For many, 2016 will go down as a year of tragedy, uncertainty, and change. One thing which has not changed is the love that we have at JW Survey for our former friends and family members who are still chained inside the walls of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. While our resolve to awaken and educate Jehovah’s Witnesses and the public to the dangers of unduly influential religions, we feel only compassion for individual members of our former faith. We recognize the difference between those who direct the activities of Witnesses worldwide, and those who follow their lead.
The events which affected the lives of millions of JWs worldwide in 2016 would fill a sizable book, so we will condense the past year into a two-part synopsis of headlines which were covered by the editorial team of JW Survey.
Child Abuse – a 2016 Summary
Regrettably, the subject of child abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organization has continued to grab international headlines, forcing JW Survey to give attention to a grotesquely unpleasant subject. On January 3rd 2016, JW Survey contributor Karen Morgan reported on the well publicized case of Ian Pheasey of Warwick UK. Pheasey sexually abused and choked at least 3 Witness girls, some of the offenses occurring in the Kingdom Hall library. As is typical with Witness child abuse cases, the organization publicly denounced the abuse itself, but failed to mention that elders and parents are discouraged from immediately reporting abuse allegations to the police and child protection authorities, which obstructs justice and facilitates the abuse of additional victims. Pheasey escaped law enforcement for more than 25 years due to Watchtower policies.
On January 7th, JW Survey highlighted the importance of covering child abuse issues with a brief article showcasing the brilliant Oscar-winning film Spotlight. This film raised awareness of the incredible investigative work by the Boston Globe in exposing the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The film received so much critical acclaim that its accolades have their own Wikipedia article.
Just 5 days later, Survey reported on the legal stall-tactics of Watchtower in the case of Stephanie Fessler, a former Witness who was abused while attending the Spring Grove Pennsylvania congregation. This story caught the attention of investigative reporter Trey Bundy of Reveal News, who has been covering Watchtower’s abuse scandals and the accompanying legal strategies designed to delay court proceedings as long as possible.
In the wake of the 2015 Australian Royal Commission which identified Jehovah’s Witnesses as the worst offender in prevention and reporting of child abuse, JW Survey reported on February 29th that the UK Charity Commission has launched a similar investigation into the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have fought a bitter battle in court to prevent this inquiry, which challenges their status as a charitable organization. Fearing the loss of millions of dollars (or more) due to potential taxation, Watchtower has focused its efforts on its legal defense, having already paid immense sums of money in child abuse settlements.
In the midst of this troubling scandal within the Jehovah’s Witness organization, JW Survey activist and writer Lloyd Evans produced a comprehensive feature length documentary titled: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Child Abuse – Is there a Problem?
Just when it seemed that the intense notoriety of the JW Child Abuse scandals had reached its peak, on March 7th, Survey reported on yet another groundbreaking court ruling, this time in the state of Delaware. Perpetrator Katheryn Harris Carmean White stood trial for repeated sexual encounters with a 14 year old Witness boy, but Watchtower elders William Perkins and Joel Mulchansingh covered up the abuse the moment they were informed, and never contacted the authorities. Watchtower attorney Francis McNamara defended the congregation and its elders, attempting to claim clergy privilege in a state where elders and clergy are fully exempt from any restrictions on the reporting of child abuse to police or CPA. To make matters worse, the 14 year old victim was disfellowshipped by the congregation, further torturing a young man who had been seduced by Ms. White. White has been sentenced to a six year prison sentence, while Watchtower attorneys suffered defeat at the hands of Justice Mary M. Johnston, who denied Watchtower’s motion to dismiss this case.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, the BBC reported on yet another related scandal, this time involving the destruction of sensitive documents which were needed to establish evidence of the untold numbers of abuse cases in the UK which have been hushed up by Watchtower authorities. To this day, reports by abused Witnesses continue to pour into the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse. Only time will tell just how devastating this will be to Watchtower.
Watchtower attempted to appeal the investigation by the UK Charity Commission, but as JW Survey reported on March 15th, Watchtower lost its appeal, allowing the commission to continue with the inquiry.
An even greater thorn in the side of Watchtower has been the massive California scandal involving former Witness elder Gonzalo Campos, who molested multiple Witness children following extreme incompetence by the Jehovah’s Witness organization and local elders, who promoted Campos to the position of elder while being aware of his sexual predatory nature. Campos has since fled the United States and is presumed hiding in Mexico following his admission of guilt, and Watchtower attorneys are scrambling to minimize the damages caused by their notorious two-witness policy, which prevents elders from ousting pedophiles from the organization on the premise that they lack a second “witness” to the crime. (Watchtower has more recently employed a “two-victim” rule in establishing guilt, but this has done nothing to prevent recurring cases of abuse, and in fact it could be argued that at the very minimum, it doubles the number of victims of a single perpetrator before congregation action is taken.)
