The following article has been submitted by “CovertFade,” a non-disfellowshipped reader who credits this website with helping him wake up from Witness indoctrination a year ago, and who wishes to comment on developments in Australia…
As recorded this week in major news outlets all over the world, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has been presented with incontrovertible evidence that, due to the explicit policy and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,006 alleged child molesters in Australia have not been reported to the police, with hundreds of these molesters allegedly being repeat offenders.
The evidence comes, not from “apostates” or “Satan’s media.” It comes from the brave and gut-wrenching testimony of abuse survivors, the jaw dropping and sometimes infuriating testimony of elders who dealt with their cases, and Watchtower’s own internal documents. And it is utterly damning, confirming everything that child protection activists and critics of the Watchtower organization have long claimed: Victims forced to confront their accusers in closed off, all-male tribunals. Elders not reporting cases of abuse to the police, even in the face of actual confessions from the abuser. Victims being told to be silent or be shunned.
Sounds awful doesn’t it? Both for the lives of the victims, and for the reputation of the organization that has so spectacularly failed them. But trust us, unless you’ve actually observed the hearings, you’ve not even seen the half of it. And observe you can.
In complete contrast to the closed off, star chamber style of court that Watchtower calls “justice,” the Royal Commission has published its sessions online for the whole world to see in the form of video recordings and transcripts.
The actual commission has looked at two case studies so far; examining the testimonies of two separate abuse survivors from inside Jehovah’s Witnesses (known to the commission as person BCB and person BCG), and the subsequent response of the Watchtower as an institution when it became aware of the allegations.
Both cases date from about twenty years ago. So far, the Commission has taken testimony from the two survivors, and from five elders involved in their cases. To give a blow-by-blow account of all of the suffering, failures and jaw-dropping incompetence displayed in the sessions would take an entire book, not an article. But nonetheless here are a few overall points that can be gained from observing the proceedings so far. (As I type this, day three of the two week hearing has ended, and the commission in taking a one day break before resuming on Friday 31st July.)
Above you can watch a YouTube playlist of video coverage from the Royal Commission
Watchtower’s strategy in dealing with the commission is crumbling. It’s hard to believe that the Elders appearing to testify will not have been coached by Watchtower’s Legal Desk. Indeed, one can see a distinct trend in the testimony each man gives, which speaks of a coordinated response.
Each man takes the stand and begins by trying to press a specific narrative: “We’re not saying everything was handled perfectly in the past: everyone was still new to the problem and didn’t fully understand how to proceed. But we’ve learned since then, and fixed the problems, and now it’s all fine, trust us, no really, and please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
Trouble for them is: the commission is blowing holes in that narrative wide enough to drive Jehu’s chariot through.
Firstly, it has now been demonstrated that even by the standards of the time (both cases being around 20 years old) the elders involved in the process demonstrated horrific incompetence and even active deceit. For example, elder Max Horley admits at one point to “not taking seriously” the wording of a letter he wrote to the branch about the sex abuse case he investigated, with that flawed letter later resulting in a significant and incorrect minimizing of the perceived seriousness of the abuse.
But it’s not just incompetence on the part of the elders that has been uncovered, because on day three, the commission caught elder Dino Ali apparently lying under oath.
Ali had claimed before the commission, and in his written statement, that when he and his fellow elders had investigated the allegations made by a young girl (known to the commission as BCG) against her father (allegedly a friend of Ali), the committee had been unable to disfellowship the father or take any action against him, even though they claimed to believe the allegations, because they had neither two witnesses to the crime, nor a confession from the father.
Ali regretfully but firmly stated that since it was a case of one person’s word against another, there was nothing the elders could do. He was asked during hearings to confirm if he’d have found the father guilty if he’d had two witness or a confession. Ali agreed that either one would have allowed him to do so.
