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Tuesday, May 7
Jehovah's Witnesses Begin Excommunicating Child Sexual Abuse Whistleblowers
Church Leaders Protect Molesters While Shunning Victims," Says Long Time Witness
Move Is Considered ‘Preemptive Strike’ Before Dateline Investigative Report In expectation of a soon-to-be aired NBC Dateline investigative report, the Brooklyn-based organization of Jehovah's Witnesses leadership has begun to excommunicate four long-time members who have spoken out about the massive problem of child molestation within the organization. William H. Bowen, who is founder of the organization "silentlambs," a support group for Jehovah's Witnesses who are victims of child abuse, is charged with causing “divisions” with the denomination. Last Friday he was notified by letter that he was to attend a hearing this week. Bowen comments: "Over one year ago when we first came forward, the leaders of the organization said the problem did not exist; when we produced over one thousand victims' stories on the "silentlambs" website, they were called liars. After we filmed the Dateline program with extensive proof, local congregations directed by home office now decide to disfellowship lifetime members who have been filmed by Dateline shortly before the program is set to air at the end of May first part of June? Apparently it is being done to discourage church members to not tune in to this expose' because Jehovah's Witness theology requires members not to listen to anything disfellowshipped members have to say about their church. If members refuse to obey, it could result in their being excommunicated as well." When Dateline interviewed the Pandello family of New Jersey, the family described how callously they were treated by Jehovah's Witness elders after they revealed the molestation of their daughter by another Witness. Although the church has been aware of this soon-to-be aired interview for some time, the Pandellos received a letter on Wednesday of last week summoning them for a hearing on "apostasy" charges. The letter also encouraged them to "disassociate" themselves. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, such a step amounts to excommunicating oneself. If other Witnesses, even family members, continue to associate with a “disassociated” or ‘disfellowshipped’ member, they too can be excommunicated.
Thursday, Barbara Anderson, was informed that she was being accused of causing "divisions" within the organization and summoned to attend a judicial hearing or disassociate herself. Anderson is a former researcher who worked for the Church's Writing Department, in Brooklyn, New York, she is also featured on Dateline speaking out about child molestation cover-ups that go all the way up to the denomination’s Governing Body.
"For years the Governing Body (church leadership) has tried to silence abuse victims, so they can protect the image of the church,” said Anderson. “Now they’re expanding their intimidation and cover up to include those of us who are whistleblowers trying to protect kids.” In a lawsuit filed in January of this year, a 23 year old Sacramento woman, Erica Rodriguez, sued the Jehovah's Witness minister who repeatedly abused her and the New York-based denomination which "routinely" gives pedophiles "sanctuary, protection, sympathy and support," the suit claims. "When I went to the elders about my molestation, I was told I would be disfellowshipped if I went to the police," Rodriguez laments. Manuel Beliz, of the Othello Washington Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, was convicted of raping and molesting Rodriguez during her childhood and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Though the church eventually disfellowshipped Beliz for child molestation, they are now using his statement that, "Defendant denies all false charges" as a basis to defend him and the church from civil prosecution.
One of Rodriguez' attorney's in the case, Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, has filed more sexual abuse suits against religious bodies than any other legal expert. "In my experience over the last 20 years, a handful of brave victims step forward in any denomination. When a religion attacks those who are trying to help children, you have to wonder what they are trying to hide," he said. "This isn't the first time church leaders have punished those who expose wrong doing. But every time this happens, it's sad" said David Clohessy of St. Louis. He is the national director of SNAP, the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests "Bowen and Anderson and their colleagues deserve praise, not condemnation. We applaud their courage and hope that the public attention soon begins to focus on abuse within other religious groups."
"Since January, 177 Catholic priests have been removed for sexual abuse, and Catholic Bishops are debating a ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” said Bowen. "So while Catholic leaders seem to be heading in the right direction Jehovah’s Witness leaders are going backwards." Bowen of Calvert City, Kentucky, was a church elder in his local congregation and a Jehovah's Witness for 43 years. He resigned as Presiding Overseer in December 2000 to support victims and push the denomination's leaders to respond more sympathetically to abuse victims and turn over alleged molesters to the criminal justice system. Bowen's "silentlambs" is a national self-help group for men and women molested by Jehovah's Witness members. (www.silentlambs.org, 1-877-WTABUSE) Bowen said the use of disfellowshipping is a virtual club that is used to smash victims into silence when they are raped; then years later when mental and emotional behaviors surface due to repression, the church disfellowships them to get rid of the problem. The victim cannot win and suffers as a silent lamb waiting to be slaughtered by church directives when they need help the most. He feels that members of other faith groups who are abused are more apt to speak up and consult attorneys or turn to police.
The denomination has one million members in the United States and six million across the world.
Draffenville Kentucky Congregation
of Jehovah's Witnesses
PO Box 788 Benton KY 42025
CONFIDENTIAL AND PERSONAL
William H. Bowen
Calvert City, KY 42029
Dear Brother Bowen:
The body of elders has appointed a judicial committee to meet with you concerning allegations that you have been causing divisions within the congregation and organization of Jehovah's Witnesses The judicial committee invites you to meet with them on May 10, 2002 at 7:00 pm at the Kingdom Hall located at 86 Foust-Sledd Road, Benton, Kentucky. Feel free to call me at 270-753-xxxx if these arrangements are not convenient for you As a reminder, attorneys are not permitted at congregation judicial meetings.
Very truly yours,
Lee Stockwell Chairman of the judicial committee
WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT
SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC.
LEGAL DEPARTMENT PHONE (718) 560-5000
25 COLUMBIA HEIGHTS BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 11201, USA 560-8903
April 19, 2002
Suzanne J. Frankland
Melli, Guerin & Melli, P. C.
West 115 century Road
Paramus, NJ 07652
Re: Barbara and Carl Pandello
Judicial Committee Hearing
Dear Ms. Frankland:
I represent the body of elders in the English Congregation, Bradley Beach, New Jersey, and I am writing pursuant to your letter of February 4, 2002, to Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The body of elders has appointed a judicial committee to meet with Mr. And Mrs. Pandello concerning allegations of apostasy. The judicial committee invites them to meet on Monday, May 6, 2002, at 7:30 p.m., at the Kingdom Hall located at 28 Main Street, Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Mr. and Mrs. Pandello may present evidence or witnesses on their behalf at this hearing. The judicial committee encourages them to be present and would like to help them if they have sincere doubts. But if Mr. and Mrs. Pandello decide not to appear, the judicial committee will proceed without them and make a decision on whether to disfellowship them based on the available evidence. In case you are not aware, attorneys are not permitted to represent individuals at congregational judicial committee hearings. Of course, if Mr. and Mrs. Pandello no longer desire to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, please inform me in writing before the hearing date and the judicial committee proceeding will be terminated. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me. Do not contact the local elders.
Very truly yours,
Robert C. James
Associate General Counsel
cc: Body of Elders, English congregation, Bradley Beach, NJ
To Whom It May Concern:
On Thursday, May 2, 2002, my husband, Joseph Anderson, who serves as an elder with the Manchester, Tennessee Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, was contacted by the presiding overseer of the Manchester Congregation. At that time my husband was informed that a letter had been received from the headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses directing that a judicial committee be established to consider charges against me, Barbara Anderson, for "causing divisions within the congregation and the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses." I was given a notice of seven days to appear at a judicial hearing set for Friday, May 10, 2002 to defend myself against whatever false allegations that are being leveled against me.