berkovic, THE AUSTRALIAN JULY 28, 2015

    Sydney, Australia

    A Jehovah’s Witness elder says he believed a young woman had been sexually abused by her father but could not take action because he did not have a second witness.

    The elder, Dino Ali, told the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse said “divine law” required two witnesses to a crime or for the perpetrator to confess.

    Asked why he could not take action, even though he believed the then-18-year-old woman that her father had tried to rape her, he said:

    “We couldn’t ... Because there was only the person who was aware or knew that that had happened. We [did] not have another person to corroborate.”

    Mr Ali said that members of the Jehovah’s Witness church believed that it was up to a victim of a crime to make a report to police.

    Asked if this extended even to crimes such as murder, he said he would try very hard to convince the witness to make a report to police and would not do so himself.

    Earlier, the Royal Commission heard testimony from the woman, now 43, who said she and all three of her sisters had been abused by her father, who was a senior member of the Jehovah’s Witness church.

    The woman, known as BCG, told the commission she was discouraged from reporting the abuse to police and warned she could be “disfellowshipped” or excommunicated if she did so.

    She said her father sexually abused her when she was 17, while her mother and six siblings were away.

    The first time it happened, she said he came naked into her bed at night and touched her all over body and tried to have sexual intercourse with her.

    He quoted bible scriptures to her while the abuse was occurring and said: “You have to be obedient to me.”

    She said she reported the abuse to several elders — including Mr Ali — but was told they could not hear her allegations without her father present.

    BCG said she later learned her mother had been aware the father had sexually abused her older sister when she was just two years old and had also abused her two younger sisters, then just five and eight.

    She told the commission that outside members of the community were known as “worldly people” and members of the Jehovah’s Witness were taught they could not be trusted.

    Following the church’s investigation of the abuse, BCG said she became depressed and tried to commit suicide. She said she was forced to report the suicide attempt to church elders and was chastised because it was considered a “wrongdoing” against the church.

    continued below

  71. The woman said she believed members of the congregation had been aware her father had been physically abusive while she was growing up because she went to Jehovah’s Witness meetings with a black eye and bleeding from welts he had inflicted with a belt.

    The father was “disfellowshipped” from the church but was welcomed back a few years later.

    After this, she told a church elder she wanted to report the abuse to police because she believed the congregation was “not safe”.

    However, the elder replied: “He is now a brother again ... If you take it to the police you will bring reproach upon Jehovah’s name and you will be disfellowshipped for doing that.”

    She said members of the church were taught that those who were disfellowshipped would be killed by Jehovah and that Armageddon was imminent. It also meant she would be cut off from the community.

    The father was subsequently convicted in 2004, after three trials, for unlawful and indecent assault and attempted rape and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

    BCG told the commission that her father left her mother for another woman, and then tried to set up her older sister with the new partner’s then husband.

    The abuse was formally investigated by three male elders, who asked BCG if she “enjoyed” the abuse. She said she felt they were “getting off” on what she told them.

    The woman said she used “to pray to Jehovah to put angels” around her bed to stop her father’s abuse but he didn’t help her, and the abuse did not stop.

    She said during a meeting with church elders, her father accused her of seducing him.

    “At the time I said to my father ‘you’re my father, you’re big and fat, why would I seduce you’,” she said.

    Her father was disfellowshipped not for what he did to his daughters, because that required two witnesses, but for “other loose conduct”.

    She finally moved to Townsville from the North Queensland town near Mareeba where she had been living, and left the church. She said after she did so, she was “completely shunned, ostracised and avoided” by the congregation.


  72. Jehovah's Witness elders ignored child sex abuse rules of evidence, royal commission told

    Rachel Browne Social Affairs Reporter, Sydney Morning Herald July 29, 2015

    A group of Jehovah's Witness Church elders ignored their own strict religious standards in failing to punish a self-confessed child abuser in their ranks, a royal commission has heard.

    The sex predator admitted to molesting his daughter to a committee of church elders, who also heard corroborating statements from the victim, her sister and mother.

    However, the evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was that the confession and three witness statements did not amount to proof in the eyes of the elders investigating the claim, all of whom were friends of the perpetrator.

    A Jehovah's Witness elder involved in the investigation, Dino Ali, wrote in his statement tendered to the commission: "The judicial committee did not feel it had clear proof of the allegations of child sexual abuse from either party as it was one person's word against another's."

    Counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart, SC, told Mr Ali he had "ample proof" of the child sexual assault, which Mr Ali denied.

    Under Jehovah's Witness rules of evidence, tendered to the commission, an allegation of child sexual abuse can be proven if there is a confession from the accused or there is testimony from at least two witnesses supporting the claim.

    Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan​ asked how church elders failed to draw a conclusion about the sex abuse allegations against the man, who has been given the pseudonym BCH.

    "You had an account of what happened ... you also had a confession ... and you tell me that the rules of the Jehovah's Witnesses didn't allow you to make a finding based on that material," he asked.

    Mr Ali told the commission they were unable to make a finding because BCH had "a reputation of lying".

    The commission heard that the elders, based at a congregation in Queensland, cast BCH out of the congregation on the basis that he was having an affair with another woman.

    In previous evidence, BCH's daughter gave a harrowing account of her abuse and the way her complaint was handled by church authorities.
    Mr Ali agreed in evidence that BCH was a danger to young girls but he said he did not contact the police.

    BCH's daughter, given the pseudonym BCG, complained to the police in 2000 and her father was later sentenced to four years in prison over multiple sexual offences against her.

    Mr Ali told the commission he did not believe church law replaced secular law and said the organisation worked with legal authorities.

    The commission heard BCH was reinstated to the church but cast out again in 2003 when his criminal trial came to light.

    In letters tendered in evidence, BCH has repeatedly asked to be reinstated, writing in a 2013 letter: "My conscience is perfectly clear. Jehovah will judge those making false accusations."

    The hearing continues.


  73. Jehovah's Witness sex abuse response 'deficient': Royal Commission

    Rachel Browne, Social Affairs Reporter Sydney Morning Herald July 31, 2015

    A sexual abuse expert hired by the Jehovah's Witness Church told a royal commission the organisation failed to meet acceptable standards in its approach to child abuse allegations.

    Under cross-examination, Monica Applewhite told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse the Jehovah's Witness Church did not meet "best practice" in handling abuse claims.

    Counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart SC asked the church's expert witness whether structures based on biblical scriptures were in line with benchmark standards.

    The church's policies for responding to child sexual abuse allegations were "deficient when measured against current best practice," he said.

    "Does it meet all current best practices? It probably doesn't," Dr Applewhite replied.

    The commission has previously heard evidence that under church structures, victims must face their abuser before a committee of male elders without a support person present.

    Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Dr Applewhite: "The girl or woman would have to confront ultimately three men in the presence of the abuser and without moral support. Now is that a good practice?"

    "Absolutely not," Dr Applewhite replied.

    She acknowledged in evidence that the Jehovah's Witness Church requirement for two witnesses to give testimony against an abuser was problematic in the case of child abuse in which the two witnesses were likely to be the victim and the offender.

    "Because there is not another witness, her allegation is not accepted ... do you see that might have real difficulties for the survivor?," Justice McClellan asked.

    "Absolutely," Dr Applewhite replied.

    In her statement, tendered to the commission, the American consultant wrote that in her opinion the practices of the Jehovah's Witness Church were superior to those of other religious groups.

    "The current messages to those who have experienced abuse and the guidelines that have been provided to elders in congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are consistent with and, in some respects, better than the current practices of religious organisations throughout the world," she wrote.

    Dr Applewhite's statement also praised Jehovah's Witness Church publications about child abuse.

    "Jehovah's Witnesses excel in providing such educational materials to parents and family members, and the substance of their materials concerning child abuse is exceptionally clear and helpful," she wrote.

    Justice McClellan said before the commission he believed the Jehovah's Witness Church structures for investigating sexual abuse claims were flawed.

    "I don't know of any other religious organisation which ... has the processes with the flaws we have identified in the Jehovah's Witnesses," he said.

    The commission expects to hear more evidence about how the processes have evolved when it resumes on August 3.

    Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

    Adults Surviving Child Abuse 1300 657 380


  74. Hypocrisy in the Jehovah’s Witness Church laid bare at child abuse royal commission


    THOSE fresh-faced, nice mannered and well-dressed young people who knock on your front door and leave behind a copy of their magazine Watchtower are all that most of us see of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    As they preach their particular brand of religion door-to-door, they can expect a range of reactions from a pleasant greeting to the door being slammed in their faces.

    But they couldn’t have bargained for the reception they got at one house.

    “From time to time a (Jehovah’s) Witness will come and knock on my door. I usually say I’m not interested,” a 43-year-old woman told the child sex abuse royal commission last week.

    “Last year there was a lady that came to my door and she had a son with her and I was compelled to tell her to be careful of people in the congregation, particularly those ones that appeal to be really righteous.”

    Her father was a very strict and highly-regarded Jehovah’s Witness, a “ministerial servant”, someone the church believes was appointed by God’s (Jehovah’s) holy spirit to judge others.

    He constantly quoted the scriptures, both at the Kingdom Hall and at home. He counselled the congregation about keeping “clean” and righteous and managed the rounds of the local doorstep preaching.

    But at home he was a sexual predator, a sick pervert who sexually assaulted all four of his daughters, one of them when she was two. Their mother knew that he had abused one of the girls when she was just a toddler but thought he had stopped because he had a become a Jehovah’s Witness, the commission was told.

    When he left their mother for another woman, he tried to matchmake the oldest of his daughters with the woman’s estranged husband.

    “I used to pray to Jehovah to put angels around my bed to stop my father coming to me but He didn’t help me and my father didn’t stop,” the woman, who was the second oldest of the four sisters, told the royal commission.

    It was hypocrisy laid bare at the royal commission which turned its attention to the Jehovah’s Witness Church last week. It has heard shocking evidence of how the church has been guilty of “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case” as the dictionary describes hypocrisy.

    In its cloistered world, it lives strictly by the literal words of the Bible — but believes that everyone who is not a member of the church is not only a “bad person” but akin to living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Members are taught that those bad people include the police.

    The commission heard that the Jehovah’s Witness Church has 1006 officially recorded events of child sexual abuse since 1950 in its records but not one was reported to the police. There are 817 congregations across the country with over 68,000 active members, a growth of 29 per cent since 1990.

    “The Jehovah’s Witness Church is a tightly-controlled, rule-bound organisation that seeks to keep its members in relative isolation from the rest of society,” counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart SC, said in his opening statement.

    “Church doctrine places the father as the head of the family with authority over his wife and children. Parents are encouraged to school their own children in matters of sex education because the alternative of school-based sex education is likely to result in immorality.

    “The general practice of the church is to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse internally, without reference to secular authorities.”

    continued below

  75. Before the church itself can hold a “judicial committee” and take any action against alleged offenders, it has to have an independent witness despite the fact that sexual abuse is usually carried out in secret.

    When commissioner Justice Peter McClellan tried to find out why there had to be two witnesses (including the victim) he was told by former church elder Dino Ali, that their “rational” belief was that the highest law was the divine law. It hadn’t changed since the days of Moses and was unlikely to in the near future.

    Mr Ali quoted the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 19, verse 15 which states: “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offence that may be committed.”

    “Coming into the first century, that same law continued to apply. How can we ignore it?” Mr Ali, 66, said

    The church believes the end of the world is constantly nigh so members don’t pursue careers or buy houses. It’s just not worth it.

    They believe the only way to end child sexual abuse is to “embrace God’s kingdom under Christ” and to “love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself” so as to be saved when the end does come, the commission was told..

    The 43-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she had been afraid of going to the police to report her father’s abuse of her in case she dishonoured Jehovah’s name or was disfellowshipped from the church. Under the church’s archaic beliefs, only Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved when Armageddon comes.

