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Watchtower Policy on Child Abuse

While Jehovah's Witnesses as a whole abhor paedophilia and 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.

Watchtower has received tremendous criticism globally for its policies on paedophilia and been the subject of a multitude of media reports. Silentlambs.org 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 brought on Jehovah's Organization - Witnesses are expected to solve problems within
  • Everyone must engage in preaching

It was not until the late 1990s, particularly since 1997, that Watchtower made attempts at policy improvement regarding child abuse, following legal and media pressure. However, the July 2015 Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse showed that Watchtower policies still fall woefully short of accepted best practice.

This article includes historical and current Watchtower procedure, divided into the following headings.

Two-Witness Rule

The fundamental flaw of Watchtower child abuse policy has been an unyielding application of 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. 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 Jehovah's 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 Jehovah's 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."

In the 2002 May 24 Letter to Elders, after ongoing negative publicity, Watchtower came to the conclusion that the two-witness rule could now be Scripturally fulfilled when accusations came from two separate incidents, a tacit admission that their strict adherence to the two-witness principle had not been Jehovah's requirement after all. This still falls short, as surely a single accusation should count when supported by corroborating evidence, such as of a medical nature.

"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 even a single 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

This is based on the following Scriptures.

Deuteronomy 19:15 "No single witness may convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit. On the testimony of two witnesses or on the testimony of three witnesses the matter should be established."
Matthew 18:15,16 "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. 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."
2 Corinthians 13:1 "On the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter must be established."

The two witness rule is a Biblical guideline that was not expected to apply in every situation. For instance, Deuteronomy explains that when a girl is raped in a field with no one to hear or protect her, other witnesses were not required to convict the rapist.

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 “If, however, the man happened to meet the engaged girl in the field and the man overpowered her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her is to die by himself, and you must do nothing to the girl. The girl has not committed a sin deserving of death. This case is the same as when a man attacks his fellow man and murders him. For he happened to meet her in the field, and the engaged girl screamed, but there was no one to rescue her."

Neither does Watchtower apply these passages consistently. Although Matthew 18:15,16 says to confront a sinner "alone", Watchtower does not expect a person that has been threatened with violence, raped or abused to confront the perpetrator on their own. Despite finding ways to justify this passage not be taken literally in every situation, Watchtower still insists that it applies to child victims of sexual abuse?

Each of these Scriptures are directed at adults and not children. Since there is leeway in how to apply this principle, then there is no doubt that when a child's safety is at stake, every precaution should be taken to protect the child from the very first indication of danger.

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 un.org (Sep 12 2012).

The guidelines in the 2010 Elders Manual continue to fall 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 (2010) pp.71,72

This is stated in the 2012 edition as well. It is shocking that a procedure manual released as late as 2012 would still indicate arranging a meeting between the child and the abuser, and to dismiss non-action as leaving "matters in Jehovah's hands." It was not until 2019 that the Elders Manual was updated to say this is no longer necessary.

"A victim of rape or of child sexual abuse is never required to confront the accused." Shepherd the Flock of God (2019) ch12:41

Whilst adamantly insisting two eye-witnesses are required for a pedophile to receive judicial action, a person can be disfellowshipped for fornication with no witnesses and no proof at all. A 2018 Watchtower article says couples that spend a night together can be disfellowshipped on purely circumstantial grounds.

If an unmarried couple spend the night together under improper circumstances, would that constitute a sin meriting judicial action? Yes, if there are no extenuating circumstances, a judicial committee would be formed on the basis of strong circumstantial evidence of sexual immorality." Watchtower 2018 Jul Study ed p.32

This proves false Watchtower's claim that protecting children is a priority, with instructions for elders to disfellowship adults with no eye-witnesses, but refusal to consider changing the two-witness rule for child abuse.

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 Oct p.8 as a time period of three years:

"What is 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 still in full-time service three years later, the elder determined that Jehovah had forgiven the indiscretion and no further action was taken.

Worldly Wisdom

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 1993 telememo 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 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

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. This was restated in the 1993 version of the form.

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."

Mandatory Reporting

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

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 2013, at the Australian "Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations", Terry O’Brien, Australian Watchtower Branch Coordinator, confirmed that elders do not report child abuse cases in Australia, since there is no mandatory reporting rules.

Click here for the full transcript.

The 2015 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse identified that Jehovah's Witnesses have not being following their legal obligations in this area. Whilst many states do not have mandatory reporting laws for accusations of child abuse, once elders have established proof of a crime through the judicial committee process, there legally have been required to inform the authorities. For instance, in Australia this has been an obligation since 1990 under section 316 of the Crimes Act.

