TRIAL DAY 2: ENTER, ERIC HOFFMAN
It is difficult to fathom which is worse – an elder molesting a young
child, or an entire group of elders learning of an accusation, but
ignoring their responsibility to inform the authorities and get help for
a victim. As I sat on the rickety wooden chair at City Hall in
Philadelphia, that question entered my mind. My pondering was
interrupted at 1:15 PM, when Spring Grove PA elder Eric Hoffman entered
the room, and was sworn in by the court officer.
Attorney for Ms. Fessler, Gregg Zeff, wasted no time in questioning
Mr. Hoffman, beginning with his position as a Jehovah’s Witness elder.
Hoffman has been an elder since 1994.
Zeff: An elder is a member of the clergy?
Hoffman: We are not labeled clergy. We are not paid.
Despite the denial that elders are clergymen, Zeff continues his questioning:
Zeff: Sir, would you agree that clergy must report sexual abuse of children to protect the victim from additional harm?
Zeff: Would you agree that clergy may never keep sexual assault of a child a secret to protect the congregation?
Zeff: You don’t have any training in interviewing children who are victims of sexual abuse, do you?
As our readers may recall from our prior article on this case,
Watchtower representative Thomas Jefferson had testified for 2
consecutive days that Jehovah’s Witness elders are not clergymen, with
the implication that the laws which apply to members of the clergy do
not apply to Witness elders. Mr. Hoffman upheld that statement. Zeff
began a new line of questions related to elders’ strict requirement to
follow the direction of their corporate headquarters, or face
Zeff: You received the letters from the Watchtower, don’t you?
Hoffman:That’s on their letterhead, correct.
Zeff: And you rely on those letters of instruction from the Watchtower to perform your
duties as an elder, don’t you?
Hoffman: We do.
Zeff: Okay. If you don’t follow the letters of instruction the Watchtower may remove you as an elder; isn’t that true?
Hoffman: They could, yes.
Zeff: And the Watchtower directs the activity of elders, doesn’t it?
Hoffman: We receive direction from them, correct.
Zeff: You don’t receive direction from anyone else, do you?
Establishing that elder Hoffman took his marching orders directly
from Watchtower headquarters, Zeff then asked a critical question which
revealed that Hoffman was well aware of the allegation of child abuse:
Zeff: In the fall of 2005, you knew that there was suspected child abuse involving Stephanie Fessler, didn’t you?
Hoffman: In the fall of 2005?
Zeff: Okay. And you, along with Neal Cluck, who was another elder, learned of this and a committee was formed, wasn’t it?
Hoffman: I believe, yes, it was.
Zeff: Okay. And you don’t really remember anything specific that Stephanie’s father or mother told you, do you?
Hoffman: That’s correct.
Zeff: Okay. During the first meeting — you had two meetings, didn’t you?
Zeff: Okay. So, you don’t really remember when the first meeting was?
Hoffman: According to my notes, the first meeting was towards the end of September in 2005.
Zeff: Okay. Well, what note are you talking about, Sir?
Hoffman: We had a few notes written down.
Zeff: Let’s look at those notes.
At this point, attorney Zeff called for the notes of Eric Hoffman to
be projected on screen for the jury. As stated by the defense in opening
arguments, Watchtower had hoped their elders would testify that they
had no real knowledge of any physical or sexual relationship between
Fessler and Seipp [Monheim] in 2004, and did not learn of the
relationship until 2005.
Zeff: And are you aware that Stephanie Fessler and
Terry Seipp are anticipated to both testify that they were reproved and
disciplined in 2004?
Hoffman: No, I did not.
Zeff: Okay. So, when you say you have two meetings, are you sure that your first meeting took place in 2004 — 2005 rather than 2004?
Zeff presses Hoffman harder:
Zeff: Are you aware that Jodee Fessler has testified or will testify in this case that the
first meeting occurred in 2004?
Hoffman: May have, but I have no notes and I have no recollection of any meeting in 2004.
Hoffman begins to weaken, his memory suddenly becomes fuzzy:
Zeff: So, it’s possible that happened, she might be right?
Hoffman: Could be, but I do not remember anything about it.
Zeff: Okay. And the second meeting, the meeting that took place in 2005, you have notes from that one?
Zeff: So, if Stephanie Fessler, Jodee Fessler and Terry Seipp all testified that they were involved with judicial committees in 2004, you wouldn’t have any reason to doubt them, would you?
Hoffman: Yes, because there’s no notes from a judicial committee in 2004.