    “It was like judgment day and you would be killed if you weren’t in the Jehovah’s Witness church,” she said.

    But being outside the church means you are just as dead to them. Members who leave are treated as if they do not exist.

    “I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy,” the woman said.

    “I was finding it hard to believe that the elders and ministerial servants were really appointed by the Holy Spirit.

    “Once I left the church, my three children and I were completely shunned, ostracised and actively avoided by members of the Jehovah’s Witness Church.”

    When she finally went to the police in 2000, her father was convicted of abusing her and jailed for three years.

    Another witness, who was sexually assaulted by another respected church elder, the late Bill Neill, said she believed she had been brainwashed since joining the church at the of 10.

    “I now think that I was brainwashed into thinking that speaking to people outside the church, or to the “worldly” people, would bring reproach upon Jehovah’s name,” she said.

    Max Horley, a lifelong Jehovah’s Witness, was one of two people to whom she reported the abuse in 1991. He told the commission he had thought it a “serious breach of trust” by Neill but never considered that the police should be called in.

    He said he had made notes of their discussions but protocol insisted that they be destroyed to protect the victim, the accused and the rest of the congregation in case they fell into the “wrong hands” — including their wives.

    While people from other churches dragged to the royal commission have obviously been coached by PR gurus and lawyers in how to present themselves and say the right thing while giving evidence, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were totally devoid of artifice.

    Asked if he would do the same thing today and destroy the notes of any allegations of sexual abuse, Mr Horley was unequivocal. “Yes, that’s our practice,” he said.


  76. Jehovah's Witnesses hear one case of alleged child sex abuse a week: royal commission

    by Rachel Browne, Social Affairs Reporter Sydney Morning Herald, August 5, 2015

    One of the most senior members of the Jehovah's Witness Church in Australia has been handling about one case of alleged child sexual abuse each week for the past two years, he told a royal commission.

    The head of the Jehovah's Witness Church legal department, Vincent Toole,​ told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he was taking three to four calls a month about child molestation within the church, which has about 70,000 members in Australia.

    The commission has previously heard evidence the church has collected 1006 files relating to individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse within the church since 1950 but not one was reported by the church to secular authorities.

    In evidence, Mr Toole denied that the church failed to co-operate with secular authorities.

    In his statement tendered to the commission, Mr Toole said: "The legal department has been instructed to direct the [church] elders to clearly explain to the victim and/or their families that they have an absolute right to report the matter to the authorities and that they should feel completely free to do so."

    Under cross-examination from counsel assisting Angus Stewart, Mr Toole conceded church members had no moral obligation to report child sexual abuse to the secular authorities.

    "Elders do not have the scriptural authority to take away the right of the individual to decide whether or not they want to pursue the matter," he said.

    The commission has previously heard evidence that the Jehovah's Witnesses base their policies and procedures on scriptural law taken from the Bible.

    A letter from the church's head office to elders, tendered to the commission, advised them to "avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities" and "never give consent for anyone to search a Kingdom Hall or any other place where confidential records are stored".

    In evidence, Mr Toole denied these messages would discourage elders from co-operating with secular authorities.

    "Ever since 1999 we have co-operated with the authorities, as far as I understand, on every instance where the authorities have asked for information," he said.

    "One thing you could never, ever cite against Jehovah's Witnesses is that they are ever encouraged to disobey the law."

    Mr Toole said evidence before the commission has been a "wake-up call" for him.

    He told the commission the church would seek independent legal advice about its obligations to report child sexual abuse as soon as the commission's public hearing is over.

    "Any obligations that arise in relation to those laws we will certainly comply with," he said.

    The hearing before Justice Peter McClellan continues.

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  77. Jehovahs Witness church says it will comply with mandatory reporting of child abuse

    Royal commission told that the church records more than one child abuse allegation every month yet in 60 years has never reported them to police

    Australian Associated Press August 4, 2015

    The Jehovah’s Witness church says it will comply with mandatory reporting obligations when they learn about sexual abuse crimes against children in their congregation.

    A royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard that the theocratic church records more than one child abuse allegation every month yet in 60 years has never reported them to police.

    In the second week of a hearing into the church’s handling of abuse incidents, the head of the community’s service desk, Rodney Spinks, acknowledged they dealt with matters internally and did not encourage reporting to police.

    The service desk under the auspices of the church’s legal entity, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Australia, is the first point of contact for elders looking for advice on how to deal with child abuse reports.

    Spinks said the first issue addressed is the safety of the child, and elders are referred to Watchtower publications on the matter.

    They are also given generic advice based on a handbook that says they should never suggest not reporting the allegation to police.

    Spinks acknowledged they had not had a practice, “against the wishes of the victim or otherwise, to directly report to police”.

    The commission chair, Peter McClellan, pointed out there were mandatory reporting obligations when a crime had been committed.

    Spinks said he had been made aware of this in these hearings and the church would accept and comply with mandatory reporting, “regardless of our strongly held religious belief that individuals should have the right to decide what is done with that information”.

    He said when there were mandatory reporting requirements with some sort of uniformity across the country “we will happily and willingly comply”.

    McClellan pointed out that uniform laws were not yet in place and they would differ from state to state but they would impose “a criminal sanction on a person who knows [about an abuse crime] and does not report”.

    Spinks said he understood that.

    McClellan said the church needed to have a very good look maybe with the help of the church’s lawyers at what the law provides.

    The commissioner also pointed out that what the Jehovah’s Witnesses were doing was different to what other churches might be doing “because you might be taking allegations and resolving, as you see it, the truth of the allegation by reason of your process”.

    The commission has heard that the Jehovah’s Witness process is based on a biblical rule that the wrongdoing is only proven when there are two witnesses, and expect the abuse victim to confront the abuser.


  78. Women to never rule in Jehovahs church

    AAP 9news.com.au

    A Jehovah's Witness official says the church's stance to never let women hold decision-making roles compares to Muslim and Aboriginal people adhering to their own ancient beliefs.

    Rodney Spinks, who advises church elders on how to handle child sex abuse cases, told the sex abuse royal commission on Tuesday women would never make decisions in the Jehovah's Witnesses because it would mean changing a "clear scriptural arrangement".

    Commission chair Peter McClellan said the practice did not fit with current understandings of responses to child sex abuse and asked if women could become decision makers because victims often preferred to tell their intimate stories to women.

    Mr Spinks said there was no possibility that would happen because the church would not adjust what it saw as "clear instructions" in the Bible.

    When Justice McClellan pointed out social and political contexts had changed since the Bible was written, Mr Spinks asked: "Will Muslim people change what they believe is in the Koran, will Aboriginal people change what they believed is in their culture?"

    "I think there are just some things that are so deeply a part of their faith and belief system" that they cannot be changed, he said.

    Mr Spinks, who runs the service desk at Watchtower Australia - the church's legal entity, was giving evidence on the sixth day of a hearing into how the theocracy deals with sexual abuse allegations.

    He and other church witnesses have faced detailed questioning on the internal practice of expecting abuse victims to confront abusers in front of a judicial panel of three elders - all men.

    Mr Spinks also said where there was a conflict between the Bible and science, the Bible would prevail, because all scripture is "inspired by God".

    Justice McClellan asked what would happen if the law of the country was to prescribe a mode of behaviour which conflicted with the Jehovah's Witness understanding of the Bible.

    Mr Spinks: "We would apply the words in the Book of Acts, (fifth book of the New Testament) 529 to obey God as we did in the Second World War (against the Nazis)".

    Justice McClellan asked if Witnesses applied St Paul's injunction to Corinthians that women should be kept silent in congregations and not permitted to speak.

    Mr Spinks said the verse was being quoted out of context and women in the Jehovah's Witnesses were very outspoken at congregational meetings, but they could not teach.

    Church witnesses have repeatedly referred to Watchtower publications as the source of detailed and sensitive advice to congregations on how to deal with child sex abuse victims.

    Counsel for the commission, Angus Stewart SC, said the problem for the commission was trying to pin down the source of the policies was like trying to "put your finger on a ball of mercury".

    The hearing continues on Wednesday with more witnesses from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia - the church's legal entity.


  79. Jehovah's Witness Church must change after Royal Commission hearings

    By Paul Grundy, ABC Online OPINION August 10, 2015

    The Royal Commission into child abuse has highlighted a number of flawed areas within the Jehovah's Witness Church. It's time for the elders to instigate real change from within, writes former Witness Paul Grundy.

    I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and for many years followed the doctrine of the religion.

    I believed the teachings of the religion's guiding magazine, Watchtower, and thought I was never going to die. I didn't even expect to finish school before Armageddon - where God would kill the billions of people who were not Jehovah's Witnesses and leave the few million witnesses to live on this planet forever.

    According to the teachings of Watchtower:

    Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the "great crowd", as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.

    In my teen years I "pioneered" - meaning I devoted 20 hours a week to preaching - and at 21 I moved to the Bethel Watchtower headquarters, where I spent three-and-a-half years as a volunteer worker.

    I personally came to know a number of the people who have recently been called for interview before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

    Terry O'Brien, the Australian Branch coordinator, was in my pioneer training school in the 1980s. Geoff Jackson, one of the religion's governing body, lived in Tasmania, and his wife's family brought my family into the religion in the early 1970s. Vincent Toole, the Bethel lawyer, was someone I knew well and looked up to.

    I still think all three of them are wonderful people and are genuinely doing what they think is God's will and is best for the followers.

    But the Royal Commission highlighted a number of areas that are flawed within the religion, particularly around the handling of child abuse victims. These include:

    · The two-witness rule. A rule within the religion that states officials cannot accept an accusation of child abuse unless there was a second person who also witnessed the abuse - something that rarely happens.

    · Women's role (or lack of) in the congregation and judicial committee process. As a patriarchal religion, women are to view men as their head. They cannot be part of a judicial committee. In practise this means a young female victim must go into graphic details of her abuse alone in front of three older men.

    · The expectation that the victim confront the perpetrator as part of the process.

    · Not making it mandatory for elders to report accusation of abuse. While not being obliged to report accusations may be legally acceptable in some states, the Royal Commission identified that the judicial committee process meant that often elders would uncover actual proof of a crime, even a confession, but still not report it. At this stage, where it had moved from an allegation to proof of a crime, there was a legal obligation to report.

    · Not reporting allegations to the police. This practise was to protect Jehovah's name, and was due to a general mistrust of people in "the world". According to Watchtower: "While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable - at work, at school, and otherwise - we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world."

    · Fear of psychologists, based on the belief that they may give advice that is not in line with Watchtower principles.

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  80. The Royal Commission also highlighted that because of Jehovah Witnesses' insistence on separation from "worldly" society, they were unwilling to join other organisations in any sort of redress scheme for victims.

    Evidence given at the commission also contradicted the claim from those within the religion that child sex abuse was "very rare". The commission heard there were almost 300 cases in the last 10 years, and Toole testified that for the past two years he had received three or four calls a month about new cases. For such a relatively small organisation, that's a huge problem. What's more, this only includes reported cases, and not the many people that no doubt remain silent.

    Thankfully, there have been some positive, albeit small, changes in how the religion handles abuse allegations, particularly in the last decade. For example, now two accusations from separate victims can be considered to meet the two witness rule. Also, whilst elders do not actively encourage victims to go to the police, they are advised not to discourage it either. The elders interviewed at the Royal Commission went so far as to say the current policy was to immediately advise going to the police, but it's hard to believe that's happening.

    Unfortunately, it was also not always possible to trust what the elders told the Royal Commission, and anyone watching them would have noticed their strenuous efforts to deflect the conversation and answer with irrelevant straw man arguments (although counsel assisting the commission, Angus Stewart, and Justice Peter McClellan were exceptional at keeping the answers on topic).

