home > scandal > child abuse court cases

Watchtower Child Abuse Settlements

Watchtower is facing and losing a rising number of court cases, due to its policies and protection of pedophiles within its congregations. This article discusses some prominent cases and the reasoning courts give for judgements against Watchtower.

For detail regarding how Jehovah's Witnesses are instructed to deal with child abusers see Watchtower Pedophile Policy, which discusses how these policies have facilitated the operation of pedophiles within congregations.

The ongoing settlement of cases by the Watchtower Society is highly condemning. 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 be re-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.

Table of Contents

Montana $35 million 2018

In September 2018, a court found Watchtower guilty of not reporting an extreme case of child abuse, awarding one of the victims $35 million. This was despite the abuser confessing in 2004, and the congregation elders supplying Watchtower headquarters with details of the confession. The PDF of the Plantiff's exhibits is possible to display without violating copyright as it was released to the public record, giving a rare opportunity to view a completed form for disfellowshipping, along with official Watchtower letters about the case. The information is shocking at several levels. As the US state of Montana has mandatory reporting laws, there was no excuse for this not being reported to authorities.

The elders had a confession from Max and written details from his victims.

The elders wrote to Watchtower legal department specifically stating that authorities had not been informed.

The instructions from the legal department was to fill out the Watchtower forms, but no advice was given to report the crimes, and no report was made.

Max was disfellowshipped, but a year later the elders reinstated him, after which the abuse of his stepchildren continued.

On 27 September 2018, this was reported by press release on numerous news sites globally - Jehovah's Witnesses ordered by jury to pay $35M to abuse survivor.

The following video from Lloyd Evan's YouTube channel spends almost two hours discussing the case in depth with a panel of four people. It is very informative and worth watching to appreciate the unethical and illegal behaviour at all levels of the organization, and contemptible depths Watchtower lawyers went to in an attempt to justify their failure to protect children in the congregation and avoid being found guilty in this case.

The full set of court documents are available from supremecourtdocket.mt.gov by searching on case number 18-0534.

Child Abuse Royal Commission Australia 2015

In July 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia looked into the handling of this amongst Jehovah's Witnesses. Through several days of interviews with victims, elders, Branch members and former Jehovah's witnesses, it was highlighted how inadequate Watchtower policy has been and continues to be, due to putting the reputation of the organisation ahead of the protection of children. The findings - Submissions of Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission - are scathing of Watchtower policy, the unwillingness to change and the lack of honesty displayed at the hearing.

The hearing received global media attention, as a professionally conducted, groundbreaking inquiry. Interesting articles include:

For a full list of all the exhibits, including scores of Internal Watchtower documentation outlining the organizational procedures, see Royal Commission Exhibits .

Fessler Settlement 2017

Fessler was a teenager in 2002 when first abused by Terry Monheim, who was in her forties. The abuse was reported to the elders, who did not follow Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting rules, which led to a continuation of the abuse. Fessler requested $USD 1.9 million and was counter offered by Watchtower $100,000. Fessler did not accept the offer and took the case to court. Subsequently, a settlement with confidentiality clause was reached in February 2017. This is discussed in the Plaintiff's Second Amended Pre-trial Memorandum

The Watchtower Branch manual outlines that Bethel branches can make expenditure of up to $USD 2,000,000 without Governing Body approval, so it is unclear what involvement the Governing Body would have had in this case and authorisation of the settlement.

News coverage of the case appeared at pennlive.com/news - Jehovah's Witness Sexual Abuse Feb 13 2017.

Candace Conti - Jonathan Kendrick 2012 - 2015

In 2012, Watchtower lost a landmark case against Candace Conti and her lawyer, Rick Simons. 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, Watchtower had been confident in winning and allowed the case to go through the court process.

Watchtower lost the case on the basis that the elders and Watchtower headquarters had knowledge of a known child molester in the congregation, but did nothing to protect members of the congregation or public. In fact, they allowed Kendrick to preach alone with Conti as a 9 year old.

There were two main issues.

  • Was there a duty to warn the congregation or Candace Conti's parents that Kendrick had molested a child in the past? The lower court said that there was and awarded $21 million punitive damages for breach of this duty. On appeal the court held that there was no such duty.
  • Was there a duty to limit and supervise Kendrick's field service? Both courts said that there was as this was "a church sponsored activity." Candace Conti won $7 million on this issue.

Watchtower initially received a judgement of $USD28 million, the highest ever awarded against a religion for a single child abuse claim. $7 million damages was split between Kendrick, Watchtower and the congregation, and a further $21 million punitive damages directed at Watchtower. The $7 million was split in the following proportions.