Zeff: Well, aren’t you told to destroy any unnecessary notes?
Hoffman: The only notes I have are what’s there.
Hoffman, clearly rattled by the barrage of questions, is unable to recall Watchtower’s policy related to what they can and can’t destroy – so Zeff focuses in on the one the one thing which becomes crystal clear to the jury – Hoffman knew that Stephanie was being abused:
Zeff: So, in 2005, at least, you were told that a 16-year-old girl was making out with a 50-year-old woman?
Zeff: Okay. You were suspicious, at that point, that this might be child abuse, weren’t you?
Hoffman: We were suspicious that something was going on that shouldn’t be.
While Hoffman attempted to evade the admission that this was a sexual
relationship, Zeff put it to him in a slightly different way:
Zeff: It was explained that they were kissing romantically?
Zeff: Like a boyfriend and girlfriend might, right?
Zeff: Like a husband and wife might?
Zeff: And you didn’t find that to be suspicious of child abuse?
Hoffman: Well, that’s why we formed the committee then.
Zeff: Okay. So, you formed the committee because you were suspicious?
Hoffman: Because we were suspicious.
The testimony of Hoffman flowed like a math problem where so many
different equations all pointed to the same undisputed answer. But there
were more parties involved, and attorney Zeff brought them into the
Zeff: When you formed the committee, did you contact the Watchtower about it?
Hoffman: We contacted the legal department.
Zeff: Okay. Well, that’s after you learned whatever
you learned. But in forming the committee, did you seek any guidance
from anyone regarding what you should do and how you should ask
Attorney Zeff next questions inconsistencies in Hoffman’s previous
testimony when he was deposed prior to trial, but when Hoffman fails to
provide a concise recollection of his deposition, Zeff finally tells the
court: “I’ll move on, Your Honor.” Instead of quietly accepting this
statement, attorney for Spring Grove Congregation, Jud Arron makes the
mistake of joking with the court:
Aaron: No objection.
Judge Mary C. Collins: No. Enough! I don’t want any snide, unnecessary irrelevant comments from any lawyers participating in this trial.
Jud Aaron, embarrassed and red-faced, apologizes to the judge and the court.
Zeff gets Hoffman to admit that he had consulted the elders letters
and the elders manual when handling the Fessler case, then says:
Zeff: In addition to the kissing and making out, Stephanie Fessler told you that there was some improper hugging, didn’t she?
Zeff: And touching of the breasts?
Zeff follows these questions by asking Hoffman to read his notes from
the 2005 Spring Grove judicial meeting, where among other details,
“It was later learned during the meeting that there was touching of the breasts on more than one occasion..”
Zeff: Did you have a concern that there was
a 50-year-old woman in another congregation that was making out and
touching the breasts of a 16-year-old?
Hoffman: We did.
Zeff: Okay. Did you warn anybody about that?
Hoffman: Just talked to Stephanie.
Zeff: Okay. You didn’t tell the other congregation
that Stephanie said that her breasts were touched and that she was
making out with a 50-year-old woman?
Hoffman: I believe we had conversation with them just to make sure the stories were the same.
Zeff: Did you let the Watchtower know?
Hoffman: Yes. We called the legal department.
Tensions escalated as testimony from Hoffman had just clearly shown
that elders in two congregations were aware of the abuse, that the
relationship was undisputed, and that Watchtower was a party to this
knowledge. It was further revealed that while all of this was going on,
Terry Seipp [Monheim’s] husband Dana had hired a private investigator to
follow Terry, suspecting what his wife was doing.
Suddenly, in a desperate move, Watchtower attorney John Miller cuts in and calls for a sidebar with the judge:
Miller: I’m sorry, Your Honor. You already ruled. I was too late to ask, but unless this is breaching the attorney/client privilege, that’s the format you followed, the instruction you got from the legal department. That’s asking for the legal advice given.
Zeff: Judge, it’s been waived. It was asked in deposition and answered. These questions were asked. They were answered in deposition. You
can’t turn around after not asserting the privilege and turn around
and assert the privilege at trial, when it’s already been waived. There is plenty case law on that.
Miller: We didn’t raise it there?
Zeff: Nope. It wasn’t raised at all. I can show you the pages, 19, 20, 21, 23 of the deposition.
Miller: I’ll trust you if you’re —
Zeff: Here they are — where are the numbers on the pages?
Miller: So, we missed it on him great. Well, then, I’m wasting your time.
