While Jehovah's Witnesses as a whole abhor paedophilia and the Watchtower denounces child abuse, faulty and self-serving policies have contributed to paedophilia occurring in the organisation that could have been prevented. The result has been harm to thousands of child victims and distraught parents, and the Watchtower Society paying millions of dollars in settlements.
The Watchtower Society has come in for tremendous criticism globally for its stance on paedophilia and been the subject of a multitude of 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 handed out naked pictures of himself to young males at airports whilst travelling on District Convention speaking assignments, and was arrested in June 2006.1
The situation amongst Jehovah's Witnesses regarding paedophiles is reminiscent of the Catholic Church. The New York Times has however noted a difference between pedophilia amongst Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholic's. In the Catholic Church:
"most of the people accused of abuse are priests and a vast majority of the victims were boys and young men. In the Jehovah's Witnesses some of those accused are elders, but most are congregation members. The victims who have stepped forward are mostly girls and young women, and many accusations involve incest." August 11, 2002
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.2 Most damaging, and described in detail below, 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 Jehovah's Organization - Witnesses are expected to solve problems within
- Everyone must engage in preaching
Since 1997, there has been improvement in Watchtower policies regarding child abuse, particularly due to pressure from the media and legal cases, and included are the latest Watchtower regulations for each point.
Two Witness Rule
The Two Witness Rule is based on Jesus words in Matthew 18:15,16.
15 "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. 16 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."
The Watchtower does not apply this passage consistently. Although Matthew says to confront a sinner "alone", the Watchtower does not expect a person that has been threatened with violence, raped or abused to confront the perpetrator on their own, so why then does the Watchtower insist that the two witness rule apply to child abuse?
Of most damage is the "Two Witness" Rule. Until the late 1990s, egregious 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. It is incomprehensible that the Governing Body could sanction such a policy.
The Watchtower 1995 Nov 1 pp.28-9 gave the following advice regarding accusations of child abuse.
"What Can Elders Do?
If the elders are approached by a member of the congregation who is experiencing flashbacks or repressed memories of child abuse, two of them are usually assigned to help. These elders should kindly encourage the afflicted one to focus for the time being on coping with the emotional distress. The names of any remembered abusers should be kept in strict confidence.
The elders primary task is to act as shepherds. (Isaiah 32:1,2; 1Peter 5:2,3) They should be especially careful to clothe [themselves] with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. (Colossians 3:12) Let them listen in a kindly way and then apply healing words from the Scriptures. (Proverbs 12:18) Some who are afflicted with painful memories have expressed appreciation for elders who make regular visits or even telephone calls to check to see how they are doing. Such contacts need not take a lot of time, but they show that Jehovahs organization cares. When the afflicted one realizes that his Christian brothers truly love him, he may be helped to recover a considerable degree of emotional balance.
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 accused though denying the wrong doing is 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 Jehovahs hands. The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men their sins also become manifest later. (1Timothy 5:24; Romans 12:19; 14:12) The book of Proverbs says: The expectation of the righteous ones is a rejoicing, but the very hope of the wicked ones will perish. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes. (Proverbs 10:28; 11:7) Ultimately, Jehovah God and Christ Jesus render everlasting judgment in justice. 1 Corinthians 4:5."
It was only after ongoing negative publicity since the 1990's that this was changed to allow "two-witnesses" to include a single witness from two separate occasions.
"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." - TO ALL CONGREGATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES Letter to Elders May 24, 2002
In the case of child abuse, this still has not gone far enough, and for the sake of children in the congregation, precautions should be taken as soon as there is an accusation from "one witness".
The Watchtower tries to shift responsibility for its policy to God and the Bible.
"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)" Watchtower 1995 Nov 1 pp.28-9
The Watchtower's legalistic insistence of the two witness rule for child abuse is a misapplication of Bible guidance. Small victimised children cannot usually bring the allegation themselves and need extra protection. To insist on a strict two witness policy in situations involving defenceless children is an unrealistic Pharisaical policy. Jesus denounced fanatical adherence to the law at the sacrifice of higher principles of love and mercy. He graphically demonstrated law does not override humanity by healing a man's withered hand on the Sabbath. Applying the two-witness rule to pedophile accusations is a case of fanatical adherence to the letter of the law, so denounced by Jesus.
