As the number of clergy abuse cases involving Catholic priests continues to grow, members of other faith communities are coming forth to share their own stories of sexual misconduct by clergy members. A new investigation into abuse cover-ups by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sheds light on the sexual abuse problem across religious faiths. With over 14,000 U.S. congregations, this religious group has been criticized for its secrecy in handling abuse allegations.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses insiders, the group’s Watchtower organization created databases of alleged abusers from U.S. congregations into databases which have been kept secret from law enforcement. Despite several court orders requiring the Watchtower organization to produce these lists, members of the religious community have refused to do so. At least one television documentary, “The Witnesses,” has focused on this ongoing child abuse cover-up. Decisions regarding the handling of sexual abuse allegations are believed to be made directly by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, eight men who believe they are the earthy channels of the voice of God.
Covering up sexual abuse has been a major criticism filed against other religious groups, including the Catholic Church. For many survivors, the failure of the church to properly handle their allegations and report the abuse to the police is another betrayal of trust, which can create further trauma.
The Pennsylvania Attorney’s General Office has begun its own grand jury investigation into allegations of the sexual abuse in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the state. Closed-door hearings are expected to explore the way the religious group handled sexual abuse allegations, including those involving children. The investigation is expected to cross state lines, reaching as far as New York, the home of the worldwide headquarters of the Watchtower organization.
Following the Grand Jury investigation, the Pennsylvania Attorney General may proceed with filing criminal charges based on gathered testimony. As with the report on the clergy abuse in the Catholic Church, it is likely that at least some of the Grand Jury’s findings will be released to the public.
This is not the first governmental investigation into the organization’s handling of the child sexual abuse allegations. In 2015, Australia’s Royal Commission held public hearings on the handling of child abuse allegations by Watchtower officials in that country. Investigators in Australia discovered records of over 1,000 alleged child sexual abusers and close to 2,000 children identified as being abused by members of the organization. No police reports were filed with respect to any of these incidents.
Individuals who suffered the trauma of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted clergy member may be entitled to compensation. At Williams Cedar, our dedicated Trenton clergy abuse lawyers stand with survivors of clergy abuse as they seek to hold their abusers, and the organizations which covered up the abuse, responsible for their misconduct. Located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clergy abuse survivors and their families throughout New Jersey. To schedule a free consultation today, call us at 856-470-9777 or submit an online inquiry form.