JWs Changing Child Sexual Abuse Policies and Practices

Watchtower recently released the May, 2019 “study edition” that features articles that focus on child abuse. [Link] The online magazine’s “cover page” shows a family enjoying themselves while the father reads an article to them from a magazine. The significance of this issue is that it reveals some changes to Watchtower Society’s policies in managing Jehovah’s Witnesses’ child abuse cases.   

Here are some examples:

Paragraph 23 briefly outlines the duties of the congregation elders versus those of civil authorities: 

“What is the role of elders in handling cases of serious wrongdoing? Their role is different from that of judges and elders under the Law that God gave Israel. Under that Law, appointed men handled not only spiritual matters but also civil and criminal cases. But under the law of the Christ, the elders’ role is to handle the spiritual aspects of the wrongdoing. They recognize that the secular authorities have the God-given responsibility to handle civil and criminal cases. That includes the authority to impose such penalties as fines or imprisonments.—Rom. 13:1-4. 24″

Paragraph 24 discusses the spiritual guidance they need to use to proceed:

“How do elders handle the spiritual aspects of serious wrongdoing? They use the Scriptures to weigh matters and make decisions. They keep in mind that love is the foundation of the law of the Christ. Love moves the elders to consider: What needs to be done to help any in the congregation who have been victims of the wrongdoing? Regarding the wrongdoer, love moves the elders to consider: Is he repentant? Can we help him to regain his spiritual health?”

Paragraph 25 states the goals of the congregation when dealing with an abuse case:

“How thankful we are to be under the law of the Christ! When all of us work hard to obey it, we help to make our congregation a place where each individual can feel loved, valued, and safe. Still, we are living in a world where “wicked men” have advanced “from bad to worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13) We must not let down our guard. How can the Christian congregation reflect God’s justice when dealing with child sexual abuse? The next article will answer that question.”

Paragraphs 13-15 instruct elders to cooperate with police and other local authorities:

13. Do elders comply with secular laws about reporting an allegation of child abuse to the secular authorities? Yes. In places where such laws exist, elders endeavor to comply with secular laws about reporting allegations of abuse. (Rom. 13:1) Such laws do not conflict with God’s law. (Acts 5:28, 29) So when they learn of an allegation, elders immediately seek direction on how they can comply with laws about reporting it.

14. Elders assure victims and their parents and others with knowledge of the matter that they are free to report an allegation of abuse to the secular authorities. But what if the report is about someone who is a part of the congregation and the matter then becomes known in the community? Should the Christian who reported it feel that he has brought reproach on God’s name? No. The abuser is the one who brings reproach on God’s name.

15. In the congregation, before the elders take judicial action, why are at least two witnesses required? This requirement is part of the Bible’s high standard of justice. When there is no confession of wrongdoing, two witnesses are required to establish the accusation and authorize the elders to take judicial action. (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; read 1 Timothy 5:19.) Does this mean that before an allegation of abuse can be reported to the authorities, two witnesses are required? No. This requirement does not apply to whether elders or others report allegations of a crime.

The next paragraph (16) appears to offer some loopholes to actually reporting an accusation to the authorities. Reading this will make you wonder whether they will – or won’t – report in ALL situations that might involve child abuse.

16. When they learn that someone in the congregation is accused of child abuse, elders endeavor to comply with any secular laws about reporting the matter, and then they conduct a Scriptural investigation. If the individual denies the accusation, the elders consider the testimony of witnesses. If at least two people—the one making the accusation and someone else who can verify this act or other acts of child abuse by the accused—establish the charge, a judicial committee is formed. The absence of a second witness does not mean that the one making the accusation is untruthful. Even if a charge of wrongdoing cannot be established by two witnesses, the elders recognize that a serious sin may have been committed, one that deeply hurt others. The elders provide ongoing support to any individuals who may have been hurt. In addition, the elders remain alert regarding the alleged abuser to protect the congregation from potential danger.—Acts 20:28.

The next two paragraphs make it clear that elders should not try to interfere with secular legal processes involving a reported abuser.  However, there are a lot of “mays” that are built in to the guidelines that should probably be “shalls” when outlining elders’ responsibilities to the members and children within their congregations.

17. What is the role of the judicial committee? The term “judicial” does not mean that the elders judge, or rule on, whether the abuser should be punished by the authorities for breaking the law. The elders do not interfere with law enforcement; they leave criminal matters to the secular authorities. (Rom. 13:2-4; Titus 3:1) Instead, the elders judge, or determine, whether an individual can remain in the congregation.

18. When elders serve on a judicial committee, their role is spiritual, or religious. Guided by the Scriptures, they judge whether the abuser is repentant or not. If he is unrepentant, he is expelled, and an announcement is made to the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) If he is repentant, he may remain in the congregation. However, the elders will inform him that he may never qualify to receive any congregation privileges or to serve in any position of responsibility in the congregation. Out of concern for the welfare of children, the elders may privately warn the parents of minors in the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interactions with the individual. When taking such measures, the elders are careful to maintain the privacy of those hurt by the sin.

