Woodland, California -- Three people filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that officials of the Jehovah's Witnesses church repeatedly covered-up charges of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the Woodland congregation.
This case follows a succesion of national and international suits of within the last year.
Plaintiffs Daniel West and Steve and Amber Pence allege that church officials were aware of abuse yet failed to report complaints to law enforcement officials or remove the offending leaders from interaction with children.
According to the suit, victims were threatened with punishment if they warned others and, in at least one case, accused of homosexual activity, which violates church policy.
The local action follows a previous criminal case by the state against Timothy Silva.
In 2001, Silva pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct against Shane Pence, one of the three plaintiffs, who was a monit when the abuse and the plea occurred.
Silva, a former programmer at UC Davis, was sentenced to 180 days in jail and a fine of about $1600.00. According to the suit, he lives in Woodland and is currently registered as a sexual predator in accordance with Megan's Law. Silva's address could not be verified Monday.
In the current civil case, Silva is one of several defendants; the others are various entities of the Jehovah's Witnesses church, referred to in the lawsuit as the "Watchtower Defendants."
The Woodland Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is also named as a defendant.
Silva no longer associates with members of the Woodland church, according to Paul Pfotenhauer, an elder in the congregation. Silva was publicly reporved but not excommunicated or "disfellowshipped", Pfotenhauer said.
Contradicting allegations in the lawsuit, Pfotenhauer said church members and Pence's family members reported the abuse to the police.
"We have zero tolerance for (sexual abuse) Pfotenhauer said.
A 1995 article in the church's official publication, The Watchtower, concurs that sexual abuse of children is "among the vilest perversions." Then, the anonymous article suggests that individuals suffering from "memories", always written in quotes, should contact the alleged abuser, preferably face-to-face.
If the alleged abuser denies the accusation, "nothing more can be done in a juducial way." And ultimate justice is left to God, according to the article.
According to the article, members should obey the law unless a "government demands what is in direct conflict with what God commands," according to the official website.
Woodland church elders said they were not aware of the lawsuit untill seeing the advertisement in the Sacramento Bee Sunday. The advertisement announced a series of meetings held by the plaintiff's attorneys in order to gather additional information.
"Hopefully we can prevent this type of stuff from happening in the future," sai dBill Brelsford, a partnet at the law firm Nolan Saul Brelsford, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs. The other firm is Love and Norris.
In conjunction with the case in Yolo county, the law firms filed suits in Tehama and Napa counties.
Plaintiffs are suing the church for monetary damages.