  • Kendrick 60% $4,200,000
  • Watchtower 27% $1,890,000
  • Congregation 13% $910,000

The additional $21 million for punitive damages, which are used as a deterrent against a defendant reoffending, was directed solely at Watchtower. Under appeal punitive damages were later reduced to $8.6 million, and in 2015 subsequently dropped. The reason it was removed was that the judges felt setting the precedent that a religious organisation warn its adherents about a pedophile in its midsts would be overly burdensome upon religious groups in general.

The 2015 appeal upheld the guilty verdict that there was a duty to limit and supervise Kendrick's field service, along with the $7 million in damages, though Conti is likely to only receive the Watchtower's $2.8 million portion.

For an excellent summary of the attributes of this case see revealnews.org

To download the court transcripts click on the following files. The Plaintiff's MPA provides a good overview of the case.

  1. Conti Trial Transcripts 1 - 2Mb zip
  2. Conti Trial Transcripts 1 - 1Mb zip
  3. Plaintiff's MPA in Opposition to motions for new trial and JNOV - PDF

United Kingdom 2015

Jehovah church faces flood of sex abuse cases in The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015 outlines a case before the High Court of London that, if successful could lead to a string of cases being launched in the United Kingdom.

The Guardian article Jehovah's Witnesses under pressure over handling of sexual abuse claims (Alice Ross 2016 Aug 12) outlines how Watchtower has been found to have failed to protect a child from sexual abuse, and attempted to block a Charity Commission inquiry.

Gonzalo Campos 2014

On 20 May 2010, a lawsuit was filed in San Diego, California, by the Zalkin Law Firm, case number 37-2010-00092450-CU-PO-CTL, against the Watchtower of New York. This regarded 5 people and was settled out of court in 2012, with the Watchtower paying out an undisclosed amount of money.

Defendant Campos had an accusation of molestation made against him by a child and his mother in 1981, but nothing was done due to the "two witness" rule. Around 1983, Campos started molesting a 6 year old boy over a two year period. Despite the accusations of molestation, and having been reproved, Campos was made a Ministerial Servant in 1988 and an elder in 1993. Campos was disfellowshipped in 1995 and reinstated in 2000. Court documents reveal that over this time frame, Campos molested at least seven children.

In the case, Watchtower refused to provide its list of known predators to the court. See utsadndiego.com

Rather than settle out of court, victim Jose Lopez took the risk of pursuing the case in court. Lopez had been abused as a 7 year old by Campos. Congregation elders recommended Campos study with Lopez, despite having knowledge that Campos was a pedophile and had molested another boy. In 2014, a San Diego judge awarded Lopez $13.5 million.

Watchtower appealed the case, with the Court of Appeals recommending "The initial measure should be a remedy that is less onerous than a terminating sanction." (See http://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2016/d066388.html.) The COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT goes on to state:

We order the court to vacate:
(1) the portion of the January 2 order requiring Watchtower to produce Losch for his deposition;
(2) the order granting terminating and monetary sanctions; and
(3) the entry of default and the default judgment. Each party to bear its own cost.

The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in March 2018, as discussed in the San Diego Union Tribune article San Diego sex abuse cases against Jehovah's Witness organization settled (6 Mar 2019).

To download the court documents click on the following files.

  1. Irwin Zalkin Watchtower Court Documents Round 1 - 7Mb zip
  2. Irwin Zalkin Watchtower Court Documents Round 2a - 9Mb zip
  3. Irwin Zalkin Watchtower Court Documents Round 2b - 9Mb zip
  4. Irwin Zalkin Watchtower Court Documents Round 2c - 14Mb zip

Out of Court Settlements - 2007

In 2007, the Watchtower settled 16 child abuse cases, with a total payout estimated to have been $13 million dollars.

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 were 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, they 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.

Secrets of Pedophilia in an American Religion - Jehovah's Witnesses in Crisis by Barbara Anderson contains over 5,000 pages of discussion and court transcripts from the out of court settlement by the Watchtower Society in 2007. Detailed information and transcripts of this and additional cases can be found at watchtowerdocuments.com (as at 5th Jan 2008).

Warning to Elders

The following youtube clip regards three elders found to have obstructed police by following Watchtower policy. It makes an important point that elders are putting themselves at legal risk by following Watchtower policy.

Recommended Link

silentlambs.com contains scores of articles and links to news reports of Jehovah's witness pedophiles.

Written May 2015. Latest update October 2018.

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2024