California Court Guts JW Child Abuse Ruling

Reveal News (RevealNews.org) issued the following report after the California State Appeals Court released its decision on the Candace Conti vs. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), et al.  Original article and link to PDF version of court order below:


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Candace Conti drew worldwide attention in her fight against the Jehovah’s Witnesses when a jury awarded her $28 million in damages – the largest verdict for a single victim of child abuse against a religious organization in U.S. history.

The amount was later reduced to $15.6 million, including $8.6 million in punitive damages.

Now, three years later, an appeals court has eroded her courtroom victory even further by ruling that the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had no duty to warn congregants that a confessed child molester was one of their own. As a result, judges eliminated the punitive damages in the case. Conti still stands to receive $2.8 million.

PDF Version of Court Order

The decision by the California Court of Appeal is the latest ruling in a rash of lawsuits aimed at Jehovah’s Witnesses policies directing elders to keep child abuse secret from their congregations and secular authorities.

Conti, who is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, had sued her abuser, her former congregation in Fremont and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent corporation – in 2011. She claimed that Watchtower policies allowed a Witness named Jonathan Kendrick to molest her repeatedly when she was 9 and 10 years old.

Kendrick had admitted to North Fremont congregation elders that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter. The elders informed the Watchtower of Kendrick’s confession in 1993, but in accordance with Watchtower policy did not notify police or warn the congregation. Soon after, Conti says, Kendrick began abusing her.

In their ruling Monday, the judges said forcing the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses to warn congregants about child abusers would be too burdensome.

“While it is readily foreseeable that someone who has molested a child may do so again, the burden the duty to warn would create and the adverse social consequences the duty would produce outweigh its imposition,” the judges wrote.

“The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision.

“Since that ‘secrecy policy’ was the only basis for the punitive damages assessed against Watchtower, the punitive damage award must be reversed,” the judges added.

Rick Simons, Conti’s attorney, disagreed with the new ruling in an interview.

“They think in public policy terms that there’s too much risk in broadening the church’s responsibility and liability so that it burdens what churches do,” he said. “We think there’s too much child abuse in these institutions.”

Conti could not immediately be reached for comment.

The judges also touched on a contentious national debate over religious exceptions to reporting child abuse. California law requires clergy to report suspected child abuse to secular authorities unless they learn of it through a penitential communication, like a confession in the Catholic church. Kendrick’s admission to elders in 1993, they wrote, failed to meet that standard.

“The privilege for penitential communications does not apply unless the communication is made ‘in the presence of no third person so far as the penitent is aware,’ a condition not satisfied at the Kendrick family meeting with the Congregation elders,” the judges wrote.

Dozens of lawsuits in recent years have focused on a series of Watchtower memos dating back to 1989 that direct elders to keep cases of child abuse secret from law enforcement and their congregations.

Watchtower officials have testified under oath that since 1997, the organization has collected detailed information on known child sexual abusers in its congregations.

Last year, a San Diego judge awarded Jose Lopez – a former Jehovah’s Witness who was abused by a man in his San Diego congregation when he was 7 years old – $13.5 million after the Watchtower refused to provide its list of known predators.

In the Conti case, the panel upheld the lower court’s ruling that the Watchtower and elders in the North Fremont congregation failed to supervise Kendrick when he preached door to door in the community, a practice Jehovah’s Witnesses call field service.

According to Conti, the North Fremont elders would group her with Kendrick for long afternoons of field service. She says he used those opportunities to take her to his house and sexually abuse her.

“While the Congregation may not have been able to police Kendrick’s behavior after scheduled field service was over, it could have controlled his access to Conti during the field service,” the judges wrote Monday.

Although Kendrick has confessed to abusing his stepdaughter, and later his stepgranddaughter, he denies abusing Conti.

Watchtower officials told the court they allow child molesters to perform field service, but not alone or with a child. They could not, however, produce a written policy for the court.

“Even if Watchtower had a policy of preventing known child molesters from performing field service alone or with children, there is no evidence that Watchtower did anything to implement that policy in Kendrick’s case,” the court found.

The judges went on to remark on the larger risk of allowing child abusers to preach door to door:

“They are also a threat to children in the community when they engage in that activity. The prospect of children opening their doors to proselytizing child molesters is frightening.”

Watchtower officials did not immediately return calls for comment. James McCabe, the attorney representing the North Fremont congregation, declined to comment.

Simons said Conti has not decided yet whether to appeal the court’s decision. She has 30 days to do so.


Comments

California Court Guts JW Child Abuse Ruling — 8 Comments

  1. So if I understand this correctly, this actually means that Jehovah’s Witnesses can continue to keep the knowledge of Child Molesters secret without any danger of repercussions.

