Jehovah’s Witnesses, Child Molestation, and the Two-Witness Rule


2 Corinthians 3:6: “For the written code condemns to death, but the spirit makes alive.

This essay examines the basis for the Watchtower Society’s child molestation policy, which is founded largely on the so-called two-witness rule. It is written from the viewpoint of concerned Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Modern society agrees that child molestation is a heinous crime that ought to be punished to the full extent of the law. Unfortunately, the organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the leadership of the Watchtower Society, does not agree. Rather, it treats child molestation as a mere sin, no different from sins such as sex between unmarried, consenting adults. This has resulted in a perversion of justice within Jehovah’s Witness congregations, wherein convicted child molesters have sometimes been given free access to children to molest again, and parents have not been informed of their presence.

Officially, the Watchtower Society condemns child molestation, and no one can fairly accuse Jehovah’s Witness parents of not detesting child sexual abuse as much as other parents or of being less concerned about preventing it. Over the years the Society has published helpful advice on how this crime can be avoided, and it claims it is doing all it reasonably can to prevent it. Similarly, the Catholic Church condemns child abuse, yet no religion has been as scandalized by child sexual abuse as the Church, which has paid multi-million dollar settlements to many victims of paedophile priests.

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are surprised to learn that the Watchtower Society has been forced to pay multi-million dollar settlements to victims of paedophilia in the organisation. For example, in 2007 the Watchtower Society settled nine separate lawsuits that involved 16 victims out-of-court for around $12,500,000. So in the eyes of the law, the Watchtower Society and its appointed elders have been responsible for many incidents of child abuse.

An ongoing and widely reported case is that of Candace Conti, who was repeatedly molested by a man in her California congregation. The elders knew he was a convicted paedophile but took no action to warn anyone or prevent him from working alone with Candace in field service. In 2012, she was awarded $28 million by a U.S. judge (since reduced to $11.4 million by the judge. Watchtower has appealed). The case may set a precedent for a wave of similar legal actions against the Watchtower Society.

The Conti case is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is so widespread and the organisation’s policy for dealing with it so flawed that some former Jehovah’s Witnesses have launched publicity campaigns in the hope that the Watchtower Society will correct its policy.

Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson

Probably the most prominent whistle-blower on the problem is former world headquarters researcher and writer Barbara Anderson. While working at Watchtower headquarters in the early 1990s, Anderson was asked to look into cases involving sexual abuse. According to a May 28, 2002, NBC Dateline episode, Anderson discovered that there were “hundreds of molestation cases on record, all kept secret in church files—secret not only from the outside world, but from the members themselves, the families, the mothers and fathers and children who trust that the church is looking out for them.”

Barbara tried to effect change within the organisation to improve the situation but had little success, so she blew the whistle by going to the media, for which she was disfellowshipped. She has been a tireless campaigner against the Watchtower on the issue, and an advocate and supporter of victims. Her website contains thousands of copies of court documents related to numerous successful court actions against the Society for mishandling or hushing up child molestation.

Watchtower documents website image

Barbara’s website is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the history and extent of the problem. It gives valuable insight into why the organisation’s policy is so remiss and how it has failed so many children. In the section Barbara’s Story, she states:

“I learned later it was an exception to the rule for Jehovah’s Witness members in our congregations to notify the authorities about molestation accusations. However, no one I knew in the Writing Department expressed dissatisfaction about not reporting abuse, including me, because we were of the mind-set that “God’s organization” had far better solutions to this problem than any governmental authority. Besides, we knew that going to the authorities to air our dirty laundry would blemish the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the main, such accusations were handled secretly by judicial committees within the congregation. (When congregation elders learn of an alleged wrongdoing by one of their members, they meet and appoint three or more of their number to form a judicial committee to handle the matter.) However, if victims’ accusations were doubted, and pedophiles were not disciplined, unhappy Witnesses were required to keep their opinions to themselves or else they would be disciplined. Consequently, some became soured, but remained silent convinced their abuse was an unusual occurrence within the Watchtower organization. “Wait on Jehovah,” dissatisfied members were told, for He would wipe out all their tears in the future earthly paradise.”