Much to his obvious shock, the Commission then produced a set of aged, handwritten notes. They spent a great deal of time getting Ali to confirm that the notes were his, written during his investigation of the abuse. Ali, as recorded in the transcript and videos was clearly uncomfortable, and tried to dance around the issue, but was soon left with little choice in the matter but to accept that they were his, apparently obtained by the commission from the congregation file.
The Commission then proceeded to read Ali’s own account, from Ali’s own notes, of how not only the daughter BCG had accused the father of abuse, but BCG’s mother had also testified to Ali that the father had abused the two younger daughters, and the eldest of the four daughters had also stated to Ali that she had been abused.
Sounds bad? It gets worse.
Later in the notes, Ali in his own hand had recorded the father confessing to the abuse. The commission thus pointed out that, far from having only one witness and no confession, Dino Ali actually had three witnesses and a confession – enough evidence to find the father guilty.
Having been caught in either an act of gross negligence, outright deceit, or both, Ali spends most of the rest of his testimony trying and failing to convince the judge that three witnesses and a confession is not actually three witnesses and a confession.
Secondly, it quickly becomes apparent that while Watchtower may have changed some things they have not made changes where it really matters, and all the elders confirm this under oath.
The two witness rule. The practice of three men interrogating a survivor of sexual assault, sometimes in front of their attacker. The policy of not reporting to the police unless legally mandated to do so. These core problems are still alive and kicking in Watchtower. Thus, despite Watchtower’s attempt to spin a certain narrative to the Commission, the Commission has in just the first three days left that narrative in tatters.
And that leads us to the next point.
The failure is systemic to the Watchtower organization from the top down. These are not the actions of a few bad apples or incompetent men. Every single elder has confirmed (with the exception of Ali’s apparently deceitful behavior which, for the sake of fairness, was likely not directly sanctioned by Watchtower) that they were following direct printed policy regarding these matters. Indeed, these elders feel that they cannot deviate from the policy even if they disagree with it. The testimony below from Max Horly is typical of the repeated responses from the elders interviewed…
- Justice Peter McClellan: Mr Horley, I understand how the church is organized, but what the process means is that the investigation, in a case such as this one, of a woman’s allegations is made entirely by men; correct?
- Max Horley: I’m sorry, the —
- Justice McClellan: The investigation within the church is conducted entirely by men?
- Horley: That’s correct, yes.
- Justice McClellan: Do you think that’s appropriate when the allegation comes from a woman, and maybe a young woman?
- Horley: That’s – that’s the procedure that we have in place.
- Justice McClellan: I know, but I’m asking you a different question.
- Horley: Well, that sort of comes into my personal feelings. I think I would still have to be bound by what the branch directs me to do.
This is an oft repeated theme in the hearing. Elders follow orders, and they cannot question those orders, even if they disagree with them.
And disagree they do.
Most elders interviewed disagreed with the Watchtower policy when pressed. Out of the four elders specifically questioned about the key concerns of the commission, three of the elders (Max Horley, Doug Jackson, and Kevin Bowdich) eventually conceded in part or in whole that the process was flawed and needed to change. Below we have some such excerpts from the transcripts demonstrating this.
- Mr Angus Stewart, Counsel for the Commission: The point is, do you accept that in the face of the person accused, it may be very difficult for a person who has suffered abuse to say everything that happened to them?
- Max Horley: Absolutely, yes.
- Stewart: And in front of other men as well, at least two elders; is that right?
- Horley: That’s true, yes.
- Stewart: So it’s not a process that is necessarily going to come out with the full story, is it?
- Horley: Obviously not at the first meeting and, in this case that’s borne out, but – yep.
- Justice McClellan: The problem, Mr Jackson, is really not addressed in that way, though, is it? The problem —
- Doug Jackson: No
- Justice McClellan: — is the whole structure of the arrangement with two male elders, a male accused and then a female, in an environment in which she could never feel comfortable, being asked to tell intimate details of a sexual nature – the structure doesn’t work, does it?
- Jackson: Well, I agree, your Honor, I certainly do.
