Child abuse with the Jehovah's Witnesses

Weighty accusations are being raised by Jehovah's Witness against their own religious community. The organization protects child molesters from prosecution by legal authorities. Some of the critics are being disfellowshipped for speaking out.

Spiegel Online/June 12, 2002
By Alexander Schwabe

Hamburg -- Since his birth for 44 years William H. Bowen from Calvert City Kentucky was a faithful Jehovah's Witnesses. For many years he pioneered for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, spending thousands of hours placing literature at the homes of his neighbors. As he went from door to door his purpose was the assist his fellowman to serve Jehovah and have the hope of living forever in God's kingdom. As a young man, Bill Bowen followed the usual expectations, served two years in "Bethel", defined as the "house of God", Bethels are located around the world, it is an institution, in which according the a booklet called 'Dwelling together in Unity' from 1990, it provides the following regulations, any woman who becomes pregnant is sent home, all doors are locked to the outside world, only one telephone to the outside is provided, which may be used only with the permission of superiors, and at Bethel all members must work daily eight hours for the interests of kingdom - for the benefit of God's work.

Bowen, who makes a living by the production of fragrance candles, had many privileges within the organization due to his long years of service. He served in many managerial and administrative functions within the church. He had participated in well over one hundred judicial committees, in which of the failure of brothers and sisters were judged - in one of his last administrative capacities he had to face a decision: Should he stick to the theocratic rules of the Watchtower that were required to be followed, or should he make public that there were sexual crimes in Jehovah's organization.

"Leave it in Jehovah's hands"

In the year 2000 Bowen was faced with a problem involving a fellow Elder in the Congregation, it was discovered in records that this elder had molested a child on multiple occasions. The chairman of the original committee within the local witness community decided to keep the case hidden. Bowen contacted the Circuit Overseer, which wanted to keep matters quiet also, according to Bowen.

When the man from Kentucky called the Legal Department at headquarters of Watchtower in Brooklyn New York, the accused elder was finally removed, but Bowen however was tacitly instructed to leave the reporting to police, "in Jehovah's hands.'

The candle maker decided not to follow the instructions from Brooklyn. Instead to protest Watchtower Policy by resigning as Presiding Overseer and elder at his congregation in Draffenville, Kentucky, and take the case public to bring attention " to the public the fact that children were being hurt and Watchtower policy must change."

In order to increase the pressure on leadership within the Watchtower home office to act "in the interest of the flock,'Bowen created the website , in the course of the last year more than one thousand Jehovah's Witnesses tell their stories of sexual crimes within the church. "The lambs were silent for a long time", says Bowen. 'Now they have a place, where molestation survivors can speak out and take legal action against those who hurt them.

"Thousands are sexually abused"

Erica Rodriguez had been raped as a child from the age of four to eleven years on a weekly basis. In the January she filed a lawsuit for how she was treated when she came forward about her abuse. The elders encouraged and supported not Erica but the former best friend of her parents, Manuel Beliz, 49, who was sentenced in the fall of 2001 to eleven years prison for molesting her. In the civil action submitted in the Federal Court for the State of Washington raises similar issues against the Watchtower as Bowen. She accuses them that, child molesters find on a routine basis "refuge, protection, sympathy and support", and often escape prosecution. The 23-year old estimates that the Watchtower organization has "thousands" of children and young people that are sexually abused.

This is basically untrue, says the Watchtower Public Information response in Brooklyn. The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses claim an outward appearance of having a proper and progressive approach when it comes to sexual misconduct. "If church elders learn of child abuse, they proceed strictly in accordance with local laws, if it is required they report it", in a statement of the Brooklyn office for Public Information from January 2001. It is neither forbidden to the victims or their parents nor is it discouraged to report child abuse to the authority's even if the accused one of is a Jehovah's Witness.

"God will kill you"

The truth according to Bowen is quite different. Hundreds of abused were afraid of making statements because they were intimidated and threatened. Should one dare nevertheless to open their mouth they could count on sharp punishments to the point of disfellowshipment. When a person is disfellowshipped the organization requires that no one of the faith including immediate family will even speak to the individual who is being punished. Bowen's father was forced to state on a video, which was passed on the press, his son is a liar - although Bowen father was not even aware of the case he was dealing with. His fellow brothers and sisters spread malicious rumors about his personal conduct and his family. Bowen's parents and his mother-in-law want to have nothing more do in the meantime with their grandchildren. In letters they have communicated: "God will kill you for your point of view."