    This approach by the elders may be part of what the teachings refer to as "theocratic or spiritual warfare", where Jehovah's Witnesses may, at least in some cases, be encouraged to withhold information order to protect the name of Jehovah and the organisation. According to their Awake! magazine:

    Being truthful does not mean that we are obligated to divulge all information to anyone who asks it of us. Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw your pearls before swine, that they may never ... turn around and rip you open, warned Jesus, at Matthew 7:6.
    Watchtower magazine goes on to say:

    So in time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth.

    At the Royal Commission, at least one elder said they could not comply with current Australian law where it conflicted with Jehovah's requirements, as given in the Bible. This is a dangerous stance that needs government sanctions where it results in harm to others, as Watchtower policy on child abuse has done. Indeed, Watchtower does not actually strictly follow the Bible, they follow the current interpretation of select Bible passages. Moreover, Watchtower policy has changed constantly over time as the interpretation of the current governing body changed.

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  81. For instance the two witness rule has already been changed slightly as I noted before. And there is nothing to stop the religion making further changes, such as allowing women on judicial committees. As Justice McClellan pointed out at the hearings, Watchtower only takes the Bible literally when convenient.

    In the end, effecting change within the religion will come down to legal, political and financial pressure: if there is enough pressure on the religion, it will change. And I don't say that frivolously.

    Despite thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses going to prison as conscientious objectors over decades, Watchtower has made allowances for witnesses to once again perform civilian duty (as they had been until the Second World War). And despite thousands dying after refusing blood components, the doctrine changed in 2000 to allow the use of donated blood - quite illogically though, since Jehovah's Witnesses are still not allowed to donate blood themselves.

    Counsel assisting also made an excellent point at the hearings that Jehovah's Witness was a captive organisation. If a person has issues with the religion, which is often the case with victims of child abuse and the subsequent mishandling by elders, they have the impossible choice of leaving the organisation and losing all family and friends, or having to remain associated with something they don't agree with.

    O'Brien tried to downplay this by stating that anyone is free to leave, but it is not that simple. If you leave and are "disfellowshipped" or disassociated, every single one of your family and friends are banned from talking to you under almost any circumstance. You are to be strictly shunned. Even if you are not disfellowshipped, and you fade out to become inactive, you are considered bad association and Jehovah's Witnesses will cut back on dealing with you.

    When you have been raised to avoid anyone that is not part of the religion, have been told that anyone that is not a Jehovah's witness will soon be destroyed at Armageddon, and you know your family will most likely disown you, it is an unbearable choice to either leave with no support group or stay with something that you cannot agree with.

    I personally struggled with that for more than 10 years, until at 35 I could no longer cope with being part of something that I so strongly disagreed with.

    Paul Grundy is a former Jehovah's Witness.



    A Cult-Like Practice Of Jehovah’s Witnesses

    by Dr Glenville Ashby, The Gleaner Jamaica September 13, 2015

    The term 'cult' is oftentimes used to describe fringe, apocalyptic, counter-cultural groups that withdraw from society. But this is not always the case. Some mainstream religions, deemed harmless and law-abiding, are nothing more than cults, using tactics that lead to profound psychological distress among members.

    One such group is Jehovah's Witnesses, according to cult expert and counsellor, Raphael Aron, director of cult consulting in Australia, and author of Cults Too Good To Be True. (Harper Collins, Australia 1989); and Cults, Terror and Mind Control. (Bay Tree Publications, California 2007).

    Particularly interested in 'shunning', a practice that devalues, humiliates and disfellowships members from their organisation, I approached Aron.

    I learned that when a member is shunned, all forms of communication are disallowed. Charity and love are moot words; hearts are iced, and the aphorism "he that is without sin, cast the first stone" is meaningless. This is where religion adopts a rigid, pernicious stance that makes you wonder if humanists are closer to the truth than we think. After all, charity and kindness are not religious acts.

    Remarkably, a person is not only shunned for violating the edicts of Jehovah's Witnesses. Rape victims and individuals who have become psychologically ill for whatever reason are deemed culpable and ostracised. In a bizarre and unconscionable turnaround, supposedly supported by Jeremiah 2:8, rape victims are blamed and shunned if they do not scream or forcibly fight back during their harrowing experience.

    To further validate the argument against shunning, Aron invited a member of the faith to share her thoughts. Interestingly, she wants to completely break with her faith but is hesitant and apprehensive, mindful that she will be shunned by her entire family, a prospect too dreadful to experience. To protect her identity, I refer to as Jane Doe.

    The following dialogue sheds light on a religious movement with all the trappings of a dangerous cult. But somehow, this religion is given a free pass, slipping under our radar with abandon.

    What Is The Role Of The Elders In The Jehovah's Witnesses Ministry?

    Jane Doe (JD): They look after all congregational matters, they ensure that members are meeting the required minimum time of 10 hours of door knocking, and are attending all congregation meetings. Also, they ensure that members who have sinned or disagreed with church policies are disciplined. They also have a hospital liaison committee made up of elders that check hospital admissions of Jehovah's Witnesses to prevent members from accepting blood transfusion. They also oversee the finances of the congregation.

    Elders are given a secret manual on how to deal with members.

    This manual comes from the governing body in New York. They are the leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They call themselves the faithful and discreet slaves that God has appointed to all his earthly belongings. They communicate with God by his holy spirit and then relay "food at the proper time" to members.

    Does Shunning Have Biblical Support?

    JD: There are two categories: "disfellowship" and "disassociated". Both are similar. Disfellowshipping is what Jehovah's Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of an unrepentant wrongdoer.

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  83. Disassociated is someone who has rejected God's organisation and are apostates. They are called "mentally diseased." They seek to infect others with their teachings.

    It was not until 1952 that the elders introduced disfellowshipping as now practised, but there is no biblical justification for this unchristian form of manipulation

    However, they cite 2 John 10, which says that we should not greet the Antichrist. This single scripture is said to support not saying hello to a disfellowshiped person.

    In Scriptures, such as 1 Corinthians 5, Paul outlined limiting association with Christians that practise wrongdoing, but not strict shunning. Members are disfellowshipped for practices such as smoking, gambling and blood transfusion. Immediate family members are prevented from associating with their disfellowshipped relatives.

    The punishment applies forever, or until the Watchtower Society formally reinstates the person. It is considered irrelevant whether the person no longer practises the wrongdoing he or she committed.

    Modern-day shunning comes from the third president Nathan Knorr. Interestingly, as late as 1947, the practice of excommunication was said to be a non-scriptural, pagan practice At that time, Hebrews 10: 26-31 was cited to show that it should be left to God to judge individuals.

    What Are Some Of The Psychological Damage That Shunning Inflicts On A Person?

    JD: As a controlling group, they instill "the us versus them" mentality.

    All non-Jehovah's Witnesses are worldly people under Satan's rule. Therefore, association with worldly people should be limited to only necessary dealings, and for preaching.

    This means that if a Jehovah's Witness leaves the organisation they have no outside support system. Their whole support structure doesn't exist. They have no one and they have lost their entire family and friends. This is devastating.

    Here are some recent articles on shunning: In The Watchtower ( Jun 15, 2013, p 28) , a disfellowshipped person states, "Had my family associated with me even a little, say to check up on me, that small dose of association would have satisfied me and likely not allowed my desire for association to be a motivating factor to return to God."

    This shows how absolute the shunning of family is expected to be.

    The Watchtower (Jan 1, 2013, p 16) even denies family communication by email, stating; "Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through email." Interestingly, while the translation into most languages is the same, the Spanish edition extends this to "email, phone or text messaging".

    Are New Jehovah's Witnesses Made Aware Of This Practice?

    JD: New students aren't told of this practice until they are fully indoctrinated; the subject is avoided till they are submerged into the teachings.

    Why Is This Religion Described In Cultish Terms?

    Raphael Aron: A range of practices suggests this is an organisation with cultish features. Our clients have reported that shunning can often be the result of questioning the organisation, its leadership, its doctrine, or participating in any practice outside the strict guidelines of the organisation. Numerous former members who have lost their entire families as a result of a decision to leave the Jehovah's Witnesses have documented the devastating psychological and emotional harm caused by shunning.

    One of the classic features of a cult is the suppression of questions or enquiry about the group. Another sign is the practice of the organisation to claim that it is the only true religion on Earth, meaning quite literally that all other religions are false and without meaning.

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  84. Cults also control members' movements and social contact. The prohibition by the Witnesses to any birthday celebrations - and the celebration of Christmas - have serious affects on family dynamics and interaction. The continuing changes in predictions regarding the end times is practised by numerous cults.

    Clients have also reported that they were warned that if they left the organisation, terrible things would happen to them. This injection of fear is another sign of many cults.

    The bizarre manner in which Jehovah's Witnesses have dealt with child abuse surfaced in their recent appearance at the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Church law dictates that members must turn to elders rather than the police. It also demands that there must be two witnesses to a crime before taking any action. The biblical citation for this is found in Deuteronomy 19:15: "No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good."

    Cults are well known to hide many of their more controversial practices from newcomers and prospective members. The smiling Witnesses who knock on your door do not talk about shunning, no birthdays, Armageddon, blood transfusions or the suppression of enquiry.

    How Does Shunning Run Counter To Christian Principles?

    JD: Jesus commanded that we not judge but love all, particularly those we consider our enemies.

    Luke 6:27-37: "But I say to you who are listening, Continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you, to bless those cursing you."

    Jesus introduced the standard on how Christian wrongdoers should be treated according to Matthew18:15-17:

    "Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector."

    How Many People Voluntarily Leave The Jehovah's Witnesses?

    JD: Personally, I don't trust their publications to give accurate statistics. One thing for certain is that Jehovah's Witnesses have stagnated in growth in the Western world. The Internet has most certainly helped as we become more aware of cults and what the definition of cults is.

    - Dr Ashby is the president of Global Interfaith Council and Author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity.


  85. Jehovahs Witnesses can hide the truth in court to protect religion

    By Trey Bundy / Reveal September 23, 2015

    On a Friday morning in August, one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses top leaders sat before an Australian government commission investigating whether the organization hid child sexual abuse from secular authorities.

    That Geoffrey Jackson, one of the seven members of the religion’s Governing Body, was being grilled in public captivated a global community of former Witnesses that watched the live stream on their home computers.

    During two weeks of hearings, Jackson and members of the organization’s top brass in Australia gave hours of sworn testimony, but at least one big question remained: Were any of them telling the truth?

    Since the 1950s, the Witnesses have preached a doctrine allowing Jehovah’s followers to deceive anyone outside of the religion if doing so protects the organization. They call it “theocratic warfare.”

    The policy has taken on a new significance today as Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming under scrutiny across continents for enabling and concealing child sexual abusers. Top leaders are being questioned under oath as judges and investigators try to get to the bottom of a global scandal.

    A 1957 article in The Watchtower magazine – named for the Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – grants permission to Jehovah’s followers to hide the truth from “enemies” of the religion. The religion teaches that the world outside the organization is controlled by Satan.

    “So in a time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth,” the article reads. “Today God’s servants are engaged in a warfare, a spiritual, theocratic warfare, a warfare ordered by God against wicked spirit forces and against false teachings.”

    The theocratic warfare doctrine teaches that refusing to cooperate with criminal investigations involving Jehovah’s Witnesses is sanctioned by God because outsiders are not entitled to the truth.

    Although the term theocratic warfare appears in Watchtower literature less and less over time, the organization’s leadership still teaches that secrecy is a crucial method of avoiding the scrutiny of the justice system. And there’s reason to believe it’s still in practice.

    For 25 years, Watchtower policies have directed elders in all U.S. congregations to hide cases of child sexual abuse from law enforcement agencies as well as their own congregations, according to confidential documents from inside the organization.

    Reveal looked at more than a dozen lawsuits and discovered evidence suggesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have either lied under oath or refused to cooperate with secular authorities on the hunt for abusers. In some cases, those elders remain in positions of power in their local congregations.

