With all the recent efforts by the society to stifle publication of their recent BOE letter I have been re-reading it and thinking again about some of the consequences of what this letter really means.
I've had some thoughts so am just throwing them out there to see what the rest of you might think.
Firstly, I have absolutely no truck with the core issue regarding the lack of disclosure to the authorities when child abuse is suspected or alledged. Although there are very good reasons for the biblical precedant regarding two or more witnesses this really cannot be forced to apply to this issue. In the time of the Mosaic law, the "elders" were the top level of authority - they were the police, judge and jury - responsible for civil, criminal and spiritual matters. Today, the congregation elders only have responsibility for spiritual matters, not criminal. As Cedars as pointed out it is up to the police and judicial system to handle crime and it should be them who are asked to determine if an individual has a case to answer.
The elders are not qualified to determine what may or may not have happened. the WT legal department may advise but their focus will always be a skewed notion of minimising WT exposure. In any area where the elders are not legally bound to report the matter is almost certainly never going to result in an approved decision for the elders to contact the authorities.
The WT use a getout here which is that the elders are to highlight to parents or the victim that they are perfectly free to report the matter but that allows for the local elders to put any slant on that advice they wish. There is a risk it may not happen as there is no open policy that the matter should be reported. There is a chance the parents or victim may feel intimidated. There is no scope for the support of the elders during the reporting process. Frankly, the stated position is disingenuous and easily manipulated either deliberately or unintentionally.
This entire approach is seriously flawed and simply wrong.
Where I do have some sympathy with the position of the elders, and indeed the society, is when it comes to dealing with those people who may pose a risk. If someone comes into the congregation and is a convicted sex offender then in principle I agree with the approach in the letter that parents should be warned and under no circumstances should that individual be allowed to be in any position where they may come into unsupervised contact with children. As a parent of minor children still attending meetings then I should know who I need to be aware of in the congregation.
The problem is that not everyone who may pose a risk is a convicted offendeer. There is even a scenario where someone who may have had to (in the UK) sign the sex offenders register may not pose any risk. For example, if an 18 year old were to have consensual sex with a 15 year old then in theory the adult could be convicted and be considered a sex offender. I am not 100% sure that in 100% of this type of case it would be right to label someone as a pedo for the rest of their lives. So to that end, perhaps this type of scenario should not prevent someone never being allowed to hold privilages at some point in the future. Can you really say no forever?
There are also individuals that don't have a conviction but perhaps have faced accusations. In this case the elders are caught between a rock and a hard place. They cannot treat that individual as someone convicted nor can they spread rumours let alone slander someone. On the other hand, as a parent I would want to know about someone who might not be all they seem. Context is always important but I think the policy must allow for parents to be warned.
I think it is partly this type of situation that the letter is trying cover by using the terms "predator" and "known child molester". It is also why the society legal department are to determine who is who. In principle they should have legal knowledge and be able to guide the elders but in fact I think this is of no real help at all. The typical WT approach is to try and box everything up and make everything black and white. You end up with elders trying to check off a tick list of what circumstance the individual may or may not fit and then Bethal make a choice. What if they get it wrong? There is no scope for the local elders to make conscience led decisions. The reality is that the elders will defer to Bethel legal, follow whatever instructions they give and move on. If there is a problem then the elders will say "we were only following orders", Bethel legal will wash their hands of it and the congregation will have been left exposed.
Unfortunately as well, the wording of the letter shows that a serial offender can still be considered for privilages. This is madness. There is also scope that a convicted sex offender may not be considered as such, or even as a "predator" to use the letter's distinction. This is extremely concerning.
There are real issues of slander and a presumtion of guilt and to be honest society in general has not solved the ethical implications of this. On that basis I guess it is a little unfair to expect the WTBTS to be able to get it right 100% of the time when the rest of the world cannot do it. The problem is however is that the underlying culture does not support the application of some common sense and personal moral conviction on the part of the elders. Everything is handled in a highly procedural and legalistic manner with a "are we kept safe by Jehovah's loving org, don't the GB take care of us really well, thank goodness we are not floundering on this matter like the 'world'", head in the sand delusion coming from the top down.
This, unfortunately, extends to parental responsibility. I have always had an attitude that you cannot rule anything out and it is up to me as a parent to take responsibilty for my children. I cannot abdicate responsibility to the congregation and assume that everything is fine, no one poses a risk and nothing bad can happen. Having said that, it does not absolve the congregation of a duty of care and there are big holes in the WT policy as it stands that means there is nothing to stop a predatory child abuser to have access to my children without my knowledge.
So, there are some major flaws in the policy, especially when it comes to the reporting of accusations. There are some issues around instructions that are no doubt intended to prevent cases of slander or unfounded gossip that don't have clear answers but no doubt would be better handled if the society were to look at the policies of many other organisations. My biggest concern, beyond the main one over reporting, is that once again the whole matter once again comes down to a rigid set of procedures that promote a false sense of security at all levels.