The California Campos case is quite complex, involving multiple victims and cases, and has resulted in the subpoena of Governing Body Member Gerrit Lösch, as well as ALL Watchtower child abuse records, which are kept closely guarded by Watchtower’s legal defense department. While Watchtower admitted that Lösch does control policies affecting Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, their legal team scripted him a get-out-of-court statement where he declared that “I am not, and have never been a corporate officer, director, managing agent, member, or employee of Watchtower…I do not answer to Watchtower.”
Similar tactics were used in 2015 to prevent Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson from testifying before the Australian Royal Commission, but due to some timely inside information provided to the Commission, Jackson found himself summonsed to court to answer for Watchtower’s mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.
In the United States, Attorney Irwin Zalkin of the Zalkin Law Firm has been working tirelessly for years in bringing litigation against Watchtower and the congregations responsible for failing to protect children. The most recent victim of Gonzalo Campos to file is Osbaldo Padron, whose case has resulted in a lengthy court battle to obtain the secret Watchtower child abuse files, as reported by JW Survey on April 25th 2016.
The Padron case mirrors the Jose Lopez case, where the Justice presiding was so incensed that Watchtower failed to produce Governing Body member Lösch or the requested documents, that she issued terminating sanctions in the amount of $13,000,000 against Watchtower, which is known in the legal world as a default judgment. Naturally Watchtower appealed this verdict, and by the time the Osbaldo Padron case was heard, attorneys for the plaintiff and the court agreed that lesser sanctions should be attempted before issuing multi-million dollar terminating judgments.
As reported by JW Survey on 6-25-16, this is exactly what happened. The Superior Court of California, county of San Diego made the final decision to issue what they call “lesser sanctions” in an attempt to convince Watchtower to produce the requested documents from its New York Headquarters. The fine imposed was a total of $4,000 per day, for each day Watchtower failed to produce, or attempt to produce the critical documents.
As expected, Watchtower has appealed this ruling, which will further delay the penalties, possibly well into 2018. Irwin Zalkin explained to JW Survey that the appellate court briefing may not take place until May or June of 2017, which will be followed by oral arguments up to 3 months later. At that point it may be another 90 days before the court issues its opinion.
One thing we have learned during this process is that the wheels of justice turn very slowly at times, but we wish to assure our readers that justice will prevail, as society is chipping away at the undue influence and damaging control yielded by religious organizations who take the stance that their doctrines are higher than the law of the land.
Watchtower Versus Watchtower
One of the more revealing aspects of the child abuse litigation in the Jehovah’s Witness organization has been the legal trickery and maneuvering used to defend the organization against legitimate claims of mishandling abuse reports. We have already mentioned the stall tactics, but Watchtower reached a new low this year when it went so far as to pit its own hired attorneys against one another in an attempt to prevent the uncovering of critical child abuse documents concealed by Watchtower’s legal department.
On July 2nd 2016, the law firm representing Watchtower in California wrote a letter to the CCJW (Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses) in New York, requesting the documents demanded by the Superior Court of California.
in response, on July 11th 2016, the East Coast JW-hired law firm representing CCJW replied, stating “Since CCJW is not a party to the above litigation and is under no legal duty to provide any documents to Watchtower, my client declines your request.”
If you can wrap your head around this, you will understand exactly why Jehovah’s Witnesses formed the CCJW back in the year 2000, while removing all governing body members from their JW legal corporations, including the Watchtower Bible and Tract Societies of New York and Pennsylvania. While the governing body is responsible for ALL of the activities and direction of their religious organization, they have cleverly removed their names from all public records in an attempt to insulate themselves from subpoenas and prosecution. In JW terms, this is considered “theocratic warfare” – a Witness term which denotes crossing legal and ethical boundaries when the interests of their organization are threatened.
Gerrit Lösch – the Dalai Lama
Most Witnesses would find it repulsive to compare one of their governing body members to a well known leader of another religious movement, but for purposes of legal tactics, this is exactly what Watchtower attorneys have done. During the proceedings of the Jose Lopez child abuse case, Watchtower attorneys went so far to insulate Gerrit Lösch, that in open court they compared him to the well known Tibetan guru, the Dalai Lama.
