The May 2019 Watchtower study edition addresses child sex abuse within the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While this magazine is supposedly presented as a means of defending how Jehovah’s Witnesses handle allegations and confessions of such abuse, there are many shortcomings and false statements throughout.
“Professing to Be Part of the Congregation”
The magazine makes this claim, page 8, paragraph 3:
“…some professing to be a part of the congregation have succumbed to perverted fleshly desires and have sexually abused children.”
To say that child molesters within the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses are only “professing” to be part of the congregation is a gross lie. Many such abusers have been active, accepted members for years and have even had positions of authority in the congregation as elders or ministerial servants (elders in training); according to the Australian Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse (ARC), of the 1006 alleged pedophiles on record in the religion in Australia, 108 were elders or ministerial servants at the time of the allegation.¹
Elders as Child Molesters
Jehovah’s Witnesses have also said that their elders are “…appointed by Jehovah and his Son, through holy spirit, to shepherd the sheep with tenderness,” and “Our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, expect us to be obedient and submissive to the undershepherds whom they have placed in positions of responsibility within the congregation.” (April 1 2007 Watchtower, pp. 26-30, par. 6-7). Elders are not “professing” or pretending to be part of the congregation; they have been appointed by god himself, according to the words of the Watchtower.
Also, saying that child molesters only “profess” or pretend to be part of the congregation makes it seem as if child molesters in the religion are just “hanging around” the Kingdom Hall, doing the minimum amount of work required to keep up the façade of being a Witness.
However, elders in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses run the congregations; among other things, they:
- give public discourses
- conduct the public Watchtower study
- conduct most other parts of their public meetings
- assign parts on the meetings to other congregants
- conduct judicial committee meetings to determine allegations of misconduct
- perform baptisms
- keep exhaustive records of various organizational proceedings and reports
- make “shepherding calls” on congregants
- perform marriages
- offer public prayers
- meet with circuit overseers during their twice-yearly visit
- oversee the upkeep and maintenance of the Kingdom Hall
- make decisions for virtually everything affecting the congregation as a whole (meeting times, territories for preaching, etc.)
As a matter of fact, the duties of elders are so exhausting that the 2019 edition of their handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” is some 270 pages long, and elders also attend special schooling on a regular basis. No one just “pretending” to be part of a congregation will go through all that work and keep up with all those requirements and demands.
Reinstated Members as Child Molesters
It’s also worth noting that a child molester might be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) and put out of the congregation for a short time and then reinstated. He (or she) might then go on to molest more children.²
As the elders of the congregation knew of that person’s past actions when deciding to reinstate him or her, how can they say that this person only “professes” to be a member of the congregation? That person was actively reinstated even after abusing a child (or children) so they’re not “pretending” to be a member; reinstatement means that they are now recognized as an official member of the religion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Certainly Do Shield Child Molesters
The magazine says, page 9, paragraph 7:
“While the elders are not authorized to enforce the law of the land, they do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the legal consequences of his sin.”
Page 11, paragraph 17:
“The elders do not interfere with law enforcement; they leave criminal matters to the secular authorities.”
Page 13, paragraph 23:
“Governed by the law of the Christ, our congregations do not shield perpetrators of abuse from the consequences of their sins.”
These statements are demonstrably false. The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses paid out a $4000 daily sanction for two years to one court in California alone for failing to turn over records of alleged pedophiles in their religion:
In other words, not only do Jehovah’s Witnesses shield perpetrators from the consequences of their crime and interfere with court proceedings by withholding records, but they are also more than willing to pay huge sums of money, donated by their congregants, to do so.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Might Respond…
Jehovah’s Witnesses might respond by pointing out that the magazine says the elders or congregations as a whole do not shield perpetrators of child abuse from consequences, while it was legal representatives of the religion who did the shielding by defying the courts.
However, who provided the legal representatives of the religion those records of child abusers in the first place? These lists originate with the elders in local congregations and, if there was a police report to correspond with each alleged pedophile, the religion would have nothing to hide from the courts and no reason to defy those orders. By failing to notify proper authorities in each and every case, the elders are most certainly shielding perpetrators of child sex abuse from the consequences of their crime.
Dealing With Emotional Scars … Under the Same Roof as Your Abuser
The magazine continues, on page 10, paragraph 9:
“…articles in The Watchtower and Awake! have discussed how those who have been sexually abused can deal with emotional scars, how others can help and encourage them,…”
However, page 11, paragraph 18 says:
“If he [the abuser] is repentant, he may remain in the congregation.”
I can only imagine how difficult it is for victims of child sex abuse to deal with their emotional scars when their abusers are allowed to remain in the congregation because they’re “repentant.”
It’s also difficult to deal with those scars when those victims are put through intrusive and abusive questioning sessions by untrained and unqualified elders, or are given a lecture about “respecting” their abuser:
Victims Confronting Abusers
The footnote on page 11, paragraph 16, says:
“A child is never required to confront an alleged abuser. A parent or another trusted confidant may advise the elders of the allegation without exposing the child to further emotional harm.”
However, the handbook used by elders, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” 2010 edition, page 72, instructed regarding allegations of child molestation:
“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.)”
