At first glance, Candace Conti doesn’t seem like a very intimidating person. The twenty-something woman has delicate and fair features, with red hair, freckles, and hazel eyes. She is only of medium build and doesn’t come across as someone who might be able to topple a religious empire. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, tremble at her very name.
This is because Candace Conti filed and won a lawsuit against JWs for sexual abuse she suffered as a child by a ministerial servant, a man who is something like an elder in training. Rumor has it that Candace was offered a settlement by the JWs which would have included a confidentiality clause, but she turned it down, went to court, and was awarded $28 million in damages. (Other stories state that she was never offered a settlement but pursued her case anyway.)
The legal team for Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t take this decision lightly and of course they filed an appeal; there is one part of that appeal that I strongly feel is an outright lie, a slap in the face to Candace herself personally, and an insult to all children of Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere.
The Suit, in Brief
Let me give you a summary of the lawsuit and the response so you understand what I’m talking about. Candace stated in her lawsuit that when she was a child, she would go out in the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As an explanation to non-Witnesses, those who do this work meet in a large group at one location such as their Kingdom Hall, and from there are broken up into smaller car groups. This organizing is usually overseen by an elder or ministerial servant.
Some Witnesses might already have plans to pair up with another person, but many simply show up and whomever is in charge puts everyone in respective twosomes or foursomes. Children typically stay with their parents but, as they get older, it’s not unusual for them to be paired up with someone else. This is done so children can get to know others in their congregation and so that parents can sometimes get a break from having to attend to their children when preaching.
According to the lawsuit, by the time she was 9, Candace would sometimes show up by herself for the preaching work and would on occasion be assigned to work with Jonathan Kendrick, the ministerial servant in question. After the preaching work, Kendrick would take her to his home and molest her.
Candace thought the Witnesses were at least partly responsible because Kendrick had confessed to having fondled his stepdaughter previously, but because no one outside of the elders knew of that, parents in the congregation were not warned that he was a danger to other children. Also, despite the fact that the elders knew of his past actions, they allowed Candace to be paired with him during their preaching work. Please see the Pedophilia category to better understand how this could happen.
The jury in the case agreed that Witnesses showed negligence in how they handled these incidents, and awarded her the $28 million.
There are many things said in the appeal filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses that I find difficult to comprehend, but one in particular I must comment on here. Throughout, the Witnesses said repeatedly that they had “no special relationship” with Candace, so they were not responsible for her safety. They put this responsibility at the feet of her parents, and tried to “bow out” of this culpability of theirs by saying that because Candace was not a baptized member of the congregation herself, she was merely a child of congregation members.
This statement is an outright lie, in my humble opinion. Jehovah’s Witnesses work very hard to develop a special and personal relationship with children, apart from their parents. They produce literature designed for children in particular and give public discourses for children.
In 1976, they published the book “Your Youth – Getting the Most Out of It,” and have since updated this to “Questions Young People Ask, Answers That Work.” These books are addressed to teens and pre-teens, and talk about peer pressure, dating, drugs, entertainment, etc. If you visit their website, JW.org, you can find a section meant for young ones that includes, not just literature, but also videos and worksheets and other material.
Children also have a very full share in the program of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As said, they go out in the preaching work with other adults and aren’t always simply dragged along by their parents. Children are encouraged to have their own presentation that they give when preaching, and in the JW literature there are instructions for how parents can teach this to their children.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have what they call a Theocratic Ministry School, which is like a school for public speaking. Parts on this school are just a few minutes long; men may read portions of the bible or give short discourses, and women put on small demonstrations. Children are encouraged to join this school as soon as they can read and may have their own assignments or may be assistants to others. Young ones are also invited to comment during question-and-answer portions of the worship services, such as when they meet together to study the Watchtower magazine on Sunday.
You Can’t Have It Both Ways
My point in all of this is that you can’t have it both ways; you can’t publish material that addresses children directly, have them participate in your preaching work and worship services, but then claim you have “no special relationship” with them. You especially cannot do that when it simply suits your purposes of getting out of a lawsuit payout!
JWs work hard to develop this one-on-one relationship with children and specifically target them in their literature and discourses, in other words, they certainly don’t wait for them to become adults before they start the potential conversion process. Interesting that when Candace showed up for their preaching work, they didn’t turn her away at the door or insist she only go out with her parents because they had “no special relationship” with her, and they don’t tell children that they’re not allowed to make comments at their services or have assignments in that Theocratic Ministry School because the religion doesn’t recognize a “special relationship” with them.
Yet, when it was shown that Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to warn parents of a pedophile in their midst and allowed a young girl to be alone with him, they then tried to deny her, and sever those ties that the religion itself takes the initiative to build. Candace didn’t walk through their front doors and say, “Hey, teach me how to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” but JWs reached out to her by producing literature and creating discourses that are aimed at children specifically. Now they want to say that they had “no special relationship” with her?
This entire approach is an insult to me, who grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and to all children of Witnesses everywhere. I stupidly and naively thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses always claimed a special relationship with me as a child, as they wanted me to come to their services, learn their beliefs, go in their preaching work, and avoid any other religious influence even in my preteen years. They tossed around the word “love” quite a bit. Now, however, I’m being told that I was just the child of a congregation member, and nothing special to them. Nice.
This statement by Jehovah’s Witnesses is a slap in the face to me, to Candace, and to all children who have ever walked into their building, picked up a piece of their literature, or participated in their religion in any way. To me, this statement betrays the idea that children are special and precious to Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they care about them personally. They may want them as members, but if it’s a choice between standing up and proclaiming their relationship with them loud and clear, or paying out a lawsuit that is the result of their own negligence, they’ll toss those children under the bus just that quickly.
I want parents, and those young children themselves, to think seriously about this statement. How do you feel when you hear the term “no special relationship” being applied to a child who was actively and faithfully doing all that the religion asked, simply because she wasn’t baptized yet? Since Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Jehovah’s spirit-directed organization on earth, does this mean that Jehovah has no special relationship with these children either?
If Jehovah’s Witnesses claim “no special relationship” with these children, why should children have a relationship with them? Why give up holidays, birthdays, extracurricular activities, premarital sex, their Saturday mornings, and anything else that JWs ask of them before they’re baptized? If they have “no special relationship” with those children, why should the children ever have a special relationship with them?
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