[Footnote: A child is never required to confront an alleged abuser. A parent or another trusted confidant may advise the elders of the allegation without exposing the child to further emotional harm.]

What remains to be seen is whether the Watchtower and the elders in Kingdom Halls and congregations actually accept and follow these more effective and well-meaning guidelines. The Watchtower’s history of protecting members and their children from abusers (both mentally and physically) has been disastrous. It may take current elders some time to accept and adopt these newer and (hopefully) more effective and protective guidelines. The reality is that they must do so or face the consequences that more and more courts and law enforcement agencies are willing to apply to them.


Comments

JWs Changing Child Sexual Abuse Policies and Practices — 8 Comments

  1. I wonder how much tragedy could be avoided if this Watchtower was released, say, 20 years earlier. I do not think that the lack of understanding is an obstacle in this. Next, I wonder if establishing a ban on blood transfusion, no error was made on all kinds of blood, and in my understanding, it is bloodshed, because only blood illustrates life, and so orthodox Jews understand it.

    Zastanawiam się jak wiele tragedii można by było uniknąć, gdyby ta Strażnica była wydana powiedzmy 20 lat wcześniej. Nie myślę aby przeszkodą w tym był brak zrozumienia. Dalej, zastanawiam się czy ustanawiając zakaz transfuzji krwi, nie uczyniono błędu mówiąc o wszelakiej krwi a w moim zrozumieniu to chodzi o krew przelaną, gdyż jedynie taka krew obrazuje życie i tak to rozumieją ortodoksyjni Żydzi.

  2. “Guided by the Scriptures, they judge whether the abuser is repentant or not. If he is unrepentant, he is expelled, and an announcement is made to the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) If he is repentant, he may remain in the congregation.”

    It’s disturbing to me how unclear the process is for determining whether the abuser is repentant or not. Is it a mere matter of professing weakness, weeping pitifully? That is troubling since the very nature of this kind of abuse entails deceit, masquerading, looking for opportunities, manipulation, shaming, threatening. The abuser is living a lie, and acting out a false role. How could anything they say possibly be trusted, especially when there is so much at stake? How would the elders know if they were being played and manipulated? Most have no education on abuse or on how predators behave.

    I didn’t find much comfort on these new “changes.” It seems to tie more accountability around parents and elders, less on the GB. It feels more like the GB is angling to distance themselves if something goes wrong.

  3. Strange, on JW.ORG, legal resources, the April 2018 document, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection” states:

    ” In addition, elders will inform parents
    of minors within the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interaction with the individual.”

    So this doc says the elders “will” inform parents, but the May, 2019 WT says “may” inform parents.

  4. I personally know of a young man falsely accused of inappropriate touching of a child (he had his arm supporting her weight under her bottom). The local elders jumped the gun and notified the parents in the congregation that he was a registered paedophile, after which his mother was able to get a letter from the local authorities to the effect that the allegations were untrue and he was definitely NOT on any such like register and had been found not guilty in a court of law.
    Despite the stupidity of the above mentioned elders, this informs me that they do inform parents these days of a danger in these circumstances.

  5. What is unfortunate is that it was necessary for people to speak out loud and silks excluded, so that it changes a little ‘their position against these murderers. their change is not to protect children, but especially to protect their reputation as “true religions… they have made these changes reluctantly.

    Ce qui est regrettable, c’est qu’il est fallut que des personnes parles hauts et forts et soies exclus, pour qu’il change ‘un peu’ leurs position face à ces meurtriers. leurs changement, ce n’est pas pour protéger les enfants, mais surtout pour protéger leurs réputation de ”’vrai religions… Ils ont fait ces changements à contre-coeur.

    • It was not the “loud outcry” that caused the Watchtower Organization to amend their policies regarding child abuse. It was the fact that they are losing court cases and have had to pay MILLIONS of dollars in restitution. So much so that they are absolutely begging for money, going so far as to ask children for the contents of their piggy bank and willing to take gift cards as a contribution. It’s all about the money.

      • The only way for JWs to salvage their reputation is for a new and younger generation of leadership to PUBLICLY admit past errors, ask God, the victims, fellow JWs and the public for forgiveness, and to explain what they will do to prevent in the future. Simply making ‘changes’…very quietly…and then moving on like nothing happened, will not heal the wounds. And Jehovah God will not forgive them.

  6. Why, if such changes, in the secret letter to the elders is the information that, after finding the fact of pedophilia or suspected of committing it, the first steps are not to be directed to the appropriate services, the police, prosecutor, only to the branch office in Nadarzyn?

    Dlaczego, skoro takie zmiany, w liście tajnym do starszych jest informacja że, po stwierdzeniu faktu pedofilii lub podejrzenia o jej popełnienie, pierwsze kroki nie mają być skierowane do odpowiednich służb, policja, prokurator, tylko do Biura Oddziału w Nadarzynie?

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