A lot has happened since I wrote What You Don’t Know About Jehovah’s Witnesses And Pedophiles back in 2013. In that article, I tried to raise awareness of a problem that has largely gone unnoticed by the general public and even many Jehovah’s Witnesses. The issue concerns pedophiles and the rules that make it far too easy for them to molest children within their congregations. One of the biggest problems is known as the “two witness rule.” This policy stops elders from acting on an accusation of wrongdoing unless two people witness the crime or the accused confesses. I doubt many pedophiles would molest a child in front of another person, so the two witnesses rule leaves the deck stacked in the pedophiles’ favor right from the start. The problem is made even worse because victims, and their parents, are forbidden from turning to law enforcement unless the elders find the accused person guilty. That’s right, they have to go to the elders before they can report the crime. If a victim does turn to law enforcement, they will be “disfellowshipped” (excommunicated and shunned even by their own families) which is the severest form of punishment a committee of elders can dish out. Meanwhile, the perpetrator is assumed to be innocent by the congregation and will be treated as a member of the faith in good standing. This is how all accusations of wrongdoing are handled within congregations, not just those concerning pedophiles. But the problems with this system are obvious.
At the time I wrote my previous article, Candace Conti’s court case against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the corporate entity behind Jehovah’s Witnesses) was the biggest news to happen on this front. Yet even then, most people have never heard of her and few know about the details behind the Society’s larger pedophile problem. You can listen to Conti’s experiences in her own words here.
In the United States, Silent Lambs and many others have urged the Society to change these rules. So far, they have refused. In short, yes, it’s still a major problem. But some interesting updates can be found below.
Australia began holding public hearings on national TV regarding allegations that the Watchtower Society had failed to report over 1,000 cases of known pedophilia within their ranks to authorities. Note that, in Australia, there are less than 67,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and just under 800 congregations in total (as of this writing at least). Since these hearings were broadcast on national television, some have recorded them and uploaded them to sites like YouTube. You can watch the hearings for yourself here. I should also mention that Jehovah’s Witnesses weren’t the only group being investigated. There is an official website you can visit for more information on Australia’s Royal Commission. A similar commission is being formed in the U.K. as I write this, so Australia isn’t alone. The U.K. commission will also be looking into allegations against the Watchtower Society.
Wait. That’s not all.
It appears the Society has instructed authorities at Kingdom Halls across the globe to start destroying evidence regarding pedophiles in their midst. Not everything is to be destroyed – at least, not officially according to this document. Just stuff the elders wrote down in their personal notes, written minutes of meetings, and agendas. Which is weird since the Goddard Inquiry (the U.K. commission investigating pedophile allegations against the Society) has instructed them to keep every single piece of evidence, regardless of how important the Society thinks it might be, so the committee can review it. If you’re curious, a copy of the Society’s instructions can be found online so you can see for yourselves. While the destruction of things like personal notes and minutes may not sound so bad, JWvictims (a site that criticizes the Watchtower Society) pointed out the following in an article entitled The BBC Thinks Jehovah’s Witnesses “Have Some Explaining To Do” When It Comes to Destroying Documents Relating to Child Molestation. You decide whether the site’s statement makes sense for yourself. The bolded text is mine.
A person might immediately dismiss this information from Jehovah’s Witnesses, wondering about the importance of an elder’s personal notes, meeting minutes, and so on, when certain information contained in the congregation’s confidential files are apparently still retained. The first response is that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of their relevance; the Goddard Inquiry made it quite clear that nothing should be destroyed, period. It’s up to them to determine the relevance, not you or I, and certainly not Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The second response is that an elder’s notes and meeting minutes can be very invaluable when determining how an organization handles child molestation accusations. For example, as I bring out in this post, during the Australian RC Inquiry, it was seen that one elder counseled a girl who had been molested and beaten by her father to respect him. Think on that for a moment; this man had molested all four of his daughters, beat them so bad that they would arrive to the Kingdom Hall with welts, and he was now cheating on his wife. Yet, the elder’s own notes said, “counsel = respect father.” This is something that would be very invaluable in evaluating how an organization handles cases of child molestation, as it shows how they only re-victimize those children whom they question, and also shows their gross lack of empathy or any feeling for that victim in the first place.
Note that it is very common for supposedly secret communications between Bethel (Watchtower headquarters) and local elders to find their way onto the internet. This is mostly due to the activism of elders and other officials within the organization who have lost faith in the Society’s teachings but who feel they must continue to serve the organization out of family concerns or other obligations.
More importantly, the Society hasn’t officially denied the validity of this file so far as I can tell, which is exactly what they should do if it were fake. A BBC report about the destruction of evidence can be found here so you don’t have to take my word for any of it. This is a real thing and it’s happening right now. Everything I’ve written in this article is sourced and the links are here for anyone who wants to click on them.
Exact quotes about the case and their sources from various news agencies can be found below. These are not ex-Jehovah’s Witness or anti-Watchtower websites, but actual news sites from around the world reporting on the story. Click the links to see the articles in full. The quotes below are the highlights and should give you a general picture of the situation. Just bear in mind that they come from the United States, Australia, and the U.K., three countries that spell common English words in different ways.
