When it comes to covering up the sexual abuse of children, the Catholic Church is not the only religion in the game.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been refusing to hand over internal documents related to child sex assault in a court case in California, and it’s costing the church $4,000 per day. So far their secrecy means they owe $2 million, according to a new report by Reveal.
The ruling stems from a case in San Diego, where Osbaldo Padron sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to warn congregants that a child abuser was in their midst.
Padron, a former Jehovah’s Witness, was sexually abused as a child by an adult member of his congregation named Gonzalo Campos. Campos confessed to sexually abusing seven children.
Court records show the Jehovah’s Witnesses actually knew that Campos abused numerous children, yet they continued to promote him and didn’t take any steps to keep him from doing it again. The church actually gave him more responsibility and more access to children, despite their knowledge of his admitted wrongdoings.
According to internal Watchtower documents, the organization has instructed congregation leaders, called elders, to keep child abuse secret from law enforcement as a matter of policy since at least 1989.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t inform the authorities about reported abuse, but they did want to put together their own catalog. Nobody knows what they intended to do with the information, because they have fought tooth-and-nail to prevent it from becoming public, but they did request local elders to send a written report about anyone in their ranks who is known to have abused children.
Three years ago, Padron sought those documents in court as part of his lawsuit, hoping to show a pattern that extended beyond his own case. The documents also would provide a roadmap to what are likely thousands of known or accused child molesters in congregations across the country.
The Watchtower argued repeatedly that fulfilling Padron’s request would violate the privacy rights of people named in the documents, confidentiality privileges between elders and congregants, and the organization’s religious protections under the First Amendment. The court dismissed those arguments. But the Watchtower has refused to fully turn over the documents.
A judge imposed sanctions on the church at $4,000 per day to force compliance, but the church has continued to keep the abuse documents secret. The judge will likely rule in favor of Padron as a result, but that means we many never get the information that could save other kids from being abused. And that’s not acceptable.
Protecting children is one of our most important jobs as a society, and religious groups that claim to uphold morals inspired by God shouldn’t be the worst at it. We need to do better to keep kids from harm, and hold institutions that protect child abusers accountable for their heinous actions.
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