Elder charged with sexual abuse

Moore News Press/June 11, 2003
By Lauri Zachry

An Amarillo woman has filed a civil lawsuit against the national organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in New York and Jehovah's Witnesses in Dumas and Amarillo. The woman claims a church elder sexually abused her for several years and church leaders did nothing to curtail the abuse.

The suit was filed in the 251st District Court in Amarillo Tuesday by Amy B. against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Kingdom Support Services, Watchtower Enterprises, Watchtower Foundation, Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Dumas Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Amarillo-Southwest Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and Larry Kelley.

According to the suit, the Jehovah's Witnesses appointed Kelley to the position as elder of the Dumas congregation before 1988.

The suit said the Dumas congregation gave Kelley "the specific assignment of instructing and supervising children in the congregation." He coordinated a children's puppet show to "instruct and attract Jehovah's Witness children." The suit said the Watchtower group encouraged the families of the Dumas congregation to send their children to the Kelley's home for "instruction and supervision."

The suit said Kelley used his position as an elder "with supervisory responsibility over children to sexually abuse them." The suit said this happened while Kelley served in Dumas. It said Watchtower authorities did not report the abuse to the authorities or warn other members of the organization about the alleged abuse.

The suit said he kept being placed in positions of authority and control over children in the congregation.

Watchtower then transferred Kelley to the Amarillo-Southwest congregation and he became a ministerial servant. He was responsible for the children of the congregation.

Amy B., the plaintiff in this suit who is now 23 years old, attended the Amarillo-Southwest congregation when she was 8 years old. The suit said this is when the alleged sexual abuse began for her. The suit said the plaintiff was allegedly abused from 1988-1992.

Kelley was convicted of indecency with a child and sexual contact. The suit didn't say whether or not it was against the plaintiff in the current civil suit.

The suit said Kelley mainly allegedly molested young girls. According to the court documents, "by their conduct, the Watchtower defendants aided, abetted and ratified the abuse."

The documents said the Watchtower defendants have prohibited the victim and or the accuser from warning others or speaking about the matter to anyone under penalty of discipline.

The suit claims for five years the organizations knew about the alleged abuse within the congregation and failed to act.

The suit claims the defendants were negligent in failing to protect the plaintiff from abuse and seeks unspecified damages for medical expenses, counseling and psychological treatment and other damages.

Marco Moreno, associate legal counsel with the Watchtower legal department, said the organization has just conducted an initial investigation. He said they believe neither Watchtower nor any of the congregation elders are responsible for her suffering.

"Our hearts go out to the plaintiff, Amy B., for any anguish that she has suffered. However, at the time of the alleged abuse, the accused was not a congregation elder and he did not hold any other position of responsibility or authority with any congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses," Moreno said.

The Dumas congregation and the Amarillo-Southwest congregation were not available for comment at press time.

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