DISCLAIMER: There are many sites on the internet that do nothing but bash the Governing Body and the Organization. I get emails and comments all the time expressing appreciation that our sites are not of that type. Yet, it can be a fine line to walk at times. Some of the ways they act and some of the things they practice in the name of God are so outrageous and bring such reproach on the Divine Name that one feels compelled to cry out.
Jesus did not hide his feelings about the corruption and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. Prior to his death, he exposed them using powerful yet accurate terms of derision. (Mt 3:7; 23:23-36) Yet, he did not descend to mocking. Like him, we must expose, but not judge. (Our time for judging will come if we stay true – 1 Cor. 6:3) In this we have the example of the angels.
“Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.” (2 Peter 2:10b, 11 BSB)
In this context, we have an obligation to expose wrongdoing so that our brothers and sisters can know the truth and break free from enslavement to men. Still, Jesus spent most of his time building up, not tearing down. It is my hope that we can imitate him in that, though I don’t feel there is enough positive and constructive Bible study on our sites as yet. Nevertheless, we are moving in that direction and I hope that the Lord affords us the resources to accelerate that trend.
Having said all that, we will not shy away when there is a serious need that must be addressed. The problem of child abuse is such a need and its mishandling by the Organization has such far-reaching ramifications that it cannot be ignored nor glossed over. Recently, we have been able to review the policies that are being conveyed to the JW elders worldwide by means of the 2018 One-Day Elders’ School. What follows is a review of those policies as they pertain to handling cases of child sexual abuse that arise in the congregation, and an attempt to assess the ramifications of these policies on the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The ARC findings,[i] the UK Charity Commission investigation, the Canadian 66-million-dollar class action lawsuit, the ongoing four-thousand-dollar-a-day court fine for contempt, growing media coverage of cultism, staff reductions and printing cutbacks, not to mention the sale of Kingdom halls to cover costs—the writing is on the wall. How will the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses fare in the coming months and years? Can it survive? To date, the Catholic Church has, but it is immeasurably richer than JW.org can ever hope to be.
There are 150 Catholics in the world for every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So one might think that the scale of the Church’s pedophile liability would be 150 times greater than that of JW.org. Alas, that does not appear to be the case, and here’s why:
Let us try to define the problem in dollar value.
The first major scandal to hit the Catholic Church was in Louisiana in 1985. After that, a report was authored but never officially released warning that the liability relating to pedophile priests could amount to one billion dollars. That was thirty years ago. We don’t know how much the Catholic Church has paid out since then, but let’s go with that figure. That liability resulted from a problem confined to the priesthood. There are currently about 450,000 priests worldwide. Let’s assume, as revealed by the movie Spotlight based on the work of the Boston Globe investigative team back in 2001 and 2002, that about 6% of priests are pedophiles. So that represents 27,000 priests worldwide. The Church is not being charged with covering up abuse among its rank and file, because they do not get involved in such things. The average Catholic who commits this crime is not required to sit before a judicial committee of priests. The victim is not brought in and questioned. The right of the abuser to remain a member of the church is not judged. In short, the Church does not get involved. Their liability is confined to the priesthood.
This is not the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses. All cases of sin including child sexual abuse are to be reported to the elders and are dealt with judicially, whether the outcome is to disfellowship or to dismiss, as in a case involving only a single witness. This means that Jehovah’s Witnesses currently deal with abuse from among the entire flock—eight million individuals, more than sixteen times the pool size from which the Catholic Church pedophile liability is drawn.
There were 1,006 unreported cases of child sexual abuse in the files of the Australia branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Many more have come forward since the ARC investigation made the news, so the problem is significantly larger.) Going only with that number—the number of currently known cases—we should bear in mind that in 2016 there were 66,689 active Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia.[ii] In the same year, Canada reported 113,954 publishers and the United States reported about ten times that number: 1,198,026. So if the proportions are similar, and there’s no reason to think otherwise, that means Canada probably has about 2,000 known cases on file, and the States is looking at something in excess of 20,000. So with just three out of the 240 countries where Jehovah’s Witnesses are active, we’re already getting close to the number of likely pedophiles the Catholic Church is liable for.
The Catholic Church is so rich that it can absorb a multi-billion-dollar liability. It could cover it by selling only a small fraction of the art treasures stored in the Vatican archives. However, a similar liability against Jehovah’s Witnesses would bankrupt the Organization.
The Governing Body tries to blind the flock into believing there is no pedophilia problem, that this is all the work of apostates and opposers. I’m sure the passengers on the Titanic also believed the hype that their boat was unsinkable.
It is very likely too late for any changes made now to mitigate the liability for past mistakes and sins. However, has the leadership of the organization learned from the past, shown repentance, and taken steps befitting such repentance? Let us see.