Elders have shirked their moral obligations to protect victims by withholding allegations and evidence of abuse from authorities. In attempting to do the minimum possible regarding their secular obligations, Jehovah's witnesses have broken the law in countries such as Australia, putting further individuals at unnecessary risk of abuse.

Watchtower continues to work against the authorities to any extent possible. Trey Bundy reports at Jehovah’s Witnesses fight law on reporting child sex abuse to police (1st Feb 2016) how Watchtower lawyers attempt to use clergy-penitent privilege to continue to withhold information of confessions of child abuse. This is despite clergy-penitent privilege specifically addressing the Catholic practice of confession, which Watchtower criticises as unchristian under the topic of Confession in the Reasoning Book, pages 80 to 81.

Watchtower is particularly careful with what is written down and kept in writing, due to the damage this has proven to cause in court cases. The manual Circuit Overseer Guidelines 2015 says that reports should be made by phone, the reason being that the legal department is better educated as to what should or should not be in writing for future liability.

Circuit Overseer Guidelines 2015 Ch.5.4

Flowchart ks.91 p.109 WAT.0012.001.0013

Elders in Illinois received an Announcement (10/4/22-E_Us_IL) October 4 2022 discussing "Mandatory Reporter Training." The announcement advised:

"Illinois law requires ministers (elders) to attend state-provided training on reporting child abuse. ... In view of the legal requirements, we encourage congregation elders to take the online training program at their earliest convenience."

Following the announcement was a "Questions and Answers" section advising "An elder need not say he is on of Jehovah's Witnesses" and rather "identify yourself as a "religious volunteer" and reply "none" to the question about an employer." Regarding whether ministerial servants and pioneers are considered "ministers" the answer was "The law currently applies to elders only."

This is interesting considering Watchtower claims all Jehovah's Witnesses are ministers, except when such recognition is legally unfavourable to them.

"All of Jehovah’s Witnesses are preachers, or ministers​—including several million women." Frequently Asked Questions About Jehovah's Witnesses - Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Women Preachers? (as of Oct 6th 2022.)

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 Jehovah's 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.

As early as 1997 the Watchtower showed it understood pedophiles are likely to reoffend, yet still it encourages such people to go preaching to the doors of strangers.

"Depending on the law of the land where he lives, the molester may well have to serve a prison term or face other sanctions from the State. The congregation will not protect him from this. Moreover, the man has revealed a serious weakness that henceforth will have to be taken into account. If he seems to be repentant, he will be encouraged to make spiritual progress, share in the field service, even have parts in the Theocratic Ministry School and nonteaching parts in the Service Meeting. This does not mean, though, that he will qualify to serve in a position of responsibility in the congregation. What are the Scriptural reasons for this?

For one thing, an elder must be “self-controlled.” (Titus 1:8) True, none of us have perfect self-control. (Romans 7:21-25) But a dedicated adult Christian who falls into the sin of child sexual abuse reveals an unnatural fleshly weakness. Experience has shown that such an adult may well molest other children. True, not every child molester repeats the sin, but many do. And the congregation cannot read hearts to tell who is and who is not liable to molest children again. (Jeremiah 17:9) Hence, Paul’s counsel to Timothy applies with special force in the case of baptized adults who have molested children: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others.” (1 Timothy 5:22) 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

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.

Appointing Child Abusers to Positions of Authority

In 1997, it was printed in the Watchtower, a publication for general distribution, that Scripturally convicted child molesters were never to hold the position of 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

This misleadingly gives the impression that those holding these positions of authority could be trusted as having no prior convictions.

Firstly, even if convicted in court, such conviction is not considered valid unless the elders can find the person guilty under Scriptural principles. As such, it is possible for a convicted paedophile to have privileges of oversight.

Secondly, whilst the Watchtower gave the impression to Jehovah's Witness followers and the general public that an elder could never be a known child abuser, internal documents showed that exceptions are still be made.

"The congregation would be left unprotected if we prematurely appointed someone who was a child abuser as a ministerial servant or an elder. In addition, court officials and lawyers will hold responsible any organization that knowingly appoints former child abusers to positions of trust, if one of these, thereafter,commits a further act of child abuse. This could result in costly lawsuits, involving dedicated funds that should be used to further the Kingdom work. So, legal considerations must also be weighed along with the degree of notoriety, the extent of the misconduct, how many years ago the sin occurred, and how the brother is now viewed by the congregation and people in the community including those he victimized." Letter to elders - Australia branch - July 20, 1998

The 2010 Elders manual continues to suggest 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

Public Relations

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.
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.

Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock Elders book page 143     Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock Elders book page 93    

Click on the thumbnails for scans of dictated notes from the 1991 Elders book regarding Child Abuse

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"

Court Cases

In the twenty-first century a string of cases have been launched against Watchtower. These cases generally involve situations where known child predators continued to be re-appointed as elders by Watchtower headquarters, putting them into positions of authority where they had easy access to manipulate and molest children in private situations. Other cases involve elders assigning known pedophiles to preach with children, with tragic results.

Watchtower has accepted culpability by settling the majority of these cases out of court with "gag" clauses. Since 2010, more cases are being taken through the courts. Two high profile cases include Candice Conti, awarded $7,000,000, and Jose Lopez awarded $13,500,000.

For extensive information about several key cases see Watchtower Child Abuse Settlements.

Elder's Experience

"Here was I, untrained and without knowledge of the law, psychology or pedagogic, presuming to act as judge over cases, although I had absolutely no professional qualifications to enable me to carry out my duties satisfactorily. …

A case of incest requiring our judgement came up in one of the congregations where I served as an elder. It concerned a father in his early 30's who had often had sexual relations with his daughter. The relationship had been going on for quite a long time, and the daughter was about 10 years old when the elders were informed of the case. It was the mother who came to us with the information. She had had her misgivings for some time, but had lacked evidence, and had not told the elders of her suspicions. It pertains to the story that she and her husband were later divorced.

The significance of this story is that our only thought was to "keep the congregation pure", that is to say, to get rid of the man. The mental state of the child had no bearing on our decision, neither was the advisability of arranging for an examination of the child considered. We believed psychologists and psychiatrists to be in the power of the devil. The Watchtower Society had pointed this out several times in its literature, consequently we had no idea that the child might need this kind of help.

Neither was the possibility of the father being in need of help an issue that concerned us. On the other hand, as the elders of the congregation we were most concerned that none of the parties involved should seek this kind of help, since the story could "damage the reputation and respect for the judgement of the Watchtower Society and Jehovah's Witnesses". For the same reason the authorities were not notified of the situation either. I can honestly say that such an idea never entered the head of any one of us! It was never considered because it had simply never occurred to us. This had nothing to do with the authorities. It was a "matter for the congregation"." The Kingdom That Never Came (1992) Joseph Wilting p.52


An organisation that prides its doctrine on being guided by the Bible and holy spirit should have had policy to protect children from inception. If Jehovah directed the Governing Body, procedure dealing with pedophiles should lead the world, able to be used as a model for guidance. The reverse has been the fact, as identified by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2015. Watchtower practices lag shockingly behind best practice, and behind many other religions organizations.

When Jehovah's Witnesses are willing to admit this, their justification is that the Governing Body are not infallible. This is correct, but has proven to be tragic when coupled with the concept that the Governing Body must be followed without question.

"All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not." Watchtower 2013 Nov 15 p.20

The result is the following circular reasoning.

The paradox of claiming to be led by Jesus, but admitting imperfect rules and regulations, is a dangerous mix that results in followers blindly following harmful practices.

Watchtower 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

The Governing Body claim anyone that disagrees with the way they have handled child abusers are apostate liars.

“Another way we can contribute to the oneness: rejecting false stories that are designed to separate us from Jehovah’s organization. As an example, think about the apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward pedophiles. I mean, that is ridiculous, isn’t it! If anybody takes action against someone who would threaten our young ones, and takes action to protect our young ones, it is Jehovah’s organization. We reject outright such lies.” Stephen Lett Bethel Talk tv.jw.org Feb 2015

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?"

Brochure to Print

Further Reading

I recommend reading the article Jehovah’s Witnesses use 1st Amendment to hide child sex abuse claims by Trey Bundy, published Feb 2015. It provides an excellent summary of what has been uncovered regarding Watchtower pedophile policy and why the courts have been so harsh on Watchtower in their judgements.

Youtuber TheraminTrees has put together a well structured video on how Watchtower leaders have been able to convince members that their intention has been for the best interests of children whilst having a policy that has been so destructive.

The following video from 2016 discusses Barbara Anderson's attempt to highlight the issues with Watchtower policy regarding child abuse, and current court findings.


1 wcbstv.com

2 Barbara Anderson was research assistant in the Watchtower writing department during the 1990s, and strongly pushed the Governing Body for policy changes, with little success. She eventually left in frustration with her husband. Her story can be found under the Experiences section. Detailed information can be found at watchtowerdocuments.com (as at 5th Jan 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.

3 jwmedia.org/newsroom/index.htm?content=/vnr/2122827332/717263.pdf (May 26 2007 - Removed January 2008)

Recommended Links




jwsurvey.org - Elders Letter Oct 2012

The following image links to the 188 page handbook Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Sex Abuse is to assist those fighting for justice for the victims of child sex abuse within the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses better prepare their cases, and better understand those abuse victims.

Written 2008. Latest update October 2022.

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2024