The fact that it is rare for two people to witness an act of child sexual molestation and that the organisation views the problem as a sin to be handled internally rather than as a crime for legal authorities to deal with has led to the organisation’s unwittingly protecting many sexual predators, some of whom have gone on to commit further crimes against children. In many cases, predators who were prominent elders have only been reproved, or if disfellowshipped were quickly reinstated with their full privileges restored, or were moved to another congregation where the members were never informed of his background. All of these factors have led some to brand the organisation a “paedophile paradise” rather than a “spiritual paradise.”

The Two-Witness Rule

At the heart of the Society’s problematic policy is the belief that there must be at least two eye-witnesses to prove an accusation. This is based on a number of scriptures (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:15-17; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19). The rule has always been an integral part of the Society’s child abuse policy.

The two-witness rule has been widely criticized. For example, David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims, made the following statement in a press release:

“I can’t recall ever seeing a policy anywhere that is more predator-friendly and self-serving than the Watchtower’s “two witnesses” rule. On its face, it is dangerous and callous. If any crime is likely to have no witnesses, it is child sexual abuse. If the law enforcement community adopted this rule only a handful of child predators would be charged, convicted and imprisoned every year. Outside of the Jehovah’s Witness hierarchy, virtually every other adult believes that we should all call police if we see or suspect child sex crimes. (Not everyone does this, of course. But nearly everyone believes this is the right course of action.) But the JW hierarchy is wrong on both fronts – policy and performance, belief and behaviour…The “two witnesses” rule is a stunningly heartless and reckless policy that is guaranteed to cause more heinous crimes against children.”

Following the Candace Conti court ruling, many critics of the policy were hopeful that the Society would finally abandon this requirement. However, in a 2012 policy letter confidentially sent to all elders worldwide following the judgment, the Watchtower surprisingly reaffirmed the two-witness rule:

“In addition, the elders should investigate every allegation of child sexual abuse. When elders learn of an accusation, in addition to this letter, they should carefully review the direction outlined in the Shepherding textbook, chapter 12, paragraphs 18-21. However, in evaluating the evidence for internal congregational purposes, they must bear in mind the Bible’s clear direction: ‘No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin … At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good.’ (Deut. 19:15) This requirement to consider testimony of two or three witnesses was confirmed by Jesus. (Matt. 18:16) Thus, although they investigate every allegation, the elders are not authorized by the Scriptures to take congregational action unless there is a confession or there are two credible witnesses. However, even though the elders are not authorized to take congregation action when there is only one witness, the elders should remain vigilant with regard to the conduct and activity of the accused. (See paragraph 12 of this letter.) If two persons are witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing, their testimony can be deemed sufficient to take judicial action. (1 Tim. 5:19, 24, 25) If the person is not repentant over the gross sin, disfellowshipping action would be warranted.”

On her website, Barbara Anderson outlines why this rule is so problematic:

“When I first became aware of child sexual abuse in the Watchtower organization, I didn’t know the Bible teaching requiring two witnesses to prove sin was applied to molestation. It was only after 1997 when I discovered how the requirement of two witnesses to molestation protected pedophiles that I understood how this policy was such a danger to children. As can be seen from the June 1, 2001 Body of Elders letter, if abuse victims cannot back up their charge of molestation through another witness, and the accused denies the allegation, the accusation goes nowhere, not even on the Child Protection List. Then the confidentiality rule goes into effect. Victims are told not to speak of the accusation or else be disfellowshipped themselves. This was and still is the way molesters are kept hidden and children are open game. It is the application of the “two-witness” policy and the confidentiality edict which are still major tenets needing reform.”

It is important to realise that nearly all sexual crimes against children occur secretly, never being witnessed by anyone. Children are usually groomed over a period of time by a paedophile they usually already know who is often in a position of trust or authority over the child, such as a priest or friend or relative, and the child is often manipulated and threatened so they are too afraid to tell anyone.

