The online Jehovah’s Witness community has been rocked by news of yet another horrific child abuse cover-up.
This time the cover-up involves a Witness pedophile who repeatedly abused his position of trust in the congregation, but has since fled the United States and is currently ‘exiled’ in his native Mexico.
San Diego’s 10News outlet aired a news story about Gonzalo Campos on the evening of July 22, 2013 after obtaining footage of him confessing to his crimes in a video deposition filmed in Mexico. In his statement, Campos seems to claim that his elders allowed him to continue studying with children even after they had been alerted to his despicable habits.
Lawyer Irwin Zalkin represented several of Campos’ victims in a lawsuit that was filed at the court in San Diego in 2011. Despite Watchtower being named as one of the defendants due to their failure to act, they eventually succeeded in negotiating a multi-million dollar settlement. Because of this, full details of the case are hard to come by.
Despite the shortage of information in the above news report and corresponding article, JWsurvey has been able to review some of the court documents, which are available on Barbara Anderson’s invaluable WatchtowerDocuments.com resource. You can check these documents yourself by clicking here.
Though they are written by two opposing legal teams and thus present an occasionally conflicting story, the case files do give a remarkable insight into Campos’ depravity and the extraordinary negligence of his local congregation and Brooklyn HQ in failing to seize opportunities to protect Witness children from a man known to be a predatory child molester.
I will now try to describe the course of events to the best of my knowledge and ability. Please be aware that (1) I am no legal expert, and (2) I am piecing together information from conflicting court documents, and I defer to these and the persons actually involved in the case in the event of any discrepancy.
A litany of abuse
Gonzalo Campos was born in Mexico on July 10, 1963, and moved to the United States with this mother in the late 1970s. He took an interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses after his mother began studying with them, and soon began studying himself and attending meetings at the Linda Vista congregation in San Diego.
Campos was baptized on September 27, 1980, age 17. He became heavily involved in the preaching work to the extent that some evidently considered him to be a pioneer, although it is disputed that he ever was.
Then, in 1982, Campos was accused of molesting a young boy, Arturo Jemio, who was 12 at the time. It is possible that Campos was living in the same house as Arturo at the time, but I am unable to verify this.
According to Arturo, he was sleeping and felt his pants being pulled down. He awoke to find Campos kneeling by his bed, but was not aware of Campos touching him inappropriately. Even so, he believed Campos had tried to abuse him and told his mother, who in turn notified the elders. Within two days, both Arturo and Campos were interviewed by the elders. Campos admitted that he had touched Arturo inappropriately, but the elders did not punish him. They only counseled him.
Then, on two occasions over a twelve-month period between 1983 and 1984, Campos abused John Dorman and told him to keep the abuse secret as his “special friend.” John was about seven or eight at the time.
In 1986 another accusation is said to have arose against Campos involving child molestation, resulting in the formation of a judicial committee – although this is disputed and neither side names the victim of the alleged molestation. According to the plaintiffs, the Linda Vista elders were informed of accusations of molestation, a judicial committee was formed, Campos admitted the charges against him, was deemed repentant and privately reproved.
Though the existence of the 1986 judicial committee was either disputed or otherwise dismissed by Watchtower’s lawyers, both sides seem to acknowledge that around 1986 Campos spent nine months with a loss of privileges. This corresponds with what the penalty would have been for someone who was privately reproved. And obviously, you cannot be privately reproved without having been disciplined by a judicial committee. And you cannot be in a judicial committee without the elders knowing what you have done.
As 1986 drew to a close, it was decided that Linda Vista congregation had become too swollen with publishers. As a result, in November of that year, a separate congregation was formed, which Campos joined. It was initially called the La Jolla Spanish Congregation, but later became known as the Playa Pacifica Spanish Congregation. The body of elders at the new congregation was composed entirely of elders from Linda Vista, who would have at least been aware of the 1982 “incident” if not the disputed 1986 judicial committee. According to documents submitted by the plaintiffs, at least one of the elders in the new congregation had actually served on the latter.
Despite his appalling track record, Campos was inexplicably appointed a ministerial servant two years later on December 22, 1988. It was in the same year that Campos had begun abusing a young boy he was studying with by the name of Joel Gamboa.
Just over four years later, in another act of brazen negligence and stupidity, Campos’ elders appointed him as an elder on June 23, 1993. Campos was still only 29 at the time. By no later than October of that year he found himself privileged with the role of Congregation Secretary. The following March, the congregation physically relocated to 4243 Ingraham Street, San Diego, California.
Things began to come undone for Campos in the spring of 1994 when one of his victims, John Dorman, then 16, confided in his mother about his abuse at the hands of Campos. Amazingly, this wasn’t to be the end of Campos’ spree of molestation as a respected elder – at least not yet.