    ‘These three brothers lied in court about this and much more’

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  86. Three Jehovahs Witnesses elders lied under oath about their role in enabling a known child molester to continue abusing children, according to another elder who claims to have knowledge of the events.

    In a 2011 lawsuit, Michael Clarke, Gary Abrahamson and Larry Lamerdin, elders in the North Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, took the stand to face questions about why they didn’t report to police that one of their members, Jonathan Kendrick, had confessed to sexually abusing his stepdaughter.

    Clarke and Abrahamson testified that they had brought together all of the congregation’s elders and instructed them to watch Kendrick closely to make sure he did not abuse more children.

    But in a series of 2013 letters to Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders, Rod Francis, who was an elder in the North Fremont congregation in the 1990s when the abuse occurred, accused the three elders of lying under oath.

    “None of the other elders, including myself were aware that a child sexual predator was in our midst even though the offender was in my book study,” he wrote. “Because of this the congregation and our own families were unable to be adequately protected resulting in catastrophic outcomes for other young girls and damage to my own family. These three brothers lied in court about this and much more.”

    Francis declined to comment for this story. Reveal obtained his letters from a third party.

    Clarke, Abrahamson and Lamerdin did not return calls seeking comment.

    The 2011 case was brought against the Watchtower by Candace Conti, who claimed the Witnesses could have prevented her abuse by Kendrick in the 1990s by warning the congregation that he had previously abused a child. The court awarded Conti $28 million in damages, a number later reduced to an undisclosed amount.

    Kendrick has confessed to molesting two girls but denies abusing Conti. He was never criminally prosecuted for his alleged crimes against her and remains a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing.

    Why a judge called the Watchtower’s omissions ‘reprehensible’

    In another California lawsuit against the Witnesses last year, one of the organization’s top leaders, Governing Body member Gerrit Lösch, refused to testify.

    In that case, a San Diego court looked at allegations that an elder named Gonzalo Campos had sexually abused a Jehovah’s Witness boy named Jose Lopez in the 1980s.

    Lopez’s attorney, Irwin Zalkin, subpoenaed 17 years’ worth of records collected by the Watchtower containing the names of known and suspected child sexual abusers in its U.S. congregations. The Watchtower acknowledged that the records existed but refused to hand them over.

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  87. Zalkin also subpoenaed Losch to testify to the Governing Body’s role in forming the organization’s child abuse policies. On Feb. 5, 2014, Lösch submitted a sworn declaration explaining why he should not have to testify.

    “I am not, and have never been, a corporate officer, director, managing agent, member, or employee of Watchtower,” Lösch wrote. “I do not direct, and have never directed, the day-to-day operations of Watchtower. I do not answer to Watchtower. I do not have, and have never had, any authority as an individual to make or determine corporate policy for Watchtower or any department of Watchtower.”

    Although Lösch claims he has no power over any department of the Watchtower, internal Watchtower documents show that, as a Governing Body member, he oversaw one of two Watchtower departments that deal with allegations of child abuse, at least until 2014.

    Lösch’s declaration also directly contradicted the testimony of Watchtower officials in which they said that the Governing Body reviews and approves all Watchtower policies, including those pertaining to child abuse.

    Allen Shuster, a senior Watchtower official, said as much during his testimony in the Candace Conti case. When Conti’s attorney asked whether the child abuse policies came from the Governing Body, he answered, “That is an accurate statement, yes.”

    Shuster continued: “On a high level, review, the Governing Body does establish policies.”

    San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis, who heard the Jose Lopez case, threw the Watchtower’s defense out of court for refusing to comply with court orders.

    “Watchtower’s actions or omissions were ‘reprehensible,’ ” she wrote in her decision.

    She also dismissed Lösch’s declaration that he, as a Governing Body member, had no power over the Watchtower.

    “The award of punitive damages against them will hopefully send a message to Watchtower and its managing agents, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that their handling of sex abuse cases within their congregation was absolutely reckless,” she wrote.

    Lewis awarded Lopez $13.5 million.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are also facing pressure outside the U.S.

    The investigation in Australia has been the most sweeping government inquiry into the Watchtower’s child abuse policies to date. Prior to the hearings, investigators uncovered 1,006 allegations of child sexual abuse against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia since 1950. None were reported to the police.

    Requests to interview Geoffrey Jackson and other Watchtower officials were denied.

    The commission lacks the power to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but has referred some cases to criminal authorities and plans to issue recommendations to the government.

    During the hearings, Vincent Toole, the head of the Watchtower’s legal department in Australia, was asked whether he was aware of the theocratic warfare doctrine.

    “Well, I’ve heard the expression,” he said, “but I’m not really sure what it means.”

    He was then asked whether Witnesses were allowed to lie to protect Jehovah’s name.

    “We are truthful,” he said. “To be a Christian, you have to be truthful.”

    This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.


  88. Campaigners issue Jehovah's Witnesses abuse warning

    Belfast Telegraph October 05, 2015

    Victims of child abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses may never see the perpetrators brought to justice unless the Government closes a loophole allowing criminals to evade justice, campaigners have warned.

    The Government has been asked to introduce mandatory reporting to police whenever an allegation of child sex abuse is made within the faith group.

    Currently, the so-called "two-witness rule" means Jehovah's Witnesses deal with allegations of "sins" internally and only investigate themselves if the claim is corroborated by a second testimony - something lawyers say is unlikely given that many victims are abused on their own, in private.

    Concern over the number of "hidden" victims has prompted campaigners to hand a letter to Downing Street calling on the government to take action.

    Victim Nick French, 43, who was abused by his stepfather Gary Moscrop from the ages of seven to 13, said introducing mandatory reporting would reduce the risk of paedophiles offending.

    The salesman, originally from Glasgow but who was raised in Brighton, claimed: "When there are institutions that have rules that protect paedophiles, then something really needs to be done about that.

    "When it's one word against another, they can get away with it. Certainly in my case, it just allowed him (my abuser) to become worse and worse in his criminal activities.

    "What a faith group like the Jehovah's Witnesses would say about child abuse is they still view it as a sin, rather than a crime.

    "In this day and age, as soon as a crime is reported it needs to go to the people who are qualified to deal with such a crime. It shouldn't be kept within the confines of society."

    Mr French, a father-of-two, waived his right to anonymity when Moscrop was jailed for ten years in January this year.

    He said: "What we want to do is highlight this and really petition government to make sure that faith groups - when they're aware of cases such as child abuse - contact authorities such as social services."

    The call comes after a landmark case in which a woman abused as a child by a Jehovah's Witness minister won £275,000 damages at the high court.

    Kathleen Hallisey, senior solicitor with London-based AO Advocates who represented the woman in court, said the Royal Commission investigation into institutional child sexual abuse in Australia revealed thousands of victims - and said she expected there to be hundreds of "silent" victims within the church in the UK due to the two-witness rule.

    She said: "I think it's a very difficult situation for government to intervene in private religious matters.

    "The way around that is to introduce mandatory reporting that in essence would mean the moment an accusation is made within the Jehovah's Witnesses, that would immediately be turned over to the authorities.

    "If there hadn't been the two-witness rule and the Jehovah's Witnesses had reported the allegation of child sexual abuse to the police, the great likelihood is that my client and many others would not have been abused by that same person."

    In a statement, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman said child abuse was a crime that occurred "in all sectors of society".

    He said: "Anyone who commits the sin of child abuse faces expulsion from the congregation. If such a person is serving in a position of responsibility, he is removed.

    "Any suggestion that Jehovah's Witnesses cover up child abuse is absolutely false.

    "We are committed to doing all we can to prevent child abuse and to provide spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from this terrible sin and crime."


  89. Jehovahs Witness grandparents ordered to keep faith to themselves

    Mother argues that 4-year-old can decide on religious practices when she gets older

    By Jason Proctor, CBC News October 21, 2015

    A pair of devout Jehovah's Witnesses have been ordered by a B.C. provincial court judge not to talk about religion in front of their four-year-old granddaughter.

    The couple lost their bid for unsupervised access to the girl because they insisted on taking her to worship at their faith's Kingdom Hall despite the repeated objections of the child's mother.

    The girl is identified only as A.W. and the grandparents as A.R. and B.R. in Judge Edna Ritchie's 12-page decision. And for now, they're on a short leash.

    "There are many people with strongly held religious views that do not discuss those views in front of others, and specifically not in front of children," Ritchie wrote.

    Unless A.R. and B.R. can satisfy the court that they can comply with the mother's wishes, Ritchie said, "their time with A.W. must be supervised and limited."

    Religious rights vs. parental responsibility

    The case pits the Family Law Act against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The Family Law Act states that only a guardian has parental responsibilities, including decisions about religious upbringing, and the mother, M.W., is sole guardian.

    But A.R. and B.R. argued that forbidding them from expressing their faith to their grandchild would violate a charter right to practise their religion.

    The grandparents want A.W. to experience their religion, while M.W. insists her daughter "can decide when she is older whether or not to participate in any religious practices."

    The battle is the culmination of a saga that began when the child's biological dad, L.R., told his parents he had fathered a child three weeks after A.W. was born.

    L.R. was "disfellowshipped" from the Jehovah's Witness faith, a type of religious excommunication. He testified that he has little contact with A.R. and B.R. He also pays no child support and has no parental responsibilities.

    A.R. and B.R. were determined to have contact with their granddaughter, and the child's mother felt it important for them to be part of their lives. She previously allowed them unsupervised access.

    continued below

  90. Poppa and Momma vs. Grandpa and Grandma

    But according to the decision, the relationship between the "well-meaning, determined grandmother" and M.W. has been strained from the outset.

    M.W. also objected to the couple insisting the girl call them Poppa and Momma instead of Grandpa and Grandma. But by far the biggest disagreement arose over visits to the Kingdom Hall.

    From the time A.W. was a baby, A.R. and B.R. took her to services; M.W. said she wasn't happy, but didn't object until December 2013.

    She switched the timing of their visits, but then learned from her daughter the grandparents had taken A.W. to services the following spring; A.R. insisted the child "had begged to go to Kingdom Hall."

    Visits were then limited to supervised access at M.W.'s home.

    But even at that, M.W. was upset to find her daughter watching a Jehovah's Witness video on A.R.'s laptop. The grandmother insisted the child had pushed the play icon before she could stop her.

    Mother knows best

    The judge noted that when two or more parents with different religious views share parental responsibility the court will often support the child being exposed to each religion involved.

    But because A.R. and B.R. are not guardians, the court was bound to respect the decision of the mother. For that same reason, Ritchie also found the charter argument didn't apply.

    The couple cited another Supreme Court of Canada case involving a divorce in which a mother with custody had obtained an order forcing her Jehovah Witness ex-husband not to discuss religion with their children.

    In that case, the top court ruled a custodial parent does not have a right to limit the other parent's ability to discuss religion unless the child's best interests were threatened.

    In this case, Ritchie found it wasn't fair to place A.W. in a holy war between her mother and grandparents.

    "I am concerned that the applicants' demonstrated inability to respect and comply with M.W's decisions on religion will continue to cause conflict," she wrote. "It is not in A.W.'s best interests to be exposed to that conflict."

    Read the Ruling at:



  91. Hearing set in state suit against Jehovah's Witnesses elders

    CT Post, November 9, 2015

    WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A Delaware judge is set to hear arguments in a civil lawsuit by the attorney general's claiming that elders of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation failed to report an unlawful sexual relationship between a woman and a 14-year-old boy, both of whom were congregation members.

    State law requires any person, agency, organization or entity who knows or in good faith suspects that a child is being abused or neglected to call a 24-hour hotline. The law specifically states that the reporting requirements apply to health care workers and organizations, school employees, social workers, psychologists and law enforcement officials.

