Stephen Lett, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body, denied allegations that the religion provides a safe haven for child sexual abusers in a video posted on the organization’s website. Credit: JW.org
Read Trey Bundy’s original report on how the Jehovah’s Witnesses use the First Amendment to hide child sexual abuse claims.

A top Jehovah’s Witness leader – speaking through a video posted on the organization’s official website last week – denied allegations that the religion provides a safe haven for child sexual abusers.

“If anybody takes action against someone who would threaten our young ones, and takes action to protect our young ones, it’s Jehovah’s organization,” Stephen Lett, a member of the Governing Body, said into the camera. “We reject outright such lies.”

Lett’s address appeared to be a response to a recent Reveal investigation documenting how Jehovah’s Witnesses policies, dating back 25 years, have instructed elders to keep child sexual abuse secret from law enforcement and even their own congregations.

In the 10-minute video, Lett urged followers to maintain unity – or “oneness” – in the face of “false stories that are designed to separate us from Jehovah’s organization.”

“As an example,” Lett said, “think about the apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward pedophiles. I mean, that is ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Despite his denial, Lett’s address was a rare acknowledgement. Although the organization has been hit with an increasing barrage of child sexual abuse lawsuits in recent years, Jehovah’s Witness leaders have gone to extremes to avoid speaking publicly about the issue. In a San Diego lawsuit last year, Gerrit Lösch, the longest-serving member of the Governing Body, refused to testify, in violation of a subpoena.

Reveal’s investigation also found that the organization has collected detailed information on child abusers in its congregations but repeatedly has refused to produce that information in court.

Lett’s video set off an immediate reaction from viewers around the world, who weighed in with hundreds of comments on social media and anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses websites dismissing Lett’s remarks. A group called Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (named for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) produced a mashup of Lett’s video cut together with Reveal’s recent television segment on the PBS NewsHour.

Lett did not return calls seeking comment. Jehovah’s Witnesses say their child abuse policies are sound because they’re based on Scripture. In Lett’s video, he said that “Satan’s organization” – which the religion considers the secular world, including media and law enforcement – works to disrupt God’s will by causing divisions between the Witnesses.

“Because any human who tries to get us to compromise Bible principles really is an agent of Satan,” Lett said.

Trey Bundy is a reporter for Reveal, covering youth. After beginning his career at the San Francisco Chronicle, he joined The Bay Citizen, where he covered child welfare, juvenile justice, education and crime. His work also has appeared in The New York Times, SF Weekly, The Huffington Post, the PBS NewsHour, Planet magazine and other news outlets. He has won three awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2009, he won the national Hearst Journalism Award for article of the year. Bundy has a bachelor's degree in journalism from San Francisco State University. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.