On learning of her son’s abuse, Manuela Dorman telephoned one of her elders, Roberto Rivera. Her son had indicated that Roberto’s own son might also have been abused (which he had). On taking the call, Roberto said that he would check with his son and the other elders and get back to Manuela. In the meantime, Manuela confronted Campos by telephone about her son’s abuse, and Campos admitted molesting her son but said that the matter had already been dealt with judicially in 1986.
Then, when Roberto Rivera called Manuela back, to her astonishment he warned her not to pursue the matter any further. He told her that if she did, there would be serious repercussions – including the details of an affair she engaged in years ago being divulged to the congregation. Manuela was also told that because her son’s abuse happened so long ago it was too late to do anything about it. This threatening dismissal caused Manuela considerable distress and anxiety. Her son John was also later wrongly informed and led to believe that he could do nothing through the authorities, because his statute of limitation had expired (even though it wasn’t to expire until January 2010). So, not only did the elders refuse to report Campos, they allegedly gave his victim wrong information to put him off reporting the abuse himself.
Refusing to give up, Manuela wrote a letter of complaint to her congregation, dated April 11, 1994. The congregation then forwarded this to the Society two days later. 50 days passed before Watchtower responded to the letter, during which time Campos continued his abuse of Joel Gamboa.
Then, in a letter dated June 9, 1994, Watchtower finally replied and instructed the Playa Pacifica elders to investigate the allegations. Unfortunately, one of those elders was the very man who was the subject of the investigation, and it seems Campos exploited this to his advantage.
As much as nine months rolled by during which Watchtower failed to follow up on their letter, and for at least a further six months Campos seized his chance to continue his abuse of Joel Gamboa. During this period, a Circuit Overseer visited the congregation and, in his report back to the branch, is said to have praised Campos for his auxiliary pioneer work despite acknowledging the allegations of abuse made against him.
The Playa Pacifica elders eventually wrote a letter back to the Society, dated March 29, 1995. In this letter, which the Watchtower lawyers claim was penned entirely by Campos, it was claimed that his abuse of John Dorman had already been addressed in the 1986 judicial committee in which he was reproved. It should be remembered at this point that Watchtower does not recognise that (1) this judicial committee ever took place, or (2) that it involved John Dorman. Even so, it seems the March letter succeeded in satisfying the Society that the matter had been dealt with.
Things become even more sketchy at this point. What is known is that, at some point while the accusations surrounding John Dorman were being “investigated,” the Playa Pacifica elders became aware that Campos had abused another young boy, Joel Gamboa, after his mother approached them. By this point Joel had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, so the elders contacted him via a speakerphone conversation, and asked him whether Campos had ever abused him, to which he replied that yes, he had.
Thus, on June 9, 1995, Campos was finally disfellowshipped and removed as an elder – NOT for his abuse of John Dorman (which had started the investigation), but because of his abuse of Joel Gamboa.
In the years following his disfellowshipping, Campos repeatedly requested reinstatement. He eventually admitted to the elders to abusing more victims, including John and Joshua Rivera and Ruth Bias. Despite these confessions, no reports were made to the police.
Campos was finally reinstated on April 21, 2000. It was only when, in September 2009, some of his victims learned that he was regularly attending meetings at Playa Pacifica congregation that they apparently began considering taking legal action. A civil lawsuit ensued, which was eventually settled – but not before Campos fled to Hidalgo, Mexico, where he remains. Given the civil settlement, and his current exile, it seems unlikely that he will ever face criminal conviction for his horrific deeds.
Here are further details of just six of Campos’ victims, all of whom claim to have had lasting emotional and psychological difficulties as a result of their abuse.
John Dorman – born Sep 7, 1977. Abused by Campos on two occasions within a twelve months period from ’83 to ’84 between the ages of seven and eight. On both occasions, Dorman was abused by Campos when accompanying him for work at his landscaping business. The first time was in his van; the second time on the way to a gardening job, and later at someone’s house where Campos’ mother was working as a cleaner. Campos also conducted a bible study with Dorman at his family home between ’82 and ’87.
Joel Gamboa – born Dec 31, 1980. Abused sometimes two or three times per week over a six-year period from ’88 right up to ’95. Campos was invited to study with Joel at his home, and he used these opportunities to sexually abuse him, especially (for some reason) during prayers. Joel was also abused by Campos in his van while accompanying him to work at his landscaping business, after Campos picked him up from school, in parking lots, and at Campos’ home. The abuse only ended in 1995 after Joel moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after the move, as previously explained, Joel was contacted by phone by the Playa Pacifica elders, and asked whether he had been abused by Campos. He confirmed that he had. This was used as evidence to finally disfellowship Campos but, as with all the other victims, his accusation was never reported to the police.