Whilst the two witness rule is a sensible guideline in preventing the miscarriage of justice, it is open to abuse, and hence needs to be used within reason. For instance, a guilty person can deny an accusation from a single witness and avoid punishment. Alternatively, two people can collude to claim an innocent person is guilty and have them unjustly punished. In the case of child abuse, an area in which elders are painfully unqualified to act as judge, trained authorities and experts should always be involved.
It is universally accepted that protection of children is of paramount importance. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted 1959, recognises the basic fact that children require special protection, a point glaringly overlooked by the Governing Body when establishing its rules on child abuse.
2. The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.
8. The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief.
Click here for a PDF of the Declaration in full, as appearing at http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/humanrights/resources/child.asp (Sep 12 2012).
The guidelines in the 2010 Elders Manual continue to fall disappointingly short in providing children with special protection, stating:
"Even though a Christian has been accused of wrongdoing serious enough to require judicial action, a judicial committee should not be formed unless the wrongdoing has been established. What kind of evidence is acceptable? ...
There must be two or three eyewitnesses, not just people repeating hearsay; no action can taken if there only one witness. Deut 19:15; John 8:17.
If there are two or three witnesses to the same kind of wrongdoing but each one is witness to a separate incident , the elders can consider their testimony. While such evidence is acceptable to establish guilt, is preferable to have two witnesses to the same occurrence of wrongdoing.
If the accused denies the accusation, the investigating elders should try to arrange a meeting with him and the accuser together. (Note: If the accusation involves child sexual abuse and the victim is currently a minor, the elders should contact the branch office before arranging a meeting with the child and the alleged abuser .) If the accuser or the accused is unwilling to meet with the elders or if the accused continues to deny the accusation of a single witness and the wrongdoing is not established, the elders will leave matters in Jehovah's hands. (Deut.19:15-17; 1 Tim 5:19, 24, 25; w95 11/1 pp. 28-29) The investigating elders should compose a record, sign it, put it in a sealed envelope, and place it in the congregations confidential file. Additional evidence may later come to light to establish matters." Shepherd the Flock of God pp.71,72
It is disappointing that a procedure manual released as late as 2010 would still indicate arranging a meeting between the child and the abuser, or to dismiss non-action as leaving "matters in Jehovah's hands."
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 wisdom, the 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 of 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 three male elders. Quite often the child has been expected to face the accused.
Even more inappropriately, the official 1989 form used by elders asked the question "How many elders felt that the victim was somewhat at fault or willingly participated in the acts?"
Reproach on the Organisation's Name
Fear of bringing reproach on Jehovah's name has been 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 is 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 ecclesiastical 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 Jehovahs 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
Parents who have witnessed or strongly suspected child abuse against their child have been warned by elders not to talk any other parents in the congregation, with a threat of disfellowshipping for slander if they do. This has been an important factor that has contributed to a child abuser being able to go on and commit more crimes against other children.
In 1986, Congress passed the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act. This allowed children a civil claim in sexual abuse cases, and led to increasing cases against the Catholic Church. In apparent response, a Confidential Letter was sent to Elders in 1989, stating elders contact, not the police, but the Societies legal department regarding any accusations of child abuse. The Elders letter went into detail about keeping information confidential, including the contents of the letter. The 2012 court case involving Candace Conti found the instructions of this letter led to child abuse cases being kept hidden.
A 1989 elder's form for child abuse cases stated that if the congregation is in a location where it is compulsory to make a report to the authorities, they should make an anonymous call from a phone booth. This is highly ineffective, since police are generally unable to follow up on anonymous tips. Following is a copy of the form taken from court exhibits.
In 2002, it was finally accepted that police could be contacted directly. A Letter To All Bodies of Elders in the United States, February 15, 2002 stated that elders were not to prevent Witnesses reporting child abuse to the police, which has been added to the 2010 Elders manual.
"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. - Gal. 6:5." Shepherd the Flock of God pp.131,132. Click here for the full quote.
However, the congregation itself is not protected, since it will not be made aware of pedophiles within the congregation by the elders. Even when a person is disfellowshipped for child abuse, the only announcements will be "[Name of person] is no longer one ofJehovah's Witnesses" and possibly later, "[Name of person] is reinstated as one of Jehovah's Witnesses."
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.
