- Public Information Department US Branch Office must be pulling their hair out by now.
Decision by Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Springfield failed the community (Editorial)
- Published: Sep. 25, 2023, 8:46 a.m.
'Jay Aaron Smith arrived in the Springfield area after spending time in prison following a rape conviction in Georgia. His crime required him to register in Massachusetts as a Level 3 sex offender.
And yet somehow, Smith, a known sex offender, secured the title of “ministerial servant” within a Springfield location of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Smith is again in prison, starting a 15-year sentence after being convicted recently on several counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. Smith, who is 62, was found to have abused a 13-year-old at his home in 2020 and 2021.
The First Amendment gives members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization the right to believe what they want. That discretion stops when it comes to their moral duty to protect children and other vulnerable people from abuse.
Jay Aaron Smith was convicted of child sexual assault.
This is an organization that distrusts secular authority and has fought efforts to provide common sense protections against sexual abuse of children, as seen in multiple national cases. This year, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office brought charges against several members of the church. A grand jury there continues to probe what’s described as “widespread” child sexual abuse. A report is expected to provide the fullest account to date of documented sexual abuse by members of this faith in that state.
In the Springfield case, a national spokesman said the church was “deeply saddened” by Smith’s assaults. “No child should ever be subjected to abuse,” he said. Then, the spokesman took pains to point out that Smith’s crimes did not occur during any sanctioned activities by members of the congregation.
That doesn’t absolve the organization of responsibility. In fact, it fits a pattern of secrecy and coverup documented in other court cases, including a civil suit brought by a woman molested by a man within a Jehovah’s Witnesses chapter in North Fremont, California. Depositions in the case revealed that the abuser had a prior history of assault known to the church.
As documented by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the church’s defense in the California case included the claim that the First Amendment allowed it to fashion its own approach to handling instances of sexual abuse.
Internal church correspondence unearthed in that trial showed church officials calling for reports of sexual abuse by officials to be kept from members of its congregations.
That institutional secrecy is abhorrent and dangerous. Children pay the price.
The plaintiff in the California case, who prevailed, said she sued after learning the man who molested her later assaulted a 6-year-old girl. Her attacker had remained in good standing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization she attended and, a deposition revealed, had been lauded as being good with children in a letter of reference mailed to another California Kingdom Hall.
Officially, the national church claims to report instances of sexual abuse to civil authorities. In the Springfield assaults by Smith, the organization said it notified the state Department of Children and Families; that is the step required by mandated reporters in Massachusetts, which include members of the clergy.
That’s what they say. Actions count more. The church made the decision to grant Smith, the Level 3 sex offender, an appointed church post, conferring on him institutional respect he did not deserve.
In doing so, it failed a child, the child’s family and the wider community.
When asked by The Republican about the case, the spokesman for the church’s national office claimed that the Hampden District Attorney’s Office was wrong to identify Smith as an “elder.” He said the church was “currently working with the District Attorney’s office to correct this ….”
While it may have tried to adjust the narrative, the DA’s office refused, its own spokesman said. “Based upon evidence collected through the course of the investigation, we are comfortable with our assertion of his place of prominence within the hall,” he told The Republican.
It took further questioning of the church by the newspaper’s investigations editor, Greta Jochem, to draw out the fact that Smith did in fact hold the lesser title of “ministerial servant,” a role described as being an assistant to an elder.
Jochem’s reporting work included this written exchange with the church’s spokesman:
Jochem: “What are your policies for responding to allegations like this?”
Church: “Whenever an allegation of abuse comes to the attention of elders, they first seek to comply with any reporting laws, thereafter, they follow the Bible’s direction to comfort victims of sin and they evaluate whether the person accused of the sin may remain in the congregation or must be disfellowshipped (removed).”
A court in Georgia found Smith guilty of rape. When he got to Massachusetts, years later, church policy appears to have allowed elders to make their own call about his fitness.
If they didn’t know Smith was a sex offender, they should have.
If they accepted him in spite of that status, they shouldn’t have.'
One day Jehovah's Witnesses will Educate themselves on Child sex abuse, just don't know when.
I think the (real) world is finally starting to figure out that sex offenders don’t/can’t reform…
…repentance or forgiveness notwithstanding.
A comparison I once heard of was to alcoholism…
…sober or otherwise, an alcoholic never stops being one, and the danger-slash-temptation is always there.
The WTS is finding they can't put IT back in the box.
The WTS is finding they can't put IT back in the box.
Years ago Barbara Anderson, Silent Lambs & others opened-up a WT CSA can of warms. Try putting slimy & slippery worms back in a can!
Any currently serving as an elder/CO or whatever,,,perhaps should spend a couple hundred $$ or so & invest in a lawyer as a retainer.
Or just become useless,,,inept or just unsuitable to serve in such a capacity and move away