The news that another church has been called to account for the sexual abuse of children on their watch hit hard this week. The Jehovah’s Witness church saw their ruling organization, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, ordered to pay Jose Lopez $13.5 million.
Lopez testified that he was sexually abused at the age of seven by a man in the Jehovah’s Witness congregation his mother attended, one Gonzalo Campos. He said that the man was assigned to mentor and teach him by local congregation elders because he was being raised only by his mother.
Lopez testified that his mother had gone to the local congregation elders about the abuse, as she is told to do according to Witness judicial procedure, but the elders there told her not to report Campos to secular authorities. They would handle it themselves.
During the course of the trial, decades of abuse coverup on many other cases was charged by the plaintiff’s attorneys, the Zalkin Law Firm, which has a history of pursuing relief in Jehovah’s Witnesses sexual abuse cases.
“Documents that go back decades and show the depth and the breadth of their knowledge of child predators and child molesters in their organization,” Irwin Zalkin said in a statement.
Zalkin points out that there is a “judicial procedure” inherent in the Witness church organization that allows molesters to run free without fear of expulsion.
“Due to church policy, sexual abuse is often ignored, and should an allegation be made, it is often either covered up or decried as unfounded. The Jehovah’s Witnesses practice what is known as a “two witness” rule – which is allegedly used to help work against the possibility of a false accusation. This rule is said to be based off the group’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 19:15 and 1 Timothy 5:19; it requires that an accusation of sexual abuse be backed by at least two witnesses. One of the witnesses may be from DNA or other scientific evidence.
“If there is only one witness, however, the accused is to be placed under careful monitoring. They also might lose some of their privileges; however, no other steps are taken. Due to such policies as this, there have been many accusations over the years that have gone unreported. By mainly dealing with the accusations internally, they rarely turn over a sexual offender to law enforcement. This not only leaves victims vulnerable – it leaves the offender unpunished and essentially free to abuse again.”
The court ordered the Witnesses to produce a key member of their worldwide Governing Body for testimony, Gerritt Losch. They refused to do so. The Court of Appeals affirmed the order. The California Supreme Court affirmed it and granted extenisons for Losch to appear. Still the Witness Governing Body refused to produce Gerritt Losch.
“They refused to produce the longest standing member of their Governing Body (Gerrit Losch), who knew all about this stuff,” Zalkin said.
Finally, given the Witnesses refusal, their defense was terminated by the court and the Lopez was awarded $13.5 million.
The Watchtower Society’s attorneys vowed to appeal the ruling.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts,” associate general counsel for Watchtower Society Mario Moreno said in a statement. ”The trial judge’s decision is a drastic action for any judge to take given the circumstances of this case. We will seek a full review of this case on appeal.”
Moreno insisted that Campos was not in a position of authority within the Witness organization, implying that he acted on his own and that the Witness corporation should not be held liable for his actions.
But Lopez’s attorneys beg to differ.
During the trial, evidence emerged that Gonzalo Campos had already been accused of pedophilia by another family before he molested Lopez. The Witness elders declared that he was “repentant” and continued to use him to work with young boys, giving him the opportunity to molest again.
Zalkin said, “For almost 14 years, from 1982 to 1995, the Watchtower and its agents, the elders of the local congregation, knew that they had a dangerous child sexual predator in their organization… [Campos] was actually elevated up the organizational ladder ultimately
becoming an elder himself in 1993. During this time frame he has confessed to sexually abusing at
least eight children.”
During the trial, there was never a question of whether or not Campos actually molested Lopez. He already admitted to doing so in a video testimony. Campos is now free somewhere in Mexico, still a Jehovah’s Witness.
“I just want him to be behind bars where he belongs,” Lopez said.
JW admits to abusing several children in the 80s and 90s, but he is no longer in a leadership position so it's ok… http://t.co/LVcUR1PIW4
— John Cedars (@cedarsjwsurvey) July 22, 2013