THE ROYAL COMMISSION and JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
164, 2015 September)
Washington Post summed up what
Australia's Royal Commission discovered about Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs):
From 1950 to 2014,
the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society amassed 5,000 files detailing
sexual abuse of Australian children by 1,006 of its members, who
believe that only they — the Jehovah's Witnesses — proclaim the truth
Australian government established the Royal Commission into
Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2012 to investigate
institutionalized child sexual abuse. The Commission has wide legal
powers to examine any organization that may have covered up abuse. It
does not have the power to find guilt or order punishment but can refer
accused individuals to other authorities.
got their turn commencing July 27, 2015. The Commission heard from
abuse-victims, the religion's top administrators in Australia, and a
Governing Body member.
evidence is that JWs have rules that prevent victims from speaking
freely, fail to support them, and allow alleged perpetrators to remain
in the congregation.
girls were assaulted by neighbors. Teenagers were raped by their
fathers. Victims were forced to pray with their abusers… Victims,
ordered to keep quiet, were forced to confront their abusers in person.
Google Search brought up numerous news reports about what the Royal
Commission heard including these:
27 Brisbane Times
27 The Guardian
27 The Chronicle (Toowoomba)
28 The Australian
28 The Independent
29 WA Today
29 Sydney Morning Herald
29 Sydney Morning Herald
1 The Saturday Paper
1 The Daily Telegraph
3 The Guardian
4 The Guardian
4 Sydney Morning Herald
5 Sky News
5 Sydney Morning Herald
13 Sydney Morning Herald
14 Toowoomba Chronicle
14 Washington Post
— JW POLICY
following discussion is based on evidence given at the Royal Commission:
in Australia received 1006 allegations of child sexual abuse by
individual perpetrators since 1950 but reported none to the police.
head of the JW legal department in Australia, Vincent Toole, has been
getting three or four calls per month for the past two years regarding
abusers can be expelled from church, i.e. "disfellowshipped", provided
at least two witnesses gave evidence against them to a "judicial
committee" composed of elders in the congregation. Most cases lacked
two observers; therefore many accused perpetrators were not even
Commission heard that 401 JWs in Australia had been "disfellowshipped"
for abuse of children and 127 "officials" (elders or ministerial
servants) demoted. But the majority were later reinstated.
Organization of JWs is governed by its Governing Body which decides on
doctrine and policy and instituted the policy that allegations of abuse
not be reported to the police in states which lack specific legislation
requiring abuse to be reported. JW elders also discouraged victims from
taking the initiative to contact police because the publicity would
"drag Jehovah's name through the mud".
60 alleged victims of child sexual abuse within JWs contacted the Royal
Commission of whom two gave evidence.
Queensland victim now aged 43 testified that at age 17 she suffered
sexual abuse by her father: "I remember him saying to me, 'Shhhh,
it's okay. I'm your father. Be obedient to your father.'"
It happened about
five times. She resisted as much as she dared but was afraid because he
sometimes flogged her with a belt. She complained to the elders. These
were friends of her father and berated her, even asking "Did you enjoy
She was raised not to
trust "outsiders", therefore afraid to go to the police, and attempted
suicide. Later she found out her sisters had suffered similar abuse.
Therefore in 2000 she abandoned the church and reported her father to
the police. He was jailed in 2004 for rape.
de Rooy was on the judicial committee which examined this victim's
complaint. He told the Commission he had believed her and was
"sickened", but it was "her word against the father", and church rules
required two witnesses to prove an offence.
father was subsequently "disfellowshipped" for another reason — he left
the family home and lived with another woman — but was reinstated
several years later.
woman now aged 47 testified she was friends with an elder's daughter in
Western Australia and therefore stayed at the elder's home. He would
"tongue kiss" her; and spy on her when she was in the shower. She
reported it to other elders and had to attend judicial meetings with
present. He joked about what he did and was demoted.
Horley was an elder in the congregation the girl attended. He told the
Commission that notes about child sexual abuse are destroyed to limit
the number of people who know about the abuse: "We do not want our
wives knowing our stuff – what sort of things we are dealing with."
find someone guilty JW judicial committees (composed of elders, usually
three) have to secure one of the following:
accuser also has to put his/her case to the judicial committee in the
presence of the alleged perpetrator. This means that a teenage girl may
have to appear by herself before four men and describe intimate details.
found guilty are disfellowshipped until they "repent" and seek
reinstatement. They are not, however, reported to the police except
where the law requires it or if the victims on their own initiative
tell the police.
who claim to be repentant before they are disfellowshipped remain
members but under restrictions, called "loss of privileges". Elders
found guilty are demoted from eldership for a few years but may be
reinstated if they meet certain criteria.
child-abusers who profess repentance remain in the congregation where
the elders "keep an eye on him". The congregation is not informed of
their "sin", therefore unprepared if they relapse.
The testimony of two credible witnesses to the one incident;
The testimony of two witnesses to separate but similar incidents;
Strong circumstantial evidence testified to by two or more witnesses.