They are obviously holding to the Jehovah's Witness theology that is to always protect the image of the organization at all costs. Bowen says: "The sad truth is that no Jehovah's Witness is allowed to criticize Watchtower leadership."

"Pedophile Paradise"

Bowen criticized it. In a letter to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses that world-wide has approximately six million followers, on the surface they claim to have a 'world wide brotherhood," Bowen accuses the brotherhood of protecting child molesters by a "code of the silence". The Watchtower organization has became a "Pedophile paradise," due to directives, which are authorized by the Governing Body.

It would be considered traumatic to have the victim, through church directives, to be required to face the molester in a meeting, in which parents and victim describe in detail before the elders, how they were raped. The elders decide if a crime has been committed instead of allowing the police to investigate first. In the event the accused denies the allegation the victim is then required to produce at least one witness to the act of abuse - which is often not possible in the case of child molestation. If the victim pursues the matter by telling fellow congregation members then they could face disfellowshipping.

John Robert Brown, director of the office of Public Information at the home office in Brooklyn, rejects what Bowen says. Brown states they do not confront molested child with the accused in presence of parents and three elders. Also they never threaten anyone with disfellowshipping. Even persons, who were found guilty of serious sins in the organization, could remain a Jehovah's Witness, if they were found repentant by a judicial committee. If an individual was found guilty of child molestation, he cannot under any circumstances serve as an elder. "Elders are religious leaders,'says Brown.

The most hated man within the organization

"All lies!" says Bowen, which became in the meantime the most hated man within the organization. It is very likely he will be disfellowshipped. At the end of May he appeared with Erica Rodriguez, California, married couple Carl and Barbara Pandello, New Jersey, and Barbara Anderson, Normandy TN, - all together as Jehovah's Witnesses-on NBC. The program "DATELINE" reported a problem with the way child molestation is handled within the church.

The Pandellos reported, their daughter had been molested by her own grandfather Clement, a Jehovah's Witness, for several years. In 1989 Clement Pandello was sentenced to undergo therapy and received five years probation through the court. Pandello was disfellowshiped for only 18 months when he was reinstated as a Jehovah's Witness in "good standing." When the determinations suggested the suspicion that Clement had molested little girls for four decades - among other things also another grandchild -, in 1994 again he was disfellowshipped - but in 1996 he was again reinstated and once again accepted back into the Jehovah's Witness community.

Anthony Valenti who appeared in court at the hearing of the Pandellos had stated under oath, as an elder he had encouraged the victims to not report the matter to the police regarding Clement Pandello. The record of the court shows Valenti justified his advice with a reference to the Bible verse, which stated not to take your brother to court.

Disfellowshipping Unrepentant Sinners

Erica Rodriguez repeated to DATELINE the way she was treated when she reported her molestation. When she informed the elders at her congregation in Sacramento of the sexual abuse of Beliz who was not yet disfellowshipped, the elders told her to not report the crime to the police. They went on to threaten her with disfellowshipping if she tried to report the matter: "if you go to the police, you will be condemned by God."

The Governing Body in Brooklyn meanwhile has appointed committees, to provide a solution on how to deal with this problem. A decision has been made on how to deal with those who have spoken out and are considered traitors. The Pandellos have already been disfellowshipped. The reason has nothing to do with them speaking out publicly, says the world headquarters. Also it has no connection with the NBC program. A Judicial hearing is also moving against Barbara Anderson, who served ten years in the world headquarters at Bethel and now assists in Bowens project "silentlambs" she also is being disfellowshipped. When asked for the basis Brooklyn says the procedures are confidential. Anderson was delivered a letter, in which the disfellowshipping was announced. Anderson is in the process of appealing the decision.

A judicial hearing arranged against Bill Bowen was canceled with no notice according to his statement, after he appeared for his hearing with 20 witnesses, who supported his position. Erica Rodriguez to date has not been summoned for a judicial hearing for appearing on Dateline according to Bowen, due to having filed civil actions against the organization.

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