- Mr Angus Stewart, Counsel for the Commission: It’s not a good process, is it?
- Kevin Bowdich: It could be better.
Only one elder, Dino Ali, stubbornly insisted that the process was fine as it was, though his contradictory and sometimes bizarre responses to the commission indicate a man either being deliberately stubborn in refusing to admit the possibility his church may have flaws, a man terrified of publicly contradicting the Watchtower, or a man of such limited critical thinking skills that he cannot understand simple logic and reasoning.
Here is a typical example of the Judge trying to lead him to water, but of Mr Ali refusing to drink, when discussing the practice of bringing a sexual abuse survivor before a three-man committee.
- Justice McClellan: And you still think that’s an appropriate process for a young woman who is bringing allegations of sexual assault by her father, do you?
- Dino Ali: I believe it’s a step in understanding the process of what happened. It’s – I understand how difficult it was for her.
- Justice McClellan: But what she is saying to you is, because of the way this process was conducted, she wasn’t able to tell you all that she could have told you about what happened to her. Do you understand that?
- Ali: True, true. I understand that.
- Justice McClellan: So the three of you weren’t actually receiving the whole story, because the process wouldn’t allow it. Do you understand that?
- Ali: I understand that, too.
- Justice McClellan: Well is that not suggesting to you there is a flaw in the process?
- Ali: No.
So of the four elders interviewed, three agreed the process was flawed and thus proved that the Commission’s concerns were valid, and the fourth refused to admit the process was flawed even when the flaws were demonstrable.
Wait, I said four Elders. Wasn’t there a fifth guy?
Yes, there was. Elder Joseph Bello, but he didn’t spend long on the stand. Basically, he appeared to present rather nervous and shamefaced testimony confirming that, when abuse survivor BCB and her husband had been considering going to the Royal Commission with her story, he had made the statement: “But what would that accomplish other than dragging Jehovah’s name through the mud?”
This prompted the following exchange…
- Mr Stewart for the Commission: I take it within your faith, Jehovah is considered as a loving God?
- Joseph Bello: Definitely.
- Stewart: Would Jehovah, then, not also then not be more concerned about the victim than his own name?
At this point, you’d think Mr Bello would take the olive branch being offered, but instead he gives the following insight into why the Watchtower would rather abusers go free than victims go public
- Joseph Bello: Jehovah would be concerned about the victim, but Jehovah is concerned about his own name, too, that’s what the scriptures told us.
In other words… no.
Oh, and before he got off the stand, he also admitted that he had no real idea what the Commission was for or what it did, and that despite being summoned several weeks ago, he had done no research. When the astonished Judge told him that he must have been aware of the Commission’s work though the news, Mr Bello admitted to never following the news. The look on the face of Justice McClellan after this response spoke a thousand words.
This is just a small snippet of the opened can of worms that the elders interviewed thus far have strewn across the Commission floor. Not a single elder has carried themselves with any grace. They have all either collapsed into a deflated, shame-faced mess under questioning, or showed themselves to be unreasoning, deceitful fanatics.
With over a week of further testimony lying ahead, including the testimony of some high-ranking members of Watchtower Australia, it’s hard to see how the organization can possibly pull out of this legal and PR nosedive.
It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so tragic.
If you decide to view the videos and read the transcripts, please be certain to take in the harrowing testimony of BCB and BCG. Please listen carefully as they relate how their lives were destroyed by men who should have protected and loved them.
Please listen as they relate how the elders and policies of the Watchtower organization acted to make an awful situation even worse. Please consider their courage, and their pain.
And please consider that these are just two of potentially thousands of victims around the world whom Watchtower has failed and will continue to fail until rule of law, financial penalty and public opinion force it to revise its bronze age approach to child abuse.
- Updated list of media reports on the Royal Commission
- Download page for exhibits from the Royal Commission
- Australian Royal Commission hears that 1,006 alleged child sex abusers were covered up by Watchtower
- Jehovah’s Witness Report article
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse