Shooting the Messenger
by Ken Adams (e-mail: [October 3rd, 2002]

On July 24, 2002, organized religion took a major step backward.

“Since molestation is not reported, either to the police or the congregation, these molesters often offend repeatedly; turning the Jehovah's Witness religion into what Bowen calls a 'paedophile paradise'.”

On this day, Bill Bowen was disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the Jehovah's Witness religion.  Disfellowshipping, also known as shunning, is the most serious punishment that can be imposed by Jehovah's Witnesses.  Disfellowshipped ones are completely ostracized, often even by family members.

His crime?  For the last two years, Bill Bowen has been championing the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses who have suffered from child sexual molestation.  He has provided a meeting place, where these ones can come for healing and support.  In the process, he has unwittingly uncovered a massive scandal.

While the problem of child sexual abuse exists in every society and every organization, Jehovah's Witnesses are unique.  Here's why:

  1. They have their own judicial system.  Whenever a Jehovah's Witness commits a serious sin, he is expected to confess it to an elder.  If he does not confess, anyone who knows about his sin is required to turn him in.  The elders will appoint a judicial committee of three persons who secretly hear the case and render judgement.  That judgement ranges from disfellowshipping, to removal of certain congregation privileges, to a simple warning.  Although the punishment may be public, no other details are ever revealed.
  2. They keep meticulous records of judicial actions, both at the local congregation level and at the national headquarters.  So, if a judicial committee uncovers an illegal act, and does not report it, this failure is documented in their own records.
  3. If the sinner does not admit his wrongdoing, the elders follow the advice from Deuteronomy 19:15, which requires two witnesses for a conviction to be made.  Child molestation rarely has two witnesses.
  4. The primary motive of this system is to keep the reputation of the congregation clean.  This means that they consistently act in the best interests of the organization, rather than those of the victim.
It is this fourth point that gets them into trouble.  Following written instructions from the Brooklyn headquarters, local elders have consistently covered up child molestation.  They have failed to report molesters to the police, even in states where this is mandatory.  And worst of all, they have re-victimized the children by threatening them and their parents with expulsion if they continue with their accusations, after a judicial committee has dismissed them.  On numerous occasions, the offender remains in good standing, able to continue with door-to-door preaching, while the victim is threatened, marginalized, and even expelled.

Since molestation is not reported, either to the police or the congregation, these molesters often offend repeatedly; turning the Jehovah's Witness religion into what Bowen calls a 'paedophile paradise'.  This paradise has turned into an enormous problem for the organization.  A researcher at Watchtower headquarters has come forward with the information that 23,720 child molestation cases are on file in Brooklyn.

Several test cases are now before the courts.  Victims in Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Ontario are currently suing the Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society for their failure to deal properly with the issue.  If these cases are successful, the Jehovah's Witnesses could find themselves with a legal epidemic of Catholic proportions.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have responded by denying all wrongdoing, making some slight improvements to reporting policies (although they still hold to the 'two witness' rule), and embarking on an aggressive campaign of shooting the messenger.

Bill Bowen is not the only one disfellowshipped over this issue. Barbara Anderson, the former headquarters researcher who leaked the size of the problem, and Carl and Barbara Pandello (parents of a victim) have also been disfellowshipped.  The rank and file has been warned to have no communication with these persons, and to stay away from their web site.

For decades, Jehovah's Witnesses have hypocritically denounced other religions, particularly the Catholic Church, for corruption. 

Well, I guess what goes around, comes around.

Resources and Avenues for Further Study

  • WATE: Ex-members Accuse Jehovah's Witnesses of Mishandling Alleged Child Molestation Cases
  • Newsday: Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses Speak Out
  • Miami Herald: Abuse charge against Church gets Jehovah's Witnesses Ousted
  • Google: Society: Religion and Spirituality: Opposing Views: Christianity: Jehovah's Witnesses

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