    But a lawyer for the Sussex County congregation is arguing that the elders are protected from the reporting requirements by clergy privilege, similar to the confidentiality of a church confessional.


  92. Jehovah's Witnesses 'fostered distrust' of secular authority – royal commission counsel

    Church’s response to child sexual abuse fell short of best practice, says Angus Stewart QC in his damning submission, published on Tuesday

    The Guardian Australian Associated Press December 1, 2015

    A damning submission to the royal commission on child sexual abuse has recommended 77 adverse findings against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia.

    It was open to the commission to find the church fostered distrust of secular authorities and its response to child sexual abuse fell short of best practice, counsel to the commission Angus Stewart QC found in his submission, published on Tuesday.

    Since 1950 the church has received 1,066 allegations against its members and did not report any of them to police.

    Stewart’s recommendations arise out of a public hearing into the Jehovah’s Witnesses and its oversight body, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, in July.

    He said the Witnesses received about three or four reports of allegations of child abuse a month.

    The Jehovah’s Witness organisation presented its members with “conflicting and ambiguous teachings regarding their relationship with secular authorities, thereby fostering a distrust of such authorities”, Stewart said.

    He was critical of the church for requiring abuse victim BCB, who gave evidence at the July hearing, to confront her abuser and for not allowing the involvement of women when her complaint was being investigated.

    He said it was “inconsistent of the elders’ professed sympathy for BCB”.

    The evidence in July was that although elders in the Western Australia congregation at Narrogin – where BCB was abused by elder Bill Neill – believed her, Neill was allowed to keep his job because under “witness” regulations, based on a second-century interpretation of the Bible, two witnesses are needed to prove a crime.

    BCB – who was in her mid-teens and had been groomed by Neill for a number of years – was made to continue to attend Bible classes with him and discouraged from discussing the abuse with anyone, Stewart found.

    Among the other findings open to the commission was that there was no justification for the Jehovah’s Witnesses not to report to police when the victim was a minor and others were still at risk, Stewart said.

    One of the most senior members of the Jehovah’s Witness church, Geoffrey Jackson, who is on the New York-based governing body that oversees decisions made internationally, gave evidence on the final day of the public hearing.

    On Tuesday, Stewart said it could be found that Jackson, by familiarising himself only with the testimony of church witnesses and not reading the testimony of survivors, “belies his stated empathy for the survivors and his stated recognition of the importance of their perspective”.

    In a submission responding to Stewart’s proposed finding, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia said the finding that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation fostered distrust was “just not true”.

    The submission said Stewart was selective in what doctrinal teachings he used to support the proposed finding.

    Stewart’s logic around the church’s relationship with secular authorities was flawed because Witnesses believed it was their “Christian responsibility to be good citizens”, and encourage obedience to the law, the submission said.

    The submission said many of Stewart’s proposed findings were based on “incorrect assertions” and the proposed finding against Jackson did not reflect what he actually said.

    He had been in Australia to care for his ailing father and did not expect to be called to the commission, the society said.


  93. Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders say they don’t protect sexual abusers

    Reveal https://www.revealnews.org/blog/24232/

    By Trey Bundy / December 21, 2015

    In the face of evidence that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Australia failed to report more than 1,000 allegations of child sexual abuse, the religion’s leaders say they’re doing a great job of protecting children.

    The response comes from a 141-page document filed by the Witnesses to an Australian government commission investigating rampant child sexual abuse within the religion. It provides an uncommon look into the reasoning of an organization that has come under fire on at least three continents for shielding child abusers from prosecution.

    “It is quite apparent that Jehovah’s Witnesses have for at least the last 65 years taken a proactive role in investigating and documenting such abuse and taken action against proved abusers,” the filing reads.

    In recent years, Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have worked to avoid answering for their policies by shutting out the media, withholding documents under subpoena and, in some cases, refusing to testify in court.

    Now the Witnesses have lashed back. In their rebuttal, they paint attorneys in the case as inexperienced, witnesses as unreliable, the criminal justice system as ineffective and the commission as overstepping its mandate.

    They say they don’t protect abusers, don’t endanger children and don’t break the law. At issue are policy directives originating from the religion’s world headquarters in New York. Among them:

    Elders are to report every allegation of child sexual abuse to headquarters, but not to secular authorities unless required by law.

    --Elders are not to take action against an accused child abuser without a confession, or two witnesses to the crime.

    --Elders are not to announce to the congregation that child abuse has occurred, even when the abuser is allowed to remain a member.

    continued below

  94. Here’s a brief look at some of the arguments put forth in the Witnesses’ response.

    --Child safety is the organization’s top priority: “The safety of the victim and other children in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the first concern of elders, the Australia branch and the Governing Body.”

    --Jehovah’s Witnesses comply with secular laws: “So long as there is not a violation of the secular law, the handling of the sin of child abuse by Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be faulted from a secular point of view.”

    --Most sexual assault cases are not prosecuted anyway: “In other words, resorting to the criminal justice system is not a ‘cure-all’ of the problem.”

    --The two-witness rule cannot be changed: “Jehovah’s Witnesses consider that the requirement for two witnesses is not a matter for debate as it is based on Scriptural requirements found in the Mosaic Law and reiterated by Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.”

    --Jehovah’s Witnesses monitor sexual misconduct by young members to prevent child abuse: “Elders are instructed to call the branch office if they learn that a minor is involved in “sexting.’”

    --Elders may punish child abusers, even if they don’t call the police: “The elders may warn the accused or place restrictions on his contact with children; and subsequently disfellowship the accused for breaching those restrictions.”

    --Not all abusers reoffend: “The mere presence of an offender within a congregation does not necessarily entail that other children in a congregation or the community are at risk.”

    --Repentance goes a long way: “If a person is truly repentant, then, by definition they are asserting that they are unlikely to sin again because they have an understanding of their wrongdoing and do not want to repeat it.”

    --Jehovah’s Witnesses can gauge an abuser’s risk of reoffending as well as anyone: “Further, neither psychiatrists, nor psychologists, have a monopoly on the prediction of human behaviour. Indeed, every day of the week, ordinary people predict with some accuracy the behaviour of others and, by and large, our daily experiences demonstrate the accuracy of such predictions.”

    For more, read:

    The Witnesses’ full rebuttal.

    The Australian commission’s findings.

    How the religion shields sex abusers in the United States.

    The story of how it kicked one alleged victim out of the religion.

  95. Jehovah's Witnesses accused of covering up historic sex abuse

    A Jehovah's Witness strangled girls for sexual gratification - but his crimes were "swept under the carpet" for more than two decades

    By Agency Reporter Telegraph.co.uk December 29, 2015

    A Jehovah's Witness who strangled young girls for sexual gratification has finally been jailed after his crimes were covered up by the congregation at his church for more than two decades.

    Ian Pheasey, 54, went unpunished for more than 25 years after his activities were "swept under the rug" by the church he attended.

    A court heard that Pheasey first attacked a seven-year-old girl while he was working as a volunteer librarian at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, in Warwick, in the 1990s.

    Pheasey was eventually caught after another of his victims went to the police after learning Pheasey was working at a hospice.
    Pheasey was arrested in October 2014 and charged with offences between 1989 and 1994.

    Last Wednesday, Pheasey was jailed for five years after he pleaded guilty to assaulting one girl causing her actual bodily harm and indecently assaulting two others.

    Sentencing at Warwick Crown Court, Judge Richard Griffith-Jones said: "You obtain sexual gratification from the idea of strangling children.

    "That is a hideous and discomfiting fantasy, and one which has given me some concern when I come to sentence you.

    "One of the most serious features is that strangulation creates a risk of causing very serious injury and death.

    "So it's not simply a matter of it being frightening and disgusting that small children have been made to suffer in this way, it's the risk they would suffer something even more catastrophic."

    Prosecutor, Nicholas Taplow told the court that Pheasey first struck when a young girl went to get a book from the Kingdom Hall library.

    His second victim was a 14-year-old girl who he grabbed around the neck and threw to the floor where he straddled her and squeezed her neck.

    The court heard she fell into unconsciousness, came round but then passed out again before coming round for a second time and crying out: "Jehovah help me!"

    He calmly told her that he would kill her if she told anyone, adding that if she grew up and had daughters he would rape them as well.

    continued below

  96. She ran home screaming and crying and told her mother what happened - only to be told to clean herself up before she was taken to hospital for the bruising to her neck.

    Mr Taplow added: "Sadly her parents chose to conceal the sexual nature of the incident and told her not to say anything about it.

    "They continued to understate the seriousness of the assault, and the matter was swept under the carpet by the church."

    Pheasey's third victim was just six when he was carrying out some work at her parents' home.

    The court heard as she sat in his van, he got in and began to tickle her before moving his hand up under her skirt - but stopped when she kicked out and screamed.

    Following his arrest Pheasey said he could not remember the incident in the library, but admitted he had put his hands round the girl's neck on more than one occasion.

    He confessed to fantasising about strangling the 14-year-old, and had lured her over with the intention of strangling her and becoming sexually aroused.

    Mr Taplow said: "He was a man who had a particular sexual fascination with the act of strangulation.

    "He derived sexual gratification from strangling children, and many children were strangled in this way by him during what he described as 'horseplay'."

    Nick Devine, defending, said: "The inevitable lengthy sentence of imprisonment will have devastating consequences for him, going to prison at his age for an offence of this nature.

    "It may be that, while the congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses can be criticised for how they dealt with it, it has at least acted on him in part to prevent a return to acting out the fantasies he had."

    Pheasey, of Warwick, was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life and given a sexual harm prevention order restricting his contact with children.

    A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses said the church deplored Pheasey's behaviour and denied it was involved in a cover up of his crimes.

    The spokesman said: "Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse, and view it as a heinous crime and sin. The safety of our children is of the utmost importance.

    "Any suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child abuse is absolutely false. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent child abuse and to provide spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from this terrible sin and crime."


  97. Another judge criticizes Jehovah’s Witnesses’ court tactics

    By Trey Bundy / Reveal January 11, 2016

    A panel of judges in Philadelphia has ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses used an “abusive tactic” to delay a trial in which a woman accused the religion’s leaders of covering up her abuse as a child.

    The Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, had won a motion in a lower court to move the case from Philadelphia to York County, which currently has the largest backlog of civil cases in Pennsylvania.

    The Watchtower argued that holding the trial in Philadelphia would burden witnesses who would have to travel to testify. The appellate panel overruled the lower court, calling the Watchtower’s motion a “last-minute gambit to delay trial.”

    In her opinion, Judge Patricia Jenkins refers to the Watchtower and other defendants as “the Congregations.”

    “The facts strongly suggest that the motion to transfer venue was the product of bad-faith collaboration between the Congregations and the four York County witnesses,” she wrote.

    The case was brought in 2013 by Stephanie Fessler, who claims she was sexually abused 30 to 50 times from the ages of 14 to 16 by a middle-aged woman in another congregation.

    Jenkins didn’t elaborate on the collaboration, but her remarks were not the first time a judge has taken issue with the Watchtower’s tactics in court. In two cases in California, judges issued default judgments to plaintiffs because the Watchtower refused to produce documents and witnesses.

    Fessler, 27, gave Reveal permission to use her name in this story. Jeff Fritz, Fessler’s attorney, said Watchtower policies enabled her abuser.

    “The congregation and the Watchtower had knowledge of child abuse that we contend they were obligated to report to law enforcement and child welfare authorities,” he said. “They admit that they had knowledge of it, and they admit that they didn’t report it. As a result, she was subject to continued abuse.”

    The Watchtower declined to comment on the case.

    Fessler’s lawsuit is one of more than a dozen pending against the Watchtower in the U.S. over the organization’s child abuse policies.

