The situation amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding paedophiles is reminiscent of that of the Catholic Church. Whilst the majority of Witnesses abhor paedophilia and the Watchtower actively denounces child abuse, archaic and self-serving Watchtower policies have facilitated this very practice amongst Jehovahs Witnesses. The result has been a string of successful court cases against the Watchtower Society in recent years.
The Watchtower Society has come in for tremendous criticism globally for its stance on paedophilia and been the subject of numerous media reports.
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.
There have been several reasons that paedophiles have been able to find sanctuary amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the Watchtower Society is now being held accountable for the actions of its members. Most damaging were the following:
- The two witness rule to establish Scriptural crimes
- The three year rule for sins of elders
Other concepts also at play have been:
- Worldly wisdom cannot be trusted
- Reproach must not be bought on Jehovahs Organization – Witnesses are expected to solve problems within
- Everyone must engage in preaching
This section briefly examines each of these points.
Highly condemning has been the ongoing settlement of cases by the Watchtower Society. Most of these are settled out of court with “gag” clauses, so that the public is unable to obtain full details. More recently, some victims have decided to pursue their cases through the courts, so that people are able to become aware of what is happening within the Watchtower Organisation, and understand how dangerous their policies on child abuse have been.
The Watchtower has accepted culpability when settling cases out of court. The settled cases are generally in situations where known child predators continued to bere-appointed into positions of authority by the Brooklyn headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Elders, the equivalent of priests, are appointed after recommendation by congregation elders, approval of the circuit overseer, and acceptance by the Bethel. Elders are said to be placed in their position of authority by the active guidance of holy spirit; as such they hold considerable influence over congregation members.
Candice Conti wins $28 million – 2012
In 2012, the Watchtower lost a landmark case against Candice Conti. The case was unusual, as pedophile Jonathan Kendrick was not an elder, but a “rank and file” member of the congregation. Rather than settle out of court, the Watchtower had been confident in winning and allowed the case to go through the court process.
The case was lost due to the elders and Watchtower headquarters having knowledge of a known child molester in the congregation, but doing nothing to protect members of the congregation or public.
The Watchtower received a judgement of $21 million for punitive damages.
Highly condemning has been the settlement of 16 child abuse cases in 2007. The total payout is estimated to have been $13 million dollars.
Elders (the equivalent of priests) are appointed after recommendation by the congregation elders, approval of the circuit overseer and acceptance by the Bethel. As discussed at the chapter on Holy Spirit, elders are considered to be placed in their position of authority by the active guidance of holy spirit; as such they hold considerable influence over congregation members. The reason the Watchtower has accepted culpability is that known child predators continued to be re-appointed into these positions of authority by the Brooklyn headquarters of Jehovahs Witnesses.
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 Witness children over a twenty year period. Despite numerous Witness children and their parents approaching congregational elders, no action was taken due to the two witness rule. Neither was the authorities contacted. As such, Mclean and others were able to continue in positions of considerable influence and authority to manipulate and molest innocent victims.
Plaintiff Tim W. of Tehama County, California, in his Second Amended Complaint alleged:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. had actual knowledge that James Henderson was a sexual predator since at least 1964. Yet, for the better part of three decades, that appointed and re-appointed him to the positions of elder and ministerial servant.
By settling out of court the allegation was neither proven or disproven. However, an out of court settlement for such a large amount of money speaks for itself. If the Watchtower Society believed itself innocent you would imagine them welcoming 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.
Two Witness Rule
Of most damage has been that until the late 1990s, 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. This meant that elders were aware of serial child abusers, yet no action was taken either within the congregation, or by contacting the police.
The Watchtower 1995 Nov 1 pp.28-9 gave the following advice regarding accusations of child abuse.
“What if the sufferer decides that he wants to make an accusation? Then the two elders can advise him that, in line with the principle at Matthew 18:15, he should personally approach the accused about the matter.
If the accuser is not emotionally able to do this face-to-face, it can be done by telephone or perhaps by writing a letter. In this way the one accused is given the opportunity to go on record before Jehovah with his answer to the accusation. He may even be able to present evidence that he could not have committed the abuse. Or perhaps the one accused will confess, and a reconciliation may be achieved. What a blessing that would be! If there is a confession, the two elders can handle matters further in accordance with Scriptural principles.
If the accusation is denied, the elders should explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done in a judicial way. And the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The Bible says that there must be two or three witnesses before judicial action can be taken. (2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19) Even if more than one person remembers abuse by the same individual, the nature of these recalls is just too uncertain to base judicial decisions
on them without other supporting evidence. This does not mean that such memories are viewed as false (or that they are viewed as true). But Bible principles must be followed in establishing a matter judicially.
What if the one accusedthough denying the wrongdoingis really guilty? Does he get away with it, as it were? Certainly not! The question of his guilt or innocence can be safely left in Jehovah’s hands.”
After negative publicity received, this has been changed to allow “two-witnesses” to include a single witness from two separate occasions. The change was introduced in a Letter to Elders May 24, 2002
”In recent weeks, the press in this country has focused attention on the way accusations of child abuse are handled by various religious organizations. Such reports may cause some sincere individuals to ask about the procedures followed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
We expect the elders to investigate every allegation of child abuse. Even one abused child is one too many. However, in evaluating the evidence, they must bear in mind the Bible’s clear direction: “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.” (Deuteronomy 19:15) Later, this requirement to consider testimony of two or three witnesses was confirmed by Jesus. (Matthew 18:16) Thus, although they investigate every allegation, the elders are not authorized by the Scriptures to take congregational action unless there is a confession or there are two credible witnesses. However, if two persons are witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing, their testimony can be deemed sufficient
to take action.-” I Timothy 5:19,24,25.”
Three Year Rule
Even more critical in legal actions taken against the Watchtower Society has been the Three Year rule. This allowed for known paedophiles to continue serving as elders, provided any known offences were committed at least three years prior to confession.
The 1972 book Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making stated:
“If a person was serving as an elder or a ministerial servant when he committed a serious wrong, even though it was some years ago, he bears a degree of reprehensibility, for he continued to serve in that position though knowing that he had, for the time at least, disqualified himself, not being then free from accusation. (1 Tim. 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6,7) He should have informed the judicial committee that he did not adhere to the requirements and should have stepped down from his position. In view of his failure to do this at that time, he would now be removed from that position.”
The term some years ago was clarified shortly afterwards in the Kingdom Ministry 1972 p.8 as a time period of three years:
“What was meant by some years ago on page 170, paragraph two, in the Organization book? This indicates more than a year or two. It may be noted that it did not say many years ago. So it is not the exact number of years, but more like two or three years. It was not intended to have a brother go back into the distant past to bring up wrongs of which he repented years ago and that have evidently been forgiven by Jehovah and are not practiced now.”
This position was re-confirmed at the 1991 two-day Kingdom Ministry Schools. It was not until the 2005 Kingdom Ministry Schools that it was clearly stated that hidden acts of porneia (sexual sins) were to require a judicial committee.
I personally benefited from this very rule. Whilst in Bethel in 1994 I confessed to a Bethel elder to a “sin” committed in 1990. As both myself and the other party were both still in full time service three years later, the elder determined that Jehovah had forgiven the indiscretion and no further action was taken.
At the heart of the issue has also been 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 wisdomthe wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world.” Watchtower 1992 Sep 15 p.19
Witnesses with problems are encouraged to go to the elders and discouraged from going to worldly experts for fear and being influenced by the advice of worldly experts that may disagree with Watchtower principles. Victims have regularly been advised against contacting police or specialists trained in child abuse. 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.
An indication of how painfully lacking the training of elders is 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. Inappropriately, the elders attempt to determine if the child has been somewhat at fault.
Reproach on the Organization’s Name
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
The issue here is not the name of Jehovah, but the reputation of the Watchtower Organization. People do not blame God when a Witness molests a child. If blame is attributed to anyone other than the perpetrator, it will be directed towards the rules and regulations of the Watchtower Society.
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 Caesars 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
Change in Policy
It was not until the late 1990s, 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.
In the Watchtower 1997 January 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.
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 10 Oct 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.”
Compulsory Preaching - Is there a Paedophile at your Door?
House-to-house preaching is considered a key requirement for salvation, and a person is only counted as an active Jehovahs Witness if they submit field service reports. In 2002, NBC aired on Dateline a program explaining that a householder had no way of knowing if the Jehovahs Witness on their doorstep is a child molester. In May 2002, and likely 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 elders 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.
*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 has acted in damage mode regarding paedophile accusations. The Watchtower Public Relations site jw-media.org 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″BabyPros”and”KiddiePorn”
The Watchtower Society actively denounces other religions for their stance on paedophiles.
“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
In light of the events spanning several decades and coming to a head in recent years, these Watchtower statements can be regarded as nothing short of hypocritical.
Due to negative publicity, legal risk and financial ramifications the Watchtower Society is beginning to act on paedophilia. 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?”
 This article draws largely on information gathered by Barbara Anderson. Barbara was research assistant in the Watchtower writing department during the 1990s. Her story can be found at jwfacts.com. Detailed information can be found at http://www.watchtowerdocuments.com (as at January 5th 2008). Her CD Secrets of Pedophilia in an American Religion Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crisis contains over 5,000 pages of discussion and court transcripts from the out of court settlement by the Watchtower Society in 2007.
 http://www.jwmedia.org/newsroom/ index.htm?content=/vnr/ 2122827332/717263.pdf (May 26 2007 – Removed January 2008)