Local Jehovah's Witness leaders are ignoring requests to meet with survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates, an organization calling for change in the church's policies on sexual abuse said.
Bill Bowen, national director of Silent Lambs, said sexual abuse in Jehovah's Witness congregations is ''an epidemic that's got to stop. Jehovah's Witnesses provide an excellent example of policy gone wrong.''
He was speaking outside a west Nashville Kingdom Hall, as the Jehovah's Witness churches are called. Silent Lambs also is sponsoring a conference on combating ''ignorance and apathy when it comes to sexual abuse'' tomorrow and Sunday at the Sheraton Music City Hotel, 777 McGavock Pike.
J.R. Brown, a spokesman for the national Jehovah's Witness organization, said that while accusations had been made that the church was shielding pedophiles, they had not been proved. If members commit sexual abuse, they can be excommunicated, Brown said.
The role of a church leader is to help a person spiritually, not prosecute someone for a secular crime, Brown said. Consequently, church leaders report to secular authorities only in states where they are required to do so by law, he said.
''Generally, the purpose of a cleric or minister is to entertain confessions of sin the person has committed and try to help the individual restore their relationship with God,'' Brown said. ''I don't know of any religious organization that has required all of its ministers to report every case of child abuse.''
However, some religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church, do require clergy to report all cases of sexual abuse to the police.
Also at the news conference, Silent Lambs presented an award to Jeff Walden of Nashville for speaking out about the abuse that he suffered as a child in a Memphis Jehovah's Witness congregation.
''If you speak out in this religion, you have to leave your life behind you and move on,'' said Walden, who said his experience as a Witness had turned him off to organized religion.