Watchtower Pedophile Problem
The situation amongst Jehovah's Witnesses regarding paedophiles is reminiscent of the Catholic Church. Whilst the majority of Witnesses abhor paedophilia and the Watchtower denounces child abuse, archaic and self-serving policies have facilitated this very practice amongst Jehovah's Witnesses. The result has been the Watchtower Society paying millions of dollars in out of court settlements.
The Watchtower Society actively denounces other religions for their stance on pedophiles.
"First accused of gross indecency in 1979, one priest was recently sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to 36 charges! Usually these cases are hushed up, and no significant disciplinary action is taken. Perhaps a priest is transferred to another parish or duty, where the depravity might start again. On this occasion the archbishop was moved to resign after stating: "We are a sinful church. We are naked. Our anger, our pain, our anguish, our shame are clear to the whole world." And even worse, the church hierarchy failed to act decisively. They were accused of being more concerned about the offending priests than about the victims." Awake! 1990 Nov 8 p.31
"Even Churches that condemn immorality have tolerated religious leaders who have sexually abused children." The End of False Religion is Near! (2006) p.2
Whilst firmly against paedophilia, Watchtower policy has facilitated this very practice amongst Jehovah's Witnesses. There have been several reasons that this is the case.
- There must be "two witnesses" to establish scriptural crimes
- Reproach must not be bought on Jehovah's name
- Everyone must engage in preaching
- Witnesses are expected to solve problems within the Organization
silentlambs.com lists numerous examples that highlight the extent of child abuse amongst Jehovah's Witnesses. This extends to prominent elders at Bethel, such as Jesus Cano, who was arrested in June 2006. Cano handed out naked pictures of himself to young males at airports whilst travelling on District Convention speaking assignments. (wcbstv.com)
The Watchtower Society has come in for tremendous criticism globally for its stance on paedophilia and been the subject of numerous media reports. The reason for such a widespread problem is compounded by several factors.
At the heart of the issue is the attitude of the Watchtower towards the wisdom of the world.
"So God has nothing in common with this world. (John 18:36; 1 John 2:15-17) That is why the Bible speaks of two kinds of wisdom-"the wisdom of God" and "the wisdom of the world."" Watchtower 1992 Sep 15 p.19
Fear of bringing reproach on Jehovah's name is used to dissuade use of legal and court systems.
"Loyalty to Jehovah God will also keep us from doing anything that would bring reproach upon his name and Kingdom. For example, two Christians once got into such difficulty with each other that they improperly resorted to a worldly law court. Certainly, the course of loyalty to Jehovah God is to suffer personal loss rather than bring reproach upon Jehovah and his organization." Watchtower 1996 Mar 15 p.15
Witnesses with problems are encouraged to go to the elders and discouraged from going to worldly experts for fear and being influenced by people that do not understand Watchtower principles. Needless to say, elders have no training in issues such as marriage, addictions and child abuse beyond limited information provided by the Watchtower Society. Watchtower policy lags painfully behind child abuse professionals. In the case of child abuse the environment for children to discuss their abuse is generally in a small kingdom hall room in front of 3 male elders. Quite often the child has been expected to face the accused.
Of more damage was that until the mid 1990's Watchtower policy dictated that two witnesses must be present at the same sexual encounter for the perpetrator to be considered to have committed a scriptural offence. In the case of child molestation, there are almost never two witnesses. This meant that even when several children made an accusation against the same brother the elders were to do nothing. Without two witnesses the only time action could be taken was when the accused confessed.
When a serial offender was found to have been a child molester, elders kept information discussed in judicial committees confidential under 'ecclesial privilege'. This included not reporting such matters to the police. Witnesses have regularly been discouraged from going to the police for fear of bringing reproach on Jehovah's name. In legal cases Watchtower lawyers have made the claim that the Bible says elders must keep information they know in regards to crime confidential. This mimics the Catholic ideas on confessionals.
"Elders in the Christian congregation are responsible to handle violations of divine law, such as stealing, murder, and immorality. But God did not require congregation elders to enforce Caesar's laws and codes. Hence, Paul did not feel compelled to turn over to Roman authorities Onesimus, who was a fugitive under Roman law. (Philemon 10, 15) Of course, if someone flagrantly violates secular law, gaining the reputation of being a lawbreaker, he would not be a good example and might even be disfellowshipped." Watchtower 1986 Oct 1 p.31
It was not until the late 1990's, and as a result of bad media publicity globally that Watchtower policy changes on child abuse finally started to come into effect. For a person to be considered to have acted inappropriately scripturally collaborative evidence such as photos, or two children making a similar accusation in a short period of time can now be regarded as "two witnesses".