Two children making a similar accusation in a short period of time can now be regarded as two witnesses, as can collaborative evidence such as photos.
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.
Elders are now to go to the secular authorities in States where they are legally required to. However, in most cases Bethel recommends against going to the authorities where there is no legal obligation. 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 1997 it was introduced that child molesters were not to serve as elders or other roles of responsibility such as Ministerial Servants and Pioneers.
"For the protection of our children, a man known to have been a child molester does not qualify for a responsible position in the congregation. Moreover, he cannot be a pioneer or serve in any other special, full-time service." Watchtower 1997 Jan 1 p.29.
However, the 2010 Elders manual does indicate that it is possible for a child abuser to serve as an Elder or Ministerial Servant after "many years" have passed.
"Moreover, the nature of the sin may reflect greatly on his qualifications to serve. For example, the sin may involve past child abuse, and this would likely disqualify him for many years.- w97 1/1 pp. 26-29; w77 pp. 697-698.
If the wrongdoing occurred within the past few years while he was serving as an elder or a ministerial servant, he is disqualified from serving as such, not being "free from accusation."" Shepherd the Flock of God pp.38,39
In 1997, it was explained that the policy for when a child molester moves to a new congregation is for the elders to be made aware of the person's past. Disturbingly, it is only the elders that are to be told, not the members of the congregation. The pedophile is also referred to as a "former child molester", showing the Watchtower's ignorance regarding the ongoing nature of a pedophile's desires and minimising their actions.
LETTER TO ELDERS, 1997 Mar 14 p.2
Compulsory Preaching - Is there a Paedophile at your Door?
Of most concern to the general public should be that Witness pedophiles are expected to go preaching to the houses of strangers. 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 Jehovah's Witness on their doorstep, (or having a bible study with your child in your house) is a child molester.
Watchtower public relations spokesman, J. R. Brown, claimed in Louisville Courier-Journal, 1-4-2001 that sex offenders are only to preach when accompanied by a responsible adult. However, this is not generally known by Jehovah's Witnesses, as it is not discussed in Watchtower publications, and difficult to enforce when other publishers are not informed of sex offenders within the congregation.
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."3
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 June 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 November 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. Although the Society has gradually improved its policy, it is still faulty, even two decades after people such as Barbara Anderson brought these issues to the attention of the Governing Body. There are still further changes that should be immediately made to the policy:
- The two-witness rule must no longer apply to accusations of sexual offences against children
- If the accused denies guilt but the police are investigating the matter, the accused is not under any circumstances to have unsupervised contact with a child in the congregation or engage unsupervised in the field service until the matter is resolved through the normal civil authorities processes
- If convicted by the authorities, an abuser must never serve as an elder, ministerial servant, or pioneer or engage in field service activity alone or with a child. It is not a "right" to have a position of authority or responsibility, and since there is no harm in not holding these positions, policy should err on the side of caution, for the sake of child safety.
- The elders should advise all parents of children under the age of consent of the presence in the congregation of the conviction unless the identify of the abuser is protected by a court name suppression order
- All accusations should be reported to the authorities, regardless of whether or not it is a legal obligations in that state or country. Congregations are ill equipped to handle such accusations, and the organisation should be leading the way in the protection of children, not lagging behind the world's standards
The Governing Body has always been composed predominantly of older, white, childless, males. This is reflected in the strict, legalistic approach to child victims, and the concern with putting the reputation of the organisation first. We can only imagine a more loving and protective set of guidelines, had they been established by parents.
In the face of all this, Jehovah's Witnesses must ask themselves, "If Jehovah was behind the Watchtower Society, would he have allowed such atrocities in the organisation, which claims to be a spiritual paradise, to continue for so long, until they are brought to the world's attention by the media?"
Australian documentary on child abuse within the Watchtower Society
2 This article draws largely on information gathered by Barbara Anderson. Barbara Anderson was research assistant in the Watchtower writing department during the 1990s. Her story can be found under the Experiences section. Detailed information can be found at http://www.watchtowerdocuments.com (as at January 5th 2008). Her CD Secrets of Pedophilia in an American Religion Jehovahs 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.
3 http://www.jwmedia.org/newsroom/index.htm?content=/vnr/2122827332/717263.pdf (May 26 2007 - Removed January 2008)
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2013