  2. After paying attorney’s and many expenses, Ms. Conti will receive around $1.7Million out of $2.8M awarded her in compensatory damages, although it could be somewhat more if the interest she will be paid for the past 2 1/2 years that the case has been tied up in the appeal process has not been figured in.

  3. Driving Force, yes, you’re correct, JW elders can continue to keep secret their knowledge of molesters in the congregation without repercussions. If I had kids and knew about the ruling in the Conti case and that the elders had no duty to warn parents, I’d be really concerned about who in the congregation is a molester.

    My advice is, “TRUST NO ONE! DO YOU REALLY KNOW THAT PERSON WHO IS SITTING IN THE SEAT NEXT TO YOU AT THE KINGDOM HALL? FOR THAT MATTER, YOUR CHRISTIAN BROTHER OR SISTER COULD BE A CONVICTED CRIMINAL.” (Oh, my, the secrets that the elders are privy to would blow you away if you knew!)

  4. When I was 16, I was raped at gunpoint by a married (with children) “brother” 11 years my senior who sold drugs to my high school boyfriend. He told me “if I ever told anyone, that he would hunt me and my family down like rabbits and kills us one by one and throw our bodies off a steep incline where nobody would find us.” There was a sketch in the local newspaper of a serial rapist that was raping girls from 13 to 17 years-old. It was him. Years later I came into “the truth” and there he was sitting in the congregation in a neighboring county from where I was raped by him. His family was in good with the elder body. His then 13 and 14 year old daughters had come forward and reported him molesting them. They ran away from home. The cops came to the Kingdom Hall one Sunday, and the elders/ministerial servants detained them until the end of the meeting, and the sex offender and his family was told to leave through the bathroom door, which they did and hid out two counties away on some land they owned until the heat died down. The congregation was pretty much told that the rapist’s kids were bad with mental and drug problems and nobody was to talk to them. Then his wife came forward and said he had hogtied her and raped her against her will. She too was treated the same way. The wife’s friend and her husband came over for dinner one night and her husband cornered her friend in the kitchen and scared her to death and reported it. The elder body blamed the wife’s friends for bringing over a bottle of wine to share with 4 people for dinner @ one glass each. I was so disgusted at how these four females were being demonized by the elders and ultimately the congregation, that I had to tell them what happened to me as a child. I was asked if I was sexually aroused by him which I wasn’t, and if I had screamed. I had screamed but I was out in the middle of nowhere where he had brought me so “I did not have two to three witnesses to the crime.” Based on that, I was labeled a slanderer and nobody was to associate with me. People I thought were my friends turned on me to people please the elders so they too wouldn’t be treated the same way. I wasn’t disfellowshipped but I was treated as someone who was. I reported it to the police finally and they believed me and thanked me for coming forward in such a difficult situation. When the elders found out I did, someone let off a shot gun in front of my house at 3 AM. I realized me and my then toddlers were not safe in their presence and all that talk about my brothers laying down their lives for me and how the congregation would become my family was a lie. Why? Because I did not have a big family in the faith and I was not born with a penis. I learned from the police that sex offenders find churches to be a safe haven to continue their crimes against humanity. Men too have a tendency to have empathy and sympathy for sex offenders because they too may have committed similar acts in their lifetime and that is why they turned to God to hide from their very serious sins.

    • Another thing that I thought was VERY FREAKY was that the elder body in my congregation told the rapist’s wife that “she had no grounds for divorce from the creep she married because incest was not considered adultery since it took place in the early chapters of the bible. Also, that there was no such thing as spousal rape because the bible says that wives are to give their husbands their (sexual) due” regardless. I found this mindset to be highly uneducated and very criminally insane. I tried going to another congregation and to be very anonymous but I was told by a kindly elder that was also stripped of his duty due to speaking out against crimes against humanity that “the elder body from my old congregation made a few phone calls to let people know what kind of woman I was.” He apologized “for their unloving conduct which was not Jehovah God’s way.”

  5. Male judges and attorneys have empathy for garden variety psychopaths that commit pedophilia and rape. This is because they had to commit similar crimes against humanity to be accepted into high school cliques and as an initiation rite to get into their college fraternities. The boys in my Marin County High School nicknamed it “Motorcross.” The women that work with or under these males that go along with this perversion in American Junk Value, seriously misogynistic criminal justice system have no integrity whatsoever. Exactly like the low class women in a variety of jobs that look the other way when their coworkers are being sexually harassed by some slovenly SOB. So all these @$$holes that plea bargain for societal termites worthy of extermination get these guys out of trouble too. Just like the churchy elder perverts!!! I don’t think Jehovah God likes the governing body of obvious perverts, and the brothers and sisters that turn on the victims at the request of the elders and the body of dead man’s bones elders that go along with incest, pedophilia, and rape. I believe they will be exterminated at Armageddon just like Achan and his family!

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