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How Jehovah’s Witnesses Leaders Hide Child Abuse Secrets At All Costs

December 12, 2016 1:33 p.m.

How Jehovah’s Witnesses Leaders Hide Child Abuse Secrets At All Costs


Trey Bundy, reporter, Reveal

Related Story: How Jehovah’s Witnesses Leaders Hide Child Abuse Secrets At All Costs


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The scandals child sex abuse in the Catholic Church was big news nearly 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 of investigative reporting . Tray, thank you for joining us. Jehovah's Witnesses parent corporation called the watchtower and is based in New York. Outage or reporting on child abuse within the church lead you to San Diego?
With first got wind that Jehovah witnesses had child abuse policies instructing others to cover up, we started by going online and finding a vast committee of X Jehovah witnesses around the world who are focused on this issue and we went source by source looking for lawsuits and one of the lawsuits was right there in San Diego.
How big is the church?
There are 1 million members of the Jehovah witnesses around the world. There is 1 million in the United States and they are central to the place is that Armageddon is imminent and will be coming anytime and everyone will be destroyed and only Jehovah witnesses will be resurrected to live in paradise on earth. That basically informs their behavior of the contact and their policies so essentially there was a more insular religions in the world so they do not vote, did not serve in the military. They are discouraged from going to college and discouraged from consuming and stream media. Their focuses to bend the church, on the religion, the teachings of God, essentially keeping outsiders at a distance.
You learned that there was a rule of congregation leaders found out about child abuse they had to call the watchtower's legal department immediately. Here we have a cup from a San Diego attorney, Irwin Zalkin describing that pick
Written, demanded, committed policy very different than the Catholic Church it was unwritten,, it was by voice only. If they did not have it written down anywhere. It was understood. Here it is in writing.
As the report there are several levels lawsuits trying to get copies of these documents -- that the watchtower has. One of the hoping to learn and how they obtained any of the documents?
There number of lawsuits against the Jehovah witnesses for child abuse all over the world. Irwin Zalkin has 18 lawsuits currently in the suits are in San Diego. Two in San Diego and one in Riverside. He has requested all of the child abuse documents that the watchtower has. What that means is in 1997 the watchtower issued a directive in writing to all elders in the United States in every congregation sang if you learn of an alleged child abuser in your congregation 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 an ongoing thing, do the authorities know, dressing members of the congregation know and so on. Since that time it has been 19 years that they have been collecting scanning these documents into an electronic database and that is what Irwin Zalkin is after. That is what they have refused to give up in court.
Have they obtained any of the documents?
Sultan tried this Intermec different cases. -- Is all contract this in three different cases. Both of the cases the judge struck the watchtower's defense from the trial and awarded Irwin Zalkin's clients $1 million judgments for those cases are in appeal. In the third case, Zalkin asked for the documents and it seemed as though the Jehovah's Witnesses are tired of being spent to death and agreed to give them a what they did was they only gave four years of documents rather than the full 19 years that the court had ordered the documents were retracted. The dams of the congregation comes the names of the abusers rolled retracted with the judge has ordered them to release all of the documents with the names that that point they shut down. They refuse to give over anything else. The court has sanctioned them to the tune of $4000 per day until they comply.
There is a lot of money at stake here in this cover-up. How much has the Watchtower pates of our?
Soper they have not paid a dime because they have been to be a link these decisions. What they are risking is $13.5 million judgment, a $4 million judgment and $4000 per day since Jim. It adds up to about $18 million that the Jehovah witnesses are risking to keep anybody from seeing what is in the files.
Is that legal? What does California state law say about what you did you learn about child abuse?
In California clergy are mandated reporters in terms of reporting child abuse. California also has a local to that law and that loophole is called a privilege which means that they learn about the child abuse because they somebody comes and confesses to them in a spiritual communication than they do not have to report that. Even though that is not how they learn about these cases, that is what they argue in court. They say anytime somebody tells an elder that somebody has been abused, it is a spiritual communication and they do not have to report it. Usually get shut down that argument when they make a corporate think the real question is, the courts cannot get these documents, the California Supreme Court cannot get the documents and the Jehovah witnesses are essentially thumbing their noses at the court system is there a point where law enforcement jobs in?
That is the question. Has there been any interest in these cases from law enforcement?
Not so far in the United States. We have reached out to attorney generals in California, New York, the Department of Justice including the FBI and it appears nobody is looking at the Jehovah witnesses.
There are plenty of witnesses coming forward but law enforcement is not taking any action?
That is correct. It does not necessarily have to be like that. It look at England, the Charity commission which oversees charities including the Jehovah witnesses in that country, they opened an investigation to make your Saco that is ongoing and they are looking at the child abuse policies based on the types of things that we are talking about, hiding child abuse from law enforcement. It look at all straight, Laster government commission held public hearings and finished up a to make your investigation in which they found 1000 let's child does and Jehovah congregations in Australia and none of them had been reported to the police. To put that in perspective there about 60,000 Jehovah witnesses in all strikebreakers 1 million in the United States of you extrapolate that the number. Could be as high as 14,000 let's child abusers that are likely still living in communities across the United States.
Up the child sex abuse scandal did not destroy the Catholic Church but to get a sense that this might destroy the Jehovah's Witnesses at least financially if they continue to hold out?
It is hard to say. It is beside the main point preventing people looking at this issue are more concerned about hitting the Jehovah witnesses to change them or policies of current child abuse rather than to bring down the religion. To go back to the money, the Jehovah's Witnesses are risking millions of dollars to-10 Illini 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 protection of the religion over protection of children.
Trey thank you for bringing this to our attention. Trey Bundy is a reporter for Reveal.