What the Elders Are Being Taught
Conspicuously missing from the 44-minute discussion is any written direction to contact the secular authorities. This, above all else, is the one reason that the Organization is facing this impending financial and public relations catastrophe. Yet, for reasons unexplained, they continue to bury their head in the sand rather than face this issue.
The only mention of mandatory reporting to the authorities comes up in the consideration of paragraphs 5 thru 7 where the outline states: “Two elders should call the Legal Department in all of the situations listed in paragraph 6 to ensure that the body of elders complies with any child-abuse reporting laws. (Ro 13:1-4) After being informed of any legal obligation to report, the call will be transferred to the Service Department.”
So it appears that elders will be told to report this crime to the police only if there is a specific legal obligation to do so. So the motivation for obeying Romans 13:1-4 doesn’t seem to stem from love of neighbor, but rather fear of reprisal. Let’s put it this way: If there is a sexual predator in your neighborhood, would you want to know about it? I think any parent would. Jesus tells us to “do unto others as we would have others do unto us.” (Mt 7:12) Wouldn’t that necessitate our reporting knowledge of such a dangerous person in our midst to those whom God has appointed per Romans 13:1-7 to care for the problem? Or is there another way we can apply the command in Romans? Is keeping silent a way of obeying God’s command? Are we obeying the law of love, or the law of fear?
If the only reason for doing so is the fear that if we don’t, we could be punished for breaking the law, then our motivation is selfish and self-serving. If that fear appears to be removed by the absence of any specific law, the unwritten policy of the organization is to cover over the sin.
If the Organization stated in writing that all allegations of child sexual abuse are to be reported to the authorities, then—even from a self-serving point of view—their liability issues would diminish greatly.
In paragraph 3 of the letter, they state that “the congregation will not shield any perpetrator of such repugnant acts from the consequences of his sin. The congregation’s handling of an accusation of child sexual abuse is not intended to replace the secular authority’s handling of the matter. (Rom. 13:1-4)”
Again, they quote Romans 13:1-4. However, there are different ways to shield someone who is guilty of a crime. If we do not report a known criminal simply because there is no specific law requiring us to do so, are we not engaging in passive shielding? For instance, if you know for a fact that a neighbor is a serial killer and say nothing, are you not obstructing justice passively? If he goes out and kills again, are you free from guilt? Does your conscience tell you that you should only report what you know to the police if there is a specific law requiring you to report knowledge of serial killers? How are we obeying Romans 13:1-4 by shielding known criminals through our own inaction?
Calling the Branch
Throughout this document, the requirement to call the Branch Legal and/or Service desk is made repeatedly. In lieu of a written policy, elders are subjected to an oral law. Oral laws can change from one moment to the next and often are used to shield the individual from culpability. One can always say, “I don’t recall exactly what I said at that time, your Honor.” When it’s in writing, one cannot escape responsibility so easily.
Now, it could be argued that the reason for this lack of a written policy is to provide flexibility and to address each situation based on the circumstances and needs of the moment. There is something to be said for that. However, is that really why the Organization continually resists telling the elders in writing to report all crimes? We’ve all heard the saying: “Actions speak louder than words”. Truly, the historic actions of the Australia branch’s handling of child sexual abuse are speaking at a megaphone volume.
First of all, we find that the words of the outline regarding calling the Legal Desk at the Branch Office to find out if there is any legal requirement to report do not match the actions practiced over decades in Australia. There is, in fact, such a law to report knowledge of any crime, yet no report was ever made by Organization officials.[iii]
Now consider this: In over a thousand cases, they never advised the elders to report a single case. We know this because the elders would surely have obeyed the Branch’s direction in this. Any elder who disobeys the Branch Office doesn’t remain an elder for long.
So since no reports were made, are we then to conclude that they were instructed not to report? The answer is that either they were dissuaded from reporting, or nothing was said in this regard and they were left to their own devices. Knowing how the Organization likes to control everything, the latter option seems farfetched; but let’s say, to be fair, that the issue of reporting is never specifically mentioned as part of Branch policy. That leaves us with two options. 1) Elders (and Witnesses in general) are so indoctrinated that they just know instinctively that crimes committed in the congregation are not to be reported, or 2) some of the elders asked and were told not to report.
While there is a strong possibility that the first option is true in most cases, I know from personal experience that there are some elders who are conscientious enough to feel the need to report such crimes to the police, and these would surely have asked the Service Desk about it. The 1,006 cases on record in the Australia Bethel would have been dealt with by thousands of elders. It is impossible to conceive that out of all those thousands there were not at least a few good men who would have wanted to do the right thing to protect the children. If they asked and got the answer, “Well, that’s entirely up to you”, then we can conclude that at least some would have done so. Out of thousands of so-called spiritual men, surely the conscience of some would have moved them to ensure that a sexual predator did not go free. Yet, that never happened. Not once in a thousand opportunities.