Highlights from Real News Sources
Instead, the [Australian Royal Commission] says, the Church itself handled all the cases…
One elder told the hearing that notes relating to abuse claims were destroyed so they would not be discovered.
Australia began a national inquiry into child sexual abuse in 2013, after claims of abuse in the Catholic Church.
Instead of reporting child abuse to law enforcement, elders form their own judicial committees to deal with child abusers. The process can include having the victim confront the alleged abuser in person.
Watchtower policy directs elders not to take any action against an accused child abuser unless the abuser confesses or there are two witnesses to the abuse.
The Watchtower argues that its child abuse policies are based on Scripture and that police and court scrutiny violate the organization’s First Amendment rights.
The Watchtower says its elders report child abuse in states where they are required to by law. In many states, they get around those laws by invoking a loophole that allows clergy to keep quiet about spiritual confessions – even when the issue is first raised by a victim, not an abuser.
Dozens of current and former members told Reveal that they were threatened with disfellowshipping – the Witnesses’ version of excommunication – if they spoke up about child abuse. Once a Witness has been disfellowshipped, he or she is shunned by all other Witnesses, including family, friends and employers. (The Watchtower says it does not discourage victims from reporting their own abuse.)
The Watchtower keeps the names and whereabouts of known or suspected child abusers in an electronic database. The Watchtower has twice violated subpoenas by refusing to produce the database in civil court. Meanwhile, no federal agencies have stepped in to obtain the list.
The abuse was meticulously catalogued. From 1950 to 2014, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society amassed 5,000 files detailing sexual abuse of Australian children by 1,006 of its members, who believe that only they — the Jehovah’s Witnesses — proclaim the truth about God.
Young girls were assaulted by neighbors. Teenagers were raped by their fathers. Victims were forced to pray with their abusers.
When the children reached out for help, the church’s obsession with secrecy and hostility to outsiders kicked in. Victims, ordered to keep quiet, were forced to confront their abusers in person. All complaints — which averaged one a month for 65 years — were carefully recorded in sealed files, along with the church’s by-the-Bible responses.
In all, 127 church officials were demoted. No one was reported to the authorities. Child abuse was recorded and hidden away.
Elders and other church members testified that the church could excommunicate (or “disfellowship”) any members found to have committed sexual abuse, but they believed victims only if the abuser confessed or if there were two or more witnesses to the abuse.
The inquiry also heard that 401 members were cast out following internal church investigations, but that more than half were eventually brought back into the fold.
During two weeks of hearings, [Geoffrey Jackson, one of the seven members of the religion’s Governing Body] 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.
The Jehovah’s Witness church is believed to have sent a memo telling them to get rid of notes taken during “judicial meetings” with alleged sex offenders.
It comes after Judge Lowell Goddard – the head of Britain’s independent child sex abuse inquiry – warned institutions that NO paperwork relating to abuse claims should be shredded.
Mr Stewart [from the Australian Royal Commission] submitted the Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s policy of requiring its adherents to actively shun those who leave the organisation is cruel on those who leave and on their friends and family who remain behind.
It was particularly cruel on those who have suffered child sexual abuse in the organisation and wish to leave because they feel that their complaints have not been adequately dealt with.
He submitted the policy of shunning is not apparently justified by the Scriptures which are cited in support of it, is adopted and enforced in order to prevent people from leaving the organisation and thereby to maintain its membership.
He further said the policy is in conflict with the organisation’s professed support for freedom of religious choice and the belief that Jehovah God is a compassionate God who recognises the worth and dignity of all human beings.
Submissions by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia rejected or amended almost all of the suggested findings.
Despite the coverage above, many people aren’t even aware that this is a problem. Some in the media are afraid to report on the story because they don’t want to be seen as picking on Jehovah’s Witnesses. But this isn’t just a few, random cases. It’s a pattern and someone – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses – should be aware of it. Otherwise, how can changes to correct these problems ever take place?
You might be able to help the U.K. commission. Details on how to do so can be found here. Also, a documentary created by a former Jehovah’s Witnesses that goes into the issues can be found here. At least there are plenty of videos about it on YouTube, both recordings from TV and from various personal sources.
So the big takeaway is that this is a serious problem. The Watchtower Society isn’t as big as The Catholic Church, but a lot of people are being affected. And while organizations like these can’t stop every incident, they can certainly change policies that make it easy to get away with.
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the leaders of the Watchtower Society) and others have talked about this to some extent on their website and their online TV show. But they seem to be in full denial mode. There is also a website that tried to refute some of the allegations. As far as I know, it is not officially sanctioned by the Society but it seems to have been created by one of Jehovah’s Witness. It is a pretty typical example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses process – and rationalize – criticism of this sort. For Jehovah’s Witnesses who have doubts, the sources are here. All you have to do is click. This is more than just a few random cases that could happen anywhere and the rules that make it easy for pedophiles to operate could be changed at a moment’s notice. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses just needs to act.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are gearing up for their Memorial and inviting people to visit their Kingdom Halls for the event. I’m not encouraging people to interrogate the Witnesses who come to their door, but if you happen to talk with them, it might be a good chance to make them aware of the problem. If enough inquiries reach Bethel, the Governing Body might do something beyond simple damage control.
If anything happens on this front, I’ll make sure to give you an update.