RNZ investigation reveals 11 alleged paedophiles active within the Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses have a number of paedophiles within their ranks, unbeknownst to most people in the church.
An RNZ investigation has found 11 active Jehovah Witnesses have child sex abuse convictions or serious allegations made against them. Most members of the religion appear to have no idea who the offenders are.

The identities of the men and the congregations they belong to are not being identified by RNZ in order to protect the victims. In all cases, RNZ has spoken to either the victim, a close family member or viewed Jehovah's Witness records confirming the convictions or confessions to the abuse.

RNZ's reporting suggests most members of the congregations the men currently attend have no idea of their convictions, confessions or the allegations they have faced.

Four of the men have spent time in prison for their offending, which ranges from possession of child pornography to indecent assault of a child. A further six have faced serious allegations, including incestual rape, child molestation, sexual harassment of a minor and sex with a minor. The alleged victims say church elders - equivalent to a priest or minister - knew about the allegations but none were ever reported to the police.

Two of the accused men have since themselves become elders or ministerial servants, which is like an elder-in-training.

The Jehovah's Witness Australasia, which oversees New Zealand congregations, did not respond to RNZ's questions but in a statement said it "abhors child abuse" and views it as a crime.

"In all cases, victims (and their parents, if minors) have the right to report an accusation of child abuse to the authorities. Therefore, victims, their parents, or anyone else who reports such an accusation to the elders are clearly informed by the elders that they have the right to report the matter to the authorities. Elders do not criticise anyone who chooses to make such a report," church spokesman Tom Pecipajkovski said.

There are about 20,000 followers of the Jehovah's Witness religion in New Zealand, spread across approximately 170 congregations. A Christian faith, followers worship Jehovah as God and believe we are living in the final days before the end of humanity as we currently know it. A governing body of nine men in New York "provide direction" for the church worldwide.

'I looked him up and was terrified'

A current member of a South Island congregation said she no longer felt safe attending church meetings after learning a few months ago a convicted paedophile was an active member.

Janet*, who was born into the religion, was new to the congregation after recently moving towns.

She said she only found out about the man's past when a close friend, who knew Janet had been molested as a child by a fellow church member, alerted her.

"I looked him up and was terrified," Janet said.

The man had spent time in jail for historical sexual abuse of a young girl in his former congregation. He was excommunicated following his conviction, but had since rejoined the church.

The paedophile's name, Janet's real name and the congregation they both attend is not identified in order to protect Janet, who fears being thrown out of the church and shunned.

She was speaking out, however, because she felt it was wrong that most of the congregation did not know about the man's past.

"There are young children in the congregation and I have a child."

Last month, she raised her concerns with two elders who asked her why she had stopped attending meetings.

"I told them I physically shake at the thought of coming to them. It makes me physically ill. I said the meetings are supposed to be a haven."

The elders insisted the meetings were a safe space and quoted passages from the bible telling her she must forgive the man, she said.

"They told me that he was doing the right thing and he had every right to be at the meetings, and that I'd lost my faith because I hadn't been attending meetings.

"I felt very uncomfortable and unprotected."

Janet said the elders told her the rest of the congregation would only be told about the man's past if it was necessary.

"They told me, do you take your kids shopping? You don't know who might be shopping, these people are everywhere'".

There was no evidence the man had reoffended but she worried young families in her new congregation might not be safe.

"Everybody should know. Would you want a paedophile knocking on your door?"

'They accepted him with open arms'

Another man, who is accused of molesting three young girls in the 1990s, now holds a senior position in a congregation.

The girls' father, John*, said his eldest daughter was nine at the time of the alleged offending.

The man was a relative who had lived with the family for several years. John said he only found out several years later after his eldest told him and his wife Jane the man had sexually abused her.

They approached the man and he confessed, said John. "He was made to leave home and we got help for our daughter."

John left the church soon after and split from his wife who remained in the religion. The alleged perpetrator left the religion for several years, said John.

"But he eventually went back to the church and they accepted him with open arms."

In 2010, the man joined another congregation. A former elder in that congregation at the time, who RNZ has agreed not to name, says he read a letter from the man's old congregation that detailed his past.

"The letter said that in the mid-1990s, as a teenager, he molested three girls. He had confessed and the elders knew about it.

"The letter said it was consensual. I remember thinking how can it be consensual? How can children agree to that?"

Concerned, elders contacted the church's Australian headquarters for advice but were told the offending was historic and it was no longer an issue, the former elder claimed.

The issue, however, caused him to start questioning the church's policies and he finally left in 2013, he said.

The abuser, meanwhile, was now a ministerial servant, he claimed.

Some years later, John said, he discovered the man had also abused his two other daughters, but his ex-wife had kept it from him.

'A lot of creepiness'

A former Witness said she was constantly "hugged and touched in really inappropriate places" by elders in her Waikato congregation.

"I know that other people would see it, but they [the elders] were higher up and you just don't question them," said Lisa*, who left the religion five years ago when she was a teenager.

"There was a lot of creepiness from a lot of the elders. It was something me and my sisters were really uncomfortable with. They would come really close to you and hold you just above your bum and touch you there, or kiss you and get really close to your lips."

When a man in her congregation started pursuing her and sending her inappropriate texts, she approached two elders for help but they did nothing, she said.

"It just wasn't dealt with. I was just left on my own to deal with it.

"It's really terrifying, especially as a young girl, when you [are] asking for help and there's just none."

'The code'

Brad Miller, a former Witness who left the church in November 2021, said there was a "code" to alert parents to the presence of a sex offender at an assembly of congregations at Te Kuiti and several others. It was delivered via an announcement urging parents to "escort their children around the premises," Miller said.

"You'd hear that quite a lot."

Sometimes, a senior church member would also have the job of keeping an eye on a known sex offender at these meetings, he said.

Most congregation members would not have been aware of what the message meant, and he only found out because his father and grandfather were elders and had once let it slip.

There was a man in his own congregation who was alleged to have abused at least two girls, but it was never reported to police, said Miller. The man had since died but as a child Miller remembered spending time at his house for social occasions.

"It makes me angry now to think of it. That we were put in such unsafe situations."

Jehovah's Witnesses respond
The church declined to be interviewed and did not respond to questions about individual cases.

"If you have information you believe will assist the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry in fulfilling its mandate, we trust you will share it with them," Pecipajkovski said in a statement.

"Likewise, if you believe there is a risk a child will be harmed, we trust you will report the matter to the authorities."

* Some names have been changed to protect the safety and wellbeing of affected people

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