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Local Elder Resigns Position over Child Abuse Policy

01/05/2001

By C.D. Bradley cbradley@paducahsun.com -- 270.575.8650

http://www.paducahsun.com/cgi-bin/view.cgi?200101/05+038D_news.html+20010105

DRAFFENVILLE, Ky. --An elder in a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation at Draffenville has resigned his leadership position because of a policy he claims "has harmed thousands, is leaving many unprotected, and provides refuge to outright criminals."

The elder, William Bowen, resigned last week from his position as an elder and presiding overseer, the rough equivalent to a pastor in other Protestant denominations. In doing so he cited the church's policy regarding the reporting of suspected child abusers to law enforcement authorities. Bowen said the policy, which requires accusers to report alleged abuse to church elders rather than to legal authorities, lets "literally thousands" of pedophiles go unpunished.

"I am referring to Watch Tower policy to keep information about pedophiles confidential," Bowen wrote in his resignation letter. "Pedophiles are protected by a code of silence and in many cases remain (in leadership positions or as members in good standing) while their victims suffer in silence or face sanctions. This policy is unethical and immoral in my opinion."

A spokesman at the church's headquarters in New York said there is no prohibition or discouragement in going to legal authorities in the event of child abuse.

Bowen, 43, who has served in various leadership capacities in the church for about two decades, said he has seen multiple similar cases in his visits to various congregations. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is a not-for-profit entity the church uses to publish literature, supervise global evangelizing and organize conventions and schools for the ministry of Witnesses. Bowen said he grew up in the faith and by resigning, "I'm basically throwing away 40 years in the organization." Still, it was something Bowen felt he had to do because he doubts that the policy will change unless public pressure mounts, he said.

"I have fretted with this for two or three years, but this is wrong and it has to be stopped," he said. "This is not something where I can allow myself to look the other way anymore."

J.R. Brown, public affairs director for Jehovah's Witnesses at the church's headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., said in a statement that the members of the faith "abhor all forms of wickedness, including child abuse. "If child abuse becomes known to our church elders, they strictly comply with applicable child abuse reporting laws. We also encourage the wrongdoers to do everything they can to set the matter straight with the authorities. Furthermore, we do not prohibit or discourage the victim or the victim's parents from reporting child abuse to the authorities even if the alleged perpetrator is one of Jehovah's Witnesses." Bowen said church policy calls for the elders to question the accused in private, and if the charge is denied, the burden of proof then falls on the accuser to prove the allegations. If the accuser cannot do so and two witnesses are required the matter is dropped, he said. Confidentiality is paramount throughout the process, Bowen said, and not even the spouse of the accused or the parents of children who are in contact with the accused are told of the accusations. "As an elder, I am instructed if it is one person's word against another, and not two witnesses to the wrong, no action would be taken and no authorities would be notified," Bowen wrote. "The victim? Cautioned to keep silent or face discipline within the congregation that could go as far as being disfellowshipped for slander." James Bonnell, another elder in the Draffenville congregation, calling child molestation "a terrible thing," said the church "in no way condones that at all." According to the church's Web site, the faith has nearly 6 million practicing members in almost 90,000 congregations worldwide. The Draffenville congregation has approximately 50 members, Bowen said.

 

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