This is the crux of the problem. On the one hand, the Watchtower Society stubbornly maintains that there is a clear scriptural requirement for two witnesses that they have no choice but to follow, effectively putting the blame at Jehovah’s feet. On the other hand, if the accused denies the allegation, to require two human eyewitnesses to corroborate the claim is an unreasonably high standard that in nearly all cases cannot be satisfied. The elders are thus unable to oust the lying accused from the congregation and warn other parents, since the claim has not been scripturally proven. This is exactly what has happened in hundreds of cases in the organisation.

So the question arises: Does the Bible actually require that two or more witnesses are needed for the elders to take congregational action against a child molester? The examination below shows that the Society’s application of this two-witness requirement to such situations is erroneous.

Examining the Scriptural Position

Here we look at the scriptures that refer to the requirement for two or more witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:16-21

“If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

It must be remembered that in ancient Israel there were no police or courts. The judges acted in these capacities; hence the requirement for two or more witnesses. This situation does not exist today in the modern Christian congregation. The Bible states that God has placed the secular authorities as his “ministers” to act in criminal matters (Romans 13).

In the case of one person’s word against another, did the judges in ancient Israel consider that their hands were tied and they could do nothing? No! If there weren’t enough witnesses the king became the judge and had to decide the final outcome.

Deuteronomy 25:1

“When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.”

Notice here that it was the judges, not the priests, who made the “thorough investigation” (19:18). The priests served in a spiritual capacity, not a legal capacity. At this point the priests became observers only and left the investigation to the judges. In the case of one person’s word against another, the matter moved from being a spiritual, priestly matter, to a criminal, legal matter to be investigated by the judiciary arm of the nation, not the priestly.

The Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament brings this out:

“But as it was not always possible to bring forward two or three witnesses, and the statement of one witness could not well be disregarded, in Deuteronomy 19:16-18, Moses refers accusations of this kind to the higher tribunal at the sanctuary for investigation and decision, and appoints the same punishment for a false witness, which would have fallen upon the person accused, if he had been convicted of the crime with which he was charged. סרה בּו לענות, “to testify against his departure”.”

As a part of the judges’ investigation, non-human witness evidence could be taken into account, as Exodus 22:13 (ASJ, KJV, DBT, ERV) makes clear. At Numbers 5, a woman’s reaction to the bitter waters was used as witness evidence against her unfaithfulness to her husband. Jesus also said that his miracles were a witness to the truth of his claims (John 5:36).

Solomon used this principle in his well-known baby-splitting decision. It was a case in which two women each testified that the same child was hers. Two witnesses did not exist—it was a case of one woman’s word against another, analogous to a modern day situation in which it’s a case of one person’s allegation (victim child or horrified mother) against the word of a lying paedophile. But Solomon used the women’s actions as a witness to arbitrate the tie and establish a second witness to agree with the verbal testimony of one against the other.

This scriptural account shows that the elders must use their common sense and look at the overall words, actions and behaviour of the parties when assessing prima-facie guilt, rather than simply ceasing all further enquiry/investigation in the absence of a second human witness.

In modern-day terms, who are the equivalent of the priests and judges referred to in Deuteronomy 19? The elders are regarded by the Society as fulfilling a sort of priestly function in the congregation. But the judges of ancient Israel have been replaced in the Christian congregation by the secular authorities (Romans 13). Paul said that these authorities act as God’s minister and executioner to punish the evildoer. As paedophilia and all child abuse is not only a grave moral sin but a serious criminal matter, accusations of child abuse without two or more witnesses necessarily moves it into the realm of engaging the superior authorities (legal system supported by health professionals) to condemn or acquit the accused. Romans 13 is clear that the superior authorities stand placed by Jehovah to deal with criminal evil, not the elders.