Also, from pages 89-90 of the Shepherd Book, 2010 edition:
“The chairman should invite the accused to make a personal statement. If the accused contends that he is innocent, the witnesses to the wrongdoing should be presented and their testimony should be given in the presence of the accused. It is best that the witnesses give their testimony in person. However, it may be that the witnesses live a great distance away or for some reason are not able to be physically present. If so, their testimony may be presented in the hearing of the accused by a secure phone call or perhaps submitted in writing and read to the accused.”
This instruction was only first modified in an August 1, 2016, letter to all elders worldwide, paragraph 13:
“Elders should remember that during the investigation process and during the judicial committee process, a victim of child sexual abuse is not required to make her allegation in the presence of the alleged abuser.”
Before 2016, children who have been victims of sex abuse in the religion were typically required to make their accusations to their [alleged] abuser, who was allowed to respond and react in any way, including make threats to their accuser; note the testimony of one abuse victim, from the ARC, day 148, page 15289:
This May 2019 Watchtower footnote openly admits that such confrontations might expose child sex abuse victims to “further emotional harm,” but this was the norm for Jehovah’s Witnesses until just three years before the release of this magazine.
From page 10, paragraphs 13:
“Do elders comply with secular laws about reporting an allegation of child abuse to the secular authorities? Yes. In places where such laws exist, elders endeavor to comply with secular laws about reporting allegations of abuse. (Rom. 13:1) Such laws do not conflict with God’s law. (Acts 5:28, 29) So when they learn of an allegation, elders immediately seek direction on how they can comply with laws about reporting it.”
This information openly admits that elders report allegations of child sex abuse to the authorities if there are secular laws requiring such reporting; this does nothing to protect children and punish abusers if there are no mandatory reporting laws in their area.
Also, lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses have argued that elders are exempted from reporting “internal ecclesiastical proceedings on a congregation member’s serious sin”:
From pages 10-11, paragraph 14:
“Elders assure victims and their parents and others with knowledge of the matter that they are free to report an allegation of abuse to the secular authorities.”
Notifying victims and their parents that they are “free to report” is pointless if the victim is a minor child and unable to report on their own, and especially if their parent is the abuser. This instruction is also shortsighted if parents are unable to report, such as in the case of an abused or intimidated spouse who is afraid of the abuser, a parent overwhelmed with emotion at the news that their child has been abused, mentally and emotionally fragile or deficient parents, negligent parents, etc.
There is also no information and no instruction to elders to outright ask the victims and parents if they need help in reporting, and how the elders or others might assist with the reporting process. Instead, this process simply abandons children to handling sexual abuse on their own.
The “Two Witness Rule”
From page 11, paragraph 16:
“If at least two people—the one making the accusation and someone else who can verify this act or other acts of child abuse by the accused—establish the charge, a judicial committee is formed.”
Demanding a child produce a witness to “verify the act” of molestation is obscenely shortsighted; a child rapist rarely commits these deeds in front of another person.
As brought out on this site, Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a gross double standard in picking and choosing when they apply this “two witness” rule before convening a judicial committee; the July 2018 Watchtower study edition “Questions From Readers” specifically says that two adults spending the night together under “improper circumstances” might face a judicial committee based on “strong circumstantial evidence.”
The “Shepherd the Flock of God” book, both the 2010 and 2019 editions, also states that elders must use “discernment” when evaluating claims of rape, based on the person’s “mental disposition,” the circumstances leading up to the incident, and any delay in reporting. Again, they do not demand a witness to verify any act or claim of wrongdoing before simply determining these things for themselves.
Repentant Molesters Remain in the Congregation
Page 11-12, paragraph 18 says:
“If he [the abuser] is repentant, he may remain in the congregation. … Out of concern for the welfare of children, the elders may privately warn the parents of minors in the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interactions with the individual.”
Anyone who remains in the congregation is required to participate in the religion’s preaching work, going door-to-door in their own neighborhood. Bringing a confessed pedophile to area homes where children might be present, even if that pedophile is “repentant,” easily exposes those children to abuses; these “repentant” pedophiles might take note of children home alone, of playgrounds and schools, and other opportunities to find potential abuse victims in their neighborhoods.
The “Shepherd the Flock of God” book, 2019 edition, states in chapter 14, paragraph 23, regarding the process of warning parents:
For those unfamiliar, a Service Department is located at various branches of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world; the men at these branches, who make the decision of whether or not parents are warned of a pedophile in their congregation, are not likely to know the abuser and his (or her) victim personally. They would rely on the scant information relayed to them by local elders before deciding if a private warning is given.
That aside, this begs the question of why and when a warning wouldn’t be given to parents about a confessed pedophile in their midst. What criteria would determine that parents shouldn’t be warned? What would make someone, anyone, decide that it’s fine to risk the welfare and safety of children by not warning their parents?
For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sex abuse, please note the “Pedophilia” section and the attorney and media handbook on this site.
¹Report into Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 59; PDF available at this site: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-releases/report-jehovahs-witness-organisations-released
²According to the ARC report above, 401 alleged perpetrators were disfellowshipped due to those allegations with 230 of them later reinstated. Of those disfellowshipped, 78 were disfellowshipped more than once due to allegations of molestation.