It seems that one can hardly swing a dead Seven Headed Wild Beast on the internet these days without hitting a fresh report of Watchtower having to once again defend its handling of child abuse in court.
I submit that there are three main reasons for this:
One: Via a combination of undue influence, rigid adherence to laws devised from ethically out-dated and scholarly dubious scriptural interpretation, and plain old downright negligence, Watchtower has created an environment in its congregations that was described as “a perfect storm for abuse” by a Senior Council for a Royal Commission on the subject.
Two: Growing numbers of activists and, even more significantly, brave abuse survivors themselves, have been tirelessly dragging a spotlight onto injustices and transgressions that Watchtower has desperately tried to keep hidden.
Three: Partly as a result of the above, and partly because good journalists understand that their craft is at its best when it gives voice to the wronged, and holds to account those who have wronged them, the media is increasingly covering this issue. In recent years, a number of professional, credible journalists have started to dig deep into Watchtower’s hidden secrets. Journalists like Trey Bundy.
Bundy has been following Watchtower for a while now, documenting in careful detail the results of his investigations for Reveal News, an Emmy-nominated organization specializing in credible, fact-checked, investigative journalism.
Now, Bundy has published news of yet another Watchtower child abuse story. But this report is a little different: the trial hasn’t even happened yet, and already Watchtower has rushed to disgrace itself.
Bundy documents an upcoming case first brought against Watchtower in 2013 by Stephanie Fessler. According to Fessler, she was abused by a middle-aged Jehovah’s Witness woman some 30 to 50 times from the ages of 14 to 16.
The allegations take a painfully familiar route: it appears Watchtower have admitted that they knew about it; that they didn’t report it, and Fessler has therefore claimed that Watchtower’s policy of non-reporting enabled her abuse. You can read more details of Fessler’s account here.
But that’s not where the current issue lies.
According to Bundy’s report, Watchtower tried to have the case moved from Philadelphia to York county. Why?
Bundy reports “Watchtower argued that holding the trial in Philadelphia would burden witnesses who would have to travel to testify.”
That might almost sound reasonable… unless you know that many of the witnesses apparently live far closer to Philadelphia than to York county. And also that York County apparently has the largest backlog of civil cases in Pennsylvania.
In other words, this was apparently nothing but a shameless attempt by Watchtower to significantly delay what appears to be a compelling case against it for shielding a pedophile from justice.
This was certainly the opinion of the judges who ruled on Watchtower’s request to move to York County. They labelled this tactic “abusive,” and judged it to be nothing more than a “last-minute gambit to delay trial.”
“The facts strongly suggest that the motion to transfer venue was the product of bad-faith collaboration between the Congregations and the four York County witnesses” writes Judge Patricia Jenkins.
Bundy’s article then goes on to put this event into context against a long history of such behavior from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. I’d urge to you read it, and to keep following Bundy’s excellent work, both on this story and in general. The world of journalism needs more people like him.
Watchtower likes to dismiss any mention of their failure to act on instances of child abuse in their organisation as “apostate lies,” rebutting the claims as mere stories made up by disgruntled former members.
And it’s not the “apostates.”