State lawsuit against Jehovah's Witnesses

by Coded Logic 13 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • Coded Logic
    Coded Logic

    The first of many lawsuits?


    November 09, 2015

    WILMINGTON, Delaware — The attorney general's office is suing elders of the Sussex County congregation for not reporting an unlawful sexual relationship between a woman and a 14-year-old boy, both of whom were congregation members.

    State law requires any person, agency, organization or entity who knows or in good faith suspects that a child is being abused or neglected to call a 24-hour hotline. The law specifically states that the reporting requirements apply to health care workers and organizations, school employees, social workers, psychologists and law enforcement officials.

    But the law also contains exemptions for attorney-client conversations and communications "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

    Francis McNamara, an attorney for the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, argued Monday that they are covered by the clergy exemption, and that the judge should end the lawsuit before it goes to trial by ruling in their favor.

    "The effectiveness of this statute cannot be limited to Catholic priests," he told Superior Court Judge Mary Johnston.

    McNamara said he wasn't challenging the constitutionality of the law, but that in order to maintain its constitutionality, it must be read to protect any confidential conversation between a church member and a cleric acting in a ministerial role — not just the confessional booth in a Catholic Church.

    "Which religion do we pick as having the proper confession?" McNamara asked.

    Johnston wrestled with why a non-Catholic who confesses confidentially to a spiritual adviser that he or she did something wrong would not be covered by the law simply because that particular religion does not define congregational leaders as "priests" or include "confession" among its sacraments.

    "How can that be constitutional?" asked the judge, who described the statute as "problematic" and suggested that it was "sloppily written."

    "What does "sacramental" mean for purposes of the state?" Johnston asked deputy attorney general Janice Tigani.

    Tigani conceded that the law could be unconstitutional if read as favoring a certain religion, but that Delaware lawmakers could have chosen other language had they wanted. She also said she was unaware of any similar law in any other state with the same wording.

    Tigani, nevertheless, argued that there was no "confession" by the boy, who was taken to congregation elders by his mother after revealing the sexual relationship.

    "They weren't confessing anything, at least within the eyes of the law ... because this was a victim," she said.

    The conversations between congregation elders and the woman also are not covered by the confessional exemption, Tigani added, because the woman did not voluntarily seek out spiritual guidance but was instead approached by elders after they met with the boy and his mother.

    But the judge noted that the woman, Katheryn Harris Carmean White, could have confessed while being interviewed by the elders, and that both she and the boy were excommunicated, suggesting that the boy may have been subjected to church punishment for "confessing" his own wrongdoing.

    Department of Justice authorities say the boy reported to his mother in January 2013 that he and Carmean White, who worked as a teacher's aide at Seaford Middle School, had engaged in a sexual relationship. According to the complaint, the boy and his mother met that same day with two congregation elders.

    Carmean White was arrested in February 2013 after the boy's mother went to authorities. She was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of third-degree rape, fourth-degree rape and child endangerment.

  • Listener
    "exemptions for attorney-client conversations and communications "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

    If that is what the law specifically states then there is another issue here.

    The dictionary defines the definition of a penitent as follows

    feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentant.
    "a penitent expression"
    synonyms:repentant, contrite, regretful, remorseful, sorry, apologetic, conscience-stricken, rueful, ashamed, shamefaced, abject
    "she stood with her hands joined below her waist like a penitent child"
    a person who repents their sins and (in the Christian Church) seeks forgiveness from God.

    1. Given that both of them were disfellowshiped then the only reason for this is because they were found to be not repentant, that is the only reason for disfellowshipment.

      Disfellowshipping takes place only if a member of the congregation unrepentantly engages in gross sin.

  • The Searcher
    The Searcher

    Have the courts/lawyers not been informed that J.W. elders automatically share with other elders any "confessions" which they receive - thereby eliminating any idea of a clergy-penitent privilege within the Org?

    Can't someone in the U.S. alert the court regarding this fact?

    To claim such an exemption is to deceive the American judicial system - nothing less - and the Org's lawyers should be dealt with by their legal overlords!

  • Coded Logic
    Coded Logic

    Excellent points Listener and TS!

    And I'd also add that once a confession enters into the Judicial Committee phase all clergy-penitent privileges are out the window too.

    There's a huge difference between a priest saying, "Here's what you should do to seek favor with God." vs. the Elders saying "Here's the restrictions we're IMPOSING on you to ensure the safety of the congregation."

    Priests don't judge their members. And they don't hand down sentences that they then enforce. However, Elders do.

  • Vidiot

    They're still trying to use the "clergy-confessor-confidentiality" thing?

    I suppose, at this point, it's all they got, but jeezus...

  • fastJehu
    Excellent points Listener and TS!
  • Finkelstein

    Good I hope this case makes its way to the media and exposes the WTS for flagrant irresponsible behavior.

  • Virgochik

    Bottom line is, once again they're trying to circumvent the justice system by playing games. They're not being transparent and sincere, or acting to swiftly correct the problem; they're playing with definitions and latching on to a policy the Catholic church has fought for and done the work for. Now the Gibbering legal department wants to get on board and have JW'S considered clergy if it suits their needs. Any other time, they'd be horrified to fall under the clergy umbrella.

    Instead of all the shiftiness and twisting words in court, why wouldn't God's true religion have a burning desire to root out the rotten apples without further delay and dancing around the issue?

  • sir82

    But the law also contains exemptions for attorney-client conversations and communications "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

    For the 8,000,000th time:

    How is the JW system even remotely related to a "sacramental confession"?

    The "penitent" confesses to 3 elders, who then inform the rest of the BOE. If there is an appeal, the CO knows about it, as well as the 3 new elders who hear the appeal. And of course, the case is summarized and read by who knows how many people in the WT service department, not to mention who knows how many from the WT legal department when the elders follow written direction to "call WT legal first".

    For each and every JW child abuse case, potentially dozens, maybe even many dozens, of people know all about it. And that's just the people who are "supposed" to know. Many elders gossip about JCs, exposing the story to hundreds or thousands more.

  • LisaRose
    They have tried to claim clergy penitent privilege before, but I think they usually fail, because a confession usually involves one person and a priest, there is an expectation of confidentiality. A judicial committee is nothing like that, the person knows going in that there will be no confidentiality, there are all three elders involved, other elders in the congregation who may be told plus they always inform Bethel, and often an announcement that some action was taken is given to the congregation. there is nothing sacred or secret about. But they will do anything to avoid doing the right thing, which is to notify the police in cases of child sex abuse whether it's required by the law or not.

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