This means that when an accusation of a serious crime such as child abuse (or any other crime such as theft, physical assault, or murder) is made but there are not two eye-witnesses, the elders must notify the superior authorities as a matter of course, since it is God’s arrangement that these authorities deal with evildoers and punish them. If the superior authorities declare guilt, the elders have their second witness and can oust the wicked man from the congregation’s midst. By refusing to do this in all cases, the Watchtower Society stands guilty of taking a stand against God’s (secular) arrangement to punish and prevent wickedness.

The elders are not lawyers, psychologists, doctors, or scientists, and it is not appropriate to put them in a position to make judicial determinations about crimes under Caesar’s law. Neither is it appropriate or fair for the elders to tell a child that they cannot do anything about the child’s claim because no one else saw it happen. If the child’s parents mistakenly decide not to go to the secular authorities, is the child expected to go to the police alone against her parent’s decision? That is entirely unreasonable and not in accord with the pattern left by Christ, who put the interests and needs of young children ahead of adults’ preferences (Matthew 19:14).

Matthew 18:15-16

“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. (New World Translation)”

By using the term “brothers,” Jesus set out a process for resolving disputes between adults, not children. This is clear from the fact that the first step is for the brother sinned against to approach the accused alone. Obviously, Jesus did not intend for a child victim of sexual molestation to have to do such a thing. Jesus is saying that the one sinned against should approach the offending party to reason with them and reach a resolution, and for forgiveness to follow. It is obviously inappropriate to expect a child to do that.

Consider also that if the matter is not resolved privately between the parties, and it remains unresolved after two or more witnesses are brought in, Jesus says the matter should be referred to the whole congregation. Would Jesus intend for a terrible perversion such as child sexual abuse to be adjudicated by the whole congregation? Absolutely not. The congregation does not perform the function of the superior authorities of Romans 13. It is not the police force or a courthouse.

Reasoning on the context of Matthew 18: 15, 16 we discern that the reference to two or more witnesses was intended only in relation to disputes or grievances between baptised members of the congregation that did not concern gross crimes such as murder, rape, and child abuse.

The Society applies these verses inconsistently. When applying verse 15, the Society does not expect that an adult who has been threatened with violence, or been raped or assaulted, must initially confront the person on his own, so why does it insist that the requirement in verse 16 for two or three witnesses must apply to a situation of alleged child abuse?

1 Timothy 5:19, 24, 25

“Do not admit an accusation against an older man, except only on the evidence of two or three witnesses. Reprove before all onlookers persons who practice sin, that the rest also may have fear…. The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men [their sins] also become manifest later. In the same way also the fine works are publicly manifest and those that are otherwise cannot be kept hid.” (New World Translation)

Child abuse, like murder or rape, is a terrible crime, so it becomes a matter that needs to become publicly manifest through the involvement and judgement of the secular legal authorities. It is not just a sin to be handled only within the congregational arrangement. Being a crime requiring police involvement puts it in a different category, in which the standard of evidence is not the Apostle Paul’s congregational standard of two or three witnesses but the public standard of evidence the legal authorities use. The court’s judgment then counts as the public manifestation of the sin that suffices to prove congregational guilt in the absence of two or three witnesses.

It is disgraceful that in a letter to elders following the Conti verdict, the Watchtower Society quotes these verses from 1 Timothy as if to insinuate that if there is only one witness and the elders can do nothing at the time, eventually the paedophile’s sins will “become manifest” after abusing more victims who then might come forward as additional witnesses. This tends to reduce child victims to mere pieces of evidence that must accumulate over time before there is enough evidence for the elders to finally take action. So much for the Watchtower Society’s claim that “one victim of pedophilia is one too many.”

On balance then, we can conclude that there is no scriptural basis for strictly applying the two-witness rule to child abuse cases. Furthermore, when we take into account higher Bible principles and especially Jesus’ rejection of the legalistic attitude of the religious leaders of his day, we are left in no doubt that the Watchtower Society’s policy is flawed. Let’s look at some of those Bible principles more closely.

