|Another Berry Article
|It appears some reporters are getting it
Article Published: Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 8:38:27 AM EST
Witnesses to abuse
A Superior Court ruling in late June allows elders to protect confessions of sexual abuse made to them by Jehovah's Witnesses. They won't have to report admissions of abuse to state authorities. That has dangerous implications for victims, who say their complaints have been routinely ignored by elders.
In this case, a "confession" was made before a panel of Wilton elders, not in the privacy of a one-to-one meeting. The finding in Hillsborough County Superior Court that elders serve as "ordained ministers" protected from revealing confidences might be upheld by law, but it hurts victims past and future.
The suit links to an increasing number of lawsuits from church members. The Wilton victims' mother told church elders about abuse from their father/stepfather, since jailed. She was told to keep quiet, pray more and strive to be a better wife. Her daughters, who filed the suit, are now grown and plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Similar reports abound of elders covering up incidents, effectively allowing suspected molesters to continue their abuse for years. In Keene in 1987, members were threatened with excommunication and eternal damnation if they pursued a complaint about a 10-year-long abuse situation. Alleged molesters are also allowed to go door to door, in the company of a second church member, once elders deem them rehabilitated.
Looking to Catholic tragedies, one might have expected the court to protect the children. But this ruling will encourage elders to keep hushing up victims and shielding offenders.
One hopes the Supreme Court finds a better resolution. The lower court's decision will intimidate other victims. The message is clear: Silence is now golden.