Article: Pa. courts weigh whether Jehovah's Witnesses elders must report confessed child abuse

by AndersonsInfo 10 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • AndersonsInfo

    HARRISBURG – After the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dismissed a petition from a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses nearly two years ago, which argued the confidentiality of their confessions shielded them from being mandatory reporters of child abuse, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overruled their colleagues and decided the Commonwealth Court must re-examine the action.

    In a 24-page memorandum opinion authored by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd and handed down Feb. 13, the Court found that their Commonwealth Court contemporaries violated the Coordinate Jurisdiction Rule – which states “judges of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in the same case should not overrule each other’s decisions” – by its initial pair of separate findings that Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have proper standing against the Commonwealth’s Department of Human Services, and that a grant of declaratory relief would not terminate the legal controversy.

    Todd was joined in the opinion by Supreme Court of Pennsylvania justices Christine Donohue, Kevin M. Dougherty, David N. Wecht and Sallie Updyke Mundy. Justices P. Kevin Brobson and Daniel McCaffery did not participate in the consideration or decision of this matter.

    “Appellant is a congregation of approximately 140 individuals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who follow the tenets of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. Every Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation is led by a body of elders, which consists of a group of five to seven volunteers. The elders are authorized to hear and respond to a congregant’s confession of sin, and, under their beliefs, are obliged to maintain the confidentiality of confessions. According to appellant, its elders may receive confessions involving child abuse, which would implicate the mandatory reporting requirements of the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL),” Todd said.

    “Specifically, the CPSL identifies certain individuals who are deemed to be ‘mandated reporters.’ Mandated reporters are required to make a report of suspected child abuse to the Commonwealth’s Department of Human Services if they have ‘reasonable cause’ to suspect that a child has been a victim of abuse. In addition to doctors and school employees, the list of mandated reporters includes ‘a clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization.’ Under Section 6319 of the CPSL, mandated reporters who fail to report a case of suspected child abuse are subject to criminal penalties.” Read More

  • TonusOH

    They don't appear to be ashamed that they tried to hide behind technicalities in order to avoid reporting CSA to the authorities. "We didn't break the law," they exclaim, as a way of defending their refusal to protect children.

  • Atlantis

    Thank you Barbara!


  • NotFormer

    In corporate law there is the concept of lifting or piercing the corporate veil, where a court will decide that the company structure is being used to escape the consequences of a contract or other agreement.

    It's a pity that there's no equivalent in criminal law of lifting the religious veil, where the courts can rule that an entity is pretending to be a religion to cover up criminal activity. And IMO, giving cover to paedophiles under the two witnesses rule is criminal activity. Aiding and abetting, accessories after the fact, call it what you will.

  • Phizzy

    It seems to me that this may end up with the clarification that if a crime of any kind is suspected, a Clergyman or whoever, is bound in Law to report it to the Authorities.

    This has been the case in U.K law since the Reformation, where Priest/Penitent Confidentiality does not apply when a Crime is suspected.

  • dropoffyourkeylee

    In the time I was growing up ('60s-'70s) the JWs were very proud of pointing at their Supreme Court (US) victories for preaching and their role in defining the First Amendment right of free speech. My dad was really into it and studied the JW pamphlet 'Legally Defending...' like it was the Bible.

    It's kind of sad now that they are spending their time and money defending their 'right' to allow children to be abused.

  • Tahoe

    Thank you Ms. Barbara!

  • Vidiot

    Did the WT lawyers try and suggest that the Org would have to deal with hundreds of “spurious” allegations if this was enforced?

  • Beth Sarim
    Beth Sarim

    Thanks again Barbara!

  • cha ching
    cha ching

    I was just reviewing this in my mind today.

    I tried to picture someone asking themselves, "should I help a child, should I prevent other children from being hurt and ask the police to investigate?"

    "No, I should call the ever righteous, God loving, WatchTowers legal counsel and find out if I am REQUIRED to report it to the police."

    It really is crazy when you think of it that way.

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