Dozens of confidential documents apparently leaked from Jehovah’s Witnesses archives appeared online Tuesday, providing a rare window into how the religion’s child abuse policies favor accused sexual predators at the expense of the victims.
FaithLeaks, a group pushing for more transparency in religious organizations, posted the documents in tandem with a story published by Gizmodo.
The documents detail the accusations of two sisters who say they were sexually assaulted by their father when they were growing up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. One says her father tied her down and molested her. The other says her father raped her repeatedly over a period of years.
Most of the 33 documents are letters between local leaders and the religion’s global headquarters in New York, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. They show how the alleged perpetrator was able to attend a congregation with one of his alleged victims, in violation of a restraining order, while leaders admonished a member for reporting the violation to police.
The Watchtower’s written policies direct leaders to keep sexual abuse allegations away from authorities and handle them internally, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
While Reveal could not independently verify the new documents immediately, the details found in them are consistent with dozens of other documented cases. For example:
Face your accuser: Jehovah’s Witnesses elders establish their own tribunals to determine whether members accused of wrongdoing are guilty. Historically, accusers – even those who were still kids – had to confront their abusers face-to-face or else the elders would drop the matter. After being admonished in public hearings into their child abuse policies in Australia in 2015, Jehovah’s Witnesses officials say they have changed that policy. The new letters, which span the late 1990s and 2000s, indicate that elders held off disciplinary proceedings with the alleged abuser because one of his accusers did not want to face him.
The “two-witness rule”: Watchtower policy dictates that without a confession by the abuser or two witnesses to the crime, the elders in the congregation can not take action against the accused. The FaithLeaks documents show that the congregation’s response to the accusations against the alleged abuser was stalled because the accusers did not have two witnesses to the crimes against them.
Child abuse is a confidential matter: The Watchtower does not instruct elders to report child sexual abuse to police. A 2014 memo to elders in all U.S. congregations directs elders to maintain “strict confidentiality” and “avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities” in matters of assault, rape, child abuse and murder. The new documents provide no indication that the Watchtower reported abuse to police.
Repentance goes a long way: According to internal Watchtower documents obtained by Reveal, if a confessed child sexual abuser convinces elders that he feels remorse, he can remain in the congregation, even if that means weekly contact with his victim. Abusers who are removed from congregations for their crimes are sometimes eligible for reinstatement years, or even months, later. According to the new documents, the alleged perpetrator was eventually kicked out of the religion but was later reinstated.
The Watchtower has gone to great lengths to keep its documents on child sexual abuse private. It has spent millions of dollars in recent years fighting, and in some cases violating, court orders to produce a database of known child abusers in its U.S. congregations. Those cases are ongoing.
The database is made up of questionnaires that elders are required to submit to the Watchtower anytime they report child sexual abusers to headquarters. The documents posted by FaithLeaks do not include any such questionnaires.
FaithLeaks redacted all of the names contained in the letters.
Trey Bundy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter:@TreyBundy.