John Rivera – born May 4, 1979. John Rivera was abused repeatedly, approximately between 1986 and 1992. He was between the ages of seven and twelve at the time. The abuse took place during field service, and also on one occasion when he was taken on a bible study.
Joshua Rivera – born July 19, 1984. Joshua was abused repeatedly between 1990 and 1993, when he was between the ages of six and nine. He was also abused during field service, and even in the parking lot of the kingdom hall.
Ruth Bias – born June 6, 1981 (maiden name “Ruth Christina Rivera”). Ruth was abused between 1989 and 1993/94, between the ages of 8 and 12. She was abused during field service and also at the “physical location” of the kingdom hall.
Javier Cervantes – born April 21, 1976. Javier was abused between 1984 and 1985, at the approximate ages of 8 and 9. He too was abused while Campos was “pioneering.”
Missed opportunities to end the abuse
Despite certain areas of ambiguity when reading the court documents, one element of this horrific case that is striking is the number of missed opportunities to end the abuse. Three of these opportunities are most outstanding…
1982 – after Campos was caught molesting twelve-year-old Arturo Jemio in his bed, the authorities should have been alerted. This would have likely spared any further victims. Instead, not only was the abuse covered up by the elders with nothing more than a “counselling” of Campos – the incident was also apparently forgotten. In the years that followed, Campos was allowed unfettered access to multiple young ones in the congregation with disastrous consequences.
1986 – something clearly happened in that year. Both sides recognize that Campos was put on restrictions for nine months around this time, and this could only realistically have been as a result of a private reproof, which in turn would be an outcome of a judicial hearing. I have unanswered questions as to which child the incident involved, or whether a judicial committee was formed at all. But IF accusations of molestation were brought to the attention of the elders at this time, then it was yet another missed opportunity to bring Campos to justice and prevent further victims.
1994/1995 – a period that witnessed a series of horrific acts of negligence on behalf of both Watchtower and the local elders. First, John Dorman’s mother is threatened with “serious repercussions” if she takes her accusations any further. Then, when she does write a letter of complaint, Watchtower sits on it for nearly two months while Campos continues to use his position as Congregation Secretary to assault Joel Gamboa. When Watchtower finally gets round to writing to the elders (including Campos) ordering them to “investigate” the matter, the instructions are not followed up on. This allows Campos at least six extra months to inflict yet more abuse on young Joel, doubtless manipulating his fellow elders all the while in doing so. It is June 1995, a year on from John Dorman’s accusation, before Campos is finally disfellowshipped – and still none of the accusations are reported to the police, despite the elders learning of yet more victims in the years that follow.
Another terrible witness
In researching the above, I could scarcely believe much of what I was reading. Apart from the chilling narrative of Campos’ deplorable deeds, the apathy of the organization and the audacity of Watchtower’s lawyers in trying to defend it is beyond comprehension. Much of it is still sinking in as I write these concluding words. I just cannot fathom how, in recent history, a congregation could be quite so naive and complacent as to fail to recognise the threat posed by Campos, who was quite clearly a monster. Multiple opportunities to stop him from increasing his number of young victims were simply thrown away, both by the elders and the Society itself.
Unfortunately, when comparing the case of Candace Conti and the recent news reports about Gordon Leighton in the UK, we see a horrifying pattern emerge. Put simply, Watchtower doesn’t care about the welfare of children. All it really cares about is the archaic two witness rule, which is supposed to apply to adults, not kids.
This apparent obsession was confirmed in the above news report, when Watchtower lawyer Jim McCabe, who has also worked on the Candace Conti lawsuit, was interviewed. Reporter Mitch Blacher asked him, “Does the church always report allegations of child abuse to the police?” McCabe appeared contemplative momentarily before answering definitively, “No. Under biblical law a man can only be convicted on the testimony of two or more witnesses.”
Such an answer will have been as gobsmacking to the reporter and TV audience as to the many hundreds of thinking Witnesses like me who despair at the willful neglect that Watchtower displays through its bizarre preoccupation with protecting pedophiles rather than the children they prey upon.
When asked whether it is widely known that Jehovah’s Witnesses have problems in handling child sexual abuse, lawyer Irwin Zalchin asserted, “No, no. And it needs to be brought to the public’s attention.” This echoed the sentiments of Rick Simons in 2012, when he told a small gathering: “Watchtower’s going to need more than one lesson, the Catholic Church sure did, and they’re going to get more than one lesson!”
As case after case slowly reveals how completely out of touch Watchtower is with its handling of child abuse, you begin to wonder just how many “lessons” are needed, and how many young victims will be made to pay the price for Watchtower’s appalling arrogance and neglect.