Elders are now to go to the secular authorities, though still only in States where they are legally required to. Prior to contacting the police elders are expected to seek advice from the Watchtower legal department. The following proviso is stated in an October 10 2002 Confidential "Body of Elders" Letter sent to all elders in Australia;
"If, after contacting the Society, it is determined that the elders should report a matter such as child abuse to the authorities, it would not be considered to be a breach of confidentiality to make such a report. Elders should always contact the Society before providing any information on confidential matters to secular authorities."
In the Watchtower 1997 Jan 1 it became policy that scripturally convicted child molesters were never to hold the position of elders. Yet even if convicted in court, such conviction is not considered valid unless the elders can find the person guilty under 'Scriptural' principles. As such, a convicted paedophile may at times continue to have privileges, such as being an elder.
In 2002 NBC aired on Dateline a program explaining that a householder had no way of knowing if the Witness on their doorstep is a child molester. In May 2002, and only in response to this show the Watchtower has recommended that confessed child molesters not to go preaching house-to-house when alone, though they are still expected to preach with a partner.
An indication that the main concern of the Watchtower Society has been to avoid legal liability is page 143 of the elder's handbook, Pay Attention To Yourselves and to All the Flock. This page is left blank, with elders filling in dictated notes. In regards to child abuse the following paragraph is scribed. "Child Abuse. Ref Letters: A.B.E Aug 29th 1989 pg 3; LLA 10/10/2002; 28/8/02. Legal ramifications.
- In cases of either accusation or allegations of child abuse, immediately contact the society. Do not talk to anyone else.
- If a brother or a sister confesses to child abuse, ask them not to speak to anyone else till you get back to them, and contact the society immediately. In contacting the society simply state "Matter involving Child Abuse" and the switchboard will put you through.
- If interviewed by the police, tell them you are not prepared to make a statement until you have sought legal advice. Contact society immediately or a local barrister if necessary.
- If presented with a search warrant or a subpoena, the last resort is to hand over any material. (Cong file) Find out exactly what is wanted and hand over only that. Preferably seek legal advice first. (stall) Read the warrant. Write on envelope "Ecclesiastical privilege claimed, not to be opened until matter is determined by court."
The Watchtower Society is in damage mode regarding pedophile accusations. The Watchtower Public Relations site jw-media.org (May 26 2007) released the following quote, seemingly as justification for prior indiscretions;
"People didn't have the body of knowledge 18 or 20 years ago to say that this is something that will harm your child emotionally, if you don't address it. Parents didn't know the seriousness ... and the long-term effects."
Obvious false propaganda, particularly when compared with statements appearing in the Watchtower at least 25 years ago.
"Pedophiles see no harm in "kiddie porn," only because they are blinded by their own lust. But the children used in it are harmed, often ending up peddling sex on the streets and having trouble seeing themselves as desirable in any way other than as a commodity, a sex object with a price tag." Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.8
Highly condemning has been the settlement of 16 child abuse cases in 2007. A number of abuse victims filed court cases against the Watchtower Society through Attorney Kim Norris at Law firm Love & Norris. These were for up to $4 million per victim. Some were regarding Rick McLean, who molested many JW kids over a twenty year period. Many Witness victims went to the elders but no action was taken due to the "two witness" rule. Neither were the authorities contacted. watchtowerdocuments.com contains over 5000 pages of court transcripts regarding this case.
If the Watchtower believed itself innocent they would have welcomed the opportunity to prove in court that their policies were not responsible for hiding pedophiles within congregations. In an indication of guilt the Watchtower Society chose not to allow these cases to go to trial; to do so would have been devastating to their reputation. Rather they have settled out of court with nondisclosure agreements also known as gag orders, which mean the victims receipt of compensation is dependant on them not speaking about the court cases. The settlements have been printed in newspapers around the world.
Due to negative publicity, legal risk and financial ramifications the Watchtower Society is beginning to act on pedophilia. This was not instigated under the guidance of Holy Spirit, but pressure from outside sources. Stubborn adherence to archaic Watchtower tradition rather than common sense has put children at unnecessary risk.
It is common for a Jehovah's Witness to say that this is no longer an issue as it has now been sorted out. But this response begs the question, "If Jehovah was behind the Watchtower Society would he have allowed these atrocities to continue unabated until brought to attention by the world's media?"
With ongoing legal and media pressure, the Watchtower has gradually updated its advice regarding child abuse. The 2010 elder's manual, Shepherd the Flock of God, outlines quite extensively how to deal with child abusers. However, it still falls far short of the mark. Elders are now told not to discourage victims from going to the police, but there is no advice to proactively go to police. When elders become aware of situations, there are told to seek advice from Bethel first. The response is usually not to go to the police unless the state requires it. In Australia elders are told not to report cases as it is not a legal requirement. For each reference to this topic see Shepherd the Flock of God child abuse quotes.