KPBS Radio, a public service of San Diego University, interviewed Trey Bundy on December 12, 2016, and then followed up by releasing an online audio version of the program. We will try to provide the original audio when available, but you can hear it for yourself by following the link provided below to the original article.
There was also a transcript provided with the audio recording. However, because it was quite rushed, there were missing sentences and some of the verbiage was very inaccurate. We have provided a corrected text version of the original audio reformatted and corrected below.
Again, we would like to thank Trey Bundy and Reveal for performing this important public service. Likewise to all of the PBS and non-profit radio and TV stations that are including their work in their regular programming.
December 12, 2016 1:33 p.m.
How Jehovah’s Witnesses Leaders Hide Child Abuse Secrets At All Costs
GUEST: Trey Bundy, reporter, Reveal
Transcript [Corrected and Reformatted]:
HOST: The child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church was big news more than a decade ago. But now an investigation is unearthing evidence of a widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse among Jehovah Witnesses. Key documents involved in this cover-up are right here in San Diego. Trey Bundy is a reporter for Reveal and for the Center for Investigative Reporting, a non-profit journalistic enterprise based in the Bay Area. Trey, thanks so much for joining us.
TREY BUNDY: Thank you, Allison.
HOST: Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent corporation is called the Watchtower and it’s based in New York. How did your reporting on child abuse within the church lead you to San Diego?
TREY BUNDY: When we first got wind that Jehovah witnesses had child abuse policies instructing elders to cover up child abuse in their congregations, we started by going online and finding a vast community of ex Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world who are focused on this issue. And we sort of went source by source looking for lawsuits – and one of the lawsuits was right there in San Diego.
HOST: Before we go any further, how big is the church? Describe some of their core beliefs.
TREY BUNDY: There is 8 million members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. There’s a million in the United States. And central to their beliefs is that Armageddon is imminent and will be coming anytime. Everyone going to be destroyed and only Jehovah Witnesses will be resurrected to live in paradise on earth. So, that basically informs their behavior of their conduct and their policies. So essentially they’re one of the more insular religions in the world. So they don’t vote, they don’t serve in the military. They are discouraged from going to college and they’re discouraged from consuming mainstream media. Their focus is to be on the church, on the religion, on the teachings of God. They essentially keep outsiders at a distance as best they can.
HOST: You learned that there was a rule that if congregation leaders find out about child abuse they had to call the Watchtower’s legal department immediately. Here we have a cut from a San Diego attorney, Irwin Zalkin, describing that policy:
IRWIN ZALKIN (audio): Written, demanded, commanded policy – very different than the Catholic Church. Theirs was unwritten. They called it diva voce, by voice only. They didn’t have it written down anywhere. It was just understood. But here it is in writing. There’s no question.
HOST: So, as you report there are several civil lawsuits trying to get copies of these documents — that the watchtower has. What are they hoping to learn and have they obtained any of those documents?
TREY: There are a number of lawsuits against the Jehovah Witnesses for child abuse all over the world right now. Irwin Zalkin, who we just heard from, has 18 lawsuits currently. And three of those suits are here in San Diego. Actually two in San Diego and one in Riverside. He has requested all of the child abuse documents that the Watchtower has. Now what that means is in 1997 the Watchtower issued a directive in writing to all elders in the United States in every congregation, saying that if you learn of an alleged child abuser in your congregation, you need to file a report in writing answering the following nine questions. Those questions with things like: How old was the victim? Was this a one-time occurrence of abuse or is this an ongoing thing? Do the authorities know about this? Do other members of the congregation know about this? And so on. And, since that time it has been 19 years now that they have been collecting and scanning these documents into an electronic database and that is what Irwin Zalkin is after. And that’s what we’re after. That is what they have refused to give up in court.
HOST: Have they obtained any of the documents?
TREY: Zalkin tried this in three different cases. In the first two cases, they refused to turn over anything – even violating an order from the California Supreme Court. In both of those cases, the judge struck the Watchtower’s defense from the trial and awarded Zalkin’s clients multi-million dollar judgments. Those cases are on appeal. In the third case, Zalkin asked for the documents – and it seemed as though the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t want – were tired of being sort of spent to death and agreed to give them up. But what they did – was they only gave four years worth of documents rather than the full 19 years that the court had ordered – and the documents were all redacted. The names of the congregations – the names of the abusers – were all redacted. A judge has since ordered them to release all of the documents with the names. And at that that point, they just shut down. They refuse to give over anything else. And in that case, the court has sanctioned them to the tune of $4000 a day until they comply.
HOST: So, there is a lot of money at stake here in this cover-up. How much has the Watchtower paid in fines so far?
TREY: Right! So far they have not paid a dime because they have been appealing these decisions. But what they’ve risked and what they’re still essentially risking is a $13.5 million judgment, a $4 million judgment, and $4000 per day since June. It adds up to about $18 million that the Jehovah witnesses are risking to keep anybody from seeing what is in these files.
HOST: But is that legal? I mean, what does California state law say about what you did you learn about child abuse?
TREY: In California clergy are “mandated reporters” in terms of reporting child abuse. California also has a loophole to that law – and that loophole is called a “clergy-penitent privilege” which means that if they learn about the child abuse because they somebody comes and confesses to them in a spiritual communication, then they do not have to report that. Even though that’s not usually how they learn about these abuse cases, that is what they argue in court. They say anytime somebody tells an elder that somebody has been abused, that’s a spiritual communication and they do not have to report it. They usually get shut down with that argument when they make it in court, but I think the real question is – if the courts cannot get these documents – if the California Supreme Court cannot get the documents – then the Jehovah Witnesses are essentially thumbing their noses at the court system. Is there a point where law enforcement jumps in?
HOST: Well, that is the question, I guess. Has there been any interest in these cases from law enforcement?
TREY: Not so far in the United States. We have reached out to attorneys general in California, in New York, the Department of Justice – including the FBI – and it appears nobody is looking at the Jehovah Witnesses.
HOST: So there are plenty of victims coming forward. But law enforcement is not taking any action?
TREY: That is correct. It does not necessarily have to be like that. If you look at England, the Charity Commission which oversees and regulates charities, including the Jehovah Witnesses in that country – opened an investigation two years ago that is ongoing. And they are looking at the Jehovah’s Witness child abuse policies based on the types of things that we are talking about, hiding child abuse from law enforcement. And if you look at Australia, last year a government commission held public hearings and finished up a two-year investigation in which they found a thousand alleged child abusers in Jehovah’s Witness congregations in Australia. None of them had been reported to the police. So to put that in perspective, there about 68,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia. There is a million in the United States. So if you extrapolate that, the number here could be as high as 14,000 alleged child abusers that are likely still living in communities across the United States.
HOST: And the child sex abuse scandal did not destroy the Catholic Church. But do you get a sense that this might destroy the Jehovah’s Witnesses, at least financially, if they continue to hold out?
TREY: Well, it’s hard to say. It is beside the main point. I think people looking at this issue are more concerned about getting the Jehovah’s Witnesses to change their policies of covering up child abuse, rather than to bring down the religion. But, to go back to the money, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses are risking millions of dollars to hide what they know and to hide their child abuse files – that might not mean so much to them. They are a multibillion dollar global corporation. And maybe millions in damages does not really scare them. Maybe that is a worthwhile investment to them to try to protect the reputation of the religion over the protection of children.
HOST: Trey, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.
TREY: Thanks for having me.
HOST: Trey Bundy is a reporter for Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
END of TRANSCRIPT of AUDIO