    A Reveal investigation last February found that since 1989, the Watchtower had directed Jehovah’s Witnesses elders to hide child sexual abuse from secular authorities. The Watchtower’s pattern of secrecy subsequently was highlighted during an inquiry by an Australian government commission, which found that the Witnesses had failed to report more than 1,000 suspected child sexual abusers in that country.

    A commission that regulates charities in England currently is investigating the Witnesses’ child abuse policies.

    The trial in Fessler’s case could begin as soon as this spring.


  98. Abuse allegations in Newfoundland casting a cloud over Jehovahs Witnesses

    Former church elder, son facing sexual offences

    By Terry Roberts, CBC News January 14, 2016

    Allegations of abuse involving two members of the Jehovah's Witness religious movement in Newfoundland have emerged, though details of the charges are protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

    CBC News has learned that a former volunteer church elder and his son are facing charges.

    The former elder is charged with sexual assault and sexual exploitation relating to allegations dating from 2009 to 2012 in central Newfoundland.

    According to court documents, a second man is charged with sexual assault, with the information referencing a period between May 2011 and December 2013 in a community on the Avalon Peninsula.

    CBC News has confirmed that the pair are father and son.

    A sexual exploitation charge involves anyone in a position of trust or authority who commits an offence against a young person.

    The matter involving the older accused was called at a provincial court on Wednesday.

    It was set over until next month, when a date is expected to be set for trial.

    The younger accused is scheduled to make a court appearance later this month.

    'We're all human'

    The father of an alleged victim told CBC News it's been a difficult time for his family.

    The father said he is still involved with the Jehovah's Witness, and spoke in a forgiving tone.

    "Things happen. We're all human. No matter what religion you're of, things can happen," he said.

    CBC News also spoke briefly with the former elder. He declined comment, but did say he is still involved with the church.

    The man did not appear in court Wednesday, but is expected to plead not guilty.

    An RCMP spokesman said he could not comment on either case because of the publication ban. However, he stressed that officers take such allegations very seriously.

    Members throughout the province

    A member of the congregation linked to both of the accused said that it has been a difficult time, but declined to comment.

    Jehovah's Witnesses are a U.S.-based religious movement with an estimated eight million followers worldwide, including about 1,200 members in Newfoundland and Labrador, with churches known as a Kingdom Hall in communities throughout the province.

    They are Christians, but have sometimes been described as an insular sect.

    The name of the movement is drawn from the proper name of God in the Hebrew Bible, and the essence of their movement is to serve as God's "witnesses."

    Followers are best known for door-to-door evangelism, and free publications called Awake! and The Watchtower.

    They also follow strict rules that prohibit, among other things, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, smoking and drugs.

    The movement has also made headlines for refusing to allow blood transfusions, even when a life is at risk, and to refuse to celebrate occasions such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays.

    Co-operating with police

    In Canada, the movement is headquartered in Georgetown, Ont., outside Toronto.

    When asked about the charges, he also referenced the ongoing investigation and publication ban, but strongly condemned any abuse against young people.

    "How we feel about child sexual abuse has been very clear for years now," said Picard.

    "We do abhor that kind of wickedness … and we do not protect any of these individuals and we allow the authorities to do their work."

    Picard confirmed the older accused is no longer a church elder, and that the church is co-operating with the investigation.

    He also stressed that the Jehovah's Witnesses have measures in place to protect members of the church.

    "Our publications give all kinds of tools to our parents on how to teach and train their children to be protected from these kind of things," he said, adding the organization's website also offers tips.


  99. Jehovahs Witnesses fight law on reporting child sex abuse to police

    By Trey Bundy / Reveal February 1, 2016

    In 2013, 30-something Katheryn Harris Carmean White confessed to elders in her Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation that she had repeatedly had sex with a 14-year-old boy.

    The two elders didn’t tell police. They, and the congregation, now face a lawsuit from the Delaware attorney general accusing them of violating the state’s mandated reporting laws. The defendants claim the elders were protected from having to report the abuse by a legal exemption for clergy.

    The case highlights the struggle of courts to interpret a convoluted web of clergy reporting laws that stretches across U.S. Elevating the tension is the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses explicitly are instructed not to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities unless required by state law.

    Clergy are mandated to report child abuse in 45 states, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But laws in 32 of those states contain some version of a loophole called a clergy-penitent privilege. Those exceptions allow clergy to withhold information from authorities if they receive it from members seeking spiritual advice.

    Delaware law requires any individual or organization suspecting child abuse to report it. But then it gets confusing. The law allows an exemption for a priest who learns of abuse during a “sacramental confession,” wording that suggests a privilege specifically for clergy in the Catholic Church.

    In the Delaware case, Jehovah’s Witnesses attorney Francis McNamara argued that the law must allow Witnesses the same protection and that Superior Court Judge Mary M. Johnston should dismiss the case.

    In sworn affidavits, elders William Perkins and Joel Mulchansingh wrote that Carmean White’s victim had come to them “seeking spiritual advice and counsel from us as elders in a private setting.”

    “In accordance with the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they wrote, “confidential information is kept confidential so as to uphold the elders’ role as spiritual shepherds of the congregation.”

    The attorney general’s office argued that the victim and his mother were not offering a confession when they disclosed the abuse to elders in 2013 – and also that Carmean White confessed only after the boy reported his abuse to elders.

    The judge concluded last week that while Delaware’s clergy reporting exemption could be interpreted to include the Witnesses, Carmean White’s admission to the elders was likely not a “sacramental confession.” She denied the Witnesses’ motion to dismiss the case.

    continued below

  100. The Witnesses frequently have cited their right to religious freedom to justify keeping child abuse secret from secular authorities. The Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, claimed its First Amendment rights in a major California lawsuit last year and in several other child abuse cases.

    The Watchtower did not return calls seeking comment.

    A Reveal investigation last year found that since 1989, Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have instructed elders in the U.S. not to report child abuse by members of their congregations.

    The Watchtower currently is facing more than a dozen lawsuits brought by alleged child abuse victims in the U.S. The Delaware case is a rare instance in which a state agency is suing a religious organization over its handling of child abuse.

    In England and Australia, government commissions have been investigating the Watchtower’s child abuse policies for more than a year. Australian investigators found that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ officials had failed to report more than 1,000 known or suspected child sexual abusers to authorities in that country. The investigation in England is ongoing.

    Reveal found last year that the Watchtower had collected the names and whereabouts of child abusers in its U.S. congregations for almost 20 years, but kept that information from authorities.

    The Watchtower violated court orders in two recent California lawsuits by refusing to provide its list of perpetrators. So far, there has been no indication that federal law enforcement agencies have stepped in to investigate the organization or procure the list.

    In Delaware, both Carmean White and her victim were disfellowshipped – the Witnesses’ version of excommunication – in February 2013, according to affidavits.

    Carmean White was arrested the same month after the boy’s mother reported his abuse to police, according to news reports. Carmean White confessed to having sex with the boy about 40 times during a 10-month period. She was sentenced to six years in prison for third-degree rape, fourth-degree rape and child endangerment.


  101. Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against Jehovahs Witnesses

    by Craig Anderson, Delaware State News February 3, 2016

    DOVER — With a precedent-setting determination regarding confidentiality among some church members last week, a Superior Court judge continued a lawsuit against a Sussex County congregation.

    Judge Mary M. Johnston did not dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state of Delaware against the Laurel Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding whether it should have reported child abuse allegations in 2013.

    The state is suing the congregation and two elders for allegedly not disclosing knowledge of a reported sexual relationship between an adult member and juvenile member, according to court documents. The complaint was filed on July 10, 2014, in New Castle County Superior Court.

    The congregation filed a motion for summary judgment on Nov. 9, 2015, which was denied on Jan. 26 by Judge Johnston.

    The motion centered around the application of the “priest-penitent in a sacramental confession privilege” and whether conversations among Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders and members were covered in Delaware Code.

    According to court papers, the state alleged two elders met with a juvenile and his mother, both congregation members, in January 2013 and a disclosure of a sexual relationship was made.

    Also, according to documents, the elders then spoke with the adult member in question, who confirmed the relationship had happened.

    Both the juvenile and adult member were excommunicated from the congregation in February 2013, papers indicated.

    Also named as defendants in the lawsuit were Joel Mulchansingh and William Perkins.

    In papers, the Department of Justice said it is seeking a civil penalty against each defendant not to exceed $10,000, costs, expenses and attorney’s fees incurred awarded to the state, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”

    With the civil action pending, the Department of Justice declined comment on the matter.

    From 2012 to 14, the Department of Justice said, other entities such as a charter school, public elementary school and medical practice were named as defendants in similar cases regarding all abuse and neglect and the matters “were settled and dismissed without trial, with settlements generally consisting of training on mandatory reporting and other penalties.”

    Officials said the mandatory statute regarding abuse and neglect has been active since at least 1971; before 1997, only attorney-client communication had privilege.

    The criminal case

    On Nov. 6, 2013, Katheryn L. Carmean pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, fourth-degree rape and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Delaware Department of Justice. She was sentenced to six years in prison on Feb. 21, 2014, followed by six months at Level IV work release, followed by two years Level III probation. She is also registered as a Tier II sex offender, according to officials.

    According to the Delaware State Police at the time of her arrest, Ms. Carmean, of Berlin, Maryland, was 35 and the allegedly involved male was 14.

    continued below

  102. The state police said investigation found encounters occurred over 10 months from November 2011 to August 2012 when the teen occasionally would stay at Ms. Carmean’s residence on Mount Zion Road near Laurel. She later moved to Maryland, authorities said.

    In court papers regarding the civil suit, the defendant in the criminal case was identified as Katheryn Harris Carmean White.

    The civil suit
    In the civil suit, the state responded to the motion by citing Delaware Code Sections 903 and 904 which required “Any person, agency, organization or entity who knows or in good faith suspects child abuse or neglect shall make a report …” and “Any report of child abuse or neglect required to be made under this chapter shall be made by contacting the Child Abuse and Neglect Report Line for the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families” as obligation to report suspected child abuse.

    According to papers, the court examined the constitutionality of whether the congregation was exempted by Delaware Code Section 909 to report privileged communications.

    Section 909 states “No legally recognized privilege, except that between attorney and client and that between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession, shall apply to situations involving known or suspected child abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment and shall not constitute grounds for failure to report as required by 903 of this title or to give or accept evidence in any judicial proceeding relating to child abuse or neglect.”

    According to court documents, the congregation maintained that all communications between elders, juvenile and adult members are covered by clergy/penitent privilege. Additionally, the congregation argued it had First Amendment coverage through the United States and Delaware, and were exempt from a reporting duty.

    Ultimately, the court ruled that since the congregation had called a meeting with the adult member to discuss the issue, the member could not be deemed a “penitent” and the meeting to investigate allegations not a “sacramental confession.”

    Also, the court found the juvenile’s subsequent excommunication indicated he might not have willingly met with the elders, and did not consider the meeting as a form of repentance as part of absolution and a “sacramental confession.”

    The elders’ beliefs

    continued below

  103. The elders submitted signed affidavits, which included the premise that, “In accordance with the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, confidential information is kept confidential so as to uphold the elders’ role as spiritual shepherds of the congregation, to maintain respect for the position of elders and congregants, and to allow congregants to feel comfortable fully disclosing information to the elders …”

    The court noted no reference was made to why the General Assembly used the language in Delaware Code Section 909 “between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession” instead of more ecumenical religious terms.

    Thus, the court turned to Black’s Law Dictionary to define “priest-penitent privilege” and determined it to be “In evidence, the recognition of the seal of confession which bars testimony as to the contents of a communication from one to his confessor.”

    Also in Delaware Code, the court noted, “A person has a privilege to refuse and disclose to prevent another from disclosing a confidential communication by the person to a clergyman in his professional character as a spiritual adviser.”

    A clergyman was described as a “minister, priest, rabbi, accredited Christian Science practitioner or other similar functionary of a religious organization, or an individual reasonably believed so to be by the person consulting him.”

