On Wednesday, September 26, 2018, a jury in Montana ruled that the Watchtower Society must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church covered up her childhood sexual abuse. According to NBC and other news sources, the Montana jury handed down the penalty on behalf of a 21-year-old woman.
Here is the story as reported by the Associated Press:
HELENA — A Montana jury has ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization must pay $34 million to a woman who says the church covered up her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member.
Neil Smith, an attorney representing the 32-year-old woman, says the jury’s verdict Wednesday in the lawsuit sends a message to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New York headquarters to stop prioritizing church secrecy over children’s safety.
Jehovah’s Witness officials did not immediately respond to a call or email for comment.
The monetary award must be reviewed by the trial judge.
The jury dismissed claims by a second woman who alleged abuse by the same man in Thompson Falls in the 1990s.
The jury concluded church elders did not receive notice of the second woman’s abuse and therefore did not have a duty to tell authorities.
The abuse victim had accused the Watchtower organization of directing local clergy members not to report her abuser or his criminal behavior. According to news reports, a relative of the plaintiff and another woman say that the accused molested them and a third family member.
The Watchtower Society indicated that it plans to appeal. The Watchtower organization, based in New York, represents and defines rules for the Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Over the past four years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost several child abuse cases in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. Their refusal to change or modify their so-called “two witness rule” to allow victims and their families to report sexual abuse and other crimes to civil authorities has cost the organization millions of dollars in legal fees and penalties.
Read more about this case as reported by NBC News: [LINK]
Here is an updated PDF version and a LINK to the original news article published by the Missoulian on September 27, 2018:
Here is an expanded editorial approach to the above story published by CITIZEN TRUTH’S contributor Nike Omedo:
A Montana jury slapped the Jehovah’s Witnesses church with a $35 million penalty. Two women filed a lawsuit against Max Reyes, an elder of the church, for sex abuse but the financial compensation was awarded to only one of the women. The monetary relief is awarded against the local congregation in Thompson Falls and the church’s operational headquarters in New York.
The Thompson Falls congregation together with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are to pay $4 million in compensation and $31 in punitive damages. Reyes is an elder with the Thompson Falls congregation. The jury gave the ruling after a 3-day trial for a lawsuit first filed in 2016.
According to the women, Reyes raped and sexually molested them over 13 years. The church elder sexually assaulted them both from the early 1990s to late 2000s. When Reyes’ sordid activities became known to the local church leadership, they relieved him of his position and excommunicated him. However, the church reinstated Reyes again after 14 years away from the church.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society headquarters was found culpable in Elder Reyes’ sexual offenses, just as the local Thompson Falls congregation. Judge James Manley found the local and headquarters church guilty of Reyes misdemeanors in two areas. The church reinstated him to his position when they could reasonably foresee he would continue to sexually harass women; and they failed to hand him over to law enforcement in accordance with Montana’s mandatory reporting law.
Few weeks before the jury gave the verdict, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s lawyers requested the Montana Supreme Court to overrule Judge Manley’s rulings and even keep the trial stalled. But the Supreme Court failed to accede to this request.
The Australian Royal Commission, which conducted a comprehensive investigation into the church, published several reports condemning the Jehovah’s Witnesses for church policies that state offensive issues must be resolved internally by local congregational elders. The commission said it is better to report offensive issues to law enforcement instead of having local church elders handle it within themselves. The commission also condemns policies that require aggrieved members of the church to produce two witnesses to any offense before the leadership can initiate proceedings against the accused.