The only explanation is that they were told not to report.
The facts speak for themselves. There is an unwritten policy within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses to conceal these crimes from the police. Why else are the elders told repeatedly to always call the Branch before they do anything else? The statement that it is just to check in to make sure what the legal requirements are is a red herring. If that is all it is, then why not send out a letter in any jurisdictions where such a requirement exists telling all the elders about it? Put it in writing!
The Organization likes to apply Isaiah 32:1, 2 to the elders around the globe. Read it below and see if what is described there jibes with what the ARC turned over in its investigation.
“Look! A king will reign for righteousness, And princes will rule for justice. 2 And each one will be like a hiding place from the wind, A place of concealment from the rainstorm, Like streams of water in a waterless land, Like the shadow of a massive crag in a parched land.” (Isa 32:1, 2)
Driving the Point Home
For indications that all the foregoing is an accurate evaluation of the facts, notice how the rest of paragraph 3 reads: “Therefore, the victim, her parents, or anyone else who reports such an allegation to the elders should be clearly informed that they have the right to report the matter to the secular authorities. Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.—Gal. 6:5.” The fact that elders have to be instructed not to criticize anyone for making a report to the police indicates that there is a pre-existing problem.
Further, why are the elders missing from this group? Should it not read, “the victim, her parents, or anyone else including the elders…” Clearly, the idea of the elders doing the reporting is simply not an option.
Out of Their Depth
The entire focus of the letter has to do with handling the heinous crime of child sexual abuse within the judicial arrangement of the congregation. As such, they are imposing a burden on men who are ill-equipped to deal with such delicate matters. The Organization is setting these elders up for failure. What does the average guy know about handling child sexual abuse? They are bound to bungle it despite their best intentions. It’s simply not fair to them, not to mention the victim who likely needs real professional help to overcome life-altering emotional trauma.
Paragraph 14 gives more proof of the bizarre disconnect with reality evident in this latest policy directive:
“On the other hand, if the wrongdoer is repentant and is reproved, the reproof should be announced to the congregation. (ks10 chap. 7 pars. 20-21) This announcement will serve as a protection for the congregation.”
What a stupid statement! The announcement is simply that “So-and-so has been reproved.” So?! For what? Tax fraud? Heavy petting? Challenging the elders? How will the parents in the congregation know from that simple announcement that they should make sure they’re kids stay away from this man? Will the parents start to accompany their children to the bathroom now that they’ve heard this announcement?
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” – Mitchell Garabedian, Spotlight (2015)
The above statement is doubly true in the case of the Organization. First, the willingness of the elders and even congregation publishers to do little to protect the “little ones” is a matter of public record. The Governing Body can shout all they want that these are just lies by opposers and apostates, but the facts speak for themselves, and the statistics show this is not an intermittent problem, but a process that has become institutionalized.
Added to this is the egregious sin that is the JW policy on disassociation. Should the abused Christian victim leave the congregation, abuse is heaped upon abuse when the local congregation (“the village”) of Jehovah’s Witnesses is instructed from the platform that the victim is “no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. This is the same announcement made when someone is disfellowshipped for fornication, apostasy, or child sexual abuse. As a consequence, the victim is cut off from family and friends, shunned at a time when his or her emotional need for support is paramount. This is a sin, plain and simple. A sin, because disassociation is a made-up policy that has no foundation in Scripture. Thus, it is a lawless and loveless act, and those who practice it should bear in mind Jesus words when speaking to those who thought they had his approval.
“Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’” (Mt 7:22, 23)
While this letter indicates that some minor improvements are being made in the way Witness elders are instructed to handle these matters, the elephant in the room continues to be ignored. Reporting the crime is still not a requirement, and victims who leave are still shunned. One may assume that the continued reticence to involve the authorities stems from the Organization’s misguided fear of costly liability law suits. However, it may be more than that.
A narcissist cannot admit that he is wrong. His rightness must be preserved at any cost, because his entire self-identity is tied to the belief he is never wrong, and without that self-image, he is nothing. His world collapses.
There seems to be a collective narcissism going on here. Admitting they are wrong, especially before the world—Satan’s Wicked World to the JW mindset—would destroy their cherished self-image. That is also why they shun victims who resign formally. The victim has to be seen as the sinner, because to do nothing to the victim is to accept that the Organization is at fault, and that can never be so. If there is such a thing as institutional narcissism, it seems we have found it.
[ii] All numbers taken from the 2017 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
(1) If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the Police Force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.