For the first time since her stunning victory in an Alameda courtroom, Candace Conti has appeared before a select group of her supporters, together with her lawyer Rick Simons, to relate her experience personally. The meeting, which was held in Walnut Creek, California on July 14th 2012, gave those following the case the opportunity to learn more about the background to the lawsuit, and what motivated Candace to pursue her legal action against the Watch Tower Society.
Lawyer Rick Simons revealed his own take on the Watch Tower Society and its child abuse policies, and explained why these have been found to endanger children. Simons acknowledged that Candace Conti has been a unique client for him to work with, saying: “I’ve been a lawyer for forty years and I have represented thousands of clients; several hundred child sex abuse victims, and I cannot think of a single individual who brings to a case the inner strength that Candace found over the last couple of years.”
Simons also applauded the inner strength of Candace in pursuing her objectives despite the emotional hurdles, saying, “I find it difficult to say in words how much I admire her strength throughout a very challenging time of the last three years of her life.”
Simons, who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, added “People who see the result I don’t think understand how much it takes to go through being the person who stands up first and confronts a powerful institution. And this is a very powerful, and very secretive, and very controlling institution.”
Simons went on to admit that this case has been truly career-defining for him, declaring, “At the end of my career, I’m going to look back and I’m going to say, ‘I had this case, I had that case, and I had Candace Conti!’ And I’ll say it with great pride.”
Candace Tells Her Story
Candace began the meeting by providing some background to the case and what motivated her to pursue the Watch Tower Society over the abuse she had suffered. She admitted that she would not have been able to reach this stage without her personal belief in God, and the legal support of Rick Simons and his associate, Kelly Kraetsch. Candace also acknowledged the online support and prayers of her supporters, which helped her considerably in the aftermath of the verdict.
It was explained that the events leading up to the case began in 2009 when Candace, soon after learning that Jonathan Kendrick had gone on to abuse other children, tried unsuccessfully to approach her elders and get them to change their approach to handling cases of child sex abuse.
Candace believed that, because the main duty of elders is to protect the flock, they should be willing and eager to do anything within their power to warn congregation members in future should they discover a child molester in the congregation. However, after trying to call the attention of her elders to ways of improving the handling of such cases, Candace revealed that she was “shut down” and ignored by her local body, since they insisted that they could only entertain any discussions with her if there were two eye-witnesses to the original abuse.
Candace took legal advice and noted a major disparity, namely that although the elders were reluctant to hear any claims of child abuse unless there was a third party on hand to witness the incident, this would clearly not be the way in which the matter would be handled in a court of law. After meeting Rick Simons, she decided to pursue the matter through the courts, since she was being stonewalled by her elders who refused to consider her sincere suggestions.
In the wake of the verdict, Candace stressed that it is important to keep driving the momentum by encouraging similar victims to step forward. She said, “The jury made a very meaningful statement to the organization that they do not agree with their policies and procedures, so for the next two years while we have this win, I think it’s an important thing to shout this from the rooftops, to get as many people that have good cases to bring them to the forefront.” She went on to personally offer her own time and support to any similar victims who require help in coming forward.
Not About Changing Beliefs and Doctrines
After Candace had spoken and given her take on events, Rick Simons elaborated on the primary motivating factors behind the case, namely that this lawsuit was not an attempt to dictate the beliefs and doctrines of a religious organization – even though the Society’s child abuse policies fall short of what is required by law. Notably, an unconstitutional externally-enforced change of policy forms a principle argument with which the Watchtower now intends to appeal the jury’s verdict in proceedings that are likely to drag out over months, or even years.
In Watchtower’s appeal documents, which have been submitted to the court and are available for viewing on this link, the Society asserts that the purpose of the lawsuit was to force the Watchtower to change its policies, as follows:
However, Simons made a clear distinction between policies and beliefs, saying, “The case was not about changing the beliefs and doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is not the role that our court system plays in religion, whether it be the Catholic Church, whether it be any religious organization – our government doesn’t tell folks what to believe, and it doesn’t tell folks things about how their philosophy and how their internal procedures should be run in a religious setting.”