Bible Principles

Jesus confirms that the two-witness rule in the Hebrew Scriptures is relevant for the Christian era:

John 8:16-18

“But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Later on we note that Jesus did not demand that his own witness and the witness of his father were literally needed for his doubters to believe him. His main concern was not strict satisfaction of the two-witness rule but on what the overall evidence said:

John 14:11-12

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 10:37-38 Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”

Jesus’ words show he did not hold to a rigid stance of requiring two personal witnesses to establish the truth of a matter. If his own testimony as one witness didn’t satisfy his doubters he appealed to the overall evidence to back it up, in the form of his miracles, with or without the personal witness of his Father. The Biblical principle laid down by Jesus is that other forms of evidence are therefore acceptable as a second witness. In modern times this would include forensic evidence and other evidence admissible in a court of law.

Thus Jesus showed that the Old Testament requirement for two or more witnesses is really the principle of requiring sufficient evidence for proof. Forensic and other scientific methods for solving crimes didn’t exist in ancient times. If sufficient evidence to prove guilt is gathered through such modern methods, with or without two or more human witnesses, the Biblical principle is satisfied. The same standard should also apply at the congregational level for dealing with the crime as a sin, which in turn makes it compulsory that the elders engage the secular authorities on every occasion whether or not mandatory reporting laws apply.

Just as the organisation is accused of shoving aside principles of love, justice and mercy in the case of life-saving blood transfusions, the organisation stands accused of doing the same with child molestation.

The accusation Jesus faced, in Matthew 12, of unlawfully plucking grain and curing the withered hand of a man on the Sabbath is relevant. Jesus rejected fanatical obedience to the letter of the law if it meant not performing a life-saving deed of mercy.

Matthew 12

“At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples got hungry and started to pluck heads of grain and to eat. At seeing this, the Pharisees said to him: “Look! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them: “Have you not read what David did when he and the men with him were hungry  How he entered into the house of God and they ate the loaves of presentation, something that it was not lawful for him or those with him to eat, but for the priests only?  Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and continue guiltless? But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. However, if you had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless ones. For the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” After departing from that place, he went into their synagogue, and look! there was a man with a withered hand! So they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them: “If you have one sheep and that sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, is there a man among you who will not grab hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do a fine thing on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored sound like the other hand. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him to kill him.”

How tragic that Christ’s beautiful principle seems completely lost on the Watchtower Society. The result is that guiltless ones, innocent young children, have been condemned.

The principle at James 1:27 also states that the form of acceptable worship is to “look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” A hallmark of genuine Christianity is giving priority to the needs of vulnerable children and women. The organisation’s erroneous policy does not give the needs of the victim and prevention of more crimes the highest priority, since the elders hands are tied in the absence of two or more witnesses or a confession.

These beautiful principles highlight that the needs of defenceless victims, especially innocent and vulnerable children, are more important in Jehovah’s eyes than rigid adherence to the letter of the law. The Watchtower Society should interpret the relevant scriptural passages in a way that affords the greatest scriptural leeway to oust the predator and protect the congregation. As the most valuable thing in Jesus’ eyes, this ought to be the priority, not the need to strictly adhere to the letter of the law (a law based on the old Mosaic Law code and a law in the Christian Greek Scriptures only relevant to non-criminal disputes between congregation members). Instead and bizarrely, the Society interprets the scriptures in the narrowest way possible, which tilts the burden of proof in favour of the lying paedophile.

Superior Authorities, Not Elders or Bethel Lawyers, Should Determine Guilt for Secular Crimes

Jehovah uses worldly authorities as his minister to punish the evildoer, so the Watchtower Society should bring itself in line with the standards of evidence worldly authorities use to determine criminal guilt (Romans 13). This is God’s arrangement.

The elders are told to report an allegation of child abuse to the secular authorities only if it is mandatory to do so in the particular U.S. state. In states where it is not compulsory to report the alleged crime, the elders will not do so. The Society has not told JW parents that they should always report suspected abuse to the authorities.

