JW NEWS | UNITED STATES
| October 10, 2012 | Op-Ed | jwnews.org |
by Barbara Anderson |
In most child sexual abuse cases the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts – relatives, neighbors, coaches, teachers, ministers. And, incredibly, in too many of these cases, the abuse was preventable because the abuser was known by others to have molested before, but that fact was not known to those who could have protected the child.
In 1994, both Megan and Candace were sexually abused and Megan died at the hands of convicted pedophile, Jesse Timmendequas, who was “a known child molester.” Law enforcement knew he was a molester, but no one told seven-year-old Megan Kanka’s parents there were three convicted sex offenders living across the street from them.
1994 – Megan’s Law
Due to public outcry, one month after Megan’s rape and murder on July 29, the New Jersey legislature passed Megan’s Law requiring registration and public notification of sex offenders that became federal law in 1996, and all states have passed some form of the law.
One federally funded study in 2009 determined that Megan’s law had no effect on sexual reoffenses. When informed of the study, Mrs. Kanka remarked that the purpose of the law was for parents to know where the offenders were living. “We never said it was going to stop them from reoffending.”
Jake Goldenflame, a convicted sex offender, supports the law. “Megan’s Law is not there to keep me from re-offending,” he said. “Megan’s Law is there so that you can keep me from re-offending by knowing who I am, keeping your eyes on me.”
1994 – Watchtower informed of Megan’s Law
Shortly after learning about the New Jersey legislature passing Megan’s Law in 1994, I informed two officials of the law’s passage at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY, the business arm that guides the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two years previously I had been a volunteer worker at the Watchtower’s huge complex in Brooklyn, NY, for nearly eleven years. For four of those years I was a staff member in their Writing Department where I did research.
After leaving the Writing Department at the end of 1992, I continued to help the department from my home in Tennessee by accepting research assignments. My interest in Megan’s Law had to do with my knowledge of an increase in reports of allegations of child abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses which were being reported to the Watchtower.
In the fall of 1991, while working in the Writing Department, I learned there were men appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve as elders or assistants to elders who had been accused of molestation or were confessed molesters. Also, there were men remaining in their positions of responsibility after they confessed to a fellow elder of molesting a child at least two or three years previously. Inasmuch as these men claimed repentance and were observed to have engaged in “godly acts befitting of repentance” for a number of years, they were appointed to, or continued to serve in, leadership positions. Their past remained a secret.
A 1989 policy letter from Watchtower to all elders stated that certain matters, including child abuse, were to be kept confidential to avoid lawsuits and financial penalties. In this way, pedophiles were protected from exposure and went on to molest other children. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, through this policy, had made a determination that its own needs would be placed above protection of children and showed an indifference to children who were placed at risk by the presence of known sexual abusers within the congregations and the secrecy that surrounded it.
In every case, members in Witness congregations where these men served were never informed that a known molester was in their midst. The consequences of such secrecy were more and more complaints of sexual abuse committed by men in oversight positions coming into the Watchtower’s Service Department. Owing to all of this, a number of us in the Writing Department were determined to see that protection of children was paramount, not protection of an organization.
In 1997, the Watchtower developed what I call a “known molester policy.” Some thought it was Watchtower’s child sexual abuse policy, but it didn’t protect kids, just the opposite, in that, before appointment, if a remorseful, repentant man wasn’t perceived (or known) by the community and the congregation to be a “former” child molester, he could be considered for a position of trust.
Back in 1994, it was the requirement of Megan’s Law for “community notification” when sex offenders moved into an area which caused me to call the Writing Department. I pointed out that elder notification to the flock of a possible or convicted sex offender who was hiding in plain sight in the congregation due to the Watchtower’s confidentiality policy was the way to go.
Required notification of such an individual would be the best way to protect Jehovah’s Witnesses children from a monster in the room which no one knew about, someone they called “brother” or “sister.” I was emphatic that unless the confidentiality policy was replaced with a notification policy, one of these days, huge lawsuits and scandal would rock the very foundations of the Watchtower and could destroy it.
1994 – Candace Conti’s molestation
Unknown to me, nine-year-old Candace Conti, began to be molested in 1994, the abuse continuing for two years. Her molester, Jonathan Kendrick, was a known child molester because he had been convicted by the authorities for the sexual abuse of another child two years earlier.
Kendrick’s sex offender record was also known by the elders of the Fremont California Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they did nothing to protect the congregation’s children, including young Candace because they kept what they knew about him secret.