Judge Collins: All right. Let’s go back.
Fessler’s attorney Zeff left no stone unturned, as he pressed Hoffman even harder:
Zeff: The reason you contacted the legal department
was regarding trying to find out what your obligations were regarding
reporting sexual abuse. Isn’t that correct?
Zeff: And after you spoke to the legal department, you didn’t report sexual abuse to any authority in Pennsylvania, did you?
Hoffman: We did not report to the police, no.
Zeff: You never received any instruction that there was any legal authority in Pennsylvania to report suspected child abuse, did you?
Zeff: And you didn’t tell Stephanie Fessler’s parents that they could go to the police either, did you?
Hoffman: We may not have, no.
Zeff: Okay. You didn’t. Thank you. I have nothing further.
Zeff, satisfied that he had extracted enough truth from Hoffman to
make his case, yielded the floor to Spring Grove hired trial attorney
Jud Aaron. Aaron proceeds to discuss Hoffman’s prior deposition in which
Thomas Jefferson was mentioned – with little effect – then asks Hoffman
about his position as elder, and gets Hoffman to describe the humble
simplicity of a typical Kingdom Hall.
In Aaron’s examination of Hoffman, it was interesting that he
mentioned that Stephanie’s parents came to him in 2005 seeking help in
his position as an ordained elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At this point
in the trial, this is of consequence since Hoffman and Watchtower were
still claiming on the 2nd day of trial that elders were not members
of the clergy. It seems he was reasoning that if Hoffman were not a
clergyman, then he would have no obligation to report the relationship
to the police.
Aaron: Were they [the Fesslers] coming to you as an elder?
Aaron: Okay. Did they tell you that Stephanie Fessler and Terry Seipp were having some sort of a relationship?
Hoffman: That’s the way I remember it, some sort of a relationship, correct.
Aaron: And what were you expected to do? What did you do as an elder?
Hoffman: First time we met with Stephanie just
to determine what was going on, to give her some biblical help, some
counsel to, hopefully, help her change her ways, to find out what was
Aaron: What do you mean “biblical help,” generally?
Hoffman: I’m just showing her some scriptures,
some versus on the type of conduct she was leading, that it was going
against biblical principles and how to help to — how to go against that.
Jud Aaron next gets Hoffman to testify that in 2005, the Fesslers
never told him that there was a sexual relationship between Stephanie
and Terry. This was clearly a conflict given that it would be somewhat
unusual for Witness parents to seek help from elders if the relationship
was a routine mother-daughter type relationship. Aaron attempts to
prove that Hoffman knew nothing until he personally confronted Stephanie
Aaron: You said that you met with Stephanie in the fall of 2005?
Aaron: Okay. Did you try to determine what the nature of the relationship was?
Hoffman: Yes, we did.
Aaron: Did you try to determine whether or not it was sexual?
Hoffman: Yes, we did.
Aaron: And in the course of meeting with Miss
Fessler in the fall of 2005, did you learn that there had been some
sexual contact between them?
Hoffman: Yes, we did.
Of interest, Aaron questions Hoffman on whether he had asked the
victim if she had been naked with Monheim, or had participated in oral
sex. Incredibly, Hoffman states that he had no information from Fessler
that there had been any touching of the genitals, or that the two had
been naked together, despite having just testified that he knew there
was an ongoing sexual relationship.
Aaron returns once again to his 2014 argument, this time asking a hypothetical question:
Aaron: If, a year earlier, 2004 — I’m asking about
your practice now — a year earlier in 2004, a 15-year-old female
congregant had told you that she and a 49 or 50-year-old woman were
involved in a relationship that involved intimate kissing, open-mouth
kissing, french kissing, romantic kissing, whatever you want to call it,
would you have called the legal department for advice?
Hoffman: Yes, we would have.
Aaron: Okay. Do you have any recollection of doing so a year earlier, in the fall of 2004?
Aaron: Well, let me ask you about yourself. Did you
ever tell Mr. and Mrs. Fessler that they should not report this
relationship to authorities?
Aaron decides to conclude his questioning of the witness, and yields
the floor. John Miller from Watchtower has no questions for Mr. Hoffman,
and redirect returns to the plaintiff, and Mr. Zeff.
Zeff: Did you have a specific memory, sitting here today — what is it, ten, eleven, eleven-and-a-half years later of asking Stephanie Fessler whether or not she had oral sex?
Hoffman: Well, according to my notes, we asked her if there was anything else involved and she said no.
