Jehovah’s Witnesses’ sex abuse scandal is a lot like Catholic Church’s
By Heidi Hirvonen / February 25, 2016
Glare of the spotlight
The release of “Spotlight” – the Oscar-nominated film chronicling The Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation into child sexual abuse among Catholic priests – has refocused attention on problems in the church and trumpeted the importance of investigative reporting.
This week’s episode of Reveal goes behind the scenes with the real Globe reporters to learn more about how the story broke in 2002 – and what happened after the credits rolled.
Culture Of Secrecy Leaves Door Open For Sex Abuse
Right now, we’re learning a lot about another religion with a history of hiding child sexual abuse. The themes in our new episode parallel Reveal reporter Trey Bundy’s ongoing investigation into abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Taken together, the two religions share a series of troubling themes and tactics.
Abuse allegations stifled from the top
The Globe’s reporting didn’t just reveal crimes; it shed light on a series of cover-ups by high-ranking Catholic Church officials. In one dramatic example, a priest who had been accused of molestation and rape more than 130 times was not disciplined. Rather, he was reassigned by then-Cardinal Bernard Law to a new parish, with disastrous consequences.
More than a decade later, Minnesota Public Radio exposed another scandal, this time in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. As you’ll hear in our episode, reporter Madeleine Baran discovered that the church was making clandestine payments to abusers and continuing to conceal allegations – even after its archbishop led a committee to draft national zero-tolerance policies.
Since reporters and victims have brought these scandals to light, the church has tried to address child sexual abuse on an institutional scale. Last year, Pope Francis established a tribunal to judge individual bishops in the clergy who have allowed cover-ups to occur.
The Vatican, however, recently modified its protocol for reporting sex abuse. Instead of placing the burden to report on the clergy, current guidelines given to new bishops now state it is “not necessarily” the duty of a bishop to report clerical abuse.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also employ a top-down system for dealing with sexual abuse cases. For years, the religion’s leaders have instructed elders to keep child abuse secret from secular authorities and members of their congregations.
The religion’s parent organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, argues that the First Amendment and clergy-penitent privileges exempt elders from having to report sex abuse cases to police. Jehovah’s Witnesses also have preached a doctrine allowing followers to deceive those outside the religion if doing so will protect the religious organization.
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