    According to the court, a priest and penitent communication in a sacramental confession cited in Section 909 “is a narrow exception to the duty to report abuse or neglect.

    “The obvious purpose of these privileges is to balance free and candid communications with legal or religious advisers, with the public mandate to prevent and prosecute child abuse.”

    ‘Genuine issues exist’

    In conclusion, the court ruled that a narrow interpretation of Section 909 “is unconstitutional on its face” and the terms “priest,” “penitent” and “sacramental confession” apply to only select denominations if taken literally.

    “The Delaware Constitution prohibits laws that give preference to any religion,” the court wrote.

    “However, Section 909 can potentially be read to apply to all religions.

    “Regardless of the constitutionality of Section 909, genuine issues of material fact exist that prevent summary judgment.”

    Delaware Code states that Section 903 violators “shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for the first violation, and not to exceed $50,000 for any subsequent violation.” Costs and attorneys’ fees may be awarded as well.

    Attorneys James Liguori and Francis McNamara represented the defendant congregation in the motion, along with the Watchtower Legal Department, the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal advisers. Deputy Attorneys General Janice Tigani and Valerie Farnan represented the state.


  104. Jehovahs Witnesses ordered destruction of notes which could have been used during child sexual abuse inquiry

    BY HUW SILK, Wales Online February 7, 2016

    A former church elder in South Wales has claimed the church has gone against the request made by Judge Lowell Goddard

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been accused of ordering the destruction of documents in direct contradiction of an order not to do so from a major child sexual abuse inquiry.

    Religious organisations, as well as schools, colleges and other institutions, have been told by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – led by Judge Lowell Goddard – to keep hold of any documents which could be useful to the investigation.

    A request sent out to the bodies last year stated measures should be taken “to ensure that everything of potential relevance to the Inquiry is retained”.

    Jehovah’s Witness elders hear allegations against members of the congregation and record what is said.

    We have seen a copy of an edict distributed to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations around the UK ordering the destruction of “all agendas and minutes of elders’ meetings (other than business meeting minutes)”, “all personal notes taken at elders’ meetings (except those based on discussions of outlines from ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ and that do not mention any particular individual)” and “any other personal records, notes, or correspondence that refer to particular individuals”.

    'Not transparent'

    Referring to the congregation file the edict also says all agendas of elders’ meetings should be destroyed and that Congregation Service Committees should “make sure all records relating to child molestation are in harmony”.

    And one former senior church elder from South Wales, who has been a Jehovah’s Witness for more than half a century, said the revelations put the church directly at odds with the request of the independent inquiry.

    He said: “The fact is there are dangers within the Jehovah’s Witnesses as there are within other organisations – but whereas I see other organisations taking steps to conform with child safety it seems the Jehovah’s Witnesses are going the other way. They are still trying to keep it in-house and not making it transparent.”

    He added: “Under the present rules all personal documents, aides-memoire, agendas and notes are to be destroyed. That will mean in future that if they are approached by police Jehovah’s Witnesses could say they don’t remember anything.

    “This seems a backward step, particularly in the light of Judge Lowell Goddard’s request that, so victims can be helped in bringing justice to abusers, all organisations must keep what they can to assist.

    'Ignored' judge's request

    “Why, when an organisation says it abhors child abuse, would it go and destroy documents that can assist in bringing a child abuser to justice?

    “The evidence I have experienced is a clamming up, a shutting down, and a silence of almost an obstructive nature to police investigations.

    “They are saying they send this out regularly but Judge Lowell Goddard has said not to – so why haven’t they instructed the elders and said that although they usually do this but this year we won’t because we want to follow this request?

    “They say it’s what they have always done but we have got to change what we have always done.”

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  105. Karen Morgan a victim of sex abuse by church elder Mark Sewell who was once an elder in the congregation in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, also criticised the move.

    She said: “At the time of my case the police were told there was no paperwork relating to my case as it had been destroyed. This paperwork would have contained all documented evidence from the many meetings with elders.

    “Despite knowing the importance of these papers the governing body seem to be deliberately instructing their elders not to keep them.

    Church 'committed' to helping victims

    “This only confirms my view that the governing body are more interested in protecting their image than caring about the victims.”

    Disgraced businessman Sewell was jailed in 2014 after being convicted of a total of eight sex charges.

    A spokesman for the church said: “We are committed to doing all we can to prevent child abuse and to provide spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from this terrible sin and crime.”

    Speaking about the leaked edict the spokesman added: “The document... is simply an annual reminder sent to congregation trustees encouraging them to follow standard procedures so as to meet their responsibilities under data protection and other legislation.”

    The spokesman also said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a heinous crime and sin. The safety of our children is of the utmost importance.

    “For decades our journals The Watchtower and Awake!, as well as our website jw.org, have featured articles for both Jehovah’s Witnesses and the general public on how to protect children from abuse.

    Cover-up claim 'absolutely false'

    “We have no paid clergy. Congregation elders comply with child-abuse reporting laws and with the data protection principles contained in the Data Protection Act 1998. (Romans 13:1) They provide abuse victims and their families with spiritual comfort from the Bible. (Isaiah 32:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14)

    “The victim and his or her parents have the absolute right to report the matter to the governmental authorities. (Galatians 6:5) Congregation elders do not shield abusers from the authorities or from the consequences of their actions. (Galatians 6:7)

    “Anyone who commits the sin of child abuse faces expulsion from the congregation. If such a person is serving in a position of responsibility he is removed. Any suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child abuse is absolutely false."

    A spokesperson for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said: “The chair has stated that the inquiry will investigate abuse in religious settings (including all faiths and religious traditions) and issued a letter giving notice of retention/non-destruction of documents to the leaders of 18 prominent religious organisations.”


  106. How child sex abusers get reinstated as Jehovah’s Witnesses

    By Trey Bundy / Reveal February 17, 2016

    A Jehovah’s Witnesses elder in Australia was put behind bars last week for sexually abusing minors, according to The West Australian.

    Over seven years, David Frank Pople sexually assaulted two teenage boys he met through a congregation near Perth. One of his victims told elders about the abuse in 1997, but no one notified police until one of the victims filed a report in 2014. Pople pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.

    The details of Pople’s story mirror those of other abuse cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. Elders failed to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities. The perpetrator was kicked out of the organization, only to be reinstated later.

    Moreover, the story fits a pattern of Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders ejecting members who abuse children, not for the abuse, but for failing to show adequate repentance.

    After Pople admitted to elders in 1997 that he had assaulted one of the boys, he was disfellowshipped – the Witnesses’ version of excommunication – for being “insufficiently repentant,” according to the newspaper’s story. A year later, after Pople requested reinstatement, the congregation welcomed him back.

    Last year, Reveal reported the story of Debbie McDaniel, a former Witness in Oklahoma who said an elder named Ronald Lawrence sexually abused her for five years, starting when she was 8 years old. In the 1990s, McDaniel and two other victims, by then grown, told elders that Lawrence had abused them. The elders did not call police; they eventually disfellowshipped Lawrence, not because he had abused kids, but for denying it. Like Pople, Lawrence was reinstated a year later.

    Responsibility for determining how elders handle child abuse rests with officials at the religion’s parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. The Watchtower has instructed elders since 1989 not to report child abuse to secular authorities unless laws in their state require it.

    Instead, elders are instructed to form internal judicial committees to deal with child abusers as wayward spirits, not as criminals. Although unrepentant perpetrators are sometimes disfellowshipped, they can be reinstated after a year or so if they apologize.

    In Oklahoma, Lawrence was allowed reinstatement after months of denying that he abused children on the condition that he write letters of apology to his victims. When more victims came forward, he was kicked out again – this time for lying about how many children he had abused – only to be reinstated for a second time.

    In all instances of disfellowshipping and reinstatement, the Watchtower has final say. In cases of child abuse, the Watchtower reserves the right to decide which abusers are shown the door and which are invited back. Officials say they make those decisions by determining which child abusers are dangerous and which are not.

    In response to an Australian government investigation last year that found the Witnesses had failed to report more than 1,000 child abusers to police, Jehovah’s Witnesses officials wrote, “The mere presence of an offender within a congregation does not necessarily entail that other children in a congregation or the community are at risk.”

    The Watchtower made that point even more explicitly three years earlier in a confidential letter to all elders in the United States.

    “Not every individual who has sexually abused a child in the past is considered a ‘predator,’ ” the letter said. “The (Watchtower), not the local body of elders, determines whether an individual who has sexually abused children in the past will be considered a ‘predator.’ ”

    In Australia, Pople will be eligible for parole in 18 months.

    In Oklahoma, after McDaniel reported her abuse to police in 2013, Lawrence avoided prosecution because of the statute of limitations. As of last year, he was still a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing.


  107. State sues over nonreport of child abuse

    by Harry Themal The News Journal February 26, 2016

    Elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have the same privileged communications exemption as religious advisers in a sacramental confession if the confession does not involve a penitent.

    The potential landmark “first impression” ruling, reported by Delaware Law Weekly, was made recently by Superior Court Judge Mary Miller Johnston in refusing to throw out a case filed by the state against the Laurel Congregation of the Witnesses.

    The state said the elders should have reported a case child abuse between a juvenile and an adult member of the congregation.

    The elders met with the juvenile, her mother and an adult member who confirmed the relationship after the boy reported the matter to his mother. They then excommunicated the juvenile and the adult involved. The state sought civil penalties but the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they were exempt from reporting under the Delaware law of “clergy/penitent privilege.”

    That law is similar to the attorney/client privilege but the judge ruled that the conversations were not a “sacramental confession.” The defendants said the congregation members were “seeking spiritual advice and counsel from us as elders in a private setting.”

    Judge Johnston also held that the privilege exemption itself is, if narrowly interpreted, unconstitutional because the terms “priest, penitent” [and] sacramental confession” give preference to one religion. She also said it could be read to apply to all religions.

    The case will now go through further legal hearings but the General Assembly should consider clarifying the language of the existing law.

    Harry Themal has written a News Journal editorial page column since 1989.


  108. Jehovahs Witness charity loses appeal against Commission inquiry

    by David Ainsworth, Civil Society Media March 15, 2016

    The UK’s leading Jehovah’s Witness charity has lost an appeal for a judicial review of a Charity Commission inquiry into its safeguarding procedures, but won a review of a Commission order to produce documents.

    The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain sought a judicial review of a decision in 2014 to open a statutory inquiry into its safeguarding policies for children and adults at risk. The inquiry was opened followed allegations that a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had allowed a paedophile to question his victims as a “disfellowship” meeting.

    The charity also sought a review of a Commission order requiring it to produce, among other things, “All documents created on or after 1 June 2011 setting out or recording an instance or allegation of, or complaint about, abuse of or by a person who is or has been a member of the charity or a congregation charity”.

    The case was heard in February in the Court of Appeal by Lord John Dyson, the Master of the Rolls – the second most senior judge in England and Wales – sitting with Lord Justice Richard McCombe and Lord Justice David Richards.

    The three judges unanimously ruled against the appeal in the case of the statutory inquiry, saying that the Charity Tribunal was the proper place to hear a challenge.

    However they allowed a review of the production order, because the wording of the Charities Act 2011 limits the tribunals’ ability to hear such challenges.

    A Charity Commission spokesman said: “The Commission is pleased that the court unanimously dismissed Watch Tower’s challenge to the Commission’s decision to open an inquiry. This is a significant decision allowing the Commission’s inquiry to continue to progress. The challenge was dismissed because the court accepted the Commission’s argument that the First-tier Tribunal (Charity) was the correct place to hear Watch Tower’s challenge to the inquiry opened by the Commission. The Commission believes that the specialist Tribunal is the right venue for such cases and is pleased that the Court of Appeal has confirmed this.