Zeff: Okay. So, you asked her if there was anything else involved?
Zeff: You didn’t ask her if she had oral sex. You didn’t ask her if she was naked?
Hoffman: We may not have, no.
Zeff: And do you consider making out and touching breasts to be a sexual act?
Zeff: And when you went to the legal department, you really weren’t sure what to do with this situation, were you?
Hoffman: That’s correct.
Zeff: And you relied on the legal department?
Hoffman: Yes, we did.
Zeff: And the legal department is part of the Watchtower?
Zeff: Okay. If the legal department told you to report the matter, would you have done so?
Hoffman: Yes, we would have.
Zeff completes his examination by asking Hoffman to explain Stephanie
Fessler’s public reproof by the congregation elders, then turns the
witness over one last time to the defense. This time, Watchtower
attorney Miller decides to ask Mr. Hoffman a question:
Miller: Mr. Hoffman, just briefly. You said that the
legal department was part of the Watchtower. Do you know whether it was
part of the Watchtower or the U.S. Branch or some other entity? Do you
Hoffman: We just get the information on the
letterhead. I am not sure hat department it’s with, what branch it’s
with. It’s with the United States Branch.
Miller: Okay. That’s all. Thank you.
By the end of Hoffman’s testimony, he had admitted on the witness stand that a member of clergy should report allegations of child sexual abuse,
but he denied being a member of the clergy. He further admitted that
his instructions came directly from the Watchtower, but seemed confused
as to the difference between Watchtower and the US Branch. Hoffman
acknowledged that he was well aware of a sexual relationship between
Fessler and Monheim no later then 2005, but lost all recollection of the
2004 meeting with Fessler, in which she was privately reproved.
Finally, Hoffman admitted that he failed to contact any authorities, and
did not advise Fessler’s parents to contact these authorities. He
yielded his decision-making power to the Watchtower legal department,
testifying that if they had told him to go to the police, he would have. This never happened.
ELDER #2: DONALD HOLLINGWORTH
On the other side of the Mason-Dixon line lies the Freeland, Maryland
congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This small, tight-knit
congregation in rural Baltimore County has little money, and a simple
Kingdom Hall. I recall donating and installing sound equipment at this
location after congregation member Terry Monheim had abused Stephanie
Fessler, but three years before her arrest. I was unaware that a
predator lurked nearby.
Little did I know that in a few short years, I would sit inside a
Philadelphia courtroom, observing legal powerhouse Jud Aaron attempt to
defend the outrageous actions of elders Gary Neal, Scott Wagner, and
Donald Hollingworth. In a thousand years they could not summon the money
to pay for his services, but there he was.
Donald Hollingworth is now elderly, wears a hearing aid, and lives in
Toms River, New Jersey. A loyal Jehovah’s Witness for over 50 years,
Hollingworth has been an elder for 40 of those years. But for all his
loyalty to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, Donald and his fellow elders
made a critical error in 2004 and 2005 which cost their parent
corporation, Watchtower, a significant amount of money. It also damaged
the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are under intense global
scrutiny for their mishandling of child abuse cases, and for their
practice of shunning, and denying members the right to certain
life-saving medical treatments.
Attorney for Stephanie Fessler, Gregg Zeff, began the questioning of Hollingworth with the same query he put to Eric Hoffman:
Zeff: I’d like to know would you agree that clergy must report sexual abuse in children to protect the victim from additional harm?
Hollingworth: Do I agree with that?
Zeff: And do you agree that clergy may never keep sexual abuse of a child the secret to protect the congregation?
Hollingworth: Oh, yes, yes.
Zeff: Thank you.
After confirming that Hollingworth has
no professional training in the investigation of sexual abuse matters,
Zeff gets specific:
Zeff: Okay. Did you have any understanding in 2004
or 2005 of your obligations regarding reporting suspected child abuse in
Pennsylvania or in Maryland?
Zeff: What was your understanding back then?
Hollingworth: For — that there was no duty to report it as far as from a procedural standpoint. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a duty, but there was no legal duty to report it.
Zeff: Sir, you received that understanding from the legal department?
Hollingworth: That’s correct.
Zeff: Okay, and the legal department of what?
Hollingworth: Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At this point, it is noteworthy that Hollingworth had testified that
members of clergy must report sexual abuse allegations to the
authorities and not keep them secret, but moments later stated that according to Watchtower’s legal department, he had no legal duty to report, despite his own feeling of duty to report.
