Man Accuses Religion Of Abuse Coverup

LOUISVILLE, Ky., 1:50 p.m. EDT May 10, 2002 - Lifelong Jehovah's Witness William Bowen is being threatened with excommunication for speaking out against the religion's handling of allegations of child molestation.



The 44-year-old former church elder is among four Jehovah's Witnesses threatened with excommunication.

The tight-knit religious group refers to excommunication as disfellowship.

Bowen complained that child-sex allegations are generally not reported to secular authorities by the Jehovah's Witnesses. He said it's because of the religion's closed nature and its insistence on handling problems internally.

Bowen told NewsChannel 32's Abby Miller that it's not just the highest-ranking members of the religion who are protected.

"The Jehovah's Witnesses protect and shield pedophiles within the ranks," Bowen said. "You don't have to be a priest, you don't have to be an elder -- all you have to do is be baptized."

Bowen has created a Web site that documents the alleged cases of sexual abuse within the religion, and acts as a source of support for victims.

The Jehovah's Witnesses shun the outside world in many respects. They refuse to bear arms, salute the flag or participate in secular government. They also refuse blood transfusions.

Bowen is scheduled to appear before a judicial committee Friday in Draffenville , Ky. , to see if he will be removed. He told Miller that he's trying to have the meeting postponed for health reasons.

The church released a statement saying: "We do not condone sexual abuse or molestation within our congregation. We think sexual abuse is a terrible thing."

Bowen said sex abuse allegations are not ta ken to police, but are instead heard by church elders.

He said that if the accuser denies the allegations, according to the religion's law, "nothing more can be done in a judicial way and the congregations will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The Bible says that there must be two or three witnesses before judicial action can be ta ken ."

"If you cannot produce an eyewitness, then they turn to the parent and they say" 'Well, you have one witness so you have to consider him an innocent man,' and if you tell anyone in the church, you can be disfellowshipped for slander and he can continue in the church," Bowen said.

Bowen recognized the similarities between the crisis in the Catholic Church and the one he perceives amongst Jehovah's Witnesses, but he told Miller that the Catholics are seeking to correct their mistakes.

"Jehovah's Witnesses send every child molestor they have in their faith to your front door and I don't think the Catholics have that problem," Bowen said.

If Bowen is disfellowshipped, he wil l n ot be allowed to have any contact with members of the religion, including his own family.