Is this minimal adherence to the law good enough for an organisation claiming to be a pure spiritual paradise, on the highway of holiness, and claiming to represent a God whose ways are higher than humans as the heavens are higher than the earth? “You must be holy as I am holy” Jehovah says. Therefore the standard of moral vigilance and cleanliness when it comes to child molestation should be higher in the congregation than what is found in the world. Instead, we find it is lower.

Therefore the elders should report all allegations to the police whether or not the law requires it. The organisation has always boasted of obeying God’s laws rather than man’s, but when it comes to child abuse it does the opposite, doing the bare minimum to comply with the jurisdiction’s legal rules on reporting child abuse. Reporting by elders is crucial to ensuring that the onus of reporting the accusation is not placed only on the victim or parent, who may be influenced to keep it quiet out of a sense of shame or misplaced loyalty to protecting the image of the congregation and organisation. This is also crucial so that the secular authorities are engaged and any corroborating witness obtained, which can be vital in establishing guilt. Engaging the higher authorities to deal with all criminal allegations is God’s arrangement in terms of Romans 13; it is not a decision for the Society’s Legal Department to make.

The needs of the victimised child and any other potential victims must always be placed ahead of the personal reputation of the accused. If it transpires that there is no basis or grounds to the accusation (I.e., as evaluated through the formal assessment of the medical authorities/legal system, not according to the elders’ own conclusions), then it is up to the accused whether he wishes to pursue a case of false accusation/slander in the congregation. It is not up to the elders to second guess at innocence and gag the parents from reasonably warning other parents.

Since it is God’s arrangement for criminal matters to be handled by the secular authorities (only non-criminal sins can be handled exclusively within the congregational domain), the organisation’s criteria for taking congregational judicial action should be congruent with the standard of evidence required by the secular authorities. Is it?

Court Standards of Evidence

In the American legal system, two witnesses to crimes against children are not required. The book Myers on Evidence in Child, Domestic or Elder Abuse Cases shows this (pages 433-437 [inter alia], fourth edition, can be viewed on Google Books).

This is because there is often negligible corroborating evidence in cases of child molestation. The courts generally expect that corroboration is required only if the child’s testimony is so contradictory and in conflict with the physical facts, the surrounding circumstances, and common experiences that the child’s validity is doubtful.

There have been cases in which a man has been wrongfully accused of molesting a child, sometimes when a child has made statements that were untrue, perhaps having received them from another source. It would be most men’s worst nightmare to be wrongly charged of such a despicable crime. But the natural innocence and vulnerability of a child causes the law to cast the benefit of doubt in favour of the accuser not the accused.

In other criminal matters, the two-witness rule is found in common law. For example, it governs the proof required for a perjury conviction (see Weiler v. United States, 323 U.S. 606, 609; 1945). The rule means that a perjury conviction cannot rest solely on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness (see United States v. Hammer, 271 U.S. 620, 626; 1926). The two-witness rule, however, does not require two witnesses to every perjurious statement. The perjurious statement’s falsity can be established either by the testimony of two independent witnesses or by one witness and independent corroborating evidence that is inconsistent with the innocence of the accused. Remember that this applies to perjury, not crimes against children.

What the Policy Should Be

Four key principles should at the core of any child molestation policy. These can be summarized as Report, Rely, Inform, Prevent (RRIP) (as adapted from