Terrence O'Brien, co-ordinator of the "Branch Committee" at the JWs
Australian headquarters, told the Royal Commission that the
Organisation would consider changes to its procedures for child sexual
The Branch Committee would consider greater involvement of women,
clearer guidance for elders, better communication with victims about
legal options, and would consider establishing a redress scheme.
replies were vague because decisions on policy, rules, and doctrine are
made in New York by the Governing Body and these insist on uniformity
among all JWs in over 200 countries.
Royal Commission possibly remains unclear on three official JW
teachings that hinder victims from reporting sexual abuse to police:
Gossiping and slander can be disfellowshipping offenses among JWs. If
alleged child abuse cannot be confirmed by two observers the victim and
his parents have to stay quiet i.e. not "gossip" or "slander". This
keeps the congregation ignorant of pedophiles in its midst and can
dissuade victims' parents from informing the police.
JWs are discouraged from taking each other to court. They apply the
Apostle Paul's words: "Does anyone of you that has a case against the
other dare to go to court before unrighteous men?" (I Corinthians 6)
JW publications have never stated that this includes child abuse.
Nevertheless, when alleged child abuse lacks the required two
witnesses, many elders apply this scripture and permit police
involvement only after or if the perpetrator is disfellowshipped.
counsel in The Watchtower is
"However, if a
Christian refuses to correct a serious wrong when it is made clear to
him by elders serving in judicial capacity in the congregation, such a
one would be expelled. This is in line with Jesus' words: "If he does
not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of
the nations and as a tax collector." (Matt. 18:17) Thus, for example,
one who defrauded his Christian brother or who failed to provide
materially for his wife and children would find himself outside the
congregation if he did not repent.—1 Tim. 5:8.
injured party could thereafter decide whether legal action should be
taken in an attempt to force the guilty one, now disfellowshiped, to
rectify matters. Of course, the injured party would want to take into
consideration whether it would be worth the time and expense as well as
whether the congregation
could still come into disrepute by bringing to public attention
the actions of one of its former members. If the wronged Christian
conscientiously felt that God's name would not be reproached and
legal action was definitely needed, he would not necessarily be acting
contrary to the spirit of Paul's counsel if he were to take to court
one who was no longer a part of the Christian congregation… "
November 15, p. 703)
JWs are routinely admonished to not bring "reproach on the
organization" or on "God's name". Again, JW publications do not
explicitly apply this concept to concealing child abuse. However, many
who left the sect after suffering sexual abuse claim that elders used
the "do-not-bring-reproach" argument to stop police involvement.
flawed JW response to child sexual abuse has long been criticised. For
The Illawarra Mercury (NSW)
A Wollongong judge
yesterday launched a scathing attack on the Jehovah's Witness
congregation at Balgownie, accusing elders of failing to report child
A report in the Toronto Sun
(2002, September 1) reported how, "monsters are hiding behind the
church's policy on handling child
attack came as he sentenced Robert Leslie Souter to five years' jail
for sexual assaults on two teenage boys 20 years ago…
moral punishment imposed by a church is not punishment demanded by
law,'' Judge Goldring said… (August 5, 2000)
An Australian television documentary, "Silent Witness", on the Sunday Program (Channel 9) for
September 22, 2002, gave evidence that JW elders covered up
child abuse and frustrated police
The Encylopaedia Britannica 2002 Year
in Review (2003) reported: "Five people were expelled from the
Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States after they
accused leaders of covering up
the sexual abuse of children by members." (p302) One of the
expelled, Bill Bowen, was an elder for 16 years. He founded
the "Silent Lambs" website which
reprints media reports of sexual abuse by JWs and says 6000 victims
have made contact.
August 5 the Royal Commission heard that Geoffrey Jackson, an
Australian-born member of the New York-based Governing Body, was in
Queensland visiting his father.
Body members normally minimize their exposure to questioning by media
and courts. In California the Zalkin Law Firm reported a $13.5 million
default judgment against the Watchtower Society:
…a default judgement
against the corporate head of the Jehovah's Witnesses after it refused
to obey court orders to produce documents that would show the depth and
breadth of the problem of sexual abuse of children within congregations
of the Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the United States. In addition,
Watchtower refused a court order to produce the longest serving member
of its governing body for a deposition.
however, responded to a Royal Commission summons and appeared via video
link from the Toowoomba courthouse on August 14.
said the JW Organization would join a "co-ordinated redress scheme for
victims of institutional sexual abuse" provided "nothing was
scripturally against us doing that". An apology to abuse victims was
"perceivable". Women cannot become elders but the policy of requiring
female abuse victims to appear before male committees may be reviewed.
The Governing Body would only conform to today's social attitudes where
"supported by the scriptures".
Zalkin Law Firm specializes in child abuse cases. Its website
articles, video links, and media reports.
features many videos for free viewing including Mr Jackson's
questioning by the Royal Commission barrister. (www.youtube.com/)
informative is the video "Dateline Interview: JW Elder Rapes Erica
disturbing is: "Boy Raped at Bethel [i.e. headquarters) by a …
Governing Body Member".
"Member" was removed from the Governing Body but not reported to police
nor disfellowshipped, merely reassigned to other work.