Simons went on to explain the Watchtower’s responsibilities, saying: “What we do say to all institutions and organizations, whether religious or not religious (it doesn’t matter whether it’s the boy scouts, whether it’s a swimming club, or whether it’s a church)… all organizations have the same obligation under the law, and are treated the same under the law, and that’s the obligation to protect children in activities from sexual abuse by known child offenders.”
Some have questioned why the Watchtower has been pursued over the actions of an individual, namely Jonathan Kendrick. In fact, this was the primary argument against the ruling that was put forth in the Watch Tower Society’s official press release. However, Simons explained why it was necessary, saying, “Jonathan Kendrick not only had previously molested another child, but it was reported. And not only was it reported to the local elders, but it was reported in writing to Watchtower New York. And not only was it reported to Watchtower New York, but New York gave instructions back to the local elders on what to do.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the case, what happened next is both bewildering and outrageous. Simons further related events by highlighting the reaction of the Watchtower attorneys saying, “With great pride the lawyers for the Watchtower said, ‘Well we removed him as a Ministerial Servant!’. And our response to that was: ‘Okay, so you got a convicted child molester in your congregation, and in your view the appropriate response is: but we’re not gonna let him pass out books at the back of the meeting? That was not enough!’”
Simons also expressed his bemusement at the repeated attempts to shrug off the case with the assertion made by the Watchtower attorneys that Kendrick was “just a rank and file member”. Simons responded, saying “He was NOT just a rank and file member. He was a minister. He was a member in good standing. He was a brother, and he was in a small congregation where he had already molested one child, and he was allowed to stay in secret and to go into field service, not just with Candace (which was his opportunity to molest her), but to come to the doors of anyone in the community. He could come to my house on a Saturday morning, and all of the jury (none of them were Jehovah’s Witnesses) were aghast that people could be coming to your door with the sanction of a religious organization who knows they are convicted child abusers.” He added emphatically, “This has nothing to do with religious beliefs. This has everything to do with being responsible citizens in a community where there are children.”
If you would like to view the recorded videos of the meeting with Candace Conti and Rick Simons for yourself, you can watch a YouTube playlist of the speeches and interviews below.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the details of the case, I would encourage you to read my previous article, entitled “The Watchtower Punished – Society loses legal battle over child abuse case”
A Stubborn and Unyielding Stance
The comments made by Rick Simons, who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, express very eloquently the frustrations felt by many within our faith who have campaigned for many years for the organization to adopt a more adequate and responsible approach to incidents of child molestation. However, over many years now, the organization has ignored and even ostracized such ones who call for change. The Governing Body would seemingly prefer to cling on to the “two witness” rule for dear life rather than do the decent and proper thing and allow the authorities to decide when acts of child abuse have been committed (as indeed is the case with acts of homicide). After all, it has been made clear that, in the Christian era, the superior authorities have been put in place by God to adjudicate over such matters. (Romans 13:1,2)
To illustrate the apathetic and dismissive approach of the organization, consider the following remarks by Governing Body member Anthony Morris III, taken from a talk entitled “Beware of the Birdcatcher” that was given at Liberty Heights, MA in the Fall of 2005:
“Sometimes they [apostates] will be making accusations as if we don’t care about our children, and child abuse. Now that is one of the most despicable slanderous things you could ever say against Jehovah’s organization. A lot of us are parents, we hate that sin. We love our children, but we stick by the scriptures. And frankly, there’s been some fine men that were falsely accused, but because we went by the scriptures it all came out that it was a lie. And then you have some that are guilty, well we handle that. To compare us to some of these religious organizations that move their people around so they can abuse some more is a despicable lie.” - Anthony Morris III, member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses
(If you would like to listen to Anthony’s words for yourself, please click here to download the recording of the relevant part of his talk. The above quoted remarks begin approximately 45 seconds into the recording. If you would like to listen to a selection of Anthony Morris’ comments on various other subjects taken from recorded talks, please click here.)