  • REPORT — Child abuse is a crime. Therefore, parents and elders should immediately report accusations or confessions of child abuse to the police or law enforcement authorities as soon as they come to light, whether or not it is a requirement of the local law for the elders to report it.
  • RELY — If the accused denies guilt, rely entirely on the adjudication of the secular authorities in determining guilt, irrespective of whether there are two witnesses of any type or form.
  • INFORM — Elders should immediately inform parents in a congregation of any suspected or known paedophile who might potentially come into contact with their children by worshipping alongside them. There should also be no repercussions for parents who want to inform other parents of a known child molester if the elders fail to do so for any reason. Elders should be freely able to inform elders of another congregation if a known paedophile decides to move into their jurisdiction. In an Oct. 1, 2012, letter from the Watchtower to all Bodies Of Elders (BOE letter), the Society instituted a change to its policy whereby elders are indeed to inform parents of a known paedophile predator. Although this new directive is a positive step, it is badly flawed because it leaves the Watchtower Society to decide who is a predator. The Society defines a predator as a person who has already been found guilty in one way or another of child abuse. The congregation does not know there is a convicted or confessed molester in their midst, even though the elders know. The elders call the branch if they observe the molester associating with kids, or (not addressed in the BOE letter) if the paedophile has molested again. Elders are to call the branch and then the molester might be deemed a predator by the Society. Then the Society instructs elders to “discreetly” warn parents about the molester. This is a too little, too late policy and not at all a means to protect children. What about parents in other congregations? Are they also warned? No! Recently, in Ft. Myers, Florida, a former JW elder was sentenced to life plus 40 years in prison for molesting seven children. Most of the boys were in different congregations. If the molester had been deemed a predator by the Watchtower branch, parents in other congregations would not have been “discreetly” warned. And what does discreetly informing the parents mean? This demonstrates the hush-hush culture in the organisation, where the Society’s concern is to avoid embarrassment rather than to protect little children. The point is: It is not after a molester has been found guilty or has confessed guilt that parents should be told or after the molester is seen hanging around kids. Parents should be told before the molester does further harm. Paedophiles are so clever that they usually don’t let themselves be seen grooming a child. Hence the Society’s new predator policy is a farce and does not protect children. It is like closing the gate after the cows get out, as it were. The obvious solution is that all parents in the congregation should be informed immediately when an accusation is made.
  • PREVENT — Child molesters should be prevented from ever serving in positions of trust in any congregation again, or from ever enjoying privileges that would enable them to gain unsupervised access to children or conceal their history from congregation members. They should also be prevented from conducting bible studies with children or doing any field service activity alone with a child.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the existing policy is that it lets elders decide whether a caught paedophile is repentant. If so, he is merely reproved, not disfellowshipped. The idea that elders can determine genuine repentance of a paedophile who never voluntarily came forward but was only exposed after a victim accused him is obscene. In this we see the Watchtower Society again treating paedophilia as if it is only a sin no different than adultery or fornication between consenting adults, rather than the vile crime and perversion it is. If the child victim or distressed parent never exposed the crime the perpetrator in nearly all cases would have never have voluntarily confessed, clearly not showing repentance, or would have continued abusing the child or other children. Giving this kind of leeway to the elders is irresponsible given how gross a perversion paedophilia is and given that research shows a very high rate of recidivism by paedophiles. The correct course is that all paedophiles must be removed from the congregation as a matter of course, whether or not they profess remorse. A convicted paedophile in court does not get out of being punished just because he says he is sorry, and neither should he avoid the full punishment required in the congregation ( i.e., disfellowshipping) for such a wicked sin. The Bible is clear that disfellowshipping is a form of punishment.

We end with a quote from the Watchtower Society (Awake! 10/8 1993, page 5):

“AFTER using children to satisfy perverted lusts, after robbing them of their security and their sense of innocence, child molesters still want something else from their victims—SILENCE. To secure that silence, they use shame, secrecy, even outright terror. Children are thus robbed of their best weapon against abuse—the will to tell, to speak up and ask an adult for protection. Tragically, society often unwittingly collaborates with child abusers. How so? By refusing to be aware of the danger, by fostering a hush-hush attitude about it, by believing oft-repeated myths. Ignorance, misinformation, and silence give safe haven to abusers, not their victims.”

The hypocrisy of the above statement is staggering coming from an organization that still refuses to openly encourage elders and parents to always and immediately report paedophilia to the secular authorities, and which has been guilty of the very secrecy and hush-hush culture it here condemns.



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