Hollingworth hid beneath the double cloak of justification – the notion
that he was not a member of clergy, and the counsel from his own
organization that he had no obligation to report.
It seems unthinkable that any Witness elder could make the statement
that church leaders from other religions have an obligation to report,
but Jehovah’s Witnesses are somehow exempt. Witnesses teach that all
religions are “false” religions, except theirs. It must have
baffled members of the jury to reconcile how an organization which
claims to abhor child abuse could be so delinquent in helping victims.
Zeff continued his questioning of Hollingworth, describing the
letters from Watchtower to the elders. Hollingworth seemed confused when
Zeff stated that prior to 2001, these letters came from the Watchtower
corporation. Hollingworth said “I’m not sure of that…Right now I wasn’t
prepared for that question, sir.”
When pressed about the relationship between Monheim and Fessler, Zeff asked:
Zeff: You never found out the age of the girl she was kissing, did you?
Hollingworth: I knew she was a teenager, and
the approximate age of this other lady’s children, because she
associated with them. I knew she wasn’t 19. I knew she wasn’t 13, but
somewhere in between.
Zeff: And when you learned of this, a committee was formed, wasn’t it, a judicial committee?
Zeff: Okay. You were the chairman of that committee?
Hollingworth: It wasn’t me. It was either one of the other two brothers. I can’t tell you for a certainty today.
Hollingworth: I believe it was Gary Neal, but that’s not for a certainty.
Zeff: And one of the primary functions of your
Hollingworth: An obligation to do what?
Zeff: To report to legal authorities in this matter.
Hollingworth: I don’t know if I had that — I don’t
know if that — I went in to find out what was going on, and so I didn’t
start thinking about a lot of other things I’d have to do until I could
find out what was going on.
Zeff: But you did consult with the legal department?
Hollingworth: Yes, I did.
Zeff: And you were told you didn’t have any duty under Maryland law, correct?
Hollingworth: I didn’t have any duty to report; is that what you asked me?
Zeff: Yes. You had no duty to report?
Hollingworth: No legal duty.
Hollingworth: There was no law that said I had to report.
Zeff: And, in fact, you didn’t report anything, did you?
Hollingworth: No, I didn’t.
Zeff: And neither did any member of your committee, to your knowledge?
Hollingworth: To my knowledge.
HOLLINGWORTH ADMITS TO SHREDDING NOTES
The examination by Zeff then took an interesting turn. Zeff calls for
the presentation of Hollingworth’s notes, taken in 2005 when meeting
with the abuser, Terry Seipp:
Zeff: Why did you take these notes?
Hollingworth: Because I don’t have a very good
memory over the years, business and meetings that I go to, and so I take
notes in case there’s a reason to recall, in case there’s a discussion
later, in case there’s another meeting. I always take notes. It’s my
habit as a businessman, I always took notes.
Zeff: And with regard to being an elder, you had a
practice of making notes and tearing them up and shredding them on
occasion, didn’t you?
Hollingworth: Yeah, shredding is in a — yeah, I had
a shredder, but I don’t know. I — yeah, I didn’t keep them. I didn’t
keep them. I didn’t want them laying around or anything.
Zeff: That was something that the letters to elders
suggest that you do or instructed you to do, in fact, don’t leave notes
around, destroy them if they’re not necessary?
Hollingworth: Well, that’s possible. I always,
even be — I, if a confidential nature, I would have enough sense not to
leave them laying around.
Hollingworth revealed a critical detail that the Watchtower
organization does not want the public to know – that elders often
discard, shred, move, hide, and destroy notes, not only in cases where
lesser offenses are concerned, but even when accusations of child abuse
are on the record, contrary to their official policy.
HOLLINGWORTH INVOKES CLERGY PRIVILEDGE - HE LEARNED IT ON TELEVISION
Attorney Zeff continued to gain momentum as he called attention to
his next exhibit: the notes taken by Donald Hollingworth during the
Jehovah’s Witness judicial hearing for Terry Monheim. Zeff displayed the
notes for the jury:
Hollingworth: (reading his notes) It says: “After assurance the committee members would not testify in a legal case, she was relieved and more forthcoming.”
Zeff: So, did you tell Terry Seipp that no member of the committee was going to testify against her?
Hollingworth: Well, I think you know — you’re
thinking of something different than I’m thinking of. The legal case
we’re talking about and she was worried about her husband divorcing her
or thinking she would — and we were telling her that anything that she
told us, we wouldn’t use in her divorce case against hers husband, or
vice versa. And we had thought we had a right to do that.