Back in the UK, JW Survey reported on 7-25-16 that Watchtower’s attempt to block the Charity Commission’s inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses was denied. Commissioner Jonathan Sanders stated in a public letter:
We opened this inquiry in 2014. Watch Tower then initiated what turned out to be protracted litigation against us. We have robustly defended our position. We were right to open the inquiry. We have won our case in every court that has heard the matter, most recently in the Court of Appeal. Watch Tower then decided to try to appeal to the Supreme Court. I am pleased to tell you that I have learned today that the Supreme Court has rejected their application. This means that there are no more domestic routes of appeal open to Watch Tower. We are therefore going to be doing what we have been doing since 2014, which is continuing with our inquiries.
Less than 2 weeks after this announcement by the UK Commission, Watchtower, under intense media pressure and scrutiny, released an updated letter to elders detailing their procedures in handling child abuse accusations. This letter contained very minor revisions to their 2012 letter to elders, leaving most thinking persons wondering whether the Governing Body has any remorse or regret over their woefully inadequate child protection policies. A summary of the 2016 letter can be found here on JW Survey in our August 4th Article.
In the midst of the legal wranglings, media coverage, and Watchtower damage control, the situation worsened when a JW Survey reader witnessed a convicted child molester marching from door to door in his own neighborhood near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The incident and associated video immediately went viral, leading many to wonder just how many JW rapists or child molesters are knocking on doors, wearing a suit, but hiding a sinister and dangerous secret.
Adding to Watchtower’s ongoing list of negative publicity is yet another case of rape of an underage Utah girl, who was forced by Jehovah’s Witness elders to sit through hours of audio recordings made by the perpetrator during the commission of this crime. As is the case with nearly all sexual abuse allegations, the congregation elders decided to take matters into their own hands rather than contact the police and child protection authorities. This case is still under investigation, and a civil lawsuit against Watchtower and its congregation elders has been filed.
Australian Royal Commission to Reconvene
The significance of the 2015 Australian investigation into the child abuse policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other organizations continues to make headlines worldwide.
On November 28th 2016, the Royal Commission released its findings on the Jehovah’s Witness religion, and the results were deeply embarrassing and critical of the JW organization
In a scathing summary, one point made in this report stated:
The Royal Commission found children are not adequately protected from the risk of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation and does not believe the organisation responds adequately to allegations of child sexual abuse.
For those who wish to read the entire report – click here–
For JW Survey analysis of this report, please review our article on the subject.
Because of the extreme nature of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ woefully inadequate child protection policies (compared to other organizations) – the JW organization has been singled out for yet another in-depth examination of their procedures and rules in 2017. As reported by JW Survey, there will be a new Australian Commission on March 20th 2017, in which the focus will center on the organization itself, and whether it will reform its child protection procedures to fall in line with modern standards of care and safeguarding of children.
When I began writing this article, I had hoped to summarize the events of 2016 into one tidy article, documenting the wide variety of subjects covered by JW Survey during the past year. But when I counted the number of articles dealing with the horrors and subsequent litigation related to all manner of child abuse, I soberly concluded that this subject dominates all others, and has taken center stage as the most critical issue facing the Jehovah’s Witness organization.
The sad part about this is that it is completely unnecessary. While all organizations have abusers who take advantage of our children, the Jehovah’s Witness religion exacerbates an already unpleasant subject, and obstructs justice under the guise of interpreting the Bible in a way no rational person would ever agree with. Further adding to the confusion for Witnesses is the Governing Body’s statement that such accusations against the organization are “apostate driven lies”.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses are by and large genuine people who for the most part are not pedophiles or abusers. They do not advocate child abuse in any way. The issue we face is not that Witnesses are inherently criminal, but that their spiritual advisers guide them down a destructive path which has led to the protection of pedophiles while ignoring the very “superior authorities” who are trained to help and protect children during periods of crisis.
This summary of 2016 does not begin to pay our respects to the thousands of abuse victims within the Witness organization, not to mention the elders who have been deleted and cast aside by the organization for doing the right thing – contacting the authorities to report accusations of child abuse. Conversely, I know of men who have gone to their grave after abusing dozens of Witness children, with elders having full knowledge of these crimes, but who have swept these matters under the theocratic rug of Jehovah’s Organization.
JW Survey is committed to lifting this carpet of secrecy and cleaning the filth and obstruction of justice which prevails in such an unhealthy environment. To those who have reached out to us to share their stories, I wish to thank you, and remind you that we will do everything possible in 2017 to bring an end to this immoral and unscriptural travesty.
From the entire team at JW Survey, I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year. Stay tuned for part 2 of of the year in review, where I will recap some of the other significant events from the past year.