Obviously, when Anthony Morris III made the above comments in late 2005 he had no idea that within only seven years they would be proven as utterly false and misleading by a jury’s verdict in a court of law. The claims made by so-called “apostates” (a derogatory term that is used to describe any who are critical of the organization) that the policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses serve to protect child abusers and leave children vulnerable to molestation have since turned out to be verifiable fact. As a result, the Society is quickly acquiring for itself a terrible reputation for its negligence in this regard, thus bringing shame on Jehovah’s name.
Anthony’s remarks also confirm that observance of the Mosaic “two witness rule” is of foremost concern to the Governing Body, even if this is to the detriment of victims of molestation. Anthony also makes the astonishing claim that, when someone is guilty, this is “handled” in each and every case. This is verifiably false since, as you will note from my previous article on the subject, the elder’s manual (or Shepherd the Flock of God book) clearly advises elders to “leave matters in Jehovah’s hands” if someone who is accused of child abuse denies any wrongdoing and there is nobody other than the victim who witnessed the abuse. This is far from “handling” matters. If anything, it is clear and explicit counsel for elders NOT to handle matters. However, as mentioned, the Governing Body is apparently blind to the urgency of the matter, and the unthinkable peril in which they are placing countless children under their stewardship through their failure to fully acknowledge the jurisdiction of the authorities in these matters.
A Long Time Coming
Those of you who have followed my blog articles will be aware that I am relatively new to the real truth about the organization, having only fully awakened from my indoctrination little over a year ago. In the short period during which I have learned of the full ramifications of the Watchtower’s negligent policies in many areas, including those concerning child abuse, I have done my best to explain to others precisely why these are so damaging.
However, my efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the many years of hard work and toil put forth by such determined campaigners as Barbara Anderson, and others who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of these issues and, ideally, convince the Society to humbly bring their flawed policies into full alignment with the law. For the most part, these efforts have been met with silence.
Indeed, when Anthony Morris III made the above quoted remarks in 2005 I was still serving as a Ministerial Servant, and had yet to be appointed an elder. And yet, over a considerable period both before and since, the likes of Barbara Anderson and others have been trying desperately to make the Society see reason – but their sincere pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
This inherent and entrenched stubborness on the part of the organization was alluded to in comments made by Rick Simons during Candace’s meet-up event. In speaking about the recent verdict, he said, “Watchtower’s going to need more than one lesson, the Catholic Church sure did, and they’re going to get more than one lesson!”
Simons went on to explain that more victims like Candace need to step forward who meet certain key legal criteria, namely that (as in Candace’s case) the Society was notified of abuse by a non-family member, and there is documented evidence that the congregation failed to do anything to protect others. Simons added, “If we pick and choose carefully around the country, and we use the documents that we got in this case, then I think even the Governing Body will realize that the price of hiding child sex abuse within their institution is simply too high.”
It seemed almost unthinkable only a short time ago that we would ever see the day when the Society is forced to back down and accept needed adjustments in this crucial area. However, things are changing, and the tide has well and truly turned. For the first time, the Society has received a “bloody nose” (in the words of James Penton, another intelligent voice of reason that the organization has ignored). In a sense, it was only a matter of time – but it took the courage and profound strength and integrity of Candace Conti to stay the course and see that the arms of justice were fully extended against the Watchtower, in spite of the might of its considerable legal resources. Now we have a blueprint for success, and the end is in sight.
Still, we must not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead. The battle may have been won, but the war is far from over. The appeal process has begun, and will likely take a long time to reach fruition. It is a shame that we need to talk in terms of “war”, but sadly, that well describes the magnitude of the struggle faced by those who wish to protect Witness children, as well as the voracity with which the Society stubbornly resists calls for change.
Regardless of the final outcome, the selflessness and courage of Candace Conti has ensured that an intense light of public scrutiny now beams down upon the Watchtower organization and its policies and procedures. This is a light from which they will never escape, regardless of the outcome of the appeal. There are too many who care deeply about protecting children to ever allow the organization to escape this unwanted exposure and return to the shadows of secrecy. And now, just perhaps, the Governing Body knows it.