They did remove Kendrick from his unpaid assistant-minister’s position but no one in the congregation knew why. Here then was an example of elders following the church’s national policy to keep sex abuse allegations secret. It was this silence that allowed Kendrick to abuse Candace. Because of the policy of secrecy that the church followed, information was withheld from the very people who could have prevented the abuse of Candace, and why her parents didn’t know their friend and fellow congregant, Jonathan Kendrick, was a sexual predator.
Candace Conti sues the Watchtower and elders
In 2011, Ms. Conti, then 25, sued the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York for keeping reports of child sex abusers within Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations secret.
It was during the Conti trial in June 2012 that a 1989 Watchtower policy letter to elders was introduced. That letter was a major factor in determining the outcome of the trial because it stated that certain matters, including child abuse, were to be kept confidential to avoid lawsuits and financial penalties.
Also sued were three elders in the Fremont Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Loyalty to a religious organization kept the elders from doing the right thing. In their defense these men claimed they did their duty towards Candace by “keeping an eye on Kendrick.” Unlike Jake Goldenflame, the convicted sex offender, who said Megan’s Law was there so people could keep an eye on him, Fremont elders did not inform parents so they could protect their children by keeping an eye on Kendrick.
On June 14th, Day 10 of the trial, the day after the jury awarded Ms. Conti compensatory damages of $7M and was about to decide on punitive damages, Robert Schnack, Defendants attorney, stated in his closing arguments to the jury:
“I sincerely believe that Watchtower does not need to be punished by another monetary award. Why is that? Ms. Conti said she wanted to change policies. That’s why she brought this suit. And we feel bad for Ms. Conti. But I can assure you, and I can assure her, that Watchtower’s policies continue to evolve. And I can safely say that, with her verdict yesterday, Ms. Conti has succeeded. I encourage you to award no punitive damages in this case.”
The jury thought otherwise and awarded Ms. Conti $21M in punitive damages. The Watchtower wasn’t found guilty of failing to report molestation. They were guilty of negligence, malice, and child endangerment. It’s obvious from the damage awards that Watchtower policies did not evolve to the degree needed to protect children and more was required.
New rules in October 1, 2012 elders’ letter
Have Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders gotten the message that parents should be told if a confessed or accused child molester is worshipping with them? Well, yes, but only if the Witnesses branch office determines the individual is a “predator.”
According to a new letter to the elders, dated October 1, 2012, which updates all previous letters regarding child abuse, if the elders think a person who has been known to have sexually abused a child, although seemingly cleaned up his/her life, is a “predator,” the elders must call the Witnesses branch office. If the branch office determines that an individual is to be considered a predator, then two elders are assigned to meet with the parents of minor children in order to provide a warning. Also, the “predator” should be told that parents have been discreetly informed. So, for the most part, the secrecy still remains. In Candace Conti’s case, her molester would never have fit the profile of “predator”; hence, her parents would not have been warned.
Another point Defendants’ Attorney Robert Schnack made in closing arguments:
“One thing I would ask you to keep in mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Church is not the Catholic Church, that it has had verdict after verdict after verdict over the years. It’s been in the press. We are all aware of it. This is the first verdict that the Jehovah’s Witnesses church has faced. So, again, it is not the Catholic Church with multitudes of cases over a couple of decades.”
“We were on the phone to managing directors of Watchtower and to the elders in the Service Department. And I can tell you they are stunned by the verdict. Again, I mentioned, it is the first one.”
Yes, the Conti case was “the first verdict that the Jehovah’s Witnesses church has faced” because Watchtower leaders have been secretly settling out-of-court child sexual abuse cases for years. For example, in 2007 there were secret out-of-court settlements with sixteen victims in nine separate cases of child sexual molestation. And, as recently as May 2012, in San Diego, California, there was a secret out-of-court settlement of a case involving six victims of a Witness serial molester – an elder! As is the case with many blameworthy Defendants, when Watchtower leaders settled these cases out-of-court, they acknowledged liability but not responsibility.
No more secrets
However, in the Conti case, this religious body refuses to acknowledge responsibility or liability that the church was to blame for Candace’s molestation because on September 21, 2012, a Bond/Undertaking was posted for an appeal of judgment in behalf of Defendants Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, NY, and the North Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fremont, California, in the amount of $17,277,299.37. Whether the Defendants win or lose their appeal, due to the publicity surrounding the Candace Conti case, no longer is the church’s policy decision to conceal known molesters a secret.
| Barbara Anderson |
Miscellaneous media coverage involving Barbara Anderson:
For court documents relating to Candace Conti v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York visit JW Leaks
JW NEWS | copyright 2012 by Barbara Anderson