Zeff: Did you learn that from the legal department?
Zeff: Did you learn that from the legal department?
Hollingworth: No. I learned that from watching television, I guess…
Zeff: You learned from watching television that if
she tells you something in your committee that you don’t have to testify
in a divorce proceeding?
Hollingworth: Well, not as member of the clergy, I
would think it would become — well, you know, maybe I’m wrong but I
would think it would be confidential.
At this point, Hollingworth is trapped- painting himself into a very
tiny corner with no way out, without making a mess. In 2005, he
interviewed a sexual predator, but instead of contacting the
authorities, he assured Terry Monheim that her admissions to the elders
would not be used against her in any divorce proceedings. Somehow he
invoked clergy privilege, while denying that he is a member of clergy.
Furthermore, he is completely unaware that clergy privilege does not
exist when a sizable group of elders and additional individuals have
been made aware of Monheim’s crimes.
To be blunt, Hollingworth appeared extraordinarily ignorant. What is
more bizarre is that he claims Watchtower’s legal department advised him
that he had no duty to report such allegations, or confessions of
sexual abuse. Maryland law at the time mandated the reporting of child
abuse, but the exemptions for members of clergy were somewhat vague,
which likely prompted Watchtower’s legal department to suggest that he
had no obligation to report the abuse. In most states, child abuse
exemptions become null and void once clergymen broadcast the private
confessions members to other members of the elder body, along with the
additional individuals, i.e. the legal and service departments of the
Jehovah’s Witness organization.
Questioning continued as attorney Zeff called attention to
Hollingworth’s notes from his phone call to Watchtower’s legal
Zeff: What are they about?
Hollingworth: That was my notes about when I had —
I called, contacted the legal department to discuss the matter with them
and I wrote down some notes with regard to that call.
Zeff: Okay. Did you ever contact or did anybody on
your committee ever contact the Spring Grove congregation where
Stephanie Fessler was a member?
Zeff: Did anybody on your committee contact them to let —
Zeff: Okay. And they let them know there was an investigation into a possible sexual abuse?
Hollingworth: You’d have to ask them what they let them know.
Zeff: Okay. I want to go to the section toward the
bottom where it says “want us to review society’s letters with all seven
elders.” Do you see that?
Hollingworth: Yes, I do.
Zeff: What do you mean by that?
Hollingworth: What it says, review the letters –with the whole body of elders, all of the elders in the congregation.
Zeff: It says “with all seven elders,” is that everybody?
Hollingworth: What does it say?
Zeff: It says “Want us to review society’s letters with all seven elders.”
Hollingworth: Yes, that would be our elder body at the time.
Zeff: Okay. And that has to do with your investigation into Terry Seipp?
Hollingworth: Well, it’s in — my telephone call was
an investigation that had to deal with that, yes. And what exactly they
told me to read those letters for, I don’t remember.
Zeff: Who told you to read those letters?
Hollingworth: Whoever I was talking to at the
legal department. And I am assuming that because, that’s the notes of
that. I don’t know for a fact today who told me to do it, but I’m
assuming that’s what it would be. And I shouldn’t be making
assumptions, should I?
Zeff states that he has copies of those letters, and tells Hollingworth that he will now review them, beginning with the July 1, 1989 letter to the body of elders.
Hollingworth admits that he likely would have reviewed this letter at
that time, acknowledging that it was a very important document to
Another revelation came when Zeff references the January 1, 1997 Watchtower article titled “Let us abhor what is wicked.” Under the topic “What of a Child Molester?” the Watchtower stated:
If, for example, an individual makes immoral advances to
another adult, the adult should be able to resist his or her advances.
Children are much easier to deceive, confuse, or terrorize. The Bible
speaks of a child’s lack of wisdom. (Proverbs 22:15; 1 Corinthians
13:11) Jesus used children as an example of humble innocence. (Matthew
18:4; Luke 18:16, 17) The innocence of a child includes a complete lack
of experience. Most children are open, eager to please, and thus
vulnerable to abuse by a scheming adult whom they know and trust.
Therefore, the congregation has a responsibility before Jehovah to
protect its children.
Zeff questions Hollingworth:
Zeff: Okay. Do you remember reviewing this? And I’ll read it to you so you understand it. Do you remember reviewing this at the time of the
judicial committee? It says “Children are much easier to deceive,
confuse or terrorize.”
