The hits just keep on coming for Watchtower as the fallout from the 2012 Conti verdict continues to snowball.
In an astonishing ABC report, aired last night on Nightline, Candace Conti’s abuser Jonathan Kendrick was confronted on his own driveway and questioned about the case.
Though Kendrick angrily denied charges he abused Candace (which the police continue to investigate), the report told the full story of how Candace only came to pursue her civil case against Watchtower after learning of his conviction for abusing another girl in a different congregation – something Kendrick was also unwilling to discuss on camera.
The revealing report, put together by ABC co-anchor Dan Harris, featured interviews with both Candace and her lawyer Rick Simons. The attempted interview with Kendrick was cut short only after Kendrick’s wife, who threatened to call the police on the news team, could only yell “He paid for that crime!” when asked about Kendrick’s abuse of her own seven-year-old granddaughter.
In addition to highlighting the child abuse issue, the report also touched on the doomsday element of Watchtower theology. “Everybody outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are pretty much walking dead,” Candace told Harris when explaining the concept of Armageddon. A visualization of the various apocalyptic magazine covers produced by Watchtower over the last few years helped to drive home this point.
It was explained that suspicion and feelings of condescension regarding outsiders contributed towards Candace keeping her abuse secret from authorities until she was older and had left the organization. And even then, it took her discovery of Kendrick’s next victims to finally move her to act.
“I felt really guilty for not doing anything so that this wouldn’t have happened to somebody else,” Candace told Harris in the report. You can’t help but wonder why victims of child abuse manage to feel guilty for the status quo in the organization while the Governing Body, the only ones with power to change things, seemingly feel no guilt at all – instead stubbornly clinging to their horrendous two witness rule.
“Who abuses children with two Witnesses?” asked a bemused Harris.
“Nobody does, and that was precisely the point,” was Candace’s poised reply.
Also interviewed was Rick Simons, who did a superb job of articulating the reason why outsiders should be alarmed by Watchtower’s negligence over child abuse.
“If ever there was a group that needs the sun to shine on them, it’s this one,” he said. “Because when your doorbell rings on Saturday morning, and your kid answers the door, you don’t want that guy to be a child molester.”
This point, which Simons reportedly used during the trial to great effect, brilliantly explains the scope of the problem. It is ordinary members of the public – not just Jehovah’s Witnesses – who are at risk from the Governing Body’s rules.
Watchtower apparently refused an interview, but sent ABC a scripture-strewn letter claiming they acknowledge the right of parents to report to governmental authorities.
As has repeatedly been argued on this website, it is one thing to not punish parents if they decide to go to the authorities, it is another thing entirely to always urge them to do so when they approach the body of elders with an accusation – a simple solution entirely absent from Watchtower literature and instructions to congregations.
A tinge of disappointment
I should be, and I am, thrilled at this ABC report, which (combined with the recent PBS report and investigative work by Trey Bundy) does a brilliant job of giving Watchtower the public notoriety it richly deserves after decades of mishandling child abuse.
But if you know me, you’ll know I’m rarely satisfied with partial victory in these sorts of matters. When the stakes are so high, I like to see monstrous bullies utterly vanquished without giving an inch.
I also remember precisely how it is to be an indoctrinated Witness who will leap on the tiniest crumb of a reason to excuse the organization and continue as though nothing has happened. This reason, for many Witnesses, will have been served up on a plate near the end of Dan Harris’ report:
“Since Candace’s verdict the church appears to have made some adjustments to its confidentiality policy when it comes to child abuse. But critics, including Candace, say it’s not enough.”
This is not the first time I have heard it suggested that Watchtower has significantly changed its policies in the wake of the Conti verdict. It is worth noting that Rick Simons made a very similar claim in an interview for the 2013 SFTLA Trial Lawyer awards:
“…and afterwards they changed their policy, they didn’t change as much as they should, and it’s gonna take a lot more lessons, but they did change it enough and they moved it in the right direction.”
These comments can be seen in this video at the 5:19 time marker…
When I first heard this suggestion by Simons I recall scratching my head, wondering precisely what changes in Watchtower’s policy subsequent to the Conti verdict could be remotely considered “enough.”
Some point to the fact that elders will sometimes allow accusations of child molestation to be heard even if there are not two witnesses on the sole condition that two or three witnesses can be found “to the same kind of wrongdoing.” (I was really proud of Candace in her appearance at the 2013 RNA conference when she brilliantly referred to this nuance in Watchtower’s rulebook as the “two victim rule.”) However, this was NOT a change introduced after the 2012 Conti verdict. The rule can be found on pages 71 and 72 of the Shepherd the Flock of God elder’s manual, published in 2010.
Given that the above interview was in 2013, it seems Simons may well have been referring to the infamous October 1, 2012 letter to elders, which if anything reinforced Watchtower’s child abuse policy. It (1) kept the two witness rule firmly in place, (2) insisted that elders rather than the police should investigate every accusation of child abuse, (3) left it to the branch office to decide whether or not a pedophile could be considered a predator, and (4) left the door open for pedophiles to become elders in the future provided a congregation is ignorant as to their crimes.
The only notable change introduced by the October 2012 letter that I could see (and I invite correction on this) was the hitherto unknown rule that, in some instances, elders would be allowed to inform parents in the congregation of the presence of a confirmed pedophile. This was explained in point 13 of the letter as follows (bold is as it appears in the letter; parentheses for clarification):
13. If the individual [a reproved or reinstated child molester] does not follow the above direction from the elders [to avoid children], or if the elders believe he may be a “predator,” the elders should immediately call the Service Department for assistance. A “predator” is one who clearly lacks self-control and by his actions provides reason to believe he will continue to prey on children. Not every individual who has sexually abused a child in the past is considered a “predator.” The branch office, not the local body of elders, determines whether an individual who has sexually abused children in the past will be considered a “predator.” If the branch office determines that an individual will be considered a “predator,” parents with minor children will need to be warned of the danger that exists so that they can protect their children. In such a case, and only after receiving direction and instructions from the Service Department, two elders should be assigned to meet with the parents of minor children in order to provide a warning. At the same time that parents are warned about an individual, it would be appropriate for the elders to inform the individual that parents in the congregation will be discreetly informed.
Though any change is welcome that increases the likelihood of parents being warned of a pedophile, there are three glaring problems with the above rule.
Firstly, when the letter is read in context, the “predator” provision seems to apply only to reproved or reinstated pedophiles – not necessarily to those accused of child molesting (which makes sense when you factor in the two witness rule). Secondly, the predator provision is only to be called upon if there are concerns that the known pedophile is having contact with children. How are elders supposed to know every detail of a pedophile’s movements in the congregation? And thirdly, the letter insists it is for the branch office, NOT the local authorities, to decide whether parents should be warned that a predator is in their midst.
In short, an elder can be convinced that someone in the congregation poses a threat to children, but without the green light from the branch office he has his hands tied.
It’s impossible to know for sure whether this is the loophole to which Simons and Harris refer, because they don’t offer clarification – but it seems likely.
Some may feel I am being unreasonable by picking up on this. After all, the ABC report was a brilliant and thorough expose, and it got the message about child abuse across loud and clear – thanks in no small measure to Simons’ incisive remarks about pedophiles on the doorstep. Between this and the PBS report, most news-savvy adults in America must now surely be aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses have a huge child abuse problem. But it is important to remember what is at stake here: the safety of children. Where this is concerned, there can be no compromises – no inch given.
ANY gap in Watchtower’s child abuse policy through which pedophiles can exploit children, no matter how narrow, is a gap too many. And by no conceivable stretch can the word “enough” be used to describe a policy that still regards the wicked act of child molestation as a “sin” first and foremost, and a crime by coincidence.
In summary, I am overjoyed at this seemingly unrelenting wave of media attention that is giving Watchtower and its cloistered Governing Body the battering it deserves. The likes of Barbara Anderson have worked tirelessly over the past two decades to keep the pressure on, and pave the way for this much-needed exposure.
But there is still much work to be done, and I’m sure Barbara would join me in saying the time for lighting the cigar is when every last child is reasonably out of harm’s way.