According to their website, “The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales.”
Much like the Royal Commission in Australia in 2015, this inquiry will include testimony from victims of sexual abuse within the framework of certain institutions, and how those institutions responded and handled such cases. Jehovah’s Witnesses are potentially subject to this inquiry, being an established religion and charity in the UK.
On August 19, 2015, the Inquiry issued “retention instructions” that said, in part (bold added for emphasis):
“The Inquiry has issued retention instructions to a range of institutions requesting the preservation of all records relating to the care of children so that they remain available for inspection by the Inquiry … Under Section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 the Inquiry has the power to order the production of documents. Failure to comply with such an order without reasonable excuse is an offence punishable by imprisonment (Section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005). It is also an offence for a person, during the course of an Inquiry, to destroy, alter or tamper with evidence that may be relevant to an Inquiry, or deliberately to do an act with the intention of suppressing evidence or preventing it being disclosed to the Inquiry … Institutions therefore have an obligation to preserve records for the Inquiry for as long as necessary to assist the Inquiry.”
Seems simple enough, right? Retain any and all records relating to the care of children. Don’t destroy or tamper with any evidence that may be relevant to the Inquiry. Doing so could cause you to wind up in jail. The Inquiry could not have spelled it out any more clearly.
In November of 2015, the elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses received notice that they should perform an “Audit of File,” and this audit should include:
- the destruction of agenda and minutes of elders’ meetings
- personal notes taken at elders’ meetings that include reference to any individual
- correspondence and any personal notes that reference any individual
You can see a PDF copy of this document yourself by clicking here: 2015_Audit_Checklist Form mark.
So that no one accuses me of being “not quite fair” to the Watchtower, note that the form above does say at one point, “Make sure all records relating to child molestation are in harmony with ks10 2:16, point 3, and 5:39.”
The term “ks10” refers to the book, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” the secret handbook used by elders.
The information found in chapter 2, paragraph 16, point 3, says (bold added for emphasis):
“The secretary’s duties include the following; Files sealed envelopes containing confidential records on disciplinary cases, including reports made by the judicial committees. Information concerning an individual accused of child molestation, proved or otherwise, should be placed in congregation’s confidential file and marked “Do Not Destroy” and kept indefinitely.”
Chapter 5, paragraph 39, says:
“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; w 9 5 ll/l pp. 28-29) The investigating elders should compose a record, sign it, put it in a scaled envelope, and place it in the congregation’s confidential file. Additional evidence may later come to light to establish matters.”
Note the slight difference here, so that we’re being “fair” to the Watchtower. There are “congregation’s confidential files.” Then, separate from those are the personal notes, agendas, and minutes of meetings made by elders.
Yes, this Audit of File form did say that the audit should ensure that child molestation records are “in harmony” with this information presented in the Shepherd Book, and the Shepherd Book says that the congregation’s confidential files should be marked “Do Not Destroy.”
However, minutes of elders’ meetings, personal notes, etc. are not in those confidential files; they are not considered part of the “records” that need to be “in harmony” with the instructions in the Shepherd Book.
This isn’t good enough, as far as the Goddard Inquiry goes. Their instructions are quite clear that there must be a preservation of “all records relating to the care of children.” It doesn’t say that personal records, personal correspondences, agendas, meeting minutes, and other such notes are immaterial.
The instructions state quite clearly that it is a crime to “tamper with evidence that may be relevant.” Note that wording; “may” be relevant. Even if there is a slight possibility that records or evidence “may” be relevant, the direction was to not tamper with it.
Importance of Notes
A person might immediately dismiss this information from Jehovah’s Witnesses, wondering about the importance of an elder’s personal notes, meeting minutes, and so on, when certain information contained in the congregation’s confidential files are apparently still retained. The first response is that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of their relevance; the Goddard Inquiry made it quite clear that nothing should be destroyed, period. It’s up to them to determine the relevance, not you or I, and certainly not Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The second response is that an elder’s notes and meeting minutes can be very invaluable when determining how an organization handles child molestation accusations. For example, as I bring out in this post, during the Australian RC Inquiry, it was seen that one elder counseled a girl who had been molested and beaten by her father to respect him.
Think on that for a moment; this man had molested all four of his daughters, beat them so bad that they would arrive to the Kingdom Hall with welts, and he was now cheating on his wife. Yet, the elder’s own notes said, “counsel = respect father.”
This is something that would be very invaluable in evaluating how an organization handles cases of child molestation, as it shows how they only re-victimize those children whom they question, and also shows their gross lack of empathy or any feeling for that victim in the first place.
The BBC Report
Lest you think it’s just angry ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who are disparaging them for destroying documents against the Inquiry’s directions, the BBC’s Radio 4 program for Sunday, February 14, 2016, featured a 10-minute segment about this issue. The host noted that any concerns a congregation may have about their records “are trumped” by the order from the Inquiry. He also asks the very legitimate question, “Why then were Jehovah’s Witnesses told last year to destroy all those documents by the end of December?”
A legal analyst was also quoted on the program as saying:
“It looks as if the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a certain amount of explaining to do.”
I personally look forward to what I’m sure will be a very logical, rational, legal, acceptable explanation, one that will really show Jehovah’s Witnesses’ compassion, respect, and sympathy for child molestation victims in their religion, and one that will clearly demonstrate how they view those victims as being more important than their reputation, and of course any money they may need to pay by way of recompense. I also look forward to finally getting that pony my parents promised me when I was 4.
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