Hollingworth: I don’t remember at the time of
the committee but, sir, I mentioned before, I had a lot of children and
I’m very conscious of this need.
Zeff: Okay. And had the legal department told you to, you would have called the police, called child services?
Hollingworth: I don’t need to be told.
Hollingworth: I — I don’t mean to be fresh or
anything but, no, I told you, I — abhor is a word that’s worse than
hatred and I don’t like this thing and I don’t like being involved in it
even now, to come being asked about it.
Zeff: Right. You don’t really need to be told to call the police, do you? You could have done it anyway?
Hollingworth: Would I what?
Zeff: You could have called the police even if the legal department told you not to?
Hollingworth: Yes. In hindsight, yes.
Zeff: But you didn’t?
Zeff: You did not?
Hollingworth: It’s already been answered.
Zeff: Okay. You didn’t talk to Stephanie Fessler’s congregation about her version of the story, did you?
Hollingworth: I said no, I didn’t talk to anybody.
Zeff questioned whether the Maryland congregation had any meaningful
discussions with the Spring Grove Pennsylvania congregation regarding
the welfare of Stephanie Fessler:
Zeff: One more time, Sir. You had concerns about the
welfare of the teenaged girl that was involved with Terry Seipp? You
were concerned about her?
Hollingworth: Yeah, I have concerns with all young people, absolute — yes. Would I say no? Of course, I would be an ogre to say no to that.
Zeff: And but you wanted to follow the legal department’s advise rather than doing anything else; isn’t that correct?
Hollingworth: You know, I wasn’t dealing with a
teenage girl. We were dealing with Terry Seipp at our congregation.
Please, there was — another congregation was dealing with the teenage
girl. It doesn’t mean — my feelings in the matter and my thoughts in the
matter don’t apply to what would have been — how it would have
been handled. So, you’re confusing me and you’re confusing the issue.
It seems that the invisible boundary between Maryland and
Pennsylvania, along with Hollingworth’s instructions from the Watchtower
legal department overruled his better judgment, permitting him to
ignore the fact that a crime had taken place, and that he was obligated
to report this crime. Hollingworth admitted that he was also aware that
Terry Seipp [Monheim’s] husband Dana had learned of the relationship,
and hired a private investigator to confirm his suspicions. Mr. Seipp
wasted no time in sharing this information with the Freeland elders:
Zeff: You had a suspicion that she might be abusing a child?
Hollingworth: I wanted to know the facts.
Zeff: Okay. Well —
Hollingworth: Her husband wouldn’t say, and he was
not a member of our congregation. I only knew him once to say hello to
him. He comes up and says “I’ve got pictures, but I won’t tell you what
they’re about, but you’d better do something about it,” that kind of — what are we supposed to do?
Zeff: Call the police?
Despite a sustained objection from defense attorney Jud Aaron, Zeff
had landed a knockout punch with this last question, which lingered in
the courtroom while Mr. Aaron made his way to the lectern to
cross-examine Mr. Hollingworth.
In what seemed to be a desperate move, Aaron rested his argument of the claim that elders are, in double-negative fashion, not told not to report:
Aaron: Are you aware of any Jehovah’s Witness policy
not to report child sexual abuse to authorities? Are you aware of any
Aaron: In any of the letters to elders that you read or KS schools that you’ve attended — have you attended those schools?
Hollingworth: Yes, Sir.
Aaron: In any of those letters in those KS schools,
have you ever been instructed or directed not to report sexual abuse to
Hollingworth: No way. No way.
Aaron: What have you been instructed to do if a report of sexual abuse comes to your attention?
Hollingworth: Contact the legal department.
Aaron never once asks Hollingworth if elders are instructed to
report any allegations of suspected child abuse; instead he diverts
attention from that critical question – first by allowing Hollingworth
to testify that he is a family man, with many children and
grandchildren. Aaron questions Hollingworth on what he recalls Terry
Seipp admitting during the elder’s judicial hearing with Seipp, then
goes back to the procedure these men followed after that hearing:
Aaron: After the judicial committee met with Terry Seipp, you reported to legal?
Aaron: Did you feel that you were following the correct procedure and doing that?
After referring to the March 23, 1992 Letter to Elders
regarding child abuse, Aaron calls attention to page 3 of that letter
where further abuse of children can be prevented by contacting the legal
department of the Watchtower organization.
He then links “further protection” to Hollingworth’s earlier statement that elders are not told not to report abuse:
Aaron: Have you ever been advised as an elder or are
you aware of any direction that, in order to protect the Jehovah’s
Witness religion, child abuse should not be reported to authorities?