    “The Commission is disappointed that the Court of Appeal found in favour of Watch Tower in one respect, deciding that the challenge to the Commission’s order seeking documents from the charity should be heard by the Administrative Court rather than the Tribunal. This decision was reached because of the specific wording of section 320 of the Charities Act 2011, which limits the Tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear challenges to such orders.”


  109. $13.5M award vacated in Jehovahs Witness abuse case

    Ruling gives church chance to turn over disputed documents

    By Kristina Davis The San Diego Union-Tribune April 14, 2016

    SAN DIEGO — An appeals court throw out a $13.5 million judgment against the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witness church Thursday in a lawsuit that accuses the organization of covering up years of sexual abuse by a local church leader.

    The ruling by the state Fourth District Court of Appeal hits the reset button on the case, potentially leading to another trial but with one major caveat — that documents concerning past sexual abuse cases in the church should be turned over.

    The church’s hierarchical body, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, has remained defiant in refusing a court order to produce such documentation, and the ruling gives the organization another chance to comply. If the organization doesn’t acquiesce, the case could potentially end the same way it did the first time, with a multi-million dollar judgment against it.

    The lawsuit was filed in 2012 in San Diego Superior Court by Jose Lopez, who claimed he was molested at the age of 7 by a leader in the church’s Linda Vista congregation in 1986.

    His lawsuit says church elders recommended the leader, Gonzalo Campos, to Lopez’s mom as someone who would be a good mentor to teach the boy Bible lessons.

    But the elders knew Campos had molested a boy as early as 1982, according to evidence revealed in the case, and did nothing about it, continuing to put children at risk, the lawsuit claims.

    Lopez said Campos spent months grooming him and then assaulted him at Campos’ La Jolla home one day. The boy told his mother, who reported it immediately to the church leadership. The elders told her they’d handle the situation and discouraged her from calling law enforcement, the lawsuit says.

    She and her son left the church.

    Evidence presented in the trial showed the church monitored Campos for nine months, and in the following years he rose through the ranks in the church, continuing to teach children.

    He moved to a Spanish-language Kingdom Hall in La Jolla at one point but was kicked out in 1995 after another victim reported being abused. He was reinstated in the church in 2000.

    In a previous statement to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Watchtower denied that Campos was in a leadership position in the church when he was teaching Lopez and that “Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts.”

    Campos later confessed to abusing at least eight children between 1982 and 1995. He fled to Mexico around 2010 after San Diego police were notified and is believed to still be there, said Lopez’s lawyer, Irwin Zalkin.

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  110. Six other men and one woman who sued Watchtower claiming they were victims of Campos’ settled their cases out of court.

    The road to trial in Lopez’s case was long.

    In putting together his case, Zalkin asked for any reports of Campos’ abuse, as well as abuse by other church leaders dating back to 1979 and records of how the church dealt with those incidents. Watchtower fought back, claiming the documents would be “impossible” to retrieve, would violate rights, and that the request was over-burdensome, with the church’s 1.2 million members in more than 13,000 congregations nationwide.

    After much consideration, Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis ordered the documents produced. They weren’t.

    Lopez’s lawyers also traveled to New York to depose Gerrit Losch, a longstanding member of the governing body, on the court’s orders, but he didn’t show up.

    The judge, citing the refusal to comply with releasing the documents and Losch’s no-show, decided to issue the ultimate sanction against Watchtower: terminate its right to be heard in the case going forward.

    Lopez’s lawyers put on a six-day trial in front of the judge, without Watchtower’s lawyers there to offer a defense. In the end, Judge Lewis handed down a default judgment of $10.5 million in punitive damages and $3 million in compensatory damages against Watchtower.

    Watchtower also had to pay more than $37,000 in sanctions, mostly to cover the travel costs for the deposition that never happened.

    Watchtower appealed.

    The appeals court gave a mixed-bag opinion Thursday.

    The three-judge panel rejected Watchtower’s claims that the prior abuse documents shouldn’t have to be turned over.

    However, the appeals court disagreed with the judge’s order for Losch’s deposition, saying Lopez’s lawyers did not prove that he was key to the case as a leader in the governing body.

    The court also took issue with how quickly Lewis terminated Watchtower from the court proceedings, saying she should have first tried less-punitive sanctions to see if the church would comply with her orders.

    The case will now go back to Lewis to give Watchtower another chance to turn over the requested abuse documents. If, after further warnings and lower-grade sanctions, the church still doesn’t comply, the case could end again the same way.

    Attorneys for Watchtower did not return requests for an interview Thursday.

    Lopez’s lawyer, Zalkin, said Thursday that the court’s opinion could have a big impact on his case and other similar lawsuits against Watchtower being fought in California and around the country.

    “From our perspective, this has always been about getting the documents,” he said. He added that Watchtower has produced some prior abuse documents in other lawsuits, but they have been heavily redacted and of little use.

    “They don’t want the world to know what they’ve known about child sex abuse within their organization for decades and they’ve been trying desperately to keep that covered up,” Zalkin said.

    Last April, an appeals court overturned an $8.6 million punitive award against Watchtower in a similar 2012 lawsuit filed in Alameda County by a woman who was molested by a church member. The court ruled that the church had no obligation to warn the congregation that the member had admitted to previously molesting his stepdaughter. The court did uphold $2.8 million in compensatory damages in the case.


  111. Witnesses Must Produce Child Sex Abuse Docs

    By JULIE BAKER-DENNIS, Courthouse News Service April 18, 2016

    SAN DIEGO (CN) — The national Jehovah's Witnesses organization must produce any documents in its possession relating to perpetrators of child sexual abuse, a California appeals court ruled.
    Jose Lopez sued Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and the Linda Vista Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in June of 2012 for the sexual abuse he allegedly suffered when he was seven years old at the hands of his Bible instructor Gonzales Campos.
    In 1986, Lopez's mother allowed Campos to give her son bible study lessons after an elder from her congregation recommended him because he was "good very good with children."
    According to the complaint, after Campos had given Lopez several lessons, he sexually molested him.
    The abuse was reported to an elder of the church after Lopez told his mother, but nothing was done after the elders spoke to Lopez about where he was touched.
    This was not the first time there had been allegations Campos had sexually abused young boys.
    Another boy from the same congregation accused Campos of sexually molesting him four years earlier.
    Campos admitted to acting inappropriately, but the elders continued to allow him to be around children, and even continued to recommend him as a Bible instructor.
    Lopez and his mother left the congregation shortly after the alleged abuse, but Campos continued to rise within the congregation over the next several years, eventually serving as an elder and being placed on the congregation's governing service committee.
    Yet, according to the Lopez's complaint, between 1982 and 1995, Campos sexually abused at least eight other children.
    Neither Watchtower nor the congregation ever reported the incidents to law enforcement officers, the complaint said.
    With more than 1.2 million members and 13,777 congregations across the United States, the Jehovah's Witness religion's practices, policies and administrative duties were supervised by Watchtower during the relevant time period, including congregation elders who served as its agents.

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  112. Watchtower challenged two discovery orders -- one requesting the church produce documents concerning the sexual abuse of other victims; the other seeking to compel the disposition of an individual believed to be the managing agent of Watchtower at the time.
    The organization also requested that an order, compelling it to pay nearly $38,000 in monetary sanctions, be terminated.
    In addition to rejecting claims the document request was overly broad and violated attorney-client privilege, a three-judge panel with California's Fourth Appellate District also found that, although unusual, the 27-year post-incident request "is partly a function of the permissive limitations statutes governing child sexual abuse under which Lopez was seeking to recover for an alleged wrongful act committed almost three decades earlier."
    Watchtower's claim that the document request was overly oppressive because it would take years to comply was also rejected by the panel, which pointed out the church's computer system had a search function that could easily identify information within the scanned documents.
    The panel also shot down Watchtower's First Amendment objection by citing relevant cases, including a decade old case in which the court held it did not violate constitutional religious freedom when an archdiocese was order to product documents about priests who were indicted for sexually abusing children.
    While the three-judge panel upheld the discovery order, it found the disposition order was not supportable because there was no evidence that the named individual was a managing agent at the time Lopez was abused.
    Judge Judith Haller, writing for panel, concluded the ruling by finding the sanctions order needed to be vacated. "There was no question Watchtower willfully failed to comply with the document production order." Judge Haller wrote. "The fundamental flaw with the court's approach is there is no basis in the record showing the court could not have obtained Watchtowers' compliance with lesser sanctions." http://www.courthousenews.com/document.ico





    I remember that first year after I’d left the Jehovah’s Witness faith. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mum cry so much, so often. She was convinced she’d lost me and that I’d be changed for ever now, no longer the daughter she’d always loved and cherished. “Mum, I haven’t died. I’m still here, and I’m still the same. You don’t need to mourn me,” I told her once.

    But it’s a way of thinking that is ingrained in you by the faith, and it’s this mentality that makes it so difficult to leave. You’re taught by the organisation that once you leave you will become corrupted by the outside world and inevitably descend into selfishness, meanness and false happiness. A life of meaningless sex, drugs and alcohol is often woven into this picture.

    It’s this picture of the “world” – the word they use to refer to anything outside the faith – that was painted for me as a child, and I was warned away from cultivating any close friendships with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses for this reason. As a result, most young Witnesses grow up sequestered in their homes and their congregations, fearful of anything outside those boundaries. If at any point you do have doubts and want to leave, your forced isolation up to that point makes the decision inevitably intimidating and potentially overwhelming because of the prospect of being alone and without a support network to guide you through the process.

    I was lucky enough to have parents who brought me up more loosely than most Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was allowed to make friends with people outside my congregation. It was these friends who became my support network and showed me that people from the “world” are just the same as people from the faith – there were as many lovely people as there were horrible people, as many happy people as there were sad. Being a Witness and following the doctrines didn’t automatically mark you as different or better than anyone else. I’d been treated badly by as many people who were Witnesses as I had non-Witnesses.

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  114. I was also lucky that both my parents encouraged me to get a good education – to work hard at school so I could go to university if I wanted. The faith discourages more than the bare minimum education, advising that higher education is a waste of time that could be better dedicated to “ministry” (a practice that is deemed so important every individual is required to submit a “report card” of the amount of hours they’ve spent preaching each month), and that it fosters a materialistic and selfishly ambitious attitude.

    Realistically, though, it’s a threat to the organisation because education could broaden an individual’s mind and open them up to a world of opinions outside the faith. It’s the reason they emphasise the dangers and repercussions of searching for answers to faith-related questions in any place except their own literature, calling anything outside this “apostasy”. I’m grateful every day for my education and my desire to learn and think independently, a skill that fostered in me those initial doubts about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and enabled me to have the strength to search for answers elsewhere in non-biased literature.

    I eventually left the faith at 18. Many former “friends”, including my best friend of 10 years, shunned me. Several people tried to convince me to return to the “truth” – the term they use to refer to anyone in the faith. I made a concentrated effort to stop using the word, because I knew it wasn’t the truth to me, and that its use was just a very 1984 Newspeak method of subtle control. I tried at all costs to avoid any discussions of faith with Jehovah’s Witnesses with whom I was still in contact – mostly because I didn’t want to be forced into an argument with them over my anger and frustration at some of the doctrines.

    More than that, though, it infuriated me the way my most important reason for leaving was brushed aside because it was the most irrefutable: I simply did not believe in the Bible and God, and by extension any Christian belief. While I tried to maintain the utmost respect for their beliefs and not attempt to preach my own, they refused to extend me the same courtesy, and many assumed I’d left so I could experience more freedom for “worldly” things.

    Leaving the faith at 18 changed my life completely. I went to university, where I made even more friends who showed me that being in the “world” is completely fine, and that debate and discussion is also OK. I began a life where constantly questioning and improving my beliefs and ideas and always being open to those of others were my only constant doctrines. I began a life where I could decide what to believe for myself, and I wasn’t afraid of someone telling me I couldn’t.