Man vows to appeal Witnesses' expulsion

The Courier-Journal/July 27, 2002
By Peter Smith

Louisville, KY -- A Western Kentucky man is fighting a move by elders in the Jehovah's Witnesses to excommunicate him, saying he is being punished for his claims that church policies protect child molesters.

Bill Bowen of Benton, Ky., says he will file an appeal Monday of a decision by three church elders to ''disfellowship'' him on charges of ''causing divisions.'' Bowen said he was notified Thursday of the action after the elders met without him the previous evening.

If the excommunication is upheld by a separate three-elder appeals panel, Bowen would become the fourth person expelled this year from the church after criticizing policies on child molesters. The church denies such criticisms.

Jeff Steen, one of the elders who Bowen says decided to disfellowship him, would not confirm or deny the elders' action, saying church discipline is conducted confidentially in ''a spirt of mildness, not confrontation.''

Phone messages from The CourierJournal were not returned by the other elders or by the press office of the Jehovah's Witnesses' headquarters in New York.

Bowen said the action against him is ''absolutely not'' justified.

''I have committed no sin against God; I have broken no law in the Bible,'' said Bowen, who resigned as an elder in December 2000 to protest church policies but had remained a member in good standing. ''This is nothing but a kangaroo court to silence me.''

Bowen contends Jehovah's Witnesses keep incidents of child molestation secret and refuse to let victims warn other members of predators in their congregations.

The Courier-Journal reported in February 2001 of court cases in several states in which Jehovah's Witnesses officials were accused of keeping secret the allegations of abuse by their elders or members, sometimes in violation of state law. Since then, new lawsuits making such claims have been filed in New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington state.

Officials with Jehovah's Witnesses have said that they abhor child molestation, report cases to authorities in states that require such reports and allow members to report fellow members to police.

Under church rules, Jehovah's Witnesses are to shun an expelled person socially as well as in religious contexts, and even family members are restricted in their relationships with disfellowshipped relatives.

Others expelled this year include Carl and Barbara Pandelo of Belmar, N.J., who have been outspoken in saying Jehovah's Witnesses treated their daughter's abuser with more compassion than her, and Barbara Anderson of Normandy, Tenn., a former employee at church headquarters in New York who has criticized church policy.

Anderson, who said she learned Sunday that her appeal was denied, said the church is acting ''so that Jehovah's Witnesses will feel that they are justified to say to others that we are liars.''

She said Bowen should not be punished for publicizing the issue. ''It takes a very brave Jehovah's Witness to go forth and do what he did,'' Anderson said.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says Bowen is being treated similarly to whistleblowers in the molestation crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

''The hierarchy should consider him a hero, not a pest,'' said Clohessy, who has corresponded with Bowen for 1 1/2 years.

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