Everyone in the United States knows that the Catholic Church has a major issue with pedophiles, but hardly anyone knows that Jehovah’s Witnesses have similar problems. Many cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society have been reported to the public (a search string using “Jehovah’s Witness pedophile” will yield pages of results, including video of various newscasts) but most of these stories have failed to sink into the public psyche. Even Candace Conti, who was awarded millions of the Watchtower Society’s dollars, is mostly known by former Witnesses like me and few others. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses have yet to hear the name of Candace Conti and are blissfully unaware that child abuse is a real issue within the organization on any level.
The Watchtower Society may not be as big as the Catholic church, but officially, there are nearly eight-million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Even if there are only eight-million people who believe in the Society’s “truth” (there could be as many as nineteen-million who believe the Society has “the truth” if you go by Memorial attendance) that’s still a lot of people. I’m not suggesting that there are millions of cases of pedophilia here, but I do think the public should know more about pedophilia among Jehovah’s Witnesses and how the Society’s policies have done more harm than good. Especially Bible studies (or students) of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have children. It’s a big enough issue that several organizations like Silent Lambs and JW Survivors were formed specifically to oppose pedophilia within the Watchtower Society’s Kingdom Halls.
The Problem with Pedophilia Among Jehovah’s Witnesses
Details of the Society’s child abuse policies have been published in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications, although more specific guidelines are only made available to elders, or on request. Press releases issued by the Watch Tower Society’s Office of Public Information confirm that if a person accused of molestation repeatedly denies the charges of his victim, and there is no other witness to the incident, “the elders cannot take action within the congregation at that time”, however [they] would report to authorities if required
This is the first part of the problem. I don’t think you have to be an expert to realize that sexual abuse of children probably won’t happen in front of an audience. But does the Society really tell its elders to report cases of suspected child abuse to authorities when required? The quote shown above says yes, but the real answer appears to be no.
The Society’s policy is pretty well laid out at Religious Tolerence, which says:
If abuse cannot be proven, the elders of the congregation “are expected to report the allegation to the branch office of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in their country, if local privacy laws permit. Again, privacy laws permitting, a record is made a the branch office that the individual has been accused of child abuse….The aim is to balance the right to privacy of the individual with the overriding need to protect the safety of children.”
Here’s a little more from Religious Tolerance that explains the real upshot of all this:
Jehovah’s Witnesses [have] a dual policy concerning cases of child abuse which meet their standards of proof:
- Local elders are required by the WTS to alert police and/or child protection services only in those political jurisdictions which require religious institutions to report suspected cases of abuse. Some states in the U.S. do not have mandated reporting. Other require certain professionals like physicians, teachers, and social workers to report, but allow religious leaders to remain silent. Some states have no laws at all in this area.
- Where reporting is not mandated by the state, their policy is to keep keep the matter secret. Communications between elders and members are kept confidential. They generally do not report abuse but attempt to handle it within the organization. An abuser will often be encouraged to confess to authorities. A disciplinary hearing may be held. However, only elders can take notes, which are later collected and kept in a secure location. No tape recordings are permitted.
The Witnesses hold that the privilege of clergy confidentiality applies to any confidential communication among its members, including statements at disciplinary hearings which involve multiple elders and witnesses.
Between this, and the policy involving the two-person rule (at least two people must have seen the molestation with their own eyes for the elders to charge the accused with an actual violation), few cases get reported. It was this policy that allowed Candace Conti to hold the organization responsible as well as the perpetrator of the crime. Note also that Candace and her mother, like many others, were disfellowshipped for reporting the abuse she suffered to authorities outside of the organization.
“>The point of the links below isn’t to beat a dead horse. It’s to give interested readers easy access to specific cases and to simply demonstrate the abundance of claims that are out there. With problems like this, most Jehovah’s Witnesses think these are rare issues or that they are being blown out of proportion. The “world” (everything outside of their institutions) is always out to get them and to make them look bad. I think the weight of the allegations and the reasons behind them (as explained above) shows that it isn’t that simple. Some of the articles below deal with similar issues, but contain different information. But the real conclusion I hope everyone reaches is that the Society, regardless of its intentions, has a faulty set of rules that simply don’t work and need to be changed.
HINT: If you read only one of these links, read Slamming the Door on Jehovah.
A similar list can be found at my website as well.
Inside sources reveal 23,720 reported/unreported child molesters on file at Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in New York
My disfellowshipping by Bill Bowen – From the founder of Silent Lambs
When I first came forward to the media with my allegations of abuse cover-ups in the organization, one thing I made clear to reporters was that they would [disfellowship] me for speaking out on this issue.
Erica Rodriguez repeated to DATELINE the way she was treated when she reported her molestation. When she informed the elders at her congregation in Sacramento of the sexual abuse of Beliz who was not yet disfellowshipped, the elders told her to not report the crime to the police. They went on to threaten her with disfellowshipping if she tried to report the matter: “if you go to the police, you will be condemned by God.”
JW Survivors is a volunteer not-for-profit community based victim advocacy group for survivors of the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses within Australia. The group was founded by Steven Unthank. The seeds of JW Survivors were planted by current and former members of the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their families, in response to the Victorian Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organisations, and an extensive submission made in relation to the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their administrative controlling corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia.
A Jehovah’s Witness pedophile was spared prison despite admitting carrying out a string of sex attacks on young children.
It was a sad blow Friday July 15, 2005, when the majority of judges in an appeal hearing before the Supreme Court of New Hampshire ruled against continuing the case. It represented a four year battle with hundreds of thousands of donated funds of Jehovah’s Witnesses be spent with law firms in the New Hampshire area to files numerous frivolous motions to prolong and run up costs on the civil case. Jehovah’s Witness lawyers supported Paul Berry, a convicted child molester, by providing him with free legal assistance to protect his religious right from further convictions of child abuse. While victims and advocates sat on one side of the court room, Jehovah’s Witness attorneys sat with Paul Berry and offered testimony in his behalf to protect him from further criminal prosecution. Paul Berry remains a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing and upon his release from prison will be required to make visits to the homes of the public to start bible studies. It is estimated that well over $500,000 has been spent in donated funds of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the legal defense of Paul Berry.
Documents and court cases relating to child abuse within the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
See also Candace Conti | JW Leaks
(AP) 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.
It doesn’t stop there either. Elders have been known to bully victims and their families into not telling others what has happened, and go as far as threatening these ones with being disfellowshipped on the grounds of slander if they try to warn other families about a child abuser that’s present within the congregation.
PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT: December 1, 2012
A $3 Billion class action lawsuit is being launched in Australia on behalf of up to 6,160 children within the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Documents relating to the class action reveal over 14,000 serious criminal breaches of mandatory child protection laws, committed against these children by elders and “ministers of religion” within the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past 4 years.