Hollingworth: To the contrary. The reason I’m
a Jehovah’s Witness today — I wasn’t always one — was because of their
concern for the truthfulness and taking care of people and taking — the
whole thing, it just made so much sense. No, that would
Aaron: Thank you.
Aaron rests his line of questioning and yields the floor to his
fellow defense team members. Watchtower’s Miller has no questions, and
CCJW attorney Louis Lombardi continues his legal vow of silence by
offering nothing. The plaintiff is offered redirect.
VICTIMS DISCOURAGED FROM GROUP THERAPY
Attorney Zeff directs attention back to the March 23rd Letter to Elders,
this time to the section where Jehovah’s Witnesses are cautioned
against participation in group therapy as a means to help victims of
Zeff: Sir, can I direct your attention to the very
last paragraph of the page that we just put in front of you where it
says “Some medical professionals,” and it goes onto the next page. I
just wanted to ask you some questions about that, because you just said
some things that, I guess, were a little disturbing to me. “Some medical
professionals and therapists offer group therapy to those suffering from
the affects of child abuse. While participating in group therapy by a
professional therapist is a personal decision, there could be problems
of revealing confidential facts about other members of the Christian
Congregation during such therapy if a Christian does not exercise
discretion. Thus, elders can give cautions to their brothers and sisters, just as outlined
in October 15, 2008 issue of Watchtower, page 29, under the subheading
Talking Therapy. “They can be helped to see that talking
indiscriminately to others about child abuse may result in circulating
damaging and harmful talk.” Sir, what do you understand that to mean?
Hollingworth: I may be missing some details here,
but my — I’m focusing on the last sentence here. We don’t go talking
about it and gossiping about it and –It’s not something to
Zeff: Sir, my question is talking about child abuse
may result in circulating damaging and harmful talk, so they don’t —
isn’t this telling you — by the way, this is one of the documents you
had that were referred to? What do you understand – they can be
helped to see that talking indiscriminately to others about child abuse
may result in circulating damaging and harmful talk? What do you
understand that to mean?
Hollingworth: To be careful and think about it. Think before you speak. It makes sense to me.
Hollingworth dodges the question, reflecting his inability to comment
on Watchtower’s position on group therapy, so Zeff moves on. Zeff next
asks Hollingworth to explain “KS” schools, and Hollingworth describes
the elder’s training program. Zeff then asks:
Zeff: On the occasions is the issue of child abuse brought up at those schools?
Hollingworth: I’m sure it has.
Zeff: And these schools are conducted by the Watchtower?
Hollingworth: They’re conducted by a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m not sure why — they’re conducted by a Jehovah’s Witness instructor.
Zeff: Okay. And where does that instructor come from?
Hollingworth: They come from a lot of different
places. Sometimes it’s our circuit overseer who comes from — we have
apartments for them in the local Kingdom Halls. Different instructors,
different times over the years, there’s been — they come from a lot of
Zeff: Do the documents that you review in these schools come from the Watchtower?
Hollingworth: I don’t know. I don’t know that
the Watchtower sends out documents. They give us literature. They give
us some literature. We get — they take care of our printing of
our literature. I don’t know. I just can’t answer that question. You
would have to ask somebody that comes from there. Would it be all right
if I have some more water?
Zeff: I have nothing else, Your Honor.
In response to Hollingworth’s testimony, Watchtower attorney Miller
cross examined the witness to clarify just one thing: while warned
against the dangers of group therapy, Jehovah’s Witness abuse survivors
are not excluded from individual therapy. It seemed somewhat
inconsequential to mention this, but Miller appeared intent on making
the jury aware that Witnesses do accept some types of professional
Of course, Miller overlooks the fact that much of Stephanie Fessler’s
extreme trauma was, in the first place, caused by the elders and the
organization which treated her as a sinner and not a victim.
The tired and thirsty Hollingworth seemed confused and unwilling to
give concise and lucid answers to questions which were quite simple –
particularly for a man who has spent the past 40 years of his life as an
appointed elder. To be fair, Watchtower’s key witness Thomas Jefferson
was even more evasive, as seen from his testimony during the first two days of this trial.
As anyone who has studied Jehovah’s Witnesses understands all to
well, leaders in the organization are less than willing to divulge
information to anyone they feel is “not entitled to know” such
information. How ironic for